On Writing ‘Lido di Venezia’
They put a lido, this amazingly new, state of the art lido, in the middle of the park where I grew up. Back then in summer your weekends were spent in the pool there – not a lido, but a round hole filled with water, and you got to swim with other kids in this water, and with their different urine, and bugs and clumps of sinking sand from the sand pit of the rundown play area next to the pool. We did have a slide in the pool – you could ride the snaking, off-yellow tube at the top and plop into the foggy water below but the real fun of that slide was wondering if you would ever actually materialise from the bottom once you went down it. If you couldn’t swim though, you got to hold onto a mouldy float that looked like it had been chewed up by a German shepherd, that’s only if you were lucky enough to find one.
In the play area you had to wait about three hours to get a turn on a free swing, but to get onto the swing in the first place you needed the guts to challenge a popular older kid, a kid who had taken ownership of said rusty swing and wasn’t going to give it up to you for nothing. And if you managed to negotiate your way onto it and fell off, you’d crack your head open on the fractured concrete below. Winter-time the pool got shut, but there was a grotto- a little outhouse with a couple of fairy lights suspended from the ceiling and an ancient artificial tree that leant against a wall in the damp corner. You would queue for hours to get in, and inside waiting for you on a stool sat a fed-up Santa Claus with a cotton wool beard stuck on with probably Sellotape or maybe Blue-Tac, and a fag hung out of his lips as he coughed and asked you what you wanted for Christmas- something you knew you’d never get from your parents and there was no chance of him bringing it either on account of his dubious beard. At the end of this magical experience you got a present and it was always the same, a Selection box, and you already had eight of those back home from Aunties you hated. That was the 90s.
In 2015 the kids get a lido with a café on the side, with a bouncy castle that floats on self-cleaning water, and they sail and kick across the crystal blue water on non-chewed floats and when they’re bored of all of that, they play in the modern park area, the park with a plentiful choice of swings, with safe slides and some kind of ship they can climb… and if they fall off, it’s okay- they bounce straight back up off the cushioned floor. They get to change out of their bathers in a room, an actual room, instead of having to trickily hide flat chests and pale legs poolside on the fag-end carpeted grass behind a towel. It’s winter now, 2015, and Santa is probably there in his grotto, this incredible grotto with strobe lights and a massive, fat tree, and he’s probably a good-looking hipster with a well-trimmed beard, giving the kids who’ve just jumped out of the heated water iPhones instead of selection boxes, so I wrote a story about a new lido being built in the middle of an aging park and something going horribly wrong on the grand opening day. But I’m not bitter, seriously.
Rhian Elizabeth was born in 1988 in the South Wales Valleys. She writes mostly fiction and her first novel, set in those valleys, was Six Pounds Eight Ounces, published in 2014 by Seren Books. She is currently working on a collection of stories all about the bad guys.
‘Lido di Venezia’ is featured in our new Winter issue. You can buy a copy here.