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Thursday, December 24, 2015

That time of year again.

A year can be so short or so long depending on how you measure it. As parents of young children you think ouch! Christmas here again, already. Perhaps a loved one passed away at this time of year or it`s the birthday of someone special no longer around to tell that you love them. My mum`s birthday is Boxing Day the 26th and she has been gone 30+ years. Perhaps if cancer hadn`t taken her she might have still been around in her nineties.
My measurement of a year at this festive time is that it`s now my third Christmas since Cancer came to stay. Christmas 2013 saw me recovering from bowel surgery, 2014 recovering from liver surgery and now in 2015 the tests are looking good but time will tell.

Nb Valerie is loaded with some extra supplies and at this present moment we await the rain to move on so we can cruise the few miles to a peaceful location.

Tonight the International Space Station will pass over the UK and will be visible for about 3 minutes, cloud permitting. About 5.20pm it will come from the south and disappear to the West. So get the little ones wrapped up and tell them it`s Santa getting the reindeer  warmed up and they should get ready for bed.

Jaq and I send our best wishes to you all wherever you are in the world, whatever your beliefs and hope that the future will bring good health to your lives.

Before we go below is a Christmas card from two of the grand kids that I have altered. It`s that festive game of charades so all you have to do is guess what film Santa is miming.

Answers on a comment, sorry no prizes. Health and happiness everyone.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Les' Latest Scan Results

"Miracles sometimes occur, but one has to work terribly hard for them." ~Chaim Weizmann, Chemist, First president of Israel, 1874-1952

     Today was scan result day for Les. I stayed on the boat and kept myself busy washing four loads of clothes and drying them before he came home, cleaning up the boat, filling the coal bucket, bringing wood in to dry, answering emails--anything to keep my mind occupied so it couldn't play the game "What if...?" I haven't had a decent night's sleep in a week between the pain in my knees and the thoughts I've evaded going 'round in the back of my head. 
     Les called me this afternoon to say that the spot they found in his lung six months ago, and which had grown from 4 to 5 millimeters as of three months ago, has not grown since then. The scan found no other lesions in his thoracic or abdominal region or in any of his organs in these areas. They are mystified though as his PSA blood cancer marker test has risen although they cannot find any reason for it to do so.  After review by a medical panel they may recommend a PET scan.
     I know from all the research I've done--especially regarding alternative cancer treatments, that stopping a treatment or going back to one's old diet can cause cancer markers to rise in the blood stream. We've been naughty eaters this holiday season, imbibing in alcohol, salt, dairy, red meat and sugar. Come January 2nd we will be back to our regular anti-cancer regimen again. 
     I also know that there are many, many non-cancerous things that can also cause one's cancer markers to rise. With respect to colorectal cancer, smoking is one of them. Les doesn't smoke anymore however we do stay warm with a solid fuel stove and it is powered by a combination of coal and wood. It is impossible not to inhale the smoke as one checks the fire, feeds it, rakes out the hot ash, etc. It could definitely be a valid reason for Les' PSA markers to rise. 
     Finally I know from my own experience as an ovarian cancer survivor, just how imperfect PSA tests can be. They present false-positives and negatives frequently. Some research indicates that PSA test results can be incorrect at least 50% of the time. While cancer was colonizing my right ovary, my ovarian PSA marker test came back as nine.  Zero to 35 is considered within the normal range. This innocent number nine led my ObGyn surgeon to believe I had nothing to fear. Nothing could have been further from the truth. 
     On New Year's Eve we will celebrate that our journey together has carried on to this point of quiet optimism. We will lift a glass of Asti Spumante to toast all of our friends and loved ones far and wide whom we miss; we will lift our glasses with tears in our eyes for those of our Best beloveds who died this past year. We will toast to each other, our steadfast love, and the chance for one more trip around the sun together. Blessed Be...

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Happy Solstice!

"May your hearts be merry and light..." ~Irving Berlin, American Songwriter

Les helps Maffi moor up
     After our doddle around to Braunston to find out about the Eberspacher and another stop over to visit with friends Tina and Andy (NB Ytene) which allowed them plenty of time to ply us with drink and kick our butts at the Railroad game (The Great Game of Britain), we headed back down the various flights of locks toward Warwick. Les needs to be close to a rail station for his quarterly trip to the Royal Free Hospital in London for a scan and the results, and we both had an appointment with Warwick Hospital Physio for a "knee class."
The guys plan a canal game with a Geo map.
     We were well pleased to see Maffi and Molly who caught up with us Sunday last above Fosse locks. It was the first time in three years that NB Millie M moored nearby while Les was actually at home and not in a hospital somewhere. Dinner was good, the wine flowed and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I seldom have the chance to talk to other writers about our craft, er, obsession, so Maffi's company was all the more fun for me. We parted in the morning, each boat going in opposite directions as one does, never knowing when our paths will cross again. 
     We attended the knee class yesterday. It is designed for patients facing knee replacement and their spouses, partners and/or care givers. Demonstrations of the daily exercises were given with instructions to complete a set of ten several times daily up to the surgery. The operation was explained and expectations were covered as well as how check-in works, what happens leading up to surgery, during the operation, anesthesia, post-op recovery, going home and recovery after. It was brilliant really as both of us know what to expect now and Les has a better idea of how to care for me when I come home. 
     My surgery has been scheduled for January 26th. Generally one is in hospital for two days, the clips are removed at two weeks, and a total of six weeks of physio is undertaken after which all things being well, we will be free to roam again. That takes us to the week of March 11th when the stoppages at Radford lock to our south, and the Hatton lock flight stoppages to our north will be complete. Until then we are cruising the same five miles of cut and keeping each other busy so we don't lose our minds. 
     How do we do this? Well there is one game peculiar to us called "Les Loses His Wife."  We were bundled up recently and waiting at a bus stop for a bus to town to top up our groceries. Les was facing the direction the bus was coming from and I was standing immediately behind him. I bent down to tighten a strap on my boot and Les turned to ask me something. I suddenly heard him exclaim, "Jaq! Where are you? Where in  god's name has that woman gone?!!" I croaked, "Down here." Les looked down and there I was--bent over and buckling my boot! We laughed so hard at the silliness of it all that we were left gulping for air in hysterics. We do have fun!!
Sleeping beauty naps in front of the fire
     We also play lots of games such as Bananagram, Phase Ten, Mille Bornes, and our favorite, the Railroad game. We scour the Saturday Daily Mail telly guide for the week looking for things we find interesting and download or stream a few things that conflict with other programs. Les and I love BBC nature shows. Fortunately our current location offers excellent wifi. We are stocked with good books on our Kindles and some that Les has found at the local charity shops.
This year's Golden Ginger Cake
    Les and I have done all that we can to prepare for winter, the holidays, and the surgery ahead. We are looking forward over the next few days to visits with friends Jennie and Chris Gash (NB Tentatrice), Sue and Ken Deveson (NB Cleddau) and Jo and Keith Lodge (NB Hadar), in which we will share some festive holiday spirit and have a good catch up. 
A view of Radford Farm with St. Nicholas church tower in the background
     Next Wednesday I have my pre-op appointment in the morning. We will go for water, dump our rubbish, and turn around to stop for our holiday grocery shop at Tesco. We plan to cruise out to Radford Semele and moor up across from Radford Hall Farm and the Parish Church of St. Nicholas. It is quiet and peaceful there with a lovely view of the farm and the square church tower. 
     Our holiday dinner will be a roast Turkey crown, Yorkshire puddings, mashed potatoes, Turkey gravy, green bean casserole, and Golden Ginger Cake. For New Year's Eve/Day I will make nibbles: Chorizo, Port Salut, and caramelized onions on a puff pastry crust, Amaretto Almonds, Smoked Salmon Log, Boursin made from mild goat's cheese and fresh herbs with sesame crackers, fresh vegetable crudites with homemade Ranch dressing, and a Cranberry and Pecan Breakfast Ring made from yeast raised dough, accompanied by a bottle of Asti Spumante.  
     We wish everyone a merry holiday season and a very happy new year!

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Nelson Wharf, Stockton.

A couple of years back cruising towards the Stockton flight boaters and walkers could be excused for not realising what lay behind the greenery overhanging the offside just before the Boat pub at bridge 21.
 The only clue if any of us noticed would have been the curve on the concrete edging to the right of the picture.

Two years on and the view is a bit different.
The arm led into the Nelson cement works. The white footbridge has been installed because the arm had been filled in beneath it and the recent (1970ish) right of way had to be re-instated. The right of way is the bed of the old London and North Western Railway line between Weedon and Leamington.
In the picture above, from the English heritage archives dated 1930`s, you can see the canal passing under the railway and also the branch lines entering the cement works from both directions.

Records of 1860 show Charles Nelson being at Stockton in the cement and lime business. Nelson`s had their own fleet of canal boats and in 1870 a dock was built to sevice the fleet and it was later extended to allow boats to load inside the works. In 1905 18,000 tons came in and out by boat. In the 1940`s the works closed.

Nelson built cottages at the works and also owned many houses in nearby Stockton. The working mens club in Stockton was provided by the company and retains the name to this day.

Use this link to see map of other quarries in the area.
Also this link has some interesting memories of villagers and workers. 
Willow Wren Training who now own the site have some interesting stuff on their pages here. Look for the Tramway wagon wheels that have been found in the arm.
Map dated 1885 before the railways arrived. Tramways from the quarry to the works are marked on the map. These fed Limestone into the kilns on both sides of the canal.

One day we will once again see boats under the railway bridge as Willow Wren are to provide moorings along the restored arm. Talking to someone on site it seems there was once a slipway in the basin according to locals so I can see this arm becoming a useful addition for boaters services. Also there are rumours that a work boat was left in the arm when it was filled in.

From the footbridge looking in towards the works site.
Some Kilns being revealed as the arm is excavated
From the footbridge towards the canal mainline.
If you want to look around the site as I have said it`s a public right of way. Moor up near the Boat pub. Cross the bridge and directly opposite the pub entrance you will see a gate marked Taskers meadow. Follow the path across the field slightly to the right and you will come to a gate into the old railway trackbed. Turn left and the footbridge over the arm is just ahead of you. Before you move away from this gate look right and you can see a sign board near to which one of the quarries can be viewed by following a few steps in the slope.
As you cross the footbridge over the arm the footpath is marked going to the right. Everywhere else is private remember. 

Clearing the arm and basin will not be cheap and certainly the cost will not be covered by a few moorings along the arm. I can see this developing into something big. Just look at the aeriel picture of the works and tell me you can`t imagine a marina. At least some history is being uncovered and if it did develop into a marina it will certainly have an historic entrance.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Pre Christmas cruise

Having spent some time at Radford Semele on the outskirts of Leamington Spa we rather fancied a cruise to Napton to visit friends after we had met the fuel boat. The only thing that might cause a problem was the need for a train into London for my 3 month scan on the 1st. December. A phone call just 8/9 days before the appointment and the Radiology staff changed my appointment to Dec. 15th. Now we could take our time doing the return journey that will total 18 miles and 46 locks.
We cruised down over the next 4/5 days and reached Calcutt and with just 3 locks and a mile to Napton we still had not met the fuel boat. The decision was made that we would fill up at Calcutt marina and just as we were about to set off along came a fuel boat. Notice I said a not the for it was Ryan on Southern Cross part of the Jules Fuels fleet and not the expected Callisto boat. I flagged him down because winter time is when you need to have your fuel supplies full and as we were about to turn off the route of the expected fuel boat it was an easy decision.

One hundred and forty litres of diesel and six bags of smokeless fuel in exchange for £145($218) and we started to tackle the last three locks. As we exited the last one with just a few hundred yards to the junction fuel boat Callisto came into sight. Shame but as I said this time of year you do not want to be frozen in without fuel. I think 2011 was the last time the canal froze in mid November but we always expect the worst and smile when it fails to materialise.

We now have a heck of a lot of wood, 12 bags of smokeless, a full diesel tank and 60 litres in reserve,  ready for you now Mr. Winter.

We spent a nice few days visiting our friends Andy and Tina and decided to cruise to Braunston to get our Eberspacher boiler serviced. The Ebby as it`s known heats water and pumps it through radiators around the boat. . Over the past 10 years it has not been used much as a heat source as we have the solid fuel stove and we expected it`s excessive smoking and refusal to start to be solved by a service.........wrong.
After two hours the engineer had the bad news that the motor and the electronics had died and the total cost to put it all right would be just shy of £900. It certainly was a mess to look at. A new unit costs about £1400. We decided the little time it was used did not warrant that outlay not that we had that amount available. Good news was he only charged £20 for his time.
We used it mostly for heating water in the summer and will now use our generator and electric heating element in the calorfier tank.

Braunston was empty of boats with just half a dozen between Butchers bridge and the road bridge past Midland Chandlers. The winter mooring site is past the road bridge but i`m sure it has in previous years been opposite the pub.
Ryan stops by in Braunston to collect a piece of Jaq`s cake baked since we took on fuel a few days back.

The Boathouse pub is doing a 4 course Christmas day dinner for £42.99($65). Also noticed they have mooring signs stating 4hrs in summer and 24hrs in winter.

Same view circa 1970 when it was called the Rose and Castle. It has been in the past Mill House, Boatman and New Castle. The latter was when the license was transferred from the Castle Inn, an old coaching Inn, in the mid 20th Century.

 This map shows  the location of the Castle Inn that`s now a private house. It`s by bridge 91 where the footpath goes across the fields to the Wolfhamcote past the old church. The original Oxford canal route can also be seen on the map link.

We are now moored between Braunston and Napton and will on our way back to Warwick call in at Napton for one more night socialising with our friends.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A nice boat for sale

Sadly Pip and Roger are selling their boat. As a Blogger I have posted this in the hope someone might be interested or know someone else in the market for what is a fine boat crafted by Beacon Boats.
They are asking all fellow bloggers to post this sale to their blogs.

Link to boat details HERE

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it." ~Vince Lombardi, American Football player, coach and executive, 1913-1970
      I've seen the orthopedic surgeon and he's confirmed I have arthritis in both knees, and recommended I have a TKR--Total Knee Replacement of my left knee. I don't have an exact date yet but surgery will be scheduled for some time in January at Warwick Hospital. Les and I must attend a physiotherapy class together in mid-December to learn more about what is to be expected and how to do the exercises necessary to strengthen the muscles in and around the knee. 
     After four years of nearly non-stop trouble with my right S-I joint (Sacro Iliac joint) popping out of place and causing my right leg to drop down and be anywhere from 1/16th to and 1/8th of inch longer than my left leg, requiring chiropractic visits to put it back in place, I have finally hit on how to get my S-I joint back to where it belongs on my own which is great because it is this issue that has brought me to my knees, literally. 
     So I do my knee exercises given to me by the physiotherapist I've seen recently, as well as a very good exercise to strengthen the muscles in my lower back to hold my S-I joint in place. I walk with crutches whenever we leave the boat for any length of time, which helps take the stress off my knees, and I am grimly looking forward to being on the other side of this surgery and recuperation. 
     From all accounts it is extremely painful. I've had eight surgeries in my life before moving to the UK and I've never once had any pain afterward thanks to the amazing pain control available in the U.S. I tend to bounce back from surgeries and recover fairly rapidly. I am taking the examples of two people as my focus points: Graham on NB Matilda Rose who has been there and done it, and is offering me pointers and support for which I am extremely grateful, and Sir David Attenborough who is 93 and had both his knees in the last two years. He said before the surgeries he could only shuffle along painfully for a few feet; after recovery he can now walk for a mile and a half with no problems at all. 
     My mother had her left knee replaced due to arthritis, at age 70 in 1993. She was in shock afterwards as the procedure was not really explained to her and as she sat on a chair at home doing exercises she told me, "They cut my leg in half is what they did--and no one told me it would hurt so badly." 
     I am a pretty tough old bird. I've had to be to survive this life, so I hope it stands me in good stead now. I am concerned about pain control because there are so many drugs I cannot take--I have a long list of allergies and toxic reactions to most synthetic drugs, and to many antibiotics. I do best with opiods and I've told all this to the surgeon along with giving him the list of drugs to which I am allergic. 
     I don't need to control others but I loathe losing control of myself. It comes from way back in my childhood. Loss of control often causes me to blank out on the present, as I go somewhere else in my head for awhile until I can gain control of myself and my situation again. This does not make me a good patient and I worry about Les--about whether he will be able to take care of me during recovery and whether he will survive it. Living on a boat will make this quite challenging for us both, but what is life without a few of those, eh?  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Into Warwick

Jaq had two appointments at Warwick hospital, one for Physio and the other with a consultant both concerning her knee so we had to decide how to travel into Warwick.
Our mooring has been for the past 14 days been Hatton near the station which was handy for a Tesco order and Rowington that had space for log cutting and good views over the countryside.
Downside of Hatton was the trains although it was not too noisy for a few days and the station was handy for a trip into Leamington Spa mostly to satisfy my hunger for fresh fruit.

Beside the hospital we had another reason to choose our journey into Warwick, we are getting low on diesel. Down to half a tank with our two spare 5 gallon Jerry cans empty. Winter is the time we like a full tank plus reserves so the decision was made to take the boat into Warwick.

The Hatton flight totals 21 locks plus the two at Cape. Now we have had offers of help to bring the boat down the locks and we are very grateful to those who offered but we hate to make plans too far ahead and therefor feel bad not being able to give you lovely people some notice. We stopped at the Saltisford Trust arm and loaded on six bags of coal but sadly they do not sell diesel.

This decision was made Saturday after consulting the weather forecast  and we moved down the locks Monday during a break in the stormy weather of late.
Storm Abigail had come in from the Atlantic and blown a few of my cut logs off the roof and now as I write this (Tues. evening) another storm, Barney is buffeting the boat with 60mph winds. Never mind I have four mooring pins holding us into the bank directly opposite the hospital, and that was how we traveled for Jaq`s hospital appointments. She will let you know about that soon.
So one of our reasons to travel has been dealt with and that leaves the diesel problem to be sorted.

In this area of the canal system fuel supplies are limited with no fuel boats passing through the Hatton locks and just the north Stratford canal having a boat yard but only after passing through 19 locks and of course 19 back again.
Warwick has two boatyards, one that holds no stock during winter because of limited sales and the other that won`t allow boaters to declare their percentage for full tax to be charged even though the UK government state the boater can declare his own percentage. Basically you pay full tax for propelling the boat and a reduced tax for heating and generating electricity. This time of year boats are not moving so much so less diesel is used to propel the boat but this particular boatyard wants to tell me what i`m going to use by charging 60% propulsion and 40% domestic. Of course readers abroad will probably have guessed it`s all to do with the EU and you are correct.

Getting hot under the collar after typing EU so we will move on. There is a fuel boat that comes into Warwick about once a month and we have arranged to meet him around the 26th as we leave and he enters Warwick. We will fill up and buy more coal that together with all the cut logs on the roof will keep us warm well into winter.
The towpath here at Rowington widens for about a boat length, giving me enough room to cut logs. The nice thing about this site is the break in the trees giving that feeling of openness.
The view across the canal overlooks a few scattered homes. The canal is on an embankment giving us chimney top views of the Warwickshire countryside.
From the mooring heading towards Warwick the fields both sides are full of Norway Spruce and Nordman Fir trees. Back at the mooring there was a single Spruce growing close to the towpath so I have named the spot Christmas Tree Mooring.
On the way we passed this ex working pair moored up on the offside by a fishing lake. The sign says they are for sale but it would take a rich enthusiast to restore them. The number on the motor brings up the name Mabel a 70 foot wooden hulled boat.
Part way down the Hatton locks CRT have workshops and some of the workforce were loading a skip. The whole lot in both pictures was dredged from the canal through Leamington Spa. Strange sort of person that uses the canal as a dump. Seats, cycle frames and all sorts of metal objects including a fridge.

Jaq brings the boat into another of the 23 locks we are to go through today. We actually did the main flight of 21 in about 3.5 hours.and our timing was good with no rain and little wind.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Buildings in Birmingham

Just been looking through my photos so here are some pictures of buildings old and new in Birmingham city centre. Must go back after Christmas as there is so much to see and do.
Near Snow Hill station. A different view here.
Selfridges department store. Click here for some more images.
Town hall built early 1930`s. In the past has been a venue for all types of music. Elgar and Mendelsohn, The Beatles and The Stones this building has heard it all. The two latter groups appeared live.
The refurbished New Street Station with the Grand central shopping centre above the main concourse.
Close up of the right side below the Grand Central name. As you run frantically for your train you can watch it depart in the reflecting metal clad building. Personaly I think it`s horrible.
Hall of Memory, Library and Baskerville House.
Birmingham city library.
Roof garden of the library gives panoramic views of the city.
From the library roof garden. Nb Valerie in Cambrian basin.
Spring Hill library opened in 1893. In 1895 a man was sentenced to 6 weeks in prison with hard labour for throwing books inside the library. Nowadays that man could throw groceries around as Tesco have managed to join their store onto the library. They both now share a common entrance. The library survived being demolished by road improvements but somehow bloody Tesco managed to attach some glass and metal to a piece of historic Brum.
The Cube. The view from above shows it`s not the shape you first think.
A shopping arcade dating back to 1926
Inside the arcade with it`s painted ceiling. Originally built as a cinema in 1910 the sloping walkway is all that`s left of where the seating used to be sloping down to the screen.
Birmingham City Council House opened 1870.

The floozie in the jacuzzi has a pink bra courtesy of the "Ladies fight breast cancer" charity. Click here to see a photo gallery of the garden in it`s water feature days.
The Bell Edison telephone exchange dates back to late 1800`s.
So much detail was put into these old buildings. Compare to the plain boring buildings in the next picture.
Brindley Place with an unusual roof line on the Costa coffee building.
Leaving Birmingham both canal and railway about to enter a tunnel.
Around Birmingham city a lot of the canal bridges feature these Red panels. They date back to WW2 when the fire service would put hoses down into the canal for water to fight fires caused by bombing. Evidently the fire service still have keys for these doors but nowadays the water main system at street level would be sufficient most times.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs