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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Catching up, Moving On

 "We understand death only after it has placed its hands on someone we love." ~Anne L de Stael
    While moored up at Stanton Low I was pinned down by pouring rain and high winds for four days. Without Les I have to relearn how to live on the boat. I am doing the work of two people now, and I am six and half inches shorter than Les was, and my arms are five and half inches shorter (yes we once measured them!) so I simply have to slow down, think things through, try something and discard it if it doesn't work for me. If I am going to stay on this boat then everything on it must work for me now. One of the things I definitely will not do is attempt to move an eighteen ton, fifty eight foot steel boat in high winds!
     As I sat peering out the windows through the rain, an amazing array of boats passed--all on their way to the Crick Boat show taking place this weekend on the Leicester Arm. One gloomy rain sodden morning I looked up to see the bow of a boat moving very slowly past. It was the most unusual color of blue and then I was struck by the thought, "What a minute! I know that blue!" As the stern passed me, I poked my head out the window and hollered at the figure dressed in rain gear with an umbrella in hand, "Hey you!" It was James and Doug on NB Chance, headed to Crick to sell their boat. They were looking for me but of course, NB Valerie is traveling incognito these days with half a paint job and no sign writing declaring her name. James quickly pulled over in front of me and moored up, and came to hold an umbrella for me so I could cross to their boat for a cuppa and piece of cake. We spent an hour catching up and it was lovely to see them both, especially since they will soon no longer be cruising the cut in their distinctively blue colored boat.  It is up for sale and a new chapter will soon begin for them both.
I had the pleasure of watching a Heron catch breakfast; a fish too wide for it to get down its gullet, despite several attempts. It finally left the fish and flew away.
James at the helm and Doug warm and snug inside, cruising off to Crick in the rain!
     Finally the weather cleared and last Thursday I upped sticks and cruised three miles to Cosgrove. As I passed through Wolverton a couple of blokes on a pale green boat called Dunrushin waved and commented on the nice weather. We exchanged words as I passed with a smile. Everyone was pleased to see the blue sky again. After cruising across the Great Ouse Aquaduct I was facing my first lock alone. Cosgrove lock is a tricky one as well because it presents itself at an angle and there is a water point just to the starboard side (right) as you face the bottom of the lock. If a boat is getting water is it extremely awkward to advance in to the lock and trying to do that single handed even more so. Fortunately for me, a local boater on the nearby permanent moorings was out walking his dog. He piped up,
     "Throw me a windlass and I will lock up up."
YES!! As the lock filled and NB Valerie rose I chatted with him.  In his late 70's with bad knees, he found it necessary to take a permanent mooring last year. I thanked him as I cruised out of the lock and headed for the other water point about five hundred feet from the top of the lock. Another boat was already there but they saw me hovering and invited me to breast up with them so I did. They were almost finished and we did a lovely little dance with our midlines, as we switched places; they gently cruised away and I pulled our boat in to the side.
Les took this video in 2015 of the railroad mural coming in to Wolverton.
Looking back as I cruise across the first aquaduct.
The water point below Cosgrove lock here, is just out of site on the right. With a boat moored up on these bollards, you can see how impossible it is to tie up the boat, go up and set the lock, open the gate, jump back on board, steer the boat gently into the lock while stepping off with the midline and controlling it as the boat goes in the lock. There is no place to tie up when a boat is on the bollards getting water. This is why I prefer to get water above the lock at the facilities there.
      I dumped the rubbish, placed some of Les' railroad books on the railing for someone to take (the old gent who locked me up came and took them with a smile of thanks), and began filling up with water. Soon, the pale green boat I had passed in Wolverton came up and hovered behind me, waiting to come in for services. One of the men came over and introduced himself,
     "Hello I'm Rick."
     "Hi Rick I am Jaqueline but most folks call me Jaq."
We chatted with one another for the thirty minutes it took to fill my tank. His partner Tim was holding down the stern. We would both be mooring up near the ornate Solomon's bridge just ahead, giving us an opportunity to speak more later.  I cruised slowly off to moor up and their boat NB Dunrushin, slipped into my place. I pulled in to the towpath before the bridge, slowed down to a near standstill, grabbed the midline, stepped off into the grass and pulled the boat in to the side. After mooring up, I put up the TV antennae, checked the phone and Internet signals (good), and settled in. Soon Tim and Rick pulled in two boat lengths behind me and moored up. Sorted!
Solomon's Bridge at Cosgrove. NB Valerie is moored up on the right behind me. We have eight posts about Cosgrove in our blog--most of them written by Les.
     I was hot and suddenly realized I was starving, having had no breakfast before leaving Stanton Low three hours previously. I grabbed a quick hot shower, changed my clothes and made the decision to have lunch at the Barley Mow Pub. It was a tough thing to do as the last time we were here in July of 2016 Les and I had a drink in the pub. We knew it was his final drink at the Barley Mow and the last time he would set eyes on the beautiful bridge. It was a melancholy, somber evening for us both as we recalled the times perviously when we moored in the same spot and ordered groceries from Tesco which delivered them to our boat at the bridge. We walked back to NBV hand in had in the gathering dusk and sat on the bow watching bats dodge and dart in the darkness, our arms around each other.
     I wore my sunglasses and took a Kindle to read while I waited in the pub for my meal. I did everything I could think of to keep from breaking down and crying. There are times when I don't care and other times when I just have to wait until I am alone to let the tears fall. I am swept along on this grief journey like flotsam and jetsam caught in a tidal pull that rips and ebbs at awkward moments. I can be perfectly fine one moment and then suddenly overcome with memory and longing which completely undoes me. I don't seek to control this grief because I quite simply cannot control it. These emotions are so intense, so huge; they are far larger than my little body can contain and my grief breaks through suddenly, overwhelming me.
     I decided to stay in Cosgrove until Monday as my step-son Kevin and his partner Adele were coming to visit. I put in a Tesco order and an Ocado order! I've never ordered from Ocado before but I really appreciated being able to get some things from Waitrose  and some American items that I usually have to purchase online from the States and then pay VAT as well. One would think with Scotland as part of the U.K., it being the land of Oats, it might be a simple thing to find steel cut oats in any grocery store but no, I have found them in one place in six years and that is a deli near Sanbach on the Trent & Mersey canal. Ocado offered them and I bought two bags to stock up with a happy heart.
     Kev and Adele came to me on Sunday and we had a lovely afternoon. It was so good to see them both and to sit and talk. They brought me several parcels: the set of replacement fire bricks I ordered, stern gland grease and a package from my daughter Jesse in the States. They were also kind enough to take a few hefty things away for storage: our large suitcases, a tile cutter, the large piece of mattress that allows one to make the bed into a cross bed six foot by six foot; and some gifts for them including several of Les' large coffee table books, some other items I set aside for them, and some items I picked up for them from Boo Radleys in Spokane. Boo's is an eclectic store named after the character in the book to Kill a Mockingbird who collected strange eccentric items. It is that kind of store where you can indulge your inner child to your heart's content without censoring; things like the magnet now on our fridge which has a picture of a turtle with a snail riding on its back and says, "Whoa!! Slow the F**k down!" --perfect for a narrow boat home that travels mostly at 1-2 MPH. I knew Les would have loved it. I also brought back two boxes of Graham Crackers for Kev and Adele. Angel Bars are Kev's favorite and one really must have Graham Cracker crumbs to make them properly.
     A lovely boat named Kallista pulled in front of me and moored up closer to the bridge Thursday afternoon. While waiting for my grocery orders I had an opportunity to chat with the very nice bloke aboard, named Chris. Kallista is a share boat and he has owned his share for four years. This is a nice boat built by Elton Moss boat builders. Chris and his Labrador Charlie were waiting for Chris' girlfriend Kristy to join them for the weekend.
Chris' share boat. He told me he pays less than the cost of  hiring a narrow boat for a one week holiday and he gets four weeks a year. My American friends and family may want to consider this option in lieu of purchasing a boat of your own. It is like owning a Condo.
       Monday dawned bright and cool, quickly warming up as the day moved forward. Rick and Tim kindly offered to travel up the Stoke Bruerne flight with me so I didn't have to do the locks on my own. They were ahead of me as we took off and soon we came to a Wyvern shipping hire boat in trouble. Two women aboard had managed with a bit of help from the light breeze I suspect, to end up aground on the off-side of the cut. Tim and Rick towed them out and we proceeded onward.
     As we reached Grafton Regis I lost site of NB Dunrushin. I had to slow down. Les and I moored in this area so many times over the past six years and one spot in particular, just past past bridge 57 and just around the bend from the weir, where the fields open out across a long vista. On the offside a gentle hill brings grazing sheep down near the cut. Les often tried to get a spot here and it was usually full. We managed once in six years and he was ecstatic. I thought back to the summer of 2014 when we moored up on the other side of the bridge and walked up the lane to the village of Grafton Regis. Small, medieval, it was easily walked in ten minutes. It was blackberry time; I didn't call Les Blackberry Biggs for nothin'! We picked until we had seven pound of berries. We also met up with Marilyn and David Macdonald on NB Waka Huia there in September of 2014 for the very first time, and in 2015 we finally met boater Mortimer Bones there as well.
     Tears poured down my cheeks and I sobbed until I had the hiccoughs and couldn't see. I pulled the boat over and took time to recover my composure. Then I grabbed my kit from the bow, dug a hole near the fence overlooking the field, scattered some of Les' ashes and planted a Daffodil bulb. Now a part of him will always have a mooring space in one of his favorite spots.
Les' ashes are scattered just near the middle post. A lovely double Daffodil will bloom here next spring.
    Back on the boat I got underway again, calmed by the act of scattering and planting. I was fine until I came to a line of permanently moored boats with a bridge ahead. I was about 150 feet away from the bridge, cruising slowly when a boat came around the curve on the other side and spotted me. He started hovering. I continued on since I was closer and all of a sudden the driver rammed it in gear and went for the bridge hole. I tried to stop but it was clear we were gong to make contact. His bow met my front side bow under the bridge hole. I exclaimed,
     "Why did you do that? I was closest to the bridge hole and you stopped!"
     "I think you'll find I was the closest to the bridge hole and you should have given way."
     "I would gladly have given way if you had signaled your intentions to me." Off he went muttering to himself--and other boaters behind who witnessed it all--about boating being a contact sport after all. A little further on another line of permanently moored boats appeared and stretched like long jeweled beads around a curve in the cut. There was a ton of overhanging vegetation and trees on the offside obscuring the view, so I took it slowly, suddenly spotting the bow of a replica working boat cruising along on the other side of the veg, blissfully unaware of my approach. I sounded my horn and he slowed right down. As it was he nearly pushed me into the line of moored boats, apologizing as he passed.
     "Sorry about that. I was day dreaming. Thanks for sounding your horn."
All righty then! Soon enough I caught up to Tim and Rick at the service point at the bottom of the Stoke Bruerne flight. We both filled with water while waiting for a pair to go up and another pair to come down the flight; then it was our turn.  Up we went and eventually we made to the top. I moored up in the last space before the mouth of the Blisworth tunnel and they moored up behind me. Hot, tired, and emotionally exhausted, I decided to try the steak and wine dinner advertised at the Navigation pub back below the top lock. I showered, changed clothes and walked down to dinner. I ordered a Sirloin steak but what was brought to me was a rump steak. The waitress tried to argue with me about the cut and I said, "I know what a Sirloin cut looks like, and I am well aware of what rump steak is. I ordered a Sirloin steak medium rare and this is a rump steak nearly well done." So she took it back and brought me a Sirloin steak medium rare but by then I had little appetite for it, the broiled mushroom, partially broiled tomato and limp clump of rocket on my plate. I had to ask for the dressed salad I had also ordered and it came, drowned in olive oil and nothing else. This is not a pub I would recommend to anyone for a decent meal. The young women staffing the bar really didn't seem to give a fig about food service.
     Back on the boat I found I had no Internet, telly or phone signal; not surprising given I was moored up at the deep end of a cutting with a 3057 yard tunnel in front of me. I decided to call it a night and went to bed early. I slept restlessly waking after three hours and was up the remainder of the night. The next morning Dunrushin was off into the tunnel, Tim and Rick waving goodbye. Their boat will be up for sale soon. They are headed for Crick along with so many others, to have their boat evaluated.
Tim and Rick beside their sweet boat NB Dunrushin.
     I decided to visit the canal museum above the top lock and as I walked back that way I spotted NB Morning Mist, Kate Saffin's boat, with working boat Tench moored behind her. I stopped to chat with Kate and Heather Boyce. They are involved with Alarum Theatre's production of Idle Women:Recreating the Journey which tells the story of how women were recruited to run the working boats on the cut throughout World War II. I had a lovely chat with them, and Kate gave me some well founded ideas about managing the boat and locks as a single handed boater. Many thanks Kate.
     This morning I was up at 5:30 after a decent night's sleep. I emptied the engine hold of water (yes it is still leaking), greased the stern gland again, tidied up the engine hold, put on Les' rain gear, slid the tiller and pin in place and cruised off into the Stygian blackness of the Blisworth tunnel. At 3057 yards it is the third longest tunnel on the canal system. It is just wide enough for two 7 foot wide narrow boats to pass. I have very poor depth perception and very useless spatial awareness. As I was bringing Les and the boat back down to Tring last July, I entered the tunnel in the afternoon going from brilliant sunlight to complete darkness bar the tunnel light on the bow. I rammed into the side of the tunnel and broke a navigation light. This time I decided to leave just after dawn so there would not be so much difference in the light outside the tunnel versus inside. I also would not meet any boats coming in the opposite direction at crack-thirty in the morning. It was dark, wet with water cascading down in continual drips from the ceiling, musty smelling and I had it all to myself. I also turned on all the interior lights before I upped pins so that the walls of the tunnel were illuminated the length of the boat and not just at the bow.
     Thirty minutes later I emerged into a golden sunlit morning. The world was just waking and I had the cut to myself. I stealthily cruised through Blisworth, on to Gayton Junction and passed the long line of moored boats there. Two and half hours after I started I was mooring up across the cut from the farm with the horses just past Bridge 45 which takes one up to the village of Gayton. I stopped here because this is also a favored spot of Les'. We went Scrumping in Gayton and we began painting the boat here in 2014 when we thought all was well and Les was going to survive his cancer journey.
     As I sat here typing this blog NB Kallista went by, Chris at the helm in the sunshine. He typifies Mo on NB Balmaha who once said, "Aren't boaters lovely?"  Yes they are indeed. Every time I meet a new boater and I am touched by their kindness, I think of Mo and he springs back to life again for a moment. We lost him to cancer too soon as well.
     A few minutes later I heard the toot of a boat horn and NB Briar Rose cruised past, Adam and Adrian on the stern waving madly at me. They too are off to the Crick boat show and said they will no doubt see me on the way back. Something else to look forward to then! Must get a pan of Brownies in the oven.
     Last night at dusk I took a walk to scatter more of Les' ashes and plant another Daffodil. He died four months ago yesterday; 16 weeks, seven hours and thirty minutes ago.
His ashes are scattered and a Daffodil planted in between the large oak tree and the short post declaring the hazard of overhead power lines. Easts Bridge no. 44 is in the distance.
The clump of Daffodils marking Les' ashes near the Oak tree.
The view across the cut from Les' ashes. He loved all animals--especially horses. He also loved mooring here in the quiet of the countryside with the farm across the way.
NB Valerie moored up across from the farm near Gayton. Wrights Lane Bridge No. 45 is in the distance.

                                                    Janis Ian's Light a Light


Dragontatoo said...

Very glad there are lovelies about to help you, and that you're remembering to eat. We love you 1000 Swedish Fish ❤️

Oakie said...

I think I might have already passed you and not noticed. Thursday and moored up just below Bridge 24 at Weedon.

Unknown said...

I'm touched by your memories, Jaq, and by your soft strength to grieve in the courageous way you're living and sharing. Planting the daffodils is a wonderful memorial to Les, and a fine metaphor for your life together now and always.
I have to tell you that in the Community Choir I sing with--no auditions, we just like to sing--we've just gotten a new song: The Barley Mow. It's a pub song on the order of 99 Bottles of Beer. You've likely heard it, but if you haven't I'll sing it to you when I visit, and I'll bring a few more songs to teach you.
I hadn't thought about how handy and smart you have to be to handle your craft in and out of locks and tunnels. I'm impressed at your seawomanship. Gland grease! I'll remember that.
Much love,

Anonymous said...

Hi Jesse,

Wile I am alone in life, I amsurounded by wonderful, kind, and helpful folk. I cannot imagine living anywhete else. I am eating, although I really have little appetite. I make myself eat anyway.

I love you all 300,000 Swedish fish,
Mamma xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Ray,

I will be in Weedon tomorrow.


Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Nancy,

I cannot wait for your visit! I look forward to learning some pub songs woth you and sharing a bit of my life on the cut with you. I think you will enjoy it.

Love Jaq xxx

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Hi Jaq,
Lovely to read of your journey - even tho it's solo. You are so amazing: I know I couldn't deal with the boat on my own in and out of locks! Well, I suppose I possibly could but I know I'd be stressing to the max ...
We are at the bottom of Hillmorton Locks tonight - lovely evening. Where we are moored feels weird on two counts:
* we are moored on the Long Term Mooring - the CRT lockie told us to, and
* we are on the winding hole - that's where the long term mooring starts!
Looking forward to seeing you soon.

We are meeting Mick and Julia on Thursday at 103.
Mxxoo and Biggs hugs, girl!

Judith nb Serena said...

Lovely post. Your doing incredibly well. I love the way your scattering Les' ashes and planting daffodils in all his favourite places, a lovely thing to do. We arrived at Crick on Wednesday and we have seen a number of the boats you mentioned passing by, the only one we haven't seen is Chance. Keep on with your journey and take care of yourself. Love and hugs Judith nb Serena XXX

Anonymous said...

Jaq - I really like your new top photo - lovely framed shot of your home. It sounds like you life is settling down a bit ... jolly good though I know four months .... is still just an eye blink way. I love the planting of daffodils at your favorite shared spots.
Karen in Pullman

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs