I woke up choking. Actually, I didn't wake up choking because, as usual, I was awake at some ungodly hour before it was anything like light. Had I, though, woken up at a more sensible time I would have woken up choking. The two horse ladies had, as per their daily routine, cleared out bedding from the horses' overnight boxes and added it to the heap of stuff, much of which may once have been straw, in the paddock behind the stables. There it becomes part of our very own hellfire and clouds of choking, though not always visible, smoke will be blown whither the wind will. If a breeze happens to be blowing anywhere from south-west to north-west the chances are that I will receive the benefit of this aromatic experience. This was certainly the case today. The boat was filling with visible smoke coming through the mushroom vents and through the cabin window I leave open at night.
Outside and above the smoke the sun was shining, so I made a decision to move the boat out of the smoke and into clean air about half a mile down the river. I carried out the preliminary checks, switched on the ignition and fired the engine into action. Clouds of my own grey smoke mingled with the smoke from the burning straw, although mine abated immediately I eased the throttle back. I pushed off from the bank, reversing out as a manoeuvre to cope with the wind and eased round into the river. Arriving at my spot for the day I pinned the boat to the bank with mooring spikes for the fore, aft and centre ropes. The bank was very soft from much recent rain. I was easily able to push the stakes in and only used my club hammer to make myself feel more comfortable that the boat was going to stay put. It didn't stop me fretting that the wind was going to tug the boat adrift and pull my spikes out though. I keep thinking I ought to buy some spares for when that does actually happen.
Having run the engine for forty minutes or so meant that I had a tank of hot water and a hot shower was too inviting a prospect to ignore. I left my worries behind as I tended to the matter of my ablutions. I was still pinned to the bank when I emerged from the shower, so I felt calmer. I dressed and sat with my guitar and drums to prepare my set for the evening. Being the monthly folk club night, I wasn't planning on using the drums, but I like to play them anyway. I sorted out four or five songs and proceeded to play them through a few times. What a lovely way to spend time. I think I have an amazing job.
Then, just as I was getting ready to break off for lunch the first hire boat came through. I heard it coming before it rounded the bend and and before it came into sight and I knew by the sound of the engine that it was unlikely to be able to slow down sufficiently. I hurled myself at the door and tottered as quickly as I dared along the gangplank to grab the centre rope. Holding on to it and leaning back against the pull of Day Boat Number One's wash I made slowing down gestures with one hand. The speeding joyriders smiled and waved back cheerfully. Yes, it has definitely started. This will undoubtedly be the shape of my Easter weekend. Two boats, travelling up and and later down each day of the weekend and potentially every weekend after that until October. For now though should I continue my practice or wait for the other day boat to arrive? Who knows, the second boat might actually have someone at the tiller who appreciates the joys of gentle river travel. They might, but given past experience it was unlikely. Nothing wrong with living hopefully though. Day Boat Number Two came past within thirty minutes and did not disappoint. They also waved back at my slow down salute. I bet they think us river folk are so quaint and friendly.
When at my mooring, speeding boats scrape paint off the boat as the wash drags my boat against the jetty. I'm not sure I prefer that to the prospect of being pulled off a bank and losing my pins in the river. It has always puzzled me why people spend an enormous sum of money to hire a boat, presumably for a slower experience of life, and then try to emulate driving in the fast lane of the M1. Usually the day boats also hurtle past on their return journey to the boatyard. I assume that is because they have a deadline to meet for returning the boats. Today, both boats came back more slowly than they had been travelling in the morning. That made a nice change. I was able to call a grateful "thank you for going slowly" to both rally driving boaters. One even apologised for causing me anxiety on his morning passage. I wasn't looking for contrition or apologies, but receiving such made a change. Maybe the year won't be so nerve wracking after all.