Tag Archives: Marinas

Caribbean Cruise

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Caribbean Cruise

When is a pirate not a pirate? When it’s me and Eddie in silly pirate hats. Not the look I’d usually go for, but Eddie had two of these costume pieces, so I had no choice. And we had matching green T-shirts with ‘Sun’s Out, Rum’s Out’ on the front, with a Hoola dancing girl on the front. Fake pirates of the Caribbean in Hawaii. Why not eh? Be that as it may, the event we were attending had a Caribbean theme and so, well, the Hoola girls were imports.

Haven’t been on one of those Caribbean cruises. I hear they’re a lot of fun. And I’ve never been to the Caribbean unlike most Canadians and Brits. But that didn’t stop us at our little marina from having a Caribbean night near our boats and beside the canal the other night. Even Cap’n Jack Sparrow and Smee showed up. That would be me and Eddie.  All good stuff.

I’ve written about our boat community before. It’s pretty solid for the most part. Most of us get along. But like all communities and families, personalities can clash and people fall out as they say over here. But enough of reality, let’s go to one Saturday night when the boating community, much of it, came together to celebrate the end of summer in a Caribbean spirit. Rum included.

The evening was the brainchild of the famous Jools who, you may recall from an earlier Blog, had us move her boat up the Cut to get painted. But Jools is a busy gal and so the bulk of the organising fell to the rest of us. And in the true spirit of community, the gang came together to make it happen. But, to her credit, Jools made an excellent rum punch, in a pink bucket no less. Lovely.

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The evening begins.

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The evening gathers momentum. Good neighbours and good food.

Another couple from the Dark Side took care of the BBQs and all the cooking with the help of a young man also from that side of the marina. My neighbour Eddie gave it that name a number of years ago. He says it’s because we get more sunshine in the day than they do over that side. But now it has taken on a more sinister interpretation as being the side where the nefarious and the no-goods reside. They aren’t, of course. It’s just that there’s a higher turnover rate over there and we of the Residents’ side don’t get to know those folk as easily. To be honest, we don’t really make the effort.

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Our chefs, Phil and Andy.

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The Coy and the Bold gather to eat and drink….especially drink.

So, those Dark Side folk become somewhat of an unknown, mysterious bunch who gather over their side every so often….probably to look over to the Light Side in envy and who knows what other dark thoughts they utter. The Caribbean Night dispelled all those ideas we had of the Dark Side folk. Fine bunch of people they are too. In fact, Jools is from that side and she’s nice. The Duck Lady I wrote about way back when comes from there too. The newly married couple have their boat on that side. They’re fine and so, as a matter of fact, are most of them. But there are those mysterious ones you never see and  who skulk about when it gets dark. I occasionally run into one of them in the marina laundry room. They say nothing and neither do I….then I never see them again.

But, anyone who is anyone was there, including some good neighbour friends from the local apartments. Even Keith and Lynn came back from boat retirement to join us. The weather cooperated, much to Keith’s delight. He always had a lot to say about the weather when he lived in the marina and we had missed his daily meteorological comments. Our side was well represented.

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Lynn and Keith (far right) and others.

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The 3 Beauties….Maria, My Best Friend and Jools.

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The 3 Stooges….Eddie, John and Some Guy.

A few were away. One couple decided to go to Prague instead. How dare they! But the dad was there. He had been painting their boat all week and deserved to party. Another couple, our resident actors, were visiting family in Dorset….the nerve. In all, over 50 of us gathered to eat, drink, talk and, after a few, limbo our way through the night. Yours truly thought it best to abstain from the limbo. I feared ending up in traction for months.

Because of the potential numbers, a discussion had gone on for weeks where to hold the event of the summer. In the end, we settled for the area over by the pump-out. That’s where boats go to pump out the human waste that is in a holding tank on their boats. We have a cassette toilet, like in a trailer or caravan, and use what is known as an Elsan Point to get rid of our waste. The couple who did the cooking with the newly married chap (from the other side) parked their boat there. This served 2 purposes. 1st, we could have electric and 2nd, when people had lots of rum punch or whatever, they wouldn’t fall into the marina….not there anyway.

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Apartment friend Sandy and neighbour Mimz.

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Rasta Man, Graham, from the Dark Side.

We couldn’t all fit on the jetty, so we set up, illegally, on the other side of the chain-link fence that separates the towpath folk from our marina. We put up tables, chairs and the booze table on that side. I say illegally because we are not supposed to have alcohol in public outside of the marina. Probably not allowed to have a gathering either. Oh well. But we argue that drug deals go on out here all the time, anti-social behaviour and other unsavoury dealings, including a murder last winter….so a party seemed harmless in light of all that.

We did worry a little about the music we had blasting out from a big speaker loaned to us by our Bouncy Castle owning neighbour who moved into the marina not long ago. We had some Bob Marley and other music related to the Caribbean, all provided by Eddie’s Spotify account. By late evening, Eddie got tired of looking for theme music and moved to his own playlist. Everyone was feeling quite mellow by then and so no one seemed to notice the switch. Besides, the limbo had begun and the hardy were preoccupied with becoming pretzels in public. A good time was had by all.

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AAArrrrrrrrrrrrr

 

Sad Goodbyes

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Sad Goodbyes

You get used to people being around. If they’re nice people, you even enjoy running into them here and there. In this day of neighbours who never speak or not even knowing your neighbour, it’s refreshing to live in a community that cares for every person in and around that community.  That doesn’t mean everyone gets involved in caring. Some don’t mind being cared for, they just don’t get involved. But, if you have enough people who care, even one, then community has a chance.

In our old neighbourhood in Kent, we hardly knew anyone on the street. Even when we did meet some to say hello, that would be the extent of our contact. Not many people there had anything in common with his or her neighbour and, sometimes, there were those who made life miserable on our street. We had a recluse I called Elvis because of his apparent love of the king. Another had kids that screamed all day. Across the street, lived the family from hell and down the way was an old perv whose language would make a sailor blush, as my mum used to say. Mostly, we left each other alone and got on with our lives.

Not so in the boating community. I mean, we have our share of old curmudgeons on the cut who just want to be left alone, but boaters are a special bunch and even the toughest old bird will help another boater in trouble. Out on the cut (boaters name for the canal), people are constantly on the move, but over time end up running into people they’ve passed on any number of occasions, people they have moored near for a time or those they’ve helped over time. Even the times we’ve been out of the marina, we have passed boats we’ve seen before and give the friendly wave and greetings.

Marina life is another animal altogether. You live in close proximity with other boaters for an extended period of time. Some come and go more regularly, but the majority stay and you see them almost every day. Some work, some are retired and others only come to their boat occasionally to do work or go out on the cut for a while. In our marina, we have 12 boats out of 60 that are residential. We 12 live on our boats full-time. Sounds downright Apocalyptic, don’t it? Well, it isn’t, just happens they designate 12 spaces for residential which means we get a post box and a longer, wider jetty than the others and a couple of other perks.

The  other  48 boats are supposed to be leisure, but people still live on them….quietly.  The rules are a bit vague about liveaboards (as they are known), so no one ever really knows who can actually live on their boats and all that jazz. Anyway, beyond our boat (the last in the line of residents) people do live aboard. And we are glad they do because there are some quality folk you love to have around you. Two of these people are Lynn and Keith, longtime residents of this area both off and on a boat.

Lynn used to work for the Dickinson family when this whole area was paper mills and the admin offices attached to them. Keith did the same but was also in the Royal Navy for 9 years, a real sailor and looks like one these days too. Lynn was in the army when they met. Their children were born, grew up and have moved on over the years, some as far away as Australia. Both have long since retired and have enjoyed narrowboating for these past 8 years. Their boat, ‘Eight Bells’ was in the marina when we arrived just over 2 years ago.

The only way I can describe Keith is by his humour. He always has a quip about this and that. When he takes his cassette shitter to be emptied at the Elsan Point, he tells us he’s just going to the Post (Office). And he loves to comment on the weather. That is very English. But one day a woman came to the marina looking for Keith, as it turned out, but didn’t know his name. All she could say to describe him was she was looking for the man who loves to talk about the weather.  Only one person it could be….Keith.

While on duty in the navy, he was chosen to serve the Queen at a military event and practice d endlessly with a silver tray and champagne flute before the big day. When it came, Keith approached her Maj with the tray and the champagne and bowed as he said, “Ma’am”. But the Queen said, “Oh no, I never drink Champagne at lunch.” Keith says he almost said, “Oh shit!” as he turned away, but somehow restrained himself. Great story.

Lynn is a little more subdued, but after a glass of her favourite white wine, she opens right up. She is one of the most pleasant people I have ever encountered on this old earth. Keith is too, of course, but Lynn has a smiling quality about her that can make my day as much as Keith’s quips make me laugh. She is a very patient person in my estimation. We men can be a trial to live with at times….and that’s all I’m going to say about that. A great couple. Love them as we all do in the marina.

Keith’s health has not been the best this year so far. They both said it was time to call it quits and live on land. So, their boat will be taken to a broker next week to be sold and that, as they say, shall be the end of another era. They say they aren’t going far. They’ll return from time to time to see us, but you know what happens. People get busy. But I’ll miss the day-to-day  presence of both of them. Still, they say they are coming to our marina Caribbean night at the beginning of September. Keith quips that he hopes the weather reflects the atmosphere of the soirée.

Today, when I went over to their boat to take the photo you see at the head of this Blog, Keith pulled his blue shirt up over his belly and gave me a cheeky smile. Lynn made him pull it down and told him to behave. They are going to be missed around the marina.

 

Jungle Madness

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Jungle Madness

I wrote last year about the garden we had along the pathway behind our narrowboat. This year, earlier, I talked about a Spring Clean and featured the beginnings of our new garden, complete with an added arch between our neighbours Eddie and Mimz’z boat. The arch was made possible because we moved our boat during the Spring to its present location, sharing a jetty with Eddie and Mimz.

Well, things have progressed to the point of complete madness. Everything from lilies to a flamingo have been added to the collection and plants grow alongside both of our boats, hiding nearly everything from view….the boats that is. We are nearly overgrown and the strange thing is, we keep adding to it.

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The garden in the early Spring

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The garden between the boats in early Spring.

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A narrowboat planter added to the mix as the garden evolves.

Don’t get me wrong, it all looks lush and lovely. The colours and smells are intoxicating. Everyone who walks by tells us how wonderful it is and the solar lights light up the night in what can only be described as magical. And, up until the end of July, we had lots of sunshine to keep the old solar lights lit long into the night.

Eddie and Mimz, my best friend and I have sat out many a long evening, surrounded by our jungle, sipping rum and cokes or drinking red wine and even getting trendy with Gin and mixers, discussing life and laughing at Eddie’s antics. Mimz tells a good story too. The weather had been unseasonably dry and hot through May, June and most of July, with the light lasting until after 10pm. Paradise some might say.

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Add an arch with a straw bird on top.

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Yours truly under the arch.

And well it was. Then came the end of July and into August. Cool, damp and terribly uninspiring as far as summer goes. So, what did my best friend and I do? We left the gardening to Mimz and took off to the city to look after the few plants at my best friend’s son’s place near the River Thames. Mimz, bless her, has been holding down the fort. I think Eddie leaves it to her anyway.

The assortment of plants has been overwhelming. Besides lilies, we have geraniums, honeysuckle, juniper, jasmine, lobelia, gladioli, Virginia Creeper (otherwise known as Parthenocissus Quinquefolia….but you knew that), marigolds, busy lizzies, crocosmia (Lucifer….scary plants), dahlias, passion flower, panzies, petunias, anemones, ivy, mixed wild flowers for the bees, mint and other herbs, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries and other things I can’t remember and neither can my best friend as I write this. Oh yeah, almost forgot the sweetpea. Unforgivable.

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Welcome to our jungle.

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Mimz’s garden. Spot the hidden hedgehog.

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A new addition.

So you see, welcome to our jungle. The marina warden says he loves it and it has inspired others around the marina to grow more flowers and plants this year. A lady just moved in to a mooring near us a couple of weeks ago and already has some huge ferns along the pathway that runs around the perimeter of the marina. Some other residential boaters said they were going to put in an arch, but we’ll see. Getting late in the season and, well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking at this point.

Meanwhile, our garden continues to take over everything.  I look out our portholes and all I see is plants and flowers….pretty but a little claustrophobic when we already live in a narrowboat. I suppose that may be construed as sour grapes, especially when winter comes and I’ll pine away for the days when I could see green outside instead of frost. Still, a little light would help. Who knows what it’s going to all look like when we go back to the boat tomorrow.

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And this is how it looks now

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Our side of the boat.

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Jungle madness along the jetty.

But, for the moment, we can all enjoy the jungle while it lasts. The bees are loving it. They leave us alone and we them as we sit among the floral madness. They buzz right past our ears and off they go to the hive. Bumblebees of every kind and, finally, the honey bees found their way to us. Just doing our bit. One of our neighbours, Jools (you can read about her a couple of Blogs ago), is rather skittish around the buzzy creatures. If one of them comes near her, she screams so loudly and piercingly, that even the bees scatter in fear.

The metal arch at the entrance to our jetty is now unrecognisable. Even the straw bird perched atop the arch, with the lobelia growing out of its butt, is nearly overgrown with Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle. Wild. Earlier in the season, we found stone planters in the shape of a narrowboat at a local florist and each bought one. You can hardly see them anymore. Our old man of the woods looks out from the foliage as if about to be strangled by one of the plants. The rubber ducky sailors keep having to be moved to be seen and Mimz’s little hedgehog is outta sight….literally. Some of the windmills have ceased to turn because their blades are overrun with plant leaves and flowers. Madness.

Mimz has taken some of the plants and flowers down to the entrance to the marina and a kind of second garden has been growing there. To top it off, we decided to raise money for the hospice where Eddie used to work (until the other day) and Mimz volunteered, by rescuing plants from a nearby garden centre that was going to throw out a bunch of flowers that looked unhealthy. Mimz and my best friend nursed them back to life, put them on the wall along the perimeter path as giveaways to donors.

As if that weren’t enough, we started buying battery operated bubble blowers to entertain the young and old as they passed. All that has been missing are the clowns. Mimz and my best friend would probably tell you that would be me and Eddie. But I ain’t dressing like Bozo for nobody see. Anyway, all I can tell you from this moment is that the madness continues. Mimz texted us the other day. She went to the garden centre and rescued some more plants for our return. Will this summer never end?

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Mimz with plants for charity.

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Sitting in the jungle.

 

 

MERMAID MIMZ

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MERMAID MIMZ

I have always loved being by water. That’s probably why I now, after many years of being a landlubber, live on a narrowboat on the canals of Britain. And I like to go swimming when I can. Not too much chlorine please. I have snorkled off the coast of Cyprus, southern France and Majorca. The fresh water lakes in Ontario, Canada are my favourites. Years ago I went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in Nova Scotia. I have even gone swimming in the sea in England. Well, not swimming actually. I stood waist deep in the English Channel off the coast on the Isle of Wight. ‘Twas quite cold.

In my 2 years of living on a canal boat, I have never gone swimming in a canal or the marina. Not the kind of water you want to be in….on, yes. In, definitely not. You see, so many things end up in the canal that you’re never sure how toxic the water, if it is actually water, is. Some areas are worse than others. The Welsh claim that their canal, the Llangollen, is pure. You could drink out of it. But then the Welsh claim many things that just ain’t so. Unless you are Welsh, then, naturally, they are so. Still, one day when we cruise the Llangollen, I won’t be either in or drinking the water.

Then there’s always the accursed Weil’s disease, otherwise known as Leptospirosis. That’s the fancy name. Others call it mud or swamp fever. It only kills between 2-3 people a year in Britain. Rodent, cattle or pig urine in slow-moving water is the cause. If the water gets into cuts or scrapes, the lining of the nose or mouth etc., the disease may manifest anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks. The most severe cases cause a shutting down of vital organs in the body. Canals are very susceptible to producing the illness.

That’s why we try our damnedest not to fall into the canals or go for a swim in the marinas. Just not conducive to our health and well-being even if the weather is hot and the water inviting. In 2 years on the boat, I have yet to fall in. My best friend has been spared that privilege too. I nearly went in once, but that was at the end of the jetty…..our old jetty. I was trying to reclaim some solar lights I had wrapped around the wi-fi pole at the end of the jetty (dock). I had borrowed another boater’s workmate bench to reach the top. It collapsed and I was left clinging to the pole in the hope that I would not go into the water. I wrote about this elsewhere. Anyway, my inevitable plunge was delayed and I am still a fall-in virgin.

My neighbour, Mimz, was not so lucky. Not during the same episode as the pole, I hope you comprehend. It was later. The circumstances are just now being revealed and the details are finally known. This was no ordinary dive. This was one for the ages and I missed it. I was too busy trying to get to sleep on a very hot and humid night.

We have had mishaps in the marina before. In fact, at least one person died after falling in, hitting his head and wasn’t discovered until the next day. He was dead. Poor chap. A few other neighbours have also gone into the drink but were rescued. Alcohol is usually involved. But other times it can be a simple case of one step too far or a slip. You have to be aware at all times.

Mimz had knocked back a few at a party over on the dark side of the marina. They were celebrating the wedding of a couple recently married who live in the marina…on a boat. Even my best friend attended. I was in the city that night with a friend, celebrating something else. According to all reports, the proceedings were delightful. My best friend left a little early and went to bed. I came back a little while later from the city. Upon my return, I heard the distinctive voices of Eddie and Mimz at the party, laughing and carrying on.

I fell into my bed as soon as I got into the boat. As I lay there, I heard the sounds of what I thought were Eddie and Mimz coming home from the party. It seemed to take them forever to get into the boat and no one was talking. Not long after, I heard Eddie’s voice and he was being a little loud for the time of night and not long after that, more voices. By this time, my best friend had leapt from her bed and, as she passed me, yelled, “I think someone’s gone in! Get dressed.”

I did and joined the gathering throng outside our boat. There stood Eddie, Nick, Ali, my best friend and a very soggy looking Mimz. Eddie had thought I was still out, so, apparently, he had run down to Nick’s boat to get help. Nick stood there, in his underpants, hands on hips. “Think I’ll get you a cape, Nick,” says I, “You’re a superhero.” Nick and Eddie had dragged poor Mimz from the canal.

Well now….turns out Mimz had returned just before Eddie, tried to get the key to unlock their boat, slipped and went head first into the canal. Fortunately, she’s a good swimmer and doesn’t panic. But, she had imbibed, it was dark and she was under water. She ended up under their boat, found her way out but was trapped in a small space between our jetty and the boat, so she swam back under and went under her other neighbour’s boat, ‘Last Chance’ but found no space to get out there either.

What to do? Well, she came back to her own boat, hung on to the side as best she could and treaded water until Eddie came back. That was only 5 minutes later, but a lifetime in the canal. Eddie couldn’t see Mimz anywhere and called out, “Moo (his name for her), where are you?” She replies, “Down here, in the water.” Eddie looks down, incredulously, and blurts out, “What you doing in there?” “Having a swim,”she says facetiously, “What do you think I’m doing in here? I fell in!” Eddie tries to pull her out, but with soggy clothing on, he can’t do it alone….hence Nick.

By this time, Eddie is more shaken than Mimz (my name for her. Real name, Miriam). We are all contemplating what might have been. Why didn’t you yell HELP!? we all ask. “I did call out Jenny’s name (my best friend),” she offered, “But I kept it down because I didn’t want to disturb anyone at this late hour.” Typical British reserve that. Anyway, Mimz went and had a shower and I made her and Eddie a cup of tea when they got back from the shower block. Super Nick and Ali had returned to their boat by now. We sat under the stars, contemplating the universe and life. We were so very glad our Mimz was still with us.

The next day, Mimz and Eddie were off to a wedding in Dorset. When they got back a couple of days later, Mimz was all aglow. “Look,” she says, “The cuts on my feet have healed.” They had not healed over in a while. We were all stunned. And what was our first thought? Let’s bottle this stuff and become snake oil salesmen. Move over Lourdes.

 

MARINA BABIES

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MARINA BABIES

Last year we had ducklings in the marina that I Blogged about in Duckingham Palace. They have all grown up and since moved on to greater things, I hope. It was a pleasure watching them grow week by week. The duck lady raised them as much as mother duck did. She has become the marina wildlife guardian and feeder….the good stuff, not bread and other things that are not supposed to be good for them.

Then an edict from above came over the ethernet to all residents of the marina not to feed the ducks in the marina because it caused them to poop on the pontoons. We didn’t think the demand went far enough. The ducks fed outside the marina ought to be told not to come into the marina for fear they would poop on the pontoons and we would be blamed. Not for us pooping on the pontoons, you understand, but those pesky ducks. Nonsense, all of it.

Feeding ducks, geese, swans and coots is a time-honoured tradition that goes back to prehistoric days when cavemen fed pterodactyl and such. You can dispute that fact all you like, but you weren’t there either. The point is, going to the park to feed the ducks and such is a given. Feed them better food than bread if you like, but feed them we must. I’ve read conflicting reports as to the efficacy of feeding swans bread. Some say it’s okay, others say they get some kind of wing disease. I also read that, unlike ducks, swans only eat what they need. Ducks are a bit like me. They eat anything put in front of them until they explode.

So this year a wrinkle has been thrown into the mix at our old marina. At first we thought there would be no ducklings. Duckingham Palace lay empty and no baby fowl of any description could be seen in the marina. The only babies we had were of the human species on our side of the marina. 2 of them to be precise, a male and a female. We made no attempt to feed them even without an edict from above (head office for those who have not yet caught on….no deity involved here).

At first it was 4 baby coots. Then it was three. They are so tiny that even a fish could swallow them. Apparently, we have a mean-spirited Pike in the marina who has a taste for cootlings and ducklings when they are very small. It may have been the Heron. We just don’t know. Anyway, 3 survive and took up residence in Duckingham Palace….a changing of the guard, so to speak. Cute little coots too. Tiny balls of black fluff cheeping away as they passed by.

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Cootlings head for their new home in the marina.

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Cootlings being fed in their new home.

Then in moved the swans with 5 cygnets. They are the ugly ducklings of Hans Christian Andersen fame. I remember Danny Kaye singing the song. But they are anything but ugly….the cutest big balls of fluff ever. Swan parents are not good at sharing space, so the Coots were driven out and the swans moved in to Duckinham Palace and what a scene that has been. Try moving 5 large fowl into a space built for tiny ducklings. Result? The roof was displaced slightly.

I suppose feeding them in the marina doesn’t count in the overlord’s dictate. They do not usually get onto the pontoons to poop and only eat a certain amount. The same goes for those very pesky Canadian Geese that are prolific and profligate. They give all Canadians a bad name. And they hiss a lot as you walk by, even when no goslings are involved. We don’t like feeding them, greedy buggers. Come to think of it, that’s what my best friend calls me….a greedy bugger….hmmm.

Anyway, the swans swim up to us when we are sitting at the end of our pontoon and pretty well demand being fed or they’ll start snapping at our legs and feet. And they do. They snap at them and hiss at us even when we feed them. They are protected by the Queen, so we can’t fight back. Canadians may be greedy, but these are nasty, vicious, English bastards I have to say. Still, we forgive them now because of the babies who don’t hiss or snap….yet.

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The coots, meanwhile, had to move into an old tyre (tire) tied to the back of a boat that came into the marina a week or so ago. It’s a temporary home that the mm or dad or both threw together when they were made homeless by the vicious swan parents. We all hope the boat owner doesn’t move out any time soon and leave the poor Coots completely homeless. That would be tragic.

And so into the mix come the ducklings. At last, the darlings of the marina. I don’t think it’s the same mum as last year, but who knows? They do tend to look the same to me. The duck lady will know. I’ll have to ask her when I see her next. They were 8 ducklings now down to six and are nested on an impromptu stand situated at the back of the duck lady’s boat. Problem” The duck lady has a cat who loves to torment the ducks by sneaking along the gunwale to the back of the boat and saying BOO! in cat speak, scattering the mum and ducklings out into the centre of the marina.

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Quite entertaining actually. Mum duck appears to have a certain quack for “Swim for it!” as they scatter wildly when she quacks it. As long as no one gets hurt….don’t judge me. And so it goes, day in, day out and we love it. What we don’t love is nature taking its course when some babies depart from this earth. Always a sad moment. I’ll update as time and situation permit. In the meantime, get out there, buy some fowl food and feed the little buggers wherever you are. Rise up and defy the Man. It is our right and our heritage.

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FROZEN!

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FROZEN!

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.

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Day 2 Frozen boat

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Day 2 Frozen marina. Our boat can be seen.

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.

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Day 3 Front of boat looking into the marina.

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Day 3 Looking out from the end of our pier into the marina.

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Day3 Frozen boat from just outside the marina.

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Day 3 Ice between ours and Eddie’s and Mimz’s boat.

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.

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Day 4 Swans on ice.

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Day 4 Frozen solid marina.

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.

Christmas on the Cut 2

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Christmas on the Cut 2

And so it is Christmas….nearly. Another Christmas on the boat. Our second. When I lived in a house in Canada, I was known as Clark Griswold on my street at Christmas. If you have never watched National Lampoon’s ‘Christmas Vacation’, you won’t get that reference. But if you have (and if you haven’t you’re missing a truly great Christmas flic), then you’ll recognise that I do it big and I do it right.

Decorating a boat is a little different to doing the same on a house. It’s easier in some respects….smaller and no ladders involved. But the principle is the same. Cover as much surface as possible and try to be tasteful doing it. That would be my best friend’s job. I like tacky….because I’m tacky. The more Christmas stuff the better. And everything from coloured lights that flash like mad to lighted snowpeople, reindeers, penguins and Santas….of course Santas.

But I know how to compromise and my plan for those big snowpeople (men….let’s face it) and Santas, that inflate with a fan thing inside, on top of the boat were thwarted by she who has the last word. What else is new, eh chaps? Anyway, I did get some concessions and to tell you the truth, what my best friend ended up with was much better than my ideas. Except for the inflatables, I really wanted them. And they were on sale too. Damn!

Anyway, we got together with our neighbours Eddie the Grinch (but only pretending to be) and Mimz to light up the marina with a Christmas grotto which would be the envy of any mall. And we did it relatively cheaply. The whole marina was supposed to get involved this year. Prizes are up for grabs and bragging rights assured. We did it for charity. Eddie is a nurse at an ‘end of life’ hospice and we chose to raise money for that by going mad with exterior decorating and a box to take in peoples’ donations….and to win.

We started early, at the beginning of December. There was to be a grand light turning on ceremony on the 11th, but rebels that we are, we turned ours on a week early. For a while it looked like we would be the only ones participating. But, lo and behold, on the 11th ,the marina lit up like a beacon, causing even Heathrow airport to divert planes approaching to land to avoid confusion. So I heard.

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Other boats ablaze in colour and light.

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Santa (Eddie) and Phil untangling lights to add to the festivities.

When all lights were turned on, a party from the other side of the marina (the dark side) came over while singing ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ without the figgy pudding verse. I was busy helping a neighbour untangle a ball of lights that, when finally unravelled (the next day) could have reached the moon and back. I had never seen such a long, continuous strand of lights. The only thing we could conclude is that it was a Chinese plot to drive us mad. Nearly succeeded.

Anyway, passersby had been admiring our efforts for days. Kids stopped and took in every detail. One child stood mesmerised for a whole half hour. Even a group of YOBs stopped and put money into the charity jar….which Eddie had fixed to the perimeter fence in front of our boats with very strong ties and a chain just in case. We had snowfolk, reindeer, penguins, a snow hut and little Christmas trees. We linked our boats, Eddie’s and Mimz’s and ours, with a big red bow that the ladies had made. We looked so festive.

My best friend and I had gone with Eddie and Mimz to get what we needed to decorate at more shops than I care to remember. Then we’d pick things up hither and yon when we were out on our own. I ended up dragging a bag the size of the marina back from Watford where we found a shop that sold Christmas decorations at a very good price. We risked going OTT on the whole enterprise. Some might say we did. Clark Griswold would not.

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Our grotto and the big bow between our boats.

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Our grotto with Eddie at the back of our boat probably looking for a mince pie.

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Our boat at dusk.

So, back to the group from the other side of the marina coming to join us. We had prepared well. We were offering mulled wine, mince tarts and little chocolates for the children that came by. Later in the evening we served vegetarian perogies, sausages, cheese crackers and regular wine. One nearby neighbour brought out a jar of mead he had made. All to warm the cockles of our hearts and the rest of us. It was a cold night and hot food and strong drink were just the ticket.

Eddie played DJ as he has done on our side of the marina for all social events. He has these Bose speakers that pump out the sound from anywhere inside and outside his boat. He had just purchased a 2 CD compilation of Christmas tunes from the producers of ‘NOW That’s What I Call Music’ for Christmas 2016. They’re only available from EMI in the UK. There were at least a million tunes on 2 CDs. It played from dusk to well past 10pm and still hadn’t exhausted all the songs. Amazing.

We sang, we danced, we jived and we laughed at more than one of the lame tunes included. But a party atmosphere it was. Great community spirit. What Christmas is all about. One neighbour, who hadn’t time to decorate his boat, wore coloured bells on his beard. As you do. It was a shame to have to end the festivities, but it got colder as the evening wore on. And, quite frankly, I was spent. All that mulled wine and such, plus Eddie had to go to work on a night shift.

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Our boat community party

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Neighbour John’s festive beard.

But before he left, we had a photo taken of the 4 of us, the 4 Christmasteers. We all wish you and yours a safe, happy Christmas from Apsley Marina here in the UK. Cheers.

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From left, Eddie, Mimz, My best friend, Santa.

FIRE!!!

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FIRE!!!

Our marina is usually a pretty quiet place. Even though we’re surrounded by apartment buildings,the noise level after 10pm at night is negligible. Very rarely do we hear revellers from the local pub passing by the boat after hours. Only once in a while do YOBs come by spreading their antisocial behaviour, but that happens everywhere.

The only things we have to worry about in the marina have to do with our boats. Do we have enough water in our tanks? Enough electricity coming to the boat? That requires getting an electric card from our marina warden and inserting it into a slot, giving it a quick jab and slowly removing it. I can never do it, my best friend has the touch. Thus we never run out of the stuff. We make sure the diesel is topped up and clean (no diesel bug), order our solid fuel for our stove, empty and clean out the shitter when full, check that the bilge has no water in it (don’t want to sink), top up the antifreeze for our central heating and generally determine that everything is running as it should. We have a checklist.

If anything beyond our scope of competance arises, we call one of the several experts in the marina to fix it. Mostly we call on our neighbour Eddie to do stuff. The man lives to fix things and keep things in order. Eddie loves order. Can’t stand to see unslightly wires dangling about or stuff cluttering the boat where it ought not to be. I usually just let him carry on when he gets into work mode.

Life in the marina is pretty uncomplicated actually. As long as we keep an eye on things, everything rolls along swimmingly….without the swim. Every so often a problem arises on a boat in the marina that needs attention. But nothing like what happened late one evening last week comes close to this near disaster. It involves fire, the enemy of all boaters.

If people need to get a hold of us when we are on the boat, they generally knock on the roof or poke their faces into one of our portholes and rap on the window. You only have to knock gently. Our hauls are made of steel and sound carries. We don’t have door bells….too silly. Just a knock and a ‘YooHoo’ will suffice. A package being delivered, a neighbour wanting to borrow something or extending an invitation to a meal or other activity are all reasons to knock.

But on the night in question, the knock was frantic, a pounding even. We were just about to retire, so the lateness and urgency of the knock caught us off guard. I scrambled to open the hatch and there was my neighbour Sally with an alarmed look on her face, and not just because it was one of the coldest nights of the year at -2C. Damp cold at that. She said, “Get off your boat, one of the neighbour’s boat is on fire!” We bundled up quickly and rushed out onto the foot path.

Smoke was streaming out of a boat just down the way, its owner safely out, dazed and confused. The fire brigade had been called. We had no idea how bad it might be. The boat owner was too overcome to make a lot of sense. But questions had to be asked and answers either given or actions taken. Eddie to the rescue.

Clad only in his PJs and bare feet, Eddie took it upon himself to enter the smoking boat to make sure the gas and electricity were turned off. He took a deep breath and in he went, just as the fire brigade arrived. Soon, four fire trucks and two ambulances were on the scene. Not because it was overkill you understand. Marina accidents have happened elsewhere. In one case, up north, one boat went up and took four others with it. One fellow boater called us ‘steel cylindrical time bombs’. Not quite, but there is some merit to the description and why we boat owners have to be vigilent.

I am pleased to report that Eddie survived the ordeal, emerging from the smokey boat unscathed. He was able to turn off the gas and electric and report that things looked very misty inside but he saw no flames. On came the firefighters replete in masks and oxygen tanks to go where only Eddie would go nearly naked and they assessed the situation quickly.

Seems the smoke was coming from the area behind the stove and between the outer wooden wall and the haul. The firefighters ripped apart the wall revealing charred insulation. Any longer and flames would have erupted and actually did when the wall boards were torn out. All was under control quickly.

A disturbing fact though. The firefighters knew nothing about boats, where the electric comes from, where gas bottles are stored or even the fact that gas is on board. They had no idea what fuel propelled the boat or how to gain access to the engine rooms and the bilge. I ventured that they might want to think of having a training session at the marina as the consequences of such occurrences as these could be catastrophic. They agreed. I did have some experience on the subject having worked with two fire departments in Canada. I did mention that to them. There was a lull in the conversation when one of the firefighters cleared his throat and asked me, “Do you have smoke detectors?” Please.

As the fire brigade did its thing, and did it very well I might add once they had the lay of things, Eddie buzzed about telling the firefighters where the gas was and advising them on various aspects of dealing with narrowboats. He was still wearing only his PJs although his partner, Marion (Mimz to me), had forced him to put on a pair of slippers, no socks. Eddie is a trained Shaman. Weather of any kind has no affect on him.

One of the firefighters stared at him about an hour into the bedlam and asked Eddie, “How can you walk around like that in this cold? I have on all this gear and I’m freezing.” Eddie just looked at him, smiled, and said, “Pussy.” Everyone laughed….fortunately.

The next day, my best friend and I, along with Eddie and Mimz and the marina warden, Dave, went into the boat and gave it a thorough clean. It was much appreciated. The boating community works like that. That same day we learned that we were less than ten minuted away from a firball as the gas line ran behind the wall just above where the heat was rising. It would have taken most of our boats with it. There are no words.

The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

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The Crocodile, The Gorilla and the Swans: The Cut Part 1

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.

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At Rickmansworth. The first night with (from left) Sandy, Miriam, Eddie and Graham.

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.

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Vegetation along the Cut in the city.

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.

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Looks real doesn’t it?

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.

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King Kong of the Cut

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.

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Swans on the Paddington Arm.

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Moored near Southall.

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.

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Homes along the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal.

Confession

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Confession

They say it’s good for the soul….confession that is. Time to give it a go. For one whole year my best friend and I have been holed-up in a marina. The boat, the good ship (narrowboat) The Glad Victor, stayed moored in one place, never going anywhere. Continuous cruisers look away.

I took a helmsman course and drove….rather steered….the boat 60+ miles from Crick Marina to Apsley Marina last August (2015), over a period of 5 days, moored the boat along our jetty at Apsley, let our neighbour, Eddie, tie us to the jetty, shut off the engine, plugged into the marina’s electric power source and didn’t move for the entire year.

Serious narrowboaters tut at such nonsense. I was just glad to get there in one piece and relax. We had all the conveniences nearby, including a great pub….albeit expensive, great neighbours and boating community inside the marina with impromptu parties by the boats when the weather cooperates, incredible stories to tell about being out on the cut (the canal) and a parking space for the car.

Besides all that, I kind of lost my nerve after a few months in the marina. I began forgetting what to do when on the move. I stopped thinking about it and just enjoyed the sedentary lifestyle the marina offered. But every time I saw a boat going along the cut, I wanted to be out there….to go different places, see different things and basically do what you’re supposed to do when you own a narrowboat. I mean, having a floating RV is a dream.

Then one fine summer day, my neighbour Eddie says, “Let’s take the boats down to Limehouse Marina for a couple of weeks.” “Great idea Eddie,” says I, “That’s right by the River Thames isn’t it? Tidal and all that?” “Why, yes it is Larry. Is that a problem?” Of course not….not for me anyway. My best friend wasn’t as keen at first. Going out in the boat, naturally, but into the heart of the great city of London? Not so much. And tidal waters to her meant deeper and more unpredictable waters.

Anyway, the idea seemed to die out for a while. We set no dates and had no real plan. But every so often, Eddie would say, “Right, we’ve got to start planning for that trip to Limehouse.” And we’d all say ‘yes’ and that was it for the moment. Until one day in early August when Eddie came by the boat and said, “Right, let’s set some dates for this trip or we’ll never go.” And he was sticking to Limehouse as the destination.

We chose dates, the last week of August and the first week of September and began checking the route. I went into instant panic mode. This meant I had to give the engine a thorough check and try to remember which way to turn the tiller when in reverse. And always take it slow and easy. Had to reread the rules of the cut and all that. There was likely to be a lot of water traffic down there and wouldn’t you know it, we picked the worst two weeks to go. Carnival was on in Notting Hill, right by the canal, and Angel was having a canal festival during our time in the big city. That meant even more water traffic.

If they weren’t deterrent enough, Camden Lock was being closed for major repairs. I think the lock in Camden is the most gongoozled (look it up) lock on the entire canal system. You’re an instant celebrity when you pass through Camden. And we were going to be denied? £200,000 was being spent to put in new lock gates and empty, clean out and repair the bricks inside the lock.

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Work on the Camden Locks

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A closer look at the work on Camden Lock.

Not looking good but we were committed. So, we began to prepare. Lots of little things to remember, not least of which is how much food to take and how many bottles of brew and wine (read Prosecco) to carry along in the hold. Did I mention rum? What good is a sailor without his rum?

Weed hatch check. Oil….check, crank shaft oil….check, engine coolant….check. Taking down the back pram cover (that had me worried)….check. Making sure the water tank was full… check. Enough diesel? 3/4 full. Check. Untie and slip out of the marina without looking like a complete novice and total prat. Fortunately, it all came back….check. And we’re on our way at the amazing pace of 4mph (6.437376 km/hr).

The first two locks come up very quickly. My best friend and Miriam (she of the other boat) handled them with grace, poise and tons of sweat. It was a very hot day when we left the marina. Eddie and I drove the boats into the locks once the gates were opened, Eddie yelling “Paddles!!” to the ladies at every paddle opening oportunity (look up canal lock paddles if you really want to know). Then the way was wide open…except for the other locks that is. There would be 46 locks in all going and coming back.

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Denham Deep Lock and the girls at work….bestie on the left and Miriam works a paddle.

I’m saving the rest of the trip for the next few Blogs. Tales of parades, weeds (and weed), drug dealers, a magician, tangled propellers, duckweed, big fish, a large turtle, 4 drowned motorcycles, nosey people, good food, SADS, ludicrous locks, a gorilla, a crocodile, Amy Whitehouse and so much more. You won’t want to miss any of it. I know I didn’t.