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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Just a Normal Week in the Life of Your Average Boater

"I used to dream of being normal. For me, if Kirk Douglas walked into the house, that was normal." ~Jamie Lee Curtis, actor and daughter of actors' Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis

     This past week was a perfect example of a series of normal days for live-aboard boaters who continuously cruise. We spent five days at our previous mooring, just before Bridge 43 across from Evergreen Riding Stables. The village of Gayton is perched on a hill overlooking the stables and the canal. To read about it and see lovely photos of the village, go to my post of July 2014 titled Scrumping in Gayton. This is where we sanded, primed, sanded, patched and sanded the boat the last couple of weeks.
Anchor Cottage is circled in this picture. We used the post code for this address for our Tesco order and moored up where the red bar is on this picture. We cruised onward--to the left in this picture toward Stowe Hill and Weedon.
  We collected a Tesco grocery delivery last Tuesday at bridge 43 using Anchor Cottage as a post code. It all came off without a hitch as usual. Then we upped sticks and cruised 4.5 miles and moored up for four days across from some large back gardens at Stowe Hill. The village of Weedon Bec was about a mile ahead of us. With a wide slice of grassy towpath at our disposal, we hunkered down to await the delivery of four packages to Weedon Post office via Post Restante. 

     For Americans, Post Restante is a distant cousin to U.S. Mail General Delivery; the main difference being that over here one has to contact the post office ahead of time and ask if they offer this service. For boaters on the move, the ability to arrange for mail and parcels to be delivered to a nearby post office via Post Restante is brilliant--when it works. The last time we made use of this service, was three years ago before the British government sold the Royal Mail to the highest bidder. Now that it is privatized, service is patchy with dozens of individual companies competing with one another to deliver the mail. 
     Les had called ahead two weeks ago and spoken with a woman at Weedon Post Office. She said they did accept Post Restante and Les explained we were boaters passing through and we would collect several parcels. Then we each went online and placed our orders for delivery. Les had an order for stoma bags, and added a new solar controller from Bimble as our old one had packed up. I had two orders from Amazon: one for supplements and another for Stevia. 

     While we waited at Stowe Hill for the first of our parcels set for delivery on June 25th, Les worked on the conundrum of what caused our solar controller to kick the bucket. A few weeks back a fuse on the large solar panel had melted. Les replaced it but ever since then we have had issues with the monitor and it finally packed up for good. So Les spent his time sussing out this electrickery-mystery while I worked on revising one of my online university courses and grading summer course work. In between we washed laundry and hung it outside to dry in the heat of the day--and I do mean heat!
     I had no idea it was so humid in this country. While air temperatures reached between 68 and 71 degrees Fahrenheit, there were days when the humidity was 86-90% and every movement caused a sticky sheen of perspiration to form all over one's body. Family back in the Pacific North West (PNW) of the United States will have no pity for me; just now they are living through unusually high temperatures of 102F degrees! This is about 30 degrees higher than the seasonal average for this time of the year in Oregon and Washington.
     Here on NB Valerie, we took comfort in opening the bow doors, the stern hatch cover, and all the windows, pulling the curtains shut on the sunny side of the boat. I also made a half dozen quarts of Lemonade (American style) sweetened with Stevia so we could enjoy it without compromising our health. 
     We walked into Weedon on Wednesday, taking a short cut on a public footpath through nearby fields of beans growing tall and bushy in the hot summer sun. The woman behind the post office counter gave us our first two packages. One was the parcel from Coloplast with Les' stoma bags and the other was the Woebenzyme N supplements. Across the street from the Weedon village Post Office is the One Stop store. We popped in for some eggs and walked back to the boat along the towpath. So far, so good!
   The next day we walked back in to Weedon Post Office together. Our plan was simple: I would take the parcel back to the boat and Les would catch the bus and head into Daventry to an industrial estate (business mall) to pick up short haired Hamilton rollers for painting the boat.
     A man was staffing the P.O. counter. He was taciturn and sullen, never once looking us in the eye or cracking a smile. He couldn't even be bothered to say hello. Les explained we were there to collect two Post Restante parcels. The bloke came back with one parcel. Les asked again if there was another parcel for us, delivered from UK Mail. The clerk replied, "We don't accept parcels from UK Mail." Les asked if the UK Mail courier had been in this morning, and the Post Office clerk said: "We don't accept parcels from carriers--only from Royal Mail and Parcel Force." He refused to tell us if the courier had attempted to deliver our parcel just saying " no one has been". Well damn!! We should have been told of this when we called two weeks ago to ask if Weedon P.O. offered Post Restante service.
     Les and I sat down on the bench outside the post office to reconnoiter. The parcel we came to fetch was the solar monitor. We needed it ASAP as we were not receiving any power to our batteries from the large solar panel and this couldn't be remedied until the new unit was installed. Bimble had been great about getting it dispatched to us the same day we placed our order via UK Mail--a private courier in competition with Royal Mail. Les decided to go into Daventry while I walked back empty handed to our boat. 
     While I was online checking to see which courier service was delivering the Stevia, Les was on the bus texting me to check and see which courier was delivering the Stevia! Great minds run in the same direction. A call to the company indicated my parcel was being delivered by Royal Mail. Whew!
     Suddenly my phone rang. It was Les and he was so overcome with emotion I thought he was crying. In a voice shaking with emotion Dear Sir relayed the following story: 
      I was sitting on the bus thinking about that package, trying to figure out how to get to the UK Mail
      Depot in Milton Keynes (back behind us eighteen miles/two buses and a train ride away) so I missed
      my bus stop. I got off at the next stop--at the opposite end of the trading estate and while I was
      standing there with the phone, trying to see on a map if I could access ScrewFix from this end, I  
      looked up and saw the UK Mail van approaching. I flagged the bloke down and asked him if he tried to
      deliver a parcel to Weedon Post Office. He said, "Yeah. I've had trouble delivering to that post
     office before." Les explained the situation, showed the courier some ID and picked up our package!

     After Les rang off I was so angry about what he had gone through to take delivery of our parcel, I decided to contact the Royal Mail and lodge a formal complaint. I went online to Royal Mail's web site and found the complaint line. A woman named Charlotte picked up the phone and I explained the nature of my complaint. She was sorry about what had occurred, adamant about the fact that Royal Mail Post Offices must accept all parcels from any couriers when they are marked Post Restante, and she was indignant on our behalf for what we had experienced via Mr. sullen-and-moody at Weedon Post Office. Charlotte took my number and said she would get back to me.
     Twenty minutes later she rang me back to say she had spoken with the clerk at the post office and he told her he didn't know he had to accept anything from couriers other than their own. She set him straight and apologized again for our distress. 
     Saturday morning Les and I walked back in to Weedon one last time. Les went to the One Stop to buy me a Saturday paper and I went in to the Post Office. The same bloke was waiting behind the counter. He still didn't look at me. I asked if he had a Post Restante package for Mr. and Mrs. Biggs. He brought it out, wrote the parcel number down on a form (he didn't scan it), and he handed it to me without asking for any ID. This I believe, is why the parcel still appears as "undelivered" on both the Amazon and Post Office web sites.
     Les had spoken with a local woman boater who said she too has had trouble with Weedon Post Office as well. The up-shot of this story is that it pays to file a formal complaint for bad service. It is also a reminder to Americans not to let the U.S. Government sell off the Postal Service. And finally it also serves my fellow citizens with an example of the poor state of customer service over here and why Brits feel a sense of exhilaration whenever they battle for the simplest rights and services--which they do regularly.
     Americans by contrast take good customer service for granted. It is drummed into us as employees that providing good customer service is part of our job--whether we mop the floors and clean the toilets, open the door, answer a phone or staff a service counter; providing customers with a smile and a pleasant greeting is an expected part of the job as is going above and beyond to help a client in need. We just take it for granted. Seamless customer service is expected and when it is not forthcoming we are outraged by the lack of it. We also have no idea how this business ethic makes our day run smoothly at a fundamental level. It is an invisible force that greases the wheels of modern living. Imagine how quickly you would want to pull all your hair out of your head if you had to gear up for a possible fight to get answers to your questions and decent customer service if you knew you might have to battle for it each time.
     With all four packages in our possession we were ready to move on. A boat had moored up in front of us as we were preparing to leave. The owners had set out a small table and two chairs on the towpath in the shade. Two glasses of white wine were waiting, and as we shoved off a lovely couple came out of the bow with plates of food. 
     "I hope we didn't chase you off," he said with a bit of a question mark in the inflection of his voice. 
     "Oh no," we replied, "we were waiting on some mail to be delivered to Weedon Post Office. We've just now collected it and it's time to move again. Enjoy your lunch--that is a lovely spot you've got there in the shade," and smiling and waiving,  we were off!
     We didn't go far--just about 150 yards around the bend to Stowe Hill Wharf where diesel is selling for sixty eight pence per liter. We topped up our gas tank, picked up a bottle of propane, and we were on the move about the same distance, to the nearest water point which was empty!
     We pulled in, and Les washed down the boat while I put a load of laundry on to wash and fixed lunch. We sat out on the bow eating smoked Salmon sandwiches and drinking lemonade in the afternoon sun. Since no one else joined us on the water point, we stayed and washed a second load, I did dishes and filled the tea kettle. Finally, with our water tank filled, we set off once again for yet another short hop. 
     We cruised into Weedon, pulled over near the stairs down to the street level, and I stood by with the mid-line rope while Les took our rubbish down to the tip. We shared a bit of banter with several boaters gathering on the towpath around a Barbecue and then we were off again, moving about an eighth of a mile onward to another set of stairs from the canal down to the street near the junction of the A5 and the A45.  Les took a plastic can to collect petrol for our generator from the nearby BP station. We were also told by local boaters that Tesco had recently opened an express store on the corner of the junction. Together Dear Sir and I walked out to the store for twelve lemons and some black olives, then turned around and walked back to the BP station for our petrol. All in all this took us about twenty minutes.
     Back up the steps, our purchases stowed on board, we set off one last time. As Les steered, I sat with him and we discussed our next mooring place. A genuine heat wave is forecast to begin early next week  and I would prefer to be up the Buckby Flight of seven locks before then, moored up somewhere with a wide bit of grassy towpath and some afternoon shade.
 This morning we woke to rain and overcast skies. Les walked up to the Whilton Chandlers to purchase a midi fuse for the solar panel and a new refrigerator light bulb. We can finally see inside the fridge again
after two months of darkness. Dinner is thawing on the counter: roast crown of chicken with butter and Rosemary, which I will serve with mashed potatoes, gravy, and glazed carrots.  We will be eating nothing but salads during the heatwave next week so today is good weather for enjoying a roast dinner. 
     I received a very nice email from a blog reader named Keith Simpson who follows our blog while waiting for the circumstances of his life to resolve in a manner that allows him to buy a narrow boat and begin living the "simple life." His email inspired this post today. Lest you think boating has no stressful moments Keith, I assure you it does, however they are few and far between--and usually generated by "the world at large" and not by life on the cut. Thank you for writing to us and good luck mate. We hope to see you and your wife cruising by on your own boat soon.


Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Good on you for making a complaint, Jaq. Bad behaviour and bad attitude need to be challenged.

Jennie said...

An interesting read, thank you Jaq. I am afraid your PO employee sounds like a real 'jobsworth' (ask Les if this is an unfamiliar saying to you!). We are going to be at home during the heatwave - preferable to tacking the locks round Devizes! Jennie

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks M. I agree. You notice Les went to the store for the paper and I went to the P.O. to get the parcel. As Patrick Swayze said in one of his movies, "Be nice until its time to not be nice." I won't start it--but I can definitely finish it.XX

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Jennie I couldn't agree with you more on both points! Stay cool. How's your leg? Doing well I hope. Xx

Anonymous said...

It's 104 in Pullman today so don't complain. But then we have air conditioning. Good on you two for pushing back and getting results. I love all the detail and images (verbal and visual) of your life on NB Valarie. Care on in good spirits and good health.
hugs from across the pond,

Ken and Sheena said...

Well done Jaq. I think many English folk would have just grumbled and moved on. sheena had trouble with a jobsworth at reading tesco today. I suggested she complain about his rudeness.. But often it takes ages (time better spent enjoying life) and nothing ever happens. So glad you got an instant satisfactory reply. Regards to you and Les.

Unknown said...

Your eye in the sky maps and images help this foreigner a great deal! Gives me some idea of hte geography of the landscape and it also makes me think of all those hard-working people who built the canals and where the path directed them to follow and construct.

More later perhaps.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs