Santas at the Great River Race 2014 Photograph by Nick Fleming
At breakfast on Saturday Nick and I were discussing our day's plan when he casually mentioned "maybe I could go as a passenger".
It was quite a late start to this year's Great River Race, a 22 mile rowing marathon up the Thames which starts a couple of miles from home on the other side of the river. Millie-Pup and I drove him there and then decided to stay to enjoy the warm weather and ambience for a pleasant couple of hours while he photographed.
The atmosphere at the start is so different to that which lines the route of the London Marathon which runs near our house. Here it was all about communities supporting their boats, teams rowing for each other, with jolly ho-ho-ho banter, and lots of sun worn and salt stained clothing often covered up with fancy dress. One woman I overheard say that she was rather nervous about the ordeal ahead, only for an avuncular Captain Birds Eye to reassure her "we all feel like that only we don't allow ourselves to think it." I stood for a long time next to an old hand at this whose wife was rowing, they were from Cornwall. He told me there was only one rule: each boat had to have a cox and a passenger.
My highlight was watching Nick photograph a boatload of Santa Claus as they pushed off to the startling in the middle of the river, as part of the last group to go.
As I was waiting for him to come up from the shore a young lady came up asking if anyone wanted to be a passenger because their passenger hadn't arrived and without one they would be disqualified. Nick, testing how well he is after his year of recovery, accepted the gift and off he went on the slow boat to Ham House. Actually, not so slow: this beautiful craft was like the ones used by the Watermen of old, fleet afoot and at home on the Thames. Millie-Pup and I had just enough time to drive up through Central London to the finish way out in leafy west London to collect Nick. Millie-Pup was rather bamboozled how Nick got there. He had had the most wonderful, miraculous and serene trip being rowed upstream by a lovely family and saw London from a different perspective.
It reminds me of that Ko'an set by a teacher to his students: how do you go with ease upstream? And the answer is on a rising incoming tide.