28 March 2016

Canal

In the East Yorkshire village where I was born and raised there was a canal. Cutting across farmland for three miles, it linked my village with The River Hull which in turn headed down to The Humber. For over a hundred years the canal served two main purposes. It took agricultural produce down to Hull and brought coal, lime and building materials into the village. When the canal was cut in 1805, local roads were unpaved and goods were moved by horse and cart so the expense of creating this new waterway would have seemed like a worthwhile investment.

By 1960, when the photograph at the top of this post was taken by my father, Leven Canal was no longer used for commercial barge traffic. The lock gates that used to link it with The River Hull were in a sorry state of repair and no longer operational and the canal was becoming a little back water for leisure. There were several houseboats - at least two of which you can see in the picture - a couple of rotting wooden barges from the canal's trading past and anglers who would come from far and wide to fish for pike, roach and perch.

For village boys and some girls too, the canal was a tempting playground. We fished there, observed nature and "borrowed" rowing boats. Sometimes we swam amid the lilypads, hoping not to be attacked by those legendary monster pike fish. And when we became teenagers we romped there with our current sweethearts, hidden by the reeds and it was down by that old canal that I first tried cannabis that had been sprinkled in something called a "reefer". It made me feel very spaced out and slightly queasy.

The photo shows me on the right, big brother Paul rowing and next oldest brother Robin acting as the cox. Brother Simon is not present. He would have been three or four at the time and probably back at home helping Mum to beat her latest cake mixture. The picture reminds me of how fortunate we were to live such a happy, secure childhood in the heart of the East Yorkshire countryside. There were adventures to be had and the world seemed a joyous, explicable place. Just like the old canal, it appeared that we had far to go.

15 comments:

  1. Isn't it funny how it used to be common for kids to do things like get out in boats by themselves, unsupervised? My brother and I did it too. So many of today's "helicopter parents" would never allow it.

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    1. West of the village were country lanes and farms and I would ride out there on my bicycle from the age of seven or eight. My parents never warned me about paedophiles. Perhaps they didn't exist back then. I always made it home safely for tea.

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  2. There were canals pretty much everywhere around where I grew up and marvellous places they were for play and exploration. Quite a few times I had to creep in at home incase mum spotted me dripping wet after falling in, my shoes oozing mud and clothes covered in weeds.

    They were disused and derelict in those days and the local council spent a small fortune filling them in or covering them up. Then they became fashionable again so they spent another fortune clearing them out and uncovering them as tourist attractions.

    Who says we lack strategic planning in orban development?

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    1. Who says that? I do! I also say the same about urban development. Sounds like you also had an idyllic childhood roaming free with not a paedophile in sight... apart from Sir Cyril Smith who was visible from the hills above Glossop on a clear day.

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  3. I wonder, when they look back in years to come, what would constitute an idyllic childhood for today's youngsters? Nothing as simple as an old rowing boat, playing in a tree house, or anything else "inventive" - and outdoors. How sad when the best thing in your (young) life is the latest iPhone...or some other new technology.

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    1. A salient point CG. Nowadays top of the parenting agenda is safety so that mums and dads can seem like security guards. Back then parents let kids off their leashes far more readily.

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  4. I think most of us during our day look back at a pleasant childhood. Adventures were there to be had.

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    1. Not all are lucky. Not all had that cocoon Red.

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  5. I've said it before, and I say it again, and I'll probably say it more times over in the future....I'm glad I was a child of the 50s and a teenager of the 60s.

    Life was simpler; life was safer; children had more freedom and space to be children without fear of predators and without need of "helicopter parents". We still got up to mischief, innocent mischief, and yet, the majority understood and respected the demarcation lines set.

    We used our imaginations - the outdoors was our Adventureland...it could be anything we wanted it to be.

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    1. I endorse your assertion Lee. On a number of occasions I have communicated in a friendly manner with children only to see the terror and suspicion in the parent's eyes. We have probably reached a time when we must not talk to strangers' children. It's so sad.

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  6. We were always out on our bikes, often the entire day when it wasn't a school day. Sometimes we left home right after breakfast, riding to the public swimming pools in the next small town, and only returning for six o'clock, exhausted and sunburnt but happy. 6:00 pm was our set time to be home, and we mostly managed to be there. There was no contact at all in between - mobile phones didn't exist yet.
    Same was true for holidays; one wrote a postcard that, more often than not, arrived home long after you did.

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    1. There's something appealing about being non-contactable. It's one of the reasons I don't possess a mobile phone.

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  7. I didn't have a canal to play on but we did have various ponds to sail rafts we made, catch newts and so on. It was not always safe though and I do recall a death when we were rafting on Jacksons Pond. So long ago. So far away.

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    1. So long ago. So far away... Like the opening words of a poem about the lost world of childhood. And we shall never return.

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  8. Great photo. The past is a different country. I spent many of my childhood summers mucking unsupervised about on boats on the lake at Burton Constable near Sproatley. In my memory it was always a large tree-lined lake with a secret island. We seemed to have it almost to ourselves, except for a few other families. I was rather disappointed when I went back recently and found it to be quite small and with lots of people about, not to mentio the many rules and regulations in place posted by the new caravan park owners.

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