Friday, 11 March 2016

distant drummer



The Bradford Flight (total locks: one) is border country; above it, the broad sunlit uplands of the upper Avon; below, the steep wooded valley that carries the river down to Bath and Bristol. And it is a frontier of the mind, separating out the more adventurous boaters from those few who prefer to keep their bimbling within the environs of Bath, and view Trowvegas as a Tudor seafarer might view Samarkand or Far Cathay, an impossibly distant place where strange folk do strange things.

We'd been as far as Seend, where the canal is closed while the bridge is being repaired; we'd struggled through ice to get back down to Semington; we'd kept watch for the barn owls that ghost the meadows in the dusk, and the roe deer that merge with the russet stubble in the dawn, their white rumps standing out like the smile of the Cheshire cat. The buck's new antlers were there, still in velvet, where, on our outward journey a few weeks back, its head had still been bare. Coltsfoot is in flower. The chaffinch has polished off its spring song, and the greenfinches are making snoozing noises. The seasons are spinning faster as we approach the equinox.

Now we dropped down through the lock to tithe barn, close to where the storms had rocked a big ash tree and caused a rockfall. The tree was down, and Jim and I scrambled up the steep slope with chainsaws, through the brash, slicing up the trunk and loading it into an old sailing dinghy to transfer it across to the boats. Hard going, but now there was a great pile of wood on Eve's roof, and Netty's foredeck, and the towpath too. We broke out the Famous Grouse, and celebrated.

I made a quick dinner of corned beef pasta and sat, too tired to go to bed just yet. Outside, a most spectacular sunset was developing. I popped out a couple of times to admire it, and the perfection of the layers of trees and fields receding towards it. Then it was blotted out. The prow of a boat right next to my bow had appeared, silent as the dusk. On the towpath was a strange silhouette, a tiny figure with a long tall head, like the Mekon or possibly the Alien off that movie.

It was Bongo George, in his rasta hat. 

Nothing could have kept me awake that night, and as I slid into deep sleep I heard the sound of not-so-distant drums.

Next morning my neighbour was keen to move as quickly as possible. "He doesn't move for a year," she said despairingly, "and then he sticks himself right next to us!" 

The other neighbour was even more forthright. "I'm a better drummer than that," she said, "and I'm not a drummer."

We loaded up the wood, and fired up the engines. Down at Horse Field, there was a huge space for mooring. A space that only endless bad drumming can create, and that we occupied gratefully. I pulled the engine kill toggle, and peace reigned.