The last two days flashed by in something of a blur: the list of last-minute preparations seemed endless.
A buffet was prepared for the opening and my old mate John Dix (he of Dixie’s Cider fame) provided us with a couple of stone jugs of his vintage cider for the occasion. I was pleased to have the cider as it was a very traditional drink amongst bargemen.
In the days of the bowhauliers, gangs of men, rather than horses, towed barges up our rivers, and the captain of the gang and the bargemaster would seal the towage agreement with a mug of cider. On occasions the bowhauliers would lay down their towropes and demand more money to get the barge to its destination. This was the origin of the saying “being taken for a mug”.
Kate’s mother, horrified at the thought of offering the Lord Mayor cider, insisted on providing a case of wine.
The complete exhibition was hung and looked wonderful. In addition to Myrtle’s appliques, we had marine oil paintings by Bill Camp, railway paintings by Ken Vincent, miniatures by Glenys Massey and landscapes by Ken Stark. We also had a selection of models of sailing ships and wood craft by John Symm, who had been with me when we brought the Glevum down from Gloucester.
As with all such events, the finishing touches were still being applied, almost to the minute the guests started to arrive. I just had time to scramble into my suit and tidy myself up (it seemed like the first time in years) and it was upon us.
The opening itself could not have gone better. John Hill unveiled the maker’s plate and the Lord Mayor gave a short speech – but undoubtedly the star of the show was Frank. In his eloquent way he said more about art and the maritime heritage of our wonderful city in five minutes than I could have done in an hour!
We were delighted with the turnout; the gallery was thronged and the atmosphere infectious.
After a while it was time to ask everybody to tuck in to the buffet and refreshments.
It turned out that the Lord and Lady Mayoress were quite partial to Dixie’s Special Vintage, so much so that they stayed well over their allotted time. They were supposed to be with us for twenty minutes but stayed an hour and a half, much to the consternation of their driver!
Undoubtedly though, my favourite time was that evening, when we sat in the gallery with a few friends and it finally dawned on me what we had accomplished.
True, it had taken eleven months rather than the six I had planned, but even I could not have guessed just how wonderful the old barge would look when all the work was done.
Now all we had to do was survive as a business while the rest of the docks developed around us – no problem!