The first symptoms appreared as I lay in bed last night, wide awake and twitching. My mind was racing, my heart was thumping and every few minutes my stomach lurched. Thump-lurch, thump-lurch, thump-lurch. I could feel the adrenalin coursing around my body. Exactly a week before my first regatta of the season, I had my first bout of regatta nerves, and it’s not going to get any better until the siren sounds and the first race is over (at approximately 3.21 p.m. next Sunday).

I’m a little shame-faced about the depth and intensity of my fear. I am, for goodness’ sake, a grown woman who’s had her fair share of life experiences and prides herself on being fearless and feisty. Heck, I’ve even given birth twice so it’s not like I can’t handle pain.

But there it is. Thump-lurch, thump-lurch. Thump-lurch.

The fears crowd in.

What if I mess up the start? Thump-lurch.

What if I come off my seat? Thump-lurch.

What if I … oh, dear God… catch a crab? THUMP-LURCH!!

If it were just me on my own, I could probably cope with the potential for disaster and humiliation, but the thought of messing it up for eight other people… thump-lurch-thump-lurch-thump-lurch.

So be gentle with me this week. And someone please tell me I’m not alone in my suffering. Think you’re immune to the fear? Here’s a handy little test to see how you’re doing…


It all started, as these things do, with some idle Twitter chat with Matthew Pinsent about masters rowing categories.

“Went rowing with duffers this morning”, announced Pinsent.

“Define duffers,” demanded Girl on the River (extra coxing duties this week having brought out my bossy side).

“Ah”, said the Great Man. “C is seasoned, D duffer, E endangered”.

“I daren’t ask what you’d think of F”, spluttered David Biddulph.

The answer, as I might have expected, came from the Monmouth RC ladies’ rowing squad – from one of our Fabulous, Fierce and Feisty Masters F women.

“Matthew Pinsent hasn’t met the Monmouth Women’s Squad – yet!” she said.

“C is for ‘Cool, Collected & Competitive; D is for ‘Determined & Deadly; E is for ‘Energetic, Elegant & Explosive’ & F is just ‘F…ing Fantastic’. ”

So if you ever find yourself tempted to dismiss masters rowers as, well, duffers, know this. The, ahem, senior rowers may have the odd wrinkle, but we’re not ready to hang up our rigger jiggers yet. After all, we’re not called Masters for nothing.

It’s been a while since I’ve recommended any rowing blogs, but there’s a new kid on the block that I simply can’t ignore. Rowing Journal, the brain child of photographer Iain Weir, aka Shutteritch, is a truly democratic rowing blog, set up “to give you a platform to voice your opinions, experiences, observations or simply to pose a question to the rest of the rowing community.” Anyone, it seems, can join and post on it, and my goodness, they have done.

Now this was a pretty risky strategy. It could, let’s face it, have been dreadful. Let the world at large say what they want, unfettered by the rules of the river or even the rules of grammar, and the results could be grim. But here’s the thing. Rowing Journal has turned out to be a really classy read. Funny, controversial, at times infuriating – everything, in short, that a blog should be. I don’t know how it’s moderated – perhaps it’s self-selecting, the rowing community being made up of mostly excellent people. Either way, it works.

Posts range from totally recognisable rowing stereotypes to thinly disguised rants, with even the occasional motivational love-in. My personal favourite to date: “I just need to move my footplate, hang on” – a lament that had me laughing, as they say, out loud.

All of which is pretty annoying for a fellow rowing blogger. I would have loved to tell you that as rowing blogs go, it wasn’t nearly as good as Girl on the River, but sadly I can’t. It really is worth a read. Just promise me one thing. Now that I’ve introduced you to the younger model, you won’t go and leave me for her, will you?

It’s M.E. Awareness Week and I don’t want to let it go by without at least a nod in its direction. As Girl on the River fans will know, I fell prey to this tricky and pernicious condition around the turn of the millennium and it wiped out a good deal of my thirties; it also brought a fairly promising legal career to a feeble end.

My road back to health was travelled in baby steps – a bit of gentle walking was all I could do for a long time – and if you’d told me, when I was at my lowest ebb, that I would end up rowing competitively I simply would not have believed you.

Rowing, if you think about it, is a preposterous sport for a diminutive, featherweight 40-something with a tendency to feebleness. I’m fairly certain my doctor – had I asked him – wouldn’t have recommended it. And there are times after a hard outing or a killer of a race when I question the wisdom of a sport that demands so much.

But what can I do? The river has me in its thrall. And there is something about the extreme nature of rowing that keeps me coming back for more. If I can row I know that I’m better.

And here’s the thing. If I hadn’t had M.E. I would never have made the changes in my life that enabled me to start rowing. I’d have been Girl on the Underground rather than Girl on the River. That has to be a trade worth making.

Son on the Run is having driving lessons, and what a learning experience it’s been for both of us. Although he is mercifully careful, I can’t deny we’ve had our moments… like on our first outing, when the automatic gate in an industrial estate unexpectedly began to close in on my little car as SotR struggled to put it into reverse (we escaped just in the nick of time before being crushed in its metallic embrace).

The whole experience improved beyond measure, though, when I had a lightbulb moment whilst coxing a few weeks ago. As I called out the commands in confident, encouraging tones (some say I have no need of a cox box), it occurred to me that my skills as a cox (dodgy steering aside) were just what was needed during Son’s early forays into driving.

And so began driving instruction, cox-stylee.

There’s that special, calm-yet-authoritative voice that you adopt when you’re intent on avoiding a collision (“harder on bow side… that’s right, MUCH harder on bow side right NOW…”) that is perfect for those moments when you’re longing to scream “BRAKE!!!” but don’t want to freak everyone out.

There’s that uniquely encouraging tone of voice employed when coxing novices (“Much better, yes, much, MUCH better… just try to keep in time there, two, OK, yes, just get BACK in time, then”) that comes in handy for those just-avoided-a-scrape moments.

And there’s a whole host of possibilities in the technical exercises. This week we’re going to try the driving equivalent of pause rowing to get to grips with stop-start driving in slow traffic. Next week we’ll have a go at half-slide driving, changing up from first to second to third and down again.

Seriously, it’s brilliant. If you have a learner driver in the family you really should try it. Probably best to avoid eyes shut driving, though…

So Dwain Chambers and David Millar could be competing for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics, despite being banned for doping offences. The Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) has decided that a lifetime ban by the British Olympic Association does not comply with the World Anti-Doping Agency code and is therefore unenforceable. This has caused a big kerfuffle in the sporting world, with clean sportsmen and women understandably feeling outraged that the good name of their sport could be tainted. Yet I can’t help thinking that it’s the right decision.

Of course, nobody wants to give the nod to doping offences, either directly or indirectly, and I can quite see why sports people who have always scrupulously competed without chemical assistance should be upset. But I can’t get away from the notion that everyone – including sports people – should be allowed to serve their time and then get on with their lives and careers. They made a mistake, they’ve paid the price, so now let’s see what they can do without the drugs. Test them and retest them and then let them compete properly, like they should have done in the first place.

This isn’t a popular point of view, so let’s hear what you’ve got to say about it. Should Dwain Chambers and David Millar be allowed back in the fold? Are the Olympics tainted if they compete? Should doping always lead to a lifetime ban or is everyone entitled to a second chance even if they’ve fallen prey to the temptation of taking drugs? Girl on the River has had her say: now it’s over to you.

Rainy day blues

It’s raining. Really, properly raining – none of this half-hearted sunshine-and-showers business. No, in keeping with the economic mood of the country, it’s just steady, wet stuff teeming relentlessly down – enough to have me checking periodically that the house isn’t leaking. Of course we need it – water levels are a bit alarming – but frankly I’m more interested in what it’ll be doing to the river.

Will our lovely, glassy Wye have turned into a muddy torrent by my next outing tomorrow? And, more importantly, what will be floating down in it? Usually a downpour just brings a few branches and the odd tree, but we have been known to see the occasional dead cow or sheep float past (sob). Last time I was in Bristol I even saw a guitar floating down the river: so rock’n’roll.

One last thing:  a plea to the people who make splash tops. Is there any chance that you could make them, like, actually waterproof? It would make British rowing so much nicer.

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