Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Canal Roach - Gone Goozling, Again...

Keith has made me aware of what I am, or rather what I have become. A gongoozler, or someone who watches the activities of the canal network. Not a trainspotter in any sense but an idler in essence - one who watches things happen at lock and basin but at a remove, a distance, observes, is not involved in any direct way, is a spectator, an onlooker.

I am involved though. I fish it and I'm known to the local live-in boaters as an angler. They talk to me, tip me the wink, offer advice and the occasional can of cheap and nasty lager. I give them almost nothing in return as my sandwich of cheery greeting and a chirpy farewell has very little in the way of substantive filling apart from what little tittle-tattle I have picked along the towpath from other boaters and about other boaters and boaty things, which is all the filling they are really interested in.

Mind you its been a good winter for tittle-tattle and it's turning into a vintage Summer for it too. There's been a murder you see. It's turning out to be your typical crime of passion as the evidence mounts and charges are made but for a brief time after the discovery of 'a hooded and bound torso of a girl' floating in the local cut it seemed as if a local boating legend, a character by the name of Spider, the one-eyed Ahab of the cut who's erstwhile girlfriend was unofficially the prime candidate for corpse, was officially prime suspect for the heinous crime when the police threw a cordon around his boat and dragged him off to the station for questioning.

It wasn't him of course, he ain't that type and everyone knows it, but somehow with Spider it really seemed that it could have been 'im that did er in' for a second or two. I think many were disappointed when it wasn't and the whole tiny tempest turned out to be your ordinary regional murder story who's puff was spent in a day and had the national journalists sloping off to the pub early, notebooks drooping at half-mast.

It doesn't help when you find 'funny stuff' down there as one day you just know that it will be your turn to stumble upon something genuinely gruesome. I laughed my head off at the subtle sick humour of the perpetrator of this wizzard wheeze found clawing its way out of the long grass by the marina ~

It doesn't help either when you're always spotting the corpses of fluffy bunny wunnies, the odd hapless sheep, long lost moggies, bloated rats, soggy mallards and various mutilated dead and half-dead fish, some of specimen size. When Molly gets in the water I fear that one day she'll pull out a stiff. When she brought in this jumble of limbs I thought that time had come ~

Luckily it turned out to be nothing worse than a decapitated plastic doll with its body stuffing rotted away. I left it on the towpath verge for some old couple out on an afternoon's hike to find ~

Then there's the inexplicable. This feather was picked up because I thought it handsome, plume of teal or Ptarmigan, I imagined. It's been poking out of the top of a little Victorian shear-top drugs bottle (itself a canal find) on our mantlepiece for the past year. Just the other day I was researching the price of swan quills for float making and found that the feather is one from the breast of a most unlikely bird for the Coventry Canal, one that if it makes a return visit unassisted will have the nations twitchers descending on Little old Lady Longford by the charabanc load ~

It was lost by a guinea fowl, a bird that runs faster than it flies. Perhaps it ran here from Madagascar?

However, mad and bonkers and strange and queer though the life of the canal might be there is also something fascinating, mysterious and rather beautiful about it. That it contains more than a few of these astonishing creatures, a plump summer roach that was caught fresh this morning, is no small part of the allure ~

I wouldn't bother overmuch with the place if it didn't have fish in it. If there were no fish all I'd see would be the dog shit and the beer cans and the floating corpses and the diesel spills. As it is though, I see something special and unique: something I genuinely cherish and love.

I'm lucky to be a gongoozler. Proud of the fact I am.

It's there on my resume beneath idler and ne'er do well.


  1. Marvellous stuff - made my day. If you wrote a book, I'd buy it.

  2. You shouldn't say such things Matthew otherwise I might have to finally knuckle down and actually do it. Thanks though. Very encouraging. Makes it all worthwhile.