Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 20

I don't know what it is about a night of making love which leaves me in no hurry to get out of bed the next morning! Jus was normally worse than me but on this occasion he was already up and about by the time I woke.

"Can I smell tea?"

"Yes and breakfast if you ask me nicely. The full works as I don't want us to stop until Banbury is behind us."

"Okay boss but I'll need a shower especially after last night."

Jus giggled.

"Oh I dunno? You'll only smell of sex, I can cope with that!"

"Okay. Breakfast and away then."

All things considered, we made good time reaching the outskirts of Banbury by three-thirty in the afternoon which, in the event that Tooley's Yard was no longer there, would still give us time to buy diesel and get clear of the town well before dusk.

We picked our way slowly in an attempt to avoid the crap that had been dumped in the water but then I saw a sign. Tooley's Boat Yard five hundred yards. The place was still operational and once I'd managed the tricky manoeuvre of reversing onto the service quay, we were met by a man who appeared to be in his late fifties.

"Good Lord! A boat on the canal! What can I do for you young master?"

"Diesel would be good please. We want Banbury behind us before dark."

"Diesel I can do but there's no chance of making it out of town tonight I'm afraid. Some stupid bastards shoved a car into the cut and completely blocked it. The B.W. people are looking to hoist it out as we speak but they tell me that it won't get done much this side of midnight."

"Shit! We're on our own and don't much relish the idea of hanging around in town overnight."

"I can understand that but don't let it worry you. We will let you stay right where you are. The yard is very secure so no one will bother you.

Do you need any provisions?"

"Well we are running low on some things. Is there a general store nearby?"

"The best one is half a mile away.

Tell you what? I'll get my lad to run you there in the van while I see to your diesel. How does that sound?"

"That would be fantastic! Thank you!"

"No problem son. Let's go to the office and get you booked in."

As Mr Tooley and I took care of the paperwork, Jus cast his eyes over the many photo's that adorned the walls. Suddenly he started to laugh.

"Well I'll be damned. Look here Alex, its Casio!"

He pointed to one of the photos and it was indeed my parent's boat. I asked Mr Tooley why it was up there on the wall.

"So you know that boat I take it?"

"It belongs to my Mum and Dad. They keep it on the Thames at Mapledurham now."

"Your Mum and Dad you say? A hippy-type character and a rather pretty lady? Well it's a small world and no mistake.

That picture is up there because they did me a big kindness. Someone had cut loose one of our boats and it had drifted down stream by two or three miles. Your parents saw it, took it into tow and brought it back here.

Hang on a minute, I should have a couple more somewhere."

He rummaged around in a cupboard then produced two more photos.

"This one is of the boat they rescued and this is one of both of them standing on their boat. Are they your Mum and Dad?"

I laughed.

"Yes that's them. Rather younger but there can be no doubt about it.

Take a close look at the lady, she's pregnant and what she was carrying is me!"

He flipped the photo over.

"Makes it around the right time. This was taken almost fifteen years ago. Would you like to keep it? I've got the one on the wall to remind me of their kindness so if you'd like it then you're more than welcome."

I couldn't refuse and anyway, it would be good to show it to them once we got back.

His son took us off to the shops and by the time we returned the yard had been locked up for the day so he let us in telling us that his father would be back at eight the following morning.

Supper and an early night for us.

I was already up, showered and dressed with Jus back in our bedroom and stowing away the bed when I heard the sound of voices in the yard. Mr Tooley and his son were getting ready to move an old working boat from the quay into the workshops and I guessed we were in their way so I made my way outside and offered to move.

"There's no rush young'un. You go as and when you're ready. The B.W. people managed to remove that car last night so you'll have a relatively clear passage. The Napton summit can be a bit tricky but they know you're coming through so they'll set the pumps running so hopefully you'll have enough water to get you to Marston Doles."

"Thanks but I need to settle up with you for the diesel before we go."

"No need. Your father point blank refused payment for saving our boat so this is my way of saying thanks to you as a family."

"But I can't let you do this. That's too generous!"

"Yes, you definitely are your father's son and I won't hear of payment! Now away with you and I wish both you and your friend a safe journey."

I had Jus start the old Lister as I untied the ropes and slipping slowly away from the quay we headed out towards Fenny Compton Wharf and a lunch break.

We passed through the village of Cropredy which is where we caught the first glimpse of boat traffic. No boats on the move but plenty of them moored up made this little village very attractive and an insight into what the canals could look like with a bit of care and attention.

Onwards to Fenny Compton where we stopped for a bite of lunch.

By now we were on the Napton summit, the highest point on the canal where significant lack of water might cause us problems but we were very lucky. It was shallow enough and there were times we could hear the hull grounding on shingle but we managed to keep going until we reached Marston Doles and the top of the lock flight, nine in all that would take us down the one hundred and ninety-five feet into a long lock-free pound that would eventually take us to Braunston.

"Tackle the locks today or leave them 'til tomorrow Jus. You choose."

"Do them today. Here's a bit something and nothing and besides, if we get them out of the way, tomorrow will be a breeze."

"Oh right. Nothing to do with the fact that there's a pub right outside Napton bottom lock then?"

"The thought never so much as crossed my mind but now you mention it, let's get locking!!"

The Folly pub was a bit special.

Being on the edge of the village, it served meals so we asked if we could make a reservation.

"How many of you will be dining?"

"Just the two of us please."

"Just you two kids? No adults in your party then?"

"No. We're out on our boat, my parents are in Caversham just outside Reading and Justin's are in Tripoli serving in the Diplomatic Corps."

"On your boat. Well alright then. What sort of time do you wish to eat?"

"Whenever's convenient. We don't want to get in the way but we've been self-catering pretty much since we left Reading so we thought we'd treat ourselves."

"Okay. Seven be alright? We won't be that busy at that time of the evening and in any case, I'm sure you won't get in the way, it's just unusual to have two youngsters wishing to dine on their own."

The meal was nice if nothing out of the ordinary. We skipped on the wine idea as we still weren't too sure if we were welcome so stuck to orange juice instead.

We paid the bill and made our way back to Spook, opened a bottle of wine while Jus studied the navigation book.

"What exactly will we find at Braunston Alex?"

"I'm not too sure but given that the North Oxford Canal still supports freight traffic which then heads down the Grand Union to London, it'll be busier than here. Why do you ask?"

"It says here that there are numerous boat yards, chandleries and pubs, a hotel, shops and plenty of moorings so I was wondering if we could maybe hang around for a couple of days and take a look around?"

"Nice idea! We've been constantly on the move since we left Mapledurham so perhaps it's time for a break.

Did you manage to find a telephone box when you took the dogs out?"

"Oh yes, sorry but there's no real news in fact I think they're enjoying the peace and quiet without us getting under their feet!

I notice you never mentioned the mill?"

"Deliberately so. You'd have told me off if I had! My Dad or Sir George would've said something had there been a disaster so I'm being a good little boy and chilling out!"

"Are you going to be a good little boy later?"

"I can't imagine what you're talking about! I'm never a bad little boy, naughty maybe but never bad."

"I can cope with naughty!"

"Hmm! Drink your wine. It's too early to go to bed."

It had rained heavily overnight bringing with it spectacular lightning storms.

There's something very erotic about making love when the skies are lighting up all around you, the sound of the rain battering the roof of the boat and thunder rolling around the hills. We were safe in each other's embrace, nothing could hurt us or scare us but it was something of a relief to wake up to a sunny day.

The storms had made the air fresher and cleaner with the added bonus that the amount of water in the canal had increased dramatically giving us a swift passage to Braunston arriving at eleven in the morning.

Our problem was finding a suitable mooring. The place seemed cluttered up with working boats, their crews were very friendly but the entire waterfront was just one wharf after another and we were beginning to think that we'd have to forego our break, transit up the lock flight and out of town but then we spotted an opportunity.

Directly opposite Wharf House Boats was a vacant public mooring, a forty-eight hour slot which was just about long enough for us to get Spook alongside. We tied off but left the engine idling as the batteries needed more time to fully charge.

We left the boat and walked the short distance to Braunston Bottom Lock and watched with fascination as a seventy-two footer entered followed by its equally long tender or 'Butty'.

Jus looked on almost spellbound.

"Christ they're good! Look at the size of those things and not only that, the front boat is towing another. Do you reckon its engine has packed up?"

I had to laugh at this remark.

"No. The Butty doesn't have an engine! It has a boatman's cabin for its crew but otherwise the entire boat is given over to carry freight."

"Ooops! Good job it was you I asked and not their skipper! I don't need everyone to think I'm stupid!

How do they stop? I mean it's one thing stopping the lead boat using the engine but the towed boat? How do they manage that?"

"I dunno. Crash into each other I suppose, either that or they're just very professional at what they do. Maybe try asking them. I'm going back to Spook as I could use some coffee."

We had just made our way back outside with our drinks when the lead boat came alongside us and drew to a halt. The helmsman shouted to us.

"Is your skipper on board?"

I answered him.

"That's me. How can I be of help?"

He didn't seem that surprised by my answer almost as if it was very normal for a kid to be in charge.

"Well I was wondering if we could tie off alongside you for an hour. We need to haul the butty out of the lock as the main tow line has parted. We can get another at the chandlers over yonder but then we'll have to splice it. Also we could use some diesel and water so we could get all the jobs out of the way right here but it would mean us blocking you in for a couple of hours."

"Don't worry about that. We've only just arrived and we're planning on staying for the full forty-eight hours so please feel free to do whatever you need to do."

The man grinned at us. "Thanks. Really appreciate it."

Jus looked at this boat, then at me.

"Should we help him tie off do you think?"

"Definitely not! These blokes have their own method of doing things like they're doing this sort of thing day in day out so he won't want us interfering. If he wants anything, he'll ask."

Just then, a boy, not that much older than us appeared from the cabin and called out to us.

"Okay to come aboard?"

"Help yourself."

"We'll just get secure and then I can take a break while my father organises everything. We haven't had a very good morning what with that stupid towline. Nearly lost the sodding butty!"

He tied off then leaned back against the cabin, sweat rolling down his face.

"Would you like a cold drink? You look like you're all done in!"

"I wouldn't say no, cheers. What have you got?"

"Coke, lemonade, orange squash or maybe a cold beer?"

"Orange squash sounds good. I'd take the beer option except none of us touch alcohol when we're working. Too damn dangerous!"

Jus went below and made up a pint of squash loaded with plenty of ice then handed it to him.

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure. Fire away."

"Well we were watching as you entered the lock and I just wondered how you stopped the butty. Stopping the lead boat is obvious enough but you're towing an unpowered craft. Isn't that difficult?"

"Not really. Like everything you do on canals, just keep an eye open for problems and slow down gradually. Sometimes the butty smacks you up the arse but both boats are well fendered so it doesn't do any damage."

"One other thing…… sorry but I'm pretty ignorant about boats but your cabin is very small. How many of you use it?"

"Right now, just me and my old man but when I was a little kid, my Mum and brother also sailed with us. Sadly my Mum passed on and my brother didn't fancy the life but I get where you're coming from, it must seem to you like its very cramped but you know the expression. A place for everything and everything in its place? If you let the area get untidy then it can be a nightmare so we keep it spotlessly clean and tidy plus the other thing you have to remember is, we work around the clock unless we're loading or offloading so there's only ever two people sleeping at one time. A change of watch and we swap over."

"A tough life."

"Never really thought about it but the way I see it, it has to be better than being cooped up in some stuffy office all day! Fresh air, wonderful countryside, wonderful people. How good is that?

Oh. Nice engine by the way. Lister JP2 is it?"

I answered.

"Yes. We had it rebuilt because when we got the boat it only just about ran!"

"Look after it mate and most likely it'll outlive you. Ours is a Lister JP3 and completely original.

I'd better crack on and get us some water.

Thanks for the drink, maybe see you around sometime."

We locked up and went off to explore Braunston.

We visited some of the chandlers with me getting excited looking at all the stuff we didn't really need but might just come in handy. Fortunately Jus had his practical hat on and dragged me way from spending too much money.

We bypassed the pubs thinking that maybe we'd pushed our luck getting served in those we'd already visited then went food shopping.

We picked up some great deals in both the local butchers and green grocers, made a call home, -- no real news thank God, -- then made our way back to Spook.

We were a bit surprised to see that the cargo boat was still alongside us but then Edward, the son we'd been talking to, came up from their cabin.

"Look, we're very sorry about the holdup, I really shouldn't have tempted fate when I said our engine was good 'cos now it's become a major problem. We filled up with diesel but nobody realised how much water it contained and now all it does is cough and sputter. My Dad will explain once he gets back but as you said that you were here for forty-eight hours, we thought it would be alright if we stayed put until we work out how we get fixed."

"We don't have a problem with that so long as you're okay with it. My Dad always warned me about the possibility of introducing water into the fuel system, it can be dead difficult to separate the two. Do you reckon you can get it done here in Braunston?"

"Don't rightly know. Hopefully yes otherwise it means us getting a tow back up through the locks then through the tunnel to Buckby Wharf. The B.W. yard have the kit there but it'll mean a day, maybe two to arrange for a tug and another day to get the job done and get back. The problem is there are penalties for late delivery and what's even worse, everyone is fighting for fewer and fewer contracts and while we could possibly stand the late delivery penalties, we would be seen as a risk and might lose out on future work."

"We could tow you couldn't we? Save money on a tug and we could leave right now."

"But you said you were here for forty-eight hours?"

"It was only that we could use some provisions and take a look-around but we've done that already so we can move out anytime. Leave right now if you like?"

Edward grinned.

"Really? Let me go and find my father. Unless I miss my guess he'll be trying to sweet-talk someone into giving us a leg-out so he'll be up at the Admiral Rodney by lock three. Give me fifteen minutes okay?"

Edward disappeared up the lock flight and Jus looked at me.

"Have you ever towed another boat?"

"No but they have, they do it all the time so there can't be that much to it so I'll learn from them."

"What did he mean by getting a leg-out?"

"Oh right. You see, tunnels don't always have towpaths so before boats had engines, the bargees used to lay face up on boards either side of the boat and use their legs and feet against the tunnel walls to walk the boat through hence the term legging it or getting a leg-out."

"I never knew that! I mean I know people say something like 'I've got to leg it' meaning they have to go but I didn't realise where it originated from. Interesting.

So Edward's Dad was looking to find people to leg them through?"

"No I don't think so. Braunston Tunnel is too wide, it'll take two boats side by side. Getting a leg out meant he was looking for a favour, someone to tow him.

When the tunnel was first built it had a towpath but come the advent of powered craft, they ripped it out."

"Sorry. I can be really dense sometimes!"

"You're not dense! You'll hear lots of strange expressions on the water, all of them having their roots in the old traditions.

Take for instance Winding holes. Not winding as in winding up a clock but winding as in a breeze of wind. They're places wide enough to turn a boat around and the old bargees used to use the wind to help them turn. Loads of people get the pronunciation wrong 'cos they don't realise its origin.

Edward referred to the unpowered boat as a Butty and a Butty is precisely that, no engine but with a boatman's cabin whereas a Butty without a cabin is called a Joey."

"Fuck! Another language for me to get to grips with!

Hey look! They're coming back."

Edward and his Father walked up to us.

"This is really kind of you. Those men up at the pub had been drinking far too heavily for my liking, definitely too much to tow us safely so you're like heaven sent!"

"That's okay but I should warn you, while I've been towed, I've never actually done the towing."

"No problem. There's actually not much to it. I'll have Edward stay with you through the first lock so you can get a feel for what I need you to do, then he can join Justin on the towpath to lock us through the next five. Just remember to take it easy and you'll be fine I promise.

You don't mind locking us through Justin?"

"Not at all, I enjoy it plus it'll give the dogs a chance to get some exercise."

With the first lock set, I was told to ease forward until Spook's stern was opposite Saturn's at which point Edwards Dad attached the new towline to Spook's mooring dolly's and I was told to move forward until the bow had just entered the lock where I was instructed to head in and hug the right side of the lock wall. With the tow now disconnected, Saturn slipped in beside me. As the lock chamber filled, Edward told me that once the top gates were open, to move forward like before so his Dad could reattach us and we'd be on our way.

"Just make your way up to lock two on tickover. With luck Justin and I will have it set for you by the time you get there but if I hold both my hands up, cut your engine and hold position until I beckon you forward."

Locks two and three went like clockwork but on nearing lock four I could see Jus holding up his hands motioning me to hold off. Minutes later he came running down the towpath, the dogs chasing after him.

"No real problem but there are two boats coming down so you'll have to wait. I'll wave you when it's okay to come up alright?"

"Yeah that's cool. Are you okay keeping the dogs with you Jus?"

"More than. They're having the time of their lives! One of them has already fallen in and not deliberately either. Just skidded on the damp grass and ended up going for a swim. No prizes for guessing which one it was!"

"Dizzy perchance?"

"The very same but I better dash.

Come on dogs, we've got work to do."

The remaining locks didn't cause too many problems and as we prepared to exit lock six, the final lock of the flight, we saw two boats heading down towards us at which point, Jack as I'd come to know him or Edward's Dad had Jus get the dogs back on board plus himself.

"Leave the gates open for them as it saves all of us a job and we can get ourselves to the tunnel. After that we have about a three mile run to Buckby Wharf and a chance to relax while we get the people there to sort out our fuel problem."

I was nervous about the tunnel and especially as we were towing a boat almost twice the length of Spook and also backwards but in fact it was okay as we didn't meet anything coming in the opposite direction so an hour after exiting the tunnel we were moored up at Buckby Wharf.

Edward disappeared to find the engineers who would fix their problem and Jack came aboard Spook where we offered him a beer.

"Normally I'd refuse your very kind offer but we're not towing so sod it, why on earth not!

Both of you did a man's job today, I was very impressed. You've got a fine boat here and one you should take great care of.

Do you intend to get her painted?"

"Yes, just as soon as we get back to Mapledurham.

Why do you ask?"

"Well I was just wondering if you'd let me do my own bit of signwriting on her. Nothing major but you might find it a help once you get into the Port of London. More than that I won't tell you but…… I want to do this for you especially in light of what you did for Edward and me today. You not only saved us the cost of an expensive tow but you saved us precious time.

These days, contracts are as rare as hen's teeth so people who pretend to be friends are always on the lookout for opportunities to take work off you. What you did today has most likely saved us this contract and our livelihood so can I do this please?"

We both nodded our heads.

"Sure you can, why not?"

We watched from the bank as Jack skilfully painted 'N.B.SPOOK' on the port bow followed by a picture of the planet Saturn with its rings followed by a crown and underneath that, the letter H. He didn't finish there as he went on to paint two crescent moons intertwined and a series of symbols neither of us understood. He repeated the same design on the starboard bow and then on the curvature of the stern just above the fender. No daubing this. The man was an artist! Edward returned together with the engineer and on seeing his father's work, just said 'Quite right too Dad!'.

We all shook hands and left to find a public mooring as they both returned to their boat to supervise the work that needed to be done.

We'd had a long and busy day, made new friends and both of us were totalled. A quick and easy supper and a glass of wine did the trick so we headed for bed.

Jus turned over towards me and yawned then reached down and gave my dick a squeeze.

"I've got to get some sleep Alex, I'm bushed already."

I was as well but the little bastard had woken Willy but before I could retaliate, Jus was asleep.

"You'll pay for this Armstrong! Sure as shit, I'll get you for this!!"

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