It was one year on the 24th of January as of 9:09 am since Les took his final breath as I held his hand in mine and felt my own heart lurch onward as his heart ceased forever. The terrible irrevocable finality of such a thing never leaves one. It is antithetical to everything else we experience in life. Relationships, jobs, and other outward signifiers end, but the other half of a broken relationship continues on with their life; the employer is still there even if we are working elsewhere; Nearly all of the other endings we experience in life have some thread of continued existence in the world albeit perhaps without a direct connection to us, but the death of someone we love is so shocking in its finality that our minds cannot really grasp it even as it is happening, much less afterwards. Time numbs us, but never strips the pain of loss from our hearts. As our daughter Sparky said to me, "It is weird how on the one hand it is hard to believe a year has passed since Da's death; it still seems like he just died yesterday and yet it amazes me how much has happened in this past year without him." Les was so much more than my best friend, my soul mate, my spouse; he was my interpreter for all the things about this country which make absolutely no sense to the American mind. Les was also my shield and protector, something I never fully appreciated while he was alive, having never really had anyone who stood for me in that way before.
I am eternally grateful Les began to write a blog as it has been my saving grace. There are days when I look at the pictures of our brief, happy life together framed on the wall and it feels as though those golden moments happened to someone else and I have come to consciousness in a nightmare from which there seems to be no escape. I simply have no desire to go on without Les and yet I wake up each day anyway. Opening the blog and reading through Les' posts helps to ground me again in the knowledge that it was not all a dream. We really did find each other and fall deeply, madly, and truly in love with each other. I have read this blog through from the very first post more than a dozen times now. Each time I find something new and different that catches my heart. I love seeing his rough tentative early posts full of mistakes and follies gradually giving way to smoother more polished writing as Les found his voice and began carrying his blog readers along for his journey as his confidence in being both a boater and a blogger grew. I cherish each funny bit that makes me laugh out loud--and for just that fragile moment Les comes back to me alive once more.
I am walking a road I never expected to follow (yes of course I knew he was dying but our minds still shield us from that reality until the moment it happens and then we find our minds wrapped in a cotton of denial afterwards)--and if we are honest about it, no one does. We don't look ahead to the death of our spouse or partner and ask ourselves out of curiosity, "Gosh I wonder what my life will be like when they are dead?" No one wants to go there, but life may take us there anyway, and so I hope in sharing my feelings and experiences they will be of some help to those who find themselves on this road sooner than they expected. I can only offer my deepest gratitude to our friends who have stood by me over this most difficult year. I won't mention names--you all know who you are; each of you have my love and thanks which will never be enough to repay your kindness. I can't imagine I would have made it this far on my own without any of you.
My thanks as well to those of you have Instant Messaged me and emailed me to thank me for sharing my inner most thoughts and feelings honestly. It is not to bang the "Poor me "drum as I need no one's pity. If that is what you take away from my posts then you need to move on and read someone else's blog. I know how isolating and terrible this journey can feel and if my writing validates even one person's experience and helps others to feel connected and less alone then it is worth sharing. Your messages to me are precious and while you choose not to comment publicly on the blog I appreciate those who have reached out to me in other formats to thank me for sharing honestly.
Right so on to other things now. The boat has been out of the water for repairs, more of which I will cover in a later blog once I get pictures from the ME who undertook the work. The diesel tank was cleaned and the fuel polished with the result that there was indeed diesel bug in the tank waiting for an opportune moment to clog up the engine. Since the cleaning I have noticed the Ebispacher diesel hot water heater runs more smoothly and lot quieter as does the Vetus engine. It also isn't exhaling huge clouds of smoke when I start the engine anymore.
|This is the equipment used to clean and polish the diesel. It took just over two hours and was fascinating to watch.
|When the process was complete this is what was pulled from NB Valerie's diesel tank: water and a thick layer of contaminant loaded with dead diesel bug and bits of rust.
|The dark gloopy stuff is diesel bug.
Over the past two weeks I have had several visitors. Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) came over with an 80 liter bag of cocoa shell from their latest consignment. I shan't need another for at least two years! We had a wander over to view their boat which is out on the hard standing at Aqueduct marina awaiting blacking and painting. We had lunch in the marina cafe and too soon Ken and Sue were off back to Bedfordshire having satisfied their boaty needs for a while. Many thanks for the compost delivery and the delicious Welsh Cakes! The UK has been buffeted in the past two weeks with very high winds from a series of storms off the Atlantic. Two nights running the winds were in excess of 70 mph here and I took a "video" at two o'clock in the morning to share with you. It is pitch black in the boat so you will not actually see anything but you should be able to hear the sound of the wind--from inside the boat which will give you a good idea of what it is like to lie in bed as the storm surges around the boat.
|Love in a tub: Ken Deveson's homemade Welsh Cakes!
After ten days in Aqueduct marina in which I did not set foot outside the boat, I looked at the weather last Thursday night and realized I would only have a one day window of sunshine and no wind in which to cruise and I needed to get to Nantwich, so on the 27th I made my move. I've pinched a nerve in my left shoulder and the three fingers on my left hand have been numb for days. I need to see the chiropractor, check the mail, and get a few groceries in. Still weak and shaky, I thought to moor up before each of the two locks in front of me, suss them out, set them and then slowly bow haul the boat into each one. As I approached the bollards at the first lock landing a couple was out walking in the sun and he waved me on saying, "The gates are open in your favor."
"I know but I cannot climb lock ladders. I need to get off and bow haul the boat in."
"Toss me a windless Hen, and we will do the lock for you." With a smile and a wave of thanks I tossed him a windlass and cruised gently into the lock. They are boaters too, living on their baot which was moored up above the lock about a half mile. I thanked them for blessing me with their help and continued onward. At the bottom Chalmondsten lock, adjacent too Venetian marina I pulled over with a windlass in hand and was tying up when a bloke came along walking his dog on a lead.
"Are you on your own?"
"Yes I am," I smiled. "It's a lovely day to be out and about isn't it?"
"Lend me your windlass and I'll do the lock for you."
"Oh thank you very much. That's very kind of you. Are you a boater?"
"Yes that's my boat over there," and he pointed towards the marina. Soon enough I was at the top of the lock where a boat was waiting to go in. He handed me my windlass.
"Thank you very much for your help. You really blessed me today." We smiled at one another and I was on my way once more. It took me five hours to cruise six miles owing to the long lines of permanently moored boats along the upper end of the Middlewich Arm. I don't remember there being so many when Les and I were here in 2012 but I supposed like everywhere else along the cut, it is filling up here in Cheshire too.
Eventually I made it slowly past the long lines of boats approaching Barbridge Junction. I sounded the horn and slowly made the turn left onto the Shropshire Union Canal and my heart leaped and lifted at the sight of the Welsh hills in the distance. My spirit felt the rightness of this place and I knew I was where I should be. I moored up at 4 pm about a fourth of a mile past the Nantwich aqueduct and the stairs down to the town, knackered and spent. I knew my larder was empty so I switched coats--I wear Les' green down jacket for cruising and my black down coat for town--grabbed my grocery bags and backpack and set off for town. It took me three hours to walk the round trip of two and half miles there and back with shopping in between. I stopped in the darkened square to rest and listen to a busker with guitar sing his last song as it echoed against the wet stones of the empty square. Back aboard NBV I slept well that night.
I have taken a mail box at the laundrette in the Nantwich Canal Centre and they texted me last Wednesday to say, "You've got mail," so yesteray I waited for the rain to lift and walked in to pick up my mail--a letter from the States and a card from someone over here! What a lovely surprise to open it a find a beautiful card with a Daffodil on it from dear friends, remembering me and Les.
A walk in the other direction up Welsh Row and into the town square for a Saturday paper brought me up short against a massive, milling crowd of people rammed tightly packed all around the edge of the square. Behind them, lined up in regiment formation were soldiers dressed in both Parliamentary and Royalist regalia. Some held long sharp pikes and others muskets. Horses with riders astride led the procession. I was only about fifty feet from the W.H. Smith news agent's shop across the square but there was simply no quick and easy way to make it across so I waited with the milling throng. Soon drums began to sound, the assembled men and horses began to move at a marching pace and both armies wended their way through the narrow cobbled lanes of Nantwich, out to the battlefield just at the edge of town. I nipped in for my paper, accompanied on the walk back home to the reports of musket fire and the booming sound of cannon.
|The battlefield reenactment is undertaken by a group called The Sealed Knot. It commemorates a battle to the break the siege of Nantwich which took place on January 25th, 1644.
|Pictures courtesy of Eric Price.
I have begun to establish myself in Nantwich and I am applying for jobs in the area. The entire employment thing is completely different over here to the States and there has been a steep learning curve for me. I had to research the definition of GCSE's, NVQ's, and ECDL's. I was ready to beat my head against the table in frustration at being asked to enroll in a six month course to earn national qualifications for something I've done to a very high degree for over a decade. This is when local knowledge comes in valuable. Angela was a teacher in her pre-boat life and she told me to apply for positions I am obviously qualified for due to experience. Once hired if the employer still wants me to earn an NVQ they will likely be willing to help make that happen. Carol Palin (NB Still Rockin') has also been a wonderful sounding board offering great practical advice. Many thanks to both of you lovely women for your help.