Boat Police

Myth: In contrast to Turkey, England is a place where average people feel no need to escalate their problems way, way beyond what the present moment calls for. People appear much more calm.

Fact: England is full of bizarre rules and it makes people, just average people who have nothing to do with their enforcement, immediately upset if you break them. Things will get very real very fast, but rarely will it end in a sweaty confrontation — more likely someone with authority will tell you to stop.

Anecdote: on the last warm sunny day of the autumn, Brendon rented a tiny boat for a few hours. In London there’s a ton of snaky dinky canals full of “narrowboats”, all owned by varieites of weirdo. Some good, bad, some social, some delightfully mad, some half-frog. All the boats have hand painted signs, logos, and a collection of firewood/garbage ties to the roofs.

So anyways. Brendon had rented a boat for his birthday to take a little dinky cruise through the dinky canals. It was a new company — kind of like an Uber for London canal boat parties. They made rules: only eight people on a boat, only two drinks per person, and only the renter can steer (and must stay sober).

Naturally, Brendon gave Harriet and I a huge sack of beer and told us to wait around the corner from the dock so he could pick us up and circumvent the 8-person 16-total-beer rules. (We were 10 people altogether.) Harriet was sort of nervous about it but I said “eh, don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” I figured if we did see any of the narrowboat captains, they wouldn’t really be interested in what we were doing.

A severe miacalculation on my part. Proving, I think, that I do not yet have a good grasp of the culture.

Everything started grandly. We had snacks and beers and a tiny speaker blasting just the worst music, kind of the dregs of American 80s rock and 90s/early 00s pop.

The birthday boy

“Think it’s fine we’re here?” Harriet asked.

“Well the boat guy asked if we were waiting for anyone else, and we were already obviously eight people,” Brendon said. “Maybe it’s not a big deal?”

The first boat captain we passed took a picture of us.

It was a bit unsettling, and we referred to the paperwork Brendon had signed. Is it really a big deal? Did we just imagine the guy snapping a pic? Maybe we’re just very handsome?

“Ah, turns out we’re not supposed to play music,” Brendon discovered in the papers. We did not turn it off. I took the rudder because Brendon was driving waaay too fast and missing all the scenery. We guttered down to a crawl and passed by another boat under a bridge. I waved and said hello to all the tourists on the boat. The captain was much less ambiguous in his unhappiness.

“Hi,” I said.



At about the halfway point of our trip, we pulled the boat over and ran to Morrison’s for more beer.

We got back on the boat, and we hadn’t gone more than five minutes before a little dude in a little skiff from the little boat company drove up to us. It was: the company’s boat police.

“Pull over.” He said in an exhausted tone, suggesting to me that this was a pretty common problem he dealt with.

Brendon and I started covering our tracks at the same time.

“The guy asked if anyone else was coming–”

“They just saw us and we hopped on–”

“Pull over. You know you’re not supposed to have more than eight people.”

Since I was driving (oops) I brought the boat over and Harriet and I hopped out.

I mean, in summary, we behaved badly and got caught, but what was interesting to me from a cultural perspective was that how non-cops worked together to get the company security people to get us to follow the rules. In Turkey they’d either shrug about the rules (even something that violates the insurance — I’ve definitely gotten ATV rentals in Cappadocia without the requisite insurance) or start a fight when they found out you were breaking them.

I also understand why in retrospect narrowboat captains wouldn’t be crazy about a bunch of landlubbing drunken yahoos crashing around the canals.

But it was a great party!

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