One of my earliest boating memories in amongst the narrowboating larks was taking the wheel of a Thames tug. I was about seven and I think we were heading off to collect some rubbish barges as I distinctly remember wildly tacking across the river (well it felt like that to a seven year old) and I couldn’t imagine the experienced waterman alongside me letting me cavort about in such a manner if we’d been towing anything. That I was allowed at the wheel at all (don’t think the phrase risk assessment had yet been invented) was purely because I was the boss’s daughter. In the early to mid 70s Dad was the MD of Redland Purle, who had the waste-by-river contract for parts of the capital. We actually went out quite a few times, the most memorable, for all the wrong reasons, being when we put into the riverside waste transfer station down on the South Bank somewhere. Well, it’s a smell I can still smell today, like the inner recesses of the most evil, noxious Dennis bin lorry multiplied by a million. And then some. As I say, the perks of being family.
Anyway, this is purely a contexualising preamble for the guts of this post, which is boaty and sort of historic so can live here happily enough. At some point during his Purle tenure, Dad had a dumb barge named after him, Roger; at the time of launch it was the biggest such barge on the river. Whether this was an accolade conferred upon him or his ego at work, I can’t say, but I do know that a little later he was ready to trump the Roger with an even bigger barge. And in a romantic gesture so out there that it doesn’t actually have an entry in the Book of Romantic Gestures, he chose to name the big girl – this whopper of an aquatic waste bin – after my mum, Joan. And even better, he organised a proper launch ceremony, with champagne and the media and my mum channelling Jackie O and the Queen, with her ‘I name this barge’ bit in her fancy hat and sunglasses. Epic stuff. I am so glad I found the photographs..I think mum made a creditable effort of looking happy about it. Ish.