S told me I might catch something, and that rather put me off, but a bloke told me he had learned to swim here sixty years ago, and when I saw the teenagers leaping from the bridge and climbing out a few yards down stream I envied them. It is so beautiful, walking down by the river, and it was around 25°, so I fancied it. No skinny-dipping, alas, too many people about.
What to do? I could just swim in the pool by the ford, or downstream of the lock, but I wanted to swim to that bridge. I put an old wig on. At the lock, there is a narrowboat just coming through, going downstream, and by the ford there are a couple of swans. In Loch Fyne, once, I could not swim because when I got to the rocks a swan chased me off- wings beating the water, head stretched out towards me hissing. A swan broke the farm-hand’s leg. Perhaps they are tougher than freshwater swans: these, with no cygnets, swam ahead of me downstream and soon outpaced me.
I slipped in the mud by the ford, and sat in the water. Right. I am committed. With all the rain, the river is still much higher than usual for July, though about 3′ lower than its highest point, when it flooded over the concrete mooring. Off I go, under the willow. The water is muddy. I can see my hands in front of me, and reflected in the surface of the water (No Swallowing!!) but not much further. At times, the reeds caress me as I swim along, and then the water is too deep to touch bottom. The left bank is a thicket: brambles and nettles, some of them 5′ tall, so not easy to get out, but the steep muddy right bank should be OK. The boat is through the lock, and peeps his horn twice: when the river widens, he overtakes and I wave to him. The water is as warm as I would want a swimming pool to be. “No fishing, no swimming” say the signs by the outdoor centre. Ha.
Oh, I am glad to see the cornfield. Nearly there. Round the corner, and there is the bridge, again with teenagers on it: two queans and four lads. I wave to them. They wanted to know where I had swum from. The lock. “I think you’re awesome!” shouts the blonde girl. “Oh! You’ve got your shoes on!” Well, I have to walk home. I take a few strokes on my back against the current, midstream, to stay in the same place. Well, I wanted to jump from that bridge, so I climb out and walk onto it, and they give way. Over the parapet. “Do a back flip!” shouts one- no, do a pencil-drop. I had never heard the word, but it is a good descriptive word. A moment of indecision, and then down I go. Under the water, I did not realise, immediately, that my wig had come off. The stream took it away. I walk over the bridge, and the teenagers ignore me. One shows off his first tattoo, a CND symbol 2″ high on his side, just above the waist. “Has it started to scab yet?” asked his friend.
I felt a bit self-conscious walking the near-1½ miles home. On the path at the edge of the field, there were two men and a woman. I caught a fragment of conversation- “In America? That’s shite”- but they evince no curiosity at the bald, damp androgyne. In the street, there is the sound of a ball: two children play together on a side road, and carry on their game as I walk past.
I shower, wash my shorts and vest, and pop upstairs to boast to Jan of my epic exploit. She wants to tell me about Fifty Shades of Grey– yes, I have heard of it. This was a challenge for me, I am really pleased that I have done it, and I got eleven likes and three comments on my Facebook status update. If I do it again, I will use another old wig.
Next day, I went down to the river to illustrate my exploit, and was fortunate to find the boat on the lock. The boatman, who lives on it, was happy to be photographed- how did you get into that, then? Oh, my friend gave me the camera as a Christmas present. The man on the bridge over the ford wanted to tell me how slippery it was. Well, if I fall in I will damage my camera and my dignity, I am taking care, I assure you. It is no more than five foot deep down there. How do I know? I swam it, yesterday. You do know about the sewage works upstream, don’t you. Merde, no I didn’t. Well, it is a sewage works, it is supposed to digest the waste. I kept my mouth shut, apart from breathing.