Belfast Telegraph

Billy on the box: Oxford's Cooks serve up a treat with drama on the water

The wacky world of what’s on the box

By Billy Weir

There was high drama on the high waters of the River Thames as the Boat Race hoved into view on Sunday afternoon and that was before an oar was even dipped into the murky depths.

Usually drama in these parts is reserved to things such as the opening titles of Eastenders, matters kicking off as Prosecco levels run low, someone being found guilty in charge of an offensive striped blazer or using a hyphen in a built-up area, but this was potentially even more serious; an unexploded bomb.

The quintessentially English day out was being threatened by the Germans, a real possibility of Brexit (that's Boat Race exit) as an unexploded leftover from World War Two dropped by a Herr Merkel from Mannheim looked to have the big day out in doubt.

That would have been terrible news for the crews of Oxford and Cambridge who, yet again, had battled through to the final of both the men's and women's races, although presenter Clare Balding almost did a bit of a David Moyes in her build-up.

"The women's Boat Race is just four or five minutes away, and it's about an hour and five minutes to the Boat Race," she said as HMS Suffragette was despatched to lob a few depth charges for women across the globe.

Upper lips on shore remained stiff though, one of the many posh people joining Clare on the sidelines, former rowist George Nash, very much in the remain camp with no intention of leaving anytime soon, as an APB was put out in search of a mystery Sturgeon that had been spotted swimming in the area.

"A thing like a second World War unexploded bomb," he said, "can be just the ticket to calm you down and put a smile on your face." I believe this comes under the Dunkirk spirit mantle and by jingo, Johnny Foreigner wasn't going to spoil the fun, especially when the crews were mainly manned and womanned by Johnny and Joanna Foreigner.

Ladies first, as the saying goes, and little cox Zoe de Toledo was on hand to explain why Cambridge went off like, well, a World War Two device and Oxford's girls were bobbing around like buoys.

"Looks like someone caught a crab in the Oxford boat," she told us. You'd think they'd have enough to worry about with bombs and the like never mind the fear of a pesky crustacean hanging off your wellies.

It was never actually explained that 'catching a crab' was a rowing term for making a horlicks with your oar and so the race was all but over after 10 seconds, but at least there were words of comfort from commentator Andrew Cotter.

"Second place in the Boat Race is nothing at all," he said, ramming another hole in the side of the Oxford hull, but at least they could depend on solace from Balding.

"I don't think there is another sport where the difference between winning and losing is so great," she said, not helping, as in the background the crab culprit, Rebecca Esselstein, was last seen walking a plank. Still, nice to see an American turning up early for a change when London is being bombed.

Then it was time for THE Boat Race, not my words, and Oxford pulled off a masterstroke by putting two brothers in the boat, thus meaning that they would grab all the pre-race attention.

And when one of them is a sailor called James Cook, then it is no contest as we went to Sunday lunch with him, brother Oliver and the rest of the Cook clan, to celebrate the fourth birthday of their dog.

They were feline, sorry, feeling even better at tea-time as on-water analyst Wayne Pommen said Oxford "went off like a scalded cat" and before Mrs Cook had the chance to dish up the trifle, her boys had crossed the line for the Dark Blues, and in keeping with the World War Two theme, Cotter came over all Churchill. That's the Prime Minister, not the wee dog.

"They have given so much in training, dedication, sacrifice is perhaps an exaggerated word, but they do, they get up early in the morning and have long winter sessions," he said. I was the same myself at university, not so much the getting up early but the winter sessions were tough.

As is the wont of those hoggers of limelight, it meant that while the losers slump down, there's always some silly hugger who decides he or she must rock the boat by scrambling along to embrace someone, either that or they're getting away from a crab.

And, of course, it was the siblings. Cotter worried that "too many Cooks spoil the boat" and on-shore reporter Jason Mohammad, just in case you had water in your lugs, started off with "you know what they say, too many Cooks" and by now we had really had enough Cooks to do us a lifetime.

So prizes presented, champagne sprayed, there was nothing else to do but chuck their cox in the water, but there was still time for Balding to get in on the Cook act, saying that "they're still going, they're going to be talking about this forever and ever" although probably not as much as the Beeb will.

And then it was all over, Balding heading off to fend off attacks from feminists in her John Inverdale-shaped bunker.

"A day that started with a bomb scare has ended with an explosion of Dark Blue," she concluded and let's hope that they come back next year to defend their title.

The good, the bad and the ugly

THE GOOD: Rocky & Wrighty: From Brockley to the Big Time was the latest in BT Sport’s excellent documentaries featuring the rise of Arsenal legends Ian Wright and the late David Rocastle from the tough streets of London to Highbury heroes. A fantastic piece of TV, a tear-jerker in places and a reminder of just what a player Rocastle was.

THE BAD: On the eve of the Masters, Hazel Irvine announced that she is to stand down from her role as the BBC’s face of the tournament and will hand over the baton, or five iron, to fellow Scot Eilidh Barbour. We wish Hazel and her fine array of pink anoraks and gilets well in their golfing retirement — at least someone called Barbour is not going to be short of a green jacket or two.

THE BOND: It was hard to miss Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville over the weekend as they never seemed to be off the screen, with their super documentary on referees, to appearances on Sky Sports’ News and commentating duties. But the highlight was Red Nev’s comment on Daniel Craig belting out You’ll Never Walk Alone ahead of the Merseyside derby. “The most disturbing thing for me today is learning that James Bond is a Liverpool fan,” he said, although he has a Quantum of Solace with 008 Premier League medals to his credit.

THE NIGHTMARE: And so it has come to pass, Linfield will play Coleraine in the Irish Cup Final thus providing me with a decision as to who to support on the big day akin to having to choose either a scythe or a chainsaw with which to cut your toenails. I have to go with the Bannsiders although, if questioned, I will deny all knowledge that this ever happened.

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