Tag Archives: Toronto

Moving Day

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Moving Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Before

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After

 

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

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

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

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

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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.

Boat Stuff

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Boat Stuff

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.

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Our arrival at Apsley Marina in August of 2016.

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.

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The addition of a new pram cover for the stern.

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.

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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.

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Can you spot our boat?

2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention

What’s in a name? Lots, I think. Especially if you live with a moniker all or most of your life. I’ve had a few over my lifetime. I won’t put most of them in print. My best friend calls me Lazbo. I don’t mind that one. Friends I’ve had and have, have had and have monikers. Can’t remember them for the most part. There was a guy called Mouse I seem to recall. One of my favourite films is The Sandlot. I love the monikers the young lads who play baseball in their local park give each other. Everyone has to have one.

Every culture has them. Some characteristic of a person screams out a name, complimentary or derogatory, that depicts the person’s personality. It may also be a name an individual takes on for him or herself, usually after a fictitious character or a hero of the past. “I am Sparticus” comes to mind as one. But that’s more a joke than anything.

People change their names for all sorts of reasons. I had a friend in Canada whose last name was Greedy. He had it changed to Grady. Showbiz folk are notorious for taking on different names. John Wayne’s first name is really Marion. I would have changed that too. Michael Keaton was born Michael Douglas. That change makes sense too. Michael Caine is really Maurice Micklewhite, which would probably work today. Elton John is Reginald Kenneth Dwight. Ben Kingsley is Krishna Pandit Bhanji. Woody Allen was born Allen Konigsburg and Bruno Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez. My favourite is the one taken by one of my music heroes, Elvis Costello. He was born Declan Patrick McManus.

Monikers are something else entirely….nicknames given to friends and family members. When Madonna was younger, she was known as Little Nonnie. Brad Pitt is Pitt Bull to his friends. Al Capone was known as Scarface, but never to his face. His friends called him Snorky. I wouldn’t have. When I went to high school in Canada, I had two friends who were known as Vic The Wop and Steve The Greek. You can guess why and they never minded.

Another old high school mate was visiting England recently. He came to see his daughter who lives over here. Then he visited our boat. Wanted to see what made this lifestyle of mine so attractive. He was born Jim Pitkin. But I have always known him as Virgil Scott. We distinguish ourselves from the herd by giving ourselves the moniker of 2 Village Idiots. We met up in London last year for the 1st Annual Village Idiots Convention. This was the second annual event.

The convention involves drinkng beer and making frequent visits to the loo. We are old Village Idiots you see. A village from our own warped imaginations. We have both seen and experienced enough in our lives to know that only true idiots can survive the nonsense going on around us. And we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Well, I don’t anyway.

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2nd Annual Village Idiots Convention at Apsley, Hertfordshire.

Virgil came by his name from a band he fronted back in our high school days, ‘The Innocence of Virgil Scott’. I think he, or one of the other members of the band, told me long ago that the band name came from a book or a poem. The closest reference I can find is Scott’s long poem about Virgil called ‘The Innocence’. Who knows? The band later shortened the name to ‘The Innocence’ because, I suppose, Jimbo had taken on the name Virgil Scott.

Since high school, Virgil has had a long and mad adventure in the music industry in Canada, working with some of the top people in the business. After high school, he improved his singing voice by taking vocal lessons from a professional voice coach and going to college in a music program noted for putting out some of the best in Canada. Virgil has written songs, jingles and the like and is known for his love of the old Motown music. I once played sax in a band that was the Toronto equivelent to the Dublin Commitments story. I love Motown too. We share that love, Virgil and me.

We took different paths after high school. Virgil did some theatre, studied music and then went into the music business. I went into business, then became a missionary and then a preacher. When I woke up from that nightmare at age 53, I went back into music (and writing). Now I am about to busk and he says he’s retiring. “Tired of lugging everything from gig to gig,” he says. He’ll continue to play small venues now and again, but that’s it. And he is always looking out for that next great act to promote.

Virgil was one of the cool guys in high school who hung around with the cool crowd. I hung around with the jocks even though I wasn’t one. I did play a season of football (the American type Canadian style) but I was rubbish. I studied music in high school too and that was my connection with Virgil. We’ve kept in touch in recnt years on Facebook and at a couple of high school reunions we’ve attended.

I’m not sure how we got going with the village idiot stuff. It began at a funeral we attended for another high school mate a few years ago. And it stuck. Others have tried to join but it is an exclusive club, if you can call it that. During this visit, Virgil regaled my best friend and me with tales old and new, all with the aplomb and colour of a sports commentator and always entertaining.

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Virgil relaxing on our boat.

I think Virgil was impressed with my living conditions. He even said as much. He was very comfortable on our sofa and stayed quite a while longer than he had first expected. He’ll be back next October to visit his daughter and preside over the 3rd Annual Village Idiots Convention. Not sure where we’ll be with the boat by then, but we’ll meet up somewhere, have a brew or two and reminisce. And, while I’m on the subject, here’s to village idiots everywhere.

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Virgil alongside the Glad Victor.