Sunday, 14 February 2016

Of Testing Times, Freeze-Shrunken Testicles And A Bottle Of Wine

After last night's very satisfactory ceilidh gig (for a doctor who was moving to Scotland from just outside Cambridge and whose friends, families and colleagues had mocked up a Burns' Night celebration a few weeks late, but complete with haggis arriving in grand style to us playing "Scotland The Brave" [prior to a brave attempt by said organiser to address the haggis with the traditional Burns Ode] - a last second request by the organiser who realised she had no one to pipe in the offering  [and for which our fiddle player, much as I love him, didn't know the B music, so played the A tune from memory on repeat]) I was roused from my early morning reading - an attempt to get my eyes to stay open after slumping into bed at 3am - by a cheery call, "Hello" and a knock on the boat.  I rarely have visitors, so assumed it was for someone else, until the realisation kicked in that there was no one else.  Being entirely inappropriately garbed to receive visitors, specially unknown ones, I rummaged through the tangle of clothes to locate unflattering elasticated trousers and a long-sleeved t-shirt, the nearest things to a covering that could preserve a measure of modesty and be thrown on quickly.  By the time I had stumbled to the front of the boat and unzipped the cratch cover, my visitor was striding along the river bank away from the boat.  I spilled on to the jetty and he must have heard the noise, because he turned round and came back.  At the same time I registered a bottle of something alcoholic standing on the iron table that once graced my father's patio.  I'm not a drinker, although I have attempted a few times in the past couple of years to discover the attraction, so it was obviously someone who didn't know me particularly well - unless he had planned on organising a party.  I assumed he wasn't one of the Jehovah's Witnesses who seem to find their way to the farm periodically through some supernatural homing instinct.

It turned out to be Sunken Boat Man.  He has always struck me as a perfectly affable person, but I have generally kept an unfair distance in his company before.  He seems to smile a lot, which makes the best of most people's features, but I have never filed him in the "handsome" drawer.  He has, though, grown one of those currently fashionable backwoodsman beards and this has changed  his appearance dramatically.  I know he's not reading this but, my friend ... this really suits you.  He is an interesting person.  As I mentioned before, he has been dismantling and rebuilding engines since before he could walk (allegedly) and he now works for a very large multi-national engineering conglomerate that takes him all over the country.  He was on the Welsh borders when I spoke to him on the telephone on Tuesday about his poor boat.  It seems that no one else had been in touch about this mishap.  I find it strange that, when there were people on hand who knew, it took someone who had travelled many thousands of miles during the previous twenty hours to let him know his boat had probably been under water for several days.  He also has an interesting personal background.  I would love to know more about his family.  Maybe It will happen one day.  He seems to be estranged from his family of Romany travellers.  There is a tale to be told there, I think.

Sunken Boat Man had left the wine - a cheeky little South-East Australian Cabernet Sauvignon . Shiraz . Merlot 2015 (I don't know what any of that means, or is likely to taste like, but I like the adjective, "cheeky") - in recognition of being "a star " and as a thank you for helping him raise the Titanic yesterday morning.  I really did not feel I warranted any such reward and definitely did not anticipate such generosity when I wrapped up in several layers of warm clothing against yesterday morning's bitter cold and stood around offering weak words of support whilst passing straps, ropes, various tools and bits of equipment as he was neck deep in a river that was so cold it was probably freezing his nads to the painful density of twin dwarf stars and experiencing early onset hyperthermia and frostbite.  As is usual with Sunken Boat Man, it was necessary to filter out the padding of four-letter words to be able to string the rest of the exuberant flow of language into coherent sentences.  It becomes surprisingly easy, surprisingly quickly.  One of the things I love about the English language is the richness that means that without any effort whatsoever, the words, "fuck" and "fucking" can, without adding suffixes or even prefixes, be used to mean so many things and cover all eventualities in terms of at least eight of the nine parts of speech.  If I'm honest though, I think my inability to use either word as a preposition is more down to my lack of imagination than any deficiency in the Anglo-Saxon.  Using these words as prefixes and suffixes in themselves they can be employed to communicate moods and actions across an almost limitless range of situations.  My mother used to say, when I was growing up, that people who swore did so from the frustration of possessing only a limited vocabulary.  As a fully paid-up Cockney growing up on Bankside, with a career army father who rose to the lofty rank of corporal, she must have known a thing or two about swearing.  Yet I don't remember a single occasion when I heard her succumb to the temptation.  My brothers and I undoubtedly gave her sufficient cause on many occasions, but it never happened.  I carried that legacy forward and it is only recently that I have felt able to try out, somewhat tentatively, a few words of unreceived Anglo-Saxon. I don't feel convincing and I always want to look over my shoulder to see if anyone is likely to have overheard what I just said.  There is a case to be made for not worrying about a paucity of language when so much richness is found in a single word.

 Sunken Boat Man had arrived in his van sometime after nine in the morning.  I was listening out for signs of activity, because I thought it would be neighbourly to offer some sort of moral support.  I had no intention of jumping in the river.  His van was a thing of wonder.  Much like my lock-up it was filled front to back and floor to roof with equipment and tools of his trade.  He had compressors, generators, pumps, many empty barrels of different sizes, a huge uninflated inner tube from a tractor and racks of tools, straps and winches.  He had paid attention to the smaller details too such as a camping gas stove for heating a kettle of water for a brew.  He had squeezed himself into an industrial strength onesie, over which he had zipped up a dry suit.  Over his socks he wore rubber bootees and wellingtons, which filled with water when he went into the river.

The farmer was on hand to offer the use of his teleporter along with theoretical alternatives to the main plan, which Sunken Boat Man was outlining enthusiastically.  He was going to strap empty barrels to his boat and raise it out of the river sufficiently to set a submersible pump to work, which he was certain would empty the boat faster than the river could refill it.  His manager at work had allowed him to borrow some of this gear and had told him his plan would never work.  

L-R Incredibly inventive technology, Sunken Boat Man, The Farmer, The Fireman, while Marshlander takes photographs from a distance.
The Farmer wore the secret bemused smile of a man who knew that SB Man would have to give up and ask for the teleporter eventually.  Once they got a strap under the boat the Farmer knew he could just hook up one of his bigger tractors and pull the boat out.  This Plan B was being held in reserve for when Plan A failed.  Sunken boat man spent hours in and out of the river.  He had brought matrioska box girders to make a lifting arm to which to attach barrel floats and winches.  How could he fail?  In truth he didn't dare fail.  His enthusiasm was necessary in the face of some pretty staunch scepticism.   Plan A prevailed eventually.  Plan B wasn't required.  

After a few hours hard work, the boat is above the point where water still wants to pour in and the amazing submersible pump is doing its thing.
I was rather glad.  Such enthusiasm deserves to be rewarded, specially since this enthusiasm did not involve any harm to others or the invasion of a country to which we have been selling arms and/or training its dissidents for decades.  The casualties of the operation were the huge tractor tyre that floated off down the river after it had outlived its usefulness and the back corner of the boat that ripped apart under the stress of the weight being hauled out of the water.  I'd seen it before, but it always seems amazing to me that pumping the water out of a boat allows it to rise to the surface through its built in buoyancy.  

The Titanic has been raised.
I am embarrassed that Sunken Boat Man felt it necessary to acknowledge my small part in this adventure with a bottle of wine ... with anything, really.  I only did what I hoped any neighbour would do were the situation different.  I have been on the receiving end of a lot of kindness and consideration and it is only right to pay it forward.  I don't know about the "karma" that people talk about, but I do know that if the opportunity occurs to offer someone a helping hand it is a pleasure and something of a privilege to be able to do just that.  He didn't ask for help and to be honest he could have managed without it, but somehow it just feels right to keep an eye open for people around us and try to make things a little better if we can.

The latest on this tale is that after clearing out the carburettor the outboard fired up after about ten pulls on the starting rope.  We hauled all the sodden soft furnishings out of the boat and I guess it is time for that refurbishment.  No doubt Sunken Boat Man is pleased that, if this had to happen, it took place before he had repainted and fitted the new leisure batteries and solar gizmos.

Oh, and as for testing times, my own boat has passed its safety inspection, so that won't need doing for another four years.

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