Saturday, 3 April 2010

The Boat Race

This very English annual event takes place this afternoon on a stretch of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake, as it has done nearly every year since Cambridge first challenged Oxford in 1829 (with the exception of the two world wars).   So far Cambridge have won 79 times and Oxford 75, with one dead heat.   The course is 4 miles and 374 yards long, and is rowed upstream on an incoming tide.  

Cambridge win in 2007

It is estimated that 250,000 people will be watching from the river banks, and of course millions more on television, most of them fervently supporting one side or the other whether they have any connection or not.

There have been all sorts of dramas in the Boat Race's long history - collisions, mutinies, sinkings, collapses from exhaustion, injuries, family legends.   Nowadays the crews tend to be large American post-graduate students, but in the old days they were all genuine undergraduates and to get a rowing Blue was the height of any young oarsman's ambition.   Boat Race Night was a favourite theme of P. G. Wodehouse, when the young Bertie Wooster and his chums would celebrate a little too freely, knock a policeman's helmet off and earn themselves a night in the cooler and an appearance before the beak in the morning.

Good luck to both crews this afternoon.   I am an Oxford supporter (my father got his degree there in the 1920s) and I expect all my family to be so too.   Come on Oxford!

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