The Reverie of Cold

Look away, look away.

My head whirls, sentences and clauses. Words and incantations. I need to hold the intent, remember the state. I need to write. I have swum, and now more than anything, I need to write. More than I need people or food, more even than I need heat, I need to vomit out the words.

This time we run
This time we hide
This time we draw
On all the fire we have inside.

My foot is heavy on the accelerator as I drive homeward, the car’s heater blasting warm air around me, an illusion of warmth, my core temperature still depressed, and dressed as I am in four layers of clothes with a heavy coat, gloves and a wooly hat over all.

So look away, look away
Hide your eyes from the land
Where I lie cold.

I’m in a fugue, and I know I will soon forget. I am one-millionth of a second displaced from the world and I am untouchable and redeemed. That one-millionth gap is a void. Lone swimming ghost. Invisible, alone. I have tunnel vision and I feel like I’ve taken all the world’s narcotics. But I will warm up and then I shall be returned from the Fey Lands, rewarm and forget the connection. Forget the disconnection. Forget the Fey Lands, forget the fugue, start to distrust myself again. I will become normal and insufficient and lose the brief Redemption.

The Fey Lands. Jotunheim. Tír na nÓg. Tuatha Dé Danann and Lachlanach. Celts and Vikings, on the edge of the World. They knew. Earth, fire, wind and water. Cold also is elemental, a succubus. I can only get there in winter, in cold, through cold, with Cold. There is no map, no Google Earth, no App for the Fey Lands. When we leave the Fey Lands we forget their existence. To remember is madness. Others have found different entrances, different landscapes, different climates. Hell is ice, not fire. I neither believe in hell nor heaven. Ascetics, hermits, ecstasists. All pilgrims to the Fey Lands. I’m a pilgrim of Cold. Holymad. I approach by swimming, in cold water, enrobed by cold, into Cold. Soon the Fey Lands will slip away, my memory of their existence will attenuate and dissipate, I will distrust my own words, you will think me cracked, the ecstasy of extremism lost to my mundane failed existence. I will forget the reverie of the Cold. Pools cannot ever do this. Other people are masking agents that stop me losing myself to the Fey Lands. Chlorine and warmth are bulwarks, palisades that stop me throwing down heaven, bar me from finding the Fey Lands.

Look away, look away
From the love that I hide
Way down deep in my soul.

Do this. Don’t do that. Be careful of. You are not allowed. You will fail. You have failed. I am not capable. I couldn’t. I was not able. I failed. I’m embarrassed. I shouldn’t say it. I shouldn’t write it. Bollocks. Out there I am invincible, untouchable, inviolate.

Look away, look away
From the lies in the stories
That were told.

I swim to the edge of the Fey Lands. If things are sufficiently marginal, I will glimpse them from the water. I didn’t know, I never knew, I never know that I am swimming to the Fey Lands.

Cold water. Cold isn’t cold. It’s fire. It burns your skin. Fingertips sting. The soles of feet excruciate. You feel the entire surface of your body at once, you feel the entire skin of the waters and the world. The Cold possesses you, becomes you. No. You become the Cold. The holy Cold. No synonyms are required, nor sufficient.

The currents were strong. Stronger than in years. Not as strong as me. Not this time. All my years there I never had to swim to avoid that reef. Swept past the steps and the concrete, the water still wants me but I turn back, fight back, swim back. I know, know it’s enough and the time doesn’t matter.

Then I broke loose
You weren’t around
So I raised banks
And trains until I tracked you down.

Out of the water, the first glimpse of the Fey Lands is gone. I only know later there was the glimpse. Or was there?  Illusion. Delusion. I get dressed and feel great, powerful, more alive, more life than one body can hold. I have a window of time. An absolute learnt span when I must get dressed before the Freight Train arrives. Grab my box, shamble up the steps.

Fifty steps. Sea to world. Why fifty? Why does fifty seem important? I know. But I feel great. I’ll go for a walk.

Open the lock box on the car. Fire my stuff inside the boot. It’s here. The Freight Train is here. The Freight Train always arrives, inevitably. No walk. I’ll just sit into the car, turn on the heater. Warm air, warm clothes. I’m on the Freight Train. I am in the fugue. Shivering and shaking, the Freight Train takes me. What will the ride be like this time?

We made some friends
But now it’s done
I always knew that we would
Never find the sun.

Short but intense. The Freight Train isn’t a commuter train. No light shivers here, it’s a ride of clattering shakes and chattering jaw.  I don’t feel cold. I never feel cold. I never feel cold. You misunderstand cold. You walked in the rain and got wet on a cold day? I am a connoisseur of Cold. The Fey Lands are different. Your commuter colours are pastel shades but my Freight Train is primary hues. I am alive on the Freight Train. No nodding off on the Freight Train. No mere commuters on the Freight Train. The Fey Lands are around me on the Freight Train. I see them. You cannot. Are you a pilgrim too? How long will I be on the Freight Train, this time?

Afterdrop. Hypothermia. Cold. Rewarming. Mealy words, accurate but inaccurate.

I just realised I am, what do I say, cool? Chilled is the word. Not cold. Cold, that cold, the Cold, the fugue, is a different state. Cold is sacred. The fugue is gone, I’m off the Freight Train. I catch a branch line back. I’ve left the Fey Lands.

The words. The words weren’t right. I didn’t hold the intent. The fugue. The Fey Lands. The Reverie of Cold. So easy to lose, to forget. People, hot chocolate, fingers on a keyboard. I’m just a cuckoo again. What are these words about? They consumed me and I don’t know. Did I imagine it all?

I shall have to swim again. In cold water.

Maybe I’ll stop. Maybe I won’t.

So look away, look away
Hide your eyes from the land
Where I lie cold.

Look away, look away
From the lies in the stories
That were told.

Look away, look away
From the love that I hide
Way down deep in my soul.

The Reverie of Cold.


* Words by Chowning & Randle


34 thoughts on “The Reverie of Cold

  1. Pingback: Two Simple Reasons for trying a Christmas Swim | LoneSwimmer

  2. Pingback: Cold Town | LoneSwimmer

  3. “The Fugue” is endorphins, endocannabinoids, the juice your brain pours into your blood, and somehow it is helped along by hypoxia. Same thing happens to me when I swim in the green limestone-floored lakes around here, but I never thought of it as Tir Na Nog or Jotunheim; it’s more like Grendel’s lair, or R’lyeh complete with a sleeping C’Thulhu, and perhaps the odd snapping turtle.

    I also feel a step out of time with this plane of existence, but hyper aware of the energy state of everything around me. No one else can see the burning brightness inside of me, the reason I swim. The ocean beckons to us.


  4. Pingback: LoneSwimmer Has No Balls | LoneSwimmer

  5. BASTARD! You’ve done gone and pinched all my (would-be) lines, my very own feelings, my very own experience. You and your freight train metaphor; you and your STATE, your REVERIE, your pen and your understanding.
    You’re a bloody Cold poet, that’s what you are.


    • haha! Okay, I might even steal that title also and add it to Coldologist! Thanks you very much Paul, appreciated, particularly as I think this is one of the two best things I’ve written on the blog.


  6. Pingback: Ice Mile Dilemmas – V – Something Terrible Is Going To Happen | LoneSwimmer

  7. Pingback: Ice Mile Dilemmas – I – The Trap | LoneSwimmer

  8. Pingback: The Worst Three Minutes | LoneSwimmer

  9. Bravo! What a beautiful, evocative and magical piece of writing…makes me wish my water were colder. We’re hovering around 51F/~10C with pretty warm air.


  10. Great piece, Donal. It really resonated with me; I’m not a true “lone swimmer” as I swim regularly with a group (Skerries Frosties) but you nailed the feeling of other-worldliness that comes with the cold and the almost-alien environment. Loved your use of the Fey World description as reflecting that (at least, I assume that it was the magical aspect you referred to – I’m Scottish and “fey” is sometimes used there to mean a sense of impending doom…!) You have a genuine talent for conveying experience and feeling, coupled with really useful tips which I’ve found invaluable over the least few years. More power to your elbow! Cheers, JIm


    • Thanks very much Jim. I was actually trying to be ambiguous with the term, as both Fay and Fey are used here for obviously different reasons, I’m sure fay must be used in Scotland also for the Good Folk. In fact once I’d published it, I’d considered adding some more ambiguity and deliberately using both terms once but decided against doing further work on it.


    • Thank you very much. It’s an article I’m very pleased with. I was quite nervous about putting it out. There are things about writing and photography that are similar. One would rather people see what is written or shot and not like it, that to not see the result at all.

      Comments and responses to this post matter much more than usual to me, especially from people who understand. I hope not so much that I have written what you all think, more that you can all understand what I think. Thanks again Suzie.


  11. Pingback: Cold Water Swimming Articles Index | LoneSwimmer

  12. Wow…..there is an amazing quality to your writing , while reading it I felt like I wanted to be there, the seductive cold really beautiful piece it was compelling I want to go to tramore for a dip !


    • Thanks Dara. I really appreciate that. I’ve rarely been so nervous of posting and yet so proud of writing something. Some things you know are right or complete without needing to be told so by others, but when you do put so much of yourself into something, any words can be meaningful.

      Oh, and happy new year to you also.


      • I think you captured very nicely the otherworldliness of solitary cold water swimming. That black magic. The urgency to not forget versus the need for restoration. Cool!


Leave a Reply to Elaine Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.