'Lean right back, pivot the hips, up to front stops, feather, blade in... and push –'
It was a glorious morning and I was on the canal learning how to row. Tommy was sitting behind me being quite patient. He's been rowing for his whole life and now he's retired.
'You need to go slower.'
I thought I was slow. Really slow.
'Push your bottom back – I'm sorry we're going to have to use words like bottom,' he said. 'I hope you don't mind. Okay so push your bottom back and relax.'
'I don't mind you using the word bottom,' I said sticking the blades back into the water and trying to pull a full stroke.
'Watch the pools of water form as we leave them behind, look at the trees, the sky, the water ... You're thinking about it too much, don't think about it. Now slowly forward, relax your back –'
He tried to grab at my vest as I surged forward, my hands gripped tightly at the blades as though I wanted to fight the water, not glide over it. He hesitated for fear he'd yank my bra straps and sighed.
'I don't know where to grab you,' he said. 'I can't very well pull your hair.'
'No, don't do that.'
'Rowing is a very bodily sport,' he said apologetically.
I know, I thought, gazing over to the boat shed where men in Lycra were hoicking a quad up onto their shoulders to bring to the water. That's why I'm here.
Then I heard a fog horn, well not actually a fog horn but my best male friend Dillon who just so happened to be drifting by on a barge, on a barge holiday, waving his arms like a lunatic and calling out for me. 'Oh Maria, darling, Maria, darling – you're rowing, you're rowing...'.
I blew him some kisses across the water and waved.
He turned around to his friends. 'Oh look, she's rowing. Go on then, row.'
'Concentrate,' said Tommy as he tapped me on the shoulder. I sensed he felt bad for tapping me on the shoulder. 'Don't let him distract you. Think of nothing. Backstops, and go.'
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But I wasn't thinking of nothing, I was thinking of how to get on that barge for a cup of tea. And then I was thinking of the boys in the boat shed, and then I was wondering if I'm too old at thirty-four to become an Olympic athlete.