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  • Writer's pictureMike Gould

Sea swimming with Kylie

I have been reading The Guardian's list of the best 100 Number One singles in the UK. Definitely worth checking out - but before you do, here's a quick word on why I've mentioned it.

One of the features of the very best songs, or so it seems to me, is their ability to be both intoxicating musically-speaking and lyrically interesting - and open to interpretation.

Thus Kylie's 'Can't get you out of my head', rather like Human League's 'Don't you want me?' and Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean', all hover between obsession, desire and love. They contain multitudes. We never know if the narrator is edging towards a paranoid, unhealthy fixation or is expressing an everyday heartache. What we do know is that the line between pain and pleasure, at least emotionally, is a blurred one. Insofar as the physical goes, well that's another story and one that is being contested daily.

So - to me. And the sea. Yes, a bit of a leap - a plunge, if you will.

I had my second swim of the year this week, and it occurred to me that there is a peculiarity to the experience, especially during these times of lockdown. In one sense, it felt like an act of subversion; an allowance of selfish pleasure to which others are denied. On the other, it felt like an absolutely necessary response - to swim away from the shore, from the reality of life, to imagine for a moment as you looked outward to the horizon and forgot the mass of land, that this alone mattered. These conflicted thoughts were compounded by the sea itself. Still very cold on entering, it felt like a warning; abandon all hope ye who enter here! But of course beyond those first breaking waves, one entered a new warmer realm and the stretch of muscles fed and nourished the anxious mind.

The co-existence in that moment of pain, pleasure and contrasting emotional positions felt very Kylie. Or Phil. Or Michael. 'The sea is not my love; she's the just place that claims me for herself ...' Or something like that.

The experience suggested a poem to me, which follows below.

Cooden Beach, May 2020

It’s just past wet-suit weather,

The sun blurring Beachy Head

And silvering the bay where a millennia ago,

Invaders slanted boats upon the shingle.

Descending to the breakers,

I’m careful to immerse in stages,

Foregoing usual plunge and plough –

How age makes cowards of us all!

Yet the rim of cold is soon dissolved,

And while slashing waves smack

My face and mouth with salt,

I’m soon floating, staring up towards the sky.

How strange time is, how calm

And infinite the possibility and pain,

The forgetfulness in feeling something

Pushed behind you with your palms.

Swimming out seems so much easier,

As the land and life behind me fades.

Mike Gould 2020

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