Hire Boat Change-Over Day(s)

See what I did there? Squeezed in a cheeky phomatograph of the Cardinal (albeit locationally misleading, since we’re a hundred yards and more from the bridge itself).

Hire boats. You see ’em chugging up and down relatively serenely but about once a week (or fortnight) they are subject to a veritable Blitzkrieg – change-over or turn-around “day”. Guests return their boats and drive back up or down the M6 motorway to land-based Hell (that’s near where Chris Rea lived), and the boats must be returned to Messrs Spick & Span before the next guests arrive. In addition to spickness and span-ness, all that ought to be empty must be emptied, and all that ought to be full must be fulled.

Hire Company operators call some of the operations involved in this ‘Living The Dream’.

This is not a hire boat.

Hire boaters of human necessity leave behind themselves some items that must be pumped off the boat and into the sewage system – as do some private boats, as pictured above. All part of the service.

As is retrieving work-gloves from friendly local hounds who have kleptomaniac tendencies and mutter phrases such as ‘that’s mine – and that’s mine – and that’s definitely mine…’

Dog shown actual size. Gloves may appear larger in rear-view mirrors. E&OE.

Many people know many things about narrowboats but one of the many things than many people don’t know about narrowboats is that they love sniffing flowers. If you want to trap wild narrowboats then all that is necessary is to bung an arrangement of lavender or some such at the edge of the water, and in no time at all you’ll have half a dozen narrowboats, all frantically sniffing and ripe for lassoing and domestication. This is how sales brokerages get their stock.

If you’ve never heard wild narrowboats arguing among themselves about whether that’s Lavendaritus Purplefolius or Saxifrungum Petaloonia then you’ve not heard true debate.

Anyway, I digress.

While Aggie and Kim nuke the interiors of the hire boats from floor to ceiling (it’s alright to use house terms in reference to narrowboats – the terminology has never really been completely settled-upon) and change bedding and bathroom wotnots and oik away domestic rubbish and lay out (in the case of Venetian Hire Boats luxurious) Welcome Packs of select comestibles ugly old chaps with more than a passing resemblance to Compo (from Last of The Summer Gin) wash the outsides from stem to stern, roof to waterline. It’s a damned good excuse to play with water…

This latter process is not dissimilar to washing a 50′ long car except that, dry land or pontoon being on one side and canal on the other, each boat has to be turned about face halfway through the lathering.

…and it’s best for the new hirers if this turning process ends with the boats facing the “correct” way along the canal for the intended direction of the holiday.

Greasy, oily chaps with spanners for thumbs do peculiar things to the engines, and to anything else that needs tickling with a rag…

Bilges are cleaned out, sonic oscillatrices are discalibrated, stern glands are lathered in Lurpak Light and any of the hirers’ small children that have been shut in the gas lockers for the week and forgotten by their parents are released and sold on (to defray costs) to Social Services in several splendid central-African countries.

Each time that the boats come in then one or two things are hit with a hammer. As well as being The Law, this is done to keep the Universe in balance.

Brushes, unlike the Universe, may be kept in balance against any handy bench – especially the one whereupon track of the various processes (or pro’-sess-ease if you’re trapped linguistically on the wrong side of the Atlantic) is kept – via a game of 2D Vertical Draughts.

Green for “done”, red for “still communist”. Um, I mean undone. In this low-tech – and thus reliable – way all that must be done is assuredly done.

While all of this activity is being did and do’d of course, the regular needs of other customers and passing boaters must also be met: diesel pumped; ice-creams served; beer dispensed. Also incredibly delicious sandywitches served by Dee’s Venetian Tea Rooms eaten for lunch. It must be noted that the Chandlery stocks mint-flavoured ice-cream-for-dogs, and that nine out of eight dogs love it – although they’re not allowed to buy it themselves, and must be with an adult human. It must matter not how cute the ice-cream-seeking hounds are, front paws on the counter, slapping down a Doggy Express card and asking for two litres of best gravy-flavour please and a wooden spoon. It is not unknown for dogs to fake a note from their human keepers in an attempt to buy ice-cream for themselves.

‘plze giv Fydo a big tub of doggo ice-kreme and take da munny off my kard, thanc you – sined doggo’s hooman. big smiley emotikon.’

That sort of thing.

This being Ingerlund the odd “vintage” aeroplane usually performs a salutational fly-by…

…as ever, and me with only the “pocket-rocket” camera to hand, at the extreme end of the zoom range. No idea what the hairyplane is, answers on a postcard please, but it sounded amazing.

Then, just when you think that the day’s work is almost done, purple lunatics arrive at the lock, gibbering after some Fantastic Voyage, and requiring the assistance of two (or more) adults in order to descend and return to their mooring in Venetian Marina.

On this occasion since no adults were available Yours Truly was sent, under the supervision of Messrs Cover & Canvas … Mr Cover & Canvas, while brilliant with pram, cratch & tonneau – and a whiz at the electric sewing machine – had to be prevented from trying to eat his windlass during the locking, and was summarily returned to base aboard the Purple Machine. He may be teething.

Any and all similarities to Carry On Cruising were purely incidental but if there is any to be had then bagsy I’m Sid James.

By roughly four or thereabouts of the post meridiem, carpe diem (although you mustn’t fish for them out of season or at any time in the marina – or, univited, from the bow or stern of my boat I kid you not), te deum, no tedium, three more boat-loads of unsuspecting, slightly suspect-looking hodilay-makers were sent on their way in gleaming Venetian boats, and all was, well well well, well.


It’s all go on the canals you know.

It’s even quite busy on the canals that you don’t know, you know.

So that was Saturday. Saturday of course sashays nicely into Sunday, so today – as well as producing bloggery postings – I have services to perform and sermons to preach.

Today’s theme is ‘All creatures great and small, the Good Lord made them all – edible or poisonous?’

Chin-chin, chaps, &etc.

Ian H., and Cardinal W.

Few narrowboats were harmed during the production of this blog post which was supervised by the Bolivian RSPCA.


  1. The aircraft you captured in a photo appears to be a Bristol Blenheim ( A MkIV maritime reconnaissance version if I remember my Home Guard Aircraft Recognition lessons correctly after all these years.) It would appear that the 12th Duke of Marlborough has finally seen your somewhat critical blog about his home and has set out to find you. You should start to worry when you see a Bristol Beaufighter (Mk1C anti-shipping version) in the vicinity, but do not worry too soon as there are no flying examples extant at the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aha – thank’ee kindly. I always seem to forget the Bristol aeroplanicrafts. It did sound marvellous, I must say. Presumably it was relocating to take part in some of the Ancient Robber Baroness “celebratory” exercises of the coming week. Whatver, it made a nice change from the more usual micro and mini-lights from the local aerodrome.

      The Dook of Marlborough can kiss my Arsenal Villa are doing awfully well this season, are they not? Blenheim was a dismal place, and I don’t doubt that it remains so. It’s about time that I set the Fire Brigade upon them again.

      Are they still called the Fire Brigade? Or is it The Conflagratory Investigation Service these days?


  2. I see that the Torygraph had a sad tale of three hire boats running amok…one of them managing to sink itself in a lock and the other two generally outraging public decency. It turned out to be a stag group.
    In the Dark Ages, when the LSE saling club used to hire craft on the Norfolk Broads, no single sex groups were accepted…and that was then, long before Ryanair allowed stag and hen parties to vomit all over the Baltic States, thus replacing the British Council in bringing the glories of British society to lesser breeds without the law.
    Don’t tell me that Stonewall has inveigled itself into the hire boat industry….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They did indeed – all three boats causing nuisance and damage, one of the three lost for some days – abandoned by the stag, one sunk in a lock (Droitwich, I believe). The large hire companies, part of near-huge corporations, care not a whit to whom they hire. They are a corporate disgrace, and an embarrassment to all of the (many, many) smaller companies who take much more care in their who and why and how of hiring. The adage that is as old as The Bank of England – follow the money – means, sadly, that these companies (and their hirers) remain as the Canal Company’s fault-free darlings… *This might also be because the huge hire corporations have formal and official seats on the Canal Company’s committees. No conflict of interest there then! ;-(

      I suppose that it’s a mite difficult to ban stag and hen parties in this weird era, since half of the group might “identify” as whatever, another half as something else, and the remaining halves as pan-globular tricyclebound arithmetic’o’sexuals en vive les eight billion differences. Things were much more simple – and more sane – and safer – in my youth. In those days we just got on with the shagging, without years of advance introsepection and professional confessional worry over our underwear’s carbon foot-print, slavery associations and inclusivity factor. We just WERE the inclusivity. *By ‘shagging’ I mean meaningful long-lasting loving serious relationships. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Such is your repiutation sir that in fact the others boats all left before you arrived. They’ve all seen the newspaper stories about the duck, the pint of beer and the warning from the RSPCA. πŸ™‚


  3. My short holiday on the Grand Union (in the first half of the former century) was wonderful. I think, today’s folk would call it a “booze cruise.” While some alcohol; was consumed on-board, most of the time we made running repairs to a boat that should never have left its dock! But I’d do a canal cruise again. Of course, I’d need a pretty fit mate, the knees being a tad wobbly these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Boats with two crew and above do experience less in the way of physical challenges on the canals – as with every other aspect of life, being “single” is some sort of heinous sin. Crew can be dropped off, walk forward, prepare and close-up locks, whereas we sinners must run about like headless hens, and up and down slimy ladders (where there -are- ladders!)… I’m sure that it’s all by design.

      I have photographs of a hire boat passing in recent weeks with a beer keg installed on the roof (and spares evident elsewhere).

      Ye gods – a boat just passed by with the crew dressed basically in the manner of American six-year-olds but with the addition of cherry-red “Brownie” berets for the women, “Captain” hats for the chaps – and Hawaiian lei for all… I.T.E.O.T.W.A.I.K.I. πŸ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s quite strange really that hire boats, airports, motor homes and other such transient artefacts have so many migration periods compared to the annual two commonly enjoyed by the rest of nature, evolution I presume.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An awful lot of them in my corner of the planet appear to revolve around the many, many, many school holidays! I am sure certain that when I were nobbut knee-high to a Games Master we didn’t have so much time off school. Come the Glorious Revolution when I become Lord High He-Who (Must Be Obeyed) I shall abolish such nonsenses AND re-instate the 08:40 – 15:50 school day that I was made to suffer for centuries as a child.

      I had been worried of late in that the Canada geese haven’t migrated – but then someone reasonably plausible told me that the little (big, noisy) devils don’t migrate…

      Now I’m just confused. No change there then.


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