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The Great Launch

By Belinda

When I published this photo on Facebook; of a boat on the Birmingham and Worcester canal, which  runs through Alvechurch; our son Pete, who can be depended upon for humour, left this comment: "Fine time to start reading the manual..."

This story is not about that boat, but another long ago boat--this is an "Uncle John story."

First a little family history for the sake of context:
Paul's grandmother, who was Uncle John's mother; Marjory Burston, grew up a Hartwright, one of eight children.

Besides Marjory there were three sisters: Freda; Nancy and Dora, and four brothers: John; Austin; George and Cyril.The siblings would have all been born early in the 20th century--in fact Aunt Nancy only died within the past several years, aged 100.

Dora married a man named Edgar and Marjory married a man named Francis and both couples moved to Canada, probably during the late 1920's. George also went to Canada and married a Canadian girl named Velma. When The Great Depression hit, it was difficult to survive and Marjory and Francis came back to England with their son Ronald; Paul's dad (Uncle John's older brother--there were five years between them.) Ronald remembered the ship hitting an iceberg and picking up pieces of ice on the deck, on the way back to England and being accompanied back to Canada by other ships so that it could be repaired. Uncle Edgar who had a taxi business stayed in Canada with Aunt Dora.

When Uncle John was growing up, Uncle Edgar had an old boat that he had brought up from Wales and put in the car garages where he worked on restoring it.

The great day came for the launch. The boat was towed behind a car to the slipway in Worcester where it slipped into the water. On board there was: Marjorie, Francis, the children John and Ronald, and a lady whose name is lost to history! Near the village of  Hanley Castle they had a mooring place but going down the river the engine failed. Uncle John said that it was fortunate that they were going down the river.

In desperation Francis got a plank from the bottom of the boat to use as a makeshift oar, but the river carried them on, late into the summer evening, until finally, after darkness had fallen, they managed to get near enough to the shore to disembark. Uncle John remembers that their boots were filled with water and that they had to walk, squelching and soggy, from the river to a phone booth and phone for someone to come and rescue them.

"We were tired--wet and weary--in the pitch of the night. A big adventure for a boy!" remembered Uncle John, "It wasn't like a light canoe--it was a big, heavy boat. Fortunately we got past the weir before the engine stopped working."

So that is the story, recorded now for posterity. And there seems not to have been a manual in their case!


This puts me in mind of a story when Joe and I were just boys. We thought ourselves 'men' at the time. But that is the primary delusion of youth isn't it? Anyways, Joe had this row boat that he was working on. It, too, was being repaired in a garage, finally, all freshly painted, we took it for it's launch up to McIvor Lake. We all got in and it sunk like a stone. We sat there, in the boat, on the bottom of the lake, with his sisters slippers floating anound the small islands of our heads. Not a nautical victory but much more memorable than if it had worked properly. The funny thing about us humans is that if the boat trip that 'uncle' had been on had gone smoothly, there would have been no story to tell, no memory to write down, and the boat would have been lost to time - but here it is, living years later on your blog. There's a life lesson in there some where I think.
Belinda said…
Oh, how funny the picture is that you created in your description! Slippers floating around your "island heads!" :) Too, too funny. Thanks for sharing such a moment here to add to all of the boating mishaps.
Marilyn said…
Marvelous tale. (I had to read slowly to follow the cast of characters.) And I like Dave's comment about the application. If all had gone smoothly, there'd be no story. Hmmm. What excitement might be handed to us when circumstances turn?
Belinda said…
Marilyn, I went into way too much family history for this story, didn't I? I think I was just so anxious to get it off my scraps of paper and into the blog. :)

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