Two men in a boat

Tuesday 14th August 2012

BRAY. I remember the road ending in a slip-way; the long-legged boat-house; how the river wore long tresses of weeping willow: you don’t have to have short-back-and-sides if you’re a tree.

“We camped at Marlow that year,” Ben tells me.

I imagine an imaginary meeting: he is ten and perhaps making a den, which I come across when exploring a copse across the field from our mooring, the women having gone into the town while my father lifts boards, eager to discover what makes our craft tick.

Or I see Ben in the distance, gathering wood for a bonfire; or about to launch a small raft with paper sail; or when he pauses a moment on the towpath, watching a short-haired youth coiling a rope and deciding that one day he’ll own a boat like that.

Which he does, now, almost half a century later.

We recount childhood tales over lasagne and vegetables, cooked on the small stove in the galley of High Cloud: a banquet eaten below, amidships, amid charts and spy-glasses, washed down with tea brewed from a proper kettle.

I’m pleased we chose not to ‘dine out’, for wandering inland seems like a betrayal.

The river is its own island; a separate world of mystery and boyish adventures; a distant planet with a different gravity, atmosphere and ever-shifting terrain. Locks become space ports, where you dock briefly to re-fuel, recycle waste, and hear news of nebula storms from other ships’ captains.

It’s late, dark, and quiet. The boat rocks to the tread of my step on gunwale and gangway.

While Ben strolls up and down the towpath, taking a phone call, I fashion a pillow from blankets, T-shirts, and anorak. The bunk will be snug-warm and I shall sleep like a captain’s log.

Tomorrow, his brother will join us for the onward journey to Windsor, where I shall disembark after only one day aboard.

But river time stretches wider and further than on-land time, for it wends its way like flotsam, meandering into shallows, loitering under overhangs, and chugging lazily under the high clouds of forever.







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