Sunday, 5 February 2017

Of Level Middles, Rights Of Passage and Bills Of Fair (Part 1)

I have written about procrastination (and precrastination) before, but as time goes on and I continue to age I find that getting-on-with-stuff becomes increasingly difficult. Actually, that is not the complete truth either. It is not the getting-on-with-stuff that is so difficult, but the stopping-the-thinking-about-getting-on-with-stuff that is the main problem. I have the kind of imagination that equips me to visualise in painful detail, before embarking on any project, what an awful burden that project is likely to become.  Most days I have a bit of a plan for the day. If I don't have to get up for a job, though, I can easily stay in bed reading, writing, thinking or simply trying to keep warm till lunch-time. Sometimes I get hungry enough to have to get up and do something about the hunger. There are also days like today when I have to face up to the fact that I have no musical projects for which I HAVE to compose, practise or rehearse; no witty comments to make on everyone else's Facebook indignations and no outrage of my own to be expressing that I haven't already expressed to the point that I bore myself. Politics in the USA and the UK are horribly depressing at the moment and need to be railed against, but even that becomes unsatisfying after a while. I have found myself tied up with a local campaign, though, and here's a little information about that. Unfortunately, it means giving away a little more personal information than I am accustomed to sharing.

For the past few years I have lived in a narrowboat that has never been out of the Fens as far as I know. According to a date embossed into the inside of the hull my boat was apparently built in 2001. I don't know if that is the whole story, because the provenance of the boat is not really clear. I cannot find anyone who recognises the design of the boat, but, according to the local boatyard, they suspect that an engineering company must have wanted to have a go at building a narrowboat so they bought a hull. Once the hull was delivered the engineers designed and fitted a steel cabin along most of its fifty foot length. My boat is what is known as a traditional-style narrowboat on account of having as much space as possible given over to living rather than having the shortened cabin that allows for sitting out on lengthier fore or aft decks. Beyond that, my boat is less traditional. Narrowboats generally taper upwards; the sides slope in towards the roof. This design has some advantages. I think it probably makes handling easier and it means the roof itself is stronger, and less prone to warping being relatively more narrow than the boat measured across the gunwales (or it may actually be "gunnels" on inland boats). The main disadvantage to the liveaboarder of a tapering wall is that nothing hangs straight. It's a bit like living in an attic with no dormer installed. I guess these upright walls also help to give me more internal space, even though when out and about the slightest puff of wind causes the boat to veer off course very quickly.

I rent a bit of river bank from a farmer. He and his family have farmed the land here for at least two generations. He grew up here. When I arrived, there was a jetty that runs the length of the boat. This was the boat's home, but there had been a mooring and an associated landing stage here for decades before the boat was built. The story of how I acquired the boat and the mooring should be recorded sometime, but this is not what I wish to write about now. The story I want to tell goes back into Roman times when the river I am on still existed, although not following the same course. When the farmer was young, this section of the river was pretty overgrown, very narrow and impassable by the sort of craft that use it today. That was not always the case. The River Nene, pronounced "Nenn" in the Northampton area, flows from the Midlands into The Wash at Sutton Bridge where  Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk meet. For most of us in the Fens stretching to just the other side of Peterborough the river's name is pronounced "Neen". I am tied up on the Nene, but not the new-fangled, sea-going Nene. I am on the "Old Course", part of a navigation that links the East Anglian waterways including the Great Ouse, Little Ouse, Wissey, Lark and Cam with the main inland waterways system. Anyone from, say, the Grand Union Canal making their way by river to, say, Ely, Cambridge or Bedford will pass my mooring and usually my boat. If that is you, make sure you slow down and wave a greeting.

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