This is a exciting time of year for unheated lido lovers. Not only are there the teeth tightening, sub 5c swims under candy floss sunrise skies to look forward to there are galas galore. I'm not a competitive person, not where swimming is concerned anyway. Try me at scrabble though, that's a different story. I'd never think of entering a gala in an indoor pool, and very probably I'd baulk at the idea in a heated lido. I'll be sticking to the word gala, by the way. I know 'meet' is falling into fashion this side of the pond but we're not American yet, so for the time being 'meet' can carry on loitering in that part of my mind where I keep the things I'm vaguely uncomfortable about hidden under an old velvet curtain.
I do like a cold water gala, though. They seem to be all things to all people in a way that an everyday gala can't. There are very definitely opportunities for the all out (not balls out - this is cold water we're talking about) competitive swimmers to strut their stuff, and most of us don't even mind if they get a bit carried away with that; just as long as they don't mind a bit of gentle leg pulling, which they don't. But there are also opportunities for people like me, with even less speed than competitive spirit, to get in the water and have their moment before retiring to the sauna with a cup of hot squash and all the friendly chat I can take.
There's something about the shivering en masse, around a pool full of people giving it their all in either the competitive or enjoyment stakes, that brings people together in a way I haven't experienced the like of elsewhere. And over the next few weeks plenty of people will be experiencing just that, many for the first time.
First up, this coming weekend, is PHISH - the Parliament Hill Icy Swim Hootenanny; easily my favourite gala. An invite only event at Parliament Hill that feels like a family get together with a bit of swimming thrown in. Supremely well organised, by John & Jeremy and their army of helpers, with plenty of humour and the underwater visual punch that only a stainless steel tank in the dead of winter can deliver. I have to miss this year's, and I am bereft. I haven't missed one yet and I don't intend to make a habit of it.
A week later it's Tooting Bec's turn, hosting the biennial UK Cold Water Swimming Championships. Organised by the South London Swimming Club this is part swimmers festival (thanks to the event 'village' with trade and food stands galore), part gala. It's a huge event that runs like clockwork and has an amazingly friendly and intimate feeling about it for an event this size. Entries are closed now, and I gather it sold out, but if you are in the area it is great fun for spectators and I highly recommend popping along - particularly for the heads up breastroke event where the standard of the home made hats is nothing short of spectacular.
Outside London swimmers can look forward to BIG - the Buckfastleigh Ice Gala. Established last year and a big (see what I did there?) success from the get go it looks set to become a regular fixture. This is an event where swimmers have to switch to fly for the individuals finals, and that definitely levels the playing field a bit. There are great costumes from the relay teams, brilliant cakes on offer and you can bask in the warm glow of also helping to secure the future of this vital community pool.
Truly something for everyone. And I think I might lobby at the highest level for fancy dress to be mandated for Olympic relay events. It definitely adds something to the atmosphere of a gala.
Enjoy your swimming, warm or cold, wherever it takes you. And please don't forget to spread the word about the book - our supporters are our strongest allies in this crowd funding game. The stats show us that facebook works well for us, so if you wanted to drop a casual mention into any swimming groups you use there you'd get no complaints from us :-)
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