An Invitation to Write – Swimming

Very pale green ripply water and if you look carefully you can see grey fish.

In the shallows. Can you see the fish? Northbridge Baths.

I’ve been finding writing a bit difficult lately, how to start, how to continue, well pretty much everything about it. Same old story, eh? But if I cast back over the last three months I notice I have started a number of poems and short stories and some words are there and some of them are okay. That is not as bad as I thought it was. Phew.

I once went to a workshop with the poet Lucy Dougan, and she recounted the memories of her sculptor father, who regularly made maquettes out of sand on the beach, and then destroyed them. The lesson was that he viewed it all as practice and to not feel worried about not continuing and not completing everything, that it is acceptable to start many things and explore them and to not always feel committed to completion. That is how I understood it. I have been to many writing workshops and seminars over the years, and somehow that piece of advice seemed significant to me. So remembering this I will look back over my fragments and consider them, and sweep them away and start again if needs be, like practice sculptures in the sand.

I went swimming yesterday, just in Civic Pool.  (I have just discovered it is actually called Canberra Olympic Pool, which is a bit grander.) If locals asked you where you had gone swimming, I think many people would just say, Civic Pool, so I can be excused. Civic is the term used for the central area of Canberra. I was surprised the outside pool was still open, as it is now Autumn.  I’ve been wanting to exercise more and swimming is my favourite way; I hate getting hot and sweaty (despite my Running on Lava post),  though I did love the humidity in the Big Island of Hawaii. It is a different sort of hot and sweaty than inland Australia, which is peculiarly itchy and irritating (for me at least). Living inland precludes swimming in the sea very often, which is where I prefer to paddle, so I have had to get used to the local public swimming pools, over the years.

Darker, almost ultramarine blue water, with the sun making lighter shades

Deeper water, Northbridge Baths

My childhood local swimming hole, Northbridge Baths, was and still is a magical place. I visited The Baths recently after decades and couldn’t believe they had not changed (except there were a few more yachts around). Northbridge Baths are modest, a little difficult to walk to, down a very steep hill, and are a bit hidden by gardens and houses. They are a tidal pool, and the larger body of water they are part of is known as Middle Harbour. It is the colour of the water that stays with me, or should I say, colours of the water. Within just a few meters, the shades move from palest aqua to deepest ultramarine.

We also swam at North Sydney Olympic Pool for school swimming lessons. This pool is framed by Sydney Harbour Bridge, and is next to Luna Park, and its famous open-mouthed entrance peers over the walls into the pool (or at least it does in my memory, the logistics of that don’t quite add up, to be truthful about it, but it is just next door to the pool). It is a magical place too. The Cha-Cha ride veered close to the pool wall, and screams from riders sometimes rose with the loops and turns of the Cha-Cha as we shivered in the water, blowed bubbles, and practiced mouth-to-mouth on the rough concrete in that earnest mime of resuscitation.  I went on the Cha-Cha a few times, and could see into the pool as we swung towards it through the air. Or is this just how my memory has pieced these places and experiences together? A fire in the Ghost Train ride closed Luna Park for several years and I remember Luna Park strange and derelict as well, as it was opened and closed a number of times after that. I remember walking around its desolate perimeter. These memories add to the magic.

Civic Pool doesn’t quite have the ambience of The Baths and North Sydney Pool. But I think any swimming experience evokes something in me about childhood and a sense of rare freedom that swimming gave me as a child. The rhythmic movement through water, the stretching, the immersion, being so other to the walking about the world self, and being in a group of people, often strangers, who have willingly stripped off and are doing a similar thing, continues to fascinate me.

Recently I found out an old friend I reconnected with at a reunion, who used to swim at Northbridge Baths as well, writes a beautiful blog called Swimming Pool stories. One of my favourites. She is even more fascinated than me!

I love to ‘people watch’ at the pool. Yesterday I watched a man holding his baby, walking on the grass, so happy together, following a duck.  A little girl sunbathed on the bare concrete beside the pool, lying like a fallen statue. I watched young boys negotiate which diving board to spring from, a careful dance played out over twenty minutes, testing each one and each other, and young bikinied girls standing on the edge of the pool tentatively testing the cold, their little brothers ranging around them.  So much of it is about quietly negotiating space and territory.

Freed from the lanes of the lap pool, I didn’t swim straight up and down as usual, but did a few diagonals and curves, and backtracked. My friend enjoyed trying to touch the bottom. It was a deep pool. It is designed for diving. I like to swim slowly, but enjoy when the spirit of play is still within my friends and they are curious, and we splash a little and laugh.

So for this Equinox’s Invitation to Write, let’s write about Swimming. Any aspect of it. Even if you don’t swim, if you hate it, or would like to do it but don’t know how. Be lateral how you interpret it. Wading around will do! Dipping your feet in! Write freely and just enjoy it. I will look forward to how you want to contribute. Just post your writing in the comments, and we may have a conversation. Let’s see what happens. Here is my spontaneous offering, living in my memory of swimming at The Baths as a child.

Dipping below and diving, I hold myself under for one bursting breath, open my eyes to this darker refracted place, the sun and this breathe bubbling on the surface, which I rise, rise to break through. 

Oh, and that is another little bit of writing. I wonder if it is the beginning of a maquette, or if it will form something else one day?

The water is greener here with a strip of darker green and a pattern on the edges of the strip

A shadow, Northbridge Baths

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