Apsley to Droitwich: Day 3

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Another early morning, misty start to the day. Creeping by sleeping boats.

More mist and more cold to begin Day 3. Everything checked as usual, untied and on our way at 5:30am. Today’s target? Get near the Hatton flight of locks. 21 locks, one after the other. Today we encounter 31 locks (mostly in groups) including the Stockton flight of 8 locks (really 10 if you count the 2 nearby). And….another tunnel. The Braunston Tunnel, 2,042 yards (1.16 miles) long with a bend. One other innovation, 90 degree turns on to other branches of the canal system.

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Wisteria on homes early on Day 3.

We have a way to go before the first locks, so coffee is in order. Good news. It’s getting warmer more quickly this morning with the promise of hot weather by the afternoon. Just like yesterday, but we wouldn’t have to wait as long. The Buckby locks are near to the Whilton marina. Just ahead of one of the locks is a house that is also a shop. All kinds of narrowboat art and trinkets are available here. We had heard it was closed, but there was the same woman getting the place ready for the day’s business. Good to see. On to Buckby Locks.

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Looking back from a Buckby lock to Whilton Marina (right). Going uphill.

Buckby Locks. 7 of them. Great pub there, The New Inn….not so new anymore, but great atmosphere and food. We moored here 3 years ago on our way down to Apsley. Met some great people who moored in front and behind us. They have become good friends, Linda and Keith (back in Oz) and Sharon and Lou. We’ve kept in touch. Boaters are a special group. No stopping this time. Maybe another day.

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CRT (Canal & River Trust) workers putting water back into a Buckby Lock. It had drained too much.

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Sharing a lock with a man, his dog and his boat on Day 3. Saves water. His boat has a cruiser stern. Mine is a semi-trad.

We arrive at a fork in the canal. Right takes us to Crick, where we bought our boat and took it to Apsley. Turn left and we head to new territory, new adventures and more beautiful scenery. We are on our way to Braunston and its tunnel of 2042 yards or 1.16 miles….with that dreaded bend. But first, let me say something about locks. Please stay with me.

The locks on the Grand Union Canal are double locks. They can fit 2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you have a narrowboat, it’s better to share the lock if possible to conserve water. We shared a couple of locks on this day. That’s probably because we left so early in the morning and no one else is around. Locks go up and they go down, depending on the lay of the land. Like climbing steps up or down a hill.

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A double lock. Room for one more, but not on this occasion. The boat is being raised here….going uphill.

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Single Lock. The boat is being raised. No room to move here.

I prefer going up hill. You don’t have to worry about the cill. The dreaded cill. It has sunk more boats in locks that you can imagine. The cill (ledge) is at the bottom of the lock on the high end. It’s like a foundation for the high gates and a pressure point so the lock gates don’t push in the wrong way from the force of water pushing in to fill a lock. When a boat is coming in the high side, the lock is full of water and you can’t see the cill. As the water is drained from the lock, the boat has to be ahead of the cill. If the boat’s back-end gets caught on the cill because it isn’t forward enough….disaster. I’ve seen it happen (wrote about it in an earlier Blog, ‘Narrowboat Down’ from 1 May, 2016). The longer the boat, the more wary the boater. 72 feet is the absolute maximum allowed. The cill is marked with 2 white stripes on the edge of the lock wall. Always stay ahead of them.

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The dreaded cill. OK for going up in the lock but look out when going down.

At one point, someone had forgotten to lower the paddles after exiting the lock and too much water drained. The lock pound was too low. We had to wait until CRT technicians filled it back up. This was a double lock. Once we got on to the Stratford Canal, the locks were all single. One boat at a time. Quite different. And the paddle gear was different too. An odd shape that resembles more a white tube.

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Permanent moorings along the Oxford Canal

Enough about locks. On to Braunston. The hub of many waterways and a hive of activity. A marina, a chandlery (shop that sells boat equipment), boat works yard, pubs, converging waterways and that blasted tunnel with the bend. And, as fate would dictate, another boat is coming the other way just as I reach the bend. I hug the right and ease my way through. No problem. What was I so worried about? 6 more locks just after the tunnel and then a left turn on to the Oxford Canal under a bridge and through a very narrow passage, slowly now….ease it again to the left, nudge the far bank, back up a bit, try again and….there we go.

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Braunston Marina

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Church spire in Braunston. View from the canal as we pass.

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Tricky turn to the left at Braunston. On to the Oxford Canal.

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Back on track at the beginning of the Oxford Canal.

On we go along a very narrow bit of the canal, past moored boats, some of which are long termers and, along to the Napton Junction Bridge opposite Wigrams Turn Marina, where we do another 90 degree right turn back on to the Grand Union Canal, past the Napton Reservoir and then a series of marinas and such on both sides of the canal….Calcutt Boats Ltd. Plus 3 locks.

Going past one of the entrances to the right, some guy decides to bring his boat out without sounding his horn or checking if anyone is coming. Another Murphy’s Law moment. I had to quickly put our boat in neutral and then in reverse. That’s not easy when I’m already going at speed. Just missed the Numpty. Not even an apology. Fortunately, I did not engage in Cut Rage. If I did, it would only be water pistols at close range.

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Turning right, off the Oxford and back on to The Grand Union.

After the Calcutt locks we hit the Stockton flight, 8 locks in a row and 2 more a short distance after. That would leave 6 more. We can do this. We have to be ready to take on the famous Hatton flight tomorrow. By now, the countryside, though stunning, is a bit of a blur. It has been a hot day and I’m feeling it. Yes, I did wear a hat, but at the helm, I’m exposed to the elements all day. I look as if I’ve been on vacation in the sun.

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The Stockton Flight. One lock after the other. The next one just ahead.

We reach Wood lock, go through and moor up along the way. Not easy to find a place as the reeds here are thick even on the mooring side. We find a spot just ahead of a thick bunch of water foliage. Tie up, engine off, tiller arm removed and stored. Pram cover lifted. Got to wait for the engine to cool to check the stern tube. This trip is supposed to take 12 hours and 40 minutes. We eliminated the 40 minutes. 12 hours. The engine is very hot. Time for SADS (Safe Arrival DrinkS), eats and bed. Day 4 coming up. It will be the longest yet.

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Moored below Wood Lock.

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Looking back the next morning from our mooring below Wood Lock. Morning mist and the reed patch.

 

 

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 2

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Day 2. Heading off into the mist.

Up at 4:45 am. Check the engine (oil, water, stern tube and weed hatch). All good. Start the engine by 5am. Have coffee. Untie and go. It’s a very cold start this morning….3 Degrees Celsius. Heavy mist on the water, the sun is low in the east, just rising. My hand is frozen to the tiller. And so begins Day 2.

We make our way through a very thick mist to the next set of locks. Winding past moored boats on tickover. Don’t want to disturb boaters at this time of day. The going is slow. Tickover is the slowest our boats can go and you hear the engine actually ticking over. How ’bout that.

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Under Bridge 107 and into one of the Soulbury locks.

We head toward Milton Keynes. They feature part of this artificial city in the Harry Potter films where Harry is living with the Dursleys.

Milton Keynes was built in the 1960s to alleviate London sprawl. The government back then basically said, ‘Here’s some land. Build a city.’ And they did. I’ve heard the word sterile used to describe it. But going through on a narrowboat, you’d never know you were in an urban centre. We wind through parkland, a few houses and fields. This early in the morning only a couple of joggers are about, one dog walker and a few cyclists. Always cyclists.

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Houses along the way on the canal with private moorings.

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Ready to lower the boat in a lock.

And it’s warming up thank goodness. My best friend puts on more coffee and I begin to thaw. We can use all electrics on the go. We have a Dometic Travel pack that allows us to use 240 volts on the move. Brilliant piece of kit, already on the boat when we bought it. We can use all appliances, sparingly, and our coffee maker gets a lot of use.

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CRT dredging part of the canal. Day 2

Today we’re heading for the Buckby locks. If that proves a little too ambitious, we’ll moor up a little sooner opposite Rugby Boat sales. On the hill next to the canal is a great pub and Inn, The Narrowboat. I vote for an earlier mooring even though it is still a 12 hour day, 35 miles and only 13 locks. That’s a lot of non-stop helming.

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Best friend at the helm with Deb looking on. I’m walking along the towpath for some exercise.

We also have to go through the locks at Stoke Bruerne, where most of the day’s locks reside and the Blisworth tunnel of nearly 2 miles. Of all the things to get through on the Cut, tunnels are my least favourite, especially when boats are coming the other way. I get my first and only injury at Stoke Bruerne too. I hardly notice the great pubs along the top lock as we pass. 3 years ago, when we came down this way to Apsley from Crick marina, we stopped to eat at the Indian restaurant canalside. Best one ever.

Ah, the injury. I was told to stay on the boat. My best friend and Deb feared for my life if I got off. You see, I am a bit of a klutz (clumsy) at times and boats are a challenge. My fellow travellers said, ‘Stay on the boat. If you get into trouble, honk the horn.’ The horn….that’s another story. Anyway, we got to one of the Stoke Bruerne locks and the wind got hold of the boat as I tried to keep it steady and ready to go into the lock once the gates were opened. The boat got blown to the side, so I stepped off (naughty boy), grabbed the rope and held the boat along the edge.

When it was time to go into the lock, I put the rope back and grabbed the boat ledge on the roof to get back on. Well….there was a chunk of cement broken off the side of the canal wall where I stood and some clown had filled the breach with loose gravel and not cemented it in. My right foot slipped on the loose gravel, went between boat and cement wall into the canal, scraping it badly along the side and my left knee smashed down hard on the gravel. I pulled myself up and got on the boat.

My left knee was bleeding badly, my right foot was soaked and my lower leg was torn and cut. No time to whimper. Get into that lock. Secured. Gates close behind me. A shadow looms overhead. My best friend. “I saw the whole thing. You idiot. All you had to do was stay on the boat.” “Yeah, but the wind and the gravel….” There were no excuses I could give that were good enough to save me. “I don’t care,” said my best friend. “Just look at the state of you. Can’t do anything about it now. Wait until we get through the tunnel.” I poured a bottle of water over the affected area and drove on, bleeding all over my shoes and the deck.

The tunnels are dark, cold and wet. Sometimes, the water pours from pores in the ceiling and rains all over me. The other 2 hide inside the boat. I have a front floodlight to light the way ahead and warn other boaters coming toward me that I’m present. All the lights have to be put on inside the boat (a regulation) and I close the doors behind me as a safety precaution. Some days are wetter than others. This was a bad one. I was soaked by the time we exited, nearly 2 miles later. But I had the whole tunnel to myself this day.

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Mum duck and ducklings.

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Canada Goose and gosling.

On we go, past some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer….and, yes, more great pubs that tantalize but are verboten because of our deadline. Besides, we were heading for the Narrowboat Inn. I was determined. The most fascinating thing about Day 2 has been the number of families of ducks, geese and swans all along the Cut, as well as Herons. No families of those, but so many eyeing the families of others. Herons will eat anything small and furry , even small rabbits.

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The English countryside. Day 2.

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More fields of gold (rapeseed).

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Ubiquitous Hawthorne trees along the route.

We have crossed over 2 aqueducts today too. Narrow pans of water high over the land or a train network or even a river. These aren’t that high and have railed fencing on either side for safety. But they afford good views of the land about. Never a dull moment on the Cut.

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Aqueduct No. 1

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Aqueduct No. 2

We gradually wind our way to Stowe Hill Wharf where we find Rugby Boat Sales and, as ever, The Narrowboat Inn on the hill. We moor along the bank just before a bridge. At this time of the day, moorings are hard to come by and we are a little too close to the bridge. But chances are, no one else is coming through tonight and we are starting again very early the next day.

The Narrowboat Inn. Tired as we are, the hill climb is worth every step. I have a cheeseburger with the works….a gourmet burger at that….and 2 pints of Pale Ale. Back to the boat and straight to bed. Day 3 is not far off.

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Morning mist at our mooring at Stowe Hill Wharf. Getting ready to go.

 

 

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 1

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Das Boat ready to leave the lock.

And so it began. 5am on Wednesday on a rather cool day in May. We headed out of Apsley Marina, our home for 3 years, and headed north to our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina, near Worcester. A new chapter in our lives. A change of scenery and a challenge to get there. The trip ought to take 11 days. We did it in 5. Madness.

It would not have been possible without the help of our boating friends Deb and Tony. Deb travelled with us the whole way. Tony joined us when we did flights of locks where 20 or more in a row were involved. The plan was to travel 12-14 hour days, moor up, eat, sleep, get up and go. And so long as the boat held together and the engine didn’t  seize or blow up, we would reach Droitwich within 5 days.

The plan for Day 1 was to get to Leighton Buzzard (nothing to do with the winged foul) . And to start us off, there was our good friend and boat neighbour, Eddie, emerging from his boat at 5am to see us off. It was Eddie who greeted us and helped us moor up when we arrived at Apsley Marina 3 years before.

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On our way to Droitwich. Deb and Best Friend pushing the heavy gate open.

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Lock and bridge at Cowroast (not a BBQ).

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Cowroast info board.

Eddie was still in his PJs, not unusual. “Couldn’t sleep,” he said. “Been up since 3am. Thought I’d come and say goodbye.” So, we untied and Eddie opened the lift gate bridge at the entrance of the marina and out I cruised, turning right with the first lock of the day just ahead. Eddie helped with that one too….still in his PJs and bare feet. As I cruised out of the lock, we said our goodbyes, Eddie heading back to his boat in the marina and me heading north.

The route for most of the way on the first day was very familiar. We had travelled it a number of times over the last 2 years, helping other boaters from the marina move their boats to have the bottom blacked (to preserve the hull) or have a new paint job. Apsley has no facilities for such work. You have to go north to Winkwell (nothing to do with ink) or Cowroast (nothing to do with roasting cows) to get work done. My best friend and I usually helped with the locks. On one trip we had walked the entire 8 miles. We can walk more quickly than the boats can travel.

Through Hemel Hempstead, a place we had walked into a number of times to shop, through the swing bridge at Winkwell where you get to stop traffic as your boat passes through. And there’s that lovely pub on the right, the Three Horseshoes, just past the bridge. But, no stopping. On to Berkhamsted with 2 great pubs in a row, The Rising Sun and The Boat (couldn’t get any more obvious) and still no stop. Through Northchurch (can’t tell it from Berkhamsted) and on to Cowroast.

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Open countryside along the way on Day 1.

We finally get to Cowroast, past the marina and on to the Tring Summit, a beautifully wooded stretch of canal with no locks and no pubs until we get to the end of the summit at Tring. The place is actually known as Bulbourne and the pub is The Grand Junction Arms….not an appealing name, but the food is supposed to be good. No time for that. The Anglers Retreat comes next. Not quite canal side, but a short walk. No walking anywhere today.

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Through the heavily wooded Tring Summit.

Too many locks to negotiate, the Marsworth Locks, 6 in a row. We pass 2 branches coming off the Grand Union Canal, The Wendover Arm and the Aylesbury Arm, past another pub, the Red Lion, a stone’s throw from the canal. There are over 600 pubs in England named the Red Lion. You can’t miss them. Through more locks and a swing bridge, known as No. 125, which is an unusual configuration. You have to grab the end and push it along a track to open it.

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Image result for swing bridge 125 grand union canal

Then we come to the Brownlow canal side pub and Inn. It sails by. We pass the Ivinghoe (no knight here) Locks and on to Leighton Buzzard.

The Buzzard part of Leighton has nothing to do with the bird. It’s just a person’s name changed over time, from de Busar to Buzzard….logical, don’t you think? I don’t know how that works, but then I’m not a local. The town also has the dubious distinction of hosting The Great Train Robbery of 1963 just outside of Leighton Buzzard at Bridego Bridge.

And, of course, we pass another pub as we approach the town, The Grove Lock pub. Now it’s becoming a tease. Nothing really memorable as we go through Leighton Buzzard (given the second name to distinguish it from the next door Leighton Bromswold) except maybe a boat yard that offers holiday boats for those who think narrowboating is a jolly.

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Approaching a lock and one of those canal side pubs

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Sharing a lock with another boat. Not a newbie. Saves water.

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Approaching a lock on Day 1.

We ran across a few over the days who thought differently. There are experienced holiday boaters and newbies. The latter are the ones to look out for if we only knew who they were. I think newbies ought to have a marker or flag on the boat letting the rest of us know they are inexperienced. My best friend and I took a 2 full days course to get our helmsman’s licence. First-time renters are given a half hour if that and off they go. Scary thought.

I’m sure there is much to see and do in the Buzzard. I read they have a narrow gauge heritage railway. Being a lover of the old trains, I would want to see that. One day, I guess, when I’m not in a rush. Plus the fact that after being on the go since 5am and it was now nearly 7pm, I really couldn’t have given a %*&@ if the Queen had been canal side waving to us. Better still, someone who mattered to me like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.

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The 39th lock of the day.

We moored up just past the town after the Leighton Lock, a lovely countryside spot and not far from the Globe pub. We were too tired to walk there. We had travelled 20 miles, done 39 locks and completed the voyage 2 hours sooner than the trip book says it takes. We had a bite to eat and fell into bed. 5am comes early on the Cut.

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Best friend tying the boat to mooring pin. End of Day 1.

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View across the canal from where we moored at the end of Day 1.

On The Move

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The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

So long Apsley Marina. So long Eddie and Mimz. So long to the other resident boaters and the rest who would be if it were cheaper. My best friend and I, after 3 years, have moved from Apsley Marina on the Grand Union Canal to Droitwich Spa marina on the Droitwich arm of the Wocester canal. We have travelled 122 miles, worked 178 locks and gone through 6 tunnels, 2 of them nearly 2 miles long.

The trip book says we can do it in 11 days. We did it in 5 long days on the Cut. Days began at 5am and went until 8pm in the evening. Lots of vunderbar scenery, delightful pubs (which we passed because we couldn’t stop) and we were held up for day because of a dead body in the canal ahead of us….but that is for another Blog.

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My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

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The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

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The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

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Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

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At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

Game On!

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Thom (left) and yours truly.

I am, from time to time, a sports buff. Depends who is playing, what sport and if it’s on in one pub or the other. In most cases, I can take it or leave it. If it’s a team I have followed since I was knee-high-to-a-grasshopper, I don’t watch because I get drawn in and become a nervous wreck and a complete twat (French for idiot).

I am loyal to my teams, following them on the internet. Most of those teams come from Toronto, Canada. Hockey (ice), Football (not soccer) and baseball are my sports of choice. I watch football (soccer) over here in England, but usually when we visit my best friend’s parents. Her dad is an Arsenal fan, but we watch other teams play as well.

I can handle watching some golf. I played a lot in the 1990s but I think I had about a million handicap when I stopped. I’ve given up watching most of the Olympics. Too much going on and I’m never sure which country I ought to be loyal to. Tennis is OK. I love watching Roger Federer play. I’m not a great basketball fan even though I want the Toronto team to win.

A jack-of-all-sports and master of none. That’s me. Rugby, you ask? I’ve watched it. I can’t say I follow it or get excited about it. It ranks up there with the most violent sport on the planet. Next to Lacrosse I think. Just my opinion. I used to avoid those sports growing up. Not one for breaking bones and losing teeth.

But, here I was on a very cool and damp April Saturday on my way to see a rugby match. Rugby League to be precise. Not Rugby Union. For those of you who don’t know the difference, never fear. Neither do I. Well, I didn’t until Thom, a good mate of mine and with whom I attended the match, explained it all to me. I still don’t get it, except the part where there are fewer scrums in League and they aren’t as volatile. Thom once played for Haringey, where this match was taking place.

Thom had once lived and played in Haringey….years ago….and this was his first visit back to the old stomping grounds. Much had changed. Where once was a bastion of white Anglo-Saxon multitudes, now every cultural group under the sun walked the streets. Street signs were in Greek and Turkish, Arabic and Farsi, Hindi, Tamil, Urdu and Chinese. Colourful, the smells of a thousand ethnic dishes and an array of garments from various countries and religions were being worn.

Thom and I felt positively out-of-place at first until we noticed everyone just going about the daily business as if we weren’t there or were just another part of the scenery. Even a street fight broke out between two, maybe three, rival gangs of females. Pushing, shoving, punching, hair pulling and lots of colourful terminology. The boys from each group stood around either encouraging one cluster of females or the other or laughing at their antics. No one else seemed to pay any attention to the fracas. Just another Saturday afternoon in Haringey.

We headed toward the stadium where the game was to be played. The environment around us changed considerably. The streets here, just past Wood Green, seemed quieter. Eventually, we reached the New River Stadium. Not wanting to hang around Haringey too long, we were very early for the match.

The New River Stadium is part of a sports complex that includes everything from track and field to boxing and all kinds of other sport related programs in a rambling concoction of buildings and outdoor pitches. One part of the sprawl is a sheltered stand on one side of a field and an open, tiered seat section opposite. No seating at both ends, except when they set up for special sports events like the one I attended with Thom.

Special. Define special. Well, I would think it was somehow different from the normal event. Lots of pyrotechnics and free stuff and pizzaz. You know what I mean. After all, this was a foreign team visiting British shores trying to impress Brits. This team was from Canada, my old stomping grounds. Even better, it was from Toronto, my old hometown. The Toronto Wolfpack.

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The Toronto Wolfpack (white jerseys) in action.

It was the only reason I went out of my way to watch a sport I don’t even like in a part of London I would not choose to visit. Plus the promise of all this pizzaz. Talk of Canadian music and food and who knows what else Canadian. My mind boggled. They were playing a team from Halifax….not the one in Nova Scotia, Canada, but at least it was a familiar name. Not like Over Wallop or Middle Wallop in Hampshire, England.

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Those very hard seats.

Nope. It all went south from the moment we arrived. The seats were hard. It drizzled rain and the air-cooled as the hours went by. The spectator/supporters clubhouse was small and crowded with people from Halifax who spoke a barely discernible english. The Canadiana was a Canadian airline advertising low price fares to Canada. There was a VIP tent at one of the ends, but I guess we didn’t rate. Some large, unsmiling English woman turned us away.

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The VIP tent. Big Whoop!

No Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts, no beaver tails, no poutine, not even Canadian beer. We had to sit through the end of a football (soccer) match between 2 teams with no talent and players that could barely run. One chap was so rotund, he just stood in the middle of the pitch until the ball came to him. At least he knew which goal to kick it toward.

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The football (soccer) game before the ruby match.

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Airline advertising and very expensive team gear.

When the rugby match was ready to go, the Halifax supporters (who outnumbered the Toronto contingent by a margin of 100-1 it seemed) who took their rugby very seriously, were chanting away….HallyHallyHallyFax….drowning out the poor singer of the National Anthems who tried her best to be heard through a pathetically small speaker where the VIP tent stood. To make matters worse, she sang in an operatic voice that every so often came through as the sound of a high-speed train going by.

When it came time for ‘God save The Queen’, some drunk right behind me decided to start without her and we were long finished by the time the opera singer ended. Everyone laughed and then….disaster. The flags were marched from the VIP tent to the grandstand by members of the Canadian and British Armed Forces, except that they must march differently over here, because nothing was in time and it ended in a state of chaos before us. More raucous laughter. Oh those wild rugby fans. Take no prisoners.

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A confused Colour Guard.

The game began and it was clear that Halifax was heavily outmatched. Brits swear a lot when frustrated. No exception here. A nice family next to Thom and I were, I learned, from Ottawa in Canada. The two young daughters were treated to the best of the English language. Most of the vitriol was toward the referee who, apparently, wouldn’t know an offside from a particularly vulnerable male appendage.

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Family from Ottawa….the dad anyway….and one lone Canadian flag.

There was a female body part used as well, but that shall never be repeated on these pages. Those poor Ottawatonians. At the half, the score was 32-4 for Toronto and became 36-4 right after the half. By the way, at the half we were treated to kids playing flag rugby. One zealous kid thought he was playing against Halifax and hogged the ball.

Some wiseacre from the crowd ran out on the track leading to the field and rearranged the scoreboard to read Toronto 36, Halifax 85. No security anywhere that day to be seen….except at the VIP tent. Our bags were never checked, but everyone again had a good laugh. The game ended, Toronto 42, Halifax 10. We left before Halifax scored its last try (score) and long after the family from Ottawa had gone.

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Cheeky scoreboard change and a young lad ready to fix it.

The game was televised on Sky Sports. I can only imagine what viewers must have thought. My best friend’s dad watched from home. I asked him later what he thought. “Of what?” he asked. “Of the game” I answered. “What game?” was the comeback. Indeed.

 

Science and Reason

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Two words put together to convince us that the universe and all it contains relies on observable data. Through analysis of this information, we are supposed to come to a reasoned understanding of how things work and what they mean. Sounds reasonable and logical. Take raw data and arrive at unbiased conclusions based purely on what we see.

Problem is, at this juncture in human history, we have become so steeped in our cultures’ myths and legends that it is nearly impossible to come to a consensus that is reasonable. Add to that the general mental health of any population, various psychoses and just plain ignorance and you have the making of a hodge-podge lodge. We all live in a stew of our own making, a stew made up of every ingredient we find around the place from potatoes and carrots to licorice and peanut butter.

I say this because I am concerned. In an age when we have advanced scientifically and technologically, building on gathered information over the ages, we still act like superstitious ancients trying to appease whatever force may be out there that might harm us, while forcing others to join our cults of superstition and therefore, ignorance.

Fear breeds all kinds of phobias. I have battled mine my whole life long. When I left my corner of what we have come to know as organised religion, the powers-that-be sent me away to be psychologically analysed. I was diagnosed as having a rapid cycling bipolar condition after a week of 7 different experts evaluating me separately then together.

My superiors took the results and decided that my condition was not psychological but due to sin. My aim here is not to explain myself or gain sympathy and outrage. I have lived with the condition all my life as far as I know. It was good to put a name to what was happening to me. When I share this aspect of my life with people….not everyone, but you’re in….I get 2 reactions. The 1st is from those who don’t believe there is any such disease. The 2nd believe everyone has some form of depression or other mental illness and so I am just one of the broken mob.

If we all suffer, that means everyone from world leaders, politicians, doctors, preachers, CEOs and teachers to Sam the rubbish man is broken in some way or another and this brokenness runs the world, as far as human involvement is concerned. Scary eh?

Along with all the conspiracy theories, flat earth believers, corporations, moon landing deniers, religious fanatics and assorted psychopaths we are left with the rest of us. I try to remain optimistic about the rest of us, the few. But I may have to leave it to you because I can’t trust me not to absent myself from those who would dare to make things right in a world of unscientific pronouncements and unreasonable propositions.

Flat earth theorists are as adamant about being right as someone who says the universe is some 13 billion years old. We can believe what we want you see. Some just to be different. Some for 15 minutes of fame. Some not to give in to reasonable thinking. And some because they believe their deity has decreed it. A common bumper sticker in North America reads, ‘God said it, I believe it, That settles it.’ There is no arguing with that. Remember the poster in America during the War in Vietnam (yes, I’m showing my age)? ‘My country right or wrong.’

Once loyalties have been struck, not even evidence that refutes such bold statements means anything to the holders of beliefs of their own making. The world is what we make it, not what it is. We all do it because in the end, nobody has a clue what is really going on. We just make stuff up to suit our conditions, even the ones who consider themselves to be reasonable, scientifically minded people.

For millennia we have implanted our own morals and ethics into each other until most of what we come up with is conjecture at best, silly at worst. Quantum physics has given us a look into a universe we hardly recognise….if Quantum theories can be believed. What holds everything together? Is there a purpose to the universe? Is there any true meaning to it? Some keep looking for a Superstring theory that will knit it all together. Some give up or don’t bother with all that because they know the answer. ‘God said it, I believe it, that settles it.’

To question that would unravel the God theory piece by piece as it has over the last centuries. The defenders of faith are no different to the defenders of the flag, except at least you can see a flag. No one has ever seen this being that is supposed to rule the universe. But such belief in the human context is much stronger than doubt. And since we really can’t prove anything definitively, God lives on in the hearts and minds of avid believers just as there was once an idea called Rome.

I tend to live, as much as possible, like this is my last day on earth. As I write this, 3 lovely Springer Spaniels are sitting around me. They rely on us to look after them. They aren’t mine, they belong to good friends. Buster, the eldest of the Springers, was abused as a young dog. My friends rescued him and have given him a good home. Buster doesn’t trust males as a rule because one treated him so badly. But we have built a rapport over time. He trusts me. He is curled up beside me now. He is content. Doesn’t believe anything. Just wants to be treated with kindness. The other 2 are rescue dogs too. As long as they are fed, walked and have a safe place to rest, they are content. Good word that. Content. Happy is overused. Content is where it’s at.

Don’t get me wrong. Let’s keep searching to unlock the secrets of the universe, just not in an arrogant way where we have to be right and someone else wrong. Try to be content with what we have as long as there is food, shelter, places to walk safely and good companionship. Sound reasonable? I’m sure the universe can accommodate that. If it can’t, what’s the point? I know….kindness. I’m certain of it.

 

 

 

Lock Lore

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A lock near us.

One thing I know for sure about living on a narrowboat in England. A lot of work is involved in maintaining it and cruising on it. If we could simply cruise along the canals, unimpeded by obstacles that get in the way, things would be jolly. Some of those obstacles are natural, while others come in the form of locks and swing bridges.

If all this sounds like boat-speak, you’re right. When I first got into this lifestyle, I knew nothing. And I’m still learning. What is a windlass, you ask? What are gate paddles? What is a pound (not money)? What is a cill? All questions I know you’ve been asking yourself. Expat Larry is here to answer all your queries about narrowboating. If only he had all the answers.

Be that as it may, he knows about locks. Last summer, a few of us spent our days moving other people’s boats from here to there to get work done. Every so many years, the bottoms of our boats need to be blacked. This is a process that uses some form of bitumen that is applied with brushes and rollers to the hull that first has to be blasted clean of the old black. The blacking protects the bottom of the narrowboat’s hull. Most people pay to have it done. Our boat is due this year and we’ve decided to do it ourselves.

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One of the boats we moved in a lock.

You can’t just do it any old place. Some marinas have facilities for maintenance. Ours doesn’t, so it’s off to places north or south to do the work. In our case, last summer, a few people needed work done and some of us provided the crew to get them there and back. We became the lock crew. And we were good. 2 of us got the lock ready for the boat to go in, then walked to the next lock to get it ready. The other 2 crew waited until the boat left the lock and closed it up for the next boat that would eventually come along. We had our system.

But, if you can share the lock with another boat, all the better. Locks on the Grand Union Canal (where we live) are double locks….2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you can travel in 2s, you save water, a vanishing commodity in the canals these days. You’d never think that living in a country known for its abundance of rainy days. Apparently, it’s the wrong type of ground in this country to retain all that rain water. Don’t worry about it or try to figure it out. I never do.

Approaching the low side of a lock. Two of the intrepeid crew wait to open the gates to let us in.

Approaching the low end of a lock. Two of the intrepid crew ready to open the gates to let the boat in.

So, here we are, a couple of locks down the way on one of the trips, when we meet up with a couple on one of those what we call plastic boats, the kind you find on lakes. Anyway, the folks navigating this craft were, well, not quite entirely with us if you know what I mean. They were away with the fairies, on some kind of mind expanding substance, not a care in the world. “Where you heading to my friend?” I asked after about the 3rd lock. “Huh? Heading to? Uh….not sure. What direction is this?” “South” I said. “South? What direction to Birmingham?” he asked. “North” I said. “Oh yeah? I guess we’re going the wrong way. ” “I guess. What’re you going to do?”

He just shrugged his shoulders. He insisted on pulling his boat into the lock rather than cruising in. It took a lot longer. He said he was afraid the boat we were moving would crush his if he drove in. No logic there, especially since he had fenders the size of a pilates ball. But he kept up this odd behaviour, heading in the wrong direction with no plan. He decided to moor up after the next lock anyway. Thank da Lawd.

By the end of the summer, we became the best lock crew anyone could hope to acquire. We decided not to get back on the boat between locks as we can walk faster than the boats are allowed to go on the canals. In total, we walked about 50 miles that summer, rain or shine. Many locks and many good laughs. And quite a feat considering every one of the lock crew have bad knees and bad backs. Brave bunch….but no medals.

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Lock gates open, ready for the boat to enter.

We got to know each lock very well along this stretch of the canal. Some of the paddles are buggers to open and the gates are heavier than hell to open and close. Some leak badly while others are just plain old and falling apart. This is why we have the CRC, the Canal and River Trust. They are the organisation that looks after the canals, most of them anyway. And the locks.

The locks are getting older too. Some of the gates are from the later part of the 19th century and early 20th. They have been serviced here and there, but there are a lot of them and budgets don’t allow for a complete overhaul of the system. Well, budgets and money wasted on ridiculous salaries for the top dogs and some frivolous projects. It seems the only time locks get serviced is when they completely fail, through age, overuse and vandalism….mostly age.

It was a relief when news came that a lock near us, that has been leaking badly, was going to be fixed. The notices went up and then the materials needed began appearing. Barges with water pumps and cranes then appeared and finally the steel fencing to keep us out and the workers in went up. The work began. The top gates were replaced and the bottom gates repaired. What fascinated me was the junk on the bottom of the lock once the water had been drained away. Treasures galore, mostly of metal that had fallen off boats over the years and tossed in by locals….like car hub caps and road signs of one type or other.

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Stuff at the bottom of our local lock.

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Preparing the lock for work.

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The new gates at the top of the lock.

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Finishing things off in the repaired lock.

This work went on for a few days. On one of those days, I was walking along the towpath to shop at the local Sainsbury’s (Supermarket) and noticed a narrowboat inching up to the barrier put up to shut off the lock. An older gentleman, who had the demeanor of an original boater, complete with old, unattended boat, stood at the tiller, grumbling to himself.

I stopped and stated the bleeding obvious. “The lock is closed for repair” I said. “I can see that” said he of the Cut. “Did you check the online lock closure reports?” I asked. “Don’t have a computer” he said. “Did you see any of the signs as you were coming along?” I inquired. “There’s always signs for this and that” he said, “But I didn’t see any of them.” I asked the next obvious question, “Did anyone along the way warn you this lock was closed?” “Yeah” he said, “A few people did, but I didn’t believe them.”

He did now.