Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.

Camden, for the soul

On the first chilly day of autumn, I walked out of the house for work to find my brain clicking into Camden cravings.

I’m not talking about the food options, the bashing vibes, the shopping or drinking ports.

That would be too much detail.

I’m talking about the warming feeling I get when I’m here.

In Camden Town, at sunset, on a crisp day. It feels like belonging, it feels like home.

I could climb under the cobble stones and sleep there for the night.

And wake up to crawl back up from beneath them, to see Camden in sunrise.

Getting to attention, dating under the spotlight

My week of complexities

One day last summer, having had a fun packed weekend swiping other people’s Tinder, I decided to put myself out there and started talking to this really cute tall ginger guy. We hit it off really well. Others were popping up trying to cut us, mostly entertaining, however the ginger guy was really clicking with me, not letting off having interesting discussions, sometimes cheeky, other serious, other inquisitive. We kept on chatting til late. And the next day he got in touch again. Same again, long chats for many hours. By the third day, we were messaging and realised he was going away for the weekend so assuming we would have no contact, wished him fun.

We kept texting until and through to the following evening during his flight and as he landed in customs. I fell asleep shortly after and woke up the next morning to messages and a voice message saying how much he is looking forward to meeting me when back. I had just woken up, 6am in UK for rowing training when more voice messages and texts were coming through. I had to arrange catching up after he would wake up, he wanted to continue chatting when I had to go out. He explained he was meeting friends in Minnesota to see Coldplay, and after the gig, there he comes around and there he is again with numerous texts. We spent the weekend chatting between me going to training and him going to bed in a different time zone. Whether he was out at the dinner or the gig, he was in touch soon as he had the chance. Funny me having just come back from a holiday in Cornwall staying in Port Isaac I was streaming Doc Martin and his number kept popping up on my phone interrupting the series. I thought at this rate it would take me months to watch it. Seeing the messages and his interest was really sweet, I started greeting the pic on his number every time it would appear. I even thought this guy will go down as the American in the sleeveless red top that kept popping up in the Port Issac’s Cornish landscape. I would say ‘hello baby’ and then switch off the tv so I could text him avoiding the rest of my neighbours seeing I was chrome casting my texts.

He came back to London, we were hot on it, getting more romantic sharing what we would like to experience together. It was really sweet. But there was one thing I could not understand, why this guy that invests his time in me is not actually asking me out?

I must admit I contemplated shutting the conversation down. He is over cautious I felt, something not quite free flowing as I would have expected at this stage. It’s been nearly a week of texting 24/7, practically having a virtual relationship, why not meet? I probed him if he is shy, he admitted a little, yes. We carried on chatting, romanticizing about the things we would like to do when we would finally meet. The walks, the park, the riverside bar. His last message landed in my mailbox as I had again fallen asleep late for texting til early Wednesday morning. I woke up the next day and his contact details lost from WhatsApp. I must say it took me by surprise and reminded me how exposed and vulnerable we can be sometimes. He didn’t return that evening. A colleague had mentioned dropping a picture online for identification so off I went. Dropped his pics and off they went into Google. At first, I had to squeeze my eyes and take a step back from the screen to have a walk about to regain my focus. An hour later I knew most about the guy, a well known american sport player. The benefits of noone watching NBA in England. I had a fake name for a accomplished athlete. There online, I found a forum amongst other things where a bunch of girls are ripping him to pieces about his dating routines, a few years ago. For a split second, I judged him but then I stopped. This boy is a child of this earth as everyone else and given he is high profile in the US I can understand how it can be difficult meeting someone that is not after his multi million cash or self promotion. Who am I to judge him? Surely I have come across as a dick to people I broke the heart of. His ladies just have an audience and therefore talk. My exes can talk too but who really cares in the end?

I asked myself how would’ve managed now, knowing who he is. I would have definitely made his challenge trice as hard. Call it my insecurity, call it his easy access to women and anything really… I know, money can’t buy love and he is probably putting on a brave face managing weird attention whilst seeking out to be loved. In many ways, don’t we all?

Update 31 August

So he returned and hey ho, off we went onto a daily ping pong of messages. On a standard evening, we spent 3-4 hours together exchanging around 60 text and voice calls. On a light evening, 25 messages, on the understanding I was ‘beat’ from training and although he wanted to chat more, he would let me rest.

More messages kept flowing in the coming days. I can’t wait to meet, missed our chats etc. The magic was in full spin. So here we got to, when are we going to meet? Date, time and place set, checked in with each other the night before, all set. Until the day itself came. Sent a quick ‘how are you getting on’ message, and nothing. I was at work, which would have met him nearby. Nothing. I read on the news the next day he has just been flown back to the US to test train for a well known NBA team. That didn’t work out. Nor we ever spoke again. Who said dating pro athletes was ever fun? A well known rocker’s wife once said basketball players in the US are the worse to entertain the idea of a romantic relationship with. She’d been married to a rock n roller, with all the divorces, flings and dramas to tell her story in perspective.

The guy I was talking to, is now settled back on the southern West Coast sand, doing something else in sport, retired from the NBA. Once, there was a saying

‘your voice gets me to attention’, to the soundtrack of My Hero by the Foo Fighters.

Isn’t fame a gift that never truly gives yet always pays?

What I learnt from not running the marathon

On Sunday, London hosted the annual marathon event, with thousands of participants running the 26 something miles.

The weather was a sizzling 24C with clear skies posing a number of health risks even for the most experienced athletes.

I stood by in Canary Wharf, planning initially to stay only for a few minutes, which turned into hours, after seeing, and being mesmerised by the Kenyan athletes. Their energy is unfathomable, unaffected by the elements, running solidly on their feet, unstoppable towards their own personal target to a medal. Following closely a number of vehicles with cameras indicated the presence of someone important and there you had it, Sir Mo Farah powering through. I was saddened to hear nearing the end of his run that he was seeking a bottle of water, only to be ignored by bystanders wanting to take the best shots as up close as possible. The inhumane treatment of fame, in full display.

Kenya’s Elliud Kipchoge followed by camera crews during the Virgin London Marathon 2018

Wheelchairs, the visually impaired, following through continued the display of incredible strength of spirit.

Not too long after, people aiming for the 3 hour finish mark, powered through. Pouring sweat and having sustained a considerable amount of sun exposure, gradually more and more were slowing down, even stopping to a walking pace. That was the point, the energy of the crowds and their value, really shined through. At the point where really experienced runners were stopping crowds gathered to encourage on, shouting names of people they didn’t know, edging them to continue on. Strangers, flooding their energy to strangers. The effect was magic happening before our eyes. The runners’ faces lightening up, pace quickening, invaluable seconds saved.

The human endurance has layers unexplored by the majority of us. It doesn’t entertain fear or weakness as concepts. It merely facilitates strength. The psychological status is about completing the task with ease, and resourcing a little more energy for overachieving, unravelling that extra bit of energy as it replenishes itself from the invisible source of confidence.

The fear, and doubt gradually appeared in the lesser trained athletes. You didn’t need to have a discussion. Their feelings stood in front of their faces, attached like a bubble of energy, with rights restricted to the owner exclusively.The take over of these feelings, may as well had been rolled out in a banner. External conditions had made their internal challenge furthermore complex.

This in itself is a very intense experience. It places the human spirit and our conditioning, in the heart of the matter. Challenging mental energy and channelling as well.

Every year I forget… Until I stand by again to watch. And every year I read another layer, of someone running past, a different story, equally important as the very first one, let it be that of the Kenyans or Mo Farah for that matter.

The invaluable value of encouragement. One step at a time, through the stages of being and feeling.

Everything has to do with the mind, and with the limits we have put in and the fact we can overcome them to break them. And what I have done is doping of the mind.

Until the next marathon, exploring the well of our course.

Rowing along…

Boat races, the heads and the regattas...

Being in a boat, moving at a speed powered by your own movement and force, is a feeling unlike any other.

If you are not convinced, try hiring a boat on a lake, enjoy the sensations it brings about.

The water has calming qualities. It reflects all there is and for a rower it is the mirror of the investment made in training, on land or water. Rowing is the ultimate competition with oneself.

The Boat Races, River Thames, UK 2018
Docklands Head 2017, East London, UK

University rowing crews, whilst studying, instead of joining their peers at the pub, they opt in for the sound of the alarm at 5am, getting in their boats in all weather, come rain or freezing conditions. Or the bravery of the learners turning up at clubs across the country, strengthening mentally and physically so they can lift their boats, catch up with more experienced crews, fine-tune techniques that didn’t even know existed, and balancing this, with work and adult life commitments. Or the juniors, set up in a single scull, a fine balancing act on a tiny boat sliding away at the gentle stroke, at a rate, self maneuvering in windy, and tide against weather conditions. Or the adult master sculler, competing well past their forties, unlike competitors in any other sport.

Crews during an outing in the port of Pireaus, Athens, Greece 2017

Scullers opposite Greenwich, London 2015

Searching out for the ultimate experience visit a rowing competition near you. There are events held on the river, on the coast, at the docks, or a marina, in boats of all sizes. Note the community spirit and peer support.

I am a four year old rower. That’s a baby by competitive standards, yet having transfered from gymnastics, a new lease of sporting life has rolled out in front of me when every other athlete I know, let it be from NBA or Rugby, retired by the time they reached the third decade of their life.I am not simply sharing my insights of the rowing sport, but a small sample of experiences I gained in my infant years, shown through the photos here taken from a range of races, club houses and events.

Head of the Charles Regatta, Boston, USA 2015

Royal Henley Regatta, UK 2015
Blisters and all, being a rower means you have a home at a boat house on any corner of the earth.

I welcome you to some experiences, many call home.