Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Thursday, 12 July 2018
High roads and high seas
I don't think anyone has captured childhood Summer memories so accurately as Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie, but they were his memories, so who am I to call them 'accurate'?
It helps to have been brought up in a village. His village - Slad, near Painswick, Gloucestershire - is quite close to here, so I have visited it often. Bath claims to be at the foot of the Cotswold Hills, and I suppose if you stretch it a bit, it is.
The road between Bath and Stratford upon Avon (A46 as it is now known) is a wonderful old route, much improved by the Romans a couple of thousand years ago. There are many high stretches of it which must have been haunts of Highwaymen in the not so distant past.
If ever I go to Oxford, I ignore the ghastly M4 and branch right off the A46 past Cirencester. Much nicer. There are so many places of interest to the right and the left of it, and it is surprisingly easy to reach the birthplace of Shakespeare, right up there in Warwickshire - the very heart of England, and the spiritual home of The Archers.
Down here in the South, everyone thinks of The Midlands as a post industrial, cultural wasteland. I blame Birmingham for that. Black Country coal merchants. After the canals ceased to be the transportation for all that coal, Birmingham's city elders tried to improve their image by dubbing the place 'The Venice of the North'. That's like calling Venice 'The Birmingham of the South'.
I once almost bought a 72 foot Birmingham coal boat. 72 feet is the longest narrowboat you can use on any canal. It was in very good condition after much work on the hull, but it was configured exactly for use as a coal boat. It had a cramped little engine room at one end, and the rest of the space was the open hold for many tons of coal. It would have cost me £1200, and after I had converted it, it would sell today for around £80,000.
The owner was an alcoholic, and rather than bring it down (at great expense) from Birmingham on a low-loader, he sailed it down on the canals, crossing the Severn Estuary to connect with the Bristol waterways on the other side.
His wife called the coastguard, because he should have capsized and drowned in the 6 foot wide, 72 foot long thing. Somehow he made it over safely - well, almost safely. Halfway across he stepped over the running engine for some reason and the crotch of his trousers got caught in the large, spinning flywheel. When the edge of the flywheel started drawing him down and burning his testicles, he found super-human strength and tore himself away, leaving his trousers spinning around on the flywheel.
He arrived in his underpants, to the great relief of his wife. The coastguard never located him.