When my Dad worked in the RNLI headquarters in Poole, members of staff were allowed to overwinter their boats in a fenced-off corner of the lifeboat depot at West Quay Road. (This is now the massively impressive RNLI College.) Being the owner of a rather lovely 30 foot Seamaster sailing yacht, Dad was keen to take advantage of this opportunity. But when we moved back to the east coast so that he could take on the Divisional Inspector role, naturally the boat had to come with us.
In the chaos of selling a house, buying a new house and starting a new role, I suspect that sailing the boat around from Poole to Harwich – while appealing – was not a realistic prospect. So it was hoisted onto the back of a rather large lorry (my Dad knew people who knew people) and driven the 200-odd miles to my parents’ new home near Manningtree, on the banks of the River Stour in northern Essex.
The thing you need to know at this point is that my Mum and Dad’s new house was an old farmhouse sat in the corner of a rather large field. Leading past the house was a rough track, at the bottom of which was an old barn. This track was to become ‘the drive’ and the bit of land between the house and the barn was to become ‘the garden’. It was still just a bit of grassy field at this point, but my Mum was extremely proud of it and had big plans.
OK, back to the story. When the lorry eventually arrived at the house, my Dad had arranged for someone to bring a crane to hoist the boat off the trailer and to plonk it behind the barn, where it could wait to see whether anyone in the family was likely to have time to go sailing at any point in the near future. And in case a bit of manhandling was required, he’d also recruited some of his RNLI colleagues to help.
(Though knowing my Dad, I suspect that he’d invited them round for a house-warming or something, and had completely omitted to mention anything about lorries, cranes or boats. This was how things usually went.)
It had been raining quite a lot over the previous few days, but the driver of the lorry manoeuvered his trailer skillfully down the garden and around to the back of the barn. The crane driver had already got his crane into position and it was a matter of minutes for him to the lift the boat (still on its trolley) off the lorry and to place it gently on the ground.
This, inevitably, is when the problems started. The lorry driver managed to head back off up the – by now distinctly squishy – track. But when the crane came to drive off, it was well and truly stuck. As anyone familiar with Newton’s laws will tell you, every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction. So when the crane lifted several tonnes of boat off the lorry, those several tonnes of boat served to push it several inches down into the mud.
The solution – to my Dad, at least – was simple. The crane was stuck. The lorry was not. So let’s use the lorry to tow the crane out of the mud and back down the track. And that’s what we did, with my Dad’s colleagues, my siblings and I doing our best to push things, pull things and to slide bits of wood under the spinning wheels of this massive crane. It worked, sort of. Bit by bit, this gargantuan lorry-crane combination made its way slowly – oh, so slowly – back down the track.
After about an hour, both the lorry and the crane were free of the mud and the drivers, sensing perhaps what was about to come, made their escape. Because this is when my Mum emerged from the house. And the scene that greeted her was one of complete armageddon.
Standing by the door to the house, hoping for a cup of tea, was a crowd of rather unimpressed, mud-covered individuals. And behind them, stretching right through the middle of her new garden down to the barn, was the most massive, deep, muddy, rutted scar you have ever seen in your life. So big that it was possibly visible from space. It was most definitely visible from the doorway where my mum was standing. And she was not impressed.