The Return of a Super Hero

This month saw the return of an old comic-book hero. No, no, not Ryan “The Boy Wonder", but that revered campaigner from the old days, “Captain Cargo”. The pressure was building, the need was never greater, was “Jaguar” ever going to grace the waterways again, loaded with coal for those unfortunate souls destined to freeze to death unless succour could be found by canal transport?


The answer is yes! “Captain Cargo” turned up in a blaze of diesel fumes as his alter-ego Malcolm Burge, quickly changed out of his office clothes in a handy phone booth and, true to form, demanded to be taken to the nearest hostelry. He appeared from the ether accompanied by the comedy coal duo, Lawrence and Michael, who were in charge of some unlikely old vessels named after animals that had not been invented when the boats were built - Lynx and Emu. I believe that Lawrence and Michael were once a famous popular music act who made a gramophone record entitled “Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs”, a catchy little number all about poor folk who have wooden bottoms.

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Anyway, they all three loaded up, and after a magnificent effort at reducing the stock of Golden Glow at the Bell to nothing, they departed for the wilds of Alvecote via the Amazonian magnificence that is the Stourbridge Canal. I wonder if we will ever see their like again.  

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Actually, Ryan “The Boy Wonder” did make an appearance this month, and accompanied me (Coal-Man, the ultimate super-hero), on our own mission to provide succour to the denizens of the Severn Vale. This was accomplished with the usual aplomb. It was also accomplished with the usual childish racing on the river. Great fun. On the way, we discovered that as canal-carrying is making a comeback, the Canal and River Trust have decided to re-impose tolls, and insisted on gauging us at The Bratch. They have even employed an official “Gauging Guy”, complete with badge to carry out this duty. The official brass “Gauging Gauge” has also been restored to use from the ignominy of its last fifty odd years as a toilet roll holder in the outside lav. The reverse side of the gauging stick has been calibrated to measure the wellbeing generated by the public upon seeing the skipper of a loaded boat swearing profusely whilst ploughing through the mud on a canal that has recently had dredging cancelled. 

The usual high jinks were had down the river, including seeing a large bore tide hurtling up the river at Stonebench - very impressive. We also managed to spot the secret lard works being constructed in a hidden glade near Stroud. It seems that as all the inhabitants of Stroud and its’ environs are vegan (or simply vegetarian if lower down the social scale), that there is a massive glut of animals not being eaten. Something had to be done, hence the construction project. Transport is being sought for the carriage of enormous quantities of lard to the black-pudding mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire. There is surely an opening for an intrepid boater here. I managed to get a photo of this superb, architecturally inspiring megalith from the canal despite the high levels of security and trees surrounding the site.

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The return journey was pretty uneventful, and Mr Hawker relieved me for a couple of days from Worcester to Hanbury Wharf. It was just pure chance that these two days were full of deliveries to be made. The “Boy Wonder” re-loaded Southern Cross at Tardebigge and then disappeared into the wide blue yonder, or was it down the Northern Stratford Canal? Anyway, he zipped off to be a super-hero elsewhere. “May the farce be with you, Ryan."

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coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014