Proper narrow boats are really really long, making communication between the stern and the bow a mobile phone affair! With the woman in the prow separated from the man at the helm, husband and wife crews live in their own little parallel worlds as the boat drifts gently along.
It doesn’t take too much to imagine the scene from my window - wife daydreaming in the front fantasising about some long lost sexual adventure and, 75 feet behind her bringing up the rear, the husband staring wistfully down the roof wondering "when are we going to reach the next decent pub?"
Blow me that can’t be right! Surely that’s half a narrow boat down in the lock today. Only about 35 feet long. Called ‘The Other Half’. Bit of a giveaway really.
Turns out its canny owner, Nemiah Woodlock, bought a run down boat, cut it in half and upon conversion sold the other bit for more than all the costs combined. Pure genius! Two for the price of one!
Sadly it has lost it’s long slinky elegance - it would be a crying shame if it triggered an oxyacetylene epidemic and we’re eventually left with a new category of ‘stumpy’ boats.
As there’s barely room for others on deck long suffering wives are incarcerated below broken only by a shouted summons from above: “Get ready. It’s another lock. Here’s the handle darling".
Jump off, close the far gates, open the sluice, wait, fill the lock, enter, shut the gates, open the sluice, empty the lock, open the gates, jump back on and off! With the petty officer administering advice from his privileged position at the helm she mutters:
"Some kind of holiday is this" before retreating below as the vessel chugs on inexorably to face another challenge just around the bend.
Proper narrow boats are about 72ft long, no more than 7ft wide, once working boats, now mostly converted to living accommodation with satellite TV and all mod cons. It’s a squeeze in these floating passageways: “Breathe in while I come past” or “Go on, you go first”. No place in truth for claustrophobiacs of a generous girth.
Narrow boats pass serenely by my windows every day like slow motion trucks on a motorway, their weather beaten drivers upright at the stern, leaning on a rail, tiller in hand with nowhere to sit, perched on a pocket handkerchief of a deck.