I’m back. I’m painting the tiller. Buttermilk. Delicious colour goes on creamy and sweet. The brush makes silky streaks in the thick paint that then pulls tight to make a smooth shiny surface… stroke and dip. I dangle my legs over the edge of the stern and feel the water pull at my toes, a cooling breeze lifting up the evening from out this sunny day of hazy heat.
I’m back and didn’t even know I’d gone away. Decided for certain yesterday that if it came to it I would pack in the whole idea, sell the boat and start again at something else. I’ve done all I can do and can fight no more in this oppressive place that I wonder sometimes might be my own head. I start, I fight, I get disgruntled, I move. Deciding that. Acknowledging there was no more I could do, and after all, it’s a joke to think we are in control anyway… that seems to have brought me back.
Back to where? To here where I can potter and feel and be and know I am in present time. I feel the water tug and my Peccadillo hugs my butt to hold me up, up and away from the dark water. Oh what respect the water demands… I heard it call deep and treacherous the night the cat took a look ; a sucking indifference and fathomless disregard for the stuff of air and life and breathing. The canal is not the same as the singing sea. Confined to cut and lock and stagnant servitude it snatches at the drama and desolation of life and grieves for the communion of horses who understood such tethers on spirit that should run wild. And so is sadness drawn to the canal.
A father cycles past with his two boys on the towpath. He opens his voice in a loud cobble wobble and the boys join in with legs splayed, laughing. Merrily we sail along, sail along. The paint sticks and drips, and I wonder if I have added just enough thinners. My dad could have told me just how much if he’d been here. Could have told me what to do with all the paint and the engine and the fixing, so he could. But I’ll be fine and I learn every day. If I lived a hundred years I’d learn something new every day, and that begs the question… how can I assume I ever know anything if there is always so much to learn?
Cathy’s dad tells stories. The first time I met him he didn’t hardly speak till he was well pissed and his first talk to me was to tell me of the fine Scottish words that have been lost. “Kich.” he said. This being my first conversation with my father in law I was eager to continue the conversation so asked the only question I could think of.
“How do you spell it Mr McRae?”
“Q… U… I…”
“Oh for God’s sake don’t be so disgusting.” said Mrs McRae.
“Q… U… I…C… H… E…”
“Rubbish,” Said Helen, “that’s quiche.”
But another time, he cut through the rabble of a family gathering to expound “No welding on the Queen Mary.” Now we were talking. “Rivets. Just millions of rivets.”
“You’re kidding?” I said.
“Nope. Not a single weld. The blacksmith threw the white hot rivet up to the catcher… he had a cup… he’d catch it in his cup and never missed. The riveter would hammer it into the hole and there’d be a guy on the other side… the two of them would hammer at that rivet… one two, one two” … he swung his arms to and fro till you could hear the ringing blows in the ship yard … “and when that rivet cooled it pulled so tight nothing could ever part it.”
Mr McRae doesn’t walk so good these days. Years and years kneeling on the steel hulls of boats as a ships plumber have taken their toll. When he tells these stories his eyes lift out of here and now and transport you back to those grafting days when men hammered and strove and worked to build great ships of solid steel with not a single weld.
My Peccadillo is solid steel but nothing like those majestic old birds. But still she is a trusty dame with a fine line to her bows when you see her sail towards you on an autumn cut . I’d decided that whenever possible I would sail towards clients to collect them, rather than having them arrive at her moored. That would make a fine impression and folk could say “ooh what a fine barge I am going on.” and then the trip would be all the more special.
And I’d be standing at this fine buttermilk tiller, smiling.