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Travel

A Big Saturday Out at... The Boat Race!

Getting drunk and making friends in high places on the banks of the Thames.

by Clive Martin
10 April 2012, 1:45pm

We were somewhere around Mortlake on the edge of the river, when the Pimm's began to take hold. I remember saying something like "Which direction are they racing in, anyway? Maybe we should go back to Putney." And then suddenly there was a terrible guffaw all around us, and the riverbanks were filled with what looked like Tory party activists all whooping and braying and hooraying around the river. And a voice was screaming "Who the bloody hell is that in the water?"

By now, the world knows that Trenton Oldfield is an incoherent chancer, but he was right about one thing: the Boat Race is so elite that being there would be an alien experience to just about everybody. I'm SW London born and bred, but I'd never been to any of the previous 157 races. When I did on Saturday, I felt like I'd turned up to somebody else's school Sports Day – a disorientating day filled with strange jargon and in-jokes about people I'd never heard of, told by a crowd who make "Henman Hill" look like an Anarchist soup kitchen run by Hari Krishnas.





The first thing I noticed was the abundance of old school blazers. (And when I say "old school", I mean as in the school you used to go to, not in the way that Judge Jules means it.) When I was a kid, the idea of wearing my school uniform on a weekend was a horror only outweighed by the nightmarish scenario of one of your teachers coming over for dinner, but the Boat Race crowd seemed to love it. I can only assume there's a kind of nostalgic fetishism at work here, the upper middle class version of a school disco-themed club night. Except "Rule Britannia" is the one track in every DJ's set, not "Hit Me Baby One More Time".



If there's one thing Antiques Roadshow has taught me, apart from that every skip is worth looking in, it's that posh guys love to wear brightly coloured trousers. The last time I saw this many pink trousers was at a Crystal Castles show in 2006.



The nu-rave theme even extended to the Morris Dancers, who were wearing Reebok Workouts and appeared to have been styled by Cassette Playa.



This guy had that Winklevoss swag down to a tee, that breed of guy who's just better than you in every conceivable way. The sort of bro who knows Aikido, reads Proust and plays the FTSE. But, like all those guys, there's a darkness behind the wrap-round Oakleys. I can only assume he writes homoerotic slash fiction and mutilates horses in his spare time.



For the girls, leather arm patches seemed the accessory of the day, which is weird, because I think it makes people look like librarians with cirrhosis.

Though admittedly there were a few LWCILFs down by the Thames on Saturday.




After my initial shock and disappointment that my own London Met hadn't entered a rowing team this year, I was unsure as to where my allegiances should lie. But after seeing this, I was Cambridge all the way.



You know when northerners talk about "soft southern shite"? This is precisely what they're talking about. A bruschetta stall at the Boat Race actually sounds like some kind of unfounded classist accusation. A made-up place that a backbench Labour MP from Halifax would accuse George Osborne of going to, or part of a heavy-handed anti-London routine from a popular northern stand-up.



And now the shops of Putney had stepped firmly into the world of self parody.



Comedy slogans were another sartorial constant of the day. Sadly I managed to lose a young lad whose T-shirt exclaimed him to be a member of the "Cambridge University Drinking Support Team", which I can only assume is a kind of Alcoholics Anonymous for people who drink sherry for the taste rather than the price. Not sure what this one was saying, really – declaring eternal commitment to your spouse through the medium of rowing? Not exactly "Shit happens when you party naked", is it?



"Doom Bar" might sound like some kind of NYC Leather 'n' Lube club or a once-a-month dronecore night in Camden Town, but it was actually the official ale of the event. I didn't try any, because real ale usually tastes like the water from somebody's bird bath.

All these guys looked a bit like Alan Carr if he'd been badly miscast in a no budget remake of

Brideshead Revisited

. They didn't seem to be from the boisterous, pseudo-blokey side of Oxbridge. They were of the old school, more likely to punt than row. In a way, it's good to see that the "lad" virus hasn't infected every part of our Red Brick universities. But I won't talk about them too much, because at least one, if not all of them, will be Prime Minister one day.



Suddenly the day went from being a jolly riverside jape to becoming an international political incident. All anybody knew was that an intruder had breached the tightly-controlled undergrowth and gotten in the water. The race had been stopped and the Chinese whispers were flying, Some said he was a streaker, others a freedom fighter. Was this a banter-driven prankster, or our generation's man with the shopping bags at Tiananmen Square?

This lady took the stiff upper lip approach, declaring him to be nothing more than a "bloody idiot".





We legged it into a boat house to find out what was going on, but the only thing the Beeb had to offer on the situation was a depressed He-Man.



The protestor later turned out to be a man named "Trenton Oldfield", who sounds like he might be a deep house producer, but is actually an Australian. West London is packed with the kind of Antipodeans who left the Southern Hemisphere as soon as Mandela got out, but Oldfield's political leanings seem a little more to the left. He describes himself as an "unorthodox political campaigner" fighting against the elite. Here's a picture of the elite really feeling the strain.

The waves had barely settled before we spotted Scrooge here taking his knife on a major vibe-killing mission. Either this guy had a lot of money riding on Oxford, or somebody had planned the after party at his house without telling him.





We'd already seen some of the footsoldiers, but here was the mothership. I tried to get some of the campaigners to pose for a photo and answer some questions, but I think they thought I was asking them for spare change :(



The race may have ended in disaster, but after the show there's the after party. The internet didn't reveal much, so we decided to take our search to the streets.



Reinforcements were drafted in to help us find the night, and we met this fine lady. Although she claimed to be the Duchess Of Hammersmith, I was sceptical. I don't think a Lady Of The Manor would let me play air guitar on her leg. Maybe Wetherspoons wasn't the best place to look for people throwing up into their boater hats.



We headed back to the river, but all we found was the debris of a long forgotten battle. I wandered around like the last of the Yahi, searching the deserted plains for the spoils of war. Discarded bottles of Peroni strewn across the battlefield like the rifles of unknown soldiers lost to the night. The party had moved on, and there was only one place to go.

And that place was, of course, a Coyote Ugly themed bar in Twickenham.

At this point, it all got a bit David Lynch. The Coyotes, as they're affectionately known, decided to drench a man of restricted growth with pints and pints of water. It might have looked cruel, but he seemed to enjoy it, which makes it fine, right? They wouldn't let me take pictures, which is why the quality's so shitty, but I'm pretty sure it's the only place on earth where you can see girls dancing to Rick Springfield in 2012. It was like stepping onto the set of The Wrestler, somehow completely fantastical and all too real at the same time.

In that classic suburban way, the night ended at 2AM, and we were forced into al fresco fun by the small town licensing laws (by which I mean that we went and got street beers, not that we went dogging). We considered hitting up an over 25s disco, but at £10 entry thought better of it. So instead we headed for a local playground and reminisced about the good old days, the days before we knew what midgets did with themselves on lonely Saturday nights and before Trenton Oldfield had blown apart the ruse that posh people enjoy being rich.

Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive

Photos by Joe Ridout