Monday, June 06, 2011

You couldn't make it up No. 731

click photo to enlarge
Today's unremarkable photograph is one that I mentally file under the category of  "You couldn't make it up" because the subject is so unlikely that even the most exalted writer of fiction wouldn't dream of it. It shows the 150 ton, steel hulled, Thames sailing barge, "Will", that was built in 1925 for F.T. Everard and Co. by Fellowes of Great Yarmouth. The boat was originally named "Will Everard" after one of the partners in the family firm who owned it, and spent much of its working life carrying gas coal from Keadby on the River Humber to Margate Gas Works. A crew of three worked the barge as it plied the Humber, the Thames and the connecting coastal waters of the North Sea in its essential, but undoubtedly dangerous and dirty work.

This particular barge was powered by sail alone until 1950 when a diesel engine was fitted. Her working life ended in 1966 after which she became a store and then a private yacht. Subsequently "Will" found a more exalted line of work, one that she undertakes today, and which she was busy with when I took my photograph - hospitality, P.R. and corporate entertainment. It was the incongruity of men in dinner jackets and bow ties and women in off-the-shoulder evening dresess on board the former coal barge that prompted my title. What, I wondered, would the crew who regularly berthed the dust-covered barge at Margate Gas Works have made of the scene I photographed? I imagine their response would have been a mixture of bewilderment and laughter.

This sight, however, got me thinking. What other hospitality, P.R. and corporate entertainment experiences lie untapped, awaiting someone's entrepreneurial vision. Perhaps the offer of canapes and cocktails in a derelict coal mine (served in an original miner's tin "bait box") would entice the derivatives trader in search of an "authentic" experience. Or how about, instead of bungee jumping, white-water rafting, snow-boarding or any of those other so passe activities designed to get the adrenalin of a well-heeled city type going, instead, offering an authentic nineteenth century industrial experience with the frisson of real danger. I have in mind a day at a "heritage" working cotton mill, of the kind exemplified by Quarry Bank Mill. Half the day would be spent as the owner, lording it over the workers, feasting on all the bounty that fabulous wealth could provide. The other half - the "exciting" bit - would be spent in the guise of either a "piercer" (joining broken threads on the spinning machines), a "doffer" (changing empty bobbins for full ones), or a "scavenger" (cleaning the lint from under the working machines). All these jobs were, of course, originally done by children, so the extra size an adult would bring to the tasks would increase the risk of experiencing the hazards the youngsters faced - pruned fingers, lopped toes, broken arms etc. It would be the perfect antidote to the monotony of shovelling money all day long in the regular day job. I think this kind of corporate entertainment could be a winner!

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 60mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/160
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On