I had hoped to have posted again before now but time and life have a way of unraveling around my ankles these days. Having fetched up in such a lovely spot like the Flashes I was looking forward to chilling out, writing, sleeping and going for walks. This was the week before Christmas--my least favorite holiday. It is a dark and traumatic time of year for me under the best of circumstances, and this year doesn't rate even that high. The festive winter season brings so much baggage along with the short, cold days and long, dark nights. My baggage was packed for me in childhood, by a violent alcoholic step-father who undoubtedly had his baggage packed for him in his childhood by his alcoholic parents. It is a tragic chain of dysfunction and pain. I won't go into great detail. I will only say that guns were usually involved in shooting bulbs off the Christmas tree, presents and tree were tossed out into the snow, our home was ransacked and torn to pieces in molten anger, and my mother was beaten severely while I hung off my step father's leg, biting and screaming at him to "stop hitting my mother!" I was only a tiny, tow headed child and Christmas never got any better in our house. My mother and I walked on egg shells while she went through the motions every year of making Christmas a time of family celebration; our family simply didn't celebrate like everyone else. I never told my own children about my horrendous childhood until they were well past their mid twenties. I never wanted them to be tainted by that kind of pain. I did my utmost to break that chain, to provide my daughters with happy holiday memories of fairy lights, baked cookies, stockings filled and hanging at the end of their beds, candy canes and snow sprinkled love. Once I became a witch my focus changed from December 25th to the Winter Solstice--the turning of the wheel of the year back towards the light. Who in their right mind cannot celebrate such a pivotal seasonal event? The longest, darkest night of the year is my saving grace; it is the moment offering my heart and soul hope that all the goodness, grandeur and beauty, all the abundance and glory of nature will come back to me once more. It is a hallmark of the spirit as well. what lives will die and be reborn. This is nature's endless cycle.
My first day moored at the flashes I was truly alone. I cleaned the boat, did laundry, and made a pot of soup, taking care of the Administration of Life Duties so I could spend the next few days resting and writing but the best laid plans etc. etc.etc. The 22nd dawned clear and bright, the sun splashed across the landscape lighting up the wet green grass. Soon enough I heard the put-put-put of a boat coming along behind me. It was the fuel boat NB Halsall which had refueled at Kings Lock chandlery and was back on their run. I flagged them down to get the two emergency jerry cans filled with diesel. As Lee and Roberta started to pull alongside me, a hug clump of grasses broke free of the offside bank and wrapped itself around their prop. Now Halsall is an old working boat and it doesn't have a weed hatch. The working boaters had to work stuff off the prop with a boat hook or take a dip in the cut to remove it by hand, so Lee worked diligently with his boat hook at clearing their prop.
|NB Halsall clearing grass and weed from their prop.|
Meanwhile NB Hobo decided to crack on as they were trying to reach Venetian Marina to rendezvous with Ray and Tracey. Somehow they ended up caught on a shallow lump of mud on the offside and their boat tipped sideways a bit. One of their four dogs decided to make a break for it as well and so a bit of pandelerium ensued. Dog back aboard, they pushed off the mud and started to pass NB Valerie and their engine cut out. Arthur couldn't get it started and so they pulled in to moor up in front of me. This was the start of a breakdown saga that stretched over the proceeding days.
RCR was called out and a Marine Engineer (ME) appeared about an hour before dusk. Working in the waning light he ascertained that NB Hobo had diesel bug. Their tank was about half full of fuel. Getting stuck on the shallow offside had tipped their boat and the fuel in their tank, sloshing the diesel bug which usually lurks near the bottom in the interface between the diesel and the water in the tank caused by condensation and diesel additives. The bug was now mixed through their tank and clogging fuel lines and filters. Not good!!! I can definitively say boaters live in fear of that stuff because it can bring cruising to a complete halt and cost hundreds of pounds to remedy. The engineer pumped the diesel out of Hobo's tank and replaced the clogged fuel filter.
As dusk closed in the ME's phone rang. It was his wife reminding them they were going Christmas shopping that evening, the 23rd. A bit rattled now by his wife's reminder call, with a numbing cold and darkness setting in, the poor bloke poured the contaminated fuel back into the tank instead of using some of the 100 litres of emergency fuel Anne and Arthur had stored in jerry cans. Tired, cold, and stressed no one remarked on this or took notice until the next morning, when the engine coughed, spluttered and fell silent once more. Another call to RCR early in the day brought two ME's back out. The diesel was pumped from the tank again and another clean fuel filter was installed, with a tube running from the engine to a clean jerry can of diesel. The engine was soon running and the ME's took off for the one mile walk to the nearest bridge and down the lane to their parked van. We truly were moored in the middle of nowhere. As Anne and Arthur set off after lunch their engine was still hesitant. I could not in all good conscience leave them to float around broken down on their own on Christmas Eve so I gave Anne my mobile number and told her to call me if they broke down again and I would tow them to Aqueduct Marina, which was only about three miles away. About forty minutes later my phone rang. The engine stalled and was well and truly dead.
I threw on my cold weather gear, lifted my fenders, pulled my pins, and cruised off towards Nantwich. I came upon them about thirty minutes later. A slick of diesel lay on the surface of the cut for half a mile behind them. Arthur had fallen in the cut and was down inside changing into clean, dry clothes. Anne and the dogs were waiting on the towpath with the midline. Now I have never towed another boat, but I reasoned that if I took things slowly and was careful it would be okay. I just needed one of them to stay at their tiller and steer their boat. Anne came up and stood on her bow to keep an eye on the bow rope we attached to my stern bollards. Off we went and I am pleased to say NB Valerie performed like a champ. Sadly though, the afternoon was spent by then and we had about another forty minutes of daylight and of course just when all seemed to to be going well, the wind sprang up with a vengeance. We made it from bridge 21 through bridge 15. Coming out of the bridge hole the wind caught us broad side and I wasn't going fast enough to counter its power. We were pushed like paper boats over to the offside where cows stood grazing while staring at the strange interlopers on the other side of the fence. I tried to shift NB Hobo backwards and NB Valerie became stuck on the shallows. Arthur and I both had boat poles out shoving against the bank. Each time we broke free the wind viciously slammed our boats back against the offside.
Just ahead of us a lovely boat was moored in the tranquil dusk which our engine revving and shouting was disturbing to say the least. It was NB Scarweather and the folks on the boat were out walking their dog. They stopped to help. I decided it was time to moor up and call it a night. I told Arthur and Anne that I was going to reverse off the shallows and push Hobo's stern against the towpath where Arthur could get off with the midline and begin pulling the boat in to moor up. As soon as Hobo's stern touched the metal siding on the towpath, I untied its bow from my stern and using their bow rope I heaved and pulled Hobo's nose clear of my stern fender buttons and shoved it towards the towpath, giving NB Valerie a bit of reverse wellie to keep Hobo's bow moving the right direction. As soon as they were moored up, I reversed NB Valerie out of the shallows, put her in forward and pulled in front of Hobo to moor up myself. The man from NB Scarweather was kind enough to hold my midline while I banged in the pins, tied up and dropped my fenders. A short while later as I was out on the bow filling my coal bucket, this same fellow was out having a smoke on his stern. We chatted briefly and introduced ourselves as boaters do. I explained how I came to be towing NB Hobo, and Richard, a retired Marine Engineer asked me if I was alone on my boat. I explained my circumstances and we parted for the evening. By now the cold I had picked up the first weekend in December and which I was desperate to shake, had settled down in my lungs. I was exhausted, frozen, and sick. A scalding hot shower and clean jammies soon sorted me out and I fell into bed but of course I couldn't sleep because of the phlegm in my chest and the sharp stinging in my throat. A hot toddy of honey, lemon, and rum soothed things a bit and some tincture of the Herb Pharm's Immune Defense was taken as well.
Christmas day arrived cold, with blustery winds blowing and a light scattered sprinkle of snow dusting the wet, muddy towpath. Tracey and Ray Arbon turned up mid morning with some emergency supplies for Anne and Arthur. I last spoke with Tracey back in May when I was moored up at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes on the Grand Union canal. It was lovely to see her again and to actually meet her husband Ray. With water topped up a bit and petrol for their generator, Anne and Arthur were settled in until tomorrow when I offered tow them the rest of the way to Aqueduct marina.
As I was just putting the finishing touches on my evening meal, there was a knock on the boat. It was Richard from NB Scarweather inviting me aboard theirs for Christmas dinner. Seeing as I was just in the process of dishing up my own dinner, we agreed I would join them afterwards for wine and Port. I spent a lovely evening in their company. Richard explained the intricacies of diesel bug to me in his marvelous Scottish accent. He had served in the Merchant navy where he met Sarah in the Falklands. Richard has experience on the giant container vessels that move constantly across the face of the oceans. Sarah is a retired GP. She sipped a good wine, Richard and I emptied a full bottle of lovely Port, and we shared crackers spread with the most delicious Camembert I have ever tasted as we swapped stories and got to know each other. Their boat has a tug deck with a rather large water tank. They graciously offered to tow NB Hobo to Aqueduct marina since that is where they keep their boat and they were heading back the next morning. I was planning to fill up with water at the marina but Richard suggested I fill my tank from theirs as they were going back to the marina anyway. Aren't boaters lovely people??? Yes Mo, (NB Balmaha) they are.
The next morning was bright and partly sunny. Richard brought Scarweather along side NB Valerie and moored up. A hose from their shower tap to my water tank soon had my boat filled with water and hunkered back down in the cut, siting more stable when the tank is full. Disconnecting the hose, Richard also reached out to take my rubbish bags from the bow deck.
|Richard on the deck of NB Scarweather breasted up with NB Val and filling my water tank.|
|A hire boat passes decorated with blow up holiday figures.|
Two days later Ken and Sue Deveson came by to pick me up for lunch at Aqueduct marina where their boat NB Cleddau waits on the hard standing for blacking, painting and servicing. It was impossible to be so close and not stop in and give her a pat and rub! We enjoyed lunch together and a walk around the marina.
|American house broom with slanted brush.|
Tomorrow I take possession of a grocery delivery and will cruise out of the marina and into 2018, uncertainty dogging my wake. I need to make connections in the local area and enroll with the JobCentre Plus. I will have to return to Aqueduct marina on the 17th to have my diesel tank cleaned and a new stern gland fitted. Hopefully there will be nothing else required but I have been warned that the engine shaft and stern gland tube could be worn which would require an expensive overhaul that could conceivably reach a thousand pounds in the worst case scenario. The ME Chris here at the marina is hoping it will be an inexpensive and easy repair.
This is what is feels like to be a widow in a newly unfolding year: 2018 is a new year without any new memories of Les. I feel even sadder and more alone than I did last year. It is the difference between moving forward through the year after his death, remembering Les and us together in his final months, weeks and days versus turning away now from our previous life together into an uncertain future which holds nothing tangible of the man I love. The cold wind is at my back and I am so alone without Les--without any new and recent memories of my sweet, kind, funny, loving Best Beloved to warm and sustain me.