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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunshine Time

"When the sun  is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, not trouble too difficult to overcome." ~Wilma Rudolph, American track & Field Olympian

     It has been unseasonably hot and sunny here for the last few days. I took the opportunity to get some chores done. My wardrobe and drawers are now tidy with summer clothes out and winter clothes packed away. I changed the oil this morning for the first time all by myself. 
     For those who do not live on a boat, imagine: lifting the hood (bonnet for Brits) of the car, climbing inside next to the engine and squatting down, laying everything out on top of the engine, turning sideways, and then pumping the old oil out into a container, cleaning up the drips and removing the oil filter with a tool that looks like some modified gynecological surgeon's instrument. The filter is located on the side of the engine so it drips out and makes a mess; I clean up the mess, rub clean oil on the rubber gasket of the new oil filter, screw it in place, hoist a 5 liter bottle of clean oil up and pour it in without spilling it all over, remember to put the oil cap back on the engine, gather up all the gloopy detritus into a garbage bag, remove my rubber gloves, lay clean bed liners under the engine, wipe everything down with Huggies nappy wipes, wait for the spasms in my neck, arms and side to pass, untwist my pretzelated self and climb out from under the hood. Job done!!!
     I needed a shower so I stripped down and while I was showering several boats rocketed past at the speed of sound and suddenly I was bouncing off the shower walls like a fart in a skillet, my eyes squeezed shut, shampoo running down my face and the entire boat rocking like a mechanical bull in a Texas bar! A passing boat pulled my back mooring pin out and the rear of the boat went AWOL from the tow path, all unknown to me. I rinsed off, shut off the water, climbed out of the tub like a decrepit drunk on a three day bender, threw a towel around myself and opened the bathroom door to the sound of a mooring pin being hammered in very close by. I had left the rear hatch open for ventilation and sunshine. Just as I dropped my towel to slip on some undies a shadow appeared looking down my hatch and a deep male voice called, "Hello??? Hello???? Your mooring pin came loose and I pinned it back in oh god sorry!!!" 
     We both got more than we bargained for...and there you have it-- the perfect sunny spring day in England.

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Beast From the East Has Arrived!!

"The snow doesn't give a soft white damn whom it touches." ~E.E. Cummings, American poet, painter, essayist, author and playwright; 1894-1962.

 (Many, many thanks to blog reader Steve Hicks  who found my blog at Feedly and there it was--the missing post which I accidentally deleted! Steve emailed it to me and here it is, restored!!) 
     Where shall I begin? With the weather I suppose. For those not living through it here in Britain, here is a synopsis of what has occurred: a disturbance in the upper atmosphere caused the Jet Stream, which flows west to east, to change direction and flow east to west, carrying bitter cold weather and high winds out of Siberia, across Finland, Denmark, Northern Germany and onward to the UK. It struck the East coast of Scotland and England on Tuesday, February 27th, bringing snow and plunging temperatures with amber and red warnings by the weather service. An amber warning over here is a weather caution: pay attention and be prepared. A red warning means loss of life can occur; stay home if at all possible. A warm, wet front named Emma, coming up from the coast of Africa and sweeping up over Western Europe was set to shake hands and dance with The Beast over Southwestern England and Southeastern Wales Thursday or Friday last, dumping loads of snow, drifted dangerously by high winds of up to 75 MPH. And so it has come to pass. People have been stuck in tailbacks as they are called over here, on the motorways for eighteen hours in blinding snow and ferocious winds.The entire train service in this country ground to a halt s it is electric and ice on the lines means the trains cannot run. Snow piles up on the tracks as well and impedes the journey. Folks were stranded in trains for days in some parts of the country.
    Up here in east Cheshire on the border with west Shropshire we had several inches of snow on Tuesday which was blown away by a bitter cold, scouring wind roaring on continually four four and a half days. Day four (Friday, March 2nd), and the high was 34F/1C degrees; the low according to my outdoor thermometer was 17F/-8C. The constant wind and the wet cold make this a far more bone chilling experience than similar temperatures in Alaska or Eastern Washington where I have lived previously. Dry cold does not penetrate all three layers of clothing and all five layers of skin to sink into one's bones like this wet cold does.
Two drakes fighting outside the boat.
A man in a Nantwich street with a Penny Farthing bicycle!
The snowy scene on my walk to the bus station the first morning of the storm, on my way to a job interview in Chester.

     I had to brave the first day of the storm to attend a job interview in Chester. The appointment time was 11:45 am but I left home at 8:30 am. I know how gnarly transportation becomes in poor weather over here so early is always best. It took me thirty minutes to walk to the center of town and the bus station. Two buses failed to show and were delayed by over forty minutes. I caught an alternative bus at 10:00 am. It stopped in Chester after wending its way through every small village and hamlet between Chester and Nantwich. Eventually we made it and I was fifteen minutes early for my interview. By the time the return bus dropped me at Welsh Row at 3:00 pm and I began the forward and left leaning walk along the embankment to the boat, I was tired and cold. The canal embankment sits high up above the town with no protection from the weather. The snow was blowing sideways in flurries and the wind was like an animal gnashing at my face and plucking at my outdoor clothing. I was never so grateful to get back to NB Valerie--warm as toast, dry, and home sweet home.
    Wednesday morning Tesco delivered groceries to me while they still could so that was sorted. Thursday in weather not fit for man 'nor beast, fuel boat Halsall came through after braving the twenty one locks on the Audlem flight and breaking ice in the less exposed sections of the cut, to load ten bags of coal on the roof and fill the diesel tank. I take my hat off to Roberta and Lee, along with Amy and James, Ann Marie and Brian on NB Alton, and all the other fuel boat women and men like Jules and Richard on their boat Towcester and Ryan Dimmock on his boat Southern Star down on the Grand Union and North Oxford. They along with the dozen or so other boats and owners plying their trade in all weathers across 2000 miles of canal system are my heroes, to quote Pip who said it on her blog first! Many thanks for your hard graft.
     I had a half tank of water and I was using it frugally to make it last as this winter storm wasn't set to blow itself out until sometime after last weekend. In the meantime there is nothing for it but to hunker down and wait it out, which I did but it does wear me down and make me feel blue and antsy. I took my first ever sponge bath using nappy wipes. Better than the alternative which was nothing. Before the storm hit I had been moored up for nearly a week at Henhull, north of Nantwich. I was sussing out whether or not it was a good place to access the bus down to Chester when the weather warnings started rolling in and I decided to turn and head back into Nantwich to moor up where I was surrounded by other boaters, could walk to the shops and town and moor up safely. It was a good move. While moored here I got to know some of my fellow boaters.    
Moored  up at Henhull Bridge.
There is Bob on NB Leopard. He is eighty-something years old and has had his permanent mooring near the playground in Nantwich for nineteen years! I called on him during the storm to check that he was okay. He has a car and offered to drive me anywhere I might need to go. Bob also has a generator which he offered to loan me should I need it. This is what boaters are like.  I went out for a walk on Sunday when the winds died down but the temperature was still pretty frosty.  I met John on NB Serenity. He was walking to the shop with his hand truck in tow for coal. A Brit born and raised, John is employed by Holland tractors and is based most of the year in Pennsylvania, USA. He has a home and a family there and has lived there for over twenty five years. John bought his narrow boat for a place to live when his company brought him back to Britain to work for three months each year. He is retired now but kept the boat and spends six months of the year here on the cut and the other six months in the States. I also met Julia on NB Shamwarna. She and her family live aboard on a permanent online mooring. We had a towpath chat about the permanent moorings in Nantwich. Harder to get then Hen's teeth, and fairly pricey. She pays £140.00 a month for the privilege of mooring on the embankment with no electric, water or rubbish. this means they have to go for services every two weeks which takes about three hours each time as they have to turn the boat around at the nearest winding hole to arrive back at their mooring again. I have been toying with the idea of taking a permanent online mooring if I could get one. It would make traveling for work a lot easier, but then, but then I would be place bound even more than I currently am so I am still mulling it over.
   On a separate theme of visitors I must catch up.  First a hello to the folks on NB Bessie Surtees whom I don't know by name but who have passed me twice. the lovely woman on board called out to me that she reads this blog and she wished me well. Thank you for following along and for your good wishes. I hope you and your man are moored up somewhere safe and staying warm.
    Ken and Sue Deveson of NB Cleddau stopped in two weeks ago on their way from Aqueduct Marina where they checked on the progress of their boat being painted. As always it was lovely to see you both. I was so looking forward to a nice lunch and a good natter to catch up with you two; I am so sorry our visit was cut short by my feeling ill.
   Several days later Angela And Steve of NB Tumbleweed came over for lunch and we had a lovely afternoon visit. It was great to see you both and share an afternoon together.
Pip and Mick from NB Oleanna.

Finally Pip and Mick on NB Oleanna were moored up back near the canal centre and they walked up to say hello. We met briefly at Westport Lake in October, but know we had several hours to have a good chinwag and get to know each other. Then I walked down to visit on their boat on Sunday and to meet the lovely boat cat Tilly.  Mick and Pip are typical boaters if there is such a person; down to earth, wonderful sense of humor, and great stories of another life before they moved aboard their first boat Lilianne.  Pip writes a wonderful blog. How I wish Les were alive. He would have so enjoyed meeting new friends, catching up with old ones, and waiting for the arrival of the fuel boat. He loved our life on the cut and was never bored or unhappy even in the worst of the weather. I would have enjoyed seeing his reaction to this storm. I have to say life is not much fun without him.
    Anyway NB Valerie is full of water again, I dumped four coal bags of rubbish, and cruised back to Henhull to catch up on five loads of laundry, and take on a Tesco order tomorrow. Then I plan to cruise to Hurleston Junction to moor up. I want to walk up the lock flight there which starts the Llangollen canal and see if it is easy to catch the Arriva 84 bus which travels between Crewe and Chester with a stop at Nantwich. Slowly, slowly I am girding my loins for the trip into Chester. The locks become bigger double locks at Bunbury with the staircase locks there. I plan to stop at the Calvely services for water, etc. and then moor up on the offside back behind the permanent moorings as Bunbury and wait for another boat heading down the locks. It would be helpful indeed to share the locks down to Chester with another boat.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Springtime Posy: Flowers, Friends and Libraries

"Most things will be okay eventually but not everything will be. Sometimes you will put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you'll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room." ~ Cheryl Strayed, American author
     Spring I do believe has come at last to Cheshire anyway. Daffodils are in full bloom, small wild
flowers have popped their heads above the cold, wet soil and unfolded their tender petals. It is daylight until after 6:30 in the evening and I've been able to let the fire go out in the daytime and keep it banked quite low overnight. I've also re-potted and organized my garden on the bow. It gives me immense pleasure to look out the front doors and see flowers blooming with messages of love from dear friends; a pot of several different types of flowers and Ivy from Debbie Davies, a porcelain pot of dainty bijou Daffodils from Sue and Ken Deveson, Lavender plants that overwintered under the bow gunwales, and a newly planted pot of Double white scented Daffodils in a porcelain pot with some of Les' ashes in it. My bow garden is filled with love given and received.

    It is an interesting week to be moored up at Nantwich. There is a convocation of working boats at Ellesmere Port for Easter weekend. Due to the Middlewich breach many boats have had to reroute themselves and come all the way from Middlewich up the Chester locks of Heartbreak Hill on the Trent & Mersey, through Stone, and then right onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal (Staff & Worcs) at Great Haywood Junction, along the Staff and Worcs to Authorley Junction, onto the Shropshire Union (the Shroppie) and down through Nantwich and on down to Ellesmere Port. This weekend there is also a Jazz Festival in Nantwich. The cut has become a frenzy of huge working boats gliding by, sucking the water out from underneath the moored boats as they pass, brasses shining, and livery aglow, and a raucous mix of hire boats, continuous cruisers and leisure boaters out for toddle in the milder weather. Among this bracing mix two boats stand out: Tumbleweed No. 5, Angela and Steve's abode moored up five boats in front of me, and NB Serena moored up directly behind me with Judith and John Emery at home.
Steve and Angela took me to the store with them yesterday and afterward they came over and we introduced one another to a couple of good games. They brought Continuo which is an abstract strategy and small tile placement game. After the initial setup of four tiles, players take turns adding tiles onto the edges of previously laid tiles, scoring points for creating aligned paths of colors. One point is awarded for each smaller square in a new path giving a score of 2 to 30 or more depending upon the length of the path. Play continues until all tiles have been used. The highest score wins. It only takes about a half an hour to play with 1-5 players. One can play alone like Solitaire and it is a good way to keep the gray matter working so I hope to purchase this game soon. I introduced Angela and Steve to the "railroad game" as Les call his favorite board game; properly known as the Great Game of Britain. I had a great time hanging out with Steve and Angela, both of whom are great fun to be around. 
     Ken and Sue Deveson popped in this morning for a visit while in the area to check on their boat NB Cleddau which is being painted at Aqueduct Marina on the Middlewich Branch--not the par with the breach but this near end of the branch--than goodness! As always happens with the Deveson's we were following the threads of several fascinating conversations when sue looked out the window at a passing narrow boat and exclaimed, Jaq that's NB Serena--aren't she owned by the woman who comments on your blog?" Up I jumped, threw open a window and hollered "NB Valerie!!!" to the bloke on the tiller which happened to be Judith Emory's husband John. He nodded and pulled in behind me in what surely must be the only  mooring spot left in Nantwich! It was meant to be. Soon the Emory's came to NBV and with mugs of coffee and tea all around, our chins were wagging about all kinds of boaty things from mooring pins to who fell in the cut where, and how many times. We were amazed to discover that John and Judith have a home in Pembroke and know the river Cleddau well. Sue and Ken were born in Pembroke and Pembroke Dock and their boat is named after the river Cleddau. Small world!It was lovely to meet up with John and Judith at long last. for the past year we have been near but not close enough for our bows to meet--or our sterns as is now the case. Imagine our amazement when Sue realize we had been chatting for two hours and toilets were not mentioned once!! this must surely be a first for any group of boaters!
     This next item is just an odds 'n' sods kind of thing: usually when I purchase raw prawns or large shrimp at the store, I look for cold water prawns and I eschew buying any farmed shrimp or anything caught in warm waters off the coast of Bangladesh, Thailand or Viet Nam for example. Why??? I read a book some years ago called The World Without Us by Alan Weisman. In it he chooses six locations around the world and details exactly what would happen if all human life disappeared from our planet over night. Then he points out the degradation our planet is suffering under the relentless human greed that rules our world and our careless throw-away mentality especially with regard to plastics, that is killing other life and destroying our ecosystems. It is one of the most important books ever written and one of the most insightful books I've ever read. In its pages I learned about the floating masses of human sewage miles and miles wide just off the coasts of several countries in the Indian and Pacific oceans, the bacteria and viruses which live in them, and how these miles wide mats of untreated sewage affect marine life. It was all I needed to know to make educated choices about what I eat and where it comes from.     That said, I wanted to make a prawn fettuccine and Aldi only had warm water shrimp, already cooked, from Viet Nam. I sighed and gave in, buying 500 grams of cooked prawns. I took them home, refrigerated them for the next night's dinner and thought no more of it. It was late when I decided to fix dinner--about eight O'clock which is very late indeed for an American. We usually eat dinner between 5:00 and 6:00 PM. The lights were off in the boat except for a wall light in the saloon above Les' recliner. I opened the fridge, removed the bag of shrimp, shut the door and lo and behold--the bag of shrimp in my hand was glowing--I kid you not!! I tried to take a picture of it in the dark but I couldn't capture the glow. The entire bag was fluorescing and it creeped me out. I couldn't being myself to eat the glow-in-the-dark prawns so I tore open the bag and tipped the shrimp into the cut where they continued to glow as they slowly sunk to the bottom. The bag, filled with shrimp juice, glowed eerily in my hand. I put it in the trash and decided to forgo dinner all together. Several hours later I opened the galley rubbish bin to throw away a Kleenex and found myself shocked to see the empty shrimp bag still glowing away, nestled down in the depths of the bin. I've eaten seafood all my life and I've never come across fluorescing prawns before. I am back to looking for cold water prawns. If I want fluorescing seafood I'll buy some glow-in-the-dark Crayons and draw my own.     Libraries: Many thanks to a member of the Wednesday Women and dear friend Rhea Giffin in Coeur 'd' Alene, Idaho for sharing her discovery of the Gladstone Library. Located in Hawarden, North Wales, about eight miles outside of the city of Chester, this is the UK's only residential and prime ministerial library, begin by Gladstone himself to share his collection of over 150,000 books with the public. 
     Sleeping with books!! Gladstone's Library with twenty-six en-suite rooms. If you ever had a fantasy about sleeping overnight in the library you can book a room here, visit the library and bring your books back to your room to read! This is the UK's only residential library and its only Prime Ministerial library, founded by Gladstone himself to provide access by the public to more than 150,000 books. Residents staying on the grounds have access to the library form 9 AM-10 PM. There is a bistro on site, Food For Thought which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are reading rooms available and ongoing events and courses throughout the year such as, Blue Sky God: the Evolution of Science and Christianity, Making the Personal Political: An Evening With Writer in Residence Cal Flynn, Taming Shakespeare, Democracy and Its Crisis with A.C. Grayling, Greek, Hebrew, Latin or Welsh in a Week: learn to carry on a conversation in one of these languages by studying for one week. It is assumed attendees will have no prior abilities in their chosen language; Brexit, Trump and the Common Good. Gladstone's Library seeks to offer safe, open meeting space for ideological conversations to occur about many of the larger themes with which our world finds itself grappling.
     The next library on my list to visit is located at Dunham Massey on the Bridgewater canal and is a National Trust property of 3000 acres with a spectacular manor house and others buildings as well as a substantial garden and a Deer Park. Les took me there in 2012. We didn't go in to the house which cost money, but one can wander around the grounds for free and it took most of the day to do just that. Currently there is a tour focusing on the women of the estate titled, "Dunham Massey: A Woman's Place?" The tour begins with the library because it was the room of utmost importance to Lady Mary Booth.      Written history notes that there has been a dwelling of some kind here since before 1066 when it was owned by Aelfward, a Saxon thegn. After the Norman Conquest the land was given to Hamo d Masci. His family owned it until 1409 when the male line died out. The property was then inherited by the Booth family. Mary Booth, born in 1704 was the first woman to inherit and manage the estate. She was taught at home in the library and many of the books reflect her father's desires for her education, with dedications written inside books from him to Mary who was fluent in French by age eight and a competent translator by age thirteen. She was educated in languages, natural philosophy, morality, fine writing and conduct, estate management, account keeping, and business arithmetics in which she was proficient by age fifteen. Mary's personal handwritten notebooks survive, filled with her thoughts on the literature she had just perused. Married at age thirty-two Mary inherited this vast estate when she was fifty-four and managed it until her death at age seventy-seven. 
     Dunham Massey is an accredited museum with 30,000 objects--the second largest collection in the National Trust. There are a number of scientific implements in the library including an Orerry made by Thomas Wright, instrument maker to King George II which is designed to illustrate the relative positions and movement of the planets around our sun. At the far end of the library, above the fireplace, is a painting of the crucifixion by Tintoretto. There are 119 shelves of books in Dunham Massey's library. Mary has a strong interest in medicine and medical procedures as evidenced by books in the collection and historical evidence bears out the fact that Mary's mother underwent a mastectomy on the premises in 1729. She personally negotiated with the Duke of Bridgewater's agents to ensure the canal brought it advantages to her and her tenants.
     One final odd bit: I saw a conversational strand on a FaceBook page recently about outdoor laundry facilities having been installed near the cut in Leighton Buzzard! Looking into it further I found the company that owns the machines is called Kis Wash and they have installed what we Americans call laundromats out of doors across Britain! Several boaters have used them with great success and found them to be very handy so I thought I would share this on the blog for any boaters who may be interested. Their web site needs a bit of work: the Find a location near you map does not actually do what it it should--instead it takes one to a page to fill in information for contacting them about installing the machines or receiving service assistance. Hopefully they will get that sorted soon.
Post Script: I have had to take this post down and re-write it as Blogger did weird things when it posted and some pictures were missing. when I opened it up and chose revert to draft Blogger changes all my fonts, lost some of text, pictures were jumping around, and even now I can only place the pictures in the middle of the page and I cannot add captions! Blinkin' Blogger!!  

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs