A few Fridays ago we flew to England for Caroline’s birthday weekend. The first car packed full of explosives had just been discovered in West London and security was on high alert at the airports. But our friends were calm and matter of fact. They said they felt safe, and not to worry, the British police would track down the terrorists.
Avoiding downtown seemed a good idea that weekend, so we spent the trip visiting friends in Twickenham and Sunbury, mostly dividing our time between playgrounds, pubs and tea rooms (when it rained too ferociously even for four year olds).
We were lucky enough to get to stay on the river, just below the weir in Sunbury. I played hooky from the family one afternoon to mess about on the water – mostly acting as ballast and revelling in the view, but the captain of our boat kindly let me steer for a long stretch of the river and I worked the bow lines each time we docked, careful to keep my lines untangled, the boat off the wharf and my knots in order - an overcautious land-locked sailor to the tee, but a very happy one.
We cruised by a flock of green parrots swooping from tree to tree above the tow path, and then a small yacht club released its own flock of sailors on tiny boats to flit on short turns up the river and back again in a mini regatta. The great blue herons straightened into reeds as we passed, as still as the stilt-legged cottages they stood by. It was the river of my imagination, the river of the Wind and the Willows, and it went a long way toward making up for the nearly incessant rain.
Near the end of our boat trip we went through Sunbury’s lock. It was Saturday and the lock was full of rental boats motoring down to Twickenham (even in the rain the river was full of boats). Most of the crews were already drunk and threatening to slip into the lock along with the wine they kept sloshing all over themselves. The lock keepers, weekend volunteers, kept the sloshers mostly in check and we had only one boat to fend off before it was our turn to loosen our lines from two thick mooring posts and slip past the lock gates and into the river. From there we turned upstream again, towards our home dock in the backwater recorded by Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men in a Boat:
We reached Sunbury Lock at half-past three. The river is sweetly pretty just there before you come to the gates, and the backwater is charming; but don’t attempt to row up it.
I tried to do so once. I was sculling, and asked the fellows who were steering if they thought it could be done, and they said, oh, yes, they thought so, if I pulled hard. We were just under the little foot-bridge that crosses it between the two weirs, when they said this, and I bent down over the sculls, and set myself up, and pulled.
I pulled splendidly. I got well into a steady rhythmical swing. I put my arms, and my legs, and my back into it. I set myself a good, quick, dashing stroke, and worked in really grand style. My two friends said it was a pleasure to watch me. At the end of five minutes, I thought we ought to be pretty near the weir, and I looked up. We were under the bridge, in exactly the same spot that we were when I began, and there were those two idiots, injuring themselves by violent laughing. I had been grinding away like mad to keep that boat stuck still under that bridge. I let other people pull up backwaters against strong streams now.