The Midsummer weekend brings the Wergies to Brimscombe Port for their annual training weekend.
Not an initiation event for unsuspecting volunteers to be led a merry dance around a peat fire casting long and curiously shaped shadows on the walls of the decaying buildings at the port followed by anointing with freshly drawn silt from the cut, the faces of the initiates drawing taught as the scent of the wonderful perfume, Canal No. 2, invades their olfactory system.
Nothing so fancy! It is a skills transfer weekend where the skills necessary for safe working with the larger equipment we use are shared with willing hands and brains so that the restoration and maintenance effort continues across the whole system. It occurs by kind permission of the land owner, SDC, facilitated by Jon Pontefract. This weekend included classes in digger driving, dumper handling, van driving and trailer management (including the dreaded parallel parking), bricklaying with cement mortar and the use of lime mortar for bricklaying and plastering.
The Wergies are the red army of canal restoration. They form a red wall wherever they gather. Their vans are red-inside and out, their hard hats are red, their tee shirts are red; even their wheel barrows are red. This CCT volunteer was clearly out of step in freshly starched hi vis and green hard hat. There was the usual early morning confusion as instructors worked out where their training breakfast was. This orientation complete some semblance of order descended on the camp. Womble, the queen bee of the weekend, coupled up trainees and trainers for the first session and we were off and bimbling* to the various kit scattered across Brinscombe and Ham Mill.
I was led into the woods by a kindly older gentleman where he promised to show me his big machine and I would get to play with it and if he was delighted I would be signed off to drive a small digger. But I wasn’t really interested in Australians; I had come to learn to drive our small tracked excavator. After the usual preliminary litany: oil, fuel, water, hydraulic fluid, mirror, signal, manoeuvre I climbed into the driving seat. I thoroughly enjoyed digging a hole and filling it in and the merry-go-round in the cab. All too soon it was over and I got the nod, the wink and the secret handshake which said I was safe enough to carry on learning by doing.
Back for morning tea I could clearly pick out the CCT volunteers. It was easier that finding Wally as there was more than one of them in the sea of red shirts. The rest of the day was hot and got hotter. I enjoyed reversing with a trailer attached. I even got the trailer around a corner but was less effective at parallel parking but now I have the basics I just need to practice, practice, practice!
The final session was on the articulated dumper at Ham Mill. It is, in many ways, just like driving a car but with a smaller turning circle and the ability to slide the unwelcome passenger out of the vehicle at the touch of a button. Unfortunately it does not have the speed of an Aston Martin DB5 but does have a bigger payload.
As the sun set I sat in my garden as the light slid from blue into the roseate shades of deepening sunset I watched a bat wheeling and swooping between the trees of the neighbouring hedgerows. T his silent acrobat of the evening sky raced around the tree lined wall of death never touching the sides, abruptly changing direction as its quarry twisted and turned to avoid its fate. This tireless tumbler in the sky kept up a furious wing beat but made no noise. As the midsummer sunset slipped into a near full moon lit night I bade good hunting to the sylph of the night as it slipped from my sight.
* not a yomp ( Jackspeak, Rick Jolly, 1989)