Punting and Cambridge. The two words are practically synonymous. On a pleasant, balmy evening, or a sunny summer weekend, what better way to pass an hour or two than drifting past the College ‘Backs’ along the River Cam, watching King’s College Chapel, the Bridge of Sighs and the Virginia Creeper-clad St John’s College all pass by, as you laze idly back and enjoy the view.
Of course, to enjoy such relaxed punting, you require a punter to do the hard work of propelling your vessel for you. Thankfully, help is at hand. Next to the bridge at Silver Street, it is possible to hire a punt, complete with resident punter. The punters are often students of the famous university, and most are as practised with their punting poles as they are with their Latin declensions and Euclidean geometry.
Of course, being Cambridge, there are numerous rituals associated with punting. In a city, which dates its first settlement back to the Bronze Age, and which is home to a university, which was founded in 1209, it would be difficult to avoid these kind of traditions, many of whose origins are now mired in the pages of history.
One such tradition is that punters in Cambridge generally stand on the raised back deck of the punt, known as the till. This is different to other parts of the country, where the punter will actually stand inside the boat.
A more modern tradition, which has developed with the increase in tourists––and particularly overseas tourists––discovering the joys of punting, is a good-humoured teasing of the punter.
Most crucially, the teasing must take place in a language, which is unknown to the punter, so that he/she is unable to understand the precise nature of the name-calling, which is being directed at him/her. This is not as easy as it may sound since, as previously mentioned, Cambridge students do tend to be exceptionally intelligent and are generally proficient in multiple languages. It is also important that the insults be kept entirely light-hearted, in the spirit of gentle coaxing or friendly banter, and must never descend into offensive language or physical violence. A narrow punt is no place for an all-out slanging match.
The most popular insults tend to focus on the students’ paucity of wages; perhaps their high tuition fees; sometimes their ineptitude at steering; or criticisms as to their lack of effort. Remarks regarding the punter’s physical appearance are strictly forbidden, although jibes about his/her sense of dress are considered fair game.
The most successful languages in which to “Mock the Punter” have been found to be Thai, Russian, and bizarrely, Igbo.
A few useful phrases are listed below, just to get you going:
Hoeveel zijn uw schulden? (Dutch). How much are your debts?
Mas mabilis! (Filipino). Go faster!
I gaghi-a kwesịrị ekwesị ọrụ (Igbo). You will never get a proper job.
Now you’re ready. Go Punt!