Sorry to be absent from the blog for so long. September has been a difficult month for me. Les has been dead for eight months now. Most of the time I cope all right but the time I spent at Tixall Wide and Great Haywood was hard. I am up on the narrow canals now where Les and I made good memories back in 2012. The years and months of fighting cancer, losing the battle and watching my Best Beloved die are behind me on the Grand Union canal. So I should feel better right?
While moored up at Great Haywood it dawned on me that while I have lovely memories of our time together there, we will be making no more new memories in this special place. This caused me to fall down towards the lip of a yawning chasm of depression. There have been days when I couldn't--and didn't--get out of bed except to use the loo and check on the batteries. I read and I slept; I grieved and I cried. I wrote in my diary, "I miss Les so. Without him life seems completely pointless." I wonder if this longing for Les will ever abate to something I can live with, without feeling like someone has taken a hatchet to my heart. The weather seemed to turn in a moment from hot late summer sun to chilly, blustery, overcast autumnal temperatures, the outer world echoing my inner landscape.
I left Great Haywood on September 13th after filling up with water, dumping the rubbish, stopping in at Great Haywood Marina for a full tank of diesel and four bags of coal. I waited for thirty minutes in the marina, hovering between neutral and tick-over as a boat on the landing faffed about. While I waited I noted that all the crafts moored in this marina have very clean, empty roofs. It turned out the moored boat was broken down so it had to be bow-hauled into an adjacent space so I could pull in and fill up. Meanwhile the wind rose and the clouds began to gather. I needed to get moving and find a mooring place before the weather deteriorated any further. I went up several locks and moored near the hamlet of Salt so the marine engineer could find me and commence repairing the Ebispacher diesel hot water heater. After two days with the railway line directly next to the offside of the cut and trains roaring past, Ed Shiers came and did a bit of trouble shooting on the Ebi. That done, I moved on and moored up at the bottom of Sandon Lock so I could get my Saturday newspaper and TV Guide, then I went up through the lock and cruised onward for about a mile to moor up on a secluded spot of open canal across from a field of cows.
|A dainty bovine sip of canal water. Yummy!!|
|Aren't her horns lovely? she is an English Longhorn Cow.|
|Nev is dropped off by his fellow travelers on NB Percy.|
|The man himself with his lovely smile, on the back of NBV.|
I understood Patti's warning now. I also knew these events were not some weird, out of this world thing conspiring against me. It was just life as it is--entropy in action; the tendency of things to fall apart over time and I felt it keenly because Les was no longer with me to help sort it all out. Fortunately Ed Shiers, the marine engineer working on the Ebi came out and when I mentioned the cooker he was happy to take a look at it. He tried running it on the 150 watt inverter and got no response. I told Ed I tried to run the cooker on the 240 mains with no luck either. Ed decided to try it anyway so I turned on the Sterling inverter, plugged a power strip into the 240 mains plug in, Ed plugged in the stove and tried it--and it worked!!
What can I say??? I've hated electrickery since I was badly electrocuted as a toddler by placing my hands on a set of live, open fuses. I also think my body generates a lot of electricity which interferes with electrical things. I cannot wear a watch because the batteries will die within a day of my strapping it on my wrist. Back in the day of analogue television with rabbit ears on the top of the TV to pick up the signal, I could walk close to the telly and the picture would go completely haywire only to return to normal once I moved out of range. The same thing was true for transistor radios. Never mind, the problem was identified as the 150 watt inverter which was burned out and is a much easier thing to replace on a narrow boat than the ignition switches on a Cannon gas cooker.
September 21st I took our boat into Aston Marina just below Aston lock number 26, on the outskirts of the town of Stone, Staffordshire. While this marina is very posh, I was given a very warm welcome by Marina manager Nick--a former teacher--who is just a lovely human being. This is such a contrast to the way Les was treated at Great Haywood Marina when he wanted to put NBV in for a week to go back and visit the kids in 2010. He was told he would have to remove everything--and I do mean everything--from the roof of the boat first! Bear in mind that back then he had a wind genny, one small solar panel, and about a half a cord of wood split and neatly stacked on the roof. Les chose to take the boat elsewhere. Ever since Les told me this I have been a bit leery of approaching marinas about staying, so Nick's warm welcome put me at ease.
I came into the marina a couple of days before the weekend in order to give the interior of the boat a serious autumn cleaning. I washed all the curtains, throw rugs, duvet covers, throw pillow and upholstery covers and vacuumed every nook and cranny. Then I mopped and cleaned, dusted and polished. I also took a load of stuff to the rubbish bins.
The actual reason I went into Aston Marina was to leave the boat somewhere safe for a couple of days as I was invited to a dual 70th birthday bash for our friends Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau). This event had been on my calendar for months and the time was finally at hand. I was looking forward to it; not just for spending time with two people who are very dear to my heart, but also to have a break from the boat. I hadn't been off NBV overnight since I returned from the States in April.
Saturday morning The Deveson's daughter, Abi, came and picked me up and we had a wonderful natter all the way down to her parent's house in Bedfordshire. It was a lovely drive made nice by getting to know Abi. Her daughter Tasha--affectionately dubbed Cheshire One by her grandmother Sue--was happily plugged in to head phones in the back seat, listening to music after a hectic morning of music lessons. We had a delicious lunch at Ken and Sue's, with a lively conversation across the dining table and soon enough it was time to gather at Priory Marina on the River Great Ouse. The Deveson's had hired a trip boat--John Bunyon--to take about thirty of us on a slow and scenic two hour cruise up the river. A jazz trio played wonderful music, the weather warmed back up to something resembling early summer and the sun shone down across the water. A cream tea was served--my first ever--and we were all given name tags with colored stars on them.
The tags were in fact a kind of puzzle. I think there were six different colored stars. Sue and Ken had all six of them on their name tags. Some guests had more than one color star. Mine was turquoise. Soon enough I figured it out. The colors corresponded to one of the six relationships one had with Ken and Sue: RAF, boaters, family, work, school, and I cannot remember the other one. Anyway I love the idea because it was a fabulous conversation starter for someone like myself who is introverted and does not know how to do small talk. The colored stars were a fun way to begin a conversation and soon enough there were few strangers and a whole lot of interesting acquaintances.
Of course I was not the only boater there as Jennie and Chris Gash (NB Tentatrice) have known Sue and Ken for many years, having met them when Ken and Chris served together in the RAF. It was lovely to touch bases with Chris and Jennie who have been crazy busy over the summer, and to renew my friendship with Dick and Nan who also know them all from the RAF and who Les and I had the pleasure of meeting in Warwick in late 2015. And of course I was able to say hello to the lovely Nidia, and Sandra who both met Sue in a writing class some years back.
|Ken and Sue's lovely daughter Abi standing at the back of the trip boat John Bunyon.|
|Canoeists wave at us as we cruise by! Ken and Sue's granddaughter Tasha gazes pensively out the window.|
|Sue in her beautifully colorful top having a chat with granddaughter Tasha.|
|A wedding in progress along the Great river Ouse.|
|It felt strange to be inside instead of out on the stern at the tiller. We seemed to be sitting nearly even with the water.|
As the evening wore on folks got up to dance and it was then that my longing for Les returned with such depth of emotion I had to slip away to the bathroom and hide in a stall for ten minutes while I pulled myself together. Les would have thoroughly enjoyed the party. I could see him sitting there with me, his brown eyes shining and I could hear his laughter echo in the air mingled with the music and talk. We would have danced with everyone else. It was painfully difficult to watch couples we know and love, move together on the dance floor, obviously in love with one another over many years, their bodies responding as only those whose affection for one another can do as they are comfortable and complete in their own special intimacy. I felt as though I had been cleaved in two and I left the party early. I didn't want to break down and cry in front of others or be a downer at what was a fun, happy celebration.
|The interior is lovely; spacious with glass doors that open to the outside deck overlooking the river.|
|Amazing food! Fresh, delicious and expertly prepared. Sadly most of my pictures were blurry. I wish I had one of Jennie Gash. She looked really lovely!|
|The bar at Danish Camp.|
|A view of the outside area at Danish Camp...|
|...with the owner's boat. It has a perch on the stern for their Eagle Owl which lives on the premises.|
The birthday couple dancing, © Jennie Gash, 2017. I was forced to nick good pictures from other attendees as most of my pictures were blurry and out of focus!
September 26th dawned misty and clammy in keeping with the last two days but the forecast was for clearing skies and sun by mid morning. I said goodbye to Nick, sorted out everything on the boat and left the marina about 10:30 AM. I had help up Aston lock as a boat was coming down which I helped through the lock. They agreed to close the gate behind me and lift the the lock paddles on the gates for me and up I went. As I cruised out of Aston Lock I passed Pat and Trevor on NB Comino moored just before the next bridge.
I met them at Wolsely Bridge in late July and we hit it off. They are meandering towards the Caldon and then plan to cruise the Maccie as we call the Macclesfield canal, so I will see them up there and hopefully we can share a meal and wine one evening. I carried on trying to remember things from the one and only time Les and I ever cruised through Stone together back in 2012, but we were going in the opposite direction and it all seems a bit hazy to me. I cruised up through a total of five locks before mooring up just past bridge 69A. I did three on my own and two with help from boaters either coming along behind me or going down. I always offer to lock someone up or down if they will be kind enough to close the lock gate behind me and lift the paddles on the top gates for me. It works brilliantly. I found myself moored up across from new housing which hadn't been there when Les and I moored up in the same spot in 2012. Back then it was a farmer's fields, so that's progress for you. I was surprised to find large mooring rings installed on the offside in front of the new houses. It is available for the public and this makes it a great place to get a grocery delivery.
Yesterday I woke early, waited once more for the clammy mist to burn off, and at 10:30 AM I cruised around the next bend to the bottom lock on the Meaford lock flight of four. The next locks were deep and they had impediments such as solid brick tunnels and railings, etc. at the bottom of some of the locks which meant I couldn't do them on my own as Les taught me; I moor up before the lock, go up and set it--either emptying it or if it is already empty then I open the bottom gates, go back and get the boat and slowly approach the gate in a gentle glide. Before stepping off with windlass in hand, I give the throttle a little power forward (welly as they say over here) then quickly put it in neutral. As I walk up to the top of the lock, the boat continues to gently glide inside and I can close the bottom gate and slowly open the ground paddle. When the boat has risen half way up I open the gate paddle or the other ground paddle depending on what configuration is available and soon NBV is at the top. But I can only do this when the locks allow me to step off at the bottom as the boat glides in the lock.
As I moored up on the lock bollards a boat approached from behind and three men came around the bend in the towpath with CRT shirts on; volunteer lock keepers!!! They introduced themselves as Neil, John, and Stuart--the three musketeers! As they worked the locks we nattered with each other and the folks off the hire boat coming up behind me. It turns out that they were Americans from Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Texas. All women, they met in the USAF. Retired now, they were enjoying the delights of a narrow boat adventure so the entire contingent of us cruising up the locks were all women from the States. How often does this happen?? I got to know a bit about the three musketeers too.
Neil was retired early for health issues and loves to walk along the canals taking pictures which he pairs up with appropriate biblical psalms and makes into books to give as gifts. John lives on his boat NB Shannon which he keeps at Aston Marina and he recognized NBV as the boat which had an Ocado delivery in the marina last Monday. Stuart wore the coolest round eye glasses with bright blue frames. Very trendy for someone approaching his early 80's! I waved goodbye and cruised on through Trentham, remembering our visit there in 2012 to the glory of Trentham Gardens. Trentham lock is deep and there was no way for me to do it on my own. I waited until a healthy looking couple came by walking their dog and I asked the man if he would help me.
|One of the many stunning views of Trentham Gardens. I loved meandering through it with Les.it cost us nothing but our time and we both enjoyed the peace and tranquility as well as the breathtaking views.|
"Certainly duck. Just give me the windlass and I'll be happy to help." His wife sat on a nearby bench with he dog and watched.
A lot of the Trent & Mersey canal approaching Stoke on Trent is very industrial in nature with few beauty spots to comment about so I continued on, happy to be moving, carrying on a conversation with Les in my head. It was going to be a long day--eight hours all told--but he would have loved every minute of it as I do. My only moments of peace come when I am on the back of NBV and we are moving.
|Eccentricity on the cut!|
|Two boats on a lovely private mooring in the back yard.|
|Obviously fans of the marvelous movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert!|
|The electric gantry of the railroad as it travels unceremoniously along beside the canal for a great deal of the northern Trent & Mersey canal from Great Haywood to Stoke on Trent.|
|I love the graffiti warning: Mind your head!|
|Into the dark under a bridge approaching Stoke on Trent--home of the Potteries.|
|Fitting name don't you think??!!|
It was 3:00 PM when I reached Stoke bottom lock on a flight of five locks leading up to Etruria and the intersection of the Trent & Mersey with the Caldon canal. These locks are in very busy places. Road bridges with relentless traffic pass overhead. Graffiti covers everything. The lock bollards are located quite far from the bottom of these locks for some reason and I felt nervous about leaving NBV tied up by herself while I went up to suss out the locks. I bolted the bow doors shut from inside, pulled the curtains on the towpath side and walked up to the top of the lock. NB Mustang Sally was just entering it. I approached the couple and explained my situation, asking if I could help lock them down and would they be willing to close the gate behind me and lift the top gate paddles for me? Certainly! I wound up the paddle on the offside of the bottom gate and was sent to get NBV. I passed NB Mustang Sally as she left the lock and I took her place inside. The woman locking me up told me she had single handed her boat for years before meeting her husband and she didn't envy me.
"At the next lock are two young men. They might look a bit dodgy but they are actually very nice and one of them is a boater. If they are still there I know he would help you with the lock." Sure enough, I walked up to the top of the next lock and the two young men were sitting near the top gate on the grass with a young woman. I asked, "Is one of you a boater?"
"Yes, I am," replied a surprised young man with long dreadlocks.
"I am single handing it and I wondered if you would close the bottom gate behind me and lift the paddles on the top gates for me?"
Scrambling to his feet with an easy grin he said he would be pleased to help and I handed over my windlass. As he worked the lock for me, we chatted. His name is Tom and he lives on his 35 foot Springer NB Meg which he also keeps in Aston Marina. My only regret was that I hadn't baked because I would have loved to give them all some Brownies. Tom handed me back my windlass as he closed the gate behind me.
|My handy helper Tom (NB Meg) who graciously helped me up the second of five locks in the Etruria flight.|
"Excuse me, do you need some help?" A cyclist stopped to ask. I explained what had happened and that I couldn't climb down the ladder to get to the boat. "If you keep an eye on my bike I'll climb down and bring the boat in for you." And he did. By then a lovely woman with a Scottish accent who was shorter than me appeared with windlass in hand to help out. She was on NB Somerton with her husband and they were going down. As NBV rose up, the man stepped off the back and said, "I'm sorry. I should have introduced myself. My name is Andy Whitehouse and I work for CaRT in the Etruria Maintenance yard."
"Oh Andy it is lovely to meet you and thank you so much for your help. You saved my bacon today."
|NBV moored up some way back from the fourth lock in the Etruria flight. Graffiti and overhanging shrubbery combined with the boat moored up quite far from the actual lock makes me nervous.|
|Just to make it even more interesting and difficult for a single handed boater, this lock is set on a tight curve around the corner from the mooring bollards.|
|Some folks appreciate the pedestrian footbridges across the entry to the bottom of the lock. Instead of walking across the lock gate itself to cross from one side of the lock to the other, one cans simply stroll across the footbridge...|
|A typical Stoke cone or bottle oven chimney.|
We parted with a smile, I waved to NB Somerton and cruised off for the last part of my journey. It took me forty minutes to reach Westport Lake. It was 6:30 PM. I managed to duck inside after dropping the side fenders into position, tying up, putting the tiller and pin away, checking the engine hold for water in the bilge, and putting up the TV antenna, just as it began spitting with rain. I cruised nine miles and did 10 locks over eight and a half hours. I was knackered! After a hot shower, a cup of green tea and clean jammies I watched Outlander and went to bed. I plan to rest here until Monday when I will head through the 2926 yard Harecastle tunnel. Just after I exit I will turn left, cross the aqueduct and cruise on to the Macclesfield canal. Since I left Cowroast Marina in Mid-April I have cruised 147miles, done 86 locks and two tunnels as a single handed boater. I have 26 more miles, 13 locks and one tunnel left until I reach my destination of Higher Poynton on the Macclesfield canal. I will have traveled on five canals over the miles.
In the meantime I will end with a few bits and bobs. Our dear friend Karen in Pullman asked me to tell you the story about my new radio. Dear friends George and Carol Plain (NB Still Rockin') installed it for me back in March. It is a Pioneer car radio and I chose it simply because Pioneer equipment is good quality and it was affordable as well. Now the last time I purchased stereo equipment I was thirty two years old! Things have obviously changed with advancing technology-- I just wasn't paying attention to how much. After George and Carol left I set about figuring out how my new radio/CD player worked. first off no simple on/off/tune station buttons. No, everything is digital. Once turned on it sets about updating the list which means finding the various station signals and recording them into the radio's memory. Okay, fine. But then, then all of a sudden it began communicating with me! Bear in mind this is a car radio; for installment in n automobile, in which presumably someone is driving and paying attention to the road and the traffic and their own vehicle, and yet the words, "Are you listening? Plug in your MP-3 player and listen to you favorite play list! Connect your BT mobile and make hands free calls!" appeared on the face of the radio, scrolling across it like a reader board, AND, and the radio face began to change colors like a disco ball! I was so shocked I shouted at it:
"Shut up you! I'm supposed to be driving!!!" No wonder there are so many accidents on the roads these days.
This morning I woke to a low, gray sky with rain. The landing where I am moored is covered in goose poop from the hundreds of Canada geese squatting here in the grass, so I was out in the rain with a broom, sweeping goose shit away from my mooring spot. A tall, lean man approached me off the hire boat behind me and began to ask me questions about the potteries. He had a Pacific Northwest accent--meaning no accent at all--and I asked him where he was from.
"I am from Alaska but I lived in Pullman, Washington for eleven years."
"I graduated from WSU fifty one years ago with a degree in ornamental horticulture. I was back there last year for our fifty year reunion. Do you know WSU?"
"I worked on campus for over a decade as an academic advisor for WSU's Distance Degree Programs." What are the odds???? Neil and his wife Barb were off to the Potteries as she is a potter back home. They are coming over later for coffee. I spent the day making Blueberry-Lemon Bakewell Cake, a pot of Minestrone soup, and a loaf of Artisan bread---just in case they are hungry!!