Thursday, August 7, 2014

Go wild in the country

(With apologies to DH)
Wild swimming sounds much more bacchanalian than it is. When Grange Girl invited me to go wild swimming a few years ago, it sounded like something I couldn’t miss. I imagined nudity at the very least, and loud music, and alcohol, and wafty dancing by those crazy-eyed hippies who turn up to everything. Why I thought Grangey might be the person to introduce me to such a scene I cannot say. It’s the word ‘wild.’ It addles my brain. “Want to see this band, The Boring and Dulls?” a friend will say, and I will reply, “Nuh-uh.” But if the friend adds, “they’re really wild,” I’ll be there down the front before you can say, “I can’t believe they’re doing Phil Collins covers”.

Anyway the first clue that the sort of wild I imagined was well, wildly inaccurate, was when we set off to a lake at 3pm, rather than midnight. The second clue was Grangey’s kit: goggles and a flask of hot chocolate, whereas I’d brought glow sticks and ecstasy. Wild swimming, it turns out, is just a cool way of saying ‘outdoor swimming.’ Grange Girl deliberately played on my ignorance. She knows I don’t even go in the leisure centre pool until August.

I am surrounded by people who love outdoor swimming. My family (save my youngest child who has inherited my dislike of the cold and wet) are Pells season ticket-holders. They are never done with flinging themselves whoopingly into the pool. Oh yes, I tell anyone who asks, of course I adore the Pells. What I mean is, I love the grassy area where I sit under a blanket, and the snack counter where I buy tea. I enjoy watching awkward teens flirt by dive bombing each other. I just don’t love the blinking freezing water.

That’s not to say I never swim out of doors. On very rare occasions at the peak of summer, I may be persuaded to take a dip at Barcombe Mills. While half my family is already splashing noisily, I will lower myself slowly down the side of the bank, one centimetre every five minutes. Often my loved ones are out and towelling themselves off by the time my shoulders are submerged.

During my slow descent I stare in amazement at all the people who just run up and leap in. They don’t re-appear screaming and swearing, as you’d expect. No, they bob up smiling, saying “it’s like a bath,” (which it isn’t, unless you went to a public school), and “very refreshing,” (in the way that electric shocks are very refreshing). Once in, I thrash about, sobbing, until finally, after a couple of horrible lengths, I acclimatise, and become an annoying convert. “It’s lovely! Like a bath! Very refreshing.” My son stands on the grass, clutching the blanket around him, shaking his head. He’s not wild about it, to be honest.

Beth Miller. Published in Viva Lewes August 2014, and in by Michael Munday.