Tuesday 28 April 2009
A taste of the slipper
Estrop is the Catalan word for the length of line that holds the oar to the thole pin. It is one item of gear that the rowing club expects you to supply. They provide the boat and the oars, you provide the piece of string that joins the two together. I’d made my estrop quite carefully with three turns held together with a quintuple stopper knot and one half hitch. I’d got my gardening gloves, the same ones I use in OB when my hands get rowing red. And I’d put both items into a plastic carrier bag.
I arrived on the quay 10 minutes early. The rowing boats launch from the end of the fishing dock and from amongst a knot of fishermen inspecting a net I made out Carpet Slippers. Eventually he came over and started talking. I listened. At 72 he’s fairly old to still be competing but he generally comes along just to make up the numbers. He’s rowed all his life. He used to be a fisherman but, like many Catalan fishermen, he took the first opportunity he could to abandon the sea. ‘The sea’s a slave driver.’ He said. And took a job ashore at the Pirelli tyre factory. ‘When you’ve worked for years on the sea you learn to value a job that only demands a flat 8-hour day. You can make plans.’
We watched a fishing boat returning. ‘The skipper of that boat is one of the best rowers, but he doesn’t row anymore.’ The club’s story started to emerge. They’d won the Catalan league six years running. But now they were finding it hard to maintain the high standards they’d set. Most of the team doubted their ability to perform as well as they had in the past and a significant number were now of the opinion that it would be better not to compete at all than to compete and make fools of themselves. In previous years they’d trained three times a week, this year it was only two, and they’d started later in the season. This year the plan, though as yet unofficial, was to participate in the three annual friendlys, which ‘…are just an excuse for a big meal.’
Half an hour had gone by. ‘Nobody will turn up today.’ Said Carpet Slippers, ‘there’s football on the telly.’ He noticed my estrop and gloves. ‘Lets see that.’ he took the estrop for examination, turned it over in his hands, grunted and passed it back.