High Dam Tarn

It was quiet. Even the jackdaws were conscious of their squawks. The country was both in it together, and alone. In the States the ill-informed, brainwashed and plain old racist wreaked havoc resulting in murder. If Covid-19 exposed the fragility of the human body, then Trump and his cronies certainly exposed the fragility of the human mind. The Terminator took it upon himself to speak out passionately and personally, relating their actions to dark days gone by (days we should’ve learnt from but seldom do). Toward the end of his rousing speech, he rather confusingly blurred the lines between history and Hollywood by wielding a sword from one of his movies. Perhaps he had watched “Inglorious Basterds” the night before and thought it was the done thing. If anyone was going to speak out against the egomaniacal reality tv star, I’m glad it was Arnie; a man who made a career depicting muscle, brute strength and violence resolving all life’s woes. Back on this side of the pond, the government pleaded for people to remain vigilant and supportive of one another. Behind the scenes, strong moves against the weak in favour of the prosperous were ramping up almost undetected. Promises set in stone erasing like chalk. Even the bumble bee’s number finally looked up. What a smokescreen. Normal service was resuming.

Heavy snow on the Friday night meant Faye woke early and excitable. Several strong beers on the Friday night meant that when she woke me early, I was groggy and testy. I’d been staying at Faye’s more and more. We were going strong. She’d gotten me into some of her favourite authors and poets. I’d gotten her into John Cooper Clarke. She beat me at Goldeneye on her N64 every time we played. I threw the controller down and stormed off, every time we played. We stayed up late drinking, listening to tunes; her go, then mine, her go, then mine. When she went to open another bottle, I’d jump the cue and staunchly deny it when accused. It were alreet an ’are. ‘We’re getting up and going.’ Announced Faye, opening the curtains. A harsh glow spread across the room as daybreak reflected off the snow. ‘Oh give over will ya?’ I shouted, throwing the covers over my squinting eyes. ‘Come on, don’t be such a grump. When do we ever get snow like this? I don’t wanna miss it.’ ‘It’s seven in the morning. We went to bed at two.’ ‘No, you wandered upstairs just before midnight pissed as a fart and left me to clean up.’ I turned over ignoring her. ‘I even tried feeling you up when I got into bed but you tightened the sheets either side of you so I couldn’t cop a feel.’ ‘Serves you right you rapist.’ I said with a mouthful of pillow. ‘Who fished what?’ She asked? ‘RAPIST.’ ‘Alright dickhead, the bathroom window’s open. I’ve got neighbours.’

I took a couple paracetamol and made my coffee to go. The breaks grinded and pleaded as we drove down Faye’s street, waves of hot coffee riding over the top of my mug. ‘Ah fuck.’ I cried out sucking my fingers. ‘Where we going anyhow?’ I asked. ‘First stop, your mum and dad’s.’ ‘What for?’ ‘We need to borrow your dad’s axe and you need your swimming shorts.’ ‘My dad’s axe? What makes you think I don’t own an axe?’ ‘Please. You had seven beers last night and you look like how Tom Waits sounds.’ ‘You didn’t even know who Tom Waits was until you met me.’ ‘And now I’m using him against you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ I didn’t answer. My head was still pounding from those seven beers. Fifteen minutes later I asked, ‘How come I need my swimming shorts?’ ‘Bloody hell, here he is.’ Laughed Faye, ‘You need them because we’re going swimming up High Dam. We need the axe ‘cos I bet it’s frozen up there and we’ll have to smash our way in.’ ‘What are you high?’ ‘It’ll be amazing. I’ve done it loads. You feel incredible afterwards. I’ve brought my little camping stove, some food, a flask of coffee and a bottle of whiskey.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Really.’ ‘Wow. Well alright.’ I started to feel a little better. Not quite at Faye’s level of excitement, but I was off and running.

We pulled up at my parent’s. The garage door was open, my dad inside pottering. ‘Now then Dad’ I called out. ‘Alright. What do we owe the pleasure?’ ‘We need my axe?’ ‘Your axe?’ He quizzed. Faye laughed. ‘Alright, well I need AN axe. Please.’ ‘Hanging up over there. I want it back mind.’ ‘Yeah yeah.’ I replied nonchalantly waving my hand. ‘Where you going?’ ‘High Dam.’ Answered Faye.’ ‘Little early for chopping down Christmas Trees ain’t it?’ ‘We’re going ice swimming.’ ‘I’ll leave your frozen bodies to science.’

We took it slow through the haunted black rocks and into Lakeside; a village that was once filled with life but was now decaying due to scarcely used second homes. I solemnly glanced at the closed Boaters pub that was bought by the hotel a while back and turned into conference suites so drunken fun couldn’t disturb the hotel guests on Friday and Saturday nights. Up toward Stott Park snow devilishly hid patches of treacherous ice causing skidding. We slowed to a crawl at the blind bend beyond Buck Yeats where years ago a foul tempered hound named Fred Bassett attacked the front tyres of passing cars. Fred Bassett’s life was abruptly cut short- he drowned in a boating accident. We drove past the long-retired Bobbin Mill, that at one time would’ve been smoking away with old Bill Airey in his grey flat cap, check beige shirt, ripped corduroys and his missing thumb nail making charcoal on site. We parked the car along the side of the road as soon as we entered Finsthwaite, not trusting the steep drive up to the car park. Setting off, I caught my reflection in the passenger window; for some reason woolly hats highlighted my tired looks that my hair miraculously manged to obscure. ‘Maybe I need to up my intake of watermelon.’ I thought. ‘Maybe I need to start eating watermelon full stop.’ I pondered further.     

I tried to stay on the crunching thick snow to limit my chances of slipping. Not that it worked. My walking boots that I’d been given after joining the Royal Navy in 2014 for five days man and boy until I realised marching and taking orders weren’t my bag, were wearing rapidly on the soles. The snow ahead on the untouched paths leading up to the two dams was tranquillity at its finest. To walk on it felt like you were vandalising museum quality art. It was cold, but it was crisp and dry and didn’t feel as harsh as it would if it was a few degrees warmer but damp. The cloud cover was doing a fine job of keeping any sunlight at bay in this snow globe which I enjoyed. I don’t like sunshine on a snowy day, it depresses me. Must be the memories of snow days as a kid, knowing that clear skies and sunshine meant the next day I’d be swapping sledging for wedgies. Snow carries with it a silence. A silence with such an empowering presence it’s as if it becomes a noise in itself. The weighted trees bowed for us as we trundled through with our clinking backpacks. Faye’s pug Percy trotted ahead marking his territory despite no other signs of activity.

Once we reached Low Dam, Percy sniffed at the frozen water before cautiously stepping onto it. After a few moments his confidence grew and he trotted across the dam with all the swagger of Jesus, until he heard a crack and his arse fell out. We continued up the path to the main event. It was glorious, eerie, beautiful and desolate all in one. The open, frozen tarn covered in fresh fleecy snow, trapping driftwood as it lay resembled a battlefield both pre-infliction and post. We walked to the left along the stone ridge and along to the west banks of High Dam Tarn surrounded by Rusland Heights. We set up camp protected by tree cover. Faye lit her camping stove and began cooking sausages. Their aroma infused with hot coffee along with the spitting sounds and the sight of the Woodford Reserve made the vast white land feel like a restful farmhouse kitchen. I stripped off and into my blue swimming shorts that sported purple seahorses. My body heat went all out attack on the cold but quickly retreated. I grabbed my axe…I grabbed my dad’s, striding toward the arctic waters, chest puffed out. I stared down, it laughed back. I swung from high above and came crashing down with brute force, only skimming the surface as the vibrations pinged and fled, echoing across to the opposite side. I turned around to see if Faye had seen, somewhat embarrassed. Her shoddy attempt at trying to mask her laughter told me everything. Second attempt. I swung from up high and came crashing down with thunderous strength. The axe skimmed once more but this time I slipped with it, nearly slicing my kneecap. ‘Careful.’ Cried Faye. ‘It’s fucking rock hard.’ I pleaded. ‘It will be babe, it’s ice.’ A Vanilla Ice song came to mind, but this was no time to start singing “Ninja Rap”. Instead I chipped away until I made some serious indentations, until finally I broke through. ‘I’ve done it!’ I yelled proudly. I was a Viking, a warrior, a hunter living off the land. ‘The label’s sticking out the back of your shorts lovely.’ Called out Faye. ‘Thanks.’ Faye turned the heat down on the sausages and changed into her black swimming costume. Even with her over-sized woolly hat drowning her tiny head she looked irresistible. She came tiptoeing over as if wearing transparent stilettos. A provocative teapot. Her erect nipples making sure they were the centre of attention, until her bum stole the show. ‘Who’s going in first?’ I asked. My teeth chattering more from apprehension than the temperature. ‘I will.’ Said Faye confidently. She took the axe and smashed the hole wider and slowly settled into the frigid water. We couldn’t swim as planned, only sit in the ice hole. Faye smiled, but it was forced as she fought to control her shaking body. She soon settled into it and became accustomed. After a few minutes I helped her out. It was my turn. I sat on the edge and slid in. It took a few seconds to feel anything and then it hit. My breath leapt; I desperately tried to suck it back in as my tonsils shattered in my throat. I tried to get out, but Faye told me to relax and concentrate on my breathing. I took her advice and slowly gained some composure. I looked at the side wishing there was a sauna in the woods. Sausages and whiskey would have to do. After five minutes I got out. My body red raw, my feet numb. We dried ourselves quickly and harshly, jumpstarting our blood circulation. Once we were back in dry clothes, we felt invigorated and wanted to go again. Finally deciding against it, Faye buttered four buns and completed the butties while I added whiskey to the coffee and poured us a neat shot each as an aperitif. Melted butter and ketchup oozed out the side of my bun; catching it on my tongue just in time and taking another bite. On the other side of the tarn, more swimmers arrived, stalking the edges looking for a suitable entry. Their voices, quiet as they were, amplified around the earthly colosseum. We sat, huddled. A blanket draped over us. Steam from our coffee rose, momentarily warming the crystallised air in its swirling path. I tried my best to forget about the itching in my swelling toes which were slowly coming back to life, despite their constant pestering. We gazed, allowing the moment to lead us wherever it pleased. ‘I reckon half the world’s problems would dissipate in front of our very eyes if people took a little time to stop and smell the roses every once in a while.’ Said Faye softly. ‘Don’t you think?’ ‘A walk under some trees before deciding on war probably wouldn’t go a miss.’ I replied. ‘Do you think Donald Trump would stop, reflect and maybe regret if he were to come to a place like this alone. The spotlight shut off.’ ‘I think he’d probably stop and reflect on where to plant the eighteenth flag.’ ‘You’re probably right. At least it finally looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Trump leaving office. Vaccines readily available. There are reasons to be slowly feeling a little happier again.’ ‘True. I don’t believe everyone will be overly delighted Trump’s going though. And I don’t just mean his supporters or North Korea.’ ‘Who else?’ ‘Well the bric-a-brac guy on Market Street for a start. He was trying to flog five hundred Donald Trump toilets rolls half price last week.’ ‘Is that everyone?’ ‘No. Every comedian on the planet too. They won’t admit it, but their orange goose has finally stopped laying. They’ve had their material handed to them on a plate these last four years. I bet they’re in a real sweat knowing that they’re finally going to have to start writing some new material. I guarantee many of them will have to resort to plan b; screaming conventional sentences to grab cheap laughs.’ ‘So apart from comedians and the bric-a-brac guy on Market Street?’ ‘Oh, everyone will be over the moon.’ ‘Your brain doesn’t run in sync with everyone else’s does it?’ ‘What’dya mean?’ ‘Nothing.’ Smiled Faye giving me a squeeze. We sat in silence for a few moments longer. I could tell Faye’s mind was going through the gears though, and I was proved right. ‘Crazy to think though, that those people who stormed the Capitol in Washington would’ve genuinely thought they were being true to their country. That they were being patriotic and, on some level, thought they were saving it in some kind of disillusioned, messed up way. I bet each and every one of them is now horrified to think they are being labelled as terrorists. I bet they would consider “terrorist” the worst word in the English language. And now they’ve thrown themselves into that fraction. Don’t you think?’ ‘Worse than “cunt”?’ ‘I’m being serious.’ ‘Sorry. Yeah I do,’ I replied, ‘It’s fucked up. We’ve seen some crazy shit in our short lifetime. The birth of the internet. The Twin Towers. The mess that followed. “Cats” the movie. I’m only thirty-six and already wanna jump on that ship with Frodo.’ ‘Oh yeah. I always forget about that ending. Where do you think they were sailing to?’ ‘Ko Pha Ngan for a little downtime and a mushroom shake or two. Those bad boys will really get the trees talking to you.’ Faye stayed silent. I’d gone off course. I looked over at Percy sniffing at the ice hole, following it up by pissing into it. It was time to go.

On the way back to the car the clouds began to loosen, and the sun broke through. I stopped, looking up through squinted eyes. The leaves began to drip.   


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