Part 13

As we continued on our way I ambled around the deck and took a few short video clips of our journey, it was good to capture this moment for posterity and have memories that we could look back on when this whole project was complete. We went under some lift bridges that did exactly that, they were lifted out of the water and operated by one man (the boat builder) using a British waterways secret key. Having been on a number of journeys on Simons narrow boat where bridges and locks meant mooring up and one of us (often moi) using the windlass handles to open the lock, I appreciated the amount of time racing with the maroon jeep was saving us.

Then we came to something I had never seen before the Guillotine Gate, my voice over on the clip was in keeping with the name, and Simon was suitably amused, ‘that’ll chop your head off alright’.

‘Very Essex,’ he smiled at me, never missing an opportunity to reinforce the pride he felt at my birth place and the cultural resonances it contained. He has told me on a number of occasions that when he told his brother he had met a girl he quite liked, his brother was typically laidback in his interest. When he mentioned my Essex heritage his brother was suddenly keen to know what I was like. I take all of this as a compliment, as I know that there is envy from all those who are not born on hallowed Essex ground.

The Guillotine Gate Aquaduct was a very clever piece of engineering, a bit like the spaghetti junction of the inland waterways. The Guillotine Gate is found where a canal crosses a river and is a man made aquaduct with a Guillotine at each end. If the aquaduct ever collapsed then the guillotines would drop and stop the canal water flooding the river and the land around it. ‘Clever stuff ,’I couldn’t help remarking to the men, they smiled in a knowing manner at me, thoughts of my future liberation movement on the waterways came to mind, and I smiled back, knowing that my time would come.

As we crossed the aquaduct there was a herd of cattle in a field who had wondered to the edge of the canal out of curiosity at the site that Misterton proffered. Three men, a rusty boat and a glamorous city chick, it was not often that such a bizarre crew would end up in the backwaters of the Aire and Calder navigation. As Misterton slowly glided across, Simon and Richard were on the side of the cattle greeting them with a casual glance, then for no reason they all started mooing very loudly at the guys who began to moo back, the cattle began to wander away from the boat in fear of the men’s intentions. I laughed out loud at the comedy moment that in some ways I suppose you had to be there to see, but as the mooing started both men looked perplexed and looked quizzically behind them to see what had scared the cattle, not realising that it was them.

Richard took over at the wheel for awhile and Steve obviously decided I needed to earn my passage, and the lady of leisure approach I was taking needed to be challenged.

‘Let me show you how to do the ropes,’ he said.

Ropes were something that Simon had always given me to do on Iris, so this should be quite straightforward. As we approached a lock Steve begun to make something that looked like it came out of the Wild West, ‘aim for the bottom of the bollard when you are throwing the rope, and then you can pull it tight.’

At that point it dawned on me that the jump from the deck to the shore was not the gentle step off from the narrowboat, and the lasso was necessary to hook the rope onto the bollard from a distance so you could use the rope to pull the boat into the side. I realised my experience on the ropes of Iris might not stand me in very good stead on Misterton. Steve expertly demonstrated in one action the throw from the boat to the bollard and pulled us in; he made it look very easy.

I took over and after three or four attempts I managed to get the rope over so felt very proud of myself. ‘Simon come and see what I’ve learnt,’ I shouted eager to show off my new knowledge. Of course, inevitably, as soon as I was showing off I could no longer get the rope round the bollard although my lasso was impressive. Simon knew what I was trying to do and decided he wanted a go. I handed over the ropes reluctantly as I still had not shown off my new skill, and Simon began his attempts.

‘Aim for the bottom of the bollard, that’s what Steve said,’ I offered, I thought helpfully, Simon grunted in response and I knew he was in male testosterone world. He had a few throws and to be fair all were near misses so I made the predictable comments, ‘that was close, nearly,’ and ‘unlucky,’ I then concluded with the comment, ‘do you want me to have a go?’ In response to this Simon promptly jumped off the boat and placed the rope manually around the bollard, something I said? I guess cowboy lasso techniques were going to take some practice on both our behalves.

Then I looked round and realised Simon was going into the wheelhouse and Steven was talking to him, the next thing was Simon had his top off (it was very hot in the Yorkshire sun nothing to do with the cattle) and he had taken over the wheel. Simon was now captain of his own boat, I moved fast to capture the moment on camera and took a short video clip. He made it look easy and seemed to be every bit as professional as the two brothers who had joined us. Steve came for a walk around the deck and asked me what I thought of Simons command.

‘He looks like a natural,’ I said smiling with a sense of pride at my husband to be.

‘Your go next,’ Steve said.

I laughed nervously, ‘not sure I’d be any good, Simon is brilliant on the narrow boat and does all sorts of manoeuvres, I’m still at the keep going in the direction she points stage.’

‘There’s a wide bit of river coming up soon, we’ll get you on that,’ he replied.

‘O.K,’ I said with a lot more confidence than I felt.

The journey continued and Simon looked like a very happy man, this was why we were going to live on a boat, so you can go out for little adventures whenever the tide is right and the fancy takes you. Taking the boat to the pub was a great pastime. Once you had finished drinking you can go back to the temporary mooring, have a good nights sleep, cook breakfast and then continue the adventure or return to your home mooring. It was relaxing, fun and you did not need to pack a suitcase beforehand. It was definitely a lifestyle choice and one I was glad we were making.

Then Steve called, ‘come on Mary it’s your turn now.’

I walked round the deck to the wheelhouse and joined Steve at the wheel. He explained you turned it until you felt it tighten and begin to come round to the direction you wanted and then you held her steady. If the slack started to appear you needed to turn the wheel in the opposite direction to keep her on course. That did not sound too hard to me.

I took the wheel under Steve’s guidance and was amazed by how loose it felt, if my car wheel was this loose even I, unable to change the oil in my engine, would know there was a problem and stop driving.

‘Keep turning her till you take up the slack,’ my instruction continued.

I turned the wheel four of five times before the feel of it began to tighten. ‘That’s it hold her there till she feels lose again,’ came the next instruction.

To my novice hand she begun to feel lose straightaway and I turned back till she tightened, and then almost straight away turned the other way.

‘Keep an eye ahead and try for a straight line.’

I looked at the direction I was travelling in and realised I was doing a fairly impressive zig zag across the river, but I was avoiding the banks successfully.

‘It just takes a bit of getting used to and you’ll be fine, the chains are very lose on her as they have got quite a bit of slack that needs taking up, you’re doing a good job for your first time,’ Steve said encouragingly.

The getting used to bit I understood and agreed with, the chains and slack meant nothing to me but I nodded my head in absolute agreement – after all he was the professional. As I carried on in my zig zag manner, I felt a real ecstatic elation. I was taking command of our new home, and it felt good. Inside I had a sly smile at the realisation that if I drove a car this way I would get picked up and breathalysed very swiftly, but here on the waterways no one was put out by my lack of skill, and I could take my time getting used to handling our home.

Steve had stepped out of the wheelhouse leaving me in charge, and I felt very proud of the confidence he obviously had in me. A few minutes later I noticed on the horizon a small fibreglass boat coming towards me, and I begun to worry. Our boat was probably as much as 60 tonnes in weight, and it would crush the fibreglass boat as easily as I could crumple a piece of paper. I did not want to look like a girl who always needs a man in a crisis, but at the same time I also did not want to crush anyone’s boat. I had to swallow my pride and ask for assistance, I took a big breath as I would need to speak loudly over the sound of the engine and composed what I was going to say.

Just at that moment there was a tap on my shoulder and like a guardian angel Steve was there, ‘you’re doing a great job, I hope you don’t mind if I take over now I think it might be a bit tricky manoeuvring around that boat, but only if you don’t mind.’

I was so relieved I got to hand over command but on my terms, so no pride lost at all. ‘I must admit to another boat it must look like I’m drinking and driving,’ I shared with Steve. He saw the humour and laughed with me, whilst reassuring me that I had made a great start and it would not be long before I was a true professional. I appreciated his vote of confidence but suspected it might take a little longer than he believed.

Before I knew it our trip was coming to an end, ahead I could see the entrance into Goole boatyard and the place where we would moor Misterton for the next stage of her conversion. As we arrived I could see the boat builder standing on the deck of a boat, ‘turn her around and moor her alongside,’ he was shouting against the wind.

‘I think he wants us to moor against that boat,’ I said helpfully to the men. I was totally ignored.

‘What do you think,’ someone shouted to the boat builder.

‘Turn her around and moor alongside this boat.’

I put the ignoring down to the wind blowing the words away, as we went past Alan I shouted to him, ‘we both had a go at steering, and it was fab.’

‘Very good,’ he responded in a manner that was reminiscent of the way my father had acknowledged my efforts at equality.

Misterton was expertly turned by the professionals and brought alongside the boat. ‘Do you recognise this one?’ Simon asked.

I stared at the boat, and shook my head. We had seen lots of boats, and some just in photos, I often did not remember boats the way Simon did, but no real surprise there.

‘It’s Hope,’ he said.

Now that surprised me, Hope was the first boat we saw that we talked about buying, we talked for so long that by the time we decided we should go for a second viewing she was sold. She looked really different from the ay I remembered, and Simon explained that she had a new wheelhouse, amazing how much this changes the outline of the boat, like the way a radically different haircut can alter a person’s appearance.

‘She looks so small now compared to Misterton,’ I said.

‘Oh I’ve no regrets,’ Simon said, ‘Misterton is definitely the right boat for us.’

Simon was right (this time) and today had just been the beginning of the journeys we would make on her.