I was struggling to find a post for X. It’s been a busy week at work, I’ve been unwell and I was knackered. So I decided to cheat. You’ve got an defective title and an old piece about the local pool that I dug up from a writing course. Enjoy.
The summer of 1983. No rain for two months and the temperature was hitting 100 degrees. I was only fourteen at the time and it’s been over thirty years, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Although, for my generation, there was nothing like the summer of ’76 and we still bring it up every summer.
‘Phew, it’s a scorcher today.’
‘You’re not wrong there.’
‘Not as hot as ’76 though.’
‘Hell no, that was the summer to beat all summers.’
This particular day I was slumped on the edge of the kerb, moulding melted tarmac into balls to flick at my brother, when my best friend, Anna, shouted across the street from her bedroom window. ‘Oy! D’you wanna go down the pool?’
The local outdoor pool was possibly the only place to escape the relentless heat. Throwing the last of the tarmac balls at my brother, I ran inside to slip my bikini under my shorts and t-shirt. With rolled-up towels under our arms, we headed off to the pool; hugging the shade of walls and fences, our flip-flops either slapping against the scorching pavement or crunching the sun-bleached grass.
At the pool, a carpet of beach towels was crowned with bodies toasted and burnt, long ribbons of skin peeling off noses and shoulders like strips of masking tape. Sun cream in the ‘80s was a mere afterthought; we’d maybe go for some Factor 4 Hawaiian Tropic, its exotic coconut smell conjuring up locations visited by Judith Chambers on Wish You Were Here…?
We found a spot in between a family who’d brought all the trappings for a full day at the pool (deck chairs, radio, windbreak, knotted hankies, and a proper picnic with egg sandwiches, pork pies, bottles of cherryade and coconut macaroons), and a group of teenage boys who’d just brought themselves. We lay out our towels, tucking our purses underneath, confident that they were well hidden from thieves, even though everyone else at the pool had hidden their valuables in exactly the same place.
I peeled off my shorts and t-shirt to reveal my new white bikini. It was almost identical to one I’d seen a photo of Jamie Lee Curtis wearing on Malibu Beach. Anna was wearing a red one piece with a very low cut halter neck. Flicking our hair back and pushing our chests out, we surreptitiously looked to see if we’d caught the attention of the boys. Success. The boys’ eyes followed us as we made our way to the edge of the pool, sashaying from side to side in what we imagined was a seductive manner.
The water was full of screaming kids and old ladies wearing flowery caps but it still looked inviting and refreshing. We counted to three and leapt in. The unheated water was freezing and we screamed as we came up for air. A couple of minutes were enough before we climbed out of the pool.
The lifeguard, up high on his lookout chair, grinned widely and gave us a thumbs-up.
We shyly waved back. ‘Ooh, he’s lush,’ said Anna. ‘I’ve been trying to get him to notice me for weeks.’
As we made our way back to our towels, the group of teenage boys leapt to their feet, whistling and clapping our arrival.
‘Looking good,’ shouted a tall, blond boy, whilst a chubby boy barked, ‘Honk honk!’ as he made squeezing motions with his hands held out in front of him.
Anna turned to me, a puzzled look on her face, which quickly turned to horror, the whites of her eyes enormous, as she gaped at my bikini. ‘OH MY GOD!’
I looked down to see that my bikini – my glamorous, celebrity endorsed bikini – was now as substantial and see-through as tissue paper.
‘Nice nerps,’ winked Chubby, ‘don’t need to ask if you’re smuggling peanuts.’
I grabbed my towel and wrapped it around me, tears streaming down my burning face. The whistles and shouts pursued me as I sprinted to the exit, Anna stumbling behind with our clothes and purses clutched to her chest. We ran through the gates before crouching at the back of the car park to put on our clothes.
‘Was it really bad?’ I sobbed, attempting to pull on my t-shirt without revealing a single inch of bikini.
‘Nooooo. It wasn’t that bad,’ said Anna, patting my shoulder. ‘I mean, you could totally see your nipples. And your pubes. But apart from that, it wasn’t too bad.’
‘That’s it. I’m never coming here again.’
And I didn’t. Not for the rest of that blistering summer anyway. When my friends were all heading off for a cooling, revitalising swim, I stayed at home. I might have been hot but that was a hell of a lot better than flashing to the whole town.
When I finally did return the following summer, I made sure my swimsuit was made out of the thickest, sturdiest material I could find. And if I heard low whispers behind my back (Heh heh, that’s her…totally see-through…saw everything), I just held my head high and remembered that old Mae West quote: ‘It’s better to be looked over than overlooked.’