It’s fair to say that my student days, back in the dim and distant past, were not spent pursuing a healthy lifestyle. I did devote a reasonable amount of time to poring over dusty legal textbooks, it’s true, but the rest of my waking hours were mostly occupied with socialising and drinking, and not always in that order. For one term, though, I did try my hand, in a pretty desultory way, at rowing, largely because it was something I felt you Ought to Do when at Oxford (that’s me at seven with terrible hair and an even worse technique).
I say “rowing”, but the reality was a long way from what I do now. I was catastrophically unfit and the rest of the eight wasn’t much better. We didn’t train very much as we all agreed early morning outings were out of the question, so were almost always out of time. We were so bad, in fact, that we didn’t even qualify for Eights Week, to my intense and tearful disappointment (this picture shows the race in which we failed to make the cut). So despite the fact that it was the era of Dan Topolski and True Blue, when university rowing was pretty damned exciting, the women of OUWBC were as far beyond my radar as it’s possible to imagine.
Until now, that is. For a mere 29 years later, I have my very own pair of dark blue Oxford wellies, courtesy of the lovely people at Hunter Boots.
What I like most about them isn’t the undeniably fabulous quality – that confident little squishy bounce with every step and the soft, thick rubber (though that’s pretty special). It’s not the distinctive Hunter label at the front. It’s not even the classy dark blue colour. No, what I really, really love about them is that they have the OUWBC logo on them. Because that makes me feel pretty darned special. Like I’ve finally made the crew (only without the months of punishing training, tough ergos and crew selection).
Women’s rowing has come a long way in a generation. Back when I was a student nobody really took the women (or girls, as they were usually called) seriously. They didn’t have decent facilities. They didn’t make it on to the BBC. And they certainly weren’t allowed to race on the Tideway. But women rowers have continued to row, getting better and stronger and faster, and happily times have started to change. It’s silly, really, but having my very own OUWBC wellies makes me feel a tiny part of that. Even if my own contribution to women’s rowing at Oxford was more delta minus than alpha plus.
I’ll be wearing them with pride as I take to the Tideway to race that same, famous Boat Race course at the Vets’ Head this weekend, and I’m hoping that a little of the OUWBC magic might just rub off on me. You never know, after all these years maybe my day for sporting success has finally come.
You can buy your own Hunter Boat Race boots, either in Oxford dark blue or in that gorgeous, minty Cambridge light blue, exclusively from Hunter either online here or at 83/85 Regent Street, London W1, for £100.