20 years ago if someone had told me that I’d be operating a lock on the Thames, helped by an enthusiastic 11 year old boy and run into a couple from the lower North Shore, I’d have laughed in their face. And I’d have had to ring them up and apologise because they’d have been right.
Today, Tom and I were operating a self service lock when a couple of hardy walkers hove into view. They expressed a desire to watch our antics. They were about my age, a man and a woman. They sat and watched and talked. Obviously they were Australian and they quickly realised I was as well.
It turned out that they were from North Sydney and were delighted when I said we’d lived in Neutral Bay. We knew all the same places, drank in the same bars. They even knew about Maisies!
They were walking the Thames Path – I have no idea whether they are walking all of it – and I reckon the woman had had enough. She said that a narrow boat had floated by them and the person at the controls asked if she’d like a lift. She immediately shouted back that, yes, she seriously would! But the boat kept going, as if the invitation had been some sick, badly timed joke.
The two of them applauded our skills which delighted Tom and then were on their way, him stepping out, her grumbling behind. They no doubt managed to get caught in the rain because there was a LOT of rain today. Though it didn’t start that way.
The morning was bright and sunny at Eynsham lock, the skies ever so blue. Sophie said she’d slept quite well once the wedding party had left for sleepier climes (or at the very least the honeymoon suite) and Tom wasn’t sure.
By 8am, the narrow boat behind us had gone on its way so Tom and I moved the boat down to the original mooring. It was Tom’s first boating task and he did extremely well.
By 9am, we were expecting Mirinda and Bob to arrive, hands full of shopping for our picnic – Sophie had decided we’d have a riverside picnic today so Mirinda had said she’d get the shopping in on the way back from the B&B.
Bob turned up, alone, at 9:30. He’d had a couple of phone calls from Mirinda but couldn’t find her number (he didn’t bring his phone) so couldn’t contact her. He thought he’d better leave the hotel and make his way to the boat. I asked Sophie to check her phone and there was a message from Mirinda. Her text read that she was going to be late and could I do the shopping instead. It was sent half an hour before we read it. I quickly left the ship and headed across the toll bridge.
I met her just the other side of the river. The taxi she’d ordered had decided to go and drive someone else somewhere else and left her stranded. She’d eventually decided to walk the three miles to the river. The route hadn’t taken her near the shops. We decided, right there on the bridge, to can the idea of the picnic and just head off down the river.
And so we did, hitting the lock straight away and heading upriver for the start of the trip back.
Tom started helping me from the very first lock we encountered. He was a quick learner and I soon had him spinning the wheels, opening the gates and pushing the beams like a born waterman.
Other than a short stop just beyond Fisherman’s Inn, we drove all the way back to the Revived Rose where we moored at the same spot we used the other day. We then walked to the pub as the rain started. And didn’t stop for ages. All the way through lunch and beyond.
It was a deluge. There was thunder, lightning, hail and saturated children outside in the beer garden. It was awful. Except for the fact that we were dry and comfy inside. I felt sorry for the poor folks outside…for a bit.
Eventually the rain stopped and Tom and I went back to the boat for a bit of a bludge. The others stayed at the pub and played games. I laid back, feet up, listening to the Wales v Northern Ireland Euro 2016 game (Wales won with an own goal). Tom watched a movie on his mum’s mactop.
As the weather shifted and changed between glorious and godawful, Mirinda, Sophie and Bob went for a horrendous Thameside walk through all manner of mud and sloppy puddles. At the boat I simply opened and shut the roof as required.
At one of the open times, I was lying back, my feet sticking out of the boat when a big black Labrador decided to have a lick of my shoe and sockless feet. It was not that pleasant but at least he didn’t eat my toes.
Once the soaking women returned from their swim, we decided we should have cheese, chicken and crackers for dinner rather than venture out anywhere. And this is when we realised that a first aid kit is one of those things that should go on a boating holiday with you.
I had just told everyone to be really careful with the black handled knife because I’d sharpened it before boarding. I tried to slice the plastic off one of the blocks of cheese but, instead, almost sliced off the top of my left hand index finger.
The pain was gloriously brief. I shoved the finger in my mouth and went into the inadequate bathroom to wash and attempt to dress it. As it turned out I did have some bandaging tape in my wash bag left over from the Dordogne two years ago when I ripped my knee open. I had to make do with a folded up bit of tissue for the gauze because I’d left that at home. Still, I managed to staunch the blood.
There were cries of “that’s gonna need stitches” and “wipe up that blood” but, eventually, everyone calmed down and we set to eating the rather diminished picnic. Then, eventually, Mirinda and Bob left for their accommodation while the rest of us hunkered down for the last night on the river.