Some almost spherical bloke shouted across at me from the reeds that ran along the towpath, as I chugged along: “Have they lifted the restrictions then.” There wasn’t a question mark. The statement just hung there among the midges, dangling rhetorically, accusingly. There’s been a lot this lately – angry people; cabin cruiser owners mainly, whose boats have been locked into the marinas out of their reach – even more divisive over the unwritten rules of quarantine than they were over Brexit. If Covid-19 was a nazi-occupation, then a great many of them would be sympathisers; collaborators; fifth columnists – not the best metaphor, perhaps, but it’s V.E. Day and all the bunting’s gone to my head.
Inskip was stupidly busy. As a rule few people take afternoon strolls beneath the motorway flyover, because it’s not very pleasant. But in recent times the towpath’s been bulging, because the CaRT forgot to post one of their ‘This stretch of the canal is for the use of locals only!’ notices on the gate. So I moved the boat to Moon’s Bridge, in the hopes of some improved social distancing. (I don’t want to catch the bloody thing!) There’s the usual plague notice on the gate there. Not that anybody was paying attention.
As I was painting the side panels (a job that the winter rainstorms have delayed to the point that the sills were weeping rust) an old chap ambled by, closely followed by a goose. An hour or so later he returned, this time with his wife. The goose was still in tow. I had to ask: “Are you taking your goose for a walk?” “What goose?” he said.
There were bikers (one of whom inhaled a midge, closed one nostril with his thumb and emptied the contents of the other all down my fresh paintwork with a snort), families experiencing the canal for the first time, now lost (“Can you tell me where this goes?”), joggers with their arses poured into lycra like overfilled icing bags, urban explorers, dimwits, halfwits and chuff-nuts who clearly needed educating as far as metric measurements went (the towpath’s only one metre wide at Moon’s Bridge; if you don’t want to break social distancing guidelines, then you’d better make sure you can swim) and the world and his wife out there. At one point I looked up from the book I was reading to discover an old gentleman with his purple nose pressed against my window, staring in at me as though I was some sort of fairground attraction. After about five minutes, I drew the curtains and went to bed.
One of the myriad couples overloading the towpath had travelled from Germany for the occasion. They gave me the third degree as I sat in the bows with a brew, having presumably never witnessed a narrowboat before. “How do you go shopping? Vot do you do about da shitzenhausen? You must be very lonely!” (Again, not a question but a statement, as though I was some political prisoner in exile.) “Far from it. I crave solitude more than ever these days,” I told them.
On Thursday night at eight o’clock, Woodplumpton exploded in the distance. For a few brief minutes the air was filled with fireworks, shouts of “Bravo” and “Well done!” and pots and pans being smashed together. Even the peacocks joined in. Then the weekly ovation for the NHS dropped away, leaving only the screams of toddlers woken from their sleep.
So the boat is now half painted. The other half can wait until I’ve turned it around. I’ve no intention of wading out into the cut. The panels are white, mostly – a patchwork of shiny and matt blotches with the outline of the rose-shaped stickers that adorned them previously (which I just painted over) still clearly visible. But at least it’s not covered in rusty measles any more.