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Canal Junction


 Waterways News & Features about what's happening on the UK Canals and River Navigations.

What on earth is this lot all about then? Well, boats, obviously, but then what is it about boats that makes them so eternally fascinating, whether big barges, wooden narrow boats, plastic dinghies or tiny toy boats? Yes, yes, water even more obviously, but what are the special qualities that make this water so obsessively thematic in our day-to-day dealings with the world? In my case it certainly isnít wetness, for my basic idea of a boat is to keep me out of it. Is it thirst, a deep internal understanding that weíre mainly made of the stuff and couldnít live without it? Hmm, maybe, but that seems a bit seriously subconscious for a basic understanding of my own nature. I work visually and practically most of the time and I suspect my obsession is much more sensory than spiritual.
Looking at pictures, or painting them, or taking a walk by a country lake or an urban canal, the water always provides a mixture of two visual ingredients that are keys to our understanding of what we see-- horizontality and reflectivity. Still water has to be perfectly flat, in direct opposition to gravity, and by telling us whatís level one way it indicates to our eyes and mind whatís vertical the other. It tells us which way up to stand, that the tree at the waterís edge is leaning over, that the boat is heavier at one end than the other. Meanwhile the shininess is reflecting the light of the sky back up from a level below the horizon, and on still water will be precisely duplicating the view upside down. That mirror image immediately presupposes a state of calmness, of nature in equilibrium, and I suspect that this visual balance is close to the heart of our navigational subject.
But itís not just what we see of course, itís what we feel both physically and in our understanding of boats and the experiences we have of the act of floating. It is always a source of pleasure to me that I am able to lean against my boat and personally physically shove thirty odd tons of steel, wood and assorted clutter across the canal. Yes, itís hard work at times but it still seems to me to be a major miracle that I can do it at all. I love the magic of this equilibrium, of gravity and buoyancy pushing against each other, of these massive forces of nature doing a balancing act that human ingenuity then learnt to use for its heavy transport needs. Eureka! Am I alone in this innate pleasure? Happy Christmas!

Tony Lewery, The Brow, Ellesmere, December 2002

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