It's always a blow, at my age, when you realise how different your life might have been if only you'd taken another path. It's happened to me twice in recent weeks, first when I discovered I should have become a professional cyclist (obviously), then yesterday, a ghost from a golden past floated down the river Cherwell.
With my daughters on half term, we bundled them off to Blenheim Palace, stopping in Oxford on the way home to do something I'd tried to organise several times in Cambridge, only to be foiled by the weather. I wanted to show them the sport that Oxbridge has rendered immortal. I wanted to take them punting.
The girls had no idea, of course, what punting was, and were most emphatically not interested in yet another of Papa's weird obsessions. They rolled their eyes when I told them what a privilege it would be for them to be taken out on a university river by one of the legends of the sport.
The latter would be me. I spent four years at Cambridge, two of them trying to avoid my philosophy studies. The best way not to study philosophy is to go punting instead, preferably down to the Green Man at Grantchester, although poling back after a couple of hours in the pub was often a lot more challenging than Descartes' theory of mind-body dualism.
Punting is like riding a bicycle. Get it right, and you won't fall over. Get it REALLY right, and beautiful women will fall at your feet (just look at the pictures below). High on my list of eternal regrets (quite a long list, I'm afraid), is that the International Olympic Committee has shamefully failed to include punting on its lists of approved competitions. I could have punted for my country, damn them.
Instead, I punted for my family. In the evening glow of early autumn, we boarded our flat-bottomed vessel at Magdalene Bridge and sped off into the gloaming.
"Have you ever punted before ?" asked a smirking Oxonian youth. "Oh yes," I replied. "Oh yes". There are some things you never forget.
(Photos by my passengers, A,Z and S)