The last few days in Omaha has seen the temperature pushing into the nineties, with the humidity matching the air temperature; and summer officially begins in a week. Maybe the corn sweat has launched early this year, or maybe global warming caused July and August to start in June. After heaving the lawn mower around the backyard, and oozing with sweat, I pushed back into the green resin stack-able patio dining chair that I had put in the garage; even with the door open it’s the coolest place in the house during summer mid mornings. My head lolled forward and the resin chair became a bold and beautiful folding deckchair. I didn’t try to interrupt my eyes closing and I was soon back playing a game of beach cricket and trying to eat a paddle pop before it melts.
Back when, my summers usually began in November; the temperature began creeping into the eighties as we sat in our winter uniforms, squashed two to a desk, in the hot classrooms at Williamstown Tech. On those hot days the teacher opened the windows but the cooling south breeze only arrived in the late afternoon; the air was stifling. We sat silent and unresponsive, glancing up at the large octangular speaker in the corner, waiting for the headmasters announcement to be broadcast into every room:
boys, you may remove your jumpers and loosen your ties
It was around mid November when the summer uniform replaced the winter uniform. We were permitted to wear shorts, a short sleeve shirt without a tie, and summer socks.
When I was a young teenager drifting into adolescence it seemed as if I spent every day of the school holidays at Williamstown Beach. I would leave my bike resting against the chain link fence of the Life Saving Club with the towel that I always wrapped around my shirt and shorts lodged under the bike below the pedals. The Life Saving Club was at the end of the promenade that ran alongside the Esplanade; a low curving blue stone wall separated the sand and water from the promenade. Back then, the sand ended just before the Life Saving Club; a rock wall arched around past the club. There were two sets of steps inset into the wall that led into the water. Past the steps were the rockies. There were no steps down to the rockies. You clambered down the wall onto the rocks. At different places the rocks had formed openings and the waves and tidal water gushed into and out of these deep grottoes. Only the brave went there to swim; only those enduring a rite of passage, or answering a dare. The rockies were the first time I swam starkers.
I don’t remember dad driving the family to the Gold Coast on holidays but I know that he did. I remember looking out over the Blue Mountains at the three sisters; I don’t remember Sydney. After leaving Sydney we would have driven up the two lane Pacific Highway to the New South Wales border town of Coolangatta. The thin strip of road connecting Coolangatta with Surfers Paradise snaked through the small sleepy, Gold Coast beach towns. I don’t remember Surfers Paradise. I think we stayed in the Tweed Heads caravan park. I would have gone swimming in the surf at the beach. Mum had a couple of strict swimming rules; we could only go as far out into the water where we could still touch the bottom, and the most enforced rule was we could only go into the water an hour after eating. After every meal, or snack, mum would hold court and warn us of the severe consequences of swimming immediately after eating:
your stomach will cramp up and you will sink to the bottom and drown
It took until young adulthood for me to go swimming straight after I had eaten; and I never once got stomach cramp.
My second visit to Surfers Paradise was in the late sixties; it was still the land of meter maids and Mini Mokes. The re-built Surfers Paradise Hotel anchored Cavill Avenue and it’s Birdwatcher’s Bar was crowded with males of all ages downing a few cold ones: you staked out a drinking spot by the glass windows to watch the girls in their bikinis saunter past. New motels and hotels, towering five stories into the blue sky, were carving out the new Surfers Paradise skyline. The beer gardens were a welcome retreat from the mid day sun for the holiday makers. Constant rounds of beer and mixed drinks, and a good counter lunch were the norm. The Bee Gees grew up in Redcliffe, about 70miles from the Gold Coast. The holiday makers paid scant attention to the young boys when they sang their way through the beer gardens. One night I was putting away a few cold ones, and mum had never said anything about waiting an hour after your last drink before going swimming, so I decided I should be swimming at Surfers Paradise beach. I could just make out the breaking waves from where I was on the moonlit sand but I peeled off my clothes and ran towards the breaking waves. I swam starkers in the Surfers Paradise surf.
I was young; I didn’t know danger. It was only a couple of years since the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, mysteriously disappeared while swimming alone at a beach near the ocean-side town of Portsea. Maybe he went swimming without waiting for an hour after eating.
When I first went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary in the early seventies I used London as my homeland. I worked as a life guard during a long hot summer at an outdoor swimming pool that was nestled in the corner of Brockwell Park. Brockwell Lido was a drop kick from the Herne Hill train station, or a short bus ride away from the Brixton tube station; sometimes I would endure the long walk across Tooting Bec Commons and through parts of Streatham. The Olympic size pool was surrounded by asphalt and concrete, and a ten foot high brick wall. On each side of the pool were the dank, dark, subterranean men’s and women’s changing rooms. A high diving platform was at the deep end of the pool and a large concrete water fountain towered over the shallow end. The life guard changing room was behind the fountain and the room shared a wall with the first aid room. The changing room and the first aid room had an outside door to the park.
|The pool and it’s surrounding concrete provided a welcome respite from the sweltering summer heat to the people of Lambeth and South London. Five of us: Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, The Young Londoner, and the Aussie searching for inspiration and idealism plucked quite a few little ones from the shallow three foot end of the pool, and were regarded as hero’s by their young mums; we also dragged a few teenagers and adults from the deep end after they jumped off the high diving board and discovered they couldn’t swim.|
We often worked until after nine during the weekdays but finished earlier on Sunday evenings; sometimes different combinations of us would stroll over to one of the local Herne Hill pubs to sink a few pints after work. Last call was around eleven. A collection of uniformed first aid volunteers would show up on the weekends. It was an early Sunday evening and a couple of the young uniformed first aid lady volunteers agreed to join us for a few rounds at the local. It had to be after eleven when we; Peter the university student, John the part time criminal from Herne Hill, Mick the Irishman sympathetic to the troubles and a supporter of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, and the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer lurched out of the pub and headed towards the Lido. We had decided to go swimming.
We lifted Mick the Irishman onto the top of the wall and he in turn hoisted John the part time criminal from Herne Hill onto the wall. They let themselves into the first aid room with the key the young uniformed first aid lady volunteer had given them and unlocked the outside door to the park. We all swam starkers, in the moonlight, at Brockwell Lido. As I think back it was fortunate that we had consumed only pints of warm English bitter and not snacked on any of the Scottish eggs available from the bar; waiting in the moonlight for an hour after eating may have proven to be a little tiresome.
The Thailand I remember was a county transitioning from a rest and recreational retreat from the Vietnam War into a tourism mecca. In the mid seventies Chiang Mai was a sleepy country town nestled among the forested foothills of northern Thailand close to Asia’s infamous Golden Triangle; the meeting of Thailand, Burma and Laos and the center of the infamous opium trade. Our back packers hostel was a collection of buildings surrounding by trees and foliage; they ringed a small delightful courtyard. Five of us intrepid travelers set off from our hostel on a two day hike into the mountains and villages of the Golden Triangle. A friend of our guide dropped us off at the entrance to a rough track into the mountains. We dragged ourselves along mud trails, skirted countless opium fields, and trekked through small villages and into and out of Laos and Burma. I wondered if the opium farmers guided their donkey caravans along these old jungle trade paths. It was late afternoon when we arrived at our overnight mountain jungle village.
Before eating and sleeping we were encouraged to cleanse the dried mud and sweat from ourselves in the nearby stream. I think the rivulet was the fresh water supply for the village. I wandered along the stream, downstream from the village. I sat naked in a cold mountain stream in Asia’s Golden Triangle.
Nowadays you can relax during a scenic drive through the countryside in air-conditioned comfort and stop off at attractions such as the Hall of Opium Museum and the Mae Ka Chan hot springs, where you can soak your sore muscles in three natural pools and let tiny fish nibble dead skin from your feet. Which makes me wonder if fish have to wait an hour after they eat before they can go swimming.
I haven’t been swimming for years; maybe I should go swimming in a sand pit. I will probably need to go out and buy a pair of bathers.