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.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s something you don’t see very often. Our marina frozen over. And for the 4th day too. Late January has not been kind to us here in the balmy south of England. We can’t blame Canada for this cold front. This time it comes up from Continental Europe. That’ll teach us for trying to leave the EU or more determined than ever to go. Try to freeze us out will ya?
The only fun in all this is watching seagulls trying to land on the ice and seeing ducks pretend they can skate. Gives new meaning to the National Hockey League (NHL) team name of The Mighty Ducks. English ducks aren’t used to the ice. Suffice it to say no ice hockey scouts are coming around here looking for talent. Especially of the feathered kind.
While on the subject of ice hockey, congratulations are in order to the first Britsh (English) ice hockey team ever to win a major European championship. The Nottingham Panthers came home with the Continental Cup after beating an Italian side. Even though 8 of the 22 man roster are Canadians, with 4 Americans and 4 Europeans, 6 are English and 3 of those are actually from Nottingham. Nice one guys.
But I digress. Back to the marina in Apsley. We have had our stove on 24/7 for the last few weeks. And we have resorted to putting on the central heating from time to time to supplement the need to keep warm. Last winter, the marina froze over one night and that didn’t last for very long. So this year is an anomaly and we are doing our best to cope. One night it went down to -8.5C. Our boat neighbours’ outdoor thermometer said so. My best friend was away at the time, visiting family at the old homestead. I stayed behind to keep the boat from freezing up. How noble.
Much of the canal outside the marina was frozen too. Chimney stacks on boats in the marina and along the cut are working overtime. The guys who sell coal and wood from their boats are rubbing their hands together in glee over this good turn in fortune. The south of England is usually quite mild in the winter. But now this. We’ve gone through bags of coal like there was no tomorrow. Will it ever end?
That’s not to say the south of England is a complete stranger to this kind of winter weather. But it is very rare. The coldest snaps in the south go back to 1739/40. Then in December 1878 and again in 1879 but in January the south froze over. The temperature went below zero for weeks. The next baddie was in 1947 and the worst in 100 years came in 1963. There have been days here and there in the years since, but nothing like in 1963. Glad I lived near Toronto, Ontario Canada at the time.
Wait a minute, what am I saying? The average daily temperature for Toronto in the same week of January was -21C and reached -24C on the 24th. The average temperature for the whole month of February was -14C. Colder than the south of England in 1963 and certainly colder than here at the moment in 2017. I was nearly 12 years old back in 1963. I remember cold winters where I lived in Grand Valley. Makes me shiver to think.
So, I’m not going to complain. A couple of years ago, a friend back in Ontario put a photo of herself digging snow from her drive in Orillia, Ontario. It was over her head. They’ve had some bad ones in the last years back there. I don’t miss that. It gets so cold over there that those who are of my age and have good pensions usually vacate the province for a few months in the winter and head for Florida. They are the lucky ones. Those who stay are the avid snowmobilers, skiers and those with kids or grandkids in the upper tier ice hockey leagues.
Me? I’ve become much less hardy since moving to the south of England 11 years ago. That’s why I get antsy when the temperature hovers around the zero mark and then slips just below. And it has become more pronounced since moving from house to boat. Two winters now. At least the boat is warm. That reminds me, have to go out there after writing this and put some more coal in the scuttle. It’s a good fuel. Low smoke and leaves little ash. But not looking forward to going out to get it. Just checked the temperature. Nearly 7pm and it’s 2C.
Before I go, I must tell you about a lad I caught in the marina a couple of days ago. He and a mate had ridden here from elsewhere on their bicycles. I saw one of them, about 14, over the way inside the marina which is private property, for boaters only. He had bare feet and was just putting on his socks and shoes when I hailed him (yelled really). He had been down testing the ice to see if he could walk on it. Obviously he couldn’t. It’s only an inch or two thick at best. Then I watched him, as I walked toward him, pick up an object and toss it onto the ice. It must have been heavy enough because it broke through the ice.
I hailed….yelled….”Oi, this is private property. You can’t be in the marina.” He shot back, “Wha!? At’s paffe’it” (‘that’s pathetic’ in case you weren’t savvy). “But that’s what private means (I wanted to add, ‘you cretin’, but he wouldn’t have got it and so I refrained). It means the marina is for those who belong and you, young man, do not.” He reiterated his first phrase. Then I said, “Come on, out you go. You’ve been caught on CCTV and the police have been called” I lied. There is CCTV but I hadn’t reviewed it.
“I dunt do nuffink (you can guess)” he said. “Yes, you did” I replied, “You threw something onto the ice near a boat.” Wew (well)” he said as he climbed the wall to get out, “Oi wuz finkin’ ‘o dem pooah bo’ahs, stuck ‘n all. Oi wuz troyan ta get ’em loose.” I laughed out loud. The comebacks these young wiseacres come out with. Anyway, on his bike he got and the two sped off in a mad dash to avoid the police who were never called and never came. I think I’m safe in telling you this. Doubt he’ll ever see or read this Blog. Stay warm.
It has been nearly a year and a half since we entered the new life of canal narrowboating, unlike any other boating on earth. And we love it. Most of the time. No sour grapes here. Just doses of reality during moments of sobriety and general clear headedness. Living in a fixed home, on land, with plenty of room to spare never looked so good when things go wrong on a boat.
Not that we’d ever give up the boating life. Only old age and waning energy will determine how long we continue at this gig. Dying of old age on the boat is the best case scenario….but not for a long time to come hopefully. We simply ride through any problems that might occur on the boat and move on or not, depending on where we are at any moment. Most of our narowboating life so far has been static, living in a marina. In fact, we have only been on the move for about 3 weeks out of our time on board.
As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve 2016 and my best friend and I are spending Christmas at our old house in Welling, Kent. My best friend’s son owns the house now and their clan is gathering for the festive feast day tomorrow. A bit unusual Blogging on Christmas Eve, but I’m battling man flu and need a distraction. We’ve actually been here for a couple of days already and things are as familiar as ever and constantly warm. It doesn’t help that we are in the winter season and have to work hard to keep the boat warm.
And as I write this, I’m back on the boat and it’s the New Year. The steel tube, all 60 feet of it was freezing when we returned after our 5 days in a house. You could see your breath. So, we put on the old (or rather new) Wabasto central heating system while we lit a new fire. Took a while to heat up, but we got there in the end.
All that aside, it has been a learning curve that continues to teach the longer we live on a narrowboat. And I’m always worried I may have missed some crucial information on this or that technical matter. Keeps me awake some nights wondering if there might be water in the bilge or did I shut this or that appliance or gizmo off or had I forgotten to close a hatch (which I did one time….messy).
The key to surviving this lifestyle is in making friends, especially ones with practical skills. I have none, other than writing and playing one of my musical instruments. Technical stuff either baffles or annoys me. I try to learn, but, really, the inner workings of a diesel engine, while fascinating, do not, by choice mind you, become part of my integrated working knowledge of all things fussy. I am an habitual asker for help. Let someone who knows what they’re doing do it. Besides, I’m a rather tall, large guy and my engine room is small and tight.
But it’s like anything else you do that’s new to you. You make mistakes and learn from them. Most often. I have the nasty habit of repeating mistakes and paying for them….in every way. Just, on a boat, a mistake can be costly….in every way. Haven’t made one of those errors yet. Hope I never do. Remaining diligent for a guy with the attention span of a gnat, takes a lot of energy. Energy I need for other things….like writing these Blogs and learning a new riff on my guitar.
So, would I do it all again if I knew then what I now know? Probably. Because now,at least, I have an idea what this narrowboating is all about and still love most of it. At the moment, we are expecting a cold snap. That will be a test. And I’m running out of coal. But come March, all will be well again and from then until October, we look forward to happy cruising. Going north this time. Going south into the great city of London last summer was a once in a lifetime experience.
The chores of the day are done. Two shitters emptied, cleaned out and put back into place. Filled the water tank in anticipation of the cold snap. Filled the coal scuttle for the fire. Washed and dried the supper dishes. Threw out the rubbish over in the big bins in the bin shed. Skyped with my youngest who lives in Toronto at the moment. Made sure the boat was secure for the night and finally am finishing this Blog that began on Christmas Eve. The consummate procrastinator.
Keep warm and dry everyone. At least most of you live on dry land. But even you still have chores to do. What else is new? Oh, and I’m still battling man flu….just keeps coming back. Couldn’t be because I live on a narrowboat, a long, steel tube in the dead of winter….do you think? Nah.
Where do you go to see London Bobbies dancing, drug dealers dealing, 4 motorcycles in the canal under one bridge, music so loud that it sucks the air out of you, a turtle beside your narrowboat, a million people dancing in the streets and pageantry? Why the Notting Hill Carnival, that’s where. And all this on what was billed as Family/Childrens’ Day.
We left Alperton intending to make our way to Paddington Basin. We weren’t optimistic about finding a mooring there because they are very limited and this is the busiest time of the boating season. We cruised on the aquaduct that passes over the traffic laden North Circular Road. Past Wembley Stadium and factories that once produced the likes of Heinz products and Guiness Beer but now every other establishment puts out Asian food goods.
There are those skeletal structures of huge gas holders at Kensington gasworks to the right (starboard) and the very old Kensal Green cemetery to the left (port) holding the remains of some of the top literary characters from then and now. Anthony Trollope is in there. So is William Thackeray. Lots of other famous people are buried here too. But we just sailed on by.
Soon we come to apartment and office buildings lining both sides of the canal, some old, some new. We are in the heart of Kensal Town and Ladbroke Grove. Not far away are Notting Hill and Bayswater. We were passing Westbourne Park when Miriam rang our boat from theirs. “Wanna spend a couple of hours at Carnival?” she asked. “We can moor along here and get some good photos. Then we’ll move on.”
Well….that didn’t happen. We moored up, side-by-side, just under Bridge 4c on the Canal and opposite The Union Tavern. It was still quite early, but people in various outfits and colourful garb were crossing the bridge above. Lots of police too. In fact, more police than anything else. 10,000 of them at Carnival we were told.
We locked up our boats and headed for the park that was back under the bridge. Stalls were being set up for Jamican and African trinkets and food, face painting and all those things a carnival offers. Events hadn’t started up yet, so it was all quiet so far. Convivial and subdued. Besides that, rain was in the air.
Out on the street, things were beginning to happen. More police showed up and Carnival security people lined the street, closing off a side street because, we were told, the practice parade was about to begin. The next day was the actual parade. But it was the same parade, just, as it turns out, a little more disorganised. Thus the rehearsal.
Before long, huge lorries (trucks) carrying enormous sound systems, enough to suck the air out of you and knock you to the ground, started over the bridge and along the street. Young people from different groups paraded by in Mardi Gras-like costumes or just wearing T-shirts with peace logos and jeans, waving banners or Jamaican flags. Guys on stilts and yet another lorry blasting out Reggae music while chaps with mics called out incomprehensible slogans.
It rained on and off for a short while. No one seemed to care. Groups of young people paraded on by. The noise was deafening, but catchy, and everyone was in a good mood despite the damp. Even the police got involved.
In the middle of the conflagration stood the intrepid Eddie the Photographer. The man knows no bounds, no limits. He just took charge. Anyone would have thought him the official photographer of the event. In fact, the parade officials did. Eddie had just walked out into the middle of the street and started shooting….with his camera of course. One policeman tried to move him on, but he was waved off by other officials and Eddie remained, snapping away as the hordes crashed in on him. The man was unfazed.
Hours passed. My best friend and I had to withdraw at one juncture. My old ears were to the point of bleeding. We grabbed some Jamaican delicacies from one of the stalls in the park and headed back to our refuge….our boat. But the white noise continued. Every lorry that passed blasted out different music blending it into one. Opposite our boats, The Union Tavern had its own outdoor sound system blaring across the canal. Then it happened.
A little white, plastic boat pulled in behind us. Eddie the Kind helped the chap moor his boat. All seemed very convivial. Until the boat owner began passing out party balloons to towpath passersby. They inhaled the contents, sucking in breath after breath and then laughing and reeling along the towpath. Several had bottles of booze. They drank from the bottles and sucked on the balloons.
It was my first experience with the phenomena of nitrous oxide being used to get a high. It’s also known as ‘hippy crack’ or ‘sweet air’. Lovely. To keep us happy, the boat owner brought over some beer and offered us a free balloon. No thanks. The beer is enough. The cops weren’t bothered. We spoke to a couple that came by but they said there was too much of it going on to arrest anyone. Anyway, they were more worried about fights and stabbings that regularly took place at Carnival.
Every so often, someone went into the boat with the dealer or one of his two female molls. They would emerge sniffing white powder or rubbing it from their faces. When the police came by, he hid his gas cannisters and brought out the beer. He told them he was selling alcohol. Land police can’t touch him for that because he’s on the water. A police boat made a couple of passes during the day. They were too busy telling each other jokes to notice any nefarious goings on.
So open were the proceedings that another boat in front of us began selling drugs too. Before long, we had crowds of young people strewn all over the towpath, late into the night. The music stopped at 10pm sharp. At one point, the music and people noise was so intense that I grabbed my best friend, walking her down the towpath toward Little Venice, leaving the madness behind. Just along the way, a man was spray painting a blank white wall with a mural. Nice.
Quite a day. We had decided to stay the night. Poor Eddie and Miriam were tied along the towpath. People were using their boat as a wall to lean on or a roof on which to sit. Eddie kept chasing them away. Miriam was more enterprising. She rented her toilet out to some of the balloon girls for £1 a go.
The next morning, all was quiet. Rubbish everywhere on the towpath and in the canal, but all was tranquil. The white, plastic boat was gone and no one was on the towpath save a few joggers, cyclists and dog walkers. Eddie and I took a walk toward the park. Under the bridge, in the canal, we saw 4 intact motorcycles. You can probably guess. Dumped by thieves. They had been there for a while. No one seemed to care.
As we walked back to the boat, we looked down into the cut and there it was. A turtle swimming along as if the rest of the world didn’t matter. And to the turtle, it didn’t. We marvelled at this creature, unnatural to the canals but there nonetheless. A beautiful sight. The highlight of our day at Carnival.
You think you’ve seen it all and then you travel the canals of Britain into the city of London. The trip on our 60 foot narrowboat was to end at Limehouse Marina right beside the Thames in East London. We gave ourselves 2 weeks. 2 boats, ours ‘The Glad Victor’ and Eddie’s and Miriam’s “My Precious’ (our marina neighbours) travelled together down the Grand Union Canal and across and down The Paddington Arm of the Grand UnionCanal into the heart of London.
Only a couple of problems though. There was no room for us at the Limehouse Marina during the time we had chosen to travel and major work was being done on the locks at Camden Town with a total closure at the critical time when we would have been returning from Limehouse. The marina manager at Limehouse said he’d let us moor outside the marina along the 20 foot high wall, but none of us fancied climbing up ladders to get to civilisation and so that wasn’t an option. We’d play it all by ear.
Our first day out was a relative breeze. 2 other friends came with us to help with the locks and enjoy the pleasures of cruising. They are landlubbers, Sandy and Graham, friends who live in one of the apartments surrounding our marina. They helped with locks and steering and such until we reached Rickmansworth. Then we all partied on the back of the boats, went to dinner and said goodbye to our landlubber neighbours.
The next morning we set off. We were in uncharted waters for us. Eddie had been this way before and led the way. The amazing thing about The Grand Union Canal, even down into the city, is the diversity along the way and mostly feeling like you’ve never left the countryside. The banks are lined with trees and other greenery, reeds and the like. It has been well-preserved, even to the point of overgrowth. Positively bosky. There were sections where I thought I was on The African Queen, my best friend taking the place of Kate Hepburn.
We cruised through Copper Mill Lock N0. 84 and south to Black Jack’s Lock No. 85. With a name like that I was expecting a story of nefarious goings on, maybe a smugglers’ or thieves’ den or some fellow named Jack who murdered people. No….it was an old flour mill and no one knows who Jack was. Which is a mystery in and of itself. But never mind. Out of the lock we went, under Black Jack’s bridge. And there it lay.
I almost lost my tiller. Over on the left bank sat a crocodile. A great bigger than life reptile. There is precedent here. Some people photographed a croc somewhere down along the Thames a while a go. Real or not? No one can say. And you hear tales of crocs in the sewers from time to time. I stared at this one, but it didn’t move. No one on Eddie’s boat seemed concerned, so I assumed it was a fake….a damned good one too.
When we got to the next lock, Eddie told me the croc wasn’t even a stuffed real one, just a plastic thing. Could’a fooled me. Eddie said it had been there for years. But last time he passed by here in another boat, the croc’s mouth was open with a baby inside….not a real one of course. I guess the years since then have politically corrected such attempts at humour. I’d have put an effigy of Tony Blair in its mouth. Not going there though.
On we went, along to Uxbridge, with no harrowing incidents when suddenly, up ahead, hanging from a steel beam on the skeleton of an old cement factory, I thought I saw King Kong. It wasn’t. Someone years ago put the monkey up there and not a soul would dare remove it. We are nothing as human beings if not superstitious. It brings all who pass under it good luck. We needed it, we were heading toward Southall.
We were making our way to the Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal. You’d think it was the best kept secret on the Cut. Here you are, chugging along, straight ahead because the canal doesn’t deviate at this point and suddenly, with no warning, an old, white, stone bridge appears to the left. If there is a sign pointing out that under this small bridge begins The Paddington Arm of The Grand Union Canal, I didn’t see it. Not even when I discovered what the bridge led to and looked for a sign.
Turn the boat 90 degrees, under the bridge and onto The Paddington Arm….I hope. but Eddie, at least, knew the way. We passed a marina and some parks and homes. This section of the Cut seemed more urban and easy to ignore. Up ahead swam a mess of swans. I’d never seen so many in one place on the canal. At last, something ordinary. Swans. Beyond the swans we moored up for the night, as far away from people as possible except for other boaters. Out came the Prosecco and the barbecue.
The next day we headed toward Alperton and were scheduled to moor alongside one of Eddie’s friend’s boat and the boat of someone else mooring there. It was a relatively short journey, but the rubbish people throw into the canals was beginning to build up. You could hear it trying to interfere with the boat’s propeller. You wouldn’t believe what people throw or drive into the canals. But more on that another time.
For now, we were about to be entertained by a magician who also happens to be a comedian. A real comedian, not just a funny guy. But more about him in the next Blog. This has been enough excitement for two days. Read on and be amazed, bedazzled and certainly bemused.