What a curious thing is the Boat Race. Always known as the University Boat Race or the Oxford Cambridge Boat Race, we now have to call it the Xchanging Boat Race.
This does rather detract from the Corinthian image of the event. Personally, I have no idea what Xchanging does as a company. It sounds like an international franchise of bureaux de change. This would not be entirely inappropriate as both universities have a history of bringing in gifted rowers from around the world and giving them a place at the university just so that they can row in the race. Some unkind commentators have suggested that some of these rowers might not quite have been up to the academic standards usually required for Oxbridge. Not this year, however. The Oxford crew boasted the American twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (which, if I've ever heard a made-up name...). These two are clearly not thickies as they won a $65m settlement from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg after claims they came up with the idea for the social networking website.
But surely someone could have found a better sponsor. How about the Oxford Shirt Company or Cambridge Audio? The Boat Race Company "estimates" that the race has a global audience of more than 120 million viewers, making it the most viewed single-day sporting event in the world. Others may reckon the viewing figure is somewhat lower. I wonder what figure made it on to the sponsorship proposal document.
Nevertheless, it is an event that captures the public imagination. I think this is partly due to the history of the race and partly because, like most great sporting battles, it comes down to two teams slugging it out. It does also help that the rules are pretty easy to follow. Whoever comes first wins... even students from red-brick universities can follow that. When I was filming Trigger Happy TV we came up with a plan to unload 10,000 plastic ducks into the river just before the race started. We were all set to go and were waiting at the assigned bridge for the ducks to arrive. Unfortunately, we were let down by an Italian lorry driver who got lost and eventually turned up 15 minutes after the race had ended. I'm sure that, dumb as this lorry driver was, were he able to row well he would have coasted into a place at Balliol.
In hindsight, I'm probably quite glad we didn't do it. I grew up in a divided household. My mother's family were Cambridge alumni while my father's side were all Oxford. My dad went to Oriel and I went to school in the city so I do probably lean towards the dark blues. If I had managed to sabotage the event, my family would have never forgiven me. Mind you, the most memorable moments do come from when things go wrong. I remember watching the Cambridge boat sink in 1978 and howling with laughter. Unfortunately, I was in a pub in Cambridge along with several members of my "Cambridge" family.
I love the fact that the term "boat race" has become part of the popular idiom. In Cockney rhyming slang it means "face" as in "David Mellor's got an ugly boat race". Has anyone ever actually heard a Cockney using rhyming slang? I'm pretty sure that, outside of Guy Ritchie movies and Mary Poppins, the whole concept is an elaborate hoax. My theory is that some Oxbridge student, doing a sociological paper on poor people, wandered into an East End pub where some likely lads decided to have a bit of fun with him. Three hours later, he staggered out of the Pickled Pelican with enough material for two PhDs. He raced back to college and stayed up all night writing up this fantasy world of "apples and pears" and "dog and bones". The moment his paper was published, it became accepted as fact because, after all, an Oxbridge student had written it. Little did anybody know that the student in question was an American from Ohio with an IQ of 42, but who just so happened to be a very gifted rower...
Anyway, got to go. I'm off down the river to meet some chums in a pub. It's a tradition we have every year. We have our own "boat race" involving 10 pints of beer. It's a lot of fun, although I've never actually managed to see the race. Ah well... bottoms up.
I had a top day of hunt sabotage yesterday. I clambered into neighbouring gardens and stole vast amounts of hidden Easter eggs before their hunts began...Reuse content