Tag Archives: Lifestyles

Morris Dance-Off

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Whole new worlds open up to you when you meet new people. Some of those worlds are scary. Some are eruditely erudite. Others are downright forgettable. But not the one I’m about to divulge to you. The narrowboat beside my neighbour Eddie’s is named ‘Last Chance’. One, Kevin, is the captain. His good lady, Lesley, does not live aboard but is around most weekends. Boat living isn’t for everyone.

But the duo have something in common beyond anything nautical. They Morris Dance. Kevin got into it because of Lesley. The whole damned thing is so infectious. More on that later. They are part of a Morris dancing troupe known as Wicket Brood and members of a wider umbrella group, Border Morris. More on that later too.

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Kevin with his drum

I had heard vague murmurings of something called Morris Dancing in my years living in Canada. Sounded silly at the time. Someone named Morris coming up with a strange dance involving bells and hankies. That’s what we all thought. Funny how ignorance perpetuates forms of ridicule and torment for what is supposed to simply be a form of legitimate dance. Do we laugh at Billy Elliot? I think not.

Dancers of the Morris don’t seem bothered by what the rest of us think. They’re too busy having a good time, on and off the pitch….um, dance floor, street, park or pub. They practice their dances….many and varied….and socialise like there’s no tomorrow. Great bunch of people, the ones I met.

The history of anything is as complex and often as complicated as my mobile (cell) phone is to me. You get different stories about origins depending on the source. No one knows for sure how it all got started. The best I could scrounge was that the name Morris come from Moorish. So, we have a dance with African roots, possibly from the Moors in Spain, that apparently became popular in Italy and then brought to the courts of England back in the early part of the 15th century. How the dance got into the general population is arguable, but by the mid 17th century, it was quite common….in various forms, but always with bells around the lower part of the leg and sometimes the arms.

Only men danced at first, in troupes of 6-8. In 1600, it is reported that the Shakespearean actor, William Kempe, Morris danced from London to Norwich, a distance of around 116 miles (187kms). Dances were performed mainly at Whitsun (Pentecost) which is the Christian version of May Day. Pagan rituals were often turned into Christian high days to thwart the practice of paganism. It’s not clear who used Morris dancing first on these occasions, Pagans or Christians. That would have been some dance off. Dear old Oliver Cromwell put a stop to Morris dancing during his short tenure, citing it as distinctly Pagan.

Morris Dancing lost some of its popularity and lustre during the Industrial Revolution. The hoi-poloi were probably too exhausted at the end of a long day working in the mines, mills and factories to feel anything like Morris dancing. But a faithful few kept the dance alive. A man called Cecil Sharp saw a dance on Boxing Day 1899 and began collecting some of the tunes he heard. Together with Mary Neal, who had a girls dance troupe, tunes were added to dance and the revival was on.

But women had not been allowed to Morris Dance before this and a group was formed after Mary Neal’s dancers performed called the Morris Federation and eventually an Open Morris group where just about anything goes. The Morris Ring have tried….and still do….to keep Morris dancing traditional in the old sense, male and small troupes. Their influence is seen mainly in the Cotswalds and Oxfordshire. Living in the past…never wise. Things tend to die out more quickly.

Each region in England seems to have its own indigenous style of Morris dancing. North West Morris is more military in tone. Yorkshire and south Durham use both steel and wooden swords in groups of 6-8. Cambridgeshire is famous for its Molly dancing where one male in the troupe dresses as a woman. The Ploughstots of Yorkshire use flags and hankies on Plough Monday. I leave you to look that one up. There is even a Rapper group that has nothing to do with Rap music. From Northumberland and County Durham, they have groups of 5 using short sprung steel swords.

As I said, Kevin and Lesley’s troupe is Border Morris, the border being between England and Wales. They are known for painting their faces black (or any other colour these days) and wearing colourful outfits. They also tend to have a simpler, looser, more vigorous form of dance. Not sure how much of that they’d agree with. You know what it’s like. You research something, write about it and then those that actually do it laugh at the findings. Be that as it may, I think you get the idea that Morris Dancing is a many splendoured thing in a rather small country.

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The Wicket Brood from St. Albans

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The Phoenix Group from Rickmansworth

So, my neighbours told us they were going to dance at our local pub with a Morris troupe from Rickmansworth. They were called Phoenix Morris. One thing I haven’t mentioned is that some groups have a Fool, Beast or a Hobby. Not sure about that last one. It’s usually someone dressed as a fool or an animal or bird who interacts with the crowd. The Ricky group had a beast….or rather a bird….I suppose it was supposed to be a Phoenix, but looked more like a goose.

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First, one group dances, then the other. All the dances are different. The Ricky group had an accordion and two squeeze boxes to play the music. Our troupe (I say our troupe in deference to my neighbours) has everything, even drums. Very cool. The Ricky group has more bells and they used hankies as well as sticks. Our group had sticks. Thick hickory sticks. Knuckles have been rapped. Injuries have occurred. Not for the faint of heart. Old sea shanties and jigs are played, the repertoire is varied. Our guys even did a James Bond themed dance (very loosely).

The Ricky opposition came back with scarves and bells ringing. Very impressive.

They even got me up to dance with them….me and some others in the audience. They showed us a few moves and then had us dance. My version looked more like a lame version of the funky chicken. Of course by this time in the evening I was sozzled. I love the social part of the whole deal and we were, after all, at a pub. It was getting dark by the end of the evening and both troupes danced a last dance together. I leave you with the last Morris Dance of the night…with drunken commentary. You’ll get the idea that I loved the evening’s proceedings. I did. Even if I did embarrass my poor neighbours. And by the way, even though they say the two dance groups are not in competiton, our troupe won the dance off….according to me.

 

 

 

The Intrepid Couple

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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.

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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.

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Keith at work on Midsummer

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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.

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The Intrepid Couple

Crick Redux

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The adventure started here one year ago….at the Crick Boat Show. I remember entering the grounds and not having a clue what to expect. What a difference a year makes. I’m still a novice, but at least this year I knew what questions to ask relating to everything narrowboating. And I went prepared. But before I tell you about that, I hear you asking, “What in tarnation is the Crick Boat Show?” Well, I’ll tell ya.

It’s a boat show held just outside Crick, a little village about 66 miles north of our marina….66 miles of canal, not road. Up the Grand Union, up a flight of 7 staircase locks and along the Leicester branch of the Grand Union to Crick….with two long and dark tunnels along the way. If you want to know more about the village of Crick, go back to a Blog I wrote in May of 2015 titled ‘Up to Crick’. A photo of the Wheatsheaf Inn, in Crick, heads this year’s Blog.

I didn’t know how to post photos on this site back then. So, this time, I’ll show you those photos because I was so busy buying stuff for the boat at the show, I didn’t take one photo. But seeing that nothing has changed in the village or at the show, you’ll get the idea. My best friend said to me, “You walked around all weekend with that damned camera and didn’t take one shot?” I replied, “But everything around here is the same. I already have all these from last year.” She just shook her head. “Lazy bugger,” she was thinking.

But not too lazy to spend money and give my opinion on things I had no idea about a year ago. Like toilets. Every visitor to our boat has to take a course on how to use a boat’s toilet. It’s the same principle as in a house trailer. So, if you’ve been on one of those, you don’t need to take the course. Unless you have a big poo holding tank in your boat, you have to have cassettes. I’ve talked about this and provided a picture elsewhere (See ‘The Shitter’s Full’ from 10 months back). The technique takes some practice. Not for the faint-of-heart.

But this year, the company we buy these cassettes from decided to put wheels and a steel fold-out arm for transporting the full unit to the Elsan (where you dump everything out). The word comes from the guy who came up with the idea of portable chemical toilets back in the 1930s. Very thoughtful to put wheels and a handle to save my aching back….except it just ain’t practical. The wheels take up valuable waste storage space and have to be cleaned after every trip or risk mucking up the toilet. That renders the arm useless. I challenged the rep at the show. He agreed but said politely, “People want it”. I said, “I don’t. Is there an option to have one without?” He said “No.” I said, “Will there be?” He said, “Not likely.” End of interrogation.

I moved on. Our multifuel burning stove is knackered (broken, kaput). Long story, but if we had continued using it, the damned thing would have exploded, leaving bits of us all over the place. Something about capping off where the backboiler was removed creating a bursting balloon effect. A balloon made of steel. Live and learn. I had taken photos of the stove to show the rep. His jaw dropped when he saw them. “Did you burn all winter?” he inquired. “I did,” I said. “Sometimes night and day.” “You’re lucky to be alive,” he replied. Gulp I went.

Next, we went to look at new fridges. We had a freezer when we got the boat, along with a fridge, but didn’t need a whole freezer. So, I gave it away while we were moored at Crick marina last July….£500 worth. What did I know? But its removal gave us ample storage space where it had stood. After a few months, it became clear that we needed more fridge space. My best friend went up to the Shoreline rep at the show, told him we needed a new fridge with a small freezer compartment. Saw the right one. Bought it on the spot and it was delivered that very week. It should all be so easy.

We talked to the River Canal Rescue (RCR) about rescue insurance (what else?). Settled that. Toured a Dutch barge wide beam worth £250,000. Forget that. Got lunch at an Indian Food stall. Ate that. Looked at multi-coloured lights that go under the gunwale….remote controlled. Thought about that. Found the stall that sold non-slip rubber matting for the outside back. Bought that and a cart to carry our full cassettes at the same stall.

My best friend purchased a few items from a chap who makes his own designed jewellery. I bought a cagoule (rain coat….Regatta no less) for a very good price. I’m the practical one….not really. We talked to folk and chatted about all things narrowboat just like we knew what we were talking about. Because this year, we actually were boaters. And not just part-timers. This is our home.

Only one trip to the beer tent. This was the year that honoured one of the founders of the canal enterprise, James Brindley.

You can see by the photo that he lived a long time ago (1716-1772). He was the brilliant engineer who came up with the way canals were to be built. Some guy dressed up as James, walking around the show and gaving talks during the day in the events tent. Never saw the guy over the whole weekend and never heard him. But I did drink a pint of Brindley ale in the beer tent. It was brewed especially for the show in honour of the great man. I said, “Cheers Mr. Brindley.” Maybe he heard me.

It was the only time we visited the beer tent over the two days we attended the boat show. Far too busy buying boaty stuff. And wouldn’t you know it. Of all the entertainers lined up to sing and play in the tent, we ended up with the same guys we saw last year on the only other occasion we were in the beer tent, singing their ditties about life on the canal. Didn’t like them then and this time I noticed no improvement. To each his own.

There is a third day at the show, Bank Holiday Monday. But we were as knackered as our stove by Sunday evening. And we had blown the bank as they say. We still have to order and pay for a new stove….Bring Out Another Thousand. Probably won’t go back next year. Give it a pass in 2017. You can only take so much of guys singing their canal ditties.

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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.

 

Canal Boat Extravaganza

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I wrote a while ago about boats along the cut. It takes all kinds in any walk of life. Narrowboating is no exception. The straight and narrow and the weird and wonderful. There are four main kinds of boats on the canal system, narrowboats of varying lengths and configurations, widebeams from 9-12 feet in width, Dutch barges and plastic boats….a derogatory name given to those white outboard motor boats.

Boats are a personal thing to most boaters. Narrowboats especially. Considering the whole narrowboat enterprise goes back to the 18th century, we’ve had centuries to get attached to these 6-7 foot (2.1 metres) wide vehicles. Since diesel and petrol motors were introduced in the early 20th century, getting about on the canals is easier. A little smellier but easier. One horse power might have been enough years ago. Things happened at a slower pace back then. And then we demanded speed and freedom of movement. At 4mph, we tear up and down the cut. Some daredevils wind out their motors to 8-12 breathtaking mph, but that’s going against the grain. Still, we don’t have to feed a horse or stable it, so I guess engines have helped somewhat.

I like walking the towpath near our marina, looking at the boats moored along the sides of the canal and more recently at the Rickmansworth Canal Festival near by. Boat names fascinate me as well as how people decorate the outside of their crafts. The longer you’ve been a narrowboater, the more crazy it seems to get. Roofs (rooves) are the most decorated, or dumped on, part of the boat’s exterior. That makes sense when you consider it’s the largest part of the boat that can hold anything. Sometimes you get a glimpse inside a boat. I love the old boats. Traditional narrowboat stuff and all.

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Boat names are personal. Some are inherited when you buy a used boat. They say it’s unlucky to change a name once the boat has been monikered, but people do it and no one has died….I think. Our boat is The Glad Victor. When we have the boat repainted in a few years, we may change it to just The Victor or simply Victor, my dad’s name and my middle name. Not sure where the ‘Glad’ came from. Never met the previous owner.

But names are sacred to some. My neighbour Eddie’s boat is ‘My Precious’. I’ve mentioned that before. Bet you’ll never guess what his favourite movie is. That and some other explanation that Eddie gave me that I forget. And I think it’s personal, so we’ll leave it at that. Other boats have the names of present or previous owners. Some are silly and others irreverent. There are clever names and not so clever, but all have meaning of some sort to the owner. Raggedy boats don’t usually display their name. By raggedy I mean narrowboats that probably haven’t seen a lick of paint in years. The owners don’t care. They are on the canals for many reasons, one not being for showing off their boats. Off-the-grid don’t you know.

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Wide Beamed ‘Dancing Girl’

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Sorted with Celtic design

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The Art Boat. I bought something.

I’m not one for a cluttered roof. But I imagine in years to come, more stuff will find its way onto the top of our boat. “Over my dead body,” says my best friend. We are planning on a solar panel or two. Very necessary in this land of infinite sunshine….although it is raining at the moment. Very unusual. I also like those painted kettles and watering cans on the roof. They are part of the more traditional past of narrowboating. The roses and castles theme intrigues me. A few pots on our roof would look great I think. “Over my dead body,” says my best friend. How about a flag? Same response. Strong-minded that one.

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Not our boat.

Now that boats are on the move, it’s fun to watch them speed by our marina at 4mph. It got boring during the winter seeing the same old boats moored along the towpath out on the cut, like ‘Bramble’ and ‘Ken’s Free’. Considering that continous cruisers are supposed to stay for no more than 14 days in any one place, these two boats, especially, have taken liberties and have been moored in place for months. So, being the dutiful and fair person that I am, I complained about it. Not to anyone that mattered mind you, just the warden of our marina, Dave. I call him the harbour master and he just shakes his head in total disbelief every time I say it, but warden sounds to me like we’re in prison.

So I says to Dave, “Dave, those two boaters have taken liberties being out there for months.” He says back, “And which two boats are you referring to Larry.” I retort, “You know, Dave, Bramble and Ken’s Free.” “Yes,” says Dave, “I know the ones. The owner of Bramble has been poorly (sick) for some time and is unable to move. The owner of Ken’s Free died on his boat some time ago and no one is sure what to do with his boat.”

Bramble don’t ramble and Ken’s free at last. And I suffer from foot-in-mouth.

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Das Boat

 

 

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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