Writing by John Liley
"Keeping Afloat" is a light-hearted tale of John Liley's exploits on the canals of France. John was working for a boating magazine when he was overcome with a dream of owning and operating a hotel-barge in France. Now, thirty years on, he tells of his often hilarious misadventures in the early days of setting up a business that would keep afloat. Characters such as The Whizzer, Mighty Min and Monsieur Bertrand would be unbelievable if they were not true. Barge enthusiasts and landlubbers alike will laugh with and at John's exploits.
|British Waterways move to charitable status|
|What would Aickman have made of the British Waterways move to charitable status? Not a lot according to John.|
|The sloop we acquired, built of plywood, was only 18 feet long; but she still slept three.|
|The vessel that I took, from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and originally called the Mersey, had fallen into the hands of a coal merchant in Skipton. In the tradition of the area, he renamed the boat after a son of his called Arthur.|
|The location: Auxerre in summer. In one, a sprinkling of craft lies against the quay on the town side in 1973, amongst them the basically converted Leeds & Liverpool barge Arthur, taken there by myself and Michael Streat. In the other: Auxerre as it often is today, with Luciole executing a turn.|
|Does anyone go lock-wheeling nowadays? Working ahead of a vessel on a bike?|
|Yet again, something extra was needed to impress the news trade. Someone suggested a competition..|
|It was a relief to learn that at least one other reader – Laurence Hogg – had his doubts over the recent judgement against a boat builder.|
|“Shall I boom off?” In the course of our season recently gone, Max, our matelot on the Luciole would ask this from time to time. It was not a request to make a forceful speech, or to imitate a bittern. He was enquiring if he should go ashore, to help the lock-keeper (in some instances to find that individual) and speed up getting things ready.|
|The term ‘canal busting’ has cropped up in recent issues, referring to those occasions when some waterway in less than pristine condition needed to be entered to prove such a thing was possible.|
|Canal and river trust|
|Oh! Have we got those as well?” So said Sir Cyril Hurcomb in 1947. As Chairman of the Transport Commission, he had made the discovery that, along with our railways, there were canals being nationalised too.|
|Canal de la Somme|
|Not having been to sea for decades, it was instructive to meet recently someone who goes sailing a lot. It was flattering, too, to be asked for advice. Not on yachting, I hasten to say, which has changed to the extent I would have to start again; but about France. Advice, of course, is a dodgy commodity; but my opinions, hopefully, were accepted as such.|
|There was a James Bond film on TV recently (when is there not?), with a high-speed chase in powerboats. “Couldn’t do that with your barge, John,” said a friend, with just the hint of a nudge in the ribs. “Well,” I explained, “it’s surprising what can happen at three miles an hour …” Or even less, I thought. And, on many a boat, there have been these surprises.|
|Canal St Quentin|
|Last September François Fillon, the Prime Minister of France, signed the decree inaugurating the construction of a new canal. In five years time this will be providing a larger link between the Seine and the big, bustling waterways of northern Europe.|
|The school I attended was proud of its reputation. In such a powerhouse of learning, fundamental truths were conveyed. Not least in History, where in our coverage of the Industrial Revolution, homage was paid to that giant of the era, Francis, Duke of Bridgewater. For it was he, we were told, who in an orgy of inspiration effectively invented canals.|
|Champs sur Yonne flood|
|Luciole spent the winter in Auxerre. At a mooring on the Cathedral side we contemplated the jobs before us, and watched the River Yonne whizz by. There are floods most years at this time and the water reaches formidable speeds.|
|The Government’s commitment to the waterways is small change, says John. In France they spend serious money…|
|Planning to cross the Channel? If there’s a computer around, then type in ‘Barge Dover Lifeboat Youtube’, and see what can happen.|
|On the British canals, a gently sloping wing wall guides your boat into the chamber. In ‘Bashville’, France, skippers of 130-ton barges have no such luxury…|
The View From The Line
A printed guide to the train routes from Liverpool and Manchester, with maps, pictures and notes. A diversion through Birmingham is included also, connecting to the north via Stafford, and southwards to London by way of Coventry and Rugby.
There’s a Mystery near Liverpool. And a lighthouse in Northants. Beside the railways of Britain stand a multitude of features. Some are well-known, many pass unsung. Here, with illustrations, is a detailed listing, covering the lines from Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly to Euston Station in London. For travellers to or from Birmingham the links with Stafford and Rugby are included also.
Attractive maps are presented in a simple fold-out format, with concise notes and photos alongside. From moated castles to ‘mountains’ in unexpected places, this handsome guide will enhance many a journey on the train.