Sunday, 16 August 2009

Canals

Legging


In the days of yore: My parents had a boat, a small wooden barge called the Rascal. It was their hide-away, a peaceful retreat from the blitz of a raging war. They were fortunate not to have had it commandeered into the war effort as happened to so many of Britain's small craft.


The above is background information to an often used phrase that my Mother would say to me in later years was

'You were afloat before you could walk' and she wasn't referring to me being in her womb.


I have several memories of being onboard the Rascal. One of which is awakening from sleep and seeing the grey wooden floorboards floating near the base of my bunk. I think that it was probably the sound of the hand pump being used that woke me from sleep. I certainly wasn't frightened so perhaps it was a regular occurrence and another reason why the Rascal remained in private hands!


You know, I never ever enquired as to how or from whom they obtained their fuel for the engine.

Rationing in Britain did not end until 1950s., so where did it come from? My assumption is that it was a black-market arrangement that fuelled the single cylinder petrol/paraffin engine.

Many years later when I was working in a small shipyard, I met a larger version of the Petter Engine, similar to that which was on our boat.


Another childhood memory I have is of going through a long dark canal tunnel and of being kept in the galley (kitchen) area for my own safety. The engine had either stopped or perhaps my father switched it off to save fuel. Anyway he and another were using the old Bargee method of Legging the boat through To do this they either had to lie on their backs on the cabin roof and put their feet on the roof of the tunnel and walk, or if it was a narrow tunnel they would do it one each side with their feet on the walls while my mother took the tiller and steered.


I recall that she disliked going through the tunnels, in case they met a large barge towing a string of lighters coming the other way and the wash would tend to push Rascal on to the mud banks at the tunnels side walls. Mother didn't like mud or the slimy walls of the deep locks, her preference was to go ashore and assist the lock keepers to open or shut the lock gates.


Of course in those days of rationing and shortages, there were certain pecuniary advantages to be gained by travelling the waterways, fields of cabbages, carrots and spuds etc.as well as setting the occasional snare for what might come along during the night!


Today when reading about the narrow boat people for example Maffi's blog www.narrowboater.blogspot.com I see that they use the shops and Supermarkets for their supplies and a smile crosses my face. Of course things have changed, social conditions are very different; they have fresh water points, sewage disposal stations and every modern amenity.

Gone are the carbide lamps that my father used, gone too are old families each having their own individual paint scheme, so to have the cap wearing pipe smoking grannies. There remains today only the canals, perhaps there is a similar camaraderie between all of the bargees I don't know ?


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