"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."
"When I was a child," he would say, "I fell off the steps of a bathing machine and had to be rescued."
"What's a bathing machine?" I would ask.
"Well ladies used to wear long dresses to go for a swim and they would be taken out to bathe in a sort of beach hut on wheels which was pulled by a horse."
"I remember being in the bathing machine and suddenly I fell off the back. I almost drowned"
I listened to the explanations but was unable to process what I was told.
It all seemed so unlikely.
I couldn't understand it at all.
My father had almost drowned in the preservation of his aunt's modesty.
I couldn't understand it at all.
I was unable to imagine the beach lined with horses and huts on wheels.
I gave an invisible shrug of my shoulders and went back to building the sandcastle.
Costumes, suits and trunks.
"Oh you can't go on wearing that swimming costume. It's dreadful!"
My father was a little upset that my mother was critical of his "swimming costume".
What strange words they are:
- "swimming costume"
- "swimming trunks"
Those words became a battleground between generations.
There was a cold war between mother and daughter-in-law.
The swimming trunks horrified my grandmother.
"......" (sharp intake of breath)
The swimming costume embarrassed my mother.
"Oh you can't go on wearing that."
My mother triumphed.
My father's chest would be thereafter bare.
We were in the 1950's for goodness sake.
We were no longer in an Edwardian age.
My grandmother maintained a dignified, disapproving silence.
I suspect that my father was fearful at first.
I suspect that my grandmother said prayers, willing God to intervene.
I suspect that my mother felt rather smug.
I listened to my mother's story.
I was unable to understand the strong emotions.
I went back to building the sandcastle.
Sundays in summer.
The following day the sun rose.
We were greeted with a perfect English summer's day.
My thoughts were fixed on that sandcastle.
I would feel upset, frustrated, angry.
It was a Sunday.
We wouldn't be going to the beach.
NO BEACH, NO FOOTBALL, SUNDAY BEST, BOILED EGGS FOR TEA, BIBLE STUDY,
CONTEMPLATION, PRAYER, LETTER WRITING, SUNDAY SERVICE, SOLEMNITY.
I developed a deep loathing for Sundays.
My friend Maha reminded me of these stories.
She writes of her personal battles with beach-wear.
She talks of her daughter yearning to play with her in the sea.
"I watched my girl in the water with her dad. And her looking at me with a yearning in her eyes. And I thought, “I could have that. Give her that”. And I saw no loss of dignity in that."
I was brought back to those beach-wear battles between my grandmother and my mother.
I was brought back to those feelings of utter frustration as a child.
I remember all that was forbidden.
I remember the embarrassed silences.
I remember the boiled eggs.
I think of the joy of the child frolicking in the waves with his or her parents.
That thought makes me happy.
I think of the hurt that my grandmother must have felt.
That thought makes me sad.
Fall from Eden.
The sun is shining now.
We shall be going to the South of France soon.
There will be people in various states of undress.
Nobody will give a fig.
There will be no risky bathing machines.
We shall swim, lark around and build sandcastles every day.
I want my children to have the freedom that I never had.
I went back and read what I had written.
I read, "Nobody gives a fig."
I thought of Maha.