I’ve never thought of Edgware Road as a magical place. Sure it’s got some yum places to eat but in my head it’s about as magical as a trip to the dentist or a big fat parking fine. But when I step off the road and wind down the narrow steps to the canal, I realise I’m in for a surprise. Because magic is happening all around me down there. It’s dark, the sun has long since set, and the Thames is slinking its inky way between the houses. On one side there is a huge tunnel melting away into shadows but it’s not that way I’m heading. I’m heading into the ferns and plants that are lit up all along the banks of the river.
It’s like stepping into some hidden jungle that only a few people know about. Instead of gum-spattered tarmac there are pots of flowers, rows of vegetables and climbing walls of plants lit by lanterns. Because there’s a whole community down here, living a very different life from the one whizzing by above them. And moored to wooden jetties are their beautifully-painted houseboats: red ones with yellow swirls; green ones with blue stripes; battered ones with shabby curtains; pine-coloured ones with murals on one side.
I notice a black and white cat outside one particular houseboat. It winks at me and then slips inside the boat through an open crack. I pull the latch on the door open – not because I’ve suddenly decided to rob it – but because I’ve been invited round. I step inside and it’s so flipping cool I don’t say anything for a few moments. Tucked inside a wooden shell is a complete world: a stove with a clatter of pans above it; Yeats poems pinned to the wall; candles flickering on a window sill; a string of colourful birds dangling by the fire; rows of spices tucked amongst leather-bound books; photos of faraway places blue-tacked to cabinet doors.
The cat, Jack, throws me a haughty look, like he knows I don’t live in a place this cool. He swaggers, like some sort of territorial pirate, towards the end of the boat. I follow. And it’s a box bed, tucked into the back of the boat, just like the box bed in Moll’s gypsy wagon (click here to read all about that). I think about doing a few starjumps on the bed but then Jack gives me another glare, to say ‘The tour’s over, sister, an’ I want some grub.’
Before long I’m settling down to a candle-lit meal with one or two especially moontruggy friends – and Jack, who’s been sticking his tongue out at me ever since I stole ‘his seat.’ And as the evening goes on, I’m worlds away from Edgware Road. I feel like Lilly Melkun with Cat in Emily Diamand’s brilliant book, Flood Child. Reavers could be just around the corner, prowling the waterways for a seacat just like mine…