there’s hardly a single place i know
and it fills my heart with grief and woe
for i can’t find brummagem

william dobbs, 1825

we drop down out of sight
down to the water’s edge
where the cold black inpenetrable water sits
snake oil patterns swirling on its surface
many a secret does it hide
way down in its depths
as we walk
the gravel crunches under our feet
and the damp morning chill makes us shiver
toadstools and fungi
exalt among the damp foliage
the breeze dislodges rusty leaves
one by one
silently they fall
to float on the canal
or to collect in crunchy piles
to my surprise
this hidden artery is a hive of activity
panting cyclists and runners breeze past
pressing us into ragged single file
on the opposite side of the water
at the bottom of a private garden
two empty chairs and a table
await their next view of the sunset
uncollected conkers litter the far bank
out of the reach of greedy schoolchildren
meanwhile hannah preoccupies herself with a pretty snail
attached to a broad green leaf
she is a little upset that she can’t take it home
but cheers up
when she gets to put it to bed on a grassy verge
now the canal converges with the railway
fluorescent yellow workmen grumble and goad
huge victorian brick arches restrain a high bank
beside the two parallel tunnels
a red and green barge with a complaining engine
passes smoothly by
hannah gives the owner one of her cheery waves
as the boat slides nonchalantly into the tunnel’s jaws
96 metres long
says the sign
our voices echo as we stamp through
mind your head, hannah
says funny uncle john
and everyone laughs
(hannah is three foot nothing!)
it is a relief to see daylight again
when we are disgorged from the other end
the landscape slowly becomes more urban
residential gardens give way
to tall sharp-angled buildings that climb skywards
at holliday wharf
canada geese couples court
under the watchful eye of steel cranes
then exotic golden figures catch our eyes
half woman half swan
peering out at us through a set of doors
a lunchtime special at kinaree is too inviting to refuse
i discover that the waitress and chef are from hat yai
on the thai-malaysia border
where i spent a half-remembered night way back in 1991
later we will continue on through gas street basin
through centenary and chamberlain squares
to the museum and art gallery
but for now
filling our hungry bellies is our only thought

Dave Watton