Aren’t we all trav­ellers..?

Canal Boat - - Me & My Boats -

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

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