‘Would you like a cup of tea?!’ they shouted, ‘A FREE cup of tea?’
This doesn’t seem like something that should happen in the United Kingdom, and my suspicion flares up in the form of a frown. Luckily, for me and them, I was probably too far away for my wrinkled brow to have any damaging effect. Plus, ten miles of paddling had dashed enough canal water/reeds/surface gunge over my head to form a kind of mask, I was quite fortunate that they’d offered me anything at all.
These two young girls, sat there all neatly on the grass, clearly making the most of their school holidays and masquerading as communal picnic’ers, didn’t seem to require funds in exchange for their brew. Besides, I was soaking wet and in a big red kayak, I wasn’t the type to approach for money. They asked again, for by now all I’d managed to do was remove my headphones and stare at them quizzically while my kayak spun out of control, ‘Would you like a FREE cup of tea?’
Well, I suppose it would be rude if I didn’t.
They had their blanket, a jug of milk, a sugar shaker, goodness knows how many cups – both ceramic and plastic – and, of course, a kettle of tea. These girls had come with a plan, and they recounted it to myself and a cyclist who had been wheeling along the towpath only to find a steaming mug of tea thrust at him. Apparently they’d been bored of internet chatting and decided to offer the campers in an adjacent field some tea, but by the time they’d brewed up the campers had already got the kettle on, so Plan B had swiftly turned to a bit of Towpath Free Tea. N & H (goodness knows what the rules are when it comes to writing about young girls who don’t belong to you, so sorry girls, initials it will be unless I receive parental permission to use full names!) are step-sisters with an entrepreneurial streak. It comes to light that they’re not always this philanthropic, last summer they made fifteen pounds by selling squash for 10p a pop to passers-by. ‘We sometimes sell ice-creams for pocket money, too,’ said N, ‘but it feels quite nice to give away tea now and then.’
I made up my mind, right there and then, to finish my paddle as quickly as possible and jog back along the towpath with some money for the pair.
The cyclist disappeared only to be replaced by two walking men. One of them asked where I’d come from and I told him I was training for an endurance journey or two, and then I glugged down my mug, thanked the girls, and paddled off.
Ten minutes and a mile down the canal later, the cyclist was waiting besides Aslan, my boat. ‘Did you see the girls?’ he asked, ‘they were running after you breathlessly shouting “Famous!” and “On TV!” What were they talking about?’
‘Search me,’ I said, ‘where are they?’
Seconds later, they appeared, endlessly panting. ‘Are you famous?’ they asked, ‘those men said you were on TV, and that you were the son of Lord Bath.’
‘Who the smeg is Lord Bath?’
‘We don’t know, are you his son?’
‘Are you going to be on TV, then?’
‘Well, that’s the plan. Where’s all your tea stuff?’
‘Oh, we left it there, it’ll be fine, we just had to come and say hello after we found out that you were famous.’
‘You two are hilarious, I’m not famous at all.’
‘Oh my god, you’re so lucky, I’d love to be famous.’
I just laughed, and lectured them on our silly celebrity-obsessed society and how it’s ok to be recognised for what you’re good at, but not so cool to be famous for just being famous.
‘Yes, but you’re lucky to have a talent that makes you famous,’ they said.
I looked around for my talent, and my fame. Couldn’t see it.
‘You make your own luck, girls.’ They groaned.
‘Why did you decide to kayak a long way?’
‘Take a look at my website, that’ll answer your questions.’
‘You have a website! That’s so cool! You’re famous!’
And it went on, these bright and intelligent young entrepreneur/canal runners, interrogating me about my kayak and skateboard and the Guinness Book of Records, all the while sat on the bank shivering as I tied up my boat in the failing light. At least a couple of times a day I take a look around and ask myself how it came to pass that I be living on a boat in deepest Wiltshire, and then I meet people like these, people who talk to strangers and offer them free tea and are unaffected by the forced solitude of a commuter city, and then I know why I’m here. Because it’s just nicer. The girls make me promise to write about them in my next blog and then skip off down the towpath singing ‘Oh My God we’ve just met someone famous.’