Kent and East Sussex Canal Restoration Group

Xmas Party Basingstoke Canal

December 2006

Dig report by Liz Wilson

‘Slash and Burn’ (or more like ‘Pruning and Toasting’)

The Londonwrg-Kescrg Christmas dig that nearly bit the dust…right from the word go it was almost as though some unseen force was willing it not to happen, but a catalogue of disasters, lurgy, traffic jams, misunderstandings and lack of trees is not enough to get in the way of a good wrg party and against all the odds the weekend went ahead with its usual degree of fun, frolics, and pyromania.

I’m sure Eddie is in a better position to furnish you with the details, but I believe that an unfortunate misunderstanding between Mr Jones and Pete Redway (i.e. mistaking the Christmas Dig for the Christmas Camp!) resulted in the failure to book any accommodation for the weekend, followed by a last-minute dash by Pete to secure something for us. The result was….cosy, and a little bit scummy. There was a definite fudging of boundaries between the eating and sleeping areas, and between the sleeping areas and the route to the toilet, and between the toilet and the baby, and between the muddy boots and everything else. But I think the atmosphere was all the better for it; my housemate Rob (braving his first ever wrg experience!) commented that all it needed was a few chickens and a goat to turn it into a real kibbutz.

The arrival of the London wrg minibus was delayed somewhat by a small detour around Tooting but we were still relatively early in getting to the accom and staked out some space in the rapidly disappearing floor. It was clear that as much as beer is an integral part of any such weekend, it didn’t warrant 3 sleeping spaces all to itself (unless anyone wanted to become a human drip-tray) so our first task was to move it to the garage. Ellie had also just turned up with the shopping which was duly decanted into the compact kitchen in the style of a carrier-bag assault course.

As the evening progressed, it became apparent that something was amiss! Where were the Christmas Party stalwarts!? No Eddie, no Ian, no Dr Liz and no Martin. Well Martin had decided to put in some serious hours to get the somewhat delayed Navvies completed (true dedication to the cause Mr Editor!), Ian and Liz had been detained by a work function, and our esteemed dig organiser and bearded role model Eddie had been struck down with something nasty and viral. Nonetheless, the wrgies soldiered on and attempted to make up for their lost trade in the local pub.

FIRE! What a joyous wake up call. There’s nothing like being gently awoken from a deep warm slumber by a claxon. Was the scummy scout hut going to burn down around our ears? Sadly not; the fire alarm was ringing for some banal bacon-related reason, but it didn’t lessen the pain. ‘I’ll get up, when I’m on fire’ was the muffled wit I heard from the next sleeping bag as Chris Wicks rolled over and went back to sleep (and then everyone else rolled over, and one fell out).

The early morning crew headed off to site to do something ambitious with a boat (more on this from Mk2) whilst the rest of us had a leisurely breakfast due to the fact that we’d all been woken up half an hour earlier than needed. A fleet of vehicles (and James’ Land Rover) got everyone to site where there was an impressive view of the underside of the M25 (well, impressive if you’re a highway design geek, of which there were several). After taking an inordinate amount of time in getting everyone kitted out with hats, gloves, bow saws, phallic fire-making apparatus, and some serious discussions about where to site the burco, we were let loose on the scrub.

But let me stop here for a minute to re-define scrub. I’m sad to say that despite the valiant efforts of Pete Redway to secure some tree related carnage for us, the local council (God love ‘em) had changed their minds about what we could and couldn’t cut down, citing that planning permission was required for the removal of any of the larger trees. We were restricted to cutting vegetation of ‘75mm or less at breast height’. Even using a man’s interpretation of 75mm and the breast height of er…someone with high up breasts (help me out here!) that didn’t leave much in the way of stuff to chop. A few brambles…the odd spindly tree… but luckily there was enough debris and dead stuff lying around to feed our need for flames, ample opportunity for sitting and chatting, and playing with the new Londonwrg flame-thrower dubbed ‘Ed’s phallic fire making toy’.

In the absence of Eddie or Ian, Daddy Steve had been drafted in at the last minute to run the site and generally take on the pressures of leadership. The pressures began in earnest with a phonecall from Ian and Liz who had come to a standstill on the M40, and had yet to collect the KESCRG cooker from Chinnor and bring it to Woodham. Without the cooker, Ellie was going to have a real challenge on her hands cooking dinner for 30 people, so it wasn’t looking good. An hour later, Ian and Liz reported that they still hadn’t moved and had in fact got out of the car for a stroll and a chat to other drivers. Time for decisive action; Nigel and James were dispatched in James’ landie to fetch the cooker from Chinnor. ‘Oh and while you’re on the way, could you just stop by the other site and tow Pete Redway’s car out of the mud where it got stuck after trying to tow the boat off the bank where it’s got stuck 2 hours and 15 metres after leaving its mooring. Ta.’

In actual fact, Nigel and James never got to Chinnor – a last minute phonecall from Ian and Liz confirmed that they were moving again and were set for a quick turn-around at home, ensuring delivery of the all important cooker by Ellie’s deadline of 4pm. As a result, we all returned from site to lovely smells and some industrious soup-preparation.

The traditional fancy-dress competition was well supported; the ‘Beatles’ theme giving ample opportunity for the usual medley of intricate costumes, last-minute attempts and cross-dressing that such an occasion requires. Claire and Amy won the overall prize for their commendable ‘Octopus’ Garden’ and Nigel and Chris Lee got a special mention for their similarity…each other!? I was just pleased that the 8 quid I forked out on black and white stripey tights for my pirate costume at the national wasn’t wasted. There was also time for much eating of food and drinking of beer, as well as the traditional KESCRG 100 draw, and handing over of the KESCRG award – an act which rendered its recipient nigh on speechless, and for those of you who know Mk2, you’ll know that’s rare.

The second day on site saw some more leisurely pruning and toasting. We also took the opportunity to admire some London wrg brickwork that Martin and Sleepy David had done in a previous life. And I was very pleased to see that someone had cut down a nice little Christmas tree, which I duly took home and decorated. It’s currently sitting in my lounge; slightly browner and more shrivelled than when it first arrived, but still doing a good job! The first tea-break was somewhat delayed by the absence of cups, but we got through it somehow, and lasted until 2pm, when it was decided to pack up and head back home.

The scummy scout hut was cleaned and tidied to a standard far greater than it had ever seen before, and all the kit, catering and volunteers were packed into their respective vehicles. So thanks to everyone who made the dig-that-nearly-didn’t-happen, happen.

Liz Wilson


Just a little note to say thanks to everyone involved in the 'last minute details' of this years Christmas Party, it really wouldn't have happened without you.
Also, a big thanks for Liz Wilson for writing another great report - Thanks!

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