a waterways story
by Alice, a newbie waterways chaplain
Becoming a new Waterways Chaplain on the Kennet and Avon canal began badly for me! For one thing, it was 2020 with Covid and lockdown; for another, I have no car. And finally, my bus driver is not allowed to transport my old fashioned ‘sit up and beg’ bicycle.
I began enthusiastically bussing and then walking. But it all took me an age. I got cold feet literally, and the dark came down before I got back to my bus stop. Scary!
So we bought me a small folding bike. Also, I began knitting with some thick wool I had so I should have some very thick socks to wear inside my cold (and split!) wellies. Oh, why did the charity shops have to be shut?
The socks turned out too thick to fit inside my wellies; and my new-to-me folding bike’s saddle decided to slip down as my weight, and the towpath bumps, aggravated it.
So, on my first official venture along my assigned stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal (now wearing my new gilet emblazoned with the Waterways Chaplaincy logo) and with leaflets, Bibles, etc. stuffed in the cavernous pockets, I once more became both benighted and cold; and, moreover, on foot again. Also, I found I had NO signal on my mobile phone to let my husband know why I was so late.
Happily, a boater miraculously emerged into the half light with a mallet: just the thing to hammer my saddle back up into a rideable position, perhaps?
She asked me what I was doing… so I prattled on about why I was there in the descending darkness along this particularly gloomy canal ‘cut’. And I produced a leaflet…
Then two things happened. One, she told me the way to a train station nearby; two, she took the leaflet.
So I got home safely and thought no more about it, except that I must get myself proper equipment!
Then, subsequently, I received a phone call. It was from my mentor: could I please visit a particular boating lady who was lonesome and in some sort of need.
So off I set. This time, I travelled by train and during a morning. I put on two pairs of socks inside my leaky boots and I took a map and money.
I had a wonderful day! I met three lovely boaters, who welcomed me with cups of tea, sat me in the drizzle under an enormous umbrella on the towpath (because of social distancing) and we laughed and chatted. This is what they told me:
That leaflet I gave away because of my useless bike had eventually been passed to a lady along the canal. She, in turn, had rung my mentor to ask for help for her friend (the lonesome one).
I made an immediate connection with them both and also with another boater who turned up (on a “spiritual hunch”). He had "sensed" that Gillian - name changed - needed urgent help. This was true. Some welding had come adrift and her water tank had flooded. I couldn’t help with this but both the leaflet story and this man’s arrival to assist led to an amazing conversation about God’s guidance and help. Especially amazing as Gillian herself does not (or did not) have much faith.
So, what of my redundant socks? Well, her floor was flooded and would take some time to dry out so her socks (she never wears her boots inside the boat) would get wet, too, as she padded about. The shops were closed; I couldn’t get her some slippers quickly. So I took her the socks (only ever tried on once by me). She was thrilled and sent me a picture of her feet inside them, feeling cosy, she said.
Gillian and I have become firm friends and I have even had a lovely ride with her on (not in) her boat and we have enjoyed more spiritually-based conversations, too.
And all because my bike broke down and my homemade socks were too thick for me!
I received new wellies and two pairs of thick boot socks for Christmas and I’ve been lent an electric fold-up bike! So I’m sorted, too.
Nor do I go out now without a torch and an alarm. And, of course, with the bike battery well charged!