I love the place where my boat is moored. I rent fifty feet of river bank from a farmer. The farm has been in his family for at least two generations. It is very much a family business. I am unqualified to pass comment on its agricultural advantages, but for me the best part of this place is the solitude. There used to be other people living on boats nearby, but they left more than a year ago. There is another man living aboard his boat, but he is two or three hundred metres away. There are five other boats, but most of the time the owners are not here. Two of those are the size of rowing boats, two are small motor cruisers and one is ... well, I'm not exactly sure, but I think it will become a houseboat at some stage. It looks like a shed on a raft and the owner has been working on it since before I arrived here late in 2011. Just because there are only two of us living here on the river doesn't mean we are completely isolated. I am always astonished how nothing and no one gets past the farmer, his sister (the horse lady), the horse-trainer and their respective partners.
"Did you see that boat?" asked the horse lady and her partner yesterday pulling up in their ancient golf buggy. I knew immediately which boat they meant. A dull-reddish and off-white boat, looking even less kempt than mine went by about a week ago. It came back again the day before yesterday. Most of the time I am irritated by boats going by too fast. Their wash tugs at my boat, which tugs on the ropes tying it to the mooring's woodwork. I fear that one time when I am not here the ropes might give under the tugging of excessive wash and the boat float away, or the posts be pulled from the mud which would have a similar effect plus that of pulling the jetty to bits. Also as the boat is rubbed along the side of the jetty by vessels passing at high-speed (this is a comparative notion - on the river 5mph is very high speed) paint is rubbed off the hull. Any paint needs to be replaced and I am terrible at doing that.
The red and white boat in question though, was not going too fast at all. In fact, it was moving incredibly slowly. It was the slow speed that made it unusual; that and him passing close by my boat on the wrong side of the river. I watched as he moved downstream to the fireman's old mooring, now only used for angling, and he looked as though he was manoeuvring to moor there. However, instead of mooring he seemed to change his mind and passed it very slowly. Then as he moved over to the right-hand side of the river (boaters drive on the right, of course) he opened the throttle a little and disappeared round the sunrise bend. I thought it weird, but was pleased he had moved on. I have come to appreciate my solitude and I wondered whether he might be looking for a mooring. Of course I would not be able to object should the farmer wish to rent some more riverbank. I was on the same mission nearly four years ago, when I finally began to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to move out of my father's house after he died. However, the excitement wasn't over. The red and white boat had obviously used the slightly wider stretch of river round the bend to turn round and come back; this time, of course it was on the correct side of the river to pass the moored boats very close and very slowly, which it did. The owner seemed to be paying each boat and mooring very close attention. This made me uncomfortable. I have never liked people peering through my windows. He continued passing very close to the other liveaboard, the lorry-driver's boat, and I thought he was now on his way back from whence he came, but no. He turned round at the confluence and passed by a third time exhibiting the same odd behaviour. By that time I needed to get to work, I had to collect my instruments and p.a. from the lock-up miles away and had a hotel porch in which to unload and shiver.
In conversation with the horse lady and her partner yesterday I learned that the "river rat" (as the partner called him) had indeed moored up at the fireman's old mooring and was not very keen to move on. The farmer went to have a word. These are private moorings and Ratty was trespassing. I don't think I have mentioned this before, but the farmer fears no one and is known amongst all the local characterati for not tolerating nonsense. The fiercest amongst these would not choose to cross the farmer. The farmer and his sister (the horse lady) make a truly formidable team. I am relieved that I get on with them both. I would not care to cross either. Some people manage to have an air of persuasion about them. I am pretty certain it is something I have never cultivated, specially not in my years as a teacher where it could have been useful. Maybe I've never recovered from the embarrassment of being listed, in my second teaching job, as one of the "weak" staff. That, in turn, may have been due in part to being stabbed in the face with a ball-point pen during my first week there. Ratty claimed to have some problem with an overheating clutch and that he wanted to give it chance to cool down, so he would finish his smoke first ... and so on. The farmer persuaded him to move. Had he not, the horse lady would have cut him adrift anyway.
I saw Ratty moored up in the village a few days later. He was pointing in the direction of the farm again, so I expected him to come past within a day or two, which he did, still travelling dead slow and examining boats and moorings. I don't know whether he was searching for loose stuff to sell on as seemed to be the consensus of the others, but he has queered his pitch if he was only looking for a mooring.
For an area inhabited by just nine people, a lot happens. Yes, I love it here ...