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Interesting people: Craig the boatman.

If you’ve ever been to a particular little village on the East Coast you will know exactly who I’m talking about.

Craig is a steadfast, permanent fixture. As familiar and intrinsic as the sea itself. He’s been the boatman of The Meare for over 30 years and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s still there in another 30.

Craig lives in the boathouse and, as far as anyone can make out, rarely ventures far. We've had numerous family discussions about who has seen Craig furthest away from his post and I think the furthest is about 300 metres, when someone saw him posting a letter on the far side of the road from the boathouse.

Craig’s dad, Ted, was the boatman before Craig. When Craig was younger he came home from school one day and, sitting around the tea table, he asked his dad,

“So when are you going to take us on holiday?”

Ted looked astonished and replied,

“Holiday? Son, you’re always on holiday!”

And that was that. Sadly Ted passed away when he was only 61 and Craig was asked if he’d like to take over. He was 25. Craig’s friends told him he was too young to take on such a responsibility. He’d be stuck there for the rest of his life, with few days off and no holiday.

But Craig always remembers his dad’s words: Son, you’re always on holiday, and it proved to be as true for Craig as it was for his dad: the Meare is where he’s happy.

“I’ve got everything a man could wish for here,” he says. “I don’t need to go anywhere else.”

There can’t be a man or woman alive today who is as content with his lot as Craig the boatman.

I asked Craig if he had any fond memories. He immediately told me his Harry Secombe story.

“It was 1984. Dad asked me to row up to the Golf Club to pick up a VIP who needed taking to The Fort (a miniature castle with cannons on one of the islands). I recognised Harry Secombe straight away. He’d come to film “Songs of Praise”. I helped him get into the little rowing boat – he was quite a big fellow. He had another bloke with him who sat opposite me, and as I was rowing to The Fort, his jacket blew open and I saw he had a gun! It turned out Harry Secombe was a possible IRA target and this was his bodyguard. I don’t think we’ve had many guns on the Meare!”

Craig spends his summers running the Meare: hiring out boats, checking everyone’s safety, managing the many islands' trees and other vegetation, dredging weed and making sure people bring their boats back (rather than abandoning them far away from the boathouse which must be very annoying!) The school holidays are the busiest, and with over 100 boats to look after, there is never a dull moment.

Last summer, mid-Covid, an elderly gentleman managed to drive his car headlong into the water. Craig and his team were on the case within minutes and the man was rescued, unharmed. The whole village came to watch (socially-distanced of course) as the car was lifted out of the water – it was the most exciting event any of us had seen for months!

Craig’s winter is spent painting and repairing the boats. They are all wooden and it takes about 3 days to get each one ready for the following season. He loves it all; the smell of the boat sheds, the teamwork, the visitors and, of course, his beloved Meare.

Craig is a happy man and he makes other people happy. If everyone could be as content as Craig the world would be a better place.

You won’t believe this, but right now Craig is reading It’s Raining in Moscow and I Forgot my Umbrella!

His favourite part is when Manya is sitting on a bench overlooking Lopatinskiy Lake. “I can relate to that,” he says.

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