So, whilst the good ship Old York and the rest of the Provincial Royal Ark Mariner fleet lies at anchor in splendid isolation my thoughts drifted back to the last time I boarded a real ship, when we embarked on the Provincial charity barge-pull.
From memory it was an ominous start to this momentous, extremely strenuous, test of endurance as the recruitment poster featured a grinning Funeral Director in a Kitchener-esque ‘I want you’ pose.
Furthermore, this incredibly physical test of endurance was destined to take place during the hottest week since the earth cooled and involved dragging a 47’ barge forty-one nautical miles through Weil’s infested waters!
Well, it actually turned out to be relatively easy to press-gang enough brethren for this Herculean task, especially as every pound raised was destined for the 2023 Mark Benevolent Fund Festival.
The creator of this crazy jaunt was Commodore John Fred Clough who, at great personal sacrifice, volunteered to be the barge cargo and sole inhabitant for the duration of its nine-day epic voyage. By day he sat, with a spotted handkerchief knotted on his head and twine around his trouser legs to keep the rats off, on the prow whittling spoons and making pegs (or whatever bargees do). By night he embarked on his own personal (self-sponsored) challenge to drink every pub dry en-route. By the look of him he did have some success here and discharged the duties of his new role with customary vigour. Although it was hard work stopping him selling Mark tokens as lucky charms to unsuspecting by-passers.
I must confess to having some trepidation for the challenge as I remember, many years ago as a newly initiated Mason, our Past Masters recounting the terrible tale of ‘Fishy’ Marshall falling into the canal on the way home from his installation. This was back in the bad old days when it was full of supermarket trolleys, dead dogs and rats. Nowadays, happily, it’s been sanitised and I only saw a couple of bloated carcasses in the canal – the rest were pulling the barge!
My day as Dragee, with the rest of the brethren from Old York RAMs, coincided with the Tour de Yorkshire blasting through Skipton and our progress was somewhat enhanced a few wanabee racers doing time-trials on the towpath. We were, however, motivated to carry on tugging under the blistering sun Jan Johnson, Andy’s long-suffering partner, doing her Kate Winslet Titanic impersonation (no, the part where she stood on the prow, not the one you’re thinking of).
All in all it was great fun and a fantastic success. Everyone we met was really supportive with shouts of encouragement like ‘You’ve lost your horse’ and ‘Has it broken down?’ But seriously the generosity of the brethren and the public was unbelievable.
When we finally staggered to the end of our drag the PGM and his entourage were there to welcome us with ample refreshments.
So, although we can’t cast-off and enjoy our Royal Ark Mariner meetings at the moment we can, at least, reflect on happy memories.
Keep well and keep smiling
Horatio Holgate, Old York RAM TI (The Flagship Lodge of the Province you know)