The bridge carries a very busy road across the canal and its lack of width means that road traffic can only pass in one direction at a time, controlled by signals, so that queues build up at the best of times even without boats adding to the delays. Not surprisingly, therefore, British Waterways employs a bridge keeper to operate it.
Approaching the bridge we saw the red light and noticed a boat tied up and waiting for it to open. It was a day boat, out from Bridgewater Marina, and we were puzzled at first to find the crew waving us past. On drawing level, they attempted to engage us in conversation but the combination of a wide canal and Sunshine's Lister SR2 thumping away meant we could'nt hear what they were saying apart from "15 minutes". As the bridge clearly wasn't going to open we pulled in and tied up in front of them. Now, I have to admit that we were perhaps guilty of a little stereotyping here! The crew were numerous, many of them on the roof, most of them smoking and drinking from cans of a semi - beer-like substance known, I believe, as "lager". I don't think most readers will be surprised to hear that we didn't particularly think engaging them in polite conversation was a high priority (although we didn't particularly make a point of ignoring them either). Instead we set off to find out when the bridge was likely to open and then got talking to a crew member from a boat waiting to come through from the other side.
Eventually the bridge-keeper returned from lunch and opened up. We hung back to allow the day boat to go through first, but as it did so one of its passengers let go with a stream of invective, calling us the "most miserable and unfriendly people he had ever met"; using all the conventional swear words he could think of to describe us and then, to top it all, accused us of being "cricket lovers" *(something to do with my hat that was keeping off the rain at the time) and - the ultimate insult - "middle class!!" **
We were too bemused by his onslaught to react (which upset him even more) and when we'd had time to think about it we decided to stop for our own lunch and let them get well ahead. Unfortunately, this was to no avail as although we took our time, when we reached Leigh what should be tied up outside the pub at Bridge 66 but the day boat. Our "friend" from Plank Lane was still aboard and our approach merely prompted him into a repeat performance, culminating in an all too predicable "mooning" (Not being Andrew Denny on Granny Buttons I didn't have my camera to hand so I'll have to spare you that sight).
But not all day boats are bad news. Shortly afterwards, we encountered another from Bridgewater Marina, this one full of a twentysomthings hen party, all dressed as sailors, enjoying themselves VERY much and heading towards bridge 66.
I wonder what happened when they met?
* I can tell you who won the Ashes this year, but that's about it.
** You'll have to judge for yourself - I have a middle management job in the public sector but my father was a factory worker and bus driver and I was brought up in a council house in south Wales.