Category Archives: Tourism

Marina In The Mist

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Marina In The Mist

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

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

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

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

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

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In the marina looking toward the canal outside.

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

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

 

 

Chilli Day

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Chilli Day

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

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

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The Norman Gate.

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Castle wall ruins and gardens

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

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

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Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.

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Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

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

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

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Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.

 

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

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

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Chilli stalls and Manor House.

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

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

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Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

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

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

 

 

Sausage Sizzle

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Sausage Sizzle

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

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

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

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

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Eddie and the Bunnings lady conferring before the event.

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

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

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Three Amigos ready to work.

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

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

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Mimz and Andrea at the Raffle table.

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Team work at its best.

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

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

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

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Eddie and me. The perfect team.

 

Sad Goodbyes

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Sad Goodbyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Southbank Strolls

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Southbank Strolls

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

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

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The ubiquitous juice bar. Setting up in the morning.

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

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

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

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City Hall and the Shard in the background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sculpture of family on a Thames beach. Weird.

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

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

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Caribbean Bar by City hall and the amphitheater.

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The Amphitheater.

 

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Early morning exercise before the mob jog.

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Egg sculpture. Groovy.

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking north on Tower Bridge.

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

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

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Ground plaque near Tower Bridge announcing the Jubilee Walk.

 

 

 

 

Jungle Madness

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Jungle Madness

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

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

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The garden in the early Spring

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The garden between the boats in early Spring.

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

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

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

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Add an arch with a straw bird on top.

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Yours truly under the arch.

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

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

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Welcome to our jungle.

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Mimz’s garden. Spot the hidden hedgehog.

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A new addition.

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

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

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And this is how it looks now

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Our side of the boat.

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Jungle madness along the jetty.

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

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

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

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

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Mimz with plants for charity.

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Sitting in the jungle.

 

 

Ship Ahoy Redux

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Ship Ahoy Redux

I was born in London, England in 1951 near Hampton Court beside the River Thames. In 1955, my parents moved us to Canada and I didn’t return to London until I was 22 years old in 1973. I wanted to see everything. But the site that captured my attention the most was the large ship moored just before Tower Bridge. She (that’s the designation for ships….don’t get all PC on me now) was the HMS Belfast, the Town-class light Cruiser that saw action in the Second World War and beyond.

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Looking back at the Belfast from the stern (rear)

I swore to myself then and during every subsequent trip to London that one day I’d go aboard and hang the expense. 44 years later it happened. And, I did not regret one penny of the expense. I get senior rates now, so it only cost me £12.80 to go aboard. I’ll bet it was a bit cheaper in 1973. I tried to find those prices, but came up with nothing on Google. My best friend found a number to call, but I’m not that interested. Still…cheaper I’ll be bound.

We came off our own boat for a while and were looking after someone’s flat near London Bridge while they were off somewhere exotic. My best friend went to visit her grandkids and I had a day free. What to do? I know. How about finally going aboard the HMS Belfast, not my best friend’s idea of a good time, but mine definitely. My dad was with the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) in the war, so there was always an affinity with the navy.
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The above picture was taken in 1941 of RAF Swinderby where dad was seconded by the FAA because so many RAF personnel were lost during Dunkirk. I thought I’d give context to a rather bleak yet astonishing part of Britain’s history.

Meanwhile at sea, the HMS Belfast ran into a mine as it blockaded German ships in the Baltic in 1939 and was 2 years in dry dock for repairs, returning to action in time to help sink the German battleship, Scharnhorst, in the Battle of North Cape on Boxing day 1943. the Belfast was there during D-Day, covering the landings on Gold and Juno beaches of Normandy. After this, the Belfast went to the Far East and served later during the Korean War.

Over the years, HMS Belfast had several re-fittings, modernizing radar, various electronics, even the haul and so on. By 1963, the Belfast had served its purpose and was being prepared for scrapping. Fortunately, a group of Members of Parliament who had been navy men, one of whom had served on the Belfast, saved the ship and after several more changes of hand, the Belfast ended up the property of the Imperial war Museum.
It was good that I waited so long to go aboard. Apparently, until 2011, only certain parts of the ship were accessible to tourists. Since then, the whole ship has been opened and I was able to explore most of the ship and enjoy its history through TVs at various points telling stories of the Belfast.

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Forward munitions room. Shells were placed in the center tubes and sent up to the forward gun turrets.

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Forward 6 inch gun turrets.

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One of the original torpedoes, the kind that finally sunk the Schornhurst. Nasty piece of work indeed.

As an added feature, the rear 6 inch guns give the visitor a taste of what it was like to be in the turret when the guns fired. The noise was incredible (while being told the recreated sound of the guns was nowhere near the actual sound), the turret shakes when the gun goes off and I nearly fell over, followed by cordite fumes coming up from the guns vent, filling the turret with the smoke.

The beautiful thing was, I had the whole ship to myself for quite a while. I was first on at 10am the day I visited. Off I went, all over the ship, into the boiler and engine rooms, walking by one of the torpedoes used by these ships to sink the Schornhurst, along to the bakery and kitchens, down to the boiler and engine rooms, back up to other work areas (like the rum room), forward to the sailors’ mess and sleeping quarters, sick bay, down to the munitions bay where the shells and powder charges were sent up to the gun turrets, back up and up to the admiral’s perch, down to the captains lookout and back to navigation, up to the radar room and a look around at tall the anti-aircraft guns, then forward to the main front gun turrets and finally to the bow.

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Boiler room.

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Boiler Room

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Engine Room

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Engine Room

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Rum Room

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Forward Sailors’ Quarters

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Bakery

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Sick Bay

There’s more, but it would take ten Blogs to give all the details. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of stuff to see. And….well, I stood at the bow peak and, yes, did the obligatory, ‘I’m the King of the World’ thing. Had to be done. You’d have done it too. Not the Titanic, I know, but a very big ship all the same. Fortunately, no one was around when I did it.

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‘I’m King of the World!’ Tacky wot?

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From the bow, looking back at the 6 inch gun turrets.

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Tourist and commuter boats pass us by.

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Inside one of the forward gun turrets. Not a lot of room to move around.

I worked my way back to the stern, looking up at the huge smoke stack and other equipment on the main deck. I used the toilet, had one more look back and left the ship along the gangplank that links ship to shore. It’s a rather long gangplank and I stopped half way to look along the old Cruiser. 44 years. Glad I made it.

I was on my own as I said. Had my best friend been there, she probably would have talked sense into me when I arrived at the gift shop. I am a sucker for tat (touristy junk). On this occasion, it was a tossup between a brass rum cup (for my even tattier shot glass collection from all over the world) or a Bosun’s whistle (also brass….with wood). The cup had no writing on it. Could have come from anywhere, but the whistle….well, it said it was authentic. Who am I to argue?

I bought the whistle. Never mind how much it cost me. After all, I live on a boat and I have been known to pipe people aboard using my mouth as the whistle….entirely unsatisfying.  So, when I got back to our own boat, I drove everyone crazy practicing with my new Bosun’s whistle. To my credit, I did go online to see how to blow it correctly.  I was working on it until the other day when I went to get it to practice and couldn’t find my Bosun’s whistle anywhere. Where could it be? I’ll have to ask my best friend if she has seen it.

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Anti-aircraft gun and the Shard in the background.

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London City from the Admiral’s Perch.

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London City Hall from the upper deck.

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The Captain’s Perch

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An officer’s cabin

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Looking back and up at one of the smoke stacks.

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Looking back at Tower Bridge from the Belfast’s stern.

 

 

A Jolly with Jools

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A Jolly with Jools

My best friend and I, along with our boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz, are becoming excellent boat movers. We really do need to rent out our services to people wanting their narrowboats taken from one place to another. But, being the lazy sod that I am and chief procrastinator, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But the times we’ve done it recently are worth the whole experience.

On this occasion, we moved a friend’s boat because it was going to be painted. The name of the boat is Lyra, a 68 foot Titan Trad owned by one Julie, or Jools as her friends call her. She owns a tiny Spaniel named Nysa, but she doesn’t factor into the following equation until the very end of the trip. We had to take it up to a place called Bolbourne, just past the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and back again. Up on the Wednesday and back the following Monday. So now, those are the boring facts of the case.

The trip usually takes about 10-12 hours. We did it, both ways in less than 7 hours each way. That’s because we were under the orders of Mr. Boat himself, Admiral Edward (Eddie) Starck. The man is lightning in a bottle….after the bottle breaks. And, to be fair, he had the best crew no money can buy. Not to mention we’re all handicapped in some capacity given our ages and other medical particulars not for public records….I’m old OK? My knees hurt. My back aches, my hands ache. I get headaches….and I’m the healthy one.

Nothing stops us when the promise of SADS awaits at the end of a long journey (Safe Arrival DrinkS) and I ain’t talkin’ tea or coffee here. We are a dedicated crew that stays with the job until it’s done. It’s as if we were a unified machine with Eddie as our engine. Not only are we motivated by the promise of a bevvy at the end of the day, but the promise of good exercise for those of us who need to drop a few pounds and inches. Plainly and simply, it’s good for us. Keeps the blood flowing and the sinews stretched.

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In the old lock at Bolbourne. The boat is painted and ready to go.

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Jools on the gunnel. Last minute checks before casting off. A-Team to the side.

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Water rising in the lock at Bolbourne. Nearly ready to go.

So, the crew is off, early mind you. Got to keep ahead of the late risers. Boaters are, by and large, a lazy bunch. Just look at the state of many of the boats along the cut. We did and were not impressed. Don’t know how some of them stay afloat. But our ship was sound and ready for a new paint job. The way up provided no drama. I rode in the front some of the way. Very calming. All alone, only the sound of water lapping against the sides of the boat. Eddie had wanted to do the locks but we elected him as driver. He had more experience and this 68 footer gave him all he could handle.

The girls walked all the way to Cowroast. Then they were picked up and driven to Bolbourne where they sat on a bench outside a pub drinking until we showed up, with the chap who was doing the painting. Took us another 50 minutes to get there by boat. 5 minutes in the car. At 4mph on the boat, we don’t get anywhere fast. But that is the point of boating after all. Leisurely does it….unless you’re with Eddie.

The way back, after the boat was painted a lovely blue was more eventful. Partly because Jules drove from Cowroast. None of us was impressed with the facilities at Bolbourne. An old Lock converted into a dry dock for working on boats. Electric cable tangling in the water, rotting wooden steps and gangplanks, old unused tools hanging about and the back-end of Jools’s boat not under cover. Not ideal. And filthy with it. But Eddie deftly backed us out and turned us around for the trip back.

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Leaving the old lock at Bolbourne. Good riddance.

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Admiral Eddie and Jools as we begin our journey from Bolbourne to Apsley.

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Bolbourne Ironworks with CRT (Canal & River Trust) equipment beside it on the Cut.

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Admiral Eddie at the helm instructing Jools on the Tring Summit.

Back to Jools. She took to steering her long boat with style. Problem is, every time the boat scraped against something she had a fit. But this boating. You get bumps and scrapes in the locks and along the banks of the canals and occasionally from other boaters. And you must have your wits about you every moment. Lose concentration even for a moment and the boat can veer off to one side or the other. Jools has a short attention span and a few times things went awry. Especially when another friend joined us further down the cut. The friend sat on the roof of the boat at the back with Jools. The two chatted away….well, you can imagine what happened next. A stiff warning from Admiral Eddie, “Pay attention Jools!” Not too much damage done thankfully.

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Jools at the helm. She’s steering in the rain….

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Jools steering her boat toward a lock. The gates are open. A-Team has done its work and moved on. B-Team awaits the boat to enter the lock….come on Jools.

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Jools in a lock ready to leave. B-Team has opened a gate for her.

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Admiral Eddie of B-Team heads down the Towpath toward the next lock.

So, we carried on. The A&B teams worked in a seamless harmony until a few locks from home. Jules was tired and making more errors of judgement so Admiral Eddie mercifully took over driving and Jools’s boat buddy took over with me on the B Team. Problem? She was working on a huge hangover from the night before and I had to keep waking her up as she leaned on an arm of the lock gate. “Don’t forget to lower the gate paddles” I’d say as she walked by them in a fog. “Oh yeah….thanks” she’d say and continue walking on by. It took a few goes, but they got closed.

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Moored at Berko (Berkhamsted) for lunch.

The highlight of the trip? Well, the high and the low wrapped into one. If you follow my Blogs, you may recall way back when that I wrote about Admiral Eddie when he was Photographer Eddie, searching for the elusive Kingfisher bird last year to get a photo. He never did. Then I wrote more recently that he spent over 2 hours on the back of our boat from 6am at Cassiobury Park. No Kingfisher. I had seen it 3 times. You see, they flit onto a branch and at the slightest movement, they’re off.

So, here we are on the Tring Summit, Admiral Eddie at the helm, heading to Cowroast where Jules would begin her driving apprenticeship, when up ahead, a Kingfisher flits out of the trees and lands on a branch hanging over the Cut. What to do? I had my camera handy but couldn’t get in focus thinking any second the little bugger would be gone. My best friend and Mimz scrambled for their iPhones and poor Photographer/Admiral Eddie had left his camera at home on his own boat.

We glided by the wee kingfisher in awe. It just sat there, on the branch, watching us go by. Eddie swore (and he did) that the little so-and-so wagged its tail feathers mockingly at us. Then it flitted off. We saw another one later but neither B Team Eddie nor yours truly had a camera then either. But, Eddie at least saw one at last. Beautiful plumage. Just have to see one when Photographer Eddie is around.

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The amazing, incomparable A-Team: My best friend on the left and Mimz on the right. Windlasses up! At the main lock at Berko.

 

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.