Welcome

I love reading about other people’s historic boats, delving into their past histories and following their adventures, trials and tribulations today, so it seemed only fair to reciprocate and offer up some of my burblings for posterity.

I hope you enjoy the site and if you have any information on Enceladus’s history or any questions please do get in touch.

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How it all began…the second time

The happy couple

There is a gentle irony about the fact that it was Andy, the non-boater in our partnership, who was responsible for getting me back into boating after an absence of more than a decade. For reasons that are lost to me now, but I guess can be put at the door of first university and then the world of work, my dad and I never recreated those epic voyages that had so cemented my love of canals and boating. Sure, I went and visited the canal while I was a student and made the odd pilgrimage to Braunston when I could afford the petrol in my early days of wage slavery but, a bit like those couples you thought would be forever, the cut and I drifted apart.

But when singledom ended and doubledom came along in the shape of Andy – and what a shape, boat ballast in human form – I had a thought: maybe we could go boating together? I thought it would be just his bag…slow, peaceful, pretty, crowd-free…and beer…and pies. But there was a snag and that was my own reticence borne of anxiety. Because this time I would be in charge, Andy would be looking to me to have all the answers, Andy would have me down as the responsible adult. And that wasn’t something I was used to as I’d always had dad…and even though he was the most irresponsible bloke ever, he was good in a crisis. Not good in an ‘ actually getting it sorted’ way but in a ‘making me feel better about things and that it would be sorted, trust me’ way. So I didn’t worry while I was in his care as he was ultimately responsible for all those things that now, with hiring on the agenda, I would need to take charge of…and I became somewhat paralysed with fear about the what ifs.

I don’t think I ever felt the same calm about cruising since dad and I had come across a Stenson hire boat sunk mid channel, with the hirers having skedaddled after failing to secure the weedhatch. What if I failed to secure the weedhatch? What if I couldn’t get the pilot light working and somehow blew up the boat? And might I get hung up in the lock and sink us? Basically, if there was a nightmare scenario, I was thinking of it and knowing that it would be all my fault just put the mockers on the whole idea really. And this despite the fact that I’d managed the boat quite happily on our extended voyages, often being far more serious and attentive than my easily distracted father, and I was always meticulous about checking and double-checking the weedhatch. It’s the one thing that it’s good to have OCD about.

Weedhatch OCD

Thankfully, with happy holidays with Andy and renewing my love affair with canals in jeopardy, I ‘recalibrated’ my brain with its runaway dramas, instead viewing all potential incidents as stories to dine out on, as colourful stitches on the tapestry of life. It was a prescient move, as stories there were…like when we discovered that a narrowboat is a very poor getaway vehicle when you’ve just been given five minutes to quit town by the local gypsies. Or the time when we had to explain why five greyhounds had bust through a hole in the hedge to go racing around a marina’s frightfully elegant lawns. Or the occasion when Andy nearly got lamped by a puce-faced boater having an apoplectic fit at him turning the lock…which he didn’t. Or when I nearly lost everything in Northgate staircase…urgh, I still shudder with the memory of that one! Anyway, I digress…

The upshot was that we booked a long weekend as a taster, hiring the cute Little Gem from Rose Narrowboats. Any concern that Andy wouldn’t like what I was offering up soon dissipated as he did a little jig of delight on the stern and the trip was a triumph, so much so that we booked another short trip straightaway; we returned to my boaty alma mater Weltonfield Narrowboats later that year and then booked for a full fortnight the following year. I knew Andy was totally hooked when, as we cruised down the Leicester Arm back to base in the early morning sunshine (Note to self: why is the weather always so good on boat return day? It’s such a bloomin’ tease), he mooted the idea that I suspect we’ve all had at one time or other of just cruising on past and keeping on going. I shared the sentiment but being the responsible one reined in his larcenous tendencies…and instead gave rein to my radical ones. “What about buying a boat?” I said, and waited, breath held, bank accounts trembling.

The boat where it all began – again

Andy will be the first to admit that he is not a risk-taker, not given to grand schemes requiring even grander spending; it’s not that he’s tight, he’s just one of life’s worriers. And I’m just schizophrenic – dithering over some decisions, weighing up pros and cons, going round in ever more fretful circles of uncertainty; yet shooting for the stars on other occasions, making a call without a second or a third thought, done, dusted, I’ll decide what to tell him on the way home, those sort of decisions. I think greyhound number eight was one of those…

No going back now

So, BIG surprise then when we actually agreed, immediately, to buy a boat, or to be precise, to have a boat built. An even bigger surprise when the next morning neither of us reneged on the previous day’s agreement, and neither of us indulged in any desperate justification for the project or indeed self-immolation over the decision we’d just taken on the back of a mere twenty days spent as a boating couple.

Looking to save on signwriting costs

That summer, 2001, the search for a builder began. The following summer, at the Huddersfield National, we showed off our new boat, Arcadia Carrying Co (later Greyhound), so named in homage to one of our family hire boats from Weltonfield. A few years back we actually cruised past the show site (she’d come on the back of a truck in 2002) and it was a very special moment, like the closing of a circle…until we ran into a catchweight fight with a deadly mattress, and wondered why we did this bloody stupid boating lark.

This is why we do this boating lark

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A fishy tale

Mine, all mine…for the day

I don’t have a bucket list. Now I don’t know whether this evidences a chronic lack of ambition or imagination on my part or simply indicates that I am heartily enjoying and greatly appreciative of those things I already do, to the point where I simply don’t crave the ‘big ticket’ items. Or maybe I’m just an old fart who can’t be arsed to make a list. That said, there are things that fall into a slightly lesser category, stuff badged as ‘quite fancy doing that if I had the chance but not going to go to my grave full of regret and remorse if I miss the bus’. So not a bucket list, more a used milk pan with some ideas scratched into the bottom. And would you believe it, two of these ‘nice to dos’ have come up – one is planned for next month and I will keep that under wraps for now. But the other I did last week, and heaven knows what trouble it will land me in…

Heather Boyce – a new poster girl in the making

You see, my chum Heather Boyce (long-term pukka continuous cruiser who we have bumped into so often that she is now considered family and allowed on our boats without a visa) invited me to lend a hand on NB Tench, the FMC motor that has been pressed back into carrying; its cargo, the Alarum Theatre Company. You may have seen that Alarum (aka Kate Saffin and Heather Wastie) is touring the network with its Idle Women production, and the good repertory ship Tench, with Heather B skippering, is plying up and down the cut, stopping only for curtain up and Tescos. And here I was being given a gold-plated opportunity to crew a full length unconverted motor…well, I say, ‘crew’, but to be more accurate it was ‘helm’. No-one stood a chance, once my hand was on the tiller there was no way I was letting go, I superglued myself to the footboard, and that was it really. And by golly it was good. Too good, way too good. I need another boat, I needs me a Josher! (Close your ears, little Enc, I will always love you)

I will admit to nerves ahead of my arrival. Curiously, despite how long I have been boating, I have never helmed a 70 footer. And certainly not a boat like this, with its little peculiarities. Like not stopping. Well, that’s to say, it did stop but it only came up short at Maffers because I’d chucked it in reverse at Berko. So I did take it very carefully. Observers might have described it in other terms…painfully slowly maybe or…are you actually moving… But when under way she did go along beautifully, with a gentle Tigger-ish bouncing motion across well down pounds, whereas I’m more used to my two big bottomed girls dragging their derrieres recalcitrantly through the mud. They give me attitude whereas Tench just gave of herself most willingly. There may have been no official Fish class as such but that’s how she swam for sure. Her HA2 never missed a beat, her throbby pom-pomming actuating the usual ‘head pop out of hatch’ effect on moored boaters; she went where I put her; behaved herself largely in locks, although she had a bit of a moment when after having naturally lain right side, she decided she fancied a bit of the other; and bless her, she didn’t show me up once, making me look half-way competent and, most importantly, ensuring that I might get another go!

Who needs bucket lists?

Other highlights: the hot sunny weather, which made the Chilterns almost painfully pretty; the ceaseless stream of hospitality that came out of Kate’s boat, this despite Kate steering and locking for a lot of the time; chatting to Nick off Barlows’ Hood, well over a decade since he made his appearance on Narrowboat. I can summarise my opening gambit thus: ‘You’re the bloke that was in the Dover programme. You haven’t changed a bit. So pleased to see that you still have Hood.’ Don’t tell me that I don’t have sparkling repartee…he was a rather lovely chap, so chatting while waiting for the lock to be turned was no hardship…and he did tell me that Barlows’ Ian is set for some major work now that it’s under new ownership, which is good news hopefully. I was about to launch into my Fantasy Fleets game with him when the spoilsports opened the gates…

Having set off from Tring that morning, we finally stopped just short of Grove lock, a little earlier than planned on account of the unexpected stoppage there. It wasn’t quite plan A (which had been the Globe) but it was an acceptable plan B, accompanied in true Brit style by tea and cake. Homemade, again. I must say, Kate may be performing Idle Women but she does a rubbish impression of one.

 

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Here endeth the trip – but not the fun

Nothing like a good decoke

I am about to contradict myself. Yes, I know in the last blog I said I looked forward to heading home after time aboard but this time I was a tad reluctant. We’d had a super splendid week in unexpectedly good weather, culminating in a pulsating thrash down the Severn in company with NB Harry and Kevin and Vicky Blick – another lovely couple to add to the tally of boaters we really hope we do see again some time. I thought timing a breezy run down river for the morning after a trip to the Namaste curry house in Stourport was strategic planning of the highest order, and we motored on at about 6mph with occasional ‘wind assistance’.

The very lovely Harry, and equally lovely Kevin, Vicky and sea dog Brian

Come home time morning though, and the weather had turned; always easier to lock up and leave when it’s dour and miserable, so we set off with all reluctant tads dismissed. Besides, we were easing our transition back to normality mode by inserting some more fun diversions; first, cadging coffee and cake with lovely couple number two – David and Lisa on What a Lark who were happily (for us, cake consumers extraordinaire) moored within striking distance; and then the next day, upgrading to a rather magnificent Sunday lunch with lovely couple number three – David and Amanda, sometime boat sharers of What a Lark – in the company of lovely couple number four, Joe and Lesley, of NB Yarwood. Are you keeping up at the back there?

After tiny Henry, WaL was the equivalent of a floating mansion!

Now I’m still in raptures about the apple crumble cheesecake that was served for pud, and the Victoria sponge for tea, and so I’m a bit hazy about the bits in between – but I seem to recall very large bovine testicles featured. Ah, that’s it, we had a tour of the estate David looks after and there were big horned cattle, big bulls, and big pendulous gourd-like bollocks that I have no doubt will seed the next generation with some to spare. There was also apparently a big rat that ran right in front of me but I somehow missed it…what a shame.

She wears them well

The pretext for the get-together and cake fest was planning for the forthcoming BCN Challenge. Lesley, Joe and locking queen Amanda will be joining the good ship Enceladus as we hoof it round the further reaches of Brum and the Black Country. I mapped out my rough plan and then the conversation got onto the really critical issues, like who’s bringing the milk and would chilli be a good option for food on the go. Depends whether ‘wind assistance’ is allowed in the rules I guess.

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Home thoughts from on board

With apologies to Clifford T Ward for the punning title  – anyone else consider him one of our most grossly under-rated songwriters?

Right, to business then. Every trip it always happens. That moment. The siren call. When you wonder if you’d not rather do this narrowboating thing all the time…sod the house, we’re off and it’s a non-stopping service! In fact, it’s rarely a single moment, more a regular procession of them: the morning head-out-of-door poke, tentative yet expectant and so often rewarded with the bounties of the early morn; and the post-cruise dog walk, one final effort before you take the weight off, crack open the Tizer and take on the wasabi peas in a kamikaze snack assault. Shambling along with the hounds I’ll be presented, somewhere along the route, with a glorious view unfurled before me, and with it a blissful silence, a bucolic quietude that has me damning my own home village as a Suffolk Babel. It’s balm to the soul and I’d be crazy not to want more of it. Ring the estate agent.

Who wouldn’t want to see this first thing in the morning?

But that’s the thing right there – I’m not crazy, I do want more of it, the canals and all its attendant bits are an absolute privilege and joy to be part of….I just don’t want it all the time. There, I said it. You can use this in evidence against me should I ever throw it all up and become a full-time Ratty. But I doubt I will. “Not what you were saying five years ago, Sarah”, shouts a woman in the front row. Yes, I hear you and I will willingly admit that I did seem to cycle through the life plans with a frightening velocity back then. I think we got to Plan J or maybe it was K, as I came up with a revolving carousel of new schemes, all seismic changes that sent the naturally risk-averse and conservative first mate into catatonic shock. It got so bad that I couldn’t even mention the words ‘hypothetically speaking’ without him locking himself in the loo with his Viz magazine and a packet of Hobnobs.

The best end to the day

Every plan was predicated on becoming either a full-time liveaboard or near as dammit full-time, some kept the house, others sold the house, some featured thin boats, some boasted fat boats, some even had a butty boat, others had French boats, one even had a French house and an English boat, or was it an English house or French boat…all of them involved bizarre, unrealistic work/finance arrangements and all of them left me, quite honestly, exhausted and no further forward than when I started. Which was more than could be said for Andy’s blood sugar, which was rising steadily on account of the therapeutic biscuit intake.

And in the end, it was Andy, on one of his sorties from his safe place, who came out with the sort of prescient observation that unnerves you for being so spot on and yet somewhat uncharacteristic too. This is the man who leaves things on top of the dishwasher, instead of in the dishwasher for heaven’s sake…he’s not qualified to have sensible thoughts. The thing is, as he so annoyingly noted, my planning frenzy had escalated throughout Henry’s refit ie when we weren’t able to boat in our own right (still a one boat family at this stage), and the only fix we could get was a bit of pirate boating with friends for the odd weekend. The less I was able to boat, the more I wanted to boat, and this just became a vortex of unrequited need and desire that saw trains D-J thunder through the planning station before Plan K drew to a halt at the Sensible Husband platform. Over the tannoy came his simple wisdom, which was something along the lines of “just wait to see how you feel when Henry is ready and you are able to do as much boating as you want”.

So Plan K went into the sidings for a bit, and Henry finally set sail, and, much as I hate to admit it, Andy was bang on. We started getting the miles back under our belt and the cakes on the waistline, and the ‘what if’ frenzy duly stilled. Sure, when it’s a sunny day and I’m sequestered away in my work dungeon, I often think about a life afloat , but it’s just a reactionary tick, I know deep down that the current home/boat balance is the way I like it, at least for now. You see inside this head of mine are all sorts of people…there’s the young optimist still hanging on in there but she’s invariably saddled with the old pragmatist, and the latter’s fat arse sat on the rose-tinted specs so I have no illusions about liveaboard life, in the same way I have no illusions that a house is the be all and end all. Good job then that these two are sharing my headspace with another paradoxical couple, the nomad and the nester. Because that’s the cycle – home, boat, home, boat, home, ooh, let’s do a bit more boating, and a bit more, right, that’s enough of that, we’ve run out of clean clothes, time to stop and stick in the house for a while. And repeat.

A bit more boating…and a bit more

When we are about to leave home for the boat, we couldn’t be more excited. Except when we leave the boat to come home, we’re pretty excited then too. Well, maybe excited isn’t the right word. Anticipatory. What can we say, we like our big bed…and our ridiculous corner sofas joined in a huge U, and our Netflix-guzzling broadband, and the two loos, and all our stuff, and Waitrose ten minutes away, and village going-ons, not forgetting being reunited with all eight hounds, even if we do have to fight Wilf and Benny for the prized corner occupancy of the aforementioned sofas. And that you can wear a clean T-shirt all day with a better than evens chance of it staying clean all day. I’d be a hypocrite if I said anything else. Same goes if I said my senses didn’t stir at the thought of our next trip out, and that my planning genie is now more productively engaged in geographical routes and destinations, especially given that we now have two boats to play with. Bizarrely, that particular scenario, with the historic angle, never featured in any plan and when Andy uttered his words of wisdom, I doubt he envisioned ‘as much boating as you want’ playing out quite the way it has with Enceladus entering stage left in a surprise plot twist. It’s worked out very nicely though, for which we are all grateful, particularly Andy’s blood sugar levels

 

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Onward ever onward

Hello world, it’s a beautiful morning

Ah this is the life. Catching up on the blog, with one eye on Masterchef on iPlayer (oh god, Faye, you’ve cocked that right up), a tummy full of curry and a pot of Minstrels on my knee. Actually, I think I may have overdone it on the Minstrels, feel a bit sick now…

What can I say? It’s all going swimmingly well. We arrived in Stourport mid-afternoon, slotting into a Henry sized spot on the York St VMs before I went off with the dogs to recce the river. The level is barely in the green with no discernible flow so tomorrow’s trip down to Worcester should be a fairly sedate affair…continuing the theme of the week, really. Monday saw us sashay from the Shroppie onto the Staffs & Worcs, the actual moment of transition marked by my generous handing over of the tiller to allow Andy to lock Henry through…we managed the six inch rise with no alarms although my technique on the wheels was harshly critiqued – bloody cheek!

A sight rarely seen

Yesterday we ran from Wightwick to just above Hyde lock, with an absolutely scintillating mooring for the evening. The drop down to the Severn is very rhythmical…along, along, along and down; along, along, along and down; along, along, along, down, and oops, bumpitty bump, dragging our arse over a shallow, silty bit. Yes, that was a bit of a feature of today…from Wolverley onwards, we were grounding out a fair bit, nothing dramatic, but in stark contrast to the rest of the canal that seems to have been well served by the extensive dredging of the other year. I popped down the weed hatch a couple of times, the neurotic me convinced that I must have something on the prop but I didn’t…I rarely do, in all fairness, and I definitely think the 5p plastic bag tax has had a huge impact on the amount of floaty gubbins lying in wait.

How absolutely horrible, why come here?

But this was just a sideshow to the main event, which is the beautiful Staffs & Worcs canal itself. Why do people bang on about the Llangollen and the Oxford and yet the S&W never gets a look in? I first came this way with dad in the late 80s, and I remember doing the Kinver to Stourport run on the most wowser of an early autumn Sunday morning. Those memories were rekindled today as we awoke to a May day full of promise (the sort you wish you could somehow bottle, either that or press the world’s ‘STOP’ button so you can just enjoy it for a bit longer). We trundled our way through some stunning sylvan stretches, not forgetting to play the ‘will it, won’t it’ game at every bridge. Because Henry sits so low in the water, we can run with a 28″ stack plus a 4″ cutter and not clatter any bridge undersides – usually. But we know from last year’s trip that there are two or three along here that are very tight fits indeed and it only needs me to line up wrong or for the levels to be up on last time for the cutter to be at risk. Well obviously the levels must have been way up as it was bridges 2 – cutter 0 by the time we tied up! One scrape but shape retained, and one completely scrunched and flattened – Andy immediately volunteered to push it back into some semblance of a loop but it looks more like the outline of Australia now.

He’s right on the money there

Talking of Andy, I have to say how very proud of him I was today. We came upon an older couple on a Starline hire boat and they were really struggling with the locks so Andy set to and helped out. He always does so no difference there, it was just that he was so patient and kind to the lady he was assisting, taking care that she didn’t feel awkward or harried about anything as she was really, really struggling with the basics. It got me wondering how they’d made it this far really. Actually Andy is usually a big hit with the ladies he chats to at the lockside – I see them from the lock landing, chatting and laughing over a greasy paddle as he flexes his muscles, gets his tool out and whips it up…who would have thought you could have so much fun with a windlass? So the boy earned his curry and Cobra tonight, but I will no doubt suffer the wrath of his curried meatballs in the morning.

Thirty years ago…

…and yet I don’t look a day over 25. Amazing

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Pleasant pootling

It would have been rude not to

So the end of day two of our relocation mission to the South West and what have I got to report? Well, if truth be told, not a lot. If I tell you that the highlights so far were the snatching and scoffing of tiffin and banana cake at the top of Audlem, to be followed by the abduction of a large homemade pork pie at the top of Adderley, then you may twig it’s been a quiet couple of days. Yes, quiet, not often a word used about the Shroppie, the middle reach or home straight of those drag racers of the cut, the Four Counties ring-ers. I did just have to doublecheck that I hadn’t got my Bank Holidays in a twist as boating volume is certainly not concomitant with a three day weekend. No matter.

Well, actually it does matter because our sedate, relaxed, good-humoured pootling along, while very nice at the time and not to be sniffed at, does mean that I have flap all to talk about in this blog! It comes to something when you’re resting all your blogging reputation on getting a laugh out of a pork product.

Tyrley is ridiculously pretty – I can even forgive today’s storming by-washes

The Shroppie is one of those canals that I don’t have a fixed opinion about –  it is vacillatory, based largely on the last time I travelled along it and what the weather was like. My first time down country via the SUC was with dad and it was one of those days – limpid in its blue brilliance, T-shirt hot, not irradiate-your-face hot, cake for breakfast, Stilton and pickle doorsteps for lunch, more cake for tea, although I think dad eschewed Tetley for the Tempranillo. In those sort of conditions, there is no more perfect canal than the Shroppie – rolling vistas from the embankments, welcome sunshades in the cuttings, painfully pretty lock flights, all three of them, and on and on and on it goes. Which is great, as why would you want heaven to end? I’ve had a couple of sun-blessed trips subsequently, a couple of so-sos, and a couple of complete bumholes of a journey where you curse Telford for his cleverness and swear allegiance to the Trent & Mersey for ever more.

Today was a so-so, wind being the main offender. Thankfully, Henry is so heavy and sits so low in the water that wind doesn’t affect him so much, but it sure gets on my tits (good for the windburn tan though). With so many linear moorings, plus the two lock flights, it meant that we were either in neutral or tick over for a fair bit; while the Gardner runs clean as a whistle with a bit of a load on, she’s not happy idling and puffs out her displeasure, and of course the wind just took her toxic gifts straight back and up my nose and down my throat. Probably not the healthiest day I’ve ever had…

Diddy or what!

But at least it’s been harmonious. The first mate and I are working well, and I think that’s in no small part down to the fact that it is so quiet and that we can adopt our usual cruising and locking style. I like to think of it as calm and measured, predicated on efficiency rather than simply speed; others might see it as plain old fart dawdling. My friend Chertsey Sarah considers a nine-hour day, which we’ve had today, a bit more than a short day, a bit less than a normal day. Well, we consider it two days really, and that’s certainly what my feet are telling me, so to have reached today’s target destination (targets always chosen more in hope than expectation) is gratifying. We’re at Gnosall, pronounced ‘nose-all’ with suitable Bragg-esque adenoidal inflection. Tomorrow, we’ll head onto the Staffs & Worcester aiming for the pylon we moored at last time we were that way. Andy asked me where that was…no idea, but I’ll know it when I see it.

Hopefully there may be more to report next time. Archie has just been sick on my shoes so things are looking up…

Sadly in the wrong boat for a Northwich cosy up

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Off again

We’re off boating again Brum-wards at the weekend. Good planning or bad planning to be back to it so soon after our Easter outing? Well I’m in the ‘good’ corner, Andy is chuntering in the ‘bad’, but it’s actually neither, more down to necessity. This is a change boat week, the mission to relocate Henry from Cheshire to the South West in the only window available, and to be strictly accurate we’ll be swerving Brum, hanging a right at Autherley and hey ho for Stourport and the Severn. It’s an easy trip in the timeframe even given my need to weave in work, and Henry has the distinct advantage over Enceladus of allowing one to have a phone conversation while you’re ambling along and having a better than evens chance of hearing what the other person is saying.

If we could only bottle moments like this

The road is also familiar to us, with both the Shroppie and Staffs and Worcester travelled in the last 18 months so we know where we fit and where we don’t, which should spare us the ‘mooring up maritals’ that seem to afflict us on occasion. We’re heading back to the region for the summer and maybe beyond because, quite frankly, it’s fab with a capital, Thunderbirds-esque FAB. I had been on the Worcester & Birmingham with dad many years before, one of those sunny, dreamy afternoon descents of Tardebigge that gets etched into your soul – I was lucky to see it at all to be honest as I’d lost my left contact lens the day before and by magic found it on the back deck glinting in the sun 24 hours later. A couple of hours’ rehydration and I was squinting happily across field and orchard…

Doric, not Ionic, in Gloucester

Strange that as of 2014 I had not yet returned, given my happy recollections and given that there was new ground to be broken too, always an extra incentive for us. So come July that year we finally pointed our bows westwards and enjoyed an excellent time on the Gloucester & Sharpness, W&B, Severn, Avon and southern Stratford. It didn’t disappoint, not a jot of it. Indeed it pleased and delighted at that very visceral level, where it just feels ‘right’ and you form that comfortable connection, inexplicable as it is, that just pings you back like an umbilical chord.

We enjoyed a veritable cornucopia of highlights and it would be invidious to pick out one, although Andy’s serendipitous finding of the Handmade Scotch Egg shop (Egg’cetera) in Worcester and our so-beautiful-it-hurts mooring at Splat would certainly make it onto a shortlist (never underestimate the importance of a good Scotch egg to a man “who hath an excellent stomach” – thanks Will S). It was also the location for another corker of a domestic, and let’s face it, no trip is complete without a good old-fashioned ruck and petulant after-sulk. We can’t be the only couple who remember a certain lock or VM by the MOAB-style domestic that ensues? We are? Oh…

Splatt Bridge…I coveted that fat boat for a bit

It was all Wyre Lock’s fault, that and it’s daft diamond shape. Even if we had been minded to tie up (and yes, I know it’s an ANT diktat to tie off fore and aft but we rarely deploy ropes in locks and it hadn’t caused an issue up to now) it wasn’t exactly clear how best to do so, so I just sat in the middle and waited for Andy to raise the paddles. It’s only got a 3 ½ foot rise so I wasn’t expecting any issues at all…except that the pesky flows and eddies of the filling lock took the bow of my short boat and span it all the way until I was broadside in the chamber, wedged firmly by rear and front fenders. Andy thought I was a total div for losing control, I returned the compliment by denigrating his paddle raising technique. It was all low level taunts, with a bit of sweary abuse for colour and texture, but it hadn’t gone nuclear. Then I realised that wedged actually meant stuck and the water level was still rising. Now in the moment – given that I am permanently on the edge of neurosis and disaster is always just seconds away from paying us a social call – I declared DefCon 1. We would be engulfed by a rising tide, not, as most likely would happen and most sane, normal people would realise, just eventually bob up and come free – but where’s the drama in that? Now, reader, I would so like, in developing situations like these, to adopt the calm assurance and measured tones of the commercial airline pilot, but truth is, I turn into a panicky, screaming harpie of a fishwife. What can I say?

My angry bellowed shout to Andy, whose insouciance and ignorance of the impending calamity only dialed up the gob factor, to drop the ‘beep’ ‘beep’ ‘beepity beep’ paddles was met with a stare and a truculent slowness to react. I explained the scenario, relying on simple four-letter words for clarity. Agonisingly he finally wound them down, his body language signifying that he thought that I could just sod off, which I would have done if I’d not still been inconveniently wedged across the lock. Take the rope, I shouted, thinking that he could pull me free and have me facing more or less straight before finding somewhere to tie off to. So he takes the rope and then proceeds to pull me round – the other way, so I’m about to face the way that we’ve just come! Well, you can imagine the polite discourse that followed what I deemed to be an act of either wilful disobedience or crass idiocy…merchant bankers came into it somewhere, I forget where, possibly the same place where the sun doesn’t shine. Eventually, after much huffing and puffing and questioning of parentage we were facing forward, tied off and going up. Gates opened, first mate hopped on and then we had about two hours of concentrated, venomous silence that was only broken by me, in the spirit of penitence and because I was bloody hungry, offering him a conciliatory Scotch egg to share. After twenty years, I know all his weak spots…

 

 

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There’s more

Oooh funny how the memory works. I think I must have buried this deep on account of the trauma but all this toilet talk has brought it..er..floating to the surface. You’ll recall how last time I related the tale of the Old Faithful poo geyser, and the fact that I ran for my life, being just a poor, defenceless child? Well, I’ve just remembered another incident, an adulthood one this, but seemingly submerged for nigh on twenty years. The thing about Old Faithful was that, horrific an explosion as it was, I think deep down I always knew we could get some startling show of jetting feculence because, well, it looked me in the eye most mornings. It was just that the final excreta eruption was so Krakatoan in its intensity as to leave one in no doubt as to the importance of putting a good distance between you and the liquid clagma

The calm before the storm

So fast forward to the year 2000-ish…and the first two-week holiday trip with Andy ergo the first time we’d need to organise a pump out. Correction, that I’d need to organise a pump out. Now I’m my father’s daughter in many respects but not when it comes to playing fast and loose with fuel reserves or cack tank capacity…Unsurprisingly I was hyper-aware of the dump through’s status, and mindful too of the first mate’s ever generous contributions. But despite my assiduity I’m afraid we were verging on ‘high tide’ by the time we hoved to at the Water Travel base at Autherley. Thankfully, the pump out machine was working – I always imagine the worst – and a nice chap set his poo pipe gurgling away. Twenty minutes later, we were in that happy boaters’ place – full of water and diesel, empty of domestic and black waste. Off we toddled towards Great Haywood, and a couple of hours later I left Andy at the helm to pay a visit.

A visit to a hire boat loo, mounted as they always were on a pedestal block atop the tank, was never a pleasant experience, legs all a dangle and cheeks compressed – a far cry from today’s reading room environment. So I was very focused on just getting in and out, thinking how relieved I was that our pump out mission had been successful..and I was relaxed, off-guard, thinking about doing the cliched spin on Tixall Wide, wondering if Andy would like a Spam sandwich for lunch, no lavatorial black dog on my shoulder. I pressed the foot pedal and oh my god, oh my good god, a poo mouse!! No, not a crap-covered rodent (now that would have been something!) but a poop of micro mammalian proportions: shaped and sized like a mouse, nosing, nay, bobbing through the flap, shrilling ‘hallooo, it’s me, I’m still here, I didn’t get vacuumed up, none of us did, your tank is jammed full of us, what are you going to do now’?

To say it caught me unawares is an understatement. I fell back in horror, prompting a fight with the shower curtain which was damp and clingy in a way that only boat shower curtains can be. But still the perky plop loomed upwards, taunting me…well half of it did as the flap had pinged back severing its tail. I didn’t wait for it to call up reinforcements though and with heart rate returning to normal I went to consult with the first mate. Andy, being a paragon of fairness and justice, immediately branded the yard useless shysters who had sucked air and suckered us out of 15 quid; I, on the other hand, always wanting to see good in people, was ready to attribute it to mechanical failure.But regardless of blame, we were still in the shit as the tank was overtopping and we were a way away from assistance. Thinking back now, I have a vague memory that we finally got emptied by Anglo Welsh at Great Haywood. But that’s quite a way to keep your legs crossed and your buttocks clenched so I may be wrong…

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Do not read while eating

Boaters will be familiar with the wisdom that holds that they are never able to congregate and converse without the subject matter of toilets coming up in the first five minutes. But why, when there is so much humour to be had in said subject, do the resultant confabs merely content themselves with an earnest dissection of the merits/demerits of the cassette over the pump out and vice versa, with occasional but-ins from the arriviste composting loo? A missed opportunity for laughs surely, but one which I am about to seize.

The wash-while-you-sleep feature was not appreciated

Let me take you way back, the very early 80s if I recall. An Easter time hire holiday, mum, dad, me, my brother John and his friend Milford (Incidentally, I have never before or since heard of or met another boy called Milford. Anyone?) We hired from Ian Goode Narrowboats which, possibly because one of the Old Union tunnels was on an extended stoppage, had relocated for the season to Weltonfield Narrowboats just up from Norton Junction. From memory, the boat was called Sandpiper and was white, orange and blue, which makes me think it was either an English County Cruisers hand-me-down or a loaner, as that livery and the bird naming convention usually adorned ECC boats. It was pretty hard-core, quite a far cry from the luxury we all enjoy today. To give you a flavour, I woke up the first morning (I’d been outrageously discriminated against, on account of my age, and ordered into the top bunk and to quit my wailing) and I kid you not, on my senses awakening and feeling the wet all over my body, I thought we had either sunk or someone had peeled the roof off. Apparently, this was just a bit of condensation! A bit? I was awash with the stuff, my sleeping bag felt like it had been slooshed through a bath. I doubt I’d last the fortnight, I’d be carried off with pneumonia or pleurisy or some other hard to spell bronchial ailment..

Besides, I was already carrying a heavy burden upon my young shoulders for I knew my beloved father far too well. And what I knew about him I also knew to be incompatible with the smooth running of a hire boat with five people aboard. You see, dad had a terribly low boredom threshold, the sort of LBT that would see him drive wilfully past a petrol station when the orange warning light was on his dashboard just to see if he could get to the next one before he ran out. It was childish really but bloody hell it was annoying…who wants to run out of gas in Hartlepool and have a mild seizure as you roll down the hill wondering if you’ll make the petrol station at the bottom?(We did because dad was also a lucky bugger).

Now, with reference to this hiring lark, sadly he had the same LBT-inspired devilry about him when it came to the poo tank on board the boat. I know and he knew that we would need to get a pump out about half way through the holiday. But he kept passing suitable places despite my pecking at his head, and despite every lavatorial visitation revealing the sordid truth…I mean, he must have seen the incontrovertible evidence just staring him in the face. And for those of you familiar with the old hire boat dump through you know I speak truth – the level just came up and up and up and, approaching a code red scenario, was always clearly visible when you popped the little flap open. Dad simply couldn’t deny we were now in extremis – especially as we were a day or so out from a marina and a rescue pump out. But he absolutely reassured me that all would be fine, there was still room, I was fussing about nothing, he was my dad and would he lie to me? I wanted to believe him, I really did, never more so than when he and mum popped off to the shops leaving les enfants on board and I found myself needing to pay an urgent visit. Are you familiar with Caesar’s refrain veni, vidi, vici? Well, despite being a Classicist I don’t actually know the Latin for I came, I saw, I had a fit of the screaming abdabs and ran for my life…But that’s what happened on pressing the pedal and popping back the bowl flap because I, a small, innocent, defenceless child, experienced the most heinous dump through blowback, a veritable Old Faithful eruption of stewed doings. Looking back, I wonder why I was quite so traumatised at the time, screaming poo murder and feeling the need to put at least 100 metres between me and the offending area. But then, as a long-term multiple dog owner and probably the picker-upper of somewhere in the region of 50,000 pooch poops over the past 15 years, I have since become totally insensate and can look all faecal adversity in the face with nary a twitch of the nose.

I could smile about it later…about four years later

Actually, the desensitising process that I guess started back then by sheer accident has proved very useful as my toilet hijinks didn’t stop with the hire boats. Obviously there was no question when we had our boat built of what toilet type we would go for – I wanted minimal interaction so we specified a macerator/pump out. Slight concern that we might have called that wrong when it went kaput on the second morning of our shakedown cruise – something obviously hadn’t shaken down far enough! To his credit the builder did send someone the following morning to sort everything out, just not early enough to spare me a very embarrassing episode at the nearby Little Chef that had been eyed up as the emergency morning lavvie. You can picture the scene, furious hammering on the door, not quite opening time, clenched everything and staff that just sauntered over to open up a little too casually. They were crushed in the stampede.

But this was a mere amouse bouche of an incident compared to the splat du jour that followed the next day. We’d just pulled onto the lock mooring below Little Haywood and Andy was paying a swift visit before heading off to work me through. I was holding the centre line, adjacent to the bathroom, minding my own business, when a spurt of evil looking liquid shot out from the side of the boat over my trainers. Cue a few seconds of St Vitus dancing, trying to flick off the offending material but unbelievably not yet twigging the horrible truth. In fact, it wasn’t until I got onto the phone to the builder again – god, I must have come across as such a newb – that the truth dawned, unbelievable as it was. How on earth had our holding tank filled up so quickly? And how come I happened to be standing in exactly the wrong spot when it ejected its excess effluvium out of the breather pipe? With the benefit of hindsight I reckon that we just had too much water going through with the flush but even so, it transpired that we had the tiniest cack tank ever and one totally at odds with the needs of the crew, and the particularly productive first mate. So we changed the loo down the line, and went for a vacuum flush – this opened up a whole new chapter of, pardon the pun, inconveniences.

Nope, no idea either why I would want to snap my loo…

But it also gave me my finest marital ‘Aha’ moment, that moment when your accusation, so hotly denied by your husband, is proven with a damning exhibit A. So this little episode went something along the lines of ‘the toilet isn’t working, darling, are you sure you didn’t put that cleaning wipe down the loo instead of in the bin?’ ‘Oh no, I wouldn’t do a thing like that, don’t worry, I’ll look at it……right, it’s a bit banjaxed, we need to get a service kit…it’ll be here in three days’. Thankfully, this all took place while we were moored adjacent to Sainsbury’s in Huddersfield so we became practiced at the sprint from the VMs to the customer loos…I’d slashed about 20 seconds off my personal best by the afternoon of the third day. Now the Sainsbury’s security guards were just about to arrest me for suspicious behaviour (nine visits, alternating bandanas – pathetic disguise attempt – no purchases, except possibly guilt milk) when thankfully the service kit turned up. ‘Okay darling, I’ll have this fixed in a jiffy’ promises the first mate….fiddle, fiddle, spanner, spanner, swear, swear, ooh important mechanical bits finally apart and then me looking over his shoulder, seeing, realising the sordid truth…’What’s that, dearest hubby, wrapped around the pipe and bunging up the works…it looks suspiciously like a cleaning wipe….AHA!’ I knew it would be there as Andy is possibly the world’s worst fibber, and even though he got us all up and running again, I did make him suffer a bit – got my pound of flush you might say!

 

 

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Keeping it real

I was reading a Times leader article today questioning the necessity or merits of pursuing a life of busyness – Filling every second of the day is neither necessary or wise, opined the subhead. It was prompted by news of an app that wants to help people capitalise on micro-moments (like waiting for a lift or wifi signal to connect) by using the time to expand their foreign language vocab. Rather than expand their waistline by eating buns, which is a far better micro occupation in my opinion.

Big shout out for the super-talented Kev Maslin – no buns in shot sadly

One line stuck out for me, not for its originality (hardly) but because of my own extra sensitivity to its essential truth in the afterglow of the HNBC Easter gathering at Brownhills. “It may come as a surprise… but people are often more rewarding than screens”. Oh yes. A lot of my work sees me interact with a screen, and my days segue into evenings where I multi-task watching the latest box set while checking what’s happening online. Sad. Real-world exchanges tend to be limited to ‘Can you bring me the Ben and Jerrys?’, ‘Which dog has done THAT?’ and ‘Time for bed’. So how nice was it for the few days at Brownhills to abandon the virtual and the fictional and go into the real world and prosper? To meet strangers and leave with new friends? Chat animatedly with passers-by – so what if they thought I was a mad old dog lady? Live up to being a mad old dog lady by letting Rosie and Buzz cosy up to all and sundry and seeing them all fall prey to Rosie’s silky fur and yearning lean-ins for love? (Gets them every time!)Banter with boats going off for a wander this way and that? Share woes and swap war stories? Listen to learned talks from the likes of the legend that is Malcolm Braine? Watch arcane waterways films including the marvellous Play for Today ‘Atlantis’ (on screen, yes, but in sympatico company which made it a very different experience)? Get a touch of bidder’s fever and end up with more items than I could safely carry back to the boat after the tat auction? Participate in a testing, teasing quiz with aforementioned new friends and have a good old laugh, choke on a peanut and while I’m at it, volunteer to help with the cross-country carrying of some old boat top cloths to their new owner? Carry on riding the wave of feeling once home with mad cruising plans hatched with the new friends who happily didn’t excommunicate you after the quiz?

Another fantastic memory for me courtesy of Kev Maslin

Without spouting too much new age bollocks about it, it felt deep and real and exciting and joyful and meaningful..it gave me a buzz. And yet at the end of the day it was just people hanging out and having fun, something we’ve been doing successfully for centuries…I shouldn’t really be surprised should I? But the fact that I drank it in so readily suggests that there’s been a bit too much screen time lately, too much iPad-diction, too much valuable life being lost in flat 2D when there is this most amazing, vibrant, precious 3D – Brasso fingers and all – to throw oneself into, suck up and savour. Not forgetting to eat more buns.

EDITED TO ADD: I feel exactly the same way when executing my piratical forays onto boats domestic and foreign (despite iPads sometimes appearing at the breakfast table) They’re such great happenings – brilliant, lively, fun-filled socials – that I just want to do more – so, targets, you have been warned.

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