Mayflies, Table Football and Pay & Display Machines

Although we were occupying facilities we really shouldn’t, the winds on the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday were so strong and gusty that Andy the lock-keeper let us stay put on (sniff)elf’n-safety grounds and we arranged to stay a second night. The fact that he was also a cat-lover and bird watcher probably had nothing to do with it. The very few narrowboats out were having a real struggle, and Happy Chance the new Piper Dutch Barge was having an “interesting” time under tuition from one of the training schools.

But although very windy and gusty, it was warm, intermittently sunny, and the mayflies were emerging in large numbers. As a result of which we had some splendid entertainment by a pair of Eurasian Hobbies (Hobbys?) flashing to and fro around the river and the weir stream and in and out of the trees, catching mayflies in their talons and scaring the swallows and martins. None of the crew had ever seen a Hobby before, and for our first sighting to be a three-hour grandstand demonstration of unbelievable aerial agility, without any sign of landing or taking a breather, was a special treat.

Falco subbuteo was named by Linnaeus over 250 years ago: I wonder why a maker of table football games vaguely remembered from childhood adopted the name…

It was still jolly windy and more importantly gusty on the Wednesday morning, but not quite as bad as before, so rather than risking have Biggles overstaying his welcome, we set off on the short trip to Henley-on-Thames, and tied up safely on the town moorings without incident. The mayflies were once again out in force, and for a short while just past Wargrave we had a Hobby or possibly two flashing around in front of the boat.

To moor overnight it was not only necessary to pay a mooring fee, but – quelle horreur – to do so one had to visit a dreaded Pay & Display Machine in a nearby car park. Boat? Pay & Display Machine!? The Captain was not amused…

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