We have spent the last ten days hibernating aboard a narrowboat. There is much to be said for confining your life to the 59 x 7 foot space available on Oakmere which, in reality, is about half that length, once you take away the fore and aft decks and the engine room.
I have been taking canal holidays off and on since 1976 so no longer feel the urge to clock hours on the cut just for the sake of it. In the wind, rain and cold there is also the possibility of a mutinous crew. So there are the excuses – we did not move from Overwater Marina for the entire ten days. Instead we went to the Cheshire ‘wiches’ by car – Nantwich, Northwich, Middlewich and for good measure Chester and Sandbach. Something I had not appreciated before, there is also a Leftwich but no Rightwich 😉
Some might consider this an overly active hibernation but locked in tight of an evening with the wind and rain lashing outside and the stove at full blast, we felt like Badger and Mole in The Wild Wood. It is also an occasion to bury heads in books and ignore the outside world.
But all we can hear
is the rain, sounding
like dwarfs rushing through thickets.
Norman MacCaig – New Flood – July 1985
The problem is that this sad life intrudes regardless; we were stunned to hear of the sudden death of our good friend Norman Harris. A distinguished sportswriter, he had a 20-year career with The Sunday Times in London and also wrote for The Observer and The Times. I came to know him in his latter years through Allendale Golf Club where he was variously, Chairman, Secretary, Captain and finally, the longstanding Seniors Captain. He would be the first to admit that his golfing achievements were limited but he thoroughly enjoyed the game, loved the course at Allendale and, remarkably, sank two holes-in-one within the space of a few weeks.
Search for ‘Norman’ on this blog and some of our joint activities will show up. I was delighted to be associated with his last four publications, producing the website for Scottie, and the book covers for his memoir Beyond Cook’s Gardens and the sports books What are You Doing Out Here and At Last He Comes. Inspired by this association I would also enter the literary fray, an endeavour which he enthusiastically and practically supported – I am proud that the words of “Norman Harris, The Times” grace the inside cover of Golf in the Wild.
Deeply entrenched with this love of words he had a keen eye for the striking image and the two came together in his passion for film – he was, for many years, an active member of the Allendale Film Club.
His departure is deeply saddening but the timing of his exit had an almost sportsman-like perfection. By chance he was visiting Barnes in London, the place where he lived for much of his professional career. He had just met a long-time friend and fellow sportswriter for lunch and then gone for a swim. A cinema outing to see The Lady in the Van was followed by a first-time visit to a Persian restaurant, all in the company of his great friend JMP (Beyond Cook’s Gardens is dedicated to this good lady). As last days go, there is much to envy.
For many years, phone calls from Norman on a variety of topics had become a regular part of life’s routine, as had cinema and restaurant outings. He was booked in at our home for Christmas and we were looking forward to his annual quiz. The festive period will not be the same without him, nor life in general. Rest in peace Sir Norman, you will be missed.
(There are a number of full obituaries available online including this enlightening version at stuff.co.nz. You can also listen to him talking on Radio New Zealand National).