Holidays on a canal can be relaxing in middle age, and entertaining when young. I have only experienced the latter and there are too many stories to recount of meals falling into laps, people falling into canals, me landing in the snow and one outstanding time when something else fell rather inconveniently into the water.
We were on an Easter break and, yes it snowed, but that’s another story. Our friends, Tarn and Fit, had been away for a week on a narrow boat and we joined them for the bank holiday weekend. The weekend was a hoot from start to finish but on one particular evening we decided to try the local hostelry because we had heard that a crowd from another boat were going there that evening and would play music in the bar.
Word had obviously spread round the village because when we arrived there was not much room to sit down, most of the seats having been taken by local people of all ages from grannies to children. The musicians had bagged a table in the centre of the floor and we squeezed onto a bench seat against one wall and watched the pub continue to fill until there was little room to breathe, let alone drink.
The music was perfect for such a gathering. Fiddles, spoons and tambourines accompanied The Wild Rover, Whisky in the Jar and other ‘roaring’ successes sung in pubs throughout the land, such as My Way and Delilah. Eventually the evening drew to a close with Swing Low Sweet Chariot complete with obscene gestures. Tarn nudged me and the two of us gazed round the bar at all the locals, little old ladies, fathers, children, all gesturing like mad to “coming – 4 – 2 – carry – me – ho-o-o-m”. Mirth nearly got the better of our sense of balance, slightly impaired by vast quantities of whisky. Tarn was on his back with his legs in the air, holding onto his sides, we were howling with laughter
We staggered home along the tow path, still laughing at the spectacle and singing our socks off. When we got to our boat Tarn managed to step between the boat and the bank, filling his shoe with water and causing more hilarity.
Eventually we collapsed into an alcoholic sleep.
In the early hours of the morning I found myself awake, conscious that something was amiss. I listened, wondering what had woken me up. Around me the other three were snoring their heads off.
A resounding bang shook the boat from bow to stern. I waited for someone to wake up – snores all round.
I reluctantly crawled out of my cosy nest and peered out of the window.
Unbelievable, how could they sleep through this.
I donned my coat, pushed open the hatch door and climbed up onto the deck. I could see the bank, nothing seemed wrong. Then a boat went past and its wash drew our vessel out from the bank and then back in towards it where it smashed into the side causing us to shake in no uncertain terms. We had come adrift, at the stern but still appeared to be moored at the bow. No problem then. I leaned over the side and hauled up the rope which had been attached to our mooring pin. Fortunately it was nice and long and I was able to drag it to the stern and jump onto the tow path. The fog was thick and I could not see more than about 3 feet in front of me so I moved cautiously to where I imagined the mooring pin would be. I couldn’t find it. I dropped to my knees and crawled around with my nose almost touching the grass but eventually came to the conclusion that the dratted item was missing.
I stood there, in the fog, alone, holding the boat by its rope, perplexed to say the least.
Silently out of the mist a figure emerged, a man dressed in yellow water proofs and wellies and carrying a bag. He nodded at me and smiled and to my disbelief continued walking past without so much as a ‘can I help’. Just in time I managed to yelp ‘Excuse me’. He stopped, an enquiring expression on his face. I hurriedly explained the situation to him and asked him, somewhat optimistically, if he happened to be carrying a spare mooring pin.
To my complete amazement the man reached into his bag and drew out a magnet wound round with string. ‘It’ll have dropped into the canal’ he said confidently and, having unwound the string, dangled the magnet into the water.
There was a clunk. With a look of triumph the Yellow Peril lifted the magnet and there, attached to it, was… a grill pan. On the second attempt, and to my undying gratitude, he fished out a mooring pin, handed it to me with a smile and bid me good bye. He disappeared into the mist leaving me with the impression that I had dreamt the whole incident.
Having secured the boat again I climbed back on board and into the cabin where, much to my indignation, everyone was still snoring. There’s gratitude for you!