Since our unusual first date back in June on the Tree Top Trail, Dorcas and I had spent a lot of time together on the full range of more conventional dates, country walks, museums, galleries, pubs, restaurant’s, cinemas and bowling alleys.
Over which time we had gotten to know each other and I discovered that quite apart from being gorgeous, which was plain to everyone, she was witty, intelligent, sensitive, loving and a totally rubbish bowler.
At the beginning of August one bright Friday morning we were driving up the M11 on our way to Cambridge to celebrate my Uncle Herbert’s 60th birthday.
By which time Dorcas and I were well and truly a couple.
It was to be a full on family weekend, which is something we do rather well I don’t mind saying but this was the rarest of occasions when absolutely everyone would be in attendance.
Apart from the birthday boy Herbert and his wife Alexandra, there was his elder brother Edgar, my eldest sister Abi and her husband Bijs were coming over from Holland, my younger brother Danny and his girlfriend Siti were driving across from the west midlands, baby sister Helen, hubby Mark and baby Connor were a few hundred yards ahead of us on the motorway and my Mum and Dad were about 50 miles behind us, despite the fact that we left home in convoy, because Dad never broke the speed limit.
Although Dorcas was a longtime friend of my sister Helen, she didn’t know all the players involved in the weekend’s events and was a little apprehensive about meeting them all, so on the journey I filled in any blanks in her knowledge of us.
“Have you met Abi before?” I asked as we approached junction 8
“Not really” she replied “She was in the back of your Dads car once, I think she was on her way back to Uni, but I didn’t meet her exactly”
It was hardly surprising really as she never really came home again after Uni.
Abigail met Bijs at University and went out to Southern Holland almost as soon as they graduated.
Now they both worked at the City Hall in S-Hertogenbosch and lived a few miles away in Rosmalen and only get back to the UK once in a while.
“You know Danny though” I said as I took the exit and drove towards Stansted airport
“Yes but then he is nearer my own age” she said
“And he asked me out once”
“I didn’t know that” I said surprised
“I said no” she assured me
“I’m pleased to hear it” I added
“How come we never met?” I asked
“I don’t know” Dorcas said thoughtfully “Just my good fortune I suppose”
“Bloody cheek” I said
Forty five minutes later we rejoined the M11 with my sister and her husband on board and we were still ahead of my Mum and Dad.
With the introductions done and Dorcas thoroughly interrogated by my sister we made steady progress towards Cambridge.
“You’ll like Uncle Herbert” Abi said either to Dorcas or Bijs I’m not sure which
“He’s Professor of Medieval Studies at Cambridge University” I said proudly
“Just like CS Lewis” Dorcas contributed
“That’s right” I said surprised “How on earth did you know that?”
“Well I’m not just a pretty face” she said
“Clearly” I concurred
“He’s at Magdalene College” Abi continued
“Also like Lewis” Dorcas responded
“Have you been swatting?” I asked suspiciously
“No I’m just a big fan” she replied
“Of Lewis or my Uncle?” I asked with a smile
“He is also a wit” Abi added
“A raconteur, a lay preacher and an all-round good egg” Abi and I said in unison and laughed as this was a well-worn phrase oft quoted by the family in relation to Uncle Herbert.
Bijs and Dorcas looked on in bemusement.
We drove onto the driveway of chez Cush just before one o’clock and I took a moment to take in the familiar vista before I took Dorcas inside to do the introductions.
The Cush brothers still lived in the ancestral pile built by my great great great grandfather at the height of the industrial revolution.
It had featured prominently throughout my life where all the family gatherings had taken place.
It was not a particularly esthetically pleasing structure but it was typically Victorian and it held fond memories for me.
The harshness of its hard lines had been somewhat softened over the years by the matured sympathetic planting which blended it into the unfussy landscape of the fens where many a long summer holiday had been spent.
Herbert was still at the college but Edgar had a light lunch prepared for us which we ate on the terrace.
We had just finished when Mum and Dad arrived followed shortly by Danny and Siti.
“Well better late than never” I said
“I thought we made good time” Dad replied
“Not you Dad” I responded “You’re actually early, I was talking to desperate Dan”
“I have just one thing to say to you bruv” Dan said punching me on the arm
Enough said we all concurred
After lunch as we had a couple of hours to kill so we left the oldies and the baby to doze on the terrace and set off for a walk along the river.
What began with a huddled chattering group eventually spread out into a ragged strand.
Danny and I were at the back about 20 yards astern of Dorcas and Siti who appeared to be getting on like a house on fire.
Danny and Siti lived in Kidderminster where he was an Estate agent and she was a primary school teacher so I didn’t get to see him as often as I’d like.
It was only on these mass gatherings that we were able to catch up.
“How did you of all people manage to snatch up a gem like Dorcas?” Danny asked in disbelief
“She obviously fell for my charm” I said smugly
“I thought she had better taste” Dan continued
“She knocked me back you know?”
“I know” I replied
“Turned me down flat” he continued
“Which just goes to prove she does have good taste” I said and he tried to push me in the river.
The girls turned around to see what we were up to and they both gave us a look so we returned to our previous positions.
“Well you’ve got yourself a good one in Siti” I said
“I know” he said smugly
About half an hour later we were in sight of the university buildings and Abi shouted back from her place in the vanguard.
And Danny and I started jogging towards her.
“What’s going on” Dorcas said with alarm
“Were going punting” I said and took her hand and we ran hand in hand along the path
“But I’ve never punted” she exclaimed
The reason for all the excitement was that because of all the summers spent in Cambridge a disproportionate amount of time was spent Punting on the river Cam.
We hired 4 punts and divided up into our respective couples.
Now when the Overton take to the water the object of the exercise is not to get wet.
We had all been in the river at one time or another, some more than others, but when we were punting the winners were the ones who stayed dry.
If your pole gets stuck in the mud you let it go, if the situation arises then you stay with the punt and not with the pole it’s simple really.
Now when I say the object of the exercise is to stay dry in truth what I actually mean is that it is to get your opponents wet.
Once both occupants of a punt have been dunked then they can take no further part.
Now under normal circumstances hostilities wouldn’t begin until all craft were out of sight of the dock and the prying eyes of the boat keeper.
But on this occasion Bijs missed his footing and fell in the river without even setting foot onto his punt.
“God Bijs your whole country is below sea level” Danny shouted “you should be more at home on the water than any of us”
It wasn’t long before Abi, the least sea worthy of the Overton’s, succumbed to an early bath and we were down to 3 boats.
Once the flotilla had travelled sufficiently up stream so as to be out of sight of the boat station and hostilities could begin.
There had been a number of harmless skirmishes when Danny, who normally wins hands down, narrowly avoided a ramming by Helens punt only to find himself heading straight for a weeping willow.
Siti panicked and ran to the rear of the vessel and then she and Danny slid down the pole together.
During the ensuing laughter Mark and I collided, and he and I both got dunked.
Dorcas stood up and laughed like a drain before she shouted
“Abandon ship” and jumped in and joined me.
“I’ll save you captain” she said and wrapped her arms around me as we stood in the cool water, me up to my thighs and Dorcas waist deep and we laughed in the summer sunshine.
Which was when I fell in love with her.
As I stood in the waters of the Cam kissing my girlfriend, Helen noisily declared herself the winner.
She had never won before and she wouldn’t shut up about it on the walk back to the Cush’s so we picked her up threw her into the river.
Her last words before she hit the water were
“You can’t do that I’m a mother”