Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Full Flow

Not our river!

Monday morning came around, as I knew it would, and I had to sit down at my desk and look with intrepidation at my thesis. Not a word has been written since the start of the school holidays (mid/late July) and, having made a commitment to submit 10,000 words for scrutiny in early October, the pressure was on. One thing I have learned over the course of my doctorate is that slow and steady wins the day: "It is quite possible" said my supervisor during one of our first meetings nearly three years ago " to get a PhD by sheer application and getting enough words down."
I'd originally had some fancy plan about strolling through the groves of academe and reading for - ooh! about a year - and then putting down the fruits of that intellectual indulgence in a pure stream-of-consciousness argument of profound depth and cogency, but he had other ideas. "Write" he said "from day one. If the words are down, you can make something from them." And that turned out to be excellent advice, and the thesis has grown and grown (in size, if not in quality) like a piece of knitting grows even if you only knit two rows per day. So with approximately four working weeks to knock out the ten thousand, that's 4 lots of 5 days, 2,500 words per day, 500 per day: eminently achievable. Except of course, the actual writing is the easy bit, the quick bit. What takes the time is the reading, the formulation of ideas, the cross-referencing, bibliography and checking back for logical progression. And all the time in the background is the mantra of business guru Steven Covey 'The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing'. There is endless scope for fascinating digressions and if you're not careful you can end up several light years from where you should be!
Coupled with this return to academic activity has been the loss of rowing activity. Having 'persuaded' the Bright-Eyed Boy to have a crack at rowing this summer, I've been accompanying him (and Daughter #3)down to the club up to five mornings per week in an effort to get him up to speed and feeling confident about the whole thing. It seems to have worked and he has progressed from tracer up to a fine(ish) boat, had a go in a quad (where he's held his own quite nicely) and, as of today, a double with another J13.
I've got a real glow from seeing his confidence and satisfaction increase and hopefully he will soon be as competent and confident as his sister who started rowing two years ago. I am, however, feeling distinct withdrawal symptoms both from coxing and coaching the beginners from the riverbank. I'm still trying to get down once midweek and once at the weekend, although the oncoming darker evenings will soon put paid to the former. Actually, Daughter #3 was supposed to be at a regatta in the West Riding today, but it was cancelled due to unfavourable weather conditions: I didn't need much persuading to go and cox the J15 boys. We had a fabulous trip: our river was calm and, accompanied by the coach in a single alongside, we went 6k upriver at a low rating, working on balance with me calling for single strokes, two strokes, five strokes....they just got better and better, and we glid along magically under the willows, silent, balanced....
The Husband, who has also taken up the sport, has had a less happy time. Being 6' 6" tall and 18+ stone (all muscle), it's been a struggle to find a boat he finds comfortable and confident in. Eventually the club decided to rig up  a heavier weight one that's been hanging from the rafters for a couple of years. He's been going down as often as humanly possible (and crikey! that's been tricky in the family/dinner stakes!), but it's been a bit frustrating. It's not unknown for coaches to fail to turn up for arranged training sessions which leaves the novices frustrated as they can't go out unsupervised and things are, in general, slightly chaotic although friendly enough. Additionally, everyone keeeps giving him different advice about EVERTHING - even getting in and out of the boat - and generally bewildering him to such an extent that he's came within an ace of chucking it all in. This was crowned the other week when he turned up for a training session, was dispatched DOWNRIVER, along with another novice, by the coach who told them he would 'catch them up in the launch'. Well, he never did! The Husband fell in about 1k from the boathouse, breaking the sax-board of the tracer he was in. He eventually managed to get back in (don't forget, he's a BIG guy), cold and slightly shocked, and made his way through the heavy river traffic, gradually taking on water because of the breached upstand and other boat-wash.
Arriving at the boathouse, the coach had apparently buggered off without even venturing out on the river, leaving the two novices get on with it! Fortunately, I'd just turned up and managed to help him out with the boat and explain what had happened to a club-member whilst he took a warm shower and changed. Not good. I guess, at base what it really needs is someone to volunteer to shoulder the burden of organisation, but as most members work full-time this is not practical.

The sporadic and ever-changing nature and quality of the coaching has been a a bit of a let-down and is a real shame given the truly excellent nature of the junior set-up where the kids can train seven days a week, 363 days per year (if they so desire) and be assured of good, safe, coached rowing whenever the conditions permit.
Which they nearly didn't last Wednesday when I turned up to cox.
The river was really high: the tow path had disappeared and we had to quickly boat up from the steps - seven boats out, one after the other in rapid succesion. We headed upstream accompanied by a coach in a launch. The stream and wind were incredible, and I had all on to steer it through the tricky 'S'-bends one and a half kilometers up. We just had to keep going: any 'easying' was rewarded by the bow swinging round, so we just kept plugging away. Once upriver we spun the boat (pretty rapidly) and headed back down doing pyramids of 10, 20, 30, 40 light and firm strokes, keeping up with another quad who'd also been due to race this weekend. I needed all my concentration to cox, not only steering and calling for adjustments for current and wind, but counting down into the firm pieces whilst keeping a tally of what we'd done/had left to do, and looking out for logs the size of alligators that the river likes to disgorge during its periods of flood. We got back early, unsurprisingly given the speed of the stream, and managed to spin the boat and land at the steps without too much drama.
And do you know what? I found it the most marvellous and relaxing experience: having spent the day wrangling with grammatical features of the hellenistic Greek language, my mind was purged by not being able to think of anything that was going on except the rowing.

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