Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Pitmen's Reggattas, Coot Club and the Bolsheviks.
Watching Countryfile on Sunday night has become a bit of an institution in our house as we sit and groan at the Baker/Bradbury 'relationship' and wait for the appearance of Eric the Highland Bull. But in amongst all the dumbed down froth about "The Countryside" there is usually at least one item of interest and last weeks episode featured something that I had never heard of, the Fife miners coastal regattas where up until the late 1950's the local pitmen would compete in rowing and sailing, usually in craft built from scrap wood from the mines. For a long time I have been interested in the working class involvement in the history of what are now considered to be almost exclusively posh sports and have posted before about the history of working class rowing. Sailing was never a hobby for me but rather just another way that I could make a bob or two. It has to be admitted that these days sailing is very much a middle-class hobby and it's a trend that began a long time ago. Nothing sums it up quite so well as the works of Arthur Ransome. Swallows And Amazons and Coot Club are the epitome of a strand of literature that, in spite of the inherent snobbery, I find pretty enjoyable to be honest. For a long time I laboured under the misapprehension that Ransome had been taught to sail by none other than Peter Kropotkin but have since learnt that it was skiing that the young Arthur learnt from the great Russian anarchist. Skiing or sailing it didn't make much difference during the revolution when Ransome became great friends with many of the leading Bolsheviks. His childhood friendship with Kropotkin didn't stop Ransome from dismissing the anarchists as scruffy and mad when Lenin decided that when it came to freedom one could have too much of a good thing - and crushed the Russian anarchist movement. Some say that Arthur Ransome was actually a British Secret Service asset. If so he certainly developed a pretty deep cover and ended up marrying Trotsky's secretary. Enid Blyton was never like this.