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But first, The Wonderful Team! Batch, Rosemary, Nicky and me. We assembled proudly, took the statutory team photo, and readied ourselves for the fray. Our team plan was to get into the water in the correct order, which was the reverse of that shown above, and each swim to the other side in turn, and we executed it flawlessly if I do say so myself, even the tricky bit of getting the right people on the right side of the pool at the right time, which has not been the case in every team I’ve swum in, let me tell you. And lo! Success was ours! Not only a Triumphant Notlast (© Nicky Smith) but a STONKING 13th out of 18 in our age group. GO FISH ON BICYCLES!!! All that training paid off, and I’m quietly confident that in 2017 we shall definitely be seen as the team to beat.

And then it was the turn of The Wonderful Hat! The Championships have a tradition that in head-up breaststroke one wears a novelty hat, the noveltier the better.  There are Best Hat judges who watch with eagle eyes and pick the twenty best to take part in the Hat Parade after all the swimming is over, awarding prizes for the best three. The level of ingenuity and creativity is extraordinary, particularly as many of the hats are home made. This year we had a dalek, a huge fish, a seagull on a groyne, a snowman, the Philae landing and a fire-breathing dragon. Not all on the same hat, of course. And many others, including mine.

Each year I think I’m going to spend some time over Christmas creating something wonderful, and I never do. But this Christmas I saw a picture a friend posted on her Facebook page captioned “Let the games begin!”, showing her in a mad headdress made by stuffing balloons into tights, with a Christmas rosette on her nose. It looked fantastic, extraordinary and surreal, and I thought “I am SO nicking that idea!” (Thanks, Victoria! :))

By the Thursday before the Champs, I still hadn’t made the hat, and wasn’t sure I should bother. But I had the balloons, and the rosette, and the tights and I thought I might as well have a go. And it was incredibly easy – just stick a balloon down the tights, blow it up, and repeat. In no time I had a huge pair of wobbly antennae which looked amazing. I was a bit worried they might impede other swimmers if worn sideways so I turned them round. Even better! Now they looked like a sort of mad alien headdress. A couple of holes for the ears and a rosette on the nose, and it was done.

And I have to say, it went down a storm. As soon as I put it on, people started laughing and pointing. In a good way, I like to think. Clare compared it to a Dr Seuss character. Pip, judging, asked me how I would describe it; “I just put ‘Bonkers'” she confided later. During the hat parade numerous people took pictures and commented on what a good idea it was. (Thanks again, Victoria!) And it won 3rd prize! Not bad for a few balloons, a pair of old tights and forty five minutes work.

And then at the end of the day I had to decide what to do with it. I nearly took it home with me, but one of the corollaries to living in a world of Enough is to learn to let things go. And the hat had had its moment. I decided that taking it home would be pointless, and that it would be better to let it go. So I put it on the ground and started to jump on the balloons. And once again the universe provided. Nathaniel and Laurie, Vince’s children, who have been virtually brought up at the Lido, were playing nearby and came running over. Could they pop the balloons? Of course they could! And so my hat ended its brief, glorious life bringing delight to these lovely Lido babies, and, through them, to me. Truly, the universe is a wonderful thing.

And that was the Champs. You can see a picture of the Wonderful Hat below, courtesy of the wonderful Gail Phinn McLean, and there are loads of pictures of the event online: just Google UK Cold Water Swimming Championships. See you in 2017! Tomorrow, back to After You.

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