Category Archives: Humour

Marina In The Mist

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Marina In The Mist

Once upon a time the great city of London, England was shrouded in a fog so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. My parents told me about those days. Not great for the health and certainly dangerous getting about in such a large city. They happened quite frequently back in the 1950s. During the Great Fog of 1952, I was just a year old living in East Sheen, near Richmond, the west of London. It was the worst fog/smog in Europe’s history and killed between 8-12,000 people.

Parliament was slow to act, having been used to fogs. The city’s homes had coal fires as did all businesses and industry as well as automobile fumes and diesel fumes from the buses. In 1956, the government finally passed a clean air Bill and people gradually converted to other sources of heating other than coal. But it took time and another big fog hit in 1962 causing around 750 deaths.

Today, London  smog fogs are fairly infrequent. They happen on days when there is no wind and the pollution count is high. Hot weather  and cool mornings can cause havoc too. On clear, cold days when the night sky has been cloudless fogs occur, but not all the time. We’ve had some dillies, but not so much of the really thick smog. Still, London air is never as clean and clear as, let’s say, the Green Party would like it. There is a peoples’ movement called Clean Air in London that monitors the city’s air quality. And there is the clean air zone to persuade drivers, especially of commercial vehicles, to reduce carbon emissions in the centre of London. It’s all a slow process and after all the years since 1952, the battle continues to get clean air for London.

But clean air these days is subjective. Nowhere on earth is there a haven of pure air, not even at the Poles or on top of Everest. And fog can roll in from anywhere. Just add cold air at ground level to warmer air from above and there you have it. Mist and fog. As you can tell, I’m not getting too technical about this. It is, after all, a common occurrence all over the world….a natural phenomenon. It’s only when you add polluted air that the Smog hits. Just ask the good folk in Los Angeles. They know Smog. so do the good folk living in Chinese cities.

So, I get up one lovely English morning to find that much of the outside of our boat is shrouded in the mists of time, space and atmospheric conditions. One of those days. Glad I’m not driving anywhere, either in the car or on the boat. Dangerous out on the cut in these conditions. Chilling. Best stay put, in the marina, get back into the boat and make a hot cup of java. But before I do that, I think to myself, ‘would the readers like a couple more photos of the marina in the mist?’ Of course they would.

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In the marina looking toward the canal outside.

And there you have it. I can barely make out my fellow boaters’ boats. I think they are still all there. It’s all very unclear. The mystery of standing at the end of our jetty, staring out into the gloom, overwhelms me. But not as much as realising I have just stepped into a pile of fox poo. Didn’t see it. Forgot to look down. I was too preoccupied with the mist. Time to go rinse my shoes under the tap at the other end of the jetty. No sign of a fox. Wonder if he got confused and fell in. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’m leaving the cold air of England and heading for the Caribbean on a cruise. Never been on one of those or to the Caribbean. But I’m told I’m of an age when you do these things….if you can afford them, which I can’t. But I’m going anyway. At least there ought to be plenty of Blog material out there on the high seas, a vast difference to the canals of Britain. And….there may be fog. That would be weird, at sea in a fog. I’ll let you know when I get back. Anchors away.

 

 

HALLOWEEN 2

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It has been a year since I wrote about Halloween in the marina. A year later, things have gotten much bigger. Blame our neighbour Mimz for this. She went on a shopping tear last year after Halloween and purchased all things scary at a ridiculously low price. My best friend and I added a few items to the display this year at full price. The results were spectacular.

Halloween is actually the melding of two celebrations, Samhain and All Souls Day both having to do with death. The ancient Celtic day of Samhain (pronounced Sahwin or Savin) which celebrates death and rebirth was, as has been the case with most Pagan celebrations, taken over by Christians to become All Souls Day (1st of November). Put them together and what have you got? Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo….Halloween.

Since those more serious days of celebration, we have turned the whole adventure into a night where kids dress up as anything and go from door to door collecting treats. That began where all commercial things begin….America, the good old USofA. It has, I fear to divulge, become larger here in England now. Every year it gets bigger. The shops are full of Halloween festooning decorations and costumes. I hear people complain that it’s just another reverse colonial move on the part of Americans to commercialize everything. Actually, young mums love it because the kids insist on having it and it can be fun dressing up and filling bags with sweets.

Years ago, I was a Christian. The hardliners (like my folks) hated the celebration because they thought it promoted demonic goings on. Whereas there is always an element who use the night for doing dastardly deeds, most people walk about, going from door-to-door, dressed up in costume and saying ‘Trick or Treat.’ Most kids over here don’t even know what that means. They are still novices in all things Halloween American style.

So, here we were again. Another year and another display. Mimz never does anything in a small way. She invited anyone she met to come along at Halloween for sweets, hot chocolate, hot dogs and adult beverages. They weren’t just coming to see the boats. We had the whole area set up like some haunted graveyard that had been left derelict for years, complete with cobwebs, spiders, gravestones, lighted pumpkins, bats (rubber) and a gateway over our arch that read ‘Keep Out.’ Black cloth hung from the sign, shredded into strips to add that scary entrance quality that completed the effect.

At the end of the jetty between Eddie’s and Mimz’s boat and ours, we have a small fir tree. Over it I put a white sheet with a skeleton face in it that we lit with a torch (flashlight). Such are the lengths we go to raise money for the hospice where Eddie works and Mimz volunteers. We raised over £150 during the weekend leading up to the big day and the money keeps coming in. The weather didn’t cooperate, blowing a gale and scattering some of our decorations hither and yon. But we rallied and fixed the old graveyard each day. Fortunately, Halloween was clam and quite mild.

My werewolf costume scared the little kids half to death. Result. One little girl was so traumatized, my best friend told me to remove my mask and smile at the little creature. I did and she cried. Oh well. Meanwhile, Eddie’s Bose speakers belted out spooky music and Freddy Kruger  scared even more kids. The hot chocolate flowed and the hot dogs were consumed. Sweets disappeared and batteries wore down. Kids showed up in an array of costumes from skeletons and vampires to a devil princess and a pumpkin. Even Harry Potter made an appearance.

At this juncture, I would love to have shown you some amazing photos of the display, the costumes and the night. Alas, the camera I ordered from Amazon didn’t come on time and my mobile phone snaps turned out black….all of them. Spooky.

Much Ado….

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I have been accused of making mountains out of mole hills. My best friend  tells me I do anyway. Not all the time mind you, just while telling a good story that isn’t as good in reality as in the telling of it. But most of the time, stories just drop into my lap that are as incredulous in real life as any fictional account could ever render. And….they really happened. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

Now, dear reader, let me just confess that I have been in a bit of a writing funk of late. Nothing has happened worth writing about, especially not this, but I cannot keep silent for fear of losing some of you, so let’s look at the past few weeks and see if I can’t squeeze some kind of juice from nearly nothing. What’s say eh?

Right, well, here we go….I moved to a boat from a house just over two years ago and now live in a marina on water instead of on land. Nothing new so far. But I have to say, moving from a house onto a narrowboat means you have to give up a lot of stuff. I even had to sell one of my guitars in the process, a Gibson Les Paul. If you have no idea what one guitar is from another, think jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. It still is his guitar of choice. Les Paul played one too. It was , as you can tell, named after him.

Don’t know Jimmy Page? Well, it may interest you to know that all the great guitar players have played one at some time. Unavoidable. That, and the Fender Stratocaster. I kept that one. But I miss my Les Paul. Of all the things I had to leave behind, that was the hardest. I had to let go of all kinds of music equipment, good clothing, pine furniture, my electric train set, books (I love my books) and, of course, my studio.

Some of my stuff I could not part with and so we rented some space in a garage our neighbours Eddie and Mimz had, loading it with bags of clothing, Christmas decorations (if you know me, you know that means a warehouse full), memorabilia, photos, my journals, CDs, and journals I have been writing over the last 25 years. And still we had stuff back at the old house in my old studio. The house was being sold again and it was time for us to finally make the last decisions on what to do with the rest of everything.

I am a kind of pack rat. I keep all kinds of things that I don’t really need. But after living on the boat, I now realize that I need less than I thought. I keep old Christmas and birthday cards, used pens, music concert T-shirts (that don’t fit anymore), music books and music sheets and hard copy books. There were sleeping bags, a blow-up bed, art supplies and a stack of old 45s my best friend has dragged around with her for years. I can’t count the number of old candles we kept, suitcases and bags and, well, you name it. Plus, we have that garage full of things we think we might need just up the road from the boat.

So, there we were, standing in the midst of a pile of stuff we had to finally sort and either keep or discard. I was told to be ruthless. And ruthless I was. My best friend’s mum was involved in a Jumble Sale for the Scouts at their local community centre. We decided to give the excess stuff to that….books, 3 old stereos, a printer that still works, clothing and various other novelties. Some of the things I gave away I now regret. But to be honest, there was no room for any of it on the boat and in the garage.

We left a pile of rubbish to be taken to the dump. I can’t believe we kept rubbish. I know there are people in this world that can’t afford their own rubbish, but please. Where are we going to put the stuff we kept? Better ask my best friend. She is good at culling things (none of them living….she even spares spiders). I, on the other hand, usually find a reason to keep those 5 rulers and the yellow book underliner. It turns out the latter had dried up long ago, as had the other 2 or 3 dozen underliners. Just having that many in the first place begs all kinds of questions.

My old studio is empty now. No trace of my years of music teaching and recording anywhere to be seen. I even took down the glow-in-the-dark musical instrument stickers stuck to the ceiling. I was, after all that, ruthless. I threw away those birthday and Christmas cards….most of them anyway….and most of the stationary related items except one pen I have had since the 90s and a heritage pen my best friend bought for me at Tintagel castle in Cornwall, the alleged birthplace of King Arthur.

Oh, and 8 other items I just had to keep….corks from significant dates while I have lived in England these past 12 years. I wrote the date and the event on each cork, even one from a trip to Paris. What is wrong with me? When I left Canada, all I left behind was my fire department dress uniform and a metal trunk my parents gave me on my 21st birthday in 1972. It’s covered in those flower-power stickers with my name on them. Inside the trunk are all the mementos I’ve kept since boyhood, including a scrapbook filled with Valentines Day cards collected when I was in the first grade and school photos of my classmates. Oh, and a collection of Pez dispensers. Must keeps.

And that, dear reader, is the state of my world at the moment. Sad methinks. But all that is going to change at the end of November. Blogs galore to be expected. Going on a Caribbean Cruise. Hopefully all the hurricanes shall have run their courses. Have to get some hot weather clothing though. I think I inadvertently gave a big bag of it away during the cleanup. I hope whoever ends up with it is going somewhere warm. Meanwhile, I’ll treat myself to a couple of those garish tropical shirts….the ones with palm trees and tropical fish on them. The kind you purchase for such a trip and then send off to the charity shops upon return. I’m all heart.

 

 

 

Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots

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I have been, among other things, a musician of sorts. Since I was a lad, I have played at least the guitar and dabbled with many other instruments. It all began when I was in Grade 9 in Canada. The lads in the senior grades were forming a band for the High School variety night. It was 1966. They needed another guitarist. As we lowly Niners sat on the other side of McCrone’s Diner, listening to the revered senior classmen talk about forming a band, I spoke up and said, “Me. I play guitar.”

I didn’t of course, but my dad had one at home and I thought this was as good a time to learn the damned thing as ever. Besides, the audacity of even speaking to seniors was nothing short of social suicide back then and I was risking everything to start being cool. The seniors looked at me, sized me up and the coolest guy in school, John Campbell said, “OK Turner, be at my place Monday at 7:30 for practice.” It was Friday.

Off home I went and got my dad’s Stella guitar out and his Mel Bay chord book and practiced all weekend till my fingers bled (slight exaggeration). John was the other guitarist and it turns out, I was better than he was….after just a weekend. We practiced 3 Beatles songs. One of the local lads loaned me his electric guitar. It has never been better than the moment I got it home, plugged it in and played it. Much easier to play than the old Stella too. Only problem? We had no name.

My dad was not a fan of the new music, not even Elvis Presley. He was still old school Big Band Swing and such. He ridiculed the Beatles as being slobs and their music as repetitive and simplistic beyond anything worthy of being called music. And, he thought the Band names were silly. “Why don’t you call yourselves The Fish Head Snots” he offered with a sneer. No takers, although the guys were amused. We became ‘We Four Plus Two’. The two were our Go-Go dancers, Wendy and Nadine, two local farm girls with big….um….well, you know. We were the High School hit and I got to dance afterwards with Barb Crane and Betty-Ann Kennedy, the hottest young ladies and both in Grade 10 at school.

Over the years, I’ve brought up the name with various bands I’ve been part of to see if they would bite. I had added the frontman name of Buttnutt Willy….Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. Has a ring to it. Probably more Punk than Blues or Rock, but no mind. It has a place. Just not with any of the people with whom I’ve played music. Pity.

Let me tell you, finding a solid Band name is not easy. The Beatles bandied band names about before coming up with the version we have now. No one really liked it back then, but now it’s an iconic part of history. Reading the histories of some of the Band names from the glory days of the 60s and 70s and how they came up with their band names has been a hobby of mine since moving to the land of The Beatles 12 years ago. Fascinating stuff. The easiest solution is to have a frontman with a solid name and the rest of the band can have some generic title, like Freddie and the Dreamers or Little Caesar and The Consuls for example. I saw one once, Bob and The Slobs. Simple and silly. Can’t recall their music though.

The people I have had the good fortune to play music with since my debut have had some fun names….The 2Plus, Amethyst, Fat Seagull, Blondin (photo below….yours truly 3rd from left), Hangtime and The Coffee House Band (boring that one). There were others but I’ve forgotten a few. None of those comes remotely close to Buttnutt Willy and The Fish Head Snots. None of them. At one point, I had changed Buttnutt to Butthole, but was told it was too tacky and tasteless. I relented.Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

 

After all, what’s in a name? as Shakespeare wrote (or didn’t depending on who you believe). If the music is good, the band doesn’t even need a name. I’ve played in a few of those, ad hoc bands in composition and venue. Sometimes the best, raw music comes from those gigs. I mean, how imaginative do you have to be to call yourself ‘The Band’ and become famous? Most of the guys in that band were Canadians and relatively unknown as a collective until their first album. Their music was unique for the time, original, and found a niche in an otherwise psychedelic and heavy Rock world.

The Punk music world comes out with band names more in line with my dad’s throwaway title….’Snot’ from California, ‘Butthole Surfers’ from Texas,  ‘Mindless Self Indulgence’, ‘Slightly Stoopid’, ‘Lard’, ‘Exploding White Mice’, ‘Crumbsuckers’, ‘The Yuppie Pricks’, ‘Whole Wheat Bread’ and my favourite from Kent in England, ‘Splodgenessabounds’ (obviously fans of the old British radio show from the 1950s, The Goon Show). ‘Pissed Jeans’ would have been a bit too rude for dad. But if you needed Punk bands with a frontman, you’d get, ‘Me First and The Gimme Gimmes’, ‘Lars Frederiksen and The Bastards’, ‘Peter and The Test Tube Babies’, ‘Wayne County and The Electric Chairs’ or ‘Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds’.

Last, but never least, is the one that takes the proverbial cake. Bet they’d eat it too….’No Use For A Name’. But they used it anyway. There are many other weird band names. Too many to mention and how they came about. Just for fun, look up how Nickleback came up with their name. Almost as silly as their music…..although, I must confess, I liked a couple of their songs until they all began sounding the same.

The winner of band names comes from a dearly departed friend. Years ago I was a Presbyterian Preacher in a small town in Ontario. I was coming to the end of my Christian era and was tired of church music. So, I formed a band to play secular covers, everything from The Beatles to the Eagles and lots of Folk and Blues. We formed ‘The Coffee House Band’, all proceeds going to local charities or, in my congregation’s case, new carpeting for the sanctuary.

Anyway, our bass player for a while was none other than Peter Quaife, former bassist for the British Rock Band, ‘The Kinks’, one of the good band names. He was Peter Kinnes to us. He had changed his surname back to the birth name to dodge taxes. Hey, he’s a musician. I met him while doing a wedding for someone in a park. Long story. So, Pete is rehearsing with us one night and we were tossing out better names for our little Combo. I told Pete my dad’s name with the frontman addition and he went quiet for a moment.  “Got it,” he said at last. “Your dad’s name is brilliant. But what about ‘Froggy Farts and The Toadstool Tiddlers’.

If any of you out there are in a band looking for a name, feel free to use dad’s or Pete’s (RIP from 2010 to both gents) gratis. They won’t mind I’m sure. I won’t either. Promise.

 

Caribbean Cruise

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Caribbean Cruise

When is a pirate not a pirate? When it’s me and Eddie in silly pirate hats. Not the look I’d usually go for, but Eddie had two of these costume pieces, so I had no choice. And we had matching green T-shirts with ‘Sun’s Out, Rum’s Out’ on the front, with a Hoola dancing girl on the front. Fake pirates of the Caribbean in Hawaii. Why not eh? Be that as it may, the event we were attending had a Caribbean theme and so, well, the Hoola girls were imports.

Haven’t been on one of those Caribbean cruises. I hear they’re a lot of fun. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean unlike most Canadians and Brits. But that didn’t stop us at our little marina from having a Caribbean night near our boats and beside the canal the other night. Even Cap’n Jack Sparrow and Smee showed up. That would be me and Eddie.  All good stuff.

I’ve written about our boat community before. It’s pretty solid for the most part. Most of us get along. But like all communities and families, personalities can clash and people fall out as they say over here. But enough of reality, let’s go to one Saturday night when the boating community, much of it, came together to celebrate the end of summer in a Caribbean spirit. Rum included.

The evening was the brainchild of the famous Jools who, you may recall from an earlier Blog, had us move her boat up the Cut to get painted. But Jools is a busy gal and so the bulk of the organising fell to the rest of us. And in the true spirit of community, the gang came together to make it happen. But, to her credit, Jools made an excellent rum punch, in a pink bucket no less. Lovely.

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The evening begins.

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The evening gathers momentum. Good neighbours and good food.

Another couple from the Dark Side took care of the BBQs and all the cooking with the help of a young man also from that side of the marina. My neighbour Eddie gave it that name a number of years ago. He says it’s because we get more sunshine in the day than they do over that side. But now it has taken on a more sinister interpretation as being the side where the nefarious and the no-goods reside. They aren’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a higher turnover rate over there and we of the Residents’ side don’t get to know those folk as easily. To be honest, we don’t really make the effort.

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Our chefs, Phil and Andy.

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The Coy and the Bold gather to eat and drink….especially drink.

So, those Dark Side folk become somewhat of an unknown, mysterious bunch who gather over their side every so often….probably to look over to the Light Side in envy and who knows what other dark thoughts they utter. The Caribbean Night dispelled all those ideas we had of the Dark Side folk. Fine bunch of people they are too. In fact, Jools is from that side and she’s nice. The Duck Lady I wrote about way back when comes from there too. The newly married couple have their boat on that side. They’re fine and so, as a matter of fact, are most of them. But there are those mysterious ones you never see and  who skulk about when it gets dark. I occasionally run into one of them in the marina laundry room. They say nothing and neither do I….then I never see them again.

But, anyone who is anyone was there, including some good neighbour friends from the local apartments. Even Keith and Lynn came back from boat retirement to join us. The weather cooperated, much to Keith’s delight. He always had a lot to say about the weather when he lived in the marina and we had missed his daily meteorological comments. Our side was well represented.

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Lynn and Keith (far right) and others.

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The 3 Beauties….Maria, My Best Friend and Jools.

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The 3 Stooges….Eddie, John and Some Guy.

A few were away. One couple decided to go to Prague instead. How dare they! But the dad was there. He had been painting their boat all week and deserved to party. Another couple, our resident actors, were visiting family in Dorset….the nerve. In all, over 50 of us gathered to eat, drink, talk and, after a few, limbo our way through the night. Yours truly thought it best to abstain from the limbo. I feared ending up in traction for months.

Because of the potential numbers, a discussion had gone on for weeks where to hold the event of the summer. In the end, we settled for the area over by the pump-out. That’s where boats go to pump out the human waste that is in a holding tank on their boats. We have a cassette toilet, like in a trailer or caravan, and use what is known as an Elsan Point to get rid of our waste. The couple who did the cooking with the newly married chap (from the other side) parked their boat there. This served 2 purposes. 1st, we could have electric and 2nd, when people had lots of rum punch or whatever, they wouldn’t fall into the marina….not there anyway.

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Apartment friend Sandy and neighbour Mimz.

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Rasta Man, Graham, from the Dark Side.

We couldn’t all fit on the jetty, so we set up, illegally, on the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the towpath folk from our marina. We put up tables, chairs and the booze table on that side. I say illegally because we are not supposed to have alcohol in public outside of the marina. Probably not allowed to have a gathering either. Oh well. But we argue that drug deals go on out here all the time, anti-social behaviour and other unsavoury dealings, including a murder last winter….so a party seemed harmless in light of all that.

We did worry a little about the music we had blasting out from a big speaker loaned to us by our Bouncy Castle owning neighbour who moved into the marina not long ago. We had some Bob Marley and other music related to the Caribbean, all provided by Eddie’s Spotify account. By late evening, Eddie got tired of looking for theme music and moved to his own playlist. Everyone was feeling quite mellow by then and so no one seemed to notice the switch. Besides, the limbo had begun and the hardy were preoccupied with becoming pretzels in public. A good time was had by all.

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AAArrrrrrrrrrrrr

 

Chilli Day

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Chilli Day

Let’s talk all things spicy. Perhaps not all things, just those related to food. Specifically, let’s talk chillies. All kinds of chillies from everywhere. Whether you are a person who loves your food hot and spicy or as plain as boiled rice, sometime in your life one chilli or another has shown up in your food. If you’ve ever eaten chilli con carne, you’ll have had chillies in spades….unless you’re like my best friend who likes her chilli (not her favourite meal) mild as can be. Chilliless.

So, on the heels of the Sausage Sizzle, here we are in Eddie’s BMW, top down on a hot August afternoon, heading for Benington, a small village 4 miles east of Stevenage in Hertfordshire. We were going with Eddie, Mimz and two other friends, Sandy and Graham. Graham took his Porsche with its top down too. Regal travel and all. The destination was The 2017 Chilli Festival held at Benington Lordship Gardens, featuring 7 acres of gardens, a carp pond, an old Georgian Manor House and the ruins of a Norman motte and bailey castle. So very English wot?

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The Norman Gate.

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Castle wall ruins and gardens

I remember years ago in Canada, some Italian guy I worked with on the Eaton’s (like John Lewis in Britain) delivery trucks gave me a pepper from his lunch and dared me to eat it whole. Poor naive me did just that and paid the price. I can’t remember what variety it was but when it took hold, it nearly killed me. I have been wary ever since. But my interest was piqued during the finale of the Chilli festival when the annual chilli eating contest was held.

9 brave or reckless souls sat at a table with a beer and a bucket in front of each of them before the contest commenced. The MC had been running the show for years and educated us as the event wore on as to the name and effect each pepper would have on the contestants. Chillies are rated by their SHUs (Scoville Heat units). The New Mexico green Chilli, for example, can be anywhere from 0-70,000 SHUs. That seems quite a range, but most of us, except for my best friend, can handle them.

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Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

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Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

From there, we go up the scale until we get to a chilli known as Dragon’s Breath from Wales of all places. It has a SHU of 2.48 million. The chemical produced by the pod of chillies is capsaicin. If you swallowed a vial of that, you’d be ingesting 16 million SHU and you’d be dead. But then even eating a whole Dragon’s Breath can kill you. It was developed not to be eaten but to be put as an anaesthesia on the skin for people who can not have normal anaesthetic.

The competitors started with chillies at around 100,000 SHU and it went up from there. By the time they got to the Scotch Bonnets at around 500,000 SHUs, only half of the group remained. Then it was on to around 800,000 SHU and more dropped away, using the buckets provided to….well, you know. Red Cross folk were on hand to provide aid to contestants who were overcome by their chillies. They had milk and sugar cubes to counter the effects. Interesting.

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Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

One young man who began foaming at the mouth and dribbling profusely hung in there despite his anguish. The audience began to chant ‘Dribbler, Dribbler….’ but Dribbler had enough and off he went. Two remained. They had to eat a whole pepper at 1.6 million SHU and did so. It looked for a moment like the contest would end in a draw, but one of the two decided he couldn’t go on and took a sip of the beer….which meant he capitulated. The winner got a case of Budweiser beer as his prize. No thanks.

Meanwhile, a Chilli Festival was going on….60 pitches (booths) with everything from chilli cheeses to chilli chocolate, fudge, chutney, sauces, pickles, seeds, plants and, naturally, booze. These were the top echelon of independent chilli traders. Very nice and all but a bit samey after a while. There was a carp pond and lovely gardens as well as views of rolling countryside. A very satisfying way to spend a holiday Monday. My life is full. But not of chilli. The only thing we ended up buying was a non-chilli  butterscotch, spicy liqueur. Hot enough on its own.

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Chilli stalls and Manor House.

We wandered about in the heat after arriving and getting something to eat first. The food vendors were from many cultures. There was Greek, Texan, Italian, British, of course, South American and South African. I had a South African steak sandwich with chakalaka….some spicy tomato, onion and pepper mix. Yummy. Then it was on to the Chilli festival and all that I described. What a treat. I must say I tried to sample at least the sweet stuff. Loved it. And I do like some chilli in my chocolate.

Started in 2006, the Festival has grown in size and popularity. It runs for 3 days over the Bank Holiday weekend. They even have entertainment for the whole family. This year it was the famous Bruce Airhead (never heard of him) and his big green balloon. But the hit of the show was the young lad Mr. Airhead picked from the audience who, much to the surprise of even the Airhead, actually entertained us with an array of gymnastic routines while the famous Bruce prepared his balloon. I think the lad was supposed to be a flop, but fooled us all. Even Bruce admitted that perhaps he ought to step aside and let the kid do the show.

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Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

Just before the chilli eating contest, my best friend and I found a shaded spot beside the marquee where the contest was to be held. A man, dressed in those khaki shorts with millions of pockets, an unironed T-shirt and a pair of well-worn brown trainers (sneakers) sat in a chair just in front of us. A woman came from the audience and introduced herself to this chap as the wife of someone he knew. They spoke of food preparation or something. Turned out to be Richard Bott, owner of the place. Unassuming, charming and so very English, right down to the shoes.

Part way through the proceedings, I just happened to look up into the wide, blue yonder and there, flying right over head was the beautiful sight of a Second World War Spitfire. Made my day as the next contestant headed off behind the marquee to empty his insides into a bucket.

 

 

Sausage Sizzle

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Sausage Sizzle

This is not a pornographic Blog. I don’t do those. I could, but I don’t. I know sex sells. But I’m not selling anything and at my age, I think it best that I stick to safe subjects. Like this one, a good old-fashioned Sausage Sizzle where the only sex involves males and females working together to raise money for a worthwhile organisation.

It all began, the charity stuff I mean, a year ago at Halloween. We decorated the boats and the marina perimeter wall behind the boats with scary things and put out a donation box for people to give generously to our charity of choice. It happened to be an End-of-Life Hospice where our neighbours Eddie and Mimz work and volunteer. Then at Christmastime the displays became Mega and the money raised greater still. Easter rolled around and eggs, bunnies and the rest became the theme and more money came in.

We were on a roll. Every season and celebration have become an opportunity to keep the donating going. Gardening season provided the needed impetus to keep the ball rolling. And it has. For over 4 months now. Things started slow but have evolved into the jungle madness I Blogged about not long ago and turned Mimz into the Bubble Lady of our marina. She was forever blowing bubbles. The locals, children and adults, loved it. Any time a child passed by the boats, Mimz was up to the wall, turning on the bubble machines we had purchased from hither and yon and waving the large wand to make monster bubbles.

Then a new shop came to town. Well, not so much just a shop as a Megashop, another Australian incursion into the British Isles, Bunnings Hardware, a DIY fanatic’s fantasy come true. They took over from Homebase and boast 20 locations by the end of the year. Brits don’t own anything anymore and don’t seem to want to run things or open new ventures (nothing big anyway), so they leave it to foreign investors to rescue the economy.

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Eddie and the Bunnings lady conferring before the event.

Be that as it may, Bunnings has done its best, so far, to fit into the local community. Apparently, they are nothing like that in Australia, just about money. I’m sure the same will happen here once the dust settles. Anyway, for the moment, all goes well. Every weekend, Bunnings runs a charity Sausage Sizzle outside its premises, one on Saturday and a different charity on Sunday. Bunnings was supposed to provide everything. That was the deal. All they asked was for volunteers from the sponsored charity to run the event.

That’s where we come in. We thought it would be a good idea to do one for the Hospice. After some strange negotiating with the Hospice and Bunnings, our day came. Bunnings provided nothing like they said they would. We had to buy all the goods. But we were determined to go ahead and do this thing. It was for a good cause and we had talked about doing it for a long time. The day came. We were loaded with bread, sausages, napkins and the rest and off to Bunnings we went on a fine, hot August morning.

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Three Amigos ready to work.

They had already set up the gazebos and the grill….at least. But the people running the charity the day before had used up all the oil and so we had to go back to the boat to get some. Hard to sizzle sausage without the oil. Kind of essential. The Bunnings person who supervised the event went through a bunch of rules, the dos and don’ts of sizzling sausage, most of which we ignored, and off we went. Eddie cooked, I served and the ladies ran the money side of things and the raffle table.

Good team work. It had to be. We were there for 8 hours in the heat, standing the whole time. Eddie was stalwart. He cooked in the heat, over the heat. He and Mimz had cut up the onions the day before and paid the price. Now Eddie was grilling them to perfection. By the half-way point of the day, he had those sausages sizzling like a master chef. Not one customer complained about the product and more than one gave us the thumbs-up after consuming the goods.

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Mimz and Andrea at the Raffle table.

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Team work at its best.

No matter what you do in public, especially for charity, there are those who are simply grumpy. We had our share. Rude people who react like children when spoken to by a stranger in public. My best friend simply asked if passersby were hungry and got all kinds of rude remarks and gestures thrown her way. I did too. To one couple I just happened to say, “Now then, you look like a hungry couple. Sausage Sizzle?” A harmless remark really. Except that my best friend pointed out that may have been construed as rude as they were persons of a certain girth that said, ‘do I look like I need another sausage?’ Well….

Generally, things went well. We survived the day and made a goodly sum of money for the Hospice. The womenfolks did a tremendous day’s work on the raffle table by selling lots of tickets The draw was at 3pm. Some good boat neighbours, who had come over during the day to support us, won a few of the prizes.

All in all, everything went well. Eddie’s OCD kicked in right at the end of the day. The Bunnings lady who was in charge of the event said of all the groups they had the pleasure to work with so far, we were the cleanest. That’s down to Eddie. The grill looked good as new, but Eddie insisted that every nook and cranny had to be spotless. The Bunnings lady tried her best to dismiss our Eddie from duty, but I knew better. He would leave when he was satisfied that everything was immaculate. Oh, and by the way, the Bubble Lady (Mimz) was there all day doing her thing. No event is complete without her bubbles.

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Eddie and me. The perfect team.

 

Sad Goodbyes

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Sad Goodbyes

You get used to people being around. If they’re nice people, you even enjoy running into them here and there. In this day of neighbours who never speak or not even knowing your neighbour, it’s refreshing to live in a community that cares for every person in and around that community.  That doesn’t mean everyone gets involved in caring. Some don’t mind being cared for, they just don’t get involved. But, if you have enough people who care, even one, then community has a chance.

In our old neighbourhood in Kent, we hardly knew anyone on the street. Even when we did meet some to say hello, that would be the extent of our contact. Not many people there had anything in common with his or her neighbour and, sometimes, there were those who made life miserable on our street. We had a recluse I called Elvis because of his apparent love of the king. Another had kids that screamed all day. Across the street, lived the family from hell and down the way was an old perv whose language would make a sailor blush, as my mum used to say. Mostly, we left each other alone and got on with our lives.

Not so in the boating community. I mean, we have our share of old curmudgeons on the cut who just want to be left alone, but boaters are a special bunch and even the toughest old bird will help another boater in trouble. Out on the cut (boaters name for the canal), people are constantly on the move, but over time end up running into people they’ve passed on any number of occasions, people they have moored near for a time or those they’ve helped over time. Even the times we’ve been out of the marina, we have passed boats we’ve seen before and give the friendly wave and greetings.

Marina life is another animal altogether. You live in close proximity with other boaters for an extended period of time. Some come and go more regularly, but the majority stay and you see them almost every day. Some work, some are retired and others only come to their boat occasionally to do work or go out on the cut for a while. In our marina, we have 12 boats out of 60 that are residential. We 12 live on our boats full-time. Sounds downright Apocalyptic, don’t it? Well, it isn’t, just happens they designate 12 spaces for residential which means we get a post box and a longer, wider jetty than the others and a couple of other perks.

The  other  48 boats are supposed to be leisure, but people still live on them….quietly.  The rules are a bit vague about liveaboards (as they are known), so no one ever really knows who can actually live on their boats and all that jazz. Anyway, beyond our boat (the last in the line of residents) people do live aboard. And we are glad they do because there are some quality folk you love to have around you. Two of these people are Lynn and Keith, longtime residents of this area both off and on a boat.

Lynn used to work for the Dickinson family when this whole area was paper mills and the admin offices attached to them. Keith did the same but was also in the Royal Navy for 9 years, a real sailor and looks like one these days too. Lynn was in the army when they met. Their children were born, grew up and have moved on over the years, some as far away as Australia. Both have long since retired and have enjoyed narrowboating for these past 8 years. Their boat, ‘Eight Bells’ was in the marina when we arrived just over 2 years ago.

The only way I can describe Keith is by his humour. He always has a quip about this and that. When he takes his cassette shitter to be emptied at the Elsan Point, he tells us he’s just going to the Post (Office). And he loves to comment on the weather. That is very English. But one day a woman came to the marina looking for Keith, as it turned out, but didn’t know his name. All she could say to describe him was she was looking for the man who loves to talk about the weather.  Only one person it could be….Keith.

While on duty in the navy, he was chosen to serve the Queen at a military event and practice d endlessly with a silver tray and champagne flute before the big day. When it came, Keith approached her Maj with the tray and the champagne and bowed as he said, “Ma’am”. But the Queen said, “Oh no, I never drink Champagne at lunch.” Keith says he almost said, “Oh shit!” as he turned away, but somehow restrained himself. Great story.

Lynn is a little more subdued, but after a glass of her favourite white wine, she opens right up. She is one of the most pleasant people I have ever encountered on this old earth. Keith is too, of course, but Lynn has a smiling quality about her that can make my day as much as Keith’s quips make me laugh. She is a very patient person in my estimation. We men can be a trial to live with at times….and that’s all I’m going to say about that. A great couple. Love them as we all do in the marina.

Keith’s health has not been the best this year so far. They both said it was time to call it quits and live on land. So, their boat will be taken to a broker next week to be sold and that, as they say, shall be the end of another era. They say they aren’t going far. They’ll return from time to time to see us, but you know what happens. People get busy. But I’ll miss the day-to-day  presence of both of them. Still, they say they are coming to our marina Caribbean night at the beginning of September. Keith quips that he hopes the weather reflects the atmosphere of the soirée.

Today, when I went over to their boat to take the photo you see at the head of this Blog, Keith pulled his blue shirt up over his belly and gave me a cheeky smile. Lynn made him pull it down and told him to behave. They are going to be missed around the marina.

 

Southbank Strolls

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Southbank Strolls

No point being in a rush. You miss all the salient points that go into making a place what it is. It’s the little things in amongst the larger bits that tell you where a place has been and what is going on now and in the near future. Some of the things are temporary and the next time you pass by this spot, they won’t be there. Such is the case along the south bank of the River Thames. It changes nearly daily. Some of the things are trendy. Others are fixtures, but only in the sense of a lifetime. So many changes over the centuries, that someone from the Elizabethan era, for example, would not recognise the place.

In my case, I have seen changes along this part of the Thames, some satisfying and others not so much. I have to laugh at some of the trendy changes, like the ubiquitous juice bars that are all along the Southbank. Someone said eat or drink lots of fruit and the hawksters spring up out of nowhere to sell you expensive fruit drinks that come from concentrated juice, not fresh fruit. If you get there early enough in the morning as they set up, you can see them making the stuff. Then they put pieces of fruit out to make it look like they’ve actually used fruit.

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The ubiquitous juice bar. Setting up in the morning.

Not to mention the wasps and flies all over the plastic cups. No thanks, and certainly not at those prices. But, as they say, a sucker is born every minute. Hawksters rely on it. Getting away from the hidden, there are all the other delights, many of which cost you nothing.  A leisurely stroll is all you need and observant eyes. My little stroll took me from London Bridge station, down to the Queen’s Jubilee Walk beside the Thames. Here we go. Can’t tell you about or show you everything in a thousand words and a few photos, but I’ll do me best.

Usually, the Southbank walk begins for me at Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye, the National Theatre, The ITV television studios, the OXO building, the new (old) Globe theatre, Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind ship, the Canon Street station, the Tate Modern in an old power station and the Wobbly Bridge (Millennium Bridge). Did I mention the Clink and the Anchor pub? Lots to see.

My walks begin at London Bridge and move along to Tower Bridge and slightly beyond to Butler’s Wharf (WareHouse At River Front).  The crowds are a little thinner along this stretch and yet there is so much going on. And not all on the surface. But on ground level, things are moving ahead at a frenetic pace. London Bridge station has gone through a complete overhaul for the last few years, in part due to the addition of the Shard, a large glass tower with a top that resembles a broken bottle.

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City Hall and the Shard in the background.

Roads are closed around the station and the noise from the work on the roads and in the station is deafening. Sneak through an alley between buildings and a whole new world of quiet along the Thames greets you. The first thing I encountered on the day I’m Blogging about was a painter. His easel was set for standing and the scene before him was a combination of old London and new London.

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An artist at work early in the morning before the crowds arrive.

The new seems to be taking over, but the painter was highlighting old London. Good man. Even the famous pickle shaped building, known as the Gerkin, was the landmark when I came here 12 years ago.  Now it has all but disappeared among the Walkie-Talkie and Cheese-Grater buildings. Other newer, taller buildings are going up too. Londoners love to give their office monstrosities pet names. Makes the new look ridiculous. Good on ’em.

Meanwhile on the Southbank, the buildings tend to be more residential than business with lots of new boutiques selling artisan quality products opening up in every space available. Clothing, unique shoes, graphic designers, pottery artists, art galleries and gadgets of all kinds just away from the Thames in the Hay’s Galleria. All very interesting and all very expensive. The amount of foreign investment especially in London and the number of those coming in from elsewhere have boosted an otherwise lethargic economy. Brits are funny that way. Love the money, not so sure about all the foreigners moving in who have the money to spend.

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Look Mum No Hands….stretching it just a bit for a BBQ pit.

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Entrance to the Thames Clipper at London Bridge. A fast commuter boat.

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Signs announcing the Summer Festival at the amphitheater near City Hall.

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Sculpture of family on a Thames beach. Weird.

Ignoring all what goes on behind the scenes, the old is still evident in the pubs along the Thames that still operate, attracting young people of every nation to imbibe. The HMS Belfast (two Blogs ago) still floats to the delight of some 300,000 visitors a year. Then you come to City Hall that looks like something from a Star Wars movie. Always something going on around here, an amphitheater that features plays and monologues, a bar and food stand that looks like something from the Caribbean Islands, last week a temporary beach and on this occasion, a Latin American food and goods market on the same piece of ground.

A large fountain that shoots sprays of water at various altitudes, seemingly randomly, attracting kids to run through, lined by restaurants offering various cuisines.  Then you walk through a short tunnel under the south end of Tower Bridge to Butler’s and other old Wharfs converted into million pound flats with restaurants selling such meals as Spaghetti Bolognese for £20 a plate. Pretty around there. Funny to think of all the spices and such that landed here years ago with men gathering ever day hoping to get a day’s work to feed the family.

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Caribbean Bar by City hall and the amphitheater.

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The Amphitheater.

 

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Early morning exercise before the mob jog.

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Egg sculpture. Groovy.

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Latin American Street Food Market. There was a beach there a week before.

I have walked this stretch a number of times over the years and have failed to notice some of the most meaningful sites. One in particular is by the old pub beside Hay’s Galleria. Ships used to sail right into the midst of the buildings to unload their cargo. It’s all filled in now. The Horniman Pub has been on this location since 1873. I’ve eaten there a few times. Good grub, reasonably priced for the location. Outside on the wall as you leave Hay’s Galleria is a brass plaque, a tribute to all those who worked around the wharf but lost their lives during the two Great Wars of the 20th Century. Glad I finally saw it.

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The Navigators sculpture in the Hay’s Galleria from 1987.

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Brass Plaque outside Horniman’s Pub at Hay’s Wharf.

Lots happening at every part of the Southbank. I noticed that at low tide, more and more people are going down along the sandy beaches to sit and sunbathe or build sand castles while treasure hunters comb the rocks for the next artifact that is going to make them millionaires. A sign over one of the drainage holes on the path has a sign politely asking people not to pollute. Some cheeky sod put his/her rubbish on the spot in a fit of rebellion. So, this is the Queen’s Walk, otherwise known as The Jubilee Walk. Bet the Queen has no idea what goes on down here. She might like it. At least she’d have no trouble paying for a plate of spaghetti.

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Looking north on Tower Bridge.

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The City on the north side of the river from Tower Bridge.

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From Butler’s Wharf looking back to Tower Bridge and the City….oh look, the Gerkin.

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Ground plaque near Tower Bridge announcing the Jubilee Walk.

 

 

 

 

Jungle Madness

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Jungle Madness

I wrote last year about the garden we had along the pathway behind our narrowboat. This year, earlier, I talked about a Spring Clean and featured the beginnings of our new garden, complete with an added arch between our neighbours Eddie and Mimz’z boat. The arch was made possible because we moved our boat during the Spring to its present location, sharing a jetty with Eddie and Mimz.

Well, things have progressed to the point of complete madness. Everything from lilies to a flamingo have been added to the collection and plants grow alongside both of our boats, hiding nearly everything from view….the boats that is. We are nearly overgrown and the strange thing is, we keep adding to it.

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The garden in the early Spring

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The garden between the boats in early Spring.

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A narrowboat planter added to the mix as the garden evolves.

Don’t get me wrong, it all looks lush and lovely. The colours and smells are intoxicating. Everyone who walks by tells us how wonderful it is and the solar lights light up the night in what can only be described as magical. And, up until the end of July, we had lots of sunshine to keep the old solar lights lit long into the night.

Eddie and Mimz, my best friend and I have sat out many a long evening, surrounded by our jungle, sipping rum and cokes or drinking red wine and even getting trendy with Gin and mixers, discussing life and laughing at Eddie’s antics. Mimz tells a good story too. The weather had been unseasonably dry and hot through May, June and most of July, with the light lasting until after 10pm. Paradise some might say.

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Add an arch with a straw bird on top.

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Yours truly under the arch.

And well it was. Then came the end of July and into August. Cool, damp and terribly uninspiring as far as summer goes. So, what did my best friend and I do? We left the gardening to Mimz and took off to the city to look after the few plants at my best friend’s son’s place near the River Thames. Mimz, bless her, has been holding down the fort. I think Eddie leaves it to her anyway.

The assortment of plants has been overwhelming. Besides lilies, we have geraniums, honeysuckle, juniper, jasmine, lobelia, gladioli, Virginia Creeper (otherwise known as Parthenocissus Quinquefolia….but you knew that), marigolds, busy lizzies, crocosmia (Lucifer….scary plants), dahlias, passion flower, panzies, petunias, anemones, ivy, mixed wild flowers for the bees, mint and other herbs, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries and other things I can’t remember and neither can my best friend as I write this. Oh yeah, almost forgot the sweetpea. Unforgivable.

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Welcome to our jungle.

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Mimz’s garden. Spot the hidden hedgehog.

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A new addition.

So you see, welcome to our jungle. The marina warden says he loves it and it has inspired others around the marina to grow more flowers and plants this year. A lady just moved in to a mooring near us a couple of weeks ago and already has some huge ferns along the pathway that runs around the perimeter of the marina. Some other residential boaters said they were going to put in an arch, but we’ll see. Getting late in the season and, well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking at this point.

Meanwhile, our garden continues to take over everything.  I look out our portholes and all I see is plants and flowers….pretty but a little claustrophobic when we already live in a narrowboat. I suppose that may be construed as sour grapes, especially when winter comes and I’ll pine away for the days when I could see green outside instead of frost. Still, a little light would help. Who knows what it’s going to all look like when we go back to the boat tomorrow.

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And this is how it looks now

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Our side of the boat.

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Jungle madness along the jetty.

But, for the moment, we can all enjoy the jungle while it lasts. The bees are loving it. They leave us alone and we them as we sit among the floral madness. They buzz right past our ears and off they go to the hive. Bumblebees of every kind and, finally, the honey bees found their way to us. Just doing our bit. One of our neighbours, Jools (you can read about her a couple of Blogs ago), is rather skittish around the buzzy creatures. If one of them comes near her, she screams so loudly and piercingly, that even the bees scatter in fear.

The metal arch at the entrance to our jetty is now unrecognisable. Even the straw bird perched atop the arch, with the lobelia growing out of its butt, is nearly overgrown with Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle. Wild. Earlier in the season, we found stone planters in the shape of a narrowboat at a local florist and each bought one. You can hardly see them anymore. Our old man of the woods looks out from the foliage as if about to be strangled by one of the plants. The rubber ducky sailors keep having to be moved to be seen and Mimz’s little hedgehog is outta sight….literally. Some of the windmills have ceased to turn because their blades are overrun with plant leaves and flowers. Madness.

Mimz has taken some of the plants and flowers down to the entrance to the marina and a kind of second garden has been growing there. To top it off, we decided to raise money for the hospice where Eddie used to work (until the other day) and Mimz volunteered, by rescuing plants from a nearby garden centre that was going to throw out a bunch of flowers that looked unhealthy. Mimz and my best friend nursed them back to life, put them on the wall along the perimeter path as giveaways to donors.

As if that weren’t enough, we started buying battery operated bubble blowers to entertain the young and old as they passed. All that has been missing are the clowns. Mimz and my best friend would probably tell you that would be me and Eddie. But I ain’t dressing like Bozo for nobody see. Anyway, all I can tell you from this moment is that the madness continues. Mimz texted us the other day. She went to the garden centre and rescued some more plants for our return. Will this summer never end?

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Mimz with plants for charity.

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Sitting in the jungle.