Tag Archives: Towpath

Puddlepath

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That ought to read Towpath, but around here, our towpath turns into a series of puddles when it rains. It is a well-travelled path. Walkers, joggers, dogs, families, cyclists and me….so much activity churning up a path that was never made for this much traffic. Some sections have been resurfaced over time, but not our section. It just gets more and more chewed up. One day it will turn into a lake.

Towpaths follow the whole canal system. Horses used them up until the 1920s, pulling the narrowboats (barges) along the canals loaded with coal, wood and other goods for factories along the system. Today there are a few places that use horses to pull a boat for tourism and nostalgic re-creations of days gone by. Horses are replaced now by cyclists, some are polite while others do their best to run over the walkers.

Along with the puddles, comes the mud. Cyclists churn up the paths, leaving in their wake a quagmire. Then you have to watch for dog poop. Some dog owners refuse to scoop even when the aforementioned substance is left in the middle of the path. A lovely Sunday stroll along the towpaths can become a nightmare when you have to dance and sidestep your way along. It ain’t no happy singin’ in the rain dance either, believe me.

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Puddlepath on the way to Sainsbury’s

This is where your wellies come into play. We called them rubber boots back in Canada. The proper name is Wellingtons. Named after the Duke of Wellington who had the Hessian boot modified for riding¬† and battle purposes. They were worn by the British aristocracy back in the 19th century, where all fashion begins, but became popular all over the world after the Second World War. The slip-on wellies that go over the shoes in Canada are known as galoshes….from the French, naturally.

I have had wellies (rubber boots) most of my life on and off. The pair I have at the moment are the best I’ve ever worn. They are made by Barbour (not an advert) who have been around since the end of the 19th century. They supply the Royal family with waterproof wear. Snobbish eh? I purchased mine in York (England) back when York was flooded late in 2015. They came in handy. We were there to see an uncle of my best friend who was going through a rough patch. There was water everywhere.

Every time I put on my Barbour wellies (not an advert) I find myself singing a song I heard way back in the 70s by Billy Connolly, ‘If it wasnae (wasn’t) for your wellies, where would you be? You’d be in the hospital or infirmary….’ and that’s as far as I get. I looked up the rest of the words online while writing this….very amusing.

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The Barbour Specials in a puddle.

Anyway, back to the puddlepath near us. The rain had poured on and off for several days recently and the towpath was awash in water and mud. I had to go to the local Sainsbury’s (read Loblaws in Canada) and I don’t drive over here in England. I’d tell you why I don’t, but it would bore you. I knew the towpath would be a mess, so I went up on deck under the protection of our pram cover as the rain poured down, sought out my wellies and put them on.

This putting on of wellies is no simple or easy feat. The trousers (pants) have to fit inside and as I wear jeans, most of the time, the struggle is nigh on brutal. Twisting the material around your ankle while trying to get the leg into the narrow opening of the wellie and down to the place where the foot fits in requires a dexterity I do not possess. Getting them off is a little easier. Barbour wellies come complete with a bit of protruding rubber just above the heel that allows me to hold one boot with the other and slip each boot off with the other foot. Got it? It’s a feature that is not found on every Wellington. And I paid for it. The most expensive rubber boots ever.

And again back to the puddlepath. Out I went, ready for all that water. I wasn’t disappointed. Puddles galore. A kid’s fantasy. I waded through them in my Barbours like they weren’t there. And I was the only one on the path as it was still raining. Had my raincoat on too. All the way to Sainsbury’s without meeting a soul. At the bridge that crosses the canal, leading to Sainsbury’s, the lock was being repaired. But that’s for the next Blog.

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Repairing the Lock.

I got what I needed. My best friend was away for a few days and I had come out to shop for survival purposes. I tend to buy things I like the most and a couple of sweet things I ought not have. It’s the rebel in me. I also bought some fruit and salady bits to feel healthy. Time to return to the boat.

I thought no one would be on the puddlepath on the way back. And I was right for most of the way. Then, up ahead, I a saw an elderly gentleman slowly making his way toward me. He looked fed up. Bummed-out for the more erudite among you. As we passed, he looked at me, then down at my boots. His shoes were soaked and caked with mud. “Fucking rain. Should’a wore my wellies” was all he said and on he trudged. Typical English understatement.

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Puddles all the way along to the bridge.

 

CARNIVAL! The Cut: Part 3

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CARNIVAL! The Cut: Part 3

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.

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Aquaduct over the North Circular Road near Wembley Stadium.

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.

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Moored near Westbourne Park at the site of Carnival.

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.

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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.

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Carnival Parade Costumes

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Here they come again.

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Little Cutie with Mum and Dad. ‘Where’re the rest of them?’

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The rest of them

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.

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The Dancing Bobby

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Had Enough?

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.

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Eddie the Photographer

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.

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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.

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A Motorcycle in the Cut

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The next morning. Rubbish in the Cut.

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.

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Turtle in the Cut at Westbourne Park.