By Vita Forest
A few weeks ago, Saskia sent me a link to an Australian exhibit at the current Biennale in Venice which is based around that Australian institution – the swimming pool. It got me reminiscing about the centrality of that (usually) rectangular body of water in my own suburban childhood.
We lived an easy walk to the local pool and my sisters and I spent much of our summers there, with or without our parents. We often went with another family of three sisters (two brunettes a and one blonde in reply to our two blondes and one brunette). For quite a few years, both families had a season pass to the pool (it wasn’t open all year round back then), and children under twelve did not have to “be accompanied by an adult”, an older sibling would do.
The pool was an arena for games of Tip, for Rider and Pony fights, for Marco Polo, for handstands, backflips and somersaults. We would jump off the starting blocks in unison or dive down to the deepest part of the deep end, despite the ache in our ears, despite the bursting feeling in our lungs as we raced back to the surface, erupting out into the air again.
We were also a family of serious swimmers, rising early on a Saturday morning to race against others and our own Personal Bests, then sharing our twenty cent coins to pay for a few minutes under the breathtakingly-hot showers, raising hands and turning backs to those blissful, burning jets. Some had yellowing streaks through their hair from the chlorine, some were almost green in their blondness (not me who inherited my mother’s dark hair).
Our next-door neighbour had a pool – a circular above-ground affair stewing with eye-watering chlorine. It was no good for laps but excellent for whirlpools (created by a team effort of jogging around in a circle, sculling the way behind you with your hands until there was enough momentum to lift up feet and be carried around and around and around again.
We reeked of chlorine, our hair was stiff and straw-like from the stuff, our backs branded by the tan-lines of our racing costumes. The clothesline was hung with a permanent collection of dripping cozzies and beach towels.
Now I prefer a salt-water swim if I can get it, and the pools have morphed into year-round aquatic centres with water slides and wave pools. But the smell of chlorine always takes me back to those long-ago summer days when the pool was our parent-free summer playground.