Last night, we went to a party in Presteigne, ate cassoulet and generally had a nice mild time. This got me thinking about mild New Year’s, and how some people don’t like New Year because it can, on occasion, be anti-climactic.
Still the most anti-climactic New Year I’ve ever spent was Millennium night. The thing had been long in the planning. For much of the autumn of 1999, Perry Venus and I would spend weekends on a friend’s narrow boat, Midnight Lady, moving her from Whitchurch on the Llangollen down to Limehouse Basin . Midnight Lady had a berth booked in Limehouse Basin for Millennium Eve. There was to be a party, a splendid boat party. We would be right next to the Royal Thames…we would be as close as possible to the River of Fire… We would see Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second come gliding by on the Royal Barge… We would scarf up drugs and just about drown in booze. It would be great.
These weekends moving the boat were good times. One sunlit frosty weekend we ran right down the Shroppie from Hurleston to Autherley. The next, ‘Midnight Lady’ was forced by closures to take the ‘Northern Road’ through the BCN. I wasn’t part of the crew that weekend, to my eternal disappointment; hopefully old Perry might have a few photos he could post here.
My favourite weekend though, was me and Perry running her from Braunston down to Tring through good thick ice. The wooden boaties hated us as we steered through laterally moored communities of living boats. They worry that ice floes damage their delicate hulls. They shouted names at us. Sometimes the ice was so thick that Midnight Lady’s bow actually rode up onto the ice, and crashed downwards to shatter inch thick ice. We steered into Blisworth Tunnel as night fell; canal tunnels are long enough even when you can see the light at the other end; steering through at night gives an already alien environment a few extra degrees of chill.
We came into Stoke Bruerne in total darkness, and went to The Boat for a few. We got up first thing on the Sunday, and walked up to the top lock to look at the ice in the next pound. Trouble was, the next pound was empty. I’d read about what to do if you come across an empty pound; but I’d never actually put theory into practice. The proceedure is that you raise a ground paddle on the top gate; and open the bottom gates; and you wait for the pound to fill. We followed this to the letter, and it took at least an hour before the empty pound looked anything like deep enough to navigate. While we waited, an unconverted narrowboat, skippered by a grizzled old canal hand came and waited with us; we were pleased to take his advice, and when he felt the pound was deep enough, we went through the lock together, and then in convoy down the seriously depleted, but just navigable pound. As we came up to the next lock, it became obvious that the next pound was also empty, and we were going to have to take this pound of water down the locks with us. This means to descend the locks, you empty the pound that you’ve just filled into the empty pound below, and so on. It took us all morning to get down the flight of seven. Then we crackled on through thick Grand Union ice to Tring where we were picked up and delivered to the station by our old Lampeter flatmate Mrs. Ibrahimovic. Good times, which surely could only presage the good times to be had by all on Millennium Eve.
So, eventually, by slow progress and under several permutations of crew, Midnight Lady got to Limehouse. The party by the river was set to go. Just before Christmas, Lily. my ex-wife, called to remind me that it was my year to have Minnie for the New Year celebrations. Hooray and huzzah, was what I thought. What could be nicer? After all, at this time in my life I didn’t exactly have a house. I lived in an old Mum and Dad caravan parked up next to Sunnyside Lane Allotments in Lancaster. It was hard for Minnie to visit me, so I went to stay with her and Lily at their flat in Brighton, rather than having old Min hack up to Lancaster to sleep in a freezing caravan. Lily’s flat is small, and I always sleep on the sofa bed in the front room; not luxurious, but kind of Lily to let me stay, I always think. This particular New Year, then, was to be doubly special, because we could watch the Thameside 2K doings together, and then kip down on the boat instead of it always being my ex-wifes flat.
I arrived in Brighton on the 30th, and stayed that night in the flat. Minnie was very excited when I told her what we were doing. Lily was pleased, because she was going to a party at a pals house, and didn’t have to worry about getting home or not. I was pleased, because I was taking my daughter to a unique occasion, to participate in a floating party for which I had been crewing over the autumn. It had to be the best New Year ever; one I had earned.
At lunchtime on the 31st, I told Minnie that we should get going up to that London. She looked worried and upset. I asked what was the problem. She said, Daddy, I don’t want to go to this party. I want to just stay here with you. I think it would be nice to spend the Millennium with my daddy. Just the two of us. I told her that, although really touched that she wanted to spend this momentous night with her old Dad, I really thought we should go and meet Midnight Lady at Limehouse. Daddy, she told me, thank you. But I really really don’t want to go. I really really want to stay here with you. At home. Just you and me. So I yielded. The months of anticipation and (admittedly pleasurable) hard work were nothing as against the wishes of my little boopsie-woopsie. I bought some chocs and the Radio Times, and we made ourselves comfy in front of the Calor Gas Heater.
Lily left for her party at about 8. Minnie counted to ten, and then said, Dad, is it alright if I go round Seans. He’s having a party. And I sighed, because I had been done up like a kipper, and said, of course its OK Min. And she said Cheers Dad. See you in the morning. And off she went.
And I sat alone in my ex-wifes flat, and watched telly. At midnight Perry phoned to tell we what a swellegant elegant party hostess Midnight Lady had been.