Category Archives: Music

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

No bones about it. I love St. Lucia. Every moment we spent on the island was worth it and I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had. That part involved a catamaran and rum punch. But the whole island is a treasure trove of tropical and geological delights….if you are into those kinds of things.

Botanical gardens, banana plantations, a volcano, a salt town, a cocoa plantation that is now a museum of sorts and….oh, the Pitons. Not to forget the most fun I’ve had on the catamaran party from Saltière back to the tender boat that took us back to our ship. 8 hours of fun, sun, facts, flora and fauna that spun my mind and taxed my body.

We were tendered into port at Castries by one of those boats with uncomfortable seating, packed to the gunnels with passengers from our ship. To make matters even more unpleasant, it is a hot, humid morning. But, who’s complaining? It was freezing back home in England. So, we get to port and have to queue like captured prisoners waiting for our mini buses to take us to our touristy spots.

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Leaving Castries, St. Lucia, on our mini bus.

Let’s go first to the Pitons, those two 2,500 foot cone-shaped volcanic plugs at the southwestern end of St. Lucia near Saltière. They are a World Heritage Site and require a guide if you wish to climb them. I didn’t want either. Bet the view is incredible though. The whole island is a verdant wonder. And the going up and down the steep hills and twisting around bends seemed far more tolerable than they had on Grenada.

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The Pitons from afar. You can see them to the right in the heading photo.

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The Pitons with Saltiere below.

St. Lucia’s Botanical Gardens end at a waterfall that emanates from the volcano. I have never seen so many colourful flowering plants and species in one place. I am not, you see, one to frequent botanical gardens. But this one was both beautiful and entertaining. They even have one beautiful flower that can kill you if you simply touch it….and a caster oil plant that produces ricin, a deadly poison. At least that’s what our guide told us and the sign said.

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A Gecko welcomes us to the Botanical Gardens.

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Touch this and you’ll die.

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More deadly stuff.

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Name that exotic flower.

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Name these too.

Our group walks along the garden path, a narrow stretch with an array of flowering plants on either side. Mind boggling. To the point that the group left me well behind as I tried to get photos of everything. After all, I may never pass this way again. We came to a table laden with island specialties, everything from cocoa beans to coconuts. Did you know that palm trees aren’t indigenous to the Caribbean? I didn’t. They were brought from across the Atlantic (Germany….just kidding) and introduced to the Caribbean back in the early slaving days.

I ended up at the waterfall as the rest of the group was heading back to the gift shop. I had it to myself for a minute or two. I wanted to plunge into the lagoon beneath the waterfall, but the problem with guided tours is there’s never enough time to do it all. I’d need a week. I’ll be back. After Grenada, St. Lucia was paradise.

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The volcanic waterfall and lagoon in the Botanical gardens.

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Another beauty.

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White bell flowers (real title?)

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A Poinsettia Tree/Plant.

On to the volcano. It’s not dormant and it’s not ready to explode. Our guide said it was bubbling and steaming to remind us that there was still life and activity deep in the earth under St. Lucia. We walked right down into the crater and watched the earth bubble and steam in pools. But it’s the smell of sulphur that gets you. And, believe it or not, it’s good for you in small doses. Will cure anything. The latest research says that smelling fart gas (which give the same odour and effect) is good for you. We are supposed to thank those we are with every time he or she farts in our presence. They are lengthening our life expectancy. So far my best friend has refused to say thanks at such times (rare as they are).

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Volcanic Steam.

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Boiling mud pots

And, back on the trail again, to a cocoa plantation of yesteryear where we had a typical St. Lucian lunch and a tour of the huts where plantation slaves lived and worked, the huge manor house and an old taxi/bus that shuffled slaves and cocao about the island. Behind the manor house was an old guy hacking coconuts apart with his machete (those things make me nervous), discarding the husks on a large pile and preparing coconut juice for us to sample and the raw coconut flesh (the white stuff) to eat. Coco means head and it really isn’t a nut. It’s a drupe, or stone fruit. But it’s too late to change the moniker now.

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Plantation Huts.

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The Plantation Manor House.

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Ye Olde island transport taxi/bus on the Cocoa Plantation, St. Lucia.

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Coconut Husk/shell Pile behind the Plantation Manor House.

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View from the Plantation to the bay below.

Back to Saltière and on to the catamaran. We say goodbye to the Pitons and travel north along the coast back to Castries. On the way, we duck into Marigot Bay where the rich and famous holiday and play. From there, a beach near a 5 star resort being rebuilt. We climb down the steps at the front of the catamaran and swim in the warm waters of St. Lucia. Lovely.

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Marigot Bay from above.

Back to the catamaran and into the rum punch….very, very strong rum punch. I had enough to get me up dancing island style, which I never do. The crew inspire us with their moves. More rum punch as Bob Marley is blasted out of 2 enormous speakers. We are deafened by the sound but we are feeling no pain. We drink and dance all the way back to Castries, ready to board the tender back to our ship. What a day. Takes me ages to come back down to deck.

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Adieu Soufriere from the catamaran

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Adieu Pitons from the catamaran.

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Yours truly partying on the catamaran after a swim.

If ever you decide to go to the Caribbean, you have lots of choice. We still had another 5 islands to visit. But St. Lucia stands out to me like a beacon in the night, a siren on the shore (but in a good way), a tropical paradise. The people are friendly, the food good and next time, I’m going under the waterfall and bathing in the sulphur springs and snorkeling and sailing on a party boat and……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.