Pat met Eric two nights ago when he was taking his cousin to the mooring entrance on her way home. It was a cold night and Pat spotted a small white heap under the bridge, came back into the boat and promptly decided to go back out and check if the heap was ok. I said some nonsense about ‘being careful’ and Pat marched off. Then I sat twitching in front of the TV for a while, cleared up, and then thought maybe it would be best if I went to check what was going on.. just in case. I put my coat on and wondered out, saw Pat wave in the distance and then grumbled off again. It was late and I was practically asleep and a little bit unfriendly in general.
Half an hour later Pat returned bleary eyed and told me all about Eric, our newest neighbour, a 77 year old man living under the bridge next to the river. Pat wanted to bring him in, but he also didn’t want to. He offered him food, blankets but Eric didn’t want any of it. It was confusing. It was also almost freezing that night and we didn’t know what we should do- put him in the wheelhouse? Make him tea? I did actually make him a thermos while I waited for Pat to come back- having decided that would be a sort of half-effort, kind of helpful but not fully committal. As it turned out he didn’t want tea because it made him need to wee in the night. And he didn’t want money or biscuits of gloves or an extra sleeping bag. But he did graciously accept a hot water bottle, which Pat took out to him.
I didn’t go out to meet Eric because I thought it would be like Cheepy again, only with a full-grown human and massively more complicated and also I wouldn’t be able to call the RSPB and ask them for advice. So I hid in my little warm shelter (boat and head) and had a weird night’s sleep, and so did Pat and we wondered whether it was right to leave him out there, or whether we should have brought him in, but if we’d brought him in then when would we stop- and is that even appropriate, and would I sleep with a stranger in the house? But does that even matter because surely he can’t be sleeping a wink out there in the cold with 77 years behind him and arthritis, so my sleep situation is neither here nor there. Then we thought we could offer him the back of our car to sleep in, but Pat remembered he had to go to a client’s house to edit the next day and turning up in our battered old Volvo is one thing, but turning up in it complete with hobo asleep in the back is maybe taking the whole bohemian lifestyle thing to the extreme.
So anyway. Pat had to go the next morning very early to work and when he left in the dark he found the hot-water bottle perched on the entrance gate, with a little note attached. ‘Property of Patrick , Seahorse, many thanks, Eric’.