Fairbairn Cup 2015 – King’s Alumni M1

In the autumn in England, the leaves turn brown and fall to the earth, and
begin to rot away in the cold November rain. The alumni rower is very much
like one of these falling leaves, except that in a few small corners of the
leaf, there is a smattering of green that is stubbornly unwilling to let go,
like a belt that is stretched on its last hole following Christmas dinner.
Every year therefore it transpires that the leaf that is most the most
convinced of continuing greenness organises an alumni crew to row in
Fairbairns. This is a long and arduous process involving many different
forms of communication and cajoling, and meets generally with some level of
success, in that usually some replies are received. Occasionally one of the
people replying doesn’t immediately have a good enough excuse as to why they
can’t attend (going to Brazil only narrowly won out in one potential coxes
mind over seeing Matt Main in lycra again), and therefore puts a tentative
yes down while they go away to plot something just a little bit special this
time around. This year recruitment was hampered by the other, younger,
alumni boat snapping up a whole load of people who would normally have been
gullible enough to volunteer. Happily though, and perhaps somewhat
miraculously, enough people signed up for the boat in good time, and
everything was set.

Then, with about 24-48 hours to go people started to really engage with the
process. Suddenly, inspiration was found and the excuses started flowing. A
variety of illnesses, pregnant wives having to go into hospitals and so on
meant that all of a sudden the boat was missing 2 rowers and a cox. To add
to the problems, for some reason I now forget (we will just say it was the
incompetence of the current men’s captain, as it wouldn’t have happened in
my day), there was also a distinct lack of a boat to row in. As people had
actually taken time off work in order to come, failure to resolve these
problems was not an option, and so I set about ringing everyone I knew who
could potentially help out. Our main saviours in this case were Chesterton
RC who allowed us to borrow a boat, a rower and a cox. Still short a person
however, I needed to keep some level of continuity by finding a skinny
ginger person with a dubious level of banter to replace the withdrawn Matt
Tancock. Fortunately KCBC have been cultivating just such a person in Joe
Gaffney, who agreed, to everyone’s relief and gratitude to bring the average
age down by about 5 years and average training level to above zero.

As the day of the race dawned, we realised that some of the mishaps had been
distinctly to our advantage. Having borrowed a boat, we also acquired pretty
much sole use of the Queens’ boathouse mens changing facilities. Also, being
closer to the start meant that we wouldn’t have to tire ourselves unduly
with having to warm up. Not having King’s baldes was solved by making the
younger alumni crew bring them down to us (I actually have no idea why they
did this). On the downside, the borrowed boat was bowrigged meaning that
choosing a stroke posed some problems. Here, fortuitously a solution was
found by utilising the deep understanding that prolonged alumni friendship
and real world scheming can bring. So when inevitably Chris Smith turned up
late, he found everyone else sitting in the boat, with only the stroke seat
left for him to occupy.

After marshalling, which was mostly self-directed as this year there didn’t
actually seem to be anyone on the bank, it was race time. Keeping the rate
relatively steady, a good start was made and a race rhythm found. Going past
the boathouse, where everyone who hadn’t been in Cambridge for ages wanted
to see what was happening with the new building, passed without serious
incident and then coming round into the reach we could start to look at
where we were in terms of other crews in the race. Peterhouse behind were
not gaining too much initially, which was good, as I knew one of the people
in the boat quite well and didn’t want to get overtaken by them. FaT, ahead,
seemed to have managed to find some people who were less fit even than us
and therefore seemed to be slowly coming towards us (the closing speed of
two slow things is really rather slow). The reason for race plans it to
prevent a rush of blood to the head causing overall defeat, and while the
temptation was there to raise the rating to above 30 and chase FaT down, we
decided to stick to the original plan of making sure everyone got to the
finish in a state where we could actually row home again. However, we did
continue to gain (as did Peterhouse behind, but never really enough to
trouble us), and coming through the gut and onto first post reach there
seemed a very real chance that it would only take a mild screw up on their
part to allow us to overtake. Sadly their competence held, and they crossed
the line approximately a length ahead.

Post-race we met up with the other alumni crew and then rowed back to the
boathouse (which while marginally further to row than King’s, was closer to
the pub) in great style, having actually had a bit of practice. Finally we
all ended up in the pub, which after all was mostly why people had come in
the first place. At some point later the results came out, and we didn’t
seem to have done terribly, which was about what we had thought.

The crew, which owing to increasing senility I had to look at a picture to
remind me of, consisted of:

B. Mark Hancock
2. Chris Diamond
3. Jason McEwen
4. Simon Emmings
5. Chris Braithwaite
6. Matt Main
7. Joe Gaffney
S. Chris Smith
Cox. James Tidy