A couple of weekends ago one of my colleagues offered us all a day trip on the riverboat he lives on. K. and I joined a number of my co-workers in hopping on board – often literally, as it passed slowly but unceasingly along the concrete jetty at the southern end of Port Meadow – to potter up north and then west along the Thames as it bent and kinked across the flood plain, constantly in sight of the wooded foothills of Wytham.
I wish I had blogged about it closer to the time, as it was – again often literally – a gently moving experience, and such moments do not keep well. A brittle, almost frosty morning quickly thawed into a glorious sunny day as we made our way past startled cows and awakening boat owners. Our skipper pointed out which were houseboats – unmoveable – and which were not, as we began pitching in on making lunch. Kilo upon kilo of vegetables were washed, tailed, peeled and chopped, then boiled until we found somewhere nice to moor up and eat it. Later, on our way back and before the sun had gone down, it was like someone had flipped a switch on the outdoor heating: over the course of fifteen minutes it started to become once more a chilly October day; though we finished our journey back where we started and still in some vestigial sunlight, there was no mistaking the season we were in.
The trip recedes into the past, but leaves the usual longing for a river-based residence. The something-idyllic about the trip has transposed itself to being a something-idyllic about my colleague’s whole, long, thin, aquatic mode of living, scarcely discouraged by the endless problems he had during last year’s shatteringly severe winter. It’s terribly middle-class to even entertain adopting such an existence from my position of relative comfort, but as soon as life has reached its destination, and taken on board all of its bare necessities, then lifestyle inevitably steps in, and puts its hand on the tiller of one’s longings to continue the journey.
Autumn only spurs on these desires for the other. As the sol invictus struggles its way to near-death, yet do we secretly – and maybe in spite of our love of the season – wish for summer again. Simultaneously, Christmas and parties beckon to us from the opposite direction, making us wonder what we ourselves long for, and what the season longs for on our behalf. Pushed off the cusp of the equinox, hurtling through dark, lengthening nights towards the solstice; we have our decisions made for us by the currents of time itself; yet, dragging in the water, tugging us off course, the longings still cling on.