College rowing societies share many salient features with a particularly sinister and life consuming cult. At the ‘Fresher’s Fair’, enthusiastic students extol the life affirming and transformative powers of early mornings on the river. In exchange, all they require is your signature saying you can ‘swim 100m in clothes’. Hidden in the small print, so legend has it, is ownership of your very soul. The motivation for giving your life to the cause? A year of purgatory ending in ‘May Bumps’ (Judgement Day), leading to ‘Blades’ or ‘Spoons’ (Heaven or Hell).

That’s how it starts, all sweetness and light. “Hey, it’s just a social thing. I can stop any time I want. It’s not like I need it.” But before you know, your up at 6.00am, wild-eyed and confused, not knowing where or, more to the point, why you are. Someone shoves a small tree trunk into your hands, and suddenly the safety of dry land drifts away into the morning mist. Arcane and impenetrable language bombards your ears, and the power of ‘The Cox’ is all.

Run! Run while you still can. It’s too late for me, but save yourself. No, leave your clothes and possessions. There’s no time to go back for pets or loved ones. Stay in the shadows and plug your ears to ward off their siren calls. I’ll hold them back for as long as I can. Make for high ground, dig a shelter, climb a tree.

The Rowers are coming…