Something I noticed while on holiday – my one great observation of the canal boat world if you will – was the wisdom and serenity of the old person. Many times while motoring gracefully down the water I’d spy an old man sitting by the side of the river fishing, and as we slowly approached I’d offer up a good morning or some other such greeting. Inevitably the gentleman would stir slightly from his deep thoughts to offer a partial word of measured response. Something like “morn” or “right”. Then later in the day again inevitably I would see another old man walking his dog and again I’d offer up a few words of greeting. And again the man would answer with due forthought some wise utterance encapsulated in a single gesture, perhaps a nod of the head or a raise of the hand. Sometimes even, as dusk settled and we left our boat for the warmth of a nearby pub we’d walk past a gentleman so wrapped up in his meditations that no greeting could elicit a response. We were left wondering in awe as to what he had been dwelling on so deeply.
It took a while to break the habit of greeting everyone I met like this when we got back to London and so it was without realizing that I made the mistake of saying “morning” to a teenager the next day. The moody pot-smoking neanderthal could only offer me a grunt of a monosylabic reply and a slight raise of the head, presumably lost in his mundane thoughts, showing me how much he really cared for his fellow man.