I arrived back on Pangolin on New Year’s Eve. I had only intended to be away for two or three days, but in the end I was gone a full week. Whenever I started to say it was time for me to go home, someone asked what was for dinner, and all eyes turned to me.
It was alarmingly easy to slide back into jobs I thought I had long ago shed, and once again I found myself in charge of the total nutrition for three overgrown children and an ex husband, along with his mother and uncle, who at the last minute made the almost unheard of announcement that they were joining us for the holidays.
The rules of engagement were particularly complex with the latter two, because they have officially not spoken to me for more than ten years (since I divorced son and nephew) and we exchanged neither gifts nor cards.
Nevertheless, when Uncle Bob stumbled and tore his nonogenarian skin I was elected (by acclaim) to clean and dress the wound.
The cooking, cleaning and nursing fest were over just before the old year was out. My Ex drove his mother and uncle back north. My younger son drove himself south. Five thousand miles away his brother (my eldest) was holding a new baby daughter, born two weeks early, trailing extra festive, tax deductible cheer. My own Baby, still a teenager (just), had already gone back to work in London, which left only my elder daughter.
My car complained of neglect, and barely started, but it cheered up, even if I did not, on the run to Cowley, on the dodgy side of Oxford, where I dropped her for a New Year’s Eve party. Then, all alone for the first time in days, I drove back to Wolvercote, the northest of north Oxford, where my boat is now moored.
It was a remarkably warm night for the dead of winter, and I slid on mud, not ice, along the dark bridleway, over the lift bridge, and past the line of deserted boats to Pangolin. I ducked inside the engine room (too low to stand up with the hatch closed) and stooped to try the ignition key. The engine coughed weakly but refused to turn over. After two or three more tries, I resigned myself to darkness.
Without an engine to recharge the domestic battery bank I couldn’t afford to waste any power. I had already turned off the fridge some weeks before (I keep the milk on the gunnels outside the kitchen window and other chilled provisions in a cool box on the front deck), but no power also meant no indoor water: drawing water from the tanks requires electricity.
With enough charge left in the domestics I might be able to jump start the engine in the morning. Otherwise, only a borrowed generator or the charge from a passing boat could do the job.
Attentive readers might remember the Young Archaeologists from my old mooring. I had always thought of archaeology as a rather exotic, academic, and mostly foreign profession. Years ago I knew a pushy mother who demanded that her daughter become an archaeologist. At the time I thought the mother was simply insane, but I now know that in the UK planning regulations require that archaeologists give the all-clear to every major building project and many minor ones. It turns out archaeology is a pretty secure job prospect.
Nevertheless, the Young Lady Archaeologist of my boaty acquaintance decided she had quite enough of not finding Roman remains under potential multi-storey carparks and is re-training as a publican. To that end she has a barmaid job about a fifteen minute walk from my new moorings, and she and the Young Gentleman Archaeologist brought the boat south to Oxford, convenient for her holiday hours. I happened to see them as they cruised by. They’re nice kids, young enough to be my children, and he is very handy with electrics.
After I lit the fire and found my head torch, I scrambled in the dark for some more festive clothing, shut up the dog, and strode off down the towpath toward the centre of Wolvercote to a pub I had never visited.
The Young Lady Archaeologist Barmaid was very busy serving drinks and only just had time to promise, while she poured me a glass of wine, to let her boyfriend know my engine wouldn’t start.
It was nearly midnight, and the bar was getting louder. I took my glass and found myself next to the only other person I recognised, a woman who twice each day walked her large German Shepherd dogs along the towpath. At first she had seemed unfriendly: she scowled, and I scowled back, daring her to let her dogs take a shit in front of my boat.
After a month or two, when they didn’t shit and I didn’t shout, we moved on to nodding. Because once or twice recently we had even managed a smile with the nod, I pulled up a chair next to her and her fellow in the pub on New Year’s Eve.
We shook hands and introduced ourselves.
“How are you enjoying Wolvercote?” Jan asked. “Wolvercote is certainly enjoying you,” she added generously. “We love your towpath garden!”
A few minutes later midnight sounded, and I was kissing these people I had only just met.
On New Year’s Day the Young Archaeologist came and and jump-started my boat, and the Scary Dog People waved and grinned extravagantly as they went by. All is well.
Since it is only just past the first half of January, I hope it is not too late to wish you a happy new year. Apparently we need good wishes, this day of all days. According to the BBC, the middle Monday in January is officially the most depressing day of the year. Apparently we are sorry that Christmas is over (hands up anyone?) while all but winter seems a distant prospect.
Like Shelley, I choose to be more sanguine:
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?