Messing About….

The day dawned to two beatific grins, suspended Cheshire-cat like, inches from my waking visage.

“It’s Friday….” my son beamed.

“And you know what that means!” added my daughter.

Mercifully the dog’s grin was further away: I strive to keep it that way. The last time he licked Felix enthusiastically, the boy came out in blisters.

Yesterday was International Youth Day: and purely coincidentally I had ventured an idea to my children and nieces. Why not go kayaking?

And immediately I regretted my words as I envisaged children rolling over in their kayaks, unable to right themselves, paddles going akimbo, minors in soaking kit tearing strips off each other, and me, because they want to be i)dry and ii)home.

But it was too late. Eyes had lit up and were dancing, and feet were joining the disco. Everyone was much engaged with some Merchant Ivory idealistic dream of messing about on the river.

I had to think of an alternative. And fast.

Finally, the solution came to me. On the banks of the Thames at Windsor, there is a lovely boat hire company which has a flotilla of small but perfectly formed yellow motor boats. For a small king’s ransom (big kings can be more costly) one can hire a boat by the hour, sail up to the lock and back, and children are welcome, providing they do not try any tombstoning.

That ruled Big Al, my three-year old nephew out, then. He’d be sampling the Thames before you could say Jack Robinson.

The picnic was in the car and by midmorning we were all hopping from foot to foot by the banks of the Thames, a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle.

The kids donned life jackets, but it appeared there were none available for grown ups. I did ask whether, since adults are big and heavy and might sink faster, a life jacket might have been a prudent precaution, but I was met with a blank look worthy of Manuel in Fawlty Towers. So I got in anyway.

Keep to the right, the bloke said. Push the lever forward and you go forward: steer with this wheel. End of lesson.

I gulped. The Thames looked awfully deep and wide all of a sudden, and I was just about to cast myself and four jumping beans out into its midst.

Needs must. We were not going back: forward was the only direction. Or rather, diagonally across the shipping lane of the big burly tourist boats was our course over the next heart-in-the-mouth minutes.

Rule number one: when you have kids in a boat on the middle of the Thames, stay Julie-Andrews calm and chirpy. Even in the face of a massive tourist cruise boat.

When you are terrified, laugh trillingly, and sound inordinately diverted at every bobbing swell sent your way by some speed crazed motor boat pilot. Whistle a happy tune.

Terror must be kept under wraps at all times.

Which is hard, when the steering has a mind of its own. I turned the wheel one way and it veered crazily towards the bank: I swung it round with gusto, in a bid to correct the trajectory, and found myself bearing down on beautiful but unsuspecting lesser spotted grebes.

My heart was thumping out there over the deep dark water with four children in my charge, but gradually, as I calmed and my wheel-technique got a little better, my fingers lost some of their frozen grip and I began to look at what was around me.

The children had already noticed, of course, and were in paroxysms of delight. We were level with old longboats and posh motorboats; we were seeing countryside we had never seen before; but most of all, the life on the river was utterly enchanting.

There were plenty of grebes I managed not to run over, which was nice. The swans and ducks were on a level with us and for the first time we were able to look them in the eye as equals, with no bread in our hand to make them like us. They tolerated this crazy middle class mother driving her offspring; and mothers with their cygnets and ducklings and grebelets (or whatever they’re called) nodded to me. Solidarity, sisters.

And we were in wonderland. We saw the ducks’ safe harbours in inaccessible coves, the fishing-patches of what seemed to be cormorants and even a stoop-shouldered grey heron, passing judgement on a tall boating pole sticking out of the river. And because we were in a boat, none of them cared to move.

Transported, we sat in wonder, so much so that I even began to drive properly. As we neared the end of the ride we clutched at every sight and sound of this new perspective, level with this deep, dark, ancient waterway.

Parking was interesting.I couldn’t find neutral and shot into the moorings with a certain measure of overenthusiasm. But none of it mattered. International Youth Day had, for us, been an unparalleled success.

We would be back to mess about on the river again, very soon.


26 thoughts on “Messing About….

  1. Aaah, you can’t beat an hour of boat ownership! We did the same on holiday, Matthew took on a new personality and had to be prised off the boat at the end of our time. Great fun!

  2. Oh, yes. The Wind in the Willows had that absolutely right. Except that motors are not really in the spirit of the thing. Rowing, paddling, sculling, punting, or – preferably – sailing are the proper ways to do it.
    *advertisement* To get them hooked on rowing and sailing, you just have to make them read my latest fantasy! 🙂

  3. That sounds idyllic. You channel Merchant Ivory and Mary Poppins so well.

    You’ve reminded me of my one time at the power end of a motor dinghy. I wasn’t apprehensive at all. Until I decided I was terrified and held on tight, sending the boat round in frantic, stressful, noisy circles. Of the ever decreasing variety. I was glad there was a proper grown up on the boat that day who talked me into relaxing my grip and having everything calm down. That’s probably why I couldn’t do what you did 😉

  4. Sounds delightful, Kate. That fear, that terror, those grebes – and an I can’t wait to do it again feeling. You tell a story so well; I was cringing and laughing at the same time.

  5. It sounds like you had an amazing time once you got used to it, Kate. I love being near water. Or on it. If I could swim better, I’d add in it to that list too, but in it is just OK. When you are in the middle of the waterway, everywhere looks completely different to how you’d expect it to – that’s what I found anyway.
    Next time you go, you’d have more time enjoying it as you’d be used to it a lot quicker! And great advice with the Julie Andrews attitude, I stay as chirpy as I can all the time, it does help!

  6. What an awesome adventure for you all, Kate! Love your photo too…it transports me to our local dam which is home to hundreds of Egyptian geese. Hope to hear more of your exploits soon 😀

  7. `Nice? It’s the ONLY thing,’ said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. `Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING–absolute nothing–half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: `messing–about–in–boats; messing—-‘

    Wind in the Willows, b Kenneth Grahame

    Sounds a great day out!

  8. The view from the water is a totally different one, Kate – you have a great sense of adventure and your children are very fortunate for it 🙂

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