Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Not so much owl and pussy cat, more the ingredients for a perfect storm - three parents, one ex boy, six twelve year olds and a maths and geography teacher in one rowing boat, who had (sort of) practiced for a twenty two mile race down the Thames in appalling conditions. The start was wonderful. Loads of boats bobbing about all over the place. A lot of people dressed as catwomen, batman, sailors, soldiers, more sailors, (mind you, they could have been sailors), Indians, ballet dancers (?) animals - lions, tigers, anything that bit basically. There were the dragon boats who looked as though they had been training since they were out of the cot, and people like us who looked as though they had been training for an hour on Sunday mornings in wonderful sunshine. Yes the sun did shine at the beginning and at the end, but by the time we got to Tower Bridge it felt very Ben Hurr. The rain poured down, we had thunder, lightening and lots of shouting 'come on boys, we can do it!" which the grown ups were really saying as much to motivate themselves as they were to motivate the boys.

The safety boats at the start were shouting at all the boats who were in position and were not due to start for another hour as everyone was tiered - the slowest went first - so there were a few shouting matches which made it all the more exciting. But there were no fists flying, no scuttling of ships or mutinies to report. We started strong, cris-crossing the Thames dramatically avoiding the other boats - mainly the sea scouts - who we managed to bash into twice and cross oars with, but they looked like they were used to that sort of thing.

By the time we reached Tower Bridge the waves were crashing around us, the boats were banging into us, the safety boat kept coming up to us and telling (shouting at) us to move over, making it ironically very unsafe as they created waves which kept us bobbing up and down powerless to go anywhere. The ex boy wanted to have a pee, tried three times (stage fright) and think managed it on the forth attempt. Men have to do what men have to do, and women have to do what women have to do, but women manage to wait. The deputy head of the school was on Waterloo Bridge bellowing encouragement to us as we rowed (still at ramming speed) and we smiled, until the boy at the front told us we weren't a quarter of the way yet.

We counted the bridges. I remember when I was on a tour on the bateau mouche in Paris the guide telling me about the bridges or as he called them the 'bitches' (his accent) and I kept thinking as I passed under each bridge, the French guy was right. London is a stunning, fascinating, wonderful city. I love it. I know I love it because by the time we got to Barnes bridge we were all utterly soaked, cold and very tired and I was still wondering at the beauty of this place.

There were times when we were rowing all by ourselves, then others when out of nowhere loads of boats seemed to appear (or catch up with us) and then go off into the distance.

By the time we reached Richmond Bridge we were all very tired indeed. The ex boy had rowed across the Atlantic so I thought this would be a piece of cake for him, but even he looked knackered. The teachers kept chatting and texting and consequently made rowing sometimes difficult (can they lose house points for that?) as we all had to keep in time. And the last mile we had a race with an ebay boat (sponsored by I don't think it was second hand, but could have been) which they won. Only just. But hey, they beat 12 year olds and only just!!! The photos at the end say it all. We all looked very satisfied and absolutely exhausted. For any who ask, it was tougher than running the London marathon. We did it in three fours forty minutes which is a very respectable time indeed. The sunshine would have helped but it was an experience and a very good one and something I recommend everyone does just once. Just once.

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