Boat races


Luckily for us there was a sufficiency of chilled oysters for all.

Then a cry went up, the boats were coming! and in an instant… they were gone, soon obscured by the trees, and so we turned back to our bivalve molluscs and stout. We retired to the pub and watched Cambridge lose on TV

 (I am a curse, I have seen five boat races in the flesh and the light blues have lost each and every one of them. No prizes for guessing who lost this year).

Nowadays, a giant screen by the riverbank relays every moment, every stroke of the oars, and each and every grimace of pain in the battle of the blues. And the banks are now lined with sponsors of every hue and there are umpteen concessions where you can eat and drink.

Often held up as a last bastion of the Corinthian spirit, the Boat Race, as it is commonly called, has been held annually since 1856. The competitors have to row for 6.8 km on the River Thames in West London, starting at Putney and ending at Mortlake. ‘Which Blue Are You?’ is the organizers’ current slogan, since Oxford sport dark blue and Cambridge in a lighter blue although this year’s chilly weather merited ‘How Blue Are You?’). Despite my hex, Cambridge is ahead on wins with 81 victories to Oxford’s 77.

There was a dead heat in 1877, which some say was due to the judge falling asleep and missing the finale. For many, a question mark still hangs over the event. Is it really just a way of preserving the class divide, with teams from privileged backgrounds representing two of the country’s elite institutions? As I watched the swell of the river, that didn’t seem to matter: it’s the one occasion in the year when Londoners and visitors alike (around a quarter of million) are inexorably drawn to this sadly underutilized waterway. Perhaps, each year there is only one true winner: the Thames.