As we reach the last few days of the Summer Term and Top Common is transformed once more into a scene reminiscent of a medieval jousting tournament, the stretch of river below the School undergoes a similarly colourful transformation over three afternoons, with the climax of the inter-house rowing competitions – the Bumping Races, or ‘Bumpers’.
With three divisions and up to 13 boats racing in each – all sporting their House colours – the lining up process at the start of each race, with 30 metres of water between each boat, is a spectacle in itself – and a major feat of organisation by Master-in-Charge Rob Wilson. When the starter’s hooter sounds and the cavalcade of boats sets off, chasing each other down the river, the frenzy of excitement both on the water and on the riverbanks frequently becomes – particularly for the novice spectator – utter and glorious chaos.
Unlike in a ‘normal’ first past the post or timed race, the full account of what exactly has just happened and who has bumped whom takes a little time to piece together, involving Umpires observing each boat and and, on occasion, serious deliberations by the ‘Impartial Committee’. The official results are eagerly anticipated, determining as they do the line-up for the next day’s racing.
And it is at this point that another glory of Bumpers emerges: the Bumps Charts.
At a first glance, the multi-coloured criss-crossing jumble of lines may appear to be even more bewildering than the races they record. But a second closer look – and a realisation that each line represents a boat in its House colours – reveals that, instead, they impose a calm sense of order and clarity. The frantic splashing and straining at the oars and hoarse shouts from excited Housemasters as one boat ‘bumps’ another is translated into a simple, elegant upwards-sloping line for the victorious boat crossing over an equally elegant but downwards-sloping line representing the disappointed ‘bumped’ crew.
Hand-drawn charts dating back to the very first Bumpers in 1867 adorn the walls of the Boat House. But in 2010, the first electronically generated charts were published – thanks to the computing skills of Ed Carroll (Ch), who was at that time still only a Third Former. As both a self-confessed computer ‘nerd’ and an enthusiastic and successful cox, Ed had been asked by Rob Wilson if he thought it would be possible to write a computer program that could generate a Bumps chart. It was; and it was also the start of a project that Ed has painstakingly developed and refined over each of the five years he has been at the School.
Having begun as a program that could generate the Bumps charts for the current year, Ed has rewritten it from scratch each year, constantly refining and improving it in response to feedback from users and as his own technical knowledge of computer programming grew.
Ed is now in the Upper Sixth and has an offer from Oriel College, Oxford to study Computer Science . His highly sophisticated, yet elegant final version of the Bumps chart program has been the focus of his A-level Computing project this year.
Fellow Sixth Former Dan Lo (SH) has assisted Ed with the huge task of inputting data from the sometimes almost indecipherable old Bumps charts in order to create one continuous whole. So now, for the first time, the entire Bumps chart dating back to 1867 can be viewed online, explored and pored over. It is a fascinating and beautiful visual record not only of the history of Bumpers, but also of the School, as new Houses appear on the chart or change names through the years.
And as a working document that can be used long after Ed moves on from the School, it is a lasting legacy.
The Bumps Chart may be viewed here: http://bumps.rssbc.org.uk/