The summer holidays have started and the never-ending task of keeping my kids amused has begun. Part of me just wants to say, "sure it's fine that you sit in a locked room and play Minecraft for 10 weeks, no problem …" but I've been told by those who know that this is not responsible parenting. Those who know say that the kids should be getting regular exercise and "doing things".
That was when I discovered the Cheltenham lido. Built in the 1930s, it is one of the largest open-air swimming pools in the UK, and my kids are now in seventh heaven. For me, it's a little more complicated. Lido is the Italian word for beach, and I've always loathed beaches. I was a goth when younger and goths do not do beaches. It's one of the things that always makes me laugh whenever I go to somewhere hot, there's always one awkward goth, dressed head to foot in black with their make-up dripping down their face staring at the bronzed "normal" playing in the surf. I find the whole concept of the beach annoying – the sand that gets everywhere, the salt water, the man who stands above you trying to sell cheap sunglasses …
To be fair none of these things happen at the Cheltenham lido. I sit on a lovely lawn, the water is not saline and nobody, so far, has tried to sell me sunglasses or even offered to bead my hair. I think that the real reason that I don't enjoy myself is why my kids love it so – other people. The kids bump into friends and hang out while I spend most of my life trying to avoid people. It's probably my inner goth, but I just like to hang out on my own, as I tend to find polite conversation very stressful. My perfect lido would be empty of anyone save for my family. I proposed this to the management and they gave me very short shrift.
I do like people-watching however, and all of human life is at a lido. There are the teen boys who hang out in awkward groups daring each other to make contact with one of the awkward groups of teen girls. Then there are the first lovers; the couples who are permanently intertwined, whether lounging on the grass, in the pool or in the queue for drinks. I sometimes wonder whether their braces have become fused and whether I should offer to assist but I never do.
There is always a man of a certain age in public pools who almost lives there. He is probably about 60, wears tiny Speedos and has the leathery skin of a man unaccustomed to clothing. He is always the first one in and the last to leave and sometimes he stares at you a little too long in the changing area. My favourites, however, are the peacocks. These are the rare men and women with bodies made for poolside. This is their arena and they strut their stuff all day long only stopping to take a selfie to show the online world what they are missing. Meanwhile I sit among the crowds in purposeful isolation, reading a book, making sure my kids don't drown and waiting for autumn's sweet release.