At the end of August 1996 both my daughters left home to take up graduate scholarships in America. I knew that they would probably never again spend extended periods in my house, but persuaded myself that I had ‘coping strategies’ well in place. Within days of their departure I embarked on a more than usually expensive holiday, a Hellenic cruise. I had calculated that in the course of this holiday I would become really keen to get back, even to an empty home, and to resume my absorbing work on Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This was indeed the case, and I returned to much enjoyable busyness, not consciously marred by what I took to be a moderately virulent outbreak of athlete’s foot, caused by too many visits to my swimming club, in a prep school where term began in early September. After a week or three I went to my GP and told her I thought I had athlete’s foot. Amid pleasant chat of this and that she sat at her computer and prescribed some anti-fungal cream. I warned one or two fellow members of the swimming club that there might be infections around in the women’s changing room, used at other times of day by ‘away’ rugby teams of little boys. My spirits were slightly dampened, as autumn and a new academic year set in, by a sense that as a responsible citizen I should now cease to visit the swimming pool – I normally went three times a week – for fear of infecting others. I hit on what I thought a rather brilliant solution: I bought some rubber foot coverings from a sports shop, and went swimming in them a couple of times, hoping to avoid passing the infection on, but was surprised to discover what a part toes play in swimming, and how impeding it is to have the feet encased in latex. Perhaps this unsatisfactory experience gave me some empathy with the condom-wearing sex.
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