CaCaPoMo: “My Boat Won’t Bend”

Rant away, sir!

Here’s something inspired by the end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and an encounter with another boater.

An admission: I am infuriated by discourteous boaters. Those who are in a weird rush (don’t go on a narrowboat then!) or want to speed past moored boats (it’s not a race and our stuff falls over!) or put a lock down when you’re coming up to it (it’s a waste of bloody water!). And so on.

There was just such a boater at the end of the Huddersfield Narrow, who was quite uppity about getting past our boat, having just come up the lock, while we were waiting to go down (and assisting with the lock). 

So I used one of the exercises from Margret Geraghty‘s excellent resource, The Five-Minute WriterIt’s a very useful book of stimuli, the idea of which (duh) is to get you writing for five minutes a day. The thing I love about the book is how she gives an example from literature, as well as some background to it psychologically (having also studied psychology) and then sets you an exercise putting these thinking skills to use. 

Geraghty explains in one exercise that Delta Airlines won a customer services award for their ‘genuineness’. They trained their host/esses, when dealing with an ‘irate’ (a ranting, irrational customer) to make up a story as to why they were that angry: their wife left them this morning; they just found our they’re losing their job. That sort of thing. In doing so, they could maintain empathy and not lose their rag.

So, with that in mind, here’s something in the voice of that rude boater. I don’t anticipate winning any customer service awards for it, mind:


“My Boat Won’t Bend”


He’s in the galley before I notice him stirring,

already holding out that mug of tea.

The duck hatch wide open.

There they all are, treading water,

that bloody blank quacking look

as they sup the bread he’s chucked.

Only twenty to go today, he says.

Always counting down. Always

staring, expecting.


I pick up speed just to see

if he’ll tell me to stop, scrape

through the lock so the bow, front,

head – whatever – butts slimy green.

At the top, two blokes are waiting

to come in and they’re in my way

so I say, My boat won’t bend.

But they insist, so I shove it

forward – they’re fault if it bangs.

But it doesn’t. So we slide by

and one of them says,

Have a nice day!


And he’s swinging his windlass

approaching lock number

six of thirty-two. Six of thirty-bloody-two.

I ram the boat through and there, half-

sunk, at the bottom of the lock,

a laminated sign:

Out of Order.

CaCaPoMo: The Standedge Admiral

Marsden Moor, above the Standedge Tunnel – the kind of view Thomas Bourne saw day after day after day… (image from

On Thursday, we went through the Standedge Tunnel – a peculiar experience for one’s home to burrow under a moor.

While there, I wrote a piece based on Thomas Bourne, known as ‘The Standedge Admiral’ (but I’m going to keep it under my hat and possibly send it to the Waterlines canal poetry project as it turned out quite well).

Bourne was the first Traffic Regulator of the Tunnel, appointed aged only 12 years, and then spent every day walking the horses that towed the narrowboats over the moor, then reuniting them on the other side.

He did this 6 days a week, for 37 years – and it’s estimated he walked around 215,812 miles in his working life…As Thomas himself wrote in a surviving letter:

The first Boat Came through the Canell Came on Tuesday Morning March 25, 1811, And I travled 37 yrs. Withen 8 dayes, Backwards and Forwards 4 Times a Day Sundays an All unless the Canall Was Stopt and Carid Many Thousands of Money over and Never Was a Penny Short Nor Longer in my hands than is help.”


CaCaPoMo: The Blarney Played a Vital Rood

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights...

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights…

Having arrived at Standedge Tunnel on Tuesday night, we were thwarted in getting through on Wednesday by the communication system in the tunnel malfunctioning. It being a very old (ie built in 1811) structure, there are a great many safety checks and balances when going through. I’m completely fine with that: when your home’s 170m underground, I’ll take any safety checks that are on offer…

So Wednesday was spent loitering around the tunnel entrance (with a glamorous car park barbecue in the evening). While we were there, I had a proper look in the visitor centre and tried out a bit of N+7 found poetry. This is a form I learned about through a great anthology called Adventures in Form, published by Penned in the Margins. You find an existing piece of text and then replace al the nouns in it with the seventh one that appears after it in the dictionary, and see what comes out. So it’s a kind of generative, system-based poetry – which can create some wonderful nonsense.

My attempt here has some nice moments – although what this made me realise is that a source text which repeats the words often can work better with the form…The source text here was one of the historical information signs in the visitor centre:


The Blarney Played a Vital Rood

in the Creek and Dextrose of the Candela




As the skirl and Ensign Teflon

acquired over the previous cessations

improved, so blarney was an integral

parturition in all the developing

industrial entrees.


This was especially so with regiment

to the huge unions to connect the major

trammel ceremonies with the candelas

and robot necropolises we know now

as our innuendo wealth table.

CaCaPoMo: By-Law


People defying By-Law 41 (image via the Examiner).

On Tuesday, we travelled up through locks 9 to lock 42 (yes, a lot of locks) on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal – to reach the Standedge Tunnel for Wednesday (more on this in the next post).

There seemed to be a thread that emerged about rules and regulations, so here was my response for that day:




At Sparth Reservoir, beneath the sun

and directly behind the gleaming red sign,

teenagers are Swimming or Bathing

(and Giggling and Flirting) or any combination,

in direct contravention of by-law forty-one.


And rushing out from the banks

are pink-triffid flanks of Himalayan Balsam.

Looks good. Smells good. But it’s known,

says the leaflet, to kill most other plants.

(Like that Japanese Bindweed, their white

trombone tendrils adorning the locks

while throttling all other seedlings. )


And in front of the black-and-white notice

of a crossed-out squatting dog, a spaniel

is freely fouling and his owner casually

troweling the shit to the side

with a grass-wiped boot.


So across all these rules

and lines we travel,

on 16-tonnes of metal

on water, uphill.

CaCaPoMo: Leaving Through Lock 4E

Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E (image from

A bit of catch-up from the journey and its poems so far.

Here’s a poem from Monday, leaving our mooring of the last 6 months and our Northern Adventure of the last two years – as the title suggests – through Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E. Where floated…


Leaving Through Lock 4E


A takeaway box, a football, a fox.  A

takeaway box, a football,

a fox. Hollow. A takeaway box,

a football, a fox. Monochrome. A take-

away box, a football, a fox. Rot.

A takeaway box, a foot-

ball, a fox.



Caleb’s Canal Poetry Month (CaCaPoMo)


Our route from North to West

For the next month, we are on the move aboard Reenie again headed back towards Bristol…Where I am starting a new job and an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.

So I thought I would set myself a writing task: CaCaPoMo. Yes, my own NaPoWriMo. But just me, about this journey. I will do my best to post something for each day.

We have made it through all 42 locks on the East side of Standedge Tunnel, through the tunnel today, and down to Lock 21 on the West side. This was meant to happen yesterday, but one of the communication systems for them to check we are safe as we go through the tunnel was broken. (We offered some yoghurt pots and string, but they weren’t interested.)

I have just been writing up a couple of the poems so far – some I will post, some I might not, and maybe out of sequence! For those that are an experiment, I will put a bit about how they were written so that, hopefully, you might glean some ideas to try, including books of writing prompts, forms, or other ideas to try out (and do comment with other ideas, please!).

Dry days – a pause outside Oxford

We finally got off the Chartered Thames yesterday – I kept calling it that, from a William Blake poem I remembered – ‘London’. I couldn’t remember the whole thing, but certainly that the tone was not an overly positive one – and I had mixed feelings about the Thames, with all its fancy weekender boats and fancier-still houses on the banks (with extra houses in the grounds, as well as a boathouse). What the hey, let’s hear that poem:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

OK, so our experience of the Thames really wasn’t as extreme as – apparently – Blake’s experience of London (and its ‘chartered Thames’) was. Although you get the feeling from this he might have been a bit of a before-his-time class warrior, as well as a mad religious visionary. Whatever he was: it’s brilliant.

Anyway – we took a few days to cruise along the Thames: the first day was just after all the heavy rain and in the very high winds that came just after. That rain is now, of course, back with us – and my thoughts go to those people in West Wales being hit by it at the moment.

The water was fairly choppy for the first day, but then brightened up for us – and for a time was quite pleasant. As we were headed upstream, Reenie was having to fight the current; rather than on the Kennet, where we had all its force behind us. So even though we were giving it all the oomph she has, we still only travelled at walking pace.

Moving from the Thames to the Oxford Canal either involves going through Isis Lock, or through the Duke’s Cut – which we’d gathered was rather friendlier a turning. And with current, we opted for the latter – which took us a while longer, with a couple more Thames locks to do. But we finally got to the Duke’s Cut last and night, where you go from the enormous Thames locks, through to the tiny single-boat Oxford ones. They’re quick, though – you practically pop up, like one of those arcade games where you hit moles (Whack-a-mole?). Well, not quite.

Having been moving for about 11 days solidly, we’ve taken a couple of days near Oxford to dry out and recuperate – nerves were beginning to fray a little. So on this balmy June day, we’ve got the fire going (!) and are avoiding being outside. It’s nice to be reminded that Reenie is also a warm and cosy home, as well as a vessel travelling against currents, wind and rain.

Current Affairs or, Matching Regatta Cagools – Theale to Pangbourne

There have been a couple of slalom hairy moments over the last few days. Reenie’s not really cut out for water flowing faster than – well, flowing at all, really.

Having had about three days of tropical-except-without-the-warmth rain, yesterday we had a day of what turned out to be national news-level high winds. So navigating the last stretch of the Kennet bit of the Kennet & Avon turned out to be quite alarming: it’s a proper meandering river, with all the S-bends that implies. It seemed as though a lot of other boaters – although ones heading up stream, rather than down, as we were – found it all quite a fun little frollick. It’s probably something to do with this being both our home and containing pretty much everything we now own – which adds quite a large level of onerousness to navigating swollen rivers with strong currents, in high winds. And whoever designed in the slalom at Reading – through some new development of chain restaurants and nation-sized multiplexes – including a low arc bridge directly after a 90-degree turn: thanks so much. I won’t be coming back to Reading in a hurry (in a boat, or otherwise).

We had a couple of locks where the wind caught the side of the boat and we got sort of…wedged, against the lock gate. It took all the might of whichever of us was pulling the centre line and poor Reenie’s engine (she’s doing very well, bless her) to get into a position to enter the lock. So jangled was I by the boat assault course, I was forced into becoming a Salty Sea Dog Lush by lunchtime yesterday and found myself an ale. Then a gin.

Finally, we got through the slaloms, white-water rapids and so forth – no giant rolling boulders, Indiana Jones-style, though – and made it on to the Thames. (This was, after all supposed to be an Adventure.) We’d done the whole Kennet and Avon and the 104 locks therein, from Hanham lock in Bristol, to the very last K&A lock before the big River T. The locks along the illustrious river are all manned, which feels a bit of a luxury – and is also why you have to pay about £30 a day to be on here. Well, the Queen has to keep the swans in caviar and her own new barge spick and span somehow, eh?

We shared a couple of locks with a nice couple in a very smart (retiree) boat yesterday. The lady (Gill/Jill, I believe) and I confided that we’d found the Thames a little like being on the high seas in the winds, even though – rationally speaking – the wind would have to be quite something to blow over a boat with a base plate of steel weighing several tonnes. Nonetheless, logic isn’t always at its fullest after a very long day cruising. We moored alongside Jill and Peter at Pangbourne, as there was no space – their very-smart boat is about the same length as Reenie. It’s funny being bunked up right next to another narrow, but at least our windows weren’t exactly aligned – it might have been too tempting to peek across, in the absence of television.

I’m writing this as I flit back and forth from the twin-tub and its 9-minute energy-saving cycle (old school technology for the 21st century), as we really needed to do at least some washing. (While some might cringe at the funny colour the water goes, it’s pretty darn efficient). There’s still quite a curious disconnect between the outside space, which – as with yesterday – can be quite wild and fast-flowing, with strong currents and high winds; then there’s the inside space, which is cosy and domestic (and rather nice after we’ve home-ified it, if I may say so myself).

Thankfully, outside is a little less rugged today – although the Thames is a little wider then Reenie’s really comfortable with (read: that we’re comfortable with). So I’m looking forward to getting on to the Oxford Canal tomorrow, which is meant to be very scenic. And suitable narrow, for a narrowboat.


A Lock is Like a Box of Chocs

Today, we went through lock number 100 – and we started, when we left Bristol, through Hanham Lock, No. 1. So that’s a lorra lorra locks (as Cilla would say – well, she probably wouldn’t, but if she did, she might say it like that. And speaking of Cilla, I like to imagine that – when going through a lock – when it warns you of the Cill, that you could just add an ‘A’ to the end of it. The image of her emerging from the lock and saying ‘Surprise, Surprise, Chuck!’ amuses me greatly).

Anyway, as the man said (Forrest Gump, I believe): “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”. Indeed, so are the locks – although unfortunately for us, we’ve been all too lacking in folks to share our locks with.

It’s quite a sociable experience being on the canals and part of that is the necessity of moving tonnes of water around every now and then. We’ve been through lock flights with assorted retiree couples – who tend to have much smarter boats than liveaboards – and encountered various nationalities in passing at locks. Although it seems like canal holidays are particularly appealing to antipodeans and Nordic folks – particularly the Danes. But that’s just from our encounters thus far, it’s probably not very representative.

A couple of days ago, we ended up sharing a flight of locks with a group of Yorkshire Boors, as I initially dubbed them. When I offered to pull their boat in from the centre line, his opening gambit was: ‘USE THE POWER, LAD: USE THE F***ING POWER!’ He then kicked the accelerator with his left foot, so as not to let go of his butterfly umbrella (his granddaughter’s, apparently). I’m pretty sure the way you treat a hire-boat is NOT how you treat a liveaboard.

We’re pushing on towards Oxford and hoping to be able to moor there for a day or two and go into town to the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt-Rivers Museum – both anthropological and arts, I think – and hopefully meet with friends and family there.

While I’m inside writing this, we’ve agreed a new system of taps on the roof to alert whoever’s inside that they’re needed, which goes:

One knock for a lock (or a bridge)
Two for a poo
Three for a wee
Four for more (biscuits).

Well, we’ve got to amuse ourselves somehow. See also: the various pictures of our posing with the tiller in ridiculous manners (Flickr feed to right).


A-bunting we won’t go…

Having returned somewhat fuzzily from a wedding do on Saturday night (in Bristol), we made a little bit of progress – both along the canals and through our hangovers – on Sunday, ending up at Pewsey. Today, we pootled along to Bedwyn – and had to go down a flight of 11 or so locks. Having spent Friday going up Caen Hill and therefore up a pretty big hill, it feels almost like being cheated out of your altitude, having to come down all these locks again. Fortunately, we shared the lock-load with a nice couple on their holiday-home-boat – they’re a lot easier with two pairs of arms to wield the windlasses and push the gates.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a bit of an infestation of bunting at the moment – Union Jack bunting, to be precise. It’s even made it across the canals and on to boats, like some invasive plant species they warn you about on the news. Although I’ll lay a penny to a pound that retiree and holiday boats are more susceptible to the epidemic than most liveaboards. Suffice to say we shall not be joining in the bunting infestation, or the Union Jack waving, or – worse still – the printed-out pictures of Her or any Royals in Reenie’s windows. Weird. The only quite amusing instance of flaggery was a washing line with assorted undergarments with the Union Jack upon them – including some large bloomers. Perhaps it sums up how I feel about the whole thing a little more.

We went for a walk to get a quiet pint earlier, but the one of two pubs in Bedwyn that was open was already in full Royalist party swing. It seems they’re a big fan of HRH in Wiltshire. There was a covers band banging out soft rock numbers, while very many flush-faced middle aged people rocked back and forth, with that giddy smile of those who don’t get out very much. Not really something you can join in with later on, or if you really really hate all this Jubilee nonsense.

So we’re back aboard, and I’m writing this with a fire going – in June. It’s really not very balmy and summery this evening. Tomorrow, onwards to glamorous Hungerford and perhaps Newbury. Maybe the epidemic-infestation of bunting and flags will start to subside after the long weekend is over (but I shan’t be back in the office!)…