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All aboard the birthday boat!

Last week was spent mostly on board a 69 foot canal boat, cruising down the Kennet & Avon canal in celebration of my 29 years on earth (or rather, in avoidance of it.) I am not keen on nearing the big 3-0, but I am keen on new experiences and spending extended amounts of time with my friends, which is entirely what last week was about.

The decision to go on a short canal holiday was partially my need to do something different, and partially due to my friend DC's love of such things. He did a similar trip a few years ago with friends, and has been saying he wanted to do one again for some time. I dove at the chance, because I didn't want the emphasis this year to be on my birthday so much as on having fun.
I chose Foxhanger Canal Holidays entirely for their name, and because each boat on their fleet is named after a fox or fox-related thing. Sadly, of all the Foxcubs and Fennec Foxes, we got Fox Terrier, sister to the Fox Hunter. Irony, we has it.

The boat itself was gorgeous. Nearly 70 feet of compact comfort, two double beds, a set of bunk beds and a sofabed in the living room. DC, Luke, Sarah, myself and Moose would all be there Monday to Friday, and the plan was that Pash join us Tuesday evening in Bradford-on-Avon for a Savage World's roleplay and a meal in the Lock Inn, a fantastic pub cafe restaurant (I'm still not sure what it falls under) thing with an awesome owner and even more awesome food. It worked out beautifully, with the help of Bridge Man (a guy who was in the boat behind us, but armed with a bicycle, and who opened every swing bridge and aided in every lock with us.)  And with no help from Professor Boat, so dubbed for his introductory frown.

I'll admit, I was the most neurotic of the bunch, because the whole trip was on my head and because the £200 damage deposit was on dad's head, so it wasn't entirely the relaxing holiday I'd planned. Every bump or scrape sent me over the edge, and when we got stuck turning around Wednesday, I damn near had a nervous breakdown. While Pash, Luke, DC and Sarah kept calm and did all they could to unstick the boat, I was inside crying and panicking and drinking cinnamon flavoured whiskey while being comforted by a comforting Moose. He said, or Sarah said, or Pash or someone said, that I'd look back on this and laugh, and he's or she or they are right, because looking back it was downright hilarious. Had anyone else organised the trip, had it all been on DC's head or Lukes, I would have been laughing and rolling my eyes, all chillaxed and saying 'oh god, isn't it all so typical that we should do this'. But it was on my head, the whole trip and any damage to the boat and showing Dad that we wouldn't fuck this one up, so I was a wreck inside the boat while everyone just tallied it up to a hilarious experience.

Looking back, it entirely was. A guy we'd met previously, who had Skipper on his hat and, thank the gods, knew what he was doing, finally came to our aid, jumped off his boat and helped us. He took control of the boat, told us what to do, and finally had his own boat tow us out of the Avoncliffe Viaduct shallows, and towards victory. Or at least until Bradford. I desperately wanted to offer him, after his near-hour helping us, a bottle of wine as thank you, but he was off the moment he rescued us, and back onto his own boat. Skipperman, if you're out there, you've no idea how much I loved you Wednesday, July 7th.

We stopped at the Barge Inn Monday night, which was only an hour or so from where we set off. The food was average, the prices were high, we wouldn't do it again. The night was spent playing Cranium and Munchkin and eating Team Fortress 2 decorated birthday cake.

Tuesday night was spent with the company of Pash in Bradford-on-Avon, and Wednesday we went further down the canal towards our final destination (after the turning around fiasco) and ate a gorgeous lamb roast cooked up by the fabulous DC. It seriously made the whole boat smell of mint and of love.

On Thursday, we travelled back alongside Foxcub, a Foxhanger fleet boat we'd shared most of our return journey with, and alongside whom we'd completed many locks and swing bridges. One of the locks Hatman (as the guy in Foxcub was dubbed), Moose and I discovered had been left open, and a mamma duck and her babies had swam int it. The fact Foxcub and OUR boat was heading into said lock was enough to kill me. Hatman, Moose and I ushered MammaDuck and her babies out, but they didn't want to go far. A nearby peep peep peeping revealed why; she had a baby still in the bushes, the other side of the lock from which we'd ushered her. While Hatman sorted out the lock, Moose and I hunted for the duckling. I'll be honest, it could have taken me an hour, I wasn't gonna let the duckling stay there alone, but I found it hiding in some undergrowth, surrounded by thorns and nettles. Yey. I scooped him up and dropped him into the water near MammaDuck, but he kept swimming back to me. Over and over. Eventually she cottoned on, and came over to him, which is just as well because I bloody well would have taken him home with me had she rejected him. Eventually he swam up to her and joined her brood. Only...

as we walked back to the locks, I heard a peep peep peep, and Hatman said "I think there's another one. Eh. Mother nature can be cruel."

Yeah, sure she can, but had I left that second peep peep, the whole holiday would be ruined. So I searched and there he was, near where I found the first, all motionless and soft and adorable. I picked him up and he didn't move and I thought shock had gotten to him, but the moment he heard his mother's quack, he went metal and dived out of my hand, backflipped into the water and zoomed towards her. Validated, chuffed, savior to duck-kin, I reboarded the boat and considered my holiday a success.

I loved it. It was sad to end, despite my freakouts and neurosis. I'd love to do something like it again, but further afield, and perhaps without my head being on the line should we somehow break the boat.

You can find more of my pictures here. DC's are here and Sarah's account of the trip can be found here. :)