Wind in the Willows

In recent years, in my home village of Sunningdale, there has evolved a group of similarly obtuse, irreverent, but like-minded chaps who enjoy each other’s company, yarning over a pint and the occasional lunch. We have identified with the Kenneth Grahame classic ‘The Wind in the Willows’ as the individuals involved are very well suited to the various characters in the novel. So, those of the ‘Willowers’ that I have coerced into my next little adventure are my next-door neighbour, ‘Toad’ who fits the character perfectly being an effusive, impulsive, gregarious, Bentley owning parvenue, given to hyperbolic exaggeration, flights of fancy and outright lies; ‘Chief Weasel’ is a diminutive, hyperactive character, often mistaken for a child or jockey who I think you will hear more from if you stick with this evolving blog sequence. I, of course, am Ratty for obvious reasons.

The casual observer would be forgiven for assuming that this is a rather childish, decadent excuse for the consumption of alcohol, gluttonous over indulgence and the exchange of ‘no holds barred’ banter. They would be right in many respects but as we always have such a laugh, I have decided, in the absence of any genuine ‘Hejira’ adventures this year, to include an account of our imminent, probably ill advised, November cruise under (camping) canvas, along the Wey Navigation in my new (to me) twelve foot dinghy, ‘T/T Hejira’ – pictured here.

Tender To (T/T) Hejira moored at a good friend’s house in Shepperton. A beautiful still morning on the river Thames. Wonderful autumnal colours and reflections in the still water.

The crew will be 2 ½ Men in a Boat, the half being ‘Chief Weasel’ who does not actually qualify as a fully grown adult because of his diminutive size and the fact that he has never paid VAT on his clothes. He is often solicited for racing tips and has been known to be asked for his ID. ‘Chief Weasel’ crewed on the full size ‘Hejira’ last year with his son ‘Wee Tom’, joining her in Malta and leaving in Corsica via Tunisia and Sardinia. Anyone who followed the blogs for that period will remember that, between them, they added greatly to the entertainment and humour, if largely at my expense.  ‘Chief Weasel’ is an old friend and squash opponent who is, annoyingly, super fit, competing in ‘Iron Man’ events and is no stranger to roughing it having taken himself off on his own, cycling around France following the tour. In some ways he is a typical Northerner (he is from Lancashire) holding mis-guided socialist views and hating Margaret Thatcher despite having had huge success in business and managing to retire in his 40’s. I do however share some of his environmental and egalitarian opinions which is at odds with ‘Toad’ who had no shame in owning a gas guzzling Bentley and ‘selfish’ is his middle name. The contrast will become clear as Toad does not really know what he is letting himself in for. Working in the travel industry, he is used to staying in the very best 5* hotels and travelling first class. Up until now, he has never slept in a tent so this will be completely outside of his comfort zone – I understand he is really concerned about defecation! I really do not know where we will stow all of his suitcases.

We have now had a planning meeting (a few pints in the Nags Head) and I have asked them both to write some words by way of introduction: –

Toad writes:

It is perfectly true that I have had to invest in a tent, waterproof shoes, a sleeping bag and a lamp for the upcoming adventure as I have previously owned no such items.  I have also been informed that there will be no option for me to ‘dress for dinner’ and my pyjamas and dressing gown are not included in the allowable ‘cargo’.  However, slightly at odds with Ratty’s description of me above; is that I am often assumed to be his (and the other willower; Badger’s) carer.  It has been known for me to watch films at the cinema for free when they spot me with 2 absent minded, elderly buffoons and assume I work for Social Services and am taking them out of the ‘home’ for a few hours.

I have to say my nervousness about our ‘passage’ increased somewhat a few days ago when we went to ‘launch’ T/T Hejira into the Thames at Walton just 10 miles from our homes in Sunningdale.  Leaving home, towing the dinghy, with Ratty at the wheel, we proceeded in completely the wrong direction for approximately 5 miles.  I had previously consoled myself that a chap who can find his way from Gran Canaria to Antigua, under sail, would be fine on a 15 mile long ‘canal’.  I now have my doubts !

Toad checking his erection in my conservatory ? It went up in a couple of seconds, took him ages to pack it away. The complete opposite of his usual experience !

Chief Weasel writes:

Guilty as charged, your honour (words never uttered at Toad’s infamous trial). However, there’s an even more relevant literary classic that shall bear witness to both our travels and our travails.

The original tale, ‘Three Men in a Boat’ by Jerome K. Jerome tells of three friends rowing their way along the Thames toward Oxford. The pals consider themselves capable outdoorsmen, though they have trouble with simple outdoor survival skills and tend to find themselves holed-up in local hostelries a little too often. Setting up a tent flummoxes them and cooking on a camp stove proves way too complicated before they eventually ditch the boat and take the train back to London.

Though occasionally at odds with one another, their loyal friendship is shown in the way they are willing to not only share a room at an inn, but also sleep three to a bed when necessary. Along the way, author Jerome K, single, young, and a member of London’s middle-class metropolitan elite (no parallels there then), tells meandering, whimsical and often tipsy tales of the places they visit and sights they see.

Sitting comfortably? Then we will begin…


Postscript from the editor:

You will not be surprised that, given Toad’s sensitivities and phobia about defecation, he is insisting that our adventure does not extend beyond a one-night limit. This is totally in line with his character but, with the Thames lock closing half an hour before dusk, it will impose such constraints on our ‘adventure’ as to undermine it even being called an adventure. Chief Weasel has expressed a solidarity with Toad, borne out of some sort of ‘all for one and one for all’ Three Musketeers (how many books will be invoked on this trip?) philosophy. I do, however sense from more recent conversations that Chief Weasel may capitulate and ‘stay with the programme’– a priceless Passepartout!

Clearly being made of more sterling material, I am exploring whether any of my hardy Atlantic crew (as I write, but for COVID, I would have been preparing in the Canaries for another Atlantic crossing) would be prepared to step ‘Unto The Breach’ – and extend the trip into something more worthwhile.

T/T Hejira ready for the adventure on her Shepperton, Thames mooring. The outboard engine belies the intention to row the route.

Hurrah! The doughty Atlantic crew have come up trumps (sorry Stephen, no room for a ship’s doctor on this one) with John Coe and then Richard Cracknell both committing to 24 hours each. This then extends the adventure into something almost deserving of the description with me doing four straight days. I think I may then need a bath!

An account will follow – what could possibly go wrong?

9 thoughts on “Wind in the Willows

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  1. LookIng forward to more irreverent tales! Great credit must go to persons unknown for the photography which surpasses anything that The Master (Ratty) might have managed! Own up somebody please!

    1. That was me! Owner of camera and mooring…picture taken just after sunrise before anything had disturbed the water! Glad you liked it!! ?

  2. Dear all,
    Stepping into TT Hejira and being in close proximity to Ratty for 24 hours (he who puts the wind into Wind in the Willows), on a cold November day, may on the surface seem a little rash. The last thing I need is a rash, so I’m bringing my own wet wipes along in order to mitigate the risk.
    Probably the medal for bravery should go to Richard, for taking over from me for the final stint, as by then Ratty may or more probably may not have had a bath for three or four days by then.
    The quietness of the massive outboard motor dangling off the back of the boat may well be lost in the buzzing of a multitude of flies.
    Only time will tell…

    1. How very good to hear from you Bessie, sorry I missed you when you made a visit back to the Nags. Delighted you are reading the blogs, keep the comments coming.
      After countless disastrous tenants and managers at the Nags, we do finally seem to have a couple, Dave and Wendy who show long term promise. They are grounded and only have aspirations to run a Village, family local that does pub grub. They have no gastro aspirations (although the food is excellent – my liver and bacon yesterday ‘ticked all the boxes’ and at only £8 was great value) and graft themselves. They have come from running a pub near Bracknell and they are keeping the beer in good shape. Are you back in the UK? I am sure that the ‘Willowers’ would love to catch up with you sometime!

      1. I have heard nothing, but wonderful things about the landlords! It’s about time Sunningdale had their village pub back.

        I read all of your blogs! I am back in the U.K. indefinitely now. Will make a visit to Sunningdale when lockdown is over and if the Willow clan make a return from sea!

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