Out on the Canal


On a roof of skid-resistant treacle, the sun’s hot beams out, to heat a weary stomach.

I am a bad poet at best, I know. But how often do we grab time to create a whimsical sentence or few, like that scrap? Not often. That’s unless you get lucky, and out on the canal.

Out on the canal, you see the world more slowly. Scrap that: you see the world, slowly. That’s not to say you simplify it, shutter off, or strip it bare, but remember to breathe in, between hectic, same-filled days, and feel it more. For some that’s a weakness. I think, sad or odd that slowing down could be pegged as privilege or luxury, or part of those rare, one-off times. Surely you need slower spells to really see the colour and clarity of life around you; to break the fuzz of speed.

Out on the canal, you have no choice. Your top pace is 4mph, and most times calls from all sides are to ‘Tick Over!’ when you pass mooring boats, so walking speed is a stretch for a bulky barge.

What do you do on a canal boat? You can spend your days unmooring, moving, shuffling up and down locks, strengthen your arms, torso and legs by taking on locks and paddles, admire the longevity of this Industrial Age technology.

You might eat and drink a tonne, unused to the constant motion of treading up and down a canal path. Your skin fizzles, and your hair gathers rain, with the glory-dust and grime of being outside.

You see life and art; people steering away from bullshit, people steering away from society, or towards an alternate society that fits their soul. People create worlds with boat paint; illustrate their arms, life rings, let their hair fall long and low; go anti-Heathrow expansion, cycle and be-rid of the car, make friends with white-dappled ducks, duck from the herons; some steel away to fish where they shouldn’t; some fill their universe with herbs and flowers, in the shadow of a manor house.

People choose a nostalgic life, a hobby horse, or want to make less of a troubled imprint on the world. There is beauty, poverty and luxury, out on the canal.