It’s a funny thing, the Boat Race. Read any of the Thames-based classics like Three Men in a Boat or Robert Gibbings’ Sweet Thames Run Softly, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this wonderful river of ours, so placid and majestic, would a setting for quiet reflection, endless summer days and even longer evenings, all enlivened by occasional, hilarious but wholly harmless mishaps.
In 1829, however, a couple of Old Harrovians, Charleses Merivale and Wordsworth, got the wrong end of the stick and organised the first boat race between Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Rowing a boat is, of course, supposed merely to be a means of getting either from one place to another or closer to nature. Making it competitive - ‘succeeding’ at it - is as an absurd idea. One might as well turn snoozing on the riverbank into a sport.
Be that as it may, it’s here and it’s here to stay.
So this coming Sunday you have as good an excuse as you’ll ever have to take a stroll along the tow-path and then wedge yourself into a snug corner of a reliable pub. Hop on the tube to Hammersmith and, depending on your stamina, you can be in one within 5 minutes: Both The Old Ship and The Dove are superb, though they’re liable to get a bit crowded so it’s worth booking ahead.
If, on the other hand, you really want to stretch your legs and you don’t mind all that much which boatful of American imports goes backwards fastest, forge on upriver for an hour or two. Just short of Kew Bridge you’ll find a brace of excellent pubs and an embankment to sit on if the sun is shining. The Bulls Head may not have an apostrophe but it does have a happy atmosphere. The City Barge, a little further up, is also an excellent place to eat.