Tuesday, 15 May 2012

IVs & Pairs

The IV is a personal favourite. IVs rowing is for those who want to row often and are prepared to put some effort into making it at least tolerable if not always pleasant and at times exquisite. The IV is a more demanding boat since it is more than half as long as an VIII with only half as many blades. The up-side is that you can tell quite quickly what works and what doesn't (and so can your crewmates and the cox). There is vast room for improvement and vast incentive to improve when rowing in a IV. The crew and cox in a IV quickly become a unit. At the best of times, it is a harmonious unit with everyone having complimentary, although not identical, goals. This mix makes every outing a pleasure to anticipate and to recall. Occasionally, a different unit develops with the time and exposure of regular IVs outings. A tension may arise that, while it can be handled and even used as motivation for a time, will most likely lead one or more crewmates to find other ways to feed the rowing appetite. At the worst of times, only the knowledge that there are no boats in prison keeps the crew from mutual homicide. I've never rowed in a pair (although I have spent quite a bit of time in a double scull) but I believe I would relish the challenge of matching just one other sweep rower in strength and timing. I am not a good stroke, however, being much better at following than setting ratio and I have a pitifully short stroke due to being quite remiss with my flexibility work. I also am no good at steering. I am quite short-sighted and I don't wear contacts.  Keeping track of what lies ahead by turning to look at the blur over my shoulder has led to a snake-like wake, more than an occasional friendly visit to the bank, and the odd minor confrontation with another river user. When in a single, such incidents are difficult and can be embarrassing, but with a crewmate, they are much worse. The plain truth is, however, that it doesn't matter to me what the boat is or where it is, or when, or what the weather is like; "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so worth doing as simply messing about in boats...!"

Waiting . . .

Waiting . . . I do know how to scull a single; I can't say I love it. Other boats - now those I love! I love the stand up and move of a well-seated VIII; nine bodies driving one heart, making the shell come alive and skate along the surface of the water. There is an urgency to the VIII that I believe comes with striving for individual excellence. An odd concept, individual excellence, when we are talking about rowing, that ultimate of team sport. Apart from in a single, there is no possibility for one member of a crew to be able to make the "hail, Mary" move. No home runs or touch downs or goals. The whole crew crosses the finish line together or none of them do. However, there is no interaction between crewmates in rowing as there is in football or rugby: no passing, pitching, catching, handing. Apart from stroke, each crewmember sits looking at the back of the rower in front, they never touch and nothing passes between them. The concentration of each rower is focused on her own movements, making certain every motion is mirrored in exact time. The length of the boat makes the VIII the most forgiving of individuality but only to a degree. This group/individual dichotomy is inherent in rowing anything but a single and, to me, this dichotomy surfaces off the water as well. Rowers are people after all, despite the claims of some non-rowing friends, and they exhibit the differences in personality that all people do. Watch any crew of rowers out for a training session. There are those who show up in a group; they are always in a group. They chat about their thrills and ills with the easy familiarity of frequent contact. The rest of the world swirls on the fringes of their whirlpool rowing lives and rowing swirls out into eating, socialising, and sometimes into loving and family life eventually. But watch! There are also those rowers who show up to every outing or session on their own, put their all into the work, and then disappear after the post-chat, not to be seen again until the next time. This rower may row for the individual excellence that the sport demands while still revelling in the team discipline that means every yes is a firm commitment to be where you say you will be, on time, or others can't row. Perhaps this rower is one who lacks the confidence to mingle with others in the group arriving and leaving together. But while in the boat, everyone belongs and the confidence is in being part of the group. It takes all sorts to row an VIII - and all sorts row.

Monday, 19 December 2011


I have heard people talk of oil lamps and candles as though they were a sort of witch light. I cannot but think this an instance of modern hyperbole. I lived the better part of life in the electric glare of later 20th century, but for a number of years now have been a lamp-trimmer and a fire-lighter on the Oxford Canal, and I find the difference to one's freedom in life infinitesimal.

For curiosity's sake I timed it. It took me ten minutes to replace the candles, to fill and trim the lamps, and another five to light all and set them in their places. Their light is kindly and efficient, not, as some suppose, dim sparks in a desert of darkness. I have never had to grope.  While the kettle boils (not electric) and the tea steeps, I lay and light the fire. That takes twenty minutes at most. Allow another quarter hour throughout the day for stoking, and you have spent an hour in lighting and heating. Would great thoughts and actions have been born in that self-same hour?

That is not the whole of the matter. The other day I happened across a passage on old lamps and fires in a early guide to housekeeping for the young wife. The writer opinioned, 'Somehow these things seem to keep the self-starter working.' That's it exactly. I have found these little bustling chores of routine initiate the spark of industry, and I turn from them to the real business of the day with a mind already alert and determined.  I have done something; I will do something more. The mind craves these small concerns to bite on: they serve as rallying points for the energies at the beginning and in the interstices of the day.  Without them, I have found that hour saved is spent lying supine, and when I rise at last, behold, it has hung itself around my neck, a great burden of disinclination.

The fire is one of the chief joys of winter. It lives in the stove half the year, for it smoulders all night, bursting into flame again like a greeting when stirred in the morning.  A log fire, when I'm home and awake, is luxurious. Built with the once-living hearts of trees, it must be laid carefully, understandingly, with due respect to the heft and shape of each log, and repaired as it crumbles rosily away.

I sit before it attending drowsily to the small talk of the flames, until the life that has entertained all evening falls apart at last and crumbles in a heap of red ash, striking a fountain of sparks up the chimney.  I rouse myself, glance at the clock; it is time for bed.

Who would grudge the attention due to such a friend?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

To War!

In the hodgepodge of pots and plants that currently inhabits what I optimistically call my garden, I've found nearly every annual, biannual, and perennial weed known to man. Weeding can be a harrowing experience. Apart from the sheer waste of time and effort involved, to all but the most experienced gardener there is also the problem of what to remove. 

Everyone has a personal view about gardening: the driving force of life, a pleasant hobby, a necessary chore, or pure drudgery. I fall into the second category; gardening is fascinating and fun but also extremely frustrating at the same time! The enjoyment is in the anticipation and excitement of planning the year ahead, in the satisfaction of growing beautiful new life, and in actually seeing the fruits of my labours. Frustration comes from that eternal menace -weeds- which never fail to appear as if from nowhere and insinuate themselves into my well-planned idyll.

Now that the season is on the turn, I will start my battle once again. Perhaps this year will prove the exception to the rule, I will fight and eradicate this common menace, and next spring my garden will resemble my dream.