The Boat Race, and quiet holidays

-- April 8th, 2014 --
life in uk

There are any num­ber of ways to live in Eng­land as a for­eigner, to be sure.  You can main­tain an alle­giance to your Amer­i­can roots, deter­mined to find Lucky Charms for £7 a box and fol­low­ing Red Sox news, or you can develop a full-on Eng­lish accent and dress in Purdeys tweeds.  Or you can do as we tend to do, some­where in between, and bring a naive Amer­i­can enthu­si­asm to as many Eng­lish doings as we can pos­si­bly understand.

Among these is the Oxford and Cam­bridge Boat Race, every spring.  We became aware of this tra­di­tional sport­ing encounter two years ago when I invited Eng­lish friends to Sun­day lunch, and they accepted with the pro­viso that we wan­der down to the river at an appointed time to watch “The Boat Race.”  There are many boat races, but this one is The Boat Race, gath­er­ing thou­sands of sup­port­ers along the Thames from Put­ney, where it begins, to a spot where it ends, just shy of Chiswick Bridge.

For a week or so ahead of this big Race, there were lots and lots of smaller races — for school­child­ren, for ama­teurs, for senior cit­i­zens — and every day, the river was cov­ered with boats for the row­ers, and boats for their coaches along­side, shout­ing instruc­tions at them through mega­phones.  And on the banks of the river, on either side, lined up team after team of hardy spring spec­i­mens, shoul­der­ing their bur­dens cheer­fully, look­ing as priv­i­leged and posh as any group of peo­ple I’ve ever seen.  These peo­ple will run the coun­try some­day, it would seem.

It was a real treat to live so near the river.  Every errand we ran, we passed scores of peo­ple sit­ting on the wall sep­a­rat­ing the road from the tow­path, drink­ing pints, smok­ing con­vivially, bask­ing in the rare sun­shine.  Finally the Big Race Day arrived.

This was the scene in our neigh­bor­hood yes­ter­day, when we watched the race from my friend Elspeth’s house, sip­ping glasses of bub­bly and nib­bling deli­cious tid­bits: Boursin-stuffed chicken bites wrapped in bacon, nuggets of but­ter­nut squash cooked in maple syrup and cin­na­mon, per­fect egg may­on­naise on sour­dough toast squares.  We felt quite spoiled look­ing down at the wet watch­ers without.

No sun­shine, sadly, just a steady driz­zle of the sort of Eng­lish rain that you just ignore after awhile.  It’s hydrating.

All along the river, win­dows were flung open, little-used bal­conies filled with peo­ple, and there was a gen­eral air of fes­tiv­ity, even under the wet grey sky.

Believe it or not, the Race for which every­one along the Thames becomes so excited lasts only about 16 min­utes!  So we all watched the begin­ning, out of sight, on telly,…