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Author and journalist

A Christmas day swim in Hyde Park

This Friday morning we walked to Hyde Park, one of the last times I will see it during our stay in London.  The occasion was a little different from my usual exercise.  It was the annual Christmas Day Race of the Serpentine Swim Club, extant since 1864.

The usual swimmers of the lovely bent-necked Serpentine, a large naturalistic pond commissioned by Queen Caroline in 1730, are swans, Bray’s geese, Canada geese (eh!), various ducks and moorhens. It has been cold enough lately in London to watch them step with webbed feet onto the ice and skate, startled expressions on their faces. Today the birds bobbed back in the water.  But it was not warm enough for people to swim; we could see our breath.

Somebody forgot to tll the Serpentine Swim Club, though, and there were a couple of dozen men and women in tiny swimsuits standing next to the Lido restaurant near the Diana memorial fountain. Some wore Santa hats over their swim caps.  Their ages ranged from early adult to definitely over sixty, that age when you become naked rather than nude.

A bagpiper piped them onto the dock.  Then they dove or pushed off in groups of five or six along the slime-bottomed lake  while those still on the dock cheered them on. A crowd of a few hundred well-fed parka’ed people, several with bewildered dogs, cheered them too.  The ducks flapped off and everyone hurried towards the finish line– including the bagpiper, who must have shouldered his pipes and made a hundred-yard-dash, to pipe in the winner.

The prize is the Peter Pan Cup, a trophy donated by J.M. Barrie to the foreswimmers of the club.  No matter what race the swimmers were going into the water, they all come out pink. A drink, a towel, and more years knowing the secret of living to life’s fullest, awaits them.

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