As a single mother in the early 80's I used to take my 3 boys aged around 7,9 and 11 plus our crazy dog Grendel on our small canal boat in the summer.
This is the story of just one trip:
Things couldn’t have been much worse the first day. I got to the garage and discovered I’d left my cheque book behind. The car leap frogged all the way over to the marina (about a 3 hour drive) and the boys got bored. The dog kept sitting on them so we ended up with two in the front seat and just Dominic (middle son) and dog in the back. We then had a bit of a hunt for the boat key and it was found where least expected – hanging up on a hook!
Then I noticed the floorboards were damp and on uncovering them I found four compartments were full with water. It took ages to empty it out. The water bottle storage chamber was also half full. The boat had been moved by Huckers (marina owners) to another berth and they had managed to smash the glass on the gas lamp. I took a great chunk out of my finger trying to do the zip up on a mattress cover.
Then we couldn’t get off the mud. Apparently a British Waterways Board employee had left a paddle up overnight the previous weekend and the level dropped four inches. I had to get the men to lever me off and the hole left in the mud was about 4 inches deep.
Earlier Richard (eldest) had climbed off the jetty and got sucked into the mud up to his shorts and I had to haul him out by the arms.
We headed off towards Foxton and tried to stop at a field not far from the tunnel but went horribly aground and then cows appeared (we had had a previous experience where they crashed into the side of the boat breaking the window and badly grazing my son’s back) so we moved on as quickly as we could. We went across the other side of the canal and got stuck again. Finally we went a bit further up and moored about 3 feet out from the towpath as it was very shallow. This meant using a gangplank for access.
The boys went out in the inflatable dinghy whilst I cooked supper. I called them in and Dominic was last out of the dinghy. He had his hands on the big boat and his feet in the little one and of course it shot away so he ended up in the 'bridge position'. The others were helpless with laughter and I yelled at Christopher (youngest) “pull the rope you idiot” but Dominic thought I was yelling at him and promptly burst into tears whereupon he lost all his strength and sagged into the water. I had to clamber over the table laid with supper to haul him out.
After supper they went in the dinghy again. One at a time (I had a 50 yard line on it for safety reasons) when suddenly there is a howl of dismay from Christopher – he had knocked the stopper out and was afraid because the other two told him he would sink. I grabbed the line as he began to spin around and pulled him back but he panicked even more because he couldn’t put the stopper back AND the paddle he’d dropped was floating off down the canal in the other direction!! How I wished I had some whisky...
The dog proceeded to walk in the water and follow the boys in the dinghy, then he got brave and swam right across to the field opposite full of wheat (good job it wasn’t cows!) and went berserk in the corn and we couldn’t get him back as we were on the other side.
You can never tell – what started as a good day ended in bedlam. Nobody woke up till 8.30 and it must have been about 10am by the time we set off. The boys announced whilst I was steering, in no delicate way, that there was a terrible pong in the back bunk by the cooker and I was informed there was at least an inch of water above the floorboards. It had to wait until lunch time and then I drew out another several buckets full of water. Because we are so lop-sided some of the flood was still there. We negotiated Foxton locks (staircase of 10 locks) very calmly and no mishaps.
We stopped for lunch and they played around in the boat for an hour or more and we set off with the dinghy in tow and Christopher and Dominic in it – so I went very slowly. We struggled through five more locks without seeing a soul. Richard got tired so I had to do the last one completely on my own and they are doubles here (14 feet wide instead of the usual 7 feet). As the last one was filling Grendel decided to cross the gates and the end of the rope tied to his collar got hooked up and of course in he went. That’s the first time he’s fallen inside a lock. We couldn’t get him out as he was too far down and the boat wasn’t in the lock as we had come to an empty lock and we wanted to go down. He swam to the ladder and wedged himself through the rungs so we couldn’t pull him up. As the water rose so he went under – we were all screeching with laughter. He did manage to extricate himself in the end and as the lock filled so he was able to scramble out – then everyone scattered as he furiously shook himself!
We had fun and games with the double gates which wouldn’t stay closed so Richard decided to jump from one to the other and missed. He hung on by his hands and scraped his shins and rolled around in agony. Then Dominic caught his leg on a bit of metal on the gate. We decided to stop just the other side of the lock and I thought I could pull the boat along the towpath for 100 yards, but it got tangled up in the tall weeds and I got really pissed off. I found a gap in the “overgrowth” and pulled the boat in. Christopher threw me the hammer for the mooring spike– it nearly fell back in the water and Dominic was supposed to put the plank across but he fell off the back of the boat and the plank fell in too. As he climbed back on he put his foot on a wasp and got stung!!!
I have collapsed in a corner with a glass of cider whilst the stew is in the pressure cooker. Dominic and Christopher are playing?? football inside the boat and Christopher has just done what he calls a penalty kick which consisted of smashing Dominic in the face with the ball and as I write this Dominic has just cracked his head on the shelf. He says it’s his bad day, so I said “don’t do anything” so he said “the roof will fall in next”.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be on your own as an adult with four Grendels on a boat? Well I don’t have to imagine it – they’re here. What’s worse is the three of them bicker and argue constantly. It is now lunch time and I have just got really cross so there is dead silence and everyone is too terrified to eat. They have been mucking about all day.
Dominic and Richard wouldn’t get up so Christopher and I decided to have breakfast at the back end with the little table. The minute we started the Vultures were upon us.
Dominic and Richard decided to walk with the dog between locks but as usual Grendel managed to wind himself round Dominic’s legs and he fell flat on his face – being him he just lay there and squealed. Richard got stung by a bee which was in his fishing net. When a lock appeared everyone happened to just be very occupied or disappear.
Then Dominic decided to hide in the long grass and after six locks he was nowhere to be seen. I went back to the locks to ask people behind and stopped a lady on the towpath coming from the opposite direction – no-one had seen him. I decided to go on a couple of bridges and then turn around, but suddenly caught sight of him hiding ahead. When he popped out with a big grin I yelled at him and then felt awful when I saw his face drop like a stone.
So here we are at 2.30 just after lunch and I am feeling like I have already gone 20 miles today. I wonder what delights the afternoon has in store for me.
Things have been amazingly quiet since we stopped yesterday afternoon – no mishaps at all – though I began to regret my remark about living with four Grendels as last evening they all decided to be like the dog and it was chaos for a while, pretending to pee on the bunks etc.
I asked them all to write to their father. Richard did his fairly quickly but Dominic and Christopher came to a grinding halt after one and a half lines. Then at 6pm Richard announced – no dinner till the letters were finished, so Christopher promptly did his, but Dominic said he didn’t care – fairly typical! We went off in the dinghy leaving him waiting for inspiration, but it didn’t come. Finally at 9.30pm he announced he was hungry – so he ate reheated supper at 9.45.
There was an almighty bang as a boat charged past at 6.50am this morning – so fast that the gas light was hitting the shelf as it swung about violently. Everyone leapt up in alarm and promptly went back to sleep again. At 8.15 the dog managed to wriggle half way through the ladder blocking the entry to my bunk and proceeded to get stuck and hung there looking all pathetic. Dominic didn’t wake up till 10am and we set off about 10.30 having waited in vain for another boat to come along to help us with these hard locks. In the whole of today we have seen a total of six boats.
We stopped to shop at South Wigston and had lunch and set off expecting it to get more and more built up. One guy asked Christopher where we were going and he replied Leicester. The guy said ‘ but this is Leicester”. Several miles further on and we are still in complete countryside, but in the distance I can hear the roar of the motorway.
Christopher put me in my place this morning. He asked what I would do with this boat in my old age. I said I would probably give it to him and he said “but will I be old enough to steer it?” !!! Then he asked me how old he would be when I was 80. Maybe 80 comes after 40!
We found a nice field to stop in and I am sunbathing. The dog has fallen in twice in ten minutes. Once when Dominic and I were putting the dinghy in the water and he barged between us. We both shoved him back and he went to turn. There was a furious scrabbling and splosh into the reeds off the front. Then he came hurtling across the field so fast that he missed the plank and went off the side of it into the reeds again!
As you can see by the state of the last two pages (the ink has smudged and there are great blobs on the paper) the boys decided to have a water fight and everyone has been drenched. After dinner I read James and Giant Peach and stopped after four chapters at a particularly exciting bit. Dominic wanted to read on himself but Christopher wouldn’t let him. Then he relented and said he could just look at the pictures. Dominic was lying on the bed next to me and of course couldn’t resist reading. The other two came creeping up from the other end to try to get the book away from him and we ended up with a full scale war on my bed. It got out of control and Richard hurt me so I got annoyed and frightened them all by shouting and we settled down for the night.
Stopped in Leicester and had a wander round. The boys wanted to go to the cinema but there was nothing suitable on. So I bought tickets for Godspell instead. It was absolutely marvellous and I came out feeling good but it didn’t last long as they soon started bickering – so depressing.
Dominic and Christopher want to stay on the canal a bit longer but Richard wants to go back. Bet he’s going to be furious when he wakes up and finds out he’s been outvoted.