A ROW ON THE SERPENTINE
Within a day or two of the penning of this celebrated epistle, which created quite a sensation at Bradford College of Art as it went the round after tea, Hockney realized one of the objects of his young London ambition, and succeeded in embarking on The Serpentine lake in Hyde Park in a skiff by himself, with such results as are now described.
He had already been down several times in pair-oar and four-oar boats, with an old oar to pull stroke, and another to steer and coach the young idea, but he was not satisfied with these essays. He could not believe that he was such a bad oar as the old hands' made him out to be, and thought that it must be the fault of the other art students who were learning with him that the boat made so little way and rolled so much. He had been such a proficient in all the Bradford games, that he couldn't realize the fact of his unreadiness in a boat.
Pulling looked a simple thing enough--much easier than tennis; and he had made a capital start at the latter game, and been highly complimented by the marker after his first hour in the little court. He forgot that cricket and fives are capital training for tennis, but that rowing is a speciality, of the rudiments of which he was wholly ignorant. And so, in full confidence that, if he could only have a turn or two alone, he should not only satisfy himself, but everybody else, that he was a heaven-born oar, he refused all offers of companionship, and started on the afternoon of a fine February day down to the boats for his trial trip. He had watched his regular companions well out of college and head towards a boozer, and chuckled as he came within sight of the lake.
Hockney’s state of high excitement increased when, in answer to his casual enquiry, the managing man informed him that not a man from his art school was about the place. So he ordered a skiff with as much dignity and coolness as he could command.
"All right, sir; this way, sir;" said the manager, conducting him to a good, safe-looking craft. "Any gentleman going to steer, sir?"
"No" said Hockney, superciliously; "You may take out the rudder."
"Going quite alone, sir? Better take one of our boys - find you a very light one. Here, Bill!"--and he turned to summons a juvenile waterman to take charge of our hero.
"Take out the rudder, do you hear?" interrupted Hockney. "I won't have a steerer."
"Well, sir, as you please," said the manager, proceeding to remove the degrading appendage. "The water's rather high, please to remember, sir. You must mind the other boats and the edges of the lake. I suppose you can swim?"
"Yes, of course," said Hockney, settling himself on his cushion. "Now, shove her off."
The next moment he was well out in the water, and left to his own resources. He got his sculls out successfully enough, and, though feeling by no means easy on his seat, proceeded to pull very deliberately past some punts, stopping his sculls in the air to feather accurately, in the hopes of deceiving spectators into the belief that he was an old hand just going out for a gentle paddle. The manager watched him for a minute, and turned to his work with an aspiration that he might not come to grief.
The day was a very fine one, a bright sun shining, and a nice fresh breeze blowing across The Serpentine, but not enough to ruffle the water seriously. Some heavy storms had cleared the air, and swollen the lake at the same time; in fact, The Serpentine was as full as it could be without overflowing its banks--a state in which, of all others, it is the least safe for boating experiments. Even the racing skiffs were comparatively safe craft, and would now be characterized as tubs; while the real tubs (in one of the safest of which the prudent manager had embarked our hero) were of such build that it required considerable ingenuity actually to upset them.
While Hockney had been sitting quiet and merely paddling, the boat had trimmed well enough; but now, taking a long breath, he leaned forward, and dug his sculls into the water, pulling them through with all his strength. The consequence of this feat was that the handles of the sculls came into violent collision in the middle of the boat, the knuckles of his right hand were barked, his left scull unshipped, and the head of his skiff almost blown round by the wind before he could restore order on board.
"Never mind; try again," thought be, after the first sensation of disgust had passed off, and a glance at the shore showed him that there were no witnesses. "Of course, I forgot one hand must go over the other. It might have happened to anyone. Let me see, which hand shall I keep uppermost; the left, that's the weakest." And away he went again, keeping his newly-acquired fact painfully in mind, and so avoiding further collision amidships for four or five strokes. But, as in other sciences, the giving of undue prominence to one fact brings others inexorably on the head of the student to avenge his neglect of them, so it happened with Hockney in his practical study of the science of rowing that by thinking of his hands he forgot his seat, and the necessity of trimming properly. Whereupon the old tub began to rock fearfully, and the next moment, he missed the water altogether with his right scull, and subsided backwards, not without struggles, into the bottom of the boat; while the half stroke which he had pulled with his left hand sent her head well into the bank.
Hockney picked himself up, and settled himself on his bench again, a sadder and wiser man, as the truth began to dawn upon him that pulling, especially sculling, does not, like reading and writing, come by nature. However, he addressed himself manfully to his task; savage indeed, and longing to drive a hole in the bottom of the old tub, but as resolved as ever to get to around The Serpentine as quickly as he could, or perish in the attempt.
He shoved himself off the bank, and warned by his last mishap, got out into the middle of the lake, and there, moderating his ardour, and contenting himself with a slow and steady stroke, was progressing satisfactorily, and beginning to recover his temper, when a loud shout startled him; and, looking over his shoulder at the imminent risk of an upset, he beheld the fast sailor the Dart, close hauled on a wind, and almost aboard of him. Utterly ignorant of what was the right thing to do, he held on his course, and passed close under the bows of the miniature cutter, the steersman having jammed his helm hard down, shaking her in the wind, to prevent running over the skiff, and solacing himself with pouring maledictions on Hockney and his craft, in which the man who had hold of the sheets, and the third, who was lounging in the bows, heartily joined. Hockney was out of ear-shot before he had collected vituperation enough to hurl back at them, and had, moreover, notwithstanding all his efforts, run aground; but, with this exception, he then managed to get to one end of The Serpentine without further mishap.
Hockney started on his return voyage with the sort of look which Cato must have worn when he elected the losing side, and all the gods went over to the winning one. But his previous struggles had not been thrown away, and he managed to keep the right side of a barge, from which he argued that the worst part of his trial trip was now over. The next moment he felt the bows of his boat whirl round in the wash from the barge, the old tub grounded for a moment, and then, turning over on her side as he fell headlong after losing his seat, shot him out on to the planking of the steep descent into the small lasher. He grasped at the boards, but they were too slippery to hold, and the rush of water was too strong for him, and rolling him over and over like a piece of driftwood, plunged him into the lake.
After the first moment of astonishment and fright was over, Hockney held his breath hard, and paddling gently with his hands, feeling sure that, if he could only hold on, he should come to the surface sooner or later; which accordingly happened after a somewhat lengthy submersion.
His first impulse on rising to the surface, after catching his breath, was to strike out for the shore, but, in the act of doing so, he caught sight of another skiff coming stern foremost down towards him, and he trod the water and drew in his breath to watch.
"Oh, there you are!" the rower said, looking much relieved; "all right, I hope. Not hurt, eh?"
"No, thankee; all right, I believe," answered Hockney. "What shall I do?"
"Swim ashore; I'll look after your boat." So Hockney took the advice, swam ashore, and there stood dripping and watching the other as he righted the old tub which was floating quietly bottom upwards, little the worse for the mishap, and no doubt, if boats can wish, earnestly desiring in her wooden mind to be allowed to go quietly to pieces then and there, sooner to be rescued than be again entrusted to the guidance of Hockney.
The tub having been brought to the bank, the stranger started again, and collected the sculls and bottom boards which were floating about here and there in the lake, and also succeeded in making salvage of Hockney's coat, the pockets of which held his watch, purse, and cigar case. These he brought to the bank, and delivering them over, enquired whether there was anything else to look after.
"Thank you, no; nothing but my cap. Never mind it. It's luck enough not to have lost the coat," said Hockney, holding up the dripping garment to let the water run out of the arms and pocket-holes, and then wringing it as well as he could. "At any rate," thought he, "I needn't be afraid of its looking too new any more."
The stranger put off again, and made one more round, searching for the cap and anything else which he might have overlooked, but without success. While he was doing so, Hockney had time to look him well over, and see what sort of a man had come to his rescue.
He was very well satisfied with his inspection. The other man was evidently five or so years older than himself, his figure was more set, and he had stronger whiskers than are generally grown at twenty-two. He was somewhere about five feet ten in height, very deep-chested, and with long powerful arms and hands. There was no denying, however, that at the first glance he was an ugly man; he was marked with small-pox, had large features, high cheekbones, deeply set eyes, and a very long chin; and had got the trick which many under hung men have of compressing his upper lip. Nevertheless, there was that in his face which hit Hockney's fancy, and made him anxious to know his rescuer better. He had an instinct that good was to be gotten out of him. So he was very glad when the search was ended, and the stranger came to the bank, shipped his sculls, and jumped out with his skiff in his hand, which he proceeded to fasten to an old stump, while he remarked:
"I'm afraid the cap's lost."
"It doesn't matter the least. Thank you for coming to help me; it was very kind indeed, and more than I expected. Don't they say that one London man will never save another from drowning unless they have been introduced?"
"I don't know," replied the other; "I'm American. Are you sure you're not hurt?"
"Yes, quite," said Hockney, foiled in what he considered an artful plan to get the stranger to introduce himself.
"Then we're very well out of it," said the other.
"Indeed we are," said Hockney.
"But now you're getting chilled," and the rescuer turned from the lasher and looked at Hockney's chattering jaws.
"Oh, it's nothing. I'm used to being wet."
"But you may just as well be comfortable if you can. Take all your clothes off. No one will see you here, the park is quite empty at this time in the afternoon and we're well away from the boat house."
Once Hockney had taken off every last stitch, the stranger touched his thigh and the young man felt as naked as the disgraced banker Fred Goodwin after he’d been stripped of his knighthood. The art student had a huge erection. Hockney soon found himself on his back in the grass, with the stranger using his right hand to work a five-knuckle shuffle on the art student's erect manhood. The man's grip was firm and the rhythm he used to wank Hockney off very regular. As he gave the young painter a hand job, this dude simultaneously recited a passage he’d memorised from Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont:
“Now the swimmer and the female shark saved by him confront each other. For minutes they stare fixedly into each other's eyes. They swim circling, keeping each other in sight, and each thinking: "I was wrong all along. Here is one more evil than I." Then in unison they glided underwater towards each other, in mutual admiration, the female shark slitting open the waves with her fins, Maldoror's arms thrashing the water; and they held their breaths, in deepest reverence, each one anxious to gaze for the first time upon his living image. Effortlessly, at only three yards apart, they suddenly fell upon one another like two magnets, in an embrace of dignity and gratitude, clasping each other tenderly as brother and sister. Carnal desire soon followed this display of affection. Like two leeches, a pair of nervous thighs gripped tightly against the monster's viscous flesh, and arms and fins wrapped around the objects of their desire, surrounding their bodies with love, while their breasts and bellies soon fused into one bluish-green mass reeking of sea-wrack, in the midst of the tempest still raging by the light of lightning; with the foamy waves for a wedding bed, borne on an undersea current as if in a cradle, rolling and rolling down into the bottomless ocean depths, they came together in a long, chaste, and hideous mating!...At last I had found somebody who was like me!... From now on I was no longer alone in life!... Her ideas were the same as mine!... I was face to face with my first love!”
As the stranger pronounced the last word ‘love’, a thick wad of spunk was discharged from Hockney’s throbbing member. The art student then used his mouth, teeth and tongue, to return this favour – and he was completely grooved by the sensation as a huge gob of the stranger's liquid genetics were discharged into his throat. Hockney was a real man who not only liked to suck, but who also loved to swallow!
Noticing that Hockney was shivering both with pleasure but also from cold, the man who’d rescued him took off his jumper and told the student to put it on. After a little persuasion Hockney did as he was bid, and got into the great woollen garment, which was very comforting. Then the stranger rolled a very fat cigarette and asked Hockney if he liked charge.
“I’ve never had it before,” the art student confessed, “but I understand that jazz musicians swear by it for creative inspiration.”
After the stranger lit up the joint which he’d rolled quickly and expertly, Hockney took the spliff between his fingers and drew on it.
"Not like that," the stranger instructed. "Take it right in, as deep down as it can go and keep it in, that's the main thing. When you've had a blow, don't let it go, but keep breathing in air to send it right downstairs to the bargain basement."
Hockney did what he was told. It didn't taste half as bad as he thought it would. In fact it was quite pleasant. It went down a lot easier than tobacco would, and before long he was inhaling hungrily at it.
“Not too much for the first time. We don't want you cracking up," the stranger said, talking the spliff away from Hockney.
The art student wasn’t concerned with the stranger’s voice, because already he'd realised he was feeling different. Everything was happening so quickly. At first he wasn't sure exactly what it was. Then it came to him that the scene was going out of focus like it does on the television when you turn the wrong knob. But not everything. Some of the scene was still as clear, in fact, sharper, but the rest was in a fog. Certain things stood out in Hyde Park like they had a searchlight trained on them – the stranger – the spliff – the birds and clouds in the sky – but most of the other things weren't bright at all. The trees, in particular, were very indistinct and he could see right through them. Hockney’s heart was breaking the speed limit – thumping away like mad it was, and he felt hot although the sweat on his forehead was icy cold. Then the scene became terribly unreal, and it frightened Hockney. The stranger's voice seemed far away, and the hazy atmosphere wasn't helping things either. So this was what it was like to be high, Hockney’s mind kept telling him. It was very different to what he’d read about it in the Sunday newspapers….
After that Hockney couldn’t remember quite what happened, but he woke the next day in his room and he was convinced that the stranger had told him his name was R. B. Kitaj and that he too was studying at the Republican College of Art.