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  • Writer's pictureBen Thomas

Gareth - A short encounter near The Oxford Canal

I’ve got speaking to a man beside a canal boat. He’s mooring up for the evening in a sought out quiet spot along the Oxford Canal. I’m around thirty walking minutes away from mine. Wearing a torn light-blue t-shirt, mucky denim jeans and black trainers, the man stands on the canal bank – rope in hand. Grey hair and a bushy beard, the man appears to be in his late fifties or onwards. He’s much taller than me but doesn’t cast an intimidating figure. His voice is raspy, perhaps a former – or a current – smoker. Painted in jade-green, the boat bobs in the water. A small red trim decorates its exterior, which is additionally painted with painted flowers and a subtle handful of golden stars. A bicycle sits attached to the back of the boat – rusted. A small smile appears on the man’s wrinkled face as I ask him about his prized possession.

“The freedom of the boat allows me to go anywhere I like, any time I want.” He touches the canal boat on its side as he states this. Resembling a cowboy thanking his trusty steed. “I can wake up at a quiet spot like this and I don’t get bothered much”.

“How much did it cost?” I ask him.

“It’s a while since I purchased her.” He says sternly, almost as if he’s offended that I referred to her – the boat is decorated with the name Olivia – as “it”. Not to worry though, he carries on without any sign of exasperation. “They are much more expensive these days.”

I notice that along with the name, “Dorset” is also painted in red font onto the green exterior. This man must have travelled far to be here in Oxfordshire. Much further than I have navigated. I ask him how long it has taken.

“I’ve been going around a week since the weather started perking up. It’s the best time of year to do it. Not too hot, but not too wet and cold.” He states.

I don’t want to alarm him, but I’ve seen in the weather forecast that things are about to turn sour today with rain predicted. I don’t say anything. Although he’s got a roof and four – very lengthy – walls surrounding him – I’m thirty minutes away from home on a walk. I’m much more likely to be caught out. I thank the man and ask his name before I leave to hurry home.

“Gareth.” He responds.

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