So there I was, at Catterall winding hole, painting over the rust on that final boat panel, when I noticed a troll in my living room staring out at me through the recently washed window. Even more horrifying was the fact that it turned out to be my own reflection in the glass.
What the hell happened? I’ve become a caricature; a grotesque; a crinkle-jowled version of my former youth; muppetised – nothing short of a brown paper parcel full of liver tied with string and left for too long beneath the grill. It’s hard to play the romantic hero in your own life when you now resemble a cross between Albert Steptoe and the crow-man from Worzel Gummidge.
Not that anybody else trampling the towpaths around Catterall seemed to care about their appearance. They’ve obviously never envisioned themselves as a Heathcliffe or a Rochester. Their apogee of romanticism appears to have been Mr Pipkin in some 1970’s sleazy sex-comedy, playing second fiddle to Robin Askwith. Most were content to display their mottled white and red duvets of flesh to the world without shame, flapping in their flip-flops and baseball caps amongst the rushes, their waistlines bound in shorts so tight and overhung with blemished stomachs that they looked more like thongs – Mr Blobbys dappled in sweat. There ought to be a law against it. At times, when the corona-virus crowds were gathering at the bottlenecks beneath the bridges, the towpath resembled a space-hoppers’ graveyard.
This is what happens when winter ends suddenly in mid-June and the summer collapses onto the world like a badly secured circus tent. Last night it was so hot I could hear the fish around the hull gasping for breath. At half three in the morning, unable to sleep, I ventured out into the pitch-black bows, wearing nothing but my slippers and a very long granddad shirt. The chill on the edge of the breeze was sensually refreshing around my kneecaps. I watched the bats overhead for a while, making the most of the amputated midsummer night, but the sound of the post-lockdown traffic from somewhere not too distant seemed deafening now. I don’t remember it being so loud before, especially at half three in the morning. The lockdown has, unfortunately, destroyed my ability to block such unwelcome intrusions.
This morning I span the boat around and headed for Dimples Lane on the outskirts of Garstang. En route I saw squirrels in their first nut-enthused throes of youth, dangerously leaping through the branches above, rabbits chasing each other between herons’ legs, and a cow on a bridge. I don’t know why, but I always enjoy seeing a cow on a bridge, behaving as though said bridge was built for its own personal access. For a short while it seemed as though the world was just about acceptable. Then another Jabba the Hutt emerged from the shadows, excessive and purulent, and the chip fat of humanity broke the illusion of isolation once more.