Up The Creek

on 15 November 2016

As has been mentioned on the podcasts
, a few year ago I purchased an impulse canoe.

When I was aged 13 I and two friends asked our respective parents for a canoe for Christmas. We would take them to the river in the Somerset village in which I grew up. We never did any ‘proper’ canoeing, just pootle around in a particularly wide part below a weir while other friends swam. It was the sort of splash about on hot summer days that are the fuel for happy memories.

One particular moment stays in the memory. While paddling around, I spied a bucket stuck in the mud at the bottom of a shallow section of the river. Now, I liked collecting useless things in those days, and decided that this bucket was worthy of closer inspection. So I reached down into the water, took a firm hold, and yanked hard. The bucket really was stuck fast, however, and rather than it coming up, I went down. Splash.

It was such memories that came back to me when, some thirty years later, I was in Costco with my (then 10 yr old) daughter. There was a canoe for sale, not a one-man slalom model like I had as a kid, but a family open canoe. With a cool box in the middle. A cool box!

That canoe was purchased upon a whim, strapped on top of my car with some help from marvellous Costco workers, and driven home. My justification was that we live 15 minutes from two beautiful lakes (Blagdon and Chew Valley). What better use of £380 could there be than buying trips out onto the lake. With my head full of Swallows and Amazons type adventures, we arrived home.

To be fair to her, my wife was understanding. (It’s not like she hadn’t seen it before. Me and a mate took a sofa to the local tip once and came home with a piano. I couldn’t bear to see it being thrown away. She was in the front garden and I came down the road playing the piano sitting on a trailer.) I explained the idea of Sundays with a picnic paddling gently around the lakes. With a cool box! I may have mentioned Prosseco. Slowly she came round to the idea.

I went to the local water board web site to see if a permit was required. No, a permit is not required – because canoes are specifically banned from using the two huge, beautiful lakes. One seems to be for anglers, the other for sailing. Canoeing is prohibited.

And so the only water that the bottom of my canoe has seen in the five years since I bought it has been rain water. It has become a symbol of the ridiculous purchase, of the danger of reactive retail therapy. It has not bought me wellbeing, quite the opposite, it has sat around the side of the house instilling a feeling of shame in me every time I see it.

We run wellbeing workshops for groups of employees. One of the tasks on the worksheet is to write down three items purchased in the last twelve months that cost more than £100. Next to each they must then state whether that item is still giving them wellbeing.

Each time I ask the groups to complete that question I think of my canoe lying, covered in leaves, and feel slightly ashamed…

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