Way back when, before hope of becoming an artist hadn’t been fully subsumed by the joys of teaching children art (and then being displaced still further by an all-consuming creative project called being a head teacher) I’d’ve described myself – for want of a better term – as a documentary artist.

The engine fired first time, the boat shivered back into life, a micro-voyage it might have been, but lovely to be out, and a-boat, on a fine Autumnal afternoon.

Everything I did was about recording the moment. In many ways, this blog is the latest embodiment of that latent artistic desire to document, record, reflect upon, celebrate and come to better understand life through some form of creative expression, making or doing.

A key element of my art practice has always been a fascination with the particular, with the microcosm, with ‘drilling down’ into a place and coming to know that place more, and still more, deeply.

Blue skies, warm sunshine, a few passing boats adding animation and conversation, what could be better?

For months I’d sketch and photograph a particular section of a walk, or would re-walk a particular route at all hours of the day and night, noting the changes and my changing experience of that place. I’ve never been one for extensive or exotic treks abroad, instead I’ve delighted in the minutiae of the familiar, being constantly surprised by the variation and drama found in a particular, seemingly mundane, routine location, whether that be a bridge, a doorway, a room or walk.

Now what, you might well ask, has all this got to do with an old boat and a family inlanding around the waterways???

Big skies of the South Oxford…

Well, actually quite a lot. This week, as I’ve been thinking about this first year’s blog&boating what’s become abundantly clear is that despite hardly having moved any distance at all, we’ve actually travelled a huge distance as a family.

Since the boat came down from Great Haywood at Easter, we’ve moved her from Braunston, down to Napton, over the Summit Level to Fenny, then Claydon, found a home mooring and headed out from there a number of times, up and down to Cropredy, back and forth to Fenny… and that’s it.

There’s something intimate and ‘right’ about the way a contour canal, by definition, responds to every undulation of the landscape… so many twists and turns, a meandering course.

I read, daily, the wonderful descriptions of the epic voyages undertaken by our constant cruiser bloggers, and though I’m not (as yet) able to match them at all in terms of miles completed or canals notched up… what I can do is say we’ve had a fabulously rich first season aboard Eileen.

The experience hasn’t been in the least bit disappointing, in fact it’s been a revelation. Every time we’ve been to the boat as a family, as a couple, or solo, we’ve come away enriched. Every time we’ve moved a few miles along the South Oxford we’ve been enlightened, enthralled, engaged, enthused, and generally, genuinely contented and HAPPY. In a fraught and challenging world that surely ain’t no bad thing at all!

Harmonious man-made intervention…?

For example today, me and Mol headed up to Banbury ostensibly to see a bloke about a mooring. Yet, being just a couple of miles from the boat, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to turn the engine and head out. It was perhaps only a 1/2 mile up the Cut to the winding hole below Claydon Bottom Lock and back, but that simple, short trip was enough to leave a warm glow, to wind me down and cheer me up, to make me all the more determined to get back to the boat as soon as is possible and head out again.

The cut-down Bridge 147, ahead the winding hole and after the long straight the first of Claydon’s five locks – but sadly not today, this was where we winded and headed back…

Every twist and turn of the short trip I know well, I’ve done it countless times on three different boats over a the last 15 years, but that never, not for one moment, detracts from the pleasure I derive from the simple act of taking the boat out; of navigating the Cut; of being aware of that shiver of life that runs through the boat from the first turn of the engine; or noting the effects on the Cut of the changing season.

It was an afternoon of Autumnal sunshine, occasional smiles, deep breaths, and a feeling of being blissfully alive.


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