'Now is the time, to send us a line,’ I sang, as I walked down the Cliffe, ‘For your Hoseason’s boating brochure.’ When I was young this was one of the catchiest jingles, along with ‘It’s a beautiful day, come to C&A!’ and ‘A finger of fudge is just enough to give the kids a treat.’ This isn’t going to be one of those nostalgic wallows about naff jingles [too late – Ed.], but anything to do with boats, even just the ferry to Calais, gives rise to the Hoseason’s boating brochure earworm. ‘We’ve got all kinds of craft, that’ll suit you just fine, for messing about on the water.’ I’d somehow agreed to join Hoxton Mum on the maiden voyage of her new boat, which she’d parked (parked doesn’t sound right), on the river in South Street. Since Lysander went freelance (eg unemployed), Hoxie has conceived increasingly desperate schemes to avoid seeking paid work herself. The latest is to join ‘buy nothing new year,’ which has add-on options such as ‘knit socks with wool from old sweaters’ and ‘fish for supper using a second-hand boat.’ A salty sea dog in the Lewes Arms recently convinced Hoxie that not only are there mullet, carp and chub in the Ouse, but that his old boat was an unmissable bargain.
Hoxie waved her blue fisherman’s cap when she saw me. ‘Nice authentic touch,’ I said.
‘It’s new,’ she said, then clapped her hand to her mouth.
‘I thought you weren’t buying anything new?’
‘That’s this year,’ she said. ‘I got this on December 31st. Let’s set sail, me hearties!’ She got in what looked like a baby’s bath. I stumbled in after, the boat tipping alarmingly, and when we sat down our knees touched.
‘No fishing today,’ she said, ‘I just need to get the hang of the craft.’ She rowed out into the middle of the river, surprisingly expertly.
‘How come Lysander didn’t come?’ I asked.
‘Oh, he’s making a silly fuss about the cost of the boat. Wait till he sees all the amazing free suppers. Reminds me, must get a fish kettle.’
‘A new one?’ I teased.
‘Steamer Trading doesn’t count – they sell essential items to support my buying nothing.’
‘Sorry to interrupt,’ I said, ‘But why is my bottom wet?’
I’ve always hated swimming in my clothes, ever since school when we had to dive for bricks wearing pyjamas. But needs must. We sat cold and damp on the muddy path, watching the last traces of the boat going glug glug glug before it disappeared beneath the briny.
‘Let’s get coffee,’ she said. ‘And before you point out I can’t buy it, you can.’
‘All Britain’s waterways waiting for you,’ I sang as we squelched along. Hoxton Mum emptied her shoe into a drain. ‘They can keep waiting,’ she said, and we pushed open the door of the Snowdrop.
Beth Miller, 10th January 2012. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith