It's a Number One's Life

© The Tollhouse Company (1999)



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The lock gates creak open, the boat it slides past,
The paddles are raised and the water flows fast.
The weight has been gauged, so I pay the toll
It's three farthings a ton when you're carrying coal.

It's a good life, a hard life, you're travelling for days,
That's a Number One's life on the old waterways.

A sharp start in the morning's required I say,
Be first to the tunnel tug, get on our way.
So three thirty sharp, my feet heavy as lead
I wake children and wife as I climb from my bed.

But we've beaten the rest and we get the first tow,
And into the black of the tunnel we go.
The horse is led off by my youngest son Bill,
To follow the horse path up over the hill.

We're through Blisworth tunnel, but no respite yet,
The rain's started falling, my clothes are all wet.
My wife steers the butty, our Jim leads the horse
As we silently follow the Grand Union's course.

The paper mill chimneys breathe out clouds of steam
As we shovel the coal out from our narrow beam.
There's sixty tons here to be transferred to land,
The dust gets in your lungs and it blackens your hand.

The brass is all polished, the paintwork's washed down.
We head for the coalfields near old Ashby town.
The journey back up there will take us three days,
That's a Number One's life on the old waterways.