Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rolling Down the River

Before we left for our holiday in the United Kingdom, I made reservations for a boat tour of the headwaters of the Thames River in Oxford. The tour had an option for a “picnic lunch” which I thought was a good deal.

We got the river cruise idea from Pauline’s niece Kim. She spent quite a bit of time in Oxford on business and had some time to wander around and see some of the sights. We loved the pictures she posted of her river trip.

As we boarded our boat, those of us who opted for the lunch were seated in the front of the ship, where wicker picnic baskets and carafes of water waited. There were blankets to ward off the autumn breezes and they were passed out among the guests.

The couple nearest the bow were a British couple, most likely near their mid-sixties. Then Pauline and me. Next to us was a group of four, Megan - the Australian college student, her Auntie and Uncle and her Grandma. The remainder of the passengers were two British couples who seemed to be traveling together.

Our guide was a 30 something Brit, with mussed hair and a kind of scraggly beard, he had the appearance of a character in a “B” movie, as if central casting was looking to cast a struggling archaeologist - not like an Indiana Jones type but “a somewhat cheeky chap, over educated and underemployed. He was hoping to work at University but was forced to take the tour guide gig to survive.” Not sure what he said his name was, so we decided to name him Nigel.

As Nigel turned our boat down the river, he gave us our mandatory safety brief. Now, I understand that we share a “common” language with the Brits, but it’s sometimes a little difficult to make out what they are saying.

What I was able to ascertain from the safety brief - the main danger was fire, but our boat was electric, and we were surrounded by water, so we would most likely be ok, unless we were all killed by electric shock. Oh yeah, and the emergency exit was overboard - any direction was good.
We started along the riverway, past the stately brick homes lining the river.

As we approached the first bridge, I noticed the underside covered in the mandatory graffiti - which was actually quite well done.

We continued along thru the countryside; colorful long boats docked along either side of the waterway.

No one seemed to know when to open the picnic baskets, and Nigel wasn’t going to clue us in. Finally, Megan’s family (who I should point out were the only ones smart enough to bring a bottle of wine on the boat) opened their basket.

Once they broke the ice, everyone took a look to see what amazing gastronomic treats awaited us.
Now the couple at the bow, as soon as we got on board, asked if their basket was a vegetarian selection (which they had requested). It wasn’t, but it was corrected before we had left the dock.

We peered into our basket, which had quiche, scones with cream and jam, grapes and finger sandwiches. I started with the sandwiches. There was a butter, ham and cheese, something with a mustard base and what I thought was tuna.

I took the first bite of the “tuna,” and thought it seemed a bit fishy. Turns out it was a sardine sandwich. Not my favorite.

The others weren’t too bad.

As often happens, a shared dining experience allowed a dialogue to open between the passengers.
We approached the only lock we would travel thru, which gave the passengers something else to talk about.

After passing thru the lock, we continued past more brick industrial buildings and homes, until we reached a large open meadow.

Wandering happily in the meadow we first came upon a heard of horses, a few meters away cattle grazed peacefully. Oddly, they kept in separate groups, only one cow was seen wandering with the horses.

After we made the turn at the half-way point, we stopped and disembarked for a short visit to a local pub. Several of us got drinks, we ordered wine for the return trip.

Apparently even a short stop at the pub was all that was needed to remove any filters from some members of our little group.

On the way back, people started questioning Megan about her studies and what she was doing while on break. She explained that she was currently a matron at a private school and was in charge of 64 twelve-year-old boys.

She made the mistake of making a comment about how the local private schools took advantage of New Zealand and Australian girls to work in the private schools here.

She said that she only makes about 490 pounds a month. One of the British ladies took issue with her comment.

“So, you get 490 pounds spending money a month, let’s just call that 500 pounds.” She then pointed out that the school covered housing, meals, taxes, transportation, and just about every other living expense.

“Most people here don’t have 500 pounds a month just for spending cash,” she pointed out.
Megan took the lecture in stride and admitted that she really did have it pretty good.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful, except that I noticed that one of the passengers from the back of the boat had taken over navigation, and Nigel was just sitting there supervising.

We did make it back to dock in one piece, and the ship was none the worse for wear.

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