It is always good to be by rivers and canals, and even better to live by them. Especially peaceful ones surrounded by green and birdsong. Or the ones with views; winding through Venice, handsome houses either side.
One of the reasons I loved living in Oxford was swimming in – and relaxing next to – the Isis (talk about a ruined reputation). I loved punting, and by punting I mean sitting in the punt drinking champagne and trailing my fingers in the water, while lovely friends did all the work.
I had some of the best times of my life swimming in the Volga when I lived in Russia. Except the Volga doesn’t really count as a river, because it is so big and sea-like. We swam, we sunbathed on the beach, we took boat trips to islands.
I immensely enjoy being on boats. As a kid, my favourites were pedalos, with their almost toy-like nature. I adored rowing on Lake Windermere with my father, and now I do the same on the Serpentine with pals (one time it was so windy we had to be towed back, for shame). I am not above tourist boats, and am fond of my friend Alan’s motorboat, Top Banana. On a school trip to France I was overexcited by the ferry; and lounging on a catamaran in the Mediterranean is nobody’s idea of hardship.
But the canal boat is best. I know a few people who live on canal boats, which would be impossible for me because I have far too many books and far too much furniture, and little inclination to give up either. I think I would get claustrophobic. (I have an ex who briefly moved on to a narrowboat and I cannot tell you how many times I hit my head on the ceiling during sex.)
There is, however, something about the combination of cosiness and freedom they offer that sings to me. I have special memories of watching television on a friend’s barge, nestled on the miniature sofa, under knitted throws, log fire burning – after a day spent talking on the deck. Bliss.
It’s being in the open air that I like. Smoothly navigating the water with gentle steers, while sunk in a deckchair chatting and drinking and eating picnic food. The nods from other passing boats. It makes sense, now, why I loved Rosie and Jim so much.