It never ceases to amaze me how gracious the Gods can be…
How lucky I am to live this life and have such wonderful friends all around the world. This is my family, and now is the time to visit the ‘English Branch’!
It was wonderful to pay a visit to a very special couple, Tara and James, who were once my neighbours back in the days when I lived on the non-tidal River Thames up near Runnymede, where the Magna Carta was signed back yonder in 1215. My two friends have visited me twice on Free, once in Amsterdam and earlier this year in Sweden. Now it was time to visit them and turn back the clock to those crazy old river days, when I was struggling to make sense of living on the periphery of society.
Tara and James are part of a unique British institution, the Narrowboat community, that grace the rivers and canals of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. As far as I’m aware, these interesting craft are found only here, a remnant of the industrial revolution, due to the historic need for canals to transport goods around the country. Families used to live on their boats for generations, but alas this was mostly eclipsed by the coming of rail transport and improved roads.
The canal system was resurrected by the British Waterways board and has become mainly leisure based, although there are many folk who live afloat rather than in static housing. James and Tara are an example of this friendly, hospitable community and it was wonderful to stay with them for a short while, catching up on tales of yore; an opportunity to feel that sacred water once again beneath me. River folk can be wonderfully eccentric. For example, James has a love for creatures large and small! Their narrowboat packs a fascinating ‘crew’ of exotic creatures!
My return to the river enabled nostalgic reunions and it was lovely to visit, once again, old friends and near neighbours on the Thames at Wraysbury. For a moment I almost forgot that Free was over a thousand miles away in the far north as fond memories were recalled and toasts made. It takes all types of boats to forge community and Jules and Stefan live on a huge Dutch sailing tjalk immediately behind James and Tara, dwarfing their narrowboat. Along with their other neighbours John and Sue, this little community thrives in its intimacy as the world rushes by on the other side of the river, an endless rumble of cars locked in splendid isolation.
The return to London left me deep in contemplation and I sense that one day, when I can no longer hand, reef and steer, the canals and rivers of fair England will call to me and provide a twilight solace for an old Viking Lady; a kettle boiling on the hearth and a ton of happy yarns of a life well lived!
How could it not?