It’s not easy getting my family to the boat.
This morning we began the process at about 6.30am with the over-excited Boys packing bag after bag of ‘essential’ toys; then there was the drama of getting their sister out of her bed; and the realisation too that our one remaining ‘skinny pigs’ (hairless Guinea Pigs – don’t ask) was unwell and pining for his recently deceased buddy Elvis; add to that the slight matter of four loads of bedding to get down 78 steep, winding, Victorian stairs and shoe-horning in said Buddy – the increasingly skinny ‘skinny pig’ and his huge cage – into the car too.
“We’d never forgive ourselves if we came back and found him dead.”
On top of his cage went the Kelly Kettle, supplies of tea bags and coffee, cereal and jam, guidebooks and maps (I know it’s hard to get lost on a canal, after all it’s pretty difficult to do a wrong turn across a ploughed field), I do so love annotating a guidebook or map…
All of which brought us to 8.00am, a packed to bursting car, and everyone suddenly desperately needing the loo.
It was a predictably slow pre Easter Weekend crawl up the M40. We kept ourselves entertained counting the number of mangled, once majestic Red Kites strewn across the central reservation. We got to 20+ before we felt it might be the decent thing to stop.
Things finally slowed down once we’d manhandle our luggage down to the mooring on a couple of borrowed trolley’s from Wickes’, and had a traditional trudge round Tescos for those last minute essentials – long matches, 5 ltr. bottles of water, hot Cornish pasties etc.
With a wave from Pete (The Boys’ new hero – “he can make anything…”) we were away down the South Oxford and steaming towards Banbury at a sedate pace.
We settled, ruffled feathers were smoothed, and for long minutes the kids fell silent, yes silent for minutes! Bliss.
We dropped really rather slickly through Banbury Town Lock ringed by a friendly crowd of gongozzlers.
Claire who knows how to work a crowd, soon had a troop of eager volunteers to help her haul the gates shut or open. Fin stayed on the boat with me as we descended, his small hand fixed to the tiller, a ‘Captain in Charge of his Craft’ at the age of five.
Once through the lock…
we passed the remnants of Banbury’s industrial past – a remaining working foundry –
and the long Tramway straight out into parkland and open fields.
I could feel the pressure lifting.
My smile returning. My frown receding. The boat was going well. The kids were engaged.
A fine afternoon, a meal booked at a good pub a few miles down the Cut later in the day, sorted!
What could possibly go wrong?
Hayes Bridge (No. 170), one of the South Oxford’s archetypal lift bridges, was in the lowered position across the canal and prevented our passage. Claire leapt off, and hauling on the long chain attached to one of the huge oak balance beams levered the bridge open.
We passed through without incident.
Then, in trying to close the bridge again and return to the towpath side where I’d held the boat, Claire found she had only half-lifted the beam and it hadn’t reached the ‘tipping point’ that would see the bridge return to it’s closed position across the canal. It dropped back, suddenly and heavily crushing her hand between the balance beam and the upright post it rest upon when open.
The beam bounced on her hand just enough for her to pull her hand out. She collapse to the ground in shock and pain.
Seeing what happened I’d leapt off the boat and wrestled the lift bridge back down from my side. We half-carried her back to the boat.
Our days boating was over. We moored. The Boys and I rushed back the couple of miles to the car, and drove Claire to hospital.
Thankfully there had been sufficient ‘give’ in the wooden beam to do no permanent damage. Bad bruising. If it’d been made of steel things would have been far worse.
As it is, tonight we’re back in London, and the boat’s awaiting our return.
ps. the day after… UPDATE: Claire’s hand has ballooned with bruising, however she’s determined we’ll return to Banbury in the morning to recover the boat and take her ‘home’ to Grimbury Wharf… I’ll let you know how we get on.