I can scarcely believe it myself but it continues to be the case that I am intermittently invited to stay with Ms Raccoon and Mr G – provided enough time has elapsed since my last visit to allow everything I did on my previous visit to be either a) forgiven or b) glued back together. Suffice to say enough time appeared to have elapsed, as Ms Raccoon and Mr G recently invited me to spend a few fine-weather days with them on their river-cruiser, taking in the delights of The Norfolk Broads. I arrived to an undeservedly warm welcome, a 5-star gourmet home-cooked meal and an evening of good cheer, spirited conversation followed by an early bedtime in readiness for the adventure ahead.
The next day dawned fine and bright, perfect for a day aboard the magnificent craft that is The Raccoonteur. This ‘other woman’ in Mr G’s life is a marvellous 50-year-old beauty of a vessel boasting newly-varnished wood throughout, comfortable cabins with en-suite ‘fore and aft’, gleaming brass levers everywhere (which I was under strict instructions not to touch) and a fine deck upon which to recline and revel in the beauty of the inland waterways.
Once the tide had been deemed suitable, Ms Raccoon stepped elegantly aboard and Mr G, despite my weight, bulk, unsteadiness & irritating squeals, eventually managed to load me on too. He then began hopping back and forth between his mooring and his craft, loosening/tightening/releasing/coiling ropes with such confidence & agility that I have come to think of him as The Boat Goat! He’s always seemed perfectly happy on dry land but watching him taking his boat out on the water I realised that for the first time I was seeing him in his natural habitat. With Cap’n Boat Goat at the controls, Ms Raccoon and I settled back happily as our voyage began.
I had no idea how busy The Broads can be, thronged as the ‘main drags’ are with rented 6-berthers navigating raucously between the riverside pubs. Neither did I have any idea how many tranquil and deserted spots can be found, where glimpses of isolated cottages can be spied behind the reeds and willows. As for the birdlife populating the banks, there are so many different species to be seen that I recommend taking binoculars (which we had) and a book on birds (which we didn’t have) with you on any day out on the river. I can say with certainty that we saw Herons, Little Egrets, Lapwings, Grebes, Marsh Harriers, geese & ducks of many varieties and a very proud swan who paddled her EIGHT cygnets right up to the boat to show them off; I can say with less certainty that we saw a Godwit and I have still completely failed to identify, even with the help of my own trusty ‘bird book’, a small group of black & white crane-like creatures.
After a couple of hours of frenetic head-swivelling amateur ornithology, we chugged up to and moored at a deserted and derelict pub which afforded a good view of one of the wonderful windmills which stand sentry along the waterways. La Raccoon had brought with her a sketch pad & some propelling pencils so we sat in the sunshine at a handy picnic table and, as we chatted, I put pencil to paper & began to sketch the windmill. Our conversation must have tailed off at some point because I was roused from my concentration by the cry of “Grub’s Up, Glo” to find that the sun had disappeared, that I was rather chilled and that it was indeed time for lunch. Mr G had packed a basket full of delicious cheeses, home-grown tomatoes, olives, gherkins, hummus etc. which we devoured in the warmth and comfort of the marvellous craft.
Once I’d ‘helped’ by doing the washing up (managing to pull the handle off a teaspoon), we emerged and again sat at the picnic table, sketching & chatting. After a while Mr G alerted us to the fact that the tide had risen and the picnic table was in danger of getting its feet wet. With the deck of the boat now much higher than it was before, Ms Raccoon took the opportunity to climb up onto the picnic table and onto the boat for a postprandial rest before Mr G and I shifted the table along the bank so that I could sit, my back to the boat and the rising tide, and finish my sketch. Mr G settled high on the bank to read his book. A little time later I was advised that it was now my feet which were in danger of getting wet as the tide was still rising, so much so that much of the mooring was now under water and the boat was far too high to be boarded by a bulky Smudd without a bit of a song-and-dance. ‘Not to worry, Glo, the tide’ll turn soon’ assured Cap’n Boat Goat so I picked up the sketchpad and joined him on his elevated bit of riverbank.
By now, Ms Raccoon was back on deck and we all had a bit of a giggle about:
a) the surprisingly high tide;
b) how two of us were stranded on a bank while Ms Raccoon was on the boat with the bottle of wine;
c) the group of walkers who had trekked 7 miles only to find the pub deserted and derelict and who had set off back for another bad-tempered but sober 7-mile trek;
d) how I had managed to sit in a nest of red ants!
Oh, how we laughed, especially Ms Raccoon whose cheer may have been influenced by the generous mug of wine she was swigging!
Ere long, a River Authority craft hove into view and a very nice man with a loud-hailer advised us that we were experiencing a freak and still rising tide and that we should stay with our boats as there was a real danger that they would rise so high they could tip over if not expertly managed. The suggestion of expert management being required, together with confirmation that there was every chance the newly-renovated Raccoon Towers would be flooded, was enough to galvanise Cap’n Boat Goat into immediate action! Off came my shoes & socks and I was forcefully propelled to wade into the 2-foot depth of water; Cap’n Boat Goat became Charles Atlas as he helped me step up onto and balance atop the little bit of mooring post still visible before giving me a persuasive shove upwards and towards the deck, giving me just the one chance of a safe – if hefty – landing at the feet of the hugely-amused and slightly-tipsy Ms Raccoon.
Then Cap’n Boat Goat was on and off that craft like a man possessed, expertly managing the enormous challenge of getting his ‘girls’ and his craft safely away from the mooring, while all the time the water was rising. The engine was set to hold the boat while ropes were adjusted in sequence until our Esteemed Cap’n was ready to board the craft. Unfortunately, the river had now risen just that little bit too much to allow that last part of the procedure to be incident-free and, while just reaching yet somehow steadying the now un-moored craft alongside the riverbank with just his fingertips, the heroic Cap’n G made a valiant effort to swing himself up and onto the deck.
No sooner had Mr G taken what I have come to think of as his ‘Captain’s Accidental Paddle’ (without at any time letting the boat out of his strong-man fingertip grip or his seemingly prehensile toes part company with the submerged mooring) Ms R managed to fling a single rope round a post to which she and I clung for dear life while Mr G brought the boat back under control. At this point Ms R remembered that there was a dear little bunk-bed ladder down below so while our Landlady held the lone rope, off I shot to fetch the ladder and hand it over to Mr G so he could climb aboard the boat in an efficient and dignified manner, without the need for another soaked midriff.
Expertly managing the departure from the riverbank while ignoring his two wine-swigging and slightly giggly passengers, Cap’n Boat Goat soon had us steaming home at top speed. On the way we chuckled as we saw – silhouetted against the horizon like a cross between that illustration of the evolution of man and the cover of the Madness album “One Step Beyond” – the group of walkers on their disgruntled return 7-mile trek still some 3 miles away from beery refreshment. We eventually reached Raccoon Towers to find, happily, all fear of flooding to be an unnecessary worry and all was well with the world.
A little while later I was summoned upstairs by Ms Raccoon and handed the binoculars. I then had the privilege to observe the rare and beautiful deer going about their gentle business of grazing secluded meadows, unseen by anyone except me from my elevated and binoculared advantage and the magnificent Marsh Harrier in the sky above.
Normal dry-land service was soon resumed, with Mr G placing before us another wonderful evening meal before we all retired to bed, ready for another wonderful day messing about on the river.
Edited by Anna: to add…Mr G bristles at the mere suggestion that he might have ‘fallen in’, or ‘had a soaked midriff’ and would like it pointed out that he might have been a tad less dry from the waist down than he would have preferred. Personally, I count being submerged from the waist down as both ‘fallen in’ and ‘soaked midriff’ along with soaked feet, legs and all parts leading up to midriff. Apparently, amongst ‘experienced sailors’, you might be dripping wet from the waist down, but so long as one part of your body remains in contact with the boat (in this case the tips of his fingers, and eventually his toes with the mooring post, after some gymnastics worthy of the Rio Olympics) you do not count as ‘overboard’. Have we all got that?
Ms Raccoon is no longer permitted to utter any sentence that begins ‘good thing I remembered that ladder’. So please do not tempt her to say it again.
The graphic of the swans is not a record of the actual swans, since Ms Smudd kindly provided me with a video recording in a .wimp format.
If you can figure out how to open a .wimp file on a mac, transfer it to a media format that a wordpress site will accept, and not lose the will to live – then you should probably get out more, and don’t forget your anorak as you leave the premises…’Ere’s a pic of another swan with eight cygnets, make do with that!