Sunday, 15 August 2010

A different world, a true community.

I’ve been away for a week, hence the absence of blogs. I was cruising along the River Nene from Northampton in a narrowboat. Hence a slightly different tone for today’s blog; partly to ease back in gently, partly because I’ve been removed from politics and all news for a week!

There is a real community among boaters, specially among narrowboaters and even more specially among those who do it regularly. I don’t want to sound sentimental - and I know I’m definitely going to sound old-fashioned - but it’s a community based on shared help, mutual interest and, well, kindness. You meet it all the time; and a wide range of characters, too.

The River Nene runs from Northampton eastwards and eventually you can travel to the Ouse and East Anglia. It’s a gentle river, with regular, often electrically operated, locks. So there are many chances to pass the time of day with people. Like the older people on a boat named Numquam Sine Stimulo (Never a Dull Moment.) These had travelled from Napton (on the Oxford Canal) to Cambridge and were on their way back. I’ve made an assumption (from the name of the boat) that they may have been connected with university education; but, retired, they had been out for six weeks. What a great way to spend some retirement time.

We found cows most interested in us on many of our moorings, but can you imagine the pleasure of coming across some shire horses around one of the locks. All of them happy to be spoken to and stroked. A rare pleasure for a townie like me.

Then there was the old chap we partnered up with (through the locks) coming back to Northampton. He was on his own on his boat, with his dog: ‘He’s very brave when he’s on the boat.’ Our helmsman learned his story as they travelled along. His wife had died a couple of years ago; but he decided, rather than sit around in his house moping, he sold up and bought his boat. He has sons and daughters (so a family); but he’d travelled along the Nene to the cuts in East Anglia, cruised the Ouse and was on his way back.

What a spirit - it gives us all hope.

At Irthingborough we hoped to moor up for the night; but there wasn’t really a mooring - and the next chance was miles along the river. A lively group offered us the chance to ‘breast up’ (ie moor alongside them); but eventually they got together and three boats were nudged along which gave us a perfect mooring on the end. The day before, a passer-by had borrowed a boat hook to rescue a swan that had got it’s neck stuck in a lock gate.

The Inland Waterways offer a chance to participate in a community where you can talk to anyone without fear of abuse nor rebuff and where offering help and receiving it are par for the course. Among the rough and tumble of politics we should never allow ourselves to forget such communities exist.

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