I Promise To Swim The Channel

I Promise to Swim the Channel at Pilot, 2011
Photo: Alicja Rogalska

Ever since I was little I’ve been trying to drown myself in water, long to be consumed by it, swallowed whole by it entirely. It’s not on purpose or through any sense of morbidity, but a kind of magnet that draws me into falling into lakes and ponds and rivers and brooks and streams, municipal swimming pools, city fountains.

In times of trouble I run to water. I run to the rivers and the lakes and the ponds and the puddles, I run to fountains and streams and the pools, but ultimately, it’s the sea I seek.

 The sea makes my heart beat like seeing an old lover, makes my stomach contract like meeting a new one, so in order to really get to know it, in order to really spend some time with it, I decided I would swim the channel.

Beginning as a joke with my  then house mate in late 2009, this escalated into a performance, a party piece, something to talk about it.

In November 2010, I performed the first version of I Promise To Swim The Channel (or the story of how I might) at Chelsea Theatre’s Sacred Season as a curtain raiser. This involved giving the audience a signed contract detailing how I would pay them £1 if I didn’t attempt the channel in 2012. This was then performed at Soho Theatre in December 2010, Pilot Nights at Warwick Arts Centre in January 2011, at the press night of the Sprint Festival, Camden People’s Theatre in 2011 (the channel swimming date having been quietly changed to possibly 2013 possibly 2014). Then developed the piece as part of Starting Blocks run by Camden People’s Theatre at the beginning of 2011.

It ended in a 30 minute piece that involved a video of me getting in Dover Harbour, two paddling pools, an awkward towel strip, vaseline and a lot of salt.

It peaked at a reality, a full training programme, a determination through gritted teeth, until it began to become the weight around my neck, a sinking feeling, the damp patch in my head.

As I began to research more and more into the swimming the channel I became crushingly aware that I was not up to par. That this was not really a solo effort and that it would cost quite a lot of money.

At the beginning of January 2012 I moved to the most landlocked city in the country. At the heart of the midlands. Birmingham. 192 miles away to the coast of the channel.

I’ve developed some more material around this during a residency at BAC in June 2012  ( A sea shanty about the first man to die swimming the channel, convincing myself that I might be the little mermaid in reverse, more of the sticking my head in a bucket, apologies for not having swum the channel. Yet) And then went on to do Summer Camp at The Basement, Brighton in July.

While I was there, swimming in the sea, getting stalked by seagulls, eating fish and chips and meeting some other rather lovely artists, I started to try to unpick what this project was really about. And what I wanted from it, what it could/ would/ might be. Whether I really wanted to do it.

I could continue to make some performance work about my not doing which in fact prevents me from the training that I need to be doing in order to be a serious outdoor swimmer. If that makes sense.

So after a discussion with a very wise man who suggested that perhaps if I stop trying to make constant performances about it,  I might actually get some swimming done, I’m shelving this. For the moment.

At the moment. Until I have the time. Until I have the money.

Here’s a video short showing showing some excerpts from Pilot Nights in January 2011, a dip in Channel filmed by Luke Scantlebury on a rainy day in February and an excerpt from Bitesize Festival in March 2012 (after having really failed to have swum the channel in 2012). It sort of shows where I am with this…

I’m still swimming, can’t stop, still thinking, enjoying Mosely Baths, Coventry Commonwealth, the local pools as I tour other shows.  Swimming where I can, when I can, outside; the north sea, Jersey, 40 minutes in the Atlantic in Sennan Cove in October. Looking at booking more swim races…enjoying swimming.

It’s got me thinking about unfinished hopes and wants, unfulfilled dreams, drastic changes, dramatic adventures (my Mum trekking the Inca Trail age 64).

You look at the archives of my swim blog here.

Beaten by the sea.

One Response to I Promise To Swim The Channel

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