Lonesome river

I’m not aquatic.


about to go out on the water – Plockton in Scotland – don’t I look happy?


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.


My glorious moment, caught on camera; even then I was growing through my hair…


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.


An accident waiting to happen


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.’


About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at geofflepard.com about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
This entry was posted in flash fiction, miscellany, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Lonesome river

  1. Norah says:

    Oh dear, Geoff. You and water don’t seem to mix. I’m pleased that when you (and Anne and Lisa) were there for my first real-life canal viewing there were no such calamities, just a little wind-blown hair perhaps. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sacha Black says:

    I’m with you, I’m terrified of boats. Love your retro sunnies! hehe

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Annecdotist says:

    Okay, I shuddered at your accident-proneness around water – and you didn’t even mention the hyper dangerous white-water rafting – but reading Mary’s next instalment I let out a huge “Oh, no!” This is getting murkier and murkier, I thought after last week you were starting to ease off on poor Mary. She deserves a major award for how she keeps us all entertained in such a variety of ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I’m afraid there’s little I can do about Mary; it’s taking on a life (or death) of its own. And I omitted the rafting because it was a bit self inflicted and for once included no real pain.


  4. willowdot21 says:

    Remind us never to venture out on holiday with you guys we are so similar we would either do amazing well on the water due to extreme caution or more likely cause a diplomatic incident ! Great post so recognizable!! … So you had me in stitches my husband demanding to be let in on the joke … then you throw the ritual remains at me … not fair sir not fair!!x

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Charli Mills says:

    You’ve trawled through a murky memory of water and your story about the Textiliste’s teeth has made my own ache. Perhaps land serves you better. And the ducks — I had no idea of this early morning sound phenomenon!

    First, I want to say that the scene with Mary at the sink is beautiful — her lost in thought, the description of the suds — and at the same time it washes over her sense of drowning. It’s so simply written, yet so brilliant. Then, wham, you hit us with the worst possible answer the police could have for the remains!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Autism Mom says:

    You tell this story so well! It all sounds lovely until the last day. Ouch! What a memory!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. lucciagray says:

    I love the beach, but I get sea sick just by looking at a piccture of a boat, so I’m not at all keen on water sports either. Mary’s story has taken a surprising turn, where to next week I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for sharing your boating escapades. I would avoid canal trips in the future as body parts become more valuable and harder to keep as one gets older.
    An African ritual killing. This is turning interesting.
    Have fun in Austria. Hope there is plenty of snow for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m very much with you all the way with water and horses, Geoff. Got thrown off a horse called Bumble, once, and once was enough for me. So much so that I can still remember the horse’s name.

    As for water, well I can’t swim and, try as I might, over the years I still just sink to the bottom.

    Ouch, your story of a holiday on the river sounded very painful for all concerned. I much rather spend a few days in a nice comfy B&B with all the trimmings, and walk over bridges to view the rivers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sherri says:

    Oh Geoff, as someone who grew up boating, holidays on the Norfolk Broads, sailing, the works, I love the water but I also have so many stories of accidents and disasters. Seems to be the way of it on the water and I do feel your pain! That was awful for the Textiliste, ouch 😦 Had to laugh though about the ducks, can more than relate 🙂 We have friends who sold up, bought a barge with a the plan to do France on the canals for 10 years. Lasted 6 months, missed the grandchildren too much. Loved the flash…I’m more than a little intrigued…

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: A River Runs Through It « Carrot Ranch Communications

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