Monday, 8 August 2016

Of Homelessness, Wind And The Naming Of Boats

Starting each new essay with an apology is beginning to become a habit. Is it really nearly three months since I posted anything? If anyone is following this, I apologise. In my defence I have actually begun a few posts. I just haven't got round to finishing them. I know some of them are in my Mars Edit folder somewhere. Today I shall risk computer meltdown and type directly into Blogger and force myself to complete something ... hopefully before a catastrophic freeze or crash.

I am homeless for this month, or rather I am in an enforced state of nomad-hood. My narrowboat home for the past few years has arrived at the stage where "something must be done". While it's no secret that I have spent most of the past five years pinned to the bank owing to engine problems, I may not have complained that, during this period, I have also been attempting (in the alleged manner of King Cnut the Great) to hold back the waves of rust breaking through the paintwork (okay, I know he wasn't really trying to claim power over the sea, but a story is a story). I have used rubbing agents like steel wool, wet-and-dry and even power tools to get the the worst affected parts of the cabin exterior roof back to clean steel. I have treated it with rust inhibitor/converter, and then I have primed, rubbed, undercoated and, before I got the top coats back on, the rust was bleeding through again and there were constant new outbreaks in neighbouring patches. I become despondent very easily and eventually gave up. Several months ago I arranged for the boat to go back to the yard to be done properly. That time is now, August. Consequently the boat is now in a boat shed in a local marina.

P. and I made the journey last Wednesday. There is, of course no reason for anyone to remember what the weather was like last Wednesday. We looked at the forecast in the morning and discovered that the morning was going to be the least windy time to travel. By late afternoon we were being promised wind speeds of about 35+ mph. In narrowboat terms that is about the same as "whoops, watch out!" Being flat bottomed, a narrowboat could be whisked off to Oz on a stiff wind. If not to Oz, then easily pushed on to a bank, a jetty or other boats. The only hope is to be in forward gear with sufficient  momentum and enough power in the engine to be able to steer. Any other manoeuvre, including mooring up, is tricky at best. Reversing, when one has reduced control anyway, is the most risky manoeuvre, This is when the wind can do as it will. We managed to be ready by eleven o'clock and set off with the wind in the mid-20s. Surprisingly I made good progress, completed the journey in about two hours. We arrived at the yard and tied up before the bigger gusts hit.

I've not mentioned it before (for reasons of paranoia), but for the past few years my blue boat with its tastelessly grandiose gold trim has been called, "Timeless". The previous owners were a couple of men who became friends through both having boats moored at the farm. One lived in a house in the village. The other lived on the mooring next to mine in his own boat. "Timeless" was originally owned by a Welsh carpenter who moved to Bulgaria. Les and Tim bought the boat between them with the intention of doing it up as a project and selling it on. At the time the boat was called, "Mab". Tim and Les did not like the name, "Mab". I guess they were unfamiliar with Shelley's epic poem, and may have known little of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It seems they did not know that Mab was queen of the fairy folk. They were worried that potential buyers might be put off by a name some might read as an acronym. Not only was I surprised to hear this blatant Islamophobia, but staggered at their temerity in admitting it. The solution it seems was to rename "Mab". Having put such a massive amount of work into replacing the original engine, cleaning up, refurbishing and refurnishing the inside and in repainting the exterior, they decided to use their names to commemorate their feat - Tim and Les. Add an "e" and an "s" and what do you get? "Timeless". They commemorated the name by finding a large vinyl stick-on clock with no hands to match the vinyl lettering they used for the name. It was a nice idea, but the name and the motif never really did much for me, however much I loved the boat and the effort they had put into making it look beautiful. 

Timeless - as she once looked

Despite the unacknowledged bromantic origin of the boat's name it always struck me as the kind of name that retired people would use for what they might anticipate as the perpetual holiday that allegedly follows retirement. It was altogether too petit-bourgeois for my taste. I suppose that confirms that I am a snob. I have always felt similarly uncomfortable when parents use parts of their own names to to create a name for one of their children (to be truthful I actually find that rather creepy) and naming houses after the names of the owners is just unimaginative. I once lived opposite a house called, "Carobrialyn". Last time I saw it Brian and Carolyn had divorced, sold the house and it had a new name. Had I believed in fate I would have said it was inevitable. Returning to the boat and adding insult to injury, there is another blue narrowboat out there also called "Timeless". It too bears the same horrible, handless clock sticker. I don't think either of us could believe it when the other one cruised by my mooring one day a few years ago. I haven't seen it since. Perhaps it too has metamorphosed into something else. 

I feel I can tell you this since "Timeless" has today been shot-blasted to bare-steel anonymity in preparation for several coats of primer/undercoat/top coat, which will be in a different colour scheme altogether. I shall also rename her (that is probably the first time I have used a feminine pronoun for the boat), but I am still paranoid enough not to reveal too many details. There will undoubtedly be some anonymised photographs at some stage soon.

Timeless - last Thursday, 4th August 2016
Nameless - shot-blasted and naked 8th August 2016

Renaming the boat has caused me agonies of indecision. I started off wanting a variation on the "Marshlander" name, without using the word, "Marshlander". That would be like advertising my address wherever I went. Although I am a completely unknown musician, it would be just my luck to encounter someone I had offended in song and who felt that direct action was an appropriate expression of their right of reply. Potentially the list is now quite long. Perhaps it could be a married man out cruising, a self-righteous homophobe, someone who sees no harm in circumcising children, an ultra-orthodox Christian, a Mormon, a supporter of Daesh or even Mr Carter himself. I shelved the Marshlander idea on the basis that I preferred the idea of a person's home being a place of refuge and considered boaty names like "Queen of the Marsh" (which would have been appropriate on so many levels), although rather too grand for an ageing narrowboat. I went through a phase of considering going back to the original name. I thought I would read up on Queen Mab before I decided, because I didn't want to get saddled with a malevolent sprite. I'm glad I did. Just as Mab wasn't a fun character in the "Merlin" stories on television. Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" paints her as somewhat mercurial too:

... she gallops night by night 
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love; 
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight, 
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees, 
O'er ladies ' lips, who straight on kisses dream, 
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues, 
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are: 
Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose, 
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit; 
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail 
Tickling a parson's nose as a' lies asleep, 
Then dreams, he of another benefice: 
Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck, 
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats, 
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades, 
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon 
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes, 
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two 
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab 
That plats the manes of horses in the night, 
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs, 
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes: 
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs, 
That presses them and learns them first to bear, 
Making them women of good carriage ...

Sorry, but giving women cold sores? No thanks!

So, what to do? A moment of enlightenment shone when P. and I were walking alongside the Regents Canal in London a couple of weeks ago. We stopped to talk to a number of boaters and in one conversation a young woman, who had just rescued some very young moorhens from an attacking coot, suggested a boat name should reflect a passion and mean something. I knew this, but after she said it a whole new avenue of ideas opened up. I began to think of favourite songs and that is what will happen, I think. However, you, the reader, will never know, because my paranoia will assert itself and why would I advertise my address to the world? 

The naming of boats - it's a serious business. I think there is song potential in this idea. I must re-read a favourite poem from my childhood that I also read frequently to my own children, on the naming of cats from Elliot's "Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats". 

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