Fairies by the Long Water, Kensington Gardens
Our 55 yard (50m) races on Saturday 20 February would have been for the Mary Gilbert Wendy Cup for the Lost Boys and Girls. Mary's event was introduced in 2015, with the cup dedicated to all of us Serpentine swimmers who, at heart, refuse to grow up.
As a child Mary would attend the Serpentine Lido in the summer holidays with her brother. She could not swim but was happy to float around in her armbands. In summer 1983 a "grown-up" Mary started swimming in the Lido daily until the day before the birth of her eldest daughter Athena that September. The following year she came back, early mornings on roller skates pushing Athena in her buggy. It was then that she met Ron Miller, who acted as nanny to Athena whilst Mary swam. In 1985 Mary joined the club and started racing (the AGM of that year granted women full member status). Mary intended to swim through the summer until September, then November, then someone suggested she race on Christmas morning. The rest is history.
Ron (Nanny) Miller 1990
2020 winner Chris Hatcher with our sadly missed Molly
2019 and the cup was not available, so Yvonne happily made-do with a cardboard cut-out
Mary's table full of prizes
Three cheers for Mary and family and for all the lost boys and girls
In the absence of the opportunity to deliver her post-race speech Mary sent an email, reproduced here.
Dearest Serpents, The lovely thing about having a race and presenting the cup and prizes is that once a year I get to spout on a subject of my choosing for a couple of minutes and if more people want prizes than wish to slope off for an early breakfast ( those were the days! ) then I have a captive audience. Not wishing any of you to miss out on my annual words of wisdom - and big apologies for a lack of assorted prizes and I promise a huge number next year- I shall spout by email and you can delete if you've had enough and I won’t notice! Well my dears, on the subject of Wendy, this important role is held by Nick Hungerford. To him you must go if you find babies fallen from their perambulators and for sure he will know what to do. Ideally he should be running about or even flying above us in a white nightdress edged with lace, but his dry robe does as well. If you yourself fell from your perambulator and feel you have never quite recovered then again you must ask his help for he keeps this important role for another year. If you have no idea what I am talking about then you must order a copy of the Club Bible today !! It’s called Peter Pan and we are all the descendants of its author's imagination. Try to learn it by heart - we’ll be so impressed and I will make you a certificate. But this is all by the by - now I am coming to my important bit of spouting: it’s about pride. Thousands of years ago, when I was so young I still had a waist, I ruined it by getting pregnant. (Decades have passed and I still await its return !) A useless older brother that I was still young enough to bother listening to, told me that I must be careful not to bore people by talking about my baby. My baby was the most beautiful and brilliant ever born! I actually had never met another so there was no contest. But I never dared tell anyone of her amazing little feats and milestones, I never pointed out new teeth or told of funny things she said. It was miserable not feeling I was allowed to share my joy. And he was So wrong! I think most people absolutely love hearing good news and I definitely do.
Once I asked a daddy at the lake how his little daughter was. He said she was ‘angelic!’. What a lovely answer!
Keep sharing all your good news! Never hold back. Don’t be modest, show off and feel free. We all want all of us to do well. So if your dog has learnt to tap dance or your kitten has passed a ballet exam or the budgie has a Nobel prize or the baby can blow a raspberry - never never hold back - we all want to know!
Look after yourselves xxxxXxxx
Christmas race, 1994
1997, and Mary leads Alan Nash out of the water at the finish of the race
Millennium 100 yard race, 1 January 2000
A millennium tale without a ring to it
Alan Titmuss in his "Breaking the Ice" history of the club wrote the following:
"The attraction of swimming in the Serpentine was too great for one young lady called Mary. She got engaged on New Year's Eve, but when she told her prospective husband to set the alarm clock, as she was going swimming in the morning, it ended up with the engagement being broken off. Undeterred, Mary took a taxi at his expense to Hyde Park, determined to take part in the Millennium 100 yards race and was rewarded with a specially minted Millennium medal"