I began Trinity Term with a confident grasp of my dissertation topic. I made my way through the chronicles and vies in a systematic fashion, added faithfully to my annotated bibliography, and conceived the whole project as just a matter of putting the hours in and getting it done.
Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
Despite a slightly rocky start, I have now unequivocally lost my heart to punting. With Oxford beginning to show off the best of early summertime weather, any excuse will do to get me out on the river. I have now grasped the mechanics of steering and can navigate in a slightly wobbly, but more-or-less straight line down the river and can even achieve a decent speed, the wind being in the right quarter. I also know enough to give the poor lad at the boat house a look of horror when he suggests I start out punting from the Cambridge end.
This weekend, not being able to find a partner in crime, I decided to take my study materials punting instead, mooring up under a tree on a quiet spot up the Cherwell to pore over my articles on the intricacies of thirteenth-century theories of law and kingship (thereby no doubt providing a suitably studious Oxford scene for passing tourists). The bottom of a punt being surprisingly capacious, steady, and comfortable, and distractions being minimal, it actually proved the perfect study spot for a sunny afternoon.
In other news, we MSt students have all just finished giving our dissertation presentations to each other (mine was long on description, rather shorter on actual analysis interpretation at this point in the term!), so the only coursework that remains to us are the last few weeks of language classes. Serious dissertation research looms in the future!
This week, a wonderful thing happened. I attended a graduate lecture on the development of medieval Latin, and I understood it. All of it. I knew all about the historical figures featured – in almost every case, I had read at least some of their cited texts. I was familiar with the proponents of the historical theses being discussed. I had even read every book on the ‘Further Reading’ list on the handout. It was a brilliant moment, the more so as it’s one that hasn’t happened to me all very often here in Oxford.
Punting is not as easy as it looks. As in rowing, you soon learn how to get along and handle the craft, but it takes long practice before you can do this with dignity and without getting the water all up your sleeve.
— Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (1889)
Oxford’s own Dorothy Sayers claims in Gaudy Night that it is more fun to punt than to be punted. I am loathe to contradict Lord Peter’s estimable creatrix, but fresh from my first experience on the river, I fear my preference lies decidedly on the side of being the punted. Who wouldn’t want to lounge semi-horizontally in the sunshine an inch or two above the water line, nibbling on strawberries and feeding the ducks, while someone else huff and puffs with the heavy pole behind you, fighting the mud and current to propel your craft in a rather zig-zagged line down the river?
Weather in Oxford can often be disappointing. This year’s May Morning, however, was everything it was supposed to be, with crisp spring air, the golden sunlight of early morning warming the old stone towers, and a backdrop of bright blue skies embroidered with delicate wisps of cirrus clouds. At six o’clock, the men and boys of the Magdalen College choir sang in the morning from the top of Magdalen Tower to a crowd of thousands gathered below, followed by the joyful cacophony of the tower bells. Groups of morris dancers added their own bell-jangling, while various music groups vied for audiences in Radcliffe Square.
My own contribution was joining my choir in singing out madrigals from the very iconic Bridge of Sighs to the crowd below. It doesn’t get much more Oxford-y than that!
(Mis)Adventures of a Medieval History Student at Oxford