Tuesday, 2 September 2014

a lot of white cider

Two locks down from the Wadworths brewery in Devizes is one of the more peaceful places I've moored; the foxes bark in the woods, and a tawny owl keewicks a little before dawn. But I'm slowly heading eastwards, so we moved up to Devizes Wharf the other morning. The wharf is where the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust have their base, with a museum and cafe in one of the few remaining old buildings, another having become the Wharf Theatre. For the rest it is car park, and a popular place for people with cans of Special Brew to sit and talk with their dogs, the conversations being quite lengthy and always conducted along these lines:


...it's fairly Pinteresque in its way.

I set up my little display of books and cards by the boat as usual, and got to meet some nice people as usual, in consequence.

On Sunday evening, I was putting things away on the towpath while Boat Teenager did the washing up. A group of four twentysomething Sikhs had migrated across to the towpath from the wharf, and were sitting on a nearby bench. One of the men called to me: "Can we have some tea, please?"

I was surprised to be asked, but not displeased; we do what we can.

"Yes, no problem" I said.

"Do you have masala chai?"

"I....think so!"

I cleared away some of the clutter on the foredeck and invited them to sit. They scrambled on board and made themselves as comfy as possible, as I put the kettle on.

"How much is the tea, please?" asked the woman in the party.

"Oh! Nothing" I said.

They looked startled, and it became apparent that they had thought I was a cafe, an unlikely notion, as anyone who has experienced the clutter of NB Eve will cheerfully agree. They made their excuses and left, despite my assurance that it was fine.

A shame- bet they wouldn't find a masala chai anywhere else in this bit of Wiltshire on  Sunday evening....

Yesterday afternoon I was drawing at my desk when one of the Special Brew Crew started shouting across, instead of at his dog. I got the message that a man was in the water. So I grabbed a rope and went out.

There was indeed a man standing in the water, which lapped his bare shoulders. 

"I've been drinking a lot of white cider" he said in a voice which did nothing to belie this statement.

I tied a bowline and passed it over his head, and bade him put his arms through. Then I hauled him out; he was a big chap, the bank was very steep, and it was not easy. Furthermore, as he emerged, it became apparent that he had nothing on lower down either; his trousers were bunched around his ankles. 

"I've been drinking a LOT of white cider" he said.

I got him onto the bench and he pulled his trousers up while I called 999; it seemed the most prudent thing to do. Then we made him some warm coffee. He preferred to drink from the big blue plastic bottle that was almost empty.

"I HAVE been drinking A LOT of white cider" he assured me, with something between a laugh and a sob. He looked at the canal. "Did I fall in there?"

"Yes, you did," I said.

"It's my birthday on the twenty seventh..... I'm fifty. .....I've been drinking a lot of white cider. .....I've drunk six litres. ...I'm an alcoholic. ...Did I fall in the canal?"


He'd given me a number that he had by heart, and I called his friend, who said she'd come straight away.

Two paramedics arrived, one in an air ambulance flying suit; then a policeman. I told them what little they needed to know and walked back to my boat. Presently I saw the friend arrive, and the salvage of a small shipwreck of a life carried on.

At twilight, Boat Teenager and I went for a last walk up to the bridge. A loud PLOP told us that water voles were active, and we watched them swimming around under the bridge, looking from above a little like tiny dogs. The bells of the parish church were ringing across the hushed town beneath the waxing almost-half moon. A bat flew unostentatiously beneath us through the arch of the bridge.

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