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Norbury Moon Shot

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We have been a bit restricted in our ability to navigate the canals of late, as maintenance works to the canals in our area have been in evidence on all routes from our yard. We have been up the bottom end of the “Shroppie” a couple of times recently, though, and managed to sell enough coal to make the obligatory visits to various public houses worth while. The adjoining photo is of the famous “Anchor” at High Offley. This is a proper pub indeed; no piped music, no gaming machines, no juke-box, just good company and the opportunity to hear (and join in if you so wish) impromptu music sessions. If you are really lucky, you will get to hear Mal Edwards singing “Quack, Quack, Quack”, which, unbelievably, is a humorous song about ducks. Yours truly has also been known to strum a chord or two here when under the influence. "Dutch Courage” I believe it’s called. The audience also needs to be under the influence to gain maximum enjoyment from this experience.

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A new feature of the landscape around Norbury Junction is the seemingly hundreds of metal pylon-like towers that have sprung up in the woods to the rear of Norbury Wharf. I am informed that each tower has a pipe up the middle to discharge co2 (carbon dioxide) to the atmosphere, and that this co2 gas will be delivered by road tankers to the site at the rate of six per day. All these tankers will cross over the canal bridge by Norbury Junction, no doubt improving its’ stability and testing the resillience of the bridge parapets. The purpose of this exercise is, apparently, to see how the trees react to carbon dioxide. Is it just me, or does this increase in the local global-warming effort appear bonkers? Not only are greenhouse gasses being deliberately introduced into the air, but tonnes of carbon have been released into the atmosphere during the construction of these towers. Can you believe it, each one was air-lifted into place by helicopter! The daily tankers will no doubt add their own emissions to the local ambiance. 

Clearly, this story is a cover for a much more nefarious and secretive business. I have been reliably informed that there is to be a local attempt at the Moon. I was inducted into this knowledge under strict secrecy one evening in the Junction Inn just before closing time. The signs are all there for the keen-eyed observer. The new pylons are a carefully crafted launching system for a new design of space-craft which will be propelled upwards on a massive thermal spiral generated by the exhaust gasses of one hundred Calco* fuelled furnaces running flat-out. The pipes in the pylons are the flues from these furnaces. A secret stash of Calco has already been observed hidden in the woods locally. 

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The three mad scientist types (named locally as “The Grub Street Three) who are believed to be behind this ingenious attempt were captured on film, deep within the secret fuel store, by our intrepid investigator disguised as a half-baked coal-man. It can also be revealed that a pilot has been engaged on a “fail or return” basis. This pilot turns out to be non other than a well known coal-boat operative from the Stoke Bruerne area, who was chosen for her ability to reside in a small box for months on end. An aerodynamic hat has also been developed, together with a shirt that doubles up as a map, and these have been fitted to this intrepid explorer. It appears that the first choice pilot ( a handsome, chiselled “Flash Gordon” type individual) is unavailable as he is in training for the retention of his “Coal-boater of the Year” title. 

The space craft itself has been constructed from carbon-neutral materials (mainly wood), in a bid to woo the green lobby and gain kudos and sponsorship. Mainly sponsorship. Known as the Stratospheric Hand-built Exploration Device, or SHED for short, it is awaiting the application of the sponsors livery, which is Craftsmaster “Jacko Green” paint with the legend "John Jackson - Solid Fuels” scrawled on the side.

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The acompanying picture shows the main sponsor inspecting the SHED, already mounted on the launch platform.

The return to terra-firma has already been planned; a team of observers have to keep their eyes open for a large splash, as the returning craft will touch down into the canal. ("It may touch down pretty soon after take off, one local wag was heard to observe”). This suddenly makes sense of the CRT dredging programme. Obviously, a returning space-craft will need more than two feet six inches of water to splash-land into, hence the new, improved depth of three feet six inches being implemented in some areas. An added bonus of this increase in water depth is that the canal will almost be navigable again.

The recovery team, especially hand picked and washed, are already fired up and waiting. We are told that they represent the “creme-de-la-creme” of the world of thermal excellence. Hmm, coal-boaters then. The air of expectation would be palpable if any of them knew what “palpable”meant. I hope they are looking in the right direction.

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*Calco is a proprietory name for petroleum coke, a particularly vicious form of solid fuel.

coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014