Take care on the cut, I’m still nursing old injuries; what is it about ‘crusty’ old boats?
Ihave a long-standing friend I won’t cruise with anymore. He’s a doctor and it seems to me he’s fated. Every time I’ve been out with him he seems to attract the accident prone.
There was the time in the 1970s when we were cruising the Coventry Canal and met a woman running up the towpath hysterically. Her son had lost control of his windlass at a lock and it had flown off the spindle and into his eye. She had panicked and gone running up the canal for help. Her luck was that the first person she met was a doctor
Another time, a few years later, we were with him when a man moored next to us broke his collarbone getting off his boat. Mercifully, though, we weren’t with him the time he was at Calcutt Locks and he pulled a child from the water for 40 minutes of ultimately unsuccessful artificial respiration.
I mention this only because at the moment I’m crocked, barely able to move as a result of the flare-up of a knee injury I sustained more than a decade ago as I was single-handing the Huddersfield Narrow. It has meant that as far as boating is concerned I’ve lost the summer, unable even to stand at a bar, let alone a tiller.
And this has set me thinking about accidents on the cut and accidents I’ve had personally over the years. Okay, I’ve been cruising a long time, but there was the time I put a knife through the palm of my hand cutting rope off a fouled propellor near Lichfield.
Another time I wrongly thought I’d broken my leg coming up the Northampton flight – only to discover at the hospital evidence of an historic break, which was probably sustained years before at Napton where I have some vague recollection of painfully walking into a wall adjacent to a lock. And no, before you ask, I was stone-cold sober...
Of course, canal boating is a sedate pastime. It must be one of the safest things you can do in life – barring staying in bed all day. But there is a dark underbelly to it we’d be advised to ponder as we start up our engines.
People do kill themselves on boats. They drown at locks, they crush themselves at jetties, they brain themselves on bridges. But they also do sillier things too like stabbing themselves in the hand and breaking their legs walking into walls.
This sort of stuff can ruin holidays, if not disable you for months, sadly sometimes permanently. So, as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Be careful out there”.
My knee injury has had a profound effect on my summer. After four years living on the cut, Moira and I have now moved back to the land again, but because of my injury we’ve not even been able to take Justice out for a weekend spin over the summer. And it’s been getting to me. I’ve been like a drug addict coming off the hard stuff.
What I fantasised about was some Utopian canal system where lock-keepers opened locks for you and the canals were wide enough for it not to matter too much if you lost concentration with a stab of pain.
What I dreamed about was a boat big enough to take a big crew – one that would be large enough to do all the work for me.
Then it dawned on me that such a place existed, and that such boats were easily hired. It was in a place called France which we can still, just about, visit at will.
So this column catches me, not on the Trent & Mersey Canal or the Oxford, the Leeds and Liverpool or the Shropshire Union, but on the charming Canal du Midi not far from the lovely town of Beziers.
I am on a boat the size of an ocean liner – well, that’s the way it seems to me. And I have a compliant crew who are, if not exactly at my beck and call, are at least happy to help me get on and off the boat.
CB Ed Nick has asked me to write a word or two about the trip, which I’ll be doing later in the year. Until then santé! It’s great to be back on the water again. Follow me on Twitter @Cutdreamer
‘What I dreamed about was a boat big enough to take a big crew – one that would be large enough to do all the work’