I had another birthday party yesterday! I've been excessively greedy this year and, as a result, am growing rather tired of blowing out candles! Yesterday was all about my family. The plan had been to go to Cambridge, yet again, but, yet again, the weather was inclement. As yesterday approached, it became clearer and clearer that the mother of all storms was going to race across the country at lunchtime, and wreck any plans I might have had for punting.
The huge irony was that I'd asked Michael to join us as recompense for the fact that it had slung it down with rain the last time we'd tried to go punting. Michael is an Oxford man, so it's become something of an obsession for me to prove to him that punting in Cambridge is a superior experience.
As we drove up, we were brutally attacked by a thunder storm. Lightning. Bucket loads of rain creating aqua-planing opportunities on the roads. Ghastly driving conditions. I looked at the sky and bid a bitter farewell to the concept of punting.
Cambridge was a wash-out. Chinese tourists were standing, miserably, under every doorway and awning. We met my parents in the Bath House pub where we ate vegetarian fish and chips. My Mum had a child's portion of macaroni cheese. She's lost a phenomenal amount of weight recently, largely by cutting down on the size of her portions and eating what she does have very slowly. It's done the trick, she looks amazing, but I can't help but feel a little sorry for her when I see her tiny little plates of food!
The rain drove my parents back home after we'd eaten. Michael and I decided to stick around and wait for Brother Edward and Sascha to arrive, and had a wander around the shops. At one point we could hear a busker playing the accordion somewhere in the distance. "How come accordion players always sound like they're playing The Lambada?" I asked. As we approached, we realised he WAS playing The Lambada.
Edward called, and we agreed to meet him outside Kings College 15 minutes later. We went into a clothing shop in the meantime, and something rather extraordinary had happened by the time we'd emerged. The sky had suddenly become a beautiful deep blue. The sun was shining and glinting on the rain-soaked roofs and pavements of the market square. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.
Kings Parade was full of tourists, the like of which I've never seen. It might have been a product of them all suddenly emerging, relieved, from underneath awnings to make the most of the sun which, we all assumed was destined to disappear. But there were so many people there. I assumed there'd been a celebrity sighting! The large majority of them were Chinese. Maybe 80%. Brexit is very good for Chinese tourists. They come here because it's cheap, in the same way that we used to go to the Costa Del Sol. It's a delicious finger up to all the tits who voted Brexit to control the number of foreign faces they see on our streets. Raped by the Chinese. Fabulous.
We met Brother Edward and Sascha and, once again, mooted the idea of going punting. There were still no clouds in the sky...
We took a risk, there happened to be one Kings College punt left, and ten minutes later, I was on my hands and knees in said punt, scooping a huge amount of rain water into the Cam. Those boats are like buckets in a storm! We decided to stay on the backs - the stretch of water which runs along the backs of all the colleges - although probably if I'd had my time again, because the weather was so good, I might have suggested we punted all the way to Grantchester.
Initially, the only people on the river were the professional punters, who are contracted to be out on the water come hell or high water. It made for really lovely punting conditions because everyone was obeying the rules of the water, and steering adeptly to avoid collisions. There was a moment where a group of us were thwarted by an amateur who'd managed to steer his boat so badly that it ended up horizontally in the middle of the water, creating a barricade for all who wanted to pass. I decided to steer around him to the left. He looked at me, "just a little tip" he said, patronisingly, "try to stay on the right hand of the river." I laughed openly, "I'm just trying to get around your badly-steered punt."
I punted down to Jesus Green, where the boys bought a bottle of wine, and I opened my birthday presents. Edward punted us back, and then took us beyond Kings and up to Clare College, where Michael took over, bravely punting the more dangerous Cambridge way. The Oxford punters punt from inside the boat rather than on the more perilous back platform. Wilting pansies...
We went to Thaxted in the evening. I cooked a pasta meal and we went on a glorious walk across the fields in the copper evening light. A party was happenings in a house somewhere on the outskirts of the town. They were doing karaoke. Some poor woman attempted Unchained Melody. Her angular voice sailed across the fields, forcing birds to migrate as she attempted the "I need your love" sequence, Righteous Brothers style. At that point, the singing stopped and a man's voice took over. One assumes the original vocalist either ruptured her vocal cords or she was wrestled to the floor by a passing bear. You
The pasta went down a treat and we drove home late, somewhat disrupted by the M11 which was closed. The diversion took us round the Wrekin, and it was 1am by the time I'd got home. I slept like the dead.