“A lump of shit floating down the river”

This blog is gaining momentum, but at a pace that belies the flood of memories and creative ideas that the pleasure of self-expression in this medium has unleashed.

Speaking of floods, I’ll talk in another post about how my 14-year-old hands steered the Hampton Junior Colts eight to what could have been a fatal disaster on the flooded Thames at the weir by Molesey Lock in January, 1965.  There were immense psychological consequences to this event, and as I write I realize that the way it was handled ties in with comments that I made about feelings of guilt in the post Reading and a feeling of guilt. For now, though, I’ll focus on a lighter memory.

Mark Gallup (I think I have the spelling right) came to Hampton as a 24-year-old history “master” fresh from Oxford, with the distinction of having stroked the Isis boat (Oxford’s second crew) in one of its annual races against its Cambridge counterpart, Goldie.

On one of the Wednesday afternoons when  we third-formers were being introduced to rowing at the indoor rowing tanks (is that the word we used?) at Eel Pie Island, he drove me on the back of his Honda 50 to the rowing session. Most, if not all of the other boys, whose parents were not as worried about the dangers of cycling on the roads as my mother, were able to ride the bikes there, and on that day there was no room in the car of another teacher (whose last name I don’t remember, but whose nickname was Rex).  Mr Gallup did provide me with a helmet, but I deemed it prudent, when I got home, to refrain  from telling my mother that I’d been taken on the back of a motorbike to the rowing session.

Mr Gallup was a popular teacher and rowing coach, and being closer in age to us than other teachers, some of the sixth formers took to calling him by his first name.  It was a kind of badge of honor to be seen to be on first-name terms with a master, I guess, and a way of distancing oneself from the less mature boys.  I was never able to feel natural in this mode, though, being one of the ones to be distanced from.

But even at Oxford I was never comfortable calling my main tutor — someone with whom I was relatively close — anything but Dr. Gore, a habit that persisted until well after I had graduated.  All my life I seem to have had a pattern of respecting while at the same time questioning and rejecting authority.  But I said I was going to keep this light…

Mr. Gallup was coach of the school’s second eight, but he did occasionally coach the Junior or Senior Colts eight that I coxed when our main coach, Richard Gabriel, was not available.  In the course of one of these sessions he was very dissatisfied with our effort, and thought we needed to be told off.  From his bicycle on the river bank, he thundered through his megaphone, “You look like a lump of shit floating down the river.”   I don’t remember whether or not these words had the effect that he wanted, but I do remember being impressed by them.

This time, when I got home, I reported to my mother my experience with Mr. Gallup.  She didn’t believe me.  “Oh, I don’t believe anyone from Oxford would talk like that.”  Little did she know.

In the end this wasn’t just a lump of shit floating down the river. It  is a memory for me of the Anglo-American cultural divide that I straddled in my teen years, and also a reminder, at its humorous and light-hearted end, of the confusing struggle I went through to become psychologically independent of my mother.

4 thoughts on ““A lump of shit floating down the river”

  1. It was Rex Rule. As for bad language, was Bill Bird, a Cambridge man, a better model? I don’t recall this occasion you describe, but can never forget the time we all nearly drowned, swept out of control on a raging flood, one winter at Molesey. Were you steering – or trying to – that day? We emerged from the icy torrent shaking and shivering but were soon restored to robust vigour by the ginger wine thrust on us by our coach, Richard Gabriel (an Olympic cox, as you may recall.) It was a startling remedy, but he did his best. Even more startling (in retrospect) was the fact that we all, and our respective families, took our brush with death in our stride. No complaints to the school authorities, or anything daft like that!

    1. Thanks for the comment! I don’t remember the ginger wine, but it was indeed a brush with death that would now, as you point out, cause much more stir. It must be good that authority in general is now much more subject to scrutiny. There’s a lot about Hampton that’s bubbling inside me, so I’ll be writing more. It’s very nice to know some people are reading the stuff, and great to hear other memories of the same experiences. One reason it’s important for me is that I’ve had a career-long interest in education — a sense of mission to try to process my own experiences — excellent, good, mediocre and bad (mostly the latter two) as a way of helping others to perhaps help young people more.

      On the subject of wine, there was of course also the incident with Zach Miles’ homemade mulberry wine.

  2. I was thinking of Zach’s father’s wine just now, as I was corking the last 2 dozen of this year’s plum wine. Thanks for all the food for thought, Kevin!

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