Row, row, row your boat…

On June 1st, Oxford resident Steve Paterson and his crew of four row 2000 miles non-stop around Britain’s coast, starting from Tower Bridge.

In total, six crews in rowing boats and one team in a pedalo will compete for a new world record in the world’s toughest rowing race.

The current male world record stands at 26 days, 21 hours and 14 minutes set by a crew of four men in 2005. The fastest female crew rowed around the UK in 51 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes in 2010.

Paterson, a 28-year-old sports science technician at Oxford Brookes University, is optimistic: “Of course, we want to go for the record and looking at the other crews we’ve got just as good a chance as they have.”

Paterson is an ultramarathon runner and only started rowing in October 2012 because of the race: “When I saw the advert of crew Pure Gym on it really appealed to me as a sort of different adventure because I had never done a sea expedition before.”

He admitted: “I actually get really badly seasick, so this will be a challenge for me.”

The GBRow Challenge is said to be the toughest rowing race in the world, as the crews will have to tackle the most dangerous and fastest turning tides, navigate through the world’s busiest shipping lanes and deal with the unpredictable British weather conditions without any aid.

The teams can decide for themselves which route they take, but according to Paterson “it’s fairly obvious that most people go clockwise mainly because of the winds coming off the Atlantic.”

He added: “In this kind of race, it is not only about strength, but also a lot about seamanship skills and how well you work with the team.

“Our crew is very varied in terms of age, geography and experience. We have different backgrounds and skills but we all have experience in endurance sport.”

Paterson has run 100-mile races before and is a mountain leader. Skipper Claire Shouksmith from Bournemouth does mountain climbing and walked to the Magnetic North Pole in 2009. Liverpool resident Paul Pendleto rowed in school and university and took it up again seven years ago. Ingrid Kvale, originally from San Francisco and now living in Bristol, is an experienced kayaker.

Together they will compete in their light blue 24-foot-long ocean racing boat with two cabins and two rowing positions. Paterson said: “It’s quite an extreme thing to do and highly relentless, as you row in two hour shifts: two hours on and two hours off.”

He explained: “Each crew gets food ration packs for 40 days and during the rest period we have to cook them, make drinking water with the purifying machine, do navigation and blogging. After that you can sleep, but the maximum of sleep in one hit will probably be around 1.5 hours”.

“If it is getting very hard”, Paterson said, “we motivate ourselves by telling each other jokes, listening to music and reminding ourselves of what we are doing it for.”

If Pure Gym, the crew Paterson is part of, should win, they will donate half of its prize money to Cancer Research UK and the rest to Evelina Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Society, Claire House Children’s Hospice and the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.

The team to beat the world record will be awarded with £100,000, the highest bounty in any rowing race in history. The first boat home will win £15,000, while second place wins £6,000 and third place wins £4,000.

After the race Paterson will move to Chamonix (France) to work as a sport science consultant. He said: “I’ll see how the race goes, but I will probably focus on running again when I’m in the Alps.”

Town vs Gown: Amateur Boxing

Town vs Gown: Amateur Boxing

boxing1Last Tuesday night was a night of mixed success for O.U.A.B.C in the annual Town vs Gown event, winning three out of eight fights contested with “town” rivals from across the south of England. A full house saw the latest round of Oxford’s oldest rivalry, as 600 people crammed into the Union to watch the bouts.

The evening was opened by a win for O.U.A.B.C’s Julia Lee, beating Chantelle Julienne in three rounds. In a fight of high intensity the Oxford boxer’s accuracy, repeatedly scoring with straight shots to the head, led through to a comfortable unanimous win.

However, this was one of Oxford’s few bright spots against some very slick town boxers. Whilst credit must be given to Oxford’s coaches for trying to arrange challenging bouts for their fighters, the Blues sometimes paid the penalty in blood and wounds. Whilst Callum Pirie rightly triumphed over Tom Widdows of Emeralds Boxing club, recovering after a shaky first round to score consistently and powerful in the third to claim the win, Oxford’s only other win came after the dominant Mike Taylor, fighting for Tewkesbury, pulled up during the third round of his fight with Mikey Davis, after clearly winning the first two rounds.

Apart from this, the Blues were unsuccessful in their battles with the Town. Jamie Burke’s fight was ended in the third round by classy Emerald’s boxer Leo Swinfen, after receiving his third standing 8 count, despite having responded by forcing Swinfen to take an 8 count himself. After the crushing final hook left the brave Burke dazed, the ref jumped in to stop the contest. Team Captain Tom Eliaz, although fighting a close, tactical bout with huge crowd support, went down to his opponent Kristian Michniak in a narrow decision. After the bout, Michniak graciously praised his “tough, very tough” opponent, and the support inside the Union, which he described as “fantastic. The best crowd I’ve ever fought in front of.” Whilst Oxford’s boxers fought well and bravely, they struggled to overcome opponents who were aggressive and talented to match.

However, relief for Blues boxing fans was provided in the form of the intra-club bouts. Ian Holland, Jack Prescott and Denis Kent all won their bouts to stake a stronger claim to the varsity spots. Fiercely contested, these at least provided hope, as all the fighters involved battled hard to try and impress in the four weeks before the big night.

Whilst the night as a whole did  not go Oxford’s way, the event itself was spectacular. Spectators filed the debating chamber, on the gallery and on the floor, shouting support for the Blues fighters throughout. If nothing else is taken to Varsity, Oxford’s fantastic support will guarantee a good night. The count down for Cambridge begins now.

PHOTO/Jonny Beech

Battling Blues silence noisy neighbours

Battling Blues silence noisy neighbours

IMG_5251Blues 5 – 2 Brookes

The Oxford Blues thrashed rivals Brookes in the second annual Xchanging Varsity football match, with a streaker stealing the headlines once again.

For the second year running a naked fan emerged from the away end and ran around the pitch before disappearing towards the Iffley Road and freedom. Unfortunately for Brookes their defence was as limp and lifeless as exhibitionist’s display with countless errors punished by their victorious hosts.

This fixture may not command the tradition and authority of the more celebrated Varsity but the 5-2 scoreline served as the perfect warm-up for a trip to the other place.

“Both teams are desperate to win,” asserted Blues and Oxford United coach Micky Lewis ahead of the game. “This is great preparation for Cambridge.”

As for the Blues’ noisy neighbours, coach Dan Bond simply stated, “This game means a lot to me, and probably more to the players. It’s the biggest game they will play in their lives”.

Behind the two benches the ground was packed out by “Dan Bond’s Barmy Army”, the vocal and impressive away support, who immediately began singing “Keep the Brookes flag flying high” to the tune of ‘The Red Flag’.

“It’s like West Ham-Millwall,” one of the self-styled Brookes Ultras eagerly claimed before kick-off.

However, the hilarity did not stop with the ‘Ultras’ of Headington and Harcourt Hill. The officials, who came out to warm up did so with a small child joining in. “Looks like the ref can’t get a babysitter,” grumbled one Blues fan. This proved not to be the case, as Tom Haddrell, 11 years old, proceeded to run the line for the whole 90 minutes with the youngster claiming to be in his third year of officiating. If Haddrell appears in the Premier League, you heard it here first.

When the game eventually got underway it began with a bang. Barely two minutes in, a catastrophically poor touch by the Brookes left back gifted wing-man Ed Grimer with an early goal. Iffley erupted, temporarily drowning out the Brookes fans.

The Oxford crowd was subjected to prolonged class-based chanting, including such gems as, “Does your butler know you’re here?” and “Will your chauffeur pick you up?” but the Blues kept the home faithful happy by keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

Mark Jamison, in only his second outing for the Blues, met an Alex Biggs corner powerfully to score. This was followed up by more defensive errors from Brookes, with a misguided header back to the goalkeeper rewarding the hard running of Peder Beck-Friis with an opportunity to increase the lead.

The Swedish striker had to work hard for his debut Varsity goal, bravely stooping amongst the flying boots to head home his fourth of the season.

The Blues seemed content to let their pressing game in the midfield provide them with chances from Brookes errors and cede much of the possession to the men in the green and white kit. Brookes’ misery was further compounded when Julian Austin coolly side-footed another past the hapless Brookes custodian on 30 minutes. This finally brought the Blues fans to life, with the ball shepherded back to the centre spot amid chants of “your team’s embarrassing”.

The first half was typified by a competent Blues team which took their chances, kept their shape and defended well.

Brookes, on the other hand, imploded under the Iffley Road lights. Perhaps Dan Bond’s comments said it all. Such terrible errors and poor marking from corners belie a team which is otherwise doing fairly comfortably in division two of the BUCS league. Maybe the noisy neighbours wanted it too much. Whatever the explanation, the game was effectively over after half an hour.

This did nothing to deter the Brookes fans. On 40 minutes, after some time spent abusing Blues’ right back Michael Moneke, the chant went up: “Let’s pretend we’ve scored a goal”, followed immediately by the sight of the Poznan on the Iffley terraces.

Brookes responded immediately, scoring from a soft free kick from the edge of the Blues box. The men from Brookes went crazy as the consolation went in. This did nothing to prevent the Bond from ordering the whole Brookes bench to warm up at the break.

The second half by contrast was something of a let down. Whilst no one expected another five goals, both teams seemed to be content to let the game play out, with neither Brookes nor the Blues really pushing on for glory.

This was until the referee decided to award Brookes perhaps the softest penalty Iffley has ever seen. Dispatched, the game still refused to sparkle, with Brookes unable, seemingly, to chase the game. Any possibility of a miracle was killed when Adam Healy glanced home another Biggs free-kick.

However, the game got progressively nastier, with the referee refusing to book a Brookes midfielder after kicking a prostrate Blues player. Moneke was also repeatedly the subject of late challenges, which were the only contribution from the Brookes left winger throughout the game.

In reality, the second half went to the fans. Brookes gave us the surreal gem that is “Shoes up, if you love the Brookes”, brandishing their footwear at Blues fans, to be met with “You’ve only got one pair”. As the game descended into crash and bang football, the fans’ antagonism increased. “I’d rather be in Baghdad than in Brookes,” was roared by a small group of Blues fans towards the away end.

So ended an entertaining night. The noisy neighbours routed, the streaker eventually apprehended by the constabulary in the bushes behind the pitch, and OUAFC taking another step towards success.

PHOTO/Matt Handley

Blues streak past lacklustre Brookes

Blues streak past lacklustre Brookes

The Oxford Blues thrashed rivals Brookes in the second annual Xchanging Varsity football match, with a streaker stealing the headlines once again.

A Brookes fan, believed to be the same streaker from last year’s Varsity encounter, vaulted the security barrier with minutes remaining in the match before slipping past the stewards onto the pitch. After high-fiving Brookes ‘keeper Sam Cole, the exhibitionist made for the trees but was later seen being escorted off the Iffley Road premises by police.


“Sit down shut up!” The streaker defiantly evades capture.

On the field, four first half goals were enough to sink the Blues’ near neighbours in a pulsating first half encounter. A shaky Brookes back line was guilty of letting a ruthless Oxford attack punish four sloppy errors, the first coming after just two minutes when Ed Grimer raced clear to open the scoring.

Mark Jamison, Peder Beck-Friis and Julian Austin fired the Blues into a 4-0 lead with a Brookes consolation reducing the arrears before the break.

A soft penalty set up a nervy second half but substitute Adam Healy put the result beyond doubt with a late header from an Alex Biggs corner.


Why always me? A streaker with “F**k off Oxford Uni” emblazoned makes the back pages at last year’s match.

Pick up next week’s Oxford Student for all the reaction from tonight’s match.

PHOTOS/ Dan Fox & Matt Handley


Dark Blues set for showdown at Xchanging Brookes Varsity Match

The Blues take on Oxford Brookes on Friday at a floodlit Iffley Road Stadium, seeking a second consecutive Xchanging Brookes Varsity Match victory. The fixture takes on extra significance tonight as it also doubles as the Blues’ home league fixture against their noisy neighbours. A last-gasp 2-1 comeback on the first day of the season back in October has proved the catalyst for the Blues to remain unbeaten in competitive fixtures all season, and they lie top of BUCS Midlands 2A, four points clear of their nearest rivals Brookes. Defender Ben May is certain Brookes will be seeking revenge: “As this is the biggest game that most of the Brookes players will play in their lives, we cannot expect anything less than when we played them earlier on in the season…  if we play the football we know we can, spoiling the Brookes party should be no problem.”

A Dark Blue victory in their first game of a snow-hit term would be a strong statement of intent to the rest of the league that the Blues intend to win promotion in style this season. Despite a comfortable 2-0 victory in last year’s inaugural Brookes Varsity, the home outfit will be taking nothing for granted tonight, and captain Sam Donald is pleased with how his team looks as they gear up for the game: “Although preparations have been compromised by the snow, the quality and work shown in the sessions we have had have been very encouraging. We started poorly in our league game against Brookes last term but showed great character to come back, and this time we’ll hope to marry that strength of character with a fast start and continue our 100% record in the league.”

A crowd upwards of 400 people is anticipated, and the Blues will be hopeful for a strong home contingent to compete with the boisterous away support Brookes will undoubtedly bring. Last year the Brookes fans were irrepressibly loud, undeterred by ex-captain Julian Austin’s unanswered brace. It is a chance to settle scores both on and off the pitch, as midfielder Casey O’Brien acknowledges: “I’ve spent many a lonely walk home from Fuzzy Ducks thanks to this lot. Friday is a chance to put it right.” The added dimension of the Xchanging Brookes Varsity Match doubling as a BUCS league game lends a unique intrigue to the match also, and piles pressure on the away side to get a result in normal time. Striker Peder Beck-Friis, appearing in his first English derby match, is fully aware of the magnitude of the game: “It’s imperative that we keep our winning streak in competitive games leading up to the Varsity game against Cambridge later on in the spring.”

With KO at 7 p.m., and a few musical surprises planned to please the fans, Friday evening promises to be an exciting event from the off, and both teams are sure to be looking forward to the opportunity to play under floodlights in front of a lively crowd.

Mild Friends Comedy Club, The Library Pub, Cowley

Mild Friends Comedy Club, The Library Pub, Cowley
Mild Friends comedy is “only eleven months old” according to the enthusiastic press release put forward by creator and sometime-performer, Patrick Turpin. In this regard the ‘club’ is still very much in its foetal stage; the resident compere, Jack Barry, continuously insists that he is “getting worse at this” while performing to an audience that may or not be made up mostly of parents. But this infantile set up should not dissuade punters, for, behind the relatively simplistic premise lurks a comedy diamond (admittedly in the rough).
Presented to performers as a space to try out new content, off the London ‘circuit’ – circuit appearing as a loaded word in comedy as Turpin insists he does not want to get “stuck on it” – the results are a mixed bag.
The first act, Cambridge graduate Ahir Shah truly exemplifies this discrepancy. While his early material was extremely funny, with
what is certifiably the “best Ganesh joke you will ever hear” juxtaposed with observational comedy on the nature of Twitter, graduate life and much more, his later extended routine (which, he repeatedly reminded us, “I wrote on the bus this afternoon”) is disappointing: “True stories don’t always have a satisfying comedic conclusion,” apparently.
Headliner Eric Lampaert was excellent – from being caught out on an interview (for Oxford Brookes University radio) that he stood up, to attempting to read out my notes on his performance (which, shamefully, were mixed with ‘notes to self’) his quirky reactionary comedy made the most of the intimate nature of the space. With repeated reference to an advert he was on – which, despite  his young Iggy Pop-esque appearance (not pre-drugs) was not, apparently, that car insurance one – he managed to weave through an act that was, in his own words, a case of “saying what comes into [his] head and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not”. Mostly it was.
It is worth noting that participation-shy attendees should steer clear of Mild Friends as the small room below The Library pub does not bode well for anonymity and, despite lurking at the back, I was promised a review on my own conduct from Lampaert. Alas, despite frequent Twitter assurances this gem is coming, he seems to have let down another Oxford student media establishment.
Turpin himself is amusing in a ‘my mate that’s funny way’; nothing he does is particularly exceptional, but the performance as a whole is very impressive. Following an opening that cast him as part letch, part nerd, his character comedy slowly declines throughout the act and is replaced by a far more likable view into his own world. Using PowerPoint and John Legend as starting points, Turpin’s comedy is more sophisticated than the cheap jokes of the compere.
Harriet Kemsley was a late addition to the bill, and unfortunately was not as successful as her peers. Her character is, despite Turpin’s assurances that he’s “seen her do gigs that have smashed it”, extremely disappointing. As a female comedian she embodied the worst of both worlds; not only is she not particularly funny (relying on undeveloped gags on Hackney, for the most part), but she also makes jokes about rape. This year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival was awash with discussion on whether rape is a suitable subject for comedy and I have to say, I agree with Tanya Gold’s The Guardian article that it is not. Kemsley’s assertion, therefore, that wearing a rape whistle was “a bit presumptuous” did not induce laughter but feminist reproach.
Mild Friends is definitely neither mild nor bland, and, at £4, is undoubtedly one of the best ways to spend a Monday evening. I will certainly be returning to ‘my old friends’ (Turpin’s pun, not mine), but with the expectation to laugh and wince in equal measure.
Mild Friends is on at The Library pub on Monday 22nd October for £4.
PHOTO/Jan Mehlich