I’ve been working outside all my life and I love it.
I work in the West Midlands inspecting canals for the Canal & River Trust. Things like the towpaths, locks, sluices, embankments and facilities for boaters have all got to be checked regularly.
If a tree comes down in bad weather, for example, I’ll go out and assess it, and see what we need to do next. The majority of repair work will be done by our customer operations teams. It’s only the bigger jobs that we have to put out to contractors.
I sometimes work alongside the engineers. They’ll be taking their measurements and looking at the task from a professional point of view, whereas in my team we’re looking at it from the perspective of the people who use the canals. It’s a good partnership.
Usually I talk to boaters, anglers and walkers on a daily basis. I’ve actually got a 10am tea stop on one of my walks on the Shropshire Union Canal. I go and sit with a lovely old boater called Jean and she makes me a cup of tea.
Love of the outdoors
In a normal week I’m travelling around my patch four out of five days. It’s brilliant. I don’t shy from the fact that I love being outside. I think my dad got me started working as a bricklayer’s labourer for him when I was about nine. I’ve been working outside all my life and I love it.
Even on the cold, wet days, it’s still nice to be out and about. There are some lovely stretches of canal, especially the Llangollen Canal and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. Over winter I was doing the aqueduct’s handrail inspection with a couple of engineers. It’s just amazing being up there.
The amount of wildlife I see too, all sorts. I saw a grass snake last week, when I was out on the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Adapting to a new lockdown routine
The way we usually work in my team is to regularly walk set kilometre lengths on our patch. Instead, during lockdown, we’re going directly to the areas we’re responsible for checking, and jumping in our vans more often so that we avoid passing other people on foot along narrow towpaths.
Most mornings I’m leaving the house at 6am, sometimes 5am. By going out earlier, I can still get my inspections done and make sure I’m following the government guidelines on social distancing.
Working life is not really that different for me at the moment. I’m just having less interaction with the public. I’m always out and about on my own anyway. Normally the only time I’d see my colleagues is if we have a team meeting or if we pair up on a walk for safety because there’s no mobile phone signal. But we keep in touch most days by email and phone.
I got married to my partner, Lucy, on 14 March. We had a couple of people who didn’t come because of the virus. My mum was one of them. She’s 82 and she didn’t want to risk herself. I had a couple of friends who work for the NHS and didn’t come because they were self-isolating or confirmed cases.
We were supposed to fly out to Lanzarote a few days after the wedding. There were 11 of us going: my mother and father-in-law, my brother and his family, and we were taking our children. We were packing the kids into the car at 5am when I had an email to say that our honeymoon and our flights had been cancelled. We’ll try and get away next year, fingers crossed.
After a month of being locked down together we’re still alive! To be honest we’ve been together now for nearly six years and I think we’ve argued once (and that was about something stupid). Even during the lockdown, we have our up and down days, but we’re always there for each other.