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Chilli Day

Chilli Day

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

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


The Norman Gate.


Castle wall ruins and gardens

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

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


Beware of the Chilli. Booth at the Chilli Festival.


Chilli Festival and rolling hills of the Benington Lordship Gardens.

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

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


Some of the Gardens and the gardener’s house.


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

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


Chilli stalls and Manor House.

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

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


Bruce Airhead and his young assistant.

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

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





There is one thing you have to know about living in England. You cannot rely on the weather to cooperate with your outdoor plans. Hit and miss. Probably the same everywhere, but in England, weather forecasting is not only not a science, it is not worth the effort. Winds swing around and change here like…well….the wind. 0% chance of rain? It rains. High of 25? Might get to 15C. High of 15? Might reach 25C. Strange.

An English forecaster back in the late 1980s, Michael Fish, stated categorically that no hurricane was imminent. Scoffed on air at the heralders of the Cane. And, sure enough, it blew and soaked southern England to bits on the 15th October 1987. A few years ago, we were supposed to get a dusting of snow in Kent. We ended up with a foot of snow and chaos on the roads and at the airports around London. Business came to a virtual standstill except for one intrepid fellow who cross-country skied 26 miles to get to work. If all Brits were like this, things would be different.

Into this uncertainty wade two lots of narrowboat people waiting for the right weather to finally do some Spring cleaning  and gardening on the outside. Grit and grime build up significantly over the winter months. The wood/coal-burning stove adds to the nastiness that befalls the roof of the boats over 6 months of use. The gardens had gone to seed too, Dead flora everywhere and coal bags stacked for stove use. Not a pretty sight.

And we would have to commence cleaning activities on the hottest day of the year to date. You can’t win. Too cold, too wet, too hot. Take your pick. The next few days were going to get hotter, so it had to be this day. You never know when the opportunity will arise again. There’s a joke around here that says if we get a really hot week in April or May, that’s the English summer done. June, July and August will probably be cool and wet. We’ve had some crazy summer weather the last few years.

We were first out of the blocks. My best friend and I started with the roof. Just makes sense. We have a taller chimney for winter weather and a shorter one for summer and travel. Up onto the roof I went, pulling out the old chimney and doing my chimney sweep bit with brush, I cleaned the flue pipe, while singing ‘Shtep in toime….’ It added to the general mess on the roof and to the annoyance of my best friend. Dust pan and brush it away then down to get the short chimney and back up to put it in place. I cleaned the winter chimney when I got off the roof and stored it away.

Meanwhile, my best friend got up on the roof and began scrubbing it by hand. Because our roof is gritted to make it safer to walk on, her knuckles took quite a beating. Tough old thing she is. When I finished with the chimney I pitched in. Next door, Eddie (Gollum), sprung onto his roof and began power washing it. He has all the gear for anything. He got his nickname from the way he crouches and leaps, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. That’s also why his boat is named ‘My Precious’.


So we scrubbed and scoured, rinsed and scrubbed some more. Mimz took over with my best friend and the roof was done. Then the sides had to be washed. Most of us were soaked by then but it didn’t matter. It had become very hot and we were growing weary. Eddie gave up part way down the side of his boat not aligned with our jetty. And besides, Mimz had to leave to coach her Netball team. The cleaning frenzy ended. Mimz headed off and the rest of us sat at the end of the jetty and drank Pimms. How very English of us.



Then we began tackling the garden side of things. Eddie completely revamped and realigned their side. ‘He has a flare for it’, as my best friend said. And he does, watching him fuss about, putting this plant here and moving that one there, then standing back, surveying his mini kingdom only to return and rearrange things once again. In the end, he had created a masterpiece. The funny part of all this is Eddie protests vociferously when Mimz lays out her garden strategy. ‘No more plants,’ he says. ‘I said when I got the boat I wasn’t having all that tat around my boat.’ And here was the tat master working his magic. It is a sight to see.

Mimz comes back. We’re three sheets to the wind and she looks at the display. ‘Nice,’ she says. ‘Nice?’ Eddie retorts, ‘It’s fucking brilliant. You know it is!’ She relents and admits it is. Peace restored. My best friend is the one with flare in this duo. She always asks me if things look good. I always say yes. I have learned over the years not to engage in matters that require tact and a level of not caring enough to argue. That, and, in the end, it does look good. Every kind of plant imaginable and solar lights of every colour to liven up the night. The kids love all our windmills too.


We get a lot of compliments for the efforts made with the clean boats and beautiful gardens. But one thing was missing. An arch, one of those all the gardens of quality possess. Now that we had moved our boat (see the previous Blog), to share the same jetty with Eddie and Mimz, we could get an arch and entwine our honeysuckle plants through the it. The girls went forth to get the arch and some more solar lights. When they got back, Eddie went to work putting the arch together.

Just one tiny problem. Our honeysuckle plant was wrapped around the wi-fi poll with some solar lights on our old jetty. I was tasked with unwinding all and bringing them back to wrap around the new arch. I’m not tall enough to reach the lights wrapped around the top. When I put them there, I had borrowed a step-ladder from our marine Warden, Dave. But he wasn’t around. Charlie, the Amazon, was doing some electrical work on Gary’s boat. Gary’s our old neighbour. I said, ‘I know we live on boats, but do either of you have a step-ladder?’ They looked at me like I had dropped out of kindergarten.

Charlie said, ‘Use my workbench. It holds 200 kilos. I way 109. So, I march over to her jetty, grab the workbench and set it up by the wi-fi pole. The jettys wobble at the end. I am ham-fisted. What could possibly go wrong? Well, I got onto the table just fine and stood up with no problems and began unwinding the lights. It suddenly all went wrong. One of the table legs gave way and I was left clinging to the pole. I was determined not to go into the water. As I was sliding down the poll, I scraped my legs and cut my hand while ripping out the solar lights. Eddie came to the rescue and helped me down to safety. Charlie apologised profusely, my best friend scolded me for even trying such a foolish thing and Mimz said it was the best and bravest pole dance she’d ever seen.

Eddie unwrapped the honey suckle and I brought it back to take its rightful place at the base of the arch while my best friend wove the branches through the archway lattice sides and she and Mimz generally tarted up the new arch. Looks great I must say and as we sipped our rums and cokes into the evening, the lights came on and we all cheered. Spring cleaning….check.


The author under the arch. Ready to drink the night away.

Evolution 101

Evolution 101

Torn between chaos and orderliness, randomness and consistency. The way of things….in my life anyway. I like the whole concept of evolution as long as its movement is upward and for the better. Chaos and randomness scare me, but I embrace them. I do not like absolutes of any kind. Some people tend to take them and turn them into religions or truths, insisting everyone accept their truths.

Having said that, some things tend to evolve either naturally or with an intentional human nudge. My religious friends raise their heads at this point, proclaiming that it proves their God used evolution to create the world. Roman Catholics already have signed on to the theory. I used to be a Presbyterian (if you can pronounce it, you must be one) preacher in Canada and was amused to read this week that the Presbyterian Church (USA) had just ratified the theory of evolution as de facto the way of things.

Whether you agree with those silly Presbyterians or not (as if the planet awaited their endorsement), the world needs a burst of evolutionary advancement at this juncture. Especially the human species. And especially if we are to survive our own stupidities. But I have no say in how or when that may happen and no power to invoke such a change. Oh woe is me.

So, I do what I can in the environment in which I find myself and observe changes in my small part of the world….the world of Britain’s canals and marinas. Most of this evolution is us made (my best friend’s and mine) and the rest is more to do with genetics and the evolving ecosystem surrounding our little world.

Gardens. I have written about them before. In fact, a few Blogs ago I told you about the garden we began around our boat in the marina. Our neighbours have one too. On both sides. It spawned a flurry of gardens on the other side of the marina. But this is about the evolution of my best friend’s garden. She has added to it and nurtured it. I am an occasional waterer. I have also been known to pick off dead leaves and blooms here and there to preserve the integrity of the whole. Exactly….but not absolutely.

The gardens have evolved since their humble beginnings in the Spring. I neglected taking pictures of the very first garden, but believe me it was sparse. My best friend and our neighbour Miriam decided to go for broke, picking up neglected (cheap) flowers and plants from garden centres to nurse them back to good health. They did an amazing job.



I think the garden has finally reached the pinnacle of its evolutionary process as the summer draws to a close and it will soon be time for the Christmas decorations extravaganza. That’s my department. Evolution comes in all forms. No matter what time of year. This year Christmas will evolve further because our marina is having a competition. And I want to win. I am hoping to transform the boat into a beacon of colour and light. I have a feeling that may be scaled down somewhat. I’ll have to get creative.

Back to the garden. It won’t last forever. I’ll miss it when the blooms are gone and deep, rich colours have faded then disappeared. I suppose evolution is a rather misplaced word when it comes to the boat’s garden. Transformation is a much better word. After all, the geraniums are still geraniums and shall continue to be so. And the other flowers remain the same as they have ever been. I wonder, though, what geraniums were before they became what they are now. If you know, don’t tell me. I like the mystery.





That is all I have to say about this. Except for the last evolution/transformation that was planted just the other day. My neighbour had added some funky windmills to spice up her garden. The kids who walk by love them. I was jealous. I do like a bit of the tacky and quirky. I almost bought a couple of wind things while on the Isle of Wight. But I didn’t.

A friend of my neighbour heard my plight and came by the other day with a hand full of rainbow coloured windmills. The evolution is complete. The evolution of things is as it should be. Life is good.

But I save the best to the last. I think I told you about our beloved fuschia….my favourite of all our flowers. If I did, sorry. But I’ll tell it again. We have no luck with fuschias. Never have. They seem to be too delicate for the likes of us. Ours was going fine for a while until the inevitable struck. The thing, for no apparent reason, decided to give up the ghost.

So, while it thrived it held a prominent spot on the jetty, admired by all who passed by. When it began to deflower (can’t think of a better word), we demoted it to the front end of the jetty. There it sadly wilted though we continued to take care of it the best we could and as delicately as possible.

One day, when the wind was blowing quite strongly, we came back from shopping to discover it missing. Stolen? Not likely. The only explanation was that it had been blown into the waters of the marina. Gone to a watery grave. My neighbours both tried to fish it out with their boat hook. Eddie found a galvanised bucket, a rug (that he threw back in) and a hollow, ceramic jack o’ lantern.

A few weeks later we were imbibing with the neighbours at the end of their jetty when one of us spotted a green something floating several boats away. At first we thought it was someone’s watering can, but my best friend spotted a familiar pattern on the side and said, “I think that’s our fuschia!” I went over to the boat where it had appeared and pulled it out.

We did everything to try to bring it back to life but to no avail. Our other neighbour, Gary, came up with the idea that would be the evolutionary transformation of the day. “That stalk would make a great wand,” he said. Maybe with that we can magically keep the next fuschia alive and thriving….then again….nah.


The original fuschia to the left….after exile.


The future wand from the rescued fuschia.

Wight England: Part 3; Best of the Rest


This was to be a 7 part series about the Isle of Wight, but I got bored. Been too long since I was there and it’s time to move on to Lavender fields and Cathedrals. Before I go there, and elsewhere, I have some places and things about the Isle I want to write about.

My best friend and I stayed at an out-of-the-way Air B&B. Along a potholed road, then down a dirt track to a house in the woods with an annex and a beautiful garden. Quite remote for an island home. Not far away, you could hear young voices….many of them….screaming away at the PGL (Parents Get Lost) camp on Little Canada.

Many stories on how it got the name Little Canada. My favourite is about a New Zealander who bought land here, built some log cabins and had an open house day near the end of the 19th century with Sitting Bull, Wild Bill Hickock, a Totem Pole and some Canadian Mounties. The Mounties sealed it and the locals began to call the place Little Canada. The other story is of a Canadian regiment stationed there in the last World War….or was it the First? The locals aren’t sure and no one I checked with could be bothered to find out, me included. So, story No.1 it is.

We never lingered at our home in the woods. Early every day, we’d pass the screaming hordes (yelling from dawn to dusk) to discover other, more refined parts of the island. Never mind the recent ravings of the chairman (yes, they still say that here) of the Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) who said the Wight Isle had the worst drug and unemployment record of all of Britain, the lowest education standards and the population are all inbred. We met some lovely, fairly normal people and didn’t witness one drug deal….not that we’d know anyway.

The focus was on several sites; a Roman Villa, a Quaint Village, a Steam Railway and a Beach. None of these attactions disappointed. All were very close together and the drive to each was very pleasant. We were greeted at the Roman Villa by an effusive, former local history teacher who was in a tizzy because the regular tour guide didn’t show up (more unemployment). Actually, I think the poor man was in his glory, swishing to and fro from one person to the next, repeating the same stories about the Villa’s history each time.

Brading Roman Villa is situated on sloping high ground, rising from the sea. The villa is long gone, but a farmer discovered the ruins while digging a fence post back in 1879. He uncovered mosaic floors and the remains of the villa, including the hypocaust for underfloor heating. Clever those Romans. The original outline is intact because parts of the walls line each room, all housed under a very modern, wooden structure that resembles a tent inside. The amazing thing about the place is that not a weapon was found. A villa of agriculture and peace….until Rome abandoned Britain around 395CE and the pirates began raiding.


Brading Roman Villa: Protective new building


The Hypocaust: Underfloor heating system.


Mosaic Floors


Bachus Mosaic floor with Rooster Head Man.


Villa Front Door Lock and Key. Never can be too careful.


Healing Well


Roman Footprints on floor.


What the Roman Villa probably looked like.

From Villa to village, we arrive in Godshill. You can’t find a more picture-perfect old English village. Thatched roofs (rooves), pubs, lovely gardens, boutiques and a model village that is stunning. My impression of Godshill was that it is one big shop in the shape of a village. Everything from antiques to Chinese tat. Anything not nailed down seemed to be for sale.


Godshill, Isle of Wight.


A garden at the back of a shop.


Gnome Band in garden behind a shop.


Ferries at the bottom of a garden in Godshill.



Bestie in front of her favourite kind of place….an art shop/studio in Godshill.

The model village is a mini version of the big village and the same for the old village of Shanklin.The only way to describe such a feature is with photos. So, here goes….



15th Century church and cottages of Godshill in miniature.


Shanklin Beach Front in miniature.


Mini Zeppelin over mini village in Godshill.


Mini Cricket game at mini Village of Godshill.


Mini Footbal (soccer) match in mini village at Godshill. A giant trims the bushes.


Horse jumping with rider at the mini village in Godshill.


Line of mini Shops in Shanklin’s old village.


Mini Morris dancers in Mini Village at Godshill


We move on to larger things, real steam trains. Britain loves its old trains. Societies have sprung up all over Britain to preserve old steam trains, some of their lines and old stations. There is even a society that has restored and runs the InterCity 125 train from the mid 1970s. The Isle of Wight is no exception. The steam railway runs daily between Wooten and Smallbrook Junction via the main Havenstreet station and rail museum. The real commuter trains running out of Ryde are a shambolic mess compared to these old steam trains.

I’ve written before about my love for all things steam train. This day was no different. We travelled in a 3rd Class standard coach that makes a mockery of today’s 1st Class seats. We had the compartment to ourselves, rolling across lovely countryside and through deep wooded areas. The trip was over all too quickly.


Haverstreet Station. Never any rush here.


The engine that drove us.


Bestie ready to get on train.


Two more old working engines in the yard at Haverstreet Station.

Our last day on the Isle of Wight was spent at the beach. It’s what you do on the hottest day of the year at 34C. We chose the beach at Shanklin because they rent little beach huts. We took a chance we’d get one and thanks to it still being off-season, we got the last one. The tide was in and the beach area narrow when we arrived, but as we stood in the sea, talking to a nice lady who lives there, the tide rolled out. Beach galore.


Shanklin Beach. Tide is still in.

Perfect end to a great week on the Isle of Wight. I’ll go back some time. Have to visit the castle and Osborne House still. Missed Cowes too. I did see one pirate while we were there. But, true to form, he was taciturn, moody and not to be trifled with.


Green Fingers and Thumb


Since living in England (nearly 11 years now), there have been lessons learned about the differences in cutures. And even though England is supposed to be english speaking, accents and expressions differ sometimes to the point of non-recognition. Just try to  have a conversation with a Geordie (North-West England).

In some ways, it has been like relearning english living in England. Not the language as such, just how they use it over here. Pavements instead of sidewalks, motorways instead of highways, boot for trunk, bonnet for hood, nappies for diapers, zimmer frame for walker, mobile for cell phone and my favourite, valve amps for tube amps. Being a musician, that last one gets to me. But I adjust as necessary.

So, it will be of no surprise that when we purchased a fuschia flowering plant for the outside of the boat that I said to my best friend, “Go ahead if you must, but I’m warning you, I don’t have a green thumb.” She of subtle mind retorts, “What is a green thumb? Do you mean green fingers?” Of course I do. Bestie asks facetiously, “What, you only use your thumbs to garden with in Canada?” As if the colonials have it all wrong and have bastardised the king’s/queen’s english. Normally, I would have spelled bastardised, batardized. But I got told they use the ‘s’ over the ‘z’ because it’s more civilized….I mean civilised.

You see my dilemma. 65 and still being told how to speak and spell. But I digress. The point here is that I kill green, living things. I forget to water. I forget to weed. I forget to sing to the damned things. Or, I just don’t want to. Sometimes I just don’t know. I love beautiful flowers and lovely gardens, but not if I have to look after them. To be quite brutal, my best friend does not have the best record when it comes to the horticultural arts. But she’s a damned sight better at it than I.

If you are a stranger to the life of canal boating….barging as some like to call it….you may not have seen the colourful flower buckets, watering cans and pots used by narrowboaters to plant their flowers in. They have them on their roofs (rooves) as they move about. In fact, the traditional roses and castles theme painted on these pots, buckets, watering cans, doors and so on comes from the days when narrowboating was a man’s job. He and his family worked and lived on their boats. No permanent gardens, just the painted roses and castles depicting their boats as their garden and that a man’s home is his castle.

We modern boat dwellers have another plan….well, at least a couple of us at our marina anyway. Since we are moored in a marina for most of the year, we can afford to have a small garden around the boat. Our neighbours, Eddie and Miriam started it. We bought a few flowering pots early in the season and the whole thing snowballed fom there.

Now we have plants and flowers at the back of the boat, the front and on the jetty side. We have a herb garden, a flower garden, we’ve added a tree and a tomato plant. We have a honeysuckle growing at the end of the jetty, winding its way up the ugly wifi mast the marina powers-that-be decided would be a great location for broadcasting the signal. We also wound solar lights around the pole to make it festive at night.


Plants at the end of the jetty. Honeysuckle climbing the pole and the fuschia to the left. The rest of the plants are Sally’s and Gary’s.


I say we. Truth is, it’s all Miriam and my best friend who have made an otherwise bland environment into a botanical wonder. They decided to tart up the place to give some colour and life to our water homes. Our neighbours on the other side, Sally and Gary already had plants on the roof of their boat, along their side of their boat and at the end of the jetty. They also have an allotment not far from the marina. But they are in a class by themselves.

Eddie and I could easily live without gardens. But the females of our species know what we need. And we appreciate their efforts, even down to the artificial grass covering our utility boxes on the stone pathway behind our boats. They think of everything. And off they go again to this or that garden centre and back they come with more horticultural delights including bags of potting soil and more pots.


We only have one traditional pot (bucket). That was my idea. I bought it from a person who sold that kind of thing from her boat when she was moored along the canal near us a while back. My best friend is not as enthused about traditional narrowboat art as I am. I’d have a ton of the stuff if I had my way. But I don’t and, quite frankly, the cost of having more would be formidable. Unless my artistic best friend takes up the traditional arts. She just gives me that look when I suggest it. Not going to happen.

We are the envy of the marina. Well, they like what they see, but are not so foolish (in their eyes) as to take on another task when looking after boats is more than time consuming. Besides, many boaters are single men who can’t afford a mortgage and are certainly not going to spend any excess cash on flowers. Most of these poor chaps have lost it all to the other half in messy divorces and an old, used boat becomes the affordable refuge. Others have a boat moored here but don’t live on it. Part-timers. A garden makes no sense.


But we are residents and so have the luxury of pimping our boats. And the women do. Eddie’s lady and my best friend do anyway. The passers-by love our boats. They stop and admire the flowers and various arrangements as they are added to. We have had many good comments and compliments from local residents and people just visiting the area. Makes it all worthwhile.

So, my best friend has suddenly discovered her green fingers (green thumb). Not me. My traditionally painted bucket held too much water and virtually killed one of our flowering plants. You’ve heard of the dog house….well. The one flowering plant we still have not mastered is the fuschia. With all her best green-fingered efforts, we had to move our fuschia from its place of prominence along the walk to the end of the jetty, hoping it would revive.

It didn’t. But not because of my best friend. We came home one wet and blustery day from grocery shopping to discover our fuschia had disappeared….gone. We were stunned. A fox, a duck, a cat, a naughty child? No, the wind had somehow got hold of the damned thing, heavy pot and all and dumped it into the marina waters. Only a floating twig was found by our neighbours. Mother Nature had obviously conspired. Enough is enough she must have said. The fuschia is not for you. Stick to geraniums. We capitulate.



The Kingfisher Folly


At last! Spring has sprung on the canals of Britain. At least there is evidence here around my marina. It seemed a long time coming even though winters here in England….in the south anyway….are not as harsh as in my other adopted country, Canada. Still, it has been cold here this year and April was a washout as far as anything Springlike goes. Yes, the daffs came out early and a few Spring flowers survived, but we had to have the wood burning stove on nearly continuosly throughout April.

All that has changed. May, so far, has given us all hope of better weather to come. As I write this on the 9th of May, it is a respectable 21C at noon. Yesterday it was 27C. Signs of Spring are everywhere….leaves on trees, flower beds, bees buzzing about, tree blossoms perfuming the air and baby ducks peeping. It all seems to come out of nowhere and very quickly once the warm weather and sunshine arrive.

My neighbour Eddie poked his head in at the back of our boat last week, another glorious day, and said he was going up the cut a ways to take some photographs. For some time now he has trolled the cut to get that perfect photo of a Kingfisher. The elusive bird has evaded Eddie’s lens as if it were doing so on purpose. I believe that to be the case. Plenty of other foul to shoot (photographically speaking), just no Kingfisher.



A coot and her baby.


A heron in the reeds


A tern enjoying the sunshine

Evidences were everywhere….of Spring, not Kingfishers….giving everyone hope of a fresh start. Fruit blossoms, willow trees, spring flowers and all sorts greeted us along the cut with an aroma that picked up our spirits and gave colour to what had been a rather dull winter. We were full of the joys of Spring. Except Eddie. He had one focus….that damned Kingfisher. There would be no joy until one was found and filmed.

Mile after mile we walked, further than originally intended, hoping to catch even a glimpse of the wretched bird. And nowhere could the phantom creature be found. There were times we thought we heard one, but that turned out to be something else. Eddie began leaving the towpath to explore marshes and ponds. He showed me all the places where the flaming foul would frequent. Nothing. Meanwhile, the rest of us were trying to take in the flora and fauna all around us.




England has the most beautiful Springs….usually….and none more noticeable than along the cut (the canals). This is where nature has every chance of survival and the natural habitat is left to look after itself. People whose homes back onto the canals usually maintain lovely gardens to enhance the views. And England stays green, even in the winter. The leaves may fall in the autumn, leaving trees bare, but the green remains everywhere else.

People walking and cyclists cycling fill the towpaths with human life. Most respect the flora and fauna about them. A dance ensues between walkers and cyclists, but that’s another subject entirely. When the good weather comes, everyone is out and about, especially on the towpath. We encountered walkers, talkers, joggers, babies in strollers….accompanied by mums and dads of course….bike riders, fishing folk, boaters, gongoozlers, the lot. A cacophony of sound and colour.


Horses drinking by the canal


Cricketers Cricketing


Chatters chattering


Carp near the surface


Dog enjoying the sunshine

The most exciting news about Spring around the marina is the family of ducks taking up residence in a duck house at the end of a jetty near us. All of a sudden we had 12 little ducklings skittering behind mum, going from boat to boat looking for food. The little peepers have no fear. Not a good thing really. Their mum made up for their lack of fear. She kept the little ones close and in line. Stragglers were rounded up by mum with a sharp peck. Dad swam around the periphery making sure the coast was clear for his kids. Sometimes it seemed he couldn’t care less and swam off to do his own thing….typical male.

The second day only eleven had survived the night. Foxes are on the prowl. Herons pop in and out of the marina looking for food. Baby ducks are prime targets. The third day eleven were still on the go. The pesimist in me says it would be a miracle if half a dozen made it. Three is more likely. We’ll just have to wait and see. The more independent they become, the more they’ll start wandering further from home base and into danger. A lady across the marina has taken it upon herself to look out for the brood. But she can’t be there every waking minute. Stay tuned.


Mum and ducklings near my boat

The walk with Eddie went on and on. The original goal was to walk to The Fishery pub by a lock in Hemel Hempstead. We would have lunch then head back to the marina. But after a nice lunch and the weather being so fine, we agreed with Eddie to go on. Winkwell was the new objective, past the lock where a boat had sunk a couple of weeks before. We were going to stop at the swing gate beside a very old pub. Three of us did….Eddie went on. I bought him a half pint of ale thinking he’d join us very soon. He didn’t.

Half an hour later Eddie showed up, quite distraught. He didn’t even notice the ale in front of him. No Kingfisher. His partner Miriam had cheekily photo-shopped a Kingfisher on a branch, telling Eddie she had seen one earlier and captured it on film. Eddie was beside himself. Gutted he was. Until he smelled a rat. He said the colours were not typical of a Nikon camera. We all laughed….most of us anyway. We had walked nearly 5 miles with no Kingfisher and 5 miles back still with no Kingfisher. A disasterous day for photographer Eddie.

The weary band hobbled back into the marina late afternoon. It had been a walk too far, but we survived. The only thing left to do was drink copious amounts of wine to dull the pain and remind ourselves what a glorious Spring day it had been. Wherever you are Kingfisher, Eddie will find you….oh yes, he will find you.

River Kingfishers