Being neither a historian nor a classicist, I volunteered to keep the tour diary up-to-date for the simple fact that no one else could be bothered. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to recount the last two days with the same panache shown by the preceding diarists that have come before me.
A 7:15 a.m. o’clock start sparked fear in our hearts that a grim early morning fitness session was about to unfold. Our worry was not misplaced, for never has the childhood game of 40-40 been played with such furious intensity. Indeed, so focussed was Matt Janney that, his hiding place not being discovered in the first game, he proceeded to stay there for the next 45 minutes as the rest of the team enjoyed two further rounds. What’s more, he was able to evade the searching eyes of Zandy MacDonald, who was ‘scouting the perimeter’ throughout, equally oblivious to what the rest of the squad were doing.
In the early evening, the squad travelled to St. Petersburg University where a ‘Sports Friendly Party’ was taking place. The event was to mark the coincidence of both ourselves and the rowing club from the University of Otago, New Zealand, being hosted by St. Petersburg University this week. We were treated to a delightful evening of ballroom dancing, sporting endeavour and microphone wars (as the university representatives, their translator and the sound technician battled for centre stage). After being somewhat surprised to discover that New Zealand rowing clubs also do the Haka, room was made for an ergometer challenge. Confident as ever, tour youngster Matt Geiger was disappointed to discover that he was not allowed to take on the rowers single-handedly. The St. Petersburg team (or the ‘two-metre-Peters’ as the Otago lads had named them) took precedence between the rowers while our Oxford six raced in a full 30 seconds ahead of their Russian counterparts. A photo of the whole group concluded an enjoyable evening.
A relaxed lie-in belied the intensity of the day’s training, which began with a heavy lifting gym session followed by a long run-out on the rugby pitch. Intensity and focus were high, as the squad prepares for the immense challenge of RC Slava this weekend. Training also saw the arrival of Nick Gardner (captain for Saturday’s game), and the two Ronnie’s, who have already brought new life to the tail end of the tour. For me, a Scot, all this was a welcome distraction from events taking place back home, over which there has been much debate and discussion throughout the last week.
Much of the rest of the day was spent preparing for our departure from St. Petersburg to Moscow on the early morning train. A ‘minor clerical oversight’ by team manager, Tim Stevens, meant that the original mode of transport was a 14-hour bus trip. Knowing that this would not be good preparation ahead of the weekend fixture, Tim selflessly threw himself onto the pyre and agreed to take the bus with all of the kit, leaving the squad to take the high-speed train. He was almost joined on his journey by Ralph Weir who, having previously misplaced his good sense, had since misplaced his passport (a requirement for us to travel by train). After much frantic searching and abuse towards teammates, accusing them of playing a sick practical joke, the passport was mysteriously recovered from the side pocket of Ralph’s own bag. I doubt there will be many mor let offs like that.
After waving goodbye to Tim, our final meal in St. Petersburg was spent with our three hosts from the university – Masha, Luda and Sofia. We are extremely grateful to the girls for all of their help, and this was expressed through song by our resident boy band, with a heart-wrenching rendition of Take That’s ‘Back for Good’, as well as through verse by the girls’ biggest fans, James Scaife and Fergus Taylor.
And so, we say goodbye to St. Petersburg, moving on to our next challenge: Moscow and RC Slava.
Yours in Dark Blue,