‘It was Dave’s idea. He’s the one you should talk to really. I don’t even know if he knew what he was doing but it was definitely him that showed us what to do. Oh yes. Well now, mind you, he always was a bit different, you know, the sort to push the fence a bit, see what’s possible. Some folk get annoyed by that kind of behaviour, think it makes him hard to handle – which he can be. You certainly wouldn’t want him around any ceramic establishments once he’s got an idea in his head, if you catch my drift. But he is straightforward. No Bullshit, that’s Dave.
So it was no surprise that when he made his first move most of us just stood and waited to see what would happen next. What he was up to. There were all kinds of comments at first. Some said he was going to make a break for it, for the other side. Some said he was out to take someone down who had upset him in some way. But most just stood and watched, like me, and waited.
I will admit, ‘though it might make me look sheepish, that I was afraid he was going for freedom. Maybe something had happened to him this morning I didn’t know about; something that was just too much for him to take, y’ know? You can never tell sometimes until someone’s just had enough – some little thing can just tip them over the edge. Maybe Dave was going over this morning. But then I caught the measure of his stride. Walking purposefully he was, not furtive-like, as you’d expect of a runner. No, bold as brass, eyes dead ahead, walking straight, head up, that’s how he was. The people walking by just took one look at him and got out of the way. They could tell he meant business! He didn’t mean no trouble but he didn’t want anyone trying to stop him either.
“What’s he doing?”
“He’ll get hurt for sure.”
“Where’s he going?”
They were all asking. And you know what? Suddenly I thought ‘I’m going with him.’ Something in the way he walked out there gave me courage. That and the scaredy cats on the bank and their whingeing. Like a red rag to me it was. So I followed him, ignoring the suddenly hushed stares of the others.
It was quite easy to get into the river there, although you had to watch your step. The water was cold but not unpleasant after the heat of the morning. I waded out and stood beside Dave. I’d half expected him to say something but he just turned and looked at me, acknowledged I was there and turned back to stare at the far bank. Maybe he was going to make run for it, I thought. Or maybe he could just see something that I couldn’t. I don’t know. It felt like he was waiting for something. So we stood.
A few minutes later I heard small splashes and footfalls, turned to look behind me and saw the others following us in. A few remained on the bank – Old George, that’s him with the funky headgear, just stood staring – and a couple of the younger ones made a run for the trees. Maybe to distance themselves from us. I don’t blame them. But most of them came.
Soon, we were all there, those that were coming anyway, and we just…stood. It was then that I saw what Dave was doing. This was a protest. We were making a stand. Stepping out. Putting ourselves out there, somewhere we didn’t belong and saying ‘we can be here too.’ ‘We can do this.’
Some people on the far bank pointed. Some, passing by in boats and whatnot and took photo’s of us stood there. Most people laughed. But we didn’t care. We just stood, tall and proud and were…there. Suddenly our solidarity had found a new purpose, a new resolve. We were all together, doing this one thing. It may have been crazy but it was something we did in unison, not as individuals. I don’t know about anyone else but at that moment I felt strong, a part of something, as though we could do anything we wanted to.
Eventually, on some invisible signal, Dave turned and headed back to the bank and the rest of us soon followed suit, gathering back in the field. Funny, but no-one felt the need to discuss and chew the cud. It was enough to just stand and think, each to their own thoughts on what had happened. I don’t know if Dave will lead us back into the river again, or maybe even further afield. In a way it doesn’t matter. We went in, took a stand and that’s all that counts. For those of us who were there we know we had that moment.
Some will no-doubt say that it was futile and silly, others may look instead for a deeper meaning to what happened here today but there doesn’t need to be one, does there? It was enough that we had broken out, just for those moments, and stood together against the tide, against the expectations of the world.
And to my mind, anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is just talking bull.’
Taken from an interview conducted 2nd October 2011 by the river Thames near Cookham, Surrey. Thanks to Frank and Arthur for their help.
© S Dyer 2011