An idle and inquisitive person who stands and gazes at the comings and goings of the boats on the canals. ~~~ English Dictionary.
“Yarns of a Professional Gongoozler”, is available for purchase as an eBook (Amazon Kindle), or in paperback, by scrolling to the links at the bottom of this page.
On the way, you have an opportunity to read, and listen to, some excerpts from the book and hopefully convince yourself of its worth.
This is a book of short stories based on the author’s career as general manager at one of the United Kingdom’s largest inland waterways marinas, and as a narrowboat dweller for twelve wonderful years.
The British canal system stretches over two thousand miles, much of it passing through some of the most attractive and peaceful areas of countryside to be found in England and Wales. Occasional urban sections provide a wealth of historical detail relating to an industrial heritage long passed into the pages of history.
Canal boating and boat ownership is a rapidly developing industry, and inland waterways marinas are being continually constructed throughout the system to accommodate the steady increase in steel narrowboats and GRP cruisers that now abound.
During the course of some twelve years the author met some amazing people, saw some incredible sights, and experienced a plethora of anecdotal incidents. Many are recounted in this book.
Each of the eight stories is self-sufficient, but interlinked, so best read consecutively. They are based on personal experience, though characters have been fictionalized and bear no relation to anyone, living or dead.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the yarns, “The Loss of the Yorkshire Lass”, a tale of George Bettisfield from the English county of Yorkshire, who thought he was good at everything and in fact “…wer’ gud fer not’in…”, at least in the opinion of George’s late father, Joe, who turned out to be a grand judge of character.
George, who’s never stepped on a boat of any type before, refuses all assistance as he attempts to lock up and out of the marina:
……A large hire boat cruised up behind ‘Yorkshire Lass’, spilling teenagers over the towpath. No sooner were they ashore than the youngsters raced up the steep, stone steps to the top of the lock and began ratcheting the paddles enthusiastically. Water poured through the sluices in a mini-tidal wave that rushed down the canal, threatening to send the unsecured ‘Yorkshire Lass’ careering backwards into the hire boat.
George Bettisfield reacted by thrusting the throttle lever to its maximum. ‘Yorkshire Lass’, her old Lister engine belching fumes, began a battle with the current while her skipper sat rigid and unmoving as his boat slowly gained momentum over the decreasing flow and slid inexorably towards the still-closed lock gates.
Chumpley Lock is relatively easy to enter. Though one of the many narrow locks on the inland waterways, and just wide enough for one boat, the canal funnels gently inwards towards the gates and a narrowboat has nowhere else to go but into the chamber.
It did not matter that George Bettisfield never moved his tiller from the centerline; that he seemed a man in the grip of seizure, right arm rigidly clamped on full throttle. ‘Yorkshire Lass’ knew her way into the lock and steamed down the middle of the canal straight for the unopened gates.
What may have transpired had the eager, young hire-boaters not managed to open the gates in time, is mere conjecture. As the water in the lock dropped to the level of the canal, the gates swung free and wide, moments before the narrowboat’s bows reached them.
Had George Bettisfield closed the throttle at this point, his craft would have floated sedately into the chamber and come gently to rest against the massive, reinforced-concrete sill at the far end, designed to withstand anything that heavy-handed boaters hurl against it, including fifteen tons of narrowboat.
Unfortunately, he remained frozen to the throttle handle, one arm clasped around the tiller, eyes locked fixedly on the concrete sill advancing rapidly towards him. From my vantage point above, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Mrs Bettisfield, still tight-lipped on the foredeck, though her arms were now unfolded, her fingers clutching desperately for any firm support, her eyes bulging more than usual; but then she was fifty feet closer than her husband, to the approaching concrete sill.
When a fifteen ton narrowboat traveling at full speed collides with an immoveable object like a lock sill, two things happen. Firstly, the boat decelerates from four miles an hour to zero in a nanosecond. Secondly, the enormous amount of inertial power created by its forward momentum has to go somewhere, and is rapidly transferred to any object onboard not securely fastened down. Such objects accelerate from zero to four miles an hour in a similar nanosecond, producing loud and continuous crashing, rattling and shattering noises from inside the boat.
This was exactly what happened to the contents of ‘Yorkshire Lass’. In a cacophony of destruction, suitcases, pots and pans, TV, crockery, cameras and numerous other items, speedily traversed the length of the cabin, forming a mountain of devastation against the front bulkhead doors. Mrs Bettisfield, herself not exempt from the laws of physics, slid rapidly from her seat and down onto the front deckboards, legs flailing at thin air. Any sound she may have uttered was drowned by the pandemonium within.
George Bettisfield managed to remain in place on the helmsman’s seat, anchored by his rigid throttle arm. The violent collision aroused him sufficiently to throttle back and ease the bellowing Lister of its load. Otherwise he sat unmoved, staring straight ahead as though nothing were amiss, ignoring the plight of his hapless wife, the damage down below; beetroot-faced and detached, seemingly oblivious of those around him.
The teenagers, enthusiasm unabated by this fiasco, filled the lock and opened the top gate, allowing ‘Yorkshire Lass’ to pass on her way….”
From Chapter 3: “The Loss of the Yorkshire Lass”
Working and living around boaters can provide rich treasures for a storyteller, and for author R J Adams, the folks of Dixie’s Marina were no exception.
Picture an ongoing feud between Rodney Mainwaring, a pompous, chauvinistic character with a pointy beard that “…wiggled up and down as he talked…”, and Daphne Forbes-Jackson, the young single mum living on the “Owl and the Pussycat”, as it reaches a climax in Chapter 7 of “Yarns of a Professional Gongoozler”. Rodney, somewhat inebriated, tackles Daphne for spreading rumors around the marina of his secret assignation with a lady, “…definitely not his wife…”, one night on the canal towpath:
A hollow clatter of footsteps on the pontoon terminated her reverie. She glanced up, shocked to see the bearded guy watching her intently, his manner menacing and abrupt.
“Wanted a word with you, Lady Muck!” he snapped, lurching across the deck towards her. The smell of stale alcohol assailed her nostrils. She felt herself back away, involuntarily, her breath coming in short gasps.
“Oh, go away!” she cried, “You’re drunk! Get off my boat. Leave me alone!”
“You’ve caused me no end of problems,” the bearded guy snarled, reaching out to grab her arm, “It’s time someone taught you to keep your mouth shut!”
Daphne dodged his wild lunge, placed two hands in the center of his chest and pushed with all her strength, forcing him backwards onto the short jetty to which the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ was moored. The bearded guy had obviously not expected such resistance, and the sheer power of Daphne’s thrust, coupled with a surfeit of alcohol, sent him staggering backwards, completely off balance.
All the frustrations of the last weeks poured out of Daphne, fueling her anger. She followed up the offensive, once more catching him full in the chest with both hands, while the bearded guy vainly attempted to regain his equilibrium. This second attack eradicated any possibility of her opponent remaining upright. He staggered rapidly backwards down the short jetty, legs flailing in a futile attempt to catch up with the rest of his body. The legs may have succeeded had the jetty been somewhat longer, but on reaching the end they floundered wildly at fresh air before disappearing, along with their owner, into five feet of water.
Many of the boats in the immediate area were occupied, their owners utilizing one of the last Sundays of the season to make final preparations for winter. The sudden commotion, followed by a loud splash, caused heads to pop out of hatches and doorways all over the marina. The bearded guy’s wife, herself curious of the strange noises, stepped out onto the foredeck of their boat just in time to see her husband’s head emerge from under the lagoon, spitting and coughing up muddy canal water.
Grins and jeers greeted the bearded guy as he broke surface and struck out for the land. He was not the most popular man at the marina. Wisely deciding to give the ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ a wide berth, he half swam, half walked the short distance to an empty jetty further down the pontoon, where with much wheezing and coughing, he hauled himself from the water, and without a backward glance towards Daphne, squelched off towards his own boat and a wife whose facial expression was anything but welcoming.
“Well! Won by a knock-out! Is this the standard Sunday afternoon entertainment at Dixie’s, or just a one-off performance?”
Daphne had been concentrating on the bearded guy and had not noticed James Erin walk up the pontoon behind her. “I only came to return the milk,” he continued, smiling and holding out a bottle….
From Chapter 7: “Daphne’s Dilemma”
Listen To Excerpts!
If these excerpts have whetted your appetite for more intrigue, argument, caper and carry-on from the inhabitants of Dixie’s Marina why not satiate those desires by clicking one of the links below.
Amazon ‘Reviews’ page for Yarns of a Professional Gongoozler
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