We had added crash helmets to our already enticingly attractive outfits and were each handed an oar. The raft was a dinghy with handles around the edge. This didn’t look too bad, I thought optimistically, and there was plenty of room for us all to squeeze together in the dinghy and cling on to the handles for dear life. The chance of falling out looked slim and I wondered what they’d made all that fuss about in the health and safety talk. Until I realised that we were expected to perch on the narrow, unsubstantial rim of the dinghy.
We lurched off, eight of us including a toughnut/psychopathic instructor, getting the hang of our paddles and learning to balance and weave with the movement of the raft. It was all very pleasant at first; the river was powered with an artificial current that took us along at a gentle pace and the scenery was beautiful. Occasionally we threatened to bump into one of the many rocks but the person closest would simply poke it with an oar and bounce us back on our way again.
At this point, the only causes for alarm were inside the raft. Chiefly, a piece of intellectual plankton, a man who appeared to have dedicated his life to merrily ignoring raft etiquette, using my back as a footrest, keeping up a stream of xenophobic abuse and, when we finally left the raft, elbowing his way off first and then turning to throw his weighty wooden paddle over his shoulder, striking me sharply on the knee.
The instructor was no barrel of laughs either. Grimly po-faced, he told us poms that if we discovered a great love for white water rafting – likely to be inspired by his joyful demeanour no doubt – it was of no use as there was nowhere decent to do it in the UK. “You guys make the best rafting equipment in the world – but you don’t have anywhere to f*cking use it!” He croaked out a nicotine-grappling chuckle.
All of a sudden, with no wobbly preamble, the girl next to me shot right out of the raft. Before panic could set in, a bloke behind me had reached over and grabbed her arm, pulling her slight frame back into the raft where she lay breathless and giggling. Relief.
Shortly afterwards, we hit a rock and I bounced out into the water – which was very cold. I sank right down to the bottom, something which would terrify me in a murky English river but here it was so clean and clear, I felt unafraid, only glad to have landed on the rocky riverbed on my Kitkat-padded bottom.
It took a few seconds of being caught in the current for me to be able to move upwards again – all the while I couldn’t breathe felt much longer but my head soon popped out of the water and, assuming I had fallen out right next to the raft, I turned to grab an arm and be hauled back
In fact, to my great surprise, I had been swept away downstream by the current and was far out of reach. The others waved to me from the raft and I felt reassured until I caught sight of the hardcore instructor’s face which was contorted in horror. I began to have misgivings.
I stayed floating on my back in the rescue position, knees tucked into my chest. They paddled downstream as hard as they could and threw me a long rope. As we’d been instructed in the safety talk, I hauled myself along the rope, staying on my back so my bottom tackled the sharp rocks, not my knees or face. Once close enough, I was pulled back into the raft, the baddass instructor saying breathlessly, over and over again, ‘Good girl, good girl,’ more to reassure himself than me I think. I returned to my place and watched my elasticated wicker shoes unravel.