Saturday, March 29, 2008

The End of Spring Break

To wind up our spring break week of vacation stories, we have Ellen Booraem, author of The Unnameables, telling a tale of her summer in England.

Ellen: Many (many, many) years ago, my college roommate and I spent the summer in England. When we were in Cambridge, we heard of a tearoom in nearby Grantchester that served fantastic cream teas. Being young, skinny, and greedy, we would go anywhere for food, so we decided to make this tearoom a destination for a river voyage. We didn’t think we could handle a punt, so we opted for an intensely unBritish canoe.

We did not do research. And so we found, first off, that the rental place we’d chosen was on the lower level of a river system that inexplicably had two stories. We had to haul this gimongo wooden canoe up a bunch of rollers and across a sidewalk—where of course it got stuck, blocking the path of a lady in a Hat who made it clear that she was not accustomed to beached watercraft.

We scraped the canoe out of her way, defrosted our bone marrow, and paddled off, ignoring undergraduate catcalls (“bloody Indians!”) from the sidewalk. Then we ignored a fat gent who stepped out of the trees stark naked and stood at full attention in all possible ways. We tried to ignore a gaggle of kids at a swimming club, but this became harder to do when they grabbed onto the canoe and started rocking it.

As water poured over the gunwales, I remembered that I had intelligently brought my purse with me and that it contained a) my wallet, b) all my traveler’s checks, c) my research notebook (my excuse for being in England), and d) my passport. I held it out plaintively to a lady in a passing rowboat, begging her to rescue it, but she lifted her chin, said, “You’ll be all right, dear,” and churned away. The kids’ parents, meanwhile, smiled and waved from the swimming club patio. Is this the spirit of Dunkirk? I asked myself.

My roommate befriended one of the kids, who climbed aboard and helped us drive off the others. A little bailing and we were, in fact, all right. Then we rounded a curve and found that a band of hefty blond Anglo-Saxons was sinking every vessel that went by. They had just done in a punt full of other Anglo-Saxons, who were sitting on the river bank wringing their trouser legs. “It’s a pair of birds!” one of the marauders cried. “Oh, you’re really going in.”

We remembered our Girl Scout canoeing lessons on Lake Whatchamacallit and back-paddled fast enough to get away. Confidence shattered, we headed for home. The swimming club kids were gone. So was the military gentleman. We got stuck on the sidewalk again, in front of a whole new hatted lady. For reasons I never figured out, somebody yelled an obscenity at us from the upper sidewalk as we parked the canoe at the rental dock.

The next day, we walked to Grantchester. The tea was very good.

We hope you had a great spring break and join us next week as we celebrate poetry month!


Sarah Prineas said...

Ellen, what a funny experience. I had no idea punting could be such an adventure!

Barrie said...

Ellen, I think you would be very fun to vacation with!

Marissa Doyle said...

I did a college summer in Cambridge as well, Ellen, but never quite had the fortitude to do a river expedition. I applaud your pioneering style. But I think we managed to visit every single pub within the city limits.