Saturday, 5 December 2009

All I Ask Is A Narrowboat

So I’ve been away for a week. On a canal in a boat. I’ve been boating on and off all my life, apart from a gap during my teenage years when I needed to concentrate on being stroppy for a bit, and have an unaccountable liking for it despite the fact that it can be uncomfortable, is often cold and sometimes wet with the added risk of drowning, being crushed between bank and boat or being sliced up a right treat by the propeller.

I know what you’re wondering and yes, I have fallen in, but just the once. It was at Braunston, a name writ large in infamy, and I managed to cut my hand. I still have a scar, albeit a small wimpy one which I sometimes can’t find. I can recommend the A&E department of Rugby General though. Because canals are, quite frankly, filthy, I was filled up with so many antibiotics that the doctor cheerfully pointed out that my spittle was probably the cleanest substance within a radius of at least five miles. It is typical of the boating fraternity that when I told fellow boaters of my accident instead of cries of admiration and sympathy for my bravery and stoicism I would inevitably get a lament of: “Oh, I really wish I’d seen that”. Somewhere in the family vaults is a photo of me dripping water and gore, the taking of which was the first thing my father did after I’d managed to somehow ‘scramble onto the bank’ as Rolf Harris used to put it.

I shouldn’t complain. One my happiest boating memories comes from a sailing trip off Scotland. We had moored up at Colonsay in the Hebrides and were returning aboard after a night in the pub. One our crew was very carefully climbing down the harbour ladder, focusing on the rungs to such an extent that he climbed past the deck without noticing and continued downwards unaware of his fate until he put his foot in the Atlantic. Memories like that keep me warm during stormy watches.

For all that though, my heart belongs on the inland waterways, particularly canals though it is true, as the great Michael Green puts it, that if sailing is mucking about in boats, then on the inland waterways it’s more ‘boating about in muck’.

Oh, and they’re called narrowboats, not barges.

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