Monday, 28 January 2013

Life and death on the canals - a tribute to a friend

It won't reach the headlines in the media - Dai wasn't a celebrity. He was just an ordinary man, living a quiet life on his narrowboat Jandai with his wife Jan and dog Foxxie. He was one of the rare few who genuinely travel the canals all year round, and was proud to be a continuous cruiser. His boat was his pride and joy, and the canals were his home. He was out walking his dog on the towpath in this January's snow. He died here. Suddenly. An acute heart attack. His dog wouldn't leave him, his wife couldn't bring him back.

Can there be warmth in the cold certainty of death? In the real world, away from the canals, Dai and I probably wouldn't have met. Our differences would have placed us far apart in prescribed geography, society, politics. But we met on the canals and shared good, real, wholesome friendship over bottles of wine, homecooked food, and boaters' chat. It happens like that on the canals.

When I'm writing for our Coolcanals books, I unapologetically rave repeatedly about the genuine warmth and charms of the canal community. I feel it's my responsibility as a guide writer to try to avoid cliches and idealism when our Coolcanals mantra focuses on the best of canal life - but at its best, canal life IS special. When people like us who live on boats meet passing strangers on their narrowboats, deep life-long friendships can begin from these chance encounters. Martine and I met Dai and Jan only just over a year ago (our sailaway narrowboat was built by Kingfisher Narrowboats who also built Jandai) but we immediately had so much in common - especially our way of life and our love for the canals. Dai loved his engine and boaty gadgets, and although he probably wouldn't have liked to be described as such, we knew that under his macho exterior he was a sweet man who would always give his help to anyone who needed it.

In death, the canal community cares deeply. Dai's wife and dog are wrapped in canal people's love and care. Canals were Dai's home, his community, his life... He loved the canals and they loved him back. But more than anything, he loved and adored his wife Jan and dog Foxxie - and it would be a comfort to him to know that they can rely on the canal community to love them too. 

Happier times - photographing us photographing them! Off on their travels again, leaving us cosily tucked up in Alvechurch marina for our winter mooring (Dai loved to tease us after we gave up continuous cruising)

One of our last get-togethers on our boat early in the new year - unlike us, Dai was a fabulous & keen cook so he had to endure our homecooking efforts!