Sunday, 3 September 2017

Sinking the unthinkable

For some time now we've been the fortunate owners of a couple of canoes, generously gifted to us by my partner's mum. They're not the sleek, pointy-ended things that you sit in and have to roll back up if they capsize while you're paddling them. No. They're sort of beginners' versions which you sit on, not in, and are supposedly all-but impossible to capsize anyway.

I think you can probably tell where this entry's going already.

Anyway, we take these canoes out fairly frequently, paddling around the lake which more or less surrounds the village. At least it used to - as I mentioned in earlier entries, the water is extremely low at the moment due to a months-long drought, and getting lower still. In parts, the lake has all but disappeared and reverted to the rivers which usually flow unseen in its depths, inundated as they have been by the effects of the dam. This is important and will feature shortly.

We keep the canoes in a sort of concrete cabin down by the village's swimming pool, where in theory they're easy to get into the water with the pontoon the council had built a few years back. It's hardly ever been used, though, because it's currently high and dry, at least fifty feet above the water. Anyway, the cabin contains lots of kayaks in various states of repair. I have no idea to whom they belong but, unlike ours, most of them are not kept chained up and people simply borrow them, use them and put them back in the cabin when they're done with them. So last week we went out with a friend who did exactly that.

We spent a good while looking round - the low water allows you to paddle under rather than over the old medieval bridges, reveals the Roman buildings associated with wine production and shows up a lot of the old stuff which can't generally be seen. At one point we came to a bit where the river had begun to reassert its flow, and paddling uphill against what could, at a stretch, be called 'rapids', was necessary. Now an Olympic kayaking course this was not - there was a bit of white water but both my partner and our friend T passed through the rocks against the flow without apparent difficulty. I tried to follow, but was spun around and sent back downriver. A second effort resulted similarly. At this point, dear reader,  machismo idiocy kicks in. The girls were both upriver of these damn rocks, so I was most certainly going to get there too. A third effort brought about inevitable consequences - the supposedly all-but uncapsizable canoe was turned 90 degrees to the flow, rolled over and pitched me in.

I was no more than 10 feet from the river bank and the water was only a few feet deep at this point, so I thrashed to the side easily enough. I could hear my partner shouting 'calm yourself down', because she assumed I was panicking - I was shouting a fair bit and even in this blog, where I feel at liberty to swear fairly freely, the language I was using cannot really be repeated. I wasn't panicking - it was the fate of my watch that was causing the shouting.

My watch was my father's, and my grandfather's before him. I spent considerably more than it's worth to get it serviced, back into working order and waterproofed again after Dad died, but had already had to have the glass replaced because of an act of my own clumsiness and could see that water had seeped in. I was, to say the least, pretty angry with myself. Fortunately, at this point, T took my watch from me because what happened next only happens in bad sit-coms. Getting back into the canoe, I over-balanced and of course tipped straight over it, throwing myself in again and hitting myself on the head with my own boat as it flipped over after me. The girls, models of concern for my well-being to this point, could no longer contain their mirth and, rightly, laughed at me openly.

Casualties - my flip flops; one disappeared into the ooze when I'd put my foot down onto the riverbed, one floated off downstream. My shades - visible in the muck but beyond our ability to retrieve them because of the strength of the river's flow. My dignity - no matter; God knows how many times I've lost that already, almost always through my own clumsiness, hubris or as in this case, both. A recorded loss so many times, it no longer really counts as a casualty. My limited-edition white Brighton shirt issued to commemorate our victory at Selhurst back in 2005. Soaked and filthy - what was I thinking, putting that at risk as well as the watch? Washable, fortunately. My confidence on the canoe has taken a bit of a hit too, but that should also be salvageable.

The watch is unharmed, happily - dried out and functioning fine. The loss of the shades has been felt rather more keenly because the weather's still pretty good here and, being driven round in my missus's soft-top Mini, I'm slightly less cool than I usually fancy myself because my eyes are so screwed up against the sun.

Never mind - it's a bustling metropolis here so nobody will ever know any of this happened... oh, wait. Yeah, of course - absolutely everybody who knows me is aware of precisely what happened. Vanity, thy name is Jason.

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