Monday, October 09, 2006

Hey Mum, it's twenty two degrees today - can we go for a swim?

I finally realised that I had grown up when it dawned on me that I was no longer prepared to go swimming on a 22C spring day.

It made me feel a little bit sad, to be honest. It was the final indicator that my adult common sense and safety had finally overtaken my sense of adventure and potential. Before that, from about the ages of four to 24, if the sun was out, I was in the water, mostly underneath it.

Not that our family had a pool mind you, but we had neighbours who did. The D's were the first in our street to get one, way back in 1974, a moulded, pale blue fibreglass job that was the epitome of wealth and glamour. I taught myself to swim in there. Mum was across the street at our house, no doubt feeling a tiny bit of relief that at least one out of three of her children were not her responsibility at that moment.

Little did she know that Mrs D wasn't exactly the caring type, at least not where a 'poor Read kid from across the road' was concerned. "Oh for gods sake MillyMoo, either swim up to the deep end or get out and go home!" So I did - gasping and gurgling all the way to the scary six foot deep end of the pool, utterly determined to remain in the water. Her response to my gargantuan effort was a huffy "It's about time."

It was therefore an immense relief to me personally when the C family directly behind us got a pool two years later. I had correctly assumed that Mrs C wasn't into skinny dipping in front of me (32 years later and I am still struggling to erase the image of Mrs D dive bombing us completely starkers - Stolichnaya has a lot to answer for). Thankfully too Mrs C was certainly a much nicer and more genuine person when it came to patiently keeping an eye out for all of us. Soon the D's had their stupid little rinky dink pond to themselves - the in-kids were at the C's specially-designed, kidney-shaped slice of watery heaven with slate tiles around the edges and a hammock under the walnut tree.

The C's son Simon was a year younger than me yet was my physical equal in our primary school days. He and I played 'fish' with my older brother Rob, younger brother Dave and his sister Amanda. I lost count of the times I literally peed through my bathers at the sheer, glorious terror of Robert reaching out and catching me during the game.

Only sissies swam with additional equipment. In Murray Bridge you normally learned to swim in the town's one and only public pool and goggles or flippers were only worn by the officially blind or socially deficient.

Cooler kids swam in the river Murray itself which was a feat not for the squeamish. At it's best the river was the colour of Milo and at it's worst it had the added pong of dead carp, slurry from the local tannery and oil slicks from the tardy houseboat owners nearby. I tried my best to avoid having to put my head under the water long enough to have my eyes open - there's only so many times you need to see urine-coloured water, slimy sticks and catfish heading straight for your eye sockets.

If the drunken speed boat drivers didn't smack into you, the cut glass from the bogans' thrown beer bottles would. The jagged base of a West End neatly bit into my heel just as I was running into the foamy breakers caused by the skiiers. After Dad rescued me and wrapped up my foot, I passed the time watching my brothers in the water and counting the floating VB cans arriving at the sandy shore like grateful shipwreck survivors.

But back to the C's oasis. Clean, modern, fun, friendly and right next door. It didn't take long for Simon's and my parents to set only one rule - the forecasted temperature had to be at least 22C before we could go for a swim. The fuddy duddies apparently weren't too impressed when all five of us slipped off the cover and took the first swim of Summer '77 on the first day of spring, a balmy 16C; and promptly came down with colds, temperatures and stomach bugs due to the greenish slime on top of the water.

Such petty distractions didn't put us off swimming. We'd all meet at Pooh Corner (named after its popularity with the local dog population) after school where our two houses were connected. "The paper said it's 22 today, so last one in the pool's a rotten egg!"

Dive bombs, swan dives and back-flips were de-rigeur as pool entries, usually accompanied by a full-throttle "WOO HOO!", or "YEE HAH" for the cowboy and indian fans amongst us. Belly flops were a painful lesson that once experienced, is never forgotten. My effort was apparently rather spectacular, but it felt as though my entire torso had been split open - thank god I could sink under the water and scream and cry out in pain before I resurfaced with a brave, "So, how did my flop look, pretty good hey?"

My normal position in the pool was anywhere and everywhere, just as long as it was under the water. I tried my best to imitate the perfect rippled swimming style of the guy from the short-lived TV series 'The Man From Atlantis', or other times fancied myself a prima ballerina with my new-found graceful leaps and tippy toed moves thanks to the liquid support of H2O.

On many more occasions, however, the Benny Hill repressed deep within me would gleefully surface and it was time to suck in and spit out the water at little brother Dave, make farting noises up against the edge of the tiles or see if you could time a real fart just before smacking the water in a dive bomb - these were all very admirable and essential summer time skills for an Aussie country kid.

Holding my breath under the water, winning the hand stand competitions and instigating a full blown Speedo dacking of an unsuspecting boy bather was also part of the warm weather repertoire. Luckily for Mrs C (and her doctor husband) there were no nearby garage or house roofs to jump off into the water, so we had to content ourselves with ensuring that Nelson, the golden labrador, didn't scrape the outside layer of our flesh off when he dog-paddled nearby.

Several hours later we'd be seated around the tea table, seeing everything in a fogged-out haze as a result of the constant assault of chlorine, ravenously inhaling anything Mum put in front of us. To this day I still contend that swimming is the most hunger-inducing activity invented, and it helped that my eyes were redder than telephone cables so that the sight of fried lamb chops and three veg for the fifth time that week didn't suppress my appetite too much.

Pesky stuff like the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, melanomas and skin cancer were not even heard of, and most folks believed that after the first sunburn shellacking of the season, you'd be leathered and weathered enough to withstand whatever rays the sun threw down. In the 1970s, every Aussie kid had the red peeling nose, blistered shoulders and stark white butt cheeks as standard summer issue.

Mum was ahead of her time with regard to sunburn, so we were always forced to slick on the Adam Ant layer of zinc cream and some coppertone on the shoulders, and for that I'm extremely grateful. Even then, a few girls in my class would ask me why my skin was so smooth and didn't have any freckles. "Aw, 'cos Mum makes me put stupid zinc cream on and hates it if we peel off our burnt skin at the dinner table for some reason." It may be thirty years overdue, but thanks Mum: not one of my examinations has ever come back with a malignant result, and I'd be one of the very few from my generation.

1 comment:

omninaïf said...

Never too old nor too cold to swim.