This blog is an experiment in voice and testing of the waters before compiling screeds of writing (your comments are soooo welcome). Here’s a very different voice… the culmination of a fiction-writing course where, for Allan McMunnigalls magical enthusiasm, I failed to actually invent anything. Is it conceited to say that I find life so full and fascinating that anything I conjure up just seems pale and silly by comparison? Or is it that no-one actually writes fiction? That all of it is just stories stolen from our own or others lives... names changed?
Well I haven’t changed names yet… just blurred time and place a little… let’s see if the Auchinstarry crew are reading the blog!
There’s a bitch going on between boaters. When Peccadillo drifted into the marina this afternoon we got the usual warm greeting from one and all… a day like today, everyone was out on their boats, painting and fixing. Big Davie yelled unintelligibly from Mytho, Floyd barking fit to burst. Hippy Billy waved gently from the Dutch Barge and even from across the basin I could see how tired he was looking. How’s the baby? I yelled, frantically scouring my boat-infested brain for a name… Aaron? Ah fuck no that wasn’t it… anyway I hoped he hadn’t heard the mistake but he gave me the thumbs up, so baby was ok. Good good. Their two babies are the first to be born on the canal since it re-opened.
Watch where you’re going you fuckin’ old whore of a boatwoman!
Joe! Ya fat prick, how the fuck are you?
Hingin’ well your Beviness, who’s that you’ve got on board?
70th birthday party – and suddenly I was hoping they were safely tucked indoors, not listening to this ripe banter.
G’day called aussie Tony, wafting carefully along the pontoon, hands bent up at the wrists like a tottering, hungover bear. Ahoy Billy Bonny Barge! I yelled at the red boat, but some other fat, bespectacled old fecker stuck his head out of the scabby little floater… well hello, he leered, who are you, he was ogling my tits something ridiculous and fuck me, was that a little lick of the lips? Bleugh! Who the fuck are you, more to the point… where’s Billy? Bought the boat off him didn’t I… will you come on over later? Fuck off. Arsehole, if I could’ve spat I would’ve.
There's Alison... I waved over the pervy fucker’s roof. We hardly ever see her these days and word's out she's gonna sell. My only ally in the boating business, let down again and again by the poWers that Be and shafted by certain charity boats... she's the wise one; I'm a fool to carry on. She would take the hirers out as far as Wyndford, 2 miles away to make sure they knew the ropes before she set them adrift. Not like the poor buggers who hired out of the Falkirk Wheel who, as their introduction to boating, had Hamish bark orders and threats at them before shoving them into the Jubilee Lock to assault the Falkirk Wheel. Time and again I saw the terror in blokes eyes as they came past Peccadillo. Passing a boat is like a time line of story: kids&dog playing in the bows… mammy smiling and waving from the kitchen sink… and then the dad at the tiller… no wave… knuckles white on the tiller, left hand scrabbling for the throttle down at his knees, boat bucking and yawing in my bow wave, eyes fixed straight ahead…. maybe a curt nod… but no fun for him, seriously.
Lynne and I were shattered by the time we finished cleaning up the boat, getting the woodstove set just in case the party ended up back at Peccadillo. It often did ‘cos she has the biggest space being a wide beam. We went in search of a coffee to find out what the evening’s swally plan was. Saturday at Auchinstarry? Auchinswally! But all the cheery wavers had disappeared… no boatwork happening and it was as if everyone had shut up and left. I’d never seen anything like it and went chapping the door on Fiona ‘cos Wee Davie and Maureen had to be there; they were always here. Sure enough they were, and we were cordially invited in for a coffee.
Big Davie’s huntin’ Wee Davie here for something he said to Big Colin.
There it was. Boats go affa slow on the canal but the gossip flies faster than mobile phone signals… no secrets here. Apart from old pervy baws on the Bonny Barge… clearly no-one’s speaking to him.
What did he say?
Asked Big Colin ‘what’s that big arsehole up to now?’
Uh huh. ‘What’s that stupid big arsehole up to now?’
‘Stupid big arsehole’?… well that’s a bit different. Why the fuck did he say that?
Big Davie, Wee Davie, Colins and Joes… and Johns. It’s a small bag of boys' names we’ve got on the canal.
So when we finally came down the pontoons for the swally tonight things were getting off to a real slow start. Only action we could see was on Joe’s gin palace, Safia. Fancy name for a canal boat… but it isn’t a canal boat; it belongs on the Clyde or Loch Lomond, and Joe bought it off a pal whose wife was in chook for stabbing him while he slept in front of the telly. Whoa but a beauty indoors (the boat – not the stabbing wife). All split level floors and booze cabinets. Yes man said Joe, over the moon to be flashing it off to folk at last. He’s had it on the hard-standing in his lorry yard for the longest time ‘cos he wasn’t sure it would actually fit under bridges on the canal.
There were just the five of us for a while and there was something fuckin’ funny going on. Wee Davie acting real weird, holding onto Safia’s wheel saying over and over I’m the Skipper! Seems he’d driven Safia through from Kirkie in the morning and getting to grips with the twin screw had pure gone to his head.
Suddenly Tony appeared through the canvas flap, the pontoons still deserted and silent behind him. G’day, g’day, how ya doin’? Joe and I started singing before Tony even had a chance. With his usual macho aplomb he held forward his bottle of Bushmills, whipped off the lid and ceremoniously crushed it before tossing it into the canal. Champion drinker our Tony, bottle and glass. That’s what you walk around with at Auchinswally. Unless it’s a can. Tony’s eyes are hunting for Lynne, stunning, tall, boyish and blonde Lynne. He clocks her on the upper deck where she’s playing with the throttle at the other steering station… shit how posh can one boat be. Lynne’s well taken with this boat, singing Hawaii – five- oh or something, taking photos of herself at the wheel to send to her girlfriend in Aberdeen.
Someone pulls out a fine cig and I’m over the moon. Really don’t like to drink like I used to with the boaters… need to take care of that old liver now. But smoke? Shit I miss a fag, a bit of the old puff and blow over a natter or when you finally cast off on a glassy canal with a happy crew of clients on board… man alive, I miss that ciggie like a lover. But you don’t smoke when you’ve survived cancer. It just seems like the biggest possible “fuck you” to that magical luck.
We’re sitting on the prow sucking on that old cig, me, Tony, Lynne, and the stars are falling right down on us, beautiful. Tony’s snatching it through his teeth and holding it like a Polynesian pearl diver… always out to impress… the maddest smoker, the most whisky, the oldest malt… and you’ve gotta love it. He’s doing some weird thing where he’s stretching his arm forward, flexing his muscles and watching them bounce… he’s a big boy. He’s turning on the charm with Lynne and I whisper in his other ear – You’re onto plums boyo… but he keeps at it.
Suddenly the engine’s roar into life, there’s diesel smoke everywhere and Wee Davie shouts I’m the skipper! Like Shaun-of-theDead people suddenly start appearing from all the lightless boats. They’re streaming along the pontoon and slipping in through the canvas with a Hi Joe and a Hey Davie and Ok Maureen, and they’re creeping onto the deck with their bottles and cans, deep in quiet, cagey conversation, pretending they’ve been there all night… embarrassed at having shied away for the sake of not taking sides in the Barney of the Davies. Lynne suddenly turns round from her star contemplation to find 10 people on the deck behind her… her eyes go wide with and she says where the fuck did all these people come from??!!! And the look on her face sends me into a giggling fit, tears streaming, so that when the boat surges out of it’s mooring in the dark, the wind cools my wet face like the kiss of a sweet woman.
Davie drives into the bank and Joe takes the helm to sort out the mess. Soon we’re off into the dark with a roar and a shout, and all is as it should be… everyone’s there, Tony, flexing his muscles, Joe’s shouting Yes man, Bernie starting up her reedy singsong. Big Colin with the tuggable ears, quiet as always with his benign, quiet smile clutches his can of Tennents. Maureen’s telling stories through her nose and one of the John’s getting a ribbing about his recent bottie op. The other John’s giving me a row ‘cos he’s had a written warning from BW after the last midnight sail when I shoved the throttle over on his boat to fly past the sleeping Chrissie on her big blue barge.
Out on Dullatur bog they cut the engines and the sheep on the bank hear a lull as we all soak in the dark stars… and a shout goes up…