Oh, the irony. Second only to that of the year we lived on a boat being the one when we did the (second) least boating; the year I vowed to post every day turns out to be the one with the least of all. One hundred and seventy six days of this year have passed, and I have been boating for ... two of them. In a couple of weeks there will be another two. It is shameful, disappointing, and sad. I am reading the blogs of Halfie and Captain Ahab with envy.
How we came to this pretty pass, of course, was by planning to go to Hebden Bridge; planning everything around that, booking the leave, abandoning all other plane - and then not going.
I can't say I regret not going - in the circumstances, and as things turned out, it was clearly the right decision. But I do regret that things turned out that way.
And I wonder at myself. Time was I'd have pushed and pushed before giving up. I would have insisted on going to Hebden Bridge, rather than being relieved by having a reason not to. It might well have ended in disaster, but my passion for boating and my fear of missing out would have taken us to the brink and beyond. Have I become less daring, less driven, less passionate? A coward, and a lazy one at that?
Maybe, inexorably, other aspects of life have crept up on me. Family responsibilities have increased a bit - particularly for Jim, but with knock-on effects. Work has become all-consuming; it's hard enough to find the time to take off, let alone to stop thinking about it. Ricky and Geoffrey are fabulous, but they don't make boating any easier.
But I miss it. I miss the tiller in my hand and the resistance in my arm. I miss moments like nearly getting round Suttons in one and the feeling of knowing that I dared keep the power on and the boat in forward until the last moment, willing her to come round but knowing I could cope if she didn't. That's what I miss: not the wildlife, not the calm, not the scenery, not the sunshine. It's me and seventy one foot six of Big Woolwich working as one; the rare moments when it all comes together (and the not so rare ones when we're just chugging along nicely together); it's the feeling - more and more after nearly ten years together - of knowing the boat, trusting it to keep me out of trouble. The canals are interesting, being out in the open air is nice, sunshine is great, meeting people is good... but it's the boat, the boat that I love.
.... So, I was off on a bit of a flight of fancy there - whether writing stories, or blogs, or research articles, I often don't know what I'm going to write until I start writing. And what I was going to write tonight was that I am going to make a dignified retreat, in the circumstances, from my commitment to post every day for the whole year. Dignified, because I shall have posted every day for half the year, but as things have turned out this was the worst possible year to try to achieve what was always going to be a difficult feat. I am so taken up with work that I have nothing to write about, and no time or energy to write it. So I will spare you the makeweights; I shall post when I'm boating or when I have something boaty (or occasionally, otherwise interesting) to say; and I shall try to post at least once a week.... and I shall hope that next year will be a better one for boating.
Fellow charity shoppers, is it not extremely annoying when, rather than organising clothes by type and size, charity shop staff arrange them by colour?
Not only do I not often go out thinking, 'I need something yellow today' (rather than, say, 'I need a lightweight linen jacket'), but I do tend to need it to be in my size, and - what makes it really stupid - the colour of something is the easiest thing to see at a glance, while the size can really be quite hard to divine.
Why do they do it? Is it just easier? Does it appeal to some simplistic aesthetic sense? Is it a cunning ruse to make us look at everything ('Hmmm, I thought I wanted a size 14 linen jacket in blue or grey, but hey! Now I'm here I can't resist this size eight lime green shell suit.')
I did get a nice jacket by the way (Boden, brand new, £7.99). But it was still very annoying.
I am indebted to my cousin Janice who picked up a leaflet - well, a couple of leaflets actually - at a recording of Gardeners' World at the NEC.
These leaflets are meant to make you want to visit your local waterway. The bigger, earlier, version has 100 attractions on it. Then there's a later one, into which they have squeezed nineteen more - mainly, it would appear, on the K&A. The basic map is the same though, even if the later version is smaller and flimsier (and hence does not photograph so well.
And what attractions!
Lots of places (including Thrupp and Braunston) have 'quirky bridges'; others, such as Garstang, have 'quaint' bridges. At other places the big attraction is a turnover bridge. In many places you can see boats, narrowboats, or boats using locks. At Gunthorpe, the attraction is a 'huge bottom gate' (those unfamiliar with lock terminology might well boggle at that). In Oxford, apparently, there's an old boatyard... Just how up to date is this?
Now you know, and I know, that canals and locks and everything associated with them are massively attractive. But if we didn't already know that, or weren't that way inclined, would this leaflet get us setting our sat nav to those carefully provided postcodes (good luck parking!)? And might we not, in a number of cases, be rather disappointed when we got there?
But that is not the worst of it. At the bottom there is a disclaimer that says: 'This map includes waterways managed by members of the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities (AINA). There are other inland waterways that have not been included. the [sic] information on this map is for guidance only, for accurate information please visit our website.'
There is a key showing that CRT waterways are marked in blue; AINA in grey. The grey ones aren't even dignified with names. But you can find the Thames, if uou know where to look:
And the nameless Middle Level, and Broads are at least fortunate enough that their navigation authority is a member of AINA.
But look what happens if they're not:
According to this map, produced on behalf of and put into the public domain by CRT, the Chesterfield Canal is detached at both ends; the SSYN reaches a dead end at Keadby (and that's if you can follow the completely useless labelling of the waterways). The tidal Trent has been expunged. This undermines one of the main selling points of the inland waterways, which is that there's a massive, connected, network, but worse than that, it's just wrong - incorrect and misleading. And surely, at least some of the missing chunk is a CRT waterway...
So, OK, in the small print they admit that it's inaccurate ('for accurate information see our website') but what sort of guidance is it giving? And in any case, if you do go on their website, you get a map with exactly the same chunk of Trent missing.
Here it is clearer that it's the non-CRT bit (downstream of Gainsborough) that's been omitted, but why?
I don't think I've previously shared with you this delightful gift that Sebastian found me in a charity shop. It lives on top of my bureau and I put pieces of paper in it.
The interesting thing is that it has clearly been put together by someone who has some idea of the basic elements of a traditional narrowboat. The relative size of some elements is a bit off, but they're mostly there and in roughly the right place. There's even a nod to Erewash livery. All in all, not a bad attempt. And an excellent letter rack.