"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.
|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.
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.
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!! Blimey...so 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.
"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.
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.
|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.
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
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.
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.