Cold Water Kingdoms: Women & Water

Women and the space we take up (or are barred from, or concede, or reclaim): Reading back through the first week of my Wild Patience project, I see already how much this preoccupies. The coast and its cold water was the site from which my glorious girlhood sense of self-sovereignty  sprang; in mid-life, the spring-fed pool in my small Sussex town returned it me.

This short extract from Scroll 1, Line 1 is all about this: Self-love, self-sufficiency (and in writing it up tonight I went to my daughter’s bookshelf to check an old Ladybird fairytale, The Princess and the Frog: Yes, there too the girl is by the water’s edge, happy to play alone before the world of marriage and obligation inserts itself). This is how it was for me:

“At nine I was in love with myself in my body in a way I missed ever after and have had returned to me only now, past 40, through this pool, & my strange undertaking with its fairytale proportions. Then, I was in love with my perfection (I wasn’t one of the girls boys loved — had no ponytail or freckles — but this was a solitary love, free as I was this one year and never again of comparison).  I loved the soft fluff on my legs that went gold in the sun so I looked, to myself, spell-bound. The tan lines made by my flip-flops — that white V —and the way my dull brown hair transformed into orange and reds. Even my bruises and plasters pleased me: I counted them like coins; my treasure. Status symbols. I was brownest, the most bruised. I could push bangles up to my shoulder instead of wearing them at the wrist like Mother. And when we went each evening through summer to the freezing sea at Widemouth, just along the jagged black coast from Bude, I would throw myself against the waves, holding up my heavy home-made surfboard like a shield. I imagined myself admired by all the men and boys in the water because I could get out to chest height fastest and surf all the way in to where the board would get stuck to the wet sand from the surface tension of the water. All the best sensations got stored in my nerve-endings that ninth year, as if my body were a battery and my entire skin a living solar panel. I went to the sea every year until my studies took me inland and then to this milder, stonier coast, but the joy was less: I had begun to shave my legs and dislike the result, while understanding I could not go back; this and all the other daily ways in which we allow others’ views of us to constrain and change how we live in our skin (for which, in this time and place at least, the responsibility for this diminishment remains partly ours). Only now, thirty-three years later, is that self-sufficiency returning. I’m kneeling here with the calloused feet of all but the most careful middle-aged women, have green and ropey varicose veins on the calf of my left leg (legacy of pregnancy), & the skin on the back of my hand stays raised and wrinkled long after I pinch it. And yet.” [The first lap/line ends]

5 thoughts on “Cold Water Kingdoms: Women & Water

  1. this is gorgeous Tanya, I have just had a flashback into my childhood when I gloriously climbed a very large tree with all the ‘sense of self-sovereignty’ you hint at here – and yes, I’m only just starting to gather that back into my body again at 49. Thank you. I’m very interesting in reading Wild Woman Swimming, it looks like a wonderful book.


    1. What a lovely thing to write. I’m so sorry not to have seen it before – I’m still getting used to WordPress and all its menus. I love that that small post was what connected Wild Woman Swimming and I just before her death, and that now the book of her work lives on. If you don’t already have the book let me know and I can send it you.


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