On Board
Narrowboat "FRILFORD"
(British Waterways No. 500645)

 

CHAPTER TWO- "Messing About Upstream"

February 2005

So I bought the boat, got her to Oxford Cruisers in Eynsham and waited for things to happen. I waited a lot. I'd pop over there in the car, all the while saying I was 'just passing' (yeah, sure) to check on progress. There wasn't any.

Then, in late November, there was. They took the boat out of the water, cleaned her bottom, blacked her hull and renewed her annodes. Definite progress which could be seen and photographed. Good. Not so good was the fact that they 'phoned to say an 'urgent job' had come up and they were putting my boat back in the water. "Don't worry," they said, "we won't charge you for getting her out of the water again." Correct!

More time passed but, just after Christmas, I was over there and got asked the question "When will you be ready for the boat?" "Now!" I replied. They took the point, Andy in particular. He's the painter and, notwithstanding the fact he was actually on holiday, he scurried about and arranged for the boat to come out of the river again and for the topsides to be rubbed down and prepared for his, Andy's, painting.

After that it all went well. Turns out the original colour scheme, which was obsured by fading paint, was very traditional and rather nice. I asked them to repaint the boat just as she once was. Andy came back from holiday and bent to his task. The work went well and before long the boat was starting to look very good. The signwrier did his thing and the boat that had been Copper King became FRILFORD, with some nice scroll work on the after panels. I kept popping in as I was 'just passing' (yeah!) to keep the pressure up and then I became the one who might delay things!

I got the call to go into the Royal Berks Hospital in Reading for some routine maintenance. I had been on an NHS waiting list for six years or so waiting for a hiatus hernia operation. I got the call to go in in February - in the event I went in in January - because I was now a 'priority case'. "Why?" I asked. "Because you've been on a waiting list for 6 years," came the reply. "I thought it was because there is a General Election coming up," I retorted. "Okay," said the amusing Central Bookings woman on the other end of the line, "you can say that; we can't, however true it might be...!"

The operation was more involved that I thought it would be and I am still slowly recovering. However, it was a success and has changed my life to a vcertain extent. No more reliance on pills. A renewed enjoyment of English bitter (couldn't drink it before - made me ill. Now it makes me ill if I drink vast quantities of it. Is that normal?!) and loss of weight - 20 lbs to date and continuing. Very good!

Andy of Oxford Cruisers and I agreed that I'd collect the boat at the end of January, operation recovery notwithstanding, but in the event it was on the 6th February that she was ready to move. My sister Felicity, my father and Andrew, a friend from London who loves messing about in boats and is a safe pair of hands, joined me as crew. I was still sore from the operation and was not supposed to do too much.

I won't go into the hiatus the day before when I could not start the engine! I caused that, so I tend to keep it quiet. I got it started after a trip to Halfords so we'll leave it that. On that Sunday the engine started first time, and, having loaded various bottled-essentials, it was time to go. Odd putting the boat in gear for the first time that day. I almost thought nothing would happen. As it was the boat moved gently off the mooring, got picked up by the river's slight stream and we were off. I opened the throttle, the boat accellerated and all doubts left me. We were truly en route for Abingdon Marina on a day's trip I'd been looking forward to since October last year.

I just wanted to keep going. Forever. However, there was work to be done to the boat and, anyway, the Environment Agency, who look after the rivers of UK, had got some additional funding from the Government and had decided to do some major work at Culham Lock, just downstream of Abingdon, thus closing it until 18th March. Since my plan is to go down to London on the River Thames and pick up the Grand Union Canal there, to work north, I would have to wait to get through. However, locks upstream of Abingdon - Abingdon, Sandford, Iffley, Osney etc etc etc were all open. Open, although there really is no pleasure traffic on the river in winter so Lock Keepers use the time to do maintenance to the locks, cleaning and painting etc, so they were bemused to see me coming through at various times with various friends.

All sorts of people joined me for days on the river as I enjoyed any excuse to get out on FRILFORD. However, my big plan to travel round the canals of UK involved me spending time on the boat on my own, so i was always looking for a chance to spend a few days on the boat on my own. The enthusiasm of family and friends to join my on my day trips was very gratifying and most enjoyable, but did not afford me the chance to get away on my own. So I planned a trip to Lechlade and back. Lechlade is the Cotswold town at the 'top' of the River Thames in that it is as far as one can get on a cruising boat. St John's Lock is there; the first lock on the river. Some call it the last lock, but surely rivers run down to the sea, so it must be the first! I had another reason for going to Lechlade. When I do get away and get down to London I want to be able to say I have been through every lock on the Thames and by going Abingdon-Lechlade-Abingdon prior to setting off to London I'd achieve that.