the hire boats are back

old no 38

the hire boats are back

So here they come.

To be honest they’ve been here since Easter.

But this is different, the floodgates have opened as it were.

Chugging along the Staffs and Worcs here, past old bridge number 38. Like a flotilla of drunken ducks.

Yes, the hire boats are back - just as you thought it was safe to go back on the water, here they are as large as life and twice as annoying. We’ve been spoilt you see, two years of pandemic have shielded us in more ways than one.

holiday and day hire narrowboats

Take this first one for example.

Morning Mist.

That’s sixteen year old Brittany sitting resentfully in ‘the pointy end’ under an umbrella - it is British summertime after all. So convinced was she that this year she’d be able to holiday in Ibiza with her friends, she had streamed and binge watched every episode of ‘Love Island,’ in the hope of picking up a few tips. Instead she’s here with Mum, Dad, brother Mason and Cockerpoo, Rebel floating along wherever on earth this forsaken place is supposed to be. Her smart phone is taking such a battering that twice already it’s threatened to drain the onboard batteries as it recharged.

Ten year old Mason meanwhile is tearing up and down the interior corridor, noisily machine gunning imaginary Somali pirates with Rebel scampering around, tongue lolling, mopping up any survivors.

Dad Brian is stood on the stern lost in thought, still trying - after a week - to get his head around the fact that if you steer right the damn boat goes left. A number of collisions with fellow boaters and incursions into the canal bank had merely proved to highlight this point. He’s been amazed how kind and understanding his fellow hirers have been when he’s ploughed into them at two miles per hour, compared with the totally pissed off attitude of the year round boater. Very strange, you’d have thought that this sort of thing happened a lot.

He also lets his mind drift to Irene. She’d been so enthusiastic when he’d suggested this trip, but seemed to have gone completely off the boil. He wondered where she was?

Irene was three miles further down the towpath, stomping furiously along, lock key in hand. ‘Let’s go on a cruise,’ Brian had suggested and she’d felt that the years of toil and servitude were at last being rewarded. She’d envisaged cocktails on a Caribbean beach, or vino blanco on some Mediterranean coast, with fine dining thrown in, not Batham’s and scratchings on some Black Country backwater.

That she was expected to serve a full English each day to the male contingent (she and Brittany had independently agreed to go on hunger strike) was a very sore subject. Brian had even become overly amorous last night, but she had snuffed that suggestion out as soon as it was mooted by telling him to, ‘tie a knot on it.’ Which was why they were now headed for some remote museum which Brian had discovered had an exhibition of maritime rope tying, once again completely missing the point.

holiday boats

Floundering behind them is another example of expectation over reality.

Sunset Rover

That it is sitting so low in the water should be no surprise. This group of six friends (plus an extra that they’d managed to stowaway) came aboard with two bulging suitcases each. A tad optimistic for what was to be only a long weekend away. Loaded onto the roof, between the solar panels are six mountain bikes and a mobility scooter for Daphne, poor thing. Inside is also a full sized barbecue (with rotisserie and warming cabinet) a 240 volt pillar fan, a desktop computer - in case Jeremy gets an urgent call from the office and needs to access his spreadsheets, Jackie’s make up bag (ginormous, she needs a lot of grouting), three fishing rod kits with all the associated carbon fibre accessories - seats - trollies - keep nets, a karaoke machine for light evening entertainment, enough cans of real ale and bottles of Chardonnay in cool boxes, gin, whiskey and Cointreau (for Quentin) to pacify a ship full of drunken sailors.

The occupants are all huddled on the stern in their cagoules because there is no room inside. If Nigel so much as twitches the tiller then at least one of them is in danger of becoming the subject of the cry ‘man overboard,’ even if she’s a woman.

Here are the lads. They’ve no idea what their boat is called and even less interest. They’re in a hurry. In a nod to self sufficiency they’re off to rendezvous with a delivery driver from Just Eat (other such public servant organisations are available). They would have had them delivered directly to their overnight mooring (alongside the pub) but in his haste to expunge the throbbing in his head by consuming a medicinal sausage and egg McMuffin with hash brown and extra large Pepsi, Little Stevie accidentally put in the wrong postcode on his app. Big Stevie (ironically smaller than little Stevie) is not impressed. He wanted a Balti for breakfast, but has had to make do with a Big Mac and fries, with a side of extra fries, cheesy garlic bites, pancakes with sausage patty and syrup and as a nod to healthy eating, some cucumber sticks which he intends to feed to the ducks.

The rest of the ‘crew’ as they have optimistically named themselves are similarly catered for with the exception of Matt who is feeling decidedly seasick, no doubt due to the impromptu drinking competition he had a hand in organising the previous night (and the night before) when he had to retire after downing a pint of Stella Artois and gin, in one, and lost in the final to Fish, who has never lost a drinking competition in his relatively young life.

In an effort to meet the aforementioned delivery bloke before everything goes cold and cardboardy (as opposed to hot and cardboardy) Spanners at the helm is exceeding the speed limit at 4 1/2 mph in an effort to overtake Sunset Rover ahead of them on this narrow bend and to hell with the fishermen. He is totally unaware that shielded by the overhanging trees, Ted and Dorothy on their timeshare cruiser (one week a year, so long as it’s off-peak) are heading on a collision course in the opposite direction.

Further downstream and only visible by the cabin showing above the waterline is the boat formerly hired by Ken and Simone. He’d wondered what the weed hatch was for. Now as he stands dripping on the towpath on the phone to the hire company he understands that it should not be removed under any circumstances whilst the propeller is turning. At least he hadn’t upended it on the lock cill, but there’s enough of British Summertime left for someone to perform that party trick.

So put your tin hats on and take cover folks. Fortunately the season won’t last long, as we all know British summertime is mercifully short.

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About David Robertson

Hi I'm Dave Robertson. I live beside the Staffs & Worcester canal with my wife and a small menagerie. I've just published my third children's book, the first of which was set on a canal boat. My column is called 'Old No 38' because that's the bridge I cross every day... If you would like to learn about my children’s books, here is my Amazon page link