A Monkey's Revenge - My Blog

Canal knowledge

40 years ago a 16 year old slip of a lad struggled up the Tipton Canal towpath lugging a heavy Gandolfi 5x4 plate camera and an even heavier linhof tripod. Along with his fellow sufferers,also similarly burdened, he was on a mission for 'Harry the psycopath'. Harry wasn't well liked by any of the youngsters he tutored and possibly by anybody,(except perhaps his mother).
He had a habit of giving a sharp clip around the ear to any young fool who gave him a bit of lip or smart-arse reply.

The 11 young men and 1 young woman were on the National Council for the Training of Journalists one year press photography pre-entry course and I was one of the poor unfortunates. Harry,(think 'Mad Eye Moody' from the Harry Potter books), wanted us to meet and photograph 'Kaggy Stevens' who was himself something of a legend. A canal character who still towed his narrowboat by horse and eschewed the 1970's for an earlier, simpler era.

I don't have those pics any more, but I seem to remember a horse with shiny leather and brass harness and a grizzled old bloke with long hair and a strong Black Country accent. Switch to yesterday's job for The Guardian and I'm at the same stretch of canal. Narrowboats huddle together amongst pools of discarded empty cans and pop bottles and the back doors of the nearest one open up to reveal a large man with a ruddy face who looks rather annoyed and bellows something unintelligable at me.

Turns out the boat owner is a bit pissed off because he is fed up with 'gongoozlers' firing flashes off at him and his boat every weekend. It is a lovely example of the craft and I placate him by telling him this and explaining who I am and what I'm doing and that I'm not a 'bloody tourist'. I even persuade the boat owner to hold the wireless-controlled flash for me and his reward is to tell me the history of the place he is obviously so proud of. He isn't going anywhere after all until the part arrives to fix his boat's generator. I catch the word 'Kaggy' amongst his heavy Black Country accent where words like 'pound' become 'powund' and horse is 'oss'.

Black Country narrowboat owner is talking about the same bloke. Kaggy Stevens. He lived to a ripe old age and died only two years ago. We finish chatting, shake hands and go our seperate ways. As I walk over the bridge and back to my car, I pass The Fountain Public House- the base of another Black Country Legend. William Perry aka The Tipton Slasher who became the England bareknuckle boxing champion around 1858. 

Sometimes it's possible to have a fun time where you'd least expect it. I get in the car and drive to the next job. Older, wiser, fatter, but with a smile on my face!

I found that photo from 40 years ago-bit tatty and faded-but here it is!
My photo of Kaggy Stevens taken when I was 16 years old

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