Saturday, 7 June 2014

Punting On The Cherwell

We had a day out in Oxford today with a big crowd of family in what has become an annual event: punting on the River Cherwell.

Before we left this morning I went out for a run (hope you're impressed? It was before breakfast and everything). While I was out, the sky turned from early morning to midnight, the thunder started crashing overhead and the lightning was a little too close for comfort, even for a girl who is a Fan Of Storms. As I ran (fast) past two people who were engaged in Power Walking and dressed in extremely high-viz jackets which contrasted unfavourably with my black-as-night-and-therefore-in-the-storm-almost-invisible shorts and black vest, they called out 'we should be doing that!' I wanted to ask the obvious: 'why aren't you then?' except I was running so fast in the hope that they wouldn't notice the skimpy shorts that I had no breath left for talking....

Anyway, I did wonder whether it was perhaps the best sort of weather for a jolly trip up the river. However, by the time we got to Oxford two hours later the sky had cleared and the sun was out.

We were the first there (not surprising, given the way it had been bucketing down before hand- everyone else was far too sensible to see the sky and think punting) so we had our choice of punts...


We climbed into the three we had chosen and set off...

It started well, J paddling serenely and L enjoying the Quiet Serenity of the river...



It soon descended into something more akin to what usually happens when we're all together. Last year, I sat motionless in the middle of the punt gritting my teeth with white knuckles and fingers soldered to the sides for at least half an hour and vowing the only way I'd get back in was if I had a hip flask with me. This year I was almost carefree by comparison, which meant it was only a matter of time before things started Going Very Wrong.

First, five swans decided to attack each other and very nearly ended up in the punts with us as they screamed down the river, flapping and splashing and grabbing one another by the neck. M didn't help matters by advising everyone to 'stay-very-still-and-don't-move,' instructions the girls ignored completely by shrieking. Their attempts to dodge the rampaging birds very nearly upended the punts...


The menfolk (who were in charge of the poles), possibly irritated by this display of feminine weakness, decided to punt us into several low hanging branches in an attempt to Lose the Children Early On. They proved to be Quite Tenacious and Not That Easily Dislodged, which was just as well because scraping the kids through branches quickly became the Theme Of The Day. One downside of this was the number of spiders who fell PLOP! off the branches and into the punts with us....


Having failed to sweep the kids into the river that way, they then steered us into some very pretty Dog Rose that was lining the river banks, and tried to get rid of my sister-in-law in the process. Gill hung on for dear life and came out of the experience wearing some scratches and looking (accurately) as if she'd been dragged through a hedge backwards.

Her daughter Emma found the whole thing Very Funny, but the laughter was premature and hubris was lurking, as will be seen later....


After that we headed down to the weir (with misgivings), where we all got out of the boats which were then heaved along the runners and sent disastrously down into the in-flood spate river that was raging on the other side...


This was a little more than we'd all bargained for and as well as nearly snatching the boats away and submerging one which began to take on water at an alarming rate, it also claimed Patrick and Chris, who both fell in, bringing gales of laughter from their Assorted Offspring who'd been running a sweep stake on which father would take a ducking first.

Meanwhile, I had spotted a heron who was sitting in a tree wearing an expression of Mild Amusement, as if this was not the first human he had seen fall out of a wooden boat and into his river...


After rescuing the punts and baling water out of the sinking one we managed to reassemble and continue down the river....


We had a nice picnic moored up by a grassy bank where I looked for water voles to no avail, and Gill stood up to reveal a wet patch in her trousers that made it look exactly like she'd wet herself. Her daughters collapsed in howls of laughter again which were compounded by us all agreeing that her husband Patrick was himself looking like an extra from Crocodile Dundee who'd got lost on his way to Australia and hadn't realised he was on a small river in Oxford. 

We drank M's homebrew to cheer ourselves up (and to enable those of us who were soaked through to the skin to pretend we were actually enjoying ourselves), and ate strawberries and cream, and - strangely - various dips on their own that should have been enjoyed with P and G's artisan bread bought that morning from the market and lovingly wrapped in layers of brown paper and eagerly anticipated for hours, only it had fallen in the river when their punt half-sank and no-one somehow fancied contracting weil's disease by eating it. After that we got lost making our way back, but in so-doing came across this Rather Nice House which made the detour worth-while....


And then F (who is not called F The Finder for nothing) found a dead American Cray Fish (scourge of British Water Ways and all round Bag Egg) floating on the surface. It was dead and I can personally testify to the pong it was letting off (so can F, who kept bemoaning the smell it left behind on his hands for ages afterwards, and then asking everyone to sniff them, and then not understanding when we all declined. Most of the others were Quite Glad by then that he was not in their punts with them, until he threw it across the water and it landed beside Hazel's bottom).


We had to go home the same way, which meant re-navigating the same rollers which had nearly claimed the lives of Chris and Patrick first time round (and more importantly, the lives of my shoes). To be on the safe side, the women and children disembarked further down-stream and we all had a Nice Walk up the path through the Botanic Gardens to wait by the rollers for the men to bring the punts up.

M (who was a professional punter during his time at Cambridge and has the boater to prove it and was Very Cross Indeed that he'd forgotten to bring it along today, although the rest of us (particularly his children) were not), arrived long before the others. So long, in fact, that we began to fear that Drowning (which had threatened throughout the day) Had Really Occurred, and so we went back to find them, only to discover that Chris had got fed up with punting against the current, decided the river was shallow enough for it to be quicker to get out and push and had jumped in to discover that it wasn't a) quicker or b) shallow enough, and then Emma had bailed out when she saw a bee flying towards her and had ended up neck-deep in river water crying about her make-up running.

In the end we pulled, pushed, heaved and carried the three punts across the grass (which was covered in goose and duck poo making it a) slippery and b) smelly) beside the rollers (which believe me was easier than using them), while a group of Curious Onlookers gathered helpfully on the bridge to watch. We achieved a kind of comradely team-work that the Armed Forces would surely have been proud of, with M as our leader shouting 'one, two, three: HEAVE!' every few seconds, and Paddy and Gus (8 and 6 respectively) keeping time only marginally behind him....




I think we were all exhausted after that. L summed the day up perfectly, going from this at the start....



To this by the end...



We had a Great Day, rounded off for me by falling asleep in the car on the way home so I missed the entire journey and then waking up in time to get Fish and Chips for supper, washed down with an almighty huge G&T.

Happy Days.

What have you done with your weekend?

CT :-)
 

22 comments:

  1. I cannot believe how such a potentially idyllic mess-around on the river turned into such a memorable day, Count, but it will live with you as long as any tale from Wind in the Willows, I am sure.

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    1. This is a fairly normal day out for us, Tom. The kids knew it, which is why they'd been emailing each other all week discussing who'd fall in first- and what's more, they were right too! Memorable for sure- I'm still smiling about it today :-)

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  2. Great post CT :) |t sounds like an exceedingly memorable day out and it did make me smile! I love the Rather Nice house too :) ps I am having senior moment now too :( I tried to post a comment without being signed in and now its disappeared so please delete one if you receive two!

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    1. Glad it's not just me, Caroline :-) Your other comment was there too, duly deleted. That house was gorgeous and in such a fantastic setting too, even allowing for the crayfish :-)

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  3. What a extraordinary day. When we go punting here, the boat is smaller, and shaped in a similar way as yours. This is the type of day I would most enjoy and "I probably would have ended up in the water". ha,ha Lovely Post.

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    1. I really thought I was going in too at one point, and M missed it by a fraction when his legs went from under him in the raging water! I don't think we've all laughed at each other so much in ages :-) x

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  4. This was hilarious! You have a gift for telling a story. I could picture every minute of it. You certainly made some great memories on this outing - way more than you would have had everything gone smoothly. :-)

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    1. I'm sure we will remember it more because of all the mishaps - they made the day really! x

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  5. That looks like a really lovely day out. It reminded me of when ours were young and we took a rowing boat out at Hampton court, I lost the oars and the man had to row out to get us, the kids are always reminding me of it and the consequence is that I am never allowed to row now. lol
    Briony
    x

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    1. Those are the kinds of memories that make childhoods. Love the idea of you having to be rescued. I am never allowed near oars either, for some reason.... xx

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  6. I love the way you had the presence of mind to photograph the Gill and the hedge incident rather than screaming in anguish and diving to her rescue! xx

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    1. It's an appalling habit I've picked up from the family I married in to. Once, Patrick was so sick coming back from several months in India that he had to be stretchered off the plane. M made them pause on the tarmac at the bottom so he could get a photo.... :-) xx

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  7. That sounds a wonderful family outing, I bet you all can't wait until next year's event! I expect the dogs must have been so excited to see you returning home with scents of their favourite perfume! Sarah x

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    1. We deliberated whether to take them with us and decided that while Pop would have loved it, Teddy would have been worried about the water, so they stayed home x

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  8. My goodness, it sounds as though you would have deserved a very large G&T and a bottle of wine after that!!!! xx

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    1. I'm still smiling about it :-) It was certainly a memorable outing! x

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  9. Great read and your other posts too, we are not often all together as a family any more now the boys have grown up and got girls ! So make the most of it. Have been boating lots of fun.
    Amanda x

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    1. I'm hoping the allure of their fathers falling in the water will ensure the kids make the effort to do the annual punting trip, even when fledged. But you're right, you do have to make the most of these things while they still want to be there x

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  10. I'm laughing, what a fantastic day out. I took my three boys (5, 7 and 9) out in a little canoe last year at our local wetlands centre and I am still traumatised by it. None of us has been quite the same since.

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    1. You are a brave woman, CJ! We went kayaking last summer- I remained firmly on dry ground photographing dragonflies while both the boys and their father fell in several times (I rather think deliberately). :-)

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  11. Sounds and looks like loads of fun. I think!
    What I can't get over is how brave you are to take your camera with you! It could have been you who ended up in the water! :-)

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    1. Brave or stupid, Mandy... I did have VERY STERN WORDS with everyone and said IF I fell in from horseplay there would be hell to pay...I think it was worth the risk. The i-phone takes OK pics, but nothing like the Lumix as a record of the day :-)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x