NSC Punt, Picnic 'n' Plunge, April 2018
The annual jaunt to Oxford on or near St George's Day, a tradition that is actually older than the NSC itself. Apart from anything else, Oxford is the sort of place where really don't stand out as oddly dressed, and we seemed positively subdued this time as the city was also the venue for some sort of Morris dance festival: around every corner were people with bells on their legs, waving handkerchiefs in the air. Moreover, there seemed to be some sort of Steampunk element for some of the tribes (is Jinglepunk a thing?); as for the Star Wars characters, I can offer no explanation.

The basic idea is to hire a flotilla of punts, punt up-river, drag the boats over the rollers to the higher section and punt on to the Rainbow Bridge where we picnic before returning. However, this year was one of those years when the current was strong, making punting against it extremely tough. Moreover, when the leading boat reached the rollers they found them too flooded to get near (apparently kayakers were using them for white-water practice). This is where things started to unravel, as a message was sent back that we could go no further; the front three boats tied up where we were and picnicked there, but by the time the Chinese whisper got further back the command "stop here" had become "turn back", and the other half of our flotilla limped back to port (it wouldn't surprise me if the punters were only too happy to turn round and run with the current instead). Some of those returnees did manage to join the picnic detail by taxi, others were never seen again.

After we had all returned the tradition is to meet up again in a pub, but even here chaos reigned as we somehow managed to go to three different pubs.

The following afternoon, Faiysal had arranged for those who wished it to visit the The Oxford Artisan Distillery (TOAD) on the outskirts of the city. The big idea here is sustainability, locality and heritage, and they make their base spirit from locally grown heritage rye (over a thousand different strains). Most gin makers in this country, whether small or large, buy in neutral grain spirit usually made from intensively farmed wheat from another part of the world: TOAD want to promote traceability as well as sustainability. The use of rye instead of wheat also affects the flavour. The local identity of their product also goes into the botanicals used to flavour the gin: their Physic Gin is inspired by plants grown in the Oxford Botanic Garden (some of them foraged there) and their new Ashmolean Gin takes its inspiration from items in the Ashmolean Museum. Many thanks to founder Tom for showing us around.

Almost every year someone falls into the river and Scarheart runs a sweepstake. This year the first victim was two-year-old Rowan (don't worry she was wearing a life jacket), later followed by Liam from Lane's boat. Scarheart, however, seemed to have absconded with the money, later claiming via the safety of Facebook that neither of the plungers had actually signed up to the sweepstake, so the money would roll over till next year. Don't be surprised if Scarheart's son Max is seem sporting a new jewelled crown shortly…
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