For the first time in living memory I have actually managed to take a holiday in the UK when the weather was glooooriuoooos. Two weeks ago I was browsing waterproofs on Amazon, and then had to buy T-shirts and sun cream instead. This was a most unexpected turn of events.
My bf’s parents have a share in a narrow boat and invited us to join them for a little trip around the canals. Although I was slightly concerned about spending time in close quarters with the ‘in-laws’, I do love boating and really needed to spend some time living at 3mph (my usual speed of living is at least 5mph). We got off to a shaky start when we were just about to set off and my bf decided to give his hair a trim and forgot to put the guard on the clippers and shaved a bald strip right down the centre of his head – leaving him with no option but to give himself a Number 1 – otherwise known as a neo-nazi or thug cut. Although it was kind of hilarious, I was a very nice girlfriend and didn’t make any jokes about it until he was ready. I knew he was feeling a bit better when, on the drive to the boat, he pointed out that the close cut revealed that he still had a very good head of hair and that there were no hidden thinning patches. Crisis averted.
On the first day of boating we went through the Braunston Tunnel – this is a 2,000 yard long tunnel that was built in 1796, which reeks of history and of something a bit dank and unpleasant. Back in the day when boats were pulled by horses, the boatsmen had to ‘leg’ along this whole tunnel, while the horses got to go over the top – so they’d basically lie on the boat and use their legs to push it along. Thankfully I got to sit and sip ice cold Pepsi Max from the fridge and wax lyrical about how historical the whole thing was on my trip through. Chris’ dad, meanwhile, had the nervewracking job of steering us through it and avoiding inexperienced boaters, who tend to see another boat coming towards them, panic, and then do strange things like putting the boat in neutral, which in turn makes the boat swing out sideways, and then leave you with nothing to do apart from wait to crunch into them. This is what it looked like inside the tunnel:
The views were much more beautiful on the rest of the trip, and I was reminded that England has some really stunning countryside – it’s easy to forget that sometimes, especially when you live in the worst neighbourhood of a city, where tattooed skinheads in tracksuits stands sullenly outside a pie factory eating pies and looking like they will steal your hubcaps while the car is still moving. In contrast, most of the people that you meet on the water are friendly and helpful (and about 75% of them have dogs, which you can then play with while you wait for a lock to fill up).
After two days I was back in love with this green and pleasant land, and had developed a suitably casual way of swinging my lock key, while climbing from one side of the lock to the other (across ancient and highly unstable planks of wood). But the city kid in me was starting to tire of saying ‘Hellooo’ or ‘Good morning’ to every single person I passed. I was also getting slightly annoyed at people who were not convinced by my lock insouciance and insisted on offering me advice about what I was doing wrong, and what I could be doing better – especially as I seemed to consistently say ‘I’m fine, thanks’ and then immediately do something wrong, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong until they showed up being all helpful.
At this point I was ready to return to civilisation – and by civilisation I mean ignoring most other people, apart from your immediate neighbours and people who might be about to steal your hubcaps and need to be watched from an upstairs window. Actually, that’s not strictly true – I do love random conversations with strangers, (which I used to think was a Northern thing but now realise is achievable even in a mean city like London with the right attitude), but the beauty of the random conversation is the unexpectedness of it. On the water there is a general expectation that you will make small talk and be helpful, which sort of turns it into a chore – and I’m not big on chores (ask my mother).
So now I’m back home to my small house (which feels HUGE after being on a narrowboat), and my cats, and the tools that can stop my hair from turning into a big frizzy mess in the heat. And, of course, the skinhead eating pies outside the pie factory – perhaps next time I should shout ‘GOOD MORNING!’ from the car as I pass him and see what happens?.