Sunday, 5 July 2015

Game for a laugh

Newbury Lock, with its unique lever-operated paddle gear
After today I think I have a good idea for a new BBC tv gameshow. Get two teams of five intelligent people, put each in a 70ft narrowboat and ask them to perform tasks of increasing complexity while travelling along together – finishing off with going down a lock and turning round at the bottom.
Now there is a potential Channel 4 alternative – have a team of ten men (dressed as pirates) and a team of ten women (in skimpy sailor's outfits), give them multiple crates of beer and wine and watch them get increasingly idiotic as the day wears on, culminating in one or more falling in.
Personally, though, I think that's rather crude. I prefer the subtlety of the BBC version. The contenders have to be intelligent – bankers, doctors, marketing types – and the judging panel (get this) is a couple of middle aged housewives.
We saw the finale of the pilot show this afternoon: two such boats had to drop through the lock after Aldermaston Wharf, turn in the winding hole below and come back up the lock to return the boats. Apparently that's one of the stipulations of the hire operator there.
Their antics were beyond hilarious. They got one turned reasonably okay but then that completely blocked the winding hole space for the other boat when it tried the manoeuvre.
"Oh dear," said our judging houseswives on their canalside bench. "Why didn't they just take one out, turn it round and go back in the lock, then do it with the other one." You're absolutely right, judges. Zerol points for both teams.
Memorial plaque at Newbury Lock
It's been that sort of day. We've done 13 locks (and a few swing bridges) in ten miles to take us to a nice bankside stop beside a peaceful cow meadow on the edge of Theale. And something has been happening most of the time.
Newbury Lock, first of the day, is the official boundary between the original canalised River Kennet to Reading and the stretch from Newbury to Bath which joined it 60 years later. There's a plaque to record as much at the lock.
The day had started quietly enough in the company of a competent pair on their smart little 50 footer. Except that the lady lockie from that and myself chatted our way into B&Q carpark instead of the next lock! Busily talking we had missed the bridge taking the towpath to the other side and had to retrace our steps.
Serious flooding of the towpath near Thatcham
Bulls Lock, which claimed us in major league getting stuck issues both ways last time, was a pussy cat today but a couple of miles further on, strange things were happening at Monkey Marsh Lock in Thatcham. Water was pouring out of the Kennet and flooding the towpath. And I mean 'pouring' and 'flooding'. Clearly there was a serious problem at one of the many weirs. Harrywoman did her boating duty and phoned C&RT to alert them.
Our travelling companions pulled a flanker on us here: we'd come upon another narrowboat waiting for the lock and they waved us ahead to partner this one. "We are stopping soon; you go on."
Why Thatcham's lock is so big and oddly sided I can't say
I soon realised why: the boat ahead was full of Ranger Guides who spent their time singing, texting and – occasionally – boating. Fortunately after two locks they moored for lunch and we went on largely alone for the rest of the day, via the weird wibbly-wobbly sided giant lock at Aldermaston, a refuelling stop at the Wharf and the final antics at the next lock.
The Kennet here has moments of rare beauty
Not so much a sidestream at Towney Lock, more a Niagara
In between the entertainments we have traveled a rather lovely section of waterway, often among tree lined meadows, at times wandering, river fashion, through thick woods. With so little recent rain (in this area anyway) the current has been pretty benign, though we been past a few strong side weirs that could have caused us a few gameshow moments of our own. But, fortunately, not today.

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