Saturday 1st October 2011

Hampshire County ASA Dinner


Today is going to be a very hectic day leading up to my dinner. I had a much better night than the previous 2 nights. Jessica and Ben were up around 6:45, which is quite reasonable.

Sue has a lot to do today. She is getting her hair done this afternoon, but before then has to change beds and make sure that everything is ready for this evening. When we add in the presence of three demanding children, she is ground to feel quite a lot of pressure.

We should be cheered up by the weather. Today promises to be the hottest October day ever (at least since records began).

The engineer from Virgin Media arrived at 9am. With the benefit of hindsight, maybe today was not the best day to arrange. In addition to installing a TIVO box attached to our main TV, he was also installing an additional HD box for Sue's new TV, which involved drilling holes in the wall. This combination of jobs worked out well. Once plugged in, the TIVO box needs about an hour to download software and installing the new HD box took about an hour. While the engineer was here, everything did seem rather chaotic, but the job was done by just after 10am. Later today we will need to mount Sue's TV on the wall.

Later I found that the TV in my room doesn't work properly, so we need Virgin Media to come back next week.

Today has been rather hectic, with several water fights in the garden. Although it has been very hot, we have had doors and windows open. Sue went to the hairdressers at 1pm and most of the others went out to the park with the children in the afternoon. Following orders, I stayed at home and tried to relax.

We got to the Hilton around 4:30. There were already familiar faces in the bar and the room seemed to be set out fine. There were one or two mistakes in names, but nothing major. Our balloons had arrived. Our guest of honour had arrived. Our room was stiflingly hot, with very little we could do about it, so we spent some time in the bar and left the minimum possible time to get changed.

And so to the dinner itself. Physically, I coped extremely well. Originally, we had the idea that I might have needed to go back to our room for "recovery" periods. Actually, after I left the room, it was SIX hours before I returned. As we were sitting down for dinner, I did get quite tired, but once the post dinner formalities started, adrenaline kicked in.

Starting at the welcome reception, I arranged to get a tall bar chair that I could comfortably sit on, and positioned myself near the table where the welcome drinks were being served. That gave me the opportunity to welcome people as they came to collect their drinks. There were one or two people who consciously avoided talking to me, but almost everyone was happy to talk. We had 90 people, including a lot of "old friends" who I haven't seen since British Swimming restructured from Districts into Regions. Among the dinner guests, I had all of my immediate family, three tables of people from Basingstoke Bluefins and the South East Region Management Board.

Thanks to the rocket balloons and party poppers, we had a pretty rowdy dinner, which almost everybody thought was great. Importantly, it was what I wanted. The food was good; service was acceptable, but not outstanding. The biggest problem we had was heat in the room. This was the hottest October day on record and the hotel air conditioning packed up. I broke with tradition and allowed men to take off their jackets before the "Loyal Toast".

We got to the speeches just before 10pm, a little later than we hoped. In looking for a guest speaker, I started at the top and was delighted that David Sparkes,  the Chief Executive of British Swimming accepted my invitation. David is a character and generates strong reactions in people. I was warned that inviting him was a risk. I did not need to worry, he gave an excellent speech, full of banter and humour, which lasted just over 20 minutes .. the perfect length.

His major theme was the need for change. When he first joined as CEO, it was day to remember all of our olympic medalists, because we didn't have any. He looked forward to London 2012. There is expectation that we will match Beijing 2008 in terms of medals. There is an expectation that we will get a diving medal .. which will be tough. Looking further ahead, David predicted that our synchro swimmers would be winning medals in Rio 2016.

He finished by returning to his theme of change and stressed that the sport needs to become more independent of government funding. Over dinner, Sue did a good job of promoting Bluefins to David. In closing his speech, David used Bluefins as a good example of a large viable club, which is almost totally self-funding.

For myself, I had written a speech out in advance to give myself some options. If I was simply too tired, Sue could read the speech. If I felt able to speak, I could either deliver it as written, or ignore the prepared draft and "wing it". I decided to "wing it" and that was the correct decision. I think I delivered more or less the message I intended. (I have included a copy of my draft speech at the bottom of today's blog entry).

My youngest grandchild did not cooperate with our plan for the evening. He was supposed to sleep in our room. He didn't and spent most of the evening with the family as we had dinner. There were one or two timely noises during the speeches, but nothing disruptive. Having him with us, rather than leaving him with a baby sitter was clearly the right one.

Following the speeches there were some presentations. Most of these were aggregate trophies, the winners of which were already known. The one which is always interesting is the Presidents Plate, in the gift of the President. This year, I awarded the plate to Jean Dixon, from Fareham Nomads.

There was a disco, but it really wasn't a great success. When the formalities were complete, almost everybody adjourned to the bar, where it was **cool**. I think people were reluctant to go back into the heat of the room where we had dinner. I found a position sitting on a high bar chair and for almost 2 hours had people coming over to talk. I think my comments in my speech about not being afraid to talk about cancer did have an impact on some people.

Eventually, things caught up with me. We went back to our rather hot room just before 1am and actually managed to sleep quite well.

Overall, the dinner went even better that I could have hoped.


Mike's Planned Speech

Good ending, ladies and gentlemen. I will try to keep this short.

I always look for a joke to start a speech. This evening, I looked in a mirror, and that is a joke in itself. There are many of you in this room who are also follickly challenged. Your heads are a nice uniform colour, while I have this whitey/pink patch. In fact, I think I am turning into a clown. Last week, I had to buy new smaller trousers and new larger shoes.

I am delighted to be able to be with you this evening. I have been able to speak with a lot of you and tell you how I am feeling. For the benefit of others, you probably know that I am undergoing treatment for cancer and the good news is that everything is going well.

Those who know me, will have noticed that I am a shadow of my former self. I am really comfortable at this weight, but can't really recommend the diet.

I worked out that I have been involved in swimming for 30 years, so compared to some of you, I am a relative newcomer. I am delighted to look around the room tonight and see people from the many organisations I have been involved with.

My eldest daughter started swimming competitively for Basingstoke Swimming Club in 1983 (long before any ASA laws on minimum age of competition), and I have been closely involved with that club and its successor Bluefins almost from day 1. I am proud to have seen the club grow from a small Saturday night gala club to one of the largest and most successful clubs in Hampshire.

I got involved with Hampshire County ASA as an official and gradually got pulled into the administration of the county and eventually the ultimate accolade, President of the Association. I will come back to County matters later in this speech.

From being a Hampshire representative to the SCASA swimming committee, I was an inaugural member of the South East Region management board and have been deeply involved in organising Region Competitions from the formation of the region. When I was up for re-election to the board, I forgot to submit my nomination, but realised that I was having real difficulty balancing the demands of a full-time job. So, I decided at that time to focus my region efforts on competitions. I am really pleased to be able to welcome the members of the Region Management Board this evening.

I am going to stop for a moment. The region no longer has its own dinner, so there really isn't an opportunity to recognise the new Region President, Mrs. Janet Holdstock. Lets put that right.

Please charge your glasses and be upstanding. I propose a toast to the ASA South East Region and its president Janet Holstock. "The region and President".

I have had one or two forays to ASA Council and have officiated at National Events, so I am delighted that David Sparkes accepted my invitation to speak tonight.

I have not really done any coaching or teaching of swimming. That has not been my forte. My career has been involved with IT and as a result, throughout my time in swimming, I have been passionate about applying IT to improve the administration of the sport and in particular competitions. I see no reason why, with cheap access to PCs, swimming at grass roots cannot be as well organised as at higher levels, and without requiring an army of people.

I do not tolerate sloppiness very well and when someone running a totally disorganised event uses an excuse like "Well, its only schools!", I got very frustrated and did something about it.

My task is to propose the toast to Hampshire County ASA, so let me finish by talking about aquatics in the County.

I am going to start with the so-called minor disciplines. When I first started working at county level we looked down on these as drains on the county budget.

NOW I am immensely proud of our achievements in diving, synchro, water polo and wild swimming. Hampshire leads the country and region in these areas. We can confidently look forward to seeing competitors from Hampshire from the minor disciplines in the pool in London next year.

We host the GB synchro team in Aldershot. The heart of the GB team regularly comes from Hampshire and in particular Rushmoor Royals. Jenna Randall is now competing on level terms with the best in the world.

We have a world class diving facility in Southampton. The best divers in the world can be seen competing there. Peter Waterfield has been around for many years, he continues to compete at the highest level, with Tom Daley in synchronised diving and in individual competition.

Basingstoke hosts the Regional Development centre for Water Polo.

You will notice that I did not use the term Open Water. We have a lot of coastal water around Hampshire. Unfortunately, it has a habit of being rather cold and rough. That doesn't stop our swimmers, but it does mean that an awful lot of "wild swimming" does not operate under the auspices of the ASA. Recently, for example, Roger Alsopp from Guernsey became the oldest Briton to swim the channel.

Finally, let me come to speed swimming. The role of counties has changed over the years. We now have a much more professional approach to swimming at the highest level. We should expect our elite swimmers to move on to work together in centres of excellence based around schools and universities with top class facilities and coaches. Without such a facility in our county, we are bound to lose our top swimmers in their mid to late teens. Increasingly, our job is to develop swimmers at the grass roots and provide the right club and competition structure to develop young swimmers to their full potential.

I am proud to have been given the opportunity to serve the county as President and it is now my pleasant duty to propose a toast to the County Association. Please be upstanding and join me as I raise my glass to "Hampshire County Amateur Swimming Association".