Walk to write
Yesterday may have been the last day of summer. I walked along the canal enjoying the sun on my back and the warm breeze in my hair. The water was khaki-coloured, covered with a thin film of pollen and the occasional plastic bottle. A swan family, two gracious parents and three larger, dun feathered adolescent swans soon overtook me, floating with the current towards Hackney. We were going eastwards. Unusual for me, as I frequently scuttle along the towpath in the other direction – towards the Angel tube station, buses into town, shops, bank and so on….or, if I just keep walking, emerging on land for 15 minutes or so for the annoying Islington Tunnel, I can get to Camden Lock, and then Regents Park, and then…..I don’t know. Haven’t ventured that far yet.
I have only been a canal writer for a few weeks. A piece of my life has just broken off from the main trunk and has launched itself in an unexpected new direction. I find myself single, for the first time for 30 years, in my sixties, with not a lot of demands on me, living in London after many years away (but this time, for the first time, I’m in North London which feels rather grand and a little scary). We would have been married for 30 years on 11th September. This year there is a lot of fuss about this approaching date which are nothing to do with us. To begin with I was very lonely and wondering a bit what the point of going on was. But now, I’m getting used to my status. And my daughter has moved in. And I’m about to embark on an MA in Creative Writing. This should keep me occupied, and force me to rediscover all the bits of written materials, fiction, poems, diary, cuttings, travel notes, which clutter my shelves and my laptop and my mind. And maybe do something with them.
There was a lot of activity on the towpath yesterday, and on the water. The moorhens were all swimming against the tide, rather frantically, beaks open, as if they knew that the following day, today, would turn out windy and stormy with little to commend it. Long narrow boats huddled under overhanging skimpy bushes and bent trees on the far bank. nonchalant cyclists wheeled and whirled their way through pedestrians, dogs and birds. There are many notices pointing out that pedestrians have priority, and “considerate” cycling only is allowed. But maybe the cyclists don’t have time to read these injunctions as they whizz past, often unable to communicate with those on two legs with their ears full of audio streams and podcasts and their fingers, which you’d think would be strategically placed on bell and brake, fiddling on their mobile phones. They are the royalty on the towpath and they know it.
It’s funny how the runners – who are also well represented – have far less power and presence. Too sweaty, often a bit too hairy, very over muscled calves, dressed in unbecoming tight-fitting shorts or leggings with revealing T shirts. I wonder to myself why they choose to belt up and down the towpath, which must be a bit like undertaking an obstacle race, when they could be gracing green parks or empty residential roads.
A lot of the walkers have small children. I notice a considerable number of youngish men holding babies tightly swaddled to their manly chests. They look rather hot and uncomfortable. Some have backpacks as well. Their female partners look happier, graceful in long flirty summer skirts, unencumbered by babies or shopping.
I sat down at the towpath cafe and ordered green tea with a hefty piece of orange and olive oil cake. I could just about read the shabby print on the wall above the water opposite me.
MANUFACTURER OF BOXES
DRAPERS STOCK BOXES
SHIRT MANTLE BOXES
PARCEL POST BOXES
ROUND AND OVAL BOXES
ALL TYPES BOXES
The swans have arrived back from their trip downstream and crowd round the bank greedily, seeking off cuts from the cafe clientele’s munchings. They are rewarded quickly, although the mother and father disdainfully reject all but the choicest offerings. Close up I notice that the parents proud dignity is somewhat undermined by the collection of strands of undergrowth which hang to their beaks. I wiped the crumbs of my upper lip.
Time to return to the flat. I said goodbye to summer on the towpath and decided to commit its memory to my blog (which I opened last week but haven’t yet dared to start) An ancient barge slid past me. It was called MUSEWELL and contained piles of rusting clobber on its roof, a bike in its steering well, and a small battered row-boat strung along behind. On the side I read
USED BATTERIES DESIRED.
Yes, I thought.