a cast iron thingy before lunch

a cast iron thingy before lunch

from 'a pause for thought' by Michael Nye

“You look like you’ve just sat in a pool of duck poo,” Jim broke the silence as the pair sat in the cockpit of what must have been the smallest working boat on the canal system.
“I can’t quite get round what I’m thinking Jim, but well, it’s almost like we’re sort of part of the boat, like she owns us almost. You rescue her, and somehow she drags me aboard, like she has a bit of a hold on us. Does that make any sense?” Amanda said.
“No, but nothing much does. It was there, and I guess I felt a bit like she needed help. I mean, it would be firewood by now if...”
“Oh! Jim! Don’t say that,” Amanda had tears forming as she spoke.
“Sorry, but that may have been the case only it wasn’t,” Jim replied quickly. “So we’re here. That’s where we are so far.”

Again, Amanda’s reply was checked by her thoughts. How could she suddenly have felt such a strong emotion for something that was no more than an assemblage of plywood and copper rivets.

Eventually she answered. “It is, and thanks,” she smiled warmly. “I guess we need to think of practical things too though. I mean we’ll need some shopping, and there’s another package to drop off at the maintenance yard.”
“Yes, that one was a bit strange,” Jim half frowned. “I was told that the guys there are cool about what we’re doing. You know like old Lou was when we first came on the canals.”
“Yes,” Amanda smiled at the memory of the man they’d met within hours of turning off the river only a few weeks previously. “Lou may work for the board but he’s no way a part of it.”

canal lock

canal lock

The waterways festival they’d just attended, although part of the project, had been a welcome break, but they were on the canal system to travel and to prove it was possible to run a working boat. Despite her diminutive size, Mayfly, at just fifteen foot six inches long, was that boat. The gesture, however futile it seemed, had to be made and the goods they carried had to be delivered on time. The package, containing a casting of some kind, was pretty heavy. Unlike their original consignment of watches there was no good place to secrete it, so it sat just behind the centre thwart in an ideal place for both Jim and Amanda to repeatedly stub their toes on the thing. They’d teamed up for part of the run north with the theatre company who had also been at the festival. Because of the shared journey, their progress was much quicker and they’d arrived at the the maintenance yard with more than half a day to spare, which was convenient as they needed supplies.

“I was told you two were a pretty slick operation,” Harry, from the yard said as they came alongside the wharf. “Like the old fly boats.”
“Shorter, and no horse, but thanks,” Amanda smiled.
“Same thing though,” Harry continued, handing the lines to her as she disembarked. “Anyone with a brain can see you two ain’t playing at it. You said you’d be here and here you are. And the way you’re tying up shows you know what you’re doing.”
“Something I learned as a Girl Guide,” Amanda smiled. “We’ve got a cast iron thingy for you,” she added, feeling a little embarrassed at not knowing quite what the item was.
“Just when we wanted it too,” Harry smiled through generous stubble. “I’ll get a couple of the lads to lift it for you.”
“We’re fine,” Amanda insisted, feeling that even if she didn’t know its purpose, she, despite her size, was capable of helping to manhandle the thing onto the wharf edge.
Jim looked across at her and, seeing the determination in her expression, decided not to say anything. In a little over five minutes they had got the casting onto a trolley for it to be wheeled off for whatever purpose it was to serve.
“It’s about lunchtime,” Harry said. “We were going over to the pub for a bite and a pint. If you’d like to join us.”

canal bridge

rural canal

With the agreement made, it was less than ten minutes before Jim and Amanda set off along the road with their new friends.
“Always seems a bit off going to a pub that served the opposition,” Harry said, pointing to the nearby railway station. “But it’s a good place all the same.”

Shortly after arriving, Jim and Amanda were each presented with a Ploughman’s lunch and a pint of bitter.
“Are you sure that’s OK?” Amanda said, feeling that Harry and his friends probably knew hers and Jim’s age via the gossip network of the canal system.
“Boaters drink beer,” Keith, Harry’s workmate, said firmly. “And you don’t mess with tradition. They didn’t crown the Queen with a bobble hat now did they.”

canal lock winding gear

bridge over canal

There probably was some logic to the argument but Amanda was too hungry and thirsty for analysis. More than that, she was happy to just be accepted as part of what was going on. She’d arrived with her crew mate on a working boat so she was a boater in Keith and Harry’s eyes.
“I may be a posh kid with a plummy accent,” she thought. “But, well, what.” she couldn’t help smiling.

“Would it be OK for us to look round the yard?” she asked politely as she ate.
“What’s left of it,” Keith replied “They’ll close it down soon enough, best see it whilst its here. It’s odd for a lass to want to see a mess like that though,” he added, wondering if Amanda was simply trying to be polite.
“You’re probably right,” Amanda smiled, thinking of the starchy school uniform she’d been wearing only days before she’d decided to walk away and embark on the odyssey she was now on. “But I can lift lumps of cast iron,” she added with a smile.

(©2024 Michael Nye www.michaelnyewriter.com)