I WAS in Oxford at the weekend – my first visit to that great seat of learning.
A group of 10 of us headed down to celebrate the birthday of our friend Gummy, a refugee from God’s Own County currently living in that genteel city by the Thames.
After a night of refreshment, Gummy suggested the perfect hangover cure on Sunday would be a little gentle punting on the river Thames.
As a former rower I was confident I would take to punting like a duck to water. Propelling and steering a lump of wood along a river? Been there, done that.
Being a keen punter, Gummy got us underway, effortlessly pushing our four-person punt along the river. Then it was my turn with the big metal pole.
How hard could it be? Er, very hard as it turns out.
Punting is not a thing like rowing. The technique is entirely different and the basics are hard to grasp. You propel the boat by pushing the metal pole into the water, but then you have to keep the pole submerged to steer.
Even if you do it right, you start by going off at an angle and then straighten up.
I just kept on going off at an angle. Within seconds of taking control, I had skilfully steered our punt into the riverbank, a feat I went on to repeat with alarming regularity in the minutes that followed.
I managed to get us stuck in one part of the river, repeatedly bashing into the bank next to where some Spanish tourists were enjoying their lunch.
It was so bad that I attracted a crowd who stood at the riverbank offering their helpful tips on where I was going wrong.
It was the only the presence of a small child in the crowd that prevented me from offering my thanks for their assistance in robust terms.
After about 10 minutes of flailing, I finally yielded control of the boat back to Gummy, relieved that the experience was over.
It’s rather pleasant being on a punt in Oxford on a sunny afternoon. But not if you have to drive the thing.