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Simon Parke: Problems by the poolside

10 August 2012

RELAXING by the pool is not as easy as it sounds. First, there are "towel wars", and then the dreaded "entertainments" team.

For 50 weeks of the year, your towel is an innocent puppy in your bathroom. But, for the other two weeks, it is a growling attack-dog, sitting in snarling defence of your poolside sunbed. Towels on sunbeds are about territory: "This is mine, this isn't yours." We all need places we call home, but, believe me, home thoughts can get nasty round the pool. Not content with our own room, we want more. We want to mark out our territory in the public space: "Sure it's public - but not my bit of it."

Freedom of movement among sunbeds is not helped by towel law: that is, once your towel is on the sunbed, it is yours for the rest of the day. Which mountain this 11th commandment appeared from no one knows, but it is written in stone. The sunbed is yours for the whole day, whether you are there or not - and some are hardly there at all, after grabbing their place at 6 a.m. They are not using it, but it is still their bed, and the snarling towel ensures it stays that way.

As the week goes by, people arrive ever earlier, with their guard dogs and resentments building as the sun beats down and people sip their strangely bitter iced coffee. Presumably, the saint in this instance enjoys what she has, but knows it is a passing thing; so, when she goes for lunch, she takes her towel with her. She does not need a guard dog; she will give up control, and see what unfolds.

But just when you are finally finding some peace by the pool, the entertainments team arrives in wacky yellow costumes. And, interestingly, what transpires is this: while we do not need them, they seem to need us. They need us to help them feel worth while. They perceive themselves as bringers of fun, and we are the hapless fodder for these needs.

First, there is the pushy man with the over-loud microphone, telling us we should all get in the water for the aerobics. Should? "No excuses accepted," he declares with jokey menace. Formerly contented people now look uncomfortable; pressure is being exerted.

As life goes on, I feel it less and less of a good idea to give people microphones. It bestows brief but inappropriate power. Certainly no one should be giving one to the screechy girl exhorting harassed holidaymakers from the side of the pool to "Get happy!" When we impose our needs on others, we become abusers.

Most of our virtuous activity turns out to be about our own needs, of course; it is only pretend virtue. And, in becoming aware of this, and in discovering a truer self that no longer has these needs, we become less dangerous in the world, less like the entertainments team with all its desperate "shoulds", and therefore much more fun by the pool.

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