The Canal Town

Look. See marks left by horse lines scarred into iron guards and rollers fixed to locks and bridges
 to protect
 stonework agin decay

 Aye, they are a smacking whip
 for me memory
 loud as gunshot
 a short handle
 with very long lash
 pictures and tales
 plaited up like
 old piece of cotton towline
 cracking warning
 to next memory
 round canal bend.

 Down there where by pass is now
 recall our sensible boathorse
 harness jangle
 steam rising a mist off her flanks
 smell of worked horse
 leans steadily into collar

 kept cotton towline taut
 continuous pull sped boat.

 Good regular Blacksmiths
 are gold
 boat horse wears out
 worn down
 set of shoes in four to six weeks.

 Posh had ostlers
 to change horses
 care for sick horses, 
 keep stable mucked out
 ready for use
 for their valued
 boating customers.

 No cold field
 for knackered boat horse,
 every regular stopping place, warehouse, wharf or canalside pub warm stable haven for hoof.

 Hard worked canal horse fed well  regularly with corn, crushed oats.
 Chopped hay had to be prepared available at provender stores all over.

 Some horses work without driver, would ‘backer’
risky business as someone had to be ready
 leap ashore if horse boat
 plod other way

 Often after one horse crossed other’s towline it was driven on smartly  both boats at full pelt

 Drum-tight line to outside boat flicked up over
 cratch, mast along top-planks caught

 lifted over watercan,
 chimney, helm by
 inside boat’s steerer

 very hard work skilled judgement experience  long hours plod drudgery  horses get tired, you walk behind them all day, every day
 potholed canalwalk,
 smell sodden leather
 dripping brass sparkles
 in flashing sun between
 tree lined bank

 horses and mules pulled
 new long thin canal boats,
 reliably regularly,
 sometimes even
 to strict advertised timetable

 Will I wait days for fair wind get paid sometime,
 or hire gang of men
 or man and horse
 drag me barge upriver
 get paid delivery tomorrow?

 Then canal was artificial new
 water still, without current
 either way
 bridges low numerous
 each with towing path under it

 Then it was too much wind,
 too little, or floods or drought.
 Better than pack horses or road, almost

 Hear smacking
 whip memory

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