Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cruise Twelve/Thirteen - Broken Briton

OK, let’s get it over with - I fell in the canal. It was raining, I was standing on one boat pulling the other towards me with a rope, and I slipped. As a consequence, I now have two sprained wrists (one from the rope snapping my wrist back at the time, the other from jumping down awkwardly trying to protect the first sprained one a couple of days after) which makes typing a bit difficult… Spending a morning in hospital wasn’t the most fun either, but on the plus side I was given x-ray images of my left hand. Y’know, for when I get bored. I felt a bit dejected about it at first - you don’t realise how much your wrists are needed for everyday things, let alone boat things, so it feels ridiculous saying “sorry, I can’t do that” about something very simple - but I read a quote the other day (forgive me Ed Byrne, I can’t remember who said it): “If you don’t want to be criticised, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing” and I figured the same applied to getting hurt. I’ve never properly injured anything at all before, but this is the most physical job I’ve had, and it carries a certain amount of risk, so to hell with it - I’d rather do this and sprain my wrist than sit doing nothing all day and have no troubles.

We’re currently near Liverpool, having gone down the Anderton Boat Lift to Northwich and back up again. Another glimmer of excitement (considering the tiny canal world in which we operate) was passing the house of a boat-loving children's TV presenter we met in a pub a couple of weeks ago - he was headed the same way so told us to look out for his home. And no, I'm not telling you the name of his boat. Or house. But it was very pretty! We’ve reviewed practices, now that we’ve passed the halfway stage - halfway through the season! - and the past week has seemed very much more organised, which is nice. It also means I’m only a couple of weeks away from going up to Edinburgh for a week, which I’m very excited about. Up there I’ll be going to some shows at the Fringe, including one of my favourite comedians who hardly ever visits the UK, and also taking some friends out for a boat ride on the canal towards the Falkirk Wheel.

I’ve also been trying to plan a few things for the future. I would love to run a hotel boat of my own at some point - obviously Corinne and Neil make it look easy after years of experience, but I think with the right partners in crime I could do something like this successfully, maybe on the Glasgow/Edinburgh canals where there are currently no hotel boats. However I now have a working holiday visa for Australia so that’s my immediate plan, and who knows by what I’ll be distracted out there…

Next up this season, we’re meandering back down towards London, where we’ll arrive by September. En route, Corinne’s sister will be replacing me while I’m in Edinburgh, Sara’s parents (who speak no English) will be visiting, and we’ll be travelling through various places with double-barrelled names about which I previously had no clue. Market Harborough, anyone? Leighton Buzzard? They all sound like 80s soap stars to me.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cruise Twelve - We're Not In England Any More

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Guests are blissfully unaware there's nobody at the helm.

Out of our side hatch - I was too scared of losing my camera to go any further forward!

Corinne and Bertie, just hangin'.

Chirk Aqueduct

Summer night sky!

My oh my, Wales is a beauty of a country. First glimpses from Shropshire (as pointed out by Neil, yelling out “that’s Wales over there!” across the boats while nodding his head towards two greyish mountains) weren’t too promising, but as we actually crossed the border things were looking up. The line runs across Chirk Aqueduct, a very pretty stone structure next to a slightly taller viaduct which frames the valley below perfectly with its arches - a great photo opportunity! The one-way aqueduct is followed by a one-way tunnel, so I went ahead to check for oncoming boats. There happened to be one, so as I told the couple on board that we were approaching, they attempted to move to the side to wait. Unfortunately (or hilariously, depending on where you were standing) the woman lost her balance as they turned, and in the canal she went. I went over to offer assistance, and she greeted me with a mix of exasperation and resignation: “Don’t worry, this happens every year.” She was more irritated that she’d lost £2.60 from her pocket during the process - made worse by the fact that she’d been saving up to buy shoes with better grip. OK, I might have made that last bit up.

This was already a few days into the cruise, but the second half of this trip has certainly been the most memorable, if only for the scenery. Guests this week were lovely, on the whole… apart from Trevor watching and quizzing us at the kitchen windows at every stop. Nothing wrong with asking questions, of course, but a little intrusive when it’s constant (and peppered with failed jokes (and looking down through the window instead of face-to-face (and very loud))).

Shortly after Chirk came Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which I’m still having trouble pronouncing. Sara has decided that Welsh words are better if you pretend they’re Italian and pronounce them as such, which doesn’t much help if you aren’t Italian. Despite the difficult name, the experience is a great one - from the approach where it seems like you’re about to dip into nothingness, to the middle where it feels like you’re suspended in mid air, to stepping off the boat (the aqueduct being about an inch wider than the boats and straight across, there’s no reason to have to steer, so Neil puts the engine onto its lowest setting and we all get off and pretend it’s a ghost ship). The canal is 120 feet above a beautiful valley, with a small towpath on one side and a few millimetres of iron on the other - all that separates the boat from the air!

Llangollen, our final stop on this cruise, is a sweet little place. Its own steam railway and of course the nearby aqueducts mean a lot of its industry is understandably focused on tourists - the main street is filled with gift shops and cafes, the wharf offers horse-drawn boat trips and the number of people taking pictures on the bridge seems to outweigh the people just going about their day. Nevertheless we managed to find a proper pub with lots of ales, enormous dogs, a very chatty barman called Mike, a French engineering student who had come to Wales to learn English (?) and an atrocious band on stage. What a Saturday night, eh? Llangollen has an annual music festival which happens to fall in July, so at the end of next cruise, in Chester, we’re going to hop on the train back there to catch the Choir of the World concert. There’s limited time for us to actually experience much culture because we work so much - my social activity consists of keeping up with TV gossip via a Twitter feed whilst trying to steer a boat - so it’s great to be able to make plans. As Sara whispered, clutching our newly bought tickets, “we have a life!” I might even wear a dress.