Friday, 12 June 2015

Moving Eastwards Moving On

It was nice to see them both. My two friends from the good past who live in different lands: New York, Berlin, London (that’s including me). Oh sure, we’re jetsetters. It’s where history has flung us all - out - so that today we can sit on a Friday afternoon amidst the Notting Hill yuppies in a pub sipping £5 ale. It’s no big deal. We’ll pretend that this occurrence is normal, nothing special about it, just so happens that we’re all here in the same country in the same public house. Talking drinking, spouting nonsense, finally. Like the not so recent past… what has it been 3 or 4 years since we all lived in the same town house in a part of the world called Jericho? Where the bricks are made of sand; stone has been bleached by the oddly bright sunlight for southern parts of England and the streets are broad or winding; pubs pop in to view when you turn down a lane or continue to walk along the grassy meadows. I remember herds of cows galloping. Today we all shirk responsibility that has to do with growing up, I notice, but we all deeply care. The affected and ineffectual bunch. You hope we’ll make a good impression on the world. I listen and I listen and the thoughts of Annina are great and grandiose and matter. She makes them matter to anyone who listens and I wish I had her sense of striking passion, and I love her and I listen. And then Owen, the master of sciences, looking rather more worldly donning urbanite-upgraded Woody Allen specs and shabbier, longer hair. They’re both a pleasure to look at and to share time with, supping our rusty-coloured pints and dusk falling, dinner is next on the cards.


‘See you at 11AM at Royal Oak tube station’. And right on time Annina, the girl I call the sphinx, strides up the Underground stairs with a bagel wrapped in white paper in her hand ready to be part of the crew. Today is the “big boat move” that Mer has been planning for the last fortnight. Since we’ve now moored all over the western regions of the canal, seeing off Harlesden, Kensal, Little Venice and Paddington we have to move on eastwards, and to do so we must first take the top and sides down from the boat and drive it through the low Maida Vale tunnel. There’s no telling that we’re all excited but first Mer, the captain of the crew, gives us a solid debrief about not getting our limbs trapped swinging out the side of the boat and thus getting them ripped off. You see, important orders from the captain. A small fairground has been set up beside our mooring spot for a children’s day, so as we push off the banks and start to set sail innocuous bits of bunting wave us off. Bye bye West.

The tunnel is low and dark and dank and drippy. When we enter it, the 5 strong crew all go silent for a while, one pokes their head out over the roof to go under again, I crouch in the shadows with a large stick to fend off the sides incase the arse of the boat gets too close to the walls, and the sphinx kneels-on looking straight and forwards. When the entrance recedes and becomes like the pupil of an eye only letting the essential light in to reach us, the passage looks longer and more indeterminable. I got the impression of pirates and caves and Hades and the air tasted stale and sweet, as if the old cold stones sweated. Looking forwards, at first the exit was a small semicircle of brightness and as we slowly approached it light began to filter down, like ink on blotting paper and soon and slowly we were drenched in white light, as the nose of the boat broke the seal from the underworld to the real we all clapped or whooped and Mer told us to calm down.

The new world we had discovered was green and Arcadian. Great willows bowed low and grand as if welcoming hot summer heat and a tweed-jacket wearing frog, huge greco-roman buildings (surely, not houses) with white colonnades stood firm and ruled atop the banks. Then out of nowhere a huge avery filled with cranes, storks, exotic birds and a few wayfaring pigeons appeared and you see all of winged-colourful nature flying and hawking above your head and you forget about the city and imagine a crusade. Epic scales guys, that’s where boat tripping’s at.

After cruising past a floating red pagoda weighed down by frilly lanterns, the scenery changes again to one of grunge and iron. You see more young ones in peaked caps sitting on the canal side with their Red Stripes and a foray of unsurpassable tramps shouting fucks and twats at the passerby. It’s Camden Lock and there are too many tourists. Having never done a lock before I have to learn, but it mostly involves people jumping on and off the boat and running around over precarious bridges, which are actually the lock gates. Depending on what gate is open or closed, the water level rises or falls within the lock. The aim of the game is to get the boat from one side of the lock to the other. And the pressure is on when the sun’s beating down and children and parents of all nationalities are swinging their heads from side to side, licking ice creams or taking selfies right next to you as you sweat. Lock gates are hard and then heaving them open requires a whole other sort of strength, pushing with my legs for leverage, my whole body sprung out at almost 90 degrees shoving against an iron bar, ridiculous posturing from me I suppose.

The crew made it happen though, Annina and Aidan were the hero couple opening and closing locks as if there was no tomorrow, Mer shouting at us to jump on board or off, the others keeping steady hold of ropes so the boat wouldn’t kilter off to the side or end up mashed by the lock gates. There are a total of 3 locks between Camden and where we wanted to be, as such there was a lot of work to be getting on with. As we were inside the final lock, people took tea breaks and I dished out some chocolate bars and we filled up the water tank. 200 litres of water the tank holds, I wonder how many showers I can get out of that beauty? The sun was past the zenith but still in full swing, English July is surprisingly warm and it was certainly louts-with-shirts-off weather. 

The vista that opened up before us was sweet and impressive. King’s Cross, a skyline filled with cranes and brickwork. Two white swans with their 7 cygnet babies filed past our boat, in streamlined ordered parade; they looked regal and seemed to know it by law. The geese honked and the coots scurried and parted out of their way, whilst our boat headed eastwards to find a mooring a space nearby. 


After the long sun-drenched day my muscles ached and I had an unquenchable thirst. The sphinx lay languid on my cabin bed and I played with my newly acquired boustrophedon disk around my neck, it was brought to me from Crete and I’m very fond of it. We talked about nothing and everything and ate biscuits over tin plates and when the sun finally decided to leave the sky alone, we strapped on our shoes and went in search for pizza.

Photo courtesy of Annina Lehmann