Tuesday, 6pm, Australia, 41 degrees. The working day has ended and I’m driving to the local swimming pool. The beating sun has made the car an oven and sweat drips down my forehead. There’ll be no one at the pool – this is rural Australia and no one is ever anywhere on a week night. I’m looking forward to a cool and tranquil dip.
I arrive and see the packed car park. Ugh. I can hear the noise from the pool before I’ve even opened my car door. Apparently the one place everyone goes on a week night is the local pool.
I pay my $4 entry fee, and open the gate. The squawking assaults me. The flock of children are yelling, laughing, diving, bombing, swimming and running. Icy-poles and ice-creams are dripping in abundance.
It’s swimming season in Australia. Children are aplenty and families dominate public venues. In each lane of the pool a squabble of young seagulls screech and splash about with no reverence to personal space.
I discover that they’ll all leave when their swimming lessons finish at 7pm. I’ll have an hour of peace before the 8pm closing time.
I sit on the grass near the toddlers’ pool. These little ducklings are quieter. Lulled by the warm air, and the soothing water. They bob quietly, their plastic arm bands and small ring floats keeping them from sinking.
A tubby little boy in flippers shuffles past me. He’s a penguin if ever I’ve seen one.
7pm ticks round and the children leave in a loud exodus. Towels wrapped clumsily about their dripping bodies, parents rushing them home for dinner.
It’s finally time for me to heave myself into the water.
At that exact moment two football teams stride through the entry gates. Approximately 44 young, extremely fit men (physically, if not mentally). Simultaneously they strip off their t-shirts. The peak physical condition is extraordinary. If played in slow motion, this would be a scene from Magic Mike … their sweating torsos and chiselled six-packs are almost obscene. They enter the pool in a spectacular display of strength, coordination and confidence. These are the swans – large, strong, striking and agile.
All that’s left is for me to walk from my spot on the grass under a tree … into the pool. In my swimming costume. With 44 fit young men watching the only thing that’s there to watch – me.
I stand and pull my dress up over my head, my swimming costume (or to use the Australian “togs”) on underneath.
I waddle, glowing white to the shallow end of the large pool and descend the steps. I’m a plump, awkward goose making its way to the water. The lads of course have no interest in me (or, to be fair, me in them). The two young female lifeguards come out of the canteen when they see the lads, altering their posture to best display their feathers. These flamingos don’t enter the water but strut around the outside, preening and primping. The male swans puff out their chests in response and dive theatrically. There’s an unsubtle mating dance taking place.
The hour ends. We exit the pool and return to our nests for the night. The early morning will belong to the athletic birds – goggles firmly fastened while they diligently swim laps. The pool is public and hosts a very diverse range of birdlife.