Day Five: Wake up wondering how that many bottles of wine disappeared at last night’s dinner party, and why you always pick fights with that type of man. The ball is today, but first, you are punting. Punting, you discover, means sitting back against the wooden frame of a small light boat and letting other people stand wobbling about the bow sticking a pole into the water. While you wait for your punt, listen to the knotty, grooved man with long white hair down his front and back. He has been here twenty years, he tells his furious supervisor, and no year is different from any other. You are quite sure he has been here as long as the colleges.
The river is slow and not very wide, with mottled walled banks rising up one side, and the college itself on the other. Pass ducks and other waterfowl, and begin to fall asleep to the slow, steady pulls of your gondolier. At water level, half submerged, sit the swan traps, dripping gated caverns in which, at one point, unsuspecting swans ensnared themselves. They are empty now but they still look like covetous, secretive places. As you drift off to sleep, get your mind tangled up in a story you’ve heard about a woman turned into swans, and worry that she is lurking in the swan traps. Be unable to stop thinking about those stupid swan traps, and the things that lurk in them, or should, because if fairy tales are real anywhere, they are here. But it’s obvious that they aren’t; those gaping mouths aren’t hiding lairs and escapes and bird people in their shadows, only a gentle flow of brown water, in and out. The shapes you can see moving behind the criss-crossed glass of the college windows aren’t sad, they are cheerful and clever and arrogant and young, and so you are sad instead. Consider overturning the punt.
Later, put on your prettiest dress, and decide that if you are going to be that kind of American visiting England, you are going to be that American visiting England, by golly. Attend one of innumerable garden parties with your date, in a walled garden behind an ivy covered door. As you push aside the ivy to see a bright green lawn covered in natty sweaters and floating wisps of printed fabric holding croquet mallets, reflect that it is not really your fault, after all. Politely decline a Pimm’s cup. National drink or not, the stuff is unholy. Make a beeline for the G&T table; sit on the edge of the wall overlooking the river, talking with your date about whether or not museums are signs of a decaying civilization, and throwing daisies at the punters beneath you. Decide that if there are any openings for professional piece of sun-kissed gauzy fabric, you will send in your resume.
Later, rush off to Cambridge’s tiny center of commerce. Have adventures in Topshop. Emerge victorious with nude flats and huge bronze earrings that look like they belong on the head of some statue in Athens. Retire to dress, and for once, everything goes right. Your preparations are minimal and a little pathetic, a shower easily the most important– but this time hair stays neatly in its bun, you don’t stab yourself in the eye with eyeliner, you haven’t hugely, tragically, miscalculated the type of undergarments needed. A friend loaned you the dress, a dark green and one shouldered column, and with your earrings, you feel like a statue come to life. The girl in whose room you are staying approves, and so do you, and so you put on your Amelia Earheart jacket. Kick yourself for not bringing anything more elegant, but once you leave the dormitory, enjoy the sunset, and the feeling of walking alone to meet your date in a floor length gown and aviator jacket.