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65@65 SWIM #33, DODO!

Dodo – December Outdoor Dip Oxford; Dip Outdoor December Oxford; December Oxford Dip Outdoors. I am never sure how it goes, but however it goes, this is Dodo. A dip/swoosh we look forward to, as the opener to the Christmas season. This year there were over 40 people signed up, as Walton Well Car Park filled up. It is a merry-happy raggle-taggle gaggle of shabby chic swimmer-dippers that awaits the call from Jeremy, as he ticks people off the list and Emma hands out swim caps to those who have ordered and bought them, The caps are new, this year black, last year pink. Night and day. This year the dodo design has the Oxford Dodo swimming against a full moon, the Dodo Tree sending a tangle of branches and roots into the River, entwining the Dodo. Thus we dodos are entangled with the Thames/Isis day and night, moonlight or not. The moon-dodo design acknowledges that many who swim in and around Oxford swim with the full moon, probably more so in Winter than in Summer. When day length is short, clear moonlight is an enchanter. Helen designed the Dodo cap this year, another magnificent design, her labour of love. Helen loves swimming, loves the River, and has an amazing eye for what is around her in this natural environment. She is close to finishing her third year of swimming every single day of the year – Winter-Spring-Summer-Autumn, rain or shine, day or night. On Saturday next, we celebrate her third year. I have swum many times and many kilometers with Helen and Jeremy, and today is a reunion for some, such as the Swim the Thames Group, a new place for winter swimmers coming from elsewhere for the day, and a new challenge for some. Great to see a group of students coming for their first time Winter dip– they add a bubble of young enthusiasm to the proceedings. We walk to the Dodo tree, across Danger Bridge, a huddle-muddle of people dodging puddles to the Dodo Tree. The Thames/Isis at Port Meadow has broken its banks with so much rain in the past few weeks, making it seem Amazonian in proportion, fast and wide. This swim marks the tipping point of my 65 swims, already looking forward to Summer before Winter has properly bitten. Dodo has a history, Jeremy started Dodo several years ago, and now it is tradition, and Jeremy, the Chief Dodo presides with great skill, charm, and good humour.

We change in the shadow of the tree, in the sun after the downpour earlier. The rain was pouring at seven in the morning as if the sky needed to clear everything away for a clear-sky Dodo. The swim/dip takes time and consideration, thoughts of how to, amid further greetings and meetings of people acquainted /long-time friends/new friends. Then its on, and in, and off and an Olympian pace set, as the River takes us, and them, off. “Be careful not to overshoot!” “Keep an eye out for the get-out!” And we were there, almost sooner than setting off, but a little cooler, but deeply energized. Then again, and for some, again, again. Sitting in the water, feeling good, smiling to each other, laughing.

Lewis Caroll’s ‘Lobster Quadrille’ from ‘Alice in Wonderland’ loops around in my mind with each swoosh, once, twice, three times – ‘will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?’ Caroll’s ghost walks the bank, again in my mind’s eye. He is the original Dodo (Charles Dodson his real name, he had a stutter and couldn’t finish saying his name, so he was nicknamed ‘Dodo’), and we are proud to memorialize him. The Lobster Quadrille fits the occasion – we look very much like cooked lobsters standing on the bank. Then a flurry of changing, drinking tea, passing it around, fumble-fingered dressing again, raggle-taggle shabby-less-than chic, but happy-silly-shiver-giggling, off, off – some to the Victoria Arms, some elsewhere, some have things and people to go to. But all have agreed that it is most very satisfyingly worthwhile, and Dodo must happen again in 2020.

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