New Beginnings

study file

It is a hot day near the end of the school summer holidays. It has been the usual. So much swimming. Chlorine is the smell of summer. Stretchy bathers that are wearing away. Rashies that sag to the knees.

A pile of notes has arrived for me from the Uni.

I am going to study.

I am in wet bathers at my desk. I open the package. Jasper thinks it is a present. It is of a kind.

It has modules in it. Wrapped in plastic and prepunched ready for a lever arch file. I can make a trip to Office Works. Legitimately.

I begin to read what they call Module Zero on the internet. It has taken me an age to get this far. For some reason (but no doubt something I was to blame for) I had created two logins and the one I am using has no material in its downloadable files. They needed to give me a new password and chose elephant. Why elephant I wonder? I access it. Module Zero. It is a pre module. It is something to think about before you even begin to study. Reading it makes my heart race. It is about learning and memory and what are the best ways to motivate you and how to remember and how to study. Left brain. Right brain. What about No brain? What I am remembering is the terror of University. The fear of failure. Yes like Pavlov’s dog the bundle of notes have triggered a learned response. Panic.

I tell myself to breath. As if from heaven, I am interrupted by ten year olds who must go to the pool or else they will die.

Here they spend time devising a plan to get ice cream.

Eating a proper lunch first might just be the only way.

It is too hot to be a spectator. I get in to do laps. But it is half hearted; since I have done all the laps I had planned to do this week. I can just get in the water and flop about. But habit kicks in and so I mosey on up and down. In the lane next door a man is swimming in his khaki knee length shorts complete with belt.

Mmm I think. He must be desperate to swim. Overwhelmed by the heat perhaps. Some kind of foreign tourist unaccustomed to bathing suits…

At the end of the fifty metres I am about to turn when I look across and see him sitting on the edge of the pool smiling broadly at me. Excuse me, he says. I lift my goggles to eye him. What length is the pool?

Clearly he is pleased with the completion of his one lap.

It is an Olympic pool, I say. Fifty metres long.

Everyone is so happy here, he says. So many laughing children.

Yes, I suppose so.

I have not thought about who is happy and who is not.

I hang on the lane rope looking at him and his smile. Something about him invites questions. Perhaps the way he smiles. He tells me he hasn’t swum in a pool before. Just the ocean. What do you think? I ask. Do you like it?

It is good for my legs because I am a refugee and I have been tortured, he says, still smiling.

Oh, I see, I say not seeing at all. I don’t know what to say next after this. I guess I am unused to having a conversation with someone after they have mentioned their torture.

I prattle on about the pool, about how it is heated and he can come here every day if he wants and it is always the same temperature. He tells me he couldn’t afford to come every day. Someone has paid for him today.


I wish him well. Have a nice swim, I say. I swim off and see him out of the corner of my eye keeping pace with me, a lap across. Sometimes he does a kind of dog paddle and other times an attempt at freestyle. His legs are all over the place but he makes it up and down and up again. Swimming like he has fallen off a boat and is swimming for his life. Saving himself.

As I swim more laps I wonder about his loved ones. Are they in Sri Lanka still? Does he pine for someone? What can he think of the pool, with its inflated crocodile?

Missing Jasper

from John Muir book
from John Muir book

Jasper is away.

A long way away.

He is across a very big continent. He is in a different time zone. He is not with either of his parents. It feels weird. He rings and his voice is so young. He is inquiring when he speaks to us. He wants to know whether we have seen movies and gone to out to dinner. We have instructions not to see Jack Reacher without him, but it is okay to see foreign films. He wants us to have a good time without him. Like he is worrying about us. The same way we are worrying about him. Mutual vexation. We try to be as descriptive as we can about the very ordinary things we are doing while he is away. There is a niggle knowing child-free time is precious and we should be doing more. We should be going out later than late. What drugs could we still take and fully recover from? But that need is gone, it seems. We should be doing more than seeing the early evening session of The Life Of Pi followed by Indian food. Home in time to catch the end of the tennis.

We have bought a new Kombi (new to us, but still forty years old) and after taking down the inside cupboards a line of rust in the roof is revealed. For a long time water has pooled here and eaten away at the metal. It is a rusty, gaping hole where there should be solid, comforting metal. Instead there is unsupportive air. She was supposed to be rust-free. We are disappointed because we liked the guy. After all he is going to live in Bali and teach Yoga and surfing. We trusted him when he said he had cut all the rust out. Why did we trust him? We chastise ourselves for being gullible. There was no way of seeing the rust. But.

It will cost a lot to fix. More than we imagined. And first we need to find someone capable and willing to do the job without ripping us off.

When Jasper saw the Kombi he fell in love with it immediately. Because it has a pop top. It is a place for him to sleep. It is up high, above his parents and a long way from creepy-crawlies when you are camping. It is the ultimate cubby. We were infected by his enthusiasm. Suddenly I am dreaming of travelling around Australia and home-schooling. I am thinking of abandoning the house, researching the dog-friendly camping sites and high-tailing it.

There is something about a Kombi that turns children into urchins. Suddenly they love the dirt and sticks and simple things. They no longer need ipads or game boys. The possibility of adventure, the thought of no showers, the snuggling under a fleece-lined sleeping bag on top of a still warm engine. What’s not to like…

Jasper as a three year old urchin in our first Kombi

It would solve our high school issues. No need to decide on a school even. School of Kombi.

But it doesn’t stop me pouring over all the web sites for all the schools. I am researching scholarships and GATE testing. I am finding out the difference between academic extension programs and Independent Public schools. I am wondering whether Catholic education is suitable for heathens. I am looking up school boundaries and contemplating renting in Shenton Park just to get into Shenton College. I am trying to recall the name of relatives that have attended elite boys schools. Would their name help? I have a brick on my chest.

I go to the pool and swim. It is something I haven’t done in a long time. It got lost when my parents got ill. It was the first thing to fall by the way side. Even though it is only half an hour, it was a half hour I couldn’t seem to get back. It hid itself from me. Then it had began to take sneaky peeks at me from behind a sofa.Today I found it. Cornered it and held fast. Graham suggested coffee in town, but I stuck with the swim. I had trouble locating my bathers. Would the lycra have bubbled away? Would they still fit? Just. I couldn’t remember how much money I needed to locate in coins for the entrance fee. I know there will be new girls at the counter. Maybe they will want to see my concession. I feel more blind without my glasses than I use to. I will never recognise anyone who chooses to say Hi.

I feel my body, heavy and sluggish, over the first one hundred metres. The rhythm needs to be found. Muscle memory recovers itself. I don’t push it. I just roll the arms over. I am trying to rock my upper body more in an attempt to not hurt my shoulder. It is the kind of thing the over-forty swimmers need to do. I breathe deep and slow. With each lap serenity returns. Ah yes. The water. Giving back. Like the life source it is. A swimmer passes me and leaves a trail of silver bubbles sparkling like sequins flowing from a ball-gown. They are saying follow me into a space. Come with me hither. The ladies are doing their deep-water aquarobics beside my lane. Their bodies are round, festive baubles, reminding me of Christmas and maraschino cherries. They have yellow floats around their waists, making them buoyant. I think of The Life of Pi and the turbulent ocean. Of his swimming to the life raft. Of the tiger. So fierce, so beautiful. The cherries’ legs are working hard, like they are peddling an invisible bike. Above the water their heads model hats and sunglasses and their air is fogged by the cloying scent of their makeup and perfume. Even at eight in the morning. But it is good exercise and who knows when you may need to swim that little bit harder to reach the shore or the life raft. I just mosey along. Given the need to reach the raft I may just go down with the boat. My laps = No rush. Not going anywhere. Up and down and back again. Losing myself in the monotonous stroke and the motion. Not counting the laps, because it is too taxing and means I can’t day dream. Mesmerised by the blueness of the sky.