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…