Words by Maureen McCoy
Photographs by Paul McCambridge
Cries of “Happy Christmas!” mixed with “I’m cold already and I haven’t even got in yet!” greeted me as I arrived at Newcastle harbour where the crowd in various stages of undress milled about in anticipation.
11.30am Christmas morning, in Santa hats, Christmas dresses and bright swim-suits and all in festive spirit, giggling nervously and rubbing hands, we made our way down the slipway and huddled together for a group photo. The RNLI crew shouted their support from a rib sitting just outside the harbour as around 30 people braved the sea. Swimming and wading, holding hands and trying to keep hats from falling into the brine, laughs and grimaces against the cold and the age-old calls echoed around the harbour-
“I can’t feel my hands!”
“My toes hurt!”
And; “Don’t you feel so – ALIVE!” –
Does that feeling of vitality and newness ever wear off? Seeing the mix of generations, teenagers, parents and grandparents makes me think, no, it mustn’t. It’s why pockets of people all around the country do this daily, weekly, year after year.
I joined Kathleen and her granddaughters, Rachel and Emma, holding hands as we picked our way over the rocks trying not to stub our toes. When we reached the sand, Emma lifted each foot and pulled off her flip flops, turned and threw them back to the shore. As she did, Rachel leaned forward and started a swift head-up front crawl out towards the buoy, Emma quickly followed. We each swam out around the buoy and back, then met again in the shallows and joined hands to make our way safely out.
Dressed and some hugging hot-water bottles, we squeezed into the RNLI station for tea, coffee and mince pies, a chance to catch up and for organizer Kathleen to thank everyone for raising funds for this years’ charity in aid of Motor Neuron Disease. Soon we parted, with cheeks glowing, to head home for the rest of the days’ festivities. A lovely start to Christmas Day!