Cambridge Days

Grantchester punt, Roland’s Dark Tower

Punting is tougher than it looks. It’s certainly harder than the guides ferrying tourists up and down The Backs make it seem.

Arrive in Cambridge on a warm, sunny weekend (happens every few years, I hear) and you’ll see punting’s gnarlier side: the ‘self-hire’ crowd. Once these all-too-literal boatloads of amateurs take to the water, the whole British notion of a ‘jolly riverboat jaunt’ is replaced by a tourist blood-sport that’s more akin to log-rolling or demolition derby. It’s best to watch from the shores of The Backs, I think – you might wince occasionally, but between the crashing, splashing, and multi-lingual shouting, you’ll at least remain dry.

My own punting skills are no better, likely worse. But last weekend, I managed to elude the rent-a-boat crowd, at least, by punting away from Cambridge, towards Grantchester. (Actually, I rode down, then punted the way back.) It’s a 90-minute push either way – plenty long enough to leave me cold, soaked, and pretty well tired. I lost the pole twice (the river bottom is like clay, in parts), and then got rained upon, to boot. Happy I went, of course, but I’m done punting ’til summer returns.

on the Cam

I completed another journey this week, and one which took me far longer – sixteen years, if I count correctly: I finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, the very week the last installment was published.

Can’t complain about the time – after all, it’s taken King 30 years to write those books, and he’s said this final volume heralds the end of his massive writing career. I can believe that – almost every book he’s written ties, somehow, into the nexus of The Dark Tower, and now that it’s done… where can he go?

So how good was it, at the end? Tough to say – his yarn was obviously good enough for me to read one after the other, and year after year; I’d also agree with the author’s own conclusion that the tale was ‘not entirely successful’. The big concern, of course, was the ending, including the author’s sudden, interjectory warning not to read it. (I’ve read a lot of books, and never have I seen an author pop into the narrative and lecture me against turning the page.)

King was right, of course. I should’ve closed the book. The journey is the reward, etc. – and any ending would have to be more bitter than sweet. This ending, though – man, after thousands of pages, a decade and a half… it just left me crushed. King says endings are heartless, and so this was. Almost.

No spoilers, here. All I can say is that choice facing the reader and Roland were one and the same – dare you enter the Tower, to finally see and know what lies inside? Or would you sit on the doorstep, deep in that field of roses, knowing there that the quest is good and true, and already complete?

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