Sunday, 2 June 2013

Canalival 2013: London at its best and worst

Semi-spontaneous fun is what London does best. We like to know the nearest tube stop, the last bus home and how far it is some Red Stripe and that's about it. 

Canalival 2013
As such, yesterday's Canalival was perfectly imperfect. Planned for months with a clear starting point and DJs scheduled for the event, the follow up to last year's Jubilee celebrations, was cancelled on its eve. What had been a few mates celebrating Queen Liz's honours by getting into Regent's Canal on dinghies became an event which had thousands scheduled to attend on Facebook and major coverage on Time Out. Understandably the police declined to grant the crucial licence which would have allowed the insurance company to back the event.

But the frenzy of excitement the event - a great concept - had brought about was too much to deter potential attendees, myself included. 

As such, I poled down to the canal, skirted a lock and was helped in by our 'Canal Angel' - a woman in a denim jacket with loads of lippie and a megaphone who can only have been one of the organisers. Learning how to stop going in circles with shipmate Claire, stopping to chat to other 'canalies' and comparing our cheap Argos 'Debut' dinghies, the event was lively under the grey clouds and intermittent sunshine of East London.

Highlights included scraping under bridges, trying not to get pulled into bushes, cadging a lift on passing narrow boats, a bloke swimming backwards down the canal using a reverse butterfly stroke off his dinghy and a number of convivial booze swapping moments. The combination of bobbing about, some great music and sights like rafts made of water coolers and the floating island with real sand were fantastic. Not to mention to lone bloke stood upright on his dinghy looking out into the middle distance wearing a poncho. 

But there had to be a downside and the troop of trendy East London types shoving other boats out of the way, pissing on people's property, climbing on moored boats and abandoning dinghies and their packaging felt inevitable. Clearly with the crowd funded monies and community support, the organisers would've been able to clear up after the event swiftly and limit damage to the locale. However, that was no longer available despite the organisers admirably taking responsibility and taking part in the clean up. In the end loads of dinghies got wedged near a lock and someone even let of a flair which, as they always do, made things look a bit nasty. 

There has been a lot of understandable but righteous indignation from locals on social media about the impact and the mess today, but there were also plenty of locals and kids waving to us from the side and enjoying the action too. 

Inspired: A floating island
Clearly the belligerence of hipsters out for themselves and to look good on Instagram knows no bounds, not least if you look at Field Day and its impact on the area around Victoria Park. However, for the rest of us the opportunity to enjoy a nice stretch of the canal and share it with those who live on it year round doesn't seem too much to ask. Too often large groups of young people are vilified for having fun in a city awash with rules. As a Notting Hill resident, one of the best features of living here is the Carnival each August and embracing unexpected fun in the locale is something those living in London, with of its weird quirks and flash mobs need to deal with. 

Social media spurred the clean up today and I don't see any huge reason why the event shouldn't happen again, albeit a difficult one to cope with the huge numbers and demand (several people offered to buy our boat). Long live Canalival and all those who sail upon her.

In video: Canalival 2013

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