I must begin by saying what a splendid debate we had yesterday on 'Controversial Issue' - that is really the good side of blogging when everybody really thinks about an issue and makes an interesting comment - so thank you to everyone who took part.
Now to go wild!
There is a move afoot to promote wild swimming. In 2000, that marvellously eccentric writer, Roger Deakin, set out to swim in the watery places of the British Isles, starting from the moat around his own house, Walnut Tree Farm in Suffolk. He was somewhat inspired to do this by John Cheever's short story 'The Swimmer'. The result, published shortly before he died, was a book 'Waterlog - a swimmer's journey through Britain' -a super read and one of my desert island books.
Now folk are taking up this pursuit in earnest. If you are interested then go to the website www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com to get more information.
What a lovely idea you might say. All I can say is 'what goes around, comes around' because I and most of my contemporaries - certainly in the Lincolnshire village where I grew up, learned to swim in the river. In my case the River Witham, which wanders down from above Lincoln, through the fens and into the Wash at Boston. It is a fairly narrow but quite deep river, navigable the whole way from Lincoln to Boston and in those days, although very muddy underfoot, it was kept navigable by being dredged yearly.
In Summer we spent every waking moment in it or by it. I don't remember my parents ever stopping me going down there and I don't remember anyone ever being drowned.
There had been a ferry there many years before and there was a wooden landing stage. One side of the stage the water was 'paddle deep' and the other side it was about four feet deep. We would paddle until we dared to climb over the wooden stage and immerse ourselves up to our chins (depending upon our height of course). From then on we would make tentative sorties until suddenly, one day, we would strike out for the opposite bank. My goodness that day was a Red Letter Day in all of our lives. It was like an initiation ceremony - we had joined the ranks of the 'grown up'.
My brother, Jack, was a strong swimmer and I remember the day a motor cruiser got stuck in the weeds at the side of the river, where it had moored up for the night. They handed my brother a huge carving knife and he went down under the water and cut the propeller free from the weed. They gave him a meal on board as a reward!
The water was always muddy and your feet would be in soft squishy mud, but we thought nothing about it.
Until, that is, the day when (around 1946 I think) an epidemic of Poliomyelitis hit the village of Digby in Lincolnshire. I don't remember the numbers involved, although I daresay the information is somewhere on line, but many children died or were seriously maimed by the outbreak. The immediate reaction was to stop all river swimming in case that was where the virus came from (I think there was also a suggestion that it may come from the railway tracks and the railway ran alongside the river in our village).
Overnight we no longer swam, or even visited, the river or its banks. They became a no go area and as far as I know that is still true. A few years ago I visited the village and had a walk down the lane to the river. It was a warm, Summers day and the river flowed slowly, as it always did, its banks sloping down to the water
and clumps of yellow water iris everywhere. Nothing and nobody disturbed the scene - it felt like a stage set waiting for the play to begin.
Now, I wonder, will the River Witham be full of laughing, shouting, swimming children again if the fashion for going wild takes off? Now we seem to have beaten Polio will children go into the river again - or will 'Health and Safety' step in and say it is too dangerous. I do hope not - for that time of my life remains such a
lovely memory give or take a few mouthfuls of very muddy water.