‘When was the last time you rowed a boat, Rose?’ The question was asked early morning after an over-nighter with some friends. ‘I don’t think I ever have,’ was my reply. ‘My Dad used to row me around the boating pool in Southend when I was a kid. There used to be a geezer with a megaphone who shouted ‘Come in number 2 your time is up’ after the paid for half hour was spent – but I haven’t ever rowed myself.’ There was no response to this dip into nostalgia. My interrogator was rootling about in a rucksack. I assumed he hadn’t heard me and continued studying the lake.
Then – ‘Put this on,’ said a voice, and I turned to walk into a life jacket held up by the question master. ‘It’s beautiful out there on the lake,’ he said, enthusiastically. If we (note the ‘we’) can get to the island you can see where the swans live and it’s very peaceful over there. Totally unspoiled.’
He held me and the boat steady as he urged me to descend the bank and to step into what can only be described as a large fibre-glass box with a point on one end. I had assumed that he was going to follow me into the boat. Stupid woman! Can’t think why that crossed my mind. I really should have known better since there was only the one milk crate to sit upon and water was swishing around in the bottom of the boat. Although my companions are close friends, they ain’t that close that they’ll sit in a couple of inches of stagnant water in the bottom of a boat for me.
I sat facing the island and waited for the anticipated extra weight to climb in behind me. ‘Pick up that paddle, then. The one down by your side,’ was the next command. Conditioned, I dutifully did as I was bid, and turned my head to see a boot on the square bit at the back of the boat push it away from the bank.
Panic? If you’d wanted to see panic you should have been there. I smiled sweetly (must keep up the image – good old Rosie, always game for a laugh) and muttered obscenities under my breath at the whole of the male species, illegitimate sons of female dogs, all of them. Even, on occasions like these, the ones who purported to be friends.
To be fair, they did stand at the waters edge and, in between giggling manically, offered words of advice. ‘Maybe you’d better do two strokes each side, Rose, since you’ve been paddling for ten minutes and haven’t moved.’ This yelled at me when I was in the middle of the lake and had hit some kind of current that, no matter how hard I paddled, pushed me back to where I had started – apparently. I had no idea this was happening. I’d thought I was doing all right until yelled at.
Once I’d got the hang of it, though, it became an adventure. Swallows and Amazons had been one of my favourite books as a child. I was exploring alone in uncharted territory, a single paddle and an upturned milk crate my only tools. Who knew what strange and wonderful life forms I could encounter.
Meanwhile the strange and wonderful life forms on the opposite bank were, they told me later, becoming a tad worried. I had been gone quite some time and, although one of them is a qualified life-saver, the distance I had covered was enough to have me drown before he could get to me. That’s if he could find me in the first place for I had found a narrow opening and ventured through it. It was like entering into a fantasy world. It was so quiet apart from scurrying wildlife that carried on as usual with their daily lives, undisturbed by my small craft cruising through their domain. The light changed to a kind of mysterious green with shafts of refracted sunlight flashing through it as the trees above obligingly moved their branches to admit it. I could imagine myself alone on the earth. Given a large Cadbury and a bottle of water I could easily have stayed there all day.
All traces of resentment for my cruel treatment had vanished by the time I had collected my wits and paddled back from whence I came. My friends has lost interest in my watery expedition and refused to listen to my poetic descriptions of an enchanted environment. They were in preoccupied and slightly depressed packing up mode and had seen it all before, anyway. I suspect that I had been cast adrift in an open boat, with no provisions, to get me out of the way while this process was executed but I’m grateful. Another ‘first time’ experience and I loved it.