Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Boat Moves

After having washed my face, brushed my teeth, done a foot stretch and eaten some tomatoes I feel like I’m refreshed enough to write about the boat move.

Arriving back in London after some truly peaceful outings in the countryside; meeting big family etc. makes one feel distrustful and disorientated. The familiar hustle and bustle is still going on in the city (that you only left behind on the kind side of the bank holiday weekend) but you resent it upon return rather than be a part of it. You see people walking with smartphones out in front and you catch yourself being wistful when you know in an hour’s time you’ll be doing the same. I saw a muntjac in the country: a muntjac. Yes a creature that’s sort of an equine looking hare, like a horse crossed with a kangaroo, in fact a type of small indigenous deer with big hind legs. My first and only ever muntjac, what a good Easter. 

On Sunday, tired but diluted with adrenaline, myself and a good friend I’ve brought along to help board the boat. It’s “moving day” and when Eloise and I arrive at the sail boat Mer has already stripped her of all it’s upholstery and hanging water canisters, I presume to make it lighter inside and so that she can see better when steering. We jump on - but only after Mer has given us strict and rapid-fire instructions on what to do and when to do it and how she is now “The Captain”. I’m fine with calling her the captain, Eloise not so much, fair enough.

Off we go. The engine chugs and pumps out water from the side of the boat (so we don’t sink) and the back propeller which is hidden churns up the water behind us, some ducks look on unperturbed. Eloise jumps on and I too but then disaster, the barge moored in front of us becomes unhooked from the river bank and is now steadily sliding horizontally across the canal where we’re heading for a collision. ‘Oh crap! Oh shit!’ shouts Mer; and we her sea cats look about not sure of what the impending problem is but then realise soon enough, and both of us jump back on to the muddy tow path and pull some ropes to bring her back in. Phew. Close call. Soon after an old raggedy looking man with a grey matted beard trundles along towards the escaped barge and waves his arms at us, letting us know, ‘She’s come loose ‘as she? Will get’er out the way for yuhs.’

Back on board again after the false start and the boat moves along smoothly away from the tow path heading east. ‘Don’t lose the mooring pins!’ Mer shouts at me through an open window, ‘And tell me if water is still pumping out the side of the boat!’, I reply with a surprisingly shrill yes and look at Eloise who winks at me. Onwards. ‘Do you know where we’re going?’ asks my co-partner at the captain through the open window. She replies with a resounding no. 

The oddest things pass you by from a “cruiser on the London canal scene” perspective… The backs of disused industrial parks abundant and strewn with disorderly building materials, reminding me of that failed Ruin Lust exhibition at Tate Britain; the very butt-ends of railway stations, or maybe depots jutting out, who knows what; at one point we glide past the huge concrete slab of wall and wired fencing that is the back of Willesden Junction. And we arrive at destinations very quickly because the canal doesn’t follow any roads or tube lines, I guess roads and trains make up much of the London map(s) so canals take up whatever space’s left, and so the canal system joins up lots of points in London you wouldn’t expect in a more direct route. 

In no time at all we we’re at Kensal Green, and to our left lies a cemetery and to our right the grandiose skeleton structure of a gasworks. I notice later in the dead of night that you can hear gas - whirring - all the time if you listen. Mer decides this is a good spot to moor but unfortunately only after we’ve passed the single open mooring spot and so we have to hurriedly jump off the boat again, each time before a leap I swallow so that I concentrate and don’t wrongly step and fall in to dirty cold canal water, thus Eloise and me both jump off and fend the boat away from the bank so as not to crash her. And now we’re all ashore to see the tow path emblazoned with “No Mooring” signs, which before I’d have never noticed as a pedestrian. ‘Oh shit, we just passed that space didn’t I? Oh shit. I should have just parked there, dammit.’ At this point from the rear end of our parked boat looms into view a monster of a barge, in fact two barges strung alongside one another like the double barrel of a water pistol and it’s playing loud techno-house music. Two boaters wave at us clearly lovely happy people who are stoned. They offer us some advice saying we could turn the boat around and then get that space, us two Padwan crew members nod at the prospect and Mer looks determined, but before we go ahead and do this canal equivalent of a U-turn, ‘Do you three want a cuppa tea then?’ Asks the gangly gentleman over the now turned-down sound system, and we all say yes, so that’s that.

Whilst the party boat boils the kettle for some tea we’re tying ropes and untying ropes and in one instance Eloise falls on her arse thanks to the slippery mud and the tug of the boat on the ropes. To my surprise I’m the only one who doesn’t trip or fall or get entangled as Mer lands on her backside at a later point too. Note: I’m not gloating merely stating fact. We start turning the boat around slowly by hoisting ropes at different angles, followed by Mer jumping on board to steer and drive. Mid U-turn some old crooners start heading toward us in a pretentious looking barge, newly painted and decorated in brash colours with a wood stove that screams contempt at minimalism, and the guys slightly shake their heads at us and carry on barging through, literally, whilst Mer tries her best to turn the boat around, we manage fine and I eye up the bully-barge as it disappears from view. 

After moving the boat and mooring her in that single perfect space between the cemetery and the gasworks we’ve remembered the cuppa but when I go back in search for the party boat the crew have gone, sailed onward in their hazy cruise. 

That night I’m shattered and after some tea and reading, I listen to the eternal hum of the gasworks outside my window and try and plan a route in to work tomorrow via the tube map app on my phone. Good night.