For better oar worse, I'm talking rowlocks!

PUBLISHED: 12:42 06 April 2006 | UPDATED: 11:39 04 May 2010

Roving reporter Ben Jones

Roving reporter Ben Jones

ONLY in Britain, in my view, could we hold such a thing as the Boat Race dear to our hearts. Imagine selling the idea of it to an American: So, tell me why my company should invest in your event. Well, it s two teams, who just row along a freezing-col

ONLY in Britain, in my view, could we hold such a thing as the Boat Race dear to our hearts.

Imagine selling the idea of it to an American:

"So, tell me why my company should invest in your event."

"Well, it's two teams, who just row along a freezing-cold stretch of river, until one of them crosses the finishing line first."

"I see. How do they decide who competes?"

"It's the same two teams every year."

"Does anything else happen?"

"No, not really."

"Don't call us, we'll call you."

It's never been an event which has captured my imagination, I must say. The fact that Oxford won this year concerns me not a jot.

I shan't lose any sleep, worry or curse the air that our team from nearby Cambridge lost out.

I am, of course, happy that the Cambridge crew uses a stretch of the Great Ouse, at Ely, to practise. But, having said that, they can practise anywhere as far as I'm concerned.

Frankly, I don't think I've ever got much hope of developing an interest in the race if I don't even know which river flows through Ely, a fact I was embarrassingly picked up on over the weekend.

"The Cambridge crew has quite a strong connection with the River Nene, doesn't it?" I ask Mark Goddard, of the Isle of Ely Rowing Club.

"The River Ouse, yes," he replies, about as tactfully as he can muster.

(Later on, I'm also given a clip around the ear by Terry Overall for my pitiful knowledge of rivers. This is turning out to be a painful mistake, as well as an embarrassing one).

I thought the Boat Race Bash, Sunday's homage to the Oxford-Cambridge Thames skirmish, was going to be rather more fun.

I don't like attending public fund-raising events. I try to avoid them, as a rule.

It's something about having to dip into my pocket at every turn that I don't like.

I'd only been in Jubilee Gardens for five minutes before I had to form out for a commemorative pin badge and a raffle ticket.

The true purpose - and possibly the most painful aspect - of my visit is yet to come. I've promised to "feel the burn" on the rowing machine for a few minutes, which should be a sure-fire test of my fitness if ever there was one.

As part of the day, the Rowing Club's members are rowing the distance from Ely to Putney, the traditional start of the Boat Race - about 130km.

I've said I will give my 30 yards-worth to the effort and I can't back out now.

I try to look as composed as I possibly can throughout this rather sadistic exercise, and fail miserably - much to the obvious pleasure of those around me.

I don't care what people say, exercise is for fools. Clearly, one person who shares this view is former Mayor of Ely Philip Eden, who turns up in a Lagonda, the likes of which I can only dream.

The car belongs to Rowing Club president Martin Whitworth, who is suitably pleased with himself.

Philip likes to travel in style, as we know - anyone who drives for Grey's of Ely could not possibly be used to anything less than absolute luxury - so to see him arrive in this manner should surprise no-one.

After my health-inducing burst on the rowing machine, a hot dog is in order (another £2 gone).

This is followed by a stroll around the event, where the aforementioned Mr Eden disobeys that cardinal rule: Never start a conversation with a man who is in the process of eating a greasy meat-based snack.

"How are you, Ben?"

"Mmmmmmmmmmmnnnupppppf."

It's no surprise that it's a rather brief tête-à-tête.

I could hang around and find out if I've won a telly in the raffle, but I think there's more chance of Sheffield Hallam University winning the Boat Race.

Besides, I'll only be asked to donate much-needed funds to some cause or other.

So, the Boat Race can disappear from my thoughts for another year, at least. My sporting attention will now be occupied with such trifles as the World Cup, the Ryder Cup and The Ashes re-match.

I make no apology for this. I'm sure you will understand. The Thames can return to normal, Cambridge will no doubt try even harder next year - and Philip Eden will surely upgrade to an Aston Martin DB7.

And, if the worst comes to the worst, heck, I'll just buy a new telly and be done with it.

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