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Columns
Esther Lafferty is the anchor of the hugely successful Oxfordshire Artweeks festival and a keen triathlete.

Where the Grass is Greener

Esther Lafferty

The summer may now be receding to make room for September, but over the last few months I have been making the most of it, baffling boatmen, frightening fisherman and plucking pondweed from my hair in pub car parks and laybys. This was never my primary plan when I arose each morning – it’s just that when the sun shines there’s nothing I love more than swimming in the Thames.

If I had been born into a fairy story (and yes, my childhood was perfectly lovely, thank you, so this isn’t casting aspersions on my parents’ tremendous efforts) then I would have been a mermaid. And other than the fact that I have a pair of skin covered legs instead of sleek iridescent scales in a wondrous palette of shimmering purples and turquoise, I’d be a natural. My hair is a mass of perpetual tangle that’s perfect for continual brushing, I’m well cushioned enough to sit comfortably on a sharp rocky outcrop without discomfort and The Significant Other is Peter Pan incarnate.

I have a friend whose young daughter was thrilled earlier in the year to hear that her primary school were doing a version of The Little Mermaid for their summer production. This youngster was unbearably excited imagining herself a vision of loveliness in a crown of celandine with a handsome prince at her side in a seahorse drawn carriage. She was therefore beside herself to discover she’d been cast as a brackish bulrush dressed in a cardboard box, and there was no call for bedecking in sequins or an ivory-pink bikini top of clamshells.

If I’m honest with myself, I probably fit in best amongst the bulrushes but even so, over the past few months I have been coaxing unsuspecting friends into the brink like a mythical siren. We’ve ducked and dived in spots from a stone-edged Shakespearian cauldron of a natural spring in Gloucestershire’s Kemble to the place where the Windrush meets the Thames and the temperature gradient between the two bodies of water takes your breath away. We’ve waded where the willows weep, floated through fraying fronds, and glided through gilded lilies. As you can see, it’s such a wonderful liberating feeling that one’s prone to burst into poetic licence at any moment with a flush of alliteration as bright as a flash of kingfisher. Old Father Thames must have been prolific with his pen.

The rest of the world worries that there are disease ridden rats, crab clawed crayfish, pike and pathogens ready to pounce just below the surface but we’re probably the scariest creatures below the waterline. As we emerge, like medieval water witches or unexpected monsters from the deep, hobbling over slippery stones, goosebumped with mud squelching from between our toes, drinkers stopping off after work to make the most of summer evenings must have worried that they’ve had one too many rather earlier than they planned. They’ll be glad to see the nights drawing in so they can spend the evening in the safety of their own homes.

- Esther Lafferty