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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Goodbye Braunston, Hello Rugby, With Some Characters in Between

"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it has become a memory." ~ Anonymous

     I never purposely sought to have any connections to Braunston and yet I find they are there. Chronologically the first one is imparted through the video Les made for me in November of 2010, introducing me to the area. It was a means of showing me a place he liked and bringing me into his world. I showed at his memorial service last March.

     My next connection came in December 2012 and January 2013 when we saw Christmas and New Year's in aboard NBV, moored up on the fourteen day moorings just across from the water point near Midland Chandlers and the two bridges. We were pointing south and planning our spring and  summer cruise down to London, up the Lea and Stort and onto the Thames. It was at this moment when Les' body began giving us signals that something was wrong and a visit to the doctor was in order, but Les being a typical man, shrugged it off and refused to listen to me. Seven months later after symptoms had become so bad Les was constipated, vomiting up his food and in so much pain he literally beat his head against the counter, he finally went to see the doctor, to be referred back to his GP, who examined him and referred Les to a Gastroenterologist. Two weeks later we met with the surgeon, and finally, nine months later Les had the first surgery to remove the cancerous mass in his rectum which had grown "as large as a two year old's fist", to quote the surgeon. Every time I pass this mooring spot my heart aches with the knowledge that Les would probably still be here with me if only....if only.
     So there I was moored on my own. I came to Braunston on Wednesday the 19th in the afternoon to meet up one more time with my friend Ray. I had every intention of leaving on Thursday and heading for Rugby but the weather deteriorated into overcast skies, rain showers and strong, gusting wind on Thursday and Friday, so I decided to stay through Sunday as I wanted to get my Saturday Daily Mail TV Magazine. I wish the other papers had a telly mag as good but they don't so I only pick up the paper on Saturday. Les always used to get me my paper, even when I would insist that I could and would be happy to go and get it myself.
     "No, let me Jaq. It is a small thing and I love doing this for you. You take such great pleasure in your paper and it won't take me any time to all to walk up to the shop for one."
Shortly thereafter my Best Beloved would come back through the door with a smile, eyes twinkling to hand me my paper.
   I fetch my own paper now on Saturdays, a lump in my throat as I remember Les' love for me in such a simple and thoughtful act repeated weekly.  I was off up the towpath about four boat lengths to Butcher's Bridge and the foot path across the canal, between the meadows and up to the main street store by 9:00 AM. There was a break in the weather and the sun came out to make it a pleasant doddle. I love this walk because there are so many of my favorite green allies allowed to grow along the way, In the States they are classed as weeds and sprayed with poisonous herbicides, Here the Brits leave nature to its own devices for the most part along the verges which allows me to stop and say hello to some of my favorite plants: Burdock, Nettles, Comfrey, and Maid's Petticoats (Hollyhocks). It was a joy to be able to walk up the hill without any pain in my knees, and to enjoy the beauty of the cottage gardens along the High street where my senses were assaulted by the scent of roses, and a lush green scent I could not identify.
Burdock is a biennial. The first year it makes a large rosette of leaves and establishes a root system.
The second year it sends up tall stalks with large wavy green leaves sometimes mistaken for rhubarb.
Burdock is the only non-spiny thistle growing here. It is form the spiky seed heads that Swiss engineer George De Mestral received the idea of creating Velcro. He was walking in a field and several burdock seed heads stuck to his clothes. Examining them closer gave him the idea to create a synthetic version and viola! Velcro was conceived.
The root is the medicinal part, dug from three year old plants. It can be used fresh as the Japanese do. they call it Gobo and it is added into soups and many other dishes, sliced thin. It can be cleaned, cut into small pieces or diced and dried and then used in medicinal medicines. Burdock is a potent anti-cancer plant and a  main constituent of Essiac Tea which I used in combination with Gerson therapy to fight ovarian cancer. I had Les on Essiac until we were told that his cancer was traveling through his blood stream and not his lymph. Burdock root cleans the lymph system of everything including cancer cells.
This is Comfrey in bloom. Its leaves are hairy and slightly prickly. This plant was used to close surgery incisions and deep gashes before modern surgery techniques. It is loaded with allantoin which our bodies manufacture in our skin cells. It's folk name is knit bone and it will indeed knit bones back together.
     It is my custom to make a cup of "Kwahfee" and sit with a pen, reading through the TV magazine and marking any shows I find interesting, then reading the articles and checking for a good recipe in the back of the magazine. The newspaper is rubbish as far as I am concerned and I use it to wrap up garbage and wash windows.
    After being pinned down by rain and high wind gusts through last weekend, fueled by a deep trough of black depression which renders me filled with a malaise that can make the simplest things like getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, and facing another day a very difficult proposition, I had a good stern talk with myself. It is painfully difficult to cruise along passing places Les and I have been to together or to moor up somewhere we spent time; especially our last spring and summer together.
     "Jaq, if you allow depression to eat up your life then you might as well be living in a house again. Depression will steal all your joy and if you have no joy in living this life what is the point?" Point taken on board literally, so I moved to the water point on Tuesday the 24th at 7:00 AM, filled up the tank, dumped the rubbish, and set off cruising to Rugby. It was warm, humid, overcast and slightly breezy weather.
     I cried passing the Onley prison moorings, remembering mooring up there in October of 2011 and our first meeting with George and Carol Palin on NB Rock N Roll, Maffi on NB Millie M, Ann and Chas Moore on Moore2Life, and Paul and Lynn on NB Piston Broke. I was over the moon meeting boaters whose blogs I had found and followed back in the States and I felt as a child would have when meeting one's super heroes in person. Our lives as husband and wife and fellow boaters together was newly minted with all the hope of a long and happy future ahead of us.
A burned out sunken boat; someones pride and joy gone now, floating in the cut, waiting to be removed by CaRT.
Entry to the new Onley Marina, the newest of the six marinas now circling around the Braunston/Napton area.
Les and I used to moor up along here before this marina was dug out.
Swathes of Joe Pye Weed or Eupatorium Purpureum, whose other folk name is also gravel root. Teas of the roots or tops were used as a diuretic, as well as for rheumatism, gout, fevers, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, and even impotence. (Gravel-root refers to the kidney or bladder stones that E. Purpureum was supposed to eliminate.)
     Eventually I made it to Hillmorton for the trip down the dreaded Hillmorton lock flight. Why do I dread it?
     In the six years Les and I traveled on NBV, every time we faced the double set of locks at Hillmorton (three on one side and three on the other which theoretically should make passing up and down this short three lock flight a dawdle), at least one if not more, of the locks would be broken, with reams of yellow caution tape and bright orange plastic webbed "walls" festooning everything. Queues of boaters in both directions meant on our first trip down the locks, a two hour wait!
     Also, on the starboard side locks as one is going down, the landing is terrible; uneven footing caused by a landing made of rocks of differing heights which jut out under the water. One cannot always bring the boat in closely to tie up, which requires jumping on and off across the gap. So while this flight is actually only three locks it is seared in my mind as an unpleasant experience.
     And finally, I've made my acquaintance with a fair share of those who are a part of the shiny boat brigade (SBB) at these locks. For those elsewhere in the world who are reading this, "the shiny boat brigade" is a term for those boaters whose boats sit in a marina or a mooring for most of the year, and whose owners bring them out on an occasional weekend over the summer and expect everyone else to get out of their way, as they not only pay their CRT license but they pay marina mooring fees, which they feel is unfair (Continuous Cruisers only pay a license fee as we have no home mooring) entitles them to take command of the cut and any locks, AND their boat is clean, shiny and hardly used; their precious if you will and they don't want a scruffy boat like ours within a thousand yards of their boat. Also known as the G & T crowd for sitting on the stern of their boats a lot of the weekends throughout the year, drinking Gin and Tonics but not moving out of the marina, one cannot call them on their egregious behavior without being told, "I have been boating for thirty years and I know what I am talking about." Never mind that in those thirty years they have only actually cruised two years worth of days and never consecutively. Now please understand not all boaters who keep a boat in a marina behave this way, but far too many do for my liking. I wouldn't give a fig about these people--mainly men with dependent wives doing all the lock work while their husbands stand like Lords at the tiller waiting for the little woman to put her back into it--if they didn't throw their weight around, especially in my direction.
     Imagine my surprise to find no queue at the either end of the lock flight! AND both sets of locks were in working order!! I moored up on the right hand side, jumping the gap of uneven stones and pulling in NBV as best I could against the jagged edging. There was a very nice woman there from one of the boats, with a cat in a harness on a leash. As I was tying up she walked the cat over and it promptly tangled its leash in my mooring lines, requiring a bout of hokey pokey to sort it out. As Cockney comedian Mickey Flanagan would say, "'Ere we go, 'ere we go," and we did. I strode to the lock gate with my windlass only to have cat woman follow me, pet in arms, asking to walk over the lock gate. Okay, but her eyes widened in alarm as she spotted a boat moored up at the top of the adjacent top lock. The owners had two Staffies or Pit Bulls as they are known in the States, and they were loose on the lock landing so I had to stand and wait while a conversation ensued about whether or not it was safe for woman and cat to come over the lock gates. One dog would be fine with the cat, the other would not, so its owner had to take it back to their boat, while I stood waiting for all this happiness to unfold.
     Meanwhile sure enough a member of the SBB on NB Adventurer pulled in behind me. His wife jumped off with a windlass and two small Spaniel looking dogs at her heels just as I was setting the lock. She inquired as to whether or not I was alone and I replied in the affirmative. She offered to help me with the lock and I thanked her and said yes.
   Once the paddles on the top gates were up, I walked back to my boat, untied it from the bollard, and set about getting back on board by jumping the gap again, windlass in one hand and midline in the other, whilst grabbing for the roof rail. The bloke on NB Adventurer asked if I needed his help.
     "No thank you, I am fine."
I proceeded to steer NBV into the lock as the gate was opened by his wife. Once inside, I hopped off our boat, wrapped the midline loosely around a bollard and went to lift the paddles on my side of the bottom gates. As the water dropped, taking NBV with it, she replied,
     "You can get back on your boat now. I will get the gates for you."
     "No, I cannot jump down on the roof and clamber down into my boat now. I've had knee replacement surgery and that is just not possible." ('Nor is it necessary, as you will soon see). Her face fell as I shared this news. She just looked at me as if to say, "Well how in the deuce will you get your boat out of the lock then you silly woman?" And I thought, "wait and watch." We opened the bottom gates, I unfurled the midline from the bollard and begin bow hauling the boat (pulling it by the midline) out of the lock. This is how Les taught me to safely enter a lock going up or exit a lock going down and I stand by it. He said to never ever use the ladders as they are too dangerous, and being a short arsed woman jumping around on the roof is not an option for me. I have no trouble bow hauling our 18 ton boat, however it does take a moment or two to get the boat moving. Just as I had things in hand, Mr. Adventurer appeared beside me, grabbing the midline from my hands and stating in an exasperated tone,
     "Let me help you. We haven't got all day."He might as well have waved a red flag at a bull.
     "Give my line. My husband died six months ago and I am doing it all on my own. I'm sorry if I don't do it to your satisfaction. I'll pull over once I am outside the lock and you can go ahead of me since your in such a bleeding hurry. You shouldn't be on the cut if you're in a hurry. The motorway is over there and that is clearly where you belong." I grabbed my midline out of his hands and then I turned away and burst into tears of frustration and anger, which I hate. I pulled NBV out of the lock and tied up at the landing outside the bottom gate, nipping inside to blow my nose and have a wee. When I returned top side, a confrontation was taking place.
NB Adventurer with its overbearing owner at the tiller.
     The woman with the two Stafffies, working the other top lock saw what had happened and while her husband steered their boat into the lock and set the bottom gates she strolled over to have a chat with Mr and Mrs. Adventurer. As I approached the knotted group I heard Mrs. SBB exclaim snootily,
     "Well we tried to help her and she refused our help."
      "No," I replied, "What your husband did was grab my mooring line out of my hand, commandeering my boat and and taking control of things."
The woman with the Staffies said,
     "Well now. When someone's boat is in the lock its their lock not yours.  And when someone is single handing a boat as she clearly is, they have to go about things differently then we do with partners to help out."
     "Exactly," I replied. "A single handed boater has a set way of doing things in a certain order to get through a lock and your interference only throws us off our stride. If I had wanted or needed your help I would have asked for it."
     "Yes," said Staffie woman. "That's it exactly, and I watched her. She did everything right." Turning to me she gave me a hug and said,
     "Bring your boat over to our side of the lock flight Pet, and I will help you down." And so I did just that. I tried to remain calm as her two Staffies and NB Adventurer's two dogs wove in and out of my feet while I worked the lock gates, thinking to myself that I wish CRT would make it mandatory for all dog owners to keep their pets on a lead or in their boats at locks and service points, but that is a different conversation for another day.
     As we locked down I chatted with this lovely woman. Her name is Mary and her husband's name is Trevor. Their boat is NB September. They have lived  aboard as CC'rs for eleven years and they were really kind. She was patient and helpful. Mary told me not to let the SBB couple ruin my day. At the bottom of the lock flight Mary said they were also traveling north to the Weaver and we would no doubt pass each other along the way, hopefully having time for a cuppa. I look forward to it Mary. I'll bring the biscuits!
   Calm restored, I cruised past a couple of trading boats with bright Hippie signs posted and various colorful materials flapping in the breeze. As I rounded the bend NB The Old Bovine came into view moored up. I slowed to a stop and called out for its owner but there was no answer and I spotted locks on the doors, so I continued on again.
     Les and I met L. down at Watford in 2014. He was a successful jazz musician in London for thirty years. His wife had died from cancer and he couldn't bear to stay in their home so he sold it and bought his boat--a replica working boat--which he keeps spotless and tidy. You may have seen him out and about. He wears women's clothes and rides a woman's bike. He is a cross dresser, not transgender and not gay. Wearing his wife's clothes is a means of staying close to her memory for L. and he gets on with it. Sadly he gets a lot of stick for this penchant of his from a judgemental world. L. is a good boater;  he is also kind, funny, and good company. Les and I enjoyed tea with him and always looked forward to seeing L. so I was sad to have missed him.
Our friend's lovely boat. © Joe and Lesley Kimantas, 2013.
     I cruised onward towards Clifton-Upon-Dunsmore, planning to moor up by bridge 66 just before Clifton Cruisers hire base through the bridge hole. Les and I moored here several times and this was a favored place. We preferred it to mooring in Rugby. We could walk up to the bridge and catch a bus into Rugby or the train station nearby. There is also a very good chiropractor located at the top of the lane who has no issue at all working on boaters just passing through. His name is Peter Sawyer and his American wife is from Boston. I wanted to moor here and visit Peter for a much needed and anticipated adjustment.
     Across the cut from this mooring were the lovely back gardens of houses up the street. The gardens were well cared for, filled with flowers, fruit trees and vegetable patches. A farmer let his cows out into the adjacent field and they often made their way right down into the cut on hot days, hanging out in the shade of the water side oak tree, splashing in the water and entertaining us with their antics. Les and I had a memorable day there with son Kevin and his partner Adele visiting us, enjoying the sunshine and time spent with family.
Bovine bath time in the cut. Les, Kevin, Adele, and I enjoyed the beauty of a sunny summer's day in 2015 watching the cows. Kevin used to work at a dairy and he knows cows up close and personal. We had a lively discussion about different breeds. These are English Longhorn.

One of the back gardens in 2015, with a lovely apple tree, tomato and potato plants, a raspberry patch and lots of love invested in the space.
     So imagine my surprise when I reached this spot and found CaRT no longer trimmed the towpath and it was completely overgrown with plant material, keeping me from mooring there. On the off side across the way the lovely back gardens were gone; the apple tree had been cut down and untended plots choked with weeds were all that greeted my gaze now. The farmer's field next door was empty of cows and someone had tied rope to the tree at the edge, making swings on the branches. I was shocked by the changes. Les and I passed this way almost a year ago now, and the lovely gardens and cows in the field were still in existence. It is amazing how quickly nature reclaims something untended by human hands. Dismayed at these changes, I continued to cruise on towards Rugby. Rounding a bend I was amazed to see NB Arch Stanton, piloted by Mick Granger, while his wife Julia popped her head out from under a canvas flap to say hi in passing. When I saw them last, we were moored up on the N. Oxford with NB Waka Huia a month back. In that time they had been to Birmingham and other north bound places and now they were on their way back to the Leicester Arm where their home base is located.
     A few minutes later I pulled into Rugby, mooring up on the off side at the park, and just before the water point, right in front of none other than Mick and Julia's mate Laughing John on NB Woodiggler. We hugged hello and had a lovely twenty minute chat before John had to be off to Braunston to catch up with the Granger's and give Julia her groceries he had procured in Tesco. I decided to pull over to the towpath side further on towards the Black Path to make it easier to come and go as I had a long list of bits and bobs on my own shopping list.
     I stayed three and a half days, loading up with provisions from Tesco, returning a coat to Fat Face clothing store which I had bought in late March and which was too small. Despite not having any receipt and nearly four months passing, the store took the coat back in exchange for other items and I went away a very happy woman. The customer service at Fat Face is akin to that of Nordstrom's in the States, not to mention they have wonderful clothes which are comfortable, well made and actually fit me.
     On Thursday I walked from the boat, down the Black Path past Tesco on along into Rugby town center to pick up a couple of items at Dunelm. Back along the streets and pathways to Home Base, Wickes and finally Maplins for some items, then to the Range for a couple of things and finally home again for a distance of 3.5 miles with all the in-store walking as well. My feet were swollen and painful, so a hot shower, some tea, and a nap were called for at this point. Later in the afternoon I took the number 4 bus into Rugby town center and hired a Taxi to take me to the chiropractors at Clifton. The lovely staff there remembered me even though I had not been seen since August of 2015. My neck, back and hips are ever so much better now.
     Friday I screwed my courage to its sticking place and ventured out to a large city for the first time without Les. I caught the number 4 bus from Tesco into the city center and the number 585 bus from Rugby to Coventry IKEA. I spent three hours in Ikea, eating lunch first, then casually wandering the marketplace aisles. I picked up a couple of plastic bag holders that mount into the wall, two planter boxes, a cordless drill/driver to replace Les' very large one with the knackered battery, a couple of throw rugs and assorted other bits and bobs. I left with two large blue IKEA bags and made the journey back home on the two buses. I was so grateful to see NBV moored up in the diluted afternoon sunshine. I feel very anxious now whenever I leave her. She is all I own in this world.
     While moored in Rugby a boat moored up in front of me, NB Music For Foxes. As I was passing on the towpath I asked the man mooring up about the meaning of the boat name. He was rather vague about it, saying it was the name of a song he and his wife liked. Later, he was gone into town as I was coming back from Tesco. I happened to look in the window on passing and saw a woman who I assume is the wife, standing with her back to me, chopping veg at the galley counter. She had on a red and white calico apron and underneath she was wearing a leather harness! Now I've been around enough to know S & M gear when I see it. This provided some insight into the boat name, and I chuckled to myself as I wondered about their safe word. Could it be screaming vixens???? I wonder if they keep a ball gag and a riding crop in the wardrobe...
     While moored here three boats passed me in the very early hours over a period of two days. Moving at 6:30 AM is unusual but all three boats were piloted by single women and I knew exactly why there moved so early. It allowed them to move on to swing bridges, and locks without having to suffer from unnecessary "help" by boaters who assume they know it all and a woman on her own is completely helpless without their intervention.
     After three days of pouring rain showers, Saturday dawned lighter if not brighter. No rain forecast until late evening so I walked one last time down the Black Path to Tesco for a Saturday paper and off I cruised, heading for the service point at Newbold. As I cruised along I passed three hire boaters zigging and zagging along. I slowed down in narrow places and let them pass with a smile. Everyone starts out somewhere and I have infinite patience with new boaters as long as they aren't drunk.
      I also encountered another of the SBB coming out of a bridge hole. I was at least three boat lengths back, taking it slow and easy as I always do when approaching a bridge hole and yet when he saw me--and I do mean me, a woman at the tiller--he pulled his shiny boat so far to the tow path he was scraping along in the soft weeds as he wildly waved me on past him--a rictus grin on his face. I thought he might try and drive up on dry land to avoid me despite the fact I was on my side of the cut and in complete control of NBV.  "Some people's children," as my own are wont to say.
     Lest you read this and think I am blowing things out of proportion I can assure you I am being truthful on all accounts. I belong to an online group for women single hand boaters called The Tiller Girls. I have checked with them and my experiences as a singular woman on a boat are not the exception. Sadly, they are all too common to all women who live aboard and/or pilot their boats on their own. There is an unspoken assumption on the cut that women on their own cannot possibly manage a boat as well as a bloke, and some people will say things to and engage in unthoughtful behaviors towards a woman on her own that they would not have even considered saying or behaving in like manner to Les for example--or any other man, single or part of a boating couple. 
     Shortly afterward I nearly had an encounter with a Labrador running loose on the towpath who decided to jump in the water at a bridge hole just before I was headed into it. Honking my horn brought its owner running and she called her dog out of the water. I would have been devastated if I had hit the animal, and an 18 ton boat on the move will not stop on a dime.
     Moving on I soon came to a line of moored boats with a gap and suddenly a side hatch popped open and Mike and Phyll on NB Garnet were waving at me! They invited me to pull over for a cup of tea but sadly I had to decline as now I was moving I needed to keep up my momentum. I plan to be on the Coventry before the middle of this coming week.
Me on the stern of NBV, taken by Mike and Phyll Muir of NB Garnet.
    I pulled over at the service point in Newbold, shocked at the changes there.  Apparently the pub there made its car park available as a lay over for caravans and they were nut-to-butt right up to the pick-nick tables just before the cut. There was dog shit in piles on the verge making it difficult to get off the boat and tie up for water, but I managed while avoiding it.
     Les and I had spent seventeen days frozen in at Newbold in the winter of 2011. We walked everywhere and got to know it well. While the pub car park backed onto the canal at the service point it hadn't been unpleasant. A wall of caravans certainly did nothing for it I'll tell you. Water tank full, all rubbish emptied and the bow pushed out to go, I hopped aboard and gave it a bit of welly to pull away from the side and head forward when a sudden strong wind gust came up, blowing NBV back into the side. I was going to hit the boat permanently moored up just past the water point in an attempt to move forward off the side. I couldn't jump off with midline in hand, push the bow out again, and jump back on--the siding was again, rough uneven rocks that jutted out making it difficult for a short legged person to jump on and off and the wind wasn't going to let me break away from the side. I decided the best thing to do was to back up, putting the stern farther out in the middle of the canal and then go forward passing the moored boat and heading into Newbold tunnel.
     As I was backing up another boat came through the bridge hole right behind me and slowed to a hover with their bow thruster, waiting to see what I was doing. The wife came forward to their bow and inquired exactly where was I going? I shouted that the wind was blowing me back against the towpath and I was backing up to break away (I would have thought this was obvious, but then I don't have a bow thruster and some boaters have never done without one). She went back through their boat to relay this information to her husband. As I broke away from the side, slowed the boat, put it in forward gear and began to pull forward I turned to wave and say thanks for waiting. They waved back and pulled in for water.
     I cruised onward and soon enough I came through Bridge 35 and the lovely vista Les loved stretched out in front of me. A farm takes up all of the right side as the canal curves around passed it and widens out. Ahead trees grow close together as the canal makes another turn and disappears into the gloom of  the trees, near a small car park. Les loved this bit of canal and always wanted to pull in and moor across from the farm but every time we passed this way it was full of boaters so we had to carry on past the car park and moor up just the other side of it.
     It was just past 10:00 AM and not another boat in sight! I pulled over, banged in the pins and moored up. A small burble of bliss rose up in me as I planted my new bow garden and sat with cup of tea in hand, watching the swallows dive and dip for water, taking to the skies again with a graceful arc. Cows chewed their cud in the fields nearby and a lone chicken meandered in and out of their legs. I had a quiet uneventful night's sleep and now boats are pulling over left and right, filling up the vacant spaces. Tomorrow I shall leave very early and push on though the swing bridge and onward to Hawksbury Junction and the Coventry canal where I plan to moor up for a day or so, fill with water again, dump the rubbish, and then turn right, heading for Atherstone.

Friday, July 21, 2017


"If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders." ~ Vi Keeland, American author and attorney

     The definition of the title word is to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination. It is old English slang and I thank boater Mike Wall on NB Independence for bringing it to my attention. I also found coddiwomple on a list of 25 Words Every Traveler Should Know and I found nearly all those words resonated for me.
     I am pleased to report that NB Valerie passed the Boat Safety Certificate exam with five stars and flying colors. Every system on this boat easily meets or exceeds the current craft safety standards. The examiner was mightily impressed by the cleanliness of the engine bay and my oven/grill!
     I am also pleased to say that my new mattress is an absolute dream. I no longer wake up feeling as though I have spent the night on a torture rack in the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition. The process of its unpacking and settling in was almost life-like and rather odd for an inanimate object. The mattress came rolled tightly in thick plastic and a long cardboard box. As soon as I slit the plastic and un-rolled the mattress onto the foundation, it began breathing by which I mean it was out-gassing with a synthetic stench that smelled like a combination of vinegar and old potato chip cooking oil. As the fumes wafted outward (I kept the stern hatch open for two days), the foam mattress also began to breathing in, taking in air and plumping up. It is now so tall I have to hoik myself up in it, like a small child trying to clamber aboard mom and dad's bed. It is made from a new generation of foam called LayGel which is far superior to regular memory foam. while it still uses body heat to reshape itself to relax around body points, LayGel wicks the excess heat away. One doesn't sink into it like average Memory Foam so two people cane sleep on it without rolling into each other or becoming too hot.
     My sleep is physically restful but it seems tragically odd to lie down at night on a mattress Les and I have never shared. I had a horrible nightmare last night in which Les and I appeared at a doctor's surgery for an appointment for him. He was wasted, gaunt and exhausted. The nurse asked us to follow her. I gathered all our bags and we and trudged along a sidewalk down the street to some restaurant the size of a coat room where we were ordered to wait until Les' name was called. Les laid down on a banquette and I sat nearby reading the paper. Suddenly I realized it had gone from daylight to dark outside and our name had never been called. I put down the paper, turned to Les--and he was gone! Panic rose in my throat, my heart hammered like thunder and I tore through the tiny establishment even going into the men's bathroom searching for him. No one had seen Les and no one cared. I was stricken with grief, awash in terror; a stranger in a foreign land who had lost her ill husband! How could I have misplaced him? What kind of wife was I? How could I have allowed myself to become distracted by reading the newspaper? Why didn't I hear Les leave?
     I came awake suddenly, chest heaving, heart pounding with tears pouring down my face, breathing in gasps, my mind asking me how I could possibly enjoy a decent night's sleep on a new mattress when I had been so negligent as to have lost my husband.
     It was 6:15 AM. I rose and checked the status of my batteries as Les always did first thing each morning. The refrigerator was running and the batteries were at 12.40 volts (50% charged). It is exceedingly dark and overcast here, and it has rained, and yet by 9:00 AM the new solar panels have charged the batteries right up to 13.00 volts! Our old system could not do this, requiring me to run the engine to charge the batteries up again on an overcast day. This is brilliant and means one less worry for me. I can leave the boat now for more than 24 hours and I no longer have to return right away to run the engine and charge the batteries. The new system will keep on top of it for me. I can also run the Ebspacher boiler heater (this heats the radiators throughout the inside of the boat and provides hot water for washing, as opposed to running the engine to get hot water and starting a fire in in the wood stove for heat), wash a load of laundry, or vacuum without having to let the engine run while I do it.
     I am in Braunston now, having cruised back here to meet up with my friend Ray Oakhill (NB Stronghold). He is a jack of all trades and a dark horse this one! Among all the knowledge he has gathered (plays classical guitar and piano, is an excellent cook, and a very proficient boater), Ray can splice rope and he is an encyclopedia of knot tying. I fixed dinner for us (Shish Kebobs using my mother's old recipe which I hadn't tasted in nearly fifty years!), steamed green beans with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and raspberries, toasted three cheese bread, and Peach Lazy Pie with cream). Ray brought the wine and we had a nice evening catching up. Yesterday morning Ray came over and spliced my new mooring ropes, creating loops on one end and he sealed the other ends with heat sealed sleeving which is a tube of plastic that shrinks tight when heated. All the new mooring lines are in place now and I feel much better knowing the old, badly frayed rope is gone. He also tutored in a few basic knots--the names of which escape me but I can do them and I keep practicing so I won't forget. We parted ways yesterday as Ray is headed for the South Oxford and the Thames. See you perhaps next year then...take care my friend.
     I opted to stay on in Braunston through Sunday as the weather has taken a cool, extremely windy turn with rain and thunder showers forecast and indeed it is blowing a hooley out there. I want to get my Saturday paper with the telly magazine up in the village, before I go and I think today I will attempt to make those yummy Stilton Cheese Puffs Ray is famous for sharing around. He uses Nigel Slater's recipe and they are divine. I don't like blue cheese so I managed to find some White Stilton at Tesco in Southam of all places and I am keen to try this recipe.
     I filled up with water, dumped the rubbish and washed the windows and solar panels at the water point while everyone else was having their tea (that would be dinner, supper, or the evening meal for Americans, depending on what part of the country you live). Not another soul was moving on the cut and the late summer sun disappeared behind the trees with a golden glow. I turned the boat in the marina entrance and backed up to the 14 day moorings just past the marina bridge. With all chores sorted I did a spider reccy using my slippers like big gloves, finding five and dispatching them all to Valhalla or wherever spiders go when they die with a satisfying clap of the slippers each time, and settled in to watch Outlander on More 4.  I cannot abide the eight legged horrors abseiling down in front of me in the dark while I am trying to relax and watch TV.
     I want to say hello to Angela formerly on NB Lady Ester. When she and her husband lived aboard they used to follow our blog. They sold their boat as Angela was struggling with a very bad knee. They were in Braunston yesterday, shopping for mooring lines for their new boat NB Annie. Angela has had knee replacement surgery and they are going to be back on the cut again. She stopped by to introduce herself and she said I was her role model. She had no idea how I managed to cope with having two knee surgeries in one year while living on a boat and caring for Les, and I inspired her. Thank you Angela, for taking the time to stop in and for your very kind and generous words. Welcome back to the cut!    

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Biding Time

“What is she like? I was told—she is a melancholy soul. She is like the sun to the night; a momentary gold. A star when dimmed by dawning light; the flicker of a candle blown. A lonely kite lost in flight—someone once had flown.”~Lang Leav, Australian poet and writer

      I cannot believe it has been nearly a month since I last posted to this blog. The list of projects on our boat has felt like different things on different days: the saving of my sanity, a mountain I must climb, a Honey Do list started by my Best Beloved to be finished by me, a black hole sucking up all my money and energy, a daily reason to get up and put one foot in front of the other when depression looms like a dark abyss, a long list of hurdles on a race course that requires stamina rather than speed, a Goddess-send, a one-thousand step program for rebuilding life after heart rending loss, a list that never seems to end, and endless treadmill of projects, a means of renewing our home...a way forward. 

     It will be six months next week since Les died. His death seems surreal now and so does my life. How, I ask myself, did I arrive here, on a boat, in another country, on my own? While I cannot believe Les is gone I find his memory is fading and I have to fight for every scrap. Part of that is emotional anesthetic, part of it is simply time, and a lot of it is the fact that last year Les changed drastically as his life wound down. I have to really reach to remember Les as he was four, five and six years ago when he was the picture of robust health. Death does that as it eats away at us, moment by moment, cell by cell. I didn't have time to take it all in; I was too busy caring for him and trying to make every moment count for us both while denying my own grief process. I didn't want to burden Les with my grief or the unbearable pain I felt in knowing I was losing him. I chose to cry in the shower instead of in front of him. I chose to be stoic and forge onward. I know now what a terrible mistake that was. I denied us both the chance to experience those precious, painful moments together and to say and do the final things we needed, wanted and should have experienced with each other.
    So, back to the boat. A year ago we asked folks who donated to our GoFundMe account if they would be comfortable with our changing the focus of our account from a trip back to America and family, and instead spend the money on NB Valerie, getting her ready for me to live on without Les. Without exception all of you who donated said,
     "Spend the money as you see fit." 
So we did. My deepest heartfelt thanks to all of you near and far who offered up your fiinancial support for our life on this boat. Items with an asterisk were completed by Les. It is time for an accounting now, of chores and how the money was spent, so here without further ado, is the list:

  • *Whale Gulper no-maintenance shower pump mounted inside the sink cupboard replacing the old unit mounted under the bathtub and behind a wooden panel which required laying on one's belly on the floor, removing the front panel of the bathtub and using a wrench to loosen the cap on the filter to clean it--every two months
  • Boat blacked to protect the hull from rust; good for four years
  • New anodes which also protect the hull from rust and decay
  • Two new steel T studs mounted on either side of the bow to make it easier for me to moor up on my own
  • A bicycle rack attached to the stern
  • *New bathroom sink and tiles to replace the old leaking sink and rotted wooden surround
  • *New brass cup style cabinet pulls on all the galley and saloon cupboards and drawers
  • *Replace all the LED light bulbs which were 9 bulb white lights, with 15 bulb warm lights throughout the boat
  • *Build a corner shelf above the bed with a small swiveling reading light mounted underneath, to match the shelf and light on the other side of the bed
  • *Longer tiller handle to accommodate my very short arms
  • The engine bay cleaned and painted
  • The engine cooling system flushed and refilled
  • Solid steel engine bay cover replaced with an aluminum checker plate cover so I can can lift it and access the engine and weed hatch
  • The horn, navigation lights, tunnel light and bilge pump switches moved from below my feet on the side of the stern locker (Les used his feet to operate them but mine don't reach that far), up in front of the gear shift so I can see them and reach them
  • The stern seats re-fitted (Les cut the storage boxes down but was not able to refit the padded seats that fit on top
  • Hook closure on outside stern doors
  • Clean off the roof
  • Cut down the wood box and move it forward
  • Replace the old solar array Les installed with a new system professionally installed by OnBoard Solar
  • Replace the broken boat hook and boat pole, and rotting gang plank
  • Replace the rotting and missing side fenders, bow fenders, and all the bow, stern and mid-line ropes which were four years old and fraying badly
  • Replace the clapped out stereo and mount the new model in the wall of the front closet
  • Stereo speakers installed in the ceiling of the boat
  • *Replace the ten year old telly with a new HD telly
  • *Replace the old toilet seat with a new oak seat
  • Replace our old, torn mattress with the inner springs poking up, with a new custom made quality Memory Foam mattress
     When someone is ill and fighting for their very life every single day for years, every moment it taken up with two things: the fight itself and attempting to live life as normally as possible. There is no time for anything else, like on-going boat maintenance. The last three years Les and I spent engaging in these things daily until in September of 2015 Les gave up. He was tired; tired of fighting. Tired of taking 28 pills a day, tired of eating a special diet, and tired of having to gauge everything we did by whether or not it would fight cancer or contribute to it. His scans were coming back favorably and he felt good; no he felt great! And finally Les was tired of spending nearly four hundred pounds a month on all the supplements, organic food, etc. etc. etc. that the alternative treatments required. He was tired of being stone cold broke every month without money to do things. Neither private insurance 'nor the NHS will pay for any cancer treatment but the standard chemotherapy and radiotherapy which of course costs hundreds of thousands more than the alternative, but that is a different conversation for another day. 
     I didn't care about being broke, I only ever cared about keeping Les alive and helping fight to regain his health and live our life with joy, and I knew that undergoing alternative cancer treatments requires a minimum two year commitment to the treatment without fail. In the scheme of things two years is not very long but it can feel like an eternity when one is dealing with cancer. I told Les this but he just couldn't hear me and as far as he was concerned it wasn't giving up He felt great, he looked good, his scans were coming back favorably so it would be okay. I knew otherwise but discussing it with Les only made him upset and angry. With my heart sinking, we pulled the plug on all the supplements, diet, organic foods, herbs, etc. Within four months the cancer invaded his bones. 
My sweet, sweet man, windlass in hand on the Lapworth flight up to Birmingham, late September 2015.
     I understood how Les felt. Indeed if anyone would grasp how the entire scenario wore him down day by day and made him feel it was me, for I have lived through two ovarian cancer diagnoses, major cancer staging surgery and a two year alternative treatment program (Gerson Therapy) requiring a major diet change (no meat, dairy, sugar, bread, oil, salt, caffeine or alcohol), thirteen glasses of freshly extracted organic juices daily, and up to four coffee enemas daily combined with 36 daily supplemental pills and two liquid supplements for a combined cost out of my pocket of $840 a month. I remember feeling exactly as Les did. So I if I could not convince him to continue treatment, all I could do was support his choices as best I could. Sadly Les could not undertake Gerson therapy as one has to have a fully functioning colon for the treatment to work. I knew we were in for a tough battle in 2014 when we were denied the stoma reversal due to cancer spreading to Les' liver.
     When we received the terminal cancer diagnosis Les asked me to save him, but without spending all our money. There was nothing I could do and my heart broke into thousands of pieces. Les was one of those people who had to see, feel, taste, and hear something, and know it in his bones before he believed a thing was fact. The trouble with that is by the time one knows at that level that cancer is terminal it is too late. All I could do I did and I took his hand and we walked together into what was left of our limited future together while Les spent every moment he could either planning on making my life without him easier or actually involved in projects to do the same. A lot of this time is sadly blurry for me as I had undergone my second knee replacement surgery and I was on pain medication that dulled my cognitive and emotional processes. After Les died and I returned to the boat I found dozens of lists Les had made, with notes to me about how to save money, how to apply for bereavement benefits, and how to save money on low cost cremations. All this Les did while being filled with ever increasing doses of Morphine which makes cognitive functioning very difficult. Nevertheless he researched, investigated and made notes for me to find once he was dead.
     One thing I do want to mention is the fact that the Oncologists at the RFH wanted Les to undergo a biopsy surgery on his spine. They were convinced the cancer they were seeing was not colon cancer. They were 95% certain it was bone sarcoma and it was a "second line cancer," caused by the five days of radiotherapy Les was forced to endure back in October of 2013. Unbeknownst to us at that time, while the treatment was only five days in length Les was given massive amounts of radiation treatment to the extent he could never endure another radiation exposure again--but of course along with so much else, we were not told of this either until June of 2016 when the Oncology team in London sought to give him radiation treatment on his spine and were shocked to uncover that Les had been maxed out on radiotherapy in 2013. Les asked the RFH Oncology team if spinal surgery would cure his disease or prolong his life. The answer was no, it would only serve to underscore 100% their diagnosis of bone sarcoma, and so Les refused the surgery and we came home.
     I know people don't know what to say or do when I break down and cry. That's okay. Let me cry. But please, please don't say, "Well at least you had six wonderful years together." Don't say, "At least you had a deep and true love that so many people never get to experience." Don't say, "Chin up Jaq, life goes on." Yes someone I considered a friend told me that the day after Les received the terminal cancer diagnosis. I got up and left their boat and I refuse to ever speak to them again. Because truly nothing anyone can say will make me feel better and I am angry that cancer stole the golden years Les and I deserved and were looking forward to spending together. Six years isn't even a blink of an eye. It is half a heart beat.
     I do not need anyone to remind me of the depth of mine and Les' love for one another. That knowledge is alive and well in my heart and soul. I live every day with the awareness that I will never see the look of absolute adoration in his lovely eyes ever again. I will never receive another text on my phone from Les saying, "I love you so much. Xxxxxx times a trilly billion more times than that." I've had to change my phone ring tone because I could not bear to hear it and know that Les will never go off to town again for bits and bobs, then call me to say, "Just having a coffee Jaq and I will soon be back home in your arms my sweet." I will never hear Les call my name or his incredible laugh or see his dimples wink at me ever again, and I will never ever experience his strong, warm arms reaching for me in the dark, pulling me close to his side, or feel his lips on mine. 
     I thank Adrian and Adam on NB Briar Rose for sitting with me as I fell apart one day when they were visiting, and not trying to make it better because they instinctively understood that nothing anyone says or does will ever make this loss less than utterly devastating for me. They patiently waited for the moment to pass. I thank Carol and George Palin on WB Still Rockin' for doing the same with me for three entire days, and to Ken and Sue Deveson on NB Cleddau for the same. Practical help, a pat on the arm, a hug, a tissue (an entire box of tissues), and a cup of tea are all helpful. So are Les stories. I am hungry to hear any and all stories about him, no matter how small or insignificant. We had so few years together and so many folks knew far longer than I did and they have wonderful, funny, touching stories of Les that bring him instantly to life again. 
Andy and Tina on NB Ytene recently. It made my heart sing to sing them cruise past. It also made me sad that Les wasn't with me to see them.
     More thanks are due to Andy and Tina Elford of NB Ytene. Although they graft hard five days a week with only Sunday and Tuesday off and Sunday is spent driving two hours to Peterborough to spend the day with Andy's 92 year old Aunt Beryl, taking her shopping and out to lunch, they both came and spent evenings with me on board NBV while I waited for the solar panel fitting and the mattress delivery. Thanks for dozens of fun and goofy rounds of the Railroad Game, bottles of wine, love and laughter, crying right along with me, getting me registered with your dentist and taking me to my appointments, and bringing me along to visit your lovely Auntie Beryl, She is a pip! Tina, thanks for spending a girls day out with me. I haven't done that for a long time and it was such fun.
      The Elfords cruised with Les for three years; they--and we--are more like family than friends and the stories they have of Les are side splittingly funny. After a grueling day working to keep a fleet of  hire boats clean, functioning, and turned around for hire, Andy and Tina came and worked on my boat, repairing things, fitting new bits and bobs, cleaning the roof, disconnecting the old solar panels, taking the wood box off the roof, cutting it down and putting it back on the roof; taking me to Midland Chandlers to purchase the raft of items that needed replacing on the boat, replacing the bathroom loo fan and then turning it around not once but twice! I am so grateful for Andy's expertise in boat repair and painting which he shared with me over the last month to prepare me for the remainder of the jobs that still call for my attention:
  • Sanding and painting the inside panels of the bow doors, the side hatch doors and the inner and outer stern doors
  • Clean out the tracks around all the windows inside from a decade of dead bugs, mold growth and moisture damage
  • Sanding and painting the wooden window sills
  • Sanding and painting the metal window frames inside and out
  • Sanding and refinishing the dinette table
  • Sanding and refinishing the galley counters
  • Sanding and refinishing all of the interior walls and ceiling. It's been nearly 11 years now and it is well past time 
  • Replace the rubber seals on the bow doors, the side hatch doors, the back stern hatch and door, and the outer stern doors 
  • Cover the stern steps with vinyl oak look planking and new rubber treads (the old carpet treads are lifting)
  • Finish painting the exterior of the boat
  • Order and apply vinyl lettering and coach line tape
The large double wood box with the huge 24o watt house solar panel and smaller 100 watt panel mounted on top.
The two new 165 watt each solar panels and the old 100 watt panel installed together on the roof.
     Finally I wish to thank Tim Rees-Davis of OnBoard Solar who did an absolutely splendid job of installing the new solar panels and all the new equipment so that it would work well for me and also pass the BSS exam which is tomorrow. Tim was the soul of patience as he worked, explaining things in a manner I could understand and removing old parts of our system no longer required so that I can sell them on e-Bay. The new installation means I can easily reach all the panels to clean them, tilt them, and I can easily clean and paint the roof beneath them.
NB Valerie with the smaller cut down wood box moved forward to make way for the new solar panels.
I would also like to thank Debra at Custom Size Beds for her assistance and understanding when I screwed up my measurements and the mattress had to be returned to their factory in Kent, cut down to the proper size and a new mattress cover sewn and re-delivered to me. The folks at Custom Size Beds were friendly, calm, understanding and worked hard to get me a new mattress in a matter of days.
The new mattress is 18 cm of reflex foam and 7 cm of cool blue LayGel foam with a quilted cool max cover and a total depth of 25 cm and a ten year waranty. It is more comfortable and provides a better night's sleep than my $1800.00 Sealy Posturpedic mattress back in the States.
     So what's next? 
     Tomorrow morning the Boat Examiner will come and hopefully all will pass muster. Lee Freeman is the person who has done all the past BSS for NB Valerie and he remembered Les and our boat. I hope by early tomorrow afternoon to be cruising through Braunston turning left and heading for Rugby. North at last, as the narrow canals are calling me.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Twenty Four Hour Round Trip

"Whatever our fate is, whatever the hell happens, you say, 'This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge. If you bring love to that moment not discouragement--you will find strength there." ~ Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, writer and lecturer, 1904-1987

     After a bit of solitude to grapple with my restless grief, on Tuesday a boat appeared around the bend; one I recognized. It was my friend Ray on NB Stronghold, fresh from the Braunston Historic Boat Rally where, as a member of the Historic Boat Trust, Ray had the responsibility of steering the trust boat Nuneaton with Official parade Marshall Tim West aboard and towing the butty Brighton with actor (and Tim's wife) Prunella Scales and others aboard.
     Ray moored up in front of me and we had two lovely days together, in which he introduced to me the The Cobb BBQ  (Lakeland Kitchen store has them at a reasonable price) and Stilton Cheese Puffs, and I introduced Ray to some North and South American musical groups: The Indigo Girls, Pearl Django, Jean Pierre Rampal and Claude Bolling, and Strunz & Farah. We both have very catholic tastes in music, enjoy cooking and eating a good meal, have been educators, and have lost a spouse to illness. So Ray is comfortable with my grief and no words need to be spoken about it. He has walked his own road and he knows what it is; meanwhile I was privy to all the scuttlebutt concerning the boat rally--and a good time was had by all--and we improvised a meal together and I was able to see The Cobb in action.
Ryan in the blue T-shirt on his boat Southern Star, at Braunston, © Ray Oakfield, 2017
     Thursday brought Ryan Dimmock on NB Southern Star (partner in Jules Fuels), to refuel our boats. I filled up with diesel, bought a bottle of Calor (propane for cooking), and some bags of kindling since there is none available locally here via Ma Nature.  Watching Ryan maneuver his boat just before a bridge hole, past NB Valerie ad two other moored up boats, with other boats attempting to pass him (impatient gits!), all whilst towing a butty behind him, was a moment of beauty. Of course he left with a foil package of Pumpkin Cake and wave. Shortly after Ray cruised off too.
     Now on this boat when the water tank is full, the boat sits lower in the water. After six years of daily life aboard with no gauges to tell if the water tank is low to empty, I gauge where this is at by the feel of the boat. When full, NBV sits low with the cut cradling her and she has a heft that makes it easier to bring her in to moor up on a windy day. As the water tank empties, the boat rises in the water and feels lighter, like an 18 ton leaf skimming the surface, and she rocks about more when I walk or when the wind blows.
     I am perfecting this "feeling gauge" now. I last filled up a week ago on Thursday. The boat was now sitting high in the water and the tank had burped (what I call the sound of the stainless steel tank when it expands or contracts and makes a metallic sound as the water is used up), so I dipped the tank with the measuring stick Les made years ago. Surprise, surprise!! I still had half a tank of water, so I went ahead and got some laundry out of the way and took a shower which took me down to just under a quarter of a tank left. Time to move!
Image result for a cup o fjoe
     Friday morning broke quiet and still. I had my usual two cups of Joe (American slang for coffee, or Kwaaahfee as I used to say with great exaggeration each morning as it made Les crack one of his lovely smiles), sorted another load of laundry to wash as I went along and cruised off towards Braunston. Not far ahead I passed NB Bristol Cream with Zena and Chris aboard. When I was moored up at Napton Marina last month, they came over and introduced themselves. She reads our blog and they keep their boat in the marina there. We waved at each other in passing, and I slowly chugged past boat after boat on tick over. It took me an hour and half to travel the three and quarter miles to Braunston as a result of all the boats moored up along the way but I didn't care. Though overcast, the morning was lovely and birdsong accompanied me on my journey.
     At Braunston Turn there was someone on the water point and traffic was picking up so I decided to moor up in the first spot I saw--just past and opposite The Boat pub, and fill with water later. I had not slept well the night before. Four hours of sleep is a rough gig and that is my usual since Les died. Some nights I manage five and only rarely have I pulled six consecutive hours of sleep so after sorting out mooring up (putting up the TV antennae, putting out my small step in the bow that makes it easier for me to get in and out), and taking a walk over to Midland Chandlers to see what they had in stock that is on my list of needs, I decided a nap was in order.
Image result for Pela Pump
Pela Pump
Image result for Braunston Butchers     Saturday rolled in with warm weather, partly sunny skies, and just the right temperature for me! My normal morning routine no matter what time I wake, is two cups of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal made with steel cut oats, and then I have a tidy up. I washed the breakfast dishes, swept the floor, changed the sheets on the bed, washed a load of clothes and hung them to dry, cleaned out the loo, dressed and was off, walking up to Braunston Chandlers to buy a Pela Pump. Ray has one and he let borrow it some time back to remove water from the bilge in the engine bay. I decided then and there to get one. I looked online and at other chandlers and figured the cost at Braunston Chandlers was about the same after postage and handling. I wanted the six liter pump and they had one in stock. With that sorted I walked up in to the village store, picked up my Saturday paper, and crossed the street to the butcher shop which also carries the best fresh fruit and some veg. For £13.50 I took away a half pound of gorgeous proper thick cut American style bacon, a lovely freshly made chicken and mushroom pie, five fresh tomatoes, five splendidly ripe nectarines, a punnet of fat, juicy raspberries, two punnets of gleaming baby potatoes, a Sweetheart cabbage, and five fat, orange carrots. What a deal!! and I was home again all by 10:50 am! Just the way I did my Saturday chores, shopping and travels when I lived at Cloudhouse in Pullman, WA.
    I fixed myself another coffee and warmed a Croissant in the oven which I enjoyed while reading the paper. Boats came and went constantly. At one point I heard the distinctive putt-putt of a large old working boat so I popped my head out the window in time to say hello to Sarah on NB Chertsey! We have not seen each other since 2012. She looked grand and glowing at the tiller of her boat.
     After reading for several hours I walked over to The Boat Pub and splurged on a burger and fries for lunch. Back home a nap was in order. I was waiting for the boat traffic--which is heavy through Braunston on the weekends--to die down. By 5:30 PM all was quiet. The golden evening sun caused water reflections to sparkle on the roof. Time to move...
     I made my way to the water point by the Braunston stop-house, moored up, began filling the boat with water and dumped the rubbish. I washed the dishes, filled the tea kettle, put on a load of clothes to wash, and cleaned the windows on the towpath side. Not another boat came by and the canal was quiet during the dinner hour. Once the tank was full, it was time for me turn the boat in the entrance to Braunston Marina. This is the reason why I waited for the quiet of evening. I maneuvered NBV around the cafe boat which is always moored just after the water point and just before the marina entrance. I took my time and gently turned the boat. I didn't do it as smoothly as Les would have done, but I did it without trouble and in my own way and headed back the direction I had come from yesterday.
To turn the boat around here, one must pass the Cafe boat, turn the bow right and just put it into the bridge hole, then put it in reverse with the tiller over hard left and slowly turn the boat, straightening the tiller as the bow comes around.
     As I cruised slowly along the North Oxford again, a gentle breeze began to ruffle my hair. The evening air was scented with Sweet Woodruff and roses, and the illusive smell of Honeysuckle from a boater's permanent mooring garden. Swallows dipped and dived all around me. The bright pink blossoms of Fireweed moved in the breeze. I was surrounded on both sides of the cut by nature's floral arrangement: short green stalks of Yarrow poked their tightly clustered white heads up above the grass, interspersed with fat bowls of pink clover. The rigid stalks of Giant Hogweed stood above everything with panicles of bright white flowers. Foamy sprays of cream colored Meadowsweet danced in the evening air, with glimpses of purple Loosetrife tucked in between. Sheep grazed in the fields and I could feel my Best Beloved there with me, standing behind me, his arm around my waist, his right hand next to mine on the tiller. Ours was the only boat on the move. Everyone else had already moored up for the day, and the aroma of dinner hung in the air as I passed by long strings of boats,like rectangular jeweled beads moored all along the cut.
     In the hour and a half it took me to cruise back out to Bridge 103, the sun disappeared behind a low bank of silver clouds and the breeze freshened into a twelve mile an hour wind with gusts raking the trees, turning leaves inside out, making the weeping willow trees wave wildly in the wind. As the evening air cooled I found a spot, pulled in, moored up, set up the TV antennae, and enjoyed a scalding hot shower. Dressed in clean pajamas, I allowed the night to fold itself around me like a soft, sweet glove.    

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs