Ma recently had a traumatic experience which challenged her physically and psychologically. No, she wasn’t caught in a great flood, nor was the town pillaged by marauding Vikings. Rather, she went on a narrow boat holiday.
Trauma is not something one usually associates with Narrow Boating; indeed, it is normally perceived as a leisurely tootle along idyllic waterways. Not so, according to Ma. Rather, in her mind, it is an experience that should strike fear in even the most intrepid of travellers. To understand what made Ma’s narrow boat holiday so harrowing, it is necessary to examine all the contributing factors.
1. Ma Herself
Ma is great fun. When you spend time with her, 9 times out 10 you’ll have a good laugh. However, in later years, she has developed a condition which affects 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 (numbers in the Isle of Man are much higher) and is the outer manifestation of an underlying ailment called lifeisabitcrapitis (Latin for I haven’t won the Lotto). The condition is called moaning.
Moaning initially presents as a mild irritation with the way of the world, then steadily progresses until it becomes full-blown, usually when one retires and has the opportunity to sit around and think of lots of things to…well…moan about. It’s easy to tell when someone has Moaning, both by the discussion of their favourite topics – the weather and their various physical ailments – and their frequent use of the adverb too (i.e. it’s too hot; it’s too cold; I’m too old; I’m too fat…etc. etc.). And, of course, there is the most recognisable symptom: frequent sighing.
NB: It is important not to confuse Moaning with another more serious condition – i.e. Evil Cow Disorder (or the male variant, Miserable Git Syndrome). People afflicted with Moaning are generally good-hearted realists who are merely fed-up with the injustices of life and the inconvenience of growing old. Whereas, People with Evil Cow or Miserable Git, poison neighbourhood cats, scare little children and spread bitterness and dissension wherever they go, and should be avoided at all costs.
And so, it was, Ma went on her narrow boat holiday with a particularly bad case of Moaning. According to my sister Angela, who had the good fortune to be on the same trip, Ma’s chief gripe was the fact that she doesn’t have a hat head. Apparently, Angela looked very pretty in her bobble hat but Ma’s bobble hat, in Ma’s opinion, looked rubbish on her non-hat head.
2. Crew Dynamic
Da and Ma recently bought a share in a beautiful Narrow Boat, called Dawn Chorus. The holiday under discussion was their maiden voyage, and crewing were Da, Ma and my Sister, Angela. Da was Captain, Ma was First Mate, and Angela was Deckhand. Sound simple enough? Well, it would’ve been, were it not for the fact that Ma was also Admiral.
As such, Da gave orders to Ma, who gave orders to Da, who didn’t want to take orders from the First Mate but had no choice but to take them from the Admiral, who, incidentally, moaned about having to give orders, but, being genetically predisposed to give orders, given that she issues from a long-line of stalwart Matriarchs, moaned more about taking them, but who shouldn’t have given orders to the Captain, but who had to, cause Da, whose peripheral vision is on the wane, crashed if he didn’t lookout, when Ma shouted lookout. Added to this, Ma tends to mutter and Da’s as deaf as a door post, so any orders that were given were not usually received. Angela just did what she was told.
Now, I should explain how Angela ended up on Ma and Da’s maiden voyage. Firstly, the invitation was presented as a once in a life-time experience, which, though it surely was that, it was not quite the restful sojourn through the tranquil Shropshire countryside she imagined it to be. Further, she was promised plush sleeping quarters, exciting excursions (see further ahead for just how exciting they were), relaxation and reverie. Who could refuse?
Secondly, Angela’s husband and I were meant to go too. Unfortunately, Angela’s husband had a last-minute work emergency, and had to forgo joining his in-laws on their floating Winnebago (I believe he was devastated). I too had the great misfortune of not being able to attend. Though, to be fair, my invitation did not include the promised luxury which lured Angela; rather, I was offered the kitchen as my sleeping quarters and the role of Galley Wench.
3. The Rigours of Narrow Boating
Narrow Boating may look easy but, according to Ma, it is not. Rather, it is a perilous way to travel, fraught with dangers. After all, you must float in a straight line, on smooth waters, at speeds of up to 4 miles an hour.
Then, of course, you must forage for your food at local, waterside public houses, and, in Ma’s case, find the nearest hoedown.
And let’s not forget the fact that you are in the wilderness, with only a bit of painted tin between you and the elements, and are, therefore, exposed to all manner of feral plants and animals.
Indeed, Australia might have its river crocs, but England has ferocious canal fowl:
And while Amazon river travellers have carnivorous plants to content with, the wayfarers of the British canal system must put up with these menaces.
Despite such deprivations and life-threatening dangers, you’ll be pleased to know that the Dawn Chorus cut a safe passage through the countryside and, all on board, arrived at the Nantwich Basin, well-nourished and unharmed.
4. The Perils of Excursions
Day excursions are an important part of Narrow Boating; they offer the crew the opportunity to relax and take a break from the rigours of floating, and experience some of the wonderful attractions England has to offer.
Now, it is not often that one of us kids end up on holiday alone with our parents. However, it is interesting to note where they take us when we are. For instance, the last time my brother Mathew was on holiday with them, they took him to Disneyland. Where did they take Angela?
It may surprise you to know that the Hack Green Bunker was not built for Royalty, or the Business elite; rather, it was built for Civil Servants. It is strange to envision post-apocalyptic England with nothing but civil servants running about, especially as there’ll be no one left to fill out their forms. Obviously, the Government thought it was a great idea, and spent oodles of Tax Payer’s money on the project.
Despite not having a log flume or magic mountain, Angela said her visit to the Bunker was very interesting.
The crew also went on a day trip to Chester. For the most part, the outing went well. They visited all the local sights, then Ma and Angela did a spot of shopping.
Late in the afternoon, the crew returned to the boat, tired but happy. That is, until Ma realised she had lost her purse. Panic descended and everyone sprang into action. Angela and Da were dispatched back to Chester to scour the city’s ramparts, and Ma had a glass of wine to settle her nerves. Unfortunately, their efforts proved fruitless and the purse remained lost. After cancelling all her Bank Cards, Ma spent a sleepless night worrying that she had ruined their holiday and, by logical extension, the balance of the Universe.
She needn’t have worried though; when they went to the Police Station the next day, to request a television reconstruction of events and a countywide purse-hunt, there was her purse, safe and sound. Apparently, a lady had found it on a park bench Ma had sat on. Ma left the kind stranger a reward, and returned to the boat happy that both her faith in humanity and the balance of the Universe had been restored.
So, there we have it, all the shocking details of Ma’s traumatic journey. While these details provide us with a good idea of what Ma had to endure, nothing conveys the raw nature of an experience like a photograph. Indeed, a closer examination of one photo in particular, shows the true extent of Ma’s ordeal.
Oh, dear God, the horror! How did she survive!!!