Archive for September, 2009

Three Hours in a Boat – Part 2

September 27, 2009

Before you start reading, you should be aware that this is part two of a two part story.  You could read this part first but that’d be a bit weird.  I’d recommend you start reading part one first: Three Hours in a Boat – Part 1

I Can’t Take Any Moorings

Eventually I couldn’t take it any longer and decided we had to moor up before I went mad.

I found a mooring spot, and after ten minutes of driving the boat forwards and backwards managed to get close enough to the bank.

Now I should explain that my missus is not exactly the outdoors type.  The only way you’d see her shopping in Millets is if they had a make-up range.  And let’s be honest, if they had a range of make-up it’d only be face paint for the Andy McNabb fantasists (it comes in three exciting shades: Forest Green, Desert Storm and Iranian Embassy).  Anyway, not for her leaping onto muddy banks.  I was going to have to tie this baby up on my own (the boat that is, not the missus)

I leapt off the bank with a rope.  I pulled the back of the boat as close to the bank as I could and tied it up when suddenly I heard a scream.  My missus was on the front of the boat and it was drifting away from the bank.  She was yelping and waving her arms up and down as if she was trying to fly away from the boat.

I asked her to throw me the rope.  With an almighty girly throw she tossed it about four feet: two inches away from herself and 3ft and 10 inches downwards into the canal.  She pulled the rope in and tried again.  Plop.  She tried again.  Plop.  She tried again.  Plop.  “That’s close enough” I said and rolled up my sleeve, dangled myself over the water and reached into the canal to fish it out.  I pulled the boat towards the bank and tried to tie up at a mooring post.

At this point another canal boat appeared.  The bloke steering this boat seemed amused at our difficulties.  He was doing something that no one has done to me since I was at school.  He was literally pointing at me and laughing.  He shouted across in a powerful Welsh accent “Where are you from?”
“We’re from London mate.”
“Well you should be used to this – you’ve got a river!”
“Yes mate but we don’t fucking live on it.”
He thought about this for a bit, looked back down the canal and then said “Your boat is drifting away.  Hahahahaha!”

Uh, what?  I looked at the back of the boat.  My crap knot had come undone and now the back of the boat was drifting out.  The Welsh guy chugged down the canal, laughing his arse off.

The Sheepshank Redemption

Other than the standard knot everyone does when asked to tie a knot in something, and how to tie a tie I only actually know one proper knot: I can tie a noose.

That might sound a little weird but there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation: I dated a girl who was in the scouts and she taught me how to tie a noose.

I should explain she was sixteen, in the venture scouts and I was sixteen too.  And she wasn’t tying me to tent pegs in the middle of a field to play with my gingganggoolies.  No, she taught me to tie a noose, which she loved teaching people because apparently it’s illegal.

This taught me one important lesson: any girl who takes joy in teaching you how to tie supposedly illicit knots isn’t worth going out with.  Seriously.  If you’re on a date and she brings out a length of rope in the middle of the restaurant then do a runner.  You can thank me later.

So yeah, I can’t do knots either and now this looked like it was going to be yet another enormous problem.

Things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Then two hoodies appeared.


For those who don’t know what a hoodie is, they’re basically surly teenagers who prowl in groups and are prone to petty theft, vandalism and random physical violence.  They get their name from the hoods they always have over their heads obscuring their face from the attentions of CCTV cameras.  The standard procedure in London when you see hoodies coming towards you is to hide your valuables, grip your iPod tightly and avert your eyes so as not to attract their attention.

Their sudden appearance at this moment was like being swallowed by a whale, landing in it’s stomach, only to be confronted by a couple of hungry looking hyenas.

One of them stood next to me, silently, as I struggled to tie a rope.  Thankfully my iPod was on the boat.

“Do you want a hand with that?” said the jolly wee chap in a Welsh accent.

“Uh, yeah.  Could you tie up this end and then I can tie up the other end.”   I’ve never been so happy to see hoodies in my life.  Him and his friend did a terrific job of pulling in the boat and tying up.  They helped me out in exchange for nothing more than a brief chat and the grateful thanks of a couple of townies.

Their work done they set off on their bikes, undoubtedly to aid some other clueless idiots.

Giving Up

So thanks to some help I’d got the boat tied up but realised I wouldn’t be able to do it again on my own.

I couldn’t bear to set off again because I was so bad at steering the damn boat that it was stressing me out.

In short: I was crap when the boat was moving and I was crap when the boat wasn’t moving.  The boat doesn’t have another state of being so, short of it suddenly deciding to adhere to the laws of quantum mechanics, the future of our holiday looked really bleak.

I decided to call Mackenzie and, as manfully as I could, beg him to take us back to the boat yard.

One way or another the boating aspect of this holiday was over.


We spent the next four days moored up.  We sat in the boat drinking wine, admiring the beautiful view and feeding the ducks that swam past.

We didn’t go anywhere.

That suited us just fine.


Short Film Reviews

September 12, 2009

Last weekend I rented a few DVDs and caught up on a few films I’d missed at the cinema.

In Bruges

In short, this is about two hitmen who’ve been sent to Brussels to hide out until the heat from their last job dies down.  I can’t really say much more without spoiling it – and I don’t want to spoil it for you because you should definetly see this.

Basically it’s a black farce and anyone who loves black humour will be well catered for here.  It’s fantastically written, directed and acted.  I cannot recommend this enough.


So this is what the new hotness of Hollywood is making is it?  This has been praised to the roof by many critics and, uh, good for them.  It’s in no way a bad film and it is pretty funny in places.  I can’t help but feel that Superbad has been given an easy ride by critics – it isn’t that funny and reports of this movie having “heart” are greatly exaggerated.  The most surprising thing to me was that the pacing is weirdly sluggish and they could have easily shaved twenty minutes off the running time without losing anything valuable.  People will look back on this film in five years and wonder what all the fuss was about.


This is a biopic about Charles Bronson – not the one who dug tunnels in The Great Escape, the one who did thirty years of solitary in Britain’s prison system.  In Britain Bronson is a legendary prisoner, but one who is more famous for being a prisoner than a criminal.

I didn’t have many expectations of this movie but was very pleasantly surprised.  It has minor problems that seem to largely stem from having a tiny budget but it’d be churlish to dwell on these.  What we get here is a surprisingly funny film about a man’s life that has turned into black comedy through his own madness and stubbornness.  The director gives the film a strong and distinctive look and Tom Hardy does the rest.

Look out for Tom Hardy.  This guy could easily be a very big star.  He’s already making a reputation for himself, playing damaged but charismatic men and he’s absolutely terrific here.

Oh and the movie contains this immortal line: “You pissed on a gipsy in the middle of fucking nowhere!”


Brick is a fairly simple idea: it’s a detective drama moved into the environment of a high school.  The detective, the femme fatale, all the other classic elements are high school kids.  If Bugsy Malone was little kids playing gangsters, this is teenage kids playing Chinatown.  And weirdly it’s played straight – although humour does arise where the two worlds clash.

The film is so committed to it’s premise that the end result is totally cold and artificial.  It’s as if the film maker believes the central idea is so powerful it’s enough to make the movie compelling.  It really isn’t.

If all the main characters had been fed into a wood chipper half way through the film, no one would miss them, least of all the audience.  When that’s the case your film has a major problem.

Other that it looks lovely, it’s very nicely put together and I’m sure many of the cast will go on to be big stars.  If only it was more engaging….

Three Hours in a Boat – Part 1

September 5, 2009

This year I went on a canal boat holiday.  It didn’t go very well.

Me and the missus like having holidays in Britain.  Often all we require is a decent quality hotel with and, this is the most important bit, a full English breakfast.  Once I have a plate of sausages and bacon inside me I can deal with pretty much anything Britain wants to throw at me.

This year I’d suggested we might want a change of pace. Something different.  How about a canal boat holiday?  I mean it looks pretty simple.  Look at all those senile old gits who go on canal boat holidays – if they can do it then it’ll be a breeze for us!

I booked with a likely looking company on a nice stretch of canal.

Within a few weeks we were sent a DVD to watch to show us what we should and shouldn’t do with our boat.  It largely featured the exploits of a cockney idiot and his long suffering family.  Cockney idiot goes the wrong way up the canal.  Cockney idiot fails to turn his boat around jamming it across the width of the canal.  Cockney idiot ties up his boat across a footpath garrotting a passing cyclist.  You get the idea.

Oh how we laughed that anyone could be so stupid!

Suffer Holiday

At long last it was holiday time.

We arrived at the boat yard and was met by a chap called Mackenzie who ran the place.  He wore a khaki rugby top, khaki shorts and a general air of senior ex-military.  The type of person who only owns a dog because he misses having people to shout at.

Mackenzie offered to help us with our bags.  I took the bags out of the back of our taxi cab and he looked at them with a raised eyebrow.
“You haven’t brought much” he said.
“Really?” I said, surprised.  I’d thought this was a barge – not exactly known for their capacious storage
“Haven’t you brought any food?”
“Umm, no – we thought we’d get some along the way.”
“Okaaaay…. well that shouldn’t be a problem” he said offering a weak smile that indicated that this might be a problem.

He then explained to me how we could procure some food.  We’d need to steer our boat two miles to bridge 68.  This doesn’t sound like a long way but the top speed of our boat is 2mph (I’ll type that again: top speed) and so it’d probably take us about three hours to get there at which point it would be quite dark.  From the bridge we would then need to walk a mile down a road without lighting or a path for pedestrians to arrive at – wait for it – an all night garage.

I suppose we could get a loaf of bread, some scotch eggs and a few tubes of Pringles.

It’s either that or we’d have to eat whatever we could find in the bathroom on our boat.

Lightly toasted sanitary bags liberally topped with Aquafresh.  Yummy.

Maybe we could enliven the meal by wearing the complimentary shower caps as party hats.  Yeah, that’d cheer us up.

A Lesson in Futility

With little time to waste my lesson in how to steer a canal boat began.

Immediately I noticed that my instructor was not particularly engaged in the task at hand.  Here’s how I can best sum up his teaching technique: Have you ever had a friend show you how to play a fighting game on a games console in the most cursory fashion so he can immediately get on with relentlessly kicking your arse for the rest of the afternoon?  If you have then you’ll know what I was going through.

He told me how to check the rotors and how to start the engine.  So far so good.  He then explained to me about steering using the tiller.

The tiller is a three foot long pole at the rear of the boat.  When you want to steer the boat left you push the tiller right.  To go right, the tiller goes left.  In fact it’s a wee bit more complicated than that because the 12 foot long boat pivots from the centre so in fact what happens is when the tiller goes left the front of the boat goes right and the back of the boat goes left.

It dawned on me pretty quickly that this was going to be a big problem for me.

Let me explain: I’m a thirty-five year old man who struggles to tell left from right, under even minor pressure.

An Illustrative Example of My Ineptitude

Just to illustrate how I struggle with left and right here’s a true story.

I was, for reasons I won’t go into, in the London Dungeon: an attraction that has more in common with a ghost train than actual London history.  As you go through it you’re dragged from one place to the next by down-on-thier-luck actors or shoved onto rides.

Anyway, I got off a ride and found myself at a place where I could go left or right but there was no sign to indicate which was the right way.  After two seconds of trying to work this out a voice from behind the wall, deep and grave, said “Go to the left to continue the nightmare! BWA-HA-HA-HA-HAAAAaaaaa!”

I continued to look around with a vacant expression on my face unable to work out which way was left.

The disembodied voice tried again: “Go to THE LEFT to continue!”

I was still confused so I decided to just pick any direction as it was a 50/50 chance.  The disembodied voice was pissed off: “NOOOOoooooOOOOooo!” it howled, “You’re going the wrong way!”

I backtracked and went the other way.

I was confused.  But not as confused as the four German tourists who’d decided to follow me.

Anyway, back to the boat.

So we started the boat and I got a fairly hopeless lesson in steering the damn thing. Mackenzie stood next to me with his arms crossed staring at the bank while droning his instructions.  Occasionally he’d push me aside to adjust the tiller or the gears without explaining why.

It went something like this: “Now go up a gear. No, that’s too far. The boat’s veering left so you need to correct it.  No, the left.  Now let’s imagine we’re passing a boat on the right.  Let’s slow down.  Slow down.  More than that.  Now steer to the right.  Steer right.  The tiller goes left.  No, further to the left.  Now correct the boat.  Straighten up.  More than that.  You’re going to hit the bank.  Further to the left.  No, the left.  Turn the tiller right.”  And it continued like that for about ten minutes.

Clearly the lesson wasn’t going well.  I had moments where it would all start to make sense and then it’d go horribly wrong again.  But eventually Mackenzie decided to get off the boat.

Within ten seconds of Mackenzie leaving I had managed to turn the boat so it was drifting sideways.  Mackenzie had not walked far and clearly he saw this.  He shouted back: “LEFT! LEFT!”  I turned the tiller right.  “NO! TURN THE TILLER LEFT!”  It was too late.  I had now jammed the boat into the concrete banks across the width of the canal.  “FOR GOD’S SAKE PUT IT INTO NEUTRAL!!!”  Naturally I hit reverse.  Scrape scrape scrape went the boat.  Ooops.

The instructor jumped aboard, corrected the boat and said I might need some extra tuition.

Actually what he said was that I was almost certainly the worst student that he’d ever had as everyone else had mastered it about one mile ago and he couldn’t understand what the hell my problem was.

Another five minutes of tuition later and unsurprisingly I wasn’t any better.  He asked me “Are you feeling more confident now?”
“Not really, no”
“I think you’re doing fine!” he said in a surprisingly jolly tone.
“You’re doing really well!”  His jolity was not infectious.
“I have got other boats to get out this evening you know” he snapped.
And taking that as confirmation that I was a happy little sailor he left the boat

I then steered the boat for another hour and a half.

I’m not sure how to explain what it’s like.  When I was doing well it was just like an unimaginably boring computer game where you balance a grape in the middle of a plate.  When it didn’t go well it was stressful as I bashed into stationary boats, held up other oncoming boats or scraped the side of my boat along the inside of an old stone bridge.  I felt something I’d never felt before in my life: I was simultaneously stressed and bored.

I was hating every minute of it.

[More to follow in the next exciting instalment!]