quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Monday, June 26, 2006

"messing about in boats"

There's something about rivers and boats. I walked through a small, reconstructed Edwardian pleasure garden, past the bandstand and the teashop, and found that there were boats for hire. Only rowing boats, unfortunately. Last time I wanted to hire a boat I was in Durham and was told sternly that I couldn't go on the river on my own because it wasn't safe. (They hadn't even seen me row.) I tried arguing - did they want me to pick up a stranger so that I could spend an hour on the river? - but I lost. The man hiring out boats on the Derwent in Derbyshire had no problems with a solitary oarswoman, and didn't ask any questions about my skill.

I was grateful for his reticence. It's not just that I never rowed in the Oxford-Cambridge boat-race (wrong gender, wrong size, wrong level of ability). While I like being in boats and attempting to control them, I'm not very good at it. My most recent experience has been on a boating lake with a canoe - and that was a year ago.

I realised, as I picked up the oars, that rowing boats present two serious problems to the solitary rower. Two oars have to be used at the same time - each hand has to know what the other hand is doing - and, even worse, the boat travels backwards.

I'd forgotten about the backwards bit. My progress was uneasy enough - three uneven dips with the oars, then craning round to see if I was going in the right direction.

Still, all went well until I reached the railway bridge. The bridge supports looked far enough apart so I thought I might just keep rowing straight on and hope I came out the other side. The gap was certainly wide, but that didn't stop me hitting one of the pillars, watched by the only other people out on the river that day.

Humiliation turned to wonder as I looked ahead on the river. The other rowers went out of sight under the bridge - back to the boathouse, I suppose, with their time up. I paused, caught in the bridge support, and remembered why I liked boats and rivers. The traffic from the road was a mere blurred hum and even the moorhens and Canada geese were silent.

This was much better than the Oxford and Cambridge boatrace, even if a cox, telling me where to go, might have been helpful at times. Thinking about that boatrace, I began to wonder why they bother. Where's the pleasure in it? All that shouting and no time to appreciate the scenery. In all my years of watching them race from Putney to Mortlake, I've never seen a rower stop to take a picture.

I stopped to take a picture. It was much easier because my boat was stuck in the bridge supports. And after I'd taken my picture, I used an oar to push myself free and went a little further up the river, stopping to take more pictures from time to time.

I didn't have very long. I'd opted for the shortest and cheapest hiring period - half an hour. The boathouse would be due to close shortly after I returned. Making my uneven return, I got back through the bridge without trouble and thought I'd take a picture of the bridge and its supports, as a way of commemorating the occasion. I let the boat drift as I raised my camera.

As the camera clicked I realised the boat was stuck again, this time in mud close to the riverbank. Working my way free took some time, especially as I had to remember which oar had which effect and when to row backwards and when forwards. I had the impression that the man in the boathouse was watching.

When I returned the boat, however, he avoided the obvious jokes about my style of rowing and said that I seemed to have managed perfectly well. He even suggested I might enjoy a longer row on a weekday when charges were lower. Apparently you can row far up the river, taking two and a half hours there and back.

For a while I daydreamed about taking a day off work to idle in boats. But I had visited the town only to hear a friend play in a concert. I walked back to town, just five minutes away through the pleasure gardens. I'll be back one day, perhaps. This year, next year, sometime, never ....


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

Sounds like a good time despite all the adversity. Britian is full of and obsessed with waterways - and I walked some of them in London (there is one very near the Leon Paul shop) - which felt very odd to see barges in central london moving things.

Rowboats can be complicated skittery things - I grew up with one, as my grandfather lived on the ocean and the two things he had that were anything close to toys were an axe and a rowboat.

I always wanted to go on one of those "narrow boat" holidays in britian except that a) I have idea how to steer them and b) there are locks and stuff and I don't know how to deal with them either. Any chance you could end up fullfilling my dream?

12:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a beautiful river!

12:11 am  
Blogger kathz said...

Alas, the Leon Paul shop moved at the beginning of this year. It's no longer conveniently placed near St Pancras Station. I love the rivers and waterways in London and have often walked beside the Thames. Did you ever visit Little Venice?

I shall now imagine you as a child practising your warrior-skills with an axe.

I have spent a couple of nights on a narrow boat one December near Huntingdon about 20 years ago, though not doing very much steering. I have happy memories of dawn on deck and drinking coffee with a slug of whisky in it - I can't remember whether than coincided with the dawn and counted as breakfast.

11:04 am  

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