I had another one of my ‘silly’ ideas, while lying awake in bed last night, partly due I think, to the fact that I had my radio on, tuned to ABC.
The program I was casually listening to was an interview with an avid swimmer, who luckily lives by the sea, because she adores getting in the water and usually doesn’t let a day go by without having a ‘plunge’.
This simple notion stirred something in my feeble old brain and I started thinking about the human love for the beach, swimming and even fishing. “Why do we love it?” I thought to myself - is it just the simple pleasure of doing it, or is there something a little more serious, lurking below the surface?
So I started doing a bit of research on the subject, (this morning of course, not in the middle of the night - Jacqui would think I’d gone mad, and perhaps she would have been right!), hoping to find out when and where swimming had been considered as exciting, before it became the number one summer pastime for so many people today.
I could find out nothing about the ancient peoples, (Egypt and beyond), though one writer did believe that Cleopatra bathed each day in asses milk.
I have no idea why, perhaps it was just to show off to everyone how wealthy and special she was, or her medical advisors thought asses milk in particular, contained some special powers, which made her more beautiful or something.
The first people I was able to find, who really loved the idea of getting into water, were the Romans. Wherever they went around their vast empire, if they found a natural hot spring gushing out, they built a public bath there, and the public came swarming.
They were really very luxuriant establishments too, even by today’s standards. The Romans, great engineers that they were, made use of the hot spring water, not just for bathing, but for central heating too, with pipes running under the floor.
THE ROMAN BATHS!
There is a Roman bath in Bath, England and the main pool is very big, almost the size of a modern swimming bath and filled with lovely warm water; it’s still there and functioning to this day, a thousand years later - Jacqui and I have actually swum in it, though I believe that has ceased now due to microbes in the water.
Another great source of water usage is on the islands of the Pacific, where the people have always, almost of necessity, had a very close relationship with the sea.
They were the originators of surfing apparently, and were also great explorers, populating pretty well every island from New Zealand to the Galapagos Islands.
In the 13th and 14th century the world passed through what we now call “The Dark Ages”. I think a major reason for the title may have been because no one took more than one bath a year during that period, rich or poor.
Even King Henry VIII used the same periodic cleansing spell - it was considered unhealthy to do otherwise. I have no doubt the smell he gave off was a major reason for him having so many wives; none of them could stand the smell, insulted him about it, and we all know what happened to most of THEM, don’t we!
I could find no information about any habit they may have possessed for swimming in the sea, but given the circumstances I have no doubts that it ever presented a problem!
Even in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, very few people bathed more than once a week, but at least then the modern public swimming bath was re-emerging after the long gap since Roman times, so people started learning how to swim again, which also led to more people going to a beach, to chance their luck in the tide.
Nowadays of course, we all shower at least once every other day - even daily in many cases, and there are massive facilities for those wishing to swim; in Olympic size pools, or the sea, or any available river. The art is also now a massive sport, very competitive and integrated into other sports, like Triathalon’s, etc.
All this thinking and research had to lead somewhere didn’t it, and the thought that occurred to me when I finished was the idea that swimming was something vitally connected to our, (very), distant past, which is why we indulge ourselves so energetically.
Could it be that right at the very end of the strips of DNA we ALL carry, in every cell of our bodies, there is a tiny little piece of information, recording the fact that our first ancestors were sea creatures who moved one eventful eon from the water they lived in, out onto the gradually growing areas of dry land, and the breathable air we now enjoy, in fact NEED.
And there is just one more fact that should be considered. We all spend the first nine months of our lives “swimming” in a sea very much as our distant ancestors did, for the whole of their lives.
Perhaps what we have here, in these last two ideas, is proof positive of the existence of evolution – interesting thought, isn’t it!
© 2023 Brian Lee
Photo: Roman Baths (c) https://bath.co.uk/museums-in-bath/roman-baths-4