During the Little Venice weekend, we wandered over to the Regents canal to take part in a London Boaters towpath event. The main aim was to draw attention to BW proposals to clear the River Lee of what it sees as undesirable boaters, though anyone attending the weekend event, would immediately see that these boaters are it's greatest human asset.
We arrived too late to see the forming of the word 'Home' with boats - must have been a funny palava to watch! Here's a photo by Sasha Andrews, posted on the London Boaters website:
They are also on Facebook.
What we did get to see was a fine circus act on the roof of a big boat (why didn't I take my camera?! doh!), including a mime act, a beautifully poetic trapeze performance on ropes accompanied by singing and lovely live music - the accordian playing was a bonus for me ;-) General friendliness, welcoming chat, a sense of inclusion, the table with tea and cakes, the child uni-cyclist, the warmth of the sunshine, smiling passers-by, an open-hearted community.
After 5 years of travelling around various canals and meeting all kinds of people, I know that this warm sense of solidarity and sharing is usually only found among boating communities that stick together. It doesn't mean you have to live in each other's pockets but are there for mutual support and sharing good things. We boaters that travel singly and over a wider stretch of the country can look in vain for such neighbourliness. The best we achieve is a friendly politeness towards other boaters, and an eager anticipation of meeting up briefly with friends afloat.
Another important aspect of the London Boater community is that of environmental awareness. They are a part of LILO (Low Impact Life On board) and encourage sustainable living afloat through example. BW claims to be implementing a rigorous policy of environmental care of the waterways, which is just incompatible with forcing boats to continually travel - this is something they are simply refusing to recognise. In other words, they are ticking the 'environmental awareness' box they are forced to do by law, while not really giving a damn about the consequences of their policies. For all my efforts to live a low-impact life, I burn diesel every time I travel and my carbon footprint must be huge in comparison to those of boating communities who move over a smaller area.
Finally, I'm thinking about the Jericho boaters. That wonderful little haven in Oxford that had its heart ripped out when the community was broken up and the boatyard cleared. I used that emotive term 'ripped out', because that's what it was like - people clinging in tears to their boats as they were craned out the water. And for what? That place is a dreary, soul-less blot on the landscape now, high-fenced and barb-wired.
I've been sorry to read how some boat bloggers are not content to simply disagree with the London Boaters stance, but seek to actively stir up opposition. I suspect such people would never themselves be useful members of any such community and make few friends and many enemies in their own chosen lifestyles. I leave them to their lonely misanthropy and urge on the London Boaters with a great cheer!