The day dawned with gorgeous sun and a fresh breeze. We set off with light hearts and I got my sewing kit out and started hemming the curtains I made the other day. If I don’t get them finished soon it’s only a matter of time before somebody peeks through the porthole and catches us getting spliced.
After about a mile, the engine choked and died. Oh balls. Never mind! The fuel line from the external tank has been acting up, so we just switched to the small internal tank. Start up again. Pootle along in the light, the breeze and the swishing reeds. Lush.
Oh. Engine dies again. Sam rips the top off and starts fiddling about. A small white plastic thing flies off into the water. Apparently it’s quite important.
Summoning my most extreme wifing skills, I jumped off the side and into some very cold water. Now, I’ve been swimming in English rivers and beaches for pleasure since I was a toddler. My mother threw me into the Channel on Boxing Day (for charity) when I was five. So when I say this was cold, I’m not just being your usual kind of pansy. I scooped up soft, gritty mud with my feet and then our dustpan, then dived and felt around until my hands were too numb to tell a rock from a stick from a small white plastic thing.
As I shuddered in the cabin, Sam flailed at the starter cord and managed another 200 yards or so before she died again. I alternated getting warm clothes on and filming his struggles for, y’know, the comedy scene they’ll make later. You have to pay for excellent wifing.
2 hours later a barge manned by two friendly chaps approached. “Need any help?”
Sam said “No, we’re fine, just checking the spark plugs” while I muttered “Tow. Tow?” under my breath. In the end I settled for saving his pride in front of the men and just chipping away at it gradually by muttering bitterly as I returned to sewing curtains. It was like a tiny grubby floating version of the 50s.
The engine fixing and sporadic flailing at the motor continued for another hour. Suddenly she roared into life. I wish I’d had the camera on because Sam’s face as he turned to me was a beautiful and enraging synthesis of blissful satisfaction and vindictive self righteousness. As revenge I made him turn it off again and start it for the camera.
We pulled up for the night at the Barge Inn, decorated with a detailed mural of crop circles, standing stones and various esoteric symbols. There are pictures of the most recent crop circles on a noticeboard on the wall, frequent paranormal tourists with a reverential air, and a long line of residential barges for whom it functions as a community hub.
As we hung out on Lexia, Sam recognised an old wooden barge belonging to his friend John. We’d last seen her when he first brought her into Bristol. Turns out John has been moored here awhile and now has a second barge which he’s opened as a shop, selling organic veg. He sorted us out with a lovely bag of food and carried on drinking. We’d arrived a couple of hours into what I’d call a major session, but who knows, perhaps it was just an ordinary Thursday night. Anyway we never quite caught up.
While out for (one of) my final cigarettes, I got talking to Jane, who lives on one of the barges. She talked about how living off-grid they probably wouldn’t notice a powercut, but what they do notice is the cold. Last winter being so rough, they’d all converged round the Barge Inn to huddle together, commiserate, and collaborate on digging and salting usable paths and sharing lifts out to nearby shops.
John drifted away and back again, asking about our plan as he’s done some sailing himself. Between repeated exhortations to take a different route across the Channel- apparently we should have left out of Bristol harbour to hug the coast around Cornwall- John asks about the project. When we tell him the name of it, he gives us a dose of Scottish plain speaking.