Aren’t we all travellers..?
After nearly three months of floods in York, most of which we spent clinging to a rising jetty at the tidal lock at Naburn, we eventually managed to get off the boat, reassured by all concerned that that was now it for the season and we could relax.
Of course, no-one’s an expert where a river flow is concerned. Our feet had barely touched terra firma before it started raining again. And what was previously a problem of how to get off the boat, very soon became one of how to get back on again.
We spent a couple of weeks sofa surfing as the young call it, but you can put upon friends only so far; and eventually we decided to run up the white flag and catch the first plane to anywhere warm – which just happened to be South Africa. And it’s from South Africa I’m writing.
The sun is shining, the temperature is like a hot August afternoon and good wine’s a couple of quid a bottle... But you don’t want to know about any of this.
We, of course, were labelled ‘fair-weather boaters’ on Facebook, and I have to confess to feeling a hint of guilt that we’d panicked too early when we first arrived and I saw from the Environmental Agency website that river levels on the Yorkshire Ouse were returning to normal.
Since then though, we read of more storms battering Blighty, and we watch with incredulity as webcams show the Ouse lapping over the bank at King’s Staith once more for what, by my count, is the NINTH separate flood this beleaguered town has suffered since October.
Poor York has had higher floods in its history, and it’s had floods that have gone on as long. But locals are telling me that they can’t recall floods as high as these which have gone on with the regularity of the ones this year.
We may be a long way away from them, but our hearts still go out to those in the town, and other towns across the country who are still suffering this dreadful winter.
Being on holiday with time to chill out around the pool and on beaches, I’ve had the chance to catch up on some canal social media sites without which I’m not sure I’d have heard of the antics of Bath boatyard which has made an early pitch for my 2016 Cock Up of the Year Award.
For those of you who haven’t heard, Bath Boatyard, one of the British Waterways Marinas Ltd group, a whollyowned subsidiary of the Canal & River Trust, heard that some people had pitched up nearby in caravans and immediately issued a series of warnings to their berthholders which were so obviously racist in tone they did – to be fair – apologise for what they’d done almost immediately afterwards.
It was the sort of stupid mistake that might have been made by a junior member of staff, or an inexperienced managerial muppet having a bad day; and I don’t think it merits a self-righteous crusade on my part that might lead to anyone losing their job. Even so, I can’t help wondering when the signs went up around the site warning people of ‘travellers’, whether whoever had authorised it saw any irony in the notices.
Because aren’t we all of us with boats on the canal ‘travellers’ too? Aren’t we all what former Inland Waterways Association president A.P. Herbert in his 1930s novel called ‘Water Gypsies’?
Indeed, isn’t it this gypsy lifestyle that draws us to the water? Isn’t the biggest attraction of the canals the freedom they allow us to pack up our homes at will and wander unhindered wherever we fancy?
And that, I guess, is what I found the saddest part of the whole affair: that the Bath Marina staff were so blinded by their own prejudice that they couldn’t make the link between the ‘travellers’ they were criticising and the travellers whose passion for boats provides them their livelihood.
Andrew Rossiter got it right. He’s one of those Bath berthholders and was personally shocked by the notices. “They add to a climate of fear and mistrust of all gypsies and travellers,” he said. “Including those who live on boats. It beggers belief...”
‘Isn’t the biggest attraction of the canals the freedom they allow us to pack up our homes and wander wherever we fancy?’
The flooding at King’s Staith in York