There is nothing more thought provoking than doing things for the last time. As our move to the countryside becomes ever closer and more of a reality, Jerry and I find ourselves with a long list of Big Smoke must-dos and last time evers. None more poignant for us than watching the annual Oxbridge Boat Race which passes by our very doorstep each year, dear Reader. Jerry and I have ventured out every year, rain or shine, to stand by the water’s edge, cheering on the light and dark blues as they whizz past towards the finishing post at breakneck speed. Messing about on the river is one of Jerry’s true passions and his glory days as captain of his university boat club are forever etched into the fabric of our everyday life with the presence of a sawn-off oar outside the attic bedroom. In fact, it was rowing which made us visit our little corner of suburbia many many years ago before we even moved to London. One cold and wet afternoon, a youthful Margot stood on Barnes Bridge cheering on a rather dashing Jerry as his boat and crew flew past under the bridge in the Head of the River race. There is nothing like young love to make one stand in the pouring rain waiting endlessly for 8 lycra-clad chaps in a boat that resembles an insect from the air! I thought the same then as I do now: rowing is a hopeless spectator sport. Hours of terminal boredom as one marks time before a brief glimpse of a tiny human water boatman. Blink and one has completely missed the crew which one has been waiting hours to see go past. I did, however, change my mind, once, briefly, when I bumped into James Cracknell in his rowing lycra by Hammersmith Bridge. I can only say that I was rendered speechless by how…..TALL…he was. Never mind anything else, dear Reader! Moving on from lycra…..the view from Barnes Bridge downstream towards Hammersmith Bridge and then upstream towards Chiswick is one of immeasurable beauty and is ordinarily tranquil. I thought on that very day as Jerry sailed past all those years ago that I simply had to live on this stretch of the Thames at some point in my life and after 5 years of living a stone’s throw from Waterloo, we finally made the move to that wonderful piece of riverside. I have loved living by the river ever since and have walked the tow path in many guises: holding hands with Jerry as his new wife, with a bouncing Primrose in her Baby Bjorn, avoiding splashes from Primrose’s first attempt at riding a tricycle, walking Barbara and Tom’s wonderful boy Tigga, waddling along heavily pregnant with Poppy hand in hand with my preschooler and finally holding Poppy’s podgy sweet hand as she tested out her first pair of wellies. Memories shaped by such a small patch of riverbank….
….and that brings me to the 159th Oxford and Cambridge Boat race and our last, living in the dear old cottage. Our ritual of waiting until the coverage shows the Chiswick Eyot and then making a dash to the slip duly completed, we stood to see the boats hurtling under Barnes Bridge in the distance and past our patch before the finishing line at Mortlake.
It never ceases to amaze me how many boats seem to follow the two crews. The wake was considerable this year and all was suddenly awash with stormy water. Poppy was delighted to be able to get her wellies well and truly wet!
Boat race over, we trudged home, the four of us, to sit by the fire, drink tea, eat hot cross buns and to ponder new beginnings. For it would seem, that with last time evers, there must be doing things for the first time. Moving to the countryside MUST be top of the list for first times and dear Reader, I may just have some news for you on that score!