Racing punts

· life ·

For a good few years — while I was doing my PhD — there was an annual punt race between two of the research groups in our Department. The format was as follows; the teams punted in a leisurely fashion up to the Victoria Arms — a very pleasant pub on the banks of the River Cherwell. After several drinks, the teams raced back from the pub to Wolfson College punt harbour. The rule was that everyone in the punt had to do the actual punting at least once — there were no other rules. After a few beers, there was copious splashing, holding back of other punts with paddles, or holding on to the painter. One year, several people got so soaked that they ended up in the laundry room of Wolfson College in their underwear, drying their outer garments in the tumble driers. We have incriminating photos somewhere.

The tradition fell by the wayside for a couple of years, but yesterday, we had a punt race again. We made pirate hats out of botched print-outs of a research paper ("We are the equation pirates! Ar-haaaar! Differentiate the equations!"), stapled together. Unfortunately, none of us is very artistic, so everyone we passed thought that they were bishops' mitres, despite the lovingly biro-ed skull and cross-bones on my hat.

I must say that I agree with Ratty — there's nothing "half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats". Lolling in the bows of a punt, letting the water drift past, watching damsel flies flitting and dancing over the river, and letting the cool of the evening soothe you, while you sip your glass of iced Pimms: this is something I could get used to. We had a great evening, though so many people felt so mellow, that only a subset did any actual racing, while the rest of us loafed on the grass in the pub garden. Some of the old traditions were upheld, though; several people fell/were pushed into the water, or got so thoroughly splashed that they might as well have gone in. I hope those people are OK. There was a report on the local news about a bloom of blue-green algae in the river, in which they warned people (and dogs) to stay out of the river. I'm not sure how many dogs watch the local news — I hear that they prefer The Simpsons.