Before I started boating, I never had much of what you might call a social life. I was shy and unadventurous, hating the thought of forcing my company on people, and in their turn, naturally, people didn't go out of their way to seek it.
But what a difference a boat makes, and a historic boat in particular. Immediately there are people all over the country who have a shared interest and shared experiences, and who don't (unlike the rest of the population) consider one slightly unhinged. Canalworld forum is a two-edged sword - I've wasted too much time getting involved in pointless arguments and getting cross because, in that lovely phrase, 'someone is wrong on the internet'. But that is more than outweighed by the friends I've made - some of whom I have met and some I still haven't yet, and might never do, but who have still been there for me. It's a great way for shy people to break the ice too and make the first move towards meeting new people.
Some of my CWF friends were at Braunston yesterday, and many more old boat acquaintances, as we convened for the bi-annual members' social meeting. The spring get together is preceded by the AGM, but the autumn one is just for fun, except for those of us on the committee, who had a committee meeting at ten! I sneaked out of that early though as I had arranged to meet David Schweizer for the handover of three Primus stoves, and two windproof boxes, which I had arranged to buy through the good offices of CWF. Whilst we were doing this, Alan Fincher turned up, and we all repaired to the Old Plough, where we met lots of other people including Dave and Izzie (Bath) and Annie and Colin who we met last year at Audlen and Ellesmere Port.
Now, I have to say something about the Old Plough. It's a perfectly OK pub with OK beer and OK food. As long as there are no more than about half a dozen customers, that is. Back in the spring, we waited so long (over an hour) for our lunch we were late getting back for the afternoon session. Sympathetically, we asked the landlady whether they hadn't been warned to expect extra people because of our meeting. Oh yes, she replied, very shortly, she'd been warned, but what did we expect her to do about it?
Yesterday, I was in the pub when they opened at 12. By the time I came to order lunch at about half past, maybe four other people had already placed orders - and even at this early stage I was told that there would be a delay. As it was still early, this didn't matter. Then, straight after me, they stopped taking orders for food at all, telling people they would have to wait half an hour before even being allowed to order, without any regard to how long people had been waiting. I had to wait about ten minutes before I could even place my order at the bar, as there was only one barmaid on duty (no sign of the landlady this time) and she was incredibly slow and inefficient. And at this stage the pub still wasn't even busy! Is it any wonder that for all its faults, the Boathouse, a Marstons chain pub, is the most popular with the Braunston crowds. The Nelson closes every winter for lack of trade while the Plough seem happy to turn trade away rather than get an extra member of staff in for a couple of hours to make the most of a guaranteed influx of customers. The AGM is being held in Napton next year, and the local pub will be forewarned - let's see if they can do any better.
Anyway, I got my OK lunch eventually, and fortunately Jim had escaped from the committee meeting just as I was ordering, so he got one too, after which we wended our way back to the village hall for the second part of Malcolm Braine's slide show, begun in March and curtailed owing to it being time to be turfed out of the hall. Some of the slides were fantastic, and Malcolm's reminisces were fascinating if occasionally tantalising... I could tell you a story about that.. I'll tell you about that later... And later never came. There were also bills and letters, one fascinating snippet being the cost of building a wooden joey boat (only slightly marred by my not noting the date): £175, of which £50 was the cost of the labour.
Part way through we had a break for cake and the strange grey-green liquid that is passed off as tea at HNBOC events. To be fair, although my first cup was undrinkable, I picked up another later which did actually look and taste like tea, and was much needed. Nonetheless, once I am on the committee proper I shall demand an investigation! I was tapped on the shoulder by Rex Wain, who handed me a CD of photos of Bakewell; Nick Hill then came and told me that he had a new photo of Chertsey on the Ashby coal traffic for me, and we talked to Pete Boyce about fitting the planks and cloths which he has respectively made and ordered for Chertsey.
I can see why people join gangs or religious sects. It is nice to have a group of people to which you can comfortably belong. I may have come to it late, but I'm enjoying having a social life.