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Friday, May 31, 2013

 After you've read the post "And the****** Dog ate Our Dessert, below, visit this web site featuring a well known television personality who does a gardening program, owns a Labrador puppy and lives in Sawbridgeworth.

...And the *%&#*% Dog Ate Our Dessert!

"Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something's wrong. He's not right in the brain." ~Dalai Lama

   After the lovely visit to Cambridge we were back on the Lee and Stort, which brings another river saga to mind: Deliverance! On the canals we make spur of the moment decisions about our day over morning coffee:
   "Shall we stay here another day or move on?" says Les.
   "The weather forecast is for rain late this afternoon through tomorrow. I think if we want to move we should do it this morning." Says I. 
   "Right then," replies Dear Sir and we up sticks, cruising along, perhaps doing several locks on the way until we find a spot that catches our fancy. We convene again quickly on the stern, decide the time and place is right and moor up for a few days to wait out the rain--to wait until the urge to move strikes again. 
As usual, gates left open...

   So we were unprepared for the rigors of river cruising on the Lee and Stort. 
   After leaving Waltham Abbey Town we thought we would cruise through the junction where the two rivers actually meet, up onto the River Stort, through a few locks, and find a nice quiet spot in the countryside. Ah, but it was not to be; the day went pear shaped quickly as I brought the boat out of a lock while Les snapped pictures of an old mill building instead of getting on the boat.
   Mildly peeved at me for not swooping slowly by to pick him up outside the lock, Les walked down the towpath with the windlass in hand, telling me to come slowly in and get him. I tried with no success--it was too shallow.  Looking somewhat disgusted with me due to his perception of my lack of steering abilities, Les marched on down the towpath and hollered for me to try again; and again; and again. The Lee and Stort Navigation is so shallow on the towpath side it was impossible for me to bring the boat in close enough to pick Les up, which had nothing whatever to do with my steering abilities.
   By now the bow of the boat was grounded, Les' arms were whirling like a weather vane in a high wind, we were both shouting at each other and, just under the next bridge hole was a gaggle of kayaks--most filled with children of varying ages with adults in separate crafts nearby. They were wide eyed watching all this unfold.
   The adults spotted the large metal boat heading in their direction and pulled over to the side with most of the kids in tow to let me pass--but I couldn't--Les was on shore and the bow was grounded. The kayakers thought I stopped to let them pass so they began to release the metal shuttering, floating out to the center or far right, paddling down through the bridge hole toward NB Valerie.
   Les had his back towards them and could not see through the bridge hole. He was ordering me to reverse the boat and take it out to the far fight--right into the path of the incoming kayaks. 
   "NO, I'm staying put right here until all those kayaks behind you have moved passed our boat. I am not running them over to pick you up." Les and I glared at each other until he looked over his shoulder, spotted the kayaks and realized how deranged he sounded. 
   The kids-in-kayaks were terrified of us by now--our huge metal boat had been lurching in and out toward the side, backing up, the bow swinging out towards the center, while the man on the path and the woman steering the craft were shouting at each other. 
   Finally they all passed by, I reversed our boat gently off the ground, cruised down to the bridge hole and Les stepped on the stern. By this time I was so angry I was shaking.
   Not only did Les cause this situation by snapping pics instead of paying attention to me and our boat, but then he presumed the issue was caused by his wife's inability to steer properly! Never mind back seat driving; this was towpath driving! He frequently forgets the one steering the boat has a much different viewpoint than the one standing ashore.
   We cruised on to the next lock in chilly silence while I fumed and Les smugly took control of the boat. While we waited for the lock to fill and bring us up, Les went off to talk with a local boater waiting to come down. Apparently the conversation referred to the shallowness of the Lee and Stort--especially the towpath side--because Les jumped back on board, put his arms around me, looked me sheepishly in the eyes and apologized.
   "I'm sorry Jaq. I was just chatting with that bloke and he did say as how this river is extremely shallow. He's had a hard time of it today as well." Oh isn't that JUST like a man! A woman tells him how it is and she is presumed too ignorant to figure things out; another man tells it like it is and he's suddenly an expert on the situation and believed without concern; and Les made me look incapable of steering our boat in front of an audience to boot! 
   Well suffice to say I forgave Dear Sir and went below to make tea as it was starting to rain. We needed calm and warmth. Soon enough we arrived at Sawbridgeworth lock. We figured we would find a nice mooring somewhere above the lock. We could sit out the rain and then investigate the town... 
  What did we see when our boat rose up and floated out of the lock?
 A long, straight line of bollards BUT---they were only there for looks in front of the lovely, new brick apartments (flats). Nope--no mooring allowed here, so we will move on through town and find a nice bit of towpath. 
Looking back at Sawbridgeworth--no joy there! Both sides beyond the forbidden bollards were too shallow to moor.
We passed the only official visitors mooring in Sawbridgeworth--room for one boat only, right next to a busy road. There were no mooring rings installed. We would have had to pin the boat to the bank about four feet higher than our bow and climb up the wall to get out. Sawbridgeworth--the town that does not welcome boaters...
Well, as you can see we were dismally disappointed. So onward we traveled, in the drizzling wet. By now we have been cruising for four and half hours. We were cold, damp, and tired from the emotional experience earlier and we just wanted a decent place to moor up! 
   Finally two miles on we came around a bend in the river where the towpath rose above us and the shoreline was choked by grasses. Les had had enough. Skillfully maneuvering NB Val alongside the thick sudo-shore created by centuries of dead grasses piling up, testing it to ensure it would hold him, we finally moored up, using bow, center, and stern lines pinned in place as the boat was sitting in a trench next to a reed bed about six feet below the solid towpath. 
    And we were well pleased let me say, as it seemed we had found a lovely spot of quiet countryside. Turns out It was frequented by joggers and dog-owners from Sawbridgeworth taking the country air with their hounds. They seemed quite surprised to find a narrow boat moored there. Like a lot of folks do, some stopped to have a chinwag, especially when they saw our lovely stock pile of wood on the roof. 
© Stein & Jacquie, 2012
   The next morning after coffee we looked up in surprise to see Jacquie and Stein on NB Like Ducks to Water coming back down The Stort. We had moored up by them the day before near Royden. They took off quite early for Bishops Stortford and the end of the line on the this river after being besieged by thousands of tiny flying gnats. We were planning to cruise up there in the next day or so to catch up with them; instead they were beating a path back toward us! We guided Stein in front of us and he moored up amongst the grasses, our boats bow-to-bow.
   At dinner aboard our boat that evening Stein and Jacquie told us not to bother cruising up to Bishops Stortford. The only place to moor was on the town moorings where a lot of continuous moorers were already filling most of the spaces and they looked like an unsavory lot to boot: noisy, late night drunken comings and goings, filthy language shouted back and forth. Across the river on the other side was a large factory of some kind--all industrial ugliness--and they said it didn't feel safe. Also the Elsan disposal was padlocked and local boaters indicated it was out of order.
   Well, all righty then! No point in going any further up the River Stort. Jacquie invited us to dinner aboard their boat the next night, after which they were going to do a marathon cruise to get the heck off the Lee and Stort and back onto the canal system. The entire experience had been depressing and stressful for them both. I agreed to make dessert for tomorrow's dinner and we bid them good night. 
   The next morning showed great promise! The sun was shining and the sky was blue. Jacquie and I chatted about all the walkers and their dogs--one in particular. She looked to be a fifty something woman with dark hair, cut in a severe chin length bob. Short and stocky, she wore a knee length Hunter green Macintosh and sensible walking shoes. Carrying a bright red leash in her hand, she was accompanied by a chocolate Labrador which appeared to be about a year old. Jacquie was certain she recognized the woman from some television show. I had no clue; all I knew was that she was one of about fifteen people who walked past carrying leash-in-hand but never clipping it to their dog's collar.
   Jacquie went off to begin organizing dinner preparations on their boat and I baked a pan of Angel Bars, opening my last box of precious Graham Crackers brought back from the States last November. When they were baked--the graham cracker crust golden, the top bubbled and browned, Les sat the pan just inside the stern doors to cool on the back seat in the shade while I logged in to my courses and graded student assignments. Angel bars do best when they set up in the fridge but there is no room in our little bitty boat refrigerator for a 9x13 pan of anything! 
   About an hour later I heard a commotion outside our boat. I looked out a window and saw the woman in the green Macintosh climbing up the bank on her hands and knees, towing her chocolate Lab by the collar! Strange behavior but oh, well...I was engrossed with work and gave it no further thought. At 3 p.m. I finished up and went out to retrieve the cooled dessert bars.
   Oh-my-GOD!!!! The entire middle of the pan of bars had been eaten and Immediately I knew that Bitch's bitch had eaten my Angel Bars! I was livid! Bloody damn dog owners who walk their dogs, carrying a leash in hand like a fashion statement but cannot be bothered to restrain their dog(s) are my main pet peeve about living over here. (This tirade is not directed at boaters like Maffi and Molly, The Palins and their dog Molly, or Sue and Vic and their K-9's because they all have well trained animals for which they are responsible.)
   Research indicates the average dog is as intelligent as a human two year old. I certainly would never allow my two year old child to wander around unwatched and unrestrained. I wouldn't expect them to stand quietly at my knees while I jacked my jaw for fifteen minutes with an acquaintance; I wouldn't allow my children or my pet to wander off into someone else's home unaccompanied 'nor would I impatiently scold my two year old for following their curious nature, running off and refusing to return when I called them. Such dog owner behavior makes me mental along with the ill perception that because they love their dogs everyone else does too. 
   I charged through the boat, half eaten pan of dessert in hand, raving and swearing a blue streak. I have a very long fuse but when its gone--it's gone, replaced by a very nasty temper. I knew I had to calm down. I don't have leave to remain and I couldn't jeopardize my future in this country by strangling this woman with her pretty red leash. She and her dog had to walk back past our boat to get home to Sawbridgeworth. I decided to bide my time by making a pan of fudge Brownies to replace our ruined dessert while I waited to confront her. 
  Soon enough the chocolate Lab came bounding down the towpath, leaped down the side of the six foot ditch and scrambled up onto the stern of our boat looking to finish what it started--owner nowhere in sight. I yelled and shoved the dog off the boat. By that time the woman came up the towpath about 500 yards back, calling her dog. When it finally ran back she put it on the leash and started down the path towards our boat. I waited for her on the bow where she couldn't see me...
   "Look what your dog did! Your damn dog at my dessert and you owe me fifteen quid for it," I held out the pan of half eaten bars for her inspection. The dog lunged for them and she leaned back on the leash with all her weight, yelling at the dog to behave.
  "My dog has been on its leash..."
  "Yeah right that's why it came back just now to finish these off. We aren't on holiday here--this boat is our home. You have no business walking your dog off the lead if you cannot control it." She sidled away from me sniveling, "Soooorrry," as fast as her thick legs could drag her Labrador along with her. At dinner later in the evening Jacquie said the same dog had charged down the stairs into their galley as she was cooking our meal.
   The next morning Like Ducks 2 Water started off on the long slog back down to London, waving goodbye. We decided to turn around at the next bridge hole and head back to the Junction, cruising up to Hertford. Stein and Jacquie had already been there and they assured us the River Lee was much better--not as shallow--and there were great places to moor. We planned to spend a pleasant week in town, visiting the local castle ruins, getting groceries, and having family and friends aboard to catch up. We were finished with the River Stort...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Doing nothing on another rainy day

Another rainy day so no cruising, still work on my solo boating motto of "there`s always tomorrow", and so a time to look through the picture files.

Must say i was pleased about the holiday weekend sunshine for those of you still working. Nowadays these holiday Mondays tail ending a three day weekend mean little to retired folk. To us every day is a holiday and we have those work days of the past to catch the sun hence ` there`s always tomorrow`.  I do remember though that when working not only did I know how many days to the weekends but also how many weeks to a three day one.

Everyone of you will hopefully come to an age that you can have my `tomorrow` attitude although the way the cutbacks are going folk might end up never retiring except government of course. We can`t have them working to long and not collecting their pension package the man in the street has sweated to provide them with.

Just a few thoughts as I gaze out at the rain battering the surface of the water. Best I stop before I mention that hole in our economy called the EU.

About seven weeks ago we came across contractors ripping out the old water points and
installing new flimsy looking, Stainless steel?, water points. Now I`m not sure if the two   
sites (Coy Carp lock and Bulls Bridge) we saw this happening had the black cast iron posts or a small metal box with locking door so best not attack CaRT yet. Ripping out the tall black posts would I think be a waste as they were very study and quite resistant to vandalism.
 The other box type had weakness in their design but if this is it`s alternative they should have saved their our money.
The one on left we are using and the one on the right is ready to use. No lock but you can see where it could take a padlock and yes those metal rings are very thin and easily forced off.
Have you noticed more and more of the hose attachments are missing around the system. I believe it down to metal thieves and this new style post will result in the taps also being stolen.

The small box half way down contains more metal fittings in the way of a drain valve and a stopcock all very vulnerable as is the metal casing.

 All along the navigation's of the Lee and the Stort reservoirs and worked out gravel pits form large expances of water. many have been turned into nature reserves and decent pathways have been laid
 to allow access around and across these watery areas. Here at Chesthunt a half circle of seating has been provided for walkers to sit and relax watching the wildlife on what was an old pit and now part used as a sailing club.

 Above our home in the capable hands of Jaq leaves Parndon lock and  passes Parndon Mill one of several along these navigation's. This building of 1900 replaced the one that burnt down in 1897 and is now used by artists and sculptors.
 This Glass and metal walkway over the weir at Parndon lock is one of several sculptures in the Harlow area. Another link here.

I did some time back finish the solar panel fixing. it can now be tilted in four directions with the telescopic handle. I have attached some chain and wire rope to deter the opportunist thief but if someone wants it they will succeed although not while we are on board. The panel is shown at it`s lowest position using the pole. Laying it flat does not need the pole to be removed on any of the four tilts.

The London Book Barge seen as we passed through London. Link HERE.  There are several floating bookshops on the canals this is just one.
Church House Roydon is Grade ll listed and stands next to St. Peters Church in the village high street. It dates back to 1425. The British listed buildings site notes a 15C small house with 16C and 19C additions. The site had no photo and mine will appear as soon as it has been approved.
Just to finish off some pictures from our Cambridge visit taken on the R. Cam.
Steam boat Ursula steams past Wide beam Pippin. The hull is 2001, boiler 1992 and the engine 1890. Altogether someones pride and joy.
Sailboats gently turn as we eat nearby with our Cambridge hosts
Punting on the College Backs.
Once again many thanks to John and Jackie on Pippin and Amy and James on M.B Willow we had a wonderful day.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mumblings of a mature boater waiting for summer.

Well with the wind howling and rain falling practically all day long the retired old gent and his loved one have a number of choices to pass the time. Leaving out the obvious we opt for lighting the fire, approaching June it is still chilly, and hitting the keyboards to launch us into cyberspace.

 Jaq is working on her Cambridge blog and I, after checking e mail, have decided to have a dig into the supermarket industry. Mmmm perhaps the `obvious` might have been a better choice but no matter the route has been set or in Jaq`s case her rowte has been chosen.

So what set this rainy day Google in motion?  Recently we did some shopping in Tesco and ended up with a voucher for 20p/30c
                                                                                                                                                                So U.S. readers, we have here in the UK heavy competition between the top four  
supermarkets one of which is called Asda (Walmart); another is Morrisons which purchased the UK Safeway group in 2005. Might as well mention Sainsburys--the fourth member of the `we are the cheapest` group. Waitrose in a word, expensive.

Anyway it seems something we purchased at Tescos is sold elsewhere at a higher price. All this of course is a gigantic racket as the terms and conditions, if you can be bothered to read them, exclude some items and some special deals. These tickets tell you nought but what they decide to tell you and by that I mean all supermarkets. The only way to tell who is cheaper is by using each on a regular basis and checking your bank balance.

This rainy day rant surfaced from a restless night following another Tesco shopping experience. It resulted in yet another Price Promise voucher. This one told us our shopping bill would have been £3.42 ($5) cheaper in one of the other supermarkets.

My inability to get off to sleep was driven by the desire to turn this visit into a comedy sketch for TV with characters the likes of Eric Sykes and Hattie as the customers, and Victoria Wood perhaps as the cashier. Maybe you can put some other all time greats in the queue with perhaps a supervisor and a manager coming into play as the sketch progresses. U.S. readers can cast their own favourite comedians.

Now as I set the scene it might all become familiar to you: after rushing along the checkouts trying to decide if three  people in a queue with a small amount of shopping will be faster than one person with a gigantic looks-like-the-end-of-the-world-is-coming pile of groceries. We choose a queue and are at the end of the conveyor belt trying to get everything out of the trolley/cart before the cashier has finished serving the customer in front. We need to be ready when it all know...the competition, the race.

 So tins and hard things up front, eggs and delicates to the rear of the belt. Some disagreement as to certain goods position on the belt but the packer will have the final say. It looks a close thing but the customer in front has finished and we still have not emptied the trolley but she has decided to use her vouchers and coupons that have been in her wallet for months. Quickly! We can do this.

It was close but as we finish off loading the belt the cashier is pulling plastic bags off a bundle, opening the tops and pushing them all across the end of the checkout. Okay, so U.S. readers might just have to choose plastic or paper, and the clerk will pack it all meaning this will not be familiar to you.

Back to the UK and the start time is approaching. As we move forward the cashier sees we have brought our own bags and instantly stops the plastic bag shuffle. Sweeping the bags to one side she mutters those pre-competition/race words "do you need any help packing?" We're wanting to keep this as an even competition, so I say  "no thanks." She takes this as a starting signal and begins passing all our groceries across the scanner at break neck speed.

 As fast as I pack she has doubled the pile of scanned goods; my eyes give my partner the "HELP ME NOW" look. Now there are two of us packing like fiends, trying to keep up with the eight armed cashier from hell. Sitting at the checkout eight hours a day this is the only fun the cashier has, other than when she has to call her manager because some poor soul has their card refused.

Her scanning speed increases. I look at the belt and see my chance to catch up as the loose veg inches along the belt. The clerk needs to weigh all veg and fruit so we will  have an opportunity to stand smugly waiting for the next item to be scanned.

Wrong! This girl knows her Onions and her fingers dance across the keyboard. In no time the quickly growing packing pile is threatening to overwhelm us again.

I suppose a good script writer can add in some good scenes but the end is not to be missed.
The grand finale is when our card is approved for payment and we have agreed to the number green points award for using our own bags; then the show begins as those printed vouchers appear..

The first two and a half feet of paper listing our purchases including multi-buys is pumping out of the printer. I don`t need to know I have 2 for £5 on cheese because that`s the reason I bought it. Next a voucher for £5 off when we spend £40. I just spent twice that but it doesn`t count so I just do what thousands of others do, put it in our bag and remember it when it has expired. Next that £3.42 voucher mentioned earlier that started this strange blog post. Last but not least comes the 10p off per litre of fuel/gas. That`s about 70cents but with the gallon being different don`t quote me.

Now since we are boaters, my addition to the scriptwriters finished piece will have a boatie ending. The scene
cuts to the petrol pumps where the boaters  have their narrowboat on a trailer causing chaos as they block all the pumps demanding not just their 10p but self declaration (amount of tax paid) as well.

Now you have to admire the technology of the supermarket checkout. No human can beat the scanner. It will scan faster than one can pass the goods through. The computer has been set up with perhaps 40-50,000 items plus the special offers like 2 for one etc. It searches through it`s memory to see if you are paying more than you would at a rival store. The only mistakes ever made by it  are caused by human intervention. A truly wonderful piece of kit.

So if it is so flipping wonderful why can`t it deduct the £3.42 off the bill TODAY.
Did you spot the date restriction on the vouchers?. The discount on fuel is fair enough but the £3.42 voucher is a bit much. They openly admit I would have been better off going elsewhere and then  put a time limit on when I can claim the money they overcharged me.

Jaq's rant about the supermarket queue goes something like this: she waits patiently in the queue for her turn as the cashier s-l-o-w-l-y scans the items of the women ahead of her because they have known each other since childhood and are catching up on all the news not fit to print. Eventually after the women have brought each other up to speed  on all births, deaths, marriages and divorces which have taken place in their housing estates (neighborhood) over the past twenty five years, it's now Jaq's turn to be served.
Suddenly the grocery clerk rips out a handful of plastic bags, throws them on the counter, mumbles "Do you need any help?" in a foreign accent; without waiting for Jaq to answer the cashier begins scanning grocery items at break neck speed with no commentary included,  presents Jaq with the receipt and turns to the next customer, leaving Jaq feeling as though her time is up and she must move on fast, finish packing and get out way of the next customer. Jaq feels like she waited for her turn and she will damn well take her time packing her groceries and concluding her business.

Perhaps I should end now before some of you call for my being declared certifiable.  I must tell you this afternoon of Googling led to the investigation of whether the plastic bag should be banned and also to consider whether re-cycling is working. This then led to why different authorities recycle different things.

Just briefly as I`m sure you can`t go on much longer with the old boater's mumblings. Of three districts I have lived in, only two recycle plastic bags. One won`t recycle foil in any form. One will only recycle cardboard with garden waste to end up as fertilizer. Also all three have different colours for the recycling bins. Why oh WHY can't there be some uniformity in what is recyclable and what goes into which colour bin. Just let there be three standard colours.

 So if you move house don`t worry as you will still drive your car on the same side of the road with no test to pass. Also there is bound to be a Tesco nearby but for sure  you will have to do mega research on your district's recycling to avoid being prosecuted for mixing unsuitable recyclables that your previous council deemed okay.

Another two reasons I love boating: no car and no recycling dictators with which to deal.

Bye all, you can now breath out. Normal blogging will follow.

Friday, May 24, 2013

A Visit to Cambridge

"In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed." ~Khalil Gibran

 John and Jackie Witts live aboard Wide Beam Pippin, up at Waterbeach on the lovely river Cam. John and I became Internet friends when I discovered his blog and left a comment about blog posts being like bottles with messages in them, thrown out to the universe where someone a world away thrills at the find. John discovered my blog in turn and we became fast internet friends. 
   I love John's writing. His is pithy prose; he has a turn with words that make me smile and want to read more. He is thoughtful, funny, and engages himself fully in the act of creative writing with vivid descriptions that place me with him, looking over his shoulder, considering whatever it is that has captured John's attention. Witt's  writing draws his readers into a conspiracy of fun with words and phrases. If you are a wordsmith or you love words and language, you will enjoy John's blog.
   John knew from my blog that I had fallen in love with narrow boats and British canals--everything about them fascinated me. He was kind enough to send me the collected works of Tom Rolt all the way to Cloudhouse--my American home. I devoured it with grateful thanks, touched by the generosity of someone I had never actually met. 
   Through John's blog I found Amy and James' writing about their lives aboard NB Lucky Duck. Both are students at Cambridge University--Amy was at Selwyn College and James at Clare College. I loved the spontaneity of Amy's posts which covered a range of topics from their cat Lyra, to baking on board, to her sensational thrift shop finds. I lived vicariously through them, experiencing the town and University from their viewpoint; enjoying sculling races in which they have both rowed and also served as cox swains in charge of the boats.
   Reading about the community camaraderie between the Witts and the Ducks as Amy and James are known, and the colorful characters that pepper their posts about their lives in Cambridge and the fens made me determined to make their acquaintance in person one day. John posted an invitation to us for a visit when we were up on the Lee and Stort and we jumped at the chance to meet them.
   Les and I left NB Valerie moored up at Royden and caught the train to Cambridge on a lovely Sunday morning. John was there to collect us and off we went to a parking space near the town-side moorings in Cambridge to hook up with Amy and James who had placed NB Lucky Duck for sale and bought Motor Boat Severner Willow--an old working boat which they are restoring while they live aboard. As you will discover if you read their new blog, Severner's are a class of old working boat. Willow was built in 1935 for the Severn Canal and Carrying Company.
   We had a look through MB Willow--a stout, solid working boat oozing with character and so LONG at 72 feet compared to our 58 foot floating home. While there is much to be done, James and Amy have the passion, drive, creativity, and knowledge to turn the NB Severner Willow into a lovely home and they are wasting no time getting started. 
   We walked with James, Amy, and John through the streets of Cambridge, thrilling at the ancient history and tradition which resides in the cobbled lanes and stone buildings, enjoying the whimsical and the sublime.
  The Knitted Bike! This is an amazing work of art which tours around town, turning up here and there. On our visit it was sitting outside a local punting business on the Cam.
Hardy's sweet Shop! Look at the size of that all day sucker as we call them in the States. Over here I imagine it would be called a large lolly!
  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the oldest example of Norman ecclesiastical architecture in Cambridge. Built around 1130 ACE (After the Common Era) it was serviced by the Austin Friars from the nearby Hospital of St. John which later became St. John's College.
The incredible skyline as one moves from town to gown--to which the University and its community is sometimes referred for the academic dress (regalia) often worn by fellows (faculty) and students. 
An ancient Cambridge street. No garish modern lights, signage or other items to give a clue as to what century it might actually be, with the exception of the yellow lines painted on the street. It could easily be the Middle Ages!
   Mentioned in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the town was called by the Saxon name of Grantabrycge, meaning "bridge over the river Granta," evolving to to Cam and eventually bridge over the river Cam--Cambridge.
    How many footfalls have echoed down the cobble and stone lane over the centuries? I close my eyes and listen: whispered bits of Danish, old English, Latin, and Norman French tickle my ears; the sounds of feet on the march to cloister and courses; horse hooves clipping against stone, and cart wheels creaking along. It's all there beneath my own feet!
A gargoyle about to take flight!
    Another timeless skyline...
 ...rounding the corner we found ourselves on Trinity Lane, hugged by the solid foundations of the Old Schools, left, awed by the spires and stained glass windows of King's College Chapel, center, and the golden glowing visage of Clare College, right. Still there is naught in view to tell me what century I am in.
 As if this impromptu tour is not enough, Amy and James had a surprise in store for me and Les. Ushered through the Clare College gate by the porter, we stepped into the quadrangle formed by classrooms and lodging.
 How many times have I seen similar scenes on television in Lewis?! Now it is my turn to visit the hallowed spaces of learning separated from the mundane world beyond; I am  standing amongst the gated close, the greens, commons and quadrangles of Cambridge University!  
   While John drove back home to help his wife Jackie with preparing our luncheon repast, we walked through the gated courtyard and beyond to Clare College Bridge--the oldest of those now in existence over the College Backs--or the Backs as they are known. 
   Pursuing their degrees allows them student access to Clare College's punt. Les and I were gobsmacked. What an incredibly generous and thoughtful treat!
    Down a steep, narrow staircase a punt awaited. James donned a straw boater, Amy climbed aboard and helped me and Les to settle in. James poled the boat and both he and Amy provided commentary on the view. Sitting back, just inches above the water line we glided along quietly past architecture and landscaping I have seen in films over the years such as Maurice, Harry Potter, and Chariots of Fire.
   Clare College to the left with King's College Chapel rising upward on its right... way to the Classical architecture of the Gibbs building and Bodley Court. 
  Clare College stretching away behind us. 
   Passing punts were chauffeured mainly by young men who spun amazing tales about the history of buildings, bridges, colleges, and people associated with the aforementioned. James and Amy quickly clued us in to the fact that most of the tales were not true; many were grandiose embellishments on bare facts and a lot of it was pure fiction. It was all about making money...selling the idyll to the tourists. As a University instructor I wondered how many of these young swains actually spent as much time and energy on their studies, which would be hard put to compete with punting the Backs making money on a sunny day.
A punt loaded with tourists and a spin-doctor chauffeur, right. James and Amy keeping it real for us, left.
Students reading on the grass while punts painted with King's College purple are moored at their feet.
   The Ducks were kind enough to explain to me how University education at a world class institution like Cambridge takes place: University tuition is set nationally so it costs no more to attend Cambridge or Oxford than it does to attend a lesser known local school such as Bedford University. One does have to have very good grades though. Courses are taught by professors who are often the most prestigious expert in their field and usually attended by 3-8 students who will be expounding on issues and writing essays, engaging in reasearch, and authoring treatises which will be reviewed by the professor and their course peers--up close and personal. One is expected to defend one's work, not merely write a paper and turn it in for a grade. Average tuition is about £9000 a year.
   The American University system pales by comparison. To attend a prestigious U.S. University--for example Harvard--one would rack up tuition and fees of close to $150.000.00 for a degree. Add in the Greek system on nearly all American University campuses with the attendant issues of alcohol abuse, hazing, and what I feel is the debasing treatment of members--especially girls, with the coup de gras of swelling enrollments of anywhere from 80-600 students per course impacting actual teaching and learning, and there really is no comparison in regard to educational quality between the U.S.  and the U.K.
   As we traveled up and back again, turned and headed in, the Backs became rammed with punts filled with tourists and families of University students. Boats captained by less experienced punters ended up colliding once or twice with ours and everyone elses, causing traffic jams in the water. No license or experience is necessary to rent a punt on the Cam. Just pay the local boat hire company £14.00 and off you go, quant pole in hand, to wreak havoc on the river. 
Traffic begins to accumulate on the Backs--both on water and land.
   Punting looks easy from a distance. Up close one quickly discerns the only means of steering the low riding water craft is with the pole, lifting it in and out of the water, pushing off the river bed and dragging the pole in the water like a very long rudder. 
   It was clear to both Les and me that James is an expert punter, rock solid on his feet with extremely keen balance; he didn't panic, hurry, or lose his temper. In fact I noticed that his energy is quite intense and focused--like a spring about to bounce but held in check by some internal force; qualities which will serve him well as an elementary school teacher, working with bright, inquisitive young children.
James takes us past the Bridge of Sighs so named because of the supposed sighing of students as they crossed from their quarters to the tutor's office for exams.
    By comparison Amy is the very embodiment of the saying "still waters run deep." She knows what she wants and quietly goes about getting it done. They compliment each other extremely well. I am not an envious person by nature but I do envy their youth--that they found each other early in life and discovered a mutual joy of narrow boats and living aboard--managing to follow their dream while earning their degrees. They are two exceptional people.
The Bridge of Sighs in the far back with Kitchen Bridge in the front and St. John's College on the right.
   James mentioned he spent quite a bit of time punting on the river and I could certainly understand why. If one had access to it during a time less harried by tourists, it could be a place of quiet beauty and solitude, draped in eight hundred years of English history. 
James digs the pole into the riverbed as we float beyond Mathematical Bridge behind us.
   Amy has a degree in Architecture. I can think of no better place to earn such an education than amongst the lasting beauty of Cambridge.
   There has been a school of learning here since 1209 and CU is the second oldest University in the English speaking world. It was begun supposedly by fellows who felt unappreciated by their Alma Mater--the first University in the English speaking world--Oxford. It is also the third oldest surviving University in existence after Oxford and the University of Bologna in Italy, established in 1088. 
   At Cambridge there are thirty one colleges established between the 13th and 20th centuries; three colleges endowed by royalty: King's established in 1441 by Henry VI, Queens' begun in 1448 by Margaret of Anjou (Queen of Hank 6), and Trinity started in 1546 by Henry VIII.
   The oldest surviving College is Peterhouse founded in 1284. Clare College comes next, begun in 1326 by Elizabeth de Clare, granddaughter of Edward I. The newest College is Robinson, founded by British philanthropist Sir David Robinson. There are 16 old Schools founded between 1284 and 1596; 15 new Schools founded between 1800 and 1977. Cambridge Town and its University have survived the centuries weathering the Black death and the English Civil War.
A Willow draped dream...
    Slowly James expertly turned the punt back into the tiny inlet where it will lie waiting for the next Clare college student seeking some water time. Our swan's eye view of the river Cam had come to an end. What a grand experience! As James, Amy, and Les returned some of the equipment to the College, I stood on Clare College Bridge soaking in the view.
The spheres on Clare Bridge, built in 1639-40. This view takes my breath away.
   When they returned we walked out to the street to wait for John and a large silver sculpture caught my eye. 
DNA Double Helix by Charles Jencks, 1953, in honor of James Watson, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosemary Franklin--the brilliant minds who research uncovered the existence of deoxyribonucleic acid--DNA.
   John Witts whipped in and picked us up. Lunch was ready! We arrived at Waterbeach private moorings and took a quick tour of my first guillotine lock, marching forth onto the spine of a grassy field with resident pet sheep. I've never been close to one before. Sheep have strange, yellow eyes!
   We crossed over the grass to the lovely wide beam Pippin where an umbrealla'ed table sat decked out with place settings, and tapas--thin, crispy bread sticks, small bowls of olives and platters of thinly sliced meats. 
   Jackie stepped out of the boat to greet us and I was utterly captivated by her. As folks are wont to do--especially writers who create characters in their head--I had a preconceived picture of Jackie Witt created from a collage of John's words and phrases in describing his wife and aspects of their life, strained through my naive American cultural viewpoint.
   Jackie works for the BBC as an independent program writer. Currently she is re-writing programs for the likes of Home & Garden television, translating Brit speak to American speak and vice versa. She was involved in the making of the British series Three Men in a Boat. Jackie commutes from Waterbeach to London, having lived in London for some years where she and John met at their favorite neighborhood pub.
   So in my head I pictured a slip of a woman with short, platinum hair, sophisticated clothes, jewelry and makeup, dashing off to BBC London each day in fabulously expensive heels-ala Candice Bushnell's character Carrie Bradshaw in the book and U.S. series Sex in the City! I sheepishly realized my version was trite and one dimensional--based on what an American thinks of the hallowed halls of the BBC, the slick worldliness of London, and those who might be employed by there in its hallowed halls.
 The real Jackie Witt is smart and devastatingly witty in that lightening quick way Brits have with humor; delightful double entendre comes easily to her underscored by a soft, sarcastic humor which rolls from her tongue. Well it would, as she is a writer by trade. 
   She is deep and thoughtful. Jackie's watchful eyes are framed by a halo of dark curls which the wind cannot keep from running its fingers through. Her beauty radiates from deep inside and those with eyes to see cannot miss it in the way her smile tips slightly at first from the corner of her mouth, or the candid way which she engages you with a visual focus that tells you she is quietly attentive to who you are and what you are about.
   John is every bit as spellbinding in his way. Both are kindness and generosity itself but there is also an undercurrent there that says neither of them is anyone's fool. 
   Lunch was delivered to the table without fanfare and what a lunch! Roast lamb with anchovies and garlic, a host of delicious roasted vegetables, savory homemade gravy, wine, beer--it was a feast amongst friends and we were honored to be included. Dessert included a platter of amazing cheeses and chocolate Kahlua cake. 

Lunch amongst friends: around the table clockwise is James, Les, me, Simone and Chris from NB Light Enough to Travel, and Jackie Witts.
John toasting to us
 Throughout the afternoon we enjoyed stories from John and Jackie, Amy and James, while a host of folks from neighboring boats traipsed by to say hello and stop for a plate of cake, a sip of wine, or a nosh. In the way of generous people, every time friends came by WB Pippin's mooring there seemed to be more food to share, like the loaves and fishes on the mount. Too soon dusk was coming on and it was time for us to go. 


   Jackie drove us to the train station where we were totally amazed by the sheer amount of bicycles racked up and waiting for their owners' return. Me and Les sat quietly on the train holding hands and listening to students speak in at least three languages as we journeyed back to Royden and home to our boat. What a splendid day! We offer deep, appreciative thanks to Amy, James, John and Jackie for folding us into their lives for one sunny Sunday and making us feel so welcome.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs