Sunday 8 May 2016


Last weekend, I went down South to visit my A1 friend Russ at the head of Waterford Harbour where the Barrow finally meets the Suir  at Cheekpoint. Been there before. Thanks to his bloggin' from Russianside, the World knows rather more about the village and its surroundings than many of the inhabitants.  He grew up to be a fisherman but the EU had different ideas and it looks like his tales of hardship and triumph, split hands and split salmon are definitely The Past. The salmon were rapaciously exploited before they ever set off up-river until there were so few left that Brussels stopped everyone from fishing with nets. Perhaps in order to protect what was left for Gentlemen with rods fishing in an absurdly inefficient way with artificial flies.  If you have seen the film A River Runs Through It, you'll have some appreciation of the process although viewing it through rose-tinted nostalgia spectacles.

When I arrived, the porch was full of bright orange life-jackets which had just been acquired, thanks to a generous corporate donation, by the Cheekpoint Rowing Club CRC.  Rowing sounds like the sort of thing Mark Pollock and I [at very different levels!] did during a very expensive education: toffs in shorts powering up and down the river on a wafer-thin hull shaped like a stiletto.  Probably aspiring to pull for Oxford or Cambridge in The Boat Race. It turns out that one of the stalwarts of the CRC is Russ's 13 year old daughter, who is getting increasingly expert in handling the local 'punts' on the water. The punts are, or were, working boats which need to transport not only a crew of two but also a load of nets and hopefully a load of fish. The idea that a young woman would show such a direct interest in the river on which her community was built made me quite unaccountably delighted. Sailing and rowing are sports quite unlike others in that you may have to give up your desire to win to fish a rival out of the drink. On the water, there is nobody to help except those who are out there with you. Too many teenagers, and far too many younger children, get their brush with danger from playing games on their devices. There, only the 2-dimensional people die, so you develop a wholly unrealistic sense of risk.  And rowing will really help you shed the calories you stoked in for breakfast - there is only so much that developing massive thumbs can do to combat obesity.

When I was maybe 11, I went to visit pals in Dartmouth. The Royal Britannia Naval College on the hill outside the village of Dartmouth in Devon is where my father got his very expensive education. From the age of 14 he got a solid, essentially Victorian, education based on The Classics, English literature and grammar, Mathematics and History.  In addition the young gents were taught to knot and splice, obey orders, march smartly, and navigate a ship at sea. Knowing how far you were from shore as night fell was essential to your survival.  Before GPS you had to work it out from a sextant-sight of the sun or one of the fixed stars; before electronic calculators you needed a table of logarithms to do the multiplications required to deduce your latitude and longitude.  A very few years after he left school at the age of 22, he was put in charge of a Motor Torpedo Boat with a crew of ten.

The situation of Dartmouth is uncannily similar to that of Cheekpoint: at the head of a wide tidal estuary just under a bend in the river. Like me spending holidays with cousins on the shore of Lough Derg, my Dartmouth pals had free run with boats on the river.  Parents assumed that children were competent to handle boats and realised that you can't protect them from everything. One evening, four of us young chaps rowed a couple of boats up-river to show me-the-visitor what was round the next, and the next, bend.  As it got dark we turned for home because there was less and less to see. All very well but the tide had turned, and I were tired [unfit] and it was much more difficult to row home than rowing out had been.  Not only that, but it was clear that I wasn't pulling my weight, the boat kept veering off-course because I lacked the strength of the other boy on the crew. I got short shrift: someone had to pull the bow oar and there were no substitutes on the bench and my Mummy was in a different county. The other boat was more evenly matched and was making progress. Eventually I had a tantrum - tears of rage and frustration sprang to my eyes, and I stood up in the boat [tsk = foolish] and ROARED that I couldn't do any better than I was doing.  That wasn't true, I could do a little better, and after witnessing the disconcerting explosion, the older chap was better able to match his own to my feeble pull. Needless to add, we did make it to the quay, tied up the boats with the correct sort of knot and hurried up the hill for tea.  It was one incident, along with many others when I was growing up, that convinced me that I'd never win any competitions and so it wasn't worth trying.

Since Dau.II and I made puddles in the bilges of a dinghy on Lough Derg two Summers ago, I can probably say that my sailing days are over - but I might try, in my old age, seeing if I have bottle for rowing. "Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers won't drown". But I'm not going out with any 13 y.o girls who will row me round in rings: I've managed to avoid that happening since 1965.

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