Fig Swims the World and the magic of intergenerational friendships

Published on: 15 June 2020

Author Lou Abercrombie was so inspired by the intergenerational friendships she struck up in her swimming club that she decided to include some in her book Fig Swims the World! She tells us about their power...

The front cover of Fig Swims the World and author Lou Abercrombie

There are several important relationships for the 15-year-old protagonist in Fig Swims the World, many of which are with people older than her. In particular, there are Sage and her twin sister Myrtle, 70-something twins who belong to a group of older swimmers called the Mermaids.

Sage takes Fig under her wing, meeting her at a vulnerable moment when she doesn't believe she'll ever be able to swim. Fig is shy at first, but she's soon drawn in by these mermaids, who welcome her with open arms at a time when her contemporaries are rejecting her.

The intergenerational themes in this book developed early on. I'd just come back from a swimming holiday where I'd met a group of people of all ages, with all manner of backgrounds, and it struck me how easily we got on with our common love of swimming.

Then there are Jan and Lee-Lee, who took me under their wing when I travelled alone to Turkey to compete in the World's Oldest Swim across the Hellespont. Without their friendship, it would have been a much scarier prospect.

Some of Lou Abercrombie's friends

It made me realise how much my life is full of these such relationships. From the silver swans I dance alongside in ballet, to the older swimmers at my regular swimming quarry. If only I'd been able to speak to these people when I younger...

As a teenager, the older generation seemed completely alien to me - how reserved they all were. Weird-looking, too, with their perms and purple rinses. The way my grandpa wore a shirt and tie every day. The way my nan couldn't even drive. Their 'old person' hobbies like bowling and eating out at the same hotel restaurant. It all seemed so removed from my desire to wear mini-skirts and stilettos and listen to music in a darkened room!

Of course, they didn't get me either - didn't understand what I was wearing / listening to / doing. I've always said that I'll never let that happen to me and yet in this age of Tik Tok and social media, it's already started...

With society branding generations with (usually negative) traits - labels such as Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millenials - it's far too easy for us to alienate ourselves from others purely because of a number.

Some of Lou Abercrombie's friends

But there are so many benefits to different generations spending time together.

For my children it's been the experience and interests of a Grandma who loves ballet or a Granny who loves poetry... it means I don't have to be an expert in everything! And from the grandparent's perspective, it has given them a future to have hopes about, an object in trying to do them good and offer support, and a way to remain connected to the world.

And so, while Fig's intergenerational relationships might feel idealistic to some, and given that when I was her age, I could barely put two words together when it came to a conversation with an old person, for me it's something to aspire to when I am old...

Read our review of Fig Swims the World

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