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.
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.
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…
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.
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.