In which The Author goes late-night swimming
Leighton P. was taking his lunchtime stroll in Aberdare Park earlier when he saw something which had to be seen to be believed. A council employee was wading through the lake, scooping out all the rubbish which gets thrown into it regularly. The lake isn’t very clean these days. Dozens of geese and other wildfowl have settled on it now, and the whole place is plastered with guano (to use a euphemism). A couple of years ago a disease affected the fish, and I’m not sure whether it was restocked afterwards. I’m not sure that I’d like to go wading in it, even with full PPE.
Anyway, while Leighton was watching, the guy missed his footing and fell in bodily. Leighton went home and lent the guy a boiler suit. It can’t have been a very pleasant experience for either of them. He told me about it earlier, and it reminded me of a misadventure I had many years ago.
Don’t even ask me how long ago it happened! We were still drinking in the Carpenters Arms at the time, and that’s been closed for the best part of twenty years. After stop-tap one particular summer Saturday night, Rob H. and I were walking through town towards Greenfach. At the time, there was an ornamental pond near the library, surrounded by wrought iron railings about two feet high.
As Rob and I got to the top of Canon Street, we could hear laughter coming from the direction of the pond. Intrigued, we went to investigate. There were two girls, aged about fifteen or sixteen, paddling about with their shoes off.
We crossed the road and warned them that there were two police officers making their way up Canon Street about fifty yards behind us (which was true). They thanked us, climbed back over the railings, and put their shoes back on. We got chatting and one of them asked where we were going. Rob was heading to Cwmdare, and I was still living in Llwydcoed at the time. They asked us if we’d walk with them to Trecynon, and we agreed. It was on our way home anyway, so it made sense.
They must have decided that were mature and responsible adults, in fairness to them. We suggested sticking to the back lanes, as it was quieter than walking up the main road. That was where people tended to head for takeaways and taxis, and there was a good chance of running into some idiots. We were thinking of their safety. Mature and responsible adults, see!
We walked up the slope overlooking Gadlys Pit Car Park, skirted the scrapyard, took the lane beside the school, and eventually emerged on Glan Road – directly opposite the side gate of the Park. That was when our companions suggested doing something which Rob and I would never have thought of doing. They wanted to go into the park for a swim.
We pointed out that the children’s paddling pool would be locked up at that time of night. They weren’t talking about the paddling pool, though. They were talking about the lake. Before either of us could talk them out of it, they started climbing over the gate. Thus it was that Rob and I – mature and responsible adults, remember – broke into Aberdare Park at close to midnight.
For some reason, the lake never attracted wildfowl in those days, and was a great deal cleaner. It had some huge carp swimming around it instead. A few of my friends had summer jobs back in their student days, hiring out rowing boats and pedalos from the little brick boathouse. It’s boarded up now, and the boats are long gone. The island in the middle was planted with ornamental shrubs, and the whole place was much more attractive. Especially to slightly mad teenage girls, apparently …
Before Rob and I could say anything, their shoes were off again and they were paddling in the lake. We sat on the seat nearby and watched them splashing around. After a little while they decided that it was getting cold, so they made their way back towards us.
‘Can you give us a hand out?’ one of them asked. So I – being a mature and responsible adult – walked to the water’s edge and extended my hand. She took hold of it, and pulled …
I won’t go into detail about what happened next. It’s all a bit of a blur, to be honest. All I remember is climbing out of the lake, soaked from the waist down, while our new friends laughed hysterically. I suppose a wiser man would have told her to make her own way out, but I quite literally fell for her mischief. Rather dejected and extremely wet, I decided to cut my losses and make my way home. I assume Rob and the two girls must have headed out via the top gates, but I jumped over the wall opposite the Welsh Harp and squelched home.
I decided not to tell any of the Sunday night gang in the Bridgend about my unexpected swim. It was a bit embarrassing, for one thing. We’d been in the Park illegally, for another. I didn’t know whether the police or the council would do anything if they got wind of our midnight ramble. So it came as a bit of a shock when my friend Roger approached me in the bar, leaned in close, and asked me if I’d enjoyed my swim the previous night.
‘How the fuck do you know about that? I demanded, very suspiciously.
‘I was on the other side of the island, fishing,’ he replied with a broad grin.