Sunday 7th November
We are leaving the raggedy grasses of Tottenham marshes. A winter sunrise above the reservoir bank reveals they have a good portion of sky around here, considering that it’s London. Spindly naked November trees are silhouetted against cold sunbeams and fragile cloud sculptures, drifting absent mindedly across the sky. Here at the Waters Edge cafe you can be served ham, egg and chips by a Hell’s Angel. Next door at the Lee Valley Canoe and Cycle Hire company you can buy an ice-cream for a three year old, and a BW card token to use the laundry facilities. Teenagers in life jackets mill around waiting to be allocated kayaks.
As he casts off the ropes The Doctor is singing one of our Beatles favourites, that Paul wrote about leisurely drives with Linda.
“Two of us Sunday driving, not arriving, on our way back home.”
Stonebridge Lock is electric so there’s no need to manually wind the paddles with a windlass, just a flick of a switch and you’re done. The lock gates make a weird metal screeching noise as they grind shut. I put The Doctor’s cup of tea on the roof hatch and give him the thumbs up. He’s on the lockside operating the controls with the BW key.
The baby slept through the night for the third night in a row and therefore did not require relocating to the kitchen. I am no longer on the verge of tears. Cruising through the back of hidden Hackney, laundry is hanging from blocks of flats. A gang of Hackney swans hang out on the bank and eye-ball us with attitude as we cruise by. I should have said, ‘wind your neck in!’ I told The Doctor to just beep if he needs a cup of tea. Suddenly I hear three urgent beeps! I rushed out prepared to make an emergency brew. But it is just some east London canoeists reluctant to give way to our boat. It’s fifteen lock miles to Angel. If you add the number of miles to travel, to the number of locks you have to do and divide by three that’s five hours cruising. I admire a vast blue sky above Hackney marshes as we pass under Clapton railway viaduct near Lea Bridge Road. Many times we have passed over this bridge on a train into Liverpool Street. Pilons are striding across the tufty grass, geese bobbing white tails in the air as they drink from the Cut. Yellow leaves twinkling as breezes shake trees. Gulls swoop scanning the rippled surface of the Lea. Graffiti ten feet high marks the wall at the corner where we turn off the Lea and onto the Hertford Union Canal. Also known as Duckett’s Cut it’s only 1 ¼ miles and runs alongside the pretty Victoria Park. Straight as a barge pole with only three locks, it’s an essential shortcut between the Lee Navigation and the Regent’s Canal. If Sir George Duckett hadn’t put this nifty little short cut here in 1830 we’d all have to chug down the Lee and the semi-tidal Limehouse Cut to the Thames and then get into the Grand Union through the massive lock at Limehouse Basin: being a narrowboat in that lock makes you feel like a bathtub at sea.
High rise oblongs, brick upon bric-a-brac, towers of balconies, windows dark gaping rectangles, the Doctor in a deerstalker hat crumples deep-pile autumn leaves on the towpath as he passes the window on his way to the next lock. The children and I see him from the knees down as we sit at the table eating a boiled egg lunch. It is a long trip for the Doctor doing the locks alone, while I dress the kids, sweep the floor, make lunch, and do indescribable childcare things that have no name but drink in time like some theoretical wormhole.
What does Angel mean to me? It is the birth place of both of my daughters, it’s my home. I’m only a traveller for half of the year. I do have a base. But now I’m not allowed to be there. We really are ‘of no fixed abode’. As we draw closer to our destination the Doctor spies the warden from Angel; a boatman, a gardener, a DJ, a warm-hearted friend of ours. He planted the rose on the towpath in Angel where our eldest was born. His bicycle slows down as he cheerily chats to the Doctor cruising along. They shout across the water, having a conversation about the winter moorings fiasco. The Boatman is sympathetic to our situation. We have been his neighbours every winter for many years.