Updated: Jan 14, 2020
New Year’s Day and all are dipping after promising, resolving to do dry January. The United States and Canada have their polar bear plunges on this day. In the UK it is far less cold but people usually stay in longer, so the effect is much the same – get in, get out after the right length of time (according to experience, resistance to pain and/or determination), then drink tea/coffee/brandy/vodka/whisky mac and eat cake while and after dressing and shiver-chatting and laughing. In the UK the trend is to avoid alcohol at these things, as people are more aware of the stresses that such swimming puts on the body. And as there are more and more people cold-swimming regularly, so there are fewer people drinking alcohol. It seems to me that swimmers generally consume much less alcohol (or none at all) compared with the general population. Pauline and I provide cocoa and cake at this New Year’s Day Dip as in previous years. We have watched these New Year’s Day events grow in popularity. There are so many dips on this New Year’s Day, I almost feel like saying ‘Thank you for choosing our Dip. We know you have a choice’. But I don’t, but am thankful for the strong turn-out today, old friends and new dippers, members of the sailing club and their guests. This year over 40 people came. Each year it gets bigger, the winter swimmers stronger. We started three years ago, when the turn-out was a very convivial dozen or so. Today there are people waiting at the club house even though we arrive half an hour early to get set up. We get the sign-in book for guests, lay out cake and biscuits– vegan (biscuits), not vegan (chocolate cake and cocoa). People start to get changed, people are arriving. Some say I have “never done this before but I want to try”, some of the children are excited, one of them is vexing his mother, refusing to put on his wetsuit. Neil arrives, quietly staying in the background. He is a genuinely lovely man, quiet, unassuming, but with deep strength and integrity. He has children of his own and he likes to help, so I engage him in briefing a small group of children and their parents as they are getting ready ahead of most everyone else. Neil speaks with a soft authority – children listen, parents watch – “we are going to do this very sensibly” – that is the tone. I leave them to it. Children, parents dip and swim and wade out and scurry-change as the murmur of demand for cocoa grows. Then the next wave of people head into the water – those that dip and those that swim. I am swimming this morning, and as I look out I see Neil is already swimming, has for a while, making sure he gets his time in the water. Those that dip include strong Summer swimmers who quit the outdoor waters late September. They are here because they love the outdoors, and probably run and cycle and do other outdoorsy-things. This is something to try. Those that swim, swim most days if not every day. “What is the temperature?” goes most days year-round swimmer Kristie. Jeremy – “I don’t know” – where is Anders Celsius when you need him, I think. Jeremy swims then measures the temperature as he swims – “6.1” he declares. “Nice” we agree, first swimming as a diamond of four, then as a pod of nine, back and forth in the hundred meters or so parallel to the front of the club house, as further people arrive. Keeping it safe, keeping everyone visible. Then chatter, cocoa, flasks of tea, coffee, boxes of mince pies appear. “We got the best of the day” – Jeremy. The sun came out and shone thinly through the cloud while we swam then hid behind its grey-white curtains when we finished. A good omen for 2020, we agreed. There was no talk of New Year resolutions – no doubt there were those who resolved to swim more, swim better, swim stronger, longer. Because swimming itself helps resolve things.