a collective memory of the canals
We’ve seen more than you can write down;
cuckoos and choristers, moorhen sex,
chemical toilets and terrapins,
Anderton Boat Lift and Foxton Locks.
Curious cargoes and mystical beasts,
steam boats and herons, working pairs.
Giant pedal organs on tiny little boats,
midnight dancing at Mountsorrel weir.
The winter approach to Standedge;
our second trip out, so we took it slow
and saw a dark mouth full of blossom
as the entrance loomed in the first fall of snow.
A juvenile heron that rose and dropped
ahead of your bike on the towpath –
the dread sound of metal on water
as your dog or child or your keys take a bath.
Steering a sinking clinker boat
as droplets spin out from the flywheel;
up Heartbreak Hill, tipping ash in each gate –
and a pint at the top in the Bluebell.
Mooring at Branston beneath a tree,
and waking surprised in October dawn
as the roof sends out a guncrack of rain
and crab apples shaken down by the storm.
A roe deer at dawn, a 4.30 start
with a long strap pulling the butty behind;
a dog-fox at dusk, as you take the last berth
and set out the barbecue, pour out the wine.
The Unpronounceable Aqueduct
the Tardebigge Deep Lock, the Bingley Five;
the perfect Ashby mooring,
a peaceful spot with boats and beehives.
We’ve seen things that could stop your breath.
A brave duck called Fender who nearly got squashed;
the first sod cut from the Ship Canal;
a kingfisher, angel of the grubby Erewash.
The sound of a rudder hitting the sill –
enough to stop a boater’s heart.
Towcester and Bingley carrying lime juice,
forty tons moving through locks in the dark.
Mechanical trouble? We’ll use the Standard Tool
(what you might call a lump hammer).
Toilet tank blocked? Not a nice job but we found
some remarkable things from Ann Summers.
The bagpiper on the Huddersfield,
who piped us into the locks one night;
the choristers in the Harecastle
who sang us through darkness and into the light.
At five years old, a taste of time –
fish and chips at Middlewich
as the last of the working pairs slid by
and the boatman tied up with a tugman’s hitch.
We’ve done things you wouldn’t believe;
crossing the wide Bristol Channel
with fingers crossed – or down on one knee
to propose in the Harecastle Tunnel.
Painting a boat in December, masked
so your breath doesn’t spoil the finish;
smelling the bright smell of Brasso
as you start to spit and polish.
Braving the laughs of Canal Street
on a boat called Pleasure Bent; we’ve done it all.
They say we’re freaky boat people.
And that, my friend, is the point.