Journey on the River of Time

The following intriguing tale was not only related to me many years ago, I also saw a yellowed newspaper cutting - possibly from the Liverpool Echo - about the incident in the 1990s.
One hot summer day in the early 1970s, 15-year-old Terry Fitzgerald fled from his Scotland Road home, where his parents were forever fighting and squabbling. Terry wandered down to a stretch of the Liverpool and Leeds Canal near Leeds Street, as he often did when his mother and father had a quarrel. However, on this occasion, he saw something strange. A long barge, stocked with barrels was berthed there. Terry leaped from the bank of the canal onto the barge, then went to explore it’s interior. The canal boat had a very old fashioned interior, with oil-lamps hanging up and other quaint touches. Terry rooted about until a noise behind him made him turn – and he was confronted with a short stocky man, aged about thirty. The man looked stern, and tapped his hand with a cosh. ‘Hiya,’ Terry muttered with nerves. The man stepped aside to reveal a second, rosy-cheeked man who gave the impression of being a farmer with his long side-whiskers, small round hat, and a long gown similar to the ones the shepherds of old were accustomed to wear.
‘What’s your game laddy?’ this man asked in a peculiar accent, and he lit a small clay pipe. Terry was stuck or words, and the man said, ‘Begone with ye!’
Terry bowed his head, and the man told him to scarper home. Terry said he hated home and told the man about his parents’ fights, and how his mum said she was leaving home. The old man took pity on Terry, and allowed the boy to stay on the barge. The short muscular man, whose name turned out to be Bendigo, left the barge to untie a thick rope from the boat to a huge iron post – a tethering bollard – and the barge moved off down the canal. The man introduced himself as Mr Wainwright, and he told Terry to stay below deck as a strange mist enveloped the barge. When Terry came up onto the deck about twenty minutes later, he beheld beautiful landscapes he’d never seen before. He saw canal cottages in north Liverpool, with a backdrop of beautiful emerald fields. Shire horses pulled carts down country lanes, and windmills turned gently in the summer breeze. Quaintly-dressed folk waved at him from the canal bank, and as all of this rural beauty drifted by, Bendigo sat perched on the front of the barge playing a tune on a penny whistle. Sometime later, Terry was given a slice of delicious bread, along with an earthenware flagon of stout. The teenager had not set eyes on a single motor car or one modern house during the journey, and he thought this was strange. He became suspicious and asked Mr Wainwright why this was so, but the man just smiled and steered the barge on. The barge stopped that evening near a farmstead, and Wainwright, Bendigo and Terry went to a barn where a crowd had gathered. It turned out to be an illegal bare-knuckle prize fight. Bendigo fought a giant of a blacksmith named Gaunt – and floored him within a minute. The trio returned to the barge with part of the purse, and Terry spent a further three weeks on that mysterious canal boat. One morning the boat returned to the spot where Terry had first boarded it and he went home to his frantic parents. They knew Terry didn’t have the imagination to create such a far-fetched explanation for his disappearance, so they didn’t know what to think. Terry rushed back to the canal bank – but the barge was gone. As he walked away, the faint strains of a melody, played on a tin whistle drifted from the canal somewhere. Somewhere in time perhaps.

©Tom Slemen 2003.