Africa, Travel

Luna(tic) Row

The sun is setting spectacularly over Victoria Lake, turning the lapping water gold and giving the garish green shirt in Bif’s outstretched hand a horrific, Disneyfied hue.

“Come on Abby,” she says, smiling menacingly at me. “Put it on.”

“I will not,” I insist, mulishly.

“Please Abby!”

“No.”

“But Abby,” Bif insists, through gritted teeth, “we’re the Lumo Ladies. We have to wear lumo.”

“I’m not a Lumo lady. I’m a jean pants kind of lady.”

“Not today,” Bif says, almost crying in desperation now.

“I’ll wear a Lumo hat,” I offer, partly looking for compromise, partly because I can see that I am about to be Sparta kicked off of the jetty and into the freezing water.

“You can’t wear a hat,” Bif says, suspiciously nervous. “It’ll cover up the blue wig.”

Sorry, what?

Half an hour later, I have conceded defeat. Decked out resplendently in a combination of colours that would make Tinkerbell vomit, we lug a ludicrously heavy boat to the water’s edge. In honour of the occasion it is trimmed with cheap China Town twinkle lights, flashing like an aquatic 60’s discotheque.

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It is late May, and the 5 o’clock air has an edge to it that has sent most people running for the shelter of the clubhouse, the warmth of its fire, and the comfort of a hot chocolate.

But not us.

A few hundred insane fools, and me, huddle on the jetties, grimly anticipating just how cold we are about to get. The sun dips further below the horizon.

This is Luna Row. Clubs from all over Gauteng have travelled to Victoria Lake to break the first and most sensible rule of rowing: don’t do it in the dark. Even the resident fish eagle has taken up a position on his branch – anticipating, no doubt, the carnage that is to follow.

“The heats will go now,” the race organiser shouts, to nobody in particular. “And the finals will start when it gets dark. Wear your headlamps backwards, so the other boats can see you. Try not to crash.”

I have questions about this last statement. Not least because rowing boats travel backwards, making not crashing the most fundamentally difficult part of the sport, even in daylight. But my questions go answered, because at that moment Bif descends bearing glow sticks, three sprouting obnoxiously from her own cleavage, and I decide that this is the more pressing problem.

By the time we finish our heat and the sun set has properly set, Victoria Lake has come alive like a Christmas tree. Every boat, rigger and blade sparkles, twinkles or flashes. Glow sticks are wrapped around wrists, necks and ankles, and a crew of Jeppe boys have wrapped their naked torsos in blinking fairy lights.

I make a mental not to let Bif see this. There’s only so far I will go.

But even I have to appreciate the spectacle. The misty dark is pulsing to Ariana Grande (the teenagers, clearly, are in charge of the tunes) and even though Luna Row happens for no particular reason, there is a sense of celebration in the air. The water takes on a mottled, multi-coloured hue, reflecting back thousands of tiny lights. The buzzer at the finish line beeps rhythmically over Ariana’s screeching voice. I start to get butterflies.

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By the time we line up for our final I am no longer cold, and, although I have a synthetic blue hair lodged down my throat, I am thoroughly enjoying myself.

This doesn’t last long.

I have volunteered, stupidly, to sit at bow, and when the aligner calls “GO!” I instantly regret it. In their enthusiasm, the three Lumo Ladies in front of me are digging vigorously into the water on each stroke, sending waves of icy water into the back of the boat.

Where I am sitting.

We win our race by a country mile, but it is the longest three minutes of my life. By now, the temperature has dipped below zero, and when I scramble out of the boat my knees buckle. I am soaked. I could not be wetter if I was actually in the water. I bolt for the shed, high tackle my brother around the neck, and pirate his trench coat. I am shivering so hard that the medics start to inch optimistically towards me, hoping for something to do.

When I strip naked in the back of the shed, my body has literally turned blue. I let my sodden clothes, and the offensive green shirt, puddle on the floor, and wrap myself in Dylan’s coat. I pull off the wig, thinking that I am already Smurf-like enough without it. I spend the rest of the night wandering around this state of uncivil undress, with just a coat between me and the outside world.

Until Bif finds me, and sticks a glow stick down my front.

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