By Jac Dowling
Several interesting happenings lately in this part of Africa where, it seems, I’m the one lonely Scribe. But never mind. Recently Arch Desmond and Mrs Tutu came to retire in Hermanus and we are delighted to have their company. He recently did two one hour sessions at Bargain Books signing copies of his and the Dalai Lama’s Book of Love. The queue seemed to go on forever, hence his decision to spend another hour the next day. It’s a remarkable book and has nothing to do with mud, which is what this blog is meant to be about. . .and it certainly wasn’t Western Cape mud since we have not had rain for ages and Cape Town’s gasping. Secondly, Kobus Moolman is launching his new volume of short stories at Hermanus’ Fynarts festival in June, which is really good news.
So, to the mud bit. We hired a 58 foot narrow boat some years back and decided to explore the Oxford Canal. Set off up the Thames in good spirit, First Mate at the helm, Skipper (me) hanging out for the first lock which, fortunately, turned out to be manned by lock keeper and electric gates so there was no jittery jumping onto slippery steps and winding two heavy gates open and I was mightily relieved. Doesn’t do to make a pampoen of oneself at the first opportunity. Just after navigating the busy Oxford stretch of river, we saw a little sign under a willow which read Oxford Canal so we turned right (starboard??) and entered a world of quaint cottages, daffodils in gardens, washing blowing in the breeze and an extremely muddy towpath.
First Mate and I decided to share the opening and closing of locks, which meant hazarding the mud, slippery steps and one of the deepest locks in the canal system. Be warned all ye who enter here, pushing open heavy lock gates is best done using derriére as a cushioning tool and pushing backwards. And a pair of strong arms to key open the locking mechanisms. Pub lunches and suppers were the order of the day, cosy fires et al and on we went, skirting weirs, giving way to other craft and generally having a jolly good time afloat!
I became quite adept at leaping ashore to tether the boat each time we stopped, always on the towpath side, this required nosing in to the bank, leaping gracefully ashore, tethering the bow then niftliy reversing the stern alongside and tethering that bit next – First Mate got quite good at this until we came to a weir that was flooding and got caught up in the current. Much reversing and swearing later, we avoided disaster and I stood ready in the bow, rope in hand to leap (gracefully) – except the bank collapsed under me and I was up to my chin in muddy canal water, slipping ever further under the boat on the muddy bottom. FM couldn’t work out where I’d got to until he saw the lock keeper racing towards us, by which time the bow was pinning my shoulder firmly to the collapsing bank and I hadn’t a clue what to do. Being hauled out was a tad ignominious I’ll admit, plus I was soaked and filthy. But we couldn’t hold up traffic any longer so into the lock we nosed, I emerged onto the quay and wound the ropes around two bollards, and the water gradually left the lock with us dangling above it because I’d left the ropes too short. Cupboards opened and crockery crashed to the floor, I had pondweed in my hair and. . .
I rest my case.