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Pickle Me This

June 25, 2021

3 Things for 42

Yesterday was my birthday, and there were three things that I wanted to do.

I went to see my book in a real indie bookstore! I was lucky to see it in Indigo before the province shut down in November, but seeing it at Book City was definitely a dream come true. Even better: I got to buy books, after I’d signed mine.

I went to get my second vaccination! Stuart had his the day before. Harriet gets hers tomorrow. What a thing to have this all done before the beginning of summer. We are so profoundly grateful—for our opportunity, and also for everybody else who’s doing their part to get us to the end of all this.

And then after dinner, we went swimming! After no city pools at all in 2020 (they were open, but required lining up, and I am not big on line ups if I’m not guaranteed something at the end of one), it feels extraordinary to be back again. I’d tell you that I’ve learned not to take these ordinary things for granted…but I really never ever did.

June 23, 2021

Returning

Something that is surprising me about my feelings about the world reopening again after a very long and difficult time is that I AM SO READY FOR IT. Like ridiculously ready. There is no trepidation, or anxiety, or complicated feelings (though of course there are. But far fewer than you’d think). None of it is complicated in the slightest: I want to do all the things. Bring on the Roaring Twenties, Motherfuckers! Basically, if I’m not dead in Jay Gatsby’s pool by the end of August, what have I even done with my summer?

I have erred on the side of caution over the last year and a half. We did visit the museum and art gallery when permitted, and my children returned to school in person in September, but we haven’t socialized with other families since last summer when we’d picnic in the park. My mom came to see us at Christmas, but we sat apart with the windows wide open (and you can imagine how pleasant that was in the depths of winter). I’ve not been inside anybody else’s home, or eaten in a restaurant. We at dinner on a patio once in October, but only because we couldn’t find anywhere to get takeout from, and it definitely wouldn’t have been our first choice…

But now we’ve thrown all caution to the wind. (WITHIN REASON! I am still only gathering outdoors for the summer, keeping distance, wearing masks when I can’t. Tomorrow I receive my second vaccination shot.) I WANT TO DO ALL THE THINGS. Last Friday, Stuart and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary with a dinner on a patio. It felt like a dream. Sharing space with other people! Drinking beer out of a proper glass! Choosing to order dessert! I sat down and thought, “Delta variant!” but then put that bad thought out of my head, because I am finished with this pandemic. You know that thing that people kept saying all winter, something like, “The pandemic is not over just because you’re over it.” But you know what? It is. I am. BYE BYE BYE.

On Sunday evening, a dream came true. After a year and a half of (mostly) patient waiting, our family returned to our sacred swimming ground, the Alex Duff Pool at Christie Pits Park. Which seems much closer to our house than it did before everyone in our family became a cyclist, but now it’s just the most pleasant, swiftest journey away, up Brunswick and across on Barton. I didn’t dare to really hope that it would happen—the possibility of thunder clouds, or a pool fouling. I’ve learned over the past year and more not to think too far into the future, just to take things as they come instead, but it came. Six o clock, and we were let into the pool area (45 swim sessions reserved online, no use of change areas, but still) and there it was, the place I’d been dreaming of since Labour Day 2019, which was the last time we’d swam there. Even better? As the other swimmers began to arrive (attendance was capped) we discovered we had friends among them, and I jumped into the deep pool without testing the water, and it was like no time had passed at all.

June 7, 2021

Gone Swimming

I swam! I swam! Not in Lake Ontario on Friday after we cycled to Ward’s Island, which would have been ideal because I had actually packed a bathing suit, but I didn’t swim there because the water was so cold and so was the air, although I did make it in to my waist and it was wonderful. (Both my kids swam though. It was incredible! I don’t know how they did it.) But the next day, which was Iris’s birthday, we drove to the Kortright Conservation Centre for a picnic and a walk in the forest, with intentions to dip our feet in the creek, and then it turned out that the one spot on the creek where we stopped was a perfect swimming hole, and so naturally I skipped down to my skivvies and swam right in, and it was GLORIOUS. The most beautiful spot, and there was no one else around, except for my children, who were mortified, but there was no one else around, and not all of us can swim at sub-arctic temperatures, children. Sometimes you have wait for the creek, the wildest swim I’ve ever taken, I think, although not so wild that there wasn’t a lifesaving float secured on the bank. Clearly I’m not the first person to take a dip there. But it was indeed a joyous way to kick off the 2021 swimming season.

July 24, 2020

122 Days

I don’t remember my last swim, though I remember the date. March 11, which stands out for many of us in all kinds of ways, and it was the last day of a lot of things—that evening I would run my cart through the grocery store heaped with cans of beans and bags of chips (necessary supplies for impending disaster). It was the last day my children were both at school, because Iris woke up with a cough on Thursday and I didn’t want to chance it. It was the last day of normal life still seeming like a possibility, through we had cancelled our trip to England, which was due to happen the following week. But on Wednesday March 11, we still weren’t sure we weren’t overreacting. By Thursday morning, I would be overwhelmed with dread and skipping my swim (why chance it?), my towel and bathing suit hanging over the railing in my bedroom where they would stay for the next four months.

I need to have a towel hanging on the railing, even when I’m not swimming at all.

But then last week at the cottage (I think it’s interesting the way we say “at the cottage” as though there were one, as though the specificity mattered in the slightest), there were towels hanging on the railing all week. There were bath towels too, but we didn’t even use them, because nobody is required to shower when you swim in the lake every day. Every day twice a day.

We’ve never had our own personal waterfront before, been just 47 steps from a swim. Though it wasn’t so much more than that in that 100-days-ago era, back when I used to swim every morning, when I would leave the house at 7:00am and be in the pool by 7:15, pushing off for my very first length, never once taking such an extraordinary privilege for granted.

But on summer holiday, there is no such need for early rising, and it’s far more vital to linger in bed with refilled cups of tea. Finally making our way down to the water mid-morning once the heat of the day had started rising, and leaping off the end of the dock. Every day I got to fly.

Truth be told, I’ve been able to fill the swimming void. We do yoga every morning and it makes my body feel the same way swimming does, stretched and limber. For exercise, I’ve been riding a stationary bicycle, which I don’t like—but at least it permits me to read at the same time. It turns out that as much as swimming itself, I missed the aesthetics of swimming. I saw an illustration of a blue circle back in the spring, and it moved me to tears. We bought a smallish pool for our backyard, and while I can’t swim in it, I can sit on an inflatable tube and float, which fulfills nearly all my aquatic needs.

But there is something about a lake, particularly one that’s 47 steps down from the door. A lake on such rugged terrain that there is no seaweed, but instead rock-faces, rocks themselves, and long lost tree trunks. The water so clear that I could see down to the bottom: a kitchen sink, a sunken rowboat.

Every day, I swam across our bay to the beach on the other side, equipped with goggles and earplugs. Last summer I could swim long distance, all the way to the island where we picnic, but now I’m out of practice. There was a point where our inflatable flamingo was taken by the wind, and I chased after it, caught it, so I’ve still got it, is what I’m saying. Not much of it, mind, but it was the most exhilarating swim of the holiday for sure.

I’d wondered about renting a cottage without a beach—it was a “con” as we were choosing a place. But it turned out to be the best thing ever—no sand, not a grain of it, which under normal cottage week situations would be caught up in my bed sheets by Tuesday, and I’d be sweeping the floor at least five times a day. Okay, we were still sweeping the floor, because whoever owned the place appears to have had a very, very fluffy white dog… But the lack of sand was amazing. Who needs sand anyway? Beaches are nothing compared with the end of a dock, the leap and the plunge. The kids who get to show off their swimming skills, nervous as the holiday began, but by the end of the week, they were fish.

We had one last swim before we left on Saturday. (I have completely forgotten about the horseflies, as I knew I would. You can’t see them in the photographs.) Like all the other swims, this one was perfect. Smallish lakes are always the nicest temperature in July, invigorating but inviting. When we got home that afternoon, the towels were still damp, like a memory.

September 11, 2018

I am a swimmer

What I have to show for my last decade in athletics is not a whole lot—I once signed up for ten yoga classes but only went to one, and we still have the evidence of the running shoes my husband bought me when I decided to take up jogging that show remarkably little wear. Which is just two examples, and narratively anti-climactic, but it underlines the point I’m trying to make: I dislike most forms of exercise so much that I rarely quit them, because I’d have to join them first. Not doing things I dislike doing is pretty much the cornerstone of my approach to being alive: I don’t want to push through the pain, or feel the burn. If being miserable, even for limited periods of time, is a pre-requisite for physical activity, than take my name off the list. For a while I made do with a stationary bicycle, because while riding it at least I could read.

But now—like the shoes, and like the yoga passes nearly a decade expired, the stationary bicycle sits unused—draped with winter coats in an upstairs closet. It’s been at least two years since I’ve sat upon its little seat and spun its futile wheels into nowhere—but not for the reason you might be thinking. Oh, no. Because it’s also been two years now since I purchased a membership to the university athletic centre near my house. A membership I bought (inspired by Lindsay) just after getting a raise at my job and therefore being able to afford to put my youngest daughter in full-day preschool, which left time in the day for some kind of physical activity. I would go swimming, I decided. Maybe this would be a thing I could do, and I wouldn’t quit, because it wouldn’t be awful.

And it wasn’t, and I didn’t. And in the next few days, I will renew my membership again. Because I love it, swimming. I love it so much, I get up early in the morning to do it, much to the surprise of the people who know me, because it’s the only thing I’ve ever gotten out of bed for, and before 7am either. Four days a week (but not Friday, because on Friday everyone at rec swim is crammed into half of the 50 metre pool—the long half and not the short half—and it’s crowded and unpleasant) I wake up at 6:50 am and wriggle into my bathing suit, which is set out with my towel. Throw on clothes over top and rush to the pool, where I’m in the water by 7:15, and I swim for half an hour. During which I think, catalogue anxieties, solve plot problems, compose blog posts, try to remember all the verses to “American Pie,” and swim back and forth in the medium lane. Which is so my speed—the medium lane. It’s where I like to be.

I’ve loved swimming for a long time—I was lucky to have a pool in my backyard when I was growing up, and so even though I failed Bronze Cross twice because I couldn’t do the timed swim, I recall spending ages under water, turning somersaults, leaping high, partaking in an agility I did not partake in on dry land. When I lived in England, I longed for lakes, and once went swimming in a pond just to get my fix. One day on holiday in 2004, Stuart and I jumped into a hotel pool  and discovered after two years together that we both liked swimming a lot, so much so that later in the week we’d jump into another hotel pool even though it was green, and I’d get a rash—me getting a rash will become a running theme here. And when I was pregnant with Harriet, I worked at the university, and went swimming every day on my lunch hour, delighting in the freedom of movement, and of floating suspended the way my baby was—the very first thing we ever did together.

But it’s hard to fit swimming into a busy life. For a long time, swimming was a special occasion, and I started buying expensive mail-order movie star bathing costumes to better suit my weird-postpartum body. But the thing that no one tells you about movie star bathing suits is that when you wear them a lot in chlorine, they become worn out and hideous. Six years later, my body even weirder and more-postpartum, I buy unflattering sporty suits from the clearance rack, because I like the uniform, its utilitarian nature. I am not a bathing beauty, I am a swimmer. I am a swimmer. In Swell: A Waterbiograpy, Jenny Landreth writes about the power of this realization, her reluctance to own it, how we undermine our abilities—”I’m not that good. And I’m not fast.” To belong in a space like a pool, a gym. I have a place here. It has been two years, and I am a swimmer.

I am allergic to lake water, and have a sunlight sensitivity that a lot of other people have tried to tell me that they have experienced too, and some of them have, but not the ones who say, “It’s like a heat rash, right?” Because those people have never had their eyelids swell up or been unable to sleep for unbearable itching. This year was the third summer in a row that I’ve gone through in big hats and SPF clothing, including a purple hoodie I wear in the water. (The photo above is me like a normal person in a bathing suit just because I wanted a photo opportunity. Naturally, after three minutes of sun exposure, I got a rash, but the photo was worth it.) And so it’s a bit absurd that I love swimming and beaches more than I ever did, when a practical person might find a different kind of pursuit—badminton? But we make it work. We have a sun tent so I can beach all day and stay in the shade, and when I go to the beach I always bring a bathing suit to change into, because my lake water allergy kicks in when I sit around in wet bathing suits. (I know, I know. I am infinitely sexy.) And while this is inconvenient, the result is that I now have so many bathing suits. While we were away on holiday by a lake in the summer, I marvelled at the array of them drying on pegs in our cottage bathroom—I have so many bathing suits. Because I’m allergic to lake water, okay, but also because I am a swimmer. I am a swimmer.

And I love that, having so many bathing suits. Some of which look really good on me and others (see the purple one above: NOT FLATTERING) do not, but how I look is not even the point (although it certainly is in this stunning photo to the left), but what I can do: swimsuits are for swimming. I am a swimmer. And once upon a time I paid a lot of money for a bathing suit that made me feel good, and I know there are other women for whom bathing suit shopping is a form of torture, and some women who won’t appear in public in a bathing suit at all. Whereas I have a bathing suit bouquet. And as a woman on the cusp of being forty, I see this as an accomplishment I’m proud of, how it sets the kind of example I want to set for the two small women I gave birth to. An indication that I’m right where I want to be at this point in my life, a good and fortunate place.

A place which is, often, literally flying.

August 15, 2018

Swell: A Waterbiography, by Jenny Landreth

The gendered nature of swimming is something I think about all the time, although most often when I am sharing a lane with a man who has found taking up ample space by merely having longer limbs than I do unacceptable, and therefore has decided to enhance his lengths with flippers on his feet and paddles on his hands, increasing his chances of making violent contact with my body as he passes me. The women in the pool I swim at don’t do this, and neither do they, as one swimmer in Jenny Landreth’s spectacular book Swell: A Waterbiography does, butterfly up and down narrow lanes driving all other swimmers into the gutter. In her recent book, Boys, Rachel Giese writes about the way that boys are taught to be entitled to public space, as they dominate the basketball courts on the playground, and because I spend most of my time hiding in libraries, I don’t encounter this very much, but it’s in the pool I do. And it all makes me think of the line on the very first page of Swell, which was where I fell in love with this book: “how swimming can be a barometer for women’s equality.” We’ve all come a long way, but still.

Swell is my favourite book I’ve read this summer, a summer that has been all about swimming, in pools and lakes, as both my children are both at pivotal stages in the development of their inner fishes, and we can worry slightly less about the little one drowning. I’ve gone swimming by myself four mornings a week along with the men with the hand paddles and the flippers, and then later in the day we’ve all gone to the public pool and I’ve sat in the shallows and tried not to think about pee as my daughters delighted in turning somersaults over and over again. So yes, Swell was just absolutely perfect.

It’s a book I’d situate as what might happen if Sue Townsend of Adrian Mole fame got together with Elizabeth Renzetti’s Shewed and they decided to have a literary baby that was also a social history of women swimming in England. The result is absolutely delightful, empowering, and so terrible funny in its asides that I kept reading them aloud to the people around me who became very confused about what this book was about exactly. But that’s because it’s about everything, about the history of suffrage, and bathing suits, and public pools, and mixed beaches, and how women used to drown all the time because they weren’t taught to swim, and about how when they decided they did want to learn how to swim, no one could teach them because all the instructors were men and men and women couldn’t possible swim together. It’s about pools where women were accorded very little time for swimming, and it was usually during the day when no one could make it anyway. It’s about women who defied convention (and their mothers!) to become swimming superstars, pioneering the front crawl in England, swimming the English channel, being the first women swimmers in the Olympic games.

Landreth writes, “‘In front of every great woman is another great woman… Women whose lies will change. Some who will take this story, make it their story and push it on to its next pages.”

And of course, Landreth’s own story is part of this book, her “waterbiography”—and she admits to being proud to have coined the term. She grew up in the Midlands, which is kind of a swimming desert—when I lived there I was once so desperate for a swim that I dove in the duck pond on the Nottingham University Jubilee Campus—and was an unlikely candidate to become an avid swimmer for a host of reasons. She writes about learning to swim as a child, about travelling to Greece in her 20s and trying proper swimming for the first time, about lacklustre swimming as part of the 1980s’ fitness craze, about what an awful and unfulfilling thing it is to go swimming with small children—and then about finding her identity as a swimmer once her children were older, and what a thing it is that women can do this at any age. About how empowering it was to learn to call herself a swimmer.

There is indeed something womanly about swimming, in spite of the Michael Phelpses and the men with paddles on their hands. I mean, have you ever heard of a male mermaid? No. And I can’t for the life of me think of a single man who’s swam across Lake Ontario, but I know about Marilyn Bell and Vicki Keith, and Annaleise Carr, a swimming hero for every generation. I have dreams of one day swimming in the Ladies Pond at Hampstead Heath. I used to buy terrifically fancy swimsuits, but lately I’ve become enamoured of my sporty suits, the ones I wear while swimming in the pool in the mornings. Where my favourite swimmer is this woman I’ve never spoken to, but she’s my hero—grey bathing cap (I wouldn’t know her without it) and same bathing suit as mine, a bit stocky, older than I am. And in the pool every morning, she’s the fastest every time.

More on swimming:

December 1, 2016

Swimming Lessons: Addendum

img_20161014_145046Full disclosure necessitates I update you on how things have proceeded since I read about exiting Guardian Swim and the beginning of my new career reading on the poolside. I thought I was being so clever this time, not keeping my child in Guardian Swim until she was five, which was what happened last time. Never again was I going to have my school-age child in the same swimming class as an infant, and so Iris was enrolled in Sea Turtle. This time we were going to do it right, and it was so right, for the first two lessons, at least. Iris is part mermaid and was happily floating on her back, and she had the most excellent swimming instructor in the entire history of our life in recreational programs…and then, for absolutely no reason, when we arrived at class for Week 3, Iris refused to get into the pool. And there we’ve been ever since, Iris screaming whenever forced to come into contact with the water, turning her body into a plank or a noodle, whichever would prove most inconvenient. And when you’re a parent who’s been expecting to spent 30 minutes reading poolside, the prospect of a screaming kid refusing to enter the pool is most frustrating. There was swearing.

Last week was the second last class, and there was finally progress. Iris got in the pool, but in order for this to happen I had to be crouching at the pool’s edge, basically sitting in a puddle and being splashed whenever anyone practiced kicking. There was no reading.

All of which is to say that this underlines my growing suspicion that there is really no way to do parenthood right. No matter how you swing things, they’re probably always going to be a bit annoying.

October 4, 2016

Goodbye, Guardian Swim.

swimming-harrietWhen Harriet was a baby, we had no money but plenty of time, and so instead of enrolling her in swimming lessons as the swishy pool near our house (with salt water and everything!) I signed up for cheap swimming lessons at the city-run pool that was far away and at the top of the only hill in this entire city. It was better than joining a gym, I decided, and only cost $33 dollars, and so began my Guardian Swim years, which is the more inclusive name for the Parent and Tot program I remember from my own childhood.

In the beginning, I was very excited. In the beginning, I find, parents need to strive in order to enact parenthood properly (luckily, many of us outgrow this compulsion) and guardian swim was one way to do so. It was also something to do with my baby that didn’t involve me lying on the carpet being bored out of my mind. It got us out of the house. (The idea that there was a time in my life when I was desperate for excuses to “get out of the house” distresses me now. That sounds awful. I never want to be that person ever ever again.) I am sure I found the first lesson exhilarating. Fortunately, I was never that poor parent whose baby screamed throughout the entire lesson every week and eventually we had to give up going swimming altogether, $33 dollars sadly to waste. Harriet liked the water, I liked having something to do, and so we did it, session after session. I have done “The Fish Wishy” so many times.

Oh, Guardian Swim. Once in a  while I signed up for you, and the first class would have this terrific, dynamic teacher with lots of games, songs and ideas, and every time we met that teacher, she or he taught the one class and we never saw them again. Most of the other instructors had a short repertoire, and then would grant the class “free time,” and my baby and I would flounder aimlessly in the pool watching the clock until it was time to go home. There would be plastic toys, and the children would be drawn to them, but once the baby had a toy boat in hand, there wouldn’t be so much to do.

My most favourite part of Guardian Swim was when my husband took the baby into the pool, and I sat poolside reading a book. My least favourite part was when the instructor would give us an obligatory educational session, like how we shouldn’t leave our babies unattended by backyard pools or feed them marbles in case they choked. I also wasn’t big into the times that people pointed out that swim diapers contain faces but not urine, the thing that most of were trying really hard not to think about. There was the sessions with Shaheed, who was the worst teacher ever, and often would forget to come class, never mind that I’d climbed that hill and got my kid ready for it (and got out of the house even—no small feat) and when we got there and he wasn’t, they wouldn’t let us get in the pool. The seventeen-year-old lifeguard would shrug, no idea about my sacrifice—”Nothing I can do,” he’d say.

From Guardian Swim, I learned that I should get dressed before my child does, otherwise she will take her dry-clothed-self and sit right down in a puddle on the change room floor. I learned that she could play with my keys while I got changed, and be sufficiently entertained. She learned how to blow bubbles and how to kick her little legs. I learned not to feed her marbles. Nobody, however, ever learned to swim.

When Harriet was nearly four, she was still in Guardian Swim. I look back upon this with the confusion many parents do when they consider their experiences with their first child. Why were we still doing that? I think part of the problem was that she was terrified of us letting go of her in the water, and clung to me so hard it strangled. She wasn’t comfortable, and neither was I. I was waiting for something to happen, something to happen that would allow us to progress, but that something never arrived. The last time I signed Harriet up for Guardian Swim at the pool at the top of that great big hill, I was very pregnant, and I’d never considered the agony of pushing a stroller with a four-year-old up at that hill in such a condition. It was terrible. Harriet wasn’t learning anything, and there was a six-month-old baby in her class who had better technique than she had. Something was going to have to change.

irisWhen Iris was born, we were no longer broke. Not only could we afford the salt-water pool, but the convenience seemed worth every penny. Harriet began a swim program that wasn’t geared to infants, and it was Iris’s turn for Guardian Swim. Which I think she was enrolled in three times total. Because neither of us felt like getting in the pool, and it was always cold, and she always had a cold. I was tired of doing the fishy wishy.

We moved to the nearby university pool eventually (spoiled for pool choice, I know) because Harriet needed some help getting caught up and the shallow teaching pool gave her more confidence. The half hours we passed in that pool during Iris’s classes could possibly be scientifically proven to be the longest 30 minutes on record. Even though Iris could actually swim. Like, she was leaping out of our arms and we kept having to catch her before she sunk, and if we’d been daring enough not to bother, she might have floated after all.

By this point, we hated Guardian Swim. It was unfathomably boring. The other children were annoying. The teachers were children. Every week we’d go, and I’d cross my fingers for a pool fouling so we could go home early.

But finally, we have arrived. Last week Harriet began her first swim lesson in the “big pool” upstairs, and she was the first kid in her class to jump in the water (when once upon a time, she was vehemently opposed to such things, and I used to berate her about it, made her practice jumping off the bottom step of our staircase until she cried—not my finest moment as a parent, and it turns out her instructor was right when he suggested we leave her alone and she’d figure it out in time). And Iris started Sea Turtle, the first level post-Guardian Swim, and she was amazing, dunking her head and floating on her back, and these things that she would never have been brave enough to do had I been in the pool alongside her.

And me? I was where I’d always been waiting to be, cheering along poolside, content in the company of an excellent book. So happy with the progress, which is generally where I tend to be in terms of parenting, not looking back in sadness but just so happy to be moving on. Enjoying the ride. “Little girls get a little less little but instead of it feeling sad, it feels exhilarating,” writes Rebecca Woolf on the occasion of her daughter’s eighth birthday, and I love that idea.

Why not embrace the momentum, because it’s not going anywhere—but you are.

September 19, 2016

Swimming

img_20160915_144809

Emboldened by the fact of my children being enrolled in school between the hours of 9 and 3, and inspired by blog Swimming Holes We Have Known (which had me craving blue waters all summer long), I joined the university swimming pool last week, which is conveniently located minutes from  my house and the playschool. For a half hour every day, I’ve been swimming lengths in the medium-slow lane, usually just after writing my daily 1000 words of my novel (which hit 71,000 words last week) and so I’m usually mediating on problems of character as I swim (and also pondering what Mad Men has taught me about storytelling). The last time I swam regularly was when I was pregnant with Harriet, which I wrote about here, and so the whole experience in terms of senses and psyche is tied up with the feelings of physical well-being I felt during that time, and also something womb-like, which is not original or such a stretch, but still. It’s the only kind of exercise that I don’t hate—that I love, even (though we’re only one week in, but still there’s something to this).

April 30, 2015

Swimming Swimming by Gary Clement

swimming-swimming

I love so many things about Gary Clement’s picture book, Swimming, Swimming, whose text is the lyrics to the traditional song that begins, “Swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool…” First, that it’s a book to be sung to, which is often engaging to readers who might not be engaged by being read to or partial to sitting still. It’s a song that’s fun to sing, even more fun to howl. Second, that it’s a summer-in-the-city book, celebrating the goodness of the public pool, an institution as vital as the library (which is saying something). In our family, we’ve become fond of swimming in the summer at the pool at Christie Pits, which is always crowded and attracts a more diverse crowd than anywhere else we ever go. There’s never any room to actually swim, I’m always irritated by teenage boys plunging in and splashing my children, and probably everyone is peeing, but friction, close quarters and pee are an inevitable part of urban life. There is beauty in the chaos, in the unabashed humanness of it all, and on hot summer days, there is no sweeter relief.

In fun, vintage style cartoon drawings (a style he used to similar effect in the nostalgia-driven Oy, Feh, So?, written by Cary Fagan), Clement depicts a summer day in the life of a swim-obsessed boy—obsession demonstrated by posters on the his walls, a diving trophy on his bureau, the fish in the bowl. And I love too this portrayal of a young person’s singular passion. The boy’s pals come by to pick him up, and together they make their way to the pool, practising their strokes along the sidewalk in a funky choreography.

swimming

They get changed, shower, arrive on deck—which is crowded with people of all ages, sizes and colours—and the song begins. It begins with the boy and his friends (the text in voice bubbles), but those around them join in the for the next line. The characters play off each other, acting out their signature strokes (and do like “fancy diving too!” in big rainbow letters, the illustration a vertical spread, as the girl of the group of friends leaps from the diving board in a loop-de-loop). And by the end of the song, everyone in the pool has stopped to face the reader and deliver the song’s final line, a very worthy question: “Oh don’t you wish you never had anything else to do?”

But alas, the pool is closing. (Or has their been a fouling?) Everybody packs up their towels and sunscreen, and makes their way for the locker room, a mirror image of the first half of the book augmented by a quick trip to the nearby ice cream truck (and this is summer-in-the-city indeed). The boy heads home, eats his dinner, feeds the fish, and collapses into bed, the goggles he’s still holding in his hand as he sleeps suggesting that tomorrow might be a day just like today was.

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Photo Kerry Clare with her Laptop

My Books

The Doors
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