I had my birthday on the weekend so Hawisia became, for a time, transformed into a party boat. But she was not one bit like the steamboatsand paddlewheelers that used to plough up and down the ‘chocolate’ brown Mississippi. There were no proud steam funnels piping out smoke or paddles churning the water round. She remained very much moored to her posting by Victoria Park.
I chose that place for my birthday party because it’s lovely spot. Oak and ash trees from Victoria Park splay their branches out above the canal, from behind the fence, like a ceiling. The colours of the bank and the gardens of the semi-detached Victorian houses which back onto the canal are soft and green. The boats tethered along this strip of canal are very pretty and well maintained; their occupants tend to be younger and more fashionable than those of the boats in central London, on the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal.
As we boated past today I peered into the windows of the wide-beams and barges that didn’t have their curtains drawn. (You see boaters normally keep their curtains drawn on port, or by the bank, but wide open on theirstarboard. So you can play peeping-tom best when you are on the move.) One wide-beam owned by a robust looking young man with a blonde beard, had a tall, mahogany dresser in the main galley of the boat. The day before I had spotted a cluster of apples spread out on his kitchen table on a nice piece of white cotton.
The party went well, though the boat rocked a little under the weight of so many strange feet. I had spent all morning cleaning and scrubbing her so that new guests were sure to see her in her best light. Happily a boat does not take as long to clean as a house. In fact, altogether it is probably the size of one large room in a London townhouse, stretched out narrowly across 60 ft.
After the party ended and the last of my friends had jumped off the deck into the dead of night, Gideon and I went to bed. We were warmed by the hearty beams of our wood-burning stove and Gideon’s delicious beetroot and fennel dips.
We woke up the next morning – the morning of the sixth of October, my birthday, to the most beautiful day of the autumn so far. It was a day of summer snatched by October – bright blue skies and warm wind. I don’t think I have ever had a more pleasant birthday morning as I had that day with Gideon, cycling along the Hertford Union Canal and up the Lea Valley, fleeing from the stale smell of post-party and problematic red-wine stains. We cycled along the glorious Lea River Valley, passed the spiked peaks of the Olympic stadium by Hackney Wick, passed Fish Island and through Hackney Marshes and Wick Wood in the direction of Clapton and eventually Stoke Newington.
The Lea glittered and gleamed – it seemed to be the Promised Land. My heart swelled with joy at the thought that we were finally – at long last – approaching our destination. The mythic lea river valley – the boater’s valle d’orado.
The weekend is the chosen day for moving. For now we moved on a little to Mile End to fill up our tank. There is sadly a little leak somewhere, although we have no idea where. But somehow the bilge is filling with water, and it is certainly from the tank. Poor Gideon is so weary with drilling out two layers of floorboards and fiddling around with plastic piping. It is not easy work. But we have water! The kitchen utensils haven’t smelled so clean for many weeks.
Tonight we have the wood-burning stove on and watched an episode of Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes. Soon we will sleep. I have work in the morning.