Saturday 13 February 2010

Frightening the punters

I'm writing a story about Oxford now, linking it with the new Tim Burton 'Alice in Wonderland' movie starring Johnny Depp (looking confusingly like a psychedelic Frodo) as the Mad Hatter, and the endearingly game Helena Bonham Carter, with her head swollen to three times its normal size, as the Red Queen. Lewis Carroll was of course Charles Dodgson, a mathematics don at Christ Church College, where I went last year thinking more about Harry Potter than Alice. (The dining hall above stood in for Hogwarts.)

Dodgson told the story to Alice and her sisters on a long row along the Thames to a picnic. Alice was nothing like the blonde cutie in Tenniel's illustrations and every cartoon/movie since, including the new one. She had short, dark hair and looked rather bossy, so the story was no doubt a self-preservation strategy for Dodgson. They were in a row-boat, but punting is equally popular in Oxford.

So it is also in Cambridge, where we had a pleasant outing along the Cam in a punt propelled by someone else (much the best way to do things: it can be a very wetting activity for those who don't know what they're doing). I was interested to read recently that in the summer just gone, the river became so congested that at times there was punt rage.

The report said that insults had been hurled, also mugs of tea (how English!) and there had been sabotage under cover of dark, with punts set adrift and even cut in half. Consequently, next year fewer will be allowed to register for business, and some visitors may have to miss out.

In other words, planning on having a punt could actually be a bit of a gamble.

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