July 20, 2010
… was a towel, nothing else, and a clean pair of panties in my hand. I had just been swimming in the river. It was early and there was no one around except the swan I had raced downstream. (Not to compete, but to escape: swans are aggressive when they’re with a cygnet and I hadn’t wanted to get swatted by one of those snowy wings.) Under cover of the towel, I peeled off my suit and was about to step into my panties –awkward manoeuvres, both of them – when a strange man stepped out from behind the hedge. I gave a little yelp, the kind of sound you make when you’re genuinely startled and then wish you hadn’t, and he yelped in response. He was bald, with a white moustache that looked like the business side of a nailbrush and he was wearing a pair of old-guy swim trunks, baggy with a lot of elastic at the waist. Normally, we would have just nodded and left it at that – British swimming etiquette — but for some reason he started telling me about his boat. He had a punt tied up in the reeds and he was planning to sand it down and give it some coats of paint and a lick of varnish – his words. He was thinking about replacing the cushions. I stood there in my magenta towel with my panties dangling from my wrist, wondering when it would stop. Then I thought, Hang on. I’m not involved in this. I don’t have to be here. So I said, ‘See you,’ and went behind the hedge to get dressed. I had my spangly blue skirt from Miss Selfridges’s with the crinoline flounces at the hem, a denim vest from New Look and the faded blue Crocs I bought at a hippie shop in Princeton: summer things and, by happy chance, the type of stuff that’s easy to pull on when you’re anxious to get away.