Dry days – a pause outside Oxford

We finally got off the Chartered Thames yesterday – I kept calling it that, from a William Blake poem I remembered – ‘London’. I couldn’t remember the whole thing, but certainly that the tone was not an overly positive one – and I had mixed feelings about the Thames, with all its fancy weekender boats and fancier-still houses on the banks (with extra houses in the grounds, as well as a boathouse). What the hey, let’s hear that poem:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

OK, so our experience of the Thames really wasn’t as extreme as – apparently – Blake’s experience of London (and its ‘chartered Thames’) was. Although you get the feeling from this he might have been a bit of a before-his-time class warrior, as well as a mad religious visionary. Whatever he was: it’s brilliant.

Anyway – we took a few days to cruise along the Thames: the first day was just after all the heavy rain and in the very high winds that came just after. That rain is now, of course, back with us – and my thoughts go to those people in West Wales being hit by it at the moment.

The water was fairly choppy for the first day, but then brightened up for us – and for a time was quite pleasant. As we were headed upstream, Reenie was having to fight the current; rather than on the Kennet, where we had all its force behind us. So even though we were giving it all the oomph she has, we still only travelled at walking pace.

Moving from the Thames to the Oxford Canal either involves going through Isis Lock, or through the Duke’s Cut – which we’d gathered was rather friendlier a turning. And with current, we opted for the latter – which took us a while longer, with a couple more Thames locks to do. But we finally got to the Duke’s Cut last and night, where you go from the enormous Thames locks, through to the tiny single-boat Oxford ones. They’re quick, though – you practically pop up, like one of those arcade games where you hit moles (Whack-a-mole?). Well, not quite.

Having been moving for about 11 days solidly, we’ve taken a couple of days near Oxford to dry out and recuperate – nerves were beginning to fray a little. So on this balmy June day, we’ve got the fire going (!) and are avoiding being outside. It’s nice to be reminded that Reenie is also a warm and cosy home, as well as a vessel travelling against currents, wind and rain.

A Lock is Like a Box of Chocs

Today, we went through lock number 100 – and we started, when we left Bristol, through Hanham Lock, No. 1. So that’s a lorra lorra locks (as Cilla would say – well, she probably wouldn’t, but if she did, she might say it like that. And speaking of Cilla, I like to imagine that – when going through a lock – when it warns you of the Cill, that you could just add an ‘A’ to the end of it. The image of her emerging from the lock and saying ‘Surprise, Surprise, Chuck!’ amuses me greatly).

Anyway, as the man said (Forrest Gump, I believe): “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”. Indeed, so are the locks – although unfortunately for us, we’ve been all too lacking in folks to share our locks with.

It’s quite a sociable experience being on the canals and part of that is the necessity of moving tonnes of water around every now and then. We’ve been through lock flights with assorted retiree couples – who tend to have much smarter boats than liveaboards – and encountered various nationalities in passing at locks. Although it seems like canal holidays are particularly appealing to antipodeans and Nordic folks – particularly the Danes. But that’s just from our encounters thus far, it’s probably not very representative.

A couple of days ago, we ended up sharing a flight of locks with a group of Yorkshire Boors, as I initially dubbed them. When I offered to pull their boat in from the centre line, his opening gambit was: ‘USE THE POWER, LAD: USE THE F***ING POWER!’ He then kicked the accelerator with his left foot, so as not to let go of his butterfly umbrella (his granddaughter’s, apparently). I’m pretty sure the way you treat a hire-boat is NOT how you treat a liveaboard.

We’re pushing on towards Oxford and hoping to be able to moor there for a day or two and go into town to the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt-Rivers Museum – both anthropological and arts, I think – and hopefully meet with friends and family there.

While I’m inside writing this, we’ve agreed a new system of taps on the roof to alert whoever’s inside that they’re needed, which goes:

One knock for a lock (or a bridge)
Two for a poo
Three for a wee
Four for more (biscuits).

Well, we’ve got to amuse ourselves somehow. See also: the various pictures of our posing with the tiller in ridiculous manners (Flickr feed to right).