Up the creek without a paddle with Olympic rowing legend

Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE
Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE

Dear Reader: a regular column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

I had the great pleasure of standing shoulder to shoulder with Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE at an event in Harrogate recently.

Up close, these were clearly the shoulders of a man who rowed his way to four Olympic gold medals and a multitude of world titles between 1992 and 2004.

Schooled at Aysgarth School in North Yorkshire before going to Eton, I’ve heard the occasional remark in the past suggesting that this likable sporting legend’s obvious brawn somehow implied the opposite in terms of brains.

That’s nonsense, as anyone who’s watched the former rower turned sports pundit on BBC TV this week commentating week live from Rio will surely agree.

In person, this ruddy-cheeked knight of the water is impressively intelligent and thoughtful.

A man less likely to say the wrong thing I’ve rarely met, though he did voice strong opinions about the IOC “bottling it” over the Russian doping scandal.

Emboldened, perhaps, by this, I decided to stick my, er, oar in for a moment at this event at Spirit of Harrogate on leafy Montpellier Parade.

“You had to share a boat with two can we say 'very motivated' figures - James Cracknell and Steve Redgrave. Didn’t you deserve a medal for that alone?”

The look on Sir Matthew’s face said it might have been an ill-judged stroke on my part.

I visited a public exhibition about more new housing for our area last week.

The Harlow Grange development near the Pinewoods in Harrogate has been a controversial one ever since the idea was first raised nearly two years ago.

In the event, the exhibition was a very civilised affair and people’s reactions moderate and, generally, positive.

The Greenham Common protests could never have happened here.

It also has to be said that the architect’s diagrams and displays did look impressive at Rossett Sports Centre where the exhibition was being held.

No one would argue that a lot more housing needs to be built if this country’s property crisis is to be solved.

Still, there was no getting round the elephant in the room - this development will destroy a lot, though not all, of the beautiful trees and plantlife.

The Pinewoods is a popular and beautiful area, one I have trodden many times myself over the years.

These days it’s mostly walking rather running as I used to do during my brief spell as a ‘specialist’ 10k racer.

Go back 20 years, however, and it was more a case of having to stagger through the trees in the dark by foot on my way home from late night drinking den and noisy live music venue The Harrogate Arms.

If my younger, perhaps more foolish, self were to re-materialise in a few years’ time in exactly the same spot, walking the same land, I wonder what it would come across?