I have another ‘I love my job’ day
...the welcome is always warm and the tea always hot and sweet...
I love my job. I think canals are wonderful. I’m in awe of the engineers who designed them over 200 years ago and the men who built them, navigating their way through the land, digging out tons of rock and soil by hand and laying millions of bricks. I love our industrial heritage and how grand and beautiful buildings – some of them for quite humble uses – were built at the waterway edge. And I love the havens for wildlife the canals have become since their heyday as 18th and 19th century motorways.
There is a part of my job I particularly love and that’s going out to see our teams keeping this wonderful network of waterways in good working order. I went to Tardebigge top lock 58 today where a South Wales & Severn Waterways construction team is digging out by hand an estimated 10 tonnes of silt, fitting new bottom gates made at our Bradley workshops, extending the lock ladders and – oh yes – playing host to the public on an open day on 18 January.
Construction supervisor Mark Abraham explained the job in hand and said that everything should be ready for the public next Saturday. Of course, since just before Christmas we have had too much rain and storm force winds and although the barometer was up and the sun shining today, more bad weather is forecast during the week.
Tardebigge top lock is deep (the water rises 11 feet): the lads say it’s the deepest narrow lock on the system. It was certainly impressive looking down into it from the safety of behind the hard edge protection. But by next weekend, if the good weather holds, a sturdy scaffolding staircase will be installed so that the public can safely walk down into the bottom. While there they will marvel, as I do, at the beautiful brickwork that spends much of its time under water. They will see that the huge lock gates pivot on a small pintle in a ceramic cup, not much bigger than my hands, the balance beams offering the counter balance to the weight of the gate (hence their name). It’s such a delicate piece of engineering for something so big and important.
The lads are welcoming and very patient with my photography demands, even though I know some of them don’t like having their photos taken (they’re the ones who will look anywhere but at the camera). The painful bit over, they shared their tea, doughnuts and biscuits with me (they need fuel against the cold and damp, whereas I still have the extra Christmas layer of insulation). But whenever I visit a stoppage site, the welcome is always warm, the banter is always sunny (even in torrential rain) and the tea is always hot and sweet. Our lads are what my mum would have called the ‘salt of the earth’. And meeting them is another reason I love my job.
Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut.See more blogs from this author