Thursday, June 25, 2009

The May to September Fish Lines

When I was about 12, I had a sort of all in one halterneck top and shorts. It was banana yellow, and every time I put it on, which took a while as it was complicated, I experienced massive dissonance between how I would like to have felt wearing it - leggy, tanned, cartwheeling, glorious - and how I actually did feel -pallid, clumsy, exposed, and profoundly self-conscious. I kept thinking this would change, but it never did.

Summer clothes still have that effect on me. In fact summer itself still has that effect on me - I can't stay long in the sun, I only go to the beach when it's cool and breezy, and when I watch the brown, wiry Palestinian woman who has the allotment a few plots down from mine striding around purposefully in vest, shorts and wellies, I feel 12 years old all over again. Her plants grow tall and strong, mine give up and wilt.

But then there is Hinksey Pool, Oxford's seasonally open municipal lido, which lives in the middle of a park full of towering conifers. Somehow, it's different there. Pale Aquarians emerge blinking from the breezeblock cubicles, pile up their towels, put on their goggles and slip into the water. There, as the children go home for their tea and the shadows lengthen, women of an uncertain age swim up and down, up and down, along the lines of fish painted on the bottom of the pool. Above us is only sky, blue or grey it doesn't matter, because it's warm in the pool, as long as you keep moving.

Hinksey Pool is a strange organic shape, so no two crossings of it are the same length. The fish lines provide general direction, and there are men who plough up and down them, refusing to deflect. The women of an uncertain age travel along the same lines, but differently. Occasionally, I have swum up the longest fish line directly behind my friend H -- one woman can be knocked off course, but two are harder to shift. Eventually, though, one of them kicks you in the cheekbone, because ultimately, you are making an artistic statement, and they are making an autistic one.

There is plenty of shade around Hinksey Pool, and there is also a kiosk which sells chips and ice lollies. It's absolutely English, and absolutely wonderful. Last night, I swam over to the edge to climb out, and another woman was waiting by the ladder so she could climb in. 'This is like a tropical scene,' she said, 'and you're like a dolphin swimming towards me!'. I sort of knew what she meant, but I wasn't quite sure what to say. So I smiled, and said 'I love it here'.

We all do, she said. We all do.


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Blogger tomato said...

love this post...

8:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should be writing a book, you know. love your sister P.

10:53 pm  
Anonymous jonathan said...

You know what- in modern day Britain we may be beset on all sides by Fascists (as you lamented a few posts ago) but as long as we still have Lidos we'll be allright.

That's what you should call the book, by the way- 'Fascists and Lidos'.

11:35 pm  
Anonymous Kate said...

Makes me want to be there. Can't believe I only went there once in my 8 years in Oxford. Mainly because it took me such a long time to find it!

5:42 pm  

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