Saturday, 13 May 2006

How To


Punting n. The art of drunkenly propelling one's self along a river with a stick whilst standing on a plank.

There is more to punting than meets the eye, the image of the Oxford Student lazily floating down the river sipping a glass of something is an enduring image but one that belies the strict etiquette that rules the practice.

It is reasonably common knowledge that the consumption of alcohol is compulsary on any expedition, it is less well known that it is mandatory to drink to excess. Once upon a time the only booze alowed on a cruise would have been Pimms, Champagne or at a pinch a dry white but only on the proviso that it accompanied a picnic. Nowadays attitudes have relaxed and it is not unusual to witness the chugging of lager and other such dubious imports from the continent.

It matters not how one boards the vessel and it is even perfectly acceptable for one of the part to take the mandatory 'dipping' at this point in the proceedings. What is important is the end of the plank at which the driver stands. One end of the punt is clearly designed for it to be propelled from, the other clearly is not. Tabs (those poor unfortunate types who went to Cambridge) push themselves about from the wrong end, it does not take a choreographer from the Kirov to spot that punting from the wrong end is an ugly and unweildly affair that does nothing more than bring into question the mental state of the perpetrator.

Having boarded, checked that there is a sufficient quantity of booze to cause the craft to lie dangerously close to the water line it is time to be off. There are three acceptable forms of movement along the river.

1) To spend the entirety of the aloted time on the river spinning in circles and crashing in to the bank / other craft / bridges / low hanging trees and getting a regular 'dipping'.
2) Cruising sedately along listening to a wind up grammerphone, the gentleman wearing a stripey jacket and the lady a white dress and sun hat. These people tend to hire a chauffer, take a picnic and avoid the 'dipping' , treat with intense suspicon.
3) Shooting along at something close to the speed of sound, clambering over low bridges as the punt, unmanned, floats through underneath. If waterpistols are involved anyone from catagory 2 (above) should be targetted. Punts in group 1 should be rammed at high speed, preferably bringing about the 'dipping' of at least one of it's occupants. It is not uncommon for every member on a group 3 outing to get a dipping. I remember on one occasion finding myself on one bank with the three girls from the punt, all of us soaked through. Andy was on the opposite side of the bank similarly drenched and clutching the punt pole. The punt meanwhile was merrily floating away in the middle of the river. Recognising a good thing I left Andy to retrieve the punt and return it to the boat house and escorted the ladies to the Kings Arms for a restorative.

It is perfectly acceptable to board other punts and liberate memebers of the opposite sex and picnics but only if dresses as a pirate or viking.

There are of course hazzards to watch out for along the way. I have been dismounted by over hanging branches, tree trunks, low bridges and collisions. It is traditional for the local urchins to throw themselves from the Rainbow Bridge in the aim of splashing passing punts, they have yet to realise that in the wetness stakes they come off by far the worst in this interaction. By far the worst incident I witnessed was the loss of a corkscrew to the murky depths; if that's not an argument for Corks that fly off with a jolly 'pop' I don't know what is.


fjl said...

I used to be the past master at punting, the epitome of Oxford elegance.
I suppose I dread to learn that I've lost the art. Used to love it tho'.

Vicola said...

This is exactly the type of outing that the sadly maligned 'screw top' bottle of vino was created for. Also entertaining on any sort of alcohol fuelled outing is the inclusion of a small, furry tube like creation designed to keep both hands warm. This provides the opportunity to ask passers by/ strangers/ fellow boaters/ policemen if they'd like to stroke your muff.

Hugh Sawyer said...


airabove said...

My friend goes to Oxford. She just tried punting and seems to have naturally gone for the Cambridge way, it making so much more sense. It also involves less swimming which is good for delicate ladies with nice clothes and nice hair.

Delicate ladies also favour self-opening wine you describe - surely the sole point of Cava?

fjl said...

The only trick really worth learning is avoiding the tricksters on the bridge. Grabbing the pole from your hands and manouvering you underwater n'all that. Cambridge is worst for that- function of the bridges. (Perhaps!)

Kes said...

Punting in Oxford nearly always ends in a dunking. Usually around the Head of the River leaving other people to tie up the punt I swim ashore enter the pub, am rapidly told to stop dripping on the floor, leave, change into dry clothes in the car park, re-enter, order pint! I usually don't the courage to 'steer' until lubed up with grog, at which point I suffer from lack of co-ordination, crash at slow speed into island, crew rebel, marooned on the said island by the mutinous scalawags.