“Let’s have a round of applause for this lady [name unknown] who suffered a stroke whilst participating in the New Year Day Swim last year. She’s not participating this year, but she’ll be cheering you on.” The crowd goes quiet. They’re clapping but you can hear the cogs turning: they’re all thinking that this may not be such a good idea after all. The compere jokes that the sea temperature is warmer than in Australia. Does he think we’re stupid? I quickly check Google for sea temperatures in Saundersfoot and am reliably informed that it’s 9 degrees. I can almost hear Google laughing at me.
Most of the conversations around me are fuelled by the fumes of New Years Eve revelry. One good thing I suppose is that that last tot of whisky will keep us warm when we’re in the sea. At least if I do have a heart attack in this freezing cold water I’ll die knowing that the emergency services weren’t too far away. The Tenby lifeboat is in the shallows and I’ve never seen so many St Johns ambulance volunteers. I have the feeling that there’s a good reason why they’re hovering so close which is why I start coming up with excuses not to do it.
First of all the sea is quite far away which means that once the firework goes off everyone will make a run for it. I know that I signed up for a New Years Day swim but I definitely didn’t sign up for a charity run. I don’t run. I certainly, definitely don’t run in a bather. This isn’t even my best bather. There’s no support and having put on a bit of weight over Christmas the back keeps on riding up the crack of my bum. I am the only one in a swimsuit. Pamela Anderson I am not. I’ve found an old white t-shirt and last night wrote ‘100 Things To Do In Wales’ for a fancy Instagram shot. I’ll just have to wear that.
Looking around most of the women here have put in a lot more effort and clearly they’ve been planning this for ages. They’re all very tanned as if they’ve all just come back from a group holiday to the Caribbean. Saint Tropez sales in Pembrokeshire have rocketed this week. I look down and think shit! I didn’t even do a bikini wax. I haven’t done one since I came back from Morocco….a year ago. My toe nail varnish is chipped and so are my toe nails. Thankfully I shaved my legs and heave a sigh of relief. They might be pasty white and cellulite ridden but I’m not at my worse. Not until I look at the back of my legs and notice that multi coloured ink has run over my arse and down my legs: I realise that those pens I wrote 100 Things To Do In Wales weren’t waterproof.
My embarrassment is made worse by the number of people here. They’re lined along the beach, on the harbour wall, they’re sitting in the windows of local business, there’s even a drone hovering above the water to film us making fools of ourselves. Haven’t these people got better things to do with their time than sit in the cold watching us head en masse into the sea.
Things perk up when the warm up girls come on stage. We get dancing to YMCA and Tom Jones’ Delilah. I am surrounded by Minions, bananas and rubber duckies all bobbing about in some sort of synchronised fit. Despite being fake tanned, shimmery sooth and polished these women have donned fancy dress costumes. The theme is yellow to celebrate Geraint Thomas’ tour de France win last year. Participants have made a big effort. As we run down the beach I see minions bounding ahead of me surreally. The pace slows as we all reach the shoreline and tentatively tip toe into the water. Then think bugger it lets just do it and jump straight in.
Its surprisingly liberating. I feel alive and elated. People around me are laughing and hugging each other (probably to keep warm). My body felt like ice but now it’s used to the temperature I actually don’t feel that cold.
I’ve never been one for New Years Eve celebrations. I’ve thought that staying up drinking until one minute past midnight then going to bed was more of a chore than enjoyment. Yet standing here out at sea looking at the people splashing each other and wishing each other a happy new year seems like the best celebration of a New Year there can be.