Tag Archives: England

On The Move

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The Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal.

So long Apsley Marina. So long Eddie and Mimz. So long to the other resident boaters and the rest who would be if it were cheaper. My best friend and I, after 3 years, have moved from Apsley Marina on the Grand Union Canal to Droitwich Spa marina on the Droitwich arm of the Wocester canal. We have travelled 122 miles, worked 178 locks and gone through 6 tunnels, 2 of them nearly 2 miles long.

The trip book says we can do it in 11 days. We did it in 5 long days on the Cut. Days began at 5am and went until 8pm in the evening. Lots of vunderbar scenery, delightful pubs (which we passed because we couldn’t stop) and we were held up for day because of a dead body in the canal ahead of us….but that is for another Blog.

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My best friend happy in her work at the locks.

I took photos with my trusty LG Mobile (Cell) phone to give you an idea about everything along the route. I could have taken pics every couple of minutes, there was so much to see. But my poor old phone kept telling me I had no more space. And if you know me, 1 photo of an object is never enough. Because I helmed (drove the boat) the whole way….spelled off occasionally by a good friend who came with us to help with locks….it was difficult to snap and steer.

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The rolling countryside around the canal.

So difficult, in fact, my best friend laid down the 2 second rule. You see, I have a bit of a focus issue. I am like a goldfish. I can concentrate on one thing at a time for a very short moment. If I am helming, all my energy and attention has to be on the driving. If a duck with a new batch of cute, fluffy little ducklings goes by, I watch them until the boat is ready to smash into the canal side. Hence, the 2 second rule. Ducklings for 2 seconds, drive. Lovely house with gardens by the canal, 2 seconds, drive. Inviting pub, drive. Remembering the rule is another thing. Swan with cygnets….best friend, “2 second rule!!!”, drive.

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The 2 second rule in play here. Duck on the ledge of an aquaduct.

When we passed a particularly lovely spot, the friend helping us offered to take the helm while I took photos. She was a great help the whole trip. She is an experienced boater and talked me through numerous tricky situations. “The boat has 3 gears,” she says, “Forward, neutral and reverse. Use them all in a pickle, but use them slowly. You can’t rush your way out of a difficult situation.” “Yes ma’am.” I tend to ram the thing into reverse , then ram it into forward when I sense trouble or become stuck on the bottom. That can be a tad scary on a 20 ton, 60 foot boat on a narrow canal.

Which reminds me. A little info is called for here. The canals do not have an endless supply of water. Apparently, and don’t take my recollections as gospel….my best friend doesn’t….the ground in this country doesn’t drain very well. Though we get our fair share of rain, most of it evaporates before it seeps into the ground. If we have a dry spell of only a week or 2, water reserves dry up and hose pipe bans are put in place.

The CRT (Canal and River Trust) tells us that canal water levels have been going down over the last years due to all kinds of reasons. More boats on the Cut, boaters leaving gate paddles open thus draining water pounds, old locks leaking too much and a lack of rain. They say that within 5 short years unless there is a concerted effort to reverse the trend, there won’t be enough water for travel. That would be disastrous for us boaters to say the least. 15,000 marooned boats.

But now to the brighter side. You could not have picked better weather in May for this move. The 1st day was a little chilly and overcast but stayed dry. Then the sun came out and the rest of the trip was glorious. The best of England spread before us. Some of the most breathtaking scenery anywhere on earth and at only 4 mph, it goes by slowly enough to allow us to appreciate it.

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Das Boat heading toward a lock. is there enough water in the pound? This time there was.

And now for the trip itself….each day’s journey with commentary and photos. 5 days of the best this country can offer. Come on along. You won’t be disappointed and you may even find yourself booking a holiday on a canal boat to see it all. But hurry, you never know when the well will dry up.

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At the helm on the cold 1st day. My best friend and Deb the helper in the background.

 

 

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.

WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

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WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

Yes we did. And I don’t have any photos to prove it (the one heading this Blog is from last yearat Cassiobury Park in Watford). I wasn’t allowed to take photos because I was driving and I have a tendency to lose concentration while photographing….not a good idea while steering a 20 ton, 60 foot boat. And my best friend was too busy working the locks to worry about a camera too. But we did, in fact, go. Please read on.

I begin with this….after a long winter moored in the marina, it was time to get away and banish the cobwebs, dust and just the plain inactivity of those winter months. The last time we left the marina was at the end of August last year, returning 2 weeks later. You forget things, and your confidence level sinks a little having not steered this 60 foot beast in so long.

We had talked about going out on the cut for ages. But the weather had to be just right and there had been quite a few breezy days in the Spring. Wind is a narrowboater’s nightmare. And we were just plain nervous. How do we adjust to the electrics on board? Will we have enough capacity in our toilet cassettes? Will I be able to navigate around the sharp turns and get into locks without ramming things? Will we find a good mooring with all the new boats coming online daily? So much to worry and think about. We were more than comfortable in our marina. Why risk all the potential hazards?

Well, in the end, Eddie is the reason we went. Shamed me into it actually. My good neighbour said to me, “Larry, if you don’t go out now, you never will. You’ll always have an excuse not to go.” So, I went, following Eddie and Mimz’s boat, ‘My Precious’, out of the marina and left toward Rickmansworth, I had wanted to go north to Birkhamsted, but, in the end, I was overruled. And so, we went that’a’way, south to Cassiobury Park. We wanted to get to Rickmansworth but didn’t have the time.

The trip began well….under the first bridge near the marina and along a very pretty part of the cut, under a canopy of trees. To the first lock and there she was, ‘Sexy Beast’. I can’t begin to tell you the adventures we had with Essex boy and his moll. But they were on the wide beam ‘Sexy Beast’ and just ahead of us at the lock. Our trained crew went over to help them with the lock gates. “Oh, fanks for that,” says Essex boy, his lithe moll looking as sexy as ever (we had seen the boat several times before in our area), “Look, we’re in no ‘urry, so we’ll go frough and moor up. You can go ahead….Roit?” We stupidly took him at his word. 8 locks later, he had found a choice spot and we did go on.

At every lock after the first, our crew leaned on our boats watching them struggle on their own to work the locks. Etiquette is everything and Essex boy had none. To his credit, he later apologised. I think his moll insisted, poor thing. Felt sorry for her. Except for the money and such. Essex boy was a hulking figure, rough around the edges and reminding me of a younger, but not by much, Ray Winstone. Apart from the palava with ‘Sexy Beast’, we got through the last lock and found a mooring sight.

It has been a rather dry Spring here in the south of England. The canal water levels have suffered and, at times, we were literally scraping bottom. Eddie’s boat has a shallower draught than ours and still he had problems. But he managed to moor alongside the towpath at Cassiobury Park. We, on the other hand, had to moor 3 feet from the edge and borrowed Eddie’s gangplank to get on and off the boat. We stayed for 3 nights. No use risking damage to the bottom of the boat and the prop by going any further. (The image of our boat heading this Blog was our boat at Cassiobury Park last year).

Cassiobury Park. Where do I begin? Lovely place. Been around for centuries, but not always as a public park. In 793 King Offa gave the land known as Caegesho (Caeg’s land by the fort) to St. Alban’s Abbey and remained theirs until good old Henry VIII banished abbeys and gave the land to one of his lords. Nothing much remains from those heady days of manor houses and ornate entrance gates. The former was demolished in 1927 because it had been left empty and couldn’t be maintained (pity) and the latter was destroyed in 1967 to make way for wider roads for traffic. Peasants in those days thought only of ‘progress’ not heritage.

There you have them….not my photos you understand. Meanwhile, back in the park, it was an eventful few days. The first event had to be the zip wire in the play area of the park. My best friend tried it last year when we moored here. She loved it. So, the first morning there, all four of us had a go. I was last. It was another ‘shame me into it’ moment. Trouble is, I’m a big guy and these things are made for kids under 14 years of age. The bump at the end is quite jolting. I won’t tell you what part of me was injured. I’m a gentleman.Eddie took the following photo.

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I’ve heard that Watford (where the park is located) is a rough town. The park is no exception. Gangs of kids roam around looking for victims to steal their mobile (cell) phones and their expensive bikes. I am proud to say we caught 2 of them….or rather Mimz did. It’s a long story involving the victim, a young 14-year-old boy who we took under our wing after the assault we witnessed. We called the police, who actually came quite promptly, and Eddie and I went looking for the perps. I went back to the boat and Eddie and Mimz went to meet the police.

Once they got there, the 2 perps, quite unexpectantly tried to cross the bridge that spanned the canal. Mimz became both Cagney and Lacey (her terms), got in front of the lads and yelled,”You’re not going anywhere. Get off your bikes!” You’d have to meet this former Psych nurse to know how intimidating she can be. She’s actually a pussycat, but don’t tell her I said so. The 2 lads were arrested and Mimz went off to the police station to give her story. She was there for 5 hours. Probably telling the whole constabulary the story and adding all the graphic details. Nobody does it better.

The rest of the days were quite ordinary. Walks into Watford to shop. A concert at the park bandshell by a brass and woodwind band from Kansas. Their music kept blowing all over the place. A BBQ where Eddie set the grass on fire….and put it out handily, as Eddie does. We had a raucous but hilarious encounter with an English madman, James, who spent 4 hours by our boats ranting about the recent general election and the state of the kingdom. Nothing he said was ridiculous and he was funnier than hell. I suggested he go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be brilliant.

I’d go on about the wildlife….the kingfisher I saw 3 times, but Eddie has yet to see one and capture it on film. He stood on our boat one morning from 6am to 8am without a kingfisher peep. I’d tell you about the fact that just over in the woods where we moored Jar Jar Binks first met Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars movie ‘The Phantom Menace’, but I’ve run out of space….nearly.

We made it back just fine. It was very windy but I got into the marina and parked the boat expertly along our jetty. We had to go a little further down the cut from Cassiobury to turn around to go home, but met ‘Sexy Beast’ on the way back at the Iron Bridge lock at Cassiobury Park. He was heading south to the Thames (where wide beams belong) and we were heading back to the marina. This time, though, we were first in the lock. As our boats rose with the water in the lock, we could see Essex boy with his moll wrapped around his loins as if no one could see. We all looked at each other in mild disgust. Oh to be Sexy Beast.

 

 

 

Moving Day

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Moving Day

How many times in your life have you moved? I’ve lost count myself. Between places in Canada, France and now England, the changes pile up. The bother of it all is not so much changing location as all the stuff you have to sort through and arrange to move. Packing up is the worst. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of is a challenge. Sometimes you have no choice and have to leave it all behind….most of it anyway.

Moving from Canada to France back in the 1980s was particularly difficult. It took months for my stuff to get there and that was by air. I had to hire a van in Paris and pick up all the belongings at a customs depot in Charles DeGaulle Airport. There’s an experience, I’ll tell you. Especially when you are a Canadian in France and hardly speak any of the language. The French just expect you speak their language because you are in a bilingual country that includes both english and french.

Funny thing about that. When I had finally learned enough french to get by, I was working in Marseille. A French Canadian guy came from Quebec to work for us. The French employees came to me to translate what he said into french. Turns out the French Canadian dialect is stuck in old France and sounds like nonsense to French people in France. But I digress….as usual.

I hate moving. Let me rephrase that. I hate moving stuff. I don’t mind a change of location, but I don’t like having to sort through all the rubbish I’ve accumulated when it’s time to pack up. If that weren’t bad enough, you have to unpack when you reach your new destination. What to keep, what to get rid of, these are the causes of trauma, frustration and the feelings of loss. Especially when you wish you had kept that old pillow or book or chair. Not to mention the memories made in the old place….all the good ones.

I remember the first time I moved out of my parents’ house (home). Moving into a one bedroom flat at Jane and Wilson in North York (Toronto). The great feeling of independence that lasted all of a week or two, buying new furniture and putting on a new coat of paint. But then I had to cook for myself. A lot of take-outs (take-aways) let me tell you. And pizza deliveries. The stuff of a single man’s dreams. For a while.

Moving out of the old neighbourhood can be dismaying. Saying goodbye to old friends and neighbours, if you know them, is not easy. I’ve said my sayonaras a number of times. A few people I’ve gotten to know in a couple of those places are no longer with us. Life has so many twists and turns. I have never been able to keep up with them. The best I can do is hold on to the good memories of each place and the people who were at those moments of my journey.

Before I get too maudlin, and I do tend to get that way sometimes, let me just say that each move I’ve made tends to be the right one on hindsight. I wish there were not an ocean between myself and my children, but the move I made back to the land of my birth was the right one for me.I have done all the things I’ve wanted to do….except playing on stage with Eric Clapton. Moving to the boat from a house has been the best move yet. I love being on the water when I go to sleep and when I wake up.

And it is very comforting to have a permanent place in a marina with the facilities needed to live well. You know, a laundry, electric hook-up, water tap to fill our water tank, a pontoon and so on. It’s also a close-knit community where everyone helps everyone else and share their rum freely. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Gold please. One neighbour brought a Brazilian rum back from a recent trip and gave several of us small bottles of the elixir. Saving it for a special occasion.

The great thing about living on a boat is that when you do move, you take your home with you and everything in it. You can also choose a new permanent mooring in any of the many marinas dotted along the canals of Britain….provided they have a space. Most do at the moment. In the two years we’ve been on our narrowboat, we have been in one marina beside the same pontoon. Happy as clams.

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Before

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After

 

Then it happened. Time for a change and thus another move. Not sure how it began. Another neighbour, Kevin, he of Morris Dancing fame, took his boat up the cut to another marina to get his boat blacked. That’s the process by which the bottom of our boats are coated every few years with a black bitumen to prevent erosion of the steel haul under the boat. The idea came to mind….why not switch places?

But then came another question….why are we doing this? Because we can and mostly because Kev agreed to the switch. And also because we end up sharing Eddie’s and Mimz’s pontoon more than we used the one we were on. I’m sure my best friend has better answers than that but I haven’t the time or energy to ask, so there you go. We simply changed places.

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So, on a day that was breezier that I’d like, I untied where we had moored for nearly 2 years, move the boat out into the marina and manoeuvred the boat to the left of the old pontoon to back it into the new spot. Easy peasy? Not with the strong breeze it wasn’t. The wind kept trying to push me into the boats on the other side of the marina. But I gunned the engine toward the back wall then slammed into reverse and went hard toward the new pontoon. I gave it a glancing blow but Eddie was there to pull me out of trouble with my boat rope.

The boat glided back into the new slot, tied up, electric plugged in, engine off. A successful move. The shortest move too….but not the easiest. Wind is never a narrowboat’s friend. And the good thing is….no packing, no unpacking and no loss of friends and neighbours. Not a bad day’s work.

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Nervous Eddie

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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.

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Oak Tree planted by Queen Victoria in 1823

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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.

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Before the crowds

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Hoity Toity Scarecrows

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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.

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

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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.

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Eddie and Miriam at the art stall.

 

 

 

 

Bubbles,Balloons,Boats & Bags

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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.

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Mia Tug facing the canal bank

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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.

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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.

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Bubbles at Ricky. See if you can spot them.

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Local choir performing

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Medieval Bullet Head

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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.

 

Suds Along The Cut

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One of the advantages of coming back to live in England is the pubs. Although they are closing down at an alarming rate all over Britain, the ones along the canals thrive. No wonder. Thirsty boaters must have our watering holes. And many of them have evolved to become fine eating establishments too. Suds, by the way, are what North Americans call Beer. Sometimes. There’s even a brewing company over there that makes the brand ‘Suds Beer’.

Quite a number of pubs have survived because they have been bought up by conglomerates like JD Wetherspoon, Enterprise Inns, Crown Carveries, Harvesters and so on. Cheaper meals make up for ridiculously high beer and wine prices. Children are welcome and the occasional pet can be found cowering under a table.

Along our stretch of the Grand Union Canal, there are nearly 200 pubs and Inns still serving boaters and gongoozlers alike. Locals and holidayers frequent them as well. Most are maintained rather well I must say. And I love the names. You get your typical Red Lions, The Rose and Something or others and Boat Inns. Then you get The Old Bookbinder, The Folly Inn, The Merrie Monk, The Ye Olde Reindeer, The Bear on the Barge, The Bald Buzzard Ale House, Kizzie’s Waterside Bistro, the wildly non PC The Black Boy and….well, that’ll do. Oh, and The Malt Shovel. Why not.

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The Boat Inn, Stoke Bruerne, on The Grand Union Canal

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The Boat Inn, Thrupp, on the Oxford Canal

The stretch of the Grand Union canal I did with my neighbour Eddie, features 15 pubs either right by the canal or within a short walk from it. Six of those are right by the water from Berkhamsted to where my marina is situated and one just down by Nash Mills, a short walk from my boat and down one of the greenest parts of the local towpath.

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The cut near Nash Mills, a stone’s throw from our marina

It’s a wonder we boaters stay so fit, trim and sober. And if you believe that, I have to believe you don’t know boaters. Our boater friends Deb and Tony, currently moored up in Cropredy….where the Fairport Convention holds its annual music festival….put us onto SADS (Safe Arrival DrinkS) at the end of a boating venture or just any old time. Temptations galore. Who could resist? Not me. I see a pub and I just have to go in. Suds of any description is my weekness (among others). I have even learned to like Bitter, warm beer to North Americans. Ales, for the most part, must never be served cold. Loses the flavour of the ale. Not the done thing.

Anyway, enough about my proclivities. The subject here is the watering holes along the cut. We walked to The Fishery to have lunch. This establishment has been here since 1905. Added too as well. A back patio and added room for more restaurant seating shows how popular things have become. The Fishery is now owned by the Harvester group but is one of its upscale dining/drinking pubs.

Down the cut from us, in Nash Mils, a 10 minute walk, is Ye Olde Red Lion. Another oldie, as the name says. You have to move off the towpath beside the Nash Mills lock, through an opening in the hedges, through a gate that has no real purpose but looks quaint and across a well kept lawn to the pub. If you believe in magic, the scene beyond the hedges lining the towpath is like walking into a Rupert book. If you don’t know who Rupert is, I pity you. All my kids know and my eldest daughter has all the Rupert Annuals going back to her birth in 1984. We’ve never eaten at Ye Olde Red Lion, but their ales are a winner.

 

Closer to home, across what one writer termed the swirly whirly white metal bridge, is The Paper Mill. This pub was built more recently on the site of….wait for it….an old paper mill, which originally was a flour mill. John Dickinson was a 19th century stationer who invented the first continuous paper making process. The first envelope with a gummed closing was made here….just beyond our marina. In the 20th century, the red and black books and notebooks came from here as well as the Lion Brand of paper products. If any of you remember Lady Bird books….yup, the paper came from here. The whole thing was sold in 1999 and in 2005 a French company took over the reigns.

Many of the old buldings were demolished. A few remain. The pub reminds us of what used to be. The food and drink are expensive, but the atmosphere is wonderful. They also feature craft beers. I guess you could say this is our local.

The oldest pub within walking distance, if you like a long trek, is The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell. That’s the furthest spot we walked to with Eddie on the photo shoot. Eddie reads these Blogs, so I won’t mention the Kingfisher that still eludes him. He’s sensitive about that. Eddie walked on after the swing bridge at Winkwell. The rest of us crossed the bridge and had a drink at The Three Horseshoes. It has been there since 1535, before the canal even. A beautiful spot inside and out.

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The Tickety Boo passes The Three Horseshoes near Winkwell

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The Three Horseshoes (1535)

The Rising Sun is in Berkhamsted, just down the canal from The Boat, which is the photo at the head of this Blog. I am going to try to walk there one day….one day. But the sign outside the pub excited my neighbour Eddie when we headed that way a few weeks ago on our way to Cowroast (where another pub is situated). The reason for the excitement was a sign posted outside the pub. It read, “Free Beer Inside”. Two thirsty boaters, we were overcome with the promise of free beer. We’d worked nearly 20 locks and needed a drink.

As the boat approached the next lock, we thought we’d moor up and sample the freebies. I jumped off the boat when Eddie pulled over to the side and held the boat with the centre rope while Eddie made sure the boat was secure. It wasn’t until we got close to the pub that we noticed the fine print on the sign….”Free House, Great Beer, Welcome Inside”. A come on. Didn’t work. We moved on.

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