The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Canal Street Blues

Posted by rowingvoice on March 6, 2012

I must say that I hanker for the day when the weighing in of the crews for the Boat Race was a manual operation. A huge contraption manufactured by Averys  was positioned on the Putney hard or in a drafty boathouse , oarsmen stood on the platform one by one, usually after drinking about three gallons of water, and an old heavy, or in latter years Robert Treharne Jones, read out the weights, and everyone wrote them down, and then there was an interminable wait while the backroom heavies tried to work out the averages and compare them with the record books (while the crews rushed to the bogs to relieve themselves of excess liquid).

Things became more complicated when the scales recorded weight in metric because, it being the Boat Race founded in the Garden of Eden, measurements must be imperial. Nowadays the weights go straight into a computer and a nerd produces a piece of paper with everything worked out and set out a matter of minutes, if not seconds, after the last foot has made its impression.

On Monday this process took place in Foreman’s salmon factory somewhere between the Docklands Light Railway and the Overground in the outskirts of Stratford (East, not on Avon, unfortunately). When I arrived late owing to the transport challenge, I was puzzled why. Was this an attempt to find a venue closer to Cambridge than customary? 

But the reason became wondrously clear once the back of the building was reached. It looked out across a canal to the London 2012 Olympic stadium. I wouldn’t describe it as stunning – not in the class of the Beijing Birdsnest, but impressive nonetheless. This was an attempt to position the Boat Race symbolically close to the Olympics. 

Surprise, surprise, the canapés to accompany the breakfast bucks fizz were all salmon based, and very nice too. The prettiest picture was photographer Peter Spurrier leaning on a small round table with a cup of coffee. On the table were six bottles of Bollinger of assorted sizes. The Boat race is certainly picking its sponsors, and, unlike the main sponsor Xchanging, it is quite obvious what Bollinger actually does.

The trick that they missed was not having a couple of eights drawn up on the canal.  If you moved a few barges and narrow boats, you could hold the Boat Race there and then on a straight piece of water with the Olympic stadium as backdrop.

Cambridge president Dave Nelson didn’t rate this as an idea. Reading between the lines, he is worried that his crew has a few things to attend to in the last few weeks before the race.  Perhaps the coming weekend’s encounter with Leander will show us what. Not least of Nelson’s worries – surely with a name like that he can sort it (no, not Dave, stupid) — is his research thesis which consists of an examination of betting odds matrixed with Boat Race results, if I get his gist correctly. I would have thought that there was not a lot of scope for such a statistical analysis in a two-horse race, but I sure hope he proves me wrong.

Christopher Dodd


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