Not one for using jargon unless absolutely necessary. I usually make up my own words. But now that I’m on a narrow boat, the jargon of the canals must be learned. And you don’t say “I’m on the canal”….it’s The Cut. “I’ve just been out on The Cut.” Because, naturally, the men of old had to cut their way along the streams and landscape of Britain to make the canals. All perfectly logical once explained. Only took me 2 weeks to figure out what the deuce they were talking about.
Before heading out onto The Cut, I spent 2 glorious weeks moored at a lovely little marina on the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal (not The Cut in this case….don’t ask). I met some truly lovely people while there. One was a real rough character who was an ex navy man. Heart of gold and so many stories I told him he ought to write a book. “Don’t read meself” he said, “Why would I want to bore anyone else mate?” I said maybe he might consider doing a stand-up routine with his stories. They were terribly humorous. He said, “Nah, mate. Stage fright. Why don’t you write it.” I just may do that some day.
A former banker had given it all up because of the pressure and stress deciding instead to live life on The Cut. Another couple run their business from their boat. Working from home brings on new meaning. Their business? Brokering huge deals for companies all over the world. All from a boat. Incredible. Every morning and evening they go jogging together. Always the same time. Clockwork precision lives….from a boat. They want to give up the business side and just cruise. I don’t blame them.
Many of the old timers have no time for we newbies of the Cut. They treat us with an aloof disdain that is more comical and pathetic than it is bothersome. They scowl at us as we cruise by their boats. For those of you who have watched the Lord of the Rings films, you may recall the face of an elderly hobbit as Gandalf rides by on his cart, Frodo by his side. Add a beard and you’ve got all of them in one. As if a mould had been made of the first grumpy old boater. They just kept churning them out. I saw my share of them in our 68 mile journey to our winter mooring. One in particular shall remain etched in my memory forever….because he was my first.
Boating etiquette asks that we pass moored boats in tick-over mode….in other words, extremely slowly. As I was on this first occasion. One of the grumpy old boaters, hobbit-like and bearded, poked his head out of his window and began giving the sign of the wave to me. In this case it meant “Slow Down!” Any slower and I would have been adrift. I knew what he was trying to say. So instead of challenging the old fart, I simply yelled out to him, “But you are worthy, you are worthy!” I’m sure he had no idea what I was referring to (check out Wayne’s World if even you are in the dark), but I laughed all the way to the next lock.
Grumpy old boaters aside, most of the Characters-of-the-Cut are charming, helpful people. The locks on the way down from where we started are all double locks and it’s best to partner up with another boat to negotiate them and to save water apparently. Each boater we shared lock space with was a delight to travel with, especially on our last two days….41 locks in all. A young couple who holiday every year on their boat, an older group (been cruising….not continuously….for 35 years) with three men aboard and one woman who ended up doing most of the work in the locks. My best friend sat on our deck and watched the proceedings having done 20 locks the day before and relishing the break. The lady onboard our lock partner boat called the 3 men she was with (one was her husband) ‘The Last of the Summer Wine’ gang. If you know any British TV, you’ll get the reference. Otherwise, you can Google it.
At our winter mooring, people have been very helpful. And they are all characters believe me. I just met one of them, Charlie, an Amazon redhead who is a marine electrician. She could snap any man in two just with a look. She is a lovely soul with a very old 70 foot boat (registered). She’s coming over later to advise us on any electrics we may need. What ever she says. I won’t argue. Next to us is a couple who helped us moor up when we arrived. She’s as tough as nails too, a regular Tugboat Annie, and one time a prison warden….with a heart of gold. She sews now and does crafts. Such is the boating life. It changes you.
But my favourite character is Tony. We met him and his wife at the marina where we bought the boat and were moored for a few weeks before getting where we are now. Tony has been a wealth of information and practical advice. He and his wife, Deb, gave us another saying of The Cut, SADs (Safe Arrival Drinks). We adhered to that one religiously. But the thing that makes Tony a real character is his stories. Stories about the canals, his business, his life. Quite honestly, he could do stand-up but says he can’t be bothered. It’s enough that he makes my best friend and I laugh until we hurt. An amazing man. His wife may think otherwise at times, but then she has to live with him.
It was Tony and his wife who took us out for the first time on our boat and let me drive it. He did one hundred and one odd jobs for us and told us we have a boat to be envied. He loves our electrical system. He said, “I have no idea what half of it is or how it works, but I want one.” On the first two days of our travels south to London, he and Deb came along to help us get used to The Cut and its vagaries. Before they left us, Tony said, “Now, if you get into trouble, call. Any time, day or night.” Then he added, “But if you do, and it really is nothing, you’ll be buying the pints for the rest of your life.” What a character.