This weeks story is a delightful engaging story / advocacy for Council Tax!
Instagram Sam - Kate Simants
Here he comes, look: old as the river itself, sliding out of the lock, two barges strapped together to save fuel. Instagram Sam, we call him, because if you’re not acquainted you’d say there’s no way he really looks like that. Not in the 21st century. Skipper’s cap and his neck wrapped round with a red scarf like a Wurzel. His green eyes bright in his coal-dust face. Hand-chalked board propped on the fore deck, telling you what he’ll do a sack of coal for, a litre of red diesel.
He spots me holding the boy, salutes with his tea-hand, drains the mug because he knows he’s getting a top up. Strong, milky, two sugars: I’ve made it a hundred times. Part of the fee. Used to be he’d take our bins as a freebie if we bought his coal, but he’s got the contract now, proper wages, our cash since they agreed to take Council Tax from us.
Sam says we’re idiots piping up when we were getting away with it, but that’s what people don’t see. You’re not getting away with anything when you’re evicted every sodding year, even with your kids, even with the perfect stretch of towpath you’ve strimmed and pruned and made into a garden. Yeah, the bins are good, but knowing you’re legit, that no one’s boarding you at 5am like a band of hi-vis pirates: that’s the big change.
“Still here then, my lover,” he calls out, whacking the old Lister into reverse to slow, then cutting it.
I put my boy down on the deck and he toddles off, lobbing his half-chewed gingerbread man at a duck, hitting her square on the beak. We laugh. Sam tosses the old tin mug over and I catch it and, Jesus, it’s worse than usual. I dangle the thing between my finger and thumb and say, “Christ alive, Sam, you’ve got a bloody sink,” and he shrugs and swings the tiller and he’s alongside us. He chucks us a line, ties up, hops on. The kettle sings from the cabin.
Kate Simants - is a writer and mother from Bristol, where she lives with her family on a barge on Avon. She is a founding member of a moorings co-operative and has living afloat most of her adult life. Kate is currently working on her second novel.