"Schlaraffenland", the German Arcadia.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Going Overboard

It didn't make a sound. My phone sliced through the surface of the canal like an Olympic diver scoring a perfect 10. The canal was the colour and density of a cafe mocha, so the phone instantly disappeared from view. I gaped at the water for a long moment, slowly processing what had just happened.
1) The roof of the canal-boat was curved.
2) My phone - new and expensive I might add - was constructed of smoothest glass.
3) I had set said smooth phone on said curved roof.
4) The laws of physics were fully operational on the Oxford Canal.
Curve + smooth + physics = miniature luge run.

And so it went. Later when asked the obvious question, my excuse was that I was still jet-lagged and that I was exhausted after having been woken up at 3:00 am by a disoriented child, after which I couldn't fall asleep again. My other excuse was that everything about the boat and about the canal was new and unfamiliar. The deeper truth is more simply that sometimes I do foolish things.

Once my brain came back online I grabbed the barge-pole and quickly tested the depth of the water. About three feet. We were tied up along the side of the canal with about a two foot gap between the shore and the stern of the boat where I was. It was into this gap that my phone so elegantly dove. I jumped in, bracing for what I figured would be a muddy bottom. I was wrong, it was soft ooze rather than mud - a shin-deep layer of gradual transition from liquid to solid. I had never felt anything quite like it. It felt almost fluffy, but not in a good way. Occasionally the ooze would be punctuated by something hard and angular jutting up. Stone? Wood? Bone? Hard to say. Worse were the mysterious objects that felt crunchy. I felt around with my feet and with my hands. Nothing. Lorraine and the kids were way up at the bow, almost 60 feet away. I feebly called "help" a couple times, but I felt self-conscious about hollering continuously for them as there were occasional passers-by on the adjacent tow path. As they strolled by and glanced at me, their English reserve no doubt masking puzzlement and concern, I would smile and nod as if to indicate, "Yup, just thrashing about in the canal for fun!" In any case, I'm not sure what Lorraine could have done to assist me, other than perhaps loosen the lines as I was beginning to suspect that the phone had slipped down under the keel.

This unique way of spending a warm summer's evening in the English countryside occupied me for a good twenty minutes before my right big toe suddenly encountered an unnaturally smooth object, deep in the ooze, under the stern of the boat. My phone! I pulled it out, dripping in slime, and pressed the "on" key. It was alive! I reached onto the stern and placed the phone in a secure spot (yes! secure!) and then tried to clamber aboard. I was tired, I was wet, I was slimy, I was spastic. I could not haul myself back up. But no problem, the shore was lower than the boat and also offered much better hand holds with the firmer mud and the greenery. I dragged myself onto land, took a few deep breaths and then let a feeling of elation wash over me. I had done it! Even when it seemed futile, I had persisted and I had triumphed! This feeling of elation was immediately followed by an even stronger feeling of my skin being on fire. Wet, but on fire. Bizarre. From my feet, up my legs, to my chest and on my arms and hands, millions of nerve endings suddenly joined in a simultaneous chorus of, "Burning! Burning! Burning!" Here followed another moment of gaping at my surroundings, uncomprehending, until my brain was able to process what had happened.

Stinging nettle.
All that greenery on the canal-side was stinging nettle and I had just dragged myself through it.

But my phone worked. Full marks to the manufacturer for their water-proofing (and ooze-proofing). There was a warning message on the screen not to charge the phone until it was fully dry, but otherwise, it was absolutely no worse for wear. My skin, on the other hand, took several days to feel anywhere close to normal again.

Burning skin aside, we went on to have an absolutely lovely week piloting our too large boat down the too small canals, and I went on to accidentally drop other objects in the water in other countries, proving that... well, never mind. 

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