10 Forsythia Grove
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT
July 10 2000
My Dear Harriet
Thank you for your enthralling epistle on the subject of chicken care. I am relieved not to have any chickens – and especially cockerels – in my own life. And please don’t – ever – put yourself down. You are becoming exceptional, and that is life’s largest skill of all.
It is Sunday morning here in Outer Hamlet and I have risen early with the purpose of attending the swimming pool. As my feet – clad in white plimsolls – padded along the pavement, I became conscious of that rather sweet smell redolent of warmth and rain and the slow composting of organic material which has fallen to the ground. A faint mist of rain was falling and the world was as quiet as any human being could wish for.
As I trekked across the recreation ground – and all the beheaded white clovers – I thought of how different swimming pools have become since the war. If you recall, Harriet, I was but nine years old when the war ended and, by then, had only experienced the occasional immersion in freezing cold municipal baths (for they were baths then). It is only since the Great War – when male recruits were deemed to be lacking physical fitness – that the emphasis has shifted from keeping clean to keeping fit. And indeed, before then, swimming baths were thought to be positively dangerous places harbouring the organism thought to cause polio. My own experience, as a child aged eight or so, was that the swimming baths were likely to be closed owing to the impossibility of obtaining an essential part – customarily made by men then fighting in the navy, air force, or army.
This morning, however, I have pushed and pulled my way through heavy doors, decked myself out in a rather appealing-looking turquoise swimming costume, and headed for the water. I have enjoyed my recent experiences of kicking through the water on my back, kicking through the water on my front, and treading water. It has also been most wonderful to exhale air at the ‘deep’ end, exhaling bubbles, and kick back up to the surface from the bottom. But something has been lost, I feel, from the ambience of the modern day swimming pool compared with that of earlier times. Depth for a start. It now would seem virtually impossible to drown in a contemporary pool as the water is so shallow and the pool dimensions so short and narrow. And do you remember the time when it was possible to actually dive into – the really deep – end from a spring board or a gradually ascending height of boards? But most of all I think I miss the blue, or green, ceramic tiles which lined the pool itself and the walls of the great buildings which housed them.
With love as ever