Learning to Swim and going Europe


Learning to Swim

To try keeping your head above water while alive seems to be about the best advice one can give. I remember years ago being given that lesson by my mother. It seems strange that my memories of my birthplace (Holland) while a child seem to be mainly about warm and sunny days. Yet, having gone back and revisiting that place as adult it always rained or was shrouded in fog. One flew over cloudless skies all the way from Sydney to India then over the sun baked Mediterranean followed by the Swiss Alps below with sparkling jewels of mountains until you reached Amsterdam’s Schiphol and all became dripping and looking miserable.

Are childhood memories invariably sunny and warm? Perhaps one felt safe, cared for and loved and the sun always shone as it invariably would not when growing up and face the world independently. No weather has sun only; clouds, rain, storm and tempest are all part of it as well. That’s the lesson we learn when growing up, the trick is to keep head above water, steer the good ship into calmer waters.

Those first times that I went back I traveled by boat. The first trip cost me hundred and six Aussi imperial pounds for the whole of 5 weeks duration between Sydney –Genoa. Another ten pounds for the Trans-Continental express Genoa to Amsterdam. Unbelievably, one was fed and feasted for the entire 5 weeks trip including all the Chianti one could possibly drink included.  Those large passenger boats would be seen off from Circular Quay by enormous crowds with hundreds of streamers the last connection between the passengers and onshore family and friends.  Many would be given last minute advice. Alas, when the boat finally moved away many a tear could still be seen on both travelers and on-shore friends. “Keep in touch Mavis or Ron, will you”? Still being shouted and renting the air.

It was during those sixties and seventies that many young people would take a dip and tip a toe into a foreign world with overseas travel becoming more popular. Slowly, another world away from Australia would emerge for many that previously had been experienced by just a few or seen only on maps or heard from others. Who could resist the travel when it was so cheap? Compared with air travel it soon became the preferred choice.

Even so, it did not hurt to pack a few toilet rolls, just in case. It pays to be careful. There were some strange cultural habits being imported into Australia by European foreigners. Strange food items like garlic, black bread and coffee that came in beans with some of the migrant kids even disliking our own food goodies such as beans and spaghetti on our sandwiches with lovely vegemite and sliced Devon.  Then there were those foreign habits of drinking wine slowly and wanting to be seated when talking to others, outside coffee sipping with seating on pavements as well and even restaurants opening on Sunday. Where will it stop next and many were worried?


Some came back with tales that in France you did not have ‘normal’ toilets like ours at home with Pine-o-Clean refreshed pink knitted doilies covering the lid etc, no, you had to squat into a hole, oh the horror was still visible on Mavis retelling her tale how she lost her lipstick irretrievably in one of those dark bottomless holes at Marseille.

In Holland, some discovered, the toilets had a kind of platform in which to peruse or admire latest efforts before flushing, allowing a kind of final good-bye as well. Some years later in Bali and many other parts of Indonesia there were different toilet habits again. Suffice to say people there never eat with their left hand or indeed shake hands, pass goods with the left hand which is used for toilet duties. Have some pity for those born left handed!

As for my swimming lesson; we used to swim with a doubled up rubber bicycle tyre. The summers were endless and permanently sunny.  One day, with my mother watching I was half way across the river when the air vent came out deflating the tyre in seconds.  My only option was to drown or try and make it on my own. “Just keep on swimming normally,” I was calmly advised from the side of the river.

That’s what I did.

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6 Responses to “Learning to Swim and going Europe”

  1. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Poor Mavis and her lipstick – God help anyone in those French Lav’s.

    My first pair of espadrilles where bought for me on our first ‘sunshine’ holiday in the South of France when I was 12. Up until then Holland and Scotland had been where damp, rain-soaked vacations had been spent so imagine my delight on discovering that there was actually a world where the sun shone everyday and everything smelt of wild herbs.

    I proudly sported my new black espadrilles for the duration of the weeks holiday and then, half way back up the autoroute en-route for Calais, we stopped for a pee in one of those motorway service stations. Lo and behold it was my first experience of the ‘squat and drop’ toilet. Naively I waded into a pool of pee on the floor and that was it – the end of my espadrilles as, stinking with piss they were then unceremoniously dumped into a bin by my mother- never to be worn again.

    Thanks for the memories Gerard!!


  2. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Love the memories Gerard! My first introduction to the “pit” toilet was in France, and I’m happy to say that we never became best friends. The Cemetery photo was very revealing. Quite a use for large floral offerings. As far as swimming: my father simply tossed me into the river and waited for my arrival on shore.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Glad you liked the memories Kayti.
      .Yes, I once lost my travel cheque book in an Auvignon public toilet. I tried to retrieve it but even humming ‘Auvignon sur le pont’ in a C major did not help me. It was too deep.


  3. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Once as a child, and again as a teenager, we lived in the country with an outhouse. It was a grand place to practice singing, since you could do it without breathing through the nose.


  4. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    What on earth would you write? ha ha…


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