Jenny tells it like it is

November 2017 - The formidable Jenny Maxwell has just posted this and it sums up the feelings of many, many boaters:

"It's a while since I wrote this, but it still seems relevant.


At ITV news report gave it out that the inland waterways of Britain are now in a thriving and healthy state, because of the investment that has been made by the Government through, first, British Waterways, and more recently, the Canal and River Trust.


The policy, when the canals were failing, was ‘close them down, fill them in, build on them’. It was not the Canal and River Trust or its predecessors that saved the canals; it was several individual heroes. Week after month after year they refused to give up the hopelessly lost cause of Britain’s canals. Some of them banded together, and the IWA became the biggest and most successful of the resulting organisations, although by no means the only one. It was they who saved the inland waterways from destruction, not the government-founded official departments.

The canals do indeed thrive now, and some of them are downright crowded, not with freight-carrying work boats or one man traders, but with holiday makers on the hire fleets, with people who have bought boats of their own in order to cruise in their spare time, and with those who live on them. Business is booming. The once derelict and filthy towpaths are being cleaned and cleared, and paved. Abandoned industrial sites alongside the waterways now boast canal-side developments; ‘Reflections’ as some of the new homes were named, blocks of smart flats; offices, waterfront bars and clubs; land alongside the canals has never been more in demand, or more valuable.

So the family silver is being sold, and the money ‘invested’, although in what has not been made entirely clear. As old boatyards close down the machinery moves in, and the walls begin to rise, and the advertisements for this desirable new development, and then the inevitable and ubiquitous ‘No Mooring’ signs.

Why? Why may we not moor alongside the yuppie flats? How much of this territory have they claimed? Of what are they afraid? Rowdy, late night parties? Crime and disorder? Violence and drugs? Boaters on the whole do not go in for late night parties, or when they do, those parties, in the form of towpath barbecues, take place quite a long way away from the yuppies. There is crime on the canals certainly, but boaters are more often victims than perpetrators. The only boat-based drug dealer I know (‘Purveyor of Mind-Enhancing Substances to the Nobility and Gentry, est. 1992’) is soft-spoken and gentle, and would be more likely to keep a herd of pigs on the boat than firearms.

No mooring. No Parking, No Smoking, No Dogs, No Manners. ‘Oi! Can’t you read?’ Well, yes, probably rather better than you. Visitor Moorings, 14 days, 5 days, 48 hours max, return prohibited within 28 days, so don’t come back!’

Do not light your fires or run your engines here, it upsets the residents. They’ve moved here for the peace and quiet. Of course they don’t mind passing boats, so long as they are clean and smart, and so long as they do pass. As for the rest, go away. Go somewhere else. Your engines are noisy and they smell, as do your stoves, or your diesel cookers. Middle Classes Only Here, please.

Blocks of flats by the canals are the exclusive preserve of the wealthy now, rather than a dumping ground for the socially undesirable. Perhaps this will lead to a decline in incidents of hooliganism and vandalism, which would be a good thing, but is it worth it? What are we losing in exchange? No sooner had the residents moved into a new luxury block on the main line in Birmingham than they, led by a B-list television sleb, set to work to deprive one of the boaters’ favourite pubs of its music licence, and they succeeded. The lovely summer evenings spent with friends sitting in the courtyard listening to music will only ever be a memory now.

Where are the boaters who forced their way through tunnels that had been closed down for fifteen years? Who scraped the thick, filthy grease off the chamber walls of the locks with wooden boards before it peeled away and fell onto the boats? Who forced their way under bridges that had been silted up with mud and rubbish?

Still there? Can you hear me?

Is this why you did it? So that management teams and consultants can sell off the land and earn themselves fat salaries and commissions? So that work on the waterways can be ‘outsourced’ to any company big enough to pay to get itself on the list, and the little traders are shouldered aside, and the work force that loved the canals and really knew how to maintain and repair them could be paid off and lost? So that boaters can be regulated, and managed, and charged for this, and made to pay for that, and their boats must conform to this regulation and that guideline, or they will be barred from the waterways that you kept open? So that more and more office-based managers can push numbers around a computer screen while the few bank workers who are left stare in bemusement at risk assessment forms and health and safety regulations?

Are you still there?

You would not believe how smart and bright the boats are now. The canal basins are clean, and there are places to put your rubbish, and there are launderettes and pump-out facilities, and Elsan disposal, and in one of the most famous canals basins in the land, a seriously historical site, with dozens of boats moored on pontoons and alongside neatly edged wharves there are exactly four visitor moorings, and they are for one night only. Because, you see, people do not, yet, have to pay to moor on the visitor moorings. The profit lies in the moorings where the private owners keep their boats. Oh, yes, they have to pay now, to moor their boats, even on their own property. You didn’t, did you? You who kept our canals open? Did you have to pay hundreds of pounds a year to keep your boat on the canal? And hundreds more to moor it?

Can you hear me?

Is this why you did it? So that the waterways can be run as a business to make fat cats fatter, and the canals prettier and tidier so that the land beside it becomes valuable, and saleable? To make canal boating a leisure activity for the rich and put it beyond the reach of the poor? To see the little communities of scruffy people on scruffy boats harried away out of existence to make room for something smarter? To see those that remain licensed, and controlled, and taxed, and regulated, and made to conform? For boaters to have their boats, their homes, inspected and this check box ticked and that warning issued, and boats seized because the regulations had not been obeyed?

Is this why you did it?

I don’t think so. I don’t think this was what was in your minds as you dragged rubbish out from under the bridge holes with grappling hooks so you could get through, and stop that bit of the canal being built over because it could be declared unused and derelict. I doubt if you planned for salary rises and bonuses for those who came after the officials who tried to stop you. I find it hard to believe that you dreamed of office blocks and apartment buildings on the muddy moorings where you tied up your boats at night, pounding your stakes into the soil that now carries a ‘No Mooring’ sign.

I do not know if we can stop the Canal and River Trust selling off our land and spending the money on things we probably neither want nor need, but I do believe we should remember why we can use the canals at all now. We must not let the truth itself be buried under a heap of Publicity Assessment and Change of History Application forms.

Yes, you are still there. But can you hear me?"

Photo: Where are we going wrong?

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