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A Swim: Somewhere in the hills

On the edge of a small rocky pool somewhere in the hills above Howden reservoir, I am standing completely naked. Water the ruby brown of malt beer gushes into one side of my newly discovered sink. On the other, the cascade continues down the water course, filling the reservoir system below. From a distance (or was it my imagination?) the stream had sparkled a rich dark blue. Up close, it is brown. Very brown. And cold. I am about to swim, I tell myself again. But I’m having second thoughts. Couldn’t I just retrace my steps? Taking a deep breath, I place a foot onto an obliging rock a few inches below the surface. It is chilly, not arctic. Encouraged, I add another foot and wade out a little. Under the souls of my feet, undisturbed by the eddies above, I can feel the silt of the hillside crunch between my toes. With nothing to do but lie back, I let the cold flow over me from neck to toe. The shock of the temperature takes me over. I let out an involuntary “ho”, a mixture of surprise, delight and fear. I try to swim, or at least gesticulate vigorously, but I have nowhere to go. I can lounge about in complete luxury, my bottom on the stream’s, my head above the water, but there is no room to outrun the cold. Instead I sit like a child being bathed in a washtub, all the time emitting more “ho’s” than a malfunctioning draw-string Santa. Wading back to the bank, I fish myself out and give thanks to the warm afternoon air. On the prickling grass, still slightly hysterical, I wonder quite why I did that to myself. I was only in the water for about a minute but, looking down, my body is cold, hard and shining. I ditch my belongings and set out upstream, determined to find a more spacious bathing spot, to actually swim. I hop, trip and leap my way up the water course for half an hour. Everywhere the water collects in pools but nowhere is there space enough to swim. At the top of the valley I scramble in anyway, splashing about like a toddler once more in the coke coloured water. I stroll back to collect my things, warmed by the August sun, and find myself at a pool I’d encountered an hour or so earlier. It’s bigger and deeper than the others and still blockaded by the thick bed of reeds that put me off the first time round. But now, somehow, they seem less imposing. Not thinking too much, I drop my things and half jump, half fall, ungainly and giggling, down the river bank. I soon find myself, if not treading water, at least doing a passable impression. It is too deep to sit so, taking a deep breath, I let my head sink under too. The noise is astounding. Water and stone rabble around as if the whole hillside is falling down. Coming back to the surface I stand up in shock, realising suddenly why people are baptised in rivers. Under the water’s assault, the mind clears. The world becomes immediate, beautifully unignorable. An extreme form of meditation happens beneath the swirling surface, returning all things to the present. You can well imagine a transformation taking place down there. Returning to the warm air, it could easily feel like rebirth. Glancing across the pool once more, I suddenly remember my purpose and tentatively stretch out. A stroke! A single undeniable, unsightly stroke! On the other side of the pool I crumple abruptly on the rocks but for one triumphant moment I had been completely suspended in water. I had swum. I walk back to my bicycle feeling lighter than before. )

Next article in issue 79

Tim Key Single White Slut

What Tim Key does is hard to describe in a nutshell, as is often required in short introductions to interviews with people. He is a poet and a comedian, delivering short verse that somehow manages to be simultaneously mundane and larger than life.

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