Coniston campsite, Friday Afternoon, the sun is shining, the beer is flowing, chicken wings are sizzling on the barbie, the alpha males of the herd are jostling playfully, and popular campfire songs are being belted out, such as: ‘Scooby Scooby Dooo, where are you,….?’ and ‘Three Wheels on My wagon’.
One might have though that after learning from last year’s little episode on the M6, Zoe would have opted for a more glamorous location than the A50 at Stoke on Trent for her annual roadside picnic. But clearly the lure of the birthplace of Pots was too much to resist, even though the attending traffic policeman ultimately turned out to be somewhat unsympathetic and apparently disappointingly ugly in spite of the uniform. Anyway, I’m sure we have all secretly wanted to be given a mention by Sally Traffic on Radio 1, and at least the Camper Van had a full tank of fuel this time.
For those of us not stuck in the ensuing 25 mile tailback, thus began a memorable weekend in which the sun shone unceasingly making us wonder whether we had accidentally organised this year’s training camp in the African Bush rather than the Lake District. Indeed, Dr Erica Livingstone (we presume) was so convincingly confused that she brought along her ‘treetops’ style explorer’s tent, suitably raised on the back of her rugged 4×4 so as to elude entry by all venomous snakes, meat-hungry predators, biting insects, and other male club members. There were also reported sightings of The Right Honourable Lord Andrew Baden Powel in his green canvas expedition bivouac (or was that particular tent just part of the Coniston Museum’s outdoor historic display area?) Either way, the snores emanating from the stiffly blancoed Imperial canvas served as a distant reminder of what we were missing with Ian’s absence this year, whilst the noise also provided a useful landmark for finding your way to the toilet block in the dark.
The only problem we encountered was the ‘brisk’ Northerly wind, which made the lake more suitable for surfing than for rowing (even the sailors weren’t sailing) – although perhaps this was a welcome problem, since we were excused the slog of the Saturday afternoon outing, and forced to seek shelter in the Sailing Club instead. ‘Make sure you take on sufficient Carbs for the evening outing, at least 3 hours beforehand’ was the strict advice from the ever-enthusiastic Charlie, who had clearly failed to appreciate that Coniston Bluebird Bitter is renowned for its high Carb content and therefore deemed by Club Members to be a very suitable source of energy. And with Mike and Jen’s superb efforts in the kitchen taking just a little longer (and lumpier…) to prepare than expected we of course had no option but to push the three hour limit just a wee bit. Anyway, it would have been rude not to support the Sailing Club by boosting its bar takings. Did we get onto the water later on? I think so, but can’t quite remember, it was all a little blurry, although no doubt that sensation was solely caused by a mild case of seasickness.
Saturday evening saw a resumption of business in the Sailing Club bar, and as darkness fell we all witnessed a bright ginger flame in the western sky, initially though to be the lighting of one of the first Diamond Jubilee Beacons but on closer inspection proving to be Vice-Captain Dave glowing fiercely after a day in the sun.
Sunday morning provided a sensible start time for the first outing. Sensible? Well perhaps not, if you are a teenager, when nothing should happen before midday, and Beth and Lucy did an excellent job in getting out of bed at all, even if they were a scandalous 13 seconds late on parade. Mind you, if you do indeed arrive later than Walrus, that is the core definition of Late! Fortunately, their Enfieldesque tardiness did not prevent them from joining wholeheartedly in every outing and giving 100% commitment to the demands of teenage rowing (namely, trying to look cool and glamorous in spite of having been forced to sit in a stupid boat with lots of ‘old’ people). (‘Old’ meaning ‘Over 25’).
This year, the three Eights were crewed according to a careful selection procedure, unlike last year’s randomly mixed equality. Only the Club Captain held a copy of the strict rules that were applied in the process, but on observation it would seem that Rule One was to pick nearly all the best rowers for the Club Captain’s boat, and then also include Andy Skinner just to deflect accusations of ‘cherry picking’ the top crew. Anyway, at least Skinner got the chance to row in a winning boat, something he has not experienced for a while. Even then, it took two starts before the Olympic hopefuls could marginally creep ahead of the flagging Master’s crew, who had already held up their boat for 30 seconds whilst Charlie H recovered from a massive Crab, took time to spit out several teeth overboard, and rugby-style resumed the contest in spite of several cracked ribs, as if nothing had ever happened. (Nick ‘I’ve Got a Headache’ Maker please note).
Launching and landing the boats this year produced the usual quantity of entertainment, even if fewer shipwrecks than in previous years. No doubt this was because we were all a little older and wiser, and also because we have learned that when Gill says ‘Jump’…..you Jump! Unfortunately, Gill got her timing a little bit out this time so Emma’s leap onto the shore actually turned up into a fine imitation of those synchronised swimmers, who smile all the way to the bottom of the pool. Luckily, Emma’s natural onboard buoyancy responded to the laws of physics and she eventually shot up again onto the surface of the lake, which was fortunate since she is not the best of swimmers and might perhaps have been stretching the truth slightly when filling in the safety declaration on the club membership form. (It means swimming 50 metres in clothes along the surface of the water, Emma, rather than vertically down).
Rowing? Yes, we did some rowing, in-between the hiking/biking/holidaying. With water conditions generally too rough for easy exercises, Charlie ensured that we only attempted the difficult ones, such as listening to the cox and following Stroke. But if there was one useful exercise that we learned, it was the ‘early square’ which apparently will show wondrous improvement to our technique in a few week’s time, not to mention looking really cool in front of any rather tasty spectators at regattas (eyes in the boat, girls).
Many thanks to all the coxes who participated this year: in particular, to Gill for nearly drowning my wife (don’t worry, Gill, I’ve taken out plenty of life insurance….), to Oisin for looking the part now that he has grown into his cool sunglasses, and to Johnny and Sarah for waggling the rudder so that my own boat crashed from side to side in spite of perfect technique from its crew (there cannot have been any other explanation for the lack of balance).
Sadly, all good things come to an end and eventually it was time to strike camp and head back to civilisation. This should have been easy, but Charlie soon discovered that things that pop up easily (like his annoyingly fast-erecting Quecha tent) are not so simple to put back away again, so it took at least 5 club members the better part of an hour to ‘assist’ him in packing his bendy poles back into an impossibly small pouch. Thanks Charlie for your outstanding patience, your inspirational coaching ideas, and your touchingly misinformed belief that LBC members are not quite beyond salvation (yet).
Hopefully we shall return to Coniston next year for an event that is one of the highlights of the Club calendar, in a very special location. And don’t forget to bring the sun-cream…!