~~**EDIT: The final results are out, and even with our tiny team we got onto the podium as third-placed team (behind ShUOC and, yes, O*ford). And to whom do we owe our bronzeware? None other than unlikely saviour Rowan Lee. If anyone points out that he might possibly have graduated last year, I'll personally see to it that you get a really boring committee role at the AGM**~~
EUOC 2020. Wow. Who knew a shameless marketing ploy could become the UK's fourth-most prestigious (out of four*) inter-university competitions?
Yes indeed, after the great success of EUOC 2019 - created purely to make the Icenian less boring - ShUOC took the bait hook, line and sinker and actually decided to hold it themselves. The madmen. Well its fair to say they pulled it off. The crack Cambridge team was unfortunately depleted by horrific injuries ranging from a recalcitrant stress fracture to a bone-chilling affinity for running round 200m oblongs. We wish Fiona and Heather M speedy recoveries, and send Aidan our thoughts and prayers. Joe was also participating in a worse sport - the less said the better. But we still had a carful, comprising our classy chauffeur Pippa, the ever-enthusiastic Larry, Heather 'her name is literally the terrain' Corden, and duvet-cover daredevil James. Setting off on Saturday morning in a car that can only be described as 'quite big', there was only one question on everyone's mind - how could such a peng whip not have Bluetooth connectivity? Undeterred, and with the backing of BBC Radio One's dulcet tones, CUOC set off.
To kickstart the weekend, ShUOC had arranged a fun relay on Blacka Moor. Was it fun? Yes. Was it a relay? Yes. Job done, you would be forgiven for thinking. But no. Unsatisfied with mere amusement and sequential start-times, ShUOC and Blacka Moor pulled out all the stops. Horizontal snowstorm? Yes. Ferocious river crossing? Have two. Waist high brambles? Oh yes (although apparently I was the only one to find them...). James ran first leg and came back second or maybe third having spent a LOT of time following the luminous pink beacon of navigational hope that is Phil Vokes' posterior. Incidentally, former captain Paul - noting this potential strategy to be exploited by rivals in the forest - cunningly inverted his Vokes-imitating fuschia hosiery in a bid to cause would-be followers to run backwards. To my knowledge this strategy was unsuccessful. On second leg was everyone else. Larry acquitted himself well on his first true venture outwith Cambridgeshire, negotiating all but the first control with mathmoesque efficiency. Heather came through the spectator control with sufficient pace to elicit a mumbled 'wow she's shifting' from someone in the crowd. Pippa presumably also ran, but I must have been in the tent for her start, finish, and spectator run-through. I have every confidence they were quite good. Upon our departure Pippa almost crashed both of her cars at once, which is really quite impressive.
What wasn't mentioned in the paragraph above is that it was really really cold. To alleviate this, half of the competitors were kindly allowed access to the world's most sexist swimming pool, while the other half could go no further than the showers. Nonetheless, the opportunity to get warm and clean was much appreciated until Phil got his pasta out and everyone agreed that it was a bit weird. At this point, Heather went to see some friends, Larry and James got comfy on the seats at the accommodation, and then got comfier on the floor after all, and Pippa went home. It was to prove a short respite, however, as ShUOC had arranged a packed schedule of evening entertainment, starting out at a restaurant in which you could pay a medium amount of money for a frankly insane amount of pizza or just a tiny bit less money for a humiliatingly small portion of pasta. Compounding this bizarre arrangement, ShUOC had asked us all what we would like for dinner over a month ago. Much to my chagrin, it transpired that in the midst of January, presumably in a carbohydrate-deficient stupor, I had ordered the pasta, whereas my companions at the table had almost without fail anticipated the need for pizza. Wielding her vast swathe of Meat Feast, O*ford star runner Grace Molloy capped off my dinner mortification by producing unto me the results of VFEAR. Now VFEAR (or as they call it in the 80% literate other place, FEAR) is a varsity match that no self-respecting orienteer should ever care about (take note, treasurer). However, upon the revelation that Oxford had claimed victory in the match by a scoreline of Cambridge 2 - 1 Oxford, I was engulfed by a righteous anger at what was a clearly absurd result the likes of which I haven't experienced since the inconclusive Iowa caucuses. Inspired by this fury, I took to the dancefloor to indulge in what I was led to believe was going to be a ceilidh. Now I mean no disrespect whatsoever to the Sheffield University Ceilidh Band, nor to ShUOCs social-organisational skills, but this was a ceilidh unlike any other I have ever been to. There was the failure to start with a Gay Gordons, the frankly absurd inclusion of a man hitting a hollow box in the band, and a strip the willow so unOrcadian it might make it onto a normal-scale map of the British Isles. This ceilidh showed a flagrant disregard for the rich Scotch culture of out-of-control spinning to dances called in an incomprehensible accent. But the intent was so pure I can criticise no more - the sheer cheek of holding a ceilidh at the English Universities Orienteering Cup is commendable beyond any further reproach and despite its resolute non-Caledonianism, it was actually quite fun. Once we had completed our culture-blind gyrations, we returned to the hall and, despite the thrilling prospect of live results from the South Carolina Democratic primary, we all fell asleep.
We awoke to a world in which Joe Biden had marginally outperformed his polling in a shock result that elicited a wide range of responses from 'hmm' to 'oh'. Paul pretended to take great interest in my explanation of who Tom Steyer was, but was promptly distracted by the far more pressing task of retrieving a helium balloon from the roof using only a broom handle and the power of teamwork. Eventually we all drifted out to the cars and headed off to the individual (that's right it's taken almost 10% of an HSPS dissertation's word count for me to get to the actual competition this article is about). The first observation to make about Burbage Moor is that its very windy, the second is that its very open, and the third is that it contains a felled area rivalling Llyn Elsi for lack of places to run, or hide (that's one for the purists). The planner had kindly taken advantage of all three of these traits, planning a Black course that trekked straight into the headwind, across the felled grot, and then over miles of open nothingness. Twice. The girls, running Short Brown, were spared the felled area, but not the wind or the openness. But CUOCers are a hardy type, with Pippa running strongly for 3rd and James for 6th. An honourable mention should go to Larry who resolutely refused to give up on his first attempt at a full length Black course. But the run of the day surely belonged to Heather, who battled through to a thoroughly impressive 5th, scalping (amongst others) two-time former CUOC captain and one-time worst CUOC welfare officer of 2018-19 Helen Ockenden, MSci. This was a really encouraging pre-BUCS performance from Heather and we greatly look forward to preventing access to the BUCS podium by deploying our strategic Corden (I'm really sorry, it's 1:30am).
And, almost as quickly as it arrived, it was over. With Burbage disappearing in the rear-view mirror, and BBC Radio One still blaring, Pippa set about the task of driving home, Heather produced some excellent flapjack, and Larry and I fell asleep in the back of the car.
To those who didn't come. Bad luck, but at least you can still sign up for BUCS. And come along next year when Bristol host - its a great competition (if I do say so myself).
*If anyone knows of another inter-uni competition do let me know and I'll bump this down to fifth out of five.