A rather bitterly cold morning with the water 7.1c, but the air 3c (44.8f and 37.4) and the wind in the north saw Dave McGregor perform best against his handicap (there were two races) to be crowned 2023's Wendy by the club's poet laurate Mary Gilbert.
Laure Latham stood in for Rob Ouldcott to become the first lady to deliver the traditional post race speech. Hoorahs all round.
David McGregor, Mary's Kiwi Wendy for 2023
Laure Latham spoke of Mary's long history with the club.
Chloe became a Gilbert for the morning.
Mary Gilbert: a child of the 60s, a member in the 80s, our poet laurate from the 90s onwards
In 2015, thirty years after she joined the club, Mary was asked to step into a vacant slot on the club fixture card and sponsor a race. A cup was available and, at Mary's request, was styled the "Wendy cup", in deference to the club's Peter Pan Christmas Day connection and is dedicated to all of us Serpentine swimmers who at heart refuse to grow up.
As a child of the 1960s 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 Athena, her first daughter, that September. The following year she came back early mornings on roller skates pushing Athena in her buggy. It was then that she met club member 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 had granted women full member status, associate member status having been introduced in 1973). Mary intended to swim through the summer until September, then November, then someone suggested she race on Christmas morning. The rest is history.
For further background on Mary's connection with the Serpentine and the club, please follow this link to the "race we missed" report from 2021 - Serpentine Swimming Club
Contenders for the first race on the board and ready
Enthusiasm conspicuous in its absence?
Second batch ready, and willing?
Dani and Robin held their own sprint, to get to see and judge the finish
Mary's annual prize fest
Mary revealed what has now become her annual prize fest. The table growned under the weight, whilst gifts of flip-flops (essential Serps-side post-swim regalae during winter months) overspilled across the floor.
The Wendy connection
In the 1980s a small number of women began competing in club races. By the early 2000s there was no gender distinction, all swimmers competing "as equals under the eyes of the handicapper". The exception was the Christmas Day race for the Peter Pan cup. During the 1990s, to encourage the still handful of women swimmers, a small “Wendy cup" was provided each year by the club to be presented to the first woman home. Like the Peter Pan cup, this was retained each year by the winner. As time went on more and more women competed. Many saw it as unfair that only men could win the Peter Pan cup - all swimmers in the Christmas race were competing under a handicap and the small cup provided by the club was in no manner as grand as the Peter Pan trophy presented by the race sponsors, the Greenbury family.
The AGM of 2003 sought to rectify this. The concept was by no means acceptable to all at the meeting. The compromise outcome was for the first swimmer home to be deemed the winner of the Christmas Day race, with the Peter Pan cup presented to the first man home and a Wendy cup to the first woman. No issue arose for the 2003 Christmas Day race, which was won by Alan Lacy.
However, in 2004 the race was won by the very popular veteran Emmi Hunte. Many, including race sponsors the Greenbury family, thought it very strange and unsatisfactory that a small alternative cup was presented to the race winner rather than the grand Peter Pan trophy for which the club and the event has a global reputation. The issue was addressed at the 2005 AGM with a proposal that the race winner would be presented with the Peter Pan cup, irrespective of gender. The motion was passed virtually unanimously, with many who opposed the proposal at the 2003 AGM speaking this time strongly in favour. Emmi Hunte won the Christmas Day race for the Peter Pan cup again in 2015 and this time received the grand trophy that is the Peter Pan cup.
The spirit of Sir James Barrie's Wendy now lives on in the guise of Mary's Wendy cup. After all, as Mary recounted on Saturday morning, without a Wendy all of us lost boys and girls and wannabe Peter Pans would soon find our way back into our perambulators (from which we had fallen in Kensimgton Gardens) and return to grown-up reality.
Christmas 1994: a rose amongst a whole bunch of thorns?
Christmas 1997, and our own Wendy leads the Lost Boys out of the lake
Mary on the board for the Millenium New Year's Day race, 2000
(report compiled by Brian Thomas)