Commuting and traffic jams down by the river


Lots of things in the life of a Lengthsman are a little unusual, although after a while they become normal. Commuting with a wheelbarrow is one of those things. You take it a little for granted that if you are going to a site over half a mile away and you are going to need bitumen, brushes, gloves and a sandwich for later, the way to do it is with a wheelbarrow. Sometimes a punt also works as company ‘cars’ here are boat-shaped. It’s only the confused looks and comments from walkers and dogs (the latter tend only to look, not comment) that makes you realise that river normal might not quite be rest-of-the-world normal. Having survived a daily commute for many years in a van down the M1 to North London from Hertfordshire in my previous life, I can only confirm that ‘normal’ is over-rated. Bumping a heavy wheelbarrow down a towpath dodging the unpleasentnesses left by cows for half an hour might be a little physical at 7.30 in the morning but I know which I prefer.

Traffic jams here are a little unusual too. Those of you who aren’t canal boat regulars might not know that big heavy oak lock gates can be lifted out of position by careless boaters and they are from time to time. That means that nobody can go up or downstream through that lock until it is fixed, causing a traffic jam. If a boat going upstream is too far forward in the lock chamber when they fill it, the stem of the boat can catch under the gate and lift it off its ‘hinges’. Another thing that passes for normal here is that with the right low-tech kit a girl (or boy), a wheelbarrow and a willing volunteer can fix the problem (if the lock-gate gods are willing) in about 10 minutes. It shocks the crowd every time. So much so that the last time I did it a couple of weeks ago one of the boaters recorded the event for posterity lest he not be believed. Here on the river though for a Lengthsman it’s just another normal day at the office.

Newark gate crop (c) jon sims

(c) Jon Sims