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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Coming Out of the Fog

"Behind my smile is a hurting heart, behind my laugh I'm falling apart, behind my smile is tears at night; now I'm a widow when once I was someone's wife." ~ Anonymous

     The fog that comes with grief is disorienting. It feels like a part of my mind is always on search mode somewhere out in the vast universe, seeking signs of Les, just as the giant antenna dishes at Aricibo sweep the universe looking for a signal from other intelligent life. This isn't something one can control; it is something that simply occurs like a computer program running silently in the back ground of your everyday desk top. It has taken me sixteen months to realize it is occurring covertly now instead of overtly as in the days, weeks and months after Les died when I searched for signs of him everywhere accompanied by a different kind of fog--viscous and impenetrable; it is one's soul wrapping our mind and heart in cotton wool for protection from the awful reality of a life unwanted--a loss too deep to bear that manifests itself every single day---forever.
     There is nothing like a serious illness to slap one around a bit and say, "Snap out of it!!"
     With a clear diagnosis I now look back and realize I have been ill with Crohn's Disease for a long time--at least since January of 2016 when Les' health began to fail. Malnutrition accompanies this illness. We in the developed world of the 21st century have no real idea what that is and what it feels like. We think of it as starving children in Bangladesh or skeletonized babies in Syria. The fact is there are hundreds of thousands of us in first world countries suffering from malnutrition,  especially the elderly, but we don't know it. Most people are never taught anything about actual nutrition. We eat the food we were taught to eat by our parents. Of course now I should append that to say a lot of folks eat the stuff they are taught to want by the telly.
     All through the spring and summer of 2016 I kept finding strands of my hair EVERYWHERE in the boat. It was beginning to feel like some drunken Christmas fairy was decorating early, pulling my hair while I slept and using it to festoon everything in site in lieu of Christmas tinsel. I used to jokingly say to Les, "Baby that silver haired bitch has found her way back in our boat. She is shedding all over the place. If you find her please put her outside." I know from being a schooled and licensed hair stylist that we all lose an average of 50-100 hairs a day. That seems like a lot but most of us never even notice it unless we find our hair in the drain or some other place we don't want it. I understand now that accelerated hair loss (we are not talking male pattern baldness here) can be a symptom of malnutrition, along with feeling cold all the time, lack of interest in eating, feeling tired all the time, poor concentration, and wounds taking a long time to heal. Severe lack of Protein and vitamin D with extreme stress causes excessive hair shedding.
© May 14, 1992; Jim Davis.
     My disinterest in food manifested with a loss of taste in tandem with a loss of interest in cooking. I still cannot bring myself to fix a lot of the foods Les loved.  I no longer have any passion for cooking so I fed myself for months on end with things requiring me to simply tear open a bag and eat, like gummy bears, and crisps. I  would cook one meal repeatedly: my childhood comfort meal of fried potatoes and eggs over easy with vinegar.  The loss of my sense of taste was caused by malnutrition and a severe lack of Vitamin B12 and Zinc. I also know that auto immune diseases can cause one to lose the sense of taste.
     My intestines and colon issues have been ongoing since 2008, when I was diagnosed with Diverticulitis. I learned about managing this disease and did fine until Les was diagnosed with cancer. Now I am learning how to manage Crohn's Disease.
Moored up before the bridge at Hurleston Junction, the end of April.
     I was shocked when I realized more than a month has passed without my blogging and I've fallen behind with so many things I wanted to write about so please bear with me while I play catch up.
With CRT's permission I spent a month moored up at the top of Hurleston locks just through the first bridge. It is a perfect place to fetch up if one is ill because there are rubbish bins and water points at the top of the lock flight and it is very easy to reverse back through the bridge hole to the services. There is also a generous layby up at the bridge for people to park if they visit or one needs to get a taxi and there is a bus stop very close by for the 84 bus from Chester through Nantwich and on to Crewe. There are two farmhouses there so it is an easy place to take possession of a grocery delivery. It is also a lovely bit of canal view wise although the sound of traffic is quite noisy. After having to take taxi's to the Premier Inn twice in a week, stay over night to take the dreaded bowel prep and then a taxi to the hospital and a taxi back home (due to cuts to the bus services in Cheshire in now takes two buses to get to Leighton hospital in Crewe and I was in no shape to attempt it). Deep and grateful thanks to Steve and Angela on NB Tumbleweed who stepped in on short notice to give me a lift to the hospital when I couldn't get a taxi.
Looking through the first bridge at the top of Hurleston locks towards the top lock and the water and rubbish point off to the right. The large tree in the distance is actually growing along the Shropshire Union at the bottom of the flight of the first four locks on the LLangollen Canal. 
NB Bendigedig sporting a fresh paint job, moored up bow-to-bow with NB Valerie, Hurleston in early May. 
     While I was moored there I was overjoyed to see NB Bendigedig pull up. I flagged Eric down and they moored up in front of me overnight and came aboard for a cuppa' and a good chin wag. Les thought the world of Eric and Elsie and so do I. It was early May and they were just starting off on their summer tour, headed for the Severn.
     One hot afternoon I heard a lot of loud shouting out by the bridge. I was expecting a grocery delivery between 5:30 an 6:30 pm. Just through the bridge hole by the stairs up to the bridge and the parking were eight children of various ages and three adults--two men and a woman. All of them had sea magnets on plastic line and they were dipping the cut for metal objects. For some reason there was something about them that made me feel uneasy. It seemed more like they were working rather than playing even though most of them were children. It bothered me that I couldn't put my finger on what was causing my unease. At 5:30 pm I walked up to the stairs to find they were blocked with loads of rusted bits from the cut and rubbish. I spoke to one of the men and asked him to please clear the stairs as I was having a grocery delivery come soon. He simply grunted and nodded once and then shoved everything into the grass by the stairs. I stood on the bridge facing the road so I could watch for the Ocado delivery van and keep an eye on NB Valerie. I noticed this seemed to make the group mining for metal a bit nervous. I stepped away from the bridge and stood out of site where I could see them but they couldn't see me. As soon as the adults noticed I wasn't standing there any more the older man signaled to the younger bloke to move down the canal towards the boats. I watched as this young fella cast his magnet in the cut repeatedly as he walked towards my boat.  Just before he reached the bow, he looked around to see if anyone was watching and I stepped back out to the edge of the bridge and stared at him. He was clearly scoping out my boat and I have no doubt he would  have gone aboard if I had not been watching. I had left the bow doors open because I knew I I could see it from the bridge. He did a weired pretend cast of the magnet by the tip of NBV's bow and quickly pulled up the magnet and walked quickly back to the bridge hole as my eyes bored into him, whispered something to the older man who looked up at me with a frown. Suddenly at some unseen signal the children all gathered around the the adults, gathered their buckets of found metal objects, left all their trash strewn around, and marched up the stairs to enter two brand new vehicles and drive off. It was then the penny dropped. I am certain they were Travelers which is fine, as is fishing the cut for lost metal items. It certainly makes a great front for scoping out boats to see if any of them have items of interest or have been left unattended. Another boater remarked to me a few days previously that he had moored there for four weeks over winter and his diesel tank had been drained dry one day when he went in to town for groceries. Now I understood my unease. The kids were not having fun playing; they were actually working.
     June 5th and I had survived a CT scan, a colonoscopy and I started a six week liquid diet to begin the healing process. I couldn't sit still any longer. I was so tired of not moving for weeks on end. Down the Hurleston Flight I went with help from a CRT employee and a CRT volunteer.  I cruised into Nantwich and checked my mail, had a grocery delivery, and knackered beyond belief I moored up again and rested for four days before winding and cruising out to the Middlewich Arm. I spent a week moored just through bridge 4. Due to the breach at the other end of the arm near Middlewich, traffic is almost non-existent. I noted five boats over four days. I checked out the new water point CRT installed near the top of Chalmondsten lock. It is possible to cruise to the water point, then reverse back to the winding hole and turn around, doing away with the need to go down through the lock, cruise to the next winding hole, turn and cruise back up through the lock. While I had no Wi-fi or phone signal there, and only a few TV stations, it was so quiet and peaceful I relished every moment. It was a good place to moor up for more recovery time. I sat out on the bow and watched the swallows taking turns diving to the surface of the canal for a sip of water and then shooting off up the cut, banking to the right and flying over the nearest field, like bombers on a sortie. I walked the towpath to Sykes Hill moorings just after the next winding hole and sat in the warm late spring sun chatting with a friend on the phone while butterflies and dragonflies darted around me.
A peaceful afternoon on the bow of NB Valerie, moored up on the near empty Middlewich Arm through bridge 4.
     As I cruised back into Nantwich for services, I passed a field with six horses, four of which had foals! I couldn't take a picture sadly, as it is on a bend and there was a boat coming from the other direction but the foals were lovely, dappled with white spots and patches on their Carmel coloured flanks. Two of them were lying down in the cool grass as their mothers grazed nearby. It was a Les moment. He would have been chuffed to bits and no doubt would have managed a good picture too.
Dual propane bottles with pigtails to each bottle.
    As the boat filled with water at the service point in Nantwich, I checked my mail and dumped my rubbish, then washed down the boat. I cruised up to the Nantwich Canal Centre service point and had the pigtails on my dual propane bottles replaced. One side had a leak and I thought it prudent to replace both hoses. It turns out they should be replaced every five years and ours were twelve years old!
     Job done, I moored up, took possession of a grocery delivery and picked up a Saturday paper. Sunday morning I cruised out headed south. It was time to cruise towards Audlem and find some good mooring spots in that direction. I found a lovely spot half way between bridges 89 and 88. There was metal siding and enough space for two 58 foot boats to moor. It was out in the middle of grassy fields, quiet and peaceful. I stood out on the bow as twilight slowly descended. Bats flitted by me and a barn owl flew along the bank on the offside, hunting. Venus, the morning and evening star shown brightly.  Had Les been alive he would have stood with his arms around my waist and I would have leaned back resting against him. Together we would have stood in awe of the magical beauty of the gloaming; instead it was me, the bats, the barn owl, and one solitary planet representing the Goddess of love, reflecting the sun's light in the night sky.
     Amazingly I picked up four bars of Wi-fi, and a great phone and TV signal--much better than I can get in Nantwich! After a week in this bucolic paradise,  I pulled my pins at 5:30 AM and headed for the nearest winding hole. Along the way I watched with delight as the world woke around me. I saw an ermine in his brown summer coat (also known as a Stoat) slip out of the hedge with something live and wriggling in its mouth. Much to my astonishment the bijou Mustelid plopped into the cut and disappeared!! A bit farther on I looked out to see a Fox sitting placidly in the middle of a field. It too was watching the world wake up. I turned and cruised back into Nantwich mooring up by the playground and walk in to town for a paper and a light grocery top up before the oppressive heat wiped me out.
It has been too hot to cook inside so the Cobb Oven has been a blessing. There isn't anything that cannot be prepared on a Cobb Oven. I prepared enough wild Alaskan Salmon marinated in soy sauce, honey, fresh grated ginger, minced fresh garlic and crushed red pepper flakes for three meals. Lovely!!
Dusk closes in at Nantwich.
     We've had nearly two months of unremitting hot weather here in Cheshire, interrupted on only three occasions with cloudy weather and one day and night of  rain. It is in the high 70's and mid to high 80's Fahrenheit every day. Living in a metal tube means the temperature inside the boat will be ten degree or more higher even with the doors, hatches and windows open and the curtains closed.  It is lightly humid and there is not a breath of wind to stir the cut. The heat makes me ill even after twenty two years of living in Eastern Washington's high desert country and dry, hot summers which can reach triple digits. I have had heat stroke four times--the first at age four on a road trip to Mexico. The last time was in 2007 when my GP diagnosed it. She told me that if I suffered another bout of heat stroke it could kill me so I do my utmost to stay out of the worst of the mid day heat, drink lots of liquids, and rest during the hottest part of the day. I am up at 5:00 AM every morning and I get all my daily chores out of the way before 10:30 AM.
     This past week kicked off with several appointments in Nantwich on Monday, and much anticipated visitors on Tuesday: Ken and Sue Deveson (NB Cleddau) with two of their American grandchildren in tow! The Deveson's and I often share anecdotes about our grandchildren and I feel as though I know theirs quite well. Ken and fifteen year old Rhys dropped Sue and eight year old Haydn by the boat. After a short visit, Grampy and Rhys set off by car to spend several hours in the cool depths of the Hack Green Nuclear bunker. Since Ken was a bomber pilot in the RAF he has first person insight into certain aspects of nuclear war which I am sure made the tour far more meaningful than usual. Meanwhile Granny, Haydn, and I played on the swings in the playground for a few minutes and then set off on NB Valerie and cruised up to Hack Green where we moored and had lunch. Ken and Rhys joined us later in the afternoon and we had a lovely visit. Thank you Ken and Sue for sharing your wonderful grandchildren with me for a day.  I miss my own grandchildren more than words can say...
Sue Deveson and her youngest grandson Haydn with windlasses in hand. Many thanks for cruising with me.
Sue, Rhys, Ken, and Haydn on the grass near the playground moorings in Nantwich.
      After the Deveson crew departed I stepped out on the bow to tighten my bow ropes and a woman stepped out of the boat moored in front of me to introduce herself. Her name is Anne, her husband's name is Paul and their boat is NB Bisbigliando which means very light and murmuring—used as a direction in music for a fingered tremolo on the harp. We chatted for a few minutes and I was very touched by Anne's words, "I follow your blog. I've read it for several years now. When you haven't posted for awhile I wonder if you are all right...I really enjoy your writing.You should write a book." It is always lovely when someone stops to let me know they read the blog--especially now that Les is no longer writing all those wonderful historical posts that his followers (including me) delighted in reading. Thank you Anne for coming out and chatting with me and for your lovely words of praise.
     Writing is a lonely business fraught with discouragement which can cause writer's block and stop us in our tracks so meeting you really lifted my spirits. It was just a shame it was so excruciatingly hot that afternoon. I would have loved to have sat out on the towpath and chatted with you longer--it was just too dang hot!!! It is always great to chat with other boaters along the way. I am actually working on two books at present. I am on the second draft of one, and just beginning the other. I need to research agents and publishers next. I am also still applying for jobs.
     I only stayed one night moored at the top of Hack Green locks as there was absolutely no shade to be had and there is a nearby manor house across the cut on the off side which offers clay pigeon shooting. After a morning and afternoon ruined with the continual shot gun blasts and bursting clay pigeons I determined it was time to move but before I could get organized a very familiar boat cruised slowly past and I heard a man's voice with a Welsh accent exclaim, " I recognize the aerial on that boat..."It was Eric on NB Bendigedig! I jumped up and looked out the side hatch to see Eric and a strange woman on the stern with him. Where was Elsie?? Did he trade her in for another model??!! I hailed Eric and he pulled in behind me, moored up and Elsie popped up out of the boat to introduce me to Paula--Eric's Fancy Woman--er no, his lovely sister! We sipped tea and had a good catch up.
Elsie and her sister-in-law Paula. The craic is good with these two!!
Eric and Bendigedig wait for the lock to fill at Hack Green.
     Too soon it was time for them to be on their way and me on mine, cruising in opposite directions.
 As the sun grew shorter in a sherbet colored sky, I cruised a short way forward and found a simply heavenly slice of cut between a road bridge and a bridge hole where a farmer's track had once crossed the canal. The bridge was gone now, but the footings and narrow bridge hole were still there in a bit of shady cutting with a high, shaded bank on the towpath side and clumps of trees and shrubs on the off side providing a cool tunnel of mostly shade and only room for exactly one boat to moor!! I spent two glorious days and nights there and was loath to move but cruise I must. 
My bijou mooring in the shade of a small cutting between this bridge...
...and the footing from the old farm bridge, now removed.
I dawdled along yesterday in  morning sunshine, soaking up vitamin D. I cruised slowly past Overwater Marina and sussed out where the diesel and water were located. I will be accessing their services occasionally when I am moored up nearby. As I cruised around the bend towards Audlem bottom lock, a woman was strolling along with a carrier bag of groceries. As I cruised up on her I realized it was Angela!! I slowed NBV to a stop and hovered as we exchanged greetings and had a short conversation to catch up. I've Spent the last six months cruising and mooring between Chester and Nantwich with forays up on the Llangollen and the Middlewich Arm but I was just now making my way past the two Hack Green locks and cruising to Audlem which will be the most southern point of my cruising since I have to stay within bus travel to Chester, Nantwich and Crewe. I had been putting off cruising up to Audlem because I wasn't sure if I was ready to deal with the memories there.
     Les and I moored up on the Aqueduct below the bottom of the Audlem flight on March 27th, 2012. We had five incredibly sunny and hot days in the mid-80's F overlooking the River Weaver. We were still newly weds and our unfolding life aboard NBV brought something amazing for me every day. Audlem was also the last time I saw and Spoke to Mo and Nessa on NB Balmaha. As some boaters will probably recall, Mo died too soon of cancer, a year before Les. Such lovely memories and too many losses...


Anonymous said...

Jaq - love the flowers on the bow of your home. Didn't know what a Cobb Cooker was - did some Googling and now I know. Looks like you've found some lovely spots to tie up at. You are coping a day at a time. We wall wait patiently and with concern and love for your next postings. Tell us more about your books. Keep chugging along lady. It will most likely get better. Crohns is not for the timid but you'll get a handle on it. And I appreciate your info on malnutrition.... Karen in 90deg Pullman.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Karen,
I love my little bow garden. It is about all I can realistically take care of at the mo and the scent of rosemary, lavender and mint lifts my spirits as do the lovely flowers which were a gift from friend and fellow boater Debbie on NB Tickety Boo.

I also love my Cobb Oven. It is brilliant and so easy to clean up. I like much better than a traditional BBQ because it is far more versatile and I love that while lit it can reach 450F but I can still pick it up and touch it on the outside which stays perfectly cool. It just makes such sense on a boat where space and safety are real issues.

I won't speak much about my books because it dilutes the energy I need to keep writing. the rough draft is from my blog So this is Love. The second book is about the history of my family. I have a title but not a whole lot more on a page yet: Orphan's Daughter.

I will blog more soon about the rest of the information my research on Crohn's has uncovered.

Thanks for you continued love and patience Pal. It means the world to me.

I love you gobs and bunches!

Jaq xxx

Elsie said...

You managed to catch up in one blog post....amazing. We're smiling at the two fat ladies in the photo. Lovely to catch up with you twice. Love Elsie & Eric.x

Judith nb Serena said...

So lovely to read one of your superb blogs. I keep going in to see if there's a new one. Glad you've finally got a diagnosis as now I'm sure you will find out how to manage it best. Take care of yourself in this extreme heat and keep hydrated, we are on the Nene at the moment on our way to the middle levels and St Neots. Good luck with the job hunt I'm sure there's a job with your name on it out there. Love and hugs Judith nb Serena XXX

Carol said...

Good to hear from you Jaq and do so wish that I had a magic wand to make thing better for you. Please continue to take one step and a time and one day at a time too, all will become alright with time. Loving the blogs and glad that you can make your feelings felt so eloquently for us to easily understand. Love, hugs and best wishes from both of us. xx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh Elsie I was thinking it was more a picture of two beautifully seasoned goddesses! I hope Paula won't attempt to allow another 36 years to pass before returning to the canals. I really did enjoy meeting her and spending time with all three of you.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Judith,

You may see my friends Jennie and Chris on NB Tentatrice and Ken and Sue on NB Cleddau. They were through that way not long ago on their way to the Bedford River Festival. You and John have sure covered many miles this summer so far.

Thank you for your kind words about my blog postings and for the good wishes on the employment front. I applied for a position with Reaseheath college for fall and another position as copy writer/editor with a local leisure magazine. the latter position is a work from home position and would be perfect for me.

Meanwhile the heat is steaming me to perfection!! LOL!

May your river journey carry you safely with gentle cooling winds,

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Carol and George,

I have been following along with your blog but not commenting much as your posts and pictures say all that needs to be communicated. I am pleased to bits that you two are enjoying a spectacular summer on the Thames. Isn't it nice to be familiar enough with an area to know where the best mooring spots for you?

Thank you for your love, friendship and encouragement. It means the world to me. I can only take life one day at a time now as I don't have the energy to do much else. I appreciate your comment about it all coming right. I am fighting strong to not give in to discouragement. It is a good thing I learned how to tread water!! LOL!

Miss you both and sending you Biggs big hugs,

Jaq xxx

life afloat on nb tickety boo said...

I am happy to see that you are eating again Jaq! Every time I read your blog I want to give you a hug. Your resilience and determination is, as I have said many times,awesome! So a virtual hug and heartfelt well done on all you have achieved. Not easy when you are not feeling a 100%. xx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Deb,
Thank you. As a live aboard boater who single hands, you will know exactly how difficult everything can become when one is ill. But I am a boater, as Les would say, and boaters don't give up.

As you can see from the pictures I am still enjoying the lovely flowers you gave me. I hope you are managing to stay cool and comfy in this insane heat!

Love Jaq xxx

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs