When I think of my childhood then I think of specific details like the look and smell and feeling of my toy horse when it stood in a specific place, daylight playing through an orange curtain. The fading white paint in a living room window sill zoomed in on a specific blister in the paint, THAT scratch in THAT corner, THAT feeling of touching the window glass in THAT moment, the cold on the fingertips, the moist on the glass, making a round hole in the layer of moist with the hand and what the feeling and “smellscape” and vibe of the room was like in that moment, THAT view through the hole in THAT moment.

I love stories, but my childhood fail to be a story. There is no meaningful plot, just momentary snapshots… zoomed-in specific observations but few narrative intersections to link them together in a context, and into other peoples’ lives.
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This is a portrait of my mother which I wrote over a year ago, long before this year’s unusually many instances of contact with her.

Please keep in mind that a portrait is a snapshot frozen in time. It shows the pictured person/s from an angle only, in a certain time, and any opinion about how they may have felt inside or what their surroundings outside of the photoset looked like is, at best, an informed opinion. And a written portrait is even more subjective than a photograph.

If my portrait sounds like a story, or a set of observations of a stranger, then it is because I don’t really understand my mother. I can see the patterns in what she does, her behaviour is predictable in the way that “when you push button X then Y predictably happens”, but I don’t understand who she is beyond the mechanics of her behaviour.
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Mahon Pool 9 by Therese
Photo by Therese of Swimming Pool Stories

I used to swim almost every morning all year around in a tidal pool back when we lived in a beach suburb, before we bought the house and moved out west. I swam about the same time every morning, but the experience was always unique – there were so many factors that varied in addition to the routine elements, that it could never be similar to any other day.

A tidal pool is an ocean-side rock pool, where the water is naturally circulated by sea water. The sides are usually made of concrete, and the pools typically have an open “fence” of poles with safety chains on the ocean-sides, to give swimmers something to grab hold of should they accidentally be dragged out at high tide. There are many tidal pools in Sydney.

At high tide, the pool water flows in and out over the edges. High tide water is fresh & clean & full of interesting ocean odours, and there is a fantastic interplay between the restless surface of the water; the sound of the waves and seabirds, the sight of the ocean and all its lively waves filling the huge space between the pool and the horizon; the salty wind; and the sky.

Sometimes the water surface was so calm it acted as a mirror for the sky; at other times it was wrinkled and stirred, warning about troubling weather ahead. The water always told a story about what had happened and what was to come next; and it was never the same story.

My morning routine was to wake up painfully early, drive to the pool and park my car, go for my morning jog on the coastal walkway, come back & pick up the towel from the car, swim in the pool, drive home, have a hot shower, eat breakfast, dress up & drive to work. That start carried me through the long, dreadful days in the office. Well it didn’t actually, but it helped. I was dead tired most of the time though (mainly due to people stress, confusion and boredom at work).

Ocean pool communities

There were of course fish in the pool, and crabs along the edges. The tidal pool was an ecological community and I didn’t want to be part of that, so I never touched the bottom with my feet. There was at some stage rumoured to be a Blue Ringed Octopus sitting on a shelf-like cracked concrete wall (there was indeed a kitten-sized octopus sitting there, I saw it); a spot to carefully avoid. A pair of long-necked hunting seabirds would sit on the tall street lamp between their hunts, dripping wet, and a small penguin-like seabird dived in the pool after fish when there wasn’t too much human traffic in the water. A rumour had it that it had bitten a man in the knee under the water once, presumably by mistake.

Luckily, there were no whales in the pool, dead or alive.
Image from Sydney Morning herald

The pool had a human community of regular morning swimmers, some of whom came all year around like me. These people – young and old, mostly old – recognised me and smiled and said good morning. Many of them seemed like very happy people, and many had been swimming there for decades. Most of these people swam “labs”; so they swam back and forth from end to end, often a specified number of times and typically in only one swim-style (e.g. crawl or breast strokes), most with their heads above the water, moving steadily forward in straight lines till they reached the end, then turned and repeated, over and over.
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