Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Thames yesterday morning

A resolution I formed not long ago and am keeping to pretty well is that, despite always having loads of work to do (despite in turn being 70% retired), if it was a nice day and I felt like I’d go out and enjoy it, whether for a walk from home or to drift in London. It’s not as if we’re so over-supplied with good weather that want to willingly squander it by staying in.

It helps now that I'm taking walking a bit seriously, after taking a course (six Wednesday mornings in lovely Battersea Park) with Joanna Hall who runs Walkfit and shows you how to walk, for aerobic exercise, not hiking, wearing exercise kit and trainers, unencumbered by shopping, so as to get most benefit from it. (Thoroughly recommended -- it works and she’s good-- see her website.)

So this morning being nice despite the forecast I headed for Hampton Court (two stops on the train) for the walk along the river to Kingston (then home on the bus). Classic autumn morning, tints and that., but the walk was more interesting than usual in that there was regatta on, I think the Teddington Sculls or similar. As I left Hampton Court bridge along the path downstream, boats were assembling for the start. I counted 13 fours. Also hanging around were a couple of pairs and the odd single. I kept walking and passed quite a few more boats moving up to the start. Soon they were coming down and overtaking me from a staggered start with gaps of perhaps 50 or 70 metres. I reckon there were more than 20 fours, then the pairs, then masses of singles and as I walked on there was more and overtaking. Coaches were shouting heartily from bikes on the bank: ‘Let’s go, guys!’ The participants were schoolboys (Kingston Grammar School, I believe - they have a boathouse opposite Hampton Court and probably have rowing on the curriculum between Greek Verse Composition and Calculus -- I hope it wasn’t one of their masters shouting so vulgarly), women, though far fewer, of various ages; and older man, some grunting vociferously to indicate they weren’t effete.

When I got onto Kingston Bridge after 40 or 45 minutes, the fours and pairs had all passed and the last were disappearing downstream, but the singles (are they sculls?) were still coming and indeed were littering the river upstream as far as I could see.

That’s it. Nothing to say about it -- no significance except I'm keeping to my intention to post updates even when I've nothing to say.

But, I was at a school like Kingston Grammar and in the sixth form you could do rowing. The school had a boathouse on the Aire at Saltaire, though the stretch you could row on wasn’t all that long and ended downstream at a scary weir. Anyway, being averse to all proper sports, I did it. Not sure if I enjoyed it but I think I felt the exercise was good, and the river was nice despite smelling a bit effluvious on account of the woollen mills that were still working in those days. I realised this morning, though, that I've no recollection of rowing against other schools though I can’t believe the school would have tolerate a sport without fixtures. (Did the school have a trailer and vehicle to transport the boats?) The teacher (‘master’) in charge was Mr H. Macdonald -- don’t know what he taught and he seemed boring -- as opposed to Mr J. Macdonald who taught French, was also boring (perhaps most grammar school teachers were) and was notorious for taking a party to France and, on the ticket inspector entering the compartment on the train, indicating that they should move outside to confer in the corridor -- such, it was believed, was his incompetence in French.

This (the rowing, not Mr J.) does have significance: we must have had rowing fixtures but I can’t remember them, though they should have been out-of-the-ordinary-run-of-life enough to have been memorable. This was 51 to 52 years ago. Yet our research depends on collecting school memories from 45-65 years ago and it’s clear why so often we hit a brick wall.

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