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An early morning’s skinny dip in Clacton

5 June 2013

Star jumps? You want us to do star jumps? Very well then. At one minute to seven in the morning – as fading grey clouds parted graciously to afford fresh spring sunlight a glimpse of Clacton’s sands – I stood alongside seventy-seven other men and women, each of us wearing naught but a dressing gown… and we did star jumps.

Two years before, at the sands west of Llangennith in south Wales a world record had been set for the most skinny dippers on a beach at one time. Such was the success of the first Marie Curie Cancer CareMidsummer Skinny Dip‘ that it was destined to be repeated in Wales the following year.

In 2013, the event expanded to new locations the length and breadth of Great Britain: to Dorset in the south, Wales in the west, East Lothian in the north, and Essex in the east. As Essex is my homeland, the cause was a good one and bare-skin volunteers were needed, inevitably I signed-up.

Only after committing to the event was the time and place disclosed to participants: Sunday 2 June at the West Beach, Clacton-on-Sea; registration from 5:45 to 6:45am; skinny dip at 7am; breakfast from 7:15 to 10am. I travelled up to Clacton the afternoon before and, after enjoying a leisurely evening by the sea, retired early to the Grosvenor House Hotel in readiness for the next day.

In the diffuse pale glow of a brightening dawn I passed by Clacton’s deserted pier and arrived on site to find blue and white striped windbreaks lined end-to-end, marking the area set aside for skinny dippers. Very few people were about, and all appeared to be involved in the event, either organising, supporting or waiting to participate. I wandered into the café at the rear of the beach to register.

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Number ’53’ was written on the inside of my left wrist in thick black marker pen. I was given a clear plastic bag bearing a sticker with the same number for my clothes. After queuing for a Styrofoam mug of hot tea I wandered outside to watch the preparations. Health and safety was evidently a serious matter, although some of the warning signs seemed almost comically contrived for a skinny dip.

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As the hour approached, the assembled would-be dippers moved down to the beach. We spread out, eyed the chill waters and then turned back to face the voice that had begun bellowing a welcome and instructions. Personally I’ve stripped too many times in public to feel any nerves or excitement, but I could certainly enjoy these moments. Even when the warm-up exercises began.

First we were asked to jog on the spot – pick those knees up! The vigorous picking up of knees whilst wearing nothing but a light dressing gown briefly threatened to reveal more than was intended at this stage. We warmed our ankles, our calves, twisted our bodies, did our star jumps, pushed and pulled arms, and at last were deemed ready.

We turned to face the North Sea, got naked and sprinted into the water…

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Marie Curie Cancer Care’s daffodil mascot, Daffy, cheered us on our way. I had run in as far as waist-deep before suddenly I realised: ‘bloody hell, this is chilly.‘ A few brave souls fully immersed themselves, others turned tail and ran out again as soon as was decently permissible, but all were laughing and smiling. This was our moment.

The dip probably didn’t last much longer than five minutes. Returning from the water, I dried off, wrapped my towel round my waist and joined the queue waiting for a souvenir photograph with Daffy. Proof if it were needed – I was there.

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Upon dressing, all that remained was to take breakfast back at the café. More tea and a warm butty on the steps outside. The last clouds had vanished and I had not noticed the going of them. It was still early, still quiet, and the tiny number of distant gawpers had long since dispersed. It was simply a pleasant English morning by the seaside.

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There was time yet for a second breakfast at my hotel. Scrambled eggs on toast with yoghurt, orange juice, even more tea and still the whole day ahead of me. I went back to the pier, passed the West Beach, walked on to the Martello tower and farther down towards Jaywick. Dog-walkers and joggers replaced naked people as Clacton’s prime visible presence. They’d missed a treat.

The Marie Curie Cancer Care Skinny Dip 2013 had been brief but joyous. Money had been raised, publicity generated and a good time had by all. Same time next year?

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