Legends from our own lunchtimes

Friday, May 04, 2012

Smooth Sailing
-Fains-les-Sources to Bignicourt-sur-Sauix

Because of certain decisions taken a long time ago, in reality three days after we had made our plans (there's that impossible word again) and had actually bought our tickets to make them a reality, this first two weeks has by our standards in particular been something of an unseemly rush.  Today however, with another thirty kilometres passed, we are but twelve kilometres from our next milestone, we reach the end of the canal, and enter the Champagne region.

The decisions I refer to, among others, were the ones taken by the VNF, the body responsible for management of the inland waterways, to close the canal between Paris and where ever we were going to be at any given time until three weeks after we planned to be there.    The VNF is at once our nemesis and our guardian angel, sending chaps in blue and green uniforms and little white vans to ensure we are where we say we will be, and to fix any little glitch that may happen whilst negotiating locks.   

Because the locks are operated "automatically" which is a French term which means "manually, but motors do the work", glitches are not infrequent.   When they occur they are usually something to do with the telecommander, another French term which means "garage door remote control", and we all go through a well practiced routine.

Firstly we bark into the intercom at the lock, something which we think means we are stuck at lock "X".  Then they bark back something sounding like an announcement at a railway station.    Then, despite quite rightly conducting business in more or less the language of their country, a kindly voice always finishes off with "Someone is coming, OK?"

The little white van arrives, bearing a knight clad in  blue and green within minutes, or an hour or even two if the call is around lunch time, and the knight pretends that we have arrived from space.  With no understanding at all of the undoubted certainty that we have actually arrived at lock fifty-three in this particular chain, by travelling through every single lock before it, and by now we are actually reasonably good at pressing the only button on the telecommander, we get the lesson on how it works, then a lecture on how "terrible" the technology is, and then the switches are flicked manually from within his little control room and we are on our way.  After the third, or sometimes fourth lesson in four consecutive locks, the knight takes the errant instrument from us, tries it himself, mumbles something unpublishable and sends us on our merry way with a replacement, wishing us a great day as we go.

Four locks later of course, that kind of "automatic" system is replaced by another kind of "automatic" system, and we hand back our brand new and perfectly functioning telecommander with thanks!

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