CANAL COL­UMNS

Canal Boat - - This Month - STEVE HAY­WOOD Award-win­ning cur­rent af­fairs TV pro­ducer, jour­nal­ist and au­thor who has been a boat owner for nearly 40 years

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’

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