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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Biding Time

“What is she like? I was told—she is a melancholy soul. She is like the sun to the night; a momentary gold. A star when dimmed by dawning light; the flicker of a candle blown. A lonely kite lost in flight—someone once had flown.”~Lang Leav, Australian poet and writer 

     I cannot believe it has been nearly a month since I last posted to this blog. The list of projects on our boat has felt like different things on different days: the saving of my sanity, a mountain I must climb, a Honey Do list started by my Best Beloved to be finished by me, a black hole sucking up all my money and energy, a daily reason to get up and put one foot in front of the other when depression looms like a dark abyss, a long list of hurdles on a race course that requires stamina rather than speed, a Goddess-send, a one-thousand step program for rebuilding life after heart rending loss, a list that never seems to end, and endless treadmill of projects, a means of renewing our home...a way forward. 

    It will be six months next week since Les died. His death seems surreal now and so does my life. How, I ask myself, did I arrive here, on a boat, in another country, on my own? While I cannot believe Les is gone I find his memory is fading and I have to fight for every scrap. Part of that is emotional anesthetic, part of it is simply time, and a lot of it is the fact that last year Les changed drastically as his life wound down. I have to really reach to remember Les as he was four, five and six years ago when he was the picture of robust health. Death does that as it eats away at us, moment by moment, cell by cell. I didn't have time to take it all in; I was too busy caring for him and trying to make every moment count for us both while denying my own grief process. I didn't want to burden Les with my grief or the unbearable pain I felt in knowing I was losing him. I chose to cry in the shower instead of in front of him. I chose to be stoic and forge onward. I know now what a terrible mistake that was. I denied us both the chance to experience those precious, painful moments together and to say and do the final things we needed, wanted and should have experienced with each other. 
     So, back to the boat. A year ago we asked folks who donated to our GoFundMe account if they would be comfortable with our changing the focus of our account from a trip back to America and family, and instead spend the money on NB Valerie, getting her ready for me to live on without Les. Without exception all of you who donated said,
     "Spend the money as you see fit." So we did. My deepest heartfelt thanks to all of you near and far who offered up your support for our life on this boat. Items with an asterisk were completed by Les. It is time for an accounting now, of chores and how the money was spent, so here without further ado, is the list:
  • *WhaleGulper no maintenance shower pump mounted inside the sink cupboard, instead of the old unit mounted under the bathtub and behind a wooden panel which required laying on one's belly on the floor, removing the front panel of the bathtub and using a wrench to loosen the cap on the filter to clean it--every two months.
  • Boat blacked to protect the hull from rust; good for four years
  • New anodes which also protect the hull from rust and decay
  • Two new steel T studs mounted on either side of the bow to make it easier for me to moor up on my own
  •  A bicycle rack attached to the stern
  • *New bathroom sink and tiles to replace the old leaking sink and  rotted wooden surround
  • *New brass cup style cabinet pulls on all the galley and saloon cupboards and drawers
  • *Replace all the LED light bulbs which were 9 bulb white lights, with 15 bulb warm lights throughout the boat
  • *Build a corner shelf above the bed with a small swiveling reading light mounted underneath, to match the shelf and light on the other side of the bed
  • *Longer tiller handle to accommodate my very short arms 
  • The engine bay cleaned and painted
  • The engine cooling system flushed and refilled
  • Solid steel engine bay cover replaced with an aluminum checker plate cover so I can can lift it and access the engine and weed hatch
  • The horn, navigation lights, tunnel light and bilge pump switches moved from below my feet on the side of the stern locker (Les used his feet to operate them but mine don't reach that far), up in front of the gear shift so I can see them and reach them
  • The stern seats re-fitted (Les cut the storage boxes down but was not able to refit the padded seats that fit on top
  • Hook closure on outside stern doors
  • Replace the rubber seals on the bow doors, the side hatch doors, the back stern hatch and door, and the outer stern doors
  • Clean off the roof
  • Cut down the wood box and move it forward
  • Replace the old solar array Les installed with a new system professionally installed by OnBoard Solar
  • Replace the broken boat hook and boat pole, and rotting gang plank
  • Replace the rotting and missing side fenders, bow fenders, and all the bow, stern and midline ropes which were four years old and fraying badly
  • Replace the clapped out stereo and mount the new model in the wall of the front closet
  • Stereo speakers installed in the ceiling of the boat
  • Replace the ten year old telly with a new HD telly
  • Replace the old toilet seat with a new oak seat
  • Replace our old, torn mattress with the inner springs poking up, with a new custom made quality Memory Foam mattress
   You see when someone is ill and fighting for their very life every single day for years, every moment it taken up with two things: the fight itself and attempting to live life as normally as possible. There is no time for anything else, like on-going boat maintenance. The last three years Les and I spent engaging in these things daily until in September of 2015 Les gave up. He was tired; tired of fighting. Tired of taking 28 pills a day, tired of eating a special diet, and tired of having to gauge everything we did by whether or not it would fight cancer or contribute to it. His scans were coming back favorably and he felt  good; no he felt great! And finally Les was tired of spending nearly fouor hundred pounds a month on all the supplements, organic food, etc. etc. etc. that the alternative treatments required. He was tired of being stone cold broke every month. Neither private insurance 'nor the NHS will pay for any cancer treatment but the standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy which of course costs hundreds of thousands more than the alternative, but that is a different conversation for another day. 
     I didn't care about being broke, I only ever cared about keeping Les alive and helping fight to regain his health and live ouor life with joy, and I knew that undergoing alternative cancer treatments requires a minimum two year commitment to the treatment without fail. I told Les this but he refused to hear me. So with sinking heart we pulled the plug on all the supplements, diet, organic foods, herbs, etc. Within four months the cancer invaded his bones.
     I understood how Les felt. Indeed if anyone would grasp how the entire scenario wore him down day by day and made him feel it was me, for I have lived through two ovarian cancer diagnoses, major cancer staging surgery and a two year alternative treatment program (Gerson Therapy) requiring a major diet change (no meat, dairy, sugar, bread, oil, salt, caffeine or alcohol), thirteen glasses of freshly extracted organic juices daily, and up to four coffee enemas daily combined with 36 daily supplemental pills and two liquid supplements for a combined cost out of my pocket of $840 a month. I remember feeling exactly as Les did. So I if I could not convince him to continue treatment, all I could do was support his choices in the best way possible. Sadly Les could not undertake Gerson therapy as one has to have a fully functioning colon for the treatment to work. I knew we were in for a tough battle in 2014 when we were denied the stoma reversal due to cancer spreading to Les' liver.
     When we received the terminal cancer diagnosis Les asked me to save him, but without spending all our money. There was nothing I could do and my heart broke into thousands of pieces. Les was one of those people who had to see it, feel it, taste it, hear it, and know it in his bones before he believed a thing was fact. The trouble with that is by the time you know at that level that cancer is terminal it is too late. All I could do I did and I took his hand and we walked together into what was left of our limited future together while Les spend every moment he could either planning on making my life without him easier or actually involved in projects to do the same. After he died and I returned to the boat I found dozens of lists Les had made, with notes to me about how to save money, hoe to apply for bereavement benefits, and how to save money on low cost cremations.
     One thing I do want to mention is the fact that the Oncologists at the RFH wanted Les to undergo a biopsy surgery on his spine. They were convinced the cancer they were seeing was not colon cancer. They were 95% certain it was bone sarcoma and it was a "second line cancer," caused by the five days of radiotherapy Les was forced to endure back in October of 2013. Unbeknownst to us at that time, while the treatment was only five days in length Les was given massive amounts of radiation treatment to the extent he could never endure another radiation exposure again--but of course along with so much else we were not told of this either, until June of 2016 when the Oncology team in London sought to give him radiation treatment on his spine and were shocked to uncover that Les had been maxed out on radiotherapy in 2013. Les asked the RFH Oncology team if spinal surgery would cure his disease or prolong his life. The answer was no, it would only serve to underscore 100% their diagnosis of bone sarcoma, and so Les refused the surgery and we came home.
     I know people don't know what to say or do when I break down and cry. That's okay. Let me cry.  But please, please don't say, "Well at least you had six wonderful years together." Don't say, "At least you had a deep and true love that so many people never get to experience." Don't say, "Chin up Jaq, life goes on." Yes someone I considered a friend told me that the day after Les received the terminal cancer diagnosis. I got up and left their boat and I refuse to ever speak to them again. Because truly nothing anyone can say will make me feel better and I am angry that cancer stole the golden years Les and I deserved and were looking forward to spending together. Six years isn't even a blink of an eye. It is half a heart beat.
     I do not need anyone to remind me of the depth of mine and Les' love for one another. That knowledge is alive and well in my heart and soul. I live every day with the awareness that I will never see the look of absolute adoration in his lovely eyes ever again. I will never receive another text on my phone from Les saying, "I love you so much. Xxxxxx times a trilly billion more times than that." I've had to change my phone ring tone because I could not bear to hear it and know that Les will never go off to town again for bits and bobs, then call me to say, "Just having a coffee Jaq and I will soon be back home in your arms my sweet." I will never hear Les call my name or his incredible laugh or see his dimples wink at me ever again, and I will never ever experience his strong, warm arms reaching for me in the dark, pulling me close to his side, or feel his lips on mine. 
     I thank Adrian and Adam on NB Briar Rose for sitting with me as I fell apart one day when they were visiting, and not trying to make it better because they instinctively understood that nothing anyone says or does will ever make this loss less than utterly devastating for me. I thank Carol and George Palin for doing the same with me for three entire days, and to Ken and Sue Deveson for the same. Practical help, a pat on the arm, a hug, a tissue (an entire box of tissues), and a cup of tea are all helpful. So are Les stories. I am hungry to hear any and all stories about him, no matter how small or insignificant.
     More thanks are due to Andy and Tina Elford of NB Ytene. Although they graft hard five days a week with only Sunday and Tuesday off and Sunday is spent driving two hours to Peterborough to spend the day with Andy's 92 year old Aunt Beryl, taking her shopping and out to lunch, they both came and spend evenings with me on board NBV while I waited for the solar panel fitting and the mattress delivery. Thanks for dozens of  fun and goofy rounds of the Railroad Game, bottles of wine, love and laughter, crying right along with me, getting me registered with your dentist and taking me to my appointments, and bringing me along to visit your lovely Auntie Beryl, She is a pip! Tina, thanks for spending a girls day out with me. I haven't done that for a long time and it was such fun. 
Andy and Tina on NB Ytene, cruising slowly past NBV recently. It made my heart sing to to see them but it also made my heart ache to know Les wasn't there to see it too.
     The Elfords cruised with Les for three years; they--and we--are more like family than friends and the stories they have of Les are side splittingly funny. After a grueling day working to keep a fleet of twenty five hire boats clean, functioning, and turned around for hire, Andy and Tina came and worked on my boat, repairing things, fitting new bits and bobs, cleaning the roof, disconnecting the old solar panels, taking the wood box off the roof, cutting it down and putting back on the roof; taking me to Midland Chandlers to purchase the raft of items that needed replacing on the boat, replacing the bathroom loo fan and then turning it around not once but twice! I am so grateful for Andy's expertise in boat repair and painting which he shared with me over the last month to prepare me for the remainder of the jobs that still call for my attention:
  • Sand and paint the inside panels of the bow doors, the side hatch doors and the inner and outer stern doors 
  • Clean out the tracks around all the windows inside from a decade of dead bugs, mold growth and moisture damage
  • Sand and paint the wooden window cills
  • Sand and paint the metal window frames inside and out
  • Replace the radio cupboard brass latch
  • Sand and refinish the dinette table
  • Sand and refinish the galley counters
  • Sand and refinish all of the interior walls and ceiling. It's been nearly 11 years now and it is well past time
  • Cover the stern steps with vinyl oak look planking and new rubber treads (the old carpet treads are lifting)
  • Finish painting the exterior of the boat 
  • Purchase vinyl lettering and tape and reapply the sign writing on both sides of the boat
     Finally I wish to thank Tim Rees-Davis of OnBoard Solar who did an absolutely amazing job of installing the new solar panels and all the new equipment so that it would work well for me and also pass the BSS exam which is tomorrow. Tim was the soul of patience as he worked, explaining things in a manner I could understand and removing old parts of our system no longer required so that I can sell them on e-Bay.

The double long wood box with the small solar panel and the ginormous 240 watt house panel on top. I could not lift the large panel and I nearly cut the tips of my fingers off back in June when I attempted to get under it to reach some logs for a fire. This system gave us 340 watts but because the large panel was designed for a 230 mains electric system in a house and it was drawing in 4 amps at any given moment, the difference between 240 minus 4 amps is huge and I was losing all that energy since the system was not designed for a 12 volt system like the boat has.
The three panels (two new and the small one Les had previously) for a total of 350 watts, specifically designed for a 12 volt system, the difference between 12 minus 4 is significantly less than the old system and I didn't lose so much energy now. In fact, this new system keeps our four 110 amp batteries fully charged even on a very overcast and rainy day. I can reach all three panels, clean them, tilt them, and clean and  paint the boat roof underneath.
The wood box is now cut down to a smaller size and moved forward for storage.

     I would also like to thank Debra at Made2MeasureMattress online for her assistance and understanding when I screwed up my measurements and the mattress had to be returned to their factory in Kent, cut down to the proper size and a new mattress cover sewn and re-delivered to me. The folks at Made2MeasureMattress were friendly, calm, understanding and worked hard to get me a new mattress in a matter of days. 
The new mattress in place at last!
I brought it in down the stern stairs with kind assistance from Tony at Napton Marina. it came all rolled up in the large box at the top of the steps. Now, on to the chiropractor's in Clifton Upon Dunsmore!

     So what's next?  
     Tomorrow morning the Boat Examiner will come and hopefully all will pass muster. Lee Freeman is the person who has done all the past BSS for NB Valerie and he remembered Les and our boat. I hope by early tomorrow afternoon to be cruising through Braunston turning left and heading for Rugby. North at last, as the narrow canals are calling me.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Twenty Four Hour Round Trip

"Whatever our fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, 'This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment not discouragement--you will find strength there." ~ Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer and lecturer, 1904-1987

     After a bit of solitude to grapple with my restless grief, on Tuesday a boat appeared around the bend; one I recognized. It was my friend Ray on NB Stronghold, fresh from the Braunston Historic Boat Rally where, as a member of the Historic Boat Trust, Ray had the responsibility of steering the trust boat Nuneaton with Official parade Marshall Tim West aboard and towing the butty Brighton with actor (and Tim's wife) Prunella Scales and others aboard.
     Ray moored up in front of me and we had two lovely days together, in which he introduced to me the The Cobb BBQ  (Lakeland Kitchen store has them at a reasonable price) and Stilton Cheese Puffs, and I introduced Ray to some North and South American musical groups: The Indigo Girls, Pearl Django, Jean Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling, and Strunz & Farah. We both have very catholic tastes in music, enjoy cooking and eating a good meal, have been educators, and have lost a spouse to illness. So Ray is comfortable with my grief and no words need to be spoken about it. He has walked his own road and he knows what it is; meanwhile I was privy to all the scuttlebutt concerning the boat rally--and a good time was had by all--and we improvised a meal together and I was able to see The Cobb in action.
Ryan in the blue T-shirt on his boat Southern Star, at Braunston, © Ray Oakfield, 2017
     Thursday brought Ryan Dimmock on NB Southern Star (partner in Jules Fuels), to refuel our boats. I filled up with diesel, bought a bottle of Calor (propane for cooking), and some bags of kindling since there is none available locally here via Ma Nature.  Watching Ryan maneuver his boat just before a bridge hole, past NB Valerie ad two other moored up boats, with other boats attempting to pass him (impatient gits!), all whilst towing a butty behind him, was a moment of beauty. Of course he left with a foil package of Pumpkin Cake and wave. Shortly after Ray cruised off too.
     Now on this boat when the water tank is full, the boat sits lower in the water. After six years of daily life aboard with no gauges to tell if the water tank is low to empty, I gauge where this is at by the feel of the boat. When full, NBV sits low with the cut cradling her and she has a heft that makes it easier to bring her in to moor up on a windy day. As the water tank empties, the boat rises in the water and feels lighter, like an 18 ton leaf skimming the surface, and she rocks about more when I walk or when the wind blows.
     I am perfecting this "feeling gauge" now. I last filled up a week ago on Thursday. The boat was now sitting high in the water and the tank had burped (what I call the sound of the stainless steel tank when it expands or contracts and makes a metallic sound as the water is used up), so I dipped the tank with the measuring stick Les made years ago. Surprise, surprise!! I still had half a tank of water, so I went ahead and got some laundry out of the way and took a shower which took me down to just under a quarter of a tank left. Time to move!
Image result for a cup o fjoe
     Friday morning broke quiet and still. I had my usual two cups of Joe (American slang for coffee, or Kwaaahfee as I used to say with great exaggeration each morning as it made Les crack one of his lovely smiles), sorted another load of laundry to wash as I went along and cruised off towards Braunston. Not far ahead I passed NB Bristol Cream with Zena and Chris aboard. When I was moored up at Napton Marina last month, they came over and introduced themselves. She reads our blog and they keep their boat in the marina there. We waved at each other in passing, and I slowly chugged past boat after boat on tick over. It took me an hour and half to travel the three and quarter miles to Braunston as a result of all the boats moored up along the way but I didn't care. Though overcast, the morning was lovely and birdsong accompanied me on my journey.
     At Braunston Turn there was someone on the water point and traffic was picking up so I decided to moor up in the first spot I saw--just past and opposite The Boat pub, and fill with water later. I had not slept well the night before. Four hours of sleep is a rough gig and that is my usual since Les died. Some nights I manage five and only rarely have I pulled six consecutive hours of sleep so after sorting out mooring up (putting up the TV antennae, putting out my small step in the bow that makes it easier for me to get in and out), and taking a walk over to Midland Chandlers to see what they had in stock that is on my list of needs, I decided a nap was in order.
Image result for Pela Pump
Pela Pump
Image result for Braunston Butchers     Saturday rolled in with warm weather, partly sunny skies, and just the right temperature for me! My normal morning routine no matter what time I wake, is two cups of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal made with steel cut oats, and then I have a tidy up. I washed the breakfast dishes, swept the floor, changed the sheets on the bed, washed a load of clothes and hung them to dry, cleaned out the loo, dressed and was off, walking up to Braunston Chandlers to buy a Pela Pump. Ray has one and he let borrow it some time back to remove water from the bilge in the engine bay. I decided then and there to get one. I looked online and at other chandlers and figured the cost at Braunston Chandlers was about the same after postage and handling. I wanted the six liter pump and they had one in stock. With that sorted I walked up in to the village store, picked up my Saturday paper, and crossed the street to the butcher shop which also carries the best fresh fruit and some veg. For £13.50 I took away a half pound of gorgeous proper thick cut American style bacon, a lovely freshly made chicken and mushroom pie, five fresh tomatoes, five splendidly ripe nectarines, a punnet of fat, juicy raspberries, two punnets of gleaming baby potatoes, a Sweetheart cabbage, and five fat, orange carrots. What a deal!! and I was home again all by 10:50 am! Just the way I did my Saturday chores, shopping and travels when I lived at Cloudhouse in Pullman, WA.
    I fixed myself another coffee and warmed a Croissant in the oven which I enjoyed while reading the paper. Boats came and went constantly. At one point I heard the distinctive putt-putt of a large old working boat so I popped my head out the window in time to say hello to Sarah on NB Chertsey! We have not seen each other since 2012. She looked grand and glowing at the tiller of her boat.
     After reading for several hours I walked over to The Boat Pub and splurged on a burger and fries for lunch. Back home a nap was in order. I was waiting for the boat traffic--which is heavy through Braunston on the weekends--to die down. By 5:30 PM all was quiet. The golden evening sun caused water reflections to sparkle on the roof. Time to move...
     I made my way to the water point by the Braunston stop-house, moored up, began filling the boat with water and dumped the rubbish. I washed the dishes, filled the tea kettle, put on a load of clothes to wash, and cleaned the windows on the towpath side. Not another boat came by and the canal was quiet during the dinner hour. Once the tank was full, it was time for me turn the boat in the entrance to Braunston Marina. This is the reason why I waited for the quiet of evening. I maneuvered NBV around the cafe boat which is always moored just after the water point and just before the marina entrance. I took my time and gently turned the boat. I didn't do it as smoothly as Les would have done, but I did it without trouble and in my own way and headed back the direction I had come from yesterday.
To turn the boat around here, one must pass the Cafe boat, turn the bow right and just put it into the bridge hole, then put it in reverse with the tiller over hard left and slowly turn the boat, straightening the tiller as the bow comes around.
     As I cruised slowly along the North Oxford again, a gentle breeze began to ruffle my hair. The evening air was scented with Sweet Woodruff and roses, and the illusive smell of Honeysuckle from a boater's permanent mooring garden. Swallows dipped and dived all around me. The bright pink blossoms of Fireweed moved in the breeze. I was surrounded on both sides of the cut by nature's floral arrangement: short green stalks of Yarrow poked their tightly clustered white heads up above the grass, interspersed with fat bowls of pink clover. The rigid stalks of Giant Hogweed stood above everything with panicles of bright white flowers. Foamy sprays of cream colored Meadowsweet danced in the evening air, with glimpses of purple Loosetrife tucked in between. Sheep grazed in the fields and I could feel my Best Beloved there with me, standing behind me, his arm around my waist, his right hand next to mine on the tiller. Ours was the only boat on the move. Everyone else had already moored up for the day, and the aroma of dinner hung in the air as I passed by long strings of boats,like rectangular jeweled beads moored all along the cut.
     In the hour and a half it took me to cruise back out to Bridge 103, the sun disappeared behind a low bank of silver clouds and the breeze freshened into a twelve mile an hour wind with gusts raking the trees, turning leaves inside out, making the weeping willow trees wave wildly in the wind. As the evening air cooled I found a spot, pulled in, moored up, set up the TV antennae, and enjoyed a scalding hot shower. Dressed in clean pajamas, I allowed the night to fold itself around me like a soft, sweet glove.    

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs