Friday, 16 January 2009

Oi coxing, keep your grubby hands off my Ch'i!

I have just returned from a morning on the Isis, coxing. It was mild. The sky was white spray-painted pink. The trees along the banks were bare and still, but the moss and grass were gently glowing - there is something child-friendly about the winter now. There was only one other boat out on the river, now dark green. We were joined by chubby geese plonking in from the banks.

I feel more like my cloudless, pre-write-up self today. I recognised the difference when one of the crew members complained to the coach half way through the outing that my calls were not aggressive enough to push their stroke. I cared enough to get a little more race-crazy in the second half, but I felt detached, like I was watching myself, and barely a trace of shame. Oh, appropriate detachment, you truly are lovely! Please stay.

Even when rower-woman apologised to me at the bike racks (it is bad form to criticise a cox in front of the crew, something about needing to maintain his or her veneer as top dog so that other crew members don't decide not to listen just as their heads are being knocked off by a short bridge) and even when another crew member said to me on the ride back to College "How bullshit was that comment?", I just didn't engage and it didn't require any vein-swelling suppression either. I have considered that my body is trying to help me out, to save my pep, my vim, my Ch'i, so to speak, for the battle with Little Bastard (although, probably relatedly, we've agreed on a few issues lately. We're not quite meeting for Christmas in the trenches, but we're OK).

It's fascinating to me to observe how strikingly the morale of the rowers diminishes by any drag of the boat, or indeed any sense that there is not enough power or a steady rhythm. These seem like big things that should be alarming, but they're made up of very small things that each person in the boat can work on. When the boat just doesn't feel right (like rowing through cement or as if it's sitting on a rolling pin), and then, god forbid, the cox hesitates or makes an incorrect call, most rowers tend to become terribly gloomy or snippy and very quickly. This then dominoes creating more devastation among all but the very few (Zen rowers, they're called). Then once focus is regained (usually by one short, sharp call) and there's a spot of long, strong gliding, the boat lifts, spirits lift, and the cox is the hero once more.

Yes, ladies and gents, it's a fickle, sometimes cruel world, this coxing business. You can be spat at (rather than "out" - they're desperate to keep coxes) quicker than you can say "Next stroke, stern six to three quarter slide. Go."

I wouldn't want to suggest that rowing is a microcosm or anything so ridiculous, but it certainly dramatises a form of mania. My emotional state, however, is drawing a clear, straight line on the top end of the spirits graph. It's been a good few days.

Plus Kate luvvy Winslet has finally bagged a Golden Globe and, as Oprah says, she has real boobs that do what real boobs do.

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