The Ribbon in the Sky

by Johnny Handle (2000)

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There's a time, I'll tell you boaters, when the paddle keys start sticking,
‘Cos there's aches in your back, and your joints are creaking sore,
When ye've got to take it gently from yer deck on to the towpath,
So you know your time is coming, you'll go down the cut no more.

So I got meself a mooring, on some long forgotten junction,
Near on to the main line, watching boats go up and down,
And a few old timers joined me, as they moored beside the willows,
So we'd chat about the old days, when we roamed the country round.

Then one sunny afternoon, I was dozing on the foredeck,
When along there came a man, who gently said to me,
"We're opening up this old arm", and he came with his big diggers,
And they cut a silver ribbon, just as far as I could see.

Then they beckoned to me there, in that sunny summer evening,
I cast off all me ropes and the motor starts to run,
And I went down that magic ribbon, as I clung on to the tiller,
To give me old narrow boat its final glorious run.

As on I went a-chugging into the golden twilight,
I came into a land, with castles, roses, fine,
And they waved to me there, as I passed them at the moorings,
The butties and the wooden boats all standing in a line.

Horses with soft leather, pink and yellow ribbons,
Old fellers with long whiskers, and shirts all crackling - white,
"Come on in, man, sit ye down“, shouts the missus with the bonnet,
"The kettle's singing merry, for the stove is burning bright"

And I laughed and sang amongst them, as they took my worn old tow ropes,
For they'd kept a place for me, with a cosy pub close by.
So I cut the throbbing Lister, and I stepped up on the towpath,
‘Cos I'd found myself a mooring in the ribbon in the sky.

So when you're boalting up and down, look out for that old junction,
It'll be worth all your searching, you can find it if you try,
And join me at that mooring; well yarn and drain our glasses,
As we sit and watch boats roll by the ribbon in the sky.

I am indebted to Johnny Handle who has taken the time to provide me with printed copies of his canal songs. Johnny has written many songs, mainly about coal mining and his native north-east of England - an area deprived of canals. More details of Johnny Handle's work can be found on his website and Pete Wood has recently (2017) written his biography.