That time of the year

The next few weeks are going to be really exciting.

Not just because I start a new job and begin the hunt for a new place to live (as I’ve finally got a short list of places to look at!), but because we’re on the run in to the end of the Football season and the start of the F1 season.

Two of the football teams I follow are on for top of the table clashes today. Cheltenham Town travel to Swindon and St Neots Town are at home to Slough. Both huge games. Not to mention Forest Green Rovers keeping the playoff dream alive if they can come away with 3 points at Grimsby.

Meanwhile, with the F1 season kicking off next weekend, fans everywhere will be wondering whether the dominance of Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel will continue. Can anyone come close? Personally I’m hoping that McLaren can build on last seasons form and fight back, but, with all the work the teams have done on the new aerodynamic packages I think we’re set for a turbulent season.

Winter training

A few years ago, I was a regular competitive Angler. I would spend my days on the banks of a river, canal or lake, come rain or shine. Back then people used to tell me I was crazy. That I should spend my days in the warmth and get a new hobby.

These days, I spend my time ON a river, canal or lake. It’s progression, but definitely in the wrong direction! As a rower, we go out in all weathers. Well, nearly all. We don’t go out in electrical storms or when the river is completely iced over!

Yesterday, I was due to train with Huntingdon Ladies as they’ve asked me to fill in for an injury ahead of their Cambridge Winter League race next week. When we got to the boat club, it was -8c and the river was 90% frozen, so we didn’t go out.

Apparently it was -10c in St Neots yesterday at 8.30am and yet the open water swimmers still went out! With the water temperature at 1c, I think they take the prize for being the craziest!

This morning it was a balmy -1c when I arrived at St Neots. We have a Ladies 8 preparing for a number of Head races coming up. The first, the Head of the Trent (6K) is just a fortnight away and they were in need of a cox. Yes, I volunteered.

Luckily with plenty of layers on, it was just my toes and face which felt it most keenly. It was a brilliant outing but with a small amount of ice navigation required. Staying away from the edge, I managed to navigate the boat through the open, clear water but by 10am, the ice was breaking away from the edges.

When we turned near the club house for the first time, there was a strange sound. As we stopped, we realised the sound was coming from the mass of ice next to us. I can only describe the sound as magical. I’ve never heard anything like it before, but as the ice broke up and gently brushed against the block next to it, it seemed to sing.

We’re one of the only clubs near by with a river that isn’t frozen so we’ve had Peterborough and Star Rowing Clubs training this weekend. During the second turn, one of the other crews out shouted to us to stop. I halted the crew and asked what the problem was and they shouted simply, ‘ice’.

We drifted and there was the familiar clunk as we hit the side of a drifting plate of ice. Our coach on the safety launch pulled back and helped to guide us out.

A small amount of careful navigation later and we were clear. As we travelled down the river, there were only one or two plates of ice, but I could see from the thickness that we wouldn’t want to hit them!

Nice cup of warm coffee, boiling hot shower and lots of layers to now warm my poor cold bones.

Here’s to warming up! Summer training can’t come soon enough.

The usual weekend, with an unusual ending

If you do a lot of driving, you’ll know that (out of rush hour) it can be one of the most relaxing things in the world. You, the stereo and the open road. My trip to Gloucestershire on Saturday was nearly stopped by the less than enthusiastic response from my parents to my impending arrival. So, while driving down the A1 enjoying 5 Live’s Fighting Talk, I was struck with a decision. Do I continue 2 hours down the road to watch Cheltenham Town or turn around, go back to bed for 2 hours and then head 30 minutes down the road to Arlesey to watch Forest Green in the FA Cup?

Cheltenham won and Forest Green lost. Both in terms of my attendance and the result.

I turned up at the ABS very early and headed to pick up my ticket. Plymouth Argyle, currently bottom of League Two, were the days visitors to Whaddon Road. The fans were all in good spirits and the staff at Cheltenham spent their time redirecting those new to the ground, Plymouth and Cheltenham fans alike, to their respective stands/seats. After a short while I made my way into the ground to take up my position in the same seat I’d had for the Hereford game. Surrounded by the same enthusiastic men and with a great view of the away end, packed to the rafters with Plymouth fans.

I sat next to two men I didn’t recognise from my last visit and they both introduced themselves to me. One was a Cheltenham supporter of 40 years, the other a newcomer to the ground. After I had assured the new supporter that although I work in the financial district in London, I am not a Banker, we started to get on well. Which is better than Cheltenham seemed to manage in the first half.

Argyle never stopped in a fast paced game, hassling the Robins into making mistakes and playing the long ball. Going 1-0 down in the first half had hearts sink in the unusually quiet home end and fuelled the passion of the visitors, singing load and proud for their team.

It all changed in the second half. Plymouth conceeded a penalty to take to it 1-1, went down to 10 men and then had 6 minutes of injury time to survive. They couldn’t. An injury time winner by Duffy secured a vital win and most of all 3 points for the Gloucestershire side.

My new found friend Dave and I parted company and I headed out to await my lift home. While waiting in the car park I witnessed a number of different conversations. Including one poor man on the phone to, I assume, his other half explaining why he was late. Most of the conversations around me were Robins fans commenting on how much they hoped Argyle would stay up, complementing the away fans on their support and passion for their side. I have to agree. Plymouth you should be proud of your supporters. Match report.

As for Forest Green… I’ve no idea what happened. Playing a team from the Evo Stik Southern League Premier Division (Step 3), they led in the first half before losing 2-1 and sending themselves out of the FA Cup. Match report.

Sunday was a quieter day, although I decided to get out and take some photo’s around the Forest of Dean. My father and I headed out knowing that we had just 2 hours to take photos, get the shopping and be home before he had to be back in the car to pick up family members for a hospital visit.

Needless to say, we failed.

Our timekeeping as rubbish as ever, left me having to throw all my things into any bag I could find and get into my car just 5 minutes after walking through the door. Sat in my car on the drive and waving them goodbye I felt a bit lost. With nowhere to go and no-one to see, I started a gentle drive back, during which I decided to go to the local pub for the Karaoke night.

My local, The Bulls Head in St Neots, is a fantastic little pub. Friendly, warm and inviting, I had a great time, even inflicting my own version of Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time on the poor unsuspecting regulars. Eventually and with a heavy heart, I made my way home with the realisation I had to be up in 7 hours for work.

How wrong I was. Just 4 hours after I’d got to sleep (and 2 hours after I’d woken up thinking about work!) the phone rang. It was work with a problem. Through a cloud of sleep and confusion my colleague and I got a workaround in place for the UK to go live (the joys of working on live TV) and in the space of 20 minutes, I was showered, dressed and on my way to the train station.

As I write this now, it’s nearly 6pm and I’m on the train heading home. I’m pretty sure that I’ve been about as much use as a chocolate teapot from about 2pm this afternoon. Plans for this evening? Dinner, DVD and sleep.… Zzzz

A late addition to my weekend

Friday finished with a bit of a whimper. After a long week I had great plans on a Friday night of comfort food, a glass of wine and listening to the Cheltenham game online. When I arrived home, I ensured I had everything packed for Saturday’s trip to Gloucestershire and then retrieved my laptop from it’s case.

While waiting for the commentary to start, I started cooking, grabbed a Friday night treat of a glass of Cab Sav, courtesy of Jacobs Creek and played a few tunes on my guitar to help me to relax for the weekend ahead.

About 15 minutes into the match, I received a phone call from a friend at my Rowing club asking if I was free in the morning as they needed a Cox for racing in the Huntingdon Head of the River. To be honest, my first thoughts were that I would miss my lie-in (had to be at the club for 0730), but I agreed enthusiastically, realising this was a good chance to be back in a boat.

The rest of my evening consisted of shouting encouragement for Cheltenham as they secured another win against Accrington Stanley (match report) and looking up the course map for the race. At this point I should point out that, as I live in a top floor flat, my neighbours are very understanding.

Saturday morning’s start was painfully early. The alarm going off just an hour later than in the normal working week, left me with dark thoughts toward the cheery way I’d agreed to be part of the squad for the race.

I reluctantly left the warm confines of my flat and drove to the rowing club in St Neots. We left in convoy to Huntingdon to meet the boat trailer.

When we arrived it was beautiful. Not a breath of wind, the air crisp and full of anticipation of the day ahead. The sun was streaming through the tree’s and the reflection from the water was magical. People started to arrive and the barbecue was fired up next to the boat house.

St Neots had all four crews racing in the first division, two men’s and two women’s fours. There had been a late crew change for our Novice women which required a status change, but once that was all finalised and the boats rigged, the crews began their warmup and the coxwains began the process of putting on as many layers as we could find! Although not as cold as the Cambridge Winter League in March, it was still bitterly cold.

The division started at 1000 and as such we had to be on the water and heading for the start by 0900. The 4km course has a number of difficult bends and is very narrow in several places. I made a mental note of where I would need to make calls to drive the crew on and sections I would need to be careful on, when taking the bends. One crew member’s tip to me was to take the bends like ‘a racing driver would’. An interesting way of looking at steering a 4+ along a river.

When the race got underway, my nerves evaporated. I had a very unsuccessful attempt at parking the boat at the start but this was where I come into my own. The crew went off fast and at a good rating, quickly catching and over taking the single scull ahead of us.

Then, at the narrowest part of the river and on the sharpest bend, a mens coxless Quad attempted an overtake. I positioned the boat as best I could and with full lock on the rudder I had to get stroke side to pull on as hard as they could, while bow side lightened off to ensure we missed the moored boat, the bank and the other crew. We had inches to spare. Straightening up, I was determined to not let the Quad leave us behind. The crew pushed on and we were still in sight of them at the finish.

Crossing the finish line, we came alongside the Quad and the men thanked us and complimented us on how we’d given them a good race. I was thrilled. The crew however, had an almost disappointed air about them. It hadn’t been the best row, but the worst stroke of the race was taken literally on the finish line and for a scratch crew, I thought they did brilliantly.

Trying to land the boat turned into a logistical nightmare. One landing stage, 30+ boats and a marina to navigate around. We were holding on to two boats when trying to land and when I jumped out of the boat, I nearly careered straight over the landing area and into a small section of river the other side!

Once we’d retrieved the boat from the water, we all caught up with the other crews to hear how they’d got on. My near miss with the Quad seemed tame compared to the other men’s crew. They’d had two accidents on the way down the course! Sadly despite this, they were still 25 seconds faster than my crew. After 10 minutes or so, I gathered my things together as I needed to get going back to Gloucestershire. As I was saying my goodbye’s and wishing everyone the best of luck for the rest of the day, one of my crew came over with a smile on his face. It looked like we were the fastest IM3 4+ in the first division! Later in the day I had a text to confirm that we’d won and I had a Pot. My first ever Pot for a race. I always felt I wanted to get that first Pot for a race I’d actually rowed in. But you know what? As a cox, the work you have to do to concentrate and get those lines right, is just as hard as rowing flat out for 4000 metres.

Hopefully, come sprint season I’ll have another Pot to add to it, this time for the work I do with an Oar, rather than the rudder.