04 June 2008

How it all began

I guess I had a fairly conventional introduction to narrowboating with family holidays on the canals and Broads. On most early trips I seemed to spend a lot of time, judging from the photographic evidence, flaunting my nakedness for all to see. My mother was concerned that I might grow up to become a stripper but a couple of brass monkey Easter trips soon put paid to that as I hastily swapped my birthday suit for gloves, balaclava and furry-hooded parka.

I certainly remember being fully clothed on the first trip I can actually recall in detail – a week’s hire from Rose Narrowboats on board Rambler. Unfortunately, we had my brother’s French Exchange student with us and he was, how should I put it....well, an obnoxious little shite really. Things could only get better from thereon although a two week sortie in an Ian Goode boat called Sandpiper tested my mettle. That was the occasion of the big dump through blow-back that scarred me for life and condensation so bad that I thought the roof had sprung a leak when I awoke in my top bunk, uncomfortably moist and not a little pissed off.

The next few years saw us enjoy the luxury and quality of Weltonfield Narrowboats in boats various: Arcadia, Calypso, Naiad and Juno. (It was in a later generation Juno that I introduced A to the canals properly - a shame that these distinctive green boats have now passed off into hiring history.) The passing of time also saw a change to the crew, my brother going off to university, my mother preferring the health farm, leaving my dad and me to begin a series of epic fortnight cruises of the 500 lock mile type. We got on, me and my dad. One BW chap said that he was amazed that we could cruise together for two weeks as his daughter couldn’t spend five minutes in his company! And cruising was never dull with dad either. He was not really a conventional sort of chap. He didn’t think he had to act like other people or obey the rules.

I remember one year when we were about to set off from Weltonfield up the Soar...I asked him specifically whether owner Hugh Mayes had given us the okay to go because that was what you did...dad said ‘yes, he had’ as he cast off and gunned the girl up towards the Watford flight. So what happens as we arrive at the flight? Hugh turns up in his Land Rover and starts admonishing us for leaving before we’d been told, simultaneously handing over the anchor we were supposed to have waited for. That was dad all over. And poor Hugh must have had enough of us after the most amazing coincidence happened...although maybe he didn’t think it was down to chance. One year, the gearbox went on the boat, which was duly fixed; but the next year, it went again – a year to the day since it had last happened. Was dad a bit over vigorous with his Morse control? Mmm, I think I’ll plead the fifth.

Perhaps his most annoying habit was when steering, he tended to look all around him, rather than on where he was going, with the result that we tacked down the cut, doing double the distance than was necessary. That’s how I got my steering experience early because I used to wrestle the tiller from him before he drove me completely to distraction. He was also highly embarrassing. He had one of the early mobile phones, where the handset was a brick and the batteries were in a suitcase. He would stand at the front and only when another boat was approaching would he get the brick out and ostentatiously make a call. I just wanted to die....They were good times, though. The Leicester Ring, the Four Counties, the Warwickshire Ring...they all hold very happy memories for me. Perhaps the one that is clearest and will abide with me forever is a hot summer’s day coming down the Shroppie, with the Wrekin clearly visible in the distance, dad and me on the stern munching Stilton and pickle sandwiches, the sun beating off the water, a little piece of heaven on earth. That’s what it's all about, isn't it?

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