Ow! A slow boat to Kensal Rise

Why Ow? Because it was hot!

Thursday morning was fun. I got up at 5.30 (not the fun part), made myself a delicious bacon and eggs and jumped onto my bike. I then headed for my usual 7.10am users meeting in Covent Garden. I confess, I am a speaking addict, I don’t think I’ve ever gone a day without words coming out of my mouth…

“Hi, I’m Al and I’m a Toastmaster”.

Toastmasters is fun, you should look it up. I go to an early morning meeting so that I don’t miss out on gigs in the evenings, and it is a highly sociable affair. I am a member of a club by the name of Early Bird Speakers (EBS – people do like their impenetrable jargon, answers on a postcard as to what else that could stand for), that happens every Thursday, at a time before which most sensible people have even wiped away the crusty yellow gunk from their eyes. Incidentally, that crusty yellow gunk is pollen, the hay fever causing, semen of plants, which in London usually comes from the plane trees. No wonder this city is seen as so unfriendly when even the trees spunk in our eyes and make us cry. Anyway, back to Toastmasters.

Laid out with a certain amount of form and structure, and with the timing of a professional kitchen, EBS (the Eggs, Bacon and Sausages club?) meetings are finished by 8.45am and, in that time, more than 20 people get a chance to speak, including various people with official roles including: the Timekeeper – the Goldilocks role, reporting on whether people finished too early, have taken too long, or were just right; the Evaluators of the speakers and impromptu speakers, lashing praise and suggesting improvements; and the kings of the meetings, the speakers themselves, delivering speeches on any subject under the sun, which the rest of the attendees (we normally have 60 odd in our meetings) listen to (because our club is so splendid, generally they listen enraptured, check out Early Bird TV (link below) for examples), and write short feedback slips (very positive, always starting with what they enjoyed, then making suggestions of improvement, before finishing on a positive note) and voting on who was the best speaker, so there is a little bit of competition to the meeting too.

My role on Thursday was as Linguist, and I chose the word of the day to be “Tactile”, and started my speech by caressing a cushion. The ecstasy I exhibited was real; it was a very soft cushion… It was a good meeting, but afterwards, rather than joining the crew that headed to breakfast, I vaulted back onto my bike, plugged myself into my “Marc Maron’s WTF” podcast, and cycled to Kings Cross, where my friends, Ian Hawkins, a fellow comedian, and his partner Noel, had their narrow boat moored by the bridge. The sun was already out, it was set to be a glorious day.

This narrow boat is so called because it is damned narrow. Their bed doesn’t even stretch across the width of the boat, and what the boat fails to make up for in width, it also fails to make up for in height; as a six foot tall man, my head was leaving footprints on the ceiling. However, the thing the narrow boat does have going for it is length, and given it is about 6 foot wide and tall, one must suggest that, when standing above the engine, hand on the tiller, yes, it’s got the length, and hell yes, it’s got the girth!

Why is is that us guys always think of our cocks? I really don’t know, but from the back of the boat, a gentle shove on the tiller thrusts this unwieldy, rigid protrusion into the gentle waters of the canal and the feeling of this erection swinging from where I was controlling it at its base, really did feel like I was doing a giant naked willy dance. Guys, you know what I mean even if you won’t admit it. Girls, sorry to break it to you, all guys are just four year olds at heart. Well, at least this one is.

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Going into a tunnel

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And why was I controlling my friends’ willy? Because today was the day they were moving house. I hadn’t realised this in advance, but Ian would be doing the opening of the lock gates, and Noel would be doing the sitting in a library for the day, doing research, and I, I would be doing the driving! Imagine if you would, a snail saying to a slug, “would you carry my shell for a moment and, by the way, please don’t do anything that might cause it to sink”.

Noel started by showing me how the boat worked and we maneuvered the first lock, while he explained all the things that could go wrong. To be honest, there was quite a lot that could go wrong, from sinking the boat, to drowning, to causing tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage, to emptying the entire canal system of water. But nothing to worry about in particular…

After maneuvering a single lock and having shown me what to do, he put me on the tiller, and then, pretty soon after that, departed to work, leaving me to drive his house. Now, this boat is very long indeed, and all the control is at the back. If I were to get off the boat, there is a rope attached to the middle, but the boat weighs substantially more than me, so pulling on the rope is much like tugging a moving truck. That is carrying rocks. Also, because the medium within which we were travelling was water, the responsiveness to tiller and propeller is nothing like immediate. As I’ve sailed and driven a speedboat before, this was expected but, even so, this is a very different beast. And I was herding this beast between other similar beasts, in a canal that was so narrow in most places that I’d have been unable to turn said beast around because we were too long, while, at the same time, being aware that the beast would do damage if I allowed it to bite anything at its head (the analogy is faltering, but you are getting the idea).

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In fact, it took a remarkable amount of concentration to drive the boat, because a small movement would have effects several seconds later, so you had to predict what would happen in advance. Obviously, if you have done a fair amount of this, then this starts to come naturally, however, if you head to the library and hand it over to a novice, he may struggle a little. Just a little. But not that much if I’m honest, I could handle it. And chugging down the calm (if extremely mirky) waters of the canal, blazing sunshine on my back (shoulders and top of the head were somewhat burnt by the end of the day. Ok, very burnt by the end of the day. But, then again, if the alternative was a desk in office…), and enjoying the greenery of London countryside and wildlife, it really was nice to be out, get away and do something different.

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Ian at the tiller, by London Zoo
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Me in charge, like Atlas, carrying someone else's world

The maneuvering of the locks was another matter. It took a gentle hand on the tiller to dock this enormous boat into the narrow confines of the canal’s gated corral, and it put one in mind of the penis analogy again. Sorry, but it did. Don’t worry though, no locks were damaged in the writing of this blog. Or the moving of my friends’ house. We must have gone through half a dozen locks, watched by interested members of the public and uninterested ducks. They were not the easiest things to go through (and were the main danger to both boat, pocket and soul – I was advised to not carry anything in my pockets lest I fall in, but had I fallen in in a lock, my pockets’ contents would not have been the main concern), and once in them, the feeling of the water changing height underneath you is like being on a lilo as you fill the bath. Not that I’ve tried that. Try it and send me an email.

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The waterway lifestyle itself was also fascinating; we passed boats that clearly were not designed to move from their moorings; boats that looked like gypsy caravans; boats that had been given loft extensions; boats that were vegetable allotments; boats that were offices and one that, for want of a better word, was a floating “garden shed”; a floating hairdresser and a floating puppet theatre; and even a boat that Ian assured me was a functioning S&M dungeon. I felt quite converted (not just by the dungeon boat) and was coming up with ways in which I might be able to live on the river, it is a very economical way to live in London. Basically, it’s fine if you are happy with being much more closely connected to your need for water, ablutions and electricity. I did realise that I am probably happier in a solid house. But the idea of just moving house on a whim, “Oh, I fancy a new garden today, what say you?”. Quite simply, cracking.

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The day was very pleasant. I saw a massive terrapin (a fresh water turtle) that was a good foot in length (a bad foot if it had bitten me maybe. Can you eat terrapin?), and there was a fair amount of other wildlife, including the young of several species. It is so strange how we look at baby birds and animals and our hearts melt, we feel a fondness for them, even if they are ugly, hairy / hairless little critters. One of the best sights I saw was what I think was a coot, standing on the bottom rung of a ladder and you could see its wonderful, pale blue, hairy feet. So much fun, it looked like it was wearing a smart pair of racing gloves. It was also glorious sunshine all day long, to such a degree that, as I mentioned earlier, I did get burnt shoulders. A day of boating, all the way to Kensal Rise.

When we arrived, we made use of the Sainsburies to provide a substantial lunch of tomatoes, chicken wings and a delicious bottle of French malbec. Then, to walk off our bellies, Ian and I went for a wander around the cemetery there. Wow, what a cemetery! If you’ve not been, go check it out. The avenues of grand monuments to the dead put me in mind of the Ricoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires (Argentina’s own metaphor for Argentina – grand, flamboyant and crumbling). However, the variety of styles makes it more like the British Museum, with ideas taken from every culture, but packed in in a cluttered and jumbled “throw all your toys back into the toybox” kind of way. Some cracking inscriptions too; a city of the echos of stories, whose imprints are fading away in the face of time and weather. Amazing to see. Then we went to the pub.

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I was told this was the headstone of a quack doctor who apparently killed many people with his fake remedies...

A sunny afternoon floating on water, followed by staring at memories of dead people. What did you do on Thursday?

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Early Bird Speakers
http://earlybirdspeakers.co.uk/

Early Bird TV – videos of speeches and evaluations
http://www.earlybirdspeakers.co.uk/category/videos

WTF podcast with Marc Maron
http://www.wtfpod.com/

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