Do you remember the good old days of the era of the canals. No, I thought not, me neither for that matter. But I do remember the last of the working barges on the SYN and the river Rother, up to the mid sixties. Living alongside the canal, it was hard not to notice the changes from seeing numerous barges. To a time when you would only see the odd one or two in a month. Today, it would appear that there are considerably more leisure craft on the canals than there ever were working boats in the heyday of canal transportation.
I would love to see the return of the old Canal Carrying Companies if only for the purposes of maintaining a tradition. There are a few stalwarts out on the canals who are still carrying coal, diesel and other odds and ends. However, their customer base has changed away from the yesteryear trek from colliery to some distant wharf. Now the boats are supplying new customer, based on our leisure craft. Giving a purpose to keep some of the old CCC boats in work. At the same time adding to the visual amenities of our life of leisure spent on the canals. On principal we should wherever possible try to deal with the canal traders, as well as the nearby shops, pubs and restaurants.
There are the canal stalwarts who maintain some of our remaining history in the form of old wooden boats. Some who are utilising the old technology of the early oil engines in new craft which in a way gives an aural complement to the visual of old boats. In effect a floating museum that you happen to occasionally meet on your travels. People who are maintaining "their boat" for our pleasure.
There are groups of people who have adopted sections of waterways and over many years work long and hard to maintain the route. Fighting authorities to re-open sections in the hope of being able one day in the future to return "their canal" back to life for our pleasure.
I have touched on this subject before and in a curious way I still can't decide if I like what's happening at the leisure end of the spectrum. I have a strong sense of the need for action in preserving the past. Whilst at the same time doing so in a way that fairly represents the way things were. I still get that tingle whenever I see an old working boat. Its the look and feel, the memories come back of a time when I can remember watching off the bank. Occasionally hitching a ride along the canal for a few miles between locks if the captain was a friendly sort.
So what will happen within the new canal charity. I fear that the primary focus will change away from maintaining a navigation to maintaining a leisure facility for anglers, bikers, walkers and providing a visual amenity for bank side property developments. Essential dredging will come in a poor second place, to maintaining the towpath cycleways. Lock maintenance will continue to be spasmodic and driven by a perception of being in a dangerous condition. I still feel that BW prefer this change of focus and at some point in the future - The economics of the backlog of maintenance - will once again dictate closure to navigation. To what will be an oft chanted mantra of "We are now a charity and not a government quango. Our charitable fundraising has to be shared by all the interested parties."
Yet, if this scenario does come about, will we be in some perverse way, re-living part of our past and tradition, one of abandonment and closure of canals. Harking back to a time just prior to the formation of BWB. Will there be another Robert Aickman and others like him to fight for the future. Whilst not in a religious context, it would be something of a second coming. I cannot bring to mind anyone that I could see to champion the cause.
I have just had a thought, does anyone have a phone number for Joanna Lumley? She led the Gurkha Justice Campaign, with a little sleight of hand as she deftly mugged ministers like Phil Woolas in full view of the media. Joanna is now considered a "national treasure" of Nepal. She could be the national treasure of the inland waterways.
You might think that as there are far more people and their craft on the cut that the scenario of closure and abandonment could never happen again. The problem with this belief of "it will be alright in the end" is that it is happening right now and we are all seemingly sitting back and watching it happen. It is going to require some commitment from everyone just to maintain the status quo!
We might attend a few rallies, we may visit the odd canal inspired museum, we might even lend a hand volunteering with the odd canal group. What we canal users are not doing is working together in a cohesive way. Each of us has our own myopic view, cocooned in our comfortable floating caravans.
Yes, I know, I'm old and cynical, pessimism is alive and well and on board Rosie. But I know that so many other people share my views for the future. We all know that the economics for charitable status just don't stack up.
By way of an example, about the way that things can and do get "Bigged Up" when the individuals in charge want an outcome to take place. Here are three significant "bigged up" projects that have happened within my area. These are not out of the ordinary examples and I am sure that if you look around you will find similar examples in your area.
I Remember the "Bigged UpNational Centre for Popular Music in Sheffield. 400,000 visitors a year, were predicted for a visitor centre without a car park. The "Hubs" opened in 1999 and the doors closed just over a year later in 2000. I sometimes go there now for my lunch in the Hallam students union. This was a White Elephant destined to fail from the outcome. Everyone knew it would fail, but no one looked beyond the opening ceremony. It failed to live up to its "Bigged Up" reputation.
The 1991 Summer Universiade, also known as the XVI Summer Universiade, took place in Sheffield. We called it the World Student Games. Sheffield City Council saw the event as a catalyst for urban renewal after industrial decline. However, planned without any government funding and without any television sponsorship. So Sheffield City Council needed to step in and guarantee the money. This was done in the face of a huge number of complaints from all the local ratepayers. The World Student Games financially crashed and burned and the people of Sheffield are still paying a heavy price two decades and more later. This was another Huge Pink Spotted White Elephant, full of hype and destined to fail from the outcome.
Highlight of the World Student Games was when Sheffield lass, Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut, tripped and dropped the games torch. She succeeded in lighting the gas-fuelled flame from its embers. I wonder if she will get a chance to carry the torch again in 2012?
Do you remember the fanfare, the predictions for The Earth Centre, intended to "establish a world centre for sustainable development promoting the best environmental and sustainable practice" opened in 1999, closed in 2000. Everyone knew it would fail, but no one looked beyond the opening ceremony. It was resuscitated back to life in 2001. It went on to crash and burn with no survivors by 2004. This was another Dayglo Orange Elephant Troop, destined to fail from the outcome. Property prices near the centre slumped to the point where houses were not selling at a pound each. Doncaster Council was spending £200,000 a year just to maintain the the site.
I have a nice natural healthy skepticism for such endeavours. Economics drives everything in this life. I can't see how predictions for future funding provided via the begging bowl can be used to balance the books. The National Centre for Popular Music, World Student Games and the Earth Centre were built on top of foundations that were propped up by crossed fingered predictions.
As you know, I tend to under state the case. BW the charity for me is a Huge Herd of Rampaging Dayglo Orange and White Striped Elephants, giving a third rate circus performance that's destined to go down in abject failure, to put it mildly.
Hello! Hello! Is anyone out there awake. That's not a summer barbecue you can smell, its the smoke and mirrors of suspect predictions. Do watch where you put your feet, there is a lot of dung piling up on the floor.
As I said previously "I wonder if at some time in the future, there will be a whole new group of people out on the canals, aping the pleasure seekers of today. Are narrow boat people of this new millennium going to be perceived as the lotus eaters of the next era?"
Hello! Hello! is that Miss Lumley? Can I have a word with you about the parlous state of the inland waterways. My reason for calling is because we urgently need someone to put the boot in where it will have the best effect. Yes, there are government ministers involved! Yes, there are over paid and under worked board members involved. You will! and a very big Ayo Gorkhali to you as well.