‘A second ring: Professor Catling from Oxford. He has been cruising the Net and came up with a narrowboat, available, if we make an immediate booking, at the weekend. Ship out from March on the Middle Level, down the Nene (Old Course) to Ramsey; and then, if we have sufficient time, and haven’t come to grief on a low bridge, round to Whittlesey and Petersborough. By slow and secret backwaters. Sounds good. Dot it. Make the call.
Anna, overhearing this conversation, offer to join the crew: a first. Catling boat trips, after early experiences out of Norwich, are usually avoided. Especially when they head down the Thames, out to sea, with completely drunk, drugged or deranged skippers: Hunter S. Thompson awaydays. (No insurance, no charts, one life-jacket – childsized – shared between five large adults.) But the thought of going by water into Rose country is a temptation not to be resisted.
Much food, in Anna’s generous fashion (cook in expectation of the entire family, plus friends and lovers, appearing at your table), has been loaded into the car when Catling demands a Tesco’s pit stop in Huntington. He’s working his own interpretation of the Atkins diet and presents a more svelte and compact figure than the Wellesian cigar-chomper of my Oxford visit. This is nothing new, the man has always been a shape-shifter; an ability that stands him in good stead as a certified performance artist. One day: fabulously bouffant, silver-minted. And the next? Cropped like Magwitch. One day, full-cargoed, under sail; the next, hunched, shuffling, Sherlock Holmes overplaying the vagrant. The range, by his reckoning, runs from early Charles Laughton to eye-patched John Wayne being winched on to his horse. A preternatural ability to swerve, on the beat, from clubbed pathos to diabolic intensity.’
[Iain Sinclair, Edge of the Orison, p. 307-308.]