I don’t know why I was thinking about it, but somehow my mind wandered back to Cambridge where i was born and grew up. The River Cam was somehow central to our lives. We lived not far from it, crossed it every time we went into town, the swimming pool where we just about lived all summer was right next to it, the common where the circus and the fair came each year, one in the summer one in the autumn, was right by it, and more than that fished in it, rode our bikes on the towpath beside it, canoed and punted on it, swam in it through the town in the annual ‘Swim Through Cambridge’.
The boats we used were canoes and punts, but my dad had been an oarsman since being a young man, and after the war when he gave up rowing, he coached various teams, often to victor in the bumps. The bumps were races, rowed over several nights, when the different crews, in various divisions, would wait at their stations at the start of the race, spaced about one and a half boat lengths apart, and at the signal (which I think used to be a gun) everyone would set off rowing, trying to catch the boat in front and ‘bump’ it with their prow. Once bumped, bumped and bumpee pulled over and let boats behind race past. The following night, the bumping boat would move in front of the bumped boat, and so on over the four race nights. At the end, the boat in from was the winner, the Head of the River.
After the end of the races, there would be a bump supper for each of the clubs, and when my dad, Donald, was still rowing the bump supper for his club was held at the pub opposite where he lived in another pub, the Portland Arms. The bump supper pub was The Jolly Waterman, now unimaginatively called plainly, The Waterman. These bump suppers were riotous affairs, with beer and a meal and speeches, toasts and celebrations wherever the club had come in the race. Donald told the story of how after one very successful bumps, and after a wonderful bump supper, he left the Jolly Waterman to stagger home, across the road to the family pub. Being rather inebriated, he took his front door key out, and held it out in front of him as a sort of pointer, aiming it in the direction of the door. His father, Reuben had got up in the night for some reason, and looking out of the window saw Donald, arm outstretched, key in hand, trying to head across the road to get home. He ran down stairs and opened the door just as Donald reached it. Donald, in his rather tipsy state was dumbfounded! How had the door opened without him even getting the key in the lock, let alone turning it! He was astonished! No doubt he was very amused when the mystery was revealed the next morning, but it was such a surprise to him!