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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Time to Move!

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. " Amelia Earhart, American aviation pioneer and author

     There are those who feel a winter mooring in a marina provides safety and stability. I thought so too and it was for this reason I took up the very kind offer of friends, to use their mooring for the winter. I allowed this offer to detour me from the direction my gut instinct told me to go. I have a very time difficult time making decisions. I wasn't taught how to make good decisions or any decisions at all. Alcoholics don't make great role models for such life issues. But one would think that by age sixty I would learn to trust my gut instinct. Of course this means I would trust myself and I don't. Oh, I am fine once I do finally come to a decision. I will lock in my course and proceed. But first I have to look at the institution or issue from every conceivable angle, consider every nuance, and deliberate on the information provided. I didn't do that this time, mainly because this year has been about my journey through grief, and grief is a fickle wind. The waves generated are HUGE and some days it is all one can do to hang on to the tiller and ride it out. Deliberation doesn't come into the picture and one's gut instinct is busy puking emotions all over the place, attempting to keep the pain of loss from becoming so overwhelming one simply wants to let go and slip below the surface.
     My only thought when I left Cow Roast marina on April 19th was this: get up north to the narrow canals which Les and I loved. Stop along the way and scatter Les' ashes and plant a Daffodil at every lovely, meaningful spot as I went. Get to Great Haywood and hopefully finish painting the boat. Head towards the Llangollen and Wales. I am one quarter Welsh and that DNA has always sung loud in my blood. Go there, settle in an area and look for work.
     Then the offer of a free winter mooring came and I thought it would be one less stressful thing to deal with--moving the boat in winter weathers. I assumed I could get a job easily and one place is as good as any other to settle in. I was wrong.
NBV moored up at Victoria Pit Marina.
     The cold, lashing rain and gusting high winds have lashed the boat for weeks with only a day or so in between weather bands. The clouds are so dark and thick I have had the lights on at 12:30 in the afternoon. I have been moored at Victoria Pit marina for a month and it has been a good respite for me. I am deeply thankful to my friends and the owner of this marina for allowing me to stay here. It has given me a lot of time to think while I searched and applied for jobs and sussed out public transit options. I now know this: there are not a whole lot of jobs in the general area of Macclesfield that apply to me, and public transit is difficult. It takes two buses to go from Poynton to Macclesfield and probably a third to get to a job somewhere in the town. The bus from Higher Poynton only runs once an hour requiring a long wait in the cold to make the connection on the way back home. The most reliable transport in this area goes down in to Manchester--a city of 2.55 million and WAY too big for me. I have no desire to join the Manchester Commuters Club; an hour in to the city by train and the same again at night to return.
     I also know for certain that I am not cut out to live in a marina. It is simply too claustrophobic for someone like me who requires the freedom to move, as and when. It is very easy to moor up in a marina, hook up to landline electricity and find one's self feeling stuck and unable to move out again, except on a very good weather day.  I need the challenge of being outside every day, checking the boat systems, and taking care of the need to locate a service point for water and rubbish, keeping a close eye on the weather and balancing it with the need to move. I was feeling a bit of fear about leaving the marina mooring, I must confess. It is hard work single handing a boat and doing the work of two people.
     The week after I arrived here, I was walking to the Boars Head pub to catch the bus into Poynton. A man coming along behind me from the marina overtook me and said hello. I smiled and replied. He stopped in front of me and introduced himself. We began the light social chatter of "how did you come to be here," etc. etc. His new boat just came out of the boat builders dock two weeks previously and he was settling in. He is recovering from Prostate cancer and divorce. Four nights later there was a knock on my door at 5:30 pm. It was this same man who was calling to invite me to dinner aboard his boat. I thought, "Sure why not." I am an introvert and inclined to cocoon myself at home. He wanted to show me his new top of the line boat. He asked me to give him an hour to cook and get things ready.
     I showed up an hour later, and his boat is lovely. Very posh and cutting edge. He was drinking a whiskey. Did I want one? No thank you. I had orange juice. He showed me through his boat, and as we went he kept moving into my personal space and touching  me; my shoulder, my arm, my back. It made me uncomfortable. I don't like to be touched by anyone unless I know them VERY well. I shrugged it off to being in the close confines of a narrow boat. I sat at his L shaped dinette as he finished fixing dinner. He asked me to scoot over and he slid into the end space. He was chattering on about how happy he was to have me on his boat and how he was looking forward to many more evenings shared together. I looked to my left and there was a huge pile of stuff--wet weather gear, papers, back pack, etc. hemming me in.
     We began to eat as he poured himself another whiskey and he told me the details about his divorce, at one point saying, "I know I am a bastard but I did want to leave my wife in our home." Warning bells began to ring for me. Oprah Winfrey has a list of twenty things she knows for sure.  Number four on her list: When people show you who they are, believe them the first time. (A lesson from Maya Angelou.) On her show Oprah illustrated this point by saying, "When a man tells you he is an asshole; believe him and don't stick around long enough to let him illustrate the point."
     After dinner as I was searching for a politic means of saying "it is time to go", this man put on some music by Bob Dylan and slipped back into the dinette. All of a sudden, he was sitting so close to me he was nearly on my lap and his hand was on my thigh. It was clear to me that he was drunk and not aware that he was intruding on my personal space. He was lost in the music and sharing how much certain songs meant to him. He is a man of a certain age in which it is okay to move into a woman's space and assert one's presence. I managed to extricate myself and head home as he insisted I wait for him to accompany me in the pitch black dark. I made it home just fine on my own.
     Contrast this event with Les' first visit to my home in October of 2010. We spent a week together and he behaved like the gentleman he was, even though he was immensely attracted to me. Several times he took my hand to help me step down on a rough path down Kamiak Butte but he never made any moves that were overtly intimate, out of line, or which intruded into my personal space.
High school graduation, age 17, 1975.
     I must say it has been years since I've experienced a situation like this. The last time I was young, curvaceous and beautiful. It happened to me frequently in a world where men were the model and women were the other; where men were active and women were supposed to be passive receptacles; a world where gender defined everything from employment ads in the paper and the kinds of jobs available to women as opposed to men, for whom the entire world was theirs to do with as they pleased, and that included the women in it. Men took up space and made themselves larger and more obvious; women shrunk themselves to fit and take up as little space as possible. Men of this era were born with a certain male privilege they are often ignorant of and thus they behave in ways they fail to hold themselves accountable for, allowing the onus to fall on women to check their behavior and call them on it. It made me shudder to think that for all the advances society has made in the direction of gender equality, there are still dark corners out there filled with "good old boys," as we call them in the States, and "Jack the lad," as they call them over here. I am sometimes mistaken by these blokes as an easy target because I have a friendly smile, good manners, and a soft voice. There are a lot of lonely men on the cut. Les warned me about them and other women boaters have also shared their horror stories. One of the joys of growing older for me, is the way I have slowly become invisible to the Male Gaze. I didn't expect this issue to raise its ugly head ever again in my silver haired years.
     I encountered this individual once more, at the marina gate on my way to a job interview. It was raining and windy, and he insisted on giving me a ride to wherever it was I was going; where was I going???? I thanked him and said no, it was a job interview and I needed to know I could get there on my own. He still insisted, reaching out to touch me, his hand lingering on my shoulder. I shook my head no and walked away as he said with a hurt expression on his face, "Is there something wrong?" He passes my boat three or four times a week, looking for me and waving as he passes. He made to stop once and come to my boat but I dropped eye contact with him and busied myself on my computer and he got the message. This is an example of the kind of issues that can arise anywhere but when one lives in a marina, the neighbors are close.
     The final incident which confirmed that I was making a good choice in leaving occurred Monday. The couple who own the boat moored next to me were up to stay for the weekend. I met them several weeks ago and they were friendly and welcoming. I was taking my rubbish over to the bins as they were getting ready to leave and I told them I was leaving midweek and wouldn't be back; I was in need of employment and public transit was not reliable up here so I was heading for Nantwich. We shook hands and they wished me well. I went out for a walk after dumping the rubbish as I needed some fresh air. I came back to my boat and started baking holiday cakes. I had turned on the calorifier to heat up some water for dishes and a hot shower.
     For Americans and non-boaters this is the hot water heater. As I was tying on my apron a heard a beeping sound coming from the small inverter which I use to power the kitchen range. It had never made this noise before. I opened the cupboard and looked at the inverter. It was lit with a green light indicating there was power. Then it beeped again and suddenly I realized it was telling me there was a problem with the electricity. I raced to the back of the boat and sure enough the batteries were reading a drasticdrop intheir charge to 11.99!!! 14.00 is fully charged. I went outside and quickly checked the extension cord to the landline electrics was still properly plugged in to the boat. Yes. I checked the actual electrical terminal and saw that the switch had been flipped from on to off.  I flipped it back on and went back to the boat. The batteries were charging again. As I sat thinking about what might have caused this I figured it out: the folks on the boat next to me accidentally switched off my electrics instead of theirs, which was still in the on position. It was an innocent mistake which could have drastic and expensive consequences for me.
     Les and I twice have had to replace our batteries because of the calorifier. The first time it happened, we were cruising through the Harecastle Tunnel and I went down the stern stairs in the dark to use the loo. The electrics panel is adjacent to the stairs and was uncovered. I bumped the calorifier switch on the way in, unknowingly turning it on. By the time we came out of the tunnel forty minutes later our very expensive batteries were deader than a door nail. We replaced them with cheap batteries and Les made a cover for the electrics panels. The calorifier is only ever used when we are hooked up to landline electricity. In 2015 we were moored up at Napton marina visiting friends. When we left, we unhooked from the landline electrics but neither of us checked to be sure the calorifier was off. Five minutes later Les panicked as the voltmeter on the boat was showing a marked loss in battery power despite the fact we were cruising. I looked down at the electric panel and the calorifier was still on! It shortened the life of our batteries considerably. If batteries suffer a quick, total discharge of energy they will not hold a full charge again.
     Stressed to the max, I called Ian, the marina manager, and explained what I thought had occurred. I wondered if I could get batteries delivered by Wednesday, did he know someone who could quickly remove my old batteries, install the new ones and dispose of the used batteries? Ian replied yes but first he recommended that I let the batteries charge up over night and then disconnect from the landline and watch them for 24 hours. He thought they should be okay, as they are only a year and eight months old and have an average lifespan of three years. 
Les helping me bake holiday cakes.
     It turns out Ian was correct and the batteries are okay. Whew! 
     My holiday baking has been disastrous. I wanted to double the recipe and bake two
 Golden Ginger Cakes at a time. Distracted by the battery issue, I forgot to double all the ingredients and two cakes failed and had to be turned out to the rubbish bin. I started over again yesterday. When I went to take the cakes out of the oven, one of the tins slipped from m hands, turned over, spilling out all over the floor, broken and steaming.  I sat down and cried my heart out. Last year around this time Les was here helping me bake golden Ginger Cakes. We made ten cakes for friends and family, and then took the train down to London for our final holiday together mooching about the Big Smoke.
The last ever photo taken of me and Les, in London this time last year.
     I woke this morning feeling hopeful. It was about 30F last night and the temperature inside the boat was about 40F first thing. The coal fire was banked and waiting for me to uncover the coals, dump the ash, and feed it  more coal. After a solid breakfast of fresh coffee, a mini Maple bagel, and a bowl of steel cut oats with milk, agave nectar and dried blueberries, I was ready to go. 
     I filled with water, dumped the rubbish, swept the leaves out of the bow and off the roof, checked for water in the bilge (it was dry), greased the stern gland, checked to make sure the calorifier was shut off, turned off the large inverter, disconnected the landline electrics and stowed the extension cords away, lifted the fenders, and started the engine. It had been a month since I had run it. The engine turned over and purred quietly like a kitten. I filled the coal bucket and set the fire, un-moored and cruised away. 
     I feel giddy and happy to be back on the towpath. It is going to be even colder tonight so I've doubled the down duvets tucked into the duvet cover on my bed. The boat windows are covered with insulating plastic. I was amazed to record a difference of nearly 10 degrees in temperature inside the boat after the plastic was in place!

Image result for roses and CAstles phil speight
Courtesy of J Paylor, Luton Museums
     I will be in Bollington tomorrow to take care of some personal business and enjoy a weekend Roses & Castles painting course with Phil Speight--one of the foremost boat sign writers. This class is a gift to myself for having survived the most difficult year of my middle aged life; even more difficult than facing my own cancer diagnosis in 2008 and again in 2009. Friends have offered to help me down the Bosley lock flight and the first 12 locks at Heartbreak Hill. I expect to be heading down the Trent & Mersey by Friday the 8th of December. Nantwich here I come!!


ertuck said...

You are a brave and adventurous lady Jackie, with a zest for life on the cut despite the terrible loss of your Husband I have to admire your spirit and how you are persevering and trying to adapt to single handed boating and in my opinion you are succeeding so well. I have followed you and Les for a long time and I have tried to comment several times before but with out managing to complete the necessary digital jiggery pokery to enable this..
Hope you have a secure and warm night on the cut...

Judith nb Serena said...

Glad you're all sorted with your batteries and are once again on the move. Enjoy your painting course and take care out there if it turns frosty. Keep warm. Love and hugs XXX
Judith nb Serena

Dragontatoo said...

I am overjoyed to hear you sound so upbeat again. Please stay warm and know we are sending you warmth, love and light from Eastern Washington.

Unknown said...

Dear Jaqueline, I can visualize all your adventures, negative and Blessed. Take care and have a wonderful, warmish holiday. Love Marti Anthony

Anonymous said...

Jaq ... love seeing the picture of you from years ago .. you still radiate the same tremendous vitality and joy that you had then. Looking forward to images of your fledging painting efforts on this blog. Stay warm and cozy and I hope the perfect spot and job open up for you in the new year. Karen in Pullman

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thank you Eric. Do me a favor will you? Please refer to me as Jaq. My name is Jaqueline and I hate being called Jackie.

I am so pleased you've been able to leave a comment especially since you've been following our blog for so long.



Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

HI Jesse,

It is lovely getting a comment from you! It makes me feel better just reading it and knowing you've reached out across 7000 miles to me. <3

That old saying "Know thyself," is so true. I took our friends up on their very kind and generous offer of a winter mooring and the Macclesfield canal is rural and lovely, but I just not cut out to live in a marina. I like the freedom and independence to move when I want and need to do so. Les always said if you don't like or get on with your neighbor then just turn the key and move. That's another beauty of living on the cut. Being in a marina makes me feel trapped, depressed and suicidal. But i thought I could hack it since I am on my own now. I thought it might make life easier and I was very touched by the kindness or our friends whose thoughtfulness knows no bounds. At least I gave it a try.

I am doing my best to stay warm. The weather here is VERY unpredictable and it can change in 10 minutes from fairly mild, bright and no wind, to overcast skies, rain, sleet and hail and high winds.

I love you all and miss you dearly!

Ma xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Marti! What a lovely surprise to see a comment from you. I hope you and Evelyn are dong well; staying healthy and happy. It lifts my heart to know you are following along still.

Love Jaq xxx

ertuck said...

Hi Jaq sorry about the misnomer how it came about was that in my distant past I had a Mate who's girlfriend was called Jacqueline, known to all as Jackie and it was just force of habit that I incorrectly addressed you by that name. It's odd how some people are known by the nicknames rather than their christened names,and vice versa. Michael Jagger and the Rolling Stones spring to mind as another daft name for a group but in the end it's the personalities and their music and not the names. I loved the Beatles but detested the name even though I knew it was a play on words..We have a group locally who now play in pubs. and they are from the late 70's they have reformed in the last few years .. And they are "Sid Sideboard and the Chairs" which has now been abreviated to any one member being called one of the Chairs..
Despite following all the instructions I never could manage to comment on your posts that is up til now and it's a shame I was unable to converse with Les. You are without doubt a Heroine in my book Jaq with your solo boating and determination to succeed.
Regards Eric..
P.S. I go in for T.K.R. on 21st of this month any tips apart from the fact that it is going to smart a lot!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh yes Eric it is such a shame you couldn't post when Les was alive. He would have loved hearing from you.

As for TKR my recommendations are as follows: Do the exercises faithfully, make sure you elevate it faithfully and ice it and et up and walk! in between my exercises I got up and walked from one end of the boat to the other and I stopped at each end and did lunges on the stairs. Don't be frightened to ask for pain meds. And don't let them fob you off on only Paracetamol if you need something stronger.

Make sure you have help on hand for the first three or four weeks. It you can get in to a physiotherapist at week five then by all means do so. When we were moored up across from Warwick Hospital with my first knee surgery, the hospital provided a weekly knee recovery class which included a room with a cycle of exercises and then we did dance movements as well. With my second TKR a year ago in October, we were moored in Cowroast and while I had the surgery done at Warwick hospital I couldn't go back there for the physio class so my GP referred me to a local Physiotherapist who put me through my paces for three weeks and it really does make all the difference.

Good luck!


ertuck said...

Thanks very much Jaq I will try to follow your T.K.R. recovery advice to the letter as nobody knows better than someone who has actually experienced the op. let alone two as you have done.I don't want to go off topic and hog the thread but did you experience any breathing difficulties when on the strong painkillers.The reason I ask is that my breathing, when using Tramadol for an acute back injury, became frightingly shallow and I was almost gasping at times.It was as if there were no oxygen in the air that I was breathing..
Make sure you wrap up tonight as it has become bitter outside here just on the outskirts of London and don't forget everybody is thinking about you and wishing you well...
Best of British..

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs