A free narrowboat trip from Islington Boat Club popped into my Inbox. It was one of the first post-Pandemic activities for the St Luke’s Men’s Shed. We started at the City Road Basin HQ and headed west for Camden. Under the Covid health-and-safety rules, one narrowboat is allowed 4 passengers. That was Me, Emerson, Dave and Graham. The captain was a pot-bellied jovialist in a battered Panama hat. Welcome to Islington.
We’d made this trip before but it was still a pleasure, and this year the Canal became 200 years old so it felt like a celebration. We enjoyed melted chocolate and cold red apple juice to prove it.
Once underway and chugging gently, the scenery moves from affluent urban to bucolic unwashed as trees, wildlife, graffiti and the foot soldiers of the trusty canal path all rub along. At one point I was convinced our boat was being followed by a semi-submerged orange plastic bollard.
Emerson told us his job as a steward at Arsenal FC had almost certainly finished because of Coronavirus: “The hospitality business has had it.” Dave had a big plaster on his head that I lacked the courage to ask about. The Islington tunnel loomed and was as long (878m) and dark as ever, but not as fumey from the longboat exhaust emissions.
We passed through two locks then did a three-point turn to send us back from Kentish Town to City Road. Mothers with buggies jostled with militant cyclists. Idle students lolled on the grassy verges at St Pancras. We were right in the heart of London on a sunny afternoon, but somewhere else too, in space and in time.