I forgot to say yesterday that as we were on the Thames approaching Pangbourne we passed Timothy Spall on his dutch barge Princess Matilda. Alan waved at him but said Timothy didn’t recognize him in his new sunglasses.
Back to today. We set off around 9.00 and slid under the bridge before Bel and the Dragon with masses of room to spare. Alan did go to the left of the central pier this time, having not been able to get through on the right last time, but the water was also much lower. Everything was easier as we went along because the river current was so tame. We idled through Reading town centre and the approach to County Lock was insipid, not frantic. Fobney Lock is absolutely vast, especially on our own as we were in every lock today. We followed our normal practice, when ascending double locks alone, of roping bow and stern and opening up the paddles.
As we came round a bend we had a clear view along the straight to Gasrton Lock, about 300 ft ahead. There was a man letting down the bottom paddles: it’s one of the locks where the bottom paddles are left up on exit. We watched as he walked across the lock and he must have had a perfect view of us approaching. To our surprise, as we pulled up towards the landing he went back towards the top paddles. We yelled, waved our arms and sounded the horn. I wondered if he was deaf. As I jumped onto the mooring stage he started filling the lock. I ran up to the top yelling “Hello, we can go into the lock, didn’t you see us?” Now what I would do under those circumstances would have been to drop the paddle, as the water had only gone up a tiny fraction, apologise for not seeing them, let out the water and help them work through the lock. Not this man. He opened the other paddle and advanced on me yelling abuse and brandishing the most enormous windlass at me in a very threatening manner. He was shouting that I was lying, he didn’t see a boat. I said that he must have seen us as we had watched him winding down the bottom paddles. He kept on screaming at me and thrashing at the air with the windlass while his companion/partner watched from their boat. Alan was tying our boat up so I decided to retreat. We waited while the lock filled very slowly as it was the turf sided lock. They then descended very slowly. In fact it took so long that we were able to have our lunch. The couple had swapped places and the man steered the boat out while his partner waited by the open lock gate. He yelled at her to shut the gate as we were moored up! We wrote down the boat number and name as we were determined to make a written complaint about his threatening behaviour to BW. When I went up to the lock I told the woman that we would do that. She was obviously waiting to speak to me, though it was a pity that she hadn’t intervened earlier. She apologised profusely and said that he suffered from bipolar disorder and could be aggressive: she would have worked the lock if she had known there was a boat there. Please would we not complain to BW. I agreed that I wouldn’t, but I still have my concerns about that. We have two close family members who suffer from bipolar disorder so I know that this sort of aggression towards complete strangers is not characteristic in any way.
After that unpleasant incident we went on steadily towards our mooring at Woolhampton. Everything went well, the electric bridges all performed as they should, and we met some much more pleasant people! As we sat in the pub garden of the Row Barge we watched two boats filled with young men on a stag do (behaving in the particularly daft way obligatory at stag dos) tackling the swing bridge / lock combination. Usually the lock has to be prepared before the bridge is opened and then you steam through fast against the strong current. We knew that the river was particularly benign as they drifted around, totally oblivious to the fact that there were cars waiting, and the current didn’t cause a wobble.
Today we did 12.33 Miles, 11 Locks, 1 Lift Bridge and 5 Swing Bridge
Statistics so far:-
3004.01 Miles, 1972 Locks, 182 Swing Bridges, 118 Lift Bridges, 57 Tunnels