Peter Rhodes on assistance animals, an embarrassing spoonerism and the hazards of canals

Hold your horses. After yesterday's piece on historical expressions which are still in use, I was contacted by a friend who said she'd been “penning” an email. Gadzooks.

Canals - best enjoyed sober
Canals - best enjoyed sober

Ian Fenn has autism and says he has trained a black cat called Chloe to help him cope. Staff at a supermarket in Clapham were not impressed and ordered him to leave the moggie outside. A case has now been launched under the Equality Act to determine what constitutes an “assistance animal.”

Firstly, much respect to Mr Fenn for having trained a cat to do anything. As a rule, cats train humans. Secondly, if cats can be accepted as assistance animals, where will it end? How long before the queue at Sainsbury's is enlivened with an appearance by Harry the helpful horse or Mr Hissy the assistance anaconda?

Three narrowboats (never call them barges) were reportedly trashed by a stag party near Droitwich, leading to one of the vessels sinking in a lock. No surprises there. Canals were never designed for leisure. The boats are as tough as battleships, the canalside machinery as dangerous as a guillotine. Canals were originally operated by experts, rough, tough bargees who regarded broken limbs as minor hazards. They would be amazed that their transport network has become a fun-time facility for city softies.

There is no job on the canal that cannot be done safely with a little patience and half a brain. The problem is that some of today's boat hirers do not possess any brain and seem to spend their entire holiday drunk in charge of 20 tons of steel-shod vessel. Maybe the wonder is that there are not more canal disasters.

A friend and I once watched a crew of kids who were suddenly panicked by the prow of their boat sticking on the stone step at the front of a lock. The water level fell, the boat went stern-down and no-one knew what to do. As the screaming began, an experienced boater closed the lock paddles and averted disaster.

Describing the incident in a noisy bar that night, I explained: “They got their front caught.” At least that's what I meant to say. It actually came out as a most embarrassing spoonerism.

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