There is one thing you have to know about living in England. You cannot rely on the weather to cooperate with your outdoor plans. Hit and miss. Probably the same everywhere, but in England, weather forecasting is not only not a science, it is not worth the effort. Winds swing around and change here like…well….the wind. 0% chance of rain? It rains. High of 25? Might get to 15C. High of 15? Might reach 25C. Strange.
An English forecaster back in the late 1980s, Michael Fish, stated categorically that no hurricane was imminent. Scoffed on air at the heralders of the Cane. And, sure enough, it blew and soaked southern England to bits on the 15th October 1987. A few years ago, we were supposed to get a dusting of snow in Kent. We ended up with a foot of snow and chaos on the roads and at the airports around London. Business came to a virtual standstill except for one intrepid fellow who cross-country skied 26 miles to get to work. If all Brits were like this, things would be different.
Into this uncertainty wade two lots of narrowboat people waiting for the right weather to finally do some Spring cleaning and gardening on the outside. Grit and grime build up significantly over the winter months. The wood/coal-burning stove adds to the nastiness that befalls the roof of the boats over 6 months of use. The gardens had gone to seed too, Dead flora everywhere and coal bags stacked for stove use. Not a pretty sight.
And we would have to commence cleaning activities on the hottest day of the year to date. You can’t win. Too cold, too wet, too hot. Take your pick. The next few days were going to get hotter, so it had to be this day. You never know when the opportunity will arise again. There’s a joke around here that says if we get a really hot week in April or May, that’s the English summer done. June, July and August will probably be cool and wet. We’ve had some crazy summer weather the last few years.
We were first out of the blocks. My best friend and I started with the roof. Just makes sense. We have a taller chimney for winter weather and a shorter one for summer and travel. Up onto the roof I went, pulling out the old chimney and doing my chimney sweep bit with brush, I cleaned the flue pipe, while singing ‘Shtep in toime….’ It added to the general mess on the roof and to the annoyance of my best friend. Dust pan and brush it away then down to get the short chimney and back up to put it in place. I cleaned the winter chimney when I got off the roof and stored it away.
Meanwhile, my best friend got up on the roof and began scrubbing it by hand. Because our roof is gritted to make it safer to walk on, her knuckles took quite a beating. Tough old thing she is. When I finished with the chimney I pitched in. Next door, Eddie (Gollum), sprung onto his roof and began power washing it. He has all the gear for anything. He got his nickname from the way he crouches and leaps, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. That’s also why his boat is named ‘My Precious’.
So we scrubbed and scoured, rinsed and scrubbed some more. Mimz took over with my best friend and the roof was done. Then the sides had to be washed. Most of us were soaked by then but it didn’t matter. It had become very hot and we were growing weary. Eddie gave up part way down the side of his boat not aligned with our jetty. And besides, Mimz had to leave to coach her Netball team. The cleaning frenzy ended. Mimz headed off and the rest of us sat at the end of the jetty and drank Pimms. How very English of us.
Then we began tackling the garden side of things. Eddie completely revamped and realigned their side. ‘He has a flare for it’, as my best friend said. And he does, watching him fuss about, putting this plant here and moving that one there, then standing back, surveying his mini kingdom only to return and rearrange things once again. In the end, he had created a masterpiece. The funny part of all this is Eddie protests vociferously when Mimz lays out her garden strategy. ‘No more plants,’ he says. ‘I said when I got the boat I wasn’t having all that tat around my boat.’ And here was the tat master working his magic. It is a sight to see.
Mimz comes back. We’re three sheets to the wind and she looks at the display. ‘Nice,’ she says. ‘Nice?’ Eddie retorts, ‘It’s fucking brilliant. You know it is!’ She relents and admits it is. Peace restored. My best friend is the one with flare in this duo. She always asks me if things look good. I always say yes. I have learned over the years not to engage in matters that require tact and a level of not caring enough to argue. That, and, in the end, it does look good. Every kind of plant imaginable and solar lights of every colour to liven up the night. The kids love all our windmills too.
We get a lot of compliments for the efforts made with the clean boats and beautiful gardens. But one thing was missing. An arch, one of those all the gardens of quality possess. Now that we had moved our boat (see the previous Blog), to share the same jetty with Eddie and Mimz, we could get an arch and entwine our honeysuckle plants through the it. The girls went forth to get the arch and some more solar lights. When they got back, Eddie went to work putting the arch together.
Just one tiny problem. Our honeysuckle plant was wrapped around the wi-fi poll with some solar lights on our old jetty. I was tasked with unwinding all and bringing them back to wrap around the new arch. I’m not tall enough to reach the lights wrapped around the top. When I put them there, I had borrowed a step-ladder from our marine Warden, Dave. But he wasn’t around. Charlie, the Amazon, was doing some electrical work on Gary’s boat. Gary’s our old neighbour. I said, ‘I know we live on boats, but do either of you have a step-ladder?’ They looked at me like I had dropped out of kindergarten.
Charlie said, ‘Use my workbench. It holds 200 kilos. I way 109. So, I march over to her jetty, grab the workbench and set it up by the wi-fi pole. The jettys wobble at the end. I am ham-fisted. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I got onto the table just fine and stood up with no problems and began unwinding the lights. It suddenly all went wrong. One of the table legs gave way and I was left clinging to the pole. I was determined not to go into the water. As I was sliding down the poll, I scraped my legs and cut my hand while ripping out the solar lights. Eddie came to the rescue and helped me down to safety. Charlie apologised profusely, my best friend scolded me for even trying such a foolish thing and Mimz said it was the best and bravest pole dance she’d ever seen.
Eddie unwrapped the honey suckle and I brought it back to take its rightful place at the base of the arch while my best friend wove the branches through the archway lattice sides and she and Mimz generally tarted up the new arch. Looks great I must say and as we sipped our rums and cokes into the evening, the lights came on and we all cheered. Spring cleaning….check.