6 March 2020
By Chris Dodd
Chris Dodd has some ‘randan’ thoughts…
To the Putney Society for an evening on how rowing took root (and route) here in the 19th century. It was worth attending for two revelations – that is, revelations to me.
The first came from Philip Evison who was once employed in an engineering works in Brewhouse Lane, downstream of Putney Bridge. Thirty years ago he wrote a history of the lane and tuned into rumours that there was once a nunnery, a women’s prison or a treadmill on the site, or perhaps all three. He cites G W C Green’s book, The Story of Wandsworth and Putney, as alleging that the nunnery may have been connected to the bishop’s palace across the river by a tunnel under the Thames. Another rumour connected the brewery to St Mary’s Church by a passage for thirsty clergy or prayer-full brewers.
Evison called for corroborative evidence at the time, to no avail. However, Putney is now a huge construction site for London’s new sewer, so perhaps the Tideway tunnel will lead to some long forgotten secrets. And a reminder to the tunnel borers – don’t forget to put the University Stone back when you have finished, otherwise the Boat Race won’t know where to start.
My second revelation came from Chris Baillieu, who told of his surprise after winning the Diamond Sculls at Henley in 1981. The prizes were given by the film star Princess Grace of Monaco whose brother Jack ‘Kell’ Kelly won the Diamonds in 1947 and 1949 and whose father Jack Senior was refused entry for the Diamonds in 1920. She was accompanied at the regatta by her brother and his wife, and her two younger children.
In the 1940s, as today, winners were presented with a pineapple cup, but from 1975 to 1989 the regatta stopped awarding pineapples. Instead, Chris received a replica of the brooch in the regatta’s the trophy box, being a pair of crossed silver oars with a wreath at the centre, but minus the single small diamond that hangs from the centre of the wreath.
In 1981, Chris noticed that Kell’s wife Sandra was wearing a Diamonds brooch – a replica of the one in the box. She had inherited it from Kell’s mother Margaret who was given it by Jack Senior to commemorate Jack Junior’s wins in the 1940s. But the difference between the brooch in the box and the Kelly brooch was that Sandra’s diamond is as big as the Ritz.
Lords and faggots
To the All-Party Parliamentary Rowing Group charity dinner at the Cholmondeley Room and the House of Lords Terrace, where the Rt Hon Lord Thomas of Gresford OBE QC was mein host, the Row UK Foundation of Leeds the charity, and Jess Eddie and Paul Bennett among the speakers. Jess scored a hit by identifying 10 things Lords and Rowers enjoy in common, examples being the River Thames, exercising leadership and small shouty people who maintain discipline. And, she added, you can’t set foot around Caversham Lake or the Palace of Westminster without tripping over a species too numerous – yes, those blessed Etonians. I went home with an empty pocket but a stomach-full of excellent pork faggot and Black Forest cherry compote, and the wit of Jess in my ears.
Janousek on the medal podium
To the Rumour Mill, where wild talk has it that the River & Rowing Museum is staging a pre-Olympic forum on how GB rowing returned to the medal podium after the post-1948 doldrums, starring Bob Janousek and Sir George Cox. Mark the afternoon of Sunday 19 July in your diary, and watch this space.
A nifty load of cock
To the Intelligencer, where I read that the Seattle rowing twins Duncan and Griffin have sold their start-up Nifty Gateway to Gemini, a company owned by rowing twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (the Winklevi) who were briefly mates with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard before suing him over Facebook (see The Social Network, the movie) and becoming Bitcoin billionaires.
Dunc and Griff trade in nifties. The twins started Nifty Gateway to mainstream what had been a highly technical subculture by, among other things, allowing civilians to buy nifties (on the Nifty Gateway website) with credit cards. A nifty, according to Dunc, is a ‘fundamentally better digital good’ – helpful if you know what a digital good is. A digital good is a virtual object made of ones and zeros that you can see only when it’s rendered onscreen. Based on the same blockchain technology as cryptocurrency, nifties are a departure from that. Short for NFTs (non-fungible tokens), they are unique digital objects you can buy, own, and sell.
So that’s all clear, then.
When they sold their one-year-old company to Gemini last summer, the twins’ lives underwent a dizzying change. They moved from a small apartment in San Francisco to a spacious two-bedroom in Manhattan. ‘It’s a canonical Soho loft,’ Dunc told the Intelligencer, gesturing at the high ceilings, scuffed wide-plank floors, and dangling Edison bulbs in the living room. ‘I love the word canonical,’ he added.
I hope the boys will find happiness there in their Nifty Gateway apartment that they have christened ‘Cockfosters’ after their family name, Cock Foster. But I have news for Dunc and Griff. Their New York pad gets its name from the un-nifty and un-canonical Tube station at the end of the Piccadilly line in the hinterland of north London.