That’s what being an enthusiast is all about

Yesterday, finding myself with a few hours to kill in Warwick, and in need of a breath of fresh air, I went for a walk up the flight of 21 locks at Hatton. I’ve never navigated these locks, but just walking up the flight to the excellent cafe at the top exhausted me. These are walloping great locks, which must take a great deal of muscle to negotiate.

I’d been as far as the bottom lock once before, in 1975. As a life long canal nut, I was always trying to persuade friends and family to come on trips with me. In 1972, my parents yielded, and we went on holiday down the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union, which is the only family holiday I remember with any affection. My parents and brother didn’t enjoy themselves quite so much, and could not be persuaded to repeat the experiment; a shame, because it must have been the only time I ever actually smiled on a family trip.

But in 1975, when we were in the first year of sixth form, I managed to get a few pals together who wanted to try canalling. Most hire boat companies were reluctant to hire boats to under-age all male crews, but we managed to persuade the Wyvern Shipping Company that because I was a member of the Inland Waterways Association, I could be trusted.

There were five of us in the crew; me, Graham Fisher, David Westmore, Nic Shelley and Andrew Duplock. I have a very strong memory of the five of us tottering down the road on our way from Leighton Buzzard station towards the boatyard, dressed in what we called the mode, looking utterly ridiculous in our platforms.

So off we went, for a week of teenage rampage. Christ knows what we ate, since none of us could cook. I remember this playing constantly on the radio. Perhaps we ate soup; perhaps that’s why I remember the song so well. We hadn’t yet learned that the idea of canal trips is to take it easy, to bimble through the British countryside smoking spliff and drinking fine wines.  No, we worked like dogs. We managed to get as far as the bottom of Hatton locks, where we realised we had just enough time to turn round and work like dogs to get back to the hire yard for 10am on Saturday morning.

On the way up, we’d had to go through the two great tunnels on the Grand Union, Blisworth and Braunston. Westmore, Shelley and Duplock were freaked by the tunnels, and on the way back they all three decided to take the old horse route over the top of Blisworth tunnel, while Fisher steered, and I stood in the forward well, watching the light at the end of the tunnel slowly turn from a pin prick, to a coin, to open air, where Fisher and I moored up to wait for the three babies.

And remembering pin pricks at the top of Hatton locks yesterday, I also remembered that I took advantage of the isolation in the the tunnel to crack one off. What??!! I was 17 fer Christ’s sake!! I’d been locked in a cabin with four sweaty boys for days on end!!! At last, there under the Northamptonshire countryside, I had a bit of privacy. Come on!! What would you have done?

It was, I suppose, canal enthusiasm taken one step too far…

6 Responses

  1. Fisher says:

    I had completely forgotten that incident, I was one of the crew holding the tiller at the other end of the boat & being lulled by the chug of the engine and weird sounds in that tunnel….

  2. I know someone who did it in the cinema when he was watching the Three Musketeers. He never would admit whether it was Racquel Welch or Richard Chamberlain who ‘did it’ for him. Though I always recall that Roy Kinnear had a certain charm…

  3. Richard says:

    I initially feared that this post might start a lively series of replies on the theme of unlikely places IM Blog readers have ‘cracked one off’. But I’m relieved to see such a smutty response has been resisted. The internet is not now, and will never be, the place for filth of this nature.

  4. That’s easier now, isn’t Ian? Anything else that we can coax out of you?
    I feel quite betrayed actually, because of the number of times I’ve said “He isn’t, you know”. And all the time you were!
    Chin chin.

  5. It’s Cider With Rosie Palm and her five daughters.

    This awful pun was bought to you by me.

    ps tried to tune into your show last night and it took me a while to figure out that it was just an radio show in embryo. Ah well!

  6. ‘Paging Dr Freud!…’

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