Di­ary of an ur­ban Grandad

Bristol Post - - SMARTER FOR 10 - With Stan Cul­limore

NARROWBOATS. Won­der­ful things. Can’t help but love ’em, re­ally. Who can re­sist those long, thin slices of float­ing par­adise, each one less than seven feet wide? Give or take a cou­ple of inches, of course. Which re­minds me. I have spent many weeks over the last few years on­board these sausage-shaped plea­sure beasts, yet I’m still not en­tirely sure how wide they are. Which is ridicu­lous.

The first ques­tion any jour­nal­ist worth his or her salt should ask be­fore step­ping foot on one of these things is, “nar­row, huh? In­ter­est­ing. How nar­row, ex­actly?” Hmm. Note to self; take a tape mea­sure next time. That would be the pro­fes­sional way to ap­proach things. Ei­ther way, I think it is safe to say that the word “nar­row” is the per­fect one to de­scribe these boats. Truth is, you couldn’t swing a guinea pig in one of these beau­ties, let alone a cat. Not that any sane per­son would wish to do ei­ther. This is a job for a ham­ster, if ever there was one. Ob­vi­ously. But I di­gress.

Point is, I know it may have been men­tioned a few times in this col­umn over the last few hol­i­day sea­sons, but I think it is worth men­tion­ing again. When it comes to slow­ing down, chill­ing out and gen­er­ally en­joy­ing life on a whole new level, there re­ally are few bet­ter ways to do it than on a nar­row­boat. If heaven ex­ists, I’m pretty sure there are canals there. And locks. And canal-side pubs, come to think of it. And if there is a cre­ator, he or she is bound to have pro­vided their faith­ful fans with a few of these long, thin boats as pay­back for a life­time of servi­tude.

What got me think­ing about all this, was spend­ing a week aboard nar­row­boat, Caitlin, re­cently. She was a sweet lit­tle thing. Fifty feet or so of lux­ury, sev­eral feet wide, and ev­ery inch of her built for good times. The per­fect com­pan­ion for al­most ev­ery oc­ca­sion that in­volves canals. We picked her up in Chirk Ma­rina, which is some­where up north. Not en­tirely sure where. Orig­i­nally, I thought it was in Cheshire, but af­ter half an hour’s chug­ging we ap­peared to cross the bor­der into Eng­land. So who knows.

Ei­ther way, af­ter a few weeks of non­stop stress here at home, Mrs Cul­limore and I were in some se­ri­ous need of re­lax­ation and Caitlin de­liv­ered. Oh, yes. In great big, beau­ti­ful bucket fulls. Trav­el­ling on­board this baby at three miles an hour is the per­fect an­ti­dote to mod­ern liv­ing. The weird thing with such slow speed travel, is that you have to pay at­ten­tion to where you are go­ing, all the time. It’s in­cred­i­ble. Suc­cess­fully steer­ing a slow boat to par­adise re­quires one hun­dred per­cent of your at­ten­tion, all of the time. Which makes it the per­fect way to live in the mo­ment, fol­low your breath­ing and all that other stuff med­i­ta­tion is sup­posed to make you do.

Trou­ble is, you snooze, you lose. At one point, I found my­self driv­ing the boat through a swarm of low fly­ing swal­lows. These lit­tle sweet­ies were show­ing off, ba­si­cally. Drop­ping down to the canal, touch­ing the wa­ter long enough to swal­low (see what I did there?) a mouth­ful, then skip­ping back up into the sky. All within the space of a heart­beat. Was like watch­ing a wildlife won­der of the world. Mes­meris­ing. Trou­ble is, in all the ex­cite­ment of the show, I took my eye off the way ahead for a few mo­ments. Big mis­take. We im­me­di­ately ran head­long into a bridge, caus­ing Mrs Cul­limore to stomp onto the poop deck and give me a sharp dress­ing down. Les­son learned.

An­other les­son to be learnt on the canal, is just how friendly other nar­row­boaters are. One morn­ing, we were qui­etly en­joy­ing a cup of tea on the fore­deck, whilst Ma­bel the mini sch­nauzer was try­ing to make friends with some nearby ducks. Sud­denly, an­other boat pulled up be­side us and sev­eral dogs, along with their own­ers, bounded over to say hello. Dur­ing the course of our con­ver­sa­tion, we found out that these very friendly peo­ple had once hired a nar­row­boat. Just as we had done. Like us, they had taken the boat for a week. Dif­fer­ence is, they had en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence so much, they had gone out and bought their very own boat straight af­ter­wards. Which struck me as be­ing a bit for­ward.

We’ve been hir­ing nar­row boats from An­glow­elsh for years. Usu­ally once or twice a year. Made me feel a bit guilty. We have never been tempted to go out and buy a boat all of our very own. Why would you, when hir­ing them is so much eas­ier and re­lax­ing?

I have spent many weeks over the last few years on­board these sausage-shaped plea­sure beasts, yet I’m still not en­tirely sure how wide they are.

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