Monday, 31 January 2011

Delilah-Rose's Third Birthday Party

I’ve had a busy time this week and on Saturday and Sunday I ended it with a flourish.
I had set my phone alarm for 5am on Saturday morning. This was to enable me to catch a train from Warwick Station, on the first leg of a journey to Brighton at 0704 and I hoped it would work correctly. I’ve never been that confident of accurately setting this new phone that I’ve possessed now for four months!
In any case I had gone to bed early the night before to make certain that I had a decent sleep for the long day ahead. But this only resulted in my waking at 3am and then not being able to get back to sleep again. I was acutely anxious that my alarm might not go off and consequently never managed to slip back into sleep.
Eventually, fed up, I dressed at 4.30, made a cup of tea and drank it whilst shaving.  Later the alarm went off as scheduled.

Patterns on thin ice

It had been a cold night with the air temperature just below freezing and there was a thin film of ice across the surface of the canal when I slid the after hatch open to go ashore so the air must have been quite still over night. But early in the morning the bitterly cold fresh south easterly breeze had got up making the already freezing conditions feel much colder.
It was a tedious train journey to say the least. Of course I had chosen to travel on one of the weekends that Railtrack had designated for upgrading the track all over the country. On both the leg to London Marylebone and from London Victoria to Brighton, all normal services had been changed and trains were running to an emergency timetable only.
It was a long, long journey and five hours passed before I arrived finally at Brighton. I then had to wait for a further hour for my son Rupert’s delayed train to arrive. There is no enclosed waiting room at that station and I became bitterly cold hanging around in the open.
I made enquiries regarding the journey home only to find that due to the same restrictions, I would have to leave Brighton on a train at 1704 in order to ensure I would arrive at Warwick that same night....... So it seemed in retrospect hardly worth my coming at all with barely three hours at my granddaughter’s party.
When Rupert arrived we caught a taxi and manoeuvred our way to the address, through very busy traffic.
The party was already going full swing and it turned out to be a very happy one and just as lively and chaotic as any normal third birthday celebration is. Unbeknown to me my daughter Emma-Jane, everybody calls her E-J, was there with my grandson George, which was a nice surprise, and when I told her of my plight in having to leave before five, she quickly suggested that I go home with her and stay the night at Loudwater, returning to Warwick on the Sunday. As she had come by car it meant that I could stay at the party for a bit longer.
It sounded like a wonderful idea and one that I was unable to resist. As a result I was able to stay at Millie’s house for further couple of hours in the end. Millie is Delilah-Rose’s charming mum, a lovely lady whose ancestors originally came from Jamaica. My son Rupert is the father, so Delilah-Rose’s skin colour is a beautiful shade somewhere between black and white. I think she is a very beautiful child and certainly boys’ heads will turn as she grows up, I’m sure.
Later it was lovely for me to be able to spend the night quite relaxedly at E-J and Steve’s house. This was a pleasant surprise I hadn’t planned on. We chatted on for a while after having something to eat before going up to bed.
I was very tired and slept well.
On Sunday E-J gave me a lift to Princes Risborough Railway Station, from where it turned out the weekend train service was normal and by three o’clock I had arrived back at the ship.
Though ‘Futurest’ was very cold since both fires had gone out, she was still very welcoming and I couldn’t help thinking that it is always so good to be home.
Arriving back after a couple of days away, I always have the same happy feeling of welcome from the ship and like she did on the first day that I ever saw her in Great Haywood, she seemed to be greeting me with open arms, as if to say; “Where have you been? I’ve missed you terribly!”

Friday, 28 January 2011

'Matilda' at Stratford-upon-Avon

The Skipper was up bright and early yesterday morning in order to catch the train to Stratford. I’ve never seen him dashing around quite so energetically, trying to find everything he needed for the day. Of course I realised then, the reason for all the care....
He was meeting up with two young ladies!
You know I reckon our Skipper’s a bit of an old perv...
Where most men of his age are happy and content to sit on a settee, smoking their pipe, perhaps watching a bit of television, pottering in the garden and then nodding off again in front of the television, our old man seems to be either entertaining ladies aboard or rushing around the country to keep dates with them.
Yesterday was no exception. He had arranged to meet his two friends Bones and Kate, who both live on narrow boats and they were all going to the 11am matinĂ©e at the Courtyard Theatre to see the musical show ‘Matilda’.
How nice!!!
First of all they had coffee at the pub called the ‘Encore’, on the corner of the Waterfront and Bridge Street, where they met the Skipper’s brother David, who lives in Stratford. He’d already seen the show and reckoned it was marvellous. He couldn’t say enough good things about it in fact. Then they all walked up the street, past the ‘Black Swan/ Dirty Duck’ to the theatre, where David left the three of them to find their seats.
It had been such a popular show that the only three seats that Bones had been able to book were well separated in the auditorium by lots and lots of school children. But the children were nice and quiet, in fact spellbound for most of the time, the seats were all good seats in the circle and a excellent view of the stage was had by all.
Apparently the performance was wonderful and all three enjoyed it like mad. The Skipper was quite ecstatic as he told David all about it later aboard, after he had been brought back here in the car, the jammy so and so.
After the show the three friends had gone for lunch at the Pizza Express and then after the girls had returned to their car to go back to Oxford, our erstwhile Captain called on his brother to cadge a lift home, would you believe? The cheeky so and so!
What’s he like?
I ask you. What are we going to do with him?
It was good to see him back on board though. I had missed him.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The passing of a dear friend

Recently I received some very sad news. Pamela, a long time friend of both Miranda my wife and I, had died. It was a shock and most unexpected, as she was quite a lot younger than me. The last time I had seen her was briefly before I sold my house. She and her husband David came past on a walk as I was working in the front garden and they commented on the ‘For Sale’ board, wishing to know what it was all about. Other than that I hadn’t seen her for a number of years, even though we all lived within about half a mile of each other. The girls used to exchange birthday and Christmas cards. But in the early years our children had grown up together and our girls were at the same dancing school, so we had seen much more of each other then.
Thoughtfully David phoned me to give me the sad news; she had died after a short illness. So on Monday I travelled to Banbury to attend the funeral. It was at the crematorium at midday. Miranda’s grave is in the cemetery there so I arrived a little earlier to tidy her memorial and place some carnations on it before entering the chapel.
It was a sad occasion, because of Pamela’s passing. She had been such a beautiful girl. She was slim, elegant and had a mass of such dark auburn hair as to be almost black. She was graceful and stylish enough to have been a model. She spoke softly and quietly and laughed a lot and I had always fancied her like mad. This was before she met David and of course it had to be my secret love as my wife, quite rightly too, would never have approved of it. I don’t expect Pamela would have thought much of it either. But it came as a great shock to hear the distressing news.
But the saddest of occasions can quickly become the happiest. At the reception afterwards at the Whately Hall Hotel, I was reunited with many old friends that I had lost contact with over the years and it was good to see them again. They were all most interested in my new lifestyle.
While I was in Banbury I called at Argos to buy a new pocket digital camera. You’ve probably noticed that there has been a conspicuous lack of recent photos in these pages and this is because earlier in the New Year I couldn’t get my old camera to focus properly. I struggled with it for a long time before deciding that it was past its best anyway. I’d used it for so many years that it certainly didn’t owe me anything now. I decided to buy a new one. It’s a Kodak and very similar to the last so I don’t have to learn a new set of operating rules.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

To the Saltisford Arm and Back

Last Thursday dawned crisp with a sharp frost but cloudless and the Sun shone quietly and sublimely in a pale blue sky, with the promise of a beautiful day to follow. Though there had been a frost overnight there was no ice on the calm unruffled surface of the canal. As always in bright sunshine, the opaque olive water beckoned and I was drawn to make the most of it.
I had been stationary for far too long. Though the mooring had been quiet and pleasant, I needed to be on the move. ‘JP2’ would also benefit by being put to work again. Apart from being started only briefly on a couple of occasions since her rest, I didn’t know how she would perform on a run and in a manoeuvring situation. I decided to go up through the two Cape locks for about a mile and a half, as far as the Saltisford Arm to test her, turn around and then come back, timing it so that I would be outside the ‘Cape of Good Hope’ pub at lunchtime.
As we were facing in the right direction already we moved slowly and quietly away from the quay with no effort at all. It was wonderful to feel the slow throb of the big engine beneath my feet again and with the end of the tiller lodged in the small of my back, as I stood quite relaxedly with arms crossed, on the top step of the Boatman’s Cabin, the ‘Epping’ stove warming my legs from below, ‘Futurest’ responded well and immediately, to any slight tiller movement that I put on. She was obviously happy to be away too.
We were in no hurry and passed through the two big locks with ease. I hopped off with the centre line and climbed the steps and left ‘Futurest’ to glide in on her own. She now knows exactly what to do without me and when to stop with her nose just before the cill. It felt good to be able to close the gate behind her and puff a bit as I wound up the paddle to let the water in. It was just like old times! Nothing had changed.  
In another three quarters of an hour, we reached the Saltisford Arm, accompanied by the odd jogger or two, a winter robin who had cheerfully sang to us all the way up the towpath and the many mallards of course who complained volubly because we were disturbing their peace. The turnaround was accomplished with ease and ‘JP2’ responded to my engine movements with her usual thoughtfulness (Now do I or don’t I?  .... Okay! Alright then, maybe I will!), but positively getting there in the end. I am well used to her responses by now.
Then with the Sun still shining beautifully we began the return journey.
The usual collection of boats was clustered outside and around the ‘Cape of Good Hope’, as if needing the pub for their very sustenance. But there was still one space left for us to join them, on the towpath side. So after I had tied up and battened down, I was able to enjoy a very relaxed lunch of homemade chicken and mushroom pie. It was hot and delicious. The pub was very quiet inside as there was hardly anybody else there.
About an hour later, after negotiating the two Cape locks in the downhill direction, we arrived back at Kate Boats yard. We went about with ease in their turning basin and finished up port side to, alongside at the old mooring, facing back up the canal towards the Cape. I made fast and reconnected the 240 volt power line at 1500 hours.
By this time the Sun was beginning to go down again and it was getting cooler. Though the temperature had struggled all day to rise much above freezing point, it had been a lovely day and was most satisfyingly memorable.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Back to bachelorhood

Looking through Bridge 'ole 49 at Kate Boats

On Sunday Bobby went to look at a caring job and came back with success brimming all over her. Not only was it a satisfactory job but it was a live in appointment too, which was just what she was looking for. She was very excited and like a whirlwind, she packed her bags straightaway and was gone by the afternoon.
So now it is back to normal life for ‘Futurest’ and I.
I’ve mentioned earlier I think that it was wonderful to have some female company for a while but the boat would never have been large enough for both of us. In nearly two years I have grown so used to my own space and certainly I felt, I didn’t wish to share it with Bobby, lovely girl though she was.
I do miss her company and it was sad to see her go but we were not destined ever to get together; this was obvious from the start. We both knew that it was just a temporary arrangement so neither of us was disappointed. We shall keep in touch and that is the important thing.
At 0830 on Monday morning I caught the train from Warwick and for about half an hour passed through a foggy damp landscape on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon. The railway line follows the canal for a lot of the time and it was pleasant trying to pick out the landmarks on the Stratford Canal as we approached the town.
Though I was unable to see the locks since they were behind the hedge I recognised the white painted cottage, belonging to David and Tracy, at the head of the Wilmcote Flight. She offered to give me some water once when I was marooned at the bottom of the flight in 2009, while waiting for British Waterways to replace a damaged lock gate.
Having filled up in Stratford earlier I was well found for water but I was moved by her thoughtfulness. I marvel that I have met this sort of kindness so many times in my brief period on the waterways.
Later the Sun came out and the temperature was very mild. I met my brother David for coffee in M&S and then we spent the rest of the day wandering around the lovely Stratford shops drinking coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. We visited the rebuilt theatre and had lunch at the Henley Street Tearooms; they know him very well there. In fact everybody in Stratford-upon-Avon seems to know my brother, from the number of times he greets people in the street.
We went to his flat for tea and by the time we had finished eating and yarning, I had missed the train that leaves around five o’clock. As the next one wasn’t till much later, David gave me a lift back to the ship at about 6pm.... A wonderful day!

Looking after the Skipper

The Skipper’s little friend Bobby left us on Sunday. She loaded all her things into her car during the afternoon and shot off for pastures new. She has found herself a job which has accommodation with it, so she should be fine.
The Skipper seems a bit sad but really I don’t think she was the woman for him. They didn’t seem as if they had a lot in common to me.
I do have to thank Bobby for keeping me nice and warm over the cold Christmas but really I think we are both better off without her.
Anyway the Skipper doesn’t need another woman on board with me around to look after him. I can do that very well on my own. I make him very comfortable, don’t I?..... I do what he wants me to do always (in the end!).... And without answering back! Now what other woman would ever be prepared do that, I ask?
He doesn’t realise how well off he is. I make him feel good and he must know that really!
What me jealous you say? Of course not! Don’t be so silly! How could you possibly think such a thing?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

New Year Greetings

I enjoyed a marvellous Christmas holiday in spite of the weather. In fact the latter enhanced it; in an aesthetic way certainly. Though it didn’t actually snow on the day where I was, it was lovely to experience a white Christmas for, as far as I can remember, the first time in seventy years! At Stratford-upon-Avon on Christmas Eve it actually did snow a little, adding to the build up of four or five inches already pristinely spread across Bancroft Gardens, by  the theatre, by the river; thus creating very topically its own ‘Winter’s Tale’.
However I was well looked after by my brother David and ‘Futurest’ in the meantime was kept beautifully warm by Bobby, who had returned on board just before I left and wished to spend Christmas there with her two girls, who had returned from France to be home with their mum. I had worried about the ship getting very cold after I left, when the fires went out, with the possibility of burst pipes at the very least, so Bobby’s need for a roof over her head at this time and my ability to provide it, was most beneficial for us both and I was very grateful.
When I returned to the ship on the Tuesday after Christmas, I even had somewhere to sleep as the two girls by then had returned to France and to work. Now Bobby is looking for somewhere permanent to live but until she does, I have said she is most welcome to stay here until the end of February, when my cruising season begins again.
What I have discovered is that though it is lovely to have her company on board and I shall miss her very much when she goes, the ship isn’t large enough for the two of us. Though it is roomy enough for me and my bits and pieces, and I know where everything is, in its unique tidy place on the boat, when it comes to finding space for another person and their set of bits and pieces, as well as their ideas, life can turn chaotic. Also I have grown used to living on my own and making my own decisions in life; what to do; where to go; what and when to eat; what to buy.... What not to buy.... With somebody else living in such close proximity, one always has that same person to take into consideration before inevitably having to compromise, sometimes a lot.
On Wednesday last Matt returned from Tooley’s with his friend Pete, a local Lister ‘JP’ expert, who I had also met before and whose masterly reputation was well known by all. Pete in a very short time, without seemingly doing very much at all, asked Matt to swing the handle and after a cough and a splutter ‘JP2’ fired into life straightaway!


It was as if she had been having a laugh at Matt and I on the previous occasions that we had both tried, nearly busting our guts, in a way that must have appeared very comical, to get her to start. But when Pete the expert arrived, ‘Futurest’ seemed to know that the game was up and decided she had better come clean... She is running perfectly now.
From certain things that have happened during my association with ‘Futurest’, like ‘JP2’ not running this winter, it is as if the ship has a consciousness all of her own.
You know if I didn’t know differently, I might almost believe that she had human characteristics sometimes......  It is most strange!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Christmas Aboard

The Skipper was away gallivanting over Christmas; it’s alright for him and though I know he would have been thinking of me, he was quite prepared to leave me all on my own for all that time. Of course such things I have to put up with quite normally.... It’s part of the drudgery of life, not being able to cruise all through the year.
However after last winter when we were continuously cruising pretending (ooh er!) that I was an icebreaker, which I loved and found very exciting as I frolicked through the ice, the Skipper vowed he’d never do it again..... The killjoy! .... Though I blissfully enjoyed as well all the intimate attention of having my bottom caressed and blacked afterwards and hence twice in one year, the Skipper reckoned it was far too expensive to do so and was frowning for ages afterwards. He promised that apart from the odd day out or even a weekend perhaps, weather permitting, we would remain firmly moored to the bank between the 1st November and the 28th February from then on.
Although I always feel lonely when he leaves to stay away for a day or two, I can take it all in my stride very well and live comfortably. It’s a pleasure in fact to have my own time without him. But on this occasion since he had made arrangements to visit his sister-in-law in Hampshire on the Saturday before Christmas, to return on the following Wednesday and then to shoot off again to his brother’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon on Christmas Eve for the whole of the Christmas holiday, I was a little bit anxious because of the weather conditions. While he was away the fires would go out, I would get very cold and all my parts could freeze up, which as you will know, isn’t very pleasant!
Bless him, I know the Skipper was worried as well and that was the reason he planned to return in between visits to his sister-in-law and brother. Though this gave me a bit more confidence, I was still not happy. What would happen if the weather was so bad, as was forecast, that he was unable to get back in between, or even for ages afterwards?
So imagine my happy surprise when the Skipper’s little friend Bobby, who you may remember had been to France, was now back in Warwick and hadn’t anywhere to stay over Christmas! .... Ahh!
 “Could she possibly stay on board over the holiday period with her two daughters?” she timorously asked.
 “Yes!” said the Skipper straightaway, with almost over enthused eagerness, which Bobby could well have taken for the wrong reasons.
“Join as soon as you like, but certainly before Saturday 18th December.”
In fact she did so straightaway and enjoyed a fine time aboard, especially when her daughters Pippa and Riccy joined her on Christmas Eve with their respective boyfriends. They all seemed to be very happy crushed together, but so was I since Bobby looked after me very well and kept me (and my parts!) very warm till the Skipper returned on the Tuesday after Christmas. It had all turned out most favourably for everyone concerned especially the Skipper, since heavy snowfall had prevented him from returning in between his two visits, as he had planned.
Bobby is still here. But that’s another story and I had better let him tell that one.

The winter towpath at Warwick