Sunday 18 September

I am now launching off the map, and will post when my machine comes with range of a signal. Probably when I return to Heathrow on October 1, alas. I will, however, keep a journal of events, even if it can’e2’80’99t be posted regularly, so do not give up on me entirely.

Before we start, there are two things I should mention:

The radio program ‘e2’80’9cTo the Best of Our Knowledge’e2’80’9d airs September 25, 2005
HOUR ONE – ‘e2’80’9cElementary Holmes’e2’80’9d
*Forget the deerstalker cap and the calabash pipe. The real Sherlock Holmes is much hipper than that. One scholar suggests that with his violin, creative spirit, cocaine and costumes, Holmes was the rock star of his day. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge we’e2’80’99ll investigate the elementary Sherlock Holmes, from the new annotated edition – to his wife!
Mitch Cullin, A Slight Trick of the Mind (Nan A. Talese)
Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms (Bantam)
Leslie S. Klinger, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: the Short Stories; the Novels (Norton)

And for a photo of Laurie at BoucherCon, see:
(Apologies’e2’80’94the instructions for creating a link didn’e2’80’99t follow me from California)

Sunday, 18 September.
Today was a day on the river. Sunday in Oxford, the bells ring, the swans proudly sail, and the tourists ram each other’e2’80’99s boats on the river and do their best to fall in.

A punt is an awkward form of transportation. A rowboat, a canoe, a kayak’e2’80’94all possess a fairly immediate relationship between the effort and the result. But a punt is long and heavy, and the person in charge has to think twenty or thirty feet ahead of the boat itself.

Propulsion works like this: The punter stands in the back, which in Oxford is the low part’e2’80’94in Cambridge, where the river is carefully tended and artificially shallow, one stands on the raised part, a position much scorned by Oxford cognoscenti. The punt pole is a young tree, three and a half or so inches in diameter and twelve or fourteen feet long, preferably of wood, often of aluminium (sic: the British spelling.) One end has a metal cleat of two prongs, to grab the bottom of the river.

So, standing and holding the pole upright and free of the water surface, the punter then lets it drop straight down, at a place slightly in front of his or her feet. When it hits down, the punter leans forward and pushes the boat forward against it, pushing on the pole hand over hand until reaching the end of the pole, at which point the punter either lets go and loses the pole entirely, or hangs onto it and pulls it up in three or four neat jerks until it’e2’80’99s free of the water again. (For a romantic version of how it’e2’80’99s done, see Dorothy Sayers’e2’80’99 GAUDY NIGHT. What she doesn’e2’80’99t mention is how great it is for building abs.)

Sounds easy, right? Except that you also have to steer, using the pole as it pulls behind the boat before it’e2’80’99s jerked back into the air. And avoid ramming the bank or crashing into other boats. And keep the swans from climbing aboard and attacking the passengers. And keeping an eye out for low branches that will thwack the backs of one set of passengers’e2’80’99 heads or poke out the eyes of the forward-facing passengers. And keep the kids from losing a finger when two punts brush together, which happens all the time. And’e2’80’a6 well, you get the idea.

But it’e2’80’99s great fun, really, especially when you moor the punt against the bank and go for a picnic, coming back to find your boat missing or stove in by yobs.

I probably don’e2’80’99t need to mention that the whole punting thing goes better with a lot of beer.

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  1. Anonymous on October 13, 2005 at 11:44 pm

    I found the beautiful picture of Laurie by entering

    and then clicking on BoucherCon

    Don Rickter in Arlington, Massachusetts

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