There are expressions we use every day, almost subconsciously, but quite often, until you have a certain life experience, you really don’t fully get them.
An expression often heard in my old family home was ‘backing and filling’, used in the context of fiddling around, not really getting anything done. It comes directly from yachting, and I suddenly recalled this when out on a sailing dinghy: alternately ‘backing’ the jib (wind on the wrong side) and ‘filling’ the jib (wind on the power side) was a way of holding a sailing boat more or less still whilst waiting on something. Link
I have encountered several of these delightful moments of sudden insight on the canal. It is very likely that canal terminology permeated the language in the early 1800s, but the experiences have vanished in modern times! The first of these ‘Aha!’ moments for me was ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’. We all know what it means, but nothing can prepare you for the sense of joy and relief as you actually see the imminent possibility of emerging from a long dark canal tunnel into the light. At first you glimpse the light in the distance; you chug your way closer through the clammy, dark murk, under the drips, as the glimmer of light grows larger. As you reach the end, the world re-appears, with the glorious light and the colours; it’s even more enchanting than you would have expected!
Our trip this year began with a couple of modest tunnels on the first afternoon. The usual tunnel etiquette is to tie up just before the tunnel, send a minion to look through, and if you cannot see any boat or headlight at the other end you are safe to switch on your headlight and proceed.
Our first tunnel was too long to be able to see the other end, and for such tunnels there are time slots allocated to north- and south-bound boats to ensure no head-on crunchy encounters in mid-tunnel.
This is what it feels like in a tunnel: There is very little to see apart from the odd stalactite and ventilation shaft, sounds are strangely ghostly, and the air feels thick and cool. I always find myself thinking of the workers that dug them with pick and shovel. What an amazing amount of hand labour these watery highways demanded!