It was Monmouth regatta this weekend, so we had all hands on deck. In the past my duties have been confined to sweating it out in the kitchen, frying bacon for the masses, relieved only by a brief stint on empacher numbers and one lazy hour on the launch on a sunny afternoon. This year, though, it was all change, with Girl on the River being awarded something of a promotion.
I’ve always considered that there’s a definite hierarchy when it comes to jobs at a regatta. Obviously on a cold, wet day anything outdoors is unappealing, but on a hot, cloudless weekend, when the regatta has a jolly, British, village fête feel to it, certain al fresco tasks are distinctly desirable.
Top of my list has always been launch companion. None of the responsibility of umpiring; none of the stress of driving; just sitting looking decorative and admiring the racing. There are downsides, though. You need a bladder of steel (it would be indelicate to elaborate)… oh, and nobody brings you Pimms from the sponsors’ lunch.
Vying for pole position is the landing stage, helping boats on the water. On the upside, you get to paddle all morning – very welcome on a hot day; you get to chat to all the competitors (for a motormouth like me that’s a big plus); and you can see the racing pretty close to the finish. There’s plenty of entertainment, too, as people accustomed to boating in the opposite direction put their blades in back to front and even climb in facing the bow, wondering where their footplate went. Against that, though, you do have to deal with men (and it’s always men) who take 20 minutes to put their socks on at rush hour, and teenagers who fling their wellies at you and demand that you take their water bottles, shoes and even dirty plasters. You will also get extremely sunburnt feet; waterproof suncream only stays waterproof for so long, and flipflops leave some very bizarre tan marks.
If you want some shelter from the heat of the day, the tea tent is a pretty good option. Again, it’s sociable and you tend to meet people at their most relaxed. It’s not excessively demanding – there’s not much diplomacy involved in pouring tea – and as long as the food is good (and ours is), it’s a fairly cushty number. There’s only one fly in the ointment, though. Until such times as we put our prices up from 80p to £1, the mental arithmetic will continue to fox me. “So that’s 50p, plus two 80ps, a couple of £1s and …. has anybody got a calculator?”
This weekend, though, I think I discovered the perfect job: Race Control. Standing in a tent by the finish, and nicely shaded from the worst of the rays (always handy for a redhead), you’re truly at the heart of the regatta. You hear all of the umpire’s gossip, so are the first to know about disqualifications, re-rows, complaints and enquiries. You see the end of all the races and are in on the photo finishes. There’s always someone official around so difficult enquiries can be quickly deflected on to someone who knows what they’re doing. And when winning crews have to leave early, you even get to award medals and pots (provided you do this with enough panache, they’ll never know they were handed their medal by the oldest novice in town).
Best of all, you get to be in charge of things, which for a control freak like me is as good as it gets. Tasked with noting down the results, you get to make sure that they are Properly Recorded, in very best handwriting, and that the names and numbers all tally. Of course, there’s the odd stressful moment, when you’re desperately scouring the list to find a race that’s been rowed out of order, whilst craning to see who the crew without an empacher number was and simultaneously answering queries about points, prizes, scratched events and where the loos are. There’s also the occasional awkward customer – stressed parent, sullen teen, disgruntled coach – who’s not happy with how things are going. But that’s a small price to pay for being in the thick of things, especially when the jug of Pimms and tray of cakes appears from the sponsor’s lunch. Oh. Did I not say? I’ll do almost anything for cake.