Monday, 29 June 2015

Light at the end of the tunnel and fish

Feeling quite lucky today, walking along the tow path back to my boat. 

This weekend we sailed from King’s Cross to this part of town, Angel of Islington, a nice part of town. To come out on this side of the canal however we had to drive through a long and treacherous tunnel, underground for what seemed like five hours to me riding on the back fending off the arse of the boat with a pole to stop it from scraping the sodden crumbling walls of the Islington tunnel; built over 200 years ago; lingering with the smell of stale sweat and the feeling of dead men. Crumbling walls, crumbling bones, cobwebs gliding over face and shoulders and my mind flying at the thought of getting stuck. There was light at the end of the tunnel - behind and up ahead - but there seemed little promise of making it through alive. Of course I’m being dramatic. My friends told me they enjoyed the ride afterwards. 

Today, sunny and mundane I stroll along the tow path back to my boat which we parked beside a small chug-a-long of a thing. There’s soulful American folk playing from within, the tinny twang of guitars drift through my cabin windows as I peek out to see a pretty lady with maroon-coloured hair painting her toe nails on deck. Summer has broken out in patches across the city. This part of town has rustic warehouse conversions, busy manic cafes that spill out on to the tow path and bespectacled clientele with vintage briefcases and art-student graces. People look rather beautiful here. There was a man who caught a monster of a fish when we arrived on the scene. I asked what kind of fish is it? He told me a carp. And the passers-by went up to have a look, to take a few photos. The two fishermen took a cool swig of their beers, looked pleased with themselves and let the big fat carp go. He splashed its face a few times with canal water before the carp looked lively enough, then the unfortunate grotesque aquatic creature flicked his tail and dove down in to the depths of the water to dissolve. 

Whilst in Orkney we were walking along a stretch of beach outside my grandparents’ home called Watersound. At the headland there’s a disused pier jutting out and there two kids, one with bright orange hair and the other with spiked white hair were playing. Being bored and shouting at the sea, mainly. When we threw rocks in to the sea the white-haired one copied us and got even bigger rocks until he held a minor-sized boulder and crashed it down in defiance in to the shallows roaring whilst throwing it. Feral kid. The other, who was hanging off the pier out of sight shouted back to his mate, I caught a fish! I caught a FISH! and they both scarpered and screeched through gritted teeth, excitement, anger and amazement.

Fish are exciting, apparently. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Moving Eastwards Moving On

It was nice to see them both. My two friends from the good past who live in different lands: New York, Berlin, London (that’s including me). Oh sure, we’re jetsetters. It’s where history has flung us all - out - so that today we can sit on a Friday afternoon amidst the Notting Hill yuppies in a pub sipping £5 ale. It’s no big deal. We’ll pretend that this occurrence is normal, nothing special about it, just so happens that we’re all here in the same country in the same public house. Talking drinking, spouting nonsense, finally. Like the not so recent past… what has it been 3 or 4 years since we all lived in the same town house in a part of the world called Jericho? Where the bricks are made of sand; stone has been bleached by the oddly bright sunlight for southern parts of England and the streets are broad or winding; pubs pop in to view when you turn down a lane or continue to walk along the grassy meadows. I remember herds of cows galloping. Today we all shirk responsibility that has to do with growing up, I notice, but we all deeply care. The affected and ineffectual bunch. You hope we’ll make a good impression on the world. I listen and I listen and the thoughts of Annina are great and grandiose and matter. She makes them matter to anyone who listens and I wish I had her sense of striking passion, and I love her and I listen. And then Owen, the master of sciences, looking rather more worldly donning urbanite-upgraded Woody Allen specs and shabbier, longer hair. They’re both a pleasure to look at and to share time with, supping our rusty-coloured pints and dusk falling, dinner is next on the cards.


‘See you at 11AM at Royal Oak tube station’. And right on time Annina, the girl I call the sphinx, strides up the Underground stairs with a bagel wrapped in white paper in her hand ready to be part of the crew. Today is the “big boat move” that Mer has been planning for the last fortnight. Since we’ve now moored all over the western regions of the canal, seeing off Harlesden, Kensal, Little Venice and Paddington we have to move on eastwards, and to do so we must first take the top and sides down from the boat and drive it through the low Maida Vale tunnel. There’s no telling that we’re all excited but first Mer, the captain of the crew, gives us a solid debrief about not getting our limbs trapped swinging out the side of the boat and thus getting them ripped off. You see, important orders from the captain. A small fairground has been set up beside our mooring spot for a children’s day, so as we push off the banks and start to set sail innocuous bits of bunting wave us off. Bye bye West.

The tunnel is low and dark and dank and drippy. When we enter it, the 5 strong crew all go silent for a while, one pokes their head out over the roof to go under again, I crouch in the shadows with a large stick to fend off the sides incase the arse of the boat gets too close to the walls, and the sphinx kneels-on looking straight and forwards. When the entrance recedes and becomes like the pupil of an eye only letting the essential light in to reach us, the passage looks longer and more indeterminable. I got the impression of pirates and caves and Hades and the air tasted stale and sweet, as if the old cold stones sweated. Looking forwards, at first the exit was a small semicircle of brightness and as we slowly approached it light began to filter down, like ink on blotting paper and soon and slowly we were drenched in white light, as the nose of the boat broke the seal from the underworld to the real we all clapped or whooped and Mer told us to calm down.

The new world we had discovered was green and Arcadian. Great willows bowed low and grand as if welcoming hot summer heat and a tweed-jacket wearing frog, huge greco-roman buildings (surely, not houses) with white colonnades stood firm and ruled atop the banks. Then out of nowhere a huge avery filled with cranes, storks, exotic birds and a few wayfaring pigeons appeared and you see all of winged-colourful nature flying and hawking above your head and you forget about the city and imagine a crusade. Epic scales guys, that’s where boat tripping’s at.

After cruising past a floating red pagoda weighed down by frilly lanterns, the scenery changes again to one of grunge and iron. You see more young ones in peaked caps sitting on the canal side with their Red Stripes and a foray of unsurpassable tramps shouting fucks and twats at the passerby. It’s Camden Lock and there are too many tourists. Having never done a lock before I have to learn, but it mostly involves people jumping on and off the boat and running around over precarious bridges, which are actually the lock gates. Depending on what gate is open or closed, the water level rises or falls within the lock. The aim of the game is to get the boat from one side of the lock to the other. And the pressure is on when the sun’s beating down and children and parents of all nationalities are swinging their heads from side to side, licking ice creams or taking selfies right next to you as you sweat. Lock gates are hard and then heaving them open requires a whole other sort of strength, pushing with my legs for leverage, my whole body sprung out at almost 90 degrees shoving against an iron bar, ridiculous posturing from me I suppose.

The crew made it happen though, Annina and Aidan were the hero couple opening and closing locks as if there was no tomorrow, Mer shouting at us to jump on board or off, the others keeping steady hold of ropes so the boat wouldn’t kilter off to the side or end up mashed by the lock gates. There are a total of 3 locks between Camden and where we wanted to be, as such there was a lot of work to be getting on with. As we were inside the final lock, people took tea breaks and I dished out some chocolate bars and we filled up the water tank. 200 litres of water the tank holds, I wonder how many showers I can get out of that beauty? The sun was past the zenith but still in full swing, English July is surprisingly warm and it was certainly louts-with-shirts-off weather. 

The vista that opened up before us was sweet and impressive. King’s Cross, a skyline filled with cranes and brickwork. Two white swans with their 7 cygnet babies filed past our boat, in streamlined ordered parade; they looked regal and seemed to know it by law. The geese honked and the coots scurried and parted out of their way, whilst our boat headed eastwards to find a mooring a space nearby. 


After the long sun-drenched day my muscles ached and I had an unquenchable thirst. The sphinx lay languid on my cabin bed and I played with my newly acquired boustrophedon disk around my neck, it was brought to me from Crete and I’m very fond of it. We talked about nothing and everything and ate biscuits over tin plates and when the sun finally decided to leave the sky alone, we strapped on our shoes and went in search for pizza.

Photo courtesy of Annina Lehmann

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Nothing Happens in Space

Everything seemed futile to Greta today. There were only three petri-dishes left out of the three hundred she had arranged to undergo experimentation and therefore if these three didn’t show any signs of morphing, a non-technical term she liked to use to inform others of any slight observable transformation, well then, her research was simply, fucked. Three out of three hundred is 1% she thought. 

Her research assistant Gregor tried to look busy with a microscope. Greta knew too well it stared out over nothing, microscopically enhancing the abyss of another dead petri-dish she thought; he was slender and nervous and reminded her of unusable dripping pipettes. How could her calculations have gone so awry in real life? She berated herself tapping her fingers on the sideboard of the sink and went out through the swinging department doors.

Clipping her heels on the corridor and high-tailing it down the cold stone stairs, Greta leaves the building and makes it across the lawn to sit beneath a tall oak tree. It is June and the temperature perfect for human inhabitation she thinks, the warm breeze may even be considered soothing. Sitting, pondering over her thesis rubbing her hands like a stalk cleaning his beak on its wings, she senses someone there. 

‘Hello, Roger’, it sounds pitiful though it was meant to come out neutral. 

‘What’s the matter?’ Aloof and kind, Roger was a fellow scientist from the Physics Department where Greta rarely had meetings.

She sighed, said nothing and apologised without cause stating her research was not going so well and she was about to go upstairs to find out how badly it had all gone. Roger stooped and sat down on the other side of the trunk.

‘Do you know after the big bang the universe continued to expand for the next million years or so without anything much happening?’ Greta was about to leave but couldn’t because his words offered something she wanted: unpromising consolation. 

‘A million years of nothing happening, Greta, under who’s watchful eye? No scientist. Not us. Or so assumed. We must sometimes suffer the circumstances of space where nothing seems to happen when we watch it closely. Break attention for a moment then you’ll miss a miracle.’

With this ominous and profoundly unscientific thesis, Greta crossed back the lawn looking up curiously at her laboratory window.