It’s a melting August day, the hottest time of the year! This is an apt occasion for relaxing in your garden amongst the sunset orange Black-Eyed Susan’s (that’s not your neighbour- I hope!), while sipping a refreshing icy drink from a long, pink straw. A time for laying beneath the obscure of a vast Spanish sombrero or beach umbrella-(not the same umbrella- experienced by the Englishman for use in the rain). This is not the kind of day to put chocolate in your rear pocket or hope to enjoy a frozen ice-cream, as it vanishes to leave a sticky, vanilla coated arm.
But not so, a delightful summer’s day for me, for I live in a huge steel boat!
There is barely capacity for carrying such a luxury as a monstrous parasol only for occasional shade. In fact, the steel vessel is a perfect conductor of extreme heat and cold. So hot, does this metal become, that if I tried sitting on the roof, and I can attest- I’d burn my ass! We swing every window wide open to cool the humid air in our slender, fifty foot long, six feet wide and six foot high cabin. Alas, not even a modest breeze wanders down the canal!
With a temper to equal the day’s heat..
Hormonal meltdown meets sun-dried, shrivelled chilli-pepper and BANG! Like a hundred skyrockets flying up at once, I AM SO F…… ANGRY! I crouch on a stinging nettle in the tall grass, “Ow!”, then slump upon the ground by the shade of a hedge; “I DON’T CARE!”, I bellow. With a pan placed at my side, I frequently douse myself with a tea-towel- plunged into the water held within; an effort to dampen this thermos of rising mercury. Dipping my legs in the canal brings little relief. The only other shade available is a slither along the barge length where I then prop myself on the precarious gunnel and sit, damp tee-shirt stuck to my back, the boat slightly swaying out from the bank now and again.
Seeing my miserable mood and listening to my selfish objections, my thoughtful husband carries out a fan and sets its whirring blades in motion at full power.
The cool air wafting at my inflamed red face is a welcome comfort.
I contemplate for a fleeting moment, those destitute souls from distant horizons, who don’t have any refuge from the mid-day sun, or an electrical fan to lessen their discomfort.
Suffering makes you less selfish, but it doesn’t happen to me without a fight! Now I feel annoyed with myself for being so mean, for complaining so. This struggle is with myself-as I can’t control the ugly remarks that spill from my mouth or the lousy way I’m making others feel. It’s an ‘I give up!’ or ‘I won’t take any more!’- kind of last punch up- aimed at myself – and anyone else near me.
It is here where I sat, a sorrowful wreck, when a kindly gentleman passed by..
trailing behind him his pet hound, on this delightful day! Approaching, he observed the ‘lady’ seated before the fan on the towpath- not the most usual sight. “Now that’s just spoiling her!” he announced to my husband, who laughs in compromise.
The bull lowers its great bulk of a head; the dust rising as he digs up the dry sand with his front legs, a power-house of strength, spirited, muscles flexed and readied to charge.
He hoists his majestic horns and fiery wild eyes to the unfurling red flag and…
Furious! How dare he! I turn my indignation towards him but my burning face I spin away. Silent I stay. My anger, I push deep down-swallowing hard and hold it down from rising back up to my tongue. Any remorse is gone in a flash. My embarrassment overwhelms! How pitiful my femininity must make me look!
I’m no feminist..
But what if our gentleman friend chanced upon an equal scenario, a person of male kin, perched before a fan upon the canal towpath. No doubt they would compliment his creativity; his skillful engineering! Or they might just laugh. Yet I am reduced to that of a spoiled child- I should not be pandered to lest I take liberties?
Now, I can see the same gentleman, reclining with feet propped upon on a cushioned chair. Proud he sits in his established and well-manicured garden. He is under the shade of a pergola, relaxing next to his deluxe gas BBQ, sipping an icy beer. The fan on the roof keeps him an ambient cool. So comfortable; he dozes in the heat of the sultry afternoon, head bowing to one side. The ice in his drink clinks as it melts and the open novel drops from his hands and slides slowly from his lap…
Who is more spoiled, I ask myself?
Then the sun takes a dip on the Western horizon, it follows an outgoing tide, as the day calms to a more comfortable, cool and perfect evening. I’m a little over-sensitive today, and I’m sure, later on I will see the whole episode in a completely positive light. I may even laugh at myself- or wince! The stranger’s innocent comment begins to wash over me. I’ll eat humble pie with an apology to my husband for being so damn mean. And I remember after all, why I want to live on a boat!
Jane Elizabeth Firth