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Spiders and the World Cup

Rain. My first dose of large quantities of it, through most of the night and now most of the day. The surface of the water around me fizzes like soda. The water above me rattles against the steel of the barge. My world has become restricted, damper, more like what it will be in winter, I imagine. But still, my initiation had thus far been bathed in warm sunlight. And the level of the river has dipped as low as it can without starting to dry up. Rain, in roughly the right amount, is my friend.

Last evening Jeb - Pete and Flor’s son - came to watch World Cup football on my TV. Courtesy of Mr Spaniel, the TV man, I get a better picture than most. Portugal versus the Netherlands. Jeb is a fan of the Netherlands. He appeared in an orange baseball cap, an orange wreath around his neck and orange slippers in the shape of clogs on his feet.

Unfortunately the match, which started as a skilful display by what a - female - commentator called ‘the two most beautiful teams on the competition’, degenerated into a brawl, egged on by a Russian referee. Jeb remained confident of a 2-1 victory for the Netherlands until the final whistle drew a veil over a 0-1 defeat.

It is dusk. I watch the spider harvesting its day’s catch. It has chosen one of my portholes as the best spot for its web, and although I have cleaned it away twice, the spider returns from its lair and starts all over again. There are rich pickings here from the mass of little flying things that buzz around the river all day, and the spider has grown quite fat.

Spiders proliferate all over the boat. Were I to leave them undisturbed they would drape it entirely with their webs, like shredded sails or an ancient shroud. In addition to the liking for this place which they share with me, I have come to regard them as natural allies against small biting and flying things.

Early tomorrow I return to Oxford. I wonder what versions of hell await me en route this time. I still have a long way to go towards environmental virtue.

In fact, I now possess four internal combustion engines; one in the car, two on the barge and, sometime soon, another on my deflated dinghy. The only difference is that I rely much less than I did on carbon emissions from somewhere else. It comes as a shock to tend, fuel and hear them personally.

Once I’ve recovered from the exhaustion of the move, I’ll set about the size of my footprint with whatever the ingenuity of others, the size of my wallet or the limitations of my ailing body will allow. Time for a bath.

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