I woke this morning to find Jerry asleep next to the Officer Cadet, and a large inflatable flamingo in the galley. This was an early indicator of the day head.
We rose at 6AM, a fairly usual start time for us, and Harry quickly got the idea that we don’t hang around. We diligently went about our morning routine, I took Jerry out for a walk, the Captain got breakfast ready (cereal followed by sausages in bread rolls – perfect for eating on the go), and Trevor and Elaine prepared the boat for departure.
As a trainee, Harry the Officer Cadet was keen to try a little of everything. He first turned his hand to driving, which he did very well – although he has something of a lead foot or whatever the equivalent is for the hand that pushes the throttle (lead hand?) and there were several moments where the crew all thought he should slow down just a little bit. But he did get into the swing of it in the end.
It may have been the tuition he received from every member of the crew, or the glass of PIMMs at 0755 that calmed his nerves, we shall never know.
Having completed the Avon Ring we were now heading north towards Birmingham, just for a little extra something to do. Heading this way gave us all a chance to go through Wast Hill Tunnel again. Spending another 30 minutes in the cool dark tunnel was a good start to what would become a very, very hot day.
As we approached the centre of Birmingham we made Harry do some more driving, to up his experience. We went through the famous and historical Gas Street, a narrow place at the best of times, it was full of people too.
It was here the Trevor revealed to the rest of the crew that he and I had made a little deal. I was feeling confident in Harry’s abilities, Trevor less so… so we agreed I would dish out some money for every bump Harry caused. The bigger the bump, the higher the pay out.
Harry hadn’t hit a single thing up until this was revealed, and then strangely things started to change, there were a few bumps and bangs creeping in (“that’s £5 for that one!”), including a gentle tap against a moored up narrowboat – the first time we’ve ever done that (“£50!”).
Despite practically draining my wallet*, good progress was made and we were soon at our first staircase, 13 locks in a row taking us though the heart of the city.
We had a very friendly volunteer helping us to get through the locks – I think he was both surprised and pleased to see us. He said he rarely sees boats going through here. He went ahead of us and prepped each lock for our arrival.
This was also an opportunity for Harry to try his hand at working a lock. Unfortunately he had to stop after the first 6, due to unsuitable footwear – they may’ve looked the part, but his deck shoes were very uncomfortable. Style over substance I’m afraid.
Instead, I gave him a lesson on how to drive into a lock (I know, me giving lessons to someone else! Look how far we’ve come). I took him through the next 2 locks, explaining about the importance of not getting stuck on the cill, and all that. I’m sure he knew all this already, this wasn’t his first time on the water but he nodded and paid attention, so I presume it was a good lesson.
He drove the final 5 locks, gaining confidence with each one.
He also wrapped his heals in plasters, to protect himself from further harm.
It was around this stage that two things happened: the day warmed up to blistering temperatures, and our now 6 strong crew really got into rhythm, taking everything in our stride.
Until we hit the side, that is.
There is a point on the canal, as you head out of Birmingham that you have to go left or right. There is no other option. We reached this point, just as the Captain, Elaine, and I were sitting in the saloon having lunch—
Trevor and Harry had been chatting away whilst driving, and didn’t spot the junction. If nothing else it forced to make a decision, left or right? We chose left. I also emptied my wallet of all remaining cash at this point. It turns out Harry had been driving**.
We carried on, there were more locks to be done today, beneath the raging hot sunshine.
Felicity, the newly named inflatable pink flamingo, spent most of her day sat on the bed. She proved not to be a very useful member of the crew. Selfish Felicity.
We passed beneath the huge sprawl of concrete that is spaghetti junction. It’s an impressive feat of engineering, perhaps especially when viewed from below.
At one point, in the middle of yet another staircase (who knew the Birmingham area was so hilly!), Trevor and I were operating a lock when a couple of boys came up to offer help. Great, I thought, one can help push the beam I’m on and the other can help Trevor. These locks were quite stiff, so any help was appreciated. What actually happened is that they both looked and laughed at me, then hopped over and helped Trevor, leaving me to struggle on. You just can’t trust the youth of today.
After another staircase, just the 7 locks in this one, the Captain finally decided enough was enough. We moored up a couple of hours earlier than usual, tied up against a patch of smooth, flat grass on the opposite side of the canal (away from the towpath and all the cyclists and joggers) and enjoyed a highly entertaining barbecue in the still warm evening sunlight.
We only had four proper chairs on the boat, so Harry was given the challenge of inflating the “air chair”. He succeeded, just about, but it didn’t stay up for long. Felicity was brought out from the boat as an alternative.
Once the food (and gin) had been consumed, and Jerry had finished sprinting up and down the narrow stretch of grass, we got back on the boat.
Felicity spent the night outside, as punishment for her lack of help during the day. She seemed a bit deflated, but it serves her right.
There was time for an intense game of Cat and Dog (its a board game a bit like chequers, but with a few different rules), which eventually saw Trevor and Harry beat Elaine and the Captain.
Then it was time to call it a day. And what a day it had been.
*Terms and Conditions: please note that this was a virtual bet, and no actual money transferred hands. It was just a gentleman’s agreement. This blog does not endorse gambling in any form. Especially when it’s my money on the line. Thank you.
**Another gentle reminder, no cash exchanged hands. But my wallet did go flying across the room.