Drummer Boy

Drummer Boy

A true tale.

     My wife is a night owl.

    Last night, she watched a programme about Ready Steady Go, a rock/pop music show which ran from 1963 to 1966. After RSG's run finished somebody thought the idea had mileage and Top of The Pops was born.

     Anyhow, Jan thought saw someone she recognized..........

    Seven years ago.

    While cruising on our knackered old barge we called in to visit our mate, Bob. He lived on his narrowboat in a small port called Savoyeux on the River Saone in the region Bourgogne-Franche-Compté in eastern France.

    While there we met another man called Bob. We'll call him Bob 2. He was in port with a friend Steve and together they were working on Bob 2’s boat (Lady Lorne), scraping, sanding and varnishing. To be honest Steve did the lion’s share of the work leaving Bob 2 free to have a chat with me and my wife, Jan.

    One of the nice things about boating, particularly away from the expensive ‘to be seen’ spots, is the camaraderie. Friendships are readily made, the path often lubricated by food and drink. It's rare you come across things like, ‘I’ve got a large wad or a penthouse or an Astin.’

    Why? Well, boating is a great leveller, you never know when you might need help so it's unwise to cheese people off. When you’ve just had a day cleaning gunk out of the bilge it’s merriment you want, not bombast.

    In passing we find out a little about each other.

    It’s incidental learning though, not up front showing off. Some of us have very little to show off about! Bob 1 is an ex miner who walks with a limp because he broke his ankle down the pit during a 'double time / time in lieu' shift around New Year. Rather than surface and get it sorted he strapped it up tight and carried on till the end of his shift. Hence the limp.

    Bob 2, we discovered, was a drummer who he says, ‘played here and there’. Steve was a decorator if I remember rightly, which was probably why he did the majority if the varnishing. Anyhow we had a jolly couple of days.


    As we were leaving Steve said in passing, ‘He’s actually a pretty good drummer is Bob.’

    Roll on a couple of months. We’ve had a cruise on our boat and had arrived back in St. Jean de Losne, Burgundy, our home port. Moored on the quay is Bob 2 and Steve. We sit and share (another) glass of wine from a nearby cafe.

    Bob asks if there’s a hairdresser or barber in town. My wife Jan says to him, ‘it’s OK, I’ll trim it for you.’

    She sat him on a bench at the top of the steps in front of the cafés and draped a black bin bag round his shoulders. With her needlework scissors off she went. It’s a beautiful, hot day. The river flowing gently by and birds tweeting in the trees.

    Jan said confidently, 'How do you want it?'

    'I'd like a Tony Curtis.' He replies.

    'OK, no problem,' 

    Snip, snip, comb, snip..............

    ‘How long have you been a hairdresser?’

    ‘About five minutes,’ replied Jan. ‘Apart from the occasional family trim you’re the first.’


    ‘Well, you never asked.’

    ‘Christ,’ he said, ‘I’m playing at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, New York. Is it going to be alright?’

    ‘Sure. Don’t worry. It'll be fine when you've given it a wash. Besides, you sit at the back anyway.’

    ‘Bloody Hell.’

    As genuine hairdressers do Jan brought him a mirror and showed him her handywork.

    ‘You know,’ he said after a tense pause, obviously relieved, ‘that is actually damn good!’


    Bob shouted Steve over. ‘Here, come and get your hair cut while you’ve chance.’

    On the bench, bin bag on. Snip, snip....

    ‘How long have you been doing this then?’

    ‘About half and hour, Bob was the first, you’re the second.’


     In fact while she was cutting Bob's hair a couple of complete strangers came over and asked if they could be next!

    Bob treated Jan to a drink in the cafe as payment while they laughed about the haircuts, which, I have to say were really pretty good.

    A few months later we heard from Bob 1 that Bob 2 had cancer. Not long after that we learned that he’d passed away. He died in 2015 just as our boating days came to an end. It was sad news indeed. He was a nice guy who, with his pal Steve, played a small part in our waterways adventure. Jan has a dinner party haircut story.

    His name was Bobby Irwin.

    He was indeed a drummer.

    One that ‘played here and there,’ according to him and who ‘was actually pretty good,’ according to his mate.

    Both I think are modest understatements.

    Here's a link here to an obituary 

    And a link with him playing with Van Morrison

    If you Google his name you'll find he really was quite a drummer.

    I'm glad Jan watched her programme, it prompted me to revisit a special interlude.

    We were mere satellites in Bob's starry world but, for a while, on our boats, we were friends and equals.

    When things get difficult we all need a pressure release valve. For Jan and me, it's our memories.

    RIP Bob and thanks for the friendship.