Notes from a Newbie (2) – Blog by Mark Chandler


So I took a walk. But deciding when and more specifically where can be an arbitrary business, and so too if one chooses to write something of the adventure. I had grand plans initially, weighing up energy and time, seeking out the panoramic. In the end, it was to the bottom of the garden, well, over the bridge and onto the canal towpath to be exact, heading north in the direction of Abergavenny.

No matter. You will find miscellaneous humanity every day on the canal: dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, canoeists, and the regular hen or stag revellers who rent day boats, rowdy, drunk souls, who swashbuckle down the waterway, then limp back to port at 4.00 pm decidedly unkempt by then in their sodden pirate or sailor outfits. One such crew passed me, women in their mid-thirties I guess, plastic swords, eye patches and plenty of lager for ballast. I’d wager by the time they were given instruction to neither kill themselves nor the boat, there was already more oil, in a manner of speaking, inside them than the engine. They screeched at me (or anyone else) as they as they zig-zagged along. When I lived on a boat, and if moored nearby Goytre Wharf, an occasional bang to bow or stern was expected from these determined-to-enjoy-themselves sailors. While I naturally did not begrudge them their fun, as that morning’s tea splashed down my front from the collision, I pitied somewhat the fact that they would probably hit more than they would actually see that day.

I stop on one of the wooden fishing landings and rub my hands across the flaking lichen, white and minty green, a strange ashy residue left behind on one’s fingers. I had moored at this very spot on numerous occasions. The sky is blue with dense clouds jostling; a seasonal soup of change is definitely bubbling in the air. Leaves will ‘turn’ soon. I recall Julian Barnes visiting Ford Madox Ford’s gravestone, scratching the thick cobwebby lichen with his car key to reveal the illustrious name, then meditating just who will bother to remember him after his own passing. Who will visit? Someone, or no one? Is there a difference?

A moorhen hurries by in the field opposite, dodging mole heaves on her lime green feet, more bantam chicken than anything equipped for the aquatic. Funny creatures, I’ve always thought, hurrying to nowhere it seems, but always slipping out of sight as quick as forgetting. Up near Talybont one morning I saw a proud hen with her brood of three, fragile ellipsis of black, the size of fifty pence pieces. More elusive still, that bright blue spark the kingfisher: just the one sighting, alas, in over a year living on the canal, flashing from tree to tree (its territory) as the sluggish passage of my boat drew near him before he disappeared into the perpetuity of my memory. A bird of ageless renown, in Greek mythology, Alcyon; anyway, I toasted its sighting that night in the pub as if a portent of luck. My seven days without storm well overdue.

The usual throng of people are mingling in the wharf, young families with pushchairs, older folks with walking poles, anoraks, flasks and maps. One can’t help smile at some people’s preparedness, a prominent defect if one has a favour, as I do, for the fancy-free and spontaneous.

I hear that my old boat is now moored somewhere in the marina area, though I can’t see it, not that this is a sentimental hankering, a rent on my heart. The new owner has decided to drink the last of the summer’s dregs perhaps and head out. Good for him. When I was wondering about buying the boat I was determined to ‘continuously cruise’ as it is termed, preferring the nomadic to the static, for I immediately recognised with distaste the caravan park, weekender barbecue and beer syndrome, all-pervasive in the wharfs and marinas where the hulls on the boats will remain unscathed and freshly, matt blackened.

I pass the time of day with a friend who has been living on his boat for three years. We occasionally meet unplanned in the pub, swap stories and to ridicule life and its general silliness. He is a raconteur; a wit as sharp as any. Newly married, his wife a boat-dweller too, living afloat in Oxford, the post-wedding arrangement is unconventional to say the least. He will eventually – he assures me, and presumably his wife – join her in Oxford, his boat finally moored alongside hers. Neither are prepared to sell their boats, you see, and cohabit; she likes cats and he likes dogs. She will have the cat(s) on her boat and he will have a dog on his boat. Is there such a thing as a perfect marriage or is it all cats and dogs I wonder? Frankly I don’t know, and one might as well ask the newly hitched as the long-termer for an answer as meaningless as this question poses. Besides, maybe it is best left to the philosophers whose habit it is to analyse the questions while routinely neglecting the answers.

The rain comes and I turn back. Later that afternoon, quietly reading, I first hear then spy a right commotion at the bottom of the garden. The pirates have grounded, and have fantastically managed to wedge the boat from bank to bank. It is a feat few could have intended to accomplish. None aboard, in that laggardly state of post-drink hysteria, have the mental acuity to realise that blasting the engine so that a spray of canal bottom is sent spewing upwards into our garden is going to move them. Grinning widely, after a few minutes, I decide to go and help. I hop aboard, landing on empty tins of lager and other party detritus whereby the pirate’s gratitude is slurring, ashamed, but friendly. It doesn’t take long to have them on their way, rain now pouring ruler-straight. I navigate them under the next bridge and step off onto the towpath. They wave gratefully back at me, mascara-streaked faces, the Jolly in their Roger wholly deflated nearing their journey’s end.


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