Have you ever been punting? I hadn't. I stood on King's College Bridge for a time, watching people passing underneath me, and a lot of them seemed to be struggling. I watched long enough to satisfy myself that although a lot of people were making little progress and/or were crashing a lot, not a lot of capsizing was going on. It would be okay, I resolved. Or, I added, I would be the first person of the day that everyone laughed at.
I’d never been to Cambridge, and neither had Monica, and with her flight home booked for a week’s time… well, why ever not? We’d strolled around a choice selection of colleges and we’d eaten in The Eagle – where Francis Crick announced he and Watson had had an idea about the structure of some macromolecule or other – which really only left the River Cam.
“You’ve punted before,” the old hippy hiring out the punts said to me, more of a statement than a question.
“No, no I haven’t,” I conceded.
He gave me a brief yet seemingly intricate guide on how to steer which I claimed to understand, and handed me my pole.
The pole was both longer and heavier than I’d expected. Now, I struggle carrying pints of beer. Any more than two pints, and I’m not going to run the risk of looking foolish and potentially loosing all of them just to save me a bit of time. The thought of stepping onto a bobbing punt, making my way to the opposite end, and carrying such a thing… well, that was just a bit worrying.
Nonetheless, I managed it, and we set off. It was soon revealed to the watching hippy that I hadn’t really understood his instructions, as we began to make a lazy S down the river, nudging into each bank in turn, along with a few other punts and the overhanging branches of some willows.
“Shit, sorry,” I said.
“Sorry about that too,” I said, a moment later.
We made slow progress along The Backs, and soon enough I was fairly confident I wouldn’t be tipping the punt over. I still had to sternly concentrate stood there on the stern though, and as a result can now remember little of anything we passed. Other punts sailed past, but I also took heart that there were a couple of other people out on the river who were even worse than me.
Even once I felt slightly competent, and could roughly guess which direction my punting and ruddering would take us next, I sadly concluded that I would have to add punting to my ever-expanding list of things-I’m-not-very-good-at. I dedicate more moments’ thought than I might, thinking of the nomadic Khassonké gentleman, eking out a living somewhere in Kayes, oblivious to the fact that he actually possesses the ability to be one of the world’s most talented and celebrated skiers, or the Yupik lady who will never know she has a natural knack for day trading. Every time I try something new, a small part of my brain thinks “This could be it! This is what we were built for!”. It’s a thought that often crosses my mind after a few pints whenever I see a pool table or a darts board, despite the fact that I have had numerous prior opportunities to realise neither are my calling. And so I inwardly sighed, and accepted that I would have to wait another day to finally uncover whatever talent it is that is hidden somewhere inside me.
Progress remained slow, and soon became exhausting. By the time we docked, some half an hour late, my hands were raw, my calves twitching, and I was more than a little thirsty.
“Good job,” Monica said.
The part of my brain that generally oversees interactions had apparently reallocated much of its resources to the parts of my brain governing balance and vital functions, so I think all I was left able to muster was perhaps a confused frown.
4 weeks ago