And alongside the official ferry, the other ferry. Crudely, yet artfully made and operated. It takes five or six, maybe seven, depending on the sizes and the baggage. It plies its backwards and forwards passage in a steady burble of water and twitter of its occupants. It leaves nothing but its drifting sound and its slow wake and a whiff of mockery at its big brother which, on many days lies moored to the south bank with raggedly-uniformed staff importantly leaning over its bulwarks and oil slicking from its hulk and a chaos of backed-up trans-traffic on the banks.
It was hewn from a forest giant that had once towered somewhere on the river bank. The builders, two, maybe three, had worked for weeks. First to find the giant, straight and blemish-free and thicker than the rump of the great bull hippo that bellows his displeasure if one ventures too close to his stretch. Then they went to work with their tools, returning day after day to fill the forest with the echo of their chopping and hewing, then with their grunts and heaves as they laboured their creation to the water…
Their tools were hand made too. Each was fashioned from a sturdy sapling, probably of sickle bush, with a thick root knob at the one end for weight and balance. Through this a piece of steel, an old car spring blade, tortured into a wedge, had been driven – in-line with the handle for and axe, crosswise for an adze.
It makes me want to thunder out, to all that can still hear, the words of John Masefield in Cargoes:
Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays