My sum­mer as a fer­ry­man

The Guardian - Family - - Family | Family life -

Lucy in the Sky With Di­a­monds by the Bea­tles “Pic­ture your­self in a boat on a river / With tan­ger­ine trees and mar­malade skies / Some­body calls you, you an­swer quite slowly / A girl with kalei­do­scope eyes”

In 1967, be­fore health and safety and risk as­sess­ments, I worked my sum­mer va­ca­tion as a fer­ry­man on the Manch­ester ship canal. My job was to stand at the stern of a 20ft open row­ing boat and scull pas­sen­gers, gon­do­lier-style, on the five-minute cross­ing be­tween Flix­ton and Ir­lam, which sat on op­po­site sides of the canal. There were no life­jack­ets, no com­mu­ni­ca­tions or backup en­gine and I loved it. For an 18-year-old student, it was a dream job – fresh air, in­de­pen­dence, ex­er­cise and good ban­ter with the pas­sen­gers.

That sum­mer, I was del­e­gated to do the night shift. Af­ter about 11pm, when the pubs had closed, there were few peo­ple need­ing to cross the canal and I spent most of the night in the fer­ry­man’s shanty on the Ir­lam side, read­ing, or lis­ten­ing to the Bea­tles on a cas­sette player. I was a founder mem­ber of the Bea­tles’ fan club, a de­vout fan. Sgt Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had re­cently been re­leased and proved a sem­i­nal mo­ment in my re­la­tion­ship with their music. I was pretty much ob­sessed.

One balmy evening when all was quiet, a good friend and fel­low Bea­tles ma­niac turned up at the shanty with six bot­tles of New­cas­tle Brown Ale and some “recre­ational” cig­a­rettes. There was no traf­fic on the canal at night, so we slipped the ferry boat off its moor­ings and drifted out into the starlight. We lay back to the sound of Lucy in the Sky with Di­a­monds, got merry on the beer and pot, and voiced pro­found thoughts, which in the cold light of day were prob­a­bly rub­bish.

Hours later, we were flaked out in the cabin when I was dis­turbed by a fran­tic clang­ing sound. A pas­sen­ger on the op­po­site side of the canal was anx­ious to get to work and was vent­ing his frus­tra­tion on the call bell. I then re­alised that my buddy had wo­ken early, taken my boat over to the other

side of the canal and dis­ap­peared home. I quickly got on my bike to cy­cle the quar­ter of a mile down­stream to Ir­lam locks where I crept un­der the lock­mas­ter’s win­dow (he was my boss), across the lock gates and back up the other side to res­cue my boat.

The LSD song al­ways trans­ports me back to that night on the canal – to blos­som­ing adult­hood with­out the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, the starry night and the ver­bal abuse I re­ceived from a pas­sen­ger late for work. Some years later, I heard that the lock­mas­ter knew ex­actly what had hap­pened, and had taken great de­light in my panic and sub­terfuge. Anthony Mor­gan

The Bea­tles at the launch of Sgt Pep­per

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.