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'Paddling to Jerusalem' by David Aaronovitch



It is rare to find our small sport mentioned anywhere in the media, still more rare to find mention of our own canoe club. The following is an extract from a book I happened upon recently. This is an entirely non-commercial endorsement but I found David Aaronovitch's book an excellent read. - SM.

At 5 p.m. on a windy Tuesday in April I arrived by the Thames at Richmond. Situated next to a fire-gutted hotel, the canoe club was a large building on the river bank, in front of which an iron pontoon floated at the end of a wooden walkway. The house itself consisted of a large warehouse-sized room below, each wall decorated with three rows, two deep, of different canoes. There were long ones with pointy ends, short ones with snub ends, Canadian open canoes like Pocahontas paddled, doubles, singles, elegant varnished wooden ones, and scuffed ugly plastic ones. Paddles were leaned against the walls, from which were strung buoyancy aids, like orange garlic in a psychedelic delicatessen. All of it smelled sourly of river.

Down a dank corridor were the showers and changing-rooms. The men's was almost third world. Ill-lit, the floor was awash with a liquid that one hoped was water. In the shadows burly young South Africans and Frenchmen, with shoulder muscles the size of camel's humps, were slipping into and out of undergarments and waterproofs, and holding incomprehensible conversations about training regimes and kilometres covered. I felt a little intimidated.

'Are you David?' asked a high, reedy voice behind me. I had imagined that the person whom Trevor had had 'in mind' to train me would be a former SAS man, an Olympic canoeist, who himself had just returned from circumnavigating the globe in a rowing boat. But maybe it would be one of these muscle-bound South Africans. Instead, turning, I found myself peering down on the wiry frame of an elderly man, with a wispy white beard and thick glasses from the centre of whose lenses two sharp little eyes blinked. The beard parted slightly for a querulous half-smile. 'Hello,' he said, 'I'm Dick.'

Canoeists are not as chic as skiers or as vain as rollerbladers. Even so, Dick's outfit was peculiarly unprepossessing. He looked like a very ill, very dishevelled Leghorn chicken.

Landsdowne Boathouse
81-83 Petersham Road
Richmond upon Thames
Surrey TW10 6UT
United Kingdom

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