Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Man in the Mankini

I have heard it said that narrowboating is boring. "It's so slow!" friends complain. "What's the point in taking eight hours to get from Bristol to Bath when I can drive there in half an hour?"

This competely misses the point of course. I remember once returning from a week's boating and work colleagues asking where I had been on holiday. "Devizes," I said.
"Devizes? For a holiday?"
"Well, it took three days to get there and three days to get back."
With boating it is all about the journey, not the destination. 

In any event, these days boating holidays have become popular for stag and hen parties, and these are livening up the canals no end. As we discovered.

I had joined Mick, Val and Vince for a jaunt down to the River Avon from Bath. We headed down the Widcombe Flight, the six locks which take the Kennet and Avon down to the Avon Navigation. Originally the flight comprised seven locks, but pre-restoration, when the canal was disused, a new road had been put through Widcombe and through the lower lock, so the two locks were combined to form Bath Deep Lock.  With a fall of 19 feet 5 inches, it is the second deepest lock in the UK. (Pipped to the post by Tuel Lane Lock on the Rochdale Canal which has a rise of 19 feet 8 inches. That one is deemed too deep to be operated without a lock keeper, presumably those three inches make all the difference as boaters are expected to navigate Bath Deep Lock unassisted.) The locks take a colossal amount of water and boaters are asked to share locks whenever possible.

Anyway, we were coming down the lock above Bath Deep Lock when I noticed a boat waiting to descend The Big One. I was about to call out to them to wait when I realised that this might not be such a good idea.  Several lads on the boat were dancing about on the roof swigging out of wine bottles and beer cans, one chap was balanced on a plastic stool on the roof holding out score cards to passing women and someone hidden from sight was blasting vigorously on an airhorn.

I wrestled with my conscience. We should ask them to wait and save water, but I really didn't want to spend half-an-hour locking down with these louts.

In the end I decided to pass the buck and asked Mick. "Um there's a boat at the next lock but its loaded up with a bunch of w**kers," I said non-judgementally. "Shall I ask them to wait or shall we let them go on?"
"Well, if we don't share locks, the pound up here is going to be empty soon," he said. ("Pound" is the name given to the bits of water which join locks together on canals - I have no idea why.) "Yes, ask them to wait."
"Ok," I sighed. "But don't say I didn't warn you!"

When we caught up with them, Mick and Val who were on the boat stared in astonishment. "I did warn you," I said. Standing on the end of the lock, right next to the main road was a bloke dressed in a Borat style  mankini, dancing and strutting up and down the lock gates. Someone needed to go and open the paddle on the gate to start letting the water out. "I'm not standing next to him", I said to Vince, "I don't want a close up of his bum."
"And you think I do?" he asked. "But he went up and did it anyway, and we watched narrowboat John Damsell and the party-boat descend together into the depths.

I feared for their safety but all seemed to be going well down there.  I saw Mick and the captain of the other boat exchange hats for a while, and a wine bottle was being passed to and fro.

"They're not sure where to go when they get on the river!" Mick yelled up to me. "I said they could come with us!"
"WHAT?" I yelled. "You are JOKING!"
He wasn't. We shared the next lock. By now quite a crowd had gathered to watch the spectacle.

"You're a ten," yelled the bloke on the roof to three attractive young ladies, holding up a ten card. "YOU are a ONE," he said to a cyclist. "Pedal faster or get a car!" Then: "You're a five!"  - aimed at a chap scuttling past with his Sainsbury's bags.

Meanwhile "Borat" was posing for all he was worth.

"They're not with us," I said to anyone who would listen.

We were now about to go onto the river. The other boat left the lock first and gradually the sound of the airhorn faded into the distance. "We'll catch them up and I'll show them where to moor up," said Mick.
I groaned. "Must we?" I said.
"Ah, they're alright," he said.


It was then that we realised that Mankini Man had been so busy posing that his comrades had left him behind.

"No problem mate!" said Mick, "You can have a lift with us!"

And so we arrived on the sedate River Avon with Mankini Man strutting his stuff on the roof of our boat.

Downstream we caught up the others and he switched boats.
"Cheers," he said as he disembarked. "We're going out in Bath now, a few pubs then we're going nightclubbing.

Vince looked him up and down.

"You'll never get in a nightclub dressed like that mate," he said. "You're wearing trainers!"



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