Off Grid

The last few days of summer are behind us. Mid-afternoon, I find myself looking at my watch and realising it’s not as late as I thought. The sun is slanting, in gold angles through the trees, and there is something in the air. It could be the leaves browning on the twigs, or the mustiness of school uniforms dug out after six weeks scrunched in the back of the wardrobe, or the touch of chill on the breeze.

So it’s important to make the best of it while we can. By the time my birthday comes round in less than two months, the evenings will be black and hostile, and we will be gathered close to the fire, save for the occasional sortie to find out where that draught is coming from. The last opportunity, really, to entertain.

I’ve invited a friend over, and my usual thing in this age of smart phones is to pinpoint MacGuffin on Googlemaps, and send the link. Today, we have hit a snag: we are not on Googlemaps. Where is this exotic location, this Atlantis, this El Dorado? Bang in the middle of London.

You may scoff, but you can look it up for yourself. Find Paddington station with Googlemaps. My iPhone confidently places MacGuffin on ‘N Wharf Rd’. You may note an absence of canal. If you go slightly north, you should find the thin blue line that’s been my home these last six years. Coming in from the north west, it makes a sharp turn and heads out north east toward Camden. Moral: if you want to navigate the canal, don’t trust Googlemaps because it’s missed out the Paddington Basin, where MacGuffin is currently moored.

The basin is a windy place, and as soon as a gust catches the side of the boat, you’re pretty much at its mercy. I grappled with the tiller, engine screaming as I went from forward to reverse and back again, trying to get three tons of metal to behave in spite of the weather. Eventually a couple of fellow boaters helped me onto my mooring, with a cheerful ‘Did you manage to hit all of the boats?’ as if this were some sort of achievement. Fortunately, most of us floating folk realise that boating is a contact sport, and the occasional bump goes with the territory. If you waited for the wind to die down before attempting to turn around in the basin, you’d be waiting for an awfully long time, possibly until the next ice age, in which case, you could simply slide the boat across the surface. So this is a shout out to the kindness of the community, leaping to my aid like veritable supermen, bringing MacGuffin and I to safety with humour and grace.

The canal brings people together, yet is often a dividing line. A few years back, we were burgled at Kensal Green. Our front door was broken, and the thieves had a good root around trying (and failing) to find anything worth stealing, before breaking the strings on a cheap guitar of mine and leaving. We reported this to the police in nearby Queens Park who told us that they only went as far as the canal, that we were not in their area, and to try Notting Hill. Notting Hill police told us they only went as far as the canal, and that we should go to Queens Park. It seemed that both were happy to fight crime up to the canal, but weren’t interested in anything that happened on the canal. So if any terrorists, serial murderers or mob bosses are reading this and wish to operate in an area of blissful lawlessness, do consider the very real benefits of boat ownership. You can have MacGuffin if you like – slightly scuffed and with one slightly careless owner as she is. By all means make me an offer I cannot refuse.



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