1946-50, The wonderful years at University,Part 2

They tell me the purpose of university life over other modes of education is that it broadens the mind as well as the backside, the latter from hours of sitting in the Stack, mugging. In the first year Linda was too young to know she even had a father so I was able to take part in a lot of what went on in the college, but with time, her needs and those of Sophie were greater and as they came first, something had to give and rowing was the first to go.
Loving boats I naturally joined the Rowing Club and became a Fresher Oarsman, the lowest in the pecking order. We had racing shells and practice shells, these were the boats with the sliding seats and out-rigged rollocks similar to those used on the Thames on Boat Race Day. Then we had rowing boats variously termed the tubs or the punts in which we, the raw recruits, were trained, but the problem was that the people who were to teach us lowly creatures were also part of the first and second eights, so we had to wait until it suited them to teach us, after they had had their own spell of practice, and that could be anything up to four hours later, during which time one did nothing but chat in a desultory fashion.
There were other sides to rowing like going to the pub and watching a certain member chew wine glasses for a bet, but by and large apprenticeship in rowing like apprenticeship in anything else was merely a matter of learning to like being a dog’s-body and, at the age of twenty four years I found it hard. I graduated to rowing Bow, that is the oarsman farthest from the Cox, (perhaps it was something I said, or maybe some other reason), and I loved it, but it still entailed waiting nearly all day for the chance to get out in the boat. Why, you might reasonably ask, did you not clear off about your business and return four hours later? A sound question but unfortunately it does not take into account the vagaries of human nature. With only a few eights and as many tubs and a hoard of would-be Rowing Blues, there was strong competition for places and it could well be that the whole organisation of the afternoon took place just when you weren’t there.
I enjoyed those days on the river, I was tall which was good, I could handle an oar, which was essential and I was keen. When the tide was in we would row right down to Belfast Harbour, other times we went up as far as the weir and down to another, but the real pleasure was all in the rhythm. When everything was going well there was a poetry about the way the boat responded and we responded to it, which has to be experienced to be appreciated.
Alas, while the youngsters could relax in the boathouse, I had plumbing and paving and presents for the parties on my mind and worse, on my conscience. With the deepest regret I gave up after a year.
In second year we began to find our feet and in due time Rag Day came round when students commit mayhem and for some reason they get away with it. I was still cautious and not a little conscious of my advanced age, so I opted for the coward’s way out, collecting door to door in the morning and just making up the numbers in the afternoon. I was allocated a rather wealthy part of town and found that the greatest part of the job was walking up miles of driveways for a token pittance.
I knocked on one door and a strange young, married lady opened it, when I shook the tin she explained she hadn’t her bag and I should go round to the side entrance which I did, mystified nonetheless. In due course the side door opened and to offer the tin I would have had to enter the hall. When I left for the Navy my mother warned me never to enter a compartment where there was a woman on her own, and then she went on to lay out all the options open to the girl, none of which was in my interest. With this warning I stood at the door, arm and tin outstretched. With a strangely arch smile she offered me coffee inside. I refused.
When I returned to my mates I was chided for being chicken.

Categorized as General

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