Sunday, 17 July 2011

Water Torture

Only once did being fat ever cause an injury. Conveniently, the injury was to someone else.

My secondary school only ever managed one ski trip before the concept was abandoned. I like to think that this incident, along with other stories to come, went some way toward the defeat of my teachers’ international ambitions.

In between the doomed attempts to snowboard in spite of my girth, the school laid on a number of other activities. These varied from bowling and saunas, to the contraction of crippling food poisoning that caused many of us to evacuate our bowels whenever the coach hit a bump in the road (On Austrian mountain passes, this was more often than desired).

The best of these was swimming. The pool was large and clean, the locals hairy but mostly clothed where it mattered. Best of all, there was a water slide.

With all the usual egalitarian grace of thirty teenage boys, we had soon frightened off any and all children and claimed the slide as our own. Of course, there are only so many times you can barrel down the chute and land arse-first on a disgruntled local man with more hair outside the borders of his Speedo than in before you start searching for more elaborate enjoyment.

The game was suitably violent. Ten or so boys would launch themselves down the slide at once. Half way down, the frontrunner would wedge himself to a halt and see how long he could hold the throng behind him at bay. The water slide was constructed from two halves of a pipe bolted together in the middle, leaving a ridge easy to grasp even with wet hands.

My particular role in this game was unique. Once I had overcome the terror of publicly removing my top (the boy accustomed to trilling ‘Boobies!’ at every such occurrence was not on the trip), I was invited to be an Unblocker. As the fattest, and therefore heaviest, who better to send down as the last man to dislodge the tangle of beached bodies?

I positioned myself at the back of the queue and waited for the first boy to leap into the tube. The rush of water carried him away, and one-by-one the others followed, disappearing around the first bend until only I remained. I allowed a gap so that the brunt of my impact would be felt all the more. Then I waddled to the water slide’s mouth and let the current take me.

The rapids threw my weight around the first bend, down a decline and into another corner. I spied the convoy as I exited. Nine of my peers jammed fast in the cylinder. A whoop escaped me as my momentum slammed into the back of them. The noises they returned were less appreciative. A chorus of oofs and ows and You fat fucks! Only one noise rose above them. The genuine scream of horror from somewhere near the front.

The blockage disbanded suddenly. I surged forward on the heels of the boy ahead. As the tide sucked us down, I noticed with dismay that the water was full of blood.

Screams greeted me as I tumbled out of the tube. Clouds of blood here too. I struggled out of the pool and saw the source. The boy who had been at the front was in tears, blood streaming from his hands. The Austrian life guard, an 80-year old man who looked about to faint, was trying to staunch it with a towel while the teachers crowded round to contemplate premature retirement.

It soon became apparent that in his efforts to block the slide, the boy had wedged his hands tightly into the ridge where the tube halves met. The plastic sliced his fingers half to the bone.

He was taken to hospital, while the rest of us were ushered into the changing rooms and instructed to not be so bloody stupid ever again. That very same night, when the teachers had retired to bed, we spent until dawn climbing and jumping between the chateau balconies four storeys off the ground.

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