Henley Royal Regatta at the beginning of July is the epitome of privilege and comfortable British eccentricity. A week later, the corporate marquees, merchandise tents and dress code have gone and older rowers take to the course less pretentiously.
Henley Veterans Regatta
Still here the hills of Henley, rolling, green,
Framing this reedy, restful, riparian scene.
The river running steely-grey past town, towpath and temple
To carry slipper launch, gondola and mahogany canoe
And carbon-fibre racing boat and crew.
Gone now the corporate marquees,
Pimms strawberries and cream teas.
Dresses below the knee, blazers and school caps;
They’ve left the umpire’s launches though
And booms to guide us as we row.
Here we are, the baby boomer generation,
Not ready yet for sedentary stagnation.
Still fit and racing in our golden years,
Nourished ‘n educated by the welfare state:
Orange juice, cod liver oil and malt to regulate.
Last week, the Royal with privilege and dosh,
Now, Old People’s Henley; a little less posh.
Respectful but rejectful of non-egalitarian ways.
We don’t have air and graces. We admit
Even women, if in Lycra kit.
After many years of work and paying tax
We find we still can’t just relax.
We row to keep fit and keep fit to row.
Even if we’ve outlived our usefulness,
We try not to burden the NHS.