Sunday 15 August 2010

little boxes

I'd arrived in Abingdon, and was looking for somewhere to launch a canoe. So I parked up next to the river and looked around.

Actually, I'd been driving for a couple of hours and I really needed to pee. So that was top of the list of Things To Do.

Next to the car park (60p for the first hour) there were two shiny metallic toilets, looking for all the world like little spaceships. I didn't take a photo of them, so here they are on Street View

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...actually, what they really reminded me of was the rather scary machine things on Doctor Who that pull people inside them and turn them into Cybermen. And, to add insult to injury, you have to pay 20p to use them.

Rather than risk being turned into a Cyberman, I sneaked into the bushes and peed there. It was a quiet spot, and someone had had a discreet fire there, in an arch under the bridge hidden behind a screen of willow.

I then turned my attention to the river bank.

On my side of the river was something of a quayside, about five feet high and therefore no good for canoes. There were lots of cabin cruisers and narrowboats moored up there. Someone was mustering his supplies of food and water on the bank next to his boat. We exchanged good mornings.

Across the river, the rooftops of Abingdon were surmounted by the tower of the Town Hall, looking for all the world like Winstanley's Eddystone Lighthouse. But since it had been built prudently in the middle of an Oxfordshire town rather than on a rock in the English Channel, it had avoided the fate of both Winstanley and his lighthouse.

I didn't take a photo of that, either. So here's one I prepared earlier.

On the riverbank opposite was a building I'd sort-of-noticed before, but not registered. I looked again, and noticed the central tower with the wings radiating out from it; and the tiny windows with bars on it. It was a prison. In fact, it reminded me of the description of the French prison in Victor Serge's book, Men In Prison; not so much a 'machine for living in' as a machine for keeping people alive, but confined, in as efficient a way as possible.

No doubt that sort of thing is necessary, but it still seems an odd and rather anti-life thing to do. It's hard to imagine giraffes, say, doing it to each other.

Anyway, it's no longer a prison; it was a leisure centre for a while, apparently, but now they're struggling to think of what to do with it this time round.

I asked a chap in the boatyard by the bridge where I could launch a canoe. He told me that the marina at the other end of town had a public slipway. As it happened, I found a nice little place next to the parish church, from where we managed to launch quite easily. The parish church was interesting because it was at least as wide as it is long. But I didn't take a picture of it either.

I'll describe the canoeing trip another time, though.

The next day, I was driving home. I took the A420 across country to Swindon. It is the sort of road where you get people in cars who want to go very fast, and then they find themselves behind me in my Traveller, going at 50 or 60 miles an hour, and then they do stupid dangerous things to get past. I had three stupid dangerous drivers getting past me, that morning. And ten miles later, two were still in sight ahead of me and one had turned off the road a few moments after overtaking dangerously...

I remember talking about cars with someone, a couple of years ago. He thought that it was silly or even wrong of me to have a Morris Traveller. He thought that the proper thing to do was have the same sort of car as everyone else, so that you could fit in with everyone else.

It was rather a jolt to realise how fundamentally our approaches to life differed. It also reminded me of the freely-given opinions of someone to whom I became related by a family marriage, who used to volubly accuse me doing things just to be different.


Doing things just to be different is as silly as doing things just to conform. I celebrate my commonality with people when it happens, but I was never much good at trying to fit in just for the sake of it.


  1. The lack of public slipways is something of an annoyance on that river. Particularly on the Cherwell. Slithering down a muddy bank in a kayak is fun, climbing back up it with a boat in tow isn't.

    The petrolhead in me never thought I'd say this, but the 420 is a good reason for Oxfordshire *not* to have turned off its speed cameras.

  2. Without a few Morris Travellers and their like much of the traffic would be hurtling along at dangerously high speeds scything cyclists off into the bushes or hospitals and rarely getting caught for their misdeeds.

    I have been all over the place this past week with a wee electronic image gathering machine in my bag but can't show you many images of where I have been either!

    Caroline xxx

  3. I've paid to pee in one of those things but couldn't go. I was sure that the doors would open and expose me to the world if I didn't perform in time. Years ago they used to play music.

    I won't speed up to please other drivers and haven't you noticed you always catch up with them at the lights (or round-a-bout)?

  4. It is surprising, isn't it, Jenny? -but then there are some rivers where you apparently get huge hassle from landowners and from fishermen who think that it's 'their' river, to the point where I reluctantly decide it's not worth the aggro. Like the Tawe, for instance.

    I see, by the way, that the 420 has the distinction of hosting the fastest recorded illicitly speeding motorist. I've added a link to the story above...

    I will never learn, Caroline; if in doubt, always stop and take a photograph. Exasperates the heck out of Katie, though...

    It's the way they're so wholly enclosed, isn't it, Anji? -who knows what horrors lie behind the automatic door? -then again, having windows would scarcely be an improvement.

    Yes, when I got the Trav, I had to get used to the idea of being assertive about my speed. I also have an array of lights that I can blink at people who are too close behind, to encourage them to give me room. Often works. Sometimes annoys the heck out of them, which is also a result of a kind.