Caroline Shipsey

Monday, 28 May 2007

Canal Boat Confusion

I’m confused, very confused. When narrowboat Harlequin came into my life I had this vision of peaceful, sunny days cruising through the English countryside, passing skilfully through lock after lock as we headed into previously unexplored parts of this idyllic isle. After 3 attempts at a restful w/end doing just this, let me tell you it hasn’t happened for me.

Honey Street, Kennett and Avon Canal

Ok, I know Brits have a reputation for talking about the weather, I’m no different. This is a bank holiday weekend here in the UK, and traditionally one which, given good weather, sees busy roads, packed campsites and B & B’s, caravans coming out for their first trip of the year etc. Its now 6am on Bank Holiday Monday, it has rained persistently for 24 hours, with gale force winds for the last 12 of those, and it is cold. There is also FOG, its not enough that I live in the foggiest place in Somerset, the damn stuff seems to follow me around. There should be fine views of the Vale of Pewsey from the canal but even if the boat windows weren’t permanently steamed up there is nothing on the horizon that can be identified as anywhere in particular. During the night the wind was so strong it rocked the boat, blowing it into the bank it is moored against with irregular thuds, all the equipment that inevitably gets stored on the roof, has shuddered and rattled ominously all night long, and peaceful is not how I would describe things.

Things didn’t go to well on Friday when I arrived at the boat. So desperate for the loo was I that I couldn’t wait for Chris to get Harlequin properly moored. As the bow came within about 3 feet of the bank, I stretched my left leg out to gain a foothold, intending to leap aboard. How 10st of female can cause 17 tons and 57 feet of canal boat, to move so swiftly towards the opposite bank I don’t know, but it did, and my choice was either to fall, with outstretched legs into the murky waters or throw myself back to the bank. I chose the bank, but instead of landing gracefully on the grass, it was the most vicious bunch of stinging nettles on the Kennett and Avon that received my panic stricken body. This was as close to electrocution that is possible for the human body to experience, closely followed by spontaneous levitation from the nettles onto the canal path with a thud. In the space of the next couple of hours, 2 of the dogs had fallen in the canal, and Dusty had puked up the mostly undigested body of a dead squirrel she had found in the woods earlier.

Saturday started badly with Dusty, the bosses No. 1 dog, now requiring a trip to the vet, not easy from the canal, especially as she was now so ill she couldn’t stand. On arrival she was admitted to the vet hospital (McQueens in Devizes – a very fine and caring place) and given the necessary treatment to restore her to health and life, which took 24 hours and a large amount of money. The loo had stopped emptying properly, looking ominously like it would spew its stinking contents on the floor. Emptying it, the obvious solution, involved going down the canal – you can’t just turn the boat around wherever you happen to be – to a winding hole, though a swing bridge, twice, and then up the canal, to the lovely George Gibson, who, for a modest fee, will suck out the vile contents of your loo with a huge vacuum device. Worth every penny believe me.

Most of Sunday was spent getting wet, getting the dogs out for pees etc, and drying off said dogs and self afterwards. I’ve fed swans through the kitchen window – they come to the side of the boat and peck at it to attract attention, and read most of ‘Notes from a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson, which is gently amusing mostly and causes belly laughs too. I’ve walked miles in the rain, seen very little and found nothing particularly stunning to photograph. I’ve met other boaters and exchanged banter but we’ll probably never recognize each other again unless we are always encased in waterproof clothing peering out from tightly fastened hoods that cover 50% of our faces.

Soon I will be loading up the car and heading for home, the heater blasting out to dry me off, I expect the wind will drop and the sun come out when I’m halfway there – confused Me ?

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