Monday 4 June 2018

Under This Blue

I grew up near the coast in Western Australia and I also grew up in the landlocked English midlands of Robin Hood territory, Nottingham.
I lived in both places, two separate times and moved within each of them a total of 13 times before I’d reached 12. So much moving in early childhood created an undercurrent of trying to figure out my place in an unfamiliar landscape that flowed through much of my life.

It was a childhood yo-yoing between,
Sunburn, wide, open skies, barefoot running on scorching beach sand
Suburban grey, low hanging cloud.
Chilblain fingers of the icicle window-pane, winters
That we shivered through, in our joined up houses.
“Ay-up me duck”-
Took over from
“How’s it goin?”
I had to remember that lollies were made of ice in England
Although they were sweets in Australia,
And chips were crisps unless they were hot
(This is vital information to assimilate in childhood)…
Then later as a 12 year old –
Flip-flops were definitely not thongs in Nottingham
And more importantly “Spunky” is not the word to use to describe the boy you think is good looking. (as that's just taking it to a whole new level!) 

The ocean however, has always felt like home. 

In my early years the Australian beach was something I took for granted.
I remember watching electric storms over the water. 
Swimming in the evening to try and cool down during a heat wave….
 All the waves… Diving into them, getting dumped by the big ones, rolling over and over, feeling as though I would drown, But I loved it.
I loved being in the water, imagining myself as a mermaid.
My hands would wrinkle and I’d always be the last one out.
My parents yelling,
“Time to go now, Rachel get out, it’s time to go!”

It’s easy to romanticize the Aussie life, but when I was there, I missed the green… the forests, seasons, the countryside and the old buildings and narrow roads. I missed my grandmother and her well-spoken, good-mannered, kindness and probably most of all, I missed her big old farmhouse surrounded by fields.

It was a childhood of contrasts.
It was a childhood of leaving.
It was a childhood of arrival.
It was a childhood of grieving…

Memories… Some we cherish and some sneak up on us triggered by sight or sound or word or smell or face.

There was one particular summer that my mind holds onto.
I was becoming a good swimmer.
I’d won some races in the pool at school.
My Dad began taking me to the beach in the mornings before school.
He’d sit on the sand and I would swim.
And there for 30 minutes I would wake up in the water, on my own.
Floating, splashing.
Red eyed.
I perfected my backward somersaults and my underwater handstands…

I was also in awe of the sea. As much as I loved it, it frightened me… I knew about sharks and I knew about currents and I knew about waves so big that there would be no chance that I could out swim them. I knew about jellyfish and seaweed and in all this knowing there was the understanding that this ocean that I loved, was not necessarily my friend. I had to be wise to it, if I was going to survive it.

In December 2011 I discovered that I was pregnant with our first child. Suddenly my own childhood began to sift my thoughts. I recalled my life of migration as I watched the refugee crisis unfolding within the world around me. I recalled the ocean and sensations of swimming, being submerged in water, as the fetus swam and turned somersaults inside me. I found myself returning to that summer in the sea, pin pointing the moments when I felt completely comfortable in my skin, doing my thing, being myself. Being part of the landscape, not just on it, or next to it, but actually in it, working with a force that was greater than myself... counting the waves as they washed over me, just as the child growing in me was at once herself but also a part of me, working with the life force of my body.

All this became the backdrop to my Somersaults song... 


Under this blue 
Back somersaults 
Who would miss me? 
And why so much? 
Keep staring up 
Keep drifting out 
Who would miss me? 
And know my touch 
Under this blue 
Under this blue 

Into this deep 
Head back and kick 
Tight to a ball 
Head back 
And fall 
Keep turning 
These summer 
Summer somersaults 

Today I have just signed my daughter up for swimming lessons. 
I wonder how she will take to it...