It’s the start of the summer holidays and the thought of six long weeks stretching ahead like a deserted road, surrounded by desert, might seem overwhelming. I have already got a possible broken toe, burnt my neck and spent a significant amount of time trying to get my child out of a locked bathroom. It’s only day two! Why do some parents fear holiday time with their children? It’s undoubtedly not that we don’t love our children and of course we want to spend time with them. I’ve been wondering lately if It’s a fear of not being able to live up to expectations. Is it possible to entertain, transport, feed, behaviour manage, educate, time manage, safe guard, earn a living and all at the same time; for a lot of us with multiple children at the same time? Is it possible to do all of these things with a smile on your face, without raising your voice and without wishing you were somewhere else? We compare ourselves to others who seem to be coping on the outside and we feel guilty for every negative feeling. I think if we were honest with each other we would find that these are not isolated thoughts or feelings. If we opened -up with each other our feelings of fear and loneliness would be…well less lonely.
Loneliness and disconnection are themes that are explored in our latest novel ‘The Lido’ by Libby Page. A young woman called Kate, who is a journalist for the Brixton Chronicle, meets an eighty seven year old woman called Rosemary. They are both lonely and find a friendship in each other and a cause, in fighting for the Brixton lido, which is at threat of closing- down and being made into a private development. Kate is in her 20s and suffers from panic attacks. ‘It is the Panic. Not now, she thinks, not here. But the Panic is already in the changing room with her, making the space unbearable small.’ Page personifies panic, turning it into a living, breathing thing which Kate has no control over.
I love the way Page explores mental health. It is not just through her main protagonists, but through minor characters that she tackles this issue. From the fourteen- year old boy at the pool, whose parents are getting a divorce. ‘Down there no one can find him, nothing could hurt him and he isn’t a boy but a fish.’ To the pregnant woman who worries about the impact of having a baby. ‘They only had two oars and just enough strength and experience to keep them both rowing in a straight line. A third person would surely send them off course.’ Mental health is a silent killer. One in four people will experience mental health issues in their life- time. We don’t talk about it. Kate doesn’t talk about it. ‘You wouldn’t tell from looking at Kate that she is a young woman who is visited by the Panic. Only she knows that.’
Interweaving Rosemary and Kate’s narratives and giving us glimpses into other characters lives, helps to connect them all. It might seem like our towns and cities are changing, but I think another thing Page does well, is show how community is sill alive and a sense of community can help us deal with the negative, isolating feelings. Page uses a fox as a literary device which connects the different characters to their environment. We are first introduced to the fox when an elderly couple see ‘a fox making its way across the communal garden’. Later it is seen eating ‘the final dregs of a pot pf peanut butter.’ The fox is an opportunist, it is also a survivor. It has had to adapt to its surroundings, as urban cities grow and the foxes’ natural habitat declines. ‘Even in the daylight she is not afraid: this is her home and she knows she can come and go as she pleases.’
A sense of home and belonging is a thread that runs throughout the novel and at its heart is the lido. The water acts as a leveller. ‘Everyone is equal when they are nearly naked’. It is a space where the local community can come and forget their worries for a while; the water cleansing them. Water itself represents life. Rosemary spent her life with George at the lido ‘when I’m at the lido, I feel him. I remember him everywhere.’ The water makes Kate feel ‘after so much time feeling numb.’
I could feel the pull of the water as I read. I spent quite a lot of time at the Brixton lido when my daughter was born, mostly trying to erect sunshades out of muslin clothes. But I feel a need to go back, to swim and leave any worries on the pool side for a while.
I’ll see you at the pool!