Post-picnic (of which more anon), we thronged through the grounds of Christchurch to the place where the punts had been rented. Not everyone who was picnicking was punting, so the actual numbers involved were vague until we arrived at the boats and started to fill them in in threes and fours. The few experienced punters in the group were recruited for the actual punting, and the boats started to set out.
Now I had hung back in case there was need for an extra punter. I haven't been punting in years and years, but having done it twice, I was more than happy to try my hand at it again, and anyways, I'd gone to the effort of dressing to be able to punt while looking elegant. In the end, there was a spare punt - they'd rented too many - and a spare spot in the one chauffered punt, which I was invited to take. I wavered briefly, but I knew an opportunity when I saw one. I was going to refresh my punting skills with the spare boat.
It was immediatley apparent that I'd forgotten most of whatever it was I once knew about punting, but since I had no choice but to quickly relearn, I was doing fairly well again within five minutes. The punting ringleader, dressed for the occasion with panache, all in white, went slowly for me, calling back tips until I was heading the right direction and at reasonable speed. We turned down the Cherwell from the Isis, through a more narrow channel, along the grounds of Christchurch, with low hanging trees and filtered light, and the tranquility of water and secluded parkland. Give or take the regular minor frustrations of getting the pole briefly mired in mud, it was lovely.
At the point it was time to turn around and head back upstream for the rental docks, we conversed back and forth between the boats. They were generally impressed I'd managed so far, and several of them took photos. One nicknamed me the title of this post! Another punt helped me manage a confluence where current was pulling me astray, and we started back. (Actually, the help ended up putting me into the right channel, but backwards; the punt was barely big enough to turn around, and to finish the turn, I had to kneel down to push on the bank. This is the only reason I ended up slightly wet below the knee from the trip.) I was mostly lagging behind; I'm fairly sure this wasn't because of my (in)ability with the punt, but because it's actually harder to punt with no passengers - momentum is obviously more difficult without mass.
By the time I'd passed under the bridge back to the Isis, my arms were starting to ache. The pole is heavy! I was game to finish, but equally happy to take up an offer from another boat to relieve me of the last leg. (He was dubbed my "knight in shining armor" by the other punters.) So I finished off the afternoon as decadently as the picnic had begun it: poled up the river, the lone passenger in punt.
P.S. Usually, in my experience, the only way to be a Known Person at a conference is either to give a paper or to already know people from previous academic encounters. This conference, I was the lone punter. Over the course of the next day or so, the passengers in the other boats stopped to talk to me. As notoriety goes, this was the right kind.