From Scroll 01: Line 01: 115-150ft
Here, now. Air confetti-thick with thistledown; dark clouds behind the ticket booth and that queer tall tree with the triple trunk that — with the slanted 50s red lettering of CLOTHING and TICKETS — gives this pool its aesthetic; this view of which I never tire. Free in the fairytale manner as I am — weekdays between school hours of nine to three; able just six more months to live off my first two decades’ savings — I can be here in this fixed spot and, at the same time, elsewhere: this is 1950s America, the one of Cheever, Updike; it is France in the 60s; Germany of the 20s. What it is for others I hope to discover over the coming months. This project’s advertised questions are “When did you feel most wild and free: in body, your mind?” and “To what did you ever give your whole, wild patience?” but I am still and always possessed with my childhood’s longing to know how all of this is for others. This strange work, like my time as a hospice life-story scribe then, a way to slip the confines of my own skin, this one time and place which is all I’m allotted. And this opportunity to sit alone in a public space, feeling the light and wind shift over my half-bare body: A freedom not permitted how many of the world’s women?
From Scroll 01: Line 7: 102-150ft
I find this in Adrienne Rich while putting out the swimming-pool library for the day: ‘Anger and tenderness: my selves./And now I can believe they breathe in me/ as angels, not polarities./Anger and tenderness: the spider’s genius/to spin and weave in the same action/from her own body, anywhere — even from a broken web.’ A sudden, total grasp of myself and what I am doing with this self-chosen, unpaid work, done to an unceasing inner compulsion: Look at me working in the shady edges of the everyday, sometimes come upon and watched at my careful, intricate work, other times unseen here in the dim of the hornbeam trees — swimmers on a glaring day like this would need to shade their eyes and stand still while their sight adjusted and who ever did that except small children, hedge-dwelling birds and poets? So this is what I’m doing look — my web broke a decade ago when Granny died and her dear little bungalow, True North, my only fixed point, was sold away ————— and look what is happening here, I can’t finish this sentence, as if extending it for another thirty feet it can, will, like the spider’s thread, keep me attached to all that is lost, and so I shall try it, attempt at the level of ink and grammar to bring it all together briefly, for a shimmering few minutes in which — that dream of all poets always, Eliot, Rumi, Dante, Rich, to have suspended time — to use the last of this first scroll to be all the women of my line, to shed the biographies and the bitter times — to be all of us merged in our glorious girlhood selves, when we were free of expectation, when we pretended to ice-skate down dusty summer lanes, when we cut the cat’s whiskers so it got stuck in small spaces, when an older sibling put the pudding bowl over our head and cut around it so all the golden curls, so soft they felt almost damp, like dark sugar, so all the hair lay on the floor and our mother cried more than she had over the dead babies — to be all of us, all at once, pure energy, pure attention — I’m crying behind my glasses as those other long-distance solitary women do when they stumble out of the water having done a thing beyond them — Lynne Cox who crossed the freezing Bering Strait between Alaska and the Soviet Union in the Cold War, Diana Nyad at 64 who swam without a shark cage from Cuba to Florida (and through another man-made blockade, look) — yes, I’m crying with joy and exhaustion and the knowledge I will have to stop spinning and let the other women fall away; the idea too that even though I have another four of these to go, this too will end — impossible distance though it still feels — and then the suspended fairytale time it has conjured for me, genie-like, will recede.
From Scroll 01: Line 01: 71-115ft
I have, late in the day, taken action, however humble, to live a little as my heroes did, and to not have continued using motherhood, mortgage, home improvements and all the other trappings of one’s time and place to keep me in. I’m not free like Whitman or Kerouac to wander across vast countries, or man fire towers in Canadian forests — and yet. The freedom of park benches and the appendix-end of the canal in the working week these last three years; to sit so still a heron’s wing touched my cheek and a woodpecker flew into my chest; to become now this pool’s spirit of place for a season: This has kindled in me something that was almost out.
Scroll 03: Line 05: 0-28 ft
To watch a public pool open at noon on a heatwave – hot May bank holiday is alarming, a force of leisure. After queuing for half an hour or more on the shadeless towpath, anchored to folding chairs, cooler-bags and swim things, visitors rush in like water over a harbour wall — children strip and throw their shoes sidelong, anyhow, and empty their families’ carefully-packed supplies on the grass (as the four I’ve brought along today have done). New goggles get bought and their hard plastic packets ripped open with teeth or car keys, the sharp fragments left almost invisible on the grass. Shouting, threats, tears. How will I bear it, I always think, and what is the point, wedged in between someone’s padlocked bike and the huge green wheelie bin? I feel, to myself, like those sad animals in the bad seaside zoos of my childhood, chewing on my warm sandwich and looking up from it to meet the eyes of the few who look at me, bemused. (‘Fucking hell,’ says a young mother from out of town, eyebrows and lashes and lid pencilled on with great care, ‘unless I sign my name on something I never touch a pen.’) Why write, when the children I’ve brought with me run back every five minutes to ask about crisp packets, lost towels, money for lollies. Why write? But then my son dries himself to come give me a hug — proud of me, he says — and I see this is my version of my beloved Granny Shadrick digging her vegetable garden while I and all the kids in her street made wigwams out of her bedspreads and played golf on the putting green she improvised on her lawn one summer when I was the age mine are now, when powers of invention begin first to waver. [Oh, sting in my sinus — such love — at that memory being sprung by this unlikely setting; oh, my white-haired, sturdy grandmother, on her knees a whole afternoon digging holes in her beautiful lawn so she could sink flowerpots for us. How proud I was of what she herself called her ‘ingenuity.’ No chalk for a hopscotch grid? She’d get down and make it by rubbing aspirins into the tarmac. Out of paper? Again? Now hold your horses, she’d go in the garage and have a look. There! And old roll of wallpaper, blank on the back look…well yes it was bumpy because of the raised pattern on the front but that would make it more fun, you moaning minnies — make a land out of it, ponds, rivers, flowers… ———— And now I stop and go goose-bumped despite the heat to see how there and then has influenced here and now: what are the scrolls if not Granny’s wallpaper rolls reincarnated].
Scroll 02: Line 02: 86-150 ft
Second of my long Fridays at poolside. I rose at the first early alarm like a fisherman, dressing while my lunch of boiled eggs rattled in the pan, and was waterside for 7am. Now it is ten-thirty on this day where I am determined to keep watch over the whole twelve hours of the pool’s opening, save for the last hour in which I walked to the fruit stall for the last of the season’s English cherries & the pink French radishes I’ve been eating like sweets. When I left, the pool was mirror-smooth after the last of the early morning lap swimmers; I’ve returned to find the town’s mothers with toddlers circling their pushchairs like waggons around the puddles of shade, settling their territory for the day. A little nostalgia for my days of that; mainly relief that I’m free to read and write again. Lots of the older girl children this year have pink- or plum-coloured ponytails — some stall must have been offering a dip-dye service (last years threads were all the rage — coloured cotton woven into a thin strand of hair; & the season before that children sat drying in the sun working seriously at plastic bands which could be plaited into a variety of complex bracelets.) The adornments of summer — as, for me, thirty years ago, when I rushed to the nearest beach shop to buy flipflops with marble-patterned soles and a screw-clasp bracelet to put around my wrist-slim ankle. Many of the women this season are wearing straw trilbys and loose, patterned harem pants. Younger men from out of town have these strange lumberjack beards which suit them clothed but look odd once they’re stripped to their trunks & immersed in the pool, as if they are swimming with their socks on.