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Trio recreate Three Men In A Boat to fundraise for Shipston Home Nursing

As jolly wheezes go, it’s a good one: rowing down the Thames from Oxford to London in an old Edwardian wooden rowing boat and recreating the spirit of Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat.

It sounds an awful lot of fun, but the three adventurers undertaking the expedition are also on a deadly serious mission: to raise money for Shipston Home Nursing (SHN) whose coffers have been severely depleted while Covid has kiboshed its major fundraising events.

The three rowers were not hard to spot when FocusLife met up with them on a Stratford riverbank for a photo opportunity ahead of their trip. Sporting hints of Edwardian garb, the trio look just dandy, with just a hint of the Wind in the Willows.

A small debate erupts about who would be what character: everybody wants to be Ratty and no-one wants to be Badger. And thus the mood of the trip is set: convivial banter with a side order of leg-pulling and a dollop of brotherly support.

David Williams, Jonathan Davies and William Dockar-Drysdale first came up with the fundraising idea while on holiday together.

Jonathan explains: “A couple of years ago we were all on a boat in Turkey on a sailing holiday and we had a particularly drunken night, and we woke up the next morning and discovered we’d all agreed to go on a rowing trip.”

The mastermind behind this cunning plan was William, who says rowing along the river has been a long-held dream.

David Williams, Jonathan Davies and William Dockar-Drysdale will be sculling the 85 miles to London and will arrive dressed in full period boating wear. Photo: Mark Williamson S52/5/21/9635 ... (47315288)
David Williams, Jonathan Davies and William Dockar-Drysdale will be sculling the 85 miles to London and will arrive dressed in full period boating wear. Photo: Mark Williamson S52/5/21/9635 ... (47315288)

“I was brought up in Oxford, and as a young boy I was inspired by Jerome K Jerome’s classic book. I went to a school where I think I spent more time on the Thames than I did in a classroom. I hope to bring some skill of that to the mission – we’ll see!”

More poignantly William wants to support SHN after they looked after his dad through a terminal illness.

He explains: “When Dad died five years ago we always thought that as a family we’d find something to do to pay back SHN for the fantastic work they do. And for me, in life, if you are able to give back a bit, then give back a bit. So that’s the inspiration. Obviously this year of all years fundraising is so important. Hopefully we’ll catch everyone’s attention.”

The three friends met as they all lived in Stretton-on-Fosse, just a couple of miles from Shipston. Both David and Jonathan are also keen supporters of SHN.

David is a GP in Shipston, and has been a trustee of SHN for a number of years.

David Williams, Jonathan Davies and William Dockar-Drysdale will be sculling the 85 miles to London and will arrive dressed in full period boating wear. Photo: Mark Williamson S52/5/21/9718 ... (47315285)
David Williams, Jonathan Davies and William Dockar-Drysdale will be sculling the 85 miles to London and will arrive dressed in full period boating wear. Photo: Mark Williamson S52/5/21/9718 ... (47315285)

“I use them or work with them on a daily basis so I see what brilliant work they do keeping people at home which is where most people want to die,” says David. “They do an amazing job of looking after people in the area, especially during this last year with Covid. They’ve kept working even with more people dying at home, but like all charities they are struggling with funding at the moment. If we didn’t have it then a lot of people would end up in hospital and sadly die in that hospital. So it does make a massive difference. They are a fantastic charity, and very close to my heart.”

Jonathan says he knows a lot about the work of SHN mainly though David, but also has a loose connection through his work as a solicitor.

“I write a lot of wills for people and sometimes people are a bit stuck if they are looking for a benefactory, so SHN are high up my list for recommendations.”

Besides a law degree, Jonathan also holds another qualification that his boat-mates sniggeringly suggest might come in handy.

“He’s an experienced sailor and has got his skipper licence - he’s got qualifications to be on the water! So we’ve put him in charge of the map and made him senior officer and navigator,” explains William.

“Surely you just point the boat downstream and follow the nose of the boat,” responds Jonathan wryly. “How difficult can it be?”

The trio will be doing away with creature comforts on their mission. Their home for the duration of the trip will be an Edwardian camping skiff: a 25ft-long heavy wooden boat that comes with large hoops and a green tarpaulin so that it can convert into a tent at night. Sort of like sleeping in the belly of the Hungry Caterpillar.

There is some debate among the valiant trio about how quickly they can do the trip.

Skipper Jonathan reckons: “We decided to do Oxford to London because you are doing it with the stream. We worked out that the stream of the river goes at four miles an hour, and as the journey is 85 miles, we should be able to do it in three and a half days without actually rowing a stroke!”

However William is allowing at least five days, and hopes to enjoy the scenery along the way. “We’ll be going by Henley, along the regatta straight – we may see if we can set a new record!”

The crew’s ultimate mission is to raise as much money as possible. See how they’ve done on their voyage and donate at virginmoneygiving.com/fund/3meninaboat

Helping to keep a promise

William Dockar-Drysdale shares the story of how Shipston Home Nursing helped his father Charles through his final days.

Charles Dockar-Drysdale (47604150)
Charles Dockar-Drysdale (47604150)

Just before Christmas 2014, my father, Charles Dockar-Drysdale, having battled prostate cancer for nearly a decade, learnt that the end of the road had been reached in terms of drugs and options. There were no stated time-frames, no clear plan, only a swift and steep decline in my father’s health. My father died, peacefully at home - as had been his wish and our promise to him, on 14th February 2015.

We could not have achieved this ending without Shipston Home Nursing. By mid-January 2015, as a side effect of the drugs, treatments and progression of the cancer itself, my father became increasingly disturbed and in need of increasing levels of care - resulting in my mother surviving on little or no sleep for weeks. The shocking reality quickly crystallised - my father was dying, and my mother, though naturally strong, was increasingly exhausted physically, mentally and of course emotionally.

Living close by, we were able to help and provide support - but only to a point. In a further acknowledgement of the reality of the situation, we called SHN in late January. Kate - our lead SHN nurse arrived and instantly became our reassuring and very special guide through a journey none of us had travelled before. Kate and her colleagues provided so much, they brought humour - making Dad laugh despite the dreadfulness, they provided desperately needed relief for Mum - enabling her to sleep safe in the knowledge that they would be taking good care of Dad. Most importantly Kate and the team, in conjunction with Dad’s GP, provided skilled care for my Dad when he needed it most.

The SHN team helped him understand what was going on, helped him be calm, helped keep his pain at bay. The team, led by Kate, achieved all this with great sensitivity and in a way which felt totally unobtrusive allowing us all to make the most of our last days with Dad. It might sound wrong or odd, but somehow the SHN team helped make the worst days of my life manageable and I know this is true for my mother, brother and sister.

Having lived close to Shipston for over a decade, my wife and I have attended several of the SHN balls without - being really honest - a real understanding or appreciation of what incredible work SHN actually does. I hope and pray that when my time comes, I too am able to benefit from the wonderful care that SHN provides if the need arises.

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