Lay lady lay

I realise that some will see this as a sacrilegious thing to say on Good Friday, but I have admitted it on this blog before, so I’ll say it again regardless of the day: I’m not a huge Dylan fan.

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. For this sin, I expect to have a few less followers by tomorrow afternoon (when the Northern Hemisphere catches up). The reason it will only be a few is because most followers don’t actually read the blog, as far as I can gather.

But back to Dylan.

Why is it that I never really took a liking for his music? Maybe his particular brand of folk-country-rock music is a taste I still have to acquire. I do like some folk music, and a lot of rock music, but truth be told, I’m not much for country, unless it’s a little bit alt. Then again, maybe it’s the nasal quality of the younger Dylan’s singing voice that I’ve never really liked, although that has now developed into a gravelly deep voice that I have no objection to.

But maybe, and most likely, it’s because I have traced the annoying, recurring misuse of the word lay in everyday conversation back to his 1969 song Lay Lady Lay. It seems clear that Dylan is to blame for the constant and blatant misuse of the word lay that I encounter in my day-to-day life.

The situation is getting so out of hand that I have started to wonder if I’m the only person left in the English-speaking world who still believes that there is a sentence structure where the word lie is correct and where lay sounds wrong – and also ignorant, or silly.

It does make me fear for the future of the human race. From giving up on lay and lie, it’s a slippery downward slope. The next thing you know, no-one is bothering to use an indicator when they change lanes, and it’s all because they just don’t care any more. They don’t care about good grammar, and they don’t care about the risk of causing an accident, writing off their car and/or yours, and causing injury to themselves and others. From there, it’s a small step to organised crime or party politics.

Now, I realise that the English language is a constantly evolving thing, and I applaud that. As it has become so ubiquitous, I can’t say when, in the evolution of the language, the change from lie to lay took place. Was there a memo about it that I missed? Not according to the Cambridge dictionary online, which says that lay means

to put something in a flat or horizontal position, usually carefully or for a particular purpose

to prepare a plan or method of doing something

and goes on to say that the verb lay must have an object.

Thus: Lay your work out on the desk; try to lay the baby down in the cot as quietly as you can; I am laying out the clothes I plan to wear tomorrow but I can’t find any clean socks because no-one in this house has put away any laundry for about 3 weeks.*

(While researching this topic, you may be interested to know that my research team came up with a quote from another blog – but promptly forgot what blog they found it on! – suggesting that, if used correctly, in a sentence that’s in the present tense, you should be able to replace the word lay with the word put. (Use the phrases above to try it at home for free!) According to this theory, if put doesn’t work then you should use lie.

Let’s try that test now.

Put lady put,

put across my big brass bed

Hmmm. It’s actually worse than lay, isn’t it. Definitely wrong. Which tells us that lie would be grammatically correct, although I can accept that it would not have sounded quite as catchy, and would have presented some difficult obstacles for the songwriter to get over.

Lie doesn’t rhyme with stay, for a start, a word that is tripping over itself in its eagerness to be utilised in the next verse. What word could Dylan have used in verse two, if he’d used lie in verse 1? Sky? Pie? Die? You can see that there is much more at stake in writing a song, than merely grammar. Had he stuck with correct grammar in verse one, the lady in the song may well have had to be killed off in verse 2, possibly by eating a poisoned pie, leaving the protagonist singing mournfully to the empty sky.

Bob Dylan (in a harlequin costume) tries correct grammar in the early stages of writing Lay Lady Lay.

 

The other thing Dylan achieves by using lay, is to very efficiently create an image using only two words.

Instead of speedily conjuring a scene of a woman draped languidly across a bed, opening the song with the words “lie lady lie”might cause the listener to initially suppose the song was about a woman who had deceived the singer, a misconstrued notion which would take until line 2 to be cleared up. Song lyrics need to be economical, you can’t waste a whole line having the listener set out down a conceptually wrong path, just for the sake of getting the grammar right. (Although in this case, if he had used lie, as previously covered, he would now have to rhyme lie with pie and die, so I suppose he could have solved this dilemma by turning the song into a ballad about his lying female associate who ends up getting what was coming to her via a few drops of arsenic in a beef and mushroom pie.)

So of course I’m not seriously criticising Dylan for using incorrect grammar in a song. I’m a firm believer in poetic licence in song writing (and poetry!), where other things are more important than grammar. We can wonder all afternoon about how the song would have unfolded if he’d used lie instead of lay, but the point is, poetic licence does not apply in every day speech, where one’s primary aim is to communicate clearly, not to set a rhythm, create a rhyme, or evoke an image using only 2 words.

So far, we’ve talked about how lay and lie are two separate verbs with different usage, but, just to prove how confusing English can be, even to native speakers, get this: lay is also the past tense of lie! Therefore, if speaking in the past tense, you can use lay without an object. Eg, I lay back on the daybed and imagined I was holidaying in the French Riviera.

But the reason I am frothing at the mouth, and have finally succumbed to ranting about it here, is because I don’t recall ever learning these lessons in grammar – indeed, I am quite sure I never learned any rules of grammar at school beyond nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and perhaps tenses. I don’t know what it means to conjugate a verb, as some good grammar-focussed blogs do when explaining the different uses for lie and lay. But despite the lack of formal training, I must have developed an ear for what is correct and what is not, and I am forever cringing at hearing lay used in the present tense, to replace the word lie. For example

I’ll get you all to start by laying on your mats (a yoga teacher)

She’s not feeling well so I told her to lay down (a colleague at work)

All I want to do is have a day off and lay around reading a book (overheard in a bookshop) (I find it hard to believe this person can actually read.)

I’m disheartened every time I hear this kind of misuse of the word lay, but I don’t correct people. To counteract the frustration I feel when I hear these misplaced phrases, I cheer myself up by quipping a witty response like Should we lay an egg on our yoga mat? Or should we lay some bricks? Of course, I don’t say this out loud, but only in my own head. And after I’ve chuckled, and congratulated myself on my wit, I make my own small protest, by lying on my yoga mat instead.

*

*a true story

**Fans of Dylan probably stopped reading after the second line of this post, but fans of yoga mats keen to read more about the yoga mat that starred in this post, should click on the tag, yoga mat, (below) to be taken to more scintillating yoga mat-related stories. 

 

Panic on the dance floor

It’s time to solicit some crucial advice from the combined wisdom of readers.

The question is – should I go to my 30 year school reunion?

Yes, 30 years! Apparently that’s how long it’s been since I was lying around languidly in an asphalt courtyard at lunchtimes, discussing boys, or INXS, (specifically Michael Hutchence) or teachers, or who was at the nightclub last Saturday night and who’s going this Saturday.

When the time came for the 10 year reunion, I didn’t go – not through any deliberate desire to avoid it, but because I had an exhibition opening the same evening, if you don’t mind. Why yes, those were the days when I was a twenty-something artist.

When the next one (20 years) came around, I didn’t go because, well, I hadn’t been to the 10 year reunion, and by the 20 year mark I’d basically fallen out of contact with every single person I’d been friends with at high school. I’ve written about this before, but it seems that I haven’t tended to retain friends for a lifetime as some people do. Instead it seems that by mutual agreement in some cases, or not in others, I lose contact with people and move on and make new friends so that I end up having a past series of friends who are associated with specific periods of my life. This has worked ok so far, but I do hope I’ll start retaining friends for longer, because I can see that opportunities to make new friends become less as you get older.

Anyway, when the 20-year reunion came along, I was a 30-something, working in the arts. Working in the arts sounds less glamorous than being an artist, but in the end it suits me better to be doing practical tasks that contribute towards the creation of art (theatre) by a company, and for that reason, I feel satisfied. Sure I’m creative, and, oh boy, do I love ideas! – why, I can ramble on about them for hours, as this blog proves! – but it turns out I’m not very good at self promotion, or at staying focussed and motivated when left to drive myself along to develop abstract concepts into physical works of art. I’m easily overwhelmed by broad, undefined goals.  “Continue to develop a body of ideas and work that may end up being exhibited, or may simply be research and development towards your whole oeuvre” was a little too vague to help me decide what to do from day to day as I attempted to produce work in my studio.

But back to the looming 30-year reunion. This is happening in the near future, a time when I’m a 40-something, still working in the arts. (At least there has been some consolidation on the career front then.) I am still not in touch with anyone from school apart from two people that I am now Facebook Friends with. Of those two, I’ve caught up once, in person, with one of those people.

So basically, attending the reunion means attending an event where I don’t know anyone very well, but sort of know everyone just a little bit. In my opinion, for a shy, introverted extrovert (that is a self-diagnosis), this is far worse than attending an event where everyone is a complete stranger. And finally, even worse again, some are people I used to be close friends with, who dropped out of contact about 20 years ago.

Now, if you are not a massive extrovert, it’s actually hard to socialise with people you know just a little bit. An event full of strangers is preferable. If everyone is a stranger, you can wander around on your own, making it obvious that you are alone and don’t know anyone, and hope that some of those strangers will notice your plight, and converse with you out of courtesy, or pity. (As they are strangers, it doesn’t really matter which.) And, if they don’t, you can cut your losses and leave without any real loss of dignity or hurt to your feelings.

At an event where everyone knows who you are, but you are not close chums with anyone, you sidle around the outskirts of chatting groups of people, smiling and hoping someone you’ve met before will take pity on you and make eye contact so that you feel welcome to edge your way into their little group, and pretend to take an immediate and passionate interest in whatever topic they are discussing, even if it’s the renovation they are doing to the ensuite in their holiday house.

And if no-one makes any attempt to give you an opening, then you’ll probably slink away early and – YEAH YOU BET your feelings will be hurt and your dignity will sink to a new low!

(As a self-diagnosed “introverted extrovert,” by the way, I’m not a totally hopeless case socially. My self esteem in general is quite ok – certainly a hundred times healthier than when I was a high school student – and I LIKE socialising with friends – but it’s easily trampled on in a situation like this.)

Ok, it’s pretty obvious that I’m wavering on the side of not going.

But let’s get down to the real issue here. Surely the only question that matters is – will the music be good?

Because I do love dancing, as I think we’ve covered in previous posts.

So much so that, despite fear of not being able to make small-talk, and the possible humiliation of scuttling around the edges of the function room on my own all night, the possibility of dancing could, in itself, be a temptation to go! In the unlikely event that the music was good, if it turned out to be the worst case scenario where I was milling around with no-one to talk to –  I could just join the dance floor!

(That is, of course, only if at least 12 other people were already dancing, as I am too self-conscious to jump up alone, or when there are only two extraverts doing the bumpsy-daisy together out there.) But if there’s enough people dancing for me to blend somewhere into the middle of the crowd, then I can lose that self-consciousness and dance the night away, or at least until Working Class Man* comes on.

But sadly, it seems unlikely that the music would be good. I say this because my generation’s musical taste has forever, and quite erroneously, been labelled as Seventies disco in some kind of timewarp that wasn’t accurate. Although we were indeed alive in days of 1970s disco, we were in nappies, and then pre-school, and then the early years of primary school for most of that decade and were therefore more interested in what was playing on the Looney Tunes cartoon hour on TV than what was playing at Studio 54. I have never even seen Saturday Night Fever. Maybe this explains a lot about me, but to put it bluntly, I have no emotional connection with Seventies disco, which was the music most frequently played at school fundraising events I attended as a parent at my daughter’s school.

At an event where a selection of music is to be played for my personal entertainment, ideally I would request a good dose of music from the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s (or whatever the current era is known as). Anyone taking notes at home may include music from the Seventies too, by all means, but please make it punk, or folk, or rock, or Motown, just not that over-played Seventies disco.

Despite the stereotyped notion of parents as a particular breed of adults whose musical taste stays rooted in the nostalgic past, I have always enjoyed discovering new music. That includes discovering music from the past that I hadn’t listened to at the time. But official events of any sort usually opt for safe choices with music, on the premise of pleasing the majority, and safe, for my generation, seems to be to play the music that was playing on the dance floors when we were learning our multiplication tables and how to write in cursive.

Of course we all think our own musical taste is superior to everyone else’s, don’t we?**

In the end, I should thank you for your input, dear readers, because as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve come to the only conclusion that seems obvious, and will avoid the need to make small talk AND ensure the music will be good.

I won’t attend my school’s 30-year reunion unless I can DJ.

*

 

*Working Class Man is a song by well known Australian Band Cold Chisel. I’m clearly a bit of a snobby purist when it comes to what music I am willing to dance to, and it’s my personal opinion that this song should never come anywhere near a dance floor, but when I was growing up in the country, the djs were less picky, and it usually did come on at about 3am, signalling to me that it was cattle-call time at the meat market, and a good time to go home.

**(Or is that just me?)

***Update: thanks to those who said I must go and then write about it here. I didn’t see you offering to accompany me and pretend to be someone everyone else had forgotten. If only I’d thought of that earlier. Airline tickets could have been arranged.

Anyway, the reunion happened, I didn’t attend, and I don’t think there was ANY music at all. It was a daytime tour of the school that so many of us were thrilled to leave at the time, and then a luncheon. How alarmingly sedate. And how demanding of small talk!! I think I made the right choice, so I thank you all again.

With or Without you (Ode to a thumb)

A fully functional thumb is a thing of beauty, said some really mediocre poet.

 

See the liner smudged on my eyes

See the zip undone on my side

I’ll wait for you

 

Slip of hand and twist of waist

on a picnic rug, fell all my weight

Now I wait, without you

 

With or without you

With or without you

 

Through the storm we reach the shore

Washing my hair is not easy any more

And I’m waiting for you

 

With or without you

With or without you

I can’t live, with or without you

 

And you give yourself away

And you got bent the wrong way

And you’re bandaged like a lump of clay

And you shouldn’t really look that way

 

My hand is tied, my thumb is bruised

You left me with a bandaged wrist

and not much I can do

 

And you give yourself away

And you’re kind of the wrong shape

And I don’t know what else to say

And typing this has taken all day

 

 

Dream baby

Sure, I recall my dreams most mornings, as they are usually quite vivid, and not infrequently amusing, but I usually refrain from sharing them here.  I’m really on a roll this week, though, as I’ve already had two dreams that have made me laugh when I recalled them, and it’s only Tuesday! So I thought I’d share, as I know if there’s anything we all need to hear more of, it’s other people’s dreams.

Excellent. With that in mind, here they are.

The first is short and sharp. In this dream, a few nights ago, the actor Alan Rickman, in character as a kind of evil mixture of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Snape,  but in modern-day (or “Muggle”) garb, rudely confiscated my phone, (I can not recall why) but then with a sneer, from the seat of the sports car he was suddenly driving, tossed it back to me, deliberately missing me by a mile so that it landed on the road in front of me, where he promptly (and deliberately) drove over it!

alan-rickman- mobile phone

Alan Rickman, not a fan of mobile phones. (in my dream).

I believe the message in this dream is clear: the universe is telling me it’s time to upgrade my iPhone 5 because I’m constantly running out of storage, no matter how many photos I delete off my phone. I am not the ideal Apple customer because I refuse to upgrade a phone that is working perfectly, except that I can’t download any new apps because of lack of storage space. Is it possible that Apple have devised technology that somehow infiltrates the dreams of anyone with an Apple device, planting subliminal messages about upgrading their products? It doesn’t seem too implausible to me at this stage.

In the second dream, which was on the weekend just gone by, I sneaked into our neighbour’s house to see if their fence was fixed.

I should explain that in real life, we recently had to get the fence between our property and this neighbour’s property fixed, and I did all the helpful stuff like get the quotes and book the tradies, and pay them for the work, and then afterwards the neighbour complained that their side was left with some issues they would have to follow up with the tradies. I was a bit stressed about this for a day or so, as he was hinting that he wouldn’t cover his half of the cost because of these “issues.” But in a happy ending – for us at least – he did pay his half after all, so there was really nothing left to be stressed about, although it was left a bit unresolved, as I don’t know if he got the issues fixed or not, but it’s out of my hands now – there’s nothing I can do about it. He should have opted to be there on the day the work was being done, if he wanted to closely project manage his side of the fence, I guess. So I’m happy to consider the matter closed.

Anyway, this dream occurred a few nights after the matter was “closed.” In the dream, as I said, I sneaked into his house to check that the fence was fixed properly. The way to check that the fence was fixed properly, apparently, was to tip a can of tuna down his kitchen sink. Clearly this was standard procedure and common knowledge, because I came armed with a can of tuna for this purpose. When I got to his sink, however, I could see he had already performed the tuna-test, because the plug hole of his sink was clogged up with still-warm, cooked tuna. Cooked tuna took things to a whole other level and indicated that my neighbour had gone to a lot of effort to ensure a highly accurate reading on the status of the fence (of course, everyone knows that when it comes to assessing the success of a fence repair job, cooking the tuna before you tip it down the sink will guarantee a more accurate result every time) so there was nothing to be gained from me attempting an inferior reading with my tin of tuna (in oil, mind you, not that stuff in brine!)

So I turned away and prepared to leave, but (of course, I’m sure you could see this coming) just then the neighbour walked in! Or perhaps rattled the door handle, indicating that his entry to the room would be imminent within a micro-second. Some dream-like sequence of events occurred anyway, that led to me hiding on a strange little inexplicable platform, (perhaps it was a broom cupboard built on a mezzanine level?) that suddenly appeared – or suddenly became apparent, as things do in dreams – and seemed like as good a hiding place as any. Apparently I got onto this little balcony with ease, even though it was at head height in the room.

So the neighbour was stepping through the door, and I was trying to make myself invisible, on a small mezzanine level in his kitchen, optimistically hoping not to be seen the way a baby does when they put their hands in front of their face and think you can’t see them. As it turns out, since it was almost opposite the door, at his eye-level, and was totally open, this ‘platform’ really was NOT as good a hiding place as any. My neighbour probably had to go to a great deal of trouble to pretend NOT to see me the second he walked in the door, but eventually he gave in and indicated gruffly that he could see me crouching there in his split-level, open-plan broom cupboard, clutching my can of tuna, and enquired as to what on earth I was doing there.

It feels as if the dream faded out here (or perhaps my alarm went off at that moment), as I can’t recall what happened, but I don’t think it ended badly. My feeling is that, in this parallel universe, it was acceptable that I’d bring my own tuna over and sneak into his house with the intention of checking that his fence was fixed properly, so I don’t think we left on bad terms.

Now I must say, in regards to the meanings of dreams, I’m a little flummoxed at this one. I do think that the delightful mish-mash of weird things in our dreams is our brain trying to put some ideas together. That’s because I once read, of dreams, that our subconscious works to try and solve problems that are bothering us, and dreams are those attempts to solve those problems, but as the dream can’t speak directly to us, it uses the tools at its disposal: imagery and a narrative, to creatively present a ‘solution’ that comes to us like a clue in a cryptic crossword. That’s bad news for me, unfortunately, as I have never yet managed to understand a single clue in a cryptic crossword.

Nevertheless, I find that idea about the subconscious and its processes fairly believable. So occasionally, when it feels as if a dream is so, well, kind of mundane but weird at the same time, I try to think of a phrase that summarises the dream. It didn’t take long with this one – when I thought about the dream the next day, pondering what it could possibly mean, the phrase that instantly came to my mind was “tuna down the drain.”

So if any readers are good at cryptic crosswords, maybe they are able to make some sense out of that phrase, and let me know their interpretation.

Otherwise my take on it is…..the universe telling me that I should get more Omega 3 oils into my diet??

That’s Not My Name

I’ve always felt as if the first name I was given by my parents does not fit me properly.

As far back as I know of, (unfortunately only a few generations) my cultural heritage is 3/4 Irish, 1/4 English, but this did not stop my parents from burdening me with a very Spanish-sounding name. I use the term burdened only because, in appearance, if not in disposition, I’m the antithesis of Mediterranean, so my name and I have never been a logical match.

Here I am, an Aussie, with golden (some say strawberry) blonde hair, and white, pinkish-tinted, freckled skin. I can’t go out on even a mildly sunny day without smothering myself in thick white 30+ sunscreen, a scarf and a hat – consequently if it’s hot outside, I’d rather stay inside, thanks all the same. I’m so far from Mediterranean that a holiday that involved lying on a banana lounge all day long on a beach, at a pool or on the deck of a cruise ship, would be hell for me.

You can see why I’ve never really felt as if my name suits me. If I was to change my name I’d choose something that, in my imagination at least, is better suited to my colouring and personality – something that sounds vaguely English or Celtic. Emma – the name of a great aunt. Angela, Colleen, Eileen, Bridget, or Therese – all names of cousins. Nora or Mary, my grandmothers. Catherine, Kathleen, or Kate – variations on the name have been given to many women in my family.

Others also instinctively feel that the name doesn’t suit me – or at least, that’s how I choose to interpret the fact that when I’m newly introduced, people commonly have trouble remembering my name, or incorrectly call me one of its Celtic variations instead. In circumstances where it doesn’t really matter (eg making a booking at a restaurant) I’ll usually just let them do that, because it feels silly to make a fuss about the fact that my name is a letter or two different to the name they are pronouncing, when clearly the more anglicised name suits me better.

But despite the mismatch, perhaps it’s because of my Spanish-sounding name that, on discovering a book on Spain in my parents’ bookshelves at home when I was a kid (searching for resources for a school project – this was well before Google), the thought occurred that I’d like to learn the language. Maybe I felt as if my name entitled me to feel some affinity with Spanish culture. Maybe some elements of Spanish language and culture felt comfortably familiar in the midst of my otherwise all-white, country town Australian childhood because I grew up watching Sesame Street on TV, which brought Maria and Luis, two friendly Hispanic Americans, and occasionally even some Spanish language, into my lounge room every week day.

*

As a child, it appeared as if the U.S. was more diverse, and therefore interesting, than Australia. I probably gained this impression largely because of Sesame Street, since, during the time that I watched it, I seem to recall an even mix of people of white, Hispanic, and African American backgrounds on the show, and later Asian Americans as well. Proportionally, I did not encounter equivalent levels of diversity living in country town Australia, or even in Melbourne when I moved there in the late 1980s. As an adult, I still believe that the U.S. is more culturally diverse than Australia, however all the way over here, I don’t hear much in the media to suggest that the U.S. embraces that diversity.

I started this post a few days ago, and wrote about the incongruity of my Spanish-sounding name, going down quite a different path with the direction I took. It was going to be a post about all the things I regret not doing – learning Spanish being one of those. I came back today and changed tactic, remembering that book, and Sesame Street, and how, as a child, I had wanted to find something to relate to, in this other culture that seemed both interestingly different to my own, while also comfortingly approachable and familiar because of characters very deliberately placed into Sesame Street. Maybe the reason my writing and thought process took me down that path today was because I had read earlier today of the Whitehouse taking down the Spanish version of their internet site.

Even as an Aussie on the other side of the world, I can understand what a significant gesture that is. It makes me feel sad. I concede that the Whitehouse has very deliberately not stated that the page is removed for good, so hopefully it will be reinstated – but it seems significant that the initial removal happened along with the removal of other pages supporting policies such as GLBTIQ rights and climate change, policies that the Trump Administration are openly against. I’m horrified about the removal of those pages too, but unsurprised. There is much that I could rail against, but I’ll just stick with this issue because it probably shows my naivety that I actually felt surprise, reading today that Trump has previously criticised people for speaking Spanish in the U.S.

Really? How sad.

What Trump doesn’t realise is that to those of us outside of the U.S, Spanish-speaking language and culture forms part of the culture that, in our eyes, is particular to the U.S; just like elements of Jewish language and culture do.

The first place I ever went to, upon arriving in the U.S. for the first time, was a little store on a hill in San Fransisco, with two or three tables, where we ordered a Mexican beer and ate burritos. The store was not particularly Mexican themed, whereas even in the late 1990s you’d have had to go to a themed “Mexican Restaurant” in Australia to get a burrito. To us, it was the perfect start to an overseas trip – getting something novel like a burrito and a Mexican beer from what looked like a little take-away joint with a few tables. From that, we immediately got that exciting sense of being somewhere else, somewhere different to Australia, where it was apparent that the influence of Hispanic culture and food was assimilated into the mainstream culture.

If he wants to wipe out the speaking of the language, will Trump also require all other Hispanic elements are wiped out of U.S. culture too – the Mexican beer, the churros, tacos, burritos, and all Spanish-Mission style architecture knocked down?

Enough on the U.S. I’m sure that there are other commentators out there who will analyse the Trump government’s actions to discourage Spanish speaking, far more eloquently and with more right to speak about the topic than I have.

I’ll just go back to thinking about how because of, or despite, my ambivalent attitude to my Spanish-sounding name, which doesn’t suit my Anglo-Celtic coloring at all, I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Perhaps now is the time to start.

 

We Float

Float

It’s a top rating story that has made world news  – the number of deaths by drowning  in Australia that have occurred since Christmas Day 2016. Consequently, there is talk of reinvigorating the push for parents to take kids for swimming lessons as early as the age of four, in order to increase their safety in the water.

I’ve had swimming lessons, but I’m not much of a swimmer. In Australia, for my generation, weekly swimming lessons in grade 6 and 7 were a standard part of the Physical Education program at school. By the end of those, I could float, tread water and swim backstroke and freestyle for 25 metres, no doubt accomplishing all those tasks with a resoundingly poor-to-fair rating.

Since that time, any time I’ve been in a large body of water, all I’ve done is frolic with my daughter (when she was a toddler), or “muck around” a bit in the waves at the beach. In other words, I’ve not had to physically exert myself to swim 25 metres for about 30 years, so whether I can swim or not these days, or how capable I am at swimming, is a matter purely for speculation.

Fortunately for me, I’ve never been stuck in a rip, or had to rescue anyone else who was.

*

In the little country town where I grew up, we were fortunate to have a busy community hub for young people that opened up every summer, in the form of the local pool. Given the size of the town, local council would have been unlikely to fund the building and maintenance of a man-made pool – a twenty-minute drive would bring you to various pools in the larger town up the road. However, luckily for us, a large local lake existed with no effort from council, and only required that they fit it out, to turn it into a local community pool.

So one side of the lake was given concrete bleachers, a wooden jetty was built to divide the “middle” pool – where the water came up my shoulders at its deepest point – from the main part of the lake, an ambitious, three-tiered diving tower was built, and a concreted, chlorinated pool for toddlers was created higher up the hill, in the shade of the eucalyptus trees.

When you are a kid, you take for granted everything you come across, so I didn’t think there was anything unusual about having a lake for your local pool. Of course, in the past, there was nothing usual about it, but these days we are a lot more risk averse than previous generations were, and generally in any populated area there will be a man-made, concrete, chlorinated pool, complete with lifeguards, Duty Managers, and lockers you can pay extra for, within a twenty minute drive.

In contrast to how they might have felt at an ordinary, 25 metre pool, with clear, transparent water and the depth marked at the bottom for all to see, this natural pool must have afforded the thrill of adventure to the 16 – 25 year olds who hung out at the lake in large numbers. Those who were 16-25 were my elders, and as such were afforded the appropriate respect and fear by me, a fearful kid. The local pool was definitely the only place in a small country town, where a child, or young teenager, could hang out in the same space as a bunch of older peers, and witness them all having a good time together.

There was added risk in swimming in a natural swimming hole. The water in the local lake was not clear, it was brown and murky. If you opened your eyes under water (we did!), you could see your own legs, and maybe those of someone standing quite close to you, but you wouldn’t see much further than that. And, right out in the middle of the lake, the depth was unknown. Unknown.

As a child, I found the concept that this lake went to unknown depths, absolutely thrilling. Rumour was that the lake had formed from an old mine-shaft. A bookish child, I’d read The Famous Five, and The Three Investigators, and some other great book about a girl who discovered a colony of dinosaurs still existing and living under a lake. So I knew that a mineshaft at the bottom of a lake of unknown depths signalled secret activities, shady figures, or at the very least, mystery.

Others were clearly more nonchalant than I, about the mystery in our midst. On hot summer afternoons, the pool was overrun with happy, carefree teens and younger adults, and an air of freedom and exuberance wafted across its surface in the warm, chlorine-saturated breeze.

I’m transported back for a moment, to a hot summer afternoon very much like today (it’s 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, and 37 degrees), in 1983, when I was 13.

I’m sitting in the middle of the wooden jetty that divides the middle pool from the wilds of the main part of the lake.

The middle pool is behind me. If I look straight ahead, I see some guy give a jubilant whoop as he dives from the 10 metre high, Top Tower. There is a queue of people chatting and laughing as they wait their turn to do the same, and queues at the lower towers, and still more people climbing the ladders to join them. I look a bit further to my right, along the wet concrete landing, to another diving board, this one lower than the towers. There’s a queue there too, and someone is doing a bomb off that board, just as I look in that direction. In other places on the concrete, people sit at the edge of the pool, or lie on beach towels.

Further to my right again are the concrete bleachers, which lead up to the public toilets and a kiosk, all permanently shaded by massive pine trees which drop their spikes all over the bleachers.  If I’m lucky, Mum will have given me enough money to buy a Peters Drumstick – my idea back then of the most heavenly thing one could eat.

peters-drumsticks-maybe-from-60s

Cake? I didn’t know there was cake as well!

Pic: Pinterest

Right behind me is the Middle pool, beyond that is the concrete landing that borders two sides of this pool, and then, up some concrete steps and fully fenced in, the man-made, chlorinated toddler pool. Behind that is the perimeter fence. If you stand up near the fence you can hear frogs and birds in the wetlands on the other side of it.

To my left, I look along the rest of the jetty, built to cut the Middle Pool off from the main pool. After performing that function, continues on around the edge of the main pool for a while, running along next to the perimeter fence, creating another surface around that edge, where people can hang out. That last section of jetty, where it’s not dividing the two pools, is an unofficial hangout for older teens, so I never go that far along. Even though they are only visiting, my older cousins can read the lay of the land, and they disappear for hours, hanging out there, sunbathing on their beach towels, or taking a dip, with the sounds of the wetlands on the other side of the fence behind them.

A map is provided for your edification. (not to scale.)

A map is provided for your edification. (not to scale.)

At this time, it’s a mysterious world to me, the world of older teenagers. All I recall is that a cousin about 8 years older than me – so almost an adult in my eyes, at any point in my childhood –  had an unfortunate incident where she dived in off the jetty and when she came up from under the water, her bikini top did not come with her.

One year my mother booked myself and some of my siblings  – maybe it was the oldest three of us – into lessons run by Vicswim (a program run during school holidays and funded by the State government) at our local pool. The lesson attendees comprised basically our family and one other local girl, and were run before the pool was open to the public, so we had the whole quiet pool to ourselves.

One busy weekend, there was a kerfuffle in the main poole, and it turned out that an unsuspecting platypus had swum too far and found itself in the midst of a bunch of humans frolicking around in the water. The poor creature continued to paddle along, into the middle pool, where I had a good view of it. Like everyone else, I wasn’t quite sure whether to be scared of the animal, or what it would do if I got too close, so I steered clear of it.

platypus-underwater-animal-profile-web620

Pic: Zoos Victoria 

*

I imagine lots of Australians have a similar relationship to water as I have. We learned to swim as kids, and have fond memories of spending time at our local pool or beach, then as adults we only ever muck about in waist high water at the beach, between the flags. For us, water at a pool or beach has been a fun-filled place to hang out. We are probably not equipped to deal with getting caught in a rip, or assisting someone else when they are.

Despite my fair, freckled skin, and tendency to sunburn, I do love the beach when the temperature soars past 30 degrees. Not in the daytime – I’m not a total masochist. But it’s a lovely place to be in the morning before the sun has heated up, or in the evening when the hot sun is losing its bite.

But because of the publicity around this spate of recent drownings, I felt an unusual sense of concern last night, as I watched my daughter head into the waves at my local beach. It was unpatrolled, but very calm, and filled with people. What would I do if I saw her get into difficulty? There was no question that I’d rush in to help her, but would I be any use or would I just make matters worse? At Australia’s rivers and beaches there are frequently tragic stories of people who drown trying to save others.

Fortunately, she was fine, and the night will become, for us, part of our blurry, happy memories of spending warm, summer evenings in the water.

*

P.J. Harvey – We float, take life as it comes.

via Daily Prompt: Float

Bad Education

Recently spotted on the bio of a “tutor” running an online course: Joe Bloggs*, Designer, Animator and Thinker.

Perhaps I should run my own online “tutorials.” I, too, am a thinker. Why, I can spend whole afternoons thinking. I think about courses I should study, businesses I could start up, online stores I might open, choirs I’d like to join, fences I need to get fixed, exercise I should do, dinner I should make. By 6pm I’m quite exhausted by all the thinking done that afternoon, and require a glass of wine to calm down.

Along with thousands of other people, (most of whom, I assume, are normally as unproductive as myself) suddenly I realise that the next logical step is to monetise my procrastination techniques, by turning these streams-of-consciousness into online courses. You don’t necessarily need any skills to run an online course (note that I’ve said necessarily – this post is not a criticism of the many fantastic online courses available through sites like Open Culture etc), just a catchy title and the ability to talk to camera. In fact, you don’t even need to talk to camera, thank goodness, because I don’t have that skill. That’s ok –  plenty of online courses have an off-camera tutor, so I know how it’s done. You just slowly read a carefully prepared set of instructions, paired with some low quality still images that change occasionally, just to show that you’re still there.

The first thing to do will be to decide on my bio. How about: Blathering: Blogger, Creative Content Producer, Thinker and Philosophiser.  I’m happy with that, although it was a toss-up between Philosophiser and Blathering Nincompoop, but I think Philosophiser will be better for attracting students to my courses.

Right. Now for the courses. A brief peruse of topics I’ve written about on this blog suggest that I could easily put together a few 20 minute tutorials. Possible topics might include:

Where did the time go? – How to successfully waste an afternoon away thinking of ideas that you will never implement. Requirements – a notebook and pen. Actually, not even those.

Where did the time go? (The Tertiary Student edition) – How to write a 4000 word essay in a day. Requirements – preferably you should be enrolled in a course and have a 4000 word essay due tomorrow.

Where did that pile of laundry go? – Top Tips for Procrastinating on that 4000 word Essay. *Extra bonus – Students who enrol in Where did the time go (The Tertiary Student edition) can also take our highly recommended course on procrastinating, for no extra cost. Please see here for more information on how to sign up for free.

Where did the time go? (Advanced Module) – a look at the entire history of the universe in 15 minutes. There are no pre-requisites for this course, although it is advantageous to have read the back cover of Stephen Hawkings’ A Brief History of Time.

Where did the N go??? – learning to spell rhythm* and other dastardly words that don’t contain the silent letters you think they do. Pre-requisites are that you spell rhythm as rhythmn or exercise as excercise every single time, despite trying very hard not to.

I, Robot – what even IS a Google Robot? Requirement – beginner level* understanding of the internet and Google.

That’s a fairly quick list I came up with this afternoon, and I could have come up with it even more quickly but I got hungry in the middle of all this rigorous course preparation and went downstairs for a muffin. Never fear, it may be a short list, but this is just a beginning to my new and exciting career as a tutor of online courses. I dare say I can rummage up many more ideas for courses, and may eventually even need to open my own online university,  but I’m so exhausted by all the thinking that was required to write this post that I need to take a nap now.

 

*

*Joe Bloggs was not this individual’s real name.

*Beginner level is required for the course on Google Robots, as otherwise you may be able to discredit my course content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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