Saturday, 11 July 2015

In at the Shallow End

Late evening in the kitchen, and the swimming gear dangles, damp and depressing after a bad day in the pool.
How I hate this swimming lark, but how determined I am not to be defeated by it all.
Then I think, 'Defeat is all right. It will give me more time in the garden'.
But no, I will struggle on.

I was quite excited when I found out that at my local pool people over 75 could have unlimited swimming for £10 a year. When I told my younger son he said, ' Come on, Mum. Everyone in Malvern is over 75. You'll not be able to stand in there'.
Well, he was wrong. Not everyone over 75 wants to swim. And neither do I. At least, I do, but I hate this process of having to master skills that seem to require far more coordination that I possess.

Recently, in a small warm pool in Wales, with lots of grab rails and ladders I could do widths and lengths and float and glide and swim a length underwater. I didn't splash or flounder. I even felt a touch of triumph, once or twice, and the very kind instructor told me I was good. How positive is that? How reinforcing? And how incredibly childish, to need such reassurance in the mid 70s?
Not childish, or rather child-like in the most basically human way. How much better we all feel and respond when we think we are being good. Doing well, accepting approval are things we all need throughout our lives, and when you live alone such things can be in short supply.

However, in the small warm pool in Wales a length is equal to considerably less than a width in the impressive local pool.where a length zooms so far into the distance that it makes my goggles steam up.
A leisure pool is nothing like a swimming pool.
At least not to an insecure old biddy like me.
For starters I can't climb down a ladder, which is my preferred way of getting into water. I have to walk down a sloping tiled 'beach' and when I totter into deeper water there are no comforting rails along the sides.
There is a wave machine, there is a great plastic tube that hurtles people into the deep end. This is fun, apparently.

There is, in compensation, another kindly instructor, and he and I have the vast, echoing, shimmering acreage of turquoise water to ourselves - apart from our own private life-guard, up there on a high perch.
I tell the instructor what I think I can do, and then I find I can't do any of it.
I can do the arms bit.
I can do the legs bit.
I can't do them together. I can't balance, I can't breathe. I gibber. I haven't gibbered for a very long time, but I gibber in the glittering water, and then I can't do anything at all.
How elderly. How humiliating. I wished my son was right, and that it was a case of standing room only. But this is a private lesson, and there is nowhere to hide.
Absolutely nowhere.
The instructor and I formulate a sort-of plan, but I suspect that he sort-of thinks I will give up after such an uncomfortable time..
But I won't.
Even though at that point two dinky four year-olds appear for their private lesson and immediately go into efficient front and back crawl modes.

As I creep back home down the hill, toting a soggy bag of towelling and with knees like jelly, I know that I must creep back up again.

P.S. I've found a ladder. I can get into the water without gibbering. Things are looking up!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Letter to a Granddaughter: Peas in a Pod.

Dear Small Grand-Daughter,

High on a list of my wishes for you is a creative imagination, along with good health and happiness and all the usual grand-motherly concerns. Imagination can be the spice of life, creating magic from the humdrum, peace from the turmoil, fun from the banal......and last weekend, joy from pea-pods. Who would have predicted that shelling peas could be such a wonderful entertainment; for you as the pods went 'pop' and for your parents and me as we watched you quivering with anticipation.......'Do it again, Annie. Do it again,'?

Then you decided that each pod contained a family of peas; mummies and daddies, babies, uncles, aunties, cousins, grannies, so each had to be checked out, and some families were found to be larger and more complex than others. After that came the need to taste uncooked peas, and perhaps their pods as well. It takes quite a time to prepare lunch this way, and perhaps it's only grannies who have the time and patience to do it.
So, thank you for giving me a weekend to spend with you and your widening horizons, and to give me the realisation that grannies are good things with lots to give, even if they can't run about very much.

The question, 'Why?' has become significant lately. Sometimes it is used as a delaying tactic when you've been asked to do something else, but more often it is a real need to know, fuelled by imagination and by your great enthusiasm for books and stories.
We worked through some of your favourites, looking at why things happened the way they did. Peter Rabbit, for instance, had been specifically told not to go into Mr. McGregor's garden, but defied his mother and did so. A few weeks ago you told me that Mr McGregor was 'not kind' shouting at Peter, chasing him and taking his little coat and shoes. This time you worked out that it was Peter who was not kind, eating the vegetables that Mr. McGregor had grown, and that Peter was a bad rabbit, taking things.
Similarly you now think that Goldilocks was wrong, going into someone's house, eating their breakfast, breaking a chair, sleeping in someone else's bed without asking them. You used to think the bears were not good, coming back and frightening her, but now it's Goldilocks who is not kind, frightening the bears.
Not kind.
Not kind at all.
Kindness is important.

In the peace and seclusion of Walnut Cottage we ventured into thoughts of why people ask you not to do things, and we reached a sort of conclusion that it is because Mummy and Daddy don't want you to be hurt. This was clearly the case with Peter Rabbit.

Then you cooked a few meals in your cottage - fish and cheese with tomatoes and carrot juice - yum! You fed your new horse  who is called 'RideaCockHorse' and you are a Fine Lady when you sit on him, although Banbury Cross defeats you somewhat.
You made a lot of (private) phone calls on the remote control for the old t.v. because we couldn't find your official plastic phone. 'Hello...yes, I'm Annie's house. Yes, cooking now....... I'm too busy. Bye!'
This afternoon many people call you via the old remote control, people you know, people from books and nursery rhymes. The witch from Room on the Broom really needed a quick word, but again you were busy in your house, working hard, keeping an eye on the plastic babies in their cradle, constantly mashing up juice in the little liquidiser.....'Tomato or orange, Annie?' 'Have you any cucumber juice?' 'Oh, you are silly, Annie!'

At least  a year ago I found myself marvelling at how much you knew, and how you were making sense of the world.
Now I'm really marvelling, and I have to remind myself that you are someone whose age can still be counted just in months (32).
How on earth has all this happened?

Thank you for teaching me so much, and for reminding me constantly of the simple joys to be found in life.
With love from Granny (Annie).