November 10, 2008

Fear and loathing at the Rock of Gibraltar

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 5:50 pm

When I was on my boat last week I found that Jamie was tied up on my mooring pin.  That meant his boat was so close to mine it actually overlapped and it didn’t do a lot for the view out my window either.

Jamie is not my favourite local boater, mainly because we compete for the best squatting site, which used to be right behind Purple Haired Emma.  (Purple Haired Emma could be called any number of other things, because she’s got a purple boat and multiple body piercings, including one through the lip, and she has a really tiny cat who goes in and out of a flap on her boat, and a dog-for-the-disabled puppy she’s breaking in before his formal training starts, but the purple hair is her most striking feature.  It’s heavy and straight and falls to her hips. Besides, the rule on this blog is one epithet per person, and Purple Haired is hers.)

While I was in the US I lent the boat to One R Piere and he drove it about as requested (because I’m not a squatter as long as my boat keeps moving) and when One R Piere brought it back, Jamie was in my usual illegal space. So Pangolin (that’s my 62 feet long, 6.5 feet wide midlife crisis) had to moor further back, closer to the lock, and where the bank is crumbling. I was thinking, as soon as Jamie moves, and he’s bound to sometime, because we all need water, I’ll slip into my old spot and hunker down for the winter.

Because of the arcane rules of British Waterways, and because I pay £700, I am not a squatter in the winter months, though the fee gives me nothing more than a higher claim to the best squatting spot. Jamie is a squatter year round (except since he doesn’t even license his boat it officially doesn’t exist, so technically it takes up no space at all).  

Last week Jamie had moved, giving me my chance, but now he was moored up on my pin which I would need to pull up if I slipped back in behind Purple Haired.  I couldn’t move my boat without setting his adrift.  I couldn’t leave his boat secure without leaving my pin behind, and without a spare pin, I couldn’t secure mine.  I was stuck.

At the Rock of Gibraltar pub, a quarter mile muddy tramp up the tow path and over the bridge, I was trying to find out why this had happened.  I said, There’s a guy — Jamie — moored up on my pin and I can’t move.  

A stranger at the bar, drinking two pints of beer at the same time (which you have to admit is impressive) objected to my grumbling, said no one would moor on anyone else’s pin unless he were in trouble and he — the stranger — wasn’t staying to listen to my slagging off a boater in trouble. Then he grabbed both pints and the fag he’d just rolled (it’s all roll your own in the boaty world) and stormed off.  I think he probably just wanted a smoke anyway — since July 07 it has been illegal in the UK to smoke in a public place — but it was rather a dramatic exit.

Pat, who’s an engineer I’ve hired a couple of times to do work on my boat (and who always wants to be paid in cigarettes and bourbon) took great exception to the way the stranger spoke to me and was all in favour of getting Tad the Warden to move him on, except Pat said he knew Tad wouldn’t move him on because Tad never moved anyone on.  I pointed out that as I was a squatter myself more than half the year it was in my interest that Tad never moved anyone on.  Pat was having nothing of it.  He said the stranger was out of order and for all he knew Jamie was probably trying to steal my mooring pin.

During the week I had a text message from Purple Haired to say that she had heard I had complained about Jamie’s boat being on my pin.  My heart sank.  I had made a mistake by grumbling in the pub.  Everyone knew.  Purple Haired wanted to say she had tied Jamie’s boat to my pin because Jamie had gone off to run a pub on the Thames and was living in the pub with all his Jack Russels and his boat had come adrift.  

This Saturday the plot thickened while I stewed a half shoulder of lamb on the fire and baked little potatoes wrapped in foil. 

There was a rap on the window and I invited Ratty in. He said people were talking about me in the pub and he came by to see what was what. 

I fed him lamb, although he had already eaten.  The fact is,  I only bought that lamb hoping to lure someone in.  I miss cooking for people.  Ratty couldn’t resist because it smelled so good.  He’d had to wait three hours for a sandwich in the pub.  They close the kitchen at 3 and he got there a few minutes past.  I’ve been on the wrong side of kitchen closing too.

Ratty told me a couple of guys in the pub were saying they thought they had offended me.  I knew who one of them was (Kev) but didn’t have a clue who Brian was.

After we had eaten the lamb and polished off a bottle of wine Ratty and I thought we’d head to the pub, but it turned out Stematos, the landlord, had shut up about 9 pm, in a fit of pique, on a Saturday night.  We don’t know why he shut the pub. Pat and Ratty say, It is because he is a foreigner, no offence meant. 

I say, No offence taken. I am a Brit.  

Instead of going to the pub, Ratty and I crashed Pat’s boat and drank Jack Daniels where it emerged that Brian was the guy who got a bit abusive to me over Jamie being on my pin.  It turns out Brian is a mate of Kev who is illegally subletting Pete’s mooring. 

Kev met Tad the warden this summer on the Thames where Kev was a lock keeper. According to Kev, Tad said, Come up and we’ll see you right.

According to Pat that illegal mooring, somewhat less illegal than mine should have been offered to me.

Besides, Pat told Ratty that he doesn’t care what.  You don’t f and blind in front of a woman.

The next day I charged my batteries (no metaphor implied) and cooked risotto on the wood stove with leftover lamb.  I gave it to my son when I took him for a driving lesson.  He told me, again, to go to the doctor, because I’ve had a really bad cold and a horrible hacking cough and I know I sound terrible.  My son said he was a great believer in letting the body heal on its own.  He reminded me of when he had a chest infection when he was 18 years old and playing Lear.  He needed antibiotics then. Sometimes the body needs help, he said.

Then he parked his little red VW and prompted me to lock my door, and I said good bye and, as usual, loved him beyond anything in the world.

In case you have never been inside a British narrowboat, here’s mine, looking very cosy.  More pics to follow.


  1. I’m speechless. Truly.

    Comment by ByJane — November 10, 2008 @ 6:43 pm

  2. What a tangled web you weave, not that one needs to exactly follow its twists and bends to enjoy it. But I was monentarily hung up on the disabled puppy. I finally decided that the puppy is destined to help a disabled human, and is not itself disabled. Right? Disabled puppy is an identifier, kind of like Purple Haired. My only other comment is to suggest that you go to the doctor. Think how much more cosy it will feel without the hacking cough.

    Comment by survivor — November 10, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

  3. A tangled web is right. I have to say that my favorite part of this story is the fact that in the middle of all the epithets and the visits to the pub and the drama with the mooring pins and the various degrees of illegality, you got a text message! Of all things!

    Comment by Liz@Inventing My Life — November 10, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  4. That is a…narrow boat, all right.

    Comment by Jan — November 11, 2008 @ 5:27 am

  5. The first thing I did was go look up a photo of a mooring pin. Just as I suspected, but wanted to be sure. Then I guessed at the definition of a few words that are obviously British slang and then I reread the entire story. Your life is that of a really good book that I probably wouldn’t be able to put down until I’d turned the last page. Please tell me more.

    Comment by MLS — November 11, 2008 @ 7:58 am

  6. Where do you get internet access? On your boat? Please share more pictures of the boat and your neighbors. I’m fascinated, to say the least.

    Comment by MLS — November 11, 2008 @ 7:59 am

  7. Jane — I don’t know if it was meant that way, but I’m taking speechlessness as apbrobation. That’s what silence does for you.
    Liz — I will try to explain at some point about the degrees of illegality. I’m a nice middle class middle aged lady who stumbled into this world… and damned if I can get my boat legal.
    Survivor — oops. Sorry about the puppy. I have added some hyphens, though I don’t know if they help. I decided the only way to tell this story was just not explain.
    Janie — Ah, internet is a problem. Not fully solved. Among other issues, these damn boats are made of steal. And it is jolly hard to get reception when you are in a steal box. At the moment I have a crude telephone device (not, alas, an apple). I shall put my mind to solving it after Christmas. The secret may be something called a dongle. and a lot of money. Some of the remorse at the money will be made up in my pleasure at the word dongle.

    Comment by Duchess — November 12, 2008 @ 3:05 pm

  8. This has to be the funniest post I have read in a long time. Priceless! Love it!

    Comment by Bones — May 8, 2012 @ 3:43 pm

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