Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Clash of Antlers

The Husband has merrily trotted off down to the boat-house to meet up with some of the guys who were on his 'learn-to-row' course last May. He is extremely lucky in that he has found three other people who have taken to the sport of rowing with as much enthusiasm and commitment as him, and together they have made a reasonable - if somewhat unusual - quad crew. There! That didn't sound too anarchic,did it? And yet, the reaction in the club up until very recently was, if not actually hostile, then certainly very unhelpful. Having encouraged folk to learn to row, and very happily relieved them of a not-inconsiderable amount of cash to take up full active membership, there seemed to be an unneccessary amount of obstacles put in their way to prevent them doing precisely that which they were initially encouraged to do: row. I'm not sure how the women's squad runs things, but the men's squad seemes to be run along the lines of some minor public school, where the 'new boys' are made to jump hurdles merely for the amusement of the 'prefects'. Arbitrary training regimes were set up - and amended - on a weekly, daily or even (and I kid you not) hourly basis. It was initially a source of some amusement, and later despair, to receive emails all marked 'high importance' stating that 'the men's squad will meet at 6.30pm for a 3k run, then circuits' only to have that replaced by 'please meet at 6 for a 2k ergo test'. Programmes were sent out and then abandoned before the first date on the list. The whole set-up seems based on whim rather than solid training principles.
The Husband found the whole thing ridiculous. He'd always wanted to have a go at rowing but, like many people, never got round to it. Having taken the opportunity to learn, he was keen to give it his best shot and willing to put up with a bit of frustration and annoyance to fit in. But he came within an ace of packing the whole sorry mess up as he and his new colleagues were told that, yes, they could go out in doubles, oh wait no, you can't: singles only. No hang on a bit we're not going to be on the river tonight (what! it's beautiful out there!) - there's going to be an ergo piece...2k...note your times. And by the way lads - you won't be rowing as a quad together: we don't encourage private armies.
Okay, thought the Husband, keep the head down, don't antagonise the chief buck (who, by the way, is never seen on an ergo, in a boat and quits out of circuits to go home after one set of reps). Dutifully he did what was asked of him: circuits twice a week, 2k tests etc. etc. Even kept his frustration under his hat when beautiful autumn evenings went un-rowed.
The first head-race of the season took place about a month ago in north Lincolnshire. At less than 3k and on a river that is merely a big, straight drainage ditch, the Husband and his mate thought it would be an ideal first race to have a go at, and put it forward that they could enter in a double, not with any expectation of doing particularly well, but as a first-time experience, a bit of fun. This was greeted with much humming and ha-ing and prevarication until - hey presto! - the entry list was closed. Through gritted teeth this was accepted: we were down there anyway as Daughter #3 was racing in a double and then a quad. More frustration ensued:  more revised training schedules, broken coaching appointments, more reminding that the Husband and friends wouldn't be racing together at any point.
Imagine his surprise when he got an email (marked high priority, natch) with a boat-list up for the next head-race a week hence (on a notoriously bendy river) containing....yes, the Husband and his LTR chums. With less than seven days to practise for it. Never rowed as a crew.... Assuming that the mick was being taken, they rearranged their work commitments to squeeze in a few sessions on the water. And yes, you've guessed it, when they arrived for the first one, they were told they couldn't go out on the water that night....Well, an explosion was due, and it happened. A few home truths were delivered. And from that time on things seemed to get a bit easier. A second early morning practice session was arranged and encouraging noises made. The head-race itself was windy, choppy, nerve-racking, included a minor crash (at a bend - bow had only steered the quad twice!), but they came away grinning from ear to ear at the achievement and enthused beyond measure. And that's where they all are this morning, happily going up and down the river.
But why the stupid delays and aggravations? You would think that the club would want new blood to swell their ranks - particularly dedicated and enthusiastic blood. Not to mention the membership money! The problem, I believe, is the hierarchical nature of the set up. The junior section runs like an oiled machine, thanks to one person who gives up an unconscionable amount of time to organise it. Everyone knows what they're doing, when they're doing it, and with whom. The older rowers, the ones who have kids are fine, relaxed, helpful, keen to offer advice and even coaching. The middle section tend to be in their late twenties, early thirties, single, unchilded, and range from flint-eyed monomaniacs to swivel-eyed loons. There is a lot of testosterone about, a lot of competitive antler-butting and, as goes with the territory, an aversion to incomers - particularly those who just might - one day - end up as competition. I rest my case.

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