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Sunday, 23 August 2009

Chucking Punts! - The Battle on the Cam

We live in a world riven by conflict, riot and genocide and thankfully for the average Cambridge student, no news of this manages to permeate that resilient old defence mechanism, the Cambridge bubble. Traditionally, Cambridge has been a self-sufficient microcosm in its own right: news comes in the form of Varsity gossip, not the BBC - and traditionally, this has preserved the city, and the university, as a little shelter of tranquility. But tradition is vulnerable and angry, being humped and reamed on the riverbanks of the Cam. A spectre is haunting East Anglia - the spectre of Punt Wars.

Punting on the River Cam is a £2.5 million business, targetting the 4 million tourists who visit and it is as susceptible to the gritty spoils of capitalism as any competitive industry. Two boats owned by 'The Punting Company' have been sawn in half with an electric jigsaw. It is reported that the arsenal of the punt saboteur would warm the cockles of any Dick Dastardlian supervillain - stink bombs thrown into boats from bridges, washing-up liquid squirted on the back of the punt, making for a slippery surface for the pole-wielder.

The punt operators may adorn themselves in boaters and waistcoats, but behind the facade of stereotyped attire lies the phrenologically suspect skull dimensions of a social menace. Their hardcore misdemeanors are not being peeped at askance - this social ill is being approached with the gusto of an American oil war. Cambridge City Council has deployed 3 'punt police' officers who swan along the riverbanks in high-visability vestments. It may be working. Sam Matthews is the unfortunate owner of the two punts that were sawn in half by, one would presume, a rival punt company and his views are thus - I think, even though I am the victim of the most heinous crime in punting history, that the enforcement officers are doing a good job.

And away from the riverside, touts can be seen harrassing potential customers from Kings up to Johns; here competing for custom with the myriad Big Issue vendors. One is reminded of the Gauntlet event on TV's Gladiators, as you are forced to criss-cross the narrow walkways of Kings Parade, Trinity Street and St Johns Street to avoid being accosted by these clipboard-grasping manstallions. These men too are not strangers to dirty skullduggery - a nurse had her hip broken as she was caught in a fracas between two rival touts. Police have had to investigate 31 altercations between touts, and a knife has been used. Is nothing sacred?

So allow this to be a warning. The noble tradition of the punt is being eroded by the scraping claws of capitalist moneyspinning and no-one is left unscathed. The punt-owned petit bourgeoisie are having their boats sabotaged. The touts are beating seven stages of fiery hell out of one another outside Fopp. Nurses are having their pelvises (pelvi?) shattered. And more than anything, the Cambridge Bubble is being burst from within and all Cambridge students deserve the chance to live in a carefree microcosm where they can be entirely oblivious to all that goes on in the real world. It's tradition, and we should allow it to be raped no longer!

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