I’m not aquatic.
I don’t like boats, I’m not keen on water generally and swimming is my least favourite past time (after anything involving horses). So it is perhaps curious that I have indulged in not one but two holidays in a narrow boat cruising, in one case, the Thames from Abingdon to Lechlade and in the other circling the Birmingham and Worcester canals in the midlands.
The first trip, in circa 1982, was one a large slow moving monstrosity notable for it’s plodding performance. But, the last day apart, we had a totally splendid time, the Textiliste me and two close friends. I wasn’t allowed to drive it much – on the first or second occasion I did I ran us aground and was forced to jump into the silt to push us off.
The countryside was beautiful, the pubs we stopped at full of good cheer and food and if it wasn’t for the sodding ducks waking us at 5.30 am every morning, tapping on the hull to remove the fresh weed and setting off the most cacophonous harmonic – putting one’s head inside a speaker stack at a Led Zeppelin concert seemed tame by comparison – it would have been idyllic.
The sort of Puck and Titania fairyland to make you lose concentration. Which, of course I did, letting a rope curl around my hand and crushing it. The little finger remains something of a parabola to this day and I never want to see the inside of the John Radcliffe A&E again.
The second trip, with the children in tow was equally delightful, even squeezing through a tunnel near Bourneville was an experience. The Lawyer loved opening and closing the locks, though he wasn’t very good at canal etiquette. He nearly caused more than one fight by hopping off the boat, sprinting ahead to try and be first to the lock. ‘Oi you, you’re stealing my water.’ That can only really be heard on canals in a country as damp as Britain.
We saw kingfishers swooping ahead, swans a plenty and slowed down to a comfortable chug. Even tying up our boat incorrectly and it floating off to block the canal caused mere minor consternation amongst the other boats trying to get past.
And then there was the last day. This time we made it back to the boat yard. We were easing into place, me at the helm (do you sense a common thread here?) and the Textiliste preparing to jump onto the dock to tie us up. She jumped, she slipped, she fell, she face planted the dock knocking herself cold and rearranging her nose and front teeth, while ripping the skin on the chicken-wire they use to give the wet surface some grip. Somehow she didn’t slip into the water. Somehow the first person to her was a doctor. She came to in the office totally discomknockerated; this time we saw an unconscionable amount of Redditch A&E. They fixed her face and nose and questioned the children about how mummy had got so beaten and swollen while I sat outside feeling like a criminal. They said ‘see the dentist on Monday to sort out your twisted teeth’. I said no, we go now so off to Bromsgrove we went. It was to a strange little open all hours dentists in a housing estate in the middle of dull middle England. The dentist, a huge Sikh, took one look, said ‘Good you came today if you want to save those front teeth’ and yanked them unceremoniously back into position. Not a lot of anaesthetic but brutally effective.
We do talk about going back; our friends Les and Ursula Mitchell-Hind are on a five year jolly taking in all the British canals and their facebook posts are a great draw. People enjoy it, this mucking about on water but I think the Le Pards have shown that narrow boating is a dangerous past-time and they only go at 5 miles an hour. Give me dry land any day.
All this memory-trawling stems from Charli Mills latest prompt.
February 25, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). Think about MacLean’s famous line that “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Give it your own meaning. It can be a rivulet of water cutting across a city sidewalk, a farm ditch or a famous world river. Who is experiencing the water? What observations are profound? How can a river and a character merge with meaning?
I’ve interpreted this a little – sorry Charli – but it keeps Mary’s story afloat as you will see.
Here’s the back story if you need to catch up.
Deep pools, strong eddies
The little coracle spun in circles, whirlpooling towards destruction.
‘Mary. You were away with the fairies.’
Mary turned off the tap and dried her hands, watching the dirty suds disappear down the plughole.
‘It’s the police. They’re in the lounge.’
Mary nodded. She steadied herself, suppressing the drowning feeling.
‘Mrs North,’ the sergeant looked sombre. ‘As I said, they are human remains but the child is not a relative.’
Mary felt a flood of relief. ‘Who?’
‘We don’t know but from the DNA the child is African and…’ he coughed. ‘We think he may have been a ritual killing.’