Saturday, 31 July 2010

THE HOUSE BOAT

It was a youth Club night, Eric bounced in our quiet room to disturb us at a critical point in our card game of brag, the betting was getting heavy.

“ What do you reckon to that?”

Eric asked as he dropped a photograph under our noses on the makeshift card table. The photograph showed a very large houseboat, it was a chalet type building, built on a pontoon. It had a flat roof and open balcony’s at either end and sported colourful window boxes at each window.

“ Very pretty.” Someone remarked.

“ I have purchased it; it is moored at Trent lock.”

We remembered above the lock at Trent lock on the Erriwash Canal along its banking was a string of these colourful floating homes.

“ How much did that set you back Eric?”

“ Five shillings.”

We fell about laughing and asked what the catch was.

“ It needs a bit of doing up.” He replied, we could see he was in need of volunteers. He did not need to look any further.

“ I’ll take you to see it at the weekend.” As he left he said, and as we continued with our game of cards,

“ By the way bring your swimming trunks and a towel.”

“ I’ll raise you a shilling and bet you five bloody pounds the fucking boats on the bottom,” my friend Alan remarked.

Eric picked all of us up in a big van, which was towing a small dingy; the van was laden with sheets of hardboard, bits of rope, lengths of timber and tools. We arrived at Trent lock and we expected to follow the road that runs adjacent to the canal, but Eric headed in the opposite direction to the main riverbank. We scrambled out of the back of the van and stood looking across the wide river. On the opposite bank was the sad looking houseboat hanging on its side from the banking half submerged? The story was the owners were moving it up the river to a boatyard where it was going to be put up for sale, they had decided to leave the house boat tied up for the night on the river bank, over night the level of the river fell by about five feet, the poor owners had left it on very short but strong mooring lines, not good practice on moving water. The boat clearly tipped on its side, river was now up again at high level.

“ What did I tell you?” Remarked Alan.

Eric started to shout out the orders of the day,

“ Right get that dingy in the river and load up those sheets of hardboard.”

The dingy was around three foot six inches wide and six feet long; the sheets of hardboard were eight feet by four feet. Once loaded the dingy disappeared underneath the load with the sheets of hardboard dipping in the river on both sides. Two brave lads jumped on top of the boarding and they drifted hopelessly out of control into the fast current spinning round and round as they attempted to paddle. They were unable to paddle or maneuver, it was time now for us all to change in to our swimming trunks and diving in after it. Once we were all across the river and after reading the warning notice from the British Waterways Board that was stuck to the side of what was once a floating home. The notice stated the craft had no license and would be removed in fourteen days, Eric bellowed out more orders as he handed out hammers and nails.

“ Right lads take a sheet of hard board a hammer and some nails into the river and fasten it over the windows.”

We believed we could do it so in we went, the sheet of hardboard were difficult to put in place as they wished to float around, a deep breath under we went, nail in place, swing the hammer! Slow motion took over; for it is impossible to swing a hammer under water.

Not to be put off Eric ordered us back across the river as he had brought some large tractor tire inner tubes’ and a foot pump. After an afternoon of blowing up inner tubes, which were, fasten to the houseboat we only succeeded in making them look like a string giant black puddings and the houseboat had not moved an inch. It was now the lads turn to make a suggestion,

“ We’re going to the pub.”

Eric desperately seemed to want to own a boat, he had approached the British Waterways who said for a price they would re-float the houseboat but pointed out it would be hardly worth it as the craft was fairly rotten and in the same breath said the craft would be removed anyway on the following Friday evening.

“ Why cant you ask them if you can have it after they move it,” we suggested, “ its worth a try.”

The Friday evening came along we stood on the banking, across the river was a workboat tied up along side of the houseboat, the workmen were busy aboard. We wondered how they were going to shift it but had assumed we could have the houseboat after they done so it if we wanted. Eric waved to attract the attention of the workmen, he was ignored, the workboat pulled away from the houseboat with all the crew aboard and headed down river, after some distance it turned around and faced up stream and hovered in mid stream with its engine ticking over. We stood there wondering what was happening, we did not have to wait long, BOOM, the houseboat exploded, disintegrating the mass of the craft into thousands of little pieces, the workboat and its crew slowly started collecting the larger pieces of the boat with boat hooks as it gently drifted past them. The houseboat was worth every penny of five shillings for the entertainment value. Several years later I was pleased to help Eric fulfill his dream.