Thursday, 14 May 2009


The geese are protesting this morning.

This stretch of river doesn't seem to get the attention from the authorities that the London canals get. The tow path on this bend is narrow with gravel, and the weeds grow unhindered along the bank here. So much so that when we moored here ten days ago we had to beat down the nettles to get off the boat and tie up. Now the riverside growth is starting to reclaim its ground and because the piling and bank is quite high the boat is partially obscured - which is good. Being dark green helps as well ('Chodo Green' it said on the tin).

One of the things we have learned on this trip is be as inconspicuous as practicable. Anything otherwise invites interest - not all of which is welcome.

Sally's Vespa was set on fire in the early hours at Victoria Park which was a moment both of distress and 'surrealism'. That part of the towpath is unlit and the bike on fire threw flickering colours against the boat windows and surrounding trees, path and fence. It had an element of ritual destruction. In this case it was probably a form of exchange. Earlier in the day S had chased off a group of children who - equipped with bolt cutters - were attempting to steal a bike from another boat moored nearby. They beat such a hasty retreat that one of them left his own bike behind - across the towpath. Lying on the ground. For a brief moment it was like an unconscious gift. A few seconds later one of the younger children returned - sheepishly - to retreive his property presumably. Had it been me standing there over the abandoned bicycle instead of S, I would have said something like, 'You need to be more careful matey. Some ne'er-do-well might nick your bike'. Oh the wit and irony. S, was far more moral and said to this child (who was feigning contrition on his return to the scene) - 'How would YOU like it if someone tried to steal YOUR bike'.

And a few hours later, in the darkness, the Vespa was on fire.

We were woken by a couple of guys knocking on the side of the boat. I took a quick look out and grabbed a fire extinguisher. Thanks to our two friends the fire hadn't spread beyond the back box - melting a part of the seat. The melting plastic dripping down on to the rear panelling and number plate had put a green-grey iceing on this fire-bug's handywork.

The fire was out in a second or two. I was taken aback at how effective the extinguisher was. The bike was now surrounded by a slowly settling cloud of white dust. The two guys who had woken us muttered a couple of damning expletives and then disappeared into the gloom. We stood momentarily in shock and then started to gather our thoughts.

What does one do in such circumstances? I went back on the boat and put the kettle on.

A patrol boat went by earlier. Checking boat numbers and licences. The boat was stopping momentarily next to each moored boat like a spectator drifting along a row of pictures at an exhibition. Three boats are now adorned with 'Patrol Notices' - the contents of which I know nothing about. They may have 'overstayed'. Who knows.

I've just heard on Radio 4 that Michael Martin may have lost his impartiality. I know from painful experience just how distressing that can be. When I was a child it happened with tedious regularity and I would look for it under my bed before going to sleep - which I'm now also going to do. And it's not even dark yet.

I love our boatbed.

I get undressed; a piece of painted wood has just drifted by the window. Not significant other than I know that it was about half a mile upstream - noticed it lying in the verge next to the tow path when I passed it yesterday on my way back from work. Now it's on its way to the sea with all the beer cans, bottles, rotting fruit and veg.

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