I've written about the December Dip in previous years (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012). The board outside said that the water was 6° when I arrived, although it was apparently 5° by the time we went in. That makes it one of the warmer years, and it's also warmer than Tooting Bec Lido (hovering around 3°C), although it does partly depend whose thermometer you trust. However, I hadn't swum for 7 weeks prior to this, and the water was 12.5°C the last time I went in, so once again I'd failed to acclimatise properly. However, I have learnt a few things from past experience. I remembered to take along my Robie Robe and sandals with me, and I wore my swimsuit under my jeans so that I could just take my outer clothing off at the poolside rather than using the changing rooms.
There are some photos of the event in The Metro; none of me, but I was impressed by the Loch Ness Monster costume. It's unfortunate that the weather was a bit overcast, because it's much better to swim outdoors when you can see the sun. That's partly because the water looks more inviting when I can see the light shining off it, and partly because the water doesn't feel so cold when I can also feel the warmth of the sun on my back.
As with previous years, they set us off in waves. I've normally gone in the second/third wave, but this year I specifically wanted to be in the first wave so that I could dash off afterwards to catch my train. I made sure that I was one of the first people to stand by the edge of the pool, but when other people arrived I think we were a bit too cramped: it wouldn't have been safe for us all to jump/dive in together because we'd probably collide. I let the others go first, then followed them about 5 seconds later, so I was still part of the first wave. The idea was to do 2 widths, and by the time people were on their way back the line was a bit more spread out, so it wasn't too hard to swim around them. I accidentally inhaled a bit of water on my way across; I couldn't really stop because the water was too deep for me to touch the bottom, so I stayed calm and kept coughing to clear my airway. As I got towards the far side, one of the lifeguards was ready to throw me a buoy on a rope, but I said that I was ok. He asked whether I wanted to get out, but I said that I wanted to swim back, so he told me to move over to the end so that I'd be next to the side if I got into trouble. That was reasonable, although it meant I had to swim a bit further to get to the end. One odd aspect of an event like this is that the fastest swimmers spend the least time in the water, i.e. the least experienced people need to have the greatest endurance.
Sometimes I do things because they seem like a good idea at the time, and then I regret them afterwards. I think that cold water swimming is the opposite way round: I have "pregrets", where I think that it's a bad idea, but if I force myself to go through it then I feel much better afterwards. In particular, I feel quite peaceful. H2Open magazine have quite an accurate article: What goes through the mind of a cold water swimmer?
In past years, there's been a hot tub on the poolside. Some people advise against this, because the heat will draw the blood to the skin away from the vital organs, but I like them. (By contrast, saunas generally make me feel dizzy.) Unfortunately there wasn't a hot tub this year; I think that's because the company that hires them out had gone to the Chill Swim Salford instead (held the same day).
Without that, my advice is to get out of your wet swimsuit as quickly as possible, and this is where the robe came in useful. I put that on (it comes down to my calves), then wriggled out of my swimsuit and stashed it in my bag. After that, I could wander around and drip-dry. When I signed in, they gave me 3 raffle tickets which I could swap for refreshments later, so I got a hot orange squash and a mince pie. (Offering hot drinks which aren't tea or coffee is definitely a good idea!) At this point, there was no queue; I went back later (after I'd got dressed) to use my 3rd ticket, but the queue was so long by then that I just gave the ticket to someone else and left. So, going in the first wave and getting snacks before I got dressed did speed things along, although I had to use both hands to hold the cup because they were shaking so much.
If anyone wants to have a go at this, here are a couple of Guardian articles listing seasonal swims:
Cold turkey: top 10 Christmas swims in the UK
Seven festive swims to celebrate the Christmas season in sub-zero style (similar events in other countries)
After that, I went off to the LARP event: my faction's winter banquet. It's basically the equivalent of a Christmas party, except that we were all dressed up and in character. Also, this was a combat-free event, so nobody died. That said, there were some plot developments, including a few hints about what we'll be doing at events next year. Anyway, it was good to see all the others again. We met up every month over the summer, and spent the whole weekend together, so it's a bit odd to then have a big gap between events. Hopefully I'll be able to attend another faction's event in February (before the main LARP season resumes in May), but that's still up in the air at the moment.
The food at the event was very good, including the vegetarian options. This did prompt the Sergeant Major from my group (the Arcane Tempest) to ask why I don't eat meat. My IC explanation was: "I am not a carrion eater. I only eat what I kill for myself." By contrast, she and the Captain can both delegate the killing to other people, as befits their officer/NCO status.
After the August event, there was a bit of "musical weapons" going on: it turned out that I'd picked up someone else's sword by mistake, while another person had mine. So, I reclaimed mine at this event, but I then had to get it home. Last time I put the sword and spear inside a bin liner and then strapped them to my bike frame, but I didn't cycle to this event (some friends kindly gave me a lift to/from the nearest station). So, I just carried it openly, which included walking through Victoria station. Bizarrely, only one person commented on it. By contrast, I get questions about my helmet camera almost every day on my commute! It probably helped that the sword was obviously fake rather than metal; beyond that, maybe it's just commonplace for people to carry unusual items around for office parties at this time of year.
So, all in all, a successful weekend.