simply linda - telling tales from the towpath
In my last article I made reference to ‘my plan’. Well, I’m not going to tell you about that today. Instead, I’m going to share with you ‘my vision’…..
You may recall I made reference to having owned a boat called Graydees’ Dream, many moons ago. As far as I am aware, she’s still lying at Garstang Marina on the Lancaster canal. A more beautiful boat you couldn’t wish for, with her bespoke engine room and fully exposed John Deere engine; hand-painted (oil paints) waterside scenes on her superstructure; designer interior; and striking etched interior glass doors. Her bright red roof with brass mushrooms shone in whatever weather cared to come our way. Gongoozlers and boaters alike stopped to look. Many even came on board.
One day a young family came along the towpath. Grandma was with them, pushing a small wheelchair. The children and their dad were enthralled with the pictures of Kingfishers, Herons, and Otters adorning our ‘Graydees’. Being the ever-so proud owner he was Skipper invited the family aboard. He wanted to show the dad his pride and joy, John Deere. He loved that engine. I often heard him whisper, ‘I love you so much’ – if it wasn’t the engine it must have been the dog, because in nearly 40 years I’ve never heard him say that to me!
But I digress….
Dad and two of the children went aboard. Grandma and I stayed with the little lad in the wheelchair. He was a tiny scrap of a boy, with skinny twisted legs and arms no thicker than a washing line. He didn’t say a word. Grandma wittered on to him about the pictures on the outside of the boat, as the squeals of pleasure pierced the air from inside. To this day I still couldn’t tell you if it as the children or their father squealing in delight. All I could see and think about was the silent little figure in the wheelchair with his sad little downcast face.
Eventually Skipper and the other members of the family emerged onto the stern. Dad got off the boat and came over to the little boy in the wheelchair. His tiny face lit up, as his father grabbed the wheelchair and headed to the stern of the boat. His brother and sister were stood holding the tiller, ready for a family photoshoot. I heard Grandma behind me say something, it might have been ‘Sit’ or something like that, I’m not sure. My attention was on the little boy in the wheelchair.
The big beaming smile was stuck on his face, but from his eyes a tear silently fell. His wheelchair was at the side of the boat. His brother and sister were aboard with dad straddling the gap between boat and towpath. I turned to Grandma, but I couldn’t see her. Tears blurred my vision. I heard Grandma whisper, “He thought he was going aboard too. It’s always the same. He wants to do what they do, but can’t”.
That day has stayed with me down the years. Whenever the issue of restoring our wonderful waterways is discussed, I hear how people want to reopen closed navigations for everyone to enjoy. Everyday I see able-bodied people climbing on and off their boats. I see youngsters, adults and even some oldies kayaking by our boats. What I don’t see, however, are people with limited mobility or other challenging problems like blindness and gross motor-co-ordination difficulties aboard their boats. Even the towpaths aren’t particularly wheelchair-friendly. In short, I don’t see people with disabilities enjoying the same opportunities to be on the water as their able-bodied peers.
I know there are a few boats that people with disabilities can go aboard. To the best of my knowledge and belief, they are in the south of the country. I’m not sure, but I also believe there may be one or two that have been adapted so that some people with disabilities can take the helm. Again, I understand these to be in the south of the country. I know of no specially commissioned boat on the inland waterways that anyone – irrespective the nature or extent of disability – can helm.
The little lad in the wheelchair is in part the creator of my vision. I want to commission a purposely designed boat that anyone can helm; that anyone with a disability can TAKE their family and friends on for a trip – better still, for a proper cruising holiday – instead of them always being the one that is TAKEN, regardless of whatever disability he or she might have. I believe it is possible to design such a boat. I know it is. And I will make it happen.
In 2017 I attended a meeting at one of our local Universities. The topic was finance and funding. Although much of what was said went over my head – I’m only a simple boat lady after all – I was determined that before I left that room, everyone in it would know about my vision. Q&A came at the end of the session and I made damned sure I was the first person up and speaking!
To this day, I’m not really sure what I said though I do know it took 29 seconds in which to say it. I recall ending my little speech with something like, “So, gentlemen, what would you suggest I do about raising funds”.
Somewhere far away in the next universe, I heard a voice say something in reply. I have no idea to this day what was said or by whom, my heart was thumping and the blood was rushing through my ears like diesel through Graydees’ John Deere. That was the first time I had publicly spoken about ‘my vision’. I hadn’t even told Skipper what I was plotting and planning. To be honest, until I actually got into the meeting I hadn’t told me either!
At the end of the session - when everyone had gone – I noticed a very nice looking gentleman stood by me. He looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Given there was only me there I concluded he had come to speak with me;
“May I help you?” I asked in my best public speaking voice (I’ve spent a small fortune on learning how to speak ‘proper’, so I thought it best to use it!).
“I want to buy your boat”, came the reply.
My heart stopped beating. Fear coursed through me. I had just put one of our boats up for sale and not realised it. Skipper was not going to be pleased!
Then common-sense prevailed. I had surely misheard what the gentleman had said, so – whipping out my best Queens English again - I said;
“I’m sorry, could you say that again”.
This time there was no room for confusion. His reply was measured. His words articulated so that even in my state of brain death there was no misunderstanding;
“I want to buy YOU your boat”.
Even though that seemed pretty clear and unequivocal, I was still struggling to get what he was saying into my thick head. Self-destruct mode set in. I gave him every reason I could come up with to explain why that was not a good idea. Things like it wouldn’t be a cheap piece of kit; there wouldn’t be much change from £200k; I hadn’t a brass farthing to put towards it. His response was - I’m pleased to say - consistent. It went something along the lines of;
“I know; I know; I guessed as much”.
At last I remembered where I had seen this gentleman before – he was one of the panellists. He had explained how his organisation had helped small businesses. He wanted to help me achieve ‘my vision’. As you can imagine, I nearly passed out on the spot!
I hasten to add at this juncture, that I was most professional in my manner and simply stated;
“Oh, right. What do I need to do then?”….ever the great intellectual thinker!
The gentleman invited me to go to London to speak with his colleague the following week. Panic set in. I needed time to think. So I declined the invitation (stupid or what?), but arranged to go the following week instead. To be fair, I needed time to compose myself. Never in my wildest dreams over the past few years have I actually believed I would be able to raise enough finance to make ‘my vision’ a reality; to enable people like the little boy in the wheelchair experience what their able-bodied friends and family experience.
To cut a long story a bit shorter, I went to London the following week – armed with a tray of freshly baked homemade scones (Simply Linda’s way into a man’s pocket being through his stomach!). We talked a lot about ‘my vision’; the boat design and build; drank tea and ate the scones. I even dared to ask the question one should never ask – that’s the one uppermost in your mind. I wondered why they would want to help finance ‘my vision’. Back came the reply;
“Because it’s quirky”.
Now, I’m beginning to wonder about this word ‘quirky’. It seems to be applied a lot to me by others and to my writing. I recall an internet marketer who was trying to help me write a blog to market a holiday chalet we once owned. He often referred to my ‘quirkiness’ and even went as far as to suggest that I should consider becoming a professional writer, because my style is ’quirky’ and my way of thinking is ‘quirky’.
I looked up the meaning of ‘quirky’. It’s an adjective and means having or being characterised by peculiar or unexpected traits or aspects. It can be used thus:
"her sense of humour was decidedly quirky".
Other meanings include eccentric, idiosyncratic, unconventional, unorthodox, unusual, off-centre, strange, bizarre, weird, peculiar, odd, freakish, outlandish, offbeat, out of the ordinary, Bohemian, alternative, zany. I’m not sure whether I should feel honoured or offended that people think I’m ‘quirky’. Please do not feel obliged to offer your own views!
So, back to ‘my vision’…. I’m extremely honoured to report that the ‘very nice man’ (who has nothing to do with motoring or the AA) and his colleague have incentivised me. They will raise 75% of the cost of the boat and I have to raise 25% + cover the licensing, mooring fees and so on. How good is that?
Dig deep folks – it’s in an extremely good cause. Think about that poor little fella who couldn’t even have his picture taken aboard the boat because of his disability. How good would it be for him to be able to shout to his brother and sister to get the centre-line or grab the mooring pins? How might he feel knowing that he just navigated 60’ of steel hull through a narrow gap between ancient stone pillars without dislodging so much as a grain of silt (I know, there are precious few able-bodied ‘skippers’ competent enough to make such a manoeuvre)?
Make no mistake, skippers of ‘Sovereign Lady’ – ‘my vision’ of a fully accessible wide beam – will be amongst the best helmsmen and women on the inland waterways. They will have expert tuition from my very own RYA Inland Waterways Instructor. The boat will be an RYA Inland Waterways Training and Sailability Centre. Pretty unique in our part of the world, I have to say. Probably pretty unique in other parts of the world too!
May I just share with you why ‘my vision’ is to be called ‘Sovereign Lady’….
Straight after my visit to London, I contacted the Palace – the one where HRH Queen Elizabeth II lives – to see if she would mind me calling the boat ‘The Duke of Lancaster’. I had a very nice letter back saying that Her Majesty was very interested to learn about ‘my vision’, but the issue of using a protected title was a matter for the Cabinet Office. The Right Honourables therein advise Her Majesty on such matters. I was further told that it would take several weeks to hear from the Cabinet Office, particularly as there was ‘a bit of a do’ going on relating to the Palace of Westminster. I received the letter from Buckingham Palace on 08.06.17. Polling Day.
On 09.06.17, I received the first of many emails from the Palace of Westminster in relation to my request to use the title ‘The Duke of Lancaster’ for the boat. Clearly, ‘my vision’ was almost as important to the Right Honourables as the general election. And so it ought to be!
To be honest, it wasn’t the first time the Cabinet Office and I had ‘talked’ about ‘my vision’. I had shared it with them previously and they had agreed it was a jolly good idea. They didn’t put their hand in their pockets though – or if they did, that’s where they stayed. Anyway, suffice to say they knew about the boat and I believe were reluctant to say ‘No’ to my request. They understood my reasoning – she will be based in the Duchy of Lancaster; she’s going to be pretty unique; she will carry very special people; and accordingly deserves a very special name. But I think ‘The Duke of Lancaster’ was probably just a bit too much to ask (here I’m assuming you all know who ‘The Duke of Lancaster’ is…).
I think I told you before that in my former life I was a professional Psychologist. I know that the surest way to get what one wants from others is to ask for what you know they don’t want to give and which you don’t actually want. It’s called paradoxical intent. We all know boats are female and whilst I accept unequivocally that ‘The Duke of Lancaster’ is also female, it is (I think you will agree) a fairly manly title. This boat had to have a female title.
So after lots of to-ing and fro-ing of emails between me and the Right Honourables (Did I mean THE Duke of Lancaster; The Duke…of Lancaster; The Duke of..Lancaster…?), I let them off the hook. I suggested perhaps ‘Sovereign Lady’ might work better. The next email confirmed that they would advise the Queen that ‘Sovereign Lady’ was an appropriate and acceptable title for the boat. BOOM! ‘Job’s a goodun’, as they say from whence I come.
Just on the off-chance that there is a solitary soul out there who does not know who is the actual Duke of Lancaster (shame on you; to the Tower with you; off with your head!), I can tell you that in the County Palatine (Lancashire) the toast given is ‘to The Queen, The Duke of Lancaster’.
Just £27,500 (+ costs) stands between disabled people and years of enjoyment cruising the lovely lock-free Lancaster canal – though part of ‘my vision’ is that Sovereign Lady will also enable her guests to enjoy the thrill of passing through the 6 locks of the Glasson Arm down to see the magnificent Glasson Dock; the wonder that is the Lune Estuary; and the plethora of flora and fauna the area has to offer. It’s a bird watchers paradise and has an abundance of Her Majesty’s protected swans – probably more than seen on any other canal.
Needless to say, I would welcome any help with raising the necessary funds that readers might want to offer. I do, however, have a plan…..