Red Faced Embarrassment for a Swimmer at the Bank

Why is it we tend to remember the embarrassing moments of our lives more easily than the more rewarding times? Well, I do anyway. And I don’t know about you, but I’ve had plenty of embarrassing moments, not that I’m prepared to reveal all here.

Some of you already know I’m a swimmer, a lapsed one at the moment, but still a swimmer. I have chlorine in my veins and so does my husband.

So, when I heard a quite common line on TV the other night, ‘I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on,’ I had to laugh. Oh yes, I’ve definitely heard that line before.

It was when I was in my thirties. My husband was manager of the local outdoor swimming pool and worked seven days a week during the summer, so I spent many of my waking summer hours there. My usual attire was either my swim suit of course, or shorts, top and bare feet. That was how people knew me and how I knew many of the people in my life.

So when a well dressed young man spoke to me in the bank queue one day, at first I didn’t recognise him. Then he smiled and the penny dropped.

‘Oh, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on,’ I blurted out.

I can smile now, but at the time I blushed more red than any sunburn I’d ever experienced.

Isn’t is funny how a simple throw-away line on TV can bring forth old memories in a rush. It certainly did for me and now my mind is racing with other stories that may one day get told.

We all have so many stories to tell. How about you?

Do you find some things just unhatch the lid on your mind, like opening Pandora’s box, letting out more than you keep up with?

1950s Memories of The Esplanade, Palmerston North, NZ

Place names didn’t mean much to me as a child. The Esplanade was a park we went to on family outings at the weekend. We usually walked there from our home a few blocks away.

In recent times I’ve wondered about it’s name, Victoria Esplanade, to discover it was planned to commemorate the 60th jubilee of Queen Victoria in the late 1900s. Something still didn’t seem right. In my mind an esplanade is something you walk along beside the sea. We’re an inland city, no sea in sight, but we do sit beside a river and, yes, the Esplanade gardens and walkway are situated beside the river.

The Esplanade has changed a lot since my childhood, but is still rather a special place in the city. My first memories are of the paddling pool. One warm summer Sunday my mother wheeled my new baby sister in her cane pram, while I pedalled along beside her on my new red trike delivered by Father Christmas. I still remember the delight of being able to splash to my heart’s content for what seemed like all afternoon as my mother sat and watched, chatting to the other mums.

Sometimes we went to listen to the local brass band playing in the rather grand bandstand, an impressive occasion to me as a child. Once the band had finished we were allowed to play in the bandstand, running around and around until we became quite dizzy.

A few years later, while attending the nearby school, our teacher took us to the Esplanade to study the native birds, listening to their bird song and hopefully snatching fleeting glances of the birds in the trees, those brave enough or curious enough to wonder about the mass of children on the path below.

Not long after that much of the luxurious bush was cut and cleared, but a small patch still remains, making the walk along the river path a pleasant one.

Now, more than 115 years later, we can be thankful for the foresight of the early city fathers who, having arrived from England and finding themselves in a landlocked community, may have missed walking along the esplanades of their seaside towns. By creating and naming this riverside space The Esplanade they could recreate some of the memories of home.

 The Esplanade remains a popular place for outings with both young and old.


Writing Prompted by the Words of Others

Last night I sat down to write, having not written for almost a week. My writing brain took fright at being expected to think, to come up with something, to produce some writing. The blank page stared up at me, like all good blank pages do, chastising me for my neglect.

Something had to be done, so I wrote the following at the top of the page. “Open the book I’m reading at a random page. Choose ONE SENTENCE from the page and write it down. Then keep writing for ten minutes.”

The book I grabbed was “To the River” by Olivia Laing, the story of the River Ouse in Sussex in England. The first page I randomly opened contained a historical story of no help at all. I tried again. Still no sentence appealed. The third attempt offered several gems and I chose the following:

‘And there was the Ouse, all of a tumble, the sun skating off it in panes of light.’

A vision immediately came to me of the swimming pool I spent so many years of my teenage life in, the pool my latest writing project is telling the story of. I noted the time – after all I needed to write for ten minutes – and started writing with ease, describing the atmosphere on the night of an important swim meet, with the lights beaming down on the water and the darkened sky above the outdoor pool. I wrote for about 20 minutes.

My short piece of writing wasn’t brilliant, but the pool at night wasn’t something I’d thought about including as part of my work in progress. I made a few reflective notes to myself at the bottom on how to make improvements, turned off the light and went to sleep.

A few hours later – as often is the case with writers – I awoke, my brain having processed my scribbling while I slept. There was nothing to do but turn on the light and write down the wonderful ideas drifting through my brain. I jotted down a few interesting words, a couple of possible metaphors and a few more surprising images I recalled. That was it, lights out and back to sleep until morning.

The prompt of a random sentence from another’s writing hadn’t occurred to me before. Although the book I read spoke of a river and my book is about a swimming pool, the water and reflection of the light gave me enough similarities to get started. I’ll certainly use the words of others as a prompt again if my writing is shy about revealing itself to me.

What about you? What tips do you use when the words refuse to come?

Remembering a 1970s Dessert – Gingernut Log

One of my favourite cooking programmes is ‘Sweet Genius’ with Chef Ron Ben-Israel. The programme features late on a Saturday afternoon here, at a time when I’m winding down and pouring myself a glass of wine as a reward for the day.

As I watched today, I remembered a basic dessert fashionable here in New Zealand in the 1970s during my early years of marriage. In those days couples got together at each others homes, the host providing the food and venue for a night of eating, drinking and friendship. With three, sometimes four courses having to be prepared, we looked for ways of simplifying the process.

One of the favourite desserts of the day involved taking a packet of gingernut biscuits – these are no doubt known by another name elsewhere – and dunking them in sherry until fully absorbed by the alcohol. The biscuits were placed on a plate, separated by and smothered all over with whipped cream, often containing a little more of the alcoholic sherry. The gingernut log was then covered with chocolate sprinkles. The sherry softened the crunchy gingernuts and blended well with the ginger flavour.

This dessert was popular with young couples entertaining their friends – economical and quick to make, it had a feel of decadence back in times when we had new mortgages, new families and little money. Now, I’m more likely to resort to supermarket desserts if I’m short of money and time.

Thinking of gingernut logs has definitely been a trip down memory lane. Do you have desserts from the past you no longer make, but ones that seemed economical, but impressive, at the time? Why not share them with us all.

4 May 1907 – Remembering My Father on His Birthday

Today is 4 May and the day for me to remember my Father’s birthday. As I reflect on the man I called Dad and the stories he used to tell about his childhood, I realise there are many things, important things, I don’t know about him. The most important thing lacking in my knowledge is his birth place. I grew up knowing he spent his childhood in a small New Zealand town called Wairoa, where his father worked as a hotel chef. I’d always assumed that’s where he was born, but now I think this move by his parents came after he was born.

Dad lived in an era so different from the world today. His childhood stories told of making ice-cream by hand, churning it in a vat, enabling he and his brother to earn a penny to go to the movies. He learned to swim by being thrown into the river beside the hotel his family lived in. His story told how the bottom of the river bed contained so much broken glass from the drunken hotel patrons throwing their empty bottles into the water he dare not put his feet down. It really was a matter of sink or swim.

Even adult life differed from the life we lead today. During their courtship my parents went on picnic outings in large groups for many years before getting married. They brought up a family without all the modern technology of today.

Like all little girls, I had a soft spot for my father. I think of him when times are tough. I hope he’ll feel proud at how I lead my life.

I do have regrets though, that I never spoke to my father more about his life. So many questions are left unanswered, little things about everyday things in his life. I thought I knew my father when he was alive, now I realise how little I really understood the important things in his life.

For anyone reading this, don’t leave it too late to find out more about our parents’ lives. Talk to them, ask them questions, encourage them to talk. One day you’ll realise how important your parents past is to understanding who you have become.

Let the Story Begin

Once upon a time, about fifty years ago, a young girl made a trip to the local swimming pool. The water, the dressing sheds, the concrete surrounds and the people all recognised another victim and cast their magic spell, pulling her into their family.

Without stopping to think, she cast off her former life and allowed the magic of swimming to possess her. Day and night during the summer months, for many years, she plunged into the water and reached out for her dreams. Even the winter months beckoned, with only the land fitness and strengthening programme keeping her warm. The girl knew her life was perfect.

But all good stories come to an end. Fortunately for the girl two events coincided. She developed an interest in boys and dating at the same time the City Fathers decided the old baths no longer served a purpose. The old pool had come to the end of its useful life. A new, modern swimming complex was opened across town and the doors of the old baths closed forever.

Now, nearly fifty years later the girl has rekindled her passion for the old brick building which once enclosed the passions of her teenage years. She recognises a story needing to be told, the story of the place the old swimming baths held in the hearts of the town’s swimming community.

Yes, my new writing project has begun. The minute I opened the first archive box of treasure yesterday, I trembled with anticipation. This box held material enabling the fifty year story of the baths to be brought to life. The pool was a grand old lady, opened in 1917 and closed forever in 1966. Her story deserves to be told. Over the next two years or so I intend piecing the story together and recreating the magic that once existed for so many of the town’s young people.

Let the story begin.

Is there a place holding passionate memories from your past that no longer exists?  Why not record your memories, enabling it to live yet again in the hearts of others.