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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

"A long long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die..." ~ Don McClean, American singer/songwriter
   Some folks will read the lyrics above and wonder what on earth it has to do with me or this blog. Others may grasp the hidden meaning in the lyrics that fit my life so well. When Don McClean was asked recently what the lyrics really meant he divulged the following: She was as American as apple pie; it was about a time in America when our innocent ideology about the world and our place in it was giving way to cynicism. Society was heading in the wrong direction...Let me make this quick disclaimer: I will do the next blog about America with just as jaundiced and critical an eye about my dislikes so please Brits, don't think I am being an ugly American and unduly criticizing your wonderful homeland. 
     While living in England for over eight years has changed me and made me a person whose heart and soul is bifurcated between Britain and the USA, I am at my very DNA, as American as apple pie. Still, life with a foot in two countries makes me even more complex than I was before ever I fell in love with my Best Beloved Les and chose to follow him back to the cut.
    Both of my countries are suffering through existential political and social crises which cause me additional grief. When I lived in Britain there were things about the country that drove me mad, like the mindless petty bureaucracy that could quickly F*** up one's day, and the mindless shrugs of Brits who simply take each days bureaucratic bungles as part and parcel of life in general and do not question why such crap occurs each day as they queue up quietly and wait with the patience of saints for life to move ahead one more step. 
   The general lack of customer service for the average Joe or Jane was another thing that could drive me to a homicidal rant. Six months and seven visits to the bank to have my name added to Les' bank account is a prime example along with the requirement that I make an appointment with a "bereavement counselor" at Halifax bank in order to have Les' name removed from our account after he died, and the need to wait three months for said appointment, only to show up, be kept waiting twenty minutes and then be told said counselor"was unable to make it in today and you will need to reschedule your appointment..." aaaarrrrrghhhh!!!!! 
   The British and possibly European desire to have everyone jump countless hoops and spend many hundreds of pounds and a third of one's life getting NVQ's (National Vocational Qualifications) level 1, 2, 3, 5, 57, 116, etc. etc, etc. which do not prove one is actually the best person for the job but does prove one can waste innumerable hours "learning" pendantic facts and common sense  behavior such as "When working in a classroom with a teacher and pupils one must always bear in mind the safety of all students." Really???? I thought I was going to be there to inject a little edgy excitement into their day with knife throwing followed by teaching them how to eat fire.
   The British penchant for parking along the side of the road facing in either direction, playing chicken with each other on narrow lanes, including with double decker buses, is something from which I will never quite recover several lives, 'nor will I ever recoup the years I lost to traveling left around Roundabouts in order to go right. And Let me not forget plastic money; not as in a debit card but actual five and ten pound notes made out of plastic. 
     I won't go into details about the sacred cow that is the British NHS. When the NHS gets it right it does so beautifully...when it gets things wrong--which happens too often for a small island under one national government--people die, often from simple neglect. 
   And then there is the bloody British dog thing; their over-the-top love affair with canines and one is hardly ever never enough. But that is just me; 'nuff said! 
    There is the dissatisfying lack of ways in which one's breakfast eggs might be prepared when eating out and the sad little mini-buffet dish of three green leaves, a couple of celery and red pepper sticks accompanied by one small tomato which passes for a salad too often on British plates. And don't get me started about the lack of salad dressing choices or indeed dressing itself other than the occasional vinegar and oil or the ubiquitous packets of salad cream (Miracle Whip for you Americans ). Top this off with chips (fries) with everything and I do mean bloody everything, and the British need not to make a spectacle of one's self by complaining about crap food served with even crappier service many times, and I begin to lose the will to live, as Les used to say when something got him down. 
     On the plus side of the British equation is first and foremost for me, the canals and the amazing community living on and alongside them. I know of no other community like it. 2000 miles of canals and navigable rivers, and a community of mostly lovely folk who choose to live a counter-culture life and which I was immensely privileged to share in for eight years. The cut is a place to lose yourself and find yourself anew.
   Number two on my list of British sublime is the countryside. Much of it is breathtaking and Brits know this and support their countryside. Unlike most Americans, Brits actually get out in their countryside on a daily and weekly basis for a short five mile hike just to get their blood moving and make use of the public footpaths which criss-cross the countryside.      This leads me to number three: the smallness of everything and I do mean everything, from bottles of shampoo, face cream, medicines and sauces, to gardens, automobiles, the average home, and parking spaces. Brits are adept at fitting a car into the space an American would only consider applicable to a bicycle, and then managing to squeeze out of the doors like squeezing toothpaste from a tube. I still find it a marvel that I never tire of watching. Parking in Britain is a highly refined art and one ridiculously under-appreciated.
   Next up is the British ability to not only appreciate history and preserve it but also to live amidst over 1000 years of history as though it were yesterday or last week. 
    My favorite awesome British thing is their way of playing with their language and not taking themselves too seriously. We Americans could and should take lessons on this point. I dearly miss hearing the mish-mash of dialects, British slang, and the easy way they take the mick out of total strangers and everyone knows what is going on and laughs along. The Brits know how to have a great, good larff. 
     I totally miss a British behavior that used to drive me doolally and that is their inability to say a simple goodbye and ring off the phone. I remember the first time Les ever called me, back in October of 2010. When our conversation came to a conclusion he seemed to have difficulties hanging up, repeating in a soft and slightly melancholy voice: "Goodbye goodbye; good-bye...goodbye... goodbye." I remember thinking to myself that he must be really keen to meet me if he had that much difficulty saying goodbye! I had no idea ALL Brits do this. Five goodbyes are about the average for a phone call and it makes me feel like a rude, abrupt, and manner-less American when I say, "Okay. Goodbye"/click! And I hang up while whomever on the other end is still gathering their goodbye momentum. 
     I miss the incredible vistas across furrowed fields and millenniums, strolling along a country lane in Stoke Golding at Twilight, holding hands with my husband, our laughter warming the slight evening chill as we made our way down and around from the White Swan pub, to the warm haven of our bloat, moored and sitting silently in the gathered dusk, one golden light shining through the curtain announcing, "You are home." 
     I--a self avowed introvert--actually miss the way Brits will approach anyone and have a moment of their time. How they will pitch in at a moment's notice when someone is in need of real aid be it small or large. I miss the generosity of Brits, in heart, mind and spirit; and the many good British men especially who are comfortable with showing genuine affection to those they love in public or private.
   I miss the quaint, the amazing, the surreal experience of weaving through small villages with a thousand years of history and knocking around London with Les who knew it like the back of his hand, sleuthing out the strange, the incredible, the awe inspiring blend of ancient and modern as we excavated layers and layers of history to find just a tiny fraction of Britain's stories.
     Crikey I even miss the British total preoccupation with the weather and how this very necessary skill keeps folks tied to nature in an immediate way that does not exist in many other places around the world and certainly in large swathes across North America where weather is often moderated by the large landmass on which we live, as opposed to the near continual atmospheric vagaries churning along, across and over the small islands of Britannia. 
     I miss the blessed green land of my ancestors. I miss driving through Wales with dear loved ones eager to show me "their" Wales in Pembrokeshire and the magnificent coast. I loved the bilingual road signs with Welsh first. The signs make excellent Welsh/English flashcards as one travels along very modern roadways from England and the Border towns. I miss the very fact that driving without a GPS of some kind in Britain is simply not on--in fact it is bloody stupid. I loved the unit in our rented van which mispronounced the Welsh so badly that it mangled the name of a bridge--bridge-over-some town, into Glnylldydllidll! I am so grateful for seeing the magnificent Welsh Atlantic coast in a Halcyon moment and witnessing the sun setting in the Western ocean for Les. It was one of the last things he wanted to do with me before he died. 
     Oh how I miss the steel skin of NB Valerie holding me within--my safe haven floating somewhere in the heart of Britain, the land of my heart's favorite soul. 

Les' sunset over the western ocean in Wales. 

Thursday, July 04, 2019

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you'll 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 memoirist, novelist, essayist and podcast host.

   Life right now for me consists of large sections of time filled with uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and trepidation, punctuated by lovely floating moments of grace, laughter and good conversation while spending time with loved ones. It is about taking one's own measure repeatedly and realizing the internal voice we each have is chirping like a cricket inside me repeating "Time is short, time is short, time is short." Life is still not sleeping well and feeling that two years, five months and nine days after Les' heart stopped beating, I am more weary and threadbare around my edges than I have ever been and that is okay. Life is accepting that for me, there no real home on this beautiful planet I love because my home here ceased to exist with the death of  Les. So I've become expert at parsing segments of time.
   Life at present is about catching up with friends and family near and far, some of whom I have not seen in twenty five or thirty years. It is video calling my British loved ones and seeing their lovely faces, hearing their voices, catching up with their lives and crying when I say goodbye. 
It's about making sense of my life and this screwed up country, desecrated environment and uncertain world. It is also about honoring the process of grief and self discovery, continuing to excavate through the ruins in my life with a therapist to keep me from stalling out of the process. 
   I remember my paternal grandfather after my grandmother Helen Russell, his wife of 53 years, died. He used to tell me that he had lived too long and seen too much. He was ready to go. I have reached that point in life when I feel the same. Papa lived another twenty five years into the very midnight of his life at age ninety nine, making the best of it for as long as he could while marking time until he was reunited with Gran. 
   I am looking for work, attending interviews and considering future possibilities because I continue to wake up each morning and needs must. I'm dealing with Crohns flare-ups and making myself indulge in self care, and And I am ready to write again. So, this is really just to let those who follow the blog know where I am at and to say hi. I'm back now. Thank you for your patience.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Les Biggs Memorial Daffodil Trail

Do not stand at my grave and weep 
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning's hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there. I did not die. ~ Mary Elizabeth  Frye, American poet and florist, 1905-2004

   Many who follow this blog know that in the year after Les' death I cruised slowly northward to the narrow canals Les loved best, stopping at his favorite places along the way to dig a hole, scatter some of Les' ashes inside, and plant Daffodils on top so that Les would bloom in all his favorite places along the cut and be adored by everyone who came upon his spring flowers every year. Here then are pictures and descriptions of each place, should you wish to stop and say hello. His spirit would love that and so would my heart.

   Finally I am calling out to any boaters who are willing to plant Daffodils and Forget-Me-Knots in remembrance of Les. There were several places I wanted to plant them but for various reasons--mainly bad weather and ill health, I wasn't able to do so.  The spots noted on the list below as VACANT are the ones I missed. If you come across one of Les' Daffodils and wish to send me a picture I would be deeply touched. xxx

Marsworth Reservoirs, Gran Union Canal. My deepest thanks to Dave Winter who follows our blog and has stopped to chat with us whenever he walked along and found us. Dave has been kind enough to send me pictures of Les' Daffodil blooming at Marsworth two springs running now. 
   Startops End Reservoir is a a magical place for me and Les. We moored there for eleven days in October 2011 while we waited for my worldly goods to be unloaded from the huge cargo ship that brought them from America. All 640 pounds arrived and were delivered to us at this spot by family members. We spent four days unpacking and putting books into the new book cases Les had built aboard NB Valerie for me. I hung art on the walls, and stained glass dragonflies and crystals in front of the windows. We put all of my kitchen goods in the new cupboards and cabinets Les built our of Billy bookcases. He sat back on his side of the dinette, his head resting against the wall one sunny morning with a look of utter satisfaction and happiness on his face. I asked Les what he was thinking. "Jaq you've made our boat a lovely home. Yes I lived on it before I met you, but it wasn't really a home like this. You make it a lovely place to be." And so did he. Les filled NB Valerie with his presence and his happiness. There was no place else on this earth either of us would rather have wished to be but right there together, cruising through our life.  

VACANT: By the bench at the top of Slapton Lock, Grand Union Canal.  Les died before the marinas were scheduled to be built nearby.  He loved mooring just below this lock especially in March and September when boat traffic died down and we had it to ourselves. We had the rare privilege (for us anyway) of watching a family of Mink diving and playing in the water there. 

VACANT: Linford Park, Grand Union Canal, by the stone wall near the two day moorings. Les also loved to moor here and walk through the grounds of the park, looking back at NBV waiting for us to return. Les gave his huge old leather chair away (to make room for two new chairs--one for each of us) at Linford Park in May of 2011, to a 12 year old who took it away in two pieces, balancing them on his bicycle!
My eternal thanks to our very dear friend Robert Rogers who borrowed this picture from our blog when we were last moored at Great Linford. Les is looking back towards NB Valerie through the trees. Robert added the words to offer me comfort in the months after Les' death. 
Stanton Low, Grand Union Canal: We first moored here near the ruins of the 12th century chapel and the wildlife refuge in 2012. We had the entire section to ourselves. The area was wild and overgrown.  I wrote a blog post after doing some in-depth research about the area going back to just before 1066. 
   It turns out Lord Charles Spencer, Lady Diana's brother owned this section of land adjacent to the cut with the chapel ruins. A group of locals who were working to save the chapel read my post, asked to use it for their fund raising purposes, and they worked with Milton Keynes County Council to contact Lord Spencer about the land. He agreed to donate it to the MKCC for a park to support the adjacent wildlife refuge and protect the chapel ruins if the land developers who had bought the farm on the off-side of this stretch of canal agreed not to build on all of the land but to keep a large swath along the canal as green space. The developers agreed and now one of the best planned housing estates in England sits at the top of the hill. A lovely green space filled with paths and walkways connect to the canal bridge and the park leads down from the houses to the cut. Les and I adored mooring here and watching the barn owls quarter the fields at dawn and dusk, hunting for food. This is one of those magical places for us like Marsworth. 
Les' daffodil plant (no flowers-just four leaves) in the foreground left. I planted it near the bridge on the towpath side. there are five large rocks to the right which block the bridge from automobile traffic.
Grafton Regis, past bridge 57 , around the bend from the weir. There are moorings there which overlook open fields filled with sheep stretching out to the distance. Les loved the view and every time he wanted to stop here, the moorings were full so I stopped there in May of 2017, dug a hole by the fence, scattered some of his ashes and planted a Daffodil for him. 

Gayton, Grand Union canal. Just across from a horse farm through Bridge 45 (Wrights Lane Bridge) there are lovely moorings in the countryside. Les and I loved it here. We walked up to the village of Gayton and went scrumping. We started working on sanding down NB Valerie here in 2014, getting her ready to paint. We had been through so much but Les' health appeared to be returning at the time and he felt wonderful. We felt as though we owned the world and were sitting on top of it once more. Les' Daffodil is planted in between the large Oak tree and the short post declaring the hazard of overhead power lines with Bridge 44 in the distance. 
Directly across from the horse farm. 
VACANT. Down the Atherstone Flight on the Coventry Canal in the long pound between the ninth lock and the final two locks in the flight. There is a white foot bridge half way through this pound and Les loved to stop there at a low gap in the hedge. It is quiet countryside with a lovely view of the surrounding rolling fields. I would be eternally grateful if someone would plant some Daffodils for Les, near the white footbridge. 
The White foot bridge in the distance on the Atherstone Flight was a favorite place of Les' to stop.  I wanted to plant Daffs there for him but too much traffic behind me kept me moving onward. 
Bridge 70, Wolseley Bridge, Trent & Mersey Canal.  There are lovely moorings just past this bridge and Les loved to fetch up here on our way to and from the northern canals. Wolsey Nature Reserve is a short way away, there is a pub just up from the moorings on the road, and bus service into Rugeley if needed. I planted Les' ashes and a Daffodil near the middle of the spaces which can accommodate as many as five boats on these fourteen day moorings.

VACANT. Great Haywood, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. This too is a magical place for us as it is for so many boaters. I was up to my armpits in painting the boat when I moored there and I didn't get a chance to spread some of Les' ashes and plant Daffs for him. Could someone please plant some Daffodils along the cut just where it opens out to the wide bit??

Over Bridge 71, The Macclesfield Canal. The foot bridge takes one to a muddy path into a leafy bower where a giant Beech tree gave up its life in a fierce storm many years ago now. Les and I found it blocking the pathway and we spent a day in August of 2012 moored up on the offside just through this bridge, cutting most of the tree into rounds and hauling them out and up onto the roof of the boat. It was hard and satisfying work but we were doing it together and that makes all the difference.
The spot between two large logs of downed Beech where I spread some of Les' ashes and planted Daffodils, on the path from Footbridge 70 on the Macclesfield canal. 
Footbridge No. 65 on the Macclesfield Canal. Very dear friends Ken and Sue Deveson on NB Cleddau keep keep their boat on the Maccie and they know it well. Sue writes, "In March 2017 I bought a Daffodil in a pot at Atherstone as we were cruising towards the Ashby Canal. It kept in flower on the top of the boat for quite a few weeks. I couldn't bring myself to get rid of it--and then I planted it in the Autumn near Bridge 65 on the Macclesfield Canal. I had once shown a picture of the mooring there, on our blog. Les commented that it was just the sort of "out in the country mooring" he loved. There are open fields on the offside overlooked by the dominant shape of The Cloud. Whenever I pass that spot and see the view. Les will be with me. xxx "
Bridge No. 65 on the Macclesfield Canal where Sue Deveson planted Daffodils in honor of Les' memory.  Picture taken from Boatwif's blog. © S. Deveson, 2017

Just before Bridge 103 N. Oxford Canal
coming from Braunston and heading to Napton. There is a lovely spot just after a bend with room for two boats before the bridge. There is also a large tree back from the towpath just there and I scattered some of Les' ashes and planted a Daffodil for him. He brought me here for the first time in September 2011 to recover from our wedding, packing up my things and shipping them, applying for my spouse visa, saying goodbye to friends and family, etc. We were both exhausted and this spot is the perfect place to fetch up for a quiet relaxing bit of rest and recovery. It is also splendidly scenic especially on a full moon evening in summer. Now a part of Les will always be there enjoying that wonderful view.

VACANT. N. Coventry Canal just past Springwood Haven Marina.  There are 14 day moorings just around the curve, out of site of the marina with woods all around but a break in the trees to allow all day sunshine for the solar panels. Les and I met Paul and Jennie Howland on NB Panda Julienne here in 2012 when we all stopped to cut up wood from trees that had been taken down on the canal side of the cut. It is a lovely, peaceful, rural slice of countryside and Les loved to moor up here. If someone could stop and plant some Daffodils for Les just off the towpath, I would be eternally grateful. xxx

VACANT. The Flashes, The Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union. We loved mooring here. Of course when we were last there together in 2012 there were no mooring regulations moving folks on after 48 hours. We stayed a week, enjoying the view and the peace and quiet. Hardly any other boats came to moor up nearby. This another fabulous beauty spot on Britain's canals.

Hurleston Junction, The Shropshire Union Canal. The final time I moored there in December of 2018, I dug a hole through the bridge right next to the bench which looks out on the junction and across to the bottom lock. A young man was sitting on the bench watching me.
   We had met previously on the Arriva number 84 bus from Chester to Crewe. He was off work for a long term medical condition that was slowly improving. To keep from losing his mind and feeling stuck in the house, he walks slowly down the lock flight each day and sits on the bench for several hours watching the boats, the locks, and the local wildlife. This bearded young chap knows all the lock keepers on the flight. On my final cruise before handing NB Valerie over to her new owner, I turned around at the Junction and this young man was watching me from the bench. I explained that I had to sell the boat and it was my final cruise. I asked him to please look after my husband's Daffodil and he promised to do so.
Les' Daffodils are planted just to the right of the junction signpost, next to the bench at the bottom of Hurleston Locks. 
VACANT. The top of the LLangollen canal with a view of Dinas Bran from the cut. We moored in several places there in 2012. Les went up on the LLangollen canal every year in March and April before the insanity of summer cruising and school holidays brought the unbearable crush of boat traffic that makes cruising this very narrow canal a bit difficult sometimes. We kept trying to get back up there to winter over but cancer kept us tethered to the Grand Union. I would love it if someone could plants some Daffs for Les as he loved the LLangollen canal best of all and I never did make it up there.
Les as the Bluebird of Happiness as we walk from our moorings at Llangollen to Valle Crucis Abbey ruins in 2012. 
VACANT. Near Bridge 80 outside of Whittington on the North Coventry canal. Les and I first moored here in 2012 where we met up with Jo and Keith on NB Hadar.  I loved they way we cruised through our days and then Les would say, "Here's a good spot. we'll moor up here." He was sharing his favorite special mooring spots with me, knowing I would enjoy the beauty of the countryside, the peace of nature, and most of all sharing each moment with my Best Beloved. This is one of our favorite spots with Cannock Chase not far away.

VACANT. The Wendover Arm, Grand Union Canal. We adored mooring on the Wendover through Tring Bridge no. 3 which is the current terminus of the arm. A charity organization is in the process of rebuilding it. I so wanted to get down there and moor up one more time to scatter Les' ashes there and plant Daffs for him by the bench just through that last bridge. We had some lovely days and romantic nights moored there.
   When we had Les' initial cancer diagnosis and we were waiting for his surgery,  we fetched up here. It is an incredibly healing place for us. We had permission to overstay and we spent a month here as son Kevin delivered our Greenstar juice extractor and I set about keeping Les alive and as healthy as possible before his first cancer staging surgery.
   Cruising this arm on a sunny summer day with dragonflies flitting all around us and Kingfishers dipping and diving all along the way was nothing short of magical and incredibly soul healing.
Les walks towards Bridge No. 3 on the Wendover arm, the last time we moored there in 2014.
Our lovely home in the summer evening sunshine on the Wendover Arm,  2014.
 VACANT.  The Leicester Arm with a view of Crack hill by Yelvertoft Marina. There are lovely moorings just past the entrance to Yelvertoft Marina and Bridge 17. This was our truly final carefree mooring in the summer of 2014 when Les was feeling fighting fit and we had no idea cancer was traveling through his system and setting up shop in his liver all the while. The blackberries were everywhere that summer and we walked up Crack Hill, picking and freezing fourteen pounds in three days! They made healthy smoothies for Les in the months to come.
Les single handedly holds up the Jubilee Bacon n the top of Crack Hill!
The Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis) and Tattoos
   At Les' memorial service in March of 2017 family member Adele Howard kindly made up small gift bags filled with plant bulbs or seeds and other little bits and bobs in memory of Les.  Our very dear friends Tina and Andy Elford's mom took one home and planted the Forget-Me-Knots in her garden. They bloom now each year and remind Sandra of past memories when Les, Tina and Andy cruised together. Sandra would travel down to visit laden with freshly baked cheese scones for her son-in-law Andy. Inevitably Les would winkle a few from Sandra, much to Andy's consternation!! Much laughter and good fun was had and those memories are very precious.
Image result for forget me nots
   Forget-Me-Nots are the Alaska State flower. The day before Les and I married my daughters and I got matching Forget-Me-Not tattoos; the same tattoo but in different places. I did it as a remembrance of my life before Les, in honor of my children, and I chose a place that only Les and I would likely see. As Les' life dwindled down he would peek at my tattoo, knowing that all too soon my Forget-Me-Nots would also remind me of him.
Les doing a little Tattoo peeking in the moments after we were declared husband and wife. 
Tina Elford's Forget-Me-Not tattoo design in honor of Les and other loved ones who have died.
I got this tattoo of entwined hearts and the infinity symbol in remembrance of our undying love and the nature of our relationship as soul mates. 
Our daughter Sparky designed this tattoo because Les said this to her once. The bluebirds are in honor of her Da' and his playful dances as the Bluebird of Happiness as he walked down the towpath of our life. 

Death, the last sleep? No, it's the final awakening." ~ Walter Scott

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs