In this case you have - unless you were watching the rowing, in which case you have the Environment Agency to thank - been benefiting from the work of the body whose task it is to maintain and support the entire body of Inland Waterways across Britain - British Waterways.
This large, and somewhat cumbersome organisation, is the last body to operate under the 'public corporation' model. That is, the same as which the nationalised power, water or telephone utilities operated. It is in fact the last nationalised industry. Never let it be said that things move fast on the canal.
As you might imagine, the cost of maintaining the large and rather outdated waterways network is not inconsiderable. A rough estimate of £200 million is not far off, although it varies year-on-year, depending on the nature and number of incidents above the normal 'wear and tear' (which is not inconsiderable) that occur and require intervention. Think 'breach' and think 'hundreds of thousands if not millions'. Not to mention the poor boaters stuck in a muddy ditch with no water to float on for weeks on end. But I digress. The cost, therefore, is large. It must be met from somewhere. BW charges license fees, based on boat length, which must be paid if you wish to remain legitimately on the network. Also there are revenues from mooring fees and property sales, rentals and a pub chain, apparently.
All of this costs, as we have established, rather a lot of money. The government doesn't like giving away money any more, and so it has decided to reduce the amount it gives to British Waterways.
To help with the difficulties this introduces, it has also given BW a shiny new name - the Canal and River Trust - and launched it (without, of course, the customary bottle of champagne) into the magical land of the Third Sector. This is a place where everything is lovely, and money falls from the sky, because people like giving to charity, and that's what BW is. Sorry, the Canal and River Trust. It has a swan in its logo.
But I digress again. This drop in funding, imaginatively called the 'funding gap', has been roundly condemned by most people involved in the transition to the new Trust, Quite simply, where will the extra money required to maintain the waterways come from? Despite some rather excitable suggestions as to potential new income from legacies, there will be a shortfall of between £30 and £100 million, depending on your accountant.
It has been suggested that efficiencies could be found: indeed, British Waterways has recently merged some offices, sold all its tools and operates a 'steady state' policy of maintenance. This means, in official language 'maintaining the waterways to prevent long-term decline and to keep the waterway infrastructure in a reasonably functional condition'.
All of which begs the question - where is the extra money going to come from? Perhaps there will be a line of angelic anglers, all so delighted to be permitted to fish the rivers and canals, that they all donate their considerable spare income to the new Trust. Maybe the price of locks will just go down, there could be bridges from China and dredging out-sourced to the far east, where labour is much cheaper.
This has not received a satisfactory answer, and the government has delayed the transition to the new Trust until June 2012.
What this will mean for the Oxford canal is murky. Certainly if you enjoy the canal, it would be worth alerting your MP to this. But taken on a frosty evening, as the sun sets over Wytham woods, and ducks make their stately progress to places reedy, all seems much as it always was. Things don't move quickly on the canals.