VAL does not refer to our latest member but to Volunteer Assistant Lock keeper. This is not new for the club – you will recall that Tony Wall filled the role at Penton Hook lock a few years ago. This time it is Roger who is doing the job at Boveney lock on Mondays.
To start, I had to go to Shepperton lock, back in May, for an assessment by the lockkeeper, Steve. My first training session was at the end of May at the Environment Agency headquarters at Red Kite house near Wallingford. Fortunately, it was half-term so the traffic was light through Reading and Caversham.
In the morning I and about eight other volunteers were taught about lock-keeping, with particular emphasis on the fact that we must NEVER be tempted to go into the water after someone has fallen in. The afternoon was spent at the swimming pool practicing lifesaving. We also had to get used to self-inflating lifejackets, which all lock keepers are obliged to wear. These inflate automatically when you hit the water – which is the same moment that I realised that I had fastened it too tightly.
My second training session, also at Wallingford, was at the end of June. This was on a Monday and the traffic through Reading and Caversham was horrendous (I was told later that a route along the M4 was quicker). The training session was useful and included mechanical handling, roping, customer focus, health and safety, hostile situations, etc.. There is, of course, much paperwork involved.
My first day at the lock was at the start of July. Phil, the lock-keeper, who you probably know, is very helpful. After three weeks at the lock, I have been signed off to work the lock during the lock-keeper’s absence.
The pontoon leading to the rollers was occupied by Egyptian Geese who did what geese do on the pontoon. Rowers, who only wear socks on their feet, carried their boats across the pontoon to the rollers, and complained bitterly about what they could feel under their feet. I tried not to laugh!
Recently, a boater came along the lock side and gave me a cup-cake. It was much appreciated. All boaters to note.