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Happy New Year 2021 Fellow Sea Souls

As the saying goes "It was the best of times and the worst of times".

No need to explain what the worst of it was, but for me, and for many of you I'm sure, some of the best came in the form of our gatherings. I know that to be true because many of you have told me so. A little beacon of light in amongst all the strife. And pretty much every time we get together, the sunshine appears, as if by magic. And the odd porpoise, too ;)

Our Christmas Party 2020 seemed extra special somehow. Not only because there were many new faces, which is always wonderful, but also because you made an incredible effort with outfits and home made food to share with each other. We also had a one minute silence before our dip this time, in respect for everyone who has struggled this year, lost someone or just been lonely - which I'm sure we have all been at some, or indeed, many points. Looking back, it also felt special because it was shortly after that, that Sussex joined Surrey and London and went into the dreaded Tier 4, meaning another bout of not being allowed to gather together outdoors (and for goodness knows how long). That said, a few of us did manage a rather bracing dip on Christmas Day and for that I'm truly grateful, as I was sad not to be spending it in Wales with my parents. The next best thing was waking up to a dip with some of you on West Beach! But oh boy, did that cold water sting the legs, so Charlotte and Dave's magnificent home made sloe gin went down a treat!

Spending time going through some of the images to convey the year we've had together, made me realise just how much we can still pack into a year full of stops and starts and cancellations! It feels like an awfully long time ago we were sitting in our lounge on Clayton Road watching Wave Rider on DVD passing round the popcorn! And then a trip to Brighton to Beach Box Sauna for a few of us was a magical experience. What followed next was hiring the little gypsy caravan converted into a cinema at New Park. What a film, one of my all time favourites, The Big Blue! I think a few of you left feeling the same. Just as we left, we learned that a pandemic was coming and we knew it would be quite some time until we could get together again. Sadly, the BBQ we had planned for the summer, kindly offered to be hosted by Melissa never happened, but I'm hopeful for 2021 if the offer still stands!

I really mean it when I say it's an utter joy keeping this going and continually seeing new faces appear. In 2021 we also championed a SSBS mascot - Hazel - Gillian's gorgeous spaniel who is now a regular at our gatherings both on land and in sea! We also had several visits in-between main sessions from people who had heard about us and wanted to just come and get out of their town or city or home to have a dip. Thank you to Camilla for travelling down twice from Petersfield to join us, to Susie who came from Wimbledon and to Michelle who came down from Shepperton twice to join us from her outdoor swimming club on the Thames. We're hoping to do a swap in 2021 where we go and visit one of their gatherings and they come to us! Thank you to Donna and Sue Graves for always being there to join in when someone pops up wanting a swim and some fine company at the last minute! Thank you to Donna for always saying yes to stepping in to run the show when something happens and I can't make it. And thank you to Avril for your incredible cheer and great suggestions (along with exceedingly great individual Christmas cakes -wow!). And of course thanks as ever to our resident baker, Ralph (and Angie). And welcome to everyone new to this, who has joined us recently. There's no pressure to show up regularly, but if you want to, that's great. It's a drop in situation and never cliquey at all - as we say 'all are welcome' and indeed you are.

On that note, I haven't put any new dates in for 2021 as of yet as best to see what's what with the tiers. Suffice to say as soon as we know, I'll get dates put in which we can hopefully stick to this year! It's lovely to see more of us now in the sea in the winter months, complete with new gear ranging from rash vests, to Dry Robes, to wetsuits. I've just ordered one of those funny button-under-the-chin warm caps and plan to get some boots and gloves (that actually fit - the ones I've been using are about 30 yrs old!) and for one am hoping my frozen shoulder will give way to allow me back to having an actual swim. I know Donna, Alex and myself were planning on entering swim events in 2020 that were subsequently cancelled. Should any of these be reinstated in 2021, I'll let you all know in case any of you fancy joining in.

Looking at these images, there is SO much to be grateful for and optimistic about. I've said it before but I'll say it again - there is nothing so important as our health and our community. Good friendship, sharing good times (and difficult) is surely the best foundation for a healthy and happy life, isn't it?

I'll sign off now, by leaving you with some of the images I've pulled out from all the different places I seem to save them each time, to wish you all a very HAPPY NEW YEAR and can't wait to see you on the beach again, very soon. I haven't mentioned you all here, but to the regulars, thank you so much for your time, commitment and the joy you bring each time we meet.

In the meantime, take great care of yourselves. If you can make sure you're in great shape, you are then able to help others who are finding it more difficult. Focus on that and you can't go too far wrong ;)

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Thank you Justine.I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of such a lovely group that always lifts my soul! Looking forward to good times in 21...!!!! P.S. I owe you cheese scones!!!

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