When I was at school, most chaps worth their salt were sport-obsessed – following the fortunes of individuals and/or club, county or international teams – if not also participating themselves at whatever level their talents justified.
Within the ‘participating’ subset, at my rather traditional secondary school, there tended to be something of a Berlin Wall dividing those who played ball games sports and those who chose to concentrate upon activities that were weird enough not to involve a spherical object at their core, e.g. rowing, sailing, climbing, kayaking and shooting.
To be blunt, those capable of playing ball game sports to any degree of proficiency duly did so – and those that failed at this most basic of manhood tests went off and attempted to master a non-ball pastime, both for want of anything better to do and gain consolation where they could.
In reality, of course, there’s nothing to prevent a talented ball-player also enjoying a non-ball sport such as rowing or shooting, but – for good or ill – my instinctive ball-player’s tendency to regard ‘wet-bobs’ and/or the shooting fraternity as second class citizens has survived the past 50 years intact and undiluted.
The above introduction does little to explain why yesterday found me undertaking eight and a half hours of ‘rescue boat duties’ at a sailing club somewhere in the south of England.
The humdrum answer is that, if you are over the age of 18 and belong to a private members club – and I have for the past five decades for family reasons – you have just two primary commitments, i.e. to pay your annual subscription and undertake at least one day of unpaid rescue boat duties in support of the club’s racing programme. The latter involves operating a motor-powered rib or open boat and patrolling inland water around a series of race courses marked by buoys, following the boats taking part in case they capsize and/or have other issues requiring outside assistance. These duties can be generally dull and boring but at least offer the opportunity to play at being valuable members of society by by mastering the radio communication sequences whilst reporting, and/or being ordered to attend, incidents or problems. Plus, at all times on duty, those involved must be alert and act responsibly and/or competently whenever life or limb are at risk, in or on the water.
In theory it doesn’t take much, for example, if a boat has flipped over, for someone to get knocked unconscious, or seriously injured, by a swinging boom and/or to be held involuntarily under the water by a piece of rigging. Thus, amidst the ennui of ‘messing about in boats’ and socialising with the person or persons with whom you have been thrown together for the duration, those on rescue boat duty – as I was yesterday – have to keep in mind at all times the possibility of suddenly coming across, or being sent to, a situation that is really rather serious.
Yesterday, by this route, I eventually arrived back at my billet at about 5.15pm, having been buffeted by the waves and windswept by the force 4 winds long enough to prompt those greeting my lobster-red forehead and cheeks with “My word, you’ve caught the sun!” (when in fact there had been only about ten minutes of sunshine all day), feeling totally exhausted and ready for bed as soon as anyone might present me with a pint and a half of Pimm’s Number 1, followed by a steaming hot plate of bolognaise-infused pasta.
Which is what duly happened.