The classic tale of "Froghall up the Caldon" has been migrated to the new web site: Two hilarious accounts of a trip on the narrowboat "ALICE" from Marple to Froghall Junction undertaken by two totally bewildered, bemused beginners in 1989. The first account is The Daily Log written by Cap'n Jack 'Titanic' Turnbull; the second, in verse, by his crew member and cook, David 'Beans Again' Brindley.
Ensign Brindley and Captain Turnbull ready to launch...
9am We departed Top Lock, Marple aboard the good ship 'Alice' amid a host of waving flag and the mighty cheers from the massed throng of Mark Singleton and his daughter. We gave the celebration champagne to Peter, 'Alice’s' owner, in disgust at the complete show of apathy by the Navigation Hotel well-wishers of the night before.
9.05am Stopped to empty the Elsan toilet.
9.l0am On our way again, spurred on by 'The Ride of the Valkyries' blasting from the ship's stereo on the cabin roof. Off into a bright new dawn with a pristine khazi and an empty bilge. En route The Ensign produced a magnificent bacon muffin to complement the '89 Co-op Bitter. (A cheeky vintage which appears to travel well.)
12.30pm Moored for lunch. Gammon steaks and beans with tea bread & butter. Most civilised. The Ensign had an extra helping of beans. (There will be a fair wind tonight.)
4-5.30pm Our first attempt at locks. Successfully negotiated the 12 at Bosley without submerging, capsizing or upsetting the other boaters too much. There was much shuttling to and fro in the locks as we attempted to keep 'Alice' central.
6pm Moored for dinner. Meat pie, peas and gravy with tea, bread and butter and jam. Did the crew of the Titanic dine so well, I ask myself? Following dinner and a stroll around the foredeck, we decided to motor on towards Congleton for an hour or so in search of a better mooring closer to habitation, (not to mention a pub.)
8pm On the outskirts of Congleton and the engine began running rough with limited acceleration. We stopped to add fuel. The engine ran OK for a while then died again. We managed to 'limp' to a temporary mooring then I assumed the role of barge horse and pulled 'Alice' to a safer haven. Rolled up my sleeves and removed a few feet of old rope and a Tesco's plastic bag from around the prop'. Tried the engine again but still no power so it looks as though we are stuck here for the night.
"I knew it was a mistake to let the Ensign navigate......"
9pm Retired to THE WHARF pub for sustenance. Ensign Brindley telephoned 'Alice's' owner who offered various suggestions as to the cause of our troubles. We decided to attempt repairs on the morrow. Enjoyed a couple of pints of the native brew, one of which the weary Ensign managed to knock off the table and christened my newly acquired Captain's trousers. We decide that his clumsiness is caused by the distinct roll of the Inn after our 10 hours afloat.
10pm To bed. All hatches battened down against the Congleton natives. Very still, warm night with not a breath of air finding its way inside the boat. Decide that it wasn't a very good idea to climb inside my sleeping bag. Restless night.
(Covered approx. 22 miles today)
7.30am Ensign Brindley brought me a mug of tea in bed. (This is very comfy, but there really isn't room for the pair of us in this sleeping bag.)
8am Commenced repairs on the boat in the cool of the morning.
8.05am Gave up the repairs. No fuel coming from the pump. As our combined knowledge of the intricate workings of the diesel engine could be written in longhand on the back of a postage stamp, and still leave room for a lengthy address, we decided to call the owner again. The intrepid Ensign set forth into the undergrowth around Congleton to contact a friendly native and perhaps a telephone box. Meanwhile, I was left on board to repel any roaming thieves and vagabonds intent on plundering our remaining stock of Bitter and also to cook the breakfast.
9am The brave Ensign returned safely with explicit and detailed instructions from the owner to, "Hit the fuel pump with something, that usually works." .......Ah'. what it must be to have a such a technical command of mechanics. However, before we attempted this rather delicate operation we breakfasted on bacon, sausages and tomatoes, with tea, bread & butter and jam. Who could ask for anything more?
9.30am Commenced the repairs. Hit the fuel pump with something as instructed. It didn't work. Thought about hitting Ensign Brindley with something, but then HE probably wouldn't have worked ...... and there's a long way to go. Took the fuel pump off and looked at it most severely. It still didn't work. Called it a few choice named we had heard old bargees use when the horse had trodden on their foot, or they had banged their head passing beneath a low bridge, but still it didn't want to play. Sat down on the canal bank with a can of Co-op Bitter to contemplate the situation. Rather early in the day to be imbibing, but the sun has risen above the yardarm, and we are more than a little concerned that the beer will go off if left too long.
10am Took the stubborn fuel pump to a nearby native garage to seek the advice of a learned mechanic. He laughed. Said that he didn't know all that much about fuel pumps, but this one wasn't working. We said we knew that. He laughed again. On the verge of calling out the Narrow Boat Doctor, if there was such a person, when 'Alice's' owner arrived, hot foot from Marple. He cast his experienced eye, (not to mention his experienced nose, ear and throat), over the offending article and declared it to be …… "Knackered!" (Aren't we all?)
10.30am Peter the Owner and the Ensign ventured once again into the wilds of old Congleton to purchase a new pump. This was obtained for the knock-down price of £25 in local currency which the stalwart crew elected to pay. Meanwhile, I had again volunteered to remain on board to guard our rapidly dwindling stock of Co-op Bitter. Life can be hell at sea.
11.30am New pump fitted. SUCCESS!!! It works. Now this Expedition to Froghall can get under way again. With the trusty diesel once again throbbing beneath our feet, (and the trusty Bitter throbbing in our heads), we set off into the shimmering heat of a Congleton noon-day sun.
Note: The crew had wondered why the old pump had had the word 'Carburettor' on it and not 'Fuel Pump.' The owner said that was because it had come off a Jaguar Motor Car. Of course!! Why didn't we think of that? Having found the ship's First Aid Kit in a margarine box, and Ensign Brindley's life savings in the soap dish, we should have guessed. It's all done to confuse the enemy ….. AND ME!!!!
2pm Reached the hamlet of Kent Green, site of an oft recommended Inn, 'The Bird in Hand,' run by an elderly female character whose name was legendary in the many dockside bars of Strines and High Lane. Beer and Porter only, with the ale being carried up from the cellar in large enamel jugs. We were eager to meet her. Sadly, she had passed away a few weeks previously. We thought that most inconsiderate of her, but then perhaps she had heard that we were coming. Not to be defeated we explored the quiet lane beside the now empty Inn and located 'The Rising Sun', not 25 yards away, lurking in the undergrowth. Here we were to pass a pleasant hour or so with the locals before deciding that, as we had secured a good mooring, we might as well make camp for the night and return to this charming hostelry for our evening meal. This we did, enjoying a repast of Steak & Kidney Pie with the inevitable Chips & Peas followed by Gateaux & Cream, coffee and a large glass of Cointreau. All for less than a fiver in English money. (Well, not a lot less.) Left the warm glow of the Inn, (and the warmer glow of the landlord's nose), at closing time to enjoy a good night's rest.
(Covered approx. 4 miles)
7.15am Tea in bed again. (This gets terribly messy, but it keeps the crew happy.) I came second in a game of cribbage last night so had to prepare breakfast.
7.30am Under way with the ensign at the tiller and The Engineer/Bilge Rat/Navigator & Part-time Stoker, (ME), at the stove. It proved to be something of a juggling act with only the two gas rings, trying to manage bacon, sausages, eggs, beans and a kettle. As my culinary artistry was reaching its mouth-watering peak the Ensign hove to at a lock. (Actually, he crashed into the canal bank as he yelled, "Lock Ahead!") As it was my turn to do the manual bit going through this particular lock, I turned off the gas under everything as I leaped ashore to go and attend to the paddles, lock gates, etc, etc. This was the last lock on the Marple to Macclesfield leg of our great journey. Safely on t'other side we moored, consumed my ruined masterpiece of a breakfast, then set off again to explore the uncharted waters of the Trent & Mersey Canal. We are about to set foot where no white man has gone before, (well, not for a day or two) …. Will we see another dawn? Will the natives spare us? Will we return safely to the Navigation and Viv? Read the next thrilling instalment.
9.15am Approached the 1.5 miles long Harecastle Tunnel. There was ‘NO ENTRY' before l0am, so we moored in the reddish waters at the mouth of the tunnel. Rigged up the extra headlight Peter had recommended on the roof of the cabin, then set forth into the inky blackness of the old, crumbling, Victorian tunnel, with the first 'convoy' of the day. We very soon lost sight of the boat in front, and the one astern dropped back until it was almost out of sight. The Ensign was at the tiller charging along at a fast rate of knots. (I kept telling him that water-skiing was not until tomorrow!!!!) The tunnel was dark, damp and dripping with the roof getting ever lower and threatening to knock the chimney stack off Alice's roof. The intrepid Ensign had obviously taken an instant dislike to the tunnel wall on my side, because he kept hitting it …. with the side of the boat. I was mightily relieved when we emerged once more into the bright sunshine some 40 minutes later. I dread to think what might have been our fate had the boat's fuel pump, alternator, wow & flutter valve, or even the battery packed in mid-tunnel!! Doomed for ever to wander this damp, rat infested tunnel. Almost as bad as been forced to watch 'Neighbours.'
Out of the tunnel and the Trent & Mersey meandered through the quaint industrial dereliction of the once-proud Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent. We chugged along peacefully at the regulation 4 miles per hour, 'Alice' nudging her way carefully through the discarded bottles, planks, plastic bags and the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of this sleepy city. Oh, how good it feels to be close to civilisation once again.
12 noon Steered 'Alice' off the Trent & Mersey at Etruria and into the still waters of the Caldon Canal. Moored to enable the industrious Ensign to empty the Elsan. (So that's what they mean by 'swabbing the poop'!) After these necessary ablution, AND a quick scrub of his hands, the Ensign busied himself at his secondary task of preparing our lunch. In fact, a feast surely fit for a King. The wonders that man can perform with only a tin opener and a packet of curry flavoured soya mince have to be tasted to be believed. His culinary skills are certainly wasted on this scurvy crew, (or should that be curvy screw?)
1.30pm Cast off up the Caldon. Travelled only a couple of hundred yards before we encountered our first flight of 'Staircase' locks. This fiendish invention of the canal builder's art has baffled many a novice crew undertaking their first canal trip …. but not US. Leaving the faithful Ensign at the helm I leapt fearlessly ashore to tackle this new obstacle. Thinking with a calm brain and that ice cool logic developed over many an hour spent afloat on Marple Lakes, I set to work. First, I opened the top paddles, shut off the mid-lock gates abaft the beam, paddled the bottom windlass, then lifted the full mizzen thwarts bilge. The water was soon rushing through the sluice, startling an elderly couple asleep in the long grass beside the locks, before it cascaded around 'Alice' at her mooring. The Ensign smiled, grimly and pointed at the first lock. It was still full of water with the lock gates firmly closed, and 'Alice had nowhere to go.....
Returning to the task in hand I closed the middle and upper paddle trunions, greased the pinions on the side flanges then hauled in the bowline onto the stern cleats. Easy when one knows how …. For some inexplicable reason The Ensign had not anticipated my rapid combination of thought and action, and was still doing his Figurehead impression on 'Alice's' bow and waiting for me to prepare the first lock. All the water had, somehow, bypassed the bottom lock of the flight and was roaring away downstream to join the Trent & Mersey. I deduced that the canal builders must have made a slight error and misread the plans during the construction back in 1795. Decided that I would write to the canal owners and inform them just as soon as we return to civilisation.
2pm Having eventually negotiated the treacherous 'Staircase' we chugged off into the unknown up the Caldon Canal. Our route twisted through a maze of narrow waterways and equally narrow bridges. Rows of charming 19th century mills bordered the canal banks, their crumbling walls and rotting timbers teetering on the brink of total collapse into the murky waters below. We hurried on our way, passing a throng of cheering fishermen, casting many a smile and merry quip in our direction as they bade us "Good Fortune", on our voyage with the old nautical two-fingered wave of the hand. What a jolly bunch they were.
6pm Eased 'Alice' into a sheltered berth outside the village of Endon. We had all had a long, tiring day and were ready to sample more of The Ensign's culinary delights. Again, he excelled himself by producing a coagulation of cheese omelette which contrived to firmly affix itself to the plate, the cutlery and the roof of my mouth. After the meal, washed down with a glass or two of a delicate apple wine, we each retired to our bunks for the night, replete and thoroughly exhausted …. AND THAT WAS WHEN I HEARD IT …. The steady drip.. drip.. .drip... of water INSIDE the boat. Thoughts of the TITANIC, the MARY ROSE and other infamous and horrific maritime tragedies raced through my tired mind. We were sinking! ! (Well, we would have done in a couple of weeks.)
I alerted the brave Ensign, but he was already beneath his quilt and, with his hearing aid turned off and the Victorian ear trumpet out of reach, was oblivious to my urgent cries for assistance. I sprang from my somnambulant posture and my keen ear led me to a spot beneath my bunk. By carefully removing an assortment of boxes, bags, tins, odd shoes, empty bottles and The Ensign's spare truss I was able, by lying on my left side, right foot wedged against the engine compartment and my right arm twisted through an angle of 167 degrees, to force my hand behind the ship's panelling and feel the gaping wound in 'Alice's' side through which the waters of the treacherous Caldon Canal were pouring.
My urgent shouts eventually alerted the recumbent Ensign who, peering through those bleary eyes from his place of nocturnal repose at the First Class end of the boat, asked what I was doing lying in such a deformed posture beneath my bunk. When I apprised him of our predicament he enquired, "Has the water stopped coming in?" I answered in the affirmative, to which he manfully replied, "Well. I'll see you in the morning then. Will you be wanting a pillow if you're going to stop down there all night?" A true friend and ally. Only concerned for my welfare and comfort. My verbal response to the good Ensign is lost in the mists of time, (fortunately), but the oaths were sufficient to bring him rapidly to my assistance. Our first attempt to plug the hole with fire cement out of a tube was a dismal failure as the rushing torrent quickly found its way through the sticky solution. The jagged aperture was eventually filled, and the chill waters stemmed, by the insertion of a tiny brass screw which fitted snugly into the hole. Once again my military training and The Ensign's engineering brilliance had saved the ship, and we could both sleep safely in our beds. Such were the men of Nelson's Navy. Hearts of oak, nerves of steel, and stomachs that could sink a thousand Co-op Bitters.
(Covered approx. 17 miles today)
7am Awake after a good night's sleep. After the excitement of last night's events and the contortions of showering in the tiny cubicle, we had rounded off the evening with a few games of cribbage and a couple of bottles of Chateau Brindley '55 Apple Wine.
7.30am On the move again. A steady hand on the tiller and the heady aroma of frying sausages wafting out of the galley. The bold Ensign has donned his apron and is busy at the stove again. That internationally famous Northern delicacy of Sausage Butties and Brown Sauce, accompanied by a mug of scalding tea, is enjoyed al fresco as we glide steadily into unknown territory. Through sleeping English villages and fields of grazing cattle which we attempt to awaken with repeated blasts on the ship's hooter. We nose our way gently through trees, their branches dipping towards the water's edge as the pale morning sun glistens through the dense foliage, making dappled patterns on the still water.
The aged Ensign scratched the grey stubble on his chin, his wise old eyes peering into his empty cup. He broke wind noisily, belched and remarked, "There's Froghall up yer Caldon" …. Ah! If only I had thought of that.
On and on we motored, the sun climbing steadily into the sky and warming the decks of our ancient craft. Through lock after interminable lock, as we ventured ever deeper into the wilds of rural Staffordshire. (Thinks. Did I check my insurance policy before we left?) The peaty blackness of the River Churnet joined the slowly flowing Caldon for a few miles producing a water the consistency and colour of a rugby club's bath water .... AFTER the match. The odd fish was observed struggling to the surface to gasp in a tiny lungfull of air before disappearing again beneath the dark waters. Ducklings and infant coot coughed their way upstream in search of food as we slowly glided past.
11.45am Reached Consall Forge where the River Churnet parted company with the Caldon Canal and slithered noisily over a weir. Here was The Black Lion Inn, famed in all the canal guides for its 'splendid isolation. Accessible only by a long meandering footpath, or by canal, we had been informed. Unfortunately, no-one had told the 200 odd day trippers, or the chapter of pseudo Hells Angels gathered at the pub doors waiting for opening time. Perhaps the newly-constructed road from the nearest village had something to do with the unexpected influx of trade.
We moored alongside a floating slum measuring some 12 feet long by 7 feet in width. Atop the slum sat a beard with a bald head. Slum, beard and bald head belonged to Chris, a travelling Boat Painter of some 20 summers, (and quite a few winters), who had 'dropped-out' of the rat race. He had attended the University of Nottingham where he had gained a degree in Peruvian Basket Weaving and Advanced Origami before deciding that there must be more to life than eating and wearing clothes. The Ensign and I hosted Chris at The Black Lion as he was 'boracic', (lint = skint), and badly in need of liquid sustenance (not to mention a new pair of shorts.) Our new friend was accompanied by a mongrel of indeterminate breed which passed the time stealing food off the plates of other diners. Chris said he was trying to learn the same trick.
The Landlady appeared at the door of the inn, attracted by the disturbance caused by the noisy Hells Angels. The verbal lashing she gave them from a distance of some 75 yards made 'Alice's' very timbers shiver .... not to mention me, The Ensign and Chris. Even the mongrel had abandoned its quest for food and was cowering under a table, front paws clamped firmly over its ears.
Ensign Brindley was unchained from the galley for the afternoon and we repaired to the Dining Room of the Inn to feast on Swiss Steak, chips and peas. Chris received payment for a recently completed painting job of some 'Yuppie's' boat, and repaid our generosity of earlier.
3.30pm The Inn having closed for the afternoon we took a trip up the remaining mile of the Caldon Canal towards Froghall. The final 75 yards were through a narrow tunnel but, as the witty Ensign quickly pointed out …. "There's Froghall up there" …. so we retraced our steps to our previous mooring to rest, recuperate and await the opening of the Inn.
7pm Having re-plugged the gaping hole in 'Alice's' side by hammering the screw home, (it had started leaking again), we rested on the for'ard deck in the cool of the evening. The Ensign, in his capacity as Ships Entertainment’s Officer, had omitted to provide either Orchestra or Cabaret on board for the evening so we had to make to do with a cassette of "Grimethorpe Colliery Brass Band & Kylie Minogue Sings Paul Robeson." The crowds were gathering again for the Black Lion's evening session, like wart-hogs around a watering hole. As the doors opened they surged forward into the bar, standing three deep and baying to be served. Being more accustomed to the refined atmosphere of The Navigation, we remained on board sipping The Ensign's home brew and playing the inevitable crib.
10pm The Inn's customers were leaving. Climbing into their cars and drifting off to their boxes with thoughts of work on the morrow. WE drifted up to the pub for the last hour before turning in around midnight.
Sometime during the night the bewildered and befuddled Ensign made one of his frequent nocturnal journeys to the loo, managing to switch on the ship's headlight in his frantic fumblings. This bathed the surrounding countryside in light and drained 'Alice's' emergency battery. Fortunately, the lamp only shone for a couple of hours before it was spotted and switched off, otherwise 'Alice' would have required a bump start the following morning.
(Covered approx. 11 miles today)
David (left) and Jack. What a good looking pair!
5.30am I know that it was my intention to have an early start today on our journey back down the Caldon, but to be woken at such an unearthly hour by a sprightly Ensign enquiring what time it was, was a bit much. (Is keel hauling still against Navy Regulations?) I think that the sun must have got to him yesterday. (He's new to the tropics.) Age must have its privilege, so I turned over for another couple of hours.
7am Eased my weary military bones from my bunk and partook of my morning ablutions. (One always feels so much better after one has abluted!) Inspected the crews quarters then strolled the fore deck as I sipped a warming mug of tea. Decided to step ashore, missed the gap and plunged upto my knees in muddy Caldon. The Ensign chuckled heartily. He would! After a quick swill, ready to face another day.
7.30am Cast off after donating a couple of bottles of Privet & Rhubarb wine to the beard and bald head of Chris. (THAT should ensure he keeps on the move.) he was still curled up in his floating hen cote. Not a care in the world except what his mangy mongrel would bring 'home' in its mouth next. As we gently chugged away from the Black Lion and Consall Forge the Ensign set to and rustled up the inevitable mouth watering Sausage Butties and Tea which we consumed in the peace and tranquillity of the early morning. Spent a pleasant morning gliding down the Caldon at all of 3 miles per hour.
1pm Stopped at Foxley for lunch. Moored close to a canal side pub, stepped into the cool of its interior and, after a couple of refreshing tankards of the local brew, ordered 2 ham salads from the ample menu. We took our drinks and meals into the garden and found a table beneath a shady tree, then set about playing "Find the Ham.' Eventually found mine hiding beneath a sliver of cucumber.
2pm On our way again and then …. DISASTER ! The Ensign's suntan cream has run out. NOW what will he do? The heat is searing, burning through our clothing, so hot that I am seriously contemplating removing my vest. Oh, for a cold beer. We drank the last from the fridge a couple of days ago, and it's a long walk back to Marple Co-op. In an effort to keep cool the pink Ensign sat beside me at the stern as I wrestled with the tiller, trailing his feet in the cool water. Tiny fish could be observed dying with the added pollution.
Our route took us back through the same housing estate with the same bored-looking, half-asleep, fishermen sitting in exactly the same spots on the banks as they were when we last saw them. Are they for real? We peer at them closely looking for some sign of life, but there is none. Just the hunched shoulders, head bowed towards the rod in front of them as they gaze into the murky waters at the worm they are drowning. Perhaps the local Council bring them out each morning and prop them up there to ward off evil spirits and to frighten passing bargees.
3.30pm Moored beside Hanley Park for a couple of hours to allow The Ensign's skin to cool down. He retires to lie down in the cool interior of the First Class Cabin and asks to be awoken at 4.30 with tea and a lightly boiled egg. I am about to enquire what his last servant died of, but he is already deep in slumber. A thought crosses my mind as I gaze down at him prostrate on his bunk …. His nose will come in very handy as an extra rear light when we pass through the Harecastle Tunnel tomorrow.
6pm We reached those x@*}!% Staircase' locks again! ! This time we cheated and passed through in the company of a cabin cruiser, the Captain of which appeared to know exactly what he was doing.
6.30pm Rejoined the Trent & Mersey Canal. Back to civilisation and the industrial dereliction of Stoke-on-Trent. As a famous sea Captain was once heard to remark, "If the world had piles, then this is where they would be."
We eventually moored for the night beside a large Water Park, just a few hundred yards from the entrance to the dreaded Harecastle Tunnel, ready for the morrow and an early start. I had been at the tiller for the last hour or so whilst The Ensign busied himself in the galley. We moored, tied up and, within no more than a couple of minutes we were seated in the shade beneath a large tree, table laid and gorging ourselves on Meat Balls, Boiled Potatoes, Carrots & Peas with a delicious thick gravy and a bottle of wine, expertly chilled in a bucked of canal water. This has to be Gordon Blew cooking at its very best and I must remember to write to Blue Peter and recommend The Ensign for his, 'BEING ABLE TO COOK, GET UP VERY EARLY AND LOOK AFTER THE ELSAN' badge. He richly deserves it.
8pm Having feasted on the aforementioned gourmet offering, we settled back into our chairs to bask in the warmth of the setting sun and enjoy a glass or three of the best French Red/Apple & Blackberry combination. Shortly, we were approached by the elderly owners and crew of an adjoining vessel who complimented us heartily on our apparent organisation and catering expertise. The offered to provide us with mugs of coffee in exchange for a tumbler of our brandy. The coffee was quickly produced and we invited the couple to join us at our table.
11pm The evening is cool and the air fresh and invigorating. The conversation has been scintillating and the company warm and friendly. Unfortunately, my legs appear to developed a will of their own from the knees downwards. My attempt to return to the boat to obtain additional liquid refreshment, resulted in my falling over the seated Ensign, catapulting the pair of us into a tangled, writhing mass on the ground. I have a strong suspicion that the good, but misguided Ensign may have added some foul and noxious substance to our meal earlier in the evening. (He will stoop to any depths to get his hands on my tiller.) Surely, my present unsteady gait cannot possibly have been brought about by the numerous empty wine bottles and the missing half bottle of best Napoleon Brandy???? It must have been something in the food.
The party came to a close around midnight and we carried our stores, unsteadily, back to the boat ready for an early start on the morrow. Checking through the inventory once safely back on board, table, chairs, crockery, cutlery, empty bottles and our supply of brown sauce, I found to my alarm that I was unable to locate my favourite pipe. It had been in my possession ashore, but now it was gone, and there was no possible way that we could sail without it. A thorough search of the surrounding grasslands had to be made. The reserve spotlight was rigged on the cabin roof of the boat and the area scanned with its powerful beam. We startled a few sleeping swans and the odd couples in the long grass, but there was not a sign of the missing article. This caused much consternation, not to mention wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth. The eagle-eyed Ensign saved the day once again by locating the object safely tucked in my shoe beneath my bunk. In retrospect, the obvious place to have put it.
(About 20 miles today)
5.45am Awoke to the (slightly) welcome sight of a pre-dawn mug of tea being thrust into my face. The gruff, post-alcohol voice of The Ensign informed me that it was just a quarter to six. I thanked him for that information and informed him that I hadn't been aware that there were TWO such times in one day. He said that he was going for a swim in the lake. I said did his Mother know that there was insanity in the family? He went, stout chap, and splashed about whilst I turned over and rested my weary bones for another couple of hours.
7.30am Off again on the homeward bound leg of the journey and joined the convoy awaiting passage through the Harecastle Tunnel. Saw our friends(?) of last night and they are still speaking to us …. so it can't have been THAT bad.
8am Tunnel opened and, as it's my turn at the tiller, The Ensign immediately retired to his bunk where he at once lapsed into a deep slumber, snoring contentedly. (that’ll teach him to rise at such an unearthly hour.) Keeping sight of the boat in front and the one behind, the passage didn't feel as claustrophobic as the first time. The waterway appeared much wider, so I kept in the middle away from the dripping walls. That way I managed the whole length without a bump and we were soon out into morning fresh air and sunshine again.
Once out of the tunnel The Ensign appeared on deck to air his knees. Within a mile or so we rejoined the Macclesfield Canal and began the final 30 miles of our journey. Will The Band be waiting to welcome us? Will there be bunting decorating the streets? Will there be free ale at The Navigation? Will there be crumpet for tea?
The next couple of hours were torturous as the intense heat of the sun burnt through our flimsy, tattered clothing and into our already blistered skin. These long voyages can be hell, but we struggled on manfully, oblivious to the pain and complete lack of Co-op Bitter.
12 noon Moored at Congleton Wharf and made our way to the welcome haven of The Wharf Inn. Feasted on Steak & Kidney Pudding, freshly made chips, peas and a muffin. All for £1. (Is this really 1989, or have we entered a time warp?) Returned to 'Alice' and rested in the shade for the remainder of the afternoon.
5.30pm Cast off from our mooring as the day cooled. Negotiated the Bosley Locks on our own after most of the other canal traffic had already moored for the night. 'Did' the locks without any hassle, we're old stagers at them now. Decided to head for the Inn at Fool's Nook where we would dine. (The galley stock cupboard is looking decidedly empty.) I worked up a healthy appetite over the next couple of hours by jogging around the fore-deck and joining the melodious Ensign in a stentorian rendition of his repertoire of ribald sea shanties.
8.45pm Moored at Fool's Nook. Partook of leisurely ablutions and changed into shore clothing for the evening's festivities ahead. Headed for the Inn's Lounge Bar.
9.05pm Informed by the Landlady that meals finished at 9pm sharp. The cook had put his feet up for the night and there was NO WAY he would be disturbed. We both settled for a packet of Cheese and Onion flavoured and the Inn's remaining ham sandwich.
11pm Back to the ship for a supper of mugs of soup, plus whatever else was left in the corners of the larder. I tried to introduce The Ensign into the wonders of reconstituted Chines noodles, curry flavoured, but he declared it akin to eating knitting and stuck to his Vegetable Soup. I therefore had to consume both packets of said noodles as the voyage was rapidly coming to an end. We finished the night with a needle game of cribbage, the prize being the remains of the ship's 'kitty'. This came to the grand total of £1.11p, plus two buttons and a piece of fluff of unimaginable origin.
(Travelled about 15 miles today)
7.30am A sensible time to rise. Perhaps The Ensign is at last getting the message. We began the clear up operation on the boat. This promises to be a major task and we both agree that we should have had a lady in each morning to 'do' for us. (Must make a note of that for the next voyage.)
8.30am Set off on the final leg and anticipate sighting our home port of Marple around 2pm. A cool breeze has suddenly sprung up and the crew have to change into winter rig of long trousers and long sleeved jumpers. The Ensign dons his full suit of foul weather clothing, including blue plastic hood …. but I think he is overdoing it a bit, plus his appearance tends to frighten dogs and small children passing along the tow path. It's amazing what a difference to the temperature this extra 3 miles further north can make.
10am ALARM! ! ! Heard that ominous sound again as the engine began to search for fuel. (There's two full cans of the stuff in the bilges !!) Stopped the boat and donned my Engineer's cap. Carried out the usual checks of the engine and it would appear that the 'new' fuel pump. purchased only a week ago, has given up on us. Tried the usual mechanic's tricks of shouting at the offending piece, swearing at it under our breaths, then asking it kindly …. but it just sat there doing nothing. A bit like The Ensign. Remembering a tip from the Owner I lifted the fuel tank onto the deck and rigged up a gravity feed direct to the engine, by-passing the dead fuel pump. To our great surprise and relief it worked and off we set again. Jolly pleased with ourselves at having cleared the problem so rapidly. (Must remember to send of my subscription to Junior Engineer Monthly.)
The fuel pump and clog recovery patrol of the 2nd Nether Alderly and Pott Shrigley Cossack and Brownie Corps. spring into action, led by Senior Tri-cyclist Igor Clenckbuttock on his iron-clad rail-mounted, 1925 velocipede. Note the rear-mounted narrowboat emergency repair kit and butty box. Unfortunately Igor ha just run over the lady's left foot.
11am Our celebrations are short lived. 200 yards short of Bridge 19, somewhere in the wilds of Cheshire, the engine decided that it had chugged its last. Our speed again dropped away to zero and we pulled slowly into the bank. Ensign Brindley, game unto the last, set forth along the uncharted towpath in search of a friendly native with a telephone from whence he would again seek assistance from Peter the Owner. This he did and, having made contact, Peter arranged to rendezvous with us at Bridge 15 with a replacement fuel pump which he hoped to purchase from one of the Marple Antique Fuel Pump shops.
We now had to get the boat, and ourselves, to Bridge 15 somehow without an engine. I stood with the intrepid Ensign on the tow path in true hitch-hiking pose …. right trouser leg and right thumb raised. But there were no passing ships to offer us either a tow or a toe. We both realised that there was every possibility we would remain in that position for the remainder of the day unless we took some drastic action. We brewed up !!! Later, not to be defeated, we decided to pull 'Alice' the couple of miles to bridge 15.
With one of us pulling and the other stood on the bows, (the pointed bit at the front of the boat), pushing 'Alice' into deeper water away from the bank with the aid of a long pole, we made fairly steady progress. The 'Puller' trudged along the towpath, bent double to his task. Passers-by caused much merriment with their witty quips such as …. "Is this the remake of The African Queen?" …. "Which one of you is Humphrey Bogart?" .…"I've heard of cheap holidays, but that's ridiculous." …. 'Are you trying to save fuel?" …. "Do you give your horse a carrot at the end of the trip?" To which the Ensign would reply.… "No, Sir, he's been promised his oats."
We are just thankful that Peter didn't own a light aircraft and we'd borrowed that!
12.30pm Pulled 'Alice' under Bridge 15. The fearless Ensign leapt from his most precarious position on the bows of the boat and hurried off into the undergrowth in search of a friendly publican. Meanwhile, I collapsed in a heap on the towpath after my two mile imitation of a barge horse. Peter The Owner arrived some 10 minutes later clutching an antiquated fuel pump which, by its appearance, last saw service during World War One. We awaited the return of the good Ensign who would know about these things. (That is, World war One …. not fuel pumps.) He came hot foot through the trees clutching a quartet of cool cans of ale. These we rapidly relieved him of and consumed.
Fitting the fuel pump became a major mechanical exercise as air was continually being sucked into the system. This all appeared terribly complicated to The Ensign and I so we lay back on the grass to keep out of Peter’s way. It seemed that no amount of packing or tightening of the clips around the pipes would solve the problem or make it airtight. Eventually, about 5pm, it appeared to be right and the engine was running smoothly. Sadly, this was after the pub closing time, so we couldn't even buy Peter The Owner a drink in celebration. He took his leave of us, saying that he would see us back in Marple.
5.15pm 'Alice' chugged away from Bridge 15 and Higher Poynton, carrying us on the last few miles of our epic voyage. We sped through High Lane at 4 mph, the last centre of habitation before our home port, (if you discount Hawk Green), then Windlehurst and the once great Hall. The sight of those crumbling walls must have been too much for our trusty old craft because, with a final cough , shudder and a puff of diesel fumes the *$)(+%& .. engine breathed its last.
Out with the tow rope and start pulling again. "Bow hauling" the old mariners called it. Nearing Hawk Green we had to accept the inevitable …. WE WERE KNACKERED !!! Then a passing 70 footer, all fancy paint and chrome and crewed by two very elderly gentlemen and their wives, offered us a tow for the remaining mile. We swallowed our pride and gratefully accepted. Pulled into Top Lock Basin we were released from the tow and, somehow, managed, with a spluttering engine, boat hook and a rapid side to side waddle of the tiller, to guide 'Alice' back to her home mooring.
7.30pm Safely moored alongside The British Legion again from where our journey began, what seems like a lifetime ago. Locked up the boat and head for Ensign Brindley's home to collect his car for all our gear. We had to pass the Navigation en route, so called in to celebrate our safe return to the bosom of our loved ones.
No Band!! No Fans!! No Flags!! No Bunting!! No Fuel Pump !!…………….
(Approx. 17 miles on the last day. 105 miles in all)
Without doubt it had been 7 days to remember. Seven days of sunshine, fresh air, early nights and even earlier mornings, (thanks to Mr Brindley’s early rising habits). No TV, telephones, newspapers, traffic jams or awkward customers at work. Just a complete break away from the Race to Earn a Living, and a week lived at in the slow lane at just 4 miles an hour.
And what of Froghall,Consall Forge, The Black Lion and the laugh a minute fishermen of Stoke-on-Trent? As the couple said as they bought their Away Day rail tickets …..
Well, that was MY version of the holiday. And every word of it true I tell you. I know, I was the one keeping the daily diary. What follows on the next few pages is the same few days as seen through the (bleary) eyes of 'Ensign' Brindley, now safely back on shore so I suppose we can revert to his everyday name of 'Thingy'. He penned his epic after reading through my diary, and I've a sneaking suspicion that the truth was slightly 'bent' on occasions in order for the poem to rhyme. That's MY excuse anyway.
This is an account, in the most dogged of doggerel verse, of a canal journey which was undertaken by two totally bewildered beginners. Their total knowledge of narrow boats and canals was gleaned from staring through the lounge window of the Navigation Hotel at Marple, from which position you can't even see the canal As this is the author's first attempt at any kind of creative(?) writing, he has used every devious method available to his limited imagination, namely:- flights of fancy …. figments of the imagination …. fact embellishment ..... falsehoods frugalities of truth …. flimsy fabrications …. and the odd fillips of frankosity. The author has purloined, from Jack Turnbull's account of the epic, the odd word, phrase, sentence and paragraph all heavily disguised, of course.
The journey in the 'Alice', (trustingly loaned to us by Peter Craven, boatie of this parish) began from Top Lock, Marple taking in the Macclesfield, Trent & Mersey, and the Caldon canals, a distance of some nearly, perhaps, almost 100 miles. This story is in two parts, the second part of the first part, which would have been the third part had the author not written a second part, ends at that Valhalla of the Potteries - Froghall. A name which has always been synonymous with the question -- Where?
David Brindley flogging copies of Froghall up the Caldon
The first part of the second …. don't start that again …. the return journey consists mostly of a drunken night in down-town Hanley, and descriptions of the hauling, as opposed to the sailing, of 'Alice' back to Marple.
The crew, consisting of two pale, paunchy, middle-aged beer swillers, divided up the daily boat duties and below is a list of those duties, as well as a penned sketch of the said two.
Jack Turnbull, who took on the role of Captain, Chief Engineer, Steersman and General Nuisance, is an ex -Army Zeppelin Mechanic. He is currently employed as a full-time Preston Guild programme seller and a part-time wringer out for a one-armed window cleaner. He is also a well known, (to those who know him), local author. His most recent work appeared in that most august of periodicals, 'The Ferret Fanciers Gazette', under the title 'Cross Breeding For Those Who Don't Know How'.
David Brindley, modest author of this stylish piece of beautifully written prose, assumed the roles of Ensign, (the lowest commissioned rank possible), gourmet cook, (anything with beans), and official ship's photographer, (when he remembered to take the lens cap off.) He is at present fully-employed pretending to be fully-employed, but hopes to change that situation once he has sold the film and TV copyright of this monstrous epic.
PS All the lines scanned wonderfully well while I was writing the labour of love which commences below so, if you have any problems reading it will you please write to "The Society for the Improvement of Poems About Canals - Froghall Junction."
Two lads were suppin' in Marple one night,
Quietly bemoaning their fate.
One was Dave Brindley who had an idea,
T'other, Jack Tumbull his mate.
"I know," said David, "Let's go on a trip,
Up t'canal and take lots of beer
I'm sure Peter Craven'd lend us his boat"
So they supped several pints to th'idea.
The Ensign spent many an hour wandering the fields pondering the words for this epic poem
"You be the Captain," said David to Jack,
"And I'll be the Ensign and Cook.
And what we don't know about boating,
We can always look up in a book."
Seeing as how they'd not done it before,
They decided to answer the call
Of the Macclesfield, Trent and the Caldon canals,
Up yer Chernet and on to Froghall.
The craft's name was Alice, a steel narrowboat,
Painted green in traditional style.
She was stubborn, contrary, had a mind of her own,
Thirty foot of feminine guile.
She was what men expect of a woman,
Shapely lines with some breadth to her beam.
Nicely rounded in places she should be,
In fact, she were built like a dream.
So the lads loaded Alice with victuals and gear,
And stowed them away with great care.
But they stacked that much bitter and wine at the back,
That the front end stuck up in the air!
At last they were ready and set for the off,
An adventurous look in their eyes,
"Just a mo," said the Ensign, "I'll have to go home,
I've forgotten to bring the meat pies."
"Never mind the meat pies!" Roared the Captain quite mad,
"Just cast off the ropes, for and aft
Then get th'instructions from inside the cabin
While I see how you sail this 'ere craft"
So Titanic Turnbull stood tall on the deck,
With the tiller gripped firmly in hand.
All at once he looked quite green and sickly,
And Alice just one yard from land.
"Don't worry, my Captain, all is not lost,"
Cried the Ensign from inside the boat.
He appeared, stalwart lad, with some beer in his hand,
And poured it right down t'Captain's throat.
The Ensign and Captain Jack
Once again Bismark Turnbull was steady of hand,
As he steered our boat Alice with skill.
Well, not quite, he tended to swerve it about
Which made the poor Ensign quite ill.
But the Ensign, who's not quite as daft as he looks,
And knowing the best antidote,
Nipped down inside for more cans of bitter,
And chucked a quick half down his throat.
By this time the lads had left Marple behind
And were rapidly nearing High Lane
When the Captain cried out, "Cook, I'm hungry."
So the Ensign went midships again.
He soon reappeared with some grub in his hand,
Bacon butties with a dash of brown sauce.
Then he had to go down and bring up more ale,
Against dehydration, of course.
Macclesfield town was safely passed through,
And nobody threw any rocks.
And just when they thought how easy it was
They encountered the twelve Bosley Locks.
Our Captain's not easily put off his stride,
But the locks made him look all harassed,
So the Ensign leapt through the air from athwartships
And fell in a heap on the grass!
Then with windlass in hand he mastered the locks,
And the Captain steered Alice straight through,
So to celebrate t'fact that they's not sunk the boat,
They got down a noggin or two.
"It's Congleton next" cried the Ensign out loud,
Which injured the poor Captain's pride.
"If I am the boss I should shout things like that"
Then he knocked th'Ensign's beer over t'side.
Just then Alice stopped with a splutter and cough,
And started to wander off course.
"Ensign!" he roared, "You're not here just to cook"
"Grab a rope and pretend you're an 'orse."
For more than a mile the Ensign towed Alice,
Overtaken by cruisers and boats.
"If you don't get us there by tonight" spluttered t'Captain
"It's likely you'll not get yer oats."
At last they moored up at Congleton wharf,
And the engine still spluttered and missed.
But not knowing owt about engines and such,
They sat down and got thoroughly …… drunk.
Peter the boat Doctor, came, dressed for the occasion
Next morning Peter, the Boat Doctor, came
With his tool box and technical manner,
Saying, "Look Lads, I'm not one to bugger about"
And gave th'engine a thump with his hammer.
Needless to say, this didn't help things one bit,
So they thought about hiring a fitter.
But the Captain spends money like a man with no arms,
So they sat down and supped some more bitter.
They found out a fuel pump was what they required,
And soon they were mobile again.
Then the Captain went white, clutched his head and cried out,
"What if we'd borrowed a plane?"
Off once again, feeling pleased with themselves,
Sailed our stalwart and stout-hearted crew.
But after three miles they said, "Sod it! Let's stop."
"And get stuck into our favourite brew."
They found an old pub which was called, 'Bird in th'Hand. "
Other boaties had told them about.
But th'owd lady who owned it had just popped her clogs,
(She'd heard t'lads were coming, no doubt.)
They wandered around trying windows and doors,
Dying for a pint from the wood.
But all they could see through the windows was dust,
And a notice that said, 'SHUT FOR GOOD.'
The Ensign, a master at sniffing out pubs,
Soon found 't'Rising Sun' built quite near,
He astonished the locals with his passion for Pernod,
As did Jack with his love of mild beer.
You might think the lads had been travelling for weeks,
With what they had gone through and all.
But the truth is they'd only been sailing two days.
Will they ever arrive at Froghall?
They finally reached t'Trent & Mersey Canal,
Through the Harecastle Tunnel they went.
The Ensign was steering the Alice this time,
No wonder the sharp end was bent.
In the darkness his sense of direction was lost,
He passed out, unconscious with fear.
So the Captain revived him with his knowledge of medicine,
By pouring some ale down his ear.
As they sailed through the Potteries the weather got worse,
Much worse than they'd so far endured,
And all the libation supped earlier on
Promptly got tossed overboard.
A place called Etruria was the next port of call
Which the Ensign was not keen about.
Besides sounding foreign, and not to his liking,
The bog needed emptying out.
So, after completing this odious task
He whipped up a quick meal for the crew.
"By gum," t'Captain said, "You've surpassed yourself this time.
This cooking is pure Gordon Blue."
Some passing sailors took away the Ensign's pudding as ballast
A veil should be drawn over t'next part o' t'tale,
And the Captain confined to a Lock Up.
Some infamous locks called 'The Staircase' loomed up,
And did he make an almighty cock-up.
He's bound to have nightmares for the rest of his life,
'Cos he thought that the job were a cinch
But as he let t'water IN... OVER.. and OUT,
The Alice moved not an inch.
He'll argue this part of the story's not right,
And my account of his deeds somewhat thin,
Well I was the daft sod left standing on t'boat,
And I'm writing these verses, not him.
On up the Caldon, through rural retreats
Sailed Alice and the intrepid crew.
Eyes filled with wonder at the bucolic sights,
Mouths filled with their favourite brew.
Somewhere near Endon, they decided to moor,
And as Alice slowed down to a crawl,
The Ensign looked puzzled and thought to himself,
"Am I doing this just for Froghall?"
He then rustled up a cheese om-e-lette,
Served with a Blackberry wine.
The Captain looked down at his plate and remarked,
"Has t'ships cat been sick over mine?"
That night, later on, a great storm arose,
So ferocious the crew couldn't speak.
Till the Captain yelled, "Eh up! Man the pumps.
Our Alice has just sprung a leak."
Amongst all the panic Turnbull stood calm
And courageous, as befits t'Captain's role.
Without thought for his safety he flung himself for'ard,
And plunged his forefinger in th'hole.
The Ensign, not backward at coming to t'fore,
Soon realised his poor Captain's plight,
"You don't look too comfy, I'll get you a pillow
If you're going to stop down there all night"
That night a great storm arose
The Captain turned purple and started to swear
With every foul word that he knew.
"Don't you dare use language like that." said the Ensign.
Then went off to sulk in the loo.
So in stony silence they pondered their fate,
Not wanting to row any more.
With the Ensign still sulking in the boat's 'Reading Room',
And the Chief wishing he were ashore.
Now the chemical toilet on which th'Ensign sat,
Is not quite the place one should linger,
So he searched through the toolbox and found a big screw
Which he used to replace t'Captain's finger.
Thus the problem was solved with the hole all bunged up
And the lads became friendly once more.
Then to celebrate t'fact they'd resumed status quo,
They supped till they slid to the floor.
Once again they set off through the rural delights
Of Staffordshire's wide open spaces.
With sheep softly grazing, larks singing on high,
And t'crew pouring ale down their faces.
Then a change from canal to a river was made,
And they thought of an old film they'd seen
That starred Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn,
And a boat called the 'African Queen."
It was fantasy time on the Alice that day.
It was too good a chance to let pass.
And they argued solid for over an hour,
Who'd play Humphrey, and who'd play the lass.
The Ensign, by this time sporting a beard,
Claimed that he had Humph's rugged features.
Feeling pleased with himself he said, "I'll play the lead,
But stuff getting covered in leeches."
"Enough of this nonsense!" said the Captain, quite peeved,
As he whacked our 'Humphrey' round th'ear.
"Don't you realize we're on th'upper reaches o'Churnet,
And Froghall is getting quite near.
The name of Froghall made the poor Ensign weep.
He was quite overcome by it all.
All his life he'd never had nothing,
And now he was getting, Froghall.
The Churnet changed back to the Caldon,
As the river fell over a weir.
All this sailing had made the lads thirsty,
So they stopped, and quaffed some more beer.
The Captain tried to escape disguised as a washing up bowl
The next part of the story concerns Consall Forge,
According to t'book, quite remote.
But when our lads got there, it were crowded wi' folk,
So they stayed and got rat-legged on t'boat.
Later on, nearly sober, they went in a pub,
Known as, The Black Lion Inn.
Architecturally speaking the place was quite big,
As was t'Landlady looming within.
Her face was something that beggars belief,
Her voice rattled t'barrels on t'stillage.
She reminded the lads of Attila the Hun,
On the loot, and the rape, and the pillage.
Of course, our macho crew weren't bothered a bit,
As for fear, they showed not a trace.
But to be on the safe side they hid on the boat,
And locked all the doors just in case.
Moored alongside them, in a ramshackle tub,
With Bonzo, an odd looking hound,
Was a pleasant young man, with a shiny bald head,
And a talent for missing his round
But the chaps didn't mind him missing his turn,
Or suppin' their ale, for you see,
He'd been to college and got a diploma
In the science of Parsimony.
Bonzo too, was quite artful and sly,
Whilst thieving in order to eat,
In the blink of an eye he'd snaffle your dinner,
Then come back and gollop your sweet.
It would seem that no saga is ever complete,
Without someone of Irish descent.
Our story has one, known as Paddling Paddy
Who took part in a mammoth event.
He bought a steel hull without engine or rudder,
In fact, with no fittings at all.
Then he pushed, poled and pulled it from Manchester centre,
All the way to forge at Consall.
During his journey he was chased by Police,
Who were never that far from his tail.
They were out to capture this dastardly felon,
Him having no licence to sail.
But our hero was able to stay out of sight,
Whilst he hid in his rickety shell.
He slept in the daytime, and set out at night,
Poling and paddling like hell.
The lads were so proud to have met such a man,
So they lashed beer and wine down his throat.
And the last that they saw of ubiquitous Paddy,
Were his boots, as he slid off the boat.
A quartet of Paddling Paddy look-a-likes approaching the Black Lion at a steady rock
The crew got ready to head for Froghall,
And loins were hurriedly girded.
Which may sound unsavoury to you gentlefolk,
So I'll see it gets differently worded.
Aglow with excitement, the lads made their way
Up t'canal to their last port of call.
But they found on arrival a great big fat nothing,
In fact, absolutely …………… FROGHALL!!
So if you ever venture this way,
Remember this fact, and please learn it,
Expect nothing at all when you're sailing these parts,
All you'll get is …….. Froghall up yer Chernet.
There was a great rejoicing by the readers at this point .... until they realised there was part two to go!!!
Will our intrepid explorers ever get back to Marple?
Will they return to their loved ones and the Navigation?
What will happen when they meet The Staircase locks again?
Does anyone give a damn????
DON'T FORGET TO READ THE NEXT THRILLING INSTALMENT !!!
Mr Brindley in his working clothes
Froghall was the end of the line for the lads.
It was time to turn Alice around
And head back for Marple and t'Navi,
To tell everyone what they had found.
Of course, seeing as how they had found nothing,
Like Froghall at Consall, you might say,
They could put what they wanted in t'story,
Nob'dy else would be going that way.
It’s worth recording at this point in time
One o'th'Ensign's unusual routines.
He's apt to get up very early in t'morning,
And wander about full o’beans.
Of course, our Captain has not never known
Of this kind of practice at home.
In fact, when disturbed at 5.30am,
He went crackers and started to foam.
There was only one way of ending this madness,
And the Ensign knew the best cure,
He'd put on the kettle, fill up the teapot,
And wave a white flag round the door.
The Captain would always accept this peace offering,
And sip the Ambrosian brew,
Which caused great postern blasts to issue from Jack,
(He indulged in odd practices too!!)
"Great postern blasts"
And so it was time to sail back down the Churnet,
One quiet, peaceful morning in June.
But the lads decided to shatter the silence
By singing some songs out of tune.
They bawled out sea shanties with gusto,
Dirty ditties and Rugby songs too,
And while they were singing, they ate sausage butties,
Chased down with a mug of home brew.
'Queen Street Girls" was their number one favourite,
They'd both learn it while serving the King.
But they stopped after eighty four verses,
They'd run out of swear words to sing.
With all t'noise they'd frightened the horses,
Scared the cattle, the sheep and all t'fish,
They'd also put t'wind up some anglers.
But didn't care much about this.
For during their journey to Froghall,
They'd seen these chaps lining the banks,
With faces just like wet weekends,
Never saying, "Good Morning!" nor "Thanks."
Psst! Have you heard the one about the 2 men in a narrow boat?
Now, if fishing screwed me up that much,
As though I'd a pain in the gut,
I'd smash all me tackle, then let all me worms go,
And then dive head first into t'cut.
Meanwhile, back on the Alice,
They would wave at the anglers and say,
"Good Morning, you miserable buggers,
Have you drowned any maggots today?"
The temperature soared in the eighties that week
And the sun's searing heat was ferocious.
The Ensign, a lad with a delicate skin,
Screamed out as it burnt his proboscis.
The tragedy was, he'd no oil to smear
On sticky-out bits, like his nose.
Captain Jack found the sight very funny,
And laughed till they near came to blows.
He suggested that David retire to his bunk,
And keep his red conk out of t'light.
And if that didn't work, he could stand up at t'front
To warn other boats off at night.
By this time they'd reached t'pub at Foxley,
Where they thought they might dine, a Ia carte.
And they eagerly sat down at a table,
Wondering how they should start.
Should they start off the meal with some d'oovers?
Horse's were best, they'd been told.
Then follow that up with some French soup,
'Coq au Leekie' sounded quite bold.
Next, the piece de resistance,
The main meal, a thumping big steak.
Entrecote, T-Bone, or sirloin?
All this thinking had made their heads ache.
So they quickly decided on t'pudding.
Spotted Dick sounded quite nice.
It weren't exactly, 'haute cuisine',
But to the lads it meant sheer Paradise.
Hold steady, I think I've found me 'am
Then the waitress arrived at the table,
Pointing out that most things were off.
They finished up ordering 'am salad,
Which is hardly yer 'Cordon Bleu' scoff.
Caterpillars had been at the lettuce,
They'd been at the other greens too.
And under one leaf, that looked like a doily,
The lads saw their 'am peeping through.
They set off again down the Caldon
With the sun blazing down on their heads,
So much so that they moored up at Hanley
And immediately took to their beds.
Th'Ensign's conk still glowed like a beacon.
Pulsin'light shone outside, from within.
And hundreds of kids started queuing,
Asking when did the Disco begin?
They'd now reached the Trent & Mersey Canal,
And the Potteries industrial grime,
Making haste for the Harecastle Tunnel,
It was Jack's turn for steering this time.
Half a mile from the tunnel, they stopped near a lake,
Mooring in shade, somewhat frugal.
"This 'II do nicely" said th' Ensign to Jack
"It'll keep that there sun off me bugle!"
"I've decided we're dining 'alfresco'." said Jack.
It's Greek and means 'under a tree."
"Damn clever our Captain." mused David, 'cos he'd thought
Some AIf bloke was coming to tea.
They both got down to their separate tasks,
Buzzing about like a swarm.
The Captain got the table and cutlery out,
While the Ensign cooked up a storm.
The wine had been chilled to the right temperature
By the Ensign, who'd thoughtfully put
Two bottles of plonk in a bucket,
Filled up with some water from t'cut.
The orgy of wining and dining began,
By the side of Westport water park.
Passers-by said how much they envied the lads,
Then pinched all their chips in the dark.
Is there anything sweeter in life than to dine
Outside on a fine summer's night?
The air just like wine, and the wine just like nectar,
With all worries and cares put to flight.
(Well, everybody's entitled to at least one lyrical waxing....)
The food and drink did strange things to the Captain
Making the most of this idyllic setting,
And the most of four bottles of wine,
And the most of a bottle of brandy,
The crew were well,--- mostly fine.
At some point in their carousing,
A couple arrived and sat down,
They were moored nearby, next to Alice
A vessel they knew by renown.
They wished to know more about Alice
But mainly about her fine crew,
So the Captain, he plied them with brandy,
Whilst plying himself with it too.
He proceeded to tell his life story,
And he got thirty years back in time,
When he noticed their eyes glazing over,
So he gave them some Blackberry wine.
Then, needing to go somewhere urgent,
And having the Ensign to pass,
He happened to fall, and go aft over elbow,
And sent them both sprawling in t'grass.
This set them off laughing and giggling,
With their legs waving round in the air.
And the nice couple gawped in amazement,
At the state of this drunken old pair.
The Ensign apologised profusely,
Embarrassed he said, "If you please,
It's the brandy, it acts like arthritis,
When it gets near the poor Captain's knees."
The visitors, being nice people,
Understood and said, "Never mind,
We'll brew you some nice hot, black coffee,
It'll make you feel better, you'll find."
The Captain's reply to this gesture,
Was to wave t'brandy bottle around.
And slosh liberal amounts in their coffee,
As he slid with panache to the ground.
The guests, at this point, thought it wisest,
To withdraw and retire to their bunks,
As from under the table came sozzled, "Good -byes"
Burbled by two legless drunks.
After a while they both staggered up,
And the Captain started to gripe,
"Nobody leaves this place 'till I say so,
I can't find my favourite pipe."
They searched high and low for the pipe
Tired and emotional, Dave gave a groan
"Oh, no. What a daft thing to lose."
"I'll just have to look in the obvious place."
Yes, you've guessed - it was stuck in his shoes.
The Captain, with pipe clutched firmly in hand,
Tried three times to climb in his bunk.
And each time the Ensign heaved him back up
Jack's head cracked the roof with a clunk!
You'll appreciate how this helped him to sleep,
Along with the brandy and wine.
Before very long he was snoring that loud,
That the Richter scale registered nine!
It goes without saying, Dave didn't sleep well,
He got up around quarter to five,
And decided to go for a swim in the lake,
Perhaps it would help him revive.
As he swam slowly away from the shore,
Getting caught in a tangle of weed,
He saw a flotilla of whacking great swans
Heading towards him at speed.
He went very cold and started to shake,
His face turned a curious green pallor.
He made for the bank whilst quickly deciding
Discretion the best part of valour.
Then wandering about in just underpants,
He'd almost reached t'boat when he saw
A girl on a bike who tartly remarked,
"Don't you flashers wear macs any more?"
Back in the galley he made a quick brew
And waved a cup under Jack's nose.
It made no impression, he just kept on snoring,
He was obviously still comatose.
At last, about eight, they got under way,
Passing the friends of last night,
And surprising enough they shouted, "Good morning."
It's nice to meet folk so polite.
The Harecastle Tunnel was all down to Jack,
Once through they'd be near th'end o'trip.
But whilst in that hell-hole the cook bottled out
And dived in his bunk for a kip.
Never once did the Captain bang into the sides
Of the tunnel, he steered straight and true.
He reckoned that someone had made it yards wider
Since the Ensign last bumped his way through.
Nothing at all to do with the story - but the Ensign's joke about "Do you want to come to a stag party?"
The sun was still blazing and cracking the flags
When they moored up in Congleton town.
There the lads found a pub that was called ‘The Wharf Inn’
Where lunch cost them all of a pound.
It was quite an old place and went back a bit,
On the walls sepia photos were hung.
Every room had some antique furniture in,
And the Juke Box still played Jimmy Young.
The landlady served up the grub to the crew,
And she prattled and nattered away,
A local told t'lads, on the quiet, she were clockwork,
And got wound up three times a day.
The Landlady quickly rustled up some food for the staving crew....
They hurriedly finished the meal, and paid up,
Then went back for a kip on the boat.
If they'd stopped much longer and listened to her,
They'd have shaken her warmly by t'throat.
Setting out later, when the day had cooled down,
They ploughed on then moored near a bridge.
The Ensign had wanted to make them some supper
But found nothing worth eating in t'fridge.
The bridge got its name from a small nearby pub,
Which boasted a kitchen and cook.
"I reckon they knew we were coming." th'Ensign said.
"They've gone and renamed it 'Fool's Nook'."
"But it looks like a place that'll serve decent grub,
Let's go in and have a huge scoff"'
"I’m dreadfully sorry " the barperson said,
"You're too late, the chef's just clocked off."
"Bloody hell" said the Captain. "Scuppered again.
I'm so hungry I could just eat a horse."
But all the pub had was a curly ham butty,
Which they cut up between them. of course.
Needless to say, they didn't stay long,
But supped up and went back on board,
Where the Ensign searched all through the cupboards,
Whilst the Captain just threw things, and roared.
"Are you sure we haven't got any noodles?
I like them, they make me feel full.
"Yes we have." th'Ensign said, "You can eat all the lot
To me they're like chewing on wool"
There was a party on board that last night .... boiled knitting and vimto.
But the Captain, you see, had been to Hong Kong,
Where they ate funny things like fried rice,
Bird's nest soup and casseroled cobra,
So eating knitting, for him, was quite nice.
It happened to be their last night on board
Tomorrow meant Marple and home.
Where Jack could write the ship's log up,
And David could work on his poem.
They spent that last night suppin' t'rest of the wine.
And other top pri-ori-ties,
Like gambling, at cards, for the 'kitty',
Which the Captain quickly claimed as his.
The next morning dawned with the sun behind clouds.
Round their nethers, a cold east wind blew.
The crew quickly donned their foul weather gear,
And their long woolly underpants too.
They hadn't sailed far when Alice slowed down,
Then stopped with a splutter and cough.
"Not again!" groaned the Ensign, shivering with cold.
"If the boat needs a tow then I'm off."
In the event, the problem was solved
By Captain Jack's technical brain.
He gave Alice's engine an almighty whack,
And it roared into life once again.
But after an hour, the engine just died,
It meant towing the Alice quite far,
To a mooring just north of Poynton,
Where the owner would wait with his car.
During the time they pulled Alice along,
Thinking thoughts both vile and dark,
It became apparent that some passers-by
Thought the lads were out just for a lark.
"Hello there, have you broke down?" someone said,
Whilst others were heard to retort,
"Are you just acting daft for some charity?"
Or... "Is it a new water sport?"
They didn't take kindly to this, didn't t’lads,
So with big fixed grins they replied,
"We're taking this boat round the Cape of Good Hope,
Could you tell us the time of the tides?"
The arranged meeting place was finally reached,
Were both lads collapsed in a heap.
No doubt liquid refreshment would soon bring them round,
For a while th'engine mending would keep.
The Ensign soon searched out a pub down a lane
And managed to purchase some cans,
But not before he'd supped several pints,
Which he needed to steady his hands.
Then Peter the Owner arrived in his car,
And said t'fuel pump were burnt out again.
He suggested that t'lads had been going too fast,
Overtaking folk in the fast lane.
The pump that he fitted had seen better days,
So the thing was put on with misgiving.
Jack reckoned the pump had first seen t'light o'day
When th'owd King, George the Fifth, were still living.
Nevertheless, the pump did the trick,
And Alice chugged off at a trot,
And managed to get them to Windlehurst Hall,
Where, once again, she just stopped.
It seemed that Alice wasn't quite ready yet
To get back to Marple and home.
It appeared she'd rather the lads turned her around
And like t'Flying Dutchman, just roam.
Although a nice thought, it just wasn't on.
Appealing, but it wasn't to be.
They had to return to a word that would rhyme,
That word was .... Reality.
The weary crew bow-hauled Alice again,
This time without any abuse.
Then a Good Samaritan offered a tow,
An offer they couldn't refuse.
Thus, they limped into Marple Top Lock,
The Alice, The Ensign, Cap'n Jack.
The crew, to a man, looked down the canal
And said, "Don't go away.... WE"LL BE BACK"
"EYUP Lads, looks like they're back. - Go and warn t'pubs quick!
David and Jack with the ubiquitous ‘Sadie‘ the landlady of the Hatters for 30 years. It was taken at her retirement party which finished one morning at 6-30 am !!
The bill for all the wasted water is in the post... (INLAND WATERWAYS)
Once in a lifetime a literary work of genius pierces the gloom like a blinding light... But don't dash out & buy sunglasses in this particular case... (THE GUARDIAN BOOK CRITIC)
This has set our cause back over a hundred years... (ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS)
We wish to disassociate ourselves completely from the recipes contained in this document... (GOURMET'S WEEKLY)
What these two know about boating could be written on the back of a postage stamp and still leave room for the address... (BARGEES MONTHLY)
There is nothing like a good tale of danger and adventure afloat......and this is nothing like a good tale of danger and adventure afloat... (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE)
As tales of ADVENTURE, DANGER and COURAGE go - this one never even started... (KNITTING FOR BEGINNERS)
Far too many big words... (THE SUN)
These two are to Adventure what Margaret Thatcher is to Break Dancing... (STOCKPORT MESSENGER)
Reading this account brought the memories flooding back of MY own first voyage....and made me feel just as sick... (CAPTAIN OF THE QE2)
A roistering, fun filled, laughter-packed piece of brilliance....Read it!!! (THE ENSIGN'S LONG SUFFERING BANK MANAGER)
A BIT OF SEX AND VIOLENCE AND THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN A BEST SELLER... (Playboy)
I enjoyed the texture of the paper, and the typing. What more can I say?... (GEOFFREY ARCHER)
So that's what you get up to when my back's turned... (THE CAPTAIN'S WIFE)
A literary masterpiece of outstanding mediocrity... (TIMES SUPPLEMENT)
This reminds me of MY epic voyage... (THE CAPTAIN OF THE TITANIC)