The dimple in the space-time continuum around Aunty Wainwright’s (Venetian Hire Boats & Chandlery) #narrowboat #boating #canal #canaltime

And crawling on the planet’s face, some insects called the human race. Lost in time, and lost in space… and meaning.*

*Charles Gray (Philosopher), The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Never a truer word were spake or spokethed or whatever. Where I live, on a narrowboat, Charles Gray might simply have said “Canal Time prevails” instead of that great long speech.

“Canal Time” isn’t so much about the tock-tick-ticketty-clack passing of lumpy and unequal increments of the Fourth Dimension as it is about the way that things happen. It refers to those days on the canals when your horse will only walk backwards, when your boat is temporarily in league with The Devil, and when peace, quiet and good timing have become swapped somehow for “the more the merrier” and “where the Hell did you lot suddenly come from?” Canal Time is that state of existence wherein a chap stops flailing about, trying to make a difference and stick to a plan, and simply bobs around in his lifebelt, blowing smoke-rings from a Hamlet cigar while a duck poops on his head.

I don’t smoke. Never have. I don’t even smoulder. When my time comes they’ll have to use firelighters to get me going at the Crematorium.

I had intended to complete my tasks in accordance with my usual modus – slip in and out quietly, to slither hither and thither, when no-one else is about, much; to be a “ghost” in the system. Up without fuss to an empty pontoon, fill the main tank with water, wait quietly for the gazunder sluices to be unlocked, oik up for a splash of diesel and then away through the lock to my favourite mooring place – Oblivion.

like mooring in Oblivion.

Well, I’d just let loose the ropes at 0700hrs when not one but two boats appeared from nowhere, one danced with me at the (room for one and one only) railway bridge, the other caused and suffered much confusion up at the lock (the lock is slap-bang on the end of the Venetian pontoons). There is no hand-signal for “I’m going over there, in that gap between two boats, passing you on the wrong side, you just carry on and thanks, but no thanks, I don’t need the lock yet”.

There was not another boat moving then for two hours…

I startled Sue of Venetian Hire Boats and Chandlery by posing the existential question of just who was the cheeky bu*gger who had moored on their pontoons overnight (that would be me, but in the morning). A ta very much indeed for the reviving coffee and a raid of the chandlery shelves before they were even officially open for the day. I settled down back on the Cardinal to wait for the gazunder sluice to open for business…

Once unlocked was it peaceful there in the sluice, was it nicely deserted as I emptied the Cardinal’s toilet cassettes? Was it ‘eck as like. The other boat on the hire pontoon had surfaced and had begun decanting their (many, many) possessions from their (non-Venetian, tsk-tsk) hire boat, into two cars – one parked either side of the Elsan facility entrance. There was to be nothing subtle or discreet about this emptying of the toilet cassettes. Yes, yes, we all do it, even the Queen, but I’d really rather not discuss it or be as obvious as a St Bernard dumping in the middle of a Bowling Green!

Diesel next – that ought to have consisted of a quick check for other traffic followed by a ten-yard hop forward and Bob’s yer Non-Gender-Specific Parental Sibling. Nope. Someone had sneaked out of the marina and claimed the service area while I’d been sluicing. I waited, and eventually, while two fresh boats jostled for position to go up the lock, the marina interloper began to reverse past. Was this my moment, the one I’d been waiting for since 0700hrs? Still nope. The (non-Venetian, tsk-tsk) hire boat folk – quite reasonably in more of a hurry than me – chose that same moment to want to turn their boat around and go to the diesel pontoon for a pump-out.

I waited, no worries.

They finished, but then they decided to wait where they were for their turn up the lock rather than move across the canal…

I waited. I am English, I can wait until the cows come home. Waiting is the quintessential English skill.

One boat down, another boat up, the hire boaters waited again and another boat came down – this time it was Mr BJ of Venetian Hire, having been out to retrieve one of their hire boats from a remote drop-off… and he’d really rather have preferred the space that the Cardinal and I were in, instead of having to perch on the end of his own pontoon. The other boat moved, I moved, Mr BJ decided rather sensibly to stay where he was for the moment, not being so green as he is cabbage-looking*. It was like half a game with one of those sliding tile games, with each boat taking the place only recently vacated by another.

*Old saying of my late mother’s habituation. It has nothing to do with looking like a cabbage.

The Cardinal – as is his wont – strained at the leash, in and out, back and forth like a whippet eager to race (and knowing full well that “glacial” is my preferred pace). Sue and I restrained him, diesel began to be pumped, another boat either came up or went down the lock, I forget which – it might have been sideways for all that I know – and the lovely couple of nb Elwy then appeared – on foot. We half started talking, got immediately interrupted, I went in to pay for my comestibles and diesel, Mr & Mrs Elwy had disappeared – and the moment that I then reappeared into the daylight, blinking like a mole, found that not only was the lock set in my favour but there was a (most splendid) lock volunteer on duty – waiting for me – and waiting for me in the company of a chap from a hire-boat queuing to come down.

Hurry up and wait followed by hurry up, we’re waiting.

My bag (Tesco’s unbleached, undyed cotton, twenty-five years old this year and still doing Trojan service) full of groceries was slung (by me) unceremoniously onto the rear deck rather than inside, off wi’ropes, up wi’fenders, a quick push out and into the lock it all was.

Luxury. Sudden, I must say, and wholly unexpected, but luxury nonetheless.

I got a free ride. Thank’ee kindly and ta very muchly!

Splendid lock volunteer in orange life-jacket. Slightly ungruntled chap from a hire-boat queuing to come down, alongside him.

So there I was, after a near four-hour run-up of “hurry up and wait”, up the lock and ready to cruise away into the distance… except that the “distance” I’d planned was well within the canal horizon of the photograph above. I’d wanted to get stuff done early because the wind of late (meteorological, although…) has been picking up from mid-morning onwards, and where possible I don’t do wind.

There was just time to follow the usual Soviet custom of a comradely kiss on both cheeks and the awarding to the lock volunteer of the “U.S.S.R. Medal of Socialist Goodness, Third Class” and I was away, to look for a space.

Had The Universe finished with me? Had it my Arsenall Villa. The lock volunteer logged the Cardinal’s name and number, this sighting will be fed into the massive nuclear-powered CRAY mainframe computer that the Canal & River Trust use to keep track of we boater types. Good, I like being spotted. I move in accordance with the &etc, so why not?


That no sooner had I moored up than the regular CaRT “Spotter” chap – seriously a seriously cheerful chap too, and one of the few to be happy to be hello and how are you’d – also logged me on his iPud, being out and about doing his rounds. iPod? iPad? Mobile computer thingy. There couldn’t have been more than fifteen or twenty minutes between my being logged, twice.

This makes three spottings (of me) that I have spotted so far this licence period (and this calendar month) – all three of them spanning just twenty-one days, and all three placing me within less than half a mile of Venetian, where half of the moorings are time-limited at 48-hours…

I’ve actually travelled eighteen miles, serviced three times and been up and down eight locks – mooring and moving some six times between here and the entirely separate town of Middlewich (where I raided the cheapo supermarket and the charity shops).

To the GCM – Giant CRAY Mainframe – doubtless I look as though I’ve barely moved an inch.

Mind you, this too is a coincidence, because “barely moved an inch” is my intended occupation for the remainder of this afternoon and the evening. There’s no point in fighting against “Canal Time”, I might as well just go with the flow.

Greek and Roman gawds alone know what will happen if I poke my head out of the boat again before The Universe has found something else to toy with.

There are days when I think that the Universe is a cat (and that I look like a mouse).

I wouldn’t mind, but I am a dog person, can’t stand cats!

So much for a quiet morning of going relatively unnoticed. I broke the world record for “The Longest Service Visit Ever“, followed it immediately by “The Fastest Locking Since The Ark Went Through Panama On The Way To Pick Up The Penguins” and ended up with two CaRT sightings & loggings of me not twenty minutes or two hundred yards apart.

Oh well.

Note to self – don’t in future try to get clever by oiking up early! The Universe will just laugh and sprinkle you with “Har-Har!” dust.

Chin-chin, Ian H & Cardinal W.

p.s., I did catch up with Mr & Mrs Elwy later, but – you won’t be surprised to read – only as they were leaving! Hiyah Howareyah G’Bye!

p.p.s., now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m not going to move another inch for ages.

Unless CaRT spotters check again, in which case – oh fer cryin’ out loud!




    1. We can kick and scream and punch and gouge on the way too, sometimes… 😉 I generally fit into the modern world the way a trapezoidal peg fits into the space where a round hole has yet to be drilled!

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    1. It is quite like that – and it is also the usual “one-way only” contract, with CaRT workboats being moored for years on otherwise limited “visitor moorings”! You will do as we say and not as we do style… Workers – brilliant, generally – “management” – metropolitan idealogues and “professional professionals”. The vast portion of their problem (and by default thus, mine too) is that the organisation is out of its depth (no pun in ten did), it ought to be a public body not a private one, it has assumed powers that it was never intended to possess – and the “leadership”, such as it is, wouldn’t know a boat if you hit them with one and are all based in jolly old London. They are too scared to deal with city problems (and their are problems) with city solutions, using the old national sledgehammer to crack a London (Birmingham/Bath/etc) nut! Other than that, I have no strong opinions on the matter! 😉


    1. Of them rather than much about them. One of my past lives was spent working on IBM mainframes, in the tail end of the days when it was all open-reel tapes and huge data-centres and processing power that is now eclipsed by my laptop. When it was still fun… 😉

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    1. Thank’ee kindly, sir, tis much appreciated! Having warned myself about the futility of moving early, the weather forecast for the next couple of days suggests that I ought to do just that again… Hmm. 😉

      Liked by 3 people

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