Getting Spoons in Summer VIIIs with Trinity M1 was as much an ‘Oxford Experience’ as any
They say that you should leave Oxford with either a Blue, a First, or a Spouse. The one thing I am sure I’ll be leaving with is Spoons. But I’m actually glad for it. (No doubt Oriel and Christchurch rowers will be sniggering by this point—do read on, and snigger more).
To provide a bit of context: I started rowing this year (along with a scary number of us in M1, in Trinity term). In Hilary, whilst in a ‘chonky’ M3 boat, I managed to get blades with a bit of power, and a serious lack of technique. In fact, the great irony is that I have never even rowed past the gut in a race: in Hilary we bumped too early, and in Trinity our concessions were short and sweet. I quickly became known amongst Trinity College Boat Club (TCBC) as the ‘Air Conditioner’: most of my power being directed as a gust of breeze towards stroke seat.
We came into Trinity term with a fairly truncated club. Half of our rowers vanished into the ether of finals. Some of our more experienced members decided that they would rather give their hand at a ‘beer boat’ and get blades (which, unfortunately, they did not obtain). 75% of our M1 boat were home-grown Oxford rowers who had not rowed before university (unfortunately we neither have the budget, nor fragile egos, to spend thousands of pounds on Olympians).
So Division 1 loomed over us: a ‘stacked’ crew with an average weight of an under-16s lightweight squad. We were, proudly, the only men’s Division 1 boat to have a woman this term: our stroke, and only Blues rower.
Expectations were not high. Our own college chaplain apparently remarked that it ‘wouldn’t be much of a show’. Alas, it is true that we only ever paddled past boathouse island. And one of our cox’s motivational pre-race speeches involved a safety talk for ‘when we get bumped’—truly inspiring stuff.
Every day, we pushed off from the landing, paddled up to the racing line, and took our sweet time to spin as we watched the likes of Oriel M1 ‘tap-turning’, or listened to Balliol do their pre-race chants. Like steaks being flaunted in front of hungry lions, we would row through the gut—fresh-meat for veteran div 1 rowers. Nevertheless, despite getting bumped every day, we held our own more than most of the Blues-stacked boats expected, reaching the gut on three out of four of the days.
A truly Oxford Experience
On the final day of racing, pushing away from the bank with our safety helmets on—and our cox with a sign, ‘Beware: Slow Moving Vehicle’, on her back—we couldn’t help but enjoy the moment.
Even after receiving our final, and fastest, bump – which was undoubtedly disappointing—we perked up, put on the speaker, and played Britney Spears as we rowed towards boathouse island singing along. To make up for our lack of racing past boathouse island, we cranked up the rate to a 32 burst to soak in the…well, Spoons?
However, I couldn’t help but feel that our experience of getting Spoons, though in many ways disappointing, also felt somehow quintessentially ‘Oxford’.
The Oxford tradition, after all, has historically been about amateur sport. Roger Bannister, the man who broke the 4-minute mile, had put on his first pair of spikes at the age of 17 down at Iffley track in 1946. In 1947, well before he broke his record, he had begun to show promise with a 4:26 mile time, with only three half-hour training sessions a week. Bannister is a bit of a legend and personal hero. Not because he broke the 4-minute mile, but because he did so as someone who epitomises the ‘amateur’ tradition—what you think of when you watch Chariots of Fire.
TCBC M1 broke no such record. In fact, there are only one or two of us who can do a sub-7 erg. I also realise that I have now officially written an article about rowing, so I really have hit rock bottom.
The point is, though, that throwing together a group of misfits into a boat and racing in Division 1 is exactly what the ‘Oxford experience’ means, and I will always be honoured to have been a part of it.