Having left the Navy, I decided to return to Porthcawl shortly before Christmas. Having known Arlon Owens, from previous visits home, I was aware he swam all year round. After a few pints with him he mentioned Christmas morning. I agreed to join him, but I forgot completely all about it until there was a knock on my door Christmas morning and Arlon said to me “Are you ready?” I couldn’t back down, little realising I would still be there 50 plus years later.
About this time, our current Lifeguard Patron, Lindsey Morgan, suggested the lifeguards do a swim on Christmas morning to raise awareness of lifeguards in Porthcawl. We invited Rhondda Lifeguards, Judo Club under Coach Pat Caldwell, plus anyone else who was willing to attend. Approximately 40 of us turned up at Coney Beach, 2 swims from me that morning, 9am with Arlon and one at 12 noon. As a result of this, Arlon, a member of the Chamber of Trade and the enthusiasm of Jack Bridge, organised for the following year, advertising posters, a Father Christmas, Jack would supply the presents from his shop and Arlon the confectionary side. That Christmas morning swim was such a success that we are still at it 50 years later. At this time, a little boy who was standing next to me freezing cold I had to tell to go home, he was too young. On leaving the water I realised he had followed us in and he has never missed a swim in the 50 years. You all know who he is, Chris Hughes.
I have many wonderful memories, the Christmas tree at Griffin Park roundabout, the ceremony well attended by many parents and children, officials and of course Father Christmas ( Dai Viking). A mother in the crowd was trying to attract our attention. Her young daughter of about 2 or 3 years old was telling Father Christmas what she wanted. A doll. Having agreed she became quite agitated and repeated the word several times. Something wasn’t quite right but I managed to get close to the mother who whispered in my ear, “She wants a drill, like her father has”. I managed to get the message to Father Christmas in time. The child’s face said it all.
Returning home from the Midlands, heavy snow closed most motorways and all major roads. The diesel froze in my vehicle and assistance wasn’t available due to similar incidents. Out of the blue came one solitary vehicle. I had a lift to the services. I asked the driver if he was going on to the M50, he replied, yes. I said Newport will be fine. Nearing Newport I mentioned Cardiff, “Where are you going?” asked the driver. Bridgend, I told him. On arrival at Bridgend, he said he was going to Porthcawl. It was then I realised that it was Clive Thomas who was the World Cup referee. On Christmas morning after I had informed Dai Viking of my lift home with Clive and seeing Clive with his grandchild I hoped Viking had managed to get a special gift to the child.
One of the occasions when I had to be Father Christmas, Ann Morgan, a neighbour, who did the make up for the Little Theatre, had made me up as Father Christmas. Another neighbour passing took one look at me and pleaded with me to deliver 2 presents to her children. I knocked the door and was answered by the youngest and in my best Father Christmas accent informed him I had found presents at the bottom of my sleigh. I presented one to the youngest child and another to the middle child but as the eldest approached for his present I had to tell him, “There is nothing for you, you do not believe”. At this point a little voice screamed, “I told you so, I told you so”.
On another occasion after Ann had done my makeup, it was decided that instead of ducking Father Christmas in the sea (the children didn’t like to see their Father Christmas treated this way), the Lifeboat would take him home. On arriving at the Lifeboat station, unaware that 2 small boys, Phil Missen’s children, were present, I entered the changing room (no mirrors in those days), changed out of my Father Christmas outfit but unaware that I still had the beard, red cheeks and eyebrows etc. on, but all my own clothes. Those two little boys saw Father Christmas go in and me come out. They are now well into their 20’s and still think I am Father Christmas today.
I often observed an elderly gentleman with naval tattoos who changed into his swimwear very early. I mentioned this to him that by getting changed it encouraged others to do the same and they would lose body heat. His reply was, “Try a few Arctic convoys Son”. I never mentioned it again. You will all know Ken James from Ogmore Vale, the oldest swimmer to take part for many years.