…all walk into a bar.
No, but seriously. The Cardinal and I went boatering again yesterday. In roughly four hours, on what ought to have been a quiet Sunday morning we went through two locks single-handed all by mineself (fires into the air and asks a passing dog-walker and dog to ululate), we (I) dumped/recycled my Dana (1970) rubbish (all kinds of everthing), managed half a tank of water and then slipped with all of the grace of a tap-dancing duck into a roadside mooring six and a half miles of canal later (the half is really, really important – like a pre-teenager’s age).
At the end I was too knackered to tie the ropes properly, so I left my feet on the towpath, leant across the water-gap to the Cardinal, gripped the bow t-stud in my teeth and went to sleep.
Not my mooring of intent, but after the exertions of the morning I just wanted somewhere that I could pull in, tie up and not have to think for a while. Somewhere that I wouldn’t have to avoid canoeing toddlers, Irishman roping dead boats against the flow of traffic and obstreperous queues at the services.
The locks came first. Hack Green locks. I bumbled through, and the Cardinal acquitted himself well, and didn’t laugh at me once. Well, not out loud, anyway. When you’re new to locks there are too many things to worry about, too many things to hold onto and to try to control – especially when it’s your home sinking and rising, and not just some holiday plaything.
Then came a few miles of canal to pootle along. The stretch that I’d just left, down towards Audlem, is rural and open and spacious and cheerful. At the risk of offending Nantwichians, I find the stretch further north towards and through Nantwich to be claustrophobic and crowded and too full of people and houses and moored boats and tight bends and and and. Sorry, but there it is.
Nantwich services (CaRT water and Elsan disposal and rubbish/recycling and wotnot) appears very soon after the Nantwich aqueduct and a sharp bend to what we salty old sea-dogs call “port” or “unstarboard” or, when feeling all pre-1844, “larboard”. Nantwich services is… crowded. Nantwich services is not somewhere that I might go for fun and frolics.
There were two boats ahead of me, one already there and one chugglepootling in front, having rather rudely pulled out from the towpath half a mile earlier. There’s a bridge-hole, so you can’t see what’s coming, and the only place to queue is on the other side of the canal, hanging onto ropes with everything you’ve got that will hang onto something without fraying too much. When I eventually performed my “slipping across the canal into a narrow gap” manoeuvre for my turn it transpires that there is but one water tap. One. Just the one. Room, just, for two narrowboats, one tap. A slow tap. A very slow tap. It took the boat hooked up before me some ages to fill, and three boats were queuing behind me. I managed to half-fill the Cardinal’s (540 litre) main tank before the queue began to point flare-guns at me and begin to curse me in the Welshish language, yes indeed. Something about the ticks of a thousand sheep infesting my yes indeed.
The Elsan point (toilet emptying…) floods itself. There is a tap where the water flow is not directly connected to the push-push “control”. It starts when it feels like it and it only stops flowing when it feels like it. It is mounted at chest height, with no sink underneath, just floor. A sarcastic (a caustic) thumbs-up for design of that one.
Still, I did most of what I needed to do, and I got away with life and limbs intact.
Note to self: plan future visits to service areas for weekdays, and research to find out when “out of hours” actually is.
A couple of hundred yards further up in the (puts tongue firmly and significantly in cheek) very friendly and welcoming Nantwich Basin marina-thingy-area, there was some sort of ceremony going on in honour of Saint George’s Day. There were flagpoles with St George’s Crosses and (tongue remaining where it was placed earlier) lots of happy smiley people all being cheerful and waving at “outsiders” passing at tickover.
Yeah, right. At least they didn’t fling rocks or anything at me.
In the next part of my trip-ette, the tight, twisty, crowded bit with overhanging trees and limited visibility, the Cardinal and I met and dealt with a father and toddler-daughter on one of those little plastic not-quite-serious-more-of-a-plaything canoes. One free with every box of Kellog’s Cornflakes. No life-jackets, determined to pass me on the wrong side. Eighteen tons of steel versus two and a half kilos of plastic. I missed them, and being an Englishman, I waved and smiled, all while actually wondering whether the father had been born with mouse-gonads for brains or whether he’d had some sort of Frankensteinian operation in later life.
Igor, fetch me the circular saw and then get me the jar labelled “Mickey Mouse’s love-spuds”… I’m feeling all creative tonight…
Then I met – around a blind bend on a nice twisty bit – a gentleman towing a dead cruiser along on a bit of string. You can’t argue with that. For a couple of hundred years every narrowboat in existence was towed along the towpath (the clue’s in the name, towpath), albeit usually by horses, not Irishmen. It did mean that he too, along with his dead cruiser, was rather in need of a bit of the wrong side of the canal – leaving me on the “wrong” side on a blind bend. I missed him, and being an Englishman, I waved and smiled and said air hair lair, all the while wondering what might have been had I not noticed the string he was using to tow the dead cruiser along with.
Once we’d passed each other I looked back. The cruiser was facing as though to follow me and not him, and had lodged under the trees on the opposite bank, so the gentleman’s string was completely across the canal now. Oh well, I did drift past at less than even tick-over speed, can’t say fairer than that.
There were fisherman with three-mile-long poles made of carbon-fibre and titanium and magical Elven-line. Most were cheerful enough or, like an Englishman, appeared to be, and just one of them glowered and raised his pole instead of withdrawing it. I sailed under, assuming it to be some sort of inland piscine variant of a sword-salute. He didn’t hook any of my eyes out, which I thought was nice of him.
I wondered what he’d done when the Irishman with the dead cruiser went past, needing as he had most of the towpath as well as the canal.
All in all it was all very canal-ish and splendid. The sun shone and the birds twittered and by this stage I’d done two solo locks, fought tooth-and-nail for water and services and was beginning to get back into terra familiaris-familiaris.
I grabbed the first patch of moorings that I could find that were free of canoes and dead cruisers and fishermen with more carbon-fibre than a Formula 1 racing team. I didn’t care where it was, as such, it was just somewhere that I could stop and not have to tend the waggle-waggle stick and the throttle and the increasing breeze.
Once moored I discovered that I’d adopted a large wasp in the cabin, the first of the new season. Sorry wasp, but I was in no mood for wasps. He was knocked out, captured, tied up with ribbon and thrown out the side-hatch with instructions to never return. No mood for wasps, no mood at all.
So, the A51 eh? I wish I could let you see that 40mph-limit main road through my eyes after being out of the company of roadways for weeks and weeks. It is insane. It is inhumane in every sense of the word. Thousands of people, not living human lives but all boxed up on wheels, rushing hither and thither, feeding the great corporate machine and never questioning why it eats so much. There really, really has to be a better way of living.
Oh, there is – grab your church-mouse-sized pension early with concomitant 25% reduction for not waiting, buy a narrowboat and, from without, watch the workings of the great global machine as it eats people alive.
Consume, my pretty ones, consume and be good.
We’re going to move on tomorrow. This road is “doin’ me ‘ead in”.
I don’t mind the traffic noise, it’s the waste of people that I object to. Did you really think that slavery had been abolished?