There is no better breakfast in the world than a par-boiled egg with an accompaniment of bread and butter. The egg is sitting in a wooden cup-holder. Its speckled shell is cracked and peeled back to show its rubbery white flesh. A pinch of salt has been sprinkled over the top. The bread is wholemeal. I have not toasted it today. It crumbles on my plate and in my mouth with goodness. The butter is unsalted, it sits in an Oxford green butter dish. My tea is the best I have ever known and one of the real treats in life: ‘Smoky Early Grey’ by Fortnum and Masons. It is a blend of lapsang souchong and Earl Grey. Its woodiness and smokiness set off the misted windows and the slightly damp air, with perfection.
This morning, after breakfast, I opened the hatch of our lovely boat Hawisia.
To my surprise I saw something in the late-September sunshine that I did not expect to see: two men outside on the tow-path, right by Hawisia’s cruiser stern.
It was almost midday. I had some housekeeping tasks to do, but I noticed that these men (Cockneys by the sound of it) were still lingering on the tow-path beside the boat.
A few minutes later, after putting on my blue linen smock coat, I locked up the boat and approached the men who were where I had seen them last. They were talking eagerly, but they had also seen me emerging from the boat galley and clearly expected me to say something to them.
Cued by their eyes, the words tumbled from my mouth,
“What have you found there?”
No sooner had I said it than my eyes were directed away from their faces, towards the boot of the second man. His foot was delicately poised beside an object nestling on the grassy bank.
“A hand-gun,” he said. “Forty year old.”
“We called the police. They’ll be here soon.”
The gun was small and rusty, covered in a blanketing of furze and underwater slime. It did look ancient – perhaps the guilty partner of some long-forgotten crime chucked anxiously into the canal to avoid detection.
“Where do you find it?” I asked, amazed.
“Right by your boat!” One man replied jollily. “Maybe it’s yours!”
“It’s not mine – I’m a pacifist!’ I replied, not knowing what else to say.
We all laughed. I unlocked my bicycle from the rack above the boat and slung my lock round my waist. What a find! And right by the abutting rear-end of our Lister engine compartment.
The water is very shallow in this part of the Grand Union canal and in good weather you can see the sediment and murky detritus on the river bed very clearly from the bank. They had seen it, and plucked it from the gloomy waters like oyster catchers or divers. Who knows how many years it has lain there, unremarked, at the bottom of the Regents Canal?
N.B. Since writing this blog entry I had noticed several interesting objects languishing at the bottom of the canal in states of semi-liquid preservation. The River Lea, where the waters are deep are especially good hunting grounds. Once by Fish Island I noticed an entire sofa-bed, motorbike and car sunk to aqueous depths, their presence half-revealed and half-unannounced by the rippling water.
Yesterday was a landmark occasion for Hawisia and her crew. Finally, after months of languishing in the darkness – reading by paraffin lamps and tea lights, we emerged into the light. The dramatic transition from the pre-industrial to modern age was enabled by two modest innovations supplied by the excellent electricians Maplins. These devices were small pin-ended LED lights. Now instead of rolling out 240 volts of electricity to ensure that we have lighting on the boat, and hence running out of energy very quickly – we can rely purely on our 12 volt supply.
The small pin-points of light look like stars behind the mica-like glass of the lampshades. They have transformed our lives. We are no longer scrambling in the darkness, as strange stragglers of pre-modernity or atavistic cosmopolitans. I feel like a civilised human being once more.
There was something romantic about our incarceration in the boat with only lamp oil and tapers. But even this ‘romance’ began to wear down and grind on me after some time. After all we still have the hurricane lamps, we still have the lovely, ceramic ‘squirrel’ (our woodburning stove). But now we have also engineered a way to read properly at night, or watch our friends faces when we invite them over for dinner.
They are not all done yet. We have put up three – two LEDs in the old light casements in the kitchen and one spotlight. We still have to fit them in the bathroom, bedroom and living room. We plan to fit three downward-facing lights in the belly of the boat – more atmospheric that way. The brass LED ‘Knightsbridge’ light fittings from the chandlers are also quite expensive – £18 each. I imagine the more money we find the more, light will eventually spill from the small windows of our 60 ft boat into the surrounding night.