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Sunday, February 19, 2017

One More Sad Goodbye

"Death ends a life, not a relationship." ~Jack Lemmon, American actor

The earliest cremation slot available after Les' death on January 24th was Tuesday, February 14th. It is yet one more sad and painful goodbye. Yes, I know Les' soul is no longer with his body, but I knew every inch of his body intimately and I loved it. His lovely brown eyes flecked with green. I've never seen anyone else with eyes the same color as Les'. The laugh lines radiating out from the corners of his eyes and mouth, etched deeply into his cheeks by a lifetime of laughter. His beautiful smile that lit up my heart. His lovely, large, warm hands, which always reached out for my small ones as we walked, lacing his fingers through mine. Those same hands that touched me with such love and tenderness. How I loved to watch Les' hands at work, making things. He so enjoyed every project he completed on NB Valerie--all built with his wonderful hands filled with love. Les' long, strong arms which continued to have great strength to the very end; those same arms hugged me hello and goodbye a thousand thousand times.Those loving arms pulled me tightly into his chest next to his warrior heart so strong until death stole its final beat. The way Les moved and walked--I could spot him walking towards me from a half mile because I knew his gait as well as I know my own face. Those strong lovely legs of his which carried Les through this lifetime and decades of hard graft as a courier, getting in and out of his van 70-80 times a day, delivering parcels across greater London, up and down stairs and across roads; those same legs sauntered the tow-path in joy wherever his feet took him. So many, many small details wrapped up in Les' lovely flesh...all gone now, melted away to ash.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

The New Normal

"Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is in re-making a life." ~Anne Roiphe, American writer and journalist

The official number--Tell Us Once--has been called. When one registers a death at the local council registry office, one is given a set of paper instructions with a reference number. One may either use the website www.gov.uk/tell-us-once or call 0800 085 7308. The reference number provided by the council registrar is required.

A Scottish woman with a fairly thick accent helped me through the maze of questions, giving me space to sob and breathe when she asked for my husband's phone number and I suddenly went blank. She was kind, gentle, and patient. This one number turns off Les' State Pension, his driver's license, notifies the council and cancels his bus pass, library cards, and all the myriad other official public connections he might have had in life such as council taxes, etc. It also activates bereavement payments through the DWP for one year. To be honest it is such a brilliant, well organized and un-bureaucratic idea I nearly forgot I was in England for a mo. 

The drawers and cupboards have been emptied of Les' clothes, shoes and coats, and a dear friend has taken them to a local charity except a few things I kept for sentimental value and as a deterrent against toe-rag harrassment when I begin cruising again. We discussed this some months ago and Les told me to keep a pair of his boots out on the bow when I moored up. When I hang wash out to dry in the summer I will also hang a few of his clothes as well. The trick is not to act like a woman living on her own. 

I wear Les' green down jacket now as my winter cruising coat. It still has his scent on the collar. I always loved the way Les smelled; clean and warm like green wheat fields on a sunny summer's day. One of Les' Oxford shirts is scented with his Joop! afershave which he always bathed liberally in, rather than sprinkling it lightly. Holding it in my hands I closed my eyes and inhaled. It took me back instantaneously to that moment back at Cloudhouse in Pullman, when I returned from taking him to the airport after his initial week's visit with me. I unlocked my front door, stepped inside and the scent of his cologne rolled over my senses, urging me to send Les an email that said amongst other things, "I think I fancy you..."  

I've had family aboard to feed them up with good food and love. We talked, cried, shared memories, and I began the process of giving each grandchild an item of their granddad's to offer them comfort and keep his memory close. I will work my way around to each group in our family for time together, to do a bit of healing, and offer them up love and memories to cherish.

I am sleeping a little better, using Kalms Night, an herbal preperation of Valerian root. It works well and has no side effects. Still I am only managing four hours a night. Up at 4:30 Sunday morning, I put a load of bedding on to wash and forced myself to eat more than two mouthfulls, having a mid day meal. I filled the water tank and took care of some boat chores.

It rained all day, the sky grey and gloomy. Boats which had previously been frozen in are now on the move and they piled up at the service point above the lock opposite me. I watched them come and go all day, and I thought about how Les never cruised in the rain. We only ever did so once, and that was from Rugely to Fradley in June when we had turned around to head back this way, his back hurting too much to sit at the tiller. I sat in the pouring rain and icy winds as I cruised, tears mingling with precipitation as I acknowledged that the next time I cruised along that particular part of the cut Les would no longer be with me; it left me sobbing in the sodden cold while my Best Beloved rested quietly below on the bed in the warmth.  
Jules and Richard wave as they come along side.

A text message from Jules and Richard on Jules Fuels boat informed me they had broken free of the ice in Marsworth after five days and were on the move at last. They expected to reach me early in the afternoon, and sure enough I could see thier breasted bows slowly making thier way towards me as they serviced the fuel needs of all the boaters moored in along line behind me. 

While I waited for their approach I saw that the water point was overcome by boaters waiting in line with several boats breasted up to fill. I overheard a young man in front who decided he would go on down the lock and head for Berko and the waterpoint there. He was single handing his boat in the cold rain. I threw on Les' down jacket, grabbed gloves and a windlass and set off for the lock. He had brought his boat in and closed the top gates, opening the bottom gate paddles to let the water and his boat down. I approached the lock and hailed him, "Mate you get on and I will lock you through." His face lit up like Chrsitmas! On he jumped, I went 'round to the other side and when the lock was empty I strained and struggled but managed to heave the huge gate open. As he sailed out he said, "Thank you! That was a very nice thing you did." I replied, "It's my pleasure.  I am a single handed boater now too." I chose to help him because it was something Les would have done in his days of good health. He always extended a helping hand to others and he never forgot what it was like doing it all on one's own. 

Soon enough Jules and Richard approached NB Valerie and came alongside. We hugged, I cried and we had a few words of remembrance about Les. I managed to get the lock off the gas cap without falling into the cut or dropping my keys in. Tank filled, and eight bags of coal on board, I handed over a bag of freshly baked Brownies to Richard. I have always baked something for them whenever I knew they were coming. The pair of the them work so hard in all weathers to provide some of the best service on the cut to boaters and it is little to do as a thank you for their care. 

I have had a long hard thought about my future and a break from the adminstrative severing of my life from Les' in such things as re-licensing the boat to a single owner, re-insuring it the same way, and changing bank accounts from joint to my name only. At one point in the hours before Les died I simply could not reconsile living on the boat without him. I was ready to sell it and move back to the States. Two days in the care of Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) in which I was loved, cared for, fed, pampered, and we discussed and debated a wide range of topics have helped me find my bearings again. My deepest thanks to you both.

Common sense and loved have now prevailed.  As my daughter Jesseca said to me, "Momma you wanted to live in Britain on a narrowboat and cruise the canals before you ever met Les. It was your dream. And he tricked the boat out for you because he loved you so and he knew what you wanted to do." 

My baby last August, working on a project, love shining in his eyes.
Yes it's terribly hard and painful each day without Les, but if that man and his love for me are still located anywhere in this world besides my heart, it is in this boat. There isn't an inch of NB Valerie that Les didn't change or adapt for my comfort and he spent the final six months of his life working on boat projects to ensure I could continue to cruise without him by my side. 

Finally there is simply no way I could ever live onder a dictatorship which is what is happening to my country under Trump. I believe a non-military coup has begun and I am frightened for my family back in Washington and Oregon. Living here I may offer them a place of refuge should it become necessary, as life grows ever more intolerable for those who refuse to share the Trump agenda.

The funeral director rang me today. In a moment that felt like cruel irony, I was told Les' body is scheduled to be cremated on February 14th. A memorial service will be held sometime around the beginning of March (still working out the details) and I will fly back to the States to spend six weeks with my family there.    

We will mourn for Les together and scatter some of his ashes at Kamiak Butte where we were married and then I will come home to NB Valerie and commence cruising, stopping to scatter Les' ashes at each place on the cut that he loved and which brought us such joy. I will plant flower bulbs with his ashes so he lives on in their beauty for others to enjoy

If, at the end of a year when widow's benefits run out, I have to take a permanant mooring somewhere and get a land based job then I will do so. I will write, work on finishing my book manuscript and getting it published and live in a narrowboat which holds the sweat, heart, and soul of my Best Beloved in all the projects he completed for me to make this floating home a paradise on the cut. He is here all around me everywhere I look, watching over me still.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Death is Hard Work

"Life is eternal and love is immortal; and death is only a horizon. Life is eternal as we move into the light, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight." ~ William Penn, Quaker and British American

Les spent nineteen days in the Hospice of St. Francis, ostensibly to gain more pain control so he could have a few more months of fairly high quality, pain free time. Sadly each attempt to tweak his meds or offer some other means to control the pain worked miraculously for a day but no more before the pain came raging back as the cancer galloped forward across his lower back and up his spine.  

During those nineteen days the Berkhamsted Hospice of St. Francis staff and volunteers all got to know and like Les; we were both taken care of with great tenderness--from Patrick, the custodian who slipped his head gently in the door each morning to ask if Les minded while he cleaned the room, to Chris, the head chef who came to Les' room to ask him how he was enjoying the food and was there anything special Les wanted? Whatever it was, Chris would make it for him.

Les' particularly enjoyed Sandy, the cheeky physical therapist who worked with him to try and get Les adjusted to a wheelchair he could wheel himself. She, like me, was determined to do everything possible to help Les return to the boat. Sandy told Les one day as I worked side by side with her, "You are very fortunate in your better half." Les pretended to be indignant, his lovely brown eyes sparkling as he replied, "How do you know she is the better half? It could be me you know." Sandy smiled and patted Les' knee then said drolly, "You are both absolute diamonds but she has a few more carats." He threw his head back and laughed.

I was allowed to stay and live there with Les the final week. My clothes were lovingly washed, dried, ironed and returned to me each day. The food was incredible--freshly prepared each day from scratch. The volunteers were the soul of kindness. Each and every single person from the cleaners and kitchen staff right through to the office and medical staff treated us both with deep gentleness, dignity, respect and the greatest loving care it has been my priviledge to experience under such circumstances. We were deeply grateful to Dr. Pender whose expertise in end of life care allowed us to make that three day trip to London. It was a gift and you helped make it possible.

Les was supposed to undergo an injection treatment On January 25th which has good results for pain relief but sadly death caught up with us and Les' life began spiraling inward toward death. Neither of us was ready for this to happen so quickly and Les desperately wanted to come home and die but the bloody cold weather destroyed any possabillity of that in combination with the advancing cancer which pain made it impossible for Les to walk anymore. I quickly called local family and they came each to say a last goodbye. Those farther away who could not make it called me and I held the phone to his ear so they could tell him they loved him.

Because Les was not ready to die he spent four furious days and nights fighting death with every molecule while his body went into a spin and began deteriorating. Les had such a tremendous strength of will and a huge strong heart so filled with love he didn't want to leave me, the boat, or the people he loved. He never quit on anything or anyone he loved and cared about in his life and he wasn't going to quit now although he was unconscious for all but the barest moments here and there after Friday night when he came around as soon as his son Kevin arrived. I knew Les was waiting for Kev and we had about four lovely hours laughing as they teased each other and talked, father and son saying goodbye with such love and good laughter. One more gift. Apples and trees, Kev, apples and trees.

Les dropped into a deeper unconsciousness on Saturday. Since sound is the last sense to go, I read out loud to Les, the blog post in 2013 titled Bliss! and then I went to my blog So This is Love and I read all the way through our Wiccan wedding vows and played Shania Twain's song From This Moment for him.
For days I had been an emotional wreck. After reading the blog posts my heart was suddenly at peace and I knew I simply needed to be there to witness and see it through with him as he has always done for me in the last five years. We did everything together in our life and we would make this final journey towards his death together to the end. The Hospice staff put a Do Not Disturb sign on our door and left us in peace and privacy, only checking in with each of us to ask if there was anything--anything at all that we needed, if we stepped out of the room and to kep Les' pain med pumps topped up and make sure he was comfortable. 

On his final night phlegm built up in his throat and chest--the infamous death rattle. Still Les' spirit fought on. His breaths were fast, like an engine seeking to rev itself up for a run at one last hill. They sounded like a rattling bass drum. His skin was on fire with heat as his body's system started burning its final reserves of energy. I crawled into bed next to him, laid my head on his shoulder and curled his left arm around me. I lay there all night as our bodies vibrated endlessly with each heaving breath. Every exhalation reeked of death, as it soaked into my hair and skin. I did not care; I would gladly have burrowed my way into his dying body to take his place. I talked to Les, I sang to him, and I let him know how much he was loved. I kept telling him it was okay to let go and I had been telling him for several days. I said, "Your love has made me a competant woman and I will be all right. Please baby, let go. I love you and I always, always will. Please don't suffer any more." I thanked Les for loving me and for every thing, small and large he had ever done for me; right up until the days before he died, Les was still seeking to make life easier for me. He took care of me in every way he could think of, from first to last in our time together and he made it plain that it gave him great joy to do so. 

Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. I rose and cleaned up in the bathroom, spreading rose scented lotion on my skin so he could smell it. I opened my computer and played a two hour sound track of Birdsong in the forest. Then I pulled open the window shade and let the golden morning sun caress his face. Les' breathing began to slow down. 

His son Kevin and I sat on either side of Les' bed. Kevin tucked the boat keys into Les' right hand and I took it in mine. Kev held his dad's left hand and in a few short minutes his life wound slowly down until he took his last breath. As he did so I whispered tearfully in Les' ear, "Let your spirit rise with joy my Best Beloved. Follow the light."

A short while later two Hospice attendants came in and told me we could take as long as we wanted in the room--all day if need be. I told them I wanted to wash Les' body and annoint him with oil. Together the three of us completed this task and afterward we dressed him and arranged his body on the bed. They had changed the sheets and pillow cases, and covered him gently with a clean blanket. Each time we had to move a part of Les' body they spoke to him, "Les we are going to lift your arm now so Jaqueline can wash it." They were so loving and reverential in their respect for my husband's mortal remains. His wedding ring--not off his finger once since I put it on him on our wedding day--was removed and I slipped it onto my left thumb, the golden circlet still warm with his life. I annointed Les' forehead, heart, hands and feet with rosemary and lavendar oil and said, "As a priestess of the Goddess I annoint your body with love. From the lap of the Goddess we come into this world and unto Her we shall return. Follow the light and live in paradise. Blessed Be."

I showered, dressed, and we emptied out the room of all personal belongings. Hospice staff came and hugged us, held us, and spoke about how much they liked Les and what a truly lovely man he was, throughout the day. We were directed to be sure and order something to eat even though we didn't feel like it. All of mine and Les' clothes were taken away, washed and dried and returned to me two hours later, the smell of death completely removed. 

The Hospice provided towels, razors, shampoo, bath gel and anything else we might need. Nothing was too much trouble. A while later I heard the door to Les' room being opened and I turned in time to see one of the medical aids stepping inside. Five minutes later she came back out, hugged me and walked away. When I stepped back inside the room, I found Les' features had been rearranged so instead of wearing a haggard death mask, he looked as though he was asleep--with a cheeky smile at each corner of his mouth. A lovely sunflower was lying on the pillow by his head. As I walked down the hall to get some lunch I stopped at a small alcove across from the office. A candle had been lit and Les' name was written on a card and placed in front of it. On the shelf next to the candles were two flat heart shaped rocks painted with gay designs, cuddling together. The office secretary--a woman who I had never spoken to before--saw me pick up the hearts, start to cry, put them back and rub my chest above my own heart. She jumped up and sped to me, wrapping her arms tightly about me while I wept on her shoulder. All through the day as we waited for paperwork and lunch, dozens of staff members and volunteers came to offer hugs and tell me how impressed they were by the depth of Les' and my love for one another. 

In the afternoon Kevin and his partner Adele came back to NB Valerie and warmed it all up for me. Two days previously they spent a whole day thawing out the boat with electric oil heaters, making sure the pipes hadn't burst from the cold while I was unable to return home to attend to a fire. Kevin went through all of the boat's systems making sure everything was okay and he started the engine and let it run. They both tidied up the boat, folding clothes and hanging things up, putting Les' trainers away so I wouldn't come undone when I returned home to find his things spread out everywhere, sweeping and cleaning for me. I know how hard it was for Kev to go to the boat without his dad--the first time ever. I am so very grateful for their love and help all the way through.  

The Hospice social worker kindly drove me to Hemel Hempstead at 2 p.m. the same afternoon, accompanying me to the registry office to help me with the paperwork so I could register Les' death. I chose to do this right away although I was nearly staggering with exhaustion after everything I had been through because I know how much time things take in this country and I had been warned it could take time to actually book a slot at the crematorium. Sooner done the better. Then we went to the funeral directors and I arranged for Les' body to be collected and cremated, staggering out after signing paperwork to the tune of £1576.00-for picking up his body from the hospice, delivering it to the funeral home, holding it in stasis until a slot opens at the crematorium, delivering the body there and collecting the ashes.

Home Without Him
Back on the boat after Kev and Adele went home, I was able to indulge myself in private grief throughout the night. Although I hadn't slept in nearly five days for more than three hours, I still couldn't sleep because Les wasn't in bed beside me. I tossed and turned, sobbed and talked to his spirit, and sobbed some more, rising this morning with the knowledge that today I began another life without my Best Beloved at my side. Outside the world was shrouded in a grey mist and fog as though nature itself was mourning the loss of Les' soul. I walked up to Cowroast lock, stepped up and walked across it and back down--something I have not been able to do for almost two years due my badly deteriorated arthritic knees. Now I have two total knee replacements. Les insisted I get the second one done before he died and the surgey was 12 weeks ago. It is not every man who literally gives his wife two good legs to stand upon. How I wish Les could have been here to witness the moment! I can see his shining smile, deep laugh lines radiating out across his cheeks and the corners of his sweet brown eyes. I know he would be proud of me.

I am fragile, destroyed and utterly spent. I am okay as long as I am on the boat, surrounded by Les' love in all the things he did to NB Val to make it comfortable for me and to allow me to cruise on without him. I am all right outside in nature. It is when I go into town and see the bus stop where we last waited for the bus, or I go to the Tesco in Tring for groceries that I break down sobbing. I've spent a lot of time buying our grocieries in that store, looking for the things Les loved and to turn down an aisle and see his favorite cereal absolutely undid me. People stared and I didn't care. A fellow boater was kind enough to take me all the way out to the Tesco in Aylesbury so I could replenish my empty larder this morning and not fall apart.

A grateful thank you to the amazing medical staff and nurses of Rennie Grove Hospice at home for working with me and Les since August to ensure he was pain free and able to get the most out of life as long as possible. I am deeply humbled the care you provided

I am deeply thankful for my British family--who have stood strong for me; for loving me, accepting me into the Biggs fold and making room in this family for me. I love you all deeply, each one of you: daughters in law Ozlem, Bevvie and Jojo, step-son Kevin and partner Adele, and a passle of grandchildren (Jack, Jordan, Kiernan, Kiera, Lena May, Nicole, Teo and Batu-all of whom make life so sweet.)

For my North American family whom I miss desperately: I'll be home as soon as I can and we will go to Kamiak Butte where Les and I were married and scatter his ashes there. Your love has always sustained me. My daughters Shiery (Sparky) and Jesse helped to make me the woman I am today and my son in law Ben, daughter in law Kelli, and grandsons Mike, Matthew, and Connor are the lights of my heart.  

Grateful thanks to friends, family, and blog readers who has called me, emailed me from across the world, posted tributes to Facebook pages, and posted loving and thoughtful stories and pictures in boater's blog posts about Les and me. Deep thanks to Marilyn MacDonald in NewZealand who called me Saturday morning to offer me strength, love and peace for the journey; to Jennie and Chris Gash on NB Tentatrice and Sue and Ken Deveson on NB Cleddau for offering up their homes to me if I need a place to escape to for awhile and to Andy and Tina on NB Ytene,with whom Les cruised for several years and whose love and friendship know no bounds, and to Carol and George Palin on WB Still Rockin' for loving friendship and a helping hand.

My thanks to all the CowRoastarians who have called, emailed, and stopped to hug me, and offer help--"anything you need Jaq--anything and you let us know." This little slice of the cut is home to some of the loveliest boaters who have supported me and Les through the last six months of our lives.

Gratitude as well to Darren Killick, the marine engineer at Cowroast Marina. When I told him this morning that Les died yesterday he threw his arms around me and held me while I cried, saying how much he liked Les and what a lovely man he was. Darren told me not to sit on the boat and fret; that I was welcome to come over to his shop and sit and chat with him if I needed a break or someone to talk to. He said if I had any questions about the boat system or any trouble with anything to come and get him and he would sort it for me.

For the time being NBV and I are staying put. Many thanks to the Yeoman's on NB Dreckly who are allowing me to sit in their mooring here until the end of March after which I hope to wind NB Valerie and head north. I will cruise along and scatter Les's ashes in all the places along the cut that he loved and where we shared such joy.

A deep and loving offering of gratitude and love to Bryce Lee in Canada who was the very first phone call I recieved after letting folks know Les was dying. Thank you for having my back Cousin Kindheart, and caring so deeply about both of us.You are family and always will be.

One final and most important offering of deep gratitude to Nancy, my hospice volunteer mentor and teacher. I had thought, back in 2009 when I signed up for the three month course, that I was being trained to serve in my local community. Now I know that the universe had a larger gift of service for me to undertake and I would never have been prepared 'nor could I have helped Les in any truly meaningful way if not for everything I learned from Hospice of the Palouse. I received an email from her this morning in which she shared with me a touchingly true thing: Grief is love after the beloved dies. Bright Blessings Nancy. 

There will be no funeral service for my Best Beloved. I find funerals rather morbid with the coffin, the flowers, and the hearse followed by mourners with long faces. Les wasn't religious in any particular sense of the word and he abhorred organized religion. While he was not a witch he was married to one and he appreciated the basic tenets of my spirituality. I am working on a Celebration of His Life. I am sorting out a venue and family are sorting out pictures and things. Once it is all planned out I will let folks know--friends in the boating community across the cut, and personal friends, the details about where and when. I will ask those who attend to give some thought about their favorite "Les" story and share it with all of us. We will share pictures projected on the wall, music appropriate to Les' life, and we will hopefully remember Les with huge gulps of laughter, a few tears, and great love, for that is what he would want. We will have cake, sandwiches, drinks, and then release some balloons into the sky at the end. We will have a party to honor his memory.

Some people go through life collecting other people; "how many friends do I have on FaceBook?" "Who can I network with to gain my own ends?" Les didn't collect people; he gathered hearts wherever he went. He told his son that he was "...so deeply happy I married Jaq. She is such a good woman. She has taken such good care of me and I wouldn't have lived this long without her. I met so many people and we have friends all over the cut and over in North America because of her." In typical Les style he attributed it all to me, but he was equally involved in making friends everywhere he went. He was just too humble to see it.


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Les Biggs, March 19, 1948-January 24, 2017

"Because my boat has sailed from sight, it does not mean my journey ends, it only means the river bends." ~Anon

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
~e. e. cummings 

I took this picture of Les on the Trent and Mersey in 2012, the Bluebird of Happiness dancing down the towpath.
             "Gentle Soldier of My Soul" by Carter and Grammer

Monday, January 09, 2017

London Town

“My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you're born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train's pulled into Piccadilly Circus they've become a Londoner.”  ~Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho
 
     Sorry we've been so quiet lately. Life has simply kicked me sideways and Les hasn't really felt well enough to blog for awhile. So grab a cuppa' and something to dunk in it, put your feet up and off we go--this will be a long post in order to catch everyone up!

     As many of you know, NB Valerie was scheduled to go into dry dock at Cow Roast Marina for blacking and some other work on December 5th while we arranged to stay in a London hotel courtesy of a year and half of saving up Tesco club card points, transferring them into British Airways Avios points to purchase tickets to fly Stateside next May; cancer put the nix on the trip home but British Airways kindly gave us a full refund of our money and our Avios points back so we paid 63,000 Avios points and £50 a night for three days of four-star hotel accommodations. But first we had a local holiday party to attend at the Red Lion in Marsworth.
 THE COW ROASTARIANS
   The Cow Roastarians as they call themselves, are a band of local boaters with private moorings on the off side at Cow Roast. Each year they
host a Christmas party at the Red Lion for close friends and family, with a festive buffet, drinks from the bar, and a raffle to raise money for a local worthy charity. We were chuffed to be invited, and it turned out that no less than three of us attending had recently had knees replaced so there were crutches in abundance!
   We happily placed names with faces and boats with owners. We've been tucked up amongst these boaters since August--a safe place to land, with the kindness of our neighbors who check in with us to ask if we need anything, and find out how we are doing, so it felt grand to spend an evening sharing laughter and joy amongst them all. The raffle raised a respectable sum of money which was donated to the local Hospice program, and the event put us in a holiday mood--essential to set the stage for our trip to London. 

DOWN TO LONDON
     Monday the 5th of December dawned mild and bright. Once I cast us off from the moorings, Les backed up NBV, turned her gently into the Cow Roast marina entrance and deftly brought her aside the mooring for the dry dock, the wind pinching his cheeks and the short jaunt putting a shine in in his eyes. There is almost no happier place for either of us then out on the stern of NBV, cruising along the cut. Darren Killick, our marine engineer, tied her up, went over the various jobs we asked him to undertake, and bid us a happy three days in London. 
     We were fortunate to have as near mooring neighbors, a boating couple who live in London and kindly offered us a ride down and a visit to their Thameside apartment for lunch!
What a view to come home to each day!
     Theirs is an astonishing place to call home--with the Thames lapping away about fifteen feet out from their second floor flat. Views of iconic Tower Bridge and London buildings with famous nicknames: the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, etc. were readily available as was the never ending pageant of boats coming and going: a lot of commercial traffic with sighseeing boats, and some boats pulling barges of rubbish, along with smaller private vessels.
   Across the river people rode horses, walked, jogged, and presented a colorful and fascinating moving tapestry. Even when this section of the Thames was empty of boats it still entertained with the tidal flow, waves catching the sun, oozing history from every molecule; a fabulous place to come home and unwind. 
     Lunch was delicious with the Thames in the back drop and pleasant conversation with our friends in the foreground; books, art, learning and education, travel, boats--oh so many wonderful topics were touched on as we ate our way through creamy salted butter and rich pate on crackers, a light and lovely salad, mini quiches and buttered baby potatoes, our thirst quaffed by good wine and even better coffee! We offer our sincerest thanks to you both for a grand start to our London holiday!
     With our bags kept to a respectable five: two small carry bags each as well as my back pack which functions in lieu of a purse, we headed off for the bus stop, each of us with a crutch and a crooked smile of delight. We were on our way to check in to a four-star hotel! We also had an agenda for our three day visit; after spending two weeks perusing the book A Curious Guide To London by Simon Leyland, we had a list of London curiosities we planned to seek out: The Lion's Head Early Warning System, The Panyer Boy Statue, Saint Etheldreda's Cathedral and the only private street left in London (Ely Place), and the Cold War Russian Spy lamp post in Mayfair. We had a lot of London ground to cover on crutches and only three days to do it! Les, being filled to the gills with various and sundry forms of Morphine and other drugs for pain, was feeling none and ready to rock 'n' roll; I, on the other foot, had to stash some of my pain pills and do with less for the preceding week, in order to augment the amount I was taking while in London in order to keep up with Mr. Painless.

CHECKING IN TO LUXURY
     The bus to Victoria Station didn't take long and a second bus dropped us only an hour and half later, less than a block away from our hotel, The
Danubius, located adjacent to Lords Cricket Ground in Saint John's Wood. The Regents Canal ran just under the bridge by the bus stop. A doorman in a long green coat and a top hat greeted us at the door. Inside, the lobby was lit up for the holidays with decorated trees and yards of lighting. A baby grand piano sat in the middle of the lobby with a pianist playing holiday tunes. 
     Up on the second floor, our room offered us a fabulous queen size bed, the telly mounted on the wall above the desk and a huge marble bathroom with a tub! Ahhh yes, scented bubble baths all around! (One simply cannot appreciate the benefits of soaking in a hot tub until one has lived on a narrow boat for some years with a shower the size of a tea cup and two minutes of boiling hot water after which it simply goes stone cold.) After drying off and elevating my right leg for an hour, we decided to try the hotel restaurant--Minsky's Deli.
   This hotel is owned by a Eastern European business concern and all the staff reflected this--Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Checkolslovakian, Albanian, Lithuanian...it was like staying in a very fine place which had seen better days--a bit shabby chic--but whose staff treated you with impeccable manners--nothing was too much trouble as a fascinating whirl of languages and accents played upon our senses. The food was excellent as was the service. Too tired, ill, and old to wander out in the London night life, we took our happy selves back to our grand room, peeled out of our street clothes and into PJ's, stretched out in bed with mountains of pillows and watched telly!

LONDON DAY TWO
     Tuesday morning dawned dry and slightly overcast. We both slept well--and with each other for a change! Since my surgery five weeks previous I had been sleeping on the dinette. So it was grand indeed to cuddle up close again to my Best Beloved. 
     We decided to try out a nearby local breakfast place, Gails Artisan Bakery so we hopped a bus to go three blocks, and found a very small closet sized venue stuffed to the rafters with people coming and going manically. Les wasn't crazy about the fact it only had available a tiny table with two chairs by the door which was in use perpetually; I wasn't in the mood to attempt to dodge people with my tender leg and my crutch.
   We spotted a crimson eatery next door called Richoux's with a board that declared "All Day Breakfast!!" It was nearly empty, but the tables were set impeccably with white cloth, silverware and plenty of china. Les ordered a basic English breakfast and I ordered Eggs Benedict with ham. What arrived was basic white bread toast, and the cheapest of ingredients. The Hollandaise sauce came out of a jar and the poached eggs were cold. The food was barely edible and it came to just over thirty pounds! We learned through experience why Riochoux's was practically emtpy and Gail's Artisan Bakery was continually heaving. 

BOAT RIDE ON THE THAMES
   Never mind, we caught a bus down near Mayfair and made a connecting bus to the Pier at Westminster so Les could satisfy a lifetime desire: a boat ride on the Thames. We floated slowly from the Westminster Pier down to Tower Bridge where we disembarked and waited for the return boat coming up from Greenwich. The view of the iconic skyline and the buildings from the river was wonderful and we sat in the warmth and comfort of a glassed in boat, enjoying the trip.
As we pulled away from Westminster Pier we passed the London Eye with another trip boat returning, in the foreground.
The interior of our trip boat. Comfy, warm, with plenty of space to enjoy the view.
Southwark Bridge
Cruising beneath one of London's iconic bridges, past the columns which hold it up!
The dome of St. Peter's Cathedral.
The building known as "The Walkie Talkie" looms in the background above the graceful Golden Georgian architecture of Old Billingsgate Fish Market, now a spectacular events space. 


HMS Belfast
The Shard disappearing into the fog.
The roundish building is the London Mayor's Office. I have nicknamed it the Olive due to its round shape.
Tower Bridge, our turning point for this river journey. 
Looking back at the bridges of London.


The Tower of London, from our trip boat.

On our way back to Westminster Pier we spot a sunken boat being raised.
The monument to the Great London fire of 1666 is dwarfed by the buildings around it.
Gulls diving in close with the London eye and the former Greater London council Building which now houses the London Aquarium.
Westminster Bridge, looking to the South side of the Thames.
The iconic Elizabeth Tower of Westminster which houses the clock which houses the bell named Big Ben!
LIONS' HEADS
We killed two birds as they say, with this trip for Les had found the Lion's Head Early Warning System listed in the Curious Guide, and it was one attraction he was determined to find. As it happens, the Lion's heads are all along the embankment and were easily spotted from our boat. 
 These Lions' Heads are a part of the Thames early warning flood system; the saying goes, "When the Lions drink London will sink. When its up to their manes we'll go down the drains."

     Back at Westminster Pier we were hard pressed for time to meet our dear friend Carol at Bella Italia for lunch in Covent Gardens, so Les indulged in another desire: hailing a black cab! Carol had a table waiting for us and wow was it grand to see her. It had been two years since we last touched base. With early retirement and a positive change in personal circumstances, our lovely friend looked fifteen years younger, totally relaxed and very happy. We enjoyed lunch and a two and half hour natter before realizing dusk had fallen and we needed to head back to our hotel.
     After parting with our friend, I realized how exhausted Les was. He had to have a fair amount of Oromorph (liquid oral morphine) to get going that morning and a bit more just before lunch. Evening found him tired with muzzy, Morphine hazed mind, yet the earlier amount of meds were wearing off and he was in a bit of pain. 
   It is at such moments that I have to fight hard not to be overwhelmed by despair. My husband has such a fine mind--sharp, witty, curious, insatiably thirsty for knowledge, and I would lay his general knowledge of the London streets side by side with any London Black Cab driver with The Knowledge. Born and raised in West London, Les worked as a parcel delivery person for over twenty years in The city; he knows it like the back of his hands. The thought of losing all this knowledge--of coming back to London on my own, to investigate and find things makes me so sad...
    Never mind I didn't have time to wallow just then. Les needed a place to sit down, my freshly operated leg was swelling with fatigue and pain, and we needed to figure out which bus would take us back to the hotel.
   At times like this London can quickly turn from a friendly lit-up back drop to a strange and frightening unknown. While we sat outside a closed deli, I sussed out the buses and the one we needed just happened to be coming along towards us! On it we hobbled, to sit quietly in the gathering dark as we traversed our way through central London, Les dozing on and off; we disembarked near the canal bridge by Regents Park just opposite the street to our hotel. 
     Inside Les had more meds, we peeled off our gear, and resuscitated in a hot bubble bath. Aaahhhhh! LUXURY!!! Too tired to consider finding a restaurant for dinner, I coaxed Les into trying Room Service from the hotel restaurant. Viola! Brought to our door piping hot with metal cloches keeping our food hot and delicious--another first experience for Les and he was tickled pink.

  LONDON DAY THREE
   As we prepared to go out we discovered Les' wallet was missing! We knew he had it the night before because he paid for our room service meals by debit card. We looked in all the usual places--no wallet.
   When something or other is missing, Les operates from the idea that the missing object could literally be anywhere; he does not attempt to apply logic to the situation as I do as I look in selected places where the item is likely to be found; Les casually pulled the rubbish bin out from beneath the desk, looked inside and Hey! Ho! There was his wallet sitting on top of the rubbish in the bin. We quickly figured out that after paying for last night's dinner, Les laid his wallet on the desk near the edge. He sat down at the desk and at some point, his elbow bumped his wallet over the edge and into the waste bin. Lesson learned. Look everywhere!! 
   I had sourced a restaurant in Soho near where we wanted to start our day's "Curious London" search, called the Breakfast Club. It garnered rave reviews so off we went on our buses into central London; a lovely walk through the holiday decorated streets and we rounded a corner to find---a huge line snaking down
The bright yellow Breakfast Club; well worth the wait.
the sidewalk outside The Breakfast Club. Never mind, we stuck it out for an hour and ten minutes and finally were seated in a bijou spot. The food was well worth the wait! Out plates were heaving with the best breakfast I've had outside of the USA, and our glasses were filled with fresh squeezed orange juice. Coffee came to our table in a French Press (Cafetiere as Brits call it) and the piped-in music was excellent too! There was an air of joyous conviviality all around as happy diners sat waiting for their plates while others tucked into heaping piles of fresh, delicious breakfast. Amazingly this generous repast cost only £7 more than the crappy Richeaux breakfast the day before and this morning's fare included the 12% tip.
Heartily fulfilled, we left the restaurant with a call from the barrista behind the counter: "So pleased you joined us. We hope you come again!" 

   Off we went hand in hand, crutches clacking on the pavement to see what we could find. We started off for Ely Place. Here is what Simon Leyland's book has to say:

THE LAST PRIVATE ROAD IN LONDON
   "A pair of iron gates separates the quiet littel cul de sac of Ely Place from noisy Holborn Circus. But very few people know that this street, once the residence of the Bishops of Ely, is not actually part of London. Once you are in it, you are technically in Cambridgeshire and exempt from the jurisdiction of the rest of the capitol. Even the Metropolitan Police have no right of entry, unless they are invited in by the Commissioners of Ely Place, the street's own elected governing body, which was formed after a local Act of Parliament in 1842.
   Ely Place was bought by the Bishops of Ely as a London residence suitable to their rank after a snub in the thirteenth century (1200's) when one of their number was refused entrance to their former lodgings at Temple in the City. They promptly proclaimed their new resident part of Cambridgshire. The border runs through Ye Old Mitre Tavern, the local pub, whose licensing hours were, until 1964, controlled by the Camridgeshire authorities...
   The Commissioners of Ely Place still employ a couple of Beadles, who make sure the street gates are closed to cars and bicycles after 10 p.m.; they are also responsible for keeping the place clean. Until 1968, the beadles would announce time and weather on an hourly basis from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., but this practice was stopped after complaints about the noise they were making. 
The gate at the entrance to Ely Place--the last private street in London.

Looking down to the end of Ely Place. Now where is Etheldreda's Church?
ETHLDREDA'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
   Also in Ely Place is Etheldreda's Church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Britain, and one of only two buildings in London that survive from the reign of Edward I (1239-1307)." (A Curious Guide to London, e-book. Bantam Press, 2014. loc. 1380, 1387, Kindle Book, Chapter:Holborn.)  
Amazingly we found St. Etheldreda's church tucked off to our left as we walked down to the end of Ely Place from the gate.
Looking across the ancient floor tiles and up the stairs.
Looking up the aisle of the church. It is simple and hushed; the silence of the ages speaks to those who sit quietly and listen.
Ancient holy water vessel carved out of the rock wall.
THE PANYER BOY STATUE
   Next we set off for the neighborhood of nearby St. Paul's to find the St. Paul Underground. We were looking for the Panyer Boy statue, dating back more than 350 years and marking the area which was once the site of the Panyer Inn--a hostelry offering rooms for the night and freshly baked bread to buy of the morning. It was said to have marked the highest point in London, placing it above the flood line of the Thames however it shares this dubious distinction with St. Peter Upon Cornhill Church--a place we shall also seek out shortly for its own hidden tale. 
   What do we know? We know an inn by the same name was located around the corner on Paternoster Row. Its last incarnation burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666. We also know Panyer Alley as it is still called, was the site of a corn market where boys once sold loaves from their baskets each day to the passing trade. We also know parts of London were ten to twenty feet lower than they stand today, and that this bas relief of a small boy picking up a round loaf from the basket in which he sits has been moved around the general area and re-sighted many times as the buildings upon which it has been mounted have been burned down, demolished and re-modeled. In the late 1890's a guard was set to keep an over enthusiastic American from knicking the Panyer Boy after his offer to purchase it for a ridiculously large sum was turned down.
   Les and I walked together down Cheapside toward St. Paul's Underground, past Cafe Nero on the corner and its bouquet of tiny black metal bistro tables and chairs. Les went down into the Underground to ask after the statue and returned two minutes later pointing to my right. I turned around, facing the side wall of Cafe Nero where the outside seating sat vacant. Sure enough, on the wall we--and millions of others--walked nonchalantly past, was the mounted plaque with the Panyer Boy, sadly much the worse for wear, sitting in his basket, reaching for a loaf of bread. I closed my eyes and forced the 21st century to recede from my mind. For a moment I could feel what it must have been like in the early 1600's as a much smaller populace came and went on the wood paved streets of a distant time.  
   We nipped into a nearby Sainsbury's express store and stuffed my back pack with fresh fruit, candies, and refreshments for the day, then wandered on to find The Devils of Cornhill!!
St. Paul's Underground entrance is behind and to my left as I stand looking at the sign that says "Panyer Alley." Oh! Yep there is the relief of the Panyer Boy, on the wall and visible between the two men on the left.
St. Paul's Cathedral can be seen at the end, looking down Panyer Alley. The Panyer inn was located just a stones throw away from the cathedral.
His face worn away long ago, the curly haired little boy sitting in a Panyer basket, reaches down for a round loaf of bread. The words below say, "When ye have sought the citty round yet this is still the highest ground." This alley was once the centre of London’s bakeries - and said (wrongly) to be its highest point.
THE DEVILS OF CORNHILL
   The church of St. Peter's Upon Cornhill is today, located in a maze of buildings heading toward Threadneedle Street and the financial district. There are so many buildings sitting cheeck by jowl and truth be told, neck and neck and on one another's lap as it were, that siting this church was all but impossible! It took both of us and Les' GPS on his phone to actually find that we were standing literally yards away. Why were we looking for this particular church?
   Well St. Peter's church on Cornhill was built on one of the two highest hills in London--the other spot being the hilll upon which St. Paul's cathedral now sits. As you may well imagine, at one time this church was surrounded mostly by open fields. As time marched on and brought civilization and success with it, land around the church came up for sale, as happened in the 1800's with the lot directly next to the church on its West side.
   Upon reviewing plans for a new building, the rector of St. Peter's noticed that the build intruded upon the church lot by about twelve inches, and he kicked up a fuss. The architect had to redraw the plans at great expense so by way of revenge he added three gargoyles to the building. Overlooking the church property, it is said one of them is an exact replica of the rector. If this is true he must have been an ugly man indeed!
Okay, supposedly the Church of St. Peter-Upon-Cornhill is located "right here!" Really ???

Oh! One can just see the red doors of the church form across the street! Crikey that ole' rector would roll in his grave if he could see how overgrown and overtaken his beloved church has become in the 21st century!


The reddish building on the right was the offending property in question. Looking closely one can indeed see three gargoyles or "devils" sitting on this building: One sits turned looking down on the doorway of the church. It has breasts!
Another Gargoyle is perched above the top most window.
A close up of one of the three "Devils of Cornhill."
This 1868 map of London shows St. Peter Upon Cornhill Church on the corner of Cornhill and Church Streets.
This 2016 Google map shows the same area, outlined in yellow above.

  We thought about trying to see the final item on our Curious Guide list but dusk was upon us, it was cold, we were tired and our luxurious hotel room beckoned. Back at the ranch, we stripped down, soaked in hot water and lashings of bubbles, and settled in to watch telly and eat chocolates from the comfort of our fabulous bed, reading the paper and several magazines we picked up, cuddling, laughing, and generally have a damned good final night in the Big Smoke. 

LEAVING LONDON
Up early, we packed, went through the hotel room three times searching meticulously for everything and anything that belonged to us, checked out, and laden with our five bags of luggage, no coffee or breakfast inside, we trudged in the leaden, wet, overcast cold to the bus stop. On the bus and then off again at Mayfair, we used the GPS on Les' phone to show us the exact house used by the Russians during the 1950's Cold War. It was nothing special and didn't stand out in any way--exactly what is required when one is using a domicile to spy on the host nation. Out in the driveway was a streetlight and on its side was a locked door, through which notes were posted to the Russian spies on site. Down and dusted then! We caught a bus to Euston Station, ate brunch at Ed's American Diner, waddles out to catch the train to Berkhamsted and away we went-home again, home, jiggedy jig!
The prosaic looking cold War Russian Spy House in Mayfair with the "special" black street lamp out by the curb.
Me pointing to the locked box in the lamp post where Russian spies used to drop messages to one another.
NB VALERIE ON DRY DOCK
   We arrived back to Cow Roast in the early afternoon and Darren Killick, our marine engineer, was out running an errand, but our boat was still on the hard standing so it gave us time to walk around and inspect his handiwork. Our boat bottom and lower sides gleamed with layers of fresh black Bitumen, dried and hardened. Four fat new anodes were attached--two to a side, front and back. 
   Darren arrived back and soon NBV was afloat again. With NBV tied up, Darren gave us a tour, showing us all the completed projects he had obviously grafted hard to complete in three days. We offered our immense thanks and gratitude, paid the bill, and Les took us out of the marina and back to the mooring on the cut and I moored us up.
  A fire in the stove, as well as starting up the Ebispacher on board heating system and soon everything inside the boat was back up to a proper room temperature as we settled down to prepare for the holidays ahead. 
NB Valerie in dry dock at Cowroast.
With a newly blacked bottom and new anodes, one of the two new orqnge colored Steel T-Studs mounted on either side of the bow locker is just in view above, below the corner of the coal bags stacked on the bow.
The new back rack Darren built is mounted behind the tiller on the stern, and my new fold up bike gifted to me by Angela on NB Bright Eyes, sits jauntily on its new perch.
 I will blog in the near future about the work on the boat with a list of projects completed and pictures for your pleasure! 

 HEALTH MATTERS  
Les:
Les on the London trip boat.
  The cancer continues to make its inexorable headway through my pelvis, spine, and hip bones with advancing pain and immobility. Jaq does more for me as I can do less for myself. I sleep a lot thanks to the pain meds. On good days I try to get out for a walk or we take a bus to Berkhamsted or Tring to run small errands or catch a movie at the Rex Cinema. 
   Bad days? Well there are a few more of them lately as Hospice and my GP work to tweak my medication in order to address the advancing pain. That done, it is effective for awhile until Mr. C makes further advances into my bones and body and we have to re-evaluate everything again. I take liquid morphine which Jaq administers to me, when I have break through pain. I don't like taking it though because it addles my wits. I can barely string a sentence together, simple maths is beyond my comprehension, and memory is a thing of the past. I have trouble remembering what was said to me an hour previously, and I sleep a lot. This is not how I want to spend the remaining time I have left.
   At present I am staying at St. Francis Hospice in Northchurch for ten days to try and tweak various different pain meds. Methadone has now been added to my regimen and I am hopeful that between the Hospice palliative care team and the District nurses and my GP, something can be found to address my pain without robbing me of my brain. In the meantime we look for something each day to make us laugh as laughter really does ease my pain.