It was a glorious summer day at Pickett's Lock when I arrived for what had been advertised as ‘The Old Git’s Barbeque’. Alfie Saggs, the lock keeper, was celebrating his 86th birthday.
I have been here for 30 years and loved every minute.
Waiting by the lock gates were Dick Vincent from the Trust and Jacqui Shannon, his friend and boater. With a look of conspiratorial excitement they told me that, as a special gift to Alfie and in recognition of his 30 years of service, the lock was to be renamed Alfie's Lock for a month.
The sign was erected as more boaters slowly arrived to show their respects, and let’s face it, freeload the barbeque. Karen, Alfies daughter, brought him out to cheers and his face lit up. He was utterly thrilled with the gift and said: “It knocked me over with joy.”
Alfie became the lock keeper here in 1983 and moved in with his wife Laura. His day would start at 7am and end at 8pm. He’d do all the windlass work and open and close the gates for the boaters. He’d do this for seven days a week, only taking a couple of weeks off for a holiday.
In 1986 his wife sadly passed away and Alfie threw himself into his work. Karen told me that if it hadn’t been for the boating community and his lock keeper work, she didn’t think he would have got through those dark times.
Alfie is famous for his love of Bounty Bars. If you ever visit Pickett's, or rather Alfie's Lock, be sure to put a Bounty Bar in the box provided. Apparently he gets a good ‘two dozen a week.’ When I had a chat with him at his party, I noticed two bars poking out of his cardigan pocket, and was told he’d already eaten 6 for breakfast!
He retired in 1999 but continues to live at the Lock House and demand his Bounty from the passing boats. I asked him if life was different 30 years ago, if the canal had changed from that time. He said: “They (boaters) are the same people – good helpers – same amount of traffic too.”
Doreen Lambert needs a special mention. She is Alfie's niece and provided an incredible spread, with homemade coleslaw, potato salad, millions of cakes and an enchanted barbeque that never seemed to run out of food.
A good day was had by all and Alfie, exhausted and happy, went off to bed with a big grin on his face. Just before he went, I asked him what he thought about the renaming of the lock. He chuckled and said: “When people come through the lock, they will ask, ‘who’s that?’ And I will ruck ‘em.”
I haven’t the faintest idea what that means but I know one thing. Bounty Bars must be really good for your health!
Happy Birthday Alfie and may you enjoy many more years in your lock house, surrounded by your friends, family and boater family.
By Sarah Grimstone, boater
Our guest bloggers all have a passion for our waterways, whether they are volunteers, staff or the experts we work with.See more blogs from this author