Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Coal Boat

30th October

We set off early. It’s a five ? hour cruise from Broxbourne to Tottenham in north London. ‘Yellow matter custard’ got me listening to The Blue Album this morning. I’m giving the girls marmalade on toast while John Lennon sings about marmalade skies. My daughter said, ever so politely,
“Mummy. Um, please can we listen to Jimi Hendrix?” while the Doctor discovered a pear tree at Cheshunt lock.
“Something fell out of the tree,” he said, looking up. “I wondered what: it was a pear!” He stood in the sunshine under a pear tree silhouetted against a blue sky with golden autumn leaves shining all around and carpeting the ground.
The canal has never looked more beautiful, begging me not to leave, adorned with golden autumn sunlight. We are still travelling back in time, past Single Boat Mum’s surreal woodland inside-out living room. I have changed the music to Jimi but my daughter demands,
“Mummy, you should put it louder!” I smile to myself; she is her father’s daughter.

Out the window, on the balance beam of the lock gate I can read ‘Keep boat forward of cill marker’ and a yellow warning triangle depicts a sinking boat. This means you must always check the position of your boat in the lock. The cill is a step, the higher level of a lock. If the boat gets stuck on the cill when going downhill through a lock you will sink.

More changes: at Waltham Town lock a whole building has sprung up where there was only bulldozers and earth a few months ago. They are building The Lee Valley White Water rafting centre for the Olympics in 2012.

At Ponders End lock I leaned out of the window to capture on camera a memory of the handsome Doctor working a lock. He’s leaning on a balance beam waiting for the lock to fill. I spy another lens pointing back at me. A man is taking a picture of a picturesque canal scene, me and our boat tied up waiting to come in the lock. I remember one time cruising along in my first boat, my friend accompanying me noted,
“You get more admiring glances travelling along in this little red narrowboat than you would if we were in a Ferrari!”

We moored up at Stonebridge lock in Tottenham. It looks very rural for London. There’s a canoeing club, a cafe, trees, grass and a reservoir. The mooring has great boater’s facilities; rubbish disposal, recycling, showers and laundry. We’d only been moored up for ten minutes when there was a knock on the boat.
“Who could that be?” I asked the Doctor, as I headed out to the back deck.
It’s a lad in a fluorescent workman’s type jacket.
“Coal boat,” he grins. I grin back. We are back in civilisation! I am so happy to accept delivery of a gas cylinder, get the toilet pumped out and the diesel tank filled. The coal boats don’t seem to go up the Lee and Stort at the moment.
“Saw you in the newspaper,” says Coal lad’s dad.
“Did you?” I smile and feel famous on The Cut.
Their seventy-two foot trad has ‘Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd’ painted on the side of the cabin.
“How old is your boat then?” I ask, admiringly.
“1898,” says Coal Dad, proudly.
“One of the originals is it?”
“Yeah. Used to have a steam engine in there.” He gestures towards the engine room where his little black dog is peeping out of the loading doors (also known as side hatches).
“He likes it in there,” says Coal Dad.
“It’s warm for him isn’t it?” I smile. His son is yawning as they’re finish up and untying ropes.
“Don’t work him too hard,” I say to his Dad.
“It’s too late for that,” laughs Coal Lad. They put-put off up the Cut at about 2mph and prepare to supply the next boat along with winter fuel.
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