Tuesday, 28 August 2012

"I couldn't live like you..."

Gongoozler is a word invented by writer Terry Darlington to describe a very particular group of people. They are the ones who hang around locks, filming unwary boaters on their phones in the hope of an impending disaster which they can then download onto YouTube. My initiation into their twilight world came as a result of our engine breaking down and having to get our boat towed down the Caen Hill flight. Learning to drive two boats breasted together when one has no engine therefore no steerage is not how I would have chosen to do it, but sometimes the best way to do something that scares you is  by getting on with it through necessity. Apparently I nearly squashed a swan against a lock gate, but I wasn't told that til several days later. Just as well, because I would probably have refused to touch the tiller ever again. But that is another story for another time.
  Back to the gongoozlers. There are some for whom a camera or camcorder record is not enough. Halfway down the flight, we stopped briefly for a break and we were approached by a small group of tourists who wanted to see inside one of the boats. Seriously? I don't remember anyone knocking on my door, curious to see the inside of my ex-authority flat on the outskirts of Bristol. If they had, they would have got short shrift and sent on their way. But things are different here, and we agreed to let them see inside one of the boats. When they emerged they were frankly quite rude. Unintentionally, but rude, nonetheless. They thought the boats were just like caravans and they couldn't live like that. Thing is, I can't live like they do either. We, my partner and I , live like this for a reason. We were becoming increasingly disturbed by the greed for space and natural resources we saw around us. We now live in a space 50 feet by 6'10", it is our home and our workshop. It is probably smaller that the kitchens desired by people who go on TV programmes about moving to the country. We have to be responsible in our use of water, since we carry it with us and when the tank runs low we have to think about how and where to refill. We have no appliances, and cooking is on a three ring gas burner. No TV, no fridge, no power shower, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine. We are still very new to this life and it is at times physically hard and we've not had a winter on our boat yet, but so far we are happy with our decision. This really is living mindfully, and our personal response to increasing environmental damage.

Monday, 27 August 2012

exploding moorhen...?

This title came about because I couldn't think of a title - so I pulled out a book at random. Now that is not as easy to do as you might think. Having moved from a flat to a narrowboat, my library is a fraction of what it was. All the books I thought I could live without are to be found in various charity shops between Bristol and Devizes. The book that came to hand was, appropriately, Roger Deakin's Waterlog and I just happened to open it on a page containing the words "moorhen"  and "exploded". I liked the idea of the exploding moorhen, a sound I have become familiar with in the last few months. Quiet, nervous birds, if surprised they let out volley of sound.
  The transition from land to water has not been a smooth one - engine failure after the first week meant that our plans for the summer did not work out in the way  I imagined. I thought  I would be writing flowing, lyrical poetry inspired by dragonflies and kingfishers as we drove our green boat through the green, whispering reeds. And yes, there has been a little of that. But mostly I have been watching and learning from the less colourful, more mundane. Like the moorhen. I have grown to love these birds for their persistance and diligence. They can raise up to three broods of chicks a year and I have watched a lone moorhen spend hours tugging at reeds she needs to repair a nest. They are tough plants and don't yield easily to a small bird. I say "she" but it could equally well have been a "he", since moorhen couples share the chick-rearing. The first few chicks to hatch are cared for by one parent, while the rest are cared for by the other.
  And then there were the rats. Now these are creatures that I have considered to be pestilential abberations of nature in the past. But having spent time watching the ones behind Wadworth's I have come to admire their ability to adapt to their environment, their versatility. Essential qualities for this new life that I have begun. They are excellent and graceful swimmers and agile enough to run along a bramble stem, barely moving a leaf. I found myself looking out for them each day, feeling disappointed if they did not appear.
  I may not have had the summer I envisaged, but instead I have experienced something more real and lively, finding in myself qualities I didn't know I had.