I remember the inter-high swimming galas held at Ellis Park. Every year, we had to wear polystyrene boater hats and sing war cries in the summer heat – it was a sunstroke-inducing, barefoot-burning heat.
My high school was one of the few government schools that attended, and you could trust either a Roedean or Brescia girl to give you ‘the look’ – it involved quickly scanning you up and down, and then an ever-so-subtle eye roll. But this only gave us all the more reason to beat their well-to-do asses in the pool. By ‘us’ I mean the swimming team. I never swam, of course (those who follow the #20laps series will be aware of the great irony of me being involved in this whole project).
The backdrop of the stadium seemed enormous and, when we sang, our voices ricocheted loudly against it. Although attendance was compulsory, the war cries were never forced; what we lacked in privilege we made up for in decibels.
But, Jesus, it was hot.
It’s an unbearably hot November afternoon and I’m completely out of my comfort zone. A sign at the entrance of the pool reads: NO DRUGS NO WEAPONS NO HOOKAHS NO DOGS. The brick building has faded yellow paint, with graffiti-tag accents. In the parking lot, a group of men laugh and shout next to tow truck, empty quarts of Black Label are knocked about by their bare feet.
Ice pelts metal in an elemental rage. The noise is deafening inside the indoor Linden swimming pool, but it’s a good thing we came here – it’s not exactly poolside weather. Pockets of Speedoed swimmers with towelled shoulders stand clumped together, dripping onto the concrete, their breath misting up the glass windows. The sky cracks with electricity. I see the rest of the #20laps team and head over to them. “We’ve been told to get out the water because of the lightening,” says Alex. All I hear is “out” and “water” and “lightening”. Gail gestures to me so I stand next to her; she leans in close and shouts something about the superintendent not wanting to talk to anyone or have his photo taken.