Category Archives: Music

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

 

JAMES for PM

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I have met some real characters in my life. My best friend would tell you I’m one of them. Most of them I’ve got to know after spending time with them. My boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz are real characters, formed by the trials, tribulations, adventures and sensitivities their lives have led them to. My best friend is a character. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Except that she’s a character in a good way as are our boat neighbours.

We’ve all run across bad characters, sociopaths and even psychopaths. I have known a number of the former and a couple of the latter. Dangerous characters in so many ways, many of which are undetectable by normal characters. A normal character is a person who is crazy but has learned to curb the crazies and has great empathy for all the other crazies around them. We support each other rather than use each other….mostly.

I knew a man, a character par excellence, the mayor of a town I used to live in, who proposed that prozac ought to be put in the water system of our town to chill everyone out. Not a bad idea I thought at the time. He was a good politician because he told me of his plan in confidence, never making it a public statement. And, after all, most of the world relies on one drug or another to get them through the day. All I need is a small pork pie, a hunk of cheese, an apple and a glass of wine. And music.

I like rebels. Not destructive ones mind you. I like the kind that stand against the system when it has become lax, lazy, fat and even corrupt or just too big for its own hat. The rebels that I like in particular are the comic sort, the ones who tell it like it is but who also make us laugh while doing it. There are some clever clogs out there. Astute, funny, fearless types that make us think as well as laugh.

So, I was sitting with my best friend and neighbours Eddie and Mimz (she of marinagate and Cagney and Lacey fame) by their boat in Cassiobury Park a while ago enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine, when two men walked by. As they passed, one of them turned sharply and called back to us, “Did you vote?” Stunned silence on our part. “Pardon?” Eddie asked. “Simple enough question mate. Did you vote?” My best friend and I indicated that we had. “Did you vote for Corbyn?” he asked. Silence on our part. Didn’t stop him from carrying on….”Well, if you didn’t, you should’ve.” he said.

“They’re all rubbish.” says Eddie, “All politicians. Liars, the lot of them. Don’t matter who’s in, they all promise the moon and give you nothing in the end.” Well, that set old James off. Back he trots with his friend in tow and begins a 4 hour tirade on the evils of the powers-that-be, the NHS (National Health Service), the invasion of foreign workers (with a tip to their industriousness over British workers), the lazy and disrespectful youth of Britain, foreign policy, the price of things, greed, sloth in general, the righteousness of Corbyn (the Labour Party leader who gave Theresa May and the Tories the fright of their life in the recent general election), the lack of justice….well, you get the idea.

He did it all in a machine gun verbal delivery that left us breathless and by hour 3 quite ready to do him in. But we didn’t. We listened politely and laughed at his take on things, which were, as I said earlier, quite humorous. At the end of each topical diatribe, he would end with, “And you know what they can all do with that? They can all f..k right off!” It became a theme. I’m no prude. I would have written the word fuck, but I felt it might be a smidge indelicate given the wide group of readers you’ve become.

And, I must say, most of what James had to say rang true with the 4 of us. His powers of observation dazzled us. He had that old kind of cockney wit that said it like it is and makes no apologies for it. Well stated, quite pithy in parts, great delivery and passion behind it all. I told him his talents were wasted. He ought to go down to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be a hit there. James said he would have to decline on the grounds that only old geezers with a grudge and religious nuts ended up there. “Besides,” he said, ” you’re not allowed to curse or swear. That’d do me in right there. And you mustn’t say anything against her Maj. Well, she can f…k right off with the rest of them.”

With all due respect to the Queen, James had a point. Really, what has she to do with his life on a daily basis? James relies entirely on the people around him to give him support, be trustworthy, keep him safe and feed him. James, you see, lives in a place that looks after those who have broken down mentally….at least as society sees it. Rather than deal with the growing number of people in Britain with mental issues, the government feigns doing something by coming out with pamphlets warning us to be aware of this or that mental condition and to seek help. They don’t say where or how long you have to wait to be seen. And, bless her, her Maj can’t do anything about it….or can she? Does she? If she does, James doesn’t know about it.

So, they can all just ‘F’ right off. Maybe James should be the Prime Minister and the Royal head of state all in one. Couldn’t do any worse and we’d all have a lot of laughs. Anyway, after 4 hours of James’s platform, he said his goodbyes. His mate, an Iraqi who came here a number of years ago to escape the madness in his own country and ended up going mad here, had gone 2 hours previously. He’s obviously had heard it all before from his mate. I wish them both well. I’d vote for James. And if you think I’m crazy too, you can just….well, you know.

Canada at 150

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Not sure how to go about this. Sitting on my boat in a marina, thousands of miles and an ocean away from my old home, thinking about its birthday. 150 years old is not old when it comes to the age of countries. Canada was populated long before Vikings and then European settlers came along, but only became a nation in 1867 when Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec), known as the Canadas, joined with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to become a Confederation. After that, the other provinces and territories joined in. The last to become part of Canada was Newfoundland in 1949.

And that’s the history lesson for today. I wasn’t born in Canada. My birth took place near Hampton Court in the outer reaches of London in 1951. We emigrated to Canada in July of 1955. In 1967, Canada’s Centennial year, my dad, mum, brother and I became Canadian citizens. I had just assumed we were all citizens already. Nope. Had to join. I was 16 years old. And we went to Expo ’67 that same summer. As far as I was concerned, I would be Canadian and remain in Canada for the rest of my days.

Didn’t work out that way. In the 1980s I lived for 5 years in France and then in 2006, I moved lock, stock and barrel to England and have been here ever since. When people ask me why I moved from all that space in Canada to cramped England….the accent gives me away….I say, I love it here. Always been a dream to live again in the country of my birth. I love the history of the place too, the good, the bad and the ugly. I got a university degree in British history back in 1980….after a number of years studying at night. Every inch of this country is teeming in rich stories from history.

My first visit back to England from Canada was in 1973 when I was 22 years old. Met all my cousins and aunts and uncles and my nans, had my first drink (Newcastle Brown Ale), visited all the sites around London and ate lots of fish and chips. I loved it. So quaint. Small houses joined together in a row, large palaces, double-decker buses and home to most of my favourite bands. I went on a trip with one of my cousins to the south coast and up to York. I was sad to leave then, but vowed I’d be back.

Meanwhile, in Canada, my favourite sports teams were losing and I had to find a job. I got married, had kids and became a preacher like my dad. My favourite places to go in Canada were the mountains in the west and cottage country in Ontario, my home province. I’ve camped in the Rockies, travelled through them for business and skied at Whistler. In Ontario, I spent summers near the water at Sauble Beach on Lake Huron and at cottages on some of the lakes in Haliburton and the Muskokas, as well as the lake district in Eastern Ontario, especially around Bon Echo, along Lake Superior and always Algonquin Park. When I left the ministry, I enjoyed playing music with friends.

Canada has so much to offer if you love the outdoors, because there’s plenty of it. I have told some of my British friends when they ask me why I would leave Canada for here, I said that Canada is big, but it’s boring. Depends what you’re looking for. The grass, as they say, seems greener elsewhere than where you are. Canada was a great home for many years, 51 to be exact. So, for 1/3 of Canada’s history, I was a part of it. Not bad. If I’m honest, the best part of living there was raising my kids. I am proud of all of them.

You can look over the 150 years of Canadian history and pick holes in a lot of bad decisions made by its leaders. That’s the same everywhere. The treatment of its First Nation Peoples has been nothing short of atrocious. Federalism has worked to some extent, but if you travel around the country, there are discrepancies in how certain regions are treated by the Federal government. The folk in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, can be pretty stupid sometimes when it comes to fair play for all the provinces and the 3 territories. And often, Canadians, like Brits can be too focused on making money than living and caring about their neighbours. But, as I say, every nation still has those problems even after thousands of years of recorded history.

So, wherever I go, I try to be a part of what is going on in that place. It’s really all any of us can do. Fit in and care about those around you….unless they’re arseholes (assholes). You can find those everywhere in any country. I’ve met a few over here let me tell you. And I had my share of running into them in my old country. Come to think of it, I have probably been one at various times in my life in all 3 countries.

And so, here I am, far away, missing the party to celebrate Canada’s 150th. I just found out there is a party in Trafalgar Square today after it had been cancelled the last 2 years. I discovered it by chance when I was looking for information on 150th celebrations around the world. It was on the Canadian High Commissioner’s Blog. She said the theme this year was ‘Bring a Brit.’ My best friend is a Brit….but then so am I by definition. Anyway, she’s outside the boat doing some gardening with our neighbour Mimz. I went out and said, “Hey, guess what.” “What?” she replies. “I just read that they were having a party in Trafalgar Square after all. They say Bring a Brit. Wanna go?” It’s 3pm already. Catch a train at 3:40 to Euston station, Northern Line tube to Charing Cross and a short walk to the Square. The celebrations end at 8pm, so probably time at least for some poutine.

My best friend gives me a look, her hands deep in a pot of soil, ready to plant some needy flowers. “Uh, I don’t think so mate.” And that’s the end of that. I ain’t going alone. It says bring a Brit and last-minute doesn’t work around here. But, for all you in the Square, expat Canucks and your Brit guest, have a good one. I’ll raise a pint on my boat. Oh wait, I’m out of beer. What self-respecting Canadian would be out of beer on Canada day? That would be me.

 

 

WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

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WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

Yes we did. And I don’t have any photos to prove it (the one heading this Blog is from last yearat Cassiobury Park in Watford). I wasn’t allowed to take photos because I was driving and I have a tendency to lose concentration while photographing….not a good idea while steering a 20 ton, 60 foot boat. And my best friend was too busy working the locks to worry about a camera too. But we did, in fact, go. Please read on.

I begin with this….after a long winter moored in the marina, it was time to get away and banish the cobwebs, dust and just the plain inactivity of those winter months. The last time we left the marina was at the end of August last year, returning 2 weeks later. You forget things, and your confidence level sinks a little having not steered this 60 foot beast in so long.

We had talked about going out on the cut for ages. But the weather had to be just right and there had been quite a few breezy days in the Spring. Wind is a narrowboater’s nightmare. And we were just plain nervous. How do we adjust to the electrics on board? Will we have enough capacity in our toilet cassettes? Will I be able to navigate around the sharp turns and get into locks without ramming things? Will we find a good mooring with all the new boats coming online daily? So much to worry and think about. We were more than comfortable in our marina. Why risk all the potential hazards?

Well, in the end, Eddie is the reason we went. Shamed me into it actually. My good neighbour said to me, “Larry, if you don’t go out now, you never will. You’ll always have an excuse not to go.” So, I went, following Eddie and Mimz’s boat, ‘My Precious’, out of the marina and left toward Rickmansworth, I had wanted to go north to Birkhamsted, but, in the end, I was overruled. And so, we went that’a’way, south to Cassiobury Park. We wanted to get to Rickmansworth but didn’t have the time.

The trip began well….under the first bridge near the marina and along a very pretty part of the cut, under a canopy of trees. To the first lock and there she was, ‘Sexy Beast’. I can’t begin to tell you the adventures we had with Essex boy and his moll. But they were on the wide beam ‘Sexy Beast’ and just ahead of us at the lock. Our trained crew went over to help them with the lock gates. “Oh, fanks for that,” says Essex boy, his lithe moll looking as sexy as ever (we had seen the boat several times before in our area), “Look, we’re in no ‘urry, so we’ll go frough and moor up. You can go ahead….Roit?” We stupidly took him at his word. 8 locks later, he had found a choice spot and we did go on.

At every lock after the first, our crew leaned on our boats watching them struggle on their own to work the locks. Etiquette is everything and Essex boy had none. To his credit, he later apologised. I think his moll insisted, poor thing. Felt sorry for her. Except for the money and such. Essex boy was a hulking figure, rough around the edges and reminding me of a younger, but not by much, Ray Winstone. Apart from the palava with ‘Sexy Beast’, we got through the last lock and found a mooring sight.

It has been a rather dry Spring here in the south of England. The canal water levels have suffered and, at times, we were literally scraping bottom. Eddie’s boat has a shallower draught than ours and still he had problems. But he managed to moor alongside the towpath at Cassiobury Park. We, on the other hand, had to moor 3 feet from the edge and borrowed Eddie’s gangplank to get on and off the boat. We stayed for 3 nights. No use risking damage to the bottom of the boat and the prop by going any further. (The image of our boat heading this Blog was our boat at Cassiobury Park last year).

Cassiobury Park. Where do I begin? Lovely place. Been around for centuries, but not always as a public park. In 793 King Offa gave the land known as Caegesho (Caeg’s land by the fort) to St. Alban’s Abbey and remained theirs until good old Henry VIII banished abbeys and gave the land to one of his lords. Nothing much remains from those heady days of manor houses and ornate entrance gates. The former was demolished in 1927 because it had been left empty and couldn’t be maintained (pity) and the latter was destroyed in 1967 to make way for wider roads for traffic. Peasants in those days thought only of ‘progress’ not heritage.

There you have them….not my photos you understand. Meanwhile, back in the park, it was an eventful few days. The first event had to be the zip wire in the play area of the park. My best friend tried it last year when we moored here. She loved it. So, the first morning there, all four of us had a go. I was last. It was another ‘shame me into it’ moment. Trouble is, I’m a big guy and these things are made for kids under 14 years of age. The bump at the end is quite jolting. I won’t tell you what part of me was injured. I’m a gentleman.Eddie took the following photo.

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I’ve heard that Watford (where the park is located) is a rough town. The park is no exception. Gangs of kids roam around looking for victims to steal their mobile (cell) phones and their expensive bikes. I am proud to say we caught 2 of them….or rather Mimz did. It’s a long story involving the victim, a young 14-year-old boy who we took under our wing after the assault we witnessed. We called the police, who actually came quite promptly, and Eddie and I went looking for the perps. I went back to the boat and Eddie and Mimz went to meet the police.

Once they got there, the 2 perps, quite unexpectantly tried to cross the bridge that spanned the canal. Mimz became both Cagney and Lacey (her terms), got in front of the lads and yelled,”You’re not going anywhere. Get off your bikes!” You’d have to meet this former Psych nurse to know how intimidating she can be. She’s actually a pussycat, but don’t tell her I said so. The 2 lads were arrested and Mimz went off to the police station to give her story. She was there for 5 hours. Probably telling the whole constabulary the story and adding all the graphic details. Nobody does it better.

The rest of the days were quite ordinary. Walks into Watford to shop. A concert at the park bandshell by a brass and woodwind band from Kansas. Their music kept blowing all over the place. A BBQ where Eddie set the grass on fire….and put it out handily, as Eddie does. We had a raucous but hilarious encounter with an English madman, James, who spent 4 hours by our boats ranting about the recent general election and the state of the kingdom. Nothing he said was ridiculous and he was funnier than hell. I suggested he go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be brilliant.

I’d go on about the wildlife….the kingfisher I saw 3 times, but Eddie has yet to see one and capture it on film. He stood on our boat one morning from 6am to 8am without a kingfisher peep. I’d tell you about the fact that just over in the woods where we moored Jar Jar Binks first met Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars movie ‘The Phantom Menace’, but I’ve run out of space….nearly.

We made it back just fine. It was very windy but I got into the marina and parked the boat expertly along our jetty. We had to go a little further down the cut from Cassiobury to turn around to go home, but met ‘Sexy Beast’ on the way back at the Iron Bridge lock at Cassiobury Park. He was heading south to the Thames (where wide beams belong) and we were heading back to the marina. This time, though, we were first in the lock. As our boats rose with the water in the lock, we could see Essex boy with his moll wrapped around his loins as if no one could see. We all looked at each other in mild disgust. Oh to be Sexy Beast.

 

 

 

Crick 3 Rikky 2

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Crick 3 Rikky 2

I am not in the habit of publishing football (soccer) scores in my Blogs….although Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-1 to win the FA Cup this year (naturally). So, don’t be misled by the title of this Blog. It’s no footy result. But there is a winner involved. And not a likely winner at that. I am referring to the 2 canal/boating events we have attended for the past few years leading to a decision to live aboard one of these fine narrowboat craft.

Both functions occur near the end of May. They basically kick-off the boating season as far as I’m concerned. The first is the Rickmansworth Canal Festival and the other is a week later, the Crick Boat Show. The first is affectionately known as Rikky. “Going to Rikky this year?” We all know what it means. A number of boats went from our marina as it’s only about a 6-7 hour journey by boat (10-15 minutes by car). Every January you have to apply to have your boat there. Only so many boats are selected. Your best chance is to own one of the Historic boats.

A chap we know, who moors his 4 boats near our marina, takes all 4 of his and his partner’s boats to Rikky because every one is a historic boat. The oldest is 134 years old. Lots of upkeep on that one. Another is a pump-out barge. It takes the poo and pee off your boat (if you have a poo tank under your boat….we don’t, we have a cassette and dump it ourselves) and transfers it to tanks on his boat. Where it goes from there I dare not ask. Then he has a boat for living and one for arts and crafts.

The rest of the boats at Rikky are regular boats like ours and some are artisan boats selling everything from cheese to jewellery. Boats are usually 3 abreast, leaving a narrow lane for boats that want to continue cruising. Then there are the artisans on land. The last 2 years we attended, the same bunch sold the same old stuff and the fairground (midway) catered to the young. The food was expensive, as it is where a captive audience is found, though a good variety was offered.

But we didn’t go this year. We had planned to. Just didn’t work out. The weather was dodgy and the rum on our boat tasted good. Besides, we’d been to Rikky the last 2 years, as I said, and the novelty had worn thin. Our good neighbours, Eddie and Mimz decided not to go. Other boat neighbours who had a spot for their boat at Rikky decided to forego the pleasure and so we all stayed put, looking at our gardens by the boat and drinking our rum.

We had tickets for the next Sunday at the Crick Boat Show. We had decided with Eddie and Mimz to go together and stay overnight, returning on Bank Holiday Monday. Crick’s boat show is a more practical event. You can get stuff for your boat, not just clothing, baubles and beads, jewellery and crafts. And you can get that frivolous stuff too. Boats to view and experts to talk to, a beer tent and entertainment all day. All of the acts were stirling. Very folky and very good.

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We had been for the past 2 years and had originally decided not to go this year, but we had questions for the stove man and other marina representatives there and a gripe with the Thetford cassette toilet guy. “Why,” I asked, “did you put plastic wheels on the cassettes (where the poop and pee go)?” Info brackets there dear reader….I didn’t actually say poop and pee.

He looked at me oddly. “Well,” he said, “it seems to be a practical solution to getting your cassette to the Elsan point.”

“To what?” I asked, “What solution? You’ve put on wheels that have to be cleaned off before you put the cassette back under the toilet.”

“Why would you have to do that?” he asks, as if bubbles were floating out of my ears from my brain.

“Because none of our marinas or towpaths have carpeted walkways. It’s all grit and shit and you can’t put that in the tray below the toilet.”

“Well, it can’t take that long to clean,” he said. “Just a quick wipe I’m sure.”

“That’s not the point.” I  retorted, clearly annoyed that he didn’t understand, as most English people working in retail or the public sector suffer from, and ready to punch the twit in the nose. “Look, we use trolleys with bungee cords to get the cassettes to the Elsan point and back. We don’t need wheels.”

“Is that the only complaint?” he asked, a little smugly I thought.

“As a matter of fact, no.” I said, oh so politely with an edge. “Because you put wheels on the damned thing, it cuts back capacity in the cassette.”

“Only by a half litre.” he replied.

Now I was getting riled up (North American for pissed off). “Look,” I began, “when you have to empty the damned things, that extra half litre gives you that extra time between cleanings! We don’t want wheels, we want capacity!!!”

All he said was, “Sorry.” and turned to the next customer. Useless twit.

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The rest of Crick went well. It was a very hot and humid day. Even the beer tent was more like entering a sauna than anything remotely comfortable. But my cold pale ale went down very well. And the music was good. All the marquees were hot. The poor folk working at the booths were wrung out. No fans in these large tents. Usually the weather during the boat show is miserable. Not today or the day before apparently.

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The thing I look forward to the most at the boat show is the giveaways. Cloth bags filled with boating trinkets and such. A little info sheet on the product offered….sure….but pens and sweets, water bottles, boater key fobs, even a small torch (flashlight). I have a collection of boating cloth bags I cherish. Never use them but I love them.

Just one snag. We were in the Canal and River Trust (CRT) members tent and CRT cloth bags with water bottles  were laying on a table. I took one for me and one for my best friend. No one was around to stop us. Then I saw them. Little gloss covered books on canal walking paths. I took one.

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“Sorry.” I heard a voice say as I was putting the book into one of my bags of freebies, “Those are for new members only.” I had to grudgingly return the stolen item. How was I to know? Officious little twit. I slunked away, tail between my legs. It was hot. We decided to leave. Never got back for the evening show featuring Fleetwood Bac, a Fleetwood Mac tribute band endorsed by Mick Fleetwood himself. Everyone was too tired. That I would never have allowed if the real Mac had been there.

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TrumpTrumpTrumpTrump

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I swore to myself that I’d never write about this guy. I lied. I can’t open anything on the internet or look at a newspaper or talk to someone I know without hearing the name. Everyone I know on Facebook has something to say about the man or comment on someone else’s page about him. Like a rhythm that goes on in my head day and night….TrumpTrumpTrumpTrump, TrumpTrumpTrumpTrump. I just have to add my two cents (pence) worth. You may disagree, but I have to wash that man right out of my hair.

Let’s face it folks, he’s no politician. He’s a rich businessman. Doesn’t matter how he got rich or whether or not he is a capable businessman. He pisses off so many people because he has no idea or training on how to be a politician. He may be raw and rich. He may be arrogant and spoiled. He’s been accused of being a liar and cheat. Oh wait….he is a politician. He just doesn’t know how to hide it all (except maybe his tax returns). Some people find that refreshing. They say he’s a plain speaker, says what he thinks, speaking off-the-cuff. They mistake this for the man being a leader for the people.

The question is; does he care about people at all? The average man and woman? Who really knows? Is he to the extreme right? Does he care anything for the environment? Is he a misogynist? Does he just play up to those on the far right? Is he truly religious or pretending to be? Has he got some hidden agenda of his own? Is he, perhaps, just the star in a new Reality TV show of his own making that just happens to play on the world screen? That would be my guess. If nothing else, he’s an ambitious fellow.

Ambition. We don’t all have it. I’ve had two girlfriends in my past (one to whom I was engaged) who accused me of having no ambition and who broke up with me because of it. Call it laziness, a lack of commitment, no focus or some other personality quirk, but no one thing has ever caught my interest enough to make it my life’s goal. I like a bit of this and a bit of that. I have no real convictions any more and wish we could all just get along. When I look back, I think I never really did have strong views on any issues that seem so important to some.

We tend to admire people who are single-minded, single-purposed. Not all of them to be sure, but we are attracted to individuals who are absolutists, certain of their life’s calling and convinced that their way is the right way. Not all of us end up following those kinds of people….thankfully. But sooner or later, most follow someone’s take on things and become labelled liberal or conservative or some other classification that defines them. I try not to be categorised. Doesn’t always work.  Sometimes I’m liberal and other times conservative. Depends on the topic. I may not have strong convictions, but I do have opinions. Even then, I’m often wrong, not having had all the facts and shooting an opinion from the hip without giving the issue much thought. One old friend labelled me a lazy thinker. Not always, but often enough. Just can’t seem to be bothered gathering all the facts on any given subject. Unless it interests me, of course. Like anything to do with music, especially the Blues.

Let me push on to Trump again. Even though I really don’t want to. We love a winner, a champion. And especially overcomers. Films that depict a hero defying all odds and challenges to triumph over some evil or avenge some wrong doing are met with a cheer from the audience when the victim wins. They feel like our champions. Trump made a lot of promises to the American people along the lines of making America great again to the exclusion of certain ethnic groups. The name Trump is from old English and probably originating in France, brought to England during the time of William the Conqueror, just like my last name Turner. My ancestors made things from metal. Trump’s either made or played trumpets. Anyway, Trump is the white man’s white man. He’s the white man’s champion. The last gasp of a dying breed. Dangerous when in the hands of a megalomaniac.

Do my opinions really count for much in the greater scheme of things anyway? Probably not in this day and age. Neither should Trump’s. But they do. I guess it depends on what we consider as being the greater scheme of things. In the world of Reality TV, the loudest voice attracts attention. Audiences love to hate the bombastic, self-opinionated loudmouth on the show. Hate them, yes….but we find we have to tune in to see what they’ll do next. The more outrageous, the better. It only lasts as long as the show airs. Trump seems to have found a way to keep it going for at least 4 years. He may even get fired from the show. Who knows? Stay tuned.

All that is fine to a point. Trump seems to have wooed the Prime Minister of the Britons, Saint Theresa May. Probably not for long. She wanted something from him, to stay in NATO and he from her….adulation and approval. We all had a good laugh about the so-called hand holding. Well staged Mr. Trumpet. Trump was suppose to come to Britain for a state visit, but that may be revoked after Trump’s ban on travellers from certain Islamic states were stopped from getting into America. The real scary thing, though, is that the man has access to the red button. That makes Reality TV even more real. Look out Dr. Strangelove, here we come.

Boat Stuff

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Boat Stuff

It has been nearly a year and a half since we entered the new life of canal narrowboating, unlike any other boating on earth. And we love it. Most of the time. No sour grapes here. Just doses of reality during moments of sobriety and general clear headedness. Living in a fixed home, on land, with plenty of room to spare never looked so good when things go wrong on a boat.

Not that we’d ever give up the boating life. Only old age and waning energy will determine how long we continue at this gig. Dying of old age on the boat is the best case scenario….but not for a long time to come hopefully. We simply ride through any problems that might occur on the boat and move on or not, depending on where we are at any moment. Most of our narowboating life so far has been static, living in a marina. In fact, we have only been on the move for about 3 weeks out of our time on board.

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Our arrival at Apsley Marina in August of 2016.

As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve 2016 and my best friend and I are spending Christmas at our old house in Welling, Kent. My best friend’s son owns the house now and their clan is gathering for the festive feast day tomorrow. A bit unusual Blogging on Christmas Eve, but I’m battling man flu and need a distraction. We’ve actually been here for a couple of days already and things are as familiar as ever and constantly warm. It doesn’t help that we are in the winter season and have to work hard to keep the boat warm.

And as I write this, I’m back on the boat and it’s the New Year. The steel tube, all 60 feet of it was freezing when we returned after our 5 days in a house. You could see your breath. So, we put on the old (or rather new) Wabasto central heating system while we lit a new fire. Took a while to heat up, but we got there in the end.

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The addition of a new pram cover for the stern.

All that aside, it has been a learning curve that continues to teach the longer we live on a narrowboat. And I’m always worried I may have missed some crucial information on this or that technical matter. Keeps me awake some nights wondering if there might be water in the bilge or did I shut this or that appliance or gizmo off or had I forgotten to close a hatch (which I did one time….messy).

The key to surviving this lifestyle is in making friends, especially ones with practical skills. I have none, other than writing and playing one of my musical instruments. Technical stuff either baffles or annoys me. I try to learn, but, really, the inner workings of a diesel engine, while fascinating, do not, by choice mind you, become part of my integrated working knowledge of all things fussy. I am an habitual asker for help. Let someone who knows what they’re doing do it. Besides, I’m a rather tall, large guy and my engine room is small and tight.

But it’s like anything else you do that’s new to you. You make mistakes and learn from them. Most often. I have the nasty habit of repeating mistakes and paying for them….in every way. Just, on a boat, a mistake can be costly….in every way. Haven’t made one of those errors yet. Hope I never do. Remaining diligent for a guy with the attention span of a gnat, takes a lot of energy. Energy I need for other things….like writing these Blogs and learning a new riff on my guitar.

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So, would I do it all again if I knew then what I now know? Probably. Because now,at least, I have an idea what this narrowboating is all about and still love most of it. At the moment, we are expecting a cold snap. That will be a test. And I’m running out of coal. But come March, all will be well again and from then until October, we look forward to happy cruising. Going north this time. Going south into the great city of London last summer was a once in a lifetime experience.

The chores of the day are done. Two shitters emptied, cleaned out and put back into place. Filled the water tank in anticipation of the cold snap. Filled the coal scuttle for the fire. Washed and dried the supper dishes. Threw out the rubbish over in the big bins in the bin shed. Skyped with my youngest who lives in Toronto at the moment. Made sure the boat was secure for the night and finally am finishing this Blog that began on Christmas Eve. The consummate procrastinator.

Keep warm and dry everyone. At least most of you live on dry land. But even you still have chores to do. What else is new? Oh, and I’m still battling man flu….just keeps coming back. Couldn’t be because I live on a narrowboat, a long, steel tube in the dead of winter….do you think? Nah.

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Can you spot our boat?

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.