It was a rainy day a few weeks ago (before the lockdown) and Steve had a broken ankle and was stuck at home. We took advantage of the circumstances for me to talk with him about how he came to be sitting in a boat on the Oxford canal with a Scottie dog named Wallace.
Everyone knows Wallace
As we talk, Wallace is lying in the corner, asleep but I am sure, listening to our conversation.
Steve and Marianne met through their love of bikes – he was an active member of Plymouth Motorcycle Club for a long time, and one day Marianne had turned up with a friend. Before long, they were an item. Steve and Marianne have been on their boat for 13 years now. When they first moved onto Inn too Deep, they had Chalky, a large white boxer dog who sadly died of a stroke and Solly a grey black marble Scottie dog with (in Steve’s words) “a better beard than me”!
Marianne took over running Annies tearoom in Thrupp, and for 7 years or so and she used to take Wallace to work with her, and the tea room and yard were his domain. In the last couple of years Steve was working with the canoes on the wide and he used to take Wallace with him there. Everyone knows Wallace around Thrupp.
“Wallace’s special ways are many”, says Steve. “He is an aloof character and does not express much interest in anything or any body… until he does. At which point there’s no mistaking his excitement!”
As he gets older, food is of more and more importance to him and Steve only has to rustle the correct cupboard and Wallace will be watching intently. Canoeists, it seems, are another peculiar interest for him.
Wallace is independent, headstrong and sometimes an immovable and aloof presence
Wallace was ‘rescued’ from a family when he was about 2 years old. Steve says its hard to know what he had gone through but a clue about his treatment might be from Wallace’s ability to reverse very quickly. Especially from feet. “the thing that struck me about him when I first saw him was how black he was and how big he was for a Scottie dog!”
“Wallace is independent, headstrong and sometimes an immovable and aloof presence; If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, then you can’t make him go! I remember I was dealing with a customer on the canoes one warm day sorting life jackets for a customer. I heard a horn tooting and I realised there was a queue of cars heading in both directions away from the lift bridge… I then realised that Wallace was sat in the middle of the bridge, stopping the traffic! I had to physically drag him out of the way! Equally he lies in the middle of the towpath and wont move for anything! I have seen people with prams having to lift them over him to get past!”
“Wallace isn’t a playful dog. He didn’t know what to do with toys when we first got him. He has toys that he plays with now but mostly, it seems, when we go out – as they are spread all over the cabin when we get back!”
Wallace was arrested once!
One day Wallace got lost near Banbury at the Tramway and after a while we got a phone call from a Community Police Officer, asking if we had lost something. She said “I have just arrested Wallace on Platform two at Banbury train station!”
What is the curious folding platform in the corner?
As I looked around the cabin, I asked Steve what the curious folding platform was in the corner as, when I walk past on the towpath outside, I always imagine its a huge wide screen TV but it turns out its far more interesting!
“It’s my model railway that I’m in the process of building. At the moment its just bare track. I haven’t done much with it for a year or so. I love railways. And I love model railways. In our house in Devon we built a 00 guage railway in the loft. It’s all packed up in boxes now.
There’s no room on a boat for a model railway really but we were at a railway exhibition one day and there were stalls selling things, and there was an N gauge Duchess Class steam locomotive which is Mariannes favourite type of engine. And she said we should get it, and find a way to fit it onto the boat. So it was really Mariannes idea!”
Steve went on to describe exactly where everything would go and how it would look in minute detail including sidings, canal, locks, houses and trees, hill, cuttings, roads… it is obvious that there has been an awful lot of planning and thought put into this project. It’s a model railway project folded up and away for convenience. It’s a work in progress, but Steve has all the bits for it stashed in a garage ready to dig out and use when he gets a chance to work on it.
A work in progress
In writing this blog several weeks after doing the interview, it seems that things have progressed exponentially with the model railway! I am proud to present to you the current (Significant) progress of Steve and Marianne’s model railway!
Benefits of a Lockdown!
My name isn’t Steve
As I was leaving I asked Steve if he could clarify his name for me. To which he said, “well actually my real name is John but everyone calls me Steve”.
He explained that his long and distinguished career as an ordinance electric mechanic and subsequently a Policeman in the Royal Navy when he joined in 1973, was responsible for this name which derives from his surname (Stevens).
Steve explained “certain surnames immediately produced nicknames in those days and so mine meant that I got called Steve. And its stuck! The only people who call me John these days are my sisters.”
Even Marianne who has been married to him for over 20 years calls him Steve.
Photographs mostly © Steve Stevens