BY Nicky Denegri

DATE: 20 SEP 2013


I’m working at home today (a phrase I can never reference without thinking about what Peter Cook is purported to have said to the bore who cornered him at a party and announced “I’m writing a novel”.  The brilliant riposte “Neither am I” is perfect in relation to working at home).   

It’s cold, and my thoughts are straying towards a) putting on the heating and b) the already-distant sunny week we had on the Llangollen Canal in August.  Oh for a bit more summer sun – but I fear it’s gone now.

I’ve been meaning to write a blog about the holiday, because for the novice canal boater, there are many lessons to take from the experience and apply to everyday life:

It might look easy, but it rarely is: Speaking in public?  Being brilliant at Business Development?  Controlling a canal boat?  Damn you experts, lulling the rest of us into a false sense of security as you dazzle the audience, convert the sale or cruise past in a straight line.  I can confirm that none of these things are easy without a significant amount of practice.

As the named “Captain” on the boat company’s forms, I had to take the tiller as we were pushed off from the yard.  Which is the exact moment that I realised: a) I was in control of a large and slow-moving (although fast enough to cause alarm) boat that I was essentially controlling with a stick.  At the back of the boat.  You can dress it up and call it a “tiller” all you like – it’s still a stick; b) they can show you all the videos they want on the topic, and you can read all the books you like but you will still not be able to able to do it, irrespective of your theoretical understanding of how to steer the thing, as a result of which c) you will spend the greater part of your first day ricocheting from one canal bank to another, collapsing in a tearful heap at the end of the day and vowing never to leave dry land again.  However!  It did get better, for some of us at least, leading us neatly onto the next point…..

You can’t be good at everything, and you might feel a tad humiliated by others’ prowess: I am 42.  Therefore I expected (quite unreasonably as it turns out) to be better than at least three of the other occupants of the boat, aged 8, 11 and 12, and possibly the fourth, aged (dare I reveal it, because he looks so young?) 46 at driving the thing.  Well. Ahem.  I was – there is no other way to say it - absolutely rubbish.

On day one, W, 12 saved our souls as he took to it like a duck to water.  By day two, S, 46 was also pretty good.  By the end of the week P, 8 and H, 11 were even pretty proficient, although under supervision.  Me?  Still careering from one side of the canal bank to another, getting stuck on mud banks and unable to keep the thing in a straight line for more than 15 seconds.  And did I mention the tiller?  Such was the state of panic I found myself in, I couldn’t even remember which way to push it if I wanted to go left (to the right) or right (vice versa).

I really challenged myself to believe I could do it if I had the mindset, but let’s just say my skill-set lay elsewhere.  This is ok.  You really can’t be good at everything.  Work out what you are good at, and go for it.

As in life, 99% of the people you’ll meet on the canal are fantastic, the others not so much: Most people were lovely – friendly, helpful (almost too helpful sometimes in that they wanted to do things for you, rather than letting you figure it out yourself) and a pleasure to meet.

Then there’s the rogue element: the impatient, almost aggressive experienced boaters who don’t give people time and space to manoeuvre by; the lady whose idea of “encouragement” seemed to be shouting at everyone to get them to go more quickly, or the downright idiots, such as the sexist bloke who tutted and said “Don’t let the women drive” to W, 12, when we went past (in relation to me in particular I definitely should not have been driving – that much you know already – but really?  Did it all come down to my gender, and did it really have to be relayed to a 12 year old boy?).

It provided a salutary lesson in why it’s important to be patient with people who are learning – they’re often nervous, even afraid – and sarcasm, impatience and aggression of one sort or another are never helpful.  Next time you get stuck behind a learner driver, someone standing on the left on the tube escalator, or someone in the office having trouble doing something that you could do standing on your head, take a deep breath and remember – one day in the past, that was you!

That despite all this, you’ll have a great time: Hard work, physically and mentally?  Yes.  In the most satisfying way.  After the trauma of day one, the satisfaction of learning new skills – whether how to moor up, navigate a lock, or read a map – overtook all else.  And so it is in life.  Learning is fantastic – and keeps you fresh in a way that doing the same thing day after day, year after year, never will.  Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat.  Watch this space me hearties…..


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about the author

Nicky Denegri is our Senior Consultant. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop her an email and we will be in touch.

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