“Old Father Thames keeps rolling along, down to the mighty sea”. So says the song, or words to that effect.
Last summer we visited some friends in Reading, which is situated about 40 miles west of London. One evening we went along to Henley-on-Thames. Now if you are interested in boats Henley-on-Thames is a must. There are boats, large and small, fat and thin, old and young. Talking about ancient boats, one that caught our attention was a paddle steamer. Something that would have looked far more at home paddling down the Mississippi. Yon was no ordiniary “five eight” boat. It was the last word in Luxury. It was all lit up with different coloured lights. I saw the guests wining and dining waited upon by waiters in traditional garb. A band played as the old steamer steamed from lock to lock. I learned that one could spend an evening aboard for a price far out of the reach of any land-lubber preacher. However, we did get a 30 minute, 60 pence trip from Windsor.
Talking about Windsor reminds me of a Sunday I spent with a cousin of mine who lives in a place called Iver. We were at Windsor Castle. Not staying, just visiting. We learned that the church service was about to commence. We sat down. We were not long seated until an important looking gentleman leaned over the back of our pew and asked if we would like a seat in the Queen’s private Chapel. Realising that this was an invitation which might not ever be repeated we entered the Chapel. Took our seat and drank in the scene of grandeur. I happened to look down during the service only to learn that I was sitting on top of the engraved gravestone of King Henry VIII.
Now we are drifting a bit from “Old Father Thames”. Mind you, that old river must have seen many a sight along his pathway. I’m sure he observed many a young fellow and girl walk along his banks. Perhaps he has inspired endearing remarks. Maybe when the pale moon was reflecting upon his dark deep waters he has dropped a tear on overhearing a lovers tiff, or, perhaps he too knows that true love is not supposed to run smoothly.
I’m sure that the old fellow has had many a laugh, like for example what happened just last Saturday. England as you will, no doubt, know is graced by two famous seats of learning. Oxford is one, Cambridge is the other. Now I went through Oxford. It took me 35 minutes on the ring road last summer.
Through the years a great rivalry has built up between these two. They love to hate each other. The spirit of competition between these two greats is channelled into civilized activity. That is if you can call games like rugby civIlized. Perhaps the pinnacle of competitiveness is reached in the yearly Boat Race. This is something that has been happening for 155 years. The event was arranged for Saturday, 17th March. The committed, the uncommitted, old and young, rich and poor, grave old men, military men, seafaring men sporting their emblems, old school ties and what have you, gathered from all points of the compass. The mighty oarsmen arrive and take their places one behind the other in the long thin boat. Thd muscles ripple. The Thames ripples. The atmosphere is electric. Ice cream, minerals and hamburgers exchange hands with gay abandon.
The Cambridge boat is pushed from the jetty. It is just a practice run, not that they have fallen down on their preparation, they have been at it for months. Just a last minute bit of exercise to flex the muscles of the brave. The coxswain is seated at the rear of the boat. It is his solemn responsibility to steer the craft. Now the Cambridge cox was rather short of stature and the fellow directly before him was a great hulk of muscular manhood.
The situation was a bit like the wee fellow who was sitting on the back ofhis mother’s bicycle. “Mum”, said he, “I hope you can see because I can’t see a thing”.
Now the Cambridge coxswain was in this unenviable position. Then it happened, a sickening crunch and the valiant were dumped unceremoniously in the water. The boat had scored a direct hit on a barge. The craft, not being made to engage in such violent activity, suffered severely. The race had to be postponed and to add salt to the wounds, Oxford won. What an anticlimax.
Why did it happen? Did the coxswain forget that there might be obstacles in the path? Lives are damaged by failing to keep a keen look-out along the path of the Christian Race. It is much easier to repair a damaged boat than it is to repair a damaged life. So let “watchfulness” be our Watchword.