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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Into Atherstone

"What was it like to love him? Asked Gratitude. It was like being exhumed, I answered, and brought to life in a flash of brilliance. What was it like to be loved in return? Asked Joy. It was like being seen after a perpetual darkness, I replied. To be heard after a lifetime of silence. What was it like to lose him? Asked Sorrow. There was a long pause before I responded: It was like hearing every goodbye ever said to me—said all at once.” ~ Lang Leav, Australian poet and author

     I left Brinklow on Monday, July 31st at 7:30 am. The morning sunlight was just stretching forth golden fingers across the cut, lighting up the solar panels and topping up my batteries, to my deep satisfaction. Before I leave a place and push on, I always check the water level in the engine radiator, grease the stern gland it needed, and empty the bilge of any water. So far, so good!!
     I had eight miles to go to arrive at Hawkesbury Junction--a long haul in a craft whose top speed is four MPH and which usually cruises at 1.5 MPH when nothing is moored up on either side, or just above tick over which is about .50 MPH and there are always lines and clusters of boats to pass in summer. Passing the spot where Les I met Geoff and Mags Wade (NB Seyella) at last in early summer 2016 I broke into sobs which made my shoulders wrack and my chest ache. We saw our first ever Water Vole there in that same place. We were headed north to Chester and we thought the world was our oyster at last. Les was complaining of lower back pain then but it was a twinge and we thought a chiropractor could sort it out...
     I made the journey from Brinklow to Hawkesbury Junction in just over over five hours hoping to beat the advancing line of storm clouds from the west. I came around the sharp bend at the end of the North Oxford to find one spot available--right on the curve--so I backed up and as I sorted out mooring up on a curve, the clouds moved in and rain pissed down in a torrent that soaked me to the skin in less than a minute. By the time I finished tying up the boat and stuffing large fenders in the gaps on the ends, the rain passed and the world was washed clean.
Moored on the curve at Hawkesbury Junction.

     Inside I took advantage of plenty of hot water to scrub the travel grime away and warm up again. In clean clothes with a cup of hot tea, I settled in for the rest of the day. Despite having never entered the famous Greyhound Pub about eight boat lengths in front of me through the shallow stop lock marking the convergence of the North Oxford with the Coventry canal, I didn't bother to check it out. I find myself with a nearly total lack of curiosity or interest in most things these days. Even eating is a chore unless it is crisps or gummy bears which have done nothing for my health or my waistline. Without Les to cook for the act of fixing a meal feels pointless and my endeavors don't taste very good either. I simply cannot cook well without putting my heart into it and my heart is fractured and limping along at present.
     As the clouds lifted I looked out the port side window to spot a mare and her offspring
tethered in the grass nearby. As I watched they each took turns rolling in the grass, nuzzling each other and then playing a quick game of chase and bite with the pony always just out of the reach of mamma's teeth. Just as I put Les' camera down I was aware of a lot of engine revving coming from the starboard side, and NBV rocked as a boat passed close. With boats moored up on both sides of the canal here, it is necessary to go slowly and take one's time--especially in passing other boats. As I looked out the window at a hire boat cruising slowly, closely by me, I was rocked nearly off my feet as another boat hit mine! I recovered my balance and popped up through the stern hatch to see NB April Mist, backing up and revving the bollocks out of their engine, narrowly missing a boat moored permanently across from me.
     I piped up, "Hey what the hell are you doing? You hit my boat!!" The man at the tiller ignored me but his wife said, "Oh did we tap you?
     "That was more than a tap. You slammed into the side of my boat. This is my home so have a care please."
     She rolled her eyes as she declared, "Well we've been stuck three hours behind a bloody hire boat going one mile an hour. We were trying to pass them. It's been utterly ridiculous. Some people have no regard for others." Brits would think or say "Well that was the understatement of the century," but Americans including this one respond with,"No shit Sherlock, and you without a clue."
     "Did you signal to them that you wanted to overtake them?"
     "We walked up to ask them and they refused to answer, she said huffily. Huh??? Walked up, really?? Where was that at--the hire base?? And no reply was forthcoming?? What a load of codswallop. 
     "Is Autumn Mist your boat?" I asked. 
     "Yes of course," she replied frostily.
     "Well then regardless of what any of the other boaters are doing around you, you should be able to maintain control of your own boat--which clearly you have not managed," and I popped back down inside as she gave me the finger. They moved slowly forward and waited their turn to go through the stop lock. What a couple of losers. A shiny, lovely boat, and they drive it like they are on the race track at Le Mans. I'll bet they were right on the stern of the hire boat the entire time and I am sure they didn't bother with any manners or signals. This couple is a prime example of  the selfish mindset which says, "I've brought my boat out of the marina for summer fun so all of you tossers need to get out of our way. We have a schedule to keep."
     I was up at 5:00 AM just as the sun was flowing across the grass and the water. By 6:30 I was through the stop lock just as a young woman came along with her spritely terrier on a leash. Her name is Sharon and she stopped to chat with me as I stood, mid line in hand in front of the Greyhound pub. 
     "Are you alone then on your boat?" She asked as she looked around for someone else.
     "Yes I am. My husband I were married for six years and lived aboard continuously cruising. He died a few months ago and I am continuing on my own." After the usual condolences, she asked me how I found it on my own, explaining that she had wanted to sell her flat and buy a boat for about five years but she had been told women couldn't handle a boat on their own and being single and forty seven she didn't think she could have her dream without a man.
     "It is quite possible and I urge you to reconsider. If you really want a life afloat then research it carefully, and know that women are as capable as men when single handing. Never let anyone rob you of your dreams." We parted ways and I climbed aboard NBV, turned the boat in the sharp basin, went off through the bridge only to find CaRT employees had tied up a huge CaRT barge on the water front by the rubbish bins and a plastic cruiser was tied right in behind them, also on the last of the water point bollards. I went forward then through the narrow gap and moored up at the water points on the Coventry heading north. Of course a hire boat was moored up on one of them. It is a wonder there were any water taps available.
Keep your eyes peeled for this boat; blink and you will miss them as it cracks on past you at Mach 2.
     After topping up the water and dumping the rubbish I was off at 7:35 AM, attempting to outrun another low pressure ridge bringing more rain and high winds. As I cruised slowly past the long line of moored boats I spotted April Mist. At last I was away, remembering last July as I donned Les' rain gear and plowed on through a torrential rain shower that lasted all day. Time was of the essence and we needed to get from Nuneaton, through the junction and back to Cowroast ASAP. Les was in too much pain to sit with me and so he was lying on the bed while I motored on in the rain,which mingled with my tears because I knew the next time I came this way Les would be dead and I would be without him...and so it is.
     Just before reaching the charity dock between Bedworth and Nuneaton I slowed as I started through a bridge hole. I could see a small boat moored up just ahead in the gloom of the close growing trees. A woman was untying it and so I slowed right down to tick over as she stood waiting for me to pass, ropes in hand. I smiled at her and she suddenly shouted, "You are the only person who has bothered to slow down at all when passing!"
     "That's because I am a woman too and I know what it's like when you are on your own and trying to hold on to your boat as some idiot cracks past at the speed of light." She laughed and thanked me, letting my gentle wash pull her bow out as she climbed aboard and moved into the middle of the canal.
Gorilla on the cut!! This house used to be a pub. Through the bridge hole you will see a small boat. She is waiting for me to pass so she can pull out behind me.

     I continued on into and through Nuneaton, lost in my thoughts of Les and better days as we honeymooned on the Ashby canal, whose entrance I passed along my way, and before I knew it I was out the other side and headed for Springwood Haven Marina. I
Springwood Haven Marina and Chandler's.
think it is one of the loveliest marinas in England. Nestled in the lee of a low hill covered in grasses and edged with oaks, the main two story brick building sits right on the cut at the jetty and it is easy as pie to pull in for diesel, propane, or other items from the Chandler's inside. Across the cut is a small, dense woodland where Les and I moored up in late February 2012. Trees had been felled and another boat was moored there cutting wood. he invited us in to help ourselves and we made the acquaintance of Paul and Jenny on NB Panda Julienne. I topped up the diesel, bought two more 18 inch long mooring pins so I can double pin when I moor on soft ground and trundled off to moor up just around the curve, out of site of the marina with woods all around but a break in the trees to allow all day sunshine for the solar panels.

     The wind had been steadily rising in gusts and it felt good to be moored up safe and sound. There were two tatty looking boats moored up about three boat lengths in front of me under some over hanging trees. Otherwise nothing else to infer humanity or civilization was nearby. I spent three glorious days cocooned here as rain and very high winds tossed the world around me to and fro and NBV sat solid and calm, moored tightly to the metal siding, which was a good thing because as I was washing my hands in the bathroom, I heard the approach of a boat's engine going like the clappers. Without any drop in revs as they cracked on past me, their huge wake yanking on my mooring chains, I stepped to a galley window and opened it with the intent of shouting, "You lost your bloody water skier!" As soon as I saw it was NB April Mist and he swilling a can of beer while he lounged against the tiller, I decided not to waste my breath.

     The second afternoon, with a break in the rain offering sunny weather but still very high wind gusts whipping everything around, I washed two loads of clothes on the solar panels--no engine power--and hung them outside to dry. The wind would whip the water out of everything in a trice and my clothes would smell like clean air. I returned to the boat to do some much needed boat cleaning inside, singing happily as I cleaned with the side hatch doors open to the wind and fresh air, remembering how I always sent Les out to take a walk or run an errand while I cleaned. He showed such appreciation for my efforts, telling me that I made our boat a lovely home.
     An hour later a bloke on one of the boats moored up in front of me came walking along the towpath with his dog on a lead. He was wearing baggy sweat pants and an old down jacket, walking with a pronounced limp. Given that he shambled past my boat and then returned less than two minutes later I figured he had come along to check out the neighbor. 
     "Hello. How are you today?" I asked through the hatch doors as he started to pass.
     "A darn sight better for hearing your lovely singing," he replied with a smile as he slowly walked onward. 
     "Thank you, " I said, sincerely touched.
     Very few people know I have a lovely singing voice. At one point in my life after seven years of concert choir in junior high and high school, I won a voice scholarship to Kings Lake Fine Arts camp and my instructors were targeting me to apply for university and earn a music degree in voice, hoping I would take it further and go into opera. The top of my range was e above high c. This is the note that breaks glass. But I had no interest in singing opera or indeed singing in public. Extremely shy, I had no problems singing with a choir but singing solo was not for me. Too much emotion is required to do it well and I wasn't going to stand on a stage alone and emote for the public. I also couldn't get into Uni at age 17 because the Financial Aid laws at the time required the parents of any student under the age of 25 to contribute 30% financially to each year's tuition and fees. My step-father was a mean, violent alcoholic who drank the money up, when it wasn't going for attorney's fees over his public violations or the continual custody cases brought against my mother by my alcoholic father. There is no line on the FAFSA form to explain such behavior--only a box to tick for gross household income. With both my mother and step-father working full time and my step-father working part time on top of that (drinking money), I could not qualify for aid and I could not afford tuition on my own. My step-father couldn't read or write and I was often severely chastised and several times I was physically tormented for reading at home when he thought I should be doing chores--even if all the chores were done, so I knew he would never agree to help fund a university degree. My attitude towards singing solo changed only in my thirties for singing at funerals. People attending funerals are too caught up in the life and death of the deceased to pay someone singing any real attention. One thing I have learned though; never attempt to sing at your own husband's funeral--especially with a raging head cold!
     After the winds finally died down and the rain abated for a day, I upped sticks and motored onward into Atherstone, finding a spot six boats back from Coleshill Road Bridge, the main artery into the village. I moored up and walked into the Cooperative grocery store for a a few bits and bobs and then moseyed across the street to the Aldi store for a few other bits. Home again, I put things away and then spoke to my dear friend Bryce in Canada. Hearing his voice is balm for a sore and weary heart. His tones are mellifluous and his accent easy to understand, an audio hug from someone dear.
Keri Ann's Cosmetics in Atherstone.
     I spent three days at Atherstone, mooching around the shops for tweezers (I cannot seem to hang on to a pair these days. Since Les died I have gone through four pair!), I found an amazing shop called Keri Ann's Cosmetics which had shelves and baskets of every kind of makeup, perfume, skin care, and beauty accessory known to woman; if they don't stock the product then it simply is not manufactured on this earth! I loved the wicker baskets full of pots of lip color, nail polish and other amazing items. I purchased two pair of tweezers just to be on the safe side and took myself off down the sidewalk to the book store of St. Giles Hospice where I picked up a decent abridged Oxford dictionary, a Welsh-English dictionary, a couple of other books, the entire set of I Claudius on DVD, the complete set of Wire in the Blood on DVD and four Cd's--all American artists, paying a song for them. These book stores are lovely jewel boxes, clean, well organized and with such a great variety of books, DVDs and Cd's to choose from; a veritable feast for any book lover. 
     Back home by 10:00 AM,  I settled in while a predicted thunderstorm made its way towards Atherstone. It could be heard from eight miles away. When it arrived, the heavens opened and chucked rain, hail, and lightening! 

I sat warm and dry with a small fire in the stove, planning the next leg of my journey down the Atherstone flight of eleven locks. Should I go early and attempt to do  it all myself or wait until 8:00 AM and risk the help of other boaters? The answer will be in my next blog post!


Dragontatoo said...

We love you thousands of cinnamon bears 🐻

Anonymous said...

Jaq - I do get that your energy and interest level is very low in keeping with your ongoing mourning and sadness. May the winds die down and the sun shine and good people pass through your life appreciating the joys of just simply being nice.
Karen - very smoky in Pullman

MikeW said...

Well aren't you doing well. Not bad for a female and an American at that. only joking, it's a shame you seem to encounter a few tossers en route but they are such a minority. I loved Atherstone;there's a cracking little corner shop a bit like Vahs in Berko except they sell more stuff. I bought a little radio there years ago-I call it my Test Match radio as it's the one I listen to the cricket when working outside.
Be lucky.
Mike W

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

I love you all at least 30 thousand gummy Bears!
Mamma xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,

I know you understand how I feel, having been widowed yourself with a boat involved no less! As I move farther north and away from London, I find people grow friendlier.

Sparky is in Portland and she said the smoke from the Canadian fires is so thick over Portland they couldn't see the eclipse of the moon! I can well imagine how awful it is in Pullman, being even closer to the fires in Canada.

Take care and give Jim my love,

Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

LOL! Hi Mike,

Well you know we all have handicaps of some kind or other!! yeah you are right, most people on the cut are lovely. And Atherstone is one of my favorite little towns.

Lovely to know you are still following along with me.

Love to you and Pam,

Jaq xxx

Oakie said...

Just caught up with your blog Jaq - fascinating stuff and so much of that stretch from Braunston to Hopwas is familiar to me, from the Black Path to Hillmorton Locks, Rugby, Clifton Cruisers etc. Pleased to hear that you are giving as good as you get, or better, to these geysers of the SBB. As for speeding on the cut, I reckon they are all moored in marinas and rarely experience being passed at that speed when moored up on the cut. You are certainly keeping up the female side of boaters morale and more strength to you for doing so. Ray
p.s. Does Stronghold qualify for the SBB since being repainted?

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Ray!

Lovely to hear from you. No, you are not a part of the SBB. Your boat is in port through winter but doesn't languish in a marina for all but a few weekends or a month in summer; your are not overbearing and you don't pretend to have all the answers to boating; you don't lecture others on how to boat properly but you will offer sound advice; you are a polite and social boater with three decades of practical experience under your belt, you love boats and boating as evidenced by your involvement with the Historic Boat Society all across the cut, and you are never--as far as I know--in a cracking hurry 'nor are you rude and thoughtless to others. Ready for sainthood now?!! LOL!

I'm glad you agree with giving as good as one gets. I don't want to be contrary and rude to others but I am not going to cower inside my boat or on the towpath while some nasty git treats me inconsiderately. I am taking lessons from my dear Kiwi friend Marylyn on NB Waka Huia. She takes no shit and no prisoners when the situation arises--leaving rude boaters speechless which is how I prefer them.

Les, like you, had many fond memories of the Grand Union and the Oxford canals. For my part I am relieved to see the back of them, although I will admit the N. Oxford is lovely. It has just become too crowded, with seven marinas strung all around.

I hope you are well. I am waiting for a blog post from you updating us on your mechanical issues.


NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs