Sunday, 30 July 2017


It was sort of my birthday yesterday. I mean, it wasn't actually my birthday - that's not for another nine days or so - but this was the nearest I'm getting to a celebration this year. I needed it to be low key. I'm leaving for America the day after my actual birthday and, frankly, life has been complicated enough this year without getting embroiled in a planning marathon. So, about a month ago, I sent out a couple of text messages saying I was thinking of going to Avebury in Wiltshire on the last Saturday of the month. I subsequently forgot who I'd written to and who'd even replied, and then, watched in horror as yesterday approached, promising weather which could only be described as rancid. Particularly in Avebury. Obviously I went into a frenzy of checking myriad online forecasts, choosing to believe only the ones which promised clouds rather than rain, but the clincher was when Abbie told me that even Carol from the BBC was saying that a rain front would be moving in from West which would engulf Avebury in the early afternoon. When your app tells you there's a 100% change of heavy rain, you have to wonder weather walking around a giant Neolithic stone circle in cagoules before picnicking in a car, which smells of apples, is really going to be anyone's idea of fun!

So, I checked the forecast for Cambridge and discovered the band of heavy rain was due to hit two hours later. Cambridge is closer to London, and, more crucially, near to Thaxted where there's shelter and family, so I made the snap decision to go there.

It turns out I was very wise. It also meant I could, last minute, ask Lisa and Mark, and their two little ones, who don't live far from Cambridge, to join us. I was thrilled when they said they were able to come. 

...And the weather held. There were a few spots of rain just after we'd got on the punts which made me wonder whether the escape to Thaxted was going to need to happen considerably earlier than I'd planned, but we managed to get all the way out to the meadows towards Grantchester for a picnic and all the way back without another weather issue. In fact, the light on the way back was really rather magical. White light. A watery sun threatening to break through. Dark overhanging trees. Silvery, clear water. Everything resembled a Pre-Rafaelite painting - specifically The Lady of Shalott by Waterhouse!

Eleven of us punted. Lisa and family, Nathan and me, Abbie and Ian, Hils, Sam and Little Michelle. I'm not sure Sam has ever missed one of my birthdays. Not since I was about eighteen. If that's not the definition of a true friend, I don't know what is!
It turns out that Mark is a very natural punter. Once Nathan had given him a few hints on how to steer, he was away. Both he and Nathan also did the bridge climb, which involves standing at the front of the punt, hoiking oneself up onto the bridge above and climbing over the top of it before lowering yourself back down on the punt as it comes out the other side. It's a time-honoured tradition!

Further up the river, we happened upon some lad in a punt who was trying to impress his girlfriend, and, for a short while, was obviously trying to race us, pathetically and dangerously zig-zagging his way along the river in the process. Displays of tragic masculinity irritate me greatly, so the next time he veered dangerously towards my punt, instead of steering out of his way as I'd been forced to do several times already, I rammed into the side of him and deliberately sent him spinning off in the direction of a thorny river bank, which kept him occupied for a good ten minutes as we gently drifted onwards. Utterly emasculated by a boat load of women and poofs!

Lisa is a bad omen for me when it comes to punting. The last time I punted with her, I fell in. And this time I managed to get my pole stuck in the river bed.

We got back to Thaxted at about 5pm. It was lovely to see the parents and we had a fabulous time playing games, performing recorder trios and eating a massive mushroom pasta. Abbie made a wonderful lavender cake. Lavender is such an extraordinary flavour because it tastes exactly like it smells.

On the way home, Little Michelle and I were forced to do an emergency stop for three deer, which ran out in front of us, one by one. They all had antlers and were clearly lads out on the town! It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "stag night."

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