Tag Archives: Boating

Apsley to Droitwich: Day 5 & 6

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On our way Day 5

This was to be the last day of our trip from Apsley to Droitwich, but a body found in the canal ahead delayed the arrival at Droitwich Spa Marina. No one was sure where the incident occurred. There were varying accounts. And no one was sure if the canal was open yet. When our friends Tony and Deb showed up late the next morning, we decided to push on anyway. It was another great weather day. We were under way by 11am, not our usual 5:30am start, which meant when we did 10 hours on Day 5, we only would have 4 hours left the following day, adding up to the normal 14 hour day we had done up until now. You do the math.

Tony headed back home. He would meet us later at the next flight of locks….The Tardebigge locks, 30 in all, 2.25 miles long and descending 220 feet. The only reason The Hatton Flight is more famous is because more people use it. The Tardebigge Flight is on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, while the Hatton Flight is on the Grand Union Canal. The latter also has double locks while the former is all single locks.

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Solihull

The Tardebigge flight was designed by one man. The Lapworth Flight that we had just completed were all independent designs. The designers put out a tender to many companies to construct one lock on the flight, hence the different shaped locks (all still single) and a mix of lock gates and paddle lifts. One was eventually chosen and so there is a semblance of cohesion along the way. At the time of day we had completed the Lapworth Flight, I was so tired they all looked the same to me. Stone, wood and water. Start low, end high.

And now another new day. On to the Tardebigge flight, through Solihull, a southern district of Birmingham, along the North Stratford Canal, through the Brandwood Tunnel (352 yards long, 0.2 miles….not very long), up to a left turn at King’s Norton Junction on to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, through 2 more tunnels and down to the Tardebigge Flight. From the top of the Lapworth Flight to Tardebigge, we had to travel north, then west and finally south. Nothing on the Cut is straight forward. You go where the canals were cut to get to your destination. Sometimes you even loop back on yourself. We have those farmers and landowners from the 1700s and 1800s to thank for the shape of the Cut.

This day’s trip was going to take us 10 hours. Ought to have been 13 and a half, but we did Tardebigge in 1/3 the time (a record time apparently…ought to be 6 and a half hours and we did it in 2hrs 15 mins) required because it was late, just after 6:30pm when we arrived at the first lock and nearly 9pm when we got to the bottom. It was another hot day and there were 21 miles to cover and those 30 locks at the end of the journey. Would we just moor up before tackling the Tardebigge Flight or go for it? Tony made up our minds. He’d be there waiting. We were going for it.

Clear cruising on Day 5. We passed the place where the body had been found. We learned later that it had been a young woman with epilepsy who must have had a seizure and fallen in the canal off a bridge. Very sad. It took place in Solihull, the south end of Birmingham. Lots of hired boats on the Cut this day, some seasoned and more than a few who had no idea how to handle a boat.

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Approaching the Guillotine lock.

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Leaving the Guillotine Lock

We were following one hire boat for a while. It would slow to a crawl then suddenly accelerate and take off like a bat-out-of-hell (as much as a boat could fly), slowing to a crawl again and so on. Very frustrating. Playing silly buggers. We came to a sharp bend that turned right, into a narrow because trees hung out over the canal on the left. Then the canal cut to the left just as sharply on a bend past the hanging trees.

There was a pub on the right, on the bend. It looked for a moment like the hired boat was going to moor alongside the pub. I thought, great, I’ll just slip by him. He changed his mind and started pulling out, forcing me to veer left, just as a boat rounded the bend coming toward us. Don’t ask me how I threaded the needle, but with help from navigator Deb and best friend support, we avoided disaster. When the water cleared, we were back behind the hire boat that decided to moor up on the next stretch. We were glad to be on our own again.

Lots of pubs along this route. But the one we were interested in was waiting at the bottom of the Tardebigge Flight. We passed through the Brandwood Tunnel, all the while remaining on the North Stratford canal. Eventually, we arrived at the King’s Norton Junction where the North Stratford meets the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. We were finally heading south. Little did I know that there were still 2 tunnels before the Tardebigge locks.

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Entering the Brandwood Tunnel

The first one, well let’s just say it was like walking under a waterfall. A cold shower like none of the other tunnels we encountered. I was soaked at the end of it. And this, the Shortwood Tunnel, was 610 yards long. That’s over a 3rd of a mile of water pouring down on me. And no soap. The second tunnel was the Tardebigge, because it comes just before the locks. It is 580 yards long and is relatively dry….relatively.

The big test came at the end of the day. So many locks and daylight waned. Tony was there and organised the ladies, the three working as a well-oiled machine, lock after lock. We sneaked by one chap who we thought might hold us up, but for some reason, between locks, he had tied up his boat and gone off somewhere. We dodged ahead of him and never looked back, except to take photos. We reached the bottom lock, moored for the night, exhausted after the hot and long day, even though it was only 10 hours….only?

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One of the Tardebigge locks

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On our way down the Tardebigge locks

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Tony and Bestie operate one of the Tardebigge locks.

On the other side of the towpath was the sister pub to the one we had gone to the night before. This one was the Queen’s Head pub.The problem? We were too late for food. It was Sunday and they stopped serving food at 7:30. What did that matter really? The beer was flowing and the crisps and peanuts were plentiful. And guess who we ran into? The guys who had turned back at the Lapworth Flight to take the Birmingham route. They had arrived only and hour before us. It was much further the route they had taken. We all laughed. And we drank. Only 4 hours to Droitwich, so we relaxed and staggered back to the boat.

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Moored beside The Queen’s Head at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks

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Moored at the bottom of the Tardebigge locks.

The next morning we set off, but a little later than usual. We had to cover 4 miles and negotiate 15 more locks, turning off the Worcester & Birmingham Canal to the rather short Droitwich spur which had 3 of the strangest locks we had encountered. After all those very long days, this one seemed like a doddle. So much so that we had 2 chaps work those last 3 locks for us. They had to fill some pound off to the right of the lock, then empty it so the next lock would have plenty of water. 2 volunteers are here every day in the summer from 11am to 4pm, helping boaters through these locks.

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Deb and Bestie working one of the last few locks.

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Going down in one of the locks just before the marina with help from 2 chaps.

It was the only time my best friend allowed me to get off the boat, to watch the proceedings. Quite an impressive way to save water. It takes longer to get through a lock, but we didn’t mind. The marina was in sight and our journey to an end. Out of the last lock, ahead a short distance, turn right through a narrow gap and into our new marina.

I moored alongside a cement dock to fill the thirsty boat with diesel and we went into the marina office to sign in and get our place. I went back to the boat, untied and headed to our new berth, on the north side of the marina. Back in, tie up, engine off. Home.

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Our new home at Droitwich Spa Marina in Worcestershire (like the sauce).

 

Lock Lore

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A lock near us.

One thing I know for sure about living on a narrowboat in England. A lot of work is involved in maintaining it and cruising on it. If we could simply cruise along the canals, unimpeded by obstacles that get in the way, things would be jolly. Some of those obstacles are natural, while others come in the form of locks and swing bridges.

If all this sounds like boat-speak, you’re right. When I first got into this lifestyle, I knew nothing. And I’m still learning. What is a windlass, you ask? What are gate paddles? What is a pound (not money)? What is a cill? All questions I know you’ve been asking yourself. Expat Larry is here to answer all your queries about narrowboating. If only he had all the answers.

Be that as it may, he knows about locks. Last summer, a few of us spent our days moving other people’s boats from here to there to get work done. Every so many years, the bottoms of our boats need to be blacked. This is a process that uses some form of bitumen that is applied with brushes and rollers to the hull that first has to be blasted clean of the old black. The blacking protects the bottom of the narrowboat’s hull. Most people pay to have it done. Our boat is due this year and we’ve decided to do it ourselves.

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One of the boats we moved in a lock.

You can’t just do it any old place. Some marinas have facilities for maintenance. Ours doesn’t, so it’s off to places north or south to do the work. In our case, last summer, a few people needed work done and some of us provided the crew to get them there and back. We became the lock crew. And we were good. 2 of us got the lock ready for the boat to go in, then walked to the next lock to get it ready. The other 2 crew waited until the boat left the lock and closed it up for the next boat that would eventually come along. We had our system.

But, if you can share the lock with another boat, all the better. Locks on the Grand Union Canal (where we live) are double locks….2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you can travel in 2s, you save water, a vanishing commodity in the canals these days. You’d never think that living in a country known for its abundance of rainy days. Apparently, it’s the wrong type of ground in this country to retain all that rain water. Don’t worry about it or try to figure it out. I never do.

Approaching the low side of a lock. Two of the intrepeid crew wait to open the gates to let us in.

Approaching the low end of a lock. Two of the intrepid crew ready to open the gates to let the boat in.

So, here we are, a couple of locks down the way on one of the trips, when we meet up with a couple on one of those what we call plastic boats, the kind you find on lakes. Anyway, the folks navigating this craft were, well, not quite entirely with us if you know what I mean. They were away with the fairies, on some kind of mind expanding substance, not a care in the world. “Where you heading to my friend?” I asked after about the 3rd lock. “Huh? Heading to? Uh….not sure. What direction is this?” “South” I said. “South? What direction to Birmingham?” he asked. “North” I said. “Oh yeah? I guess we’re going the wrong way. ” “I guess. What’re you going to do?”

He just shrugged his shoulders. He insisted on pulling his boat into the lock rather than cruising in. It took a lot longer. He said he was afraid the boat we were moving would crush his if he drove in. No logic there, especially since he had fenders the size of a pilates ball. But he kept up this odd behaviour, heading in the wrong direction with no plan. He decided to moor up after the next lock anyway. Thank da Lawd.

By the end of the summer, we became the best lock crew anyone could hope to acquire. We decided not to get back on the boat between locks as we can walk faster than the boats are allowed to go on the canals. In total, we walked about 50 miles that summer, rain or shine. Many locks and many good laughs. And quite a feat considering every one of the lock crew have bad knees and bad backs. Brave bunch….but no medals.

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Lock gates open, ready for the boat to enter.

We got to know each lock very well along this stretch of the canal. Some of the paddles are buggers to open and the gates are heavier than hell to open and close. Some leak badly while others are just plain old and falling apart. This is why we have the CRC, the Canal and River Trust. They are the organisation that looks after the canals, most of them anyway. And the locks.

The locks are getting older too. Some of the gates are from the later part of the 19th century and early 20th. They have been serviced here and there, but there are a lot of them and budgets don’t allow for a complete overhaul of the system. Well, budgets and money wasted on ridiculous salaries for the top dogs and some frivolous projects. It seems the only time locks get serviced is when they completely fail, through age, overuse and vandalism….mostly age.

It was a relief when news came that a lock near us, that has been leaking badly, was going to be fixed. The notices went up and then the materials needed began appearing. Barges with water pumps and cranes then appeared and finally the steel fencing to keep us out and the workers in went up. The work began. The top gates were replaced and the bottom gates repaired. What fascinated me was the junk on the bottom of the lock once the water had been drained away. Treasures galore, mostly of metal that had fallen off boats over the years and tossed in by locals….like car hub caps and road signs of one type or other.

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Stuff at the bottom of our local lock.

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Preparing the lock for work.

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The new gates at the top of the lock.

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Finishing things off in the repaired lock.

This work went on for a few days. On one of those days, I was walking along the towpath to shop at the local Sainsbury’s (Supermarket) and noticed a narrowboat inching up to the barrier put up to shut off the lock. An older gentleman, who had the demeanor of an original boater, complete with old, unattended boat, stood at the tiller, grumbling to himself.

I stopped and stated the bleeding obvious. “The lock is closed for repair” I said. “I can see that” said he of the Cut. “Did you check the online lock closure reports?” I asked. “Don’t have a computer” he said. “Did you see any of the signs as you were coming along?” I inquired. “There’s always signs for this and that” he said, “But I didn’t see any of them.” I asked the next obvious question, “Did anyone along the way warn you this lock was closed?” “Yeah” he said, “A few people did, but I didn’t believe them.”

He did now.

 

 

Puddlepath

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That ought to read Towpath, but around here, our towpath turns into a series of puddles when it rains. It is a well-travelled path. Walkers, joggers, dogs, families, cyclists and me….so much activity churning up a path that was never made for this much traffic. Some sections have been resurfaced over time, but not our section. It just gets more and more chewed up. One day it will turn into a lake.

Towpaths follow the whole canal system. Horses used them up until the 1920s, pulling the narrowboats (barges) along the canals loaded with coal, wood and other goods for factories along the system. Today there are a few places that use horses to pull a boat for tourism and nostalgic re-creations of days gone by. Horses are replaced now by cyclists, some are polite while others do their best to run over the walkers.

Along with the puddles, comes the mud. Cyclists churn up the paths, leaving in their wake a quagmire. Then you have to watch for dog poop. Some dog owners refuse to scoop even when the aforementioned substance is left in the middle of the path. A lovely Sunday stroll along the towpaths can become a nightmare when you have to dance and sidestep your way along. It ain’t no happy singin’ in the rain dance either, believe me.

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Puddlepath on the way to Sainsbury’s

This is where your wellies come into play. We called them rubber boots back in Canada. The proper name is Wellingtons. Named after the Duke of Wellington who had the Hessian boot modified for riding  and battle purposes. They were worn by the British aristocracy back in the 19th century, where all fashion begins, but became popular all over the world after the Second World War. The slip-on wellies that go over the shoes in Canada are known as galoshes….from the French, naturally.

I have had wellies (rubber boots) most of my life on and off. The pair I have at the moment are the best I’ve ever worn. They are made by Barbour (not an advert) who have been around since the end of the 19th century. They supply the Royal family with waterproof wear. Snobbish eh? I purchased mine in York (England) back when York was flooded late in 2015. They came in handy. We were there to see an uncle of my best friend who was going through a rough patch. There was water everywhere.

Every time I put on my Barbour wellies (not an advert) I find myself singing a song I heard way back in the 70s by Billy Connolly, ‘If it wasnae (wasn’t) for your wellies, where would you be? You’d be in the hospital or infirmary….’ and that’s as far as I get. I looked up the rest of the words online while writing this….very amusing.

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The Barbour Specials in a puddle.

Anyway, back to the puddlepath near us. The rain had poured on and off for several days recently and the towpath was awash in water and mud. I had to go to the local Sainsbury’s (read Loblaws in Canada) and I don’t drive over here in England. I’d tell you why I don’t, but it would bore you. I knew the towpath would be a mess, so I went up on deck under the protection of our pram cover as the rain poured down, sought out my wellies and put them on.

This putting on of wellies is no simple or easy feat. The trousers (pants) have to fit inside and as I wear jeans, most of the time, the struggle is nigh on brutal. Twisting the material around your ankle while trying to get the leg into the narrow opening of the wellie and down to the place where the foot fits in requires a dexterity I do not possess. Getting them off is a little easier. Barbour wellies come complete with a bit of protruding rubber just above the heel that allows me to hold one boot with the other and slip each boot off with the other foot. Got it? It’s a feature that is not found on every Wellington. And I paid for it. The most expensive rubber boots ever.

And again back to the puddlepath. Out I went, ready for all that water. I wasn’t disappointed. Puddles galore. A kid’s fantasy. I waded through them in my Barbours like they weren’t there. And I was the only one on the path as it was still raining. Had my raincoat on too. All the way to Sainsbury’s without meeting a soul. At the bridge that crosses the canal, leading to Sainsbury’s, the lock was being repaired. But that’s for the next Blog.

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Repairing the Lock.

I got what I needed. My best friend was away for a few days and I had come out to shop for survival purposes. I tend to buy things I like the most and a couple of sweet things I ought not have. It’s the rebel in me. I also bought some fruit and salady bits to feel healthy. Time to return to the boat.

I thought no one would be on the puddlepath on the way back. And I was right for most of the way. Then, up ahead, I a saw an elderly gentleman slowly making his way toward me. He looked fed up. Bummed-out for the more erudite among you. As we passed, he looked at me, then down at my boots. His shoes were soaked and caked with mud. “Fucking rain. Should’a wore my wellies” was all he said and on he trudged. Typical English understatement.

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Puddles all the way along to the bridge.

 

Much Ado….

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I have been accused of making mountains out of mole hills. My best friend  tells me I do anyway. Not all the time mind you, just while telling a good story that isn’t as good in reality as in the telling of it. But most of the time, stories just drop into my lap that are as incredulous in real life as any fictional account could ever render. And….they really happened. Truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

Now, dear reader, let me just confess that I have been in a bit of a writing funk of late. Nothing has happened worth writing about, especially not this, but I cannot keep silent for fear of losing some of you, so let’s look at the past few weeks and see if I can’t squeeze some kind of juice from nearly nothing. What’s say eh?

Right, well, here we go….I moved to a boat from a house just over two years ago and now live in a marina on water instead of on land. Nothing new so far. But I have to say, moving from a house onto a narrowboat means you have to give up a lot of stuff. I even had to sell one of my guitars in the process, a Gibson Les Paul. If you have no idea what one guitar is from another, think jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin. It still is his guitar of choice. Les Paul played one too. It was , as you can tell, named after him.

Don’t know Jimmy Page? Well, it may interest you to know that all the great guitar players have played one at some time. Unavoidable. That, and the Fender Stratocaster. I kept that one. But I miss my Les Paul. Of all the things I had to leave behind, that was the hardest. I had to let go of all kinds of music equipment, good clothing, pine furniture, my electric train set, books (I love my books) and, of course, my studio.

Some of my stuff I could not part with and so we rented some space in a garage our neighbours Eddie and Mimz had, loading it with bags of clothing, Christmas decorations (if you know me, you know that means a warehouse full), memorabilia, photos, my journals, CDs, and journals I have been writing over the last 25 years. And still we had stuff back at the old house in my old studio. The house was being sold again and it was time for us to finally make the last decisions on what to do with the rest of everything.

I am a kind of pack rat. I keep all kinds of things that I don’t really need. But after living on the boat, I now realize that I need less than I thought. I keep old Christmas and birthday cards, used pens, music concert T-shirts (that don’t fit anymore), music books and music sheets and hard copy books. There were sleeping bags, a blow-up bed, art supplies and a stack of old 45s my best friend has dragged around with her for years. I can’t count the number of old candles we kept, suitcases and bags and, well, you name it. Plus, we have that garage full of things we think we might need just up the road from the boat.

So, there we were, standing in the midst of a pile of stuff we had to finally sort and either keep or discard. I was told to be ruthless. And ruthless I was. My best friend’s mum was involved in a Jumble Sale for the Scouts at their local community centre. We decided to give the excess stuff to that….books, 3 old stereos, a printer that still works, clothing and various other novelties. Some of the things I gave away I now regret. But to be honest, there was no room for any of it on the boat and in the garage.

We left a pile of rubbish to be taken to the dump. I can’t believe we kept rubbish. I know there are people in this world that can’t afford their own rubbish, but please. Where are we going to put the stuff we kept? Better ask my best friend. She is good at culling things (none of them living….she even spares spiders). I, on the other hand, usually find a reason to keep those 5 rulers and the yellow book underliner. It turns out the latter had dried up long ago, as had the other 2 or 3 dozen underliners. Just having that many in the first place begs all kinds of questions.

My old studio is empty now. No trace of my years of music teaching and recording anywhere to be seen. I even took down the glow-in-the-dark musical instrument stickers stuck to the ceiling. I was, after all that, ruthless. I threw away those birthday and Christmas cards….most of them anyway….and most of the stationary related items except one pen I have had since the 90s and a heritage pen my best friend bought for me at Tintagel castle in Cornwall, the alleged birthplace of King Arthur.

Oh, and 8 other items I just had to keep….corks from significant dates while I have lived in England these past 12 years. I wrote the date and the event on each cork, even one from a trip to Paris. What is wrong with me? When I left Canada, all I left behind was my fire department dress uniform and a metal trunk my parents gave me on my 21st birthday in 1972. It’s covered in those flower-power stickers with my name on them. Inside the trunk are all the mementos I’ve kept since boyhood, including a scrapbook filled with Valentines Day cards collected when I was in the first grade and school photos of my classmates. Oh, and a collection of Pez dispensers. Must keeps.

And that, dear reader, is the state of my world at the moment. Sad methinks. But all that is going to change at the end of November. Blogs galore to be expected. Going on a Caribbean Cruise. Hopefully all the hurricanes shall have run their courses. Have to get some hot weather clothing though. I think I inadvertently gave a big bag of it away during the cleanup. I hope whoever ends up with it is going somewhere warm. Meanwhile, I’ll treat myself to a couple of those garish tropical shirts….the ones with palm trees and tropical fish on them. The kind you purchase for such a trip and then send off to the charity shops upon return. I’m all heart.

 

 

 

Caribbean Cruise

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Caribbean Cruise

When is a pirate not a pirate? When it’s me and Eddie in silly pirate hats. Not the look I’d usually go for, but Eddie had two of these costume pieces, so I had no choice. And we had matching green T-shirts with ‘Sun’s Out, Rum’s Out’ on the front, with a Hoola dancing girl on the front. Fake pirates of the Caribbean in Hawaii. Why not eh? Be that as it may, the event we were attending had a Caribbean theme and so, well, the Hoola girls were imports.

Haven’t been on one of those Caribbean cruises. I hear they’re a lot of fun. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean unlike most Canadians and Brits. But that didn’t stop us at our little marina from having a Caribbean night near our boats and beside the canal the other night. Even Cap’n Jack Sparrow and Smee showed up. That would be me and Eddie.  All good stuff.

I’ve written about our boat community before. It’s pretty solid for the most part. Most of us get along. But like all communities and families, personalities can clash and people fall out as they say over here. But enough of reality, let’s go to one Saturday night when the boating community, much of it, came together to celebrate the end of summer in a Caribbean spirit. Rum included.

The evening was the brainchild of the famous Jools who, you may recall from an earlier Blog, had us move her boat up the Cut to get painted. But Jools is a busy gal and so the bulk of the organising fell to the rest of us. And in the true spirit of community, the gang came together to make it happen. But, to her credit, Jools made an excellent rum punch, in a pink bucket no less. Lovely.

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The evening begins.

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The evening gathers momentum. Good neighbours and good food.

Another couple from the Dark Side took care of the BBQs and all the cooking with the help of a young man also from that side of the marina. My neighbour Eddie gave it that name a number of years ago. He says it’s because we get more sunshine in the day than they do over that side. But now it has taken on a more sinister interpretation as being the side where the nefarious and the no-goods reside. They aren’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a higher turnover rate over there and we of the Residents’ side don’t get to know those folk as easily. To be honest, we don’t really make the effort.

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Our chefs, Phil and Andy.

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The Coy and the Bold gather to eat and drink….especially drink.

So, those Dark Side folk become somewhat of an unknown, mysterious bunch who gather over their side every so often….probably to look over to the Light Side in envy and who knows what other dark thoughts they utter. The Caribbean Night dispelled all those ideas we had of the Dark Side folk. Fine bunch of people they are too. In fact, Jools is from that side and she’s nice. The Duck Lady I wrote about way back when comes from there too. The newly married couple have their boat on that side. They’re fine and so, as a matter of fact, are most of them. But there are those mysterious ones you never see and  who skulk about when it gets dark. I occasionally run into one of them in the marina laundry room. They say nothing and neither do I….then I never see them again.

But, anyone who is anyone was there, including some good neighbour friends from the local apartments. Even Keith and Lynn came back from boat retirement to join us. The weather cooperated, much to Keith’s delight. He always had a lot to say about the weather when he lived in the marina and we had missed his daily meteorological comments. Our side was well represented.

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Lynn and Keith (far right) and others.

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The 3 Beauties….Maria, My Best Friend and Jools.

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The 3 Stooges….Eddie, John and Some Guy.

A few were away. One couple decided to go to Prague instead. How dare they! But the dad was there. He had been painting their boat all week and deserved to party. Another couple, our resident actors, were visiting family in Dorset….the nerve. In all, over 50 of us gathered to eat, drink, talk and, after a few, limbo our way through the night. Yours truly thought it best to abstain from the limbo. I feared ending up in traction for months.

Because of the potential numbers, a discussion had gone on for weeks where to hold the event of the summer. In the end, we settled for the area over by the pump-out. That’s where boats go to pump out the human waste that is in a holding tank on their boats. We have a cassette toilet, like in a trailer or caravan, and use what is known as an Elsan Point to get rid of our waste. The couple who did the cooking with the newly married chap (from the other side) parked their boat there. This served 2 purposes. 1st, we could have electric and 2nd, when people had lots of rum punch or whatever, they wouldn’t fall into the marina….not there anyway.

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Apartment friend Sandy and neighbour Mimz.

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Rasta Man, Graham, from the Dark Side.

We couldn’t all fit on the jetty, so we set up, illegally, on the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the towpath folk from our marina. We put up tables, chairs and the booze table on that side. I say illegally because we are not supposed to have alcohol in public outside of the marina. Probably not allowed to have a gathering either. Oh well. But we argue that drug deals go on out here all the time, anti-social behaviour and other unsavoury dealings, including a murder last winter….so a party seemed harmless in light of all that.

We did worry a little about the music we had blasting out from a big speaker loaned to us by our Bouncy Castle owning neighbour who moved into the marina not long ago. We had some Bob Marley and other music related to the Caribbean, all provided by Eddie’s Spotify account. By late evening, Eddie got tired of looking for theme music and moved to his own playlist. Everyone was feeling quite mellow by then and so no one seemed to notice the switch. Besides, the limbo had begun and the hardy were preoccupied with becoming pretzels in public. A good time was had by all.

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AAArrrrrrrrrrrrr

 

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.

 

MERMAID MIMZ

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MERMAID MIMZ

I have always loved being by water. That’s probably why I now, after many years of being a landlubber, live on a narrowboat on the canals of Britain. And I like to go swimming when I can. Not too much chlorine please. I have snorkled off the coast of Cyprus, southern France and Majorca. The fresh water lakes in Ontario, Canada are my favourites. Years ago I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia. I have even gone swimming in the sea in England. Well, not swimming actually. I stood waist deep in the English Channel off the coast on the Isle of Wight. ‘Twas quite cold.

In my 2 years of living on a canal boat, I have never gone swimming in a canal or the marina. Not the kind of water you want to be in….on, yes. In, definitely not. You see, so many things end up in the canal that you’re never sure how toxic the water, if it is actually water, is. Some areas are worse than others. The Welsh claim that their canal, the Llangollen, is pure. You could drink out of it. But then the Welsh claim many things that just ain’t so. Unless you are Welsh, then, naturally, they are so. Still, one day when we cruise the Llangollen, I won’t be either in or drinking the water.

Then there’s always the accursed Weil’s disease, otherwise known as Leptospirosis. That’s the fancy name. Others call it mud or swamp fever. It only kills between 2-3 people a year in Britain. Rodent, cattle or pig urine in slow-moving water is the cause. If the water gets into cuts or scrapes, the lining of the nose or mouth etc., the disease may manifest anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. The most severe cases cause a shutting down of vital organs in the body. Canals are very susceptible to producing the illness.

That’s why we try our damnedest not to fall into the canals or go for a swim in the marinas. Just not conducive to our health and well-being even if the weather is hot and the water inviting. In 2 years on the boat, I have yet to fall in. My best friend has been spared that privilege too. I nearly went in once, but that was at the end of the jetty…..our old jetty. I was trying to reclaim some solar lights I had wrapped around the wi-fi pole at the end of the jetty (dock). I had borrowed another boater’s workmate bench to reach the top. It collapsed and I was left clinging to the pole in the hope that I would not go into the water. I wrote about this elsewhere. Anyway, my inevitable plunge was delayed and I am still a fall-in virgin.

My neighbour, Mimz, was not so lucky. Not during the same episode as the pole, I hope you comprehend. It was later. The circumstances are just now being revealed and the details are finally known. This was no ordinary dive. This was one for the ages and I missed it. I was too busy trying to get to sleep on a very hot and humid night.

We have had mishaps in the marina before. In fact, at least one person died after falling in, hitting his head and wasn’t discovered until the next day. He was dead. Poor chap. A few other neighbours have also gone into the drink but were rescued. Alcohol is usually involved. But other times it can be a simple case of one step too far or a slip. You have to be aware at all times.

Mimz had knocked back a few at a party over on the dark side of the marina. They were celebrating the wedding of a couple recently married who live in the marina…on a boat. Even my best friend attended. I was in the city that night with a friend, celebrating something else. According to all reports, the proceedings were delightful. My best friend left a little early and went to bed. I came back a little while later from the city. Upon my return, I heard the distinctive voices of Eddie and Mimz at the party, laughing and carrying on.

I fell into my bed as soon as I got into the boat. As I lay there, I heard the sounds of what I thought were Eddie and Mimz coming home from the party. It seemed to take them forever to get into the boat and no one was talking. Not long after, I heard Eddie’s voice and he was being a little loud for the time of night and not long after that, more voices. By this time, my best friend had leapt from her bed and, as she passed me, yelled, “I think someone’s gone in! Get dressed.”

I did and joined the gathering throng outside our boat. There stood Eddie, Nick, Ali, my best friend and a very soggy looking Mimz. Eddie had thought I was still out, so, apparently, he had run down to Nick’s boat to get help. Nick stood there, in his underpants, hands on hips. “Think I’ll get you a cape, Nick,” says I, “You’re a superhero.” Nick and Eddie had dragged poor Mimz from the canal.

Well now….turns out Mimz had returned just before Eddie, tried to get the key to unlock their boat, slipped and went head first into the canal. Fortunately, she’s a good swimmer and doesn’t panic. But, she had imbibed, it was dark and she was under water. She ended up under their boat, found her way out but was trapped in a small space between our jetty and the boat, so she swam back under and went under her other neighbour’s boat, ‘Last Chance’ but found no space to get out there either.

What to do? Well, she came back to her own boat, hung on to the side as best she could and treaded water until Eddie came back. That was only 5 minutes later, but a lifetime in the canal. Eddie couldn’t see Mimz anywhere and called out, “Moo (his name for her), where are you?” She replies, “Down here, in the water.” Eddie looks down, incredulously, and blurts out, “What you doing in there?” “Having a swim,”she says facetiously, “What do you think I’m doing in here? I fell in!” Eddie tries to pull her out, but with soggy clothing on, he can’t do it alone….hence Nick.

By this time, Eddie is more shaken than Mimz (my name for her. Real name, Miriam). We are all contemplating what might have been. Why didn’t you yell HELP!? we all ask. “I did call out Jenny’s name (my best friend),” she offered, “But I kept it down because I didn’t want to disturb anyone at this late hour.” Typical British reserve that. Anyway, Mimz went and had a shower and I made her and Eddie a cup of tea when they got back from the shower block. Super Nick and Ali had returned to their boat by now. We sat under the stars, contemplating the universe and life. We were so very glad our Mimz was still with us.

The next day, Mimz and Eddie were off to a wedding in Dorset. When they got back a couple of days later, Mimz was all aglow. “Look,” she says, “The cuts on my feet have healed.” They had not healed over in a while. We were all stunned. And what was our first thought? Let’s bottle this stuff and become snake oil salesmen. Move over Lourdes.