King’s Cross, London; December 2008
There are many ways the Old World is different to the New and it’s not all about buildings and antiques. One of the less obvious ways is the canals. Sure you get canals in the New World but not to this extent. England is literally criss-crossed with canals, most of which were built during the Industrial Revolution but fell out of favour as an important transport network midway through the 20th century.
Sometimes the canals are home to ducks and geese and fringed with trees and flowers. It’s pleasant to run or walk or cycle along the canal towpath near Regent’s Park, for example. Other times they are grim urban wastelands filled with scum and abandoned shopping trolleys. Birmingham likes to boast that it has more canals than Venice but it’s hard to escape the feeling this is missing the point somewhat. The Birmingham canals aren’t that bad but Venice it aint.
One thing the canals do have going for them are the narrowboats. Okay so they’re not gondolas but they are still pretty cool. These colourful long house boats can light up even the most grimly modernist parts of the city – such as this otherwise not terribly attractive part of King’s Cross. The photograph is technically nothing special but I quite like the contrast of the quaint colourful boats and the ugly modernist architecture and grey canal water. This is actually the view from the lunch room at the new Guardian building.
I never think of people actually living on these boats but of course they do, and I met a couple of narrowboat dwellers at a BookCrossing meetup this month. There are two ways to do it, apparently. You either have a permanent mooring and have to pay rent, or you can have continuous travel where you have temporary moorings, which is cheaper but less luxurious.
Oh and by the way, don’t make the same mistake I did and refer to them as longboats. Longboats are a type of row boat that used to be kept aboard a sailing ship. And longships are what the Vikings sailed.