Tag Archives: Canals

Lock Lore


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.


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.


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.


Stuff at the bottom of our local lock.


Preparing the lock for work.


The new gates at the top of the lock.


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.






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.


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.


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.


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.


Puddles all the way along to the bridge.


Sad Goodbyes

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.


CARNIVAL! The Cut: Part 3

CARNIVAL! The Cut: Part 3

Where do you go to see London Bobbies dancing, drug dealers dealing, 4 motorcycles in the canal under one bridge, music so loud that it sucks the air out of you, a turtle beside your narrowboat, a million people dancing in the streets and pageantry? Why the Notting Hill Carnival, that’s where. And all this on what was billed as Family/Childrens’ Day.

We left Alperton intending to make our way to Paddington Basin. We weren’t optimistic about finding a mooring there because they are very limited and this is the busiest time of the boating season. We cruised on the aquaduct that passes over the traffic laden North Circular Road. Past Wembley Stadium and factories that once produced the likes of Heinz products and Guiness Beer but now every other establishment puts out Asian food goods.


Aquaduct over the North Circular Road near Wembley Stadium.

There are those skeletal structures of huge gas holders at Kensington gasworks to the right (starboard) and the very old Kensal Green cemetery to the left (port) holding the remains of some of the top literary characters from then and now. Anthony Trollope is in there. So is William Thackeray. Lots of other famous people are buried here too. But we just sailed on by.

Soon we come to apartment and office buildings lining both sides of the canal, some old, some new. We are in the heart of Kensal Town and Ladbroke Grove. Not far away are Notting Hill and Bayswater. We were passing Westbourne Park when Miriam rang our boat from theirs. “Wanna spend a couple of hours at Carnival?” she asked. “We can moor along here and get some good photos. Then we’ll move on.”

Well….that didn’t happen. We moored up, side-by-side, just under Bridge 4c on the Canal and opposite The Union Tavern. It was still quite early, but people in various outfits and colourful garb were crossing the bridge above. Lots of police too. In fact, more police than anything else. 10,000 of them at Carnival we were told.


Moored near Westbourne Park at the site of Carnival.

We locked up our boats and headed for the park that was back under the bridge. Stalls were being set up for Jamican and African trinkets and food, face painting and all those things a carnival offers. Events hadn’t started up yet, so it was all quiet so far. Convivial and subdued. Besides that, rain was in the air.





Out on the street, things were beginning to happen. More police showed up and Carnival security people lined the street, closing off a side street because, we were told, the practice parade was about to begin. The next day was the actual parade. But it was the same parade, just, as it turns out, a little more disorganised. Thus the rehearsal.

Before long, huge lorries (trucks) carrying enormous sound systems, enough to suck the air out of you and knock you to the ground, started over the bridge and along the street. Young people from different groups paraded by in Mardi Gras-like costumes or just wearing T-shirts with peace logos and jeans, waving banners or Jamaican flags. Guys on stilts and yet another lorry blasting out Reggae music while chaps with mics called out incomprehensible slogans.


Carnival Parade Costumes


Here they come again.


Little Cutie with Mum and Dad. ‘Where’re the rest of them?’


The rest of them

It rained on and off for a short while. No one seemed to care. Groups of young people paraded on by. The noise was deafening, but catchy, and everyone was in a good mood despite the damp. Even the police got involved.


The Dancing Bobby


Had Enough?

In the middle of the conflagration stood the intrepid Eddie the Photographer. The man knows no bounds, no limits. He just took charge. Anyone would have thought him the official photographer of the event. In fact, the parade officials did. Eddie had just walked out into the middle of the street and started shooting….with his camera of course. One policeman tried to move him on, but he was waved off by other officials and Eddie remained, snapping away as the hordes crashed in on him. The man was unfazed.


Eddie the Photographer

Hours passed. My best friend and I had to withdraw at one juncture. My old ears were to the point of bleeding. We grabbed some Jamaican delicacies from one of the stalls in the park and headed back to our refuge….our boat. But the white noise continued. Every lorry that passed blasted out different music blending it into one. Opposite our boats, The Union Tavern had its own outdoor sound system blaring across the canal. Then it happened.

A little white, plastic boat pulled in behind us. Eddie the Kind helped the chap moor his boat. All seemed very convivial. Until the boat owner began passing out party balloons to towpath passersby. They inhaled the contents, sucking in breath after breath and then laughing and reeling along the towpath. Several had bottles of booze. They drank from the bottles and sucked on the balloons.

It was my first experience with the phenomena of nitrous oxide being used to get a high. It’s also known as ‘hippy crack’ or ‘sweet air’. Lovely. To keep us happy, the boat owner brought over some beer and offered us a free balloon. No thanks. The beer is enough. The cops weren’t bothered. We spoke to a couple that came by but they said there was too much of it going on to arrest anyone. Anyway, they were more worried about fights and stabbings that regularly took place at Carnival.

Every so often, someone went into the boat with the dealer or one of his two female molls. They would emerge sniffing white powder or rubbing it from their faces. When the police came by, he hid his gas cannisters and brought out the beer. He told them he was selling alcohol. Land police can’t touch him for that because he’s on the water. A police boat made a couple of passes during the day. They were too busy telling each other jokes to notice any nefarious goings on.

So open were the proceedings that another boat in front of us began selling drugs too. Before long, we had crowds of young people strewn all over the towpath, late into the night. The music stopped at 10pm sharp. At one point, the music and people noise was so intense that I grabbed my best friend, walking her down the towpath toward Little Venice, leaving the madness behind. Just along the way, a man was spray painting a blank white wall with a mural. Nice.





Quite a day. We had decided to stay the night. Poor Eddie and Miriam were tied along the towpath. People were using their boat as a wall to lean on or a roof on which to sit. Eddie kept chasing them away. Miriam was more enterprising. She rented her toilet out to some of the balloon girls for £1 a go.

The next morning, all was quiet. Rubbish everywhere on the towpath and in the canal, but all was tranquil. The white, plastic boat was gone and no one was on the towpath save a few joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Eddie and I took a walk toward the park. Under the bridge, in the canal, we saw 4 intact motorcycles. You can probably guess. Dumped by thieves. They had been there for a while. No one seemed to care.


A Motorcycle in the Cut


The next morning. Rubbish in the Cut.

As we walked back to the boat, we looked down into the cut and there it was. A turtle swimming along as if the rest of the world didn’t matter. And to the turtle, it didn’t. We marvelled at this creature, unnatural to the canals but there nonetheless. A beautiful sight. The highlight of our day at Carnival.


Turtle in the Cut at Westbourne Park.

The Intrepid Couple


Take one transplanted Englishman landlubber, mix with an Aussie lassie who is sight challenged and add one narrowboat. Recipe for disaster? Not with this couple. The male in question, Keith, moved to Australia years ago where he met his fair lady, Linda. A tribute to romance and great teamwork. And, like all great couples, one is the creative dreamer, while the other is a practical mathematician. It just works.

One day, it was time for Sir Keith (not knighted as such, but a knight in shining armour anyway) to return to his native land with his fair maiden to visit relatives and old friends. It had to be a year stay to make it worthwhile, but how to live economically without being a burden on anyone? How about moveable housing?

To the internet they went and purchased, sight unseen, a 57 foot narrowboat. They arrived on England’s green and pleasant land during midsummer of 2015 taking residence on Midsummer the boat, moored at Rugby Boat sales, just south of where we were moored at the same time last year. They, like us, had never even been on a narrowboat before this. The stuff of madness some may think. Not so. Read on.

After leaving our first mooring at Crick where we bought our boat, we had moored up several miles down the cut just past a lock known as Buckby Top Lock, near Long Buckby. A pub called The New Inn lies beside the lock. Some beautiful homes are strung along one side of the canal with gardens to rival the ancient city of Babylon. We moored across from these homes in this idyllic setting.

We weren’t moored up long before another boat came along and parked just behind ours with the name Clark & Company, Retford No. 259 on the side. A lovely couple on board too. And just after that, Midsummer moored in front of us. Now the plot thickens. Turns out Midsummer had been owned by the couple behind us. Some coincidence that. We all had a good laugh and then headed for The New Inn for brewskis and a getting aquainted session. Nice thing about this little group? Everyone was interested in everyone else’s story. I like that. I’m not one for folks who only like to talk about themselves.

We all decided to stay an extra day, but only me, my best friend and Linda and Keith went for a long walk the next day along the towpath, the other way, to Whilton marina. Along the way, we stopped at a little cottage at the side of the towpath where they sold articles painted with the traditional canal art. All done by the proprietors. A family run business. The best of Britain. At the marina, we all bought useful things for our boats and Keith and I talked about all things to do with our new floating aquisitions. We were both novices finding our way.

The only difference between us is that Keith is very handy and I’m not. He told me about the things he was going to do while aboard. I was in awe. The four of us then sat outside at the marina’s cafe and had a coffee and a pastry and talked for ages. We got up to leave and as we walked away, one of the cafe staff ran after us. We had been so lost in conversation, we had forgotten to pay.

The next day we all headed out, us to our marina some 60 miles away and Keith and Linda to adventures galore to the north and east. They would be continuous travellers for the next year, cruising the canals of Britain, visiting historic sites, meeting fascinating people, avoiding dangerous situations, surviving wild storms, fixing broken boat bits, mooring along some of the most beautiful landscapes anywhere in the world, trying out a variety of pubs and fine dining places and generally living the bohemian lifestyle. Linda Blogged all the way along on a Facebook Special page, ‘Narrowboating with KJ in the UK’. Great photos, videos and Blogs.

They survived the winter, which for an Aussie lass who is used to the heat of her homeland is an ordeal in itself. Keith kept their fire burning bright and warm. The two visited us once in January. They love our boat. We did a lot of catching up and laughed at each others’ foibles. They said they were heading south in the Spring and would be up our way, in their boat, in June. I was envious of their adventures….but the best was yet to come.


Keith and Linda and my best friend on our boat, January 2016.

Linda and Keith travelled south on rivers and canals until they reached the River Thames. Only the foolhardy take narrowboats along that waterway. The Thames water current moves swiftly and large power boats create substantial wakes. In a flat-bottomed boat, things can be tricky. Not for Keith. He glided along without a look of care on his face. “Easiest thing I’ve ever done. From the Limehouse Basin to Richmond. Nothing to it” he said. “You’re my hero” said I.

The intrepid couple made their way up the Grand Union, facing harsh winds and lashing rain and finally arrived to our marina. Here they stayed for a couple of days, moored opposite us, beside a wobbly, bird-poo spattered jetty. Keith replaced his boat batteries, made new holders for his fenders (rubber thingys that protect the paint work on the sides of boats), cooked us dinner and generally odd-jobbed about Midsummer. I sat at the end of my jetty watching him saw and drill. Fascinating. And in rather hot weather too. My best friend brought out the Pimms and we sat in great admiration, takng in the proceedings over the way.


Keith at work on Midsummer


Linda and Keith left a few days later. Work done. Keith wanted to stay another day, but Linda wanted to get back to the freedom on the cut. We wished them well and helped them through the first 2 locks near our marina. Linda, even with the challenged sight, works the locks. She is amazing to watch. They were heading north up The Grand Union. Adventures still to come. Sail on sailors.


The Intrepid Couple

Nervous Eddie


What could possibly top a Saturday out at the Ricky Canal Festival with my boat neighbour Eddie? I’ll tell you what. A rap on the boat early on Sunday morning by a very aggitated Eddie asking a favour. I’ve said elsewhere that Eddie is many things and one of them is a professional photographer and a damned fine one at that. He calls himself a Digital Artist because he does things to his photos that require an artist’s eye. He also has the equipment to realise it all.

So, the knock comes. Eddie says, “Larry, what have you got planned for the day?” That generally means Eddie has a plan for me. “Uh, nothing really Eddie. Why?” “Well,” says Eddie, “You know that garden party I have to do for my hospice?” Of course I knew. Eddie had been in a state for weeks leading up to this event. He was not only running his own stall full of his digital art. He was also the official photographer of the proceedings. Dual responsibility weighs heavy. Eddie had burned the midnight oil more than once creating enough pieces for his display, cutting out the matting and mounting each photo. So, yes, Eddie, I know about the hospice garden party.

“Would you like to come with us,” says Eddie, “and help set up and, you know, help out a bit?” I look at my best friend and she chimes in, “Sure Eddie. When are you leaving?” Best decision we ever made in my humble opinion. Not only to help out a friend, but to visit one of the most beautiful sights in England, Ashridge House. “Did you see Eddie’s hands shaking, Larry?” asks my best friend when Eddie was gone. “Yes I did,” I said “He must really be nervous.”

This is not unusual for Eddie. He tends to be a bundle of nervous energy most of the time. It’s an energy that must find a task or some activity to assuage it.  One day I was washing the roof of my boat and obviously wasn’t doing it quickly enough. I tend to do things at a turtle’s pace. Anyway, Eddie had obviously been watching me and came over with his power washer and said, “Move aside. It’s painful watching you.” Eddie had the roof done in short order. And he wired our new internet service and plugged a leak in our wood burning stove (long story…all safe). Good thing Eddie’s a certified shaman. It keeps him level-headed I think.

To the manor we went. A huge, sprawling place is Ashridge House that once was home to monks Augustinian, monarchy (Henry VIII and later Elizabeth I) and earls (of Bridgewater, one named Scroop….his son became  Canal Duke after developing the inland waterways for transport, the wealth from which funded the building of the new manor house), but is now a place to train people for managerial positions….in other words, a business school. During the last century, it has been a hospital during two world wars, a school to train Conservative politicians, a finishing school for ladies in 1949 and then the business school. An evolving 5000 acres of some of the prettiest gardens, forests and and scenery anywhere. The great hall can also be hired for weddings and private events. I can’t imagine the cost.


Oak Tree planted by Queen Victoria in 1823


Film companies have used the grounds of Ashridge House in the past. The Dirty Dozen was shot here. The woods were used in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The lawn is so well kept, it could be used as a huge golfing green. Eddie took his shoes off as he strolled about to photograph the event, wearing his pirate bandana headband. It’s the shaman in him I guess. I was tempted myself….to go barefoot that is.

The lawn party was a fundraiser for The Hospice of St. Francis, a care facility for life-limiting illnesses. Eddie is a male nurse there. The man does it all. Apparently, according to the hospice’s website, this was the best attended lawn party yet. No wonder. The weather was great and the stalls displayed some of the finest crafts and goods I have ever seen at any market. Certainly a step up from the day before at the Ricky Canal Festival. Very hoity toity in fact. They even had a Pimms tent. Just Pimms. And a palm court music group playing under a gazebo on the steps of Ashridge House. Oh, swipe me.

When we arrived, there was confusion as to where Eddie was to set up his stall. Once that was established, all the equipment had to be brought to site. Eddie was a man on a mission. He never walks when a task needs doing. Putting up the gazebo was a semi-harrowing experience. Nothing seemed to fit and there were two different colours. Confusing. Eddie gets through it by talking to himself while doing what needs to be done. Best stay out of the way while that is happening. But sometimes things are missed and I quietly fixed this and that. Eddie left the displaying to us. Off he went with his camera, probably glad he didn’t have to think about putting out his photos. Miriam and my best friend worked the booth all day with creativity and efficiency. I went and got the Pimms.


Before the crowds


Hoity Toity Scarecrows


Hospice Booths

Other than the stalls, other attractions included motorcycles, an antique car, kids’ area and beside Eddie’s stall, bee keepers with live bees and honey products. First time I have seen a queen bee. But my favourite stall (other than Eddie’s) was within earshot of us. All after noon we were serenaded by the dulcit tones of a local ukulele band.







The very non PC Punch and Judy. Bless the Rebels.


Eddie flitted about with his cameras, stopping by the stall every so often, mostly distracted. He would not relax until the event was over, everything packed away and we were all home safe. That night 6 of us went to a Thai restaurant in Hemel’s old town. Very chic. Wine was served, Eddie had a big glass of red wine and for the first time that day….Eddie breathed.


Eddie and Miriam at the art stall.





Bubbles,Balloons,Boats & Bags


Down the road from me a few miles ( a few more kilometers) is the lovely town of Rickmansworth. There was a settlement in the area during the Stone Age and it has had many spellings of its name since its inception as a proper town. The Domesday Book names it the Manor of Prichemaresworde with a population of 200. But the most important mention of Rickmansworth is at the beginning of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams. A must read for mad people like me. A small girl from Rickmansworth figures out what the world really needs.

Of all the things Rickmansworth is famous for, the best is saved for an entire week near the end of May known as Ricky Week. This year was the 62nd annual week of fun and frolic….teas at churches, free bowls lessons, more church teas, learning how to make crafty stuff, a bellringers’ open evening, oldie tyme dances and bargains at local shops. A parade kicks off the festivities and then off it all goes.

At the end of the week long celebrations is the annual Rickmansworth Canal Festival, a tribute to the Grand Union Canal meandering through the town and the boating heritage attributed to it. The official title is ‘The Rickmansworth (Canal and Environmental) Festival. Narrow and widebeam boats are 2, 3 and 4 abreast, moored along the canal between two locks. Boaters go out of their way to decorate their crafts. There are old working boats that have been preserved and refitted. One sold books and gift items. Phil, my fuel guy, was there on his old boat. Mia Tug, usually moored in my marina, attended. The two Tonys were there, father and son. They own Mia Tug. For some reason, their boat was wedged between larger boats, the front facing the shore. The Tonys were not amused.


Mia Tug facing the canal bank


Boats engender many characters. Some are flambouyant while others would rather remain semi-anonymous, going about their boating business in a quiet and dignified manner. I leave you to choose which is which.


Other than boats, various attractions drew a large crowd on a day that was forecast as producing masses of rain. Instead, it was quite muggy and stayed dry until we left around 3:30. A Dakota flyby was supposed to happen, but the weather in Leeds was too windy for the old planes to get to Ricky. It was postponed until the next day. Instead, we contented ourselves with a section for rides and amusements (a midway), stalls where merchants plied their hippy wears (boaters and friends of boaters are so Bohemian), food stalls of every description, a main stage where acts from Morris Dancers to Rock Bands perform, demonstrations of medieval sword and spear fighting by a man with a bullet on his head and….featuring various local agencies like the Fire Brigade and the Police who carry on public relations. Never enough time to see and do it all.


Bubbles at Ricky. See if you can spot them.



Local choir performing



Medieval Bullet Head



The Lonely Morris Dancer

In Britain, festivals of one kind or another are part of each calendar year. Music festivals abound, the most famous being Glastonbury (22-26th of June), the Isle of Wight music festival (The UK’s Woodstock) at the beginning of June, the Fairport Convention music festival in Cropredy and so many more. There are 12 canal and boat festivals in May and June alone. Plenty more during the summer and into October. Stoke Bruerne has a canal carol festival and Christmas market each year in December. Pick a festival, any festival….wet or dry.

At the end of this week, we’re off to The Crick Boat Show in….Crick. We were there last year, but with a year of boating under our collective belts, my best friend and I are looking forward to getting what we need this year. I have made a list and I’ve checked it twice. Stuff about wood burning stoves, motors, windows, fridges, lights, storage and so much more. We’ll be busy the whole three days of this Bank Holiday weekend. Ricky was fun. Crick is work.

Meanwhile, back at Ricky, my best best friend was searching for a new handbag. Not just any handbag. It had to be made of cloth, not leather or synthetics, have a zipper to close the top end, ample pockets (with zips) outside and inside to compartmentalise her various necessary items. And it had to be colourful without being gaudy. The search for the perfect bag has spawned a life of its own. Even when a bag is purchased, it is found wanting within a few weeks of use. I won’t go into the reasons. I’m sure many of you women out there must empathise with her plight and her quest.

It helped that we were with our boat neighbours, Eddie and Miriam. Miriam lives to shop and is a professional bargain hunter. And she has great taste. Eddie thinks she over shops. After all, we live on narrowboats. To keep the peace, we and they are searching for a cheap place to rent for all our extra stuff….a garage or some such room. We hit all the hippy wear stalls. My best friend saw one she thought would do, but we had to make sure. We ended up at the stall where she began the search. The right bag was found and all was right with the world….at least for a couple of weeks.

I leave you with the strangest part of the day….no, not the Star Wars storm trooper. It was on one of the lakes hidden from the festival. Behind a very tall hedge and fence were wooded paths and two small lakes, a world unto itself. A bizarre moment for me. I’ll let you be the judge if you think it is too. And maybe not so much bizarre as extraneous.