Tag Archives: Swimming

Water Birds

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.

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Telling tales

SIMONE’S QUITE THE STORYTELLER is the headline of the “The Kyabram Press” on 8 February 1980.  Underneath the bold headline it continues, “We weren’t quite sure about the authenticity of three-year-old Simone’s enthusiastic claim that an aeroplane had flown her to the local swimming pool.   But she was so solemn in her declaration about how she came to be at the Saint Patrick’s Swimming Sports Carnival that we were reluctant to question her.  With a happy smile she firmly reiterated that she had flown here in a big gold plane to watch her sister compete.  She was clearly sticking with her story”.

The local swimming pool was 15km from home … we’d driven our giant, canary yellow 1973 Ford Falcon.  Why would I change my story? Falcons fly, don’t they?

The day of the swimming sports carnival – I’m clearly tickled by something!

My mother shows me the faded article and rolls her eyes, smiling.

Mum: I thought you might have grown out of it.

 Me (laughing):  No, some stories need to be told.  And all stories need to be told in a certain way for them to be worth telling.

Earlier this week Mum arrived from Heathrow.  On my way to meet her I’d thought about all the travel stories I or my friends had experienced;  drunk and abusive passengers, intimate dalliances, unscheduled stopovers, luggage searches, lost passports, rejected visas.  I’d contemplated turning one of these into my blog this week.  There’s a story in most things if you look at them in a certain way, and my penchant for playing bard entertains and frustrates my mother in equal measure.

During my teenage years I was often mocked at the dinner table for my theatric accounts of daily incidents.

I exasperated my mother: When you report on what happened during your day you don’t need to commence by “Setting the scene”!

I irritated my sister:  Just spit it out – don’t make it a bloody movie!

I amused my father:  Alright bloody Shakespeare sitting in the corner – let’s hear your tale of the day. 

I’ve always loved stories – others as well as my own!

Mum’s brought some old photographs.  The swimming sports article is too faded to scan, but she has a photo that had been taken later that day.  I’m laughing as heartily as I do now, but probably not so loudly.  I’ve recently cut my own fringe and my red swimsuit demonstrates my usual subtlety.

These days the authenticity of my blog entries is questioned.   “Did that actually happen?!”  My answer is always “Yes … pretty much so”.  Some aspects are embellished and many are omitted but essentially, they’re true.  More or less ….

Life is filled with concrete facts; mortgage statements, electricity bills, mobile phone contracts.  Certainly my work (dealing with the resources that are human) is about data and accuracy – policies and procedures reign supreme.    But a world filled with statistics, spreadsheets and pie charts isn’t a world to be enjoyed.   As a notorious fan of structure and logic, I happily adhere to order and routine.  Precise information is a necessary evil, but daydreaming is a necessary bliss.  My brain is a wonderland of whims and fantasies.  In my mind the pixies freely roam the magical forest.

Creative non-fiction tells the story, but makes sure it is a story.  If you arrived at the swimming pool in a huge yellow Ford Falcon, then surely you flew there in a plane made of gold?  It’s all just a matter of semantics.  And what’s a little poetic interpretation amongst friends and family? …

So how did I pick Mum up from the airport?  By jetpack, obviously.

Afterword

My father phoned me last night and, as always, he gave me his forthright greeting, “You have 20 seconds to say something interesting or I’m hanging up.  And you know the rules”.  The “rules” are the banned topics – anything he’s deemed subject matter too dull to be discussed.  This list includes home decorating, standard ailments (colds, stomach bugs, tiredness, headaches etc), the weather, anything financial, politics, sport, and work.   No wonder I’m a story-teller.

Sweat

A hot summer afternoon, Bendigo.  Sweat drips from my forehead into my right eye, causing it to sting.  The sun beats down, increasing my dizziness.  My lungs burn, my calves ache and I have a stitch.  I’ll permit myself to stop running after one more lap of the block, just one more lap.  I feel faint and I’m angered by my weakness; my pathetic stamina will be punished by an extra two laps.  At a set of traffic lights I allow myself to stop and select some music to spur me on.  In the moment of silence between songs, I hear a man yell, “Good on ya, love”!  He’s leaning with his elbow out of his open car window.  I smile and wave.  I’ve become accustomed to the local cheer squad.

Whenever I jog, people constantly wave and shout words of encouragement.  Each time (and to be fair, it’s not very often) I venture out in my lycra and trainers, cars toot and I hear an array of cheers.

“Keep goin’ love, you can do it”!

“You’re brave in this heat”!

“Good on ya”!

“Keep it up”!

One man even ran a block with me as support (no, no humiliation in that).  As well intentioned as it is, I could do without their enthusiasm.  To enable me to hear and appropriately respond I have to pull out my earphones and my rhythm is interrupted.  The only alternative is to nod, wave and smile … oblivious to what’s actually being said.  No one in London has ever spoken to me when I’ve been running and I’m comfortable with the English practice of avoiding eye contact; with a decidedly un-athletic figure, I prefer to be ignored when I’m bright red, sweating like a bullfrog and extracting a wedgie.

Classes at the local gym are also curiously social.  The women arrive an hour early to chat and then, after an hour’s class, have coffee together.  At the commencement of each class the instructor hands everyone a jelly baby (a “sugar shot for energy”), and often participants bring in surplus home-grown vegetables (today it was cucumbers and tomatoes) so that people can take them home.  However their relaxed approach is not to be mistaken for any lack of determination.  Like a ballerina smiling through a performance while her battle-worn feet are bleeding, their affable front covers a tough (and slightly insane) core.

Australians have a reputation for being easy-going, friendly and encouraging … but they take their exercise seriously.  It hasn’t taken me long to remember why I never quite fitted in here.  Five minutes into each class I’m ‘glowing’ with perspiration.  I don’t know how everyone continues jumping when I can barely breathe.  Thirty minutes into each vigorous workout, the instructor repeats the same tiresome questions.  Smiling, as though her non-stop bouncing is effortless, she shouts, “It’s a bit warm today, isn’t it?  Do you want air?  Do you need air? Nah … I think you can all work a bit harder to deserve air.  The air con can stay off”!  For Christ’s sake, it’s 37 degrees.

On Wednesday I decided to give myself a break from the cheering street people and mad gym crew, and go to the aquatic centre.  I figured lolling about in a swimming pool was marginally better than sitting on the sofa eating party pies and pringles.

I discovered that, in addition to a giant water slide, the aquatic centre has a baby pool, an intermediate pool, and a normal 50metre pool.  My plan was to swim a few laps and then treat myself with a Bubble O’Bill ice-cream at the little café.  I looked at the people in the 50metre pool with sudden dismay; equipped with goggles and professional swimming costumes they were completing laps with an Olympic level of speed and proficiency.  I marched past them in my leopard print ensemble and purple flip flops, as though my intended destination had always been the intermediate pool.  Here a group of special needs children enjoyed a game of water volley ball and I spent a pleasant afternoon splashing about with dozens of elderly people who were supervising their grandchildren.  Finally I’d found my sporting equals – the cast of Cocoon.