Category Archives: Politics

Facebook Killed the Blogger

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Yes, it’s true. My Blogging server warned me that Facebook (FB) would no longer publish anyone’s Blogs as of the 1st of August this year (2018). That was the last straw. My FB page had been hacked several times over the past 6 months, more and more ads were appearing, friends were being censured by FB, they took off the news feed and I have better things to do with my time these days. I know a few FB junkies who are perpetual posters. They must spend hours on the site. I did once upon a time, but no longer.

Social Media gets a lot of press, especially since the Donald came to power. I have a Twitter account but I rarely check it. I had a notice last time I checked that was 6 months old. But at least they publish my Blogs. As does Linkedin. I can’t keep up with it all. Whatsapp, WeChat…I could go on, but why bother? There are so many ways to talk to each other. How did we manage to communicate before all this technology?

For my 67th birthday, my best friend bought me a typewriter. I’ve written a letter to one daughter and am going to write to the second any day now. And then to my son. The only thing I can’t keep up with is where they are living at any given time. One is in Shanghai, China teaching. Another is on the road touring around Canada with one of  her several music personae around and the 3rd lives in Toronto, Canada at various locations according to who he is with and what he is doing at any particular time. I can’t keep up with them, but I try.

I love writing and I love my little Smith-Corona typewriter. I keep a journal…have done since about 1992…I have my Blogs and I have authored a couple of books (published) and am completing my 3rd. The problem with Social Media is that we are limited to a few bites, a few words. I think we miss something if we only read the backs of cereal boxes, adverts on the Underground or labels on food we buy. So many people I’ve met tell me they simply don’t read, either because they are too busy or they just can’t be bothered.

As I get older (and I’m old already according to my kids), I find my tolerance level for most of what goes on in the technological world not only baffles me, it also annoys me. Too much information, most of which does nothing to enhance my wellbeing or my inner peace. I find the more I become engaged with media driven by technology, the more agitated I become. I can’t watch the news without becoming angry. This has as much to do with technological advancements as with content. Information is dispensed in alarmingly rapid bites that serve to fill us with alarm and dread.

I have friends who think the world is collapsing. The evidence? News broadcasts, newspaper articles, adverts, political pronouncements on air (fake news) and TV programs that last for an hour at most, discussing an issue between opposing panelists that has no resolution, no solutions, no constructive outcome, leaving us more confused, more stressed and negative. But something in we humans loves opposing forces going at it in a manner that is quite violent as if a physical fight had broken out. Sometimes it does. Rage is disguised with civil behaviour.

Many of us vie for attention by posting anything that is on our minds at any given time. Look at FB and Twitter. At any given time I can see what you ate for dinner, where you’ve been, who you’re with, what you think about Trump or Ford (new Premier of Ontario), what your state of mind is at any given time, what the weather is doing where you are, your music preferences and dislikes, what illnesses you suffer and what business you promote. Some of it is informative, but I miss sitting face to face with you, laughing for real, crying if needs be and having a pint.

I was supposed to have 396 friends on FB and 760 people following me on Twitter. I only ever heard from about 40 on Fb and I know all of 6 personally on Twitter. Madness. Some say it’s because FB has engineered it that way…which says more than I care to think about at the moment. So many people I’ve known in one capacity or another on FB at least, and I am no closer to them now no matter how many posts we send back and forth. At least publishing my Blogs on FB lets you know what I have been up to in a lifestyle very different to yours. Have you been interested? About 12 out of 396. You want me to hear you. I want you to hear me, but few are listening. My Blogs are longer than a short paragraph or a Meme, a Gif or a joke. Who has time for my thousand words?

But I write because I love it and mostly I do it for me. Anyone reading what I write is a bonus. And so, I came off Facebook…hacked one too many times but let’s not go there…and I’ll find out who cares to read what I’ve written. If you don’t, I won’t be too upset. But please, read something worthwhile. A couple of ‘friends’ on FB would post what books they were reading (you know who you are Claude). That was helpful. My youngest daughter reads a lot. She is always giving me suggestions about what books to read. One of my favourites has been ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Frye’. A good story and a great read.

My Blogs are going to take on a different thematic direction as well. I’ve done the boat thing to death. I am presently putting together my Blogs on narrowboating into book form. Instead, my Blogs are going to be more about my humorous takes on life. Slices of life. Full circle if you know any of my past. Not as many photos, so you’ll have to read some. I look forward to hearing from you. I value your input. And please look me up if ever you’re ever over here. The pints are on you. Starving artist you see.

Camden Greed

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I don’t usually get caught up in what might be construed as political rhetoric, and I don’t think what I am about to say is as political as it is about greed. Ever since money became the way we do business, it has become the prize many have gone for no matter what has to happen to get it. We know it as greed, one of the 7 deadly sins offered up by Christendom, especially the Roman Catholic branch. The problem is, the more money a person or organisation accumulates, the more greed rears its ugly head. This includes the Church.

Well now, call it what you will, you can see evidence of it everywhere in today’s world. More and more. There are those who want nothing more than to get as much cash as possible to support a lavish lifestyle that is thought to be deserved. Maybe it is. But more often than not, it is to the expense of so many others’ wellbeing and involves some degree of chicanery and larceny on the part of the takers of this world to afford the kind of exclusivity they crave. Those and no conscience.

There is something to the old bartering system that remains essentially honest….for the most part. I’m sure some of those guys (and they were guys way back when) cheated the people they traded with. Greed is as old as time. Seems humanity has a touch of magpie or raccoon in it. Of course we would say that in the animal world this is instinct. For humans there is an element of this that has passed down through eons of evolution, but, in the end, we ought to know better. The old ‘do unto others’ golden rule you find in the good books of every culture was not written there by chance.

Lots of folk have forgotten that rule. The implementing of it shall save the human race. The abuse of it shall be our ruin. At the moment, all signs would lead you to believe we are heading for ruin. I could cite many recent cases where the abuse of riches and the instances of greed are pervasive in today’s society. Cite the recent demise of BHS (British Home Stores) run into the ground by high-flying ‘Sir’ Philip Green. I’m sure you have stories chez vous. There are simply too many to tell.

But the one I want to talk about involves a favourite place of mine, the Camden Locks Market and the attached Horse Hospital market, a meandering mishmash of bohemian boutiques and now you see ’em, now you don’t market stalls. That was the charm of the place in recent years. Folks who made jewellery of all sorts as you wait, beer bottles made into clocks, leather-bound journals with weird covers, any vintage vinyl album you could want (at a reasonable price), crafts of all descriptions and Indian goods that were cheap and cheerful. Lots of vintage clothing, posters from every era and anything bohemian you can imagine.

Then a billionaire started grabbing up parts of the market and now has it all. He has grandiose plans for the market, which might be a good thing except that it involves dismantling the unique character of the place, turning it into a high-end, expensive shopping mall for the rich Euro trash to have as their London playground. Like they need another part of London for that. They already have Knightsbridge, the South Bank and St. Katherines Dock etc., etc., etc.

But my concern is with Camden Town, home of Bob Cratchit. He could never afford to live there now, especially if he was a real person. And it’s getting worse. Local vendors and developers try to get every penny out of the rest of us. They are also eroding the traditional fabric of the area. Leather shops, vintage clothing, tattoo parlors, souvenirs and probably the myriad music venues are sought by greedy land-grabbing developers. They can’t wait to get their greedy mitts on this choice land and turn it into a playground for rich, high-flying foreign oligarchs.

And now this billionaire has most of the Camden covered markets. What was once a hospital and service stalls for horses that pulled canal barges and a gin factory became a market. But it had kept its history alive with bronze statues of horses and men shoeing them and the rest dotted all over the market grounds. They’re gone. Much of what has made the market a bohemian treat is gone. That’s the problem with billionaires. They never think what is good for the area and for ordinary people. They have in mind upscale shopping for the rich.

Rent has gone through the roof, shutting out the average artisan. I spoke to one chap who operated a gin distillery, something new in the market. He said rents had gone up drastically and many vendors lost out. I won’t get into the nationality of many of the business people moving to the market. Everything British is being sold off to foreign investors because the Brits don’t want to own anything. They just want cash so they can buy big homes outside of London and go on cruises and such. Unless something changes, Brexit is going to be a joke, if it isn’t already.

And there you have it. Who to blame? Everyone. The ones who sell, the ones who buy, those who own land and develop it, those who make the rules regarding who owns what, and the mob of complacent folk who say and do nothing. Am I one of them? Well, I hope not since I refuse to go back to shop there. And places like it. I’m tired of ‘upscale’ places charging the moon for not much. And let’s be clear. Greed is rampant and so things cannot end well in a society that cares more about the bottom line than providing good service and good value for money. If you don’t see it, you are part of the problem.

A call to arms? Nah. Just a call to common sense. Without it, you may as well let Kim Jong-un, Trump and Putin nuke the world and let it get back to basics.

 

 

Southbank Strolls

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Southbank Strolls

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

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

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The ubiquitous juice bar. Setting up in the morning.

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

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

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

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City Hall and the Shard in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sculpture of family on a Thames beach. Weird.

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

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

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Caribbean Bar by City hall and the amphitheater.

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The Amphitheater.

 

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Early morning exercise before the mob jog.

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Egg sculpture. Groovy.

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking north on Tower Bridge.

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

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

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Ground plaque near Tower Bridge announcing the Jubilee Walk.

 

 

 

 

JAMES for PM

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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.

Image may contain: 1 person, shoes, sky, tree, child, grass, outdoor and nature

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.

 

 

 

Henge Madness

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I was in Swindon not long ago. Not my favourite town. The people we visited are though. Nice couple. My best friend and the lady of the duo used to work together in London in the Civil Service. The male is a Doctor Who fanatic and has a collection of memorabilia that does the doctor proud. He also has other Super Hero stuff and a bunch of comic books. Shades of The Big Bang Theory (TV program for those less erudite among you).

No one goes to Swindon for a holiday or for cultural reasons. Even their football team was relegated to a lower division this year. And the Chinese restaurant we went to in town was closing that night after 14 years of trying to get Swindonians to eat more exotic dishes than Sunday roasts. Not a happening town. Unless you live there I guess. The last time we visited, the couple in question had moved from one new house to another, better built home, across the road from a farm and fields that were a protected property. Protected from greedy developers that is.

The protection comes from another source than it being a farm. You see, out there in that field lies what is commonly known as a Stone Circle, an ancient grouping of rocks that quite probably had astronomical and spiritual significance to people thousands of years ago. Their real purpose is lost in time, but some good guesses have been made over the centuries since. Mostly, many of these sites were abandoned for whatever reason eons ago and locals pilfered the stone for building and such and no one appears to have written anything we know about or have found that indicates their actual use.

But that doesn’t stop the theories or groups of wannabe druids, witches, pagans and the like adopting the various stone circles as the birthplace of their particular religious practices. Groups gather at significant astronomical times of the year….winter solstice, spring equinox, summer solstice and the autumn (fall) equinox….to sing, dance naked, wear other ancient garb or offer various sacrifices to whomever or whatever as a way of maintaining harmony and balance in the universe. Works for some.

Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, has long been the ‘go to’ site for all and sundry, from pagans to Chinese tourists. Nearby is Avebury, not as spectacular but definitely worth the visit, a collection of  various sized stones and a big ditch around it. At other places all over Wiltshire, these stone circles abound. Some have completely disappeared. Henges are a little different because they involve earth works around them and sometimes they are wooden circles, but all these  circles and henges are understood to be linked together somehow. It is estimated that around 1300 stone circles exist in Britain. Many of them are dotted in and around Yorkshire. Some chappy estimates there are some 31 in the county of Wiltshire.

They missed one. Ours. Well, not ours, but I’m claiming it. It has a name and apparently it is now protected. Only 5 stones remain and they are fairly flat to the ground. It’s now known as The Coate Stone Circle. I didn’t name it (Googled it later). I just found it again when it had become lost. Out of sight, hidden from the masses and all but forgotten. Sit down and let me tell you a tale.

So, here we were, visiting our friends in Swindon…or just outside. They live in a very new housing development. As I said, bare fields lay across the street. We visited there once before, heard tell of said stone circle and carried on with the visit with the promise we would go to see it sometime. But this time, I said, ‘let’s go see this stone circle. I’m feeling quite nostalgic and stuff’. So, we put on our shoes and off we went.

It’s all so new that we had to gingerly walk across a patch of freshly laid and evened out soil over the road that led to the fields. They hadn’t even put down the sod yet. Our footprints were left all over the neatly groomed surface. Couldn’t be avoided. Our quest had to be fulfilled at any cost….or nearly any cost. We didn’t even know what to look for or where to find it. I guess that’s why it’s a quest.

We made it to the fields, the intrepid 4. A path lay before us. You needed a path because the grass and other weeds had grown as high as my waist in some places. And we were supposed to find a stone circle in this. Not a marker anywhere to be seen. No sign board with historical data….nothing. Very disappointing. But we were determined to find the stone circle if it took all day (it was 4pm and we had a dinner reservation for 5:30, so not that determined).

We waded through deep grass, sweeping aside huge swaths of the stuff to find some sign that the stone circle did, in fact, exist. Over this way, back that, crisscrossing the large field until, BINGO! there it was. A large rock, gnarled and worn. One of us stood on it while the others went searching for other stones. We found 2 more, smaller stones, buried deep in the grass. Progress. I stood on this one while our intrepid friend went wading off looking for more. So far, all we had was an arch of 3 stones.

Eureka! He found 2 in a row pointing west to where the summer solstice sun sets. That was our conclusion. 5 stones, which I was later to discover is the exact amount found by those experts who rate these places as the real stone circle deal or just another bunch of rocks in a farmer’s field. Were there other stones here? Probably. We may never know. What went on here? Like with the other stone circles and henges we may never know.  We have some good guesses (like ours), but no certainty. A mystery.

There shall probably never be a crowd of tourists in this field as at Stonehenge or Avebury or the like. But we intrepid 4 marked the place and wondered back through the ages as we stood on Coate Stone Circle what kind of folk stood here and what they were doing. And, I hear tell, a group gathers here at summer solstice to dance naked around the stones. They’ll have to cut the grass first….then I’m in.