Monday, 27 December 2010

Towpath Talk

24th October

Both girls have colds and are miserable and crying intermittently. Because of their night-waking we’ve all lost sleep which leaves me irritated and short tempered. Their wails resonate around the inside of the boat while I do the dishes and The Doctor hauls the boat backwards into the lock by pulling on the mooring ropes. After filling the water tank at the tap belonging to the Lady of the Lock he takes us down through the lock and we briefly moor up on the bollards below the lock while we go to say goodbye to the man who lives with the Lady of the Lock. He’s crossing the black and white painted foot bridge over the lock as I approach with my family. I nod at our boat down below, engine put-putting, ready to go, at three miles an hour.
“We’re making a high speed get-away,” I say.
“Oh right,” he smiles. “Have a good journey then. Back to London is it?”
“Yes, slowly. Probably Broxbourne today.”
“You’ve got your copy of Towpath have you? There’s plenty there.” Towpath Talk is a canal themed newspaper with monthly news of the Cut. He keeps a pile of them outside the house for boaters to help themselves.
“Um, no not yet.”
“You’re in it you know.”
“Am I?”
“Yeah, back page. There’s a picture of you and the girls.”
This cheered me up no end. Each month there’s a feature called The Wet Web, about things of interest to be found on the internet. I suggested they feature my blog, and the journalist liked the idea of featuring a selection of blogs by mothers on board. Unfortunately, neither she nor I could find any other such mothers so I thought perhaps she wasn’t going to be able to feature my blog. She has instead, however done a feature about canal related things to do with the kids and managed to feature me that way.
The Lady of the Lock is at work so we were unable to say goodbye to her. I tucked my poorly baby into the pushchair on the back deck. She was snuggled in under two blankets with her hood up and she quickly stopped crying and went to sleep for two hours. We moved on around the bend, past Roydon station and cruised slowly past Single Boat Mum’s golden wheat field. There is a backdrop of blue sky on this sunny October day. I was taking things off the roof, like the chimney and the arial, to prepare for the low bridges, and then duck my head down low as we pass under each one. The water level is much higher than when we came this way earlier in the summer, so there is far less head room. Afterwards, back inside I had to turn the fire up because without the chimney up there is less draught to draw up the burning diesel fumes. I’ve never much worried about walking down the gunwales while moving, or trip-trapping on the roof, little feet like a mountain goat among the life saving rings, avoiding stepping on the solar panel. But since I’ve been reading Ramlin Rose I think of all the ways people got killed and injured on the Cut in the past, especially all of the tragic ways that boat children died.

As The Doctor steered us out past the weir at the end of the Stort I came out on to the back deck to have a look.
“Well, that’s it then.” I said, hands on hips, surveying the point where the two rivers meet.
“Yep.” Smiled the Doctor.
“The end of the Stort. I doubt we’ll ever go there again.”
“Probably not.”
“I suppose there’s lots more beautiful things to see out there. Everyone says the Oxford is good, and the Kennett and Avon is meant to be beautiful.”
Yesterday we returned from a week’s holiday in Plymouth and I was convinced that I wanted to live in a house, with plenty of storage space and full size hot baths whenever you fancy it. But today the sun is shining and I’m talking to The Doctor about all the canals we’ve still not yet seen.

Fieldes Weir lock is our first lock on the Lee. I put a cup of tea for The Doctor on the roof hatch above the back door while he stood on the towpath and pulled the boat in with a rope. It looks like the sunniest Autumn ever and breezy trees wave at our Rodney roof as we enter the lock. Whenever I’m winding the lock gate paddles up or down I feel like that animated bloke at the beginning of Camberwick Green. Through the window I can see my big girl who has just turned three years old, is sat up at the table concentrating hard on a colouring book.

From Dobb’s Weir lock I can see a lake and swans shining in the blue. Exhilarated at cruising through sunny locks I feel that boating is in my very being, in my bones. I wasn’t born to it, and I’m a terrible swimmer, (I’ve never been in, thank goodness) but I’ve been doing it ten years now and it’s a way of life. The Doctor is reluctant to leave the Cut. He doesn’t want to “give in”. That’s what Ramlin Rose says too. “You never gives in. If yer gives in yer goes under.” Although, I think her life on the Cut was a little more harsh than mine. If you had a baby you breast fed with one hand and steered the boat with the other. The toddler you tied to the roof, and your priority was getting the boats ahead.

We moor beside a patch of woodland where the tree trunks are bedecked with holly and ivy twisting around their trunks. For a relaxed Sunday afternoon, we give both kids ‘pink medicine’ (paracetamol) and go to a cosy canal side pub, crunching autumn leaves on the towpath as you go. Mother hand in hand with daughter, baby on father’s shoulders pointing at the birds in the sky.
“Birr!” she says. Bird!
It’s like going out with a couple of nutters. One repeatedly throws her food on the floor. The other one takes her boots off and walks stocking footed on the pub sofas. The baby tries to pull baubles off the Christmas display table, threatening an avalanche of candles and pine cones as she tugs the black velvet table cloth down towards her on the floor. We eat roast dinners before the medicine wears off and head back on board for bedtime.
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