Two or three days ago, the newspapers told me that England was a bit colder than are both Moscow and Oslo. They spoke the truth (a miracle in itself for the modern press). The generous warmth of the North Atlantic Drift often allows inhabitants of this eight-hundred mile long island bobbing about in the North Atlantic to forget quite how northerly we are. It is easy to forget that the previous full ice-age was just a mere eleven thousand years ago… about three hundred and sixty generations ago, or perhaps one hundred and eighty life-spans stacked end to end.
Both snow and ice have side-effects here quite aside from the usual. England panics. One snowflake or a minor crisping at the edges of the smallest puddle sends the English into a blue funk. Two snowflakes and the trains stop running, the motorways are closed by serious-faced policemen and women in flour-covered pinafores run into the streets to herd small children indoors to safety. The panic is a quiet panic, of course, we don’t scream and shout or begin to loot and burn public buildings. Would, sometimes, that we did – the country may be improved in ways beyond understanding were we to be more demonstrative and vocal. No, instead a kind of hush settles over the country, fewer people bother to even try to travel and we on the canals generally don’t bother at all. When all is said and done, tomorrow is another day and if tomorrow isn’t better then there’s probably always next week or the month after. We form queues of one in our own homes, waiting for better weather.
This is day four of my enforced – what? Stillness? Unmoving? Day four of wind, snow, and now ice, ice, Baby, that has prevented me from moving the boat onwards. I am getting bored. This is not the most exciting place in the world to have chosen to be frozen in. In fact, having learned this lesson, I shall not stop here again – and most certainly not next winter! A boat has come past today – but it was a Canal & River Trust working boat, and I suspect that the process is akin to doing something in a company car that you might well not do in your own, private car… All of that lovely new (expensive) blacking coat on the hull getting scraped off by the ice… I assume that they were on some sort of time-dependent mission with a short fuse.
There’s a spot of extremely amateur video here, with the somewhat loud soundtrack of the ice cracking and splintering.
It is sunny and bright today, thanks be to the Greek and Roman gods (all of them), so at least my mood is significantly higher than the ambient temperature outside. With luck, the smashing of the ice by the CaRT working boat combined with this low, weak but wonderful winter sunshine will mean that I can safely move the boat tomorrow. The nb Cardinal Wolsey and I both have needs – he could do with filling his water tanks, emptying his gazunder tanks and getting rid of “household” refuse, while I could do with a new outlook to look out on, and on being somewhere close to shops, to fulfil some seasonal human needs (such as food).
Even in this enforced semi-inactivity, I have managed to treat myself to a new experience that was both splendid and disturbing all at once. This past Monday I decided to take advantage of the weather-reduced traffic, and to stumble my icy way into the village, there to take advantage of the public omnibus service to make a daylight raid on a supermarket, any supermarket.
I waved down an early-morning Number 31 in a nice shade of blue, and I asked the driver for a fare to a bus stop nearest a respectable supermarket. Some £3.20 (single) changed hands in cold, hard coin of the realm (I had kept it in an outside pocket, I dislike forking over warm and sweaty money).
Of course, it turned out that the bus driver was a certifiable nutcase. My views on speed, velocity and mechanised transport have changed over the past couple of years, but even correcting for that, he was a nutcase. I’ve never been on a bus before where the driver swung the tail out on most bends in a celebration of over-steer, and where I could hear the anti-lock braking system swearing mightily to itself before each and every stop. The ride was as emotional as it was physical, a roller-coaster of brief straight sections of road punctuated by bends and the rear ends of other vehicles at junctions.
Living on a narrowboat and not possessing a car my top velocity is generally walking pace (a little slower than walking pace when on the boat), so thirty, forty, fifty miles an hour seem to me to be quite ridiculous. I understand, now, how hitherto-horse-bound folk must have felt on those first railway journeys or riding in the first cars – no wonder they wanted chaps with red flags to walk in front! On the way into town I wished frequently that there were someone walking ahead waving a white flag of surrender.
When not actually wild-eyed and clenching my buttocks at the prospect of the entire jalopy leaping some frozen hedgerow to end up downside up and probably inside out in some frozen field, it occurred to me that there were parallels between this newly-discovered world and apocalyptic zombie stories. At each stop we collected two, three or four or more examples of the massed ranks of the thoroughly retired – wrinklies, twirlies, coffin-dodgers, codgers, coots, old farts, blue rinses. We collected walking sticks, tartan shopping trolleys and coats and footwear so sensible that one might have made an expedition to either of the Arctic poles in them. The youngest thing that we collected en route was a “Guide Dog for the Blind”, a young black Labrador that saw his charge aboard the bus, bought her ticket and sat her down carefully at the first available convenient seat. Forget Zombie-land, I was somewhere far, far more terrifying – in Pensioner-Land.
The land of the killer false teeth, ravenous wrinkly support-hosiery and the noxious, heavy vapours of Deep Heat and over-warmed E45 Cream.
The question I asked myself (in-between wondering if any of us would survive our driver, Juan Manuel Fangio’s efforts to win the Monte Carlo Rally in a ten tonne bus) was, how well did I fit in? Could I pass without comment in the Land of The Elderly? Would they eventually surround me, pointing fingers and letting loose a monotone alien scream before eating my liver? The rather damnable answer lies before you – I survived to write this. Not one of the old ladies pinched my cheeks and said how cute I was. Not one of the old gentlemen offered me a Wurther’s Original. It was all really rather depressing.
Evidently, I have early-onset old age, ten years or more before my time.
This elderly-zombie world is one that most folk, the workers and the schoolies, just don’t see. It all happens while they are safely tucked away in their offices and factories and their classrooms, and it’s all packed away again long before knocking-off time. So that’s two distinct and entire worlds that I now inhabit, worlds that rarely if ever appear on the radar of more… “normal” folk. The daytime world of – what’s the euphemism that’s politically correct? Oh yes – “senior citizens*”. I inhabit the worlds of the “senior citizen” and the frozen world of the canals. Neither are places that jibe well with the thirteen-year-old inside me, the little kid that I still believe that I am.
I do wonder how many more distinct and largely unknown worlds there are out there.
Moreover, is there any way of rationing myself to perhaps just one or two new experiences per month? I have my delicate constitution to consider…
You see, I’m rambling and gibbering again. Four days of living in a floating igloo and I lose my mind.
Please, dear canal, thaw out so that I may move on tomorrow.
*I dislike intensely the term “senior citizen”, since seniority is not gained simply by hanging around waiting for the years to pass, I don’t believe for one second in “political correctness”, and we here in England are actually “subjects” since we live in a monarchy!
Please think warm thoughts, I really do need to move on now…