Friday 20 September 2013

The new Water Gypsy

Whilst we were out on our summer cruise, I had an interesting experience. At Swinton on the South yorkshire navigation there is a new housing estate that seems to grow ever larger each time we pass. Then we chanced upon a young boy cycling along the road that runs alongside the canal at this point. It was clear from his interest in keeping pace with us, that there was some deep fascination with the boat. My antenna was 'twitching' and as we were coming up to a road bridge where we might be the recipient of a few stones being thrown. I took the precaution of taking a quick photograph when he was momentarily off guard and looking where he was going. 

We continued side by side for a while, when he engaged me in conversation. 'Have you nicked the boat' he says. I must admit the comment was a bit of a surprise. 'I do it all the time' I replied. 'Had a wash' he enquires. 'Only last month' I replied This did not bode well for the road bridge ahead. I was not ready for his next challenge which was more of a statement than a question. 'Dirty fucking water gypsy' he says. I think there was a fair bit of bravado on his part from the 20' of canal water that separated us. So I took another photograph only this time whilst he was looking. 

He stops, passed another comment that I missed. Turns around and peddles off furiously back the way he came. And turns into the new canalside housing estate. We continued on our way and once under the bridge the canal soon leaves the road. As we were plodding along, I was musing at his comments. I thought he was in all probability just reflecting the expressed views of his parents. As the new houses in the area were all overlooking the canal. Maybe this is symptomatic of problems between boaters and new housing. Housing that seems to be built to dominate, almost on top of the canal rather than alongside.

The number of houses that can be squeezed onto a bit of land is how the developer makes his money. There is this certain 'look' about such developments. They are starting to be the new horizontal form of the much discredited tower blocks and high rise where peoples homes were stacked as if on pallets.  Maybe in 20/30 years, such properties built with little external space between them (where the houses are packed together like sardines in a can) will take on the look and feel of the old 'back to back' and 'lines of terraces' that were swept away in the clearances of the 50/60/70's. 

The more I look at them, the more I know I could never live in such a place. But then I remember that the concrete monstrosities that were built to address the post war boom. Which, in many cases have and are thankfully being swept away. As for my little friend, I can live in the hope that his misunderstood prejudices so carefully nurtured by his parents. Will one day be swept aside by his new found, educated awareness. Maybe it will happen at the same time as he watches the old home of his parents swept away because of the rat run alleyways that they have become. Who knows, maybe one day when he is older, because he was nurtured alongside a canal he will buy a boat giving it the twee name of 'Water Gypsy.'

The more I think about it - the more I am starting to enjoy being a Water Gypsy, I only hope I can meet the grade! This takes me back to two and a half years to May 2011, Over a year before BW became CaRT. I wrote a bit back them titled 'Pride and Prejudice' which touches upon the same theme. In that time, nothing has changed, on land or on water. If the truth be told things have gotten worse. To read the posting Click Here.


  1. Dont blame the developers for squashing the houses in. Blame the local authorities for setting such ridiculous minimum housing densities.

    1. I agree, but its a double edged sword. The developers could choose to use larger spaces between buildings. But councils want a bigger density - reduce waiting lists - more council tax revenue. Developers want a bigger profit margin from maximising numbers. So they are both pulling the same way.


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