Some years had past since I had hung up my goggles, got married, had an important job and raised my two boys. It happened one Christmas, when we gave the boys the best Christmas present boys will always get, bikes. They were thrilled. I never had a new bike. my big brother did. When he had a brand new three wheeler, I had his old one, the type with the pedal on the front wheel. His had a real chain. Then he got a two wheeler, and I got his then tatty three wheeler. Actually, I did get a new bike in 1967, it would always be the best Christmas present I ever had, a Raleigh Jeep, my first two wheeler.
But in 1988, it was my boys turn to get new bikes for Christmas, a Raleigh Wild Cat and a Raleigh Street Wolf . It was a Christmas of some reflection. I had just turned 30 and remembered the dreams I had when I was my boys age, with their new bikes the world was their oyster. But I had left my dreams behind.
Long before the idea of a 'Bucket List' had ever been penned. I started to write out the dreams I had always had. The ones conceived at an age when all dreams could come true, when adventures would one day be travelled when I was older. Now I was older and I wished I was 10 again, with my new bike and could take it out on adventures with my boys.
So my list was written, the first 50 items were easy and Swimming the Channel was near the top, along with flying solo, Everest, Antarctica, deliver a baby, read the scriptures, swim for England, get a world record, invent a new sport. In the end I stopped at 100 covering all aspects of the life I would like to live. I wish I still had that list.
So the adventure began and I started to swim again, and take flying lessons, and read the scriptures. I asked my boss (I was managing his retail jewellery shop), if I could have a years worth of annual leave all in one go. He asked why and I told him I needed to go do the Everest Base Camp trek, I wanted four weeks off. He said no. I quietly determined there and then, I would never work for a boss ever again. Then some months later, the day came, a phone call from my boss made me angry. I took a lunch break and walked into town to cool off.
There it was, a moment of serendipity, an empty shop in St James Street. I popped into a neighbouring shop and asked if they knew who owned it the shop on the corner. I was directed to a small office a few yards away and spoke with the owner of the empty premises. I sat in his office looking rather unwell, having just finished a 24 hour swim. Actually I looked very ill. Yet he listened carefully as I explained my plan, I was looking for a small shop, not the large untidy one I had seen opposite, but did he have any others suitable for a retail jewellery business. He slowly reached into the drawer of his desk and carefully unrolled a set of architects drawings. He explained he was planning to divide the large shop into three smaller units and he would be pleased if I would like to take one. Two minutes later I was standing in the premises and within 5 minutes we shook hands.
I skipped back to work and returned the phone call to my boss (he was in Canada). With some liberation and with no thoughts of concern, I handed in my notice. That night I phoned my new landlord and advised him I would like to take two of the shop units. He subsequently remodelled the large shop and within three months Haydn Welch jewellers was born. I had achieved one more item from my list . To this day, I am still to go to Everest, despite my youngest son having done so.
The 24 hour swim:
So a few days earlier, before I handed in m y notice, I had been training for a Channel swim and one challenge I had tasked myself was to undertake a non stop 24 hour pool swim. I had previously trained a few ten hour sessions of various sets of swims within the ten hour sessions. But the 24 hour swim would be a straight front crawl affair, no splitting up into a variety of strokes , distances and exercises.
I had spoken with the owners of Presidents Health Club to which I was a member. They were happy to allow me the use of their 25m pool. I commenced the swim at 10 am. The first thing that interseted me was the thought that time would just stand still, There was little point in counting hours, nothing would help like that. I knew I had a days work to do and just settled down to allowing time to do it's job.
I swam peacefully and slowly, having no idea how much energy to conserve or whether to expend it to relieve boredom. I just swam gently at at the end of 55 minutes, I would rest for 5 minutes to drink and snack a little. The few helpers would let me how many lengths had been completed and generally try to keep me happy.
Time passed surprisingly quickly and tiredness gradually became apparent as night time drew in. Friends would swim alongside at times. Around midnight I was advised I had swam the equivalent of the Channel. I became aware that my finger tips were very wrinkled and sensitive, particularly as I brushed them over my hair. It felt silky smooth. Luckily I was unaware of the truth.
As expected, the toughest time occured during the early hours. This was when patience was nurtured and time past most slowly. The really interesting moments occured around eight in the morning. It was apparent the swim would be completed and I spent the rest of the time considering whether in fact, I could swim further even 48 hours. I was of course weary but recognised I had more to give. I muat say I swam a little harder in the last few lengths........I don't know why. Then it was all over Thirty Eight miles.
My mouth was sore, my body ached, but I climbed out unaided, with dad standing alongside, just in case. He hung around (quite proud) and helped me get changed. Only in the shower did I learn the truth about my finger tips. As I changed from my Speedos, I noticed my hair had fallen out. It was like I was twelve again. My fingers had been running through fine and downey wisps on an otherwise bald head and what remained had turned pale green. It transpired the chlorine levels had been increased and had frazzled my hair. There simply was nothing left, no body hair at all. Duncan would have understood.
I phoned Dr Penny, the Taunton Swimming Club doctor. He studied swimming illnesses and was intrigued. He took a few photos for his research. I spent the next day or so in bed looking as though I had spent the week on chemo. Then at work a couple days later my life changed forever.