A silent boat crept past the other day. A triangular red sail, slung aslant as if in Arabia, flapped in the calm above a man at least as old as I am, lean and tanned, who paddled, gondola-fashion, from the stern. Progress was stately, slowed by the occasional brush with an overhanging willow tree. Why hurry, when your footprint is so tiny?

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New Internationalist

Flying showers and parties

A silent boat crept past the other day. A triangular red sail, slung aslant as if in Arabia, flapped in the calm above a man at least as old as I am, lean and tanned, who paddled, gondola-fashion, from the stern. Progress was stately, slowed by the occasional brush with an overhanging willow tree. Why hurry, when your footprint is so tiny?

In the middle distance a steam train trailed a line of smoke.

A snag. Apparently, almost all bloggers are men. Why is it us males who imagine we have something worth saying? I fear I’m in no position to offer an answer.

Something else playing on my mind is the rather thin veil of anonymity I have tried to throw over this place. I’m never quite sure what might be an obvious clue to our whereabouts or to the identity of my new friends who live here.

This has an inhibiting, sometimes confusing effect. I do have quite genuine anxieties about abusing the confidence of this little community. We are not exactly refugees, but doubtless we all have our own reasons for not being pinned to a street and for seeking out the slower margins of conventional society.

‘Residential’ status afloat is somewhat fluid, which inclines people to take a low political profile - if not to restrain their wayward political views. This is all very well, until one confronts, say, the mafia that is said to run almost all the marinas that are so favoured by British Waterways - or unless one wishes to make a political point about the future of the environment we live a lot closer to than most.

In my case, there is another and rather less elevated reason for secrecy. I have inherited what is known as a ‘sea toilet’. Put simply, it (eventually) pumps my macerated excreta directly into the river.

When I first saw it I felt sure it must be illegal. The only alternatives are, however, to fit a ‘pump-out’ tank rather like an on-board cesspit, which tends to smell and can only be emptied at a very limited number of places quite distant from here; or a ‘cassette’ toilet of a kind common in caravans that has to be emptied much more frequently into a conventional toilet - and there isn’t one. Both require the use of noxious chemicals, which the sea toilet does not - at least I am, except for the fillings in my teeth, mostly biodegradable.

So the sea toilet began to seem rather attractive. I have decided to think about it a bit more. Kat is investigating some sort of composting option.

Then, the other day, I heard that the European Union has developed a means of tracing back to its origins the genetic fingerprint of excreta in rivers. Only cows were referred to by name, but I fear this blog, were it to identify where I am, might one day bring an official to my gangplank with my genetic fingerprint in a test tube.

As I write this, on a hot Sunday afternoon, a slow-motion traffic jam has begun to develop on the river. Boats are moored two and three abreast at the pontoons outside the pubs - I suppose they might eventually form a bridge across the entire river. There’s a mass of the things, some flying the Skull and Crossbones.

What will happen in a few hours’ time, with the heat, the booze and the lack of any direct boating equivalent to drunken driving, I have yet to discover.

On the bank directly across from me, where the rave was, some of the branches of a tall willow have been lopped off, falling directly into the river and blocking the mooring of the vagrant boat, which has towed them off, one by one, to somewhere else. The point is, it seems, to allow a long rope to be strung from high up in the tree so that the vagrant boat owner and his chums can swing from it and plunge into the river. Unfortunately, the heavier ones - as quite a lot of them are - can’t hold their own weight and slide straight down the rope, hitting the water with an inglorious plop. The more nimble fly for a while and crash spectacularly.

A childish prank, you might think, until you combine the heat with the probable absence of a shower on the vagrant boat to make a rather appealing facility, despite the proximity of my sea toilet.

A recent hot spell ended with torrential thunderstorms that apparently lasted two days here, though there were none in Oxford, where I was at the time. I returned late one evening to find the barge several feet higher up than it had been when I left. The river, the colour of muddy blood, raced past.

I had left a hatch open and the damp had killed the generator. So I went to sleep in darkness to the sound of ropes straining to hold the barge against the current. Apparently it is quite common in such circumstances to dream that one has been carried out to sea.

When I woke the next morning the river had fallen back into its default meandering mood, leaving a drowned lamb jammed between my barge and the bank.

Yesterday Pete and Floor staged a barbecue. We started sipping alcohol at about midday, and stopped at about midnight, I think. Bob has constructed a gazebo on the hillside behind the trees, where an area once overgrown with bracken has been cleared. In winter, when the leaves fall from the trees, we will be able to look out across the flood plain to the distant chocolate factory. Now it’s a secluded spot, away from the weekend leisure traffic on the river.

I’m not entirely sure where all those 12 hours went. There was definitely, at one point, a leg of lamb (the drowned one?) bound up in spare wire from my bicycle brakes and propped beside a pit fire just in front of one entrance to a badger set. Johnny Cash lamented from a sound system driven by a car battery. From time to time Dan could be glimpsed pole-dancing on the gazebo. Bob dug holes in the slope so he could sit in a chair and explain why he ignores his own birthday, without falling over backwards.

Today I am not feeling so good. I am feeling worse since I started the generator and its vibration sent a pile of plates crashing to the floor, each one expertly smashed to smithereens. Perhaps the barge has an Italian soul of its own and mistook the barbecue for New Year.

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