Woken by people making noise. Yelling. Moving about quickly. Sudden, violent jolts and cursing. I realised that we must have already set off, and that people were already out and about opening lock gates and paddles. Whoever was steering the boat apparently wasn't going easy on the hull.
I stumbled blindly out of bed, found my bag out of the wooden wardrobe and retrieved my toothbrush and a tube of paste. After brushing my teeth I tried to get dressed while people rushed about on the steel roof above, and occasionally through the sleeping cabins to get to the front of the boat. The frequent content-shaking collisions made it hard to stand up when I was so tired, and I almost fell onto the thinly carpeted floor a couple of times. Soon, though, I was ready to propel myself into the central area and sit down, take it all in slowly. I was greeted by a beaming smile from John, and he asked if I wanted any breakfast. I accepted his offer of some bacon and toast. After a while of recovering from the trauma of sleep I was again able to form sentences.
Where is everyone else?
Oh, there's a section of locks outside. They're taking it in turns to open locks and then have breakfast. I knew that already, but I'd felt the need to check.
Who's driving at the moment?
Uh, Ben or Mark I think.
I thanked John for a decidedly edible breakfast and then made my way to the back end of the boat to find out for myself who was, in fact, driving. At the tiller (a long, thin rod of wood with a thick pin to hold a brass handle on), I found Mark and Ben. Ben was steering with the tiller, Mark was checking the Canal Companion map to see what lay ahead. Five more locks before a lot of open canal until our afternoon stop.
Ah, you've awoken, Mark noted with a smile.
Still want to kill Rizwan?
Is he still asking for his damned bedcover?
No. He didn't ask again.
So he used his sleeping bag? I asked, impressed that Rizwan actually chose the sensible approach.
No. We found him asleep without a cover.
Bloody idiot, I muttered with a frown.
Oh, and we lost the water cap, Mark added, an apologetic tone creeping in.
I searched my brain for recall of this 'water cap'. Brain still cold, I was forced to ask:
The metal cap that sits on the water tank. I was filling the water tanks at that watering point, and I left it on the side. I kind of knocked it in when I stood up.
Oh, great, I drawled, smiling.
Is John still inside? Ben asked.
Yeah, I said.
Bloody Hell, we've done all these locks, Mark protested.
Yeah, I agreed.
But he did make my breakfast for me and do the washing up, so I can't complain.
Soon Finbar, Mike and Rizwan got fed up with opening locks, and I was forced to help with the locks while a couple of them went inside for food. As Rizwan passed, I asked him how he slept.
I didn't use a sleeping bag, I just used a pillow, he informed me.
What do you mean? I asked, preparing to hear one of Rizwan's tall stories.
I used a pillow as a duvet. I wasn't going to use a sleeping bag.
Why? It's better than a pillow, I pointed out.
Yeah, but it's the principle. I was supposed to get a bedcover.
Obvious as it was that Rizwan still wanted to know where his bedcover had gone, it was also clear that he wasn't angry anymore.
I couldn't think of anything else to say and I was still mentally half-gone, so I jumped off as the boat cruised alongside the bank and opened a couple of locks before hiding back inside the boat.
There were only five locks to do that morning before our first stop, so we all got plenty of time to laze about inside the boat. Finbar turned down the opportunity for relaxation most of the morning, instead using his time trying to persuade Mark to let him have a go steering.
The rest of the crew was peaceful, though. Ben sat on Mark's top bunk reading a copy of T3 he'd bought at Victoria, and listening to his CD collection on Mike's Sony Discman. Mike sat in the main area on the cushioned seating, listening to happy hardcore music tapes he'd brought from home and now played on the boat's own tape system. John sat on the other seating area reading a copy of Auto Trader that he'd brought with him, as well as something called Parker's Car Price Guide. Rizwan moved about chatting and reading other people's magazines over their shoulder. At one point he tried to get a decent picture on the television set we'd hired with the boat. I sat at the front of the boat looking out for interesting landscape compositions to photograph. There was plenty of scenery, and I captured several nice shots of the countryside, though I missed more than a couple by messing about with focus and aperture for too long. I was realising quickly that it was more important to take the shot after a bit of quick tinkering than mess about on the controls for thirty seconds and watch in horror as the relentless progression of the canal narrowboat moved me out of the way for the shot.
After a while we slowed, and someone at the back of the boat started yelling orders. Rizwan and Ben jumped off with ropes and started to moor the boat, Mark cutting the engine once Canterbury was secured.
I stood up at the front of the boat, yelled to the people at the back:
What's going on?
Someone took us through a load of reeds, and now the propeller is a mess, Mark said, glaring at Rizwan. Rizwan laughed it off, and got onto the back of the narrowboat. I later found out that they were all busy sticking their hands into the working regions of the engine to clear out extraneous strips of green foliage, but after a few minutes they were done and the orders were given to untie the boat. We set off again, this time without Rizwan steering, as it sounded like he'd done his share of steering for the day.
Back to cruising peacefully then, gliding along inland waterways, through the green charms of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. We stopped again some way along, at a place called Tibberton where we'd hoped to find a shop and some food. However, it was Sunday afternoon, the shop was closed and we couldn't get any food from the pub so we enjoyed a single round of drinks and then set off again. Six more locks in quick succession, dropping us another forty-two foot. People were now getting decidedly fed up with John not getting off to do any lock-opening, and I too was getting a bad reputation for not pulling my weight. Unfair, of course. I was doing a lot of work photographically documenting the trip. Just because it doesn't look like hard work. The rest of the crew, who were working very hard, didn't see things that way.
Errrr, Robert! When are you going to open some locks? Mark asked in good humour.
In a sec. I wanna get some pictures of this, I replied, gaze still piercing the viewfinder of my Canon SLR.
Oh, God, Mark muttered, walking off to the next lock.
What made things worse was the fact that I was busy missing the real work to take pictures of them doing the real work. Finbar especially objected to being photographed by someone that had done a poor share of the manual labour, and I don't think Mike was impressed by me taking pictures of him wearing the sea captain's hat that he was using to keep the sun out of his hay-fever stricken eyes.
After the tightly-packed locks there were a few more, well-spaced locks, but having got a nice collection of lock-opening pictures already I did my best to contribute my fair share to the work. Or at least appear to.
During the early evening we stopped in Worcester, right before Sidbury Lock which would drop us under London Road, south of the city centre. We didn't want to stop here overnight if we didn't have to, but there was a fish 'n' chip shop and a Balti house so the plan was to stop here, get some food, eat quickly and then set off again before dusk. You are not allowed to drive a boat after dusk, and even if you wanted to you'd find it almost impossible along the shapeless black waterways, so we couldn't waste much time.
Unfortunately we were paranoid about the boat being stolen or robbed if we left it empty even for a few minutes. This was probably because certain members of the crew had seen and insulted most of the population of Worcester as we'd passed along the canal, making our boat very unpopular. So we made John stay on board, with Rizwan, while the rest of us went to get food. Grabbing my Yashica compact camera I followed out of the boat and headed up to centre of the town with the group. There was a fish 'n' chip shop, but most of us instead opted for the Chinese takeaway which doubled as a fish 'n' chip shop. Ben ordered a Chinese meal and was given free prawn crackers, while I and Mike just got food from the fish 'n' chip counter, me ordering a sausage in batter with chips for £1.50. Mark and Finbar were waiting in the Balti house for some exotic order, until Ben went in to tell them we were off to the petrol station to buy some more milk and bread and Finbar left to come with us. We got supplies from the petrol station kiosk, then Finbar returned to the Balti house while I, Mike and Ben headed back to the boat with our dinners. Mike had got John a bag of fish 'n' chips, but Rizwan had waited until now to go for his food, so Mike went with him to show him the way.
I happily sat at one seating area, munching on my food, John at another. I finished quickly enough to get out of the way for Mark, Finbar and Ben to lay their vast meals down. Mark had decided he'd been a good boy that day and gone and bought himself a meal from the Balti house as well as a fish 'n' chips meal. Rizwan returned with his own delights from the Balti house, and everyone was eating happily.
Except John who went around telling everyone how much like diarrhoea and vomit the contents of the foil trays from the Balti house looked. I got some more moans from the group by taking pictures of them eating a big meal, but by now most of them didn't mind as much. Except Finbar, who would still stop what he was doing to cover his face, or moan,
Put the camera away, Robert!
Once everyone had finished eating we untied the boat and now John took to the tiller, two or three of the rest of us working on Sidbury Lock. John steered us the short distance towards a place called Diglis Basins, a place that will remember us for a long time after John's insane entrance. John passed all the mooring areas and continued to head straight into the first basin as fast as the roaring diesel engine could manage. John's desire for speed was not met by the narrowboat, as it cruised at four or five miles per hour, but the rumbling noise the engine was making seemed to compensate him, as did the devastated water following close behind in large waves. So he continued straight into the basin at maximum power, sadly failing to notice just how tight the basin was with respect to a sixty-eight foot narrowboat. The whole basin was full with boats: narrowboats and fresh-water vessels, some of the boats were wooden yachts three times as high as our craft. John suddenly realised how stupid a level of momentum our boat was conveying and panicked, throwing the throttle into reverse and desperately trying to turn the boat to avoid collision with a line of narrowboats in their moorings. This proved to be a genuinely bad choice of manoeuvre, for you cannot do much to steer a narrowboat while the propeller is in reverse, and now we were spinning as well. Now the back end of the boat was heading for the line of narrowboats, so John threw the throttle into full forward. This didn't stop our boat from hitting the line of narrowboats, but it did have the kinky bonus of causing the right-side of the boat to head for the prominent iron anchor of another deep-water ship. Now Mark and Finbar had realised something was going on. From their great view in the kitchen area they saw the iron anchor heading towards one of our boat's glass windows.
Fucking Hell! I believe Mark yelled.
Pull the pane out!!! And with that, Mark and Finbar grabbed at the glass window pane and slid it out of its frame, just in time to see the iron anchor enter the window space, luckily missing the glass they were removing. At this same time, Rizwan was on the roof of our narrowboat, using his arms, legs and torso to push us away from one titanic collision after another. Or at least he tried, which is more than I was doing. Again I was standing at the front of the boat with my Canon SLR capturing the action on silver-halide. However, I did stop for a moment when the panicked owner of one yacht screamed:
Mind my boat! It's only made of wood; yours is made of steel!!!
At that, Rizwan charged to the front of the boat and used his full force to push against the yacht to stop a collision. It worked, but we hit the steel buoy that the yacht was anchored to instead, knocking it aside into an insane bobbing motion. I noticed that everyone from the pub next to the basin had now come out into the pub garden with their drinks, and were cheering or laughing at John's steersmanship, and the frantic efforts most of the crew were making to correct our problems.
After so many collisions our boat had little momentum left. John was finally able to reverse, gently hitting another narrowboat doing so. Luckily the owner of this new target was not pissed off. He hopped onto the back of our narrowboat and asked John, and Mark and Finbar (who had both gone to the back to have words with John) if they'd like a hand. They agreed quickly, and this helpful guy-in-a-green-shirt steered us slowly and surely into a mooring point. Mark and John were talking to this honorary Canterbury crew-member, but as I was standing up at the front with my camera I missed the conversation. I'm told, though, that John spent the conversation asking if there were actually any laws against speeding on the inland waterways. John was delighted when the guy in green said that there was no punishment for speeding, nor driving like a twat.
Safely moored, we said goodbye to the saviour of Diglis Basin, got ourselves together and went to the pub by the basin. Not surprisingly, people were staring and grinning as we passed through into the pub garden. We had a round of drinks, sitting under the Banks's pub umbrella, recounted tales of the struggles to survive in Diglis Basin, and moaned at John for driving like a juggernaut into a small square pool full of boats. People pulled faces when I took pictures of us in the pub garden, and then Mark announced proudly that he was going to make use of the pub's toilet facilities so as not to fill the sewage tanks on the Canterbury. He returned a number of minutes later with a look of job satisfaction, and then we all headed back to the boat.
Suddenly mine and Finbar's sleeping cabin had become the new social area, and everyone spent an hour or so just sitting in there, talking and reading magazines and newspapers. Eventually the people dispersed, leaving Finbar, Ben and Mark on Finbar's bed and mine while I read the last two chapters of a book Finbar had brought along to read. The book was called The Beach, and Finbar was not happy about me reading just the last two chapters. Probably because he wrongly thought that I'd cruelly outline for him the way the book ended. However, he needn't have worried. I was just trying to see why the critics quoted on the back of the book had been raving so much. And they had a point. It did seem to be a very fast-paced book.
Soon Mark went to wash and brush his teeth, then settled down to sleep on his own bunk. Finbar tried to sleep too, but, with myself and Ben sitting on my bed reading T3 and talking loudly while Ben listened to something with Mike's Discman, it was understandably difficult. Still, at least Rizwan was fast asleep, but Finbar still complained more than once about the constant disturbances. This didn't bother myself or Ben, though, and we carried on talking all the while, me reading an article about Sharp headquarters in Japan, Ben talking to me about the Japanese craze with something called Print Club.
In the end, even Finbar was asleep. Neither I nor Ben felt much like retiring for the night, even though it was after one in the morning. So he said we should go for a walk. I agreed and we headed out along the dark tow path that clung to the mooring areas, Ben clutching a torch too low on batteries to give us much help above telling us when we were about to trip over something. It was cold, but it bothered neither of us enough to force a retreat. In fact, Ben suggested I get my camera to capture some pictures of a large, hulking building being lit by orange night-lamps on one side. Looking at Pearson's Canal Companion, I now know that these buildings were:
the famous Royal Worcester porcelain works and Townsend's Mill… The latter a once intensive user of water transport. So I and Ben headed back to the boat, Ben suddenly very full of questions about how to get a picture of such a night scene. Once at the boat, we sneaked in through the front doors that we'd left unlocked, then I got my camera bag and tripod, Ben went to look for his compact camera. Then, quietly as we could, because we didn't want to know what Finbar thought of such an excursion, we crept back off of the boat, closing but not locking the front doors behind us.
I set up my tripod on the path opposite the orange-lit building and put my Canon on top of it, measured the light off one side of the dark building, unhappy to tell Ben that I'd need to do a one minute bulb exposure. Explaining to Ben that this meant standing about not touching the camera for one minute while it sat there with the shutter open, he agreed and I took a couple of shots. After the long exposures, Ben wanted to have a go with his compact, so I showed Ben how to use the quick release plate to mount his camera on the tripod, and he lined up a shot in his viewfinder. I told Ben to turn off the flash because I didn't think it would be effective at such a range. He realised then that he couldn't turn it off, so he took a couple of shots with the flash on. Not expecting much effect at the distance we were at, I was shocked to see the whole building strobe suddenly as Ben pressed the shutter button. It was damned dark out there.
Moving down to the basin area, we both took a few more shots in the same manner, and I attempted a slow-sync portrait shot of Ben standing against the distant lights of the buildings surrounding the basin. As Ben took some pictures of a grey building lit by bright spotlight, and apparently still full of busy workers, I realised that the cloudless sky was lightening.
Jesus H Christ I gasped.
What the Hell time is it?
Ben squinted at his torch-lit watch.
It's after three o' clock.
We'd been out and about with our cameras for two hours, though it had felt like no more than half an hour, and it was getting bright.
Okay, finish that shoot, and then I reckon we should go back and get some sleep before it's too late. I hate it when night turns into dawn, and the birds begin to sing.
Ben finished the shot he was doing and soon we headed back into the unlocked boat to get some rest before the new day began proper.