Barging along on troubled waters
The canals of France are a national treasure, used for commercial and pleasure purposes. When these two opposing forces come together, amusing incidents may lie just around the corner, as happened to our group while cruising the wonderful Canal du Midi.
James, an erudite Englishmen, had taken the controls of our rented pleasure barge and we were toddling along another picturesque section of the canal, in southern France, approaching the gorgeous village of Homps. Despite the peak summer season being over, there were still plenty of holiday-makers on the water as well as the occasional larger working barge. Moored alongside the canal were half a dozen barges with permanent residents. This is a common sight across the waterways of Europe as life on the water offers many lifestyle advantages.
However, the peak tourist season also provides many inconveniences for the long-term locals, including boats exceeding speed limits and favourite restaurants being overrun with noisy foreigners. Our group was aware not to upset the barge communities and James was navigat- ing quietly along the canal, keeping clear of the parked vessels and keeping an eye out for oncoming traffic.
A moment later the obvious yet unimaginable happened. Around a bend came a barge laden with holidaymakers, on the wrong side of the canal and travelling faster than desirable. As they saw us and urgently changed to the correct side, James also adjusted but went too close to the nearest parked barge and gave its steel hull a solid bump.
Our smaller fibreglass boat was not damaged and neither was the recipient of our nudge, but the Gallic cursing that emanated from the boat indicated a final straw had been broken. Anybody within earshot did not need to understand French to realise this was one angry local.
Some may have been tempted to keep going and pretend nothing had happened, but our crew, led by the indomitable James, was a team apart. We moored our boat as soon as we reached a clear section of bank, James grabbed a bottle of wine and headed back to the war zone, insisting he must do this on his own, for English pride. Long minutes passed and we were fearing the worst when our hero returned, having restored Anglo-Franco relations to friendly levels not seen before, or possibly since. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: email@example.com. Columnists receive Nourishing Geranium and Lavender Hand Cream from Sodashi, enriched with avocado oil, shea butter and rosehip; in a 50ml tube ($85.50). More: sodashi.com.