Ounts.jpgPunting 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 compulsory 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 party 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 and 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 allottted 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 gramorphone, the gentleman wearing a stripy 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 suspicion.
3) Shooting along at something close to the speed of sound, clambering over low bridges as the punt, unmanned, floats through underneath. If water pistols are involved anyone from category 2 (above) should be targeted. 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 members of the opposite sex and picnics but only if dressed as a pirate or Viking.

There are of course hazards 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.

see also A Cunning Plan

Words by Hugh

Photo by May Chan