Friday, February 29, 2008

Slather me with butter

Emails and leaflets have been doing the rounds at Chronicle Towers this week suggesting that the younger and fitter among our number should get a team together to take part in the annual Bath dragon boat race next June.

Last year the race raised more than £32,000 for leukaemia sufferers, and a good time was had by all in a very good cause.

We mentioned the race a couple of weeks ago in the paper, but it never really sank in (geddit?) that we might actually be expected to take part.

Now it could be argued that your humble columnist, being neither particularly young nor in the least fit, doesn't qualify to take part in the race.

But it would be churlish to refuse the invitation. And there is a role in a dragon boat team that doesn't involve paddling, straining or otherwise dealing out grief to muscles which haven't been used recently for anything more strenuous than waving a Wii remote control: the drummer.

If you've ever seen one of those 1950s Roman-Empire-type blockbusters that usually seem to star Charlton Heston, James Mason or Antony Quinn (born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn, fact fans) then you'll know the score.

Quintus Maximus, disgraced son of senator Severus Jugularis, has spent the last 15 years exiled to darkest Parthia, but is now returning triumphantly to Rome on a quinquireme with his smouldering barbarian concubine Lollia, after routing the empire's foes left, right and centre all over Asia Minor.

But a curse has been laid on them: as the mighty galley plies its way west to Rome, the wind falls, the sails droop and a merciless sun beats down on passengers and crew.

As sea monsters circle and pirates prepare to pounce, we hear the blast of a trumpet. The galley slaves take up their oars, and from the bowels of the ship comes a rhythmic pounding.

It is Mongo, the egg-shaped slave driver, thumping his tub and urging his rowers to ever greater feats of exertion.

Mongo is huge; Mongo is bald; Mongo is shiny. Mongo is probably afraid of mice. Mongo's mother loves him, although everyone else gives him the sort of berth normally afforded to a demented bull elephant on the day that Prozac stopped working.

But on this particular voyage, Mongo is the hero of the day. The galley gives the pirates the slip, does a back double round the sea monsters and sweeps back to Rome in time for Quintus to forestall the plot that will oust mighty Glutinus Caesar from the throne and leave Rome at the mercy of the Gothic hordes.

Lollia renounces the life of a concubine, marries Maximus and becomes a card-carrying Roman matron. Maximus himself is adopted as Caesar's heir. Mongo gets a nice cosy villa with an extension for his mum, and the Roman Empire goes on forever.

Humorous Pictures

All of which is quite contrary to history as related in the works of the great Edward "Funky" Gibbon.

He believed that the fall of Rome came about because its citizens had become lazy and soft and laid themselves open to barbarian invasion through a love of luxury and lark's tongue soup.

Later writers have claimed that it was to do with all the lead from the water pipes. It's an interesting debate and one we may take up in a future edition.

Anyway, let's get back to the point. And yes, dear reader, there is a point.

Because every dragon boat needs a Mongo, or at least his spiritual descendant, to renounce his life of luxury, slather himself with butter (for that shiny effect all good slave drivers need), shave his head and sit at the pointy end of the boat, rolling his mad staring eyes, drumming like crazy and keeping the rowers in rhythm.

And if you come down to the river on June 29, you may be surprised. There's a place on our boat for even the least athletically inclined, and this columnist is already in training for it.

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