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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seesawing Through Congleton

"You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear." ~Sammy Davis Jr., American actor, singer, and dancer  

I have edited this post to try and remedy some issues with Bloger but per usual, Blooger has done whatever it wanted. I apologize in advance for the different sized fonts. I've spent three hours trying to tidy this all up and I now concede defeat!! 

     Once again it has taken me weeks to write a blog post. This isn't due to living such a fascinating life that I am too busy to post; 'nor does it stem from having too little time to write or lack of ideas, or Internet signal. I am simply too depressed to write. Everything seems like a huge effort, even breathing. Just dealing with the activities of daily living or as David MacDonald (NB Waka Huia) calls them, The Administration of Life Duties, leaves me gasping for breath metaphorically. Les was my joy and now he is gone--nine months last week--and my joy has flown with his soul. The only time I have any peace of mind or feeling of serenity is when I am on the back of the boat and it is moving. All else is a long held breath, waiting for a signal to exhale and inhale once more in the hope this time it won't feel like a knife cutting me in two.
     I reached Congleton and moored up just past the Biddulph aqueduct on the straight open stretch of embankment with spectacular views of the railway viaduct across Dane Meadow below. When Les and I were here back in 2012 there were no houses stretching to the edge of the aqueduct on the off side and no houses down in the valley or above on the ridge to the east either; just a small farm that didn't mar the view. In the five years since we last visited, progress has marched onward leaving housing estates lapping at the edge of the canal and a HUGE house down in the valley that lights up like Fort Knox at night. The other fly in my ointment is dogs. Dozens of them!
     I thought it was odd that I remembered the stop lock at Scholar Green, and Ramsdell Hall and then the woods at Bridge 71 but had little memory of Congleton and now I remember why: the local dog owners, not happy to have a huge meadow and woods nearby in which to walk their animals; they bring them out to the towpath to set them free to run--and shit everywhere. In 2012 we cleaned dog poo off our shoes no less than five times in a week of mooring in this beauty spot. I conveniently blanked it all from my memory. This time I stepped in three piles of dog poo while mooring up, swearing a bloody blue streak while scrubbing my shoes in the cut.
     There were only two boats moored up on this section which can easily hold six boats. Virgin trains came and went across the viaduct, scores of dog walkers gathered in clutches on the towpath to discuss local news and admire each others' dogs. The thin sun shone through the clouds and before mid day another boat hove into view: NB Cleddau! Ken and Sue Deveson were taking their boat down onto the Middlewich Arm. NB Cleddau is gone for the winter to be painted at Aqueduct Marina and we knew our boats would be passing one another so we planned to meet and here they were at last!
NB Cleddau and NB Valerie moored up just as they were five years ago in July. A fabulous evening of good food, delightful conversation and shared camaraderie was such a lovely gift between friends.
Sue says hello from the side hatch of NB Cleddau.
        We shared a lovely dinner that left me groaning in pleasure followed by hours of good conversation about a wide variety of things as we always do. The next morning I brought my Nicholson's guide number 5: Northwest & the Pennines, and I picked their brains about every good mooring place the length of the Macclesfield and the Upper Peak Forest canals. Since they have a mooring on this canal Ken and Sue know it well and they were a blessing indeed. After morning coffee it was time for us both to move; they were continuing westward for the Trent & Mersey, and me? Well I needed diesel and coal.
     It was Sunday, October 8th and hurricane Ophelia was making her way northward from off the coast of West Africa. By the time it was due to make landfall in Ireland and Western Wales the next day, Ophelia would be downgraded from a hurricane to a Tropical Storm, nonetheless 65 MPH winds were forecast for the northern region of the country, with torrential rain so it was time to make sure NB Valerie and I were ready to ride it out. 
     I went on to the next winding hole and turned the boat back to the West. The nearest diesel to be found was at Heritage Wharf just to the west of the Ramsdell Railings. I meant to stop there on my way Northward but my mind was distracted by memories of Les and I cruised on past before I realized it. Never mind as my Best Beloved would say, while the water and service points are few and far between on the Macclesfield canal there are enough Boat yards and wharves to take care of things. I played leap frog with Ken and Sue who had cruised a short distance to tie up near the Queens Head pub moorings in the Congleton cutting, taking the stairs up the steep bank side to the street above with a short walk to the very well stocked Premier shop for a grocery top up. I waved to Sue as I passed and carried on, enjoying being on the move again even if I was cruising waters I had just passed through several days previously. Needs must.
     Soon enough NB Cleddau was behind me, cruising along past the Congleton golf course, the winding holes, farm fields, moored boats, canal side pubs, and the Ramsdell Railings until I reached Heritage Wharf and pulled in to moor up. Ken and Sue hailed me one last time and off they went, disappearing ever westward. The folks at Heritage Wharf were a lovely bunch and very helpful. Soon enough the diesel tank was full and four bags of coal were lying on the roof. Although a sign over the marina entrance states NO TURNING, I was allowed to turn around in the entrance to their marina, saving me hours of traipsing along back to the stop lock at Scholar Green, over the aqueducts at Kidsgrove to turn again at Red Bull aqueduct and make my way north-eastward again all the way back to Congleton.
Ken at the tiller of NB Cleddau as they pass me at Heritage Wharf.
     By the time I was approaching Congleton golf course and Billy Tights footbridge (I love that name!) the wind was picking up and I was chilled to the bone. I came through Bridge 77--Lamberts Lane Bridge, passed Congleton Wharf which is no longer a working wharf but an upscale office building with a wide winding hole in front of it and two day moorings across the way on the towpath side. I slowed down to creep over Dog Lane aqueduct and pulled in to the only spot deep enough for a boat to moor. I was just across from an open section of canal with a deep reed bed but no tall trees. When a wind storm is on the way one looks for a sheltered spot with no trees nearby to up root and crush the boat. This spot would do me and it had the added benefit of easy access to the adjacent housing estate which allowed me to schedule an Ocado grocery delivery! After mooring up I took a scalding hot shower, and drank a hot cup of tea while I ordered my groceries and scheduled the delivery for 9 am the next morning, just eking it in before Storm Ophelia arrived. 
     Morning arrived with a deep gray brooding sky. Ocado texted me that my delivery was running late and it would delayed by an hour. I waited until I heard a van sized engine on the other side of the hedgerow and the sound of a huge metallic sliding door opening and I knew my groceries had arrived. I walked down the towpath, turned off onto the grassy area across the street from number 6 Derwent Drive and my order was waiting for me. Five minutes later the delivery man was gone and I was ready to ride out the storm. As the day progressed the winds climbed quickly, blowing through the reed bed which made a susurrating hollow sound as the grasses bent over, rubbing against one another. Trees in back yards were tossing their branches like wild dancers without rhythm. The boat, while very securely moored up on chains, pitched and shuddered as the sky darkened and the sun turned a dirty orange color. Street lights turned on, and leaves scattered with the wind gusts, whipped into a frenzy. Rain lashed the world around me, pebbling the surface of the canal, tapping loudly at the windows and the roof. Inside NBV, I sat with my feet up in front of the stove, the fire glowing warmly as I read. No sleep was had that night as the winds whistled and howled and rain poured from a coal black sky. Below are two short videos of the storm taken from our boat.
     When Les was alive I used to love nights like this; burrowed into each other, held close in his embrace, I felt safe and secure under the down comforter, warm in the nest we made together, the wild windswept world held at bay by our love. Now the world feels desolate and the bed is empty--even when I am in it. I try to write but my thoughts flutter around and suddenly disperse like gray origami birds flying away to melt and disappear before I can clarify any meaning. When I finally do sleep, I wake six hours later to the near minute and no more, with the instantaneous realization that I am alone and Les is still dead. It hits me each time like a fist to my guts, bending me in two, knocking the wind from my lungs, stealing my breath, and breaking my heart again, again. Somewhere along the way on my journey I have moved from the frozen feeling of shock over Les' death, through numb half awareness, to the ever present knowledge of my loss which follows me throughout my waking days and nights. Grief is a living thing--a feral animal shredding my heart with its nails, begging to be let back in again, as if I had any power to keep it shut outside me. 
     On Tuesday morning the world was bright and sunny, blue skies shined above the cut, and I was ready to move again but first I had some cleaning up to do. These winter storms traveling up from the coast of Africa bring orange Sahara dust with them. In spite of the rain, a fine orangy grit coated the boat. Both the stern and bow were filled nearly up to my knees with wet leaves sticking to everything. I swept the leaves off the roof, out of the stern and the bow. I wiped down the sides of the boat and washed the windows while a batch of Brownies baked in the oven and a load of laundry washed.
     A boat appeared slowly crossing Dog Lane aqueduct behind me. It was Teresa Tunnicliffe on NB Rainbow Chaser, towing their purple butty and its tender--a small row boat. I was just preparing to cast off and now I walked to the aqueduct and shouted hello. At last! At last we meet after months of exchanging posts on FaceBook. Teresa's daughter Chez graduated from WSU in Pullman, and worked for awhile as a scientist at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Tri-Cities where she met her husband Dustin. The world is such a small, small place sometimes.
     Teresa and her partner Carl were stopping in Congleton to top up groceries. I passed them just as I had passed NB Cleddau days earlier, headed back out to moor up on the straight embankment again. We would catch up with one another farther up the cut. I had one last thing to do before meeting friends Amy and James Tidy at the bottom of the Bosley lock flight on Wednesday. As I passed through Congleton cutting I met a hire boat coming in the other direction. I pulled way over as far as I could and slowed down to a stop. The canal is extremely narrow and shallow at this point, with reeds creeping out towards the middle, floating islands of grasses which had broken away from the shore and mats of fallen leaves choking the cut. After they passed I put NBV in gear and started forward the tiller began to shudder in my hand. I had picked up something around my prop. Damn!!! I managed to travel very slowly back out to the embankment and moor up. I had a load of clothes to hang out to dry, and I thought I would change the oil before tackling the weed hatch and clearing the prop. A dry, sunny day requires making the most of it by tackling a list of chores best accomplished without rain, winds, and storms.
    After taking advantage of the lovely mild weather to hang what will no doubt be my last load of laundry dried out in the sun, I went down into the engine bay, drained the old oil out, replaced it with clean oil, mopped and cleaned my engine bay and turned my attention to the weed hatch. I opened it up, sat the hulking, heavy weed hatch cover to one side along with the big metal belt that keeps it in place, and began groping around in the water, feeling my way to the prop. Yep, there certainly was something wrapped tightly around it. I pulled my arms out of the cold, dirty water, reached for the knife Ken Deveson had gifted me precisely for this purpose, and set about hacking at the obstruction. I managed to loosen some of it and pull up a long wad of thick blue plastic rope, tied in knots, and part of a thin plastic line with cloth prayer flags attached at intervals. I worked for an hour up to my armpits in the water but my arms are too short to reach under the prop and the tangled wad refused to come loose.
This phot was taken by the lovely boaters on NB Holderness. Their engine bay is exactly like mine. That green box just above the v point of the engine hole is the weed hatch. The lid is on very tight because a loose weed hatch cover will sink a boat. Removal of the weed hatch cover allows access to the prop which is in the water, down under the tiller.
Now this picture was taken by Halfie on NB Jubilee. This is exactly what it looks like when one goes down the engine bay, removes the weed hatch cover, and straddles parts of the engine while rooting around in a small square opening, up to one's arm pits in canal water, feeling for stuff caught and wrapped around the prop. I had to use someone else's picture of this type of event since I cannot simultaneously root around in the weed hatch and take pictures of myself doing it!
This is only a small part of what was caught around my prop. the rest was cut away and has sunk back down to the bottom of the canal--hopefully to stay there.
     Suddenly I felt the boat dip and I knew that someone or something had just stepped on board at the other end! A standard poodle off its leash, its owner nattering away with several other women all surrounded by loose dogs, had smelled the freshly baked Brownies and leaped aboard NBV to swagger through my boat and place its paws on my galley counter, sniffing eagerly at my pan of cooling Brownies. Needless to say I was livid!!! 
     "Whose bloody dog is this eh???" I call out loudly glaring at the pack of women and their canines.
     "Oh my dog is shaming me," says his owner as she laughs with her friends. She begins to call her dog, as though it is perfectly proficient in the English language and just being difficult in ignoring her exasperated entreaties to "Come! Comer here!! Come right now!!!"
     "You should have your dog under control in public and the best way of doing this is to keep it on a leash!!!"
     "May I come aboard your boat to get my dog?"
     "Well I bloody well guess you'll have to won't you?!!" 
     NB Valerie rocks as the woman and her Poodle wrestle each other in the narrow confines of the boat. She swears at the dog and finally manages to drag it back off the boat by is collar--still not on a lead. No apology, no responsibility, she just walked off up the towpath with her friends, shrugging her shoulders as though I was at fault for the misbehavior of her animal. I found myself wishing for a gun or a whiskey. Either would have done me fine. 
     In my hurry to exit the engine bay, I turned away from the open weed hatch to dry my hands and knocked loose the wires to the fuel pump. Now I had loose wires I didn't know how to repair and something stuck around the prop. I started to cry in frustration. If Les were alive he would have had both things sorted in fifteen minutes. I hate, hate, hate feeling helpless. Time to call River Canal Rescue (RCR). Abi answered the phone, managed to understand me through my angry tears, said an engineer was twenty minutes away and told me to calm down and make myself a cup of tea--it would all soon be sorted. And bless her it was. Jake from RCR showed up shortly after I called, cleared the prop and fixed the loose fuel pump wire, admiring my sparkling clean engine bay. He started the engine and tested the gears to make sure everything was working. I thanked Jake and sent him on his way with a foil wrapped parcel of freshly baked Brownies and went to turn off the engine. It wouldn't shut off! I hailed Jake and he turned around and came back. He found the kill switch on the engine and then spent twenty minutes following the ignition wiring from the panel down in to the engine bay. Every engineer builds boats differently and each boat is wired the way each individual engineer does it so there is no quick and easy way to determine which wire is causing the issue except to start at the ignition and work one's way to the other end, checking with a voltmeter for electrical charge on the line. Eventually Jake found it, repaired it and the engine turned on and off as it should. Job done!!

A picture of the Cloud from the moorings on the Aqueduct near Congleton.
A picture of the Railroad viaduct over the Biddulph valley, taken from the aqueduct where I was moored. This one is for my dear cousin Bryce in Canada!!!      
The beauty of the evening sky in October.
A morning moon! This was taken at 7:20 am.
A boat moored in front of me in the silence of a morning mist.
     Wednesday morning was partly sunny and still milder than usual for autumn. I was up early, dressed for cruising but first I gathered a glass bottle filled with Les' ashes, a trowel, and a Daffodil bulb and I walked up the towpath, over the railroad aqueduct and onward to Bridge 71--the pedestrian footbridge across the canal. On the offside a foot path dips down into a wood before sloping up to a meadow which carries the path off towards The Cloud--an escarpment which stands out for miles above the lower landscape.
      When Les and I were here in July/August of 2012 we walked over the footbridge and as we entered the woods we found a HUGE downed Beech tree blocking the path! It had actually fallen in a winter storm in 2011 and local hikers and bikers had cut away just enough small branches to barely squeeze by on one side. Bicyclists had to lift their bikes over the massive trunk which stretched parallel to the path for at least the length of our boat--58 feet. Les was in Nirvana, dancing around excitedly. Nothing stirred his blood quicker than the thought of wood for the winter! We hiked back to NB Valerie and cruised around to moor up just past the footbridge on the offside. Despite the shallowness of the Macclesfield canal we managed to just pull her in and moor up. We slipped and slid down the muddy foot path--Les with the chainsaw and me with the ax. We spent the entire day cutting up as much of the tree as possible. First we sawed away any lengths we could cut up for wood and set them aside. Then we worked to cut the main trunk into manageable sections which we rolled down the embankment or rolled up to one side out of the way of the foot path, Finally Les sawed sections of the old Beech into rounds and then used the ax to split them into manageable hunks. We each made twenty one trips back to NBV, our arms laden with firewood. Nine hours later the path was cleared, the mud carpeted in a thick layer of sawdust, and our roof was covered in firewood, neatly stacked to dry for winter. We felt blessed to have found such a treasure in such a lovely spot. I loved working with Les to bring in wood. He commented once on our first foray into gathering firewood in 2011, 
     "Jaq I don't know any other woman who would work beside me as hard as I do, and not complain. You really love this don't you?"
     "Yes I do. I like the satisfaction of hard work that pays off. I love the idea that our winter warmth is taken care of, sitting on the roof ready to go when we need it and most of all I love you Les, and I love every minute spent together doing things that make you happy. It pleases me to please you." 
     "I am such a lucky man Jaq. The longer I know you, the more I know how lucky I am and the more I love you. It would have been enough for me that you like living on a boat. You never blink when there is work to be done. You just pitch in and help, even though I would happily do it all for us both." I recall this conversation as I climb up the stairs to the footbridge, tears stinging my eyes as I stand looking at the empty spot where we moored five years before on a sunny, July day, thinking we had decades ahead of us to enjoy life together.
This is bridge 71. We moored just through it on the offside and filled the roof with wood.

Looking behind me at the path leading to the bridge from the canal.
The footbridge across the canal. The woods are on the far side.
The path through the woods; looking back at the footbridge. It is still as muddy as ever!
Part of the large Beech trunk we cut up in 2012 sits beside the footpath to the Cloud in the distance.
The broken trunk of a once majestic Beech tree. It really gives one an idea of the fury of the wind storms that lash this country.
Les and I rolled these two sections of trunk off the path. My blue back pack marks the spot where these two trunks create a safe space...
...and this is where I scattered Les' ashes and planted a Daffodil in his memory.
More of the Beech tree we rolled out of the path. This really give one an idea of just how huge the this tree was; we literally filled the roof of the boat with rounds of woods and stacked them three rounds high to be split later! And still there is so much of this tree left.
The woodland foot path as it passes Les' Daffodil planting, leading to the meadow and the Cloud in the distance.
     I climbed down the stairs on the other end of the bridge, slide down a short, muddy slope, cleared the overhanging branches and the shade of the wood enveloped me. The huge pieces of Beech trunk Les cut away are still there! Nature is slowly reclaiming them; fungus grows now on the exposed sides and animals and insects make their home in the long, thick logs. As I stand facing the split trunk, a couple of hikers and dog walkers slowly pass me, ambling along the path towards the meadow, The Cloud filling the distant vista. They are able to enjoy using this path because my Best Beloved and I spent a day in 2012 clearing away a downed Beech tree together. I climbed over the largest trunk, dropped to my knees, and used the trowel to dig a hole in the earth. Gently I unscrewed the lid from the jar of Les' ashes and poured them into the wet, dark hole, as tears ran down my face and dropped in on top of them. I placed the Daffodil among Les' ashes, scooped up earth and tamped it down around the flower bulb. When I was done, I stood and remembered Les and asked the wood to bless his ashes and watch over this small bit of his remains. I told Les that I love him, and I hope his spirit will visit the wood and rejoice in the memory of one perfect day in July...and then I turned to go.
      Within thirty minutes I was cruising past this very place, saying a sad goodbye, goodbye again. I stop just after bridge 68 to fill up with water and in two hours I am moored up at the bottom of the Bosley lock flight. It is 1:30 pm. I've baked Brownies, and a fresh loaf of Artisan bread for American toasted cheese and ham sandwiches and made a bowl of potato salad. Ten minutes later James Tidy knocked on the window, his sweet brown eyes smiling at me, his wife Amy standing next to him with a windlass. We sat down to eat before tackling the twelve lock flight. Cups of hot tea and a good lunch provided sustenance for the work ahead although I confess: I had the easy part; driving the boat in and out of locks and enjoying the breathtaking view of the countryside. In no time at all really...90 minutes...and we are at the top!! All but two of the locks are in our favor and we meet a CRT work crew bringing a working barge down the second lock. They helped us with the lock gates and I passed them a foil covered package of Brownies for later. At the top lock adjacent to the Service point, I dumped three weeks of rubbish piled in black plastic bags on the roof. It felt great to be rid of it.
Cows pause to consider sauntering over the canal bridge to see if the grass is greener on the other side.
Looking back at the previous lock. As one rises up, the view of The Cloud changes although it continues to dominate the view.
The Cloud seems to rise with the boat!
Amy and James Tidy--helpers extraordinaire, boat people and an all around lovely couple!
     I moored up just past the lock and we said goodbye. They blessed me with their help and their friendship and I am looking forward to seeing more of them over the coming months. Both are working at Bollington Wharf, having brought their boat MB Willow down from the Middle levels and the River Cam where they were based for over a decade as they earned their degrees while living aboard their first boat NB Lucky Duck. Eventually they sold her to buy Motor Boat Willow. I remember fondly the day Les and I visited them and they took us into Cambridge to go punting on the backs. James deftly handled the shallow boat, managing to evade scores of other boaters whose punts were behaving more like Bumper Cars than water craft, while Amy sat with Les and I, pointing out the sights. It was another high point in our lives and something Les never ever imagined doing. That day was a lovely gift and the beginning of our friendship.
     On my own again, I cruised through the next bridge, number 53, past a line of permanent moorings. The perfect space was available just past the very last boat. I would be hunkering down once more as another tropical storm--Brian--came bearing down on us over the weekend ahead. Once again I was moored up in a lovely spot with no tall trees nearby. The boat behind me was moored up for the winter but no one was actually on it. There was a gap of about fifty feet between me and the next boat in front of me. Cows roamed the fields on both sides of me, A small stream traveled quickly through the thicket below me on the towpath side, filling my ears with the sound of running water. The Cloud loomed up behind me. I've risen 118 feet in twelve locks, providing me with a completely different perspective of The Cloud.

Yet another tropical storm was approaching: this time its name is Brian. below is a short video showing its power: 
     The next morning who should appear beside me, but NB Rainbow Chaser! Teresa and Carl moored up past me just around the bend in the cut. While we battened down our hatches in wait for Storm Brian, we visited each other and got to know one another. We have a lot in common; Teresa's husband Bern died of brain cancer six months after they moved to Spain to start a new life. She has walked her own grief road in a foreign country and she knows exactly how I feel. Carl was her neighbor in Spain--another British ex-pat. She is a retired nurse and he is a former RAF aircraft engineer. Eventually they discovered they were a good match and their lives brought them back home to Britain to live on a boat. Teresa is short like me, and Carl is tall and soft spoken with laughing eyes and a kind manner. Time spent with them has been a blessing.
Cows coming down for an early morning sip of canal water.
NB Rainbow Chaser with her smaller purple butty behind, followed by its tender, which is what a small boat tied to a larger boat is called.
Teresa and Carl getting ready to cruise.
     The 19th of October was my 60th birthday. It was a miserable, quiet day. I was not fit to be in anyone's company. It was my first birthday after Les' death, my first birthday without him. It was another "first" in a lifetime of such firsts stretching endlessly out in front me. 
     A grocery delivery at the top lock on Saturday morning brought my weekend paper and a top up of some heavy goods like long life juice and evaporated milk, fresh fruit and veg. I am too young to qualify for a free bus pass. so the cost of grocery delivery is equivalent to the cost of taking the bus into Congleton and back for groceries. We weathered Storm Brian and Teresa and Carl cruised away towards Marple and the Upper Peak Forest. They have relatives coming from the States and a time line that requires a quicker pace than mine. We will rendezvous again as they return to head back down to the Trent & Mersey. 
     I waited two days for good weather to cruise in and today was the day. I faced my first electric swing bridge at Oak Grove near the Fools Nook pub which for some reason makes me think of Tina and Andy Elford on NB Ytene and the time they spent cruising with Les. There is a story there that Les has shared with me, but I cannot pull it to the surface. Never mind...I moor up the boat, walk up the foot path to the lane, cross the bridge, read the instructions, insert my BW key, push the green button, wait an eternity and finally the beeping alarm sounds and the barriers drop at both ends of the bridge. Cars begin to queue at the left and a bicyclist becomes impatient to be on his way. He dismounts and carries his bike up the stairs, across the footbridge, down the stairs and pedals off while the rest of us wait what seems like forever for the bridge to slowly swing open and settle parallel to the offside of the canal, groaning to a stop. I crossed the foot bridge, un-moored the boat, climbed on, cruised slowly through the narrow gap past the open bridge, slowed down, brought in NBV to the side, jumped off with the midline and moored up again. Back down the towpath, across the lane in front of the waiting line of cars, up the stairs, across the bridge, down the stairs and then pushed the red button; waited an eternity while it seemed nothing was happening. Drivers sat ignoring the entire process, texting on their phones. The beeping alarm started up again, the bridge slowly swung back out across the canal and dropped into its place, stopping with a shudder. The barriers lifted and the beeping stopped as I removed my thumb from the red button, retrieved my BW key, crossed the lane behind the departing line of cars, walked back down the towpath, unwound the midline, pushed out the bow, jumped back on and cruised away. I heard Les' voice suddenly in my head: "Good job Jaq. I'm proud of you darling. I knew you could do it."
     Now I have to confess that this post is five weeks past due. The post before this one about The Narrow Junk Food Boat actually took place after everything in this post occurred but I didn't want to leave Bernadette hanging on, waiting for me to post about her enterprise.
     Besides moving through Macclesfield and Bollington, I have simply been overwhelmed with depression. Those who have experienced it know it can take every ounce of your personal determination to rise out of bed and make yourself eat. I have done that most days but there are a fair few days in my personal diary which are blank on the page and in my head; lost days I call them. I am nearing the end of my cruising for this year and the anniversary of Les' death is looming ahead of me. I have to rebuild my life on my own with all that entails and right now it feels so overwhelming sometimes I have trouble getting my breath. I will get this blog caught up to where I am now, and then...well we will see.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Narrow Junk Food Boat

"A food waste reduction hierarchy-feeding people first, then animals, then recycling, then composting-serves to show how productive use can be made of much of the excess food that is currently contributing to leachate and methane formation in landfills." ~ Carol Browner, American lawyer, environmentalist, and businesswoman, who served as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011

 Les always said, "You never know who is on a boat." We have met people on boats who had more money than Bill Gates, and we have met folks who go from hand to mouth but would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it. This is one of the amazing things about the cut which I love; the variety of people who choose to make their home for all or part of the year aboard a boat, cruising through life at 2 MPH. We are an intentional community and for the most part we look after one another.
     Today I had the privilege of meeting someone who does just that--looks after others--in a very concrete and mindful manner. Her name is Bernadette and her boat is NB The Narrow Junk Food Boat. She moored up behind me on the Bollington Aqueduct this morning and promptly put out her signs and boxes of food. That's right--boxes of food for anyone who wants or needs it, absolutely free.
     Bernadette is part of a world wide program known as The Real Junk Food Project which is a global, organic network of Pay As You Feel concepts. They divert surplus edible food destined for waste and make it accessible for human consumption. Why is this a relevant issue in 2017? Well here are some facts and figures for you:

Roughly one third of the food produced in this world for human consumption every year (approximately 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted. Sources: Global Food Losses and Food Waste--FAO, 2011. the environmental Crisis: The Environments Role in Averting Future Food Crises--UNEP, 2009 

Approximately 795 billion people on our planet do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That is about one in every nine people on earth!-Sources: State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2015 accessed online, 10/29/2017.

     Bernadette came to narrow boat living through hiring a Black Prince boat years ago and having such a great time, she began planning and implementing hire boat holidays for herself and her friends. When her job as a school caterer began to be too complicated with bureaucracy and red tape, more managerial than cooking, Bernadette threw in the towel. She took an early retirement and bought a boat. She has lived aboard for five years, traveling the cut and while Bernadette loved the laid back lifestyle, her brain craved stimulation. On the look out for something she could do--a project that fell in line with her personal beliefs and which she could back with her time and efforts--Bernadette found the The Real Junk Food Project Cafe in the Yorkshire town of Hebdon Bridge where she volunteered regularly. Earlier this year she filled out the application forms, paid the one hundred and sixty pound fee which included her boat trader's license and took the legal steps to become a viable part of the TRJFP. She collects out of date food from Morrisons and other supermarkets which is set to be binned and she either sets it out on the towpath or on her tug style boat deck in boxes, or she cooks up a delicious meal and offers some to anyone who is hungry for whatever donation they feel moved to make--or none at all if they are down on their luck. With years of experience feeding others on an industrial scale as a school caterer, Bernadette has good judgment about what food is acceptable to offer and what is truly spoiled and inedible. Now Bernadette owns a floating Real Junk Food Project cafe feeding bellies not bins on the cut somewhere near you!
         I was invited to help myself to whatever was laid out and I nearly fell over my feet to see a half dozen boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese meals. These are American imports!!! Over in the States a small box of Kraft Mac N Cheese costs about a dollar. Over here as an import it sells for upwards of £3.49 a box. Kraft Mac N Cheese brings back warm memories for me, as a stressed out single mother and full time University student who also worked part time. Nearly all of our meals were made from scratch by me--breakfast, lunch and dinner. Occasionally I would give in to exhaustion and buy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I made it following the directions on the box. Then I bulked it up by draining a can of tuna fish and flaking it into the Mac N Cheese, followed by a drained can of green beans stirred into the cheesy sauce. Finally I topped it with a drizzle of Heinz 57 steak sauce. YUMMY!!! Well, I liked it and called it dinner. My daughters called it something else--as in "Oh Ma, do we have to have Shitty for dinner????" Never mind as Les would tell me, it serves me well these days when my culinary efforts on my own behalf are less than stellar. What a find!! I am chuffed to bits and very grateful. It certainly fits my very tight monthly budget.
     How did TRJFP get started?
     Adam Smith is a founder and co-director of the visionary, multi-award-winning, global initiative: The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP). Set up in December 2013, to revolutionize the disposal of avoidable food waste into landfill, the pioneering movement’s manifesto is to: feed bellies, not bins. A professional chef for over ten years, Adam has held a wealth of head chef positions, internationally. Whilst in Australia, Adam witnessed the scale of food waste, agriculturally and within the catering industry. Upon his return to the UK, he was inspired to set up TRJFP. (, accessed online on 10/29/2017.) To learn more about it please view this video:

As we witches say in one of our many blessings, "May you never hunger; may you never thirst." Blessed Be

Sunday, October 15, 2017

If the Macclesfield Canal Were a Woman

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." ~Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar 

 ...she would be beautiful but not easy! This canal is narrow and shallow and there are only certain places where one can get one's boat in to moor. Nevertheless this slice of the canal travels through some of the loveliest countryside in east Cheshire. Les I and were on it once, during the summer of 2012. It was an even greater struggle back then as it hadn't been dredged in years. CRT recently dredged some of  this canal, and that work is ongoing. 
     I left Westport Lake at the south portal of the 2926 feet long Harecastle tunnel two weeks ago. I was the only boat traveling through the Stygian bleakness of the tunnel which was dark, cold, and very low. At five feet one inch tall, Les always called me his short arsed wife. But there were places in the depths of this tunnel where I could not sit on the elevated stern seats and steer. I had to stand on the stern deck and still the arched ceilings of the tunnel brushed my hair as I passed. I cried as well, missing Les and it doesn't help with poor depth perception if one's face is leaking. I was ever so grateful to emerge, blinking and red eyed at the northern end of the tunnel, greeted by a CaRT employee. 
     My plan was to moor up on the towpath just past the first large bridge where the Kidsgrove railway station sits. According to Google maps there were steps from the car park leading directly down to the canal and I as I had visitors coming to see me, I thought this would be a perfect place, but no--the bank is very high and hard there, and not only could I barely scramble up out of the boat, but the wind was blowing steady with stronger gusts as I stood on the mid line to keep hold of the boat while attempting to hammer a mooring pin in what amounted to dirt packed so dry and hard it was like concrete. It was not to on I cruised to the nearby junction of the Trent & Mersey with the Macclesfield canal. The sun was out after four days of thick, dark clouds and rain with very high winds of up to 60 MPH. It felt good to be moving and the sun was a boon although the wind was gusting up to 22 MPH so I had to pay attention. 
The red dot at the bottom is the northern portal of the Harecastle tunnel. The green line follows the Trent & Mersey Canal out of the tunnel and northwards towards its terminus at Prestonbrook. The Pink line follows the Macclesfield canal where is begins at Hardings Wood Junction with the T & M, parallels the T & M for a short bit and then a sharp C turn carries the Macclesfield over the top of the T &M by way of an aqueduct after which it carries on towards Scholar green, Congleton, the Bosley 12 lock flight up to Bollington, Macclesfield, Higher Poynton and Marple where the Macclesfield ends when it intersects the Upper Peak Forest Canal above the Marple flight of 16 locks.
     I made the turn onto the Macclesfield canal and immediately looked for a nearby spot to moor up. Our friend Angela Walsh (NB Bright Eyes) was driving up from Berkhamsted to visit and reclaim the lovely folding bike she had given me a year ago in August. I've tried several times now to ride it as well as someone else's bike and the results weren't good. My left knee screamed whenever I tried; the motion of pedaling carried my foot to the top and required a very deep knee bend with muscle pressure to push my foot downward.  I would focus on the left knee and quit focusing on my balance and fall to the ground. Apparently I now need a tricycle and there is definitely no room on NBV for one of those! I have had to swallow my disappointment and be happy I can walk again without pain. So I had told Angela to park in the Kidsgrove station car park and walk down the steps to meet me, but now that plan was blown. Time to come up with a quick Plan B. Onward I cruised.
     There was no place at all to moor up until I made the next tight turn at Red Bull and found myself going over the first of two closely spaced aqueducts: one over the Trent & Mersey canal and one ahead of me over Station Road. I found a space to moor up between the two and thought I had it made! I texted Angela the new address at the Red Bull Pub which appeared to be easy to access from high up on the Macclesfield canal according to Google maps. Just as I was finishing mooring up Angela texted me that she was there in the Red Bull parking lot! Okay! Of course because I didn't know the area, I bypassed the steep steps leading down to the Trent & Mersey canal below me. Had I taken them I could merely have sauntered up the towpath about 1500 yards, stepped over a lock and been there. But no, no I must choose the most difficult means to accomplish anything with my dyslexic perspective and so I found a wretchedly steep path barely worn into a hillside next to the Station Road Aqueduct and I practically rolled down it to a fence which I climbed over to find myself at the bottom of someone's driveway on Station Road. I still had to walk up the street, turn left on Congleton Road and walk about 850 feet before I spotted Angela texting me to ask where I was. Never mind; I got there in the end and no worse for wear actually. We had lunch in the pub then drove around like lunatics while I tried to find a closer place for Angela to park, in conjunction with where I was moored. We ended up over near Kidsgrove station in a pub parking lot that was actually farther away! 
     As we sauntered along the towpath with Doglett--Angela's wire haired terrier--we came across NB Ceirog! At last, at last I met Chris Thorpe and her husband Andy. Chris comments on the blog regularly and she checks in with me via email to make sure I am all right, bless her. We had a short natter while Chris took a break from painting the roof of their boat. They are planning to cruise the Maccie too so we will see each other again and have time to sit over a cuppa and have a good, long conversation. 
     Finally Angela and I reached the steep steps from the footpath on the Trent & Mersey leading up to the Macclesfield and there was NBV. It took us a great deal of energy to remove the bike from the back of the boat. It had been put on there by a certain marine engineer after he built the bike rack and installed it last December while Les and I were in London. I had not uncovered the bike since then so imagine my dismay to find the custom bike rack had been installed backwards to my drawings and instructions, basically making it too difficult for me to remove any bicycle on my own, as it was sitting in the curve of the swan neck tiller bar. 
     With the bike on Terra-firma we wheeled it down the towpath to the steep steps, Angela carried it down the steps, I stravaged along behind her with Doglett and we wheeled back down the Trent & Mersey towpath to Angela's car. Job done! Angie took me shopping at the nearby Tesco and we discovered there was a driveway just at the bottom of the steep cutting I had rolled down several hours earlier, AND...there was actually a path that led up the hillside to the Macclesfield canal just after the Station road aqueduct! All righty then!
    Angela and I said goodbye and I carried my groceries to the boat when I was assailed by the most pungent gawdawfull pong that smelled like a thousand latrines being emptied into an Elsan point. I started to wretch, dropped to my knees and heaved up my lunch. As it turns out there is a sewage treatment plant just adjacent to the canal there behind the hedge. Time to move! It was just after 6:30 PM and daylight was fading but I knew I could not stayed moored up there so I upped sticks thinking I could just travel around the next bend and find a place to moor up for the night where the smell from the sewage couldn't reach me. I found a  line of boats moored on the towpath before the next bridge, with the back garden fences of housing on the towpath side.  
     'Yes, that'll do nicely,"I thought but I could not get the boat in to the side and I ended up high centered, which took me twenty minutes to undo with the use of the boat pole. On I cruised in the slowly receding daylight, past the long line of moored boats, through the bridge, through a another bridge and the same thing happened again; although boats were moored there, I could not get NBV in to the side.  By now I knew Scholar Green stop lock was ahead of me and I reached it in the dark at 8:00 pm. I put the tunnel and navigation lights on and worked the lock. I had no idea what was beyond the lock in terms of mooring but I knew there was a water point directly in front of me and a boat moored just beyond it. I reasoned that despite my draft of 2 feet 6 inches, I could get in to the water point so I did and there is where I moored for the night. Now those who don't boat on canals will not know that one NEVER moors at a service point for any longer than it takes to access the services and fill the water tank, dump the rubbish, empty the loo, etc. but I simply could not travel any farther so I did the naughty thing and moored there for the night. I left plenty of room for someone coming into or out off the lock to moor up behind me and plenty of room for someone to moor up in front of me to access the water point. I dropped my fenders, tied up the fore and aft lines, cleaned the ash from the fire, revived it, locked the doors and went to bed! Early the next morning I filled up with water and moved on.
     As I cruised for the moorings at the Ramsdell Railings, a boat passed me headed in the other direction. It was NB Rivendell and the woman on the back smiled and shouted, " I read your blog!" I thanked her and smiled. I was really touched by that. About half a mile before Ramsdell Hall the wind suddenly sprang up into big, blustery gusts. As the mooring spot appeared with one boat on it, I knew I was going to have trouble getting in. The wind was blowing from the west, carrying me away from the towpath. There were boats on permanent moorings just across the way making the water left to me even narrower. Sure enough I couldn't get NBV into the side without the wind grabbing the bow and taking it in the direction of the moored boats. Suddenly the bow doors of the lone boat in front of me flew open and a man and woman came out while putting on their coats and hollered at me to throw them my mid line. I did so and he caught it from his bow, pulled me back, I threw her my stern bow and they pulled me in while the wind whipped our hair around into our eyes. It turns out they were a married couple on a hire boat. Angels they were, willing to step out and help another boater who was struggling. I didn't get their name as they were walking off to visit a nearby national trust house and then moving on. 
The vista afforded one when mooring at the Ramsdell Railings. Between bridges 86 and 87, at Scholar Green, Ramsdell Hall and its extensive garden lies on the off side of the canal. In order to set off the entire scene the towing path is bounded by a most attractive decorative ironwork fence mounted on a low stone wall.
Ramsdell Hall from the cut.

Looking back at NB Valerie in the distance, moored at the Ramsdell Railings. You can see the boats across from here on the permanent moorings. 
"So far," I was thinking, "so good!" I am on a countryside walk to Little Moreton Hall.
Over the river the style and through the woods and across the field...
...the path grows wetter, and wetter until I come to nothing but mud up to my ankles. I could not take pictures and keep my balance so you will have to take my word for it! Two mucky, cow patty filled fields later...

     I spent two days on the Ramsdell Railings, resting and recharging  batteries--mine and the boat's. Thursday morning dawned clean and only slightly overcast so I thought I would honor Les and walk on the nearby footpaths  to visit Little Moreton Hall, built in 1559. Just after I left the towpath and traveled along the farmers track towards the Hall, climbed a style and crossed another filed, the ground turned to sludge. It was a mire of thick, wet mud. I continued on anyway which was a mistake because soon enough I had crossed another style to find the footpath went straight through a farmer's field awash in cows, mud, and cow shit. I could see the gate to the grounds of Little Moreton Hall ahead of me across the field and so I gamely stuck it out remembering ruefully the times Les invited me to go for a walk with him, only to find ourselves slogging through mud and animal crap towards some undefined goal. This is not my idea of fun, and invariably I would turn back to the boat to wash my shoes off in the cut and  then wash them again in the washing machine. 
I fetched up at Little Moreton Hall to find it enclosed in scaffolding.

30 Conkers (horse Chestnut) Spider Repellent
Horse chestnuts repel spiders!
     By the time I reached the grand house I was not amused. I  found the entire exterior of the place covered in scaffolding and it was twenty minutes before it opened for visitors. I gave up, heading out to the road for what I thought would be an easy walk back to the towpath but no--it was a long walk and I lost confidence that I was actually traveling in the right direction. I missed Les--he was my touchstone for this country, making sense of the senseless for an immigrant, and he could sort things out and keep us going...I started to cry and finally, finally after stopping at a farm shop to ask for directions I found the bridge over the canal and the stairs to the towpath. My reward? Someone had left nine peeled chestnuts sitting on the rock wall! 
I pocketed them to place around inside NBV as a spider deterrent and trudged back the mile and half to the boat. It was time to move again, so while the weather held I cleaned off my shoes, switched to another dry pair, put on my cruising clothes, put down the telly antennae, pulled, put the tiller on, lifted the fenders, untied the ropes and off I went, headed for Congleton.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs