23 July 2008

Buckby brings it back

Some days you get an unexpected little bonus walk into your life. Today I accompanied the other half on a trip to fix something at a client’s premises in Northampton and we got thanked with lunch in a pub. And not just any pub. A pub by a canal. As we drove up, there was instant recognition – the New Inn at Buckby Top. The cheese skittles weren’t in evidence but it was still the dark, low rickety place of old. And just to make me feel right at home, some unfortunate crew member was having a right old battle with the bottom right hand paddle – some things, unlike Stansted, don’t change.

While the memory can play tricks on you, it also has the most amazing capacity for capturing with startling clarity and accuracy events from times past – and not just memorable ones, but totally unmemorable, inconsequential ones too. So as soon as I looked back from the lock towards the visitor moorings I was transported back thirty years to a family holiday on board Sandpiper. This was an Ian Goode boat that we’d picked up from Welton Hythe as the closure of one of the tunnels on the Leicester Arm had forced them to base their fleet with the Weltonfield boys for the summer (which was how we were introduced to the Mayes family’s superb hire boats). We obviously didn’t get that far on our first day as we moored up at Buckby and we were passing the time listening to Sports Report on Radio 2. I can remember as if it were yesterday my brother’s best friend Milford (curious name, never met another) lamenting the fact that Man Utd had lost again while Liverpool had won again. This was several years before Fergie dragged United out of the doldrums and Liverpool were at the peak of their powers. He remained despondent until a shandy and a packet of cheese and onion were wafted under his nose that evening. Oh fickle youth.

It was the Sandpiper trip that provided my horrific dump through loo blow-back experience. Of course, it wasn’t the boat’s fault, it was my dad’s. And the reason was his low boredom threshold. Let me explain. When my dad used to drive his car, he loved playing chicken with his petrol gauge. He wasn’t like normal people who’d pop into the garage as soon as the yellow light came on. No, he’d go on and on, pushing his luck until the inevitable happened. It somehow added some extra excitement in a mundane world. It also added some stonking rows to the marital record. I can’t recall how many times he ran out of petrol but each occasion was an effective catalyst for another frank exchange of views. It was very tedious - just what did he think would happen? Anyway, translate this mentality to a dump through loo on a boat with five people holidaying for a fortnight. Day 9....Dad, we probably need to get a pump out. Pass by pump out. Day 10..Dad, we really do need to get a pump out now. Pass by pump out. Day 11...Dad, listen, it’s getting serious now – I can see things. Pass by pump out. And thus the following lunchtime, parents went off to pub, leaving son, daughter and friend on board. Daughter goes nervously to loo, operates pedal and runs screaming from the boat as a torrent of unmentionables comes spewing out the hole. That was enough to scar an impressionable 10 year old for life; to make her a life-long fan of the remote tank; and to never pass up the opportunity of a pump out when the boat’s listing to port.

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