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We spent last Christmas and New Year in Australia (“spent” being the operative word: it was the most expensive place I have ever been, bar none. It was a relief to go on to New York to find everything reasonable and good value.) The people were very hospitable (though unfortunately Bruce and Sheila were snowbound in London) and we waltzed with Matilda, but be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home. Two good things I brought home from Australia: the recipe for Dukka and an urgent desire to own a Stand Up Paddleboard.
Dukka is an Egyptian nut and herb mix. One dips one’s bread into olive oil and balsamic vinegar and then into the Dukka and then one cannot stop……. a bit like StandUpPaddle Surfing.
It is known as SUP and differs from ordinary body, common, wind, web or paddle surfing in that the boards are very long (9ft to 12ft) and wide (around 30ins) I’m using Imperial measures here, because StandUpPaddle surfing originated in Hawaii, where they don’t do metric. The motion is like that of a Venetian gondolier standing and dipping a long pole in the water and cruising gently along. Hawaiian surfing teachers stood up on long boards to be able to watch groups of students in the water, negotiating around them with an oar, and thus invented a new sport. One could (well, this one couldn’t) ride waves on a SUP, but it suits flat inland and calm sea waters so well that it is spreading all over the world, and not just as a sport but as a core strength work-out.
Back in Europe in January I started searching for an SUP board. I actually enjoyed going into shops in Berlin, where they think they know it ALL, like EVERYTHING there is to know about any water sport….but they had never heard of SUP boards…..yeah! I began to think I would have to import a board from China, Australia or the US, when one day outside our local supermarket I saw a flyer advertising an SUP rental enterprise just down the road….and after some trials and negotiations, yesterday, we tied a bright yellow 11ft board to the roof of the car and took it home.
Whenever I stand up on a board in the water with a long paddle, I start to sing and this song, animated in a short cartoon by the National Film Board of Canada is the best! It’s about a young woman who loves to dance and chooses to marry a log driver over his more well-to-do competitors, as driving logs down the river makes a man the best dancing partner to be found. (youtu.be/upsZZ2s3xv8)
So through discovering a new sport and singing my heart out on the water, I have also discovered a new world – that of the log roller – and another new sport, namely “Birling.” When I first heard the song (“He goes birling, birling down white water….”) I thought the McGarrigles were using a sweet Canadian pronounciation of “Barrelling”, but no; “Birling” is another name for log rolling. In the early days of the logging industry in eastern Canada and the forested New England states, trees – cut down in winter and each branded with the tree owner’s name – were floated downriver to the sawmills on the current of the spring floods, in what was known as ‘the spring log drive.’ Log drivers guided the timber, standing on the moving logs and running from one to another, using a long pole with a hook to free logjams. It was dangerous and it was difficult and as waterways became more crowded with craft, trains and tucks began to be used for transportation of wood to the sawmills. As a means of transportation – apart from in a few remote locations – log driving ended in the Nineteen Seventies. However, Birling has survived as a sport in North America and is also popular in England (Lumberjack Water Sports at www.logrolling.org ) and in the Catalonian Pyrenees is even celebrated at an annual holiday festival.
“…….I’ve had my chances with all sorts of men/But none is so fine as my lad on the river….. To please both my parents I’ve had to give way/and dance with the doctors+merchants+lawyers/their manners are fine but their feet are of clay/for there’s none with the style of a log driver…..”