Sunday, 4 May 2008



The £15- canvas canoe.

My love of the river outweighed my swimming ability, because although I loved the river and everything about it, I was never a strong swimmer.

I’m sure this was based on the fact that I had an awesome ‘respect’ for it. I’d seen the swirling underwater currents where the River Loddon met the River Thames at Wargrave. I’d known of people previously regarded as strong swimmers, drowning in innocent looking water. So although I loved being on top of the water, I was always rather fearful of being out of my depth in it.

My first so-called boat was the proverbial car tyre innertube. Every kids best friend in the river. The next move up was the ‘li-lo’. I felt pretty safe on that thing until one day a swan jumped on my back and started pecking my bum. (Aged about eight or nine then). When I eventually got to the riverbank, PC Float, our local bobbie was there, ready to tear me off a strip for being so stupid. Hmmmmm?

Anyway, that scared me off using the li-lo for river crossings. So, best mate at the time, Stan Povey and I went searching the cherry pits in the area for dumped five gallon drums and a load of wood. We were going to build the best ‘Huckleberry Finn’ raft you ever saw. (And we did). It took us a while, but we got there eventually. Got it out on the river and away we went. GREAT!!

We kept our raft moored down at the ‘Free Ferry’. (The back end of Woodclyffe House.) However, we didn’t bargain on the jealousy of others, and found our beloved raft had been vandalised with holes being punctured into the drums. Not that we noticed until we launched it, and it started to sink in the middle of the river. Stan was a useless swimmer, and I wasn’t much better, but somehow we got ourselves back to the riverbank.
(Another great plan scuppered).

UNTIL……as we were going to Saturday Morning Pictures at Henley, and I read a card in a newsagents window; ‘Canoe for sale £15-‘.
Never mind the pictures, I was round to the house like a shot to see if it was still going. It was, but there was a problem……I didn’t have enough money. I only had the two-bob in my pocket to cover the mornings entertainment at the pictures.

Anyway, the man was a very gentlemanly, kind fellow, and could see I really wanted the canoe, so he asked if I though I could pay him a pound a week for it. Well, I wasn’t sure, but I told him I could, and knew that if I used my noddle I could get the £1- a week needed. I came back later in the week after I’d raised my first £1- doing odd jobs for people in the village, and after convincing the gentleman that I was going to put it in the guards train to get it home, he let me take it.

This was about 7pm in the summer, and I put the canoe on the saddle and handlebars of my little bike and set off down St Andrews Rd towards the station. But here was the dilemma; I didn’t have any more money. I’d planned to walk the canoe, on my bike the whole 3 miles along the very hilly, windy road that links Henley on Thames with Wargrave. Those that know this road will know how steep those hills are.

As I was climbing Johnson’s hill, it was starting to get dark, I was getting very tired, and the canoe slipped off my bike. It was a canvas canoe and I really thought I’d messed it up. But after I eventually got it home at about 10.30pm that night, I inspected it to find I’d only broken ONE of it’s ribs. (Easily mended).

My pride and joy was placed just below my bedroom window so that I could get up at night, (just to make sure it was OK, and still there).

It was a two-seater, so I used it as a ferry to help finance itself. It was fairly easy to take from my house to the river each day, so there was no chance of ‘IT’ being vandalised. Many happy days were had from my old faithful canoe. I paid every instalment on time every Saturday as I went to the Saturday morning pictures, and needless to say, I was extremely proud of my first MAJOR possession, as it brought a whole lot of joy to so many of us kids who couldn’t otherwise enjoy the pleasures of the river. As boats of any kind were generally considered the ‘playthings’ of the Rich who lived down by the Wargrave riverbank itself.

The Wargrave Adventure Playground. ‘Utopia’.

Catch you later,


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