When the Chestnut Bloom's
in Flower

by David Blagrove (1983)


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It's five in the morn, an hour before dawn,
And the frost is riming the bank.
I'm down in the engine hole dipping the sump,
And pumping the oil to the tank.
Then it's swing on the handle, compression taps drop,
And let her run up to full power.
It's just the same way on a morning in May
When the chestnut bloom's in flower.

When the chestnut bloom's in flower,
When the chestnut bloom's in flower,
It's just the same way on a morning in May
When the chestnut bloom's in flower.

A wet Autumn day, we've been hours on the way,
And I'm feeling knobbed-off with me mates.
We're towing the butty uphill through the locks,
With a hundred foot line round the gates.
The brasses are dull and me overcoat's soaked,,
And the motor's got fast on a scour
But it's just.........

A cold winters night, I run by the light,
Of Waddington's headlamp, the moon.
Me fore end is bosting a thin skim of ice,
And I reckon t'will thicken up soon.
The going is slow, there's two miles to go,
And the boozer there shuts in an hour.
But it's just.........

A day in July, when the bright swallows fly,
And dragonflies dart in the reeds.
I'm laid on the counter, poking the shaft,
'Cos the blessed things blocked up with weeds.
The cut starts to boil as the thunder rain drops,
Lets hope that it's only a shower.
But it's just.........

This song was performed on the BBC TV programme "Songs of Praise", on September 1993 by The Old Union Band on location while delivering coal to the Nene Valley Railway at Wansford prior to the IWA National Rally at Peterborough, August 1993.

Glossary :

rime (or rime ice) is the opaque coating of tiny, white, granular ice particles, caused by the rapid freezing of supercooled water droplets on impact with an object.
The verb to rime refers to the formation of this rime or hoarfrost.

Tony Dunkley (Canal & River Transport Services) was kind enough to provide the following explanation of one or two terms in the song which puzzled me.

"Gordon Waddington's headlamp" was a Northern boatman's nickname for the moon, but from what I can remember it was more to do with the lack of electrics on all the company's boats, right up until the time they stopped running, than anything else.

The term 'scour' was used for isolated shallow spots where streams or land/street drains washed in banks of mud and debris, but more generally meant the the shallow bank that the bottom paddles wash up into a heap in the middle of the cut about a boat's length below the bottom gates of a lock.
These 'scours' could cause problems for the motor in two different ways.
Uphill, at single or double locks, with the locks full you would often get a 'bladeful' of leaves and such when 'holding back' as the fore-end was coming into the gates, because the stern end of the motor was right over the 'scour'. Downhill loaded, in single locks round long(ish) pounds, using a 'lock' line to pull the butty in, the motor's stern end would again be right on top of the 'scour' once the butty was all the way into the lock.