In case it sounds like my life afloat is utterly idyllic, I thought I would share with you three episodes in one week where ‘real’ life broke in.
The first was a rare case of ‘canal rage’. I had been taking Bonny for her morning walk when I saw a boater friend by the lock and stopped for a chat. Another boater I know – a single hander - was using the lock. He had just got his boat in and was closing the gates, when a couple in a boat waiting in the other direction both went to the top paddles and, without even looking at my mate for permission, started to wind the paddles up as fast as they could. As I have mentioned in my previous entries, this is a BAD thing to do as it causes the boat to ram the front gates which not only empties all the cupboards on the boat, but can also damage the gates.
My mate shouted at them to stop winding as he scrambled to get back on his boat to control it. The male of the couple – he looked around 60 and pretty inoffensive – went off like an absolute fire cracker. He strode towards my mate with his windlass (a heavy and useful weapon) held high, screaming at him not to … tell him what to … do! My mate was standing perilously close to the edge of the cut and is no spring chicken himself. He put his hand up to grab the windlass and was breathlessly trying to explain to the man why he had shouted. But the red mist had well and truly descended and I could see that any moment my mate was either going to be brained with the windlass or pushed into the canal or both.
Without really thinking, I leapt to his defence and thrust myself in between the two men so I had my mate pressed into my back and the mad stranger eyeball to eyeball. It did cross my mind that I’m really too old for this, but summoning my best ex-police officer voice I told the man in no uncertain terms to let go off the windlass and step back. No reaction and spittle was starting to spray rather unpleasantly from his mouth. I then told him that if he wanted to hit a 50 year old woman with a windlass in front of witnesses then he should do it now before I pushed him into the cut to cool him down! The light started to die in his eye and I felt his grip loosen. Just then, his wife decided this would be a really good moment to join in. She tried to grab the windlass and kept yelping that they were only helping and they always help and they are really very helpful people. I saw her husband was about to get his second wind, so I snarled at his wife ‘back off’. She took one look at my face and did so. The husband then dropped the windlass and stalked back to his boat. The wife kept a death grip on the lock gate and kept repeating that she was going to help! Danger over, I left them to it.
I didn’t feel any fear during the incident, instead I went into the same zone that I used to inhabit in the police – a sort of detached rationality where everything seems to slow down and I could think through the next move without being overcome with emotion. What did frighten me was how I felt during the incident – a savage joy as the adrenalin surged because I knew I could control this situation and if necessary I had no qualms about using violence myself! I enjoyed ‘acting the hero’ and as a ‘peace lover’ that made me take a hard look at myself.
The second episode was less dramatic but happened only 2 days later. This time I was the hapless boater who was waiting for a boat to clear the lock before entering it myself. A boat came up behind me and rammed straight into my rear! (the rear of my boat that is!) I looked round and waited for the boater to apologise and back off but he did neither. Instead he and his wife told me I should have moved quicker and that they had been boating 30 years and so it couldn’t possibly have been their fault. When I pointed out that I couldn’t have moved because there was still a boat in the lock they asked how could they have been expected to see that because they had only just come round the corner. I was angry. I pointed out that had they come round the corner a little slower they would have seen the other boat and would not have hit me. I then walked off to set the lock. The man followed me and although not aggressive, was determined to have the last word. I promptly sunk to his level and kept answering back so that I would have the last jab! This carried on until I had left the lock and we were still sniping at each other as I cruised out of ear shot. Not my proudest moment!
The last incident – all in the same week involved a woman driving towards me on a single track road when our wing mirrors just touched as we passed. Mine wasn’t even knocked out of position since it was such a light touch, so I carried on up the road and stopped where I normally park. She turned around and drove up behind me in a great puff of smoke. When I got out of my car she was spluttering about leaving the scene of an accident and that she was in shock because I hadn’t stopped. She said she had thought I was a ‘boy racer’ – (I refer you to the pictures of my car in my last entry!) When we looked at both cars it was obvious there was no damage to either (although she had a go at suggesting I had caused what was obviously old damage to her mirror edge, before admitting it had happened some time ago). I pointed out that since there was no damage and no injury, there was in fact and in law no accident, and so there was no reason for me to stop. She replied that I should have stopped because she had suffered shock because I hadn’t! I can’t reason with that sort of logic and I think she realised how silly she was being so she left, having said I was lucky she had decided not to take it any further.
So, three incidents in one week all involving conflict. Was that a coincidence? After all I can go months and months with no arguments at all. Have I upset the flow of the universe in some way and this is its way of telling me? am I just being picked on, or is it perhaps God’s revenge as I recently sent a seriously angry email to the head of Church Army pointing out where he, the Church Army and the Church in general were going wrong? I don’t know, but if nothing else it has been a useful if uncomfortable reminder of what I have inside me and what I am still capable of!