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Good King Spouse he once looked out

On the feast of christmas

He observed with quite a shout,

“flip, we’ve nearly missed it”

Out of bed he swiftly climbed,

climbed and fetched me caffeine,

Then we pedalled our bottoms off

To see fitties swim in the Serpentine.

The annual Serpentine Swimmers Peter Pan cup has two main things against it. First it starts promptly at 9am on Christmas morning, and secondly Christmas morning is often a chilly affair (there’s a reason why Christina Rossetti wrote a poem called In the Bleak Midwinter). That’s just from a spectator’s point of view, of course. From a participant’s point of view I would imagine the biggest drawback is being obliged to fling oneself in the icy cold waters of the Thames at 9am in the morning. One cannot merely sign up on the morning, you understand, you need to have trained for cold water swimming some time in advance, and presumably be a fully signed up member of the Serpentine Swimmers, a wiry and hardened merry band of men and women who train for triathlons and such.

As I suggested in the opening carol, getting anywhere in London early on a Christmas morning is a tricky business. Public transport is (entirely reasonably) switched off, and my inability to get up in the morning doesn’t help much either. So, without so much as breakfast we sallied forth on our bicycles, with no training and with little hope of making it for the prompt 9am start. The one factor in our favour was a significant one, however. There is very little traffic on the roads at 8:25 on a Christmas morning, and as a cyclist one of the things that slows you down most is the traffic. And so it was that we were able to cover the seven miles or so twixt our house to Hyde Park in 35 minutes flat without training or running any red lights (honest guv).

The swimmers were leaping into the lido as we arrived: it was impossible not to marvel at their fitness, resilience or enthusiasm. Their numbers were called one by one and they dove into the chilly waters, sometimes splashing, sometimes crashing, but always remarkably speedily and with every external semblance of enjoyment.

Their swims completed, they got out to be offered mulled wine. I’d have offered a knighthood myself, and the spouse, being of a scientific bent, argued that giving out alcohol to people who have just experienced extreme cold is a reliable route to hypothermia (alcohol dilates the blood vessels, thus promoting further loss of heat, apparently). But regardless of their likely hypothermia, even I could see that these were seriously fit folk (spouse whispered discreetly about the sheer muscle tone on the backs of some of these fellows, something achieved by only the most Olympian of ultra-fitties).

There was an uncomfortable moment as spouse and I pondered our own olympian bellies, before we were distracted by an ambitious young lady who, provoked by nothing more than sheer joie de vivre and an audience, strode into the icy waters of the Thames to sing show tunes and jazz standards.

She did this with more aplomb than talent, and as people started walking towards the prize giving ceremony, spouse asked me what the next stage of the proceedings was. The answer was simple, to get over to Cutty Sark Park. Spouse paled, “You mean the Cutty Sark Park in Greenwich?” The very same. “But Helen, that’s miles away!” I nodded. Spouse being spouse, he has a gadget with him for most troubling situations the modern man about town might face. He therefore set his bicycle satnav for Greenwich, and off we pedalled again.

If you are a novice cyclist set on pedalling the streets of our nations capital, there is simply no better day to practice than Christmas morning. This does not mean you get to take liberties. Even sans bus and lorry, the streets do hold several tonnes of car, and even the crappiest of them have about 75 times more brake horse power than you do. But nevertheless, the streets are comparatively clear. I found myself in contemplative mood as I pedalled, thinking back over the last six months of blogging. I thought back to the summer when I swam the Lido (http://wp.me/p1I6Mp-1G), and as we passed through the city, spouse stopped to take photos of so many things I have done on my first forays into blogging. We paused at the London Stone, the second post I ever wrote, and I explained to the beloved how the city would fall if ever it were taken, and how sniffy the Museum of London is about it (http://wp.me/p1I6Mp-h). We pedalled over London Bridge, my third post, and the heart of London in oh so many ways (http://wp.me/p1I6Mp-w). We pedalled past Tower Bridge, London Bridge’s showy sister, at whose feet we had watched the Scoop Free Theatre, and traded insults while we held hands, and he ate carbohydrate (http://wp.me/p1I6Mp-16). We passed historic Bankside and Borough Market, and on past the Dickens estate. We passed through the docklands of Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe. On our journey we passed through things and places I have visited and not even told you about yet, like the Monument and the steely sentinels of the Thames Barrier which I was pedalling towards at speed. I would never have visited these places without the blog, and without you there to read about these mini-adventures that spouse and I have as we work through the list of a thousand things to do. I’m so grateful I have been doing it, and to my brilliant friend Zim whose bright idea it all was, as well as Angloinfo for finding my blog, and asking me to share it with their readers (http://blogs.angloinfo.com/1000-things-in-london/). And most grateful of all to my beloved spouse, who has been so consistently and remarkably supportive as I have dragged him to all these zany places. By my calculations, I have posted about 29 things in London since July. I have had many more adventures than that, and I do want tell you all of them, not least because if I don’t I will have blogged about nearly 30 things in London, and that isn’t anywhere near a thousand, now is it?

It was about this point that my thoughts were distracted by a loving spouse, pointing towards some pedallers coming towards us. He pedalled forth and asked if these were the Southwark Cyclists, and joy to the world, it was! We were so late in meeting them we’d actually met them coming back the other way, and we were astonishingly lucky that we had, because the vast majority of their route covers the Thames Path, which avoids the unpleasantness of roads as much as possible. As we tend to use main roads, and I had completely misunderstood where the second meeting point was, it really was a fluke that we found them at all. As it was, we got to enjoy the company of cyclists, and for me, this is a rare pleasure indeed. I broke my arm about 18 months ago, when I broke my arm turning right at Putney Bridge, and I’ve got out of the habit of cycling. Even when I was a regular cyclist, it was rare to chat with my fellow pedallers: most really focus on bombing along rather than pausing to enjoy the ride.

Not so this happy band of cyclists. The Southwark Cyclists are one of the largest and most active bike clubs in London, and I liked them immensely. On the way we spoke to all manner of lovely people: an older gentleman, stout of heart and mind, who proudly pedalled forth on a pale pink bicycle, a young lady who worked at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, a young man who admired my flamingo Brompton, who had cycled to help him keep mobile when he had been diagnosed with epilepsy, and all manner of other lovely folk, who did not bellow when I turned the wrong way or my wheel wobbled. Most folk I chatted to assured me that were I just to start commuter cycling again, I would quickly find myself fit enough to join in one of their many pedalling expeditions. So on we pedalled, back from the London Bridge, through the South Bank and Westminster, and on through Battersea Park to Putney Bridge. And there, at nearly exactly the spot where I broke my arm, the group paused up and went to the pub.

Spouse and I debated whether or not to join them, but decided to press on down the Thames Path to Kew, which is precisely what we did, until it got too muddy and unpleasant and we had to go on road. As we finally returned to our little homestead to eat mincepies, and get to the opening of presents and such, spouse fiddled with his bike satnav, and revealed that we had cycled around 42 miles, thus making it the healthiest Christmas either of us had ever had. Ever. I proceeded to fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon, snug in the arms of my beloved, full of enthusiasm for all the adventures to come in 2012.

All this made me think about my resolutions for the New Year. In 2011, I lost two stone: this year I want to keep that off and get fitter, so I can pedal the full Thames Path come the spring. I want to carry on blogging, and update the blog at least once a week. And more, much more than this, I want to carry on hanging out with friends, family and my beloved spouse, who I love so very much.

The science bit:

The Serpentine Swimming Club has an active website (http://serpentineswimmingclub.com/) which includes full details of how to join the club (for only £20 a year!), races, training and so on.

You can get in touch with the Southwark Cyclists through their website (http://southwarkcyclists.org.uk/), and if you are on Facebook, they have a very active page there which is really worth following. You can also follow them on Twitter (@southwarkcycle).

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