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Original story by Dave Hambidge published 26/02/2007 on this blog Republished 21/02/2009 in issuu format

“Morning Stan. Brighter today?” “ ‘ey-up Cyril, your early! Yep, weather’s better, should be able to move some of these flats today?” “Aye. That’s why I come down now. Get the beasts out and ‘arnessed up, ready for the off, when the lock opens.” “It’ll be ruddy parky up top, you’ll need them woolly ear warmers of yours.” “Won’t be too bad, better than warming me piles in front of the stove!” “Are they still playing up?” “Too bloody right! They itch and scratch like buggery. Sitting on a cold bench will be a right treat!” “Which of the lads will you use to walk the ‘orses head? There’s five of them waiting down there.” “Umm. Who was first down?” “Ernie, the tall, lanky gormless looking git!” “ ‘Es all right is that boy. Works ‘ard, good with the ‘orse, and he can steer a string of flats almost as good as me!” “Hurumph. As you say, mate. But ‘is breathe stinks! Must be all the eel pies ‘is mum makes?” “ ‘Er does bake a mean one. Nah, it’s you Stan. You’m getting particular in your dotage.” “Dotage! Sod off! You must be best part of five years older than me, cheeky bugger!” “Aye, and I can feel it in me bones today! ‘ave you seen that daft lot over on the tow-path, walking the kid and dog?” “Not yet. Oh, I can see ‘em now. It’s young Fred and ‘is misses. What about them?”

“Stupid cow! Out in this cold and frost with ‘er skirt up to ‘er knees, and no bloody ‘at on!” “She’s got a nice pair of pins, if you ask me, what wrong with showing ‘em?” “ ‘cos, well, it ain’t right so early in the day, and this weather, and all.” “Cyril Crump, I do believe you fancy ‘ere, you old goat?” “I do not! It’s just not seemly. Why does Fred wan’t flash ‘er around so?” “He works nights at the mill, up Windmill Street. They bring the lad and dog down this way nearly every day, for a drop of fresh air, before Fred ‘as ‘is sleep.” “Well, still don’t seem right to me.” “You’ve only seen them today ‘cos you’re early. There ain’t no ‘arm in it.” “Maybe. Takes me back to lots of our old times, though. The four of us, you, me, Fred’s father, gawd bless ‘is soul, and 'arry. Walking out with the lasses of an evening. None of ‘em looked that tarty though!” “Ah, so that’s where your grumps are coming from, not had it for a while?” “No, I ruddy well ‘aven’t, what with the misses being on t'change, and all!” “Cheer up Cyril. Fred and 'is family are the future, we're the past! It’s all down hill, for us, from ‘ere in. Come on, you need to get down to some work, takes your mind off this maudlin stuff.” “Not so quick, Stan. Do you and Mavis, well, you know, what you said...” “Not that it’s any of yours, but, yeah, we do, sometimes. Not as often as before, but, well, only last week...” “Bollocks! I knew it. I’m too bloody old to enjoy myself.”

“Cyril, I’m off. It’s too chill to stand up ‘ere. Come round for a brew when you’re back. Bring the misses, Mavis likes to have a chat with ‘er.” ”Oh, right, tar very much. Decent of you, like.” “Now, it’s six flats up, but only four back. Make sure the...” “Lock-keeper makes the right entry in the ledger. I know, boss. Only been doing this for the last 20 years!” “See yer tonight, OK?” “Aye. And thanks for the chat, Stan. Tar-ra!” NB Flats is one of the terms used by bargees to describe the unpowered vessels that were towed by other motorised barges, or towed by horses, as Cyril is off to do.

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