Saturday, 7 April 2012

Trenton! Jesus Christ! Trenton!

Today was boat race day, which is a great tradition in South West London. Eleanor and I caught the train up early to Putney, where preparations were in full swing. Bacon sandwiches, coffee, hunter booted crew support studying the sky and tide tables. The two boat houses, each with a red carpet leading down to the water's edge, heavily guarded and everywhere opportunist street sellers setting up cake stalls, hastily printed T-shirts and flags.

We stayed on the Surrey bank and followed the river round passing Craven Cottage on the opposite side until we reached the Harrods depositary and saw the beautiful Hammersmith Bridge come into view. From here the bend reverses dramatically, the path becomes overhung with the boughs of mature trees, which provide shade all the way to the neo-Rivera setting of Barnes and the next bank of pubs and burger vans.

Nearly at the finish, we trudged on until we arrived at The Ship, the closest pub to Chiswick Bridge, where we bought a well earned drink and waited for the race to start.

We weren't alone. Mayor Boris Johnson, was out canvassing, with his bright young Tory campaign team. Freebies galore - stickers, bags, promises - all stamped with a floppy haired silhouette icon; they seemed surprised when we cheerlessly refused their gifts. Not that it mattered much, Boris was on home turf. These Pimms drink toffs are his Pimms drinking toffs an he left to the sound of three Huzzahs.

The race itself started soon afterwards. We waited, eyes fixed on the bend, waiting for the crews to come powering out from under Barnes Bridge. We waited... and waited. Finally we realised something must have gone wrong, so I climbed down from our vantage point and headed back into the pub to learn that a class warrior, Trenton Oldfield, had managed, successfully, to halt the race, by swimming out in front of the boats. A restart from the half way point was convened. I saw them start and ran back to the bank, where Patsy and Ben had joined us.

When the crews did arrive ten minutes later Cambridge were way in front, a consequence, we found out later, of Oxford losing an oar in a clash of blades. It was quite an anti-climax. We retreated inland to Mortlake and downloaded Trenton's manifesto, which he'd posted on line prior to his intervention to see what all the fuss was about.

It was hard to argue with his analysis of power and privilege, but there was no doubt he'd ruined the event. Oddly, almost as if underlining his point, the crowd, made up mostly of the managers, academic apologists, tax lawyers and corporate administrators of the invisible super rich, seemed reluctant to complain and instead chose merely to murmur their discontent. No civil disobedience here, just the shocked realisation that, with a restarted race and one team down to nine men, fair play had not won the day!

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