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Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Time and the Livin' is Easy..

"Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, never lose a chance to make them." ~Francesco Guicciardini 

   Since we left Bulbourne after seeing Mikron Theatre three weeks ago we have upped our cruising pace, similar to old times before Les fell ill. It feels so good to be on the move once more!
Our lovely Ozlem
Grandsons Teo and Batu
   We really enjoyed the trip down the Aylesbury arm we were quite pleased with our stay in the Aylesbury Canal Society's beautiful new marina facilities. They are conveniently located two locks outside the town center, near a Tesco, an NHS surgery, good bus stops, and other amenities. It was easy to catch the two buses required to visit our lovely daughter in law Ozlem in Thame and enjoy family time with Les' grandsons Teo and Batu. We've been trying for nearly six months to get there for a visit but the buses out of Aylesbury stop early in the evening, making it difficult to get back to the boat from anywhere else. 
   We stayed on a bit longer than we planned in the ACS marina as I put my S-I joint (Sacro-Iliac--commonly thought of as one's hip) out and needed chiropractic care. I've seen four different chiropractors on our journeys along the canals but  the first one ever is my favorite. His name is Jeremy English (DC MSTAT) and he is truly wonderful. Jeremy has a clinics in Watford, Hayes, and will also see some clients in Berkhamstead. He understands living aboard a narrow boat, and he is thorough and kind. He was willing to fit me in at his home in Berko and I was soon right as rain. Jeremy emailed me a week later to ask how I was feeling too. Now that is a healing professional who cares about his patients. 
The Aylesbury Arm
   After chiropractic care last Saturday at 4 p.m. we said goodbye to the friendly folks in the ACS marina and cruised back up toward Marsworth.
   This arm is a different world from the Grand Union in general. Sixteen locks over six miles drop boaters down from the fields lapping the base of the Chiltern Hills through the vale of Aylesbury--a world of flat land bordered by grasses and reeds taller than most men. In a boat the view is reduced to a wall of slowly passing reeds below a dazzling blue sky. This arm is shallow so one must reduce speed and cruise slower than usual. Doing so also means one is privy to the most amazing wildlife. 
   Les was astonished to see a ten inch Pike grab a smaller fish in its jaws and swim off into the darker shallows of the reeds for dinner. Tiny fish fry swarmed in the thousands; four inch Perch visited the surface, their red tipped fins giving them away. Large blue, green, and red dragonflies continually buzzed the boat, providing an escort along the canal. 
   Damselflies gathered in mobs to mate amongst the grasses, and Moor Hens walked across the yellow flowered Lilly pads with their clown sized feet, as we traveled by. 
   Dozens upon dozens of Purple Martins swooped and dived joyously all around us, feasting on early evening insects hovering above the water. By 8:30 we were moored up at one of our favorite spots just above lock ten. We enjoyed bowls of homemade minestrone soup on the veranda (I've nicknamed the bow the veranda, and the wardrobe, back steps and stern are the bottom-of-the-garden) as the sun began to set and the spinning world slowed down.
Bothered by swarms of  midges? Swing the mooring line above your head like a lasso! Don't forget to yell "Yeeeha!"
   Six pairs of nesting Red Kites wheeled across the fields, settling down for the night, their eery high pitched calls sounding like a soprano cat meee--iiiaoow, repeated three times in every call, echoing on the cool evening breeze. Across from NB Valerie the reeds were shaking and rustling. Suddenly two small Reed
Reed Warbler hunting dinner
Warblers appeared flying in and out of the reeds, perching on the low tips of grass only to throw themselves in the air after insects while doing the most amazing maneuvers--sometimes upside down in flight! they make tiny cups of woven grasses attached to the reeds as nests.      Finally dusk faded to night, the growing moon glowed in the sky and we were off to the land of Winken, Blinken and Nod.

 Tiny Plums
   Sunday morning was muggy and partly sunny with low dark clouds threatening in between which shafts of golden sunlight played on the water.  Thunder rumbled in the distance; still it was eighty degrees and hot! 
Cherry plums with Nectarines for scale.
   Before long we were rising higher again, back up the Ayelsbury arm with the Chiltern hills spread out before us, fields glowing gold and green. Plum trees hung over the towpath, dressed in green fruit awaiting the sun's kiss. Finally we reached the staircase locks at the top bring us back to Marsworth.
   As Les filled the lock I looked up to see a large tree bowing over the towpath waving round, green leaves over my head. I looked again and the the branches were studded with small, fat red fruit! I jumped off the boat as it rose even with the towpath and sampled a bite: cherry plums! Yummmm! I picked a colander full and took the tiller as we cruised out of the top lock, around a wide beam moored on the off side, and I spun NB Valerie a three quarter turn toward the water point. A boat was just leaving, so I slowed, brought the bow in toward the side and as the other boat left I eased NB Val's stern alongside the towpath.
   "Nice steering," called the man on the other boat.
A boater fishing near our mooring at Little Seabrook lock.
   After taking on water we headed North. We had a date on Thursday with a new cooker! Before that though Les had to catch a bus to Luton to our daughter in law Jo's to pick up his new smart phone. We moored up above Little Seabrook locks which is another quiet favorite of ours. I worked grading course activities, did a spot of boat cleaning, washed a load of clothes, and baked a carrot cake in my Barbie sized camper oven. Isn't it amazing how much can be done when a man is not under one's...well you women know what I mean!
Who Da' Boss
   Monday we set off again, just as a hire boat came around the curve out of the lock behind us. We were going to ask to go into the next lock with them; we hadn't seen the second boat behind them, so I hovered near the towpath as Les took off with the windlass to offer a helping hand at the next lock. I followed the flotilla at a respectful distance, and hovered mid canal for nearly twenty minutes as a lot of faffing about ensued. Finally the two boats went down the lock, Les refilled it and in I went.
   The very lovely, beautifully shiny, glowingly painted private boat with masses of perfect fresh flowers spilling rambunctiously out of pots along the entire length of the otherwise spotlessly clean roof was crewed by couple who proudly boasted they too were live aboard boaters--for two years--in a nearby marina. They took their boat out for short cruises to Tesco in Leighton Buzzard, or up to the Marsworth Reservoirs every now and then.
   Slow as molasses in January, it was clear they had little clue what they were doing. Every time the husband brought the boat into or out of a lock, the wife, with windlass at the gates cried out, "Clear???" and the husband shouted back, "CLEAR!!!" Only then did she close the gates. Paddles were forgotten and left wound up on the way out; her hubby got out of the boat to stand uselessly with rope in one hand and windlass in the other, only to realize the lock was going down and he had to climb gingerly down the lock ladder to access their floating home. One would have thought that living aboard for two years would have afforded more practice at dealing with moving a boat through a lock than was apparent to us. We followed behind them, slowly poaching in the relentless summer heat as they crawled along the canal at a snail's pace for three locks which felt like eight.
   The hire boat finally broke free and was gone from site. Eventually we ended up sharing a lock with them during which the husband spoke not one word to me but reached out continually to stroke his very clean and neatly gathered midline--almost like an obsessive compulsive strokes his next fresh bar of soap. I suspect the very fact the tiller of our boat was staffed by a competent woman boater bruised his tender male ego.
   At every lock Les always went up to help with the gates and he had a chance to chat with a woman who was traveling down to the Kennet & Avon canal along with her husband.
   Les asked, "Where are you headed from here?" (Here being Church lock.)
   "We are going down to the K & A. Once there we will put the boat in a marina through the summer school holidays."
   "Why in a marina?"
   "Well, the canal just gets too crowded and we don't want to wait in long queues for the locks." 
   "Why not just change your cruising times? You could start earlier in the morning and be moored up by noon, or wait until late afternoon--say 3:30--and cruise until  8 P.M. There's still plenty of light in the summer to cruise late. Cruise from Tuesday-Thursday and sit tight over the crowded weekends. It just seems a shame to waste the summer sitting in a marina when you could be enjoying the canal." At this the woman shrugged unhappily. 
   "I have to do what I am told, " she replied. 
   Really??!!! It's a good thing I am not married to her husband. The first thing I would do is buy several T-shirts with slogans such as "I never do what I am told," and "You are NOT the boss of me." Then I would cruise off a leave him in one of the local pubs to find his way--if he could--back to our boat moored at least fifteen miles away. All this just goes to show it takes all kinds and there are all kinds out there.
  We stopped in Leighton Buzzard for groceries and quickly moved on out of town to a quiet spot for the night.

Ya' Got to Have Friends
   We were up and away early Wednesday, looking at suitable places to moor with road access for Joe and Lesley on NB Yarwood whose cooker we bought. They graciously offered to deliver it in their car so we didn't have to cruise for our lives from Marsworth to Braunston. We were headed North as quickly as we could to meet them somewhere halfwayish. We fetched up on the offside of the canal right next to a layby (American's think rest stop) just south of Willow Bridge marina.
Still Rockin' glides through the bridge hole
   As we sat on the veranda eating our lunch, Les piped up, "Look Jaq--a wide beam is coming through the bridge hole." I turned to watch as very s-l-o-w-l-y a huge boat managed to make the tight turn and cruise under the small humped brick bridge. It was like watching a bridge give birth to a boat. Suddenly Les said, "Jaq it's Still Rockin'!"
   Sure enough, dear friends George and Carol cruised in a stately fashion alongside NB Val in their gorgeous new floating home. We haven't seen the Palins since October of 2012 when they asked to see our Airhead marine composting loo and decided to make the switch as well. Since then they've sold their narrow boat Rock 'n' Roll and had a lovely new wide beam boat built as a home for life. With daughter and granddaughters aboard, they hovered to chat a couple of minutes, and wow was it great to see them again! I was gobsmacked at how quiet the engine is on their boat.
George at the helm, Carol smiling goodbye. 
   Later that afternoon my cell phone rang and it was Robert from WB Wind in the Willows (no blog). We rescued his boat one cold March morning in February 2012. It had just gone into the water the day before and Robert had left it moored up to go and get the license and paperwork sorted. We came around a bend in the canal near Leighton Buzzard and his boat had come un-moored at one end and was floating across the canal. Les and I worked together to get the black wide beam back to the towpath and pinned tightly once more. Since there was no name, no license number, and no one at home on the boat, we had no idea whose it was. 
   Months later Robert came across our blog and the picture we took of his boat, and emailed to say thank you. He has since stayed in touch and become another friend along the cut, lending me a favorite book of his to read. Now we were moving again and it was time to return the book and have a good natter over a cuppa and a piece of carrot cake. 
   Robert knew exactly where the layby was and he appeared for afternoon tea. We had a lovely time catching up. Thanks Robert for the book loan and for making time to visit with us as we passed through. Keep your eyes on those Robins!
   This brings us to yesterday which dawned hot and muggy once again. I expected rain and wind in England; I did not expect 75, 80, 87, 90, and 97F heat with extra moisture on the side. It makes me ill and miserable and sucks the life out of this Alaskan woman. Never mind...I was in for a double treat today for I would finally meet Joe and Lesley. I found their blog when they were living aboard NB Caxton, back when I lived in Washington State and dreamed of a life on the cut. I've loved their blog for its tongue in cheekiness, and general good writing style
      Lesley mentioned in a recent blog post that their cooker was for sale. A Cannon Connemara stove--a house stove--not a Barbie camper oven--a real cooker, and they were planning to flog it on Ebay. I sent an email immediately letting Lesley know we were interested and after several emails back and forth, she said it was ours.
   At 11 am their car pulled into the layby, backed up and out popped Lesley and Joe. The fellas brought the stove inside and we spent an hour and a half chatting and getting to know one another in reality instead of virtual reality. As we say in the States, "Salt of the earth," those two. Fine folks indeed and kindred spirits. We look forward to catching up with them again when they are at home aboard Yarwood. I promised back in 2010 in a comment on their Caxton blog that I would stand them a pint when I finally met them. Long overdue now and something to look froward to...
   And why one might ask are there no pictures on this blog post of Robert, Joe, Lesley or the cooker arriving? Because like the dunderheads we are, we get so caught up in meeting, chatting, cups of tea, slices of life, and before we know it everyone has gone, the dust clears and then I remember and say, "Oh S****, we forgot to take pictures!"
   After parting, Les and I cruised to Fenny Stratford, and in spite of temperatures in the sun soaring to the high nineties and my comment that it was not necessary to begin the project this minute, Les worked all afternoon to remove the old stove, suss out the gas connection fittings, walked to B & Q for a couple of bits, and by dinner time there was an odd space in my galley where the Barbie oven used to live. Les had cleaned it all up nice and tidy and hooked the gas top back up for me. I fixed steak Fajitas, and we fell into our respective recliners shortly after a late dinner, to fall asleep. We finally threw in the towel and went to bed at 11:30 p.m. which is early for us.
   In the middle of the night a cracking great thunder and lightening storm swept through, clearing the heat and humidity for a couple of hours as we lay cuddled in the dark, listening to the storm above us. 
   Today we cruised until we reached Stanton Low, past Milton Keynes; ever more permanent floating communities seem to have sprung up in the last year along here. Last April we moored directly across from the old church ruins here and we were the only boat on this entire stretch; today we passed no less than a dozen boats jam packed along the curve of Stanton Low, moored up nut-to-butt. We kept going...just beyond the overflow we found a quiet stretch with some shade and no one else on the towpath side and nothing but tall grasses and shrubs on the offside. We are headed for the Leicester Arm at our own pace, in our own way...
I know what it looks like...and that's why I took it!


Tom and Jan said...

It's Okay... It's Okay....
I can see the ends of his shorts under the table!

A damned close run thing though! :-)

Anonymous said...

Okay I give up ... what is a British "cooker"? Love those tiny plums. Glad you're on the move again and that good health prevails.
Karen in smokey hot Pullman

Anonymous said...

Just FYI "'The salt of the earth' was first published in English in Chaucer's Summoner's Tale, circa 1386, although Chaucer undoubtedly took his lead from Latin versions of the Bible"

Hee Hee

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

LOL! Tom and Jan, I couldn't believe the photo op and I just had to take it. As the American Kodak commercials used to say, "These are the moments of our lives..."

I hope you two are holding well in this heat.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,
A cooker is what they call a kitchen stove--the all in one piece thing. I know, I know, it can be so confusing! It appears I've been here long enough to begin forgetting American phrases. I've actually had to ask Les a couple of times for the American phrase for certain British things!

Miss you and hope you and Jim are well and holding up in Pullman's 100F weather!
Love JaqXX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Who are you? I really hate to address anyone as anonymous, but thank you for your comment.

You are correct on both points. In the States the phrase "Salt of the Earth" is used to underscore how rare and good something or someone is, salt having been a precious and uncommon spice of life once upon a time.

Thanks for reading our blog!

Unknown said...

So your new to you range will be able to do "proper" baking, eventually?
Interesting blog, and moreso with the photo of Ghandi at the computer!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Bryce,
Yes indeedy--I baked an Applesauce cake just now and after 40 minutes it came out my new oven browned, risen, and perfect!! No more two and a half hour cake babysitting marathons. I shall set some bread dough tonight for baking tomorrow morning. After two and a half years we will finally have fresh baked bread again.
Ghandi sends his ragards!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs