Category Archives: Magic

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.

2017!!! WooHoo or BooHoo?

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Holding your breath? Maybe you should. I would but then I’d pass out and it would prove nothing. Not sure whether to dread the year ahead or embrace it in the hope that all will be well. I write this on the 3rd of January, when my youngest daughter turns 26. She has plans. Well, sort of. My little globe trotting traveller wants to see the world (she’s already seen more than I have) and find her place in it. Good plan.

I, on the other hand, have no plan. As Brooks and Dunn put it in their song Hard Workin’ Man, “I’m gettin’ pretty good at barely gettin’ by.” Yup, that says it all for me. But I must add that I’m OK with that. I’ve experienced a few things in my life that tell me where I’m at is just fine. Plans change anyway. I enjoy the unknown from day to day. How about you?

In the greater scheme of things (I love using that phrase), time is a nonsense. Humans quantify time. The universe cares not a whit for our clocks and calendars. It is no more January on Pluto as it is anywhere within the Andromeda Galaxy and beyond. But here, on this tiny rock, among trillions of other planets in the billions of galaxies in the universe, I somehow need to know what day it is, in which month of what year….and the time of day. It rules our lives.

That is why at midnight on the 31st of December, every year, most of the world goes mad ringing in a new year. We as a species are nothing if not tied to our rituals. Huge fireworks displays are set off in all the major capitols of the world, competing with each other to see who can out do the others for the bragging rights to bringing the new year in with the most colourful explosions. We minions blow noise makers, bang pots and pans, let a few fireworks off in our gardens or town squares, drunkenly sing an old Scottish ditty and smooch. Every year, everywhere, the same rituals.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am just as much a creature of habit as the next person. I have my own rituals to get me through the day as do you. Even brushing teeth is a ritual. And we all do it differently. The same goes for New Year’s Eve. Some party, some stay at home and watch the party on the television. Others make resolutions they mean to keep but rarely do. Those who have bad memories of the date try to ignore the rituals. But in the end, even they have write the new year date on whatever document they may have to sign.

I’ve done it all….partying, stood with the community to watch fireworks, watched the whole thing on the tele, gone to sleep before midnight, blown noise makers and have even poo-pooed the whole ritual thing. And the next morning I wake up and the year number has risen by one. I can’t stop it. No one can. As inevitable as a sunrise and a sunset.

Last year my best friend and I stayed in, on the boat, watching a movie….’New Year’s Eve’, not that good even with a cast of A-listers. This year we were going to do the same, but ended up in a pub just along the towpath (though we took a cab there) with our boat neighbours, Eddie and Mimz and a couple from a nearby apartment, Sandy and Graham. My best friend wasn’t feeling the greatest, but we had purchased a ticket and felt we needed to go.

The other two couples are seasoned partiers. Mimz is the most gregarious person I know. She’ll talk to or dance with anyone. And she did. Most of the crowd were young people….well, young to me. Skirts up to the yingyangs, drunk and loud kids. The music was clubby, not my usual playlist. Drinks were spilled, jewellery lost, girl on girl action and a queue at the bar that seemed unending. Everything to make a great party. And there we were, my best friend and I, sitting in a corner on damp wicker chairs we had brought in from the pub’s patio, nursing one drink each and people watching.

Seems the DJ had a different idea as to when the stroke of midnight arrived. All our mobiles (cells) read something else. Mine was at 12:03 when the DJ finally got around to the countdown. Anyway, we all yelled ‘Happy New Year’, as you do, and hugged. We escaped the stranger hugs, being sequestered in a corner as we were. No Scottish ditty this year. Not cool enough for the DJ. Thought he’d be unconventional and non-traditional I suppose. But he still had to acknowledge the shift.

My best friend and I lasted another half hour before excusing ourselves from the others, who were by now partying like there would never be a 2018, and off, down the towpath we went, in the pitch black, to our boat. All we had was my best friend’s mobile (cell) torchlight to show the pathway. The dirt path was slick with a layer of mud and the going was slow, but it was so quiet. A few boats moored along the bank had lights on inside, but not a soul was on the towpath or anywhere to be seen outdoors.

On the other side of the canal were rows of apartment buildings, recently built and looking new, fresh and well kept. A couple of apartments had lights on. Some contained revellers still partying. Then, half way back to our boat, a Christmas light show displayed at one townhouse, on the canal side, not the front, blazed in all its glory out into the dark. Magical. Best light show I’d seen all season, including our own. We stopped to look at it for a time. Such peace all around. A great start to 2017. May it continue forever.

Christmas on the Cut 2

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Christmas on the Cut 2

And so it is Christmas….nearly. Another Christmas on the boat. Our second. When I lived in a house in Canada, I was known as Clark Griswold on my street at Christmas. If you have never watched National Lampoon’s ‘Christmas Vacation’, you won’t get that reference. But if you have (and if you haven’t you’re missing a truly great Christmas flic), then you’ll recognise that I do it big and I do it right.

Decorating a boat is a little different to doing the same on a house. It’s easier in some respects….smaller and no ladders involved. But the principle is the same. Cover as much surface as possible and try to be tasteful doing it. That would be my best friend’s job. I like tacky….because I’m tacky. The more Christmas stuff the better. And everything from coloured lights that flash like mad to lighted snowpeople, reindeers, penguins and Santas….of course Santas.

But I know how to compromise and my plan for those big snowpeople (men….let’s face it) and Santas, that inflate with a fan thing inside, on top of the boat were thwarted by she who has the last word. What else is new, eh chaps? Anyway, I did get some concessions and to tell you the truth, what my best friend ended up with was much better than my ideas. Except for the inflatables, I really wanted them. And they were on sale too. Damn!

Anyway, we got together with our neighbours Eddie the Grinch (but only pretending to be) and Mimz to light up the marina with a Christmas grotto which would be the envy of any mall. And we did it relatively cheaply. The whole marina was supposed to get involved this year. Prizes are up for grabs and bragging rights assured. We did it for charity. Eddie is a nurse at an ‘end of life’ hospice and we chose to raise money for that by going mad with exterior decorating and a box to take in peoples’ donations….and to win.

We started early, at the beginning of December. There was to be a grand light turning on ceremony on the 11th, but rebels that we are, we turned ours on a week early. For a while it looked like we would be the only ones participating. But, lo and behold, on the 11th ,the marina lit up like a beacon, causing even Heathrow airport to divert planes approaching to land to avoid confusion. So I heard.

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Other boats ablaze in colour and light.

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Santa (Eddie) and Phil untangling lights to add to the festivities.

When all lights were turned on, a party from the other side of the marina (the dark side) came over while singing ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ without the figgy pudding verse. I was busy helping a neighbour untangle a ball of lights that, when finally unravelled (the next day) could have reached the moon and back. I had never seen such a long, continuous strand of lights. The only thing we could conclude is that it was a Chinese plot to drive us mad. Nearly succeeded.

Anyway, passersby had been admiring our efforts for days. Kids stopped and took in every detail. One child stood mesmerised for a whole half hour. Even a group of YOBs stopped and put money into the charity jar….which Eddie had fixed to the perimeter fence in front of our boats with very strong ties and a chain just in case. We had snowfolk, reindeer, penguins, a snow hut and little Christmas trees. We linked our boats, Eddie’s and Mimz’s and ours, with a big red bow that the ladies had made. We looked so festive.

My best friend and I had gone with Eddie and Mimz to get what we needed to decorate at more shops than I care to remember. Then we’d pick things up hither and yon when we were out on our own. I ended up dragging a bag the size of the marina back from Watford where we found a shop that sold Christmas decorations at a very good price. We risked going OTT on the whole enterprise. Some might say we did. Clark Griswold would not.

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Our grotto and the big bow between our boats.

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Our grotto with Eddie at the back of our boat probably looking for a mince pie.

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Our boat at dusk.

So, back to the group from the other side of the marina coming to join us. We had prepared well. We were offering mulled wine, mince tarts and little chocolates for the children that came by. Later in the evening we served vegetarian perogies, sausages, cheese crackers and regular wine. One nearby neighbour brought out a jar of mead he had made. All to warm the cockles of our hearts and the rest of us. It was a cold night and hot food and strong drink were just the ticket.

Eddie played DJ as he has done on our side of the marina for all social events. He has these Bose speakers that pump out the sound from anywhere inside and outside his boat. He had just purchased a 2 CD compilation of Christmas tunes from the producers of ‘NOW That’s What I Call Music’ for Christmas 2016. They’re only available from EMI in the UK. There were at least a million tunes on 2 CDs. It played from dusk to well past 10pm and still hadn’t exhausted all the songs. Amazing.

We sang, we danced, we jived and we laughed at more than one of the lame tunes included. But a party atmosphere it was. Great community spirit. What Christmas is all about. One neighbour, who hadn’t time to decorate his boat, wore coloured bells on his beard. As you do. It was a shame to have to end the festivities, but it got colder as the evening wore on. And, quite frankly, I was spent. All that mulled wine and such, plus Eddie had to go to work on a night shift.

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Our boat community party

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Neighbour John’s festive beard.

But before he left, we had a photo taken of the 4 of us, the 4 Christmasteers. We all wish you and yours a safe, happy Christmas from Apsley Marina here in the UK. Cheers.

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From left, Eddie, Mimz, My best friend, Santa.

Now You See It, Now You Don’t. The Cut: Part 2

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Now You See It, Now You Don’t. The Cut: Part 2

I have written several Blogs on Characters of the cut. I could write a book….hmmm. File that idea Larry. We met a few on this recent boat trip from Apsley Marina to the Paddington Basin. Two come to mind, Cockney Paul and Magic Robin G. The first is simply a character. The second is a character with flare.

Cockney Paul lives on his boat as a continual cruiser. He travels the canals around London, taking jobs wherever he can find them. He’ll do anything on or off a boat and tells anyone who’ll listen that he is the best at what he does. He may be. But my experience tells me he probably isn’t. Still, he’s ‘hail fellow well met’ and was ready to accommodate us while we were moored at Paddington Basin for the week, as if he were the welcome wagon agent. He would make suggestions where to eat. On this count he could not have been more wrong. His dog, Sam, was my favourite and the true character in this story.

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Cockney Paul and Sam (the dog)

So, here we were, leaving Southall and heading for Alperton, finally, but not lovingly, into the heart of urbanisation. The only positive thing I could find about Alperton was a mention of it being the place where a character from The East Enders, Dirty Den,  was shot (on the program, not in real life….what ever that is) and fell into the canal near where we moored. The North West of London became the East of London.

Alperton. High rise apartment buildings and pubs that are about to shut for good. The latest census concludes the area is now 27% white and 73% Indian and Asian. A sign of the times for the old city. Makes for interesting lifestyles and the constant smell of curry in the air. Alperton.

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Moored at Alperton

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Top down, a view of our Alperton Mooring.

We moored next to a boat that was basically under construction. Eddie and Miriam, our travelling companions, moored beside the next character in our tale, the magician and comedian Robin G. It would be a night to remember. Most of the jokes were raw, ribald tales of body parts and assorted fantasies. But, if you are ever past that way, ask him to tell the one about Poy. You won’t be disappointed.

The main attraction, other than a very strong Antiguan rum, was the magic the man produced. Mind you, he is a professional. Rob does his act for a living and, believe me, he’s worth every penny. He reminds you of a cross between Gandalf with a hair cut and a pirate of old. Wizened, wise, wacky and wild, Robin G has seen and experienced it all. His tales are as funny and crazy as the life he has lived.

For years, Robin G was a merchant seaman. He saw the world. For a man in his 70s, he has the zest for life of a young man. Eddie knew him from Rob’s days in Apsley Marina. The two got up to stuff I dare not repeat on this (or any other) Blog. Legendary things. When the women went off to Sainsbury’s for comestibles and more rum, Rob’s tales became more lively, the stuff of man gatherings. I’ve never laughed so hard. And I’m not even a macho kind of guy.

Once we had the Chinese takeaway out of the way, the serious magic began….card tricks that were performed up close. Slight of hand so quick that even when I focused on his hands and sleeves, I saw nothing that would give the trick away. We all gasped after each new trick. Rob uses a lot of humour in his act. We all laughed as much as we gasped. And it was all free. You would usually pay a fortune for such an act.

Rob is part of the Magic Circle and knows all the greats. He says his finest moment came when he was doing a show where other notable magicians were also performing. A woman in the crowd was brought to the stage (random and not known to Rob….he did the same trick for us) and asked to pick a card from a full deck. She did. She was then asked to look at it, hold it to her forehead and return it (the Jack of Diamonds) faced down in the deck.

Rob shuffled the cards. He then produced the Jack of Diamonds. As if that weren’t enough, Rob had a card sized brown envelope that he produced and asked the woman to open it and take out the card. Another Jack of Diamonds. As his piece de resistance, Rob opened his shirt, revealing a T-shirt with the Jack of Diamonds on it. Even the other magicians gasped along with the audience.

Rob finished his show and at the end of the night, all the other magicians gathered around Rob begging him to show them how he had pulled off the impossible. He told them it was one he’d never reveal. But they pleaded and after they had run out of guesses, he told them it was a fluke, a coincidence. An odds maker’s nightmare. He said it probably will never happen again. They all laughed.

There is, I’m afraid to say, a rather sad ending to this tale. Rob’s companion for the last 7 years has been a little black dog named Henry. You can see him in the video. He has a cone around his neck because they had to operate to take away a chicken bone from his throat that he had swallowed. They also found that little Henry was full of cancer. We got a phone call while at Paddington Basin. Rob said he had to have Henry put to sleep. We were all gutted. Poor Henry. Poor Rob.

We spent another night with Rob on the way back. There was a barbeque, more rum and more magic tricks, this time with ropes and other gizmos and gadgets. It was a little more subdued this time. But Rob, ever the gracious and charismatic host, made sure this too would be a night to remember. And so it was.

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Henry the dog and gang.