Well, it was bound to happen — after arriving for the coldest March in recorded history we are now “basking” (as The Times says) in record summer heat, meaning: mid to upper 80’s F.

So,  a daily ritual has been to locate and buy a bag of ice each afternoon for cold evening drinks on the boat. This was easy in Berkhampsted with a supermarket just a block away, but today was different. We moored near Gebe Canal Cruises that offers day hire boats for locals and has a shop where you can buy nautical caps that say “Captain”. Operated by “Collin” and his wife and teenage son, Gebe also runs a cafe where I went in hopes of ice.

I approached the teenage lad at the counter and asked if I could buy some ice. He said: “No — but I’ll give you some!” and reached into the cooler to find that there was none left. Mum came by about this time and said the nearest place to buy ice was “Marsdon’s” market in the nearby town of Pitsdon: “left out the drive, left under the rail bridge, then carry on for about twenty minutes”. She had forgotten the bit about “left again at the roundabout”, but I’m beginning to sort out the English way of giving directions…

I arrived at Marsdon’s, bought ice and let them know I had been sent their way by Collin — and was asked therefore to give him their hellos on the way back.

Stumping again through Pitsdon I crossed paths with the mere slip of an old woman looking very fine indeed in her white summer dress and pale yellow straw hat. We exchanged greetings with hers being a heartfelt “lovely day..!” and my replying “Oh yes, a bit hot,  but lovely.”  “Well” she replied,”we English are never happy, it’s either too hot or too cold or too windy or not.”  I agreed, and added that I thought all people were like that: “it’s a common misery we can share with each other…” she laughed a slip of a laugh and we went each our own way.

I stopped by the hire boat company to drop off the ice I had bought for them and the teenage lad said: “whoy’d yah doo thaht?”. I told him that his earlier offer of free ice had been an Act of Kindness and, as such,  should be returned in kind. Collin was off somewhere by then so I came back to the boat.

The iced tea — and later iced wine — tasted all the finer for the walk.

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Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.