Saturday, 26 February 2011

'The Screwtape Letters'

I spent a lovely evening yesterday in the most pleasant company.
I caught the train from Warwick for a dinner date at the Paw Paw, adjacent to the canal, in Banbury. This Chinese restaurant is a particular favourite of mine and is also very close to home when ‘Futurest’ and I are in port. But I know also that it’s a similar preference for many other boaters as well, including my two good friends Bones and Kate, whom I met there at 6pm.
Two other couples joined us at the same time. John and Fiona of ‘Epiphany’, whom I had met once before whilst I was in Banbury, and Caroline and husband, whose name I cannot now remember unfortunately and to whom I apologise ashamedly if he happens to be reading this blog. The management had placed two tables together to accommodate all seven of us and unfortunately he and I were at opposite ends and never had very long during the whole evening to speak to each other.
I was introduced to Caroline by Bones and was astonished that she and I already knew each other. A few years ago she had been the very caring physiotherapist, who had done her best to encourage Miranda’s failing limbs to perform as best they could. At the time my wife and I had been very grateful to see Caroline every week at the hospital. She was always so positive towards Miranda who benefitted enormously from the attention.
After the meal we crossed over Banbury Lock where the noise of the water pouring over the top of the gate in the darkness evoked my deep feeling of needing to cruise again. I hadn’t passed through a lock for far too long during the cold winter months and the sound of the tumbling water made me realise how much I was missing it.

The play at Banbury’s little theatre in the old mill was very well performed by the Saltmine Company.  It was the first time I had seen ‘The Screwtape Letters’ adapted by Nigel Forde from the story by C S Lewis, of the continuing conflict of good and evil in the world and the failure of the powers of darkness to deflect a devout Christian in his life. To me it was like a modern version of the old medieval ‘miracle plays’, extremely well written and beautifully performed by the actors. In particular the men rendered their parts with great strength I thought. It was splendidly done!
When we came out of the theatre the rain was pouring down and it was time for us all to go our separate ways. Above all it was very sad to say goodbye to Bones and Kate as it will probably be the last time we meet before I leave for my northern adventures. But of course we have all vowed to continue emailing. With today’s modern forms of communication things need not be quite as depressing as they used to be in my merchant navy days, when the only affordable way keeping in touch over long periods was by a very limited amount of handwriting on a pale blue ‘Airletter’ form, which took days to arrive at its destination.
However after such a memorable evening I was a bit glum as I awaited, in the slanting rain on the cold and drafty platform, the arrival of my late train to Warwick. It reminded me very much of the old days returning to the ship late at night from ashore.
It was a sublime pleasure once again to see ‘Futurest’ when I arrived home. Like me she was very damp and wet on the outside but lovingly warm on the inside!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Mail and Medicine

Welcome Home!

It was superb to return to ‘Futurest’ yesterday having spent the night away.
While it is marvellous to be able to go away to see friends I never realised before now that I could have missed an inanimate object quite so much as I do my little ship when I go away. As I came round the corner of the Kate Boats Office, there she was, expectantly sitting in the damp wet climate, as if she had been waiting just as eagerly as I for this moment too. I’m sure that, had she been able, she would have already had the kettle on and boiling, awaiting my return.
I know ‘Futurest’ is my home, so she should be quite an important part of my life but I never remember having the same feeling of respect and love for any house that I have ever owned in the way that I do for her.
Houses are beautiful as well but because they are much larger perhaps, it has always been so easy to take them for granted. Because one is born inside a building and then spends the majority of the rest of one’s life inside a building, they are such a normal part of life that they become forgotten and neglected even sometimes. But a boat as a home, being so much smaller, visibly floating in and at the mercy of water and many other dangers both natural and otherwise, obviously looks and is far more helpless.
And in my case, this vulnerability fosters a great love and respect.
I was very pleased to see her anyway.
My friends John and Maggie had been good to me again. I met them in town having previously travelled to Banbury by train on Monday and kindly they put me up for the night at their house in Bloxham. As always we enjoyed John's good food and a glass of wine (or two perhaps) Nothing had changed very much and it was lovely. Then yesterday before dropping me off in Banbury for the train back to Warwick they took me to my doctor’s new surgery so that I could sign up with him at his new practice.
Doctor Barry had been my GP for a number of years whilst I lived in Banbury and then was very happy to continue as such after I lived on the waterways. My plan was simple; to be able to call into Banbury to see him once every year for a health MOT and Doctor Barry agreed to this. In the meantime the arrangement was that when I required advice or a repeat prescription I would let him know and he would forward the paperwork to a poste restante address, for me to get the drugs at the nearest pharmacy to my current position.
But Doctor Barry has now moved to a village surgery and was happy, when I enquired, for me to change as well, so that I could continue to have his valued advice as my doctor. With happy consent all around, nothing could be more simple to arrange (one would think!)
However administratively this has been difficult since I don’t have an address in the local catchment area of the surgery. The NHS was never designed for people who live on the waterways..... Of no fixed abode.
I had the same trouble when I sold my house in the first place to buy ‘Futurest’. My son who lives in Wiltshire had agreed to use his house as my postal address and was glad to accept any mail that might arrive for me; I don’t have much since most of my communications these days are done electronically. But of course the NHS administration couldn’t accept that I didn’t live in a house anymore and kept advising me to appoint a GP nearer to my new home in Wiltshire. It was difficult for them to understand that I would want to live on a boat and not have a house...... Everybody MUST have a house!
The only way round me being able to keep my doctor at the surgery that I had been with for seventy one years was to have an address in Banbury. So my friends John and Maggie, bless them, volunteered to be my surrogates in the area and everything had been fine.
But now that Doctor Barry has decided to move on we’ve had the same challenges all over again. But with a letter of explanation to the practice manager everything now seems to be okay and yesterday my two friends (and I’m allowed to keep their address as well) gave me a lift to the new surgery of my choice and I was able to fill in the forms and sign on. However the surgery stresses that they CANNOT allow me to use the facilities of their attached pharmacy as I have one nearer to where I ... LIVE (?) in the Banbury area.
But I think I can cope with this misfortune, since I shall be up in the north of England for most of this year anyway. The astonishing thing is that I shall be able to continue with the previous and most satisfactory arrangement of receiving valued advice and repeat prescriptions from my GP as usual.
What a wonderful life it is.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Brassed off

The Skipper has been busily polishing brass on board over the last couple of days and I do possess a lot of bright work that I like to see kept cleaned and polished.
One of the reasons why he fell in love with me was because I had so much traditional shiny brass on board and I know he does like to see me looking pretty.
At first there was such promise.
I have to say though that keeping it all nice and shiny I've noticed now, is a bit too much like hard work for the ‘Old Man’! We’ve been here in Warwick for nearly four months now and in that time he has totally neglected it.
I know why too. He’s been far too busy gadding off to see friends... And all the rest... Huh!
In fact he’s been doing just about anything as an excuse for not cleaning my brasses!....
How uncouth!
But there is a lot of brass on board I do have to admit, both outside and in and it’s much more than a day’s work for anyone to clean the whole lot in one go.   T h a t ’s  w h y  i t’s  m o s t  i m p o r t a n t  t o  d o  a  b i t  e a c h  d a y ..... to keep up with it.
And that’s what I keep trying to make him understand....
Otherwise it gets out of hand, I try my hardest to telepathise ..... It never goes away, that’s for sure. So it’s never any good adopting the ostrich complex. Our Skipper never seems to be able to learn that for some reason.
But he’s devious now too and cheating. The other day he bought himself a big tin of lacquer and as he polishes a piece of brass now, he paints it with this concoction, would you believe, hoping that nobody will notice the difference.... And he looks so pleased with himself too.
Well I’ve noticed for a start!
And at first I was a bit indignant about it. It was making me feel like.... artificial or something. But on giving the matter some more thought, it means that at least the brass will remain shiny for longer and even though it’s not real it’s better than having it look shabby and brown as it did before.
As the expression goes... I shall just have to make do with small... phenomenons! Ooh err!... You know the one I mean anyway.
And of course all girls like to look a bit decent these days don’t they? .... And any help they can get from makeup is gratefully accepted, especially as they get a bit older.
So don’t tell him you know his guilty secret when you come aboard for my sake, will you? Just say how nice it all looks and cringe at the look of self satisfaction that comes across his face.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Soup and Satisfaction

The ‘Old Man’s busy making soup at the moment, which gives me a few minutes to write something here..... for a change.
The poor old soul has to concentrate so hard on what he’s doing that he doesn’t notice luckily what I’m up to......  But isn’t that just like a man?
Though I do have to say, it’s quite convenient that he is busy, so’s I can chat for a few minutes and I like that!
Making this soup or ‘splodge’ as he calls it, which, I don’t know about anybody else, doesn’t give me a lot of confidence to start with, is thick enough to be more like a stew. He grandly calls it his ‘Beef and Vegetable Splodge’.
Would you believe it now? .... I dunno how I cope!
Have to say though, it does smell delicious while he’s making it.... And while it’s cooking!
This is his latest ‘Good Idea’, by the way!
His little friend Bobby, when she was staying on board made a vegetable soup and she would make enough of it in the Skipper’s big pot to keep them going for two or three days. And in the bitterly cold weather he enjoyed it so much that it became his inspiration to carry on with the idea after she left. He decided though that the addition of meat to the concoction would improve it. So now we have the finished product, which he seems to thrive on.

Cooking on the hob

But let me see if I can remember and tell you how he makes it.
He puts 500 grms of lean beef mince into his big pot and fries it on the gas hob till all the red colour has gone out of it and what little fat was in the meat is now sizzling at the bottom of the pan. He also adds about three chopped rashers of bacon to add to the fat content a little.
Then he chops a red onion, a leek and a couple of large flat mushrooms, because they are more flavoursome he reckons, and chucks them all into the pot as well to fry. The mushrooms go in last as they will soak up all the excess fat in the pan.
Then he chops up a sweet potato and that goes in the pot as well with a small tin each of baked beans and sweet corn. Then he adds a little salt and black pepper, a palm full of garlic granules, another one of dried mixed herbs and finishes off with a couple of teaspoonfuls each of pickled chopped chillies and chopped ginger. Finally a couple of mugfuls of red lentils are stirred in before everything is well mixed and then topped up with water to make it look more like a liquid than a solid!
Okay so far?
Having given it a good stir and making sure there is plenty of liquid, he bungs it onto the top of the Epping range, which is still lit at the moment, to quietly cook for the rest of the morning. By fodder time at around one o’clock it’s ready for eating and piping hot too. Even makes my mouth water!
What the skipper really appreciates is that there is about four or five day’s worth of soup there and each one a decent meal in itself, especially with the addition of a couple of dumplings sometimes. He reckons it’s delicious.
And it’s so cheap and only uses residual power to cook too.
At first I was worried about the mixture hanging around for his health’s sake, but I notice that the concoction is always well brought back to the boil again each time he uses it, to make sure all the unwanted bugs have been persuaded to leave.
But he’s just putting it on the hob now so I’d better close!
I wonder what he’ll get up to now?...  I dread to think!
See you next time!

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Spring is just around the corner

A crisp but bright yesterday morning at 8 am

Such brave little fellows, shouting defiantly against the cold winter

He's been singing for me all winter too

Monday, 7 February 2011

To Leamington Spa and back

The last few days has been blustery with winds up to gale force at times that has provoked the previously calm waters of the canal into quite a frenzy of waves. There hasn’t been any rain but the dark scudding low clouds, in the overcast sky that still leans heavily on the roofs of nearby structures as I write, have often threatened it, as they passed swiftly across. With the proximity of buildings and trees to the waterway, it is difficult always to ascertain the true strength and direction of the wind as it whistles around them and over the top. This can therefore make navigating a long narrow boat, with no keel, very little draft and a relatively high wind surface above the water, somewhat tricky. In conditions such as these most fair-weather sailors, such as myself, are very happy to stay firmly attached to the quay, until a better day comes around.
Yesterday I was feeling a bit listless and as the Sun had come out and the breeze appeared to have dropped in strength a little and with the temperature registering in heady double figures, I was enticed to go cruising for a little while. We had not been out for far too long.
I decided to travel down to the winding hole in Leamington Spa, about two and a half miles away, turn around and then return to the mooring at Warwick; about five miles of lock free waterway in total.
For those who don’t know, a winding hole (wind as in hinder not wind as in kind!) is a broader part of the canal where boats can be turned around on the narrow canal to face in the opposite direction. The hole is 'vee' shaped usually and in the days before powered boats were thought of, when all the power was supplied from towing by horses or men, the helmsman would steer the boat into the 'vee' and let the wind blow the other end round. Hence the name and depending on which way you wanted to turn and which way the wind was blowing, you either manoeuvred the boat in bow first or stern first to take full advantage of it.
Yesterday at first seemed like a good day for a cruise but very soon I realised that the journey would be quite a test with the wind. From the mooring we had to go astern to reach the Kate Boats Basin, where their boats are moored and where the canal is wide enough to turn round. But in spite of making full use of what I thought was the wind direction, because it was so gusty and variable and without having a bow thruster, I still had quite a difficult time to entice ‘Futurest’s head round in the right direction. Eventually and rather luckily, when there was a rare but totally calm moment or two, her bow came about very easily to head down the canal towards the east and I quietly sighed with relief.
The journey itself is not particularly notable other than it passes mostly through an industrial environment. But there is quite a bit of modern housing on the way and blocks of flats that all look well cared for. There is no rural area and only a couple of hundred yards which is devoid of buildings at all, as we cross the River Avon on the aqueduct. This is quite impressive with the river flowing majestically about fifty feet below. But we do pass the large Tesco from where I have been buying my provisions since I’ve been in Warwick and further down the canal there is a useful looking and busy Lidl supermarket, though I haven't used it. There are many old low and narrow bridges to navigate and to get both the boat and chimneys through intact in the prevailing wind conditions I was quite proud of. Had I known the situation was as bad as it was, I would have taken them down before we started. There were also more recent bridges for the railway and modern ones for pedestrians only; so there were quite a few altogether.

The River Avon looking downstream towards Stratford-upon-Avon

For the whole of the journey there and back I had the waterway completely to myself. Obviously other people were being far more wise and sensible than I had been. In Leamington I considered tying up at the forty eight hour visitor moorings for a little while, in order to have a look at the town, but as I know Leamington very well, it had nothing to offer really and by then, as I had been blown about fairish, I was eager to return to the moorings at Warwick.
Because the force of the breeze remained steady during the process, the turnaround at the winding hole went very well this time and very soon we were on the way back up the canal. ‘Futurest’ by now seemed eager to be home too and the time seemed much shorter in arriving there, though it was colder since the breeze was directly into our faces.  The ship, with very little help from me on the tiller and controls, seemed to find her own way alongside and we finished up safe and sound, exactly where we had been quietly laying some two and a half hours earlier.
‘Futurest’ feels very happy here I think.
And though I was feeling a little weather worn, the journey had been good practice for me and I was feeling pleased with our performance.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Spring has not forgotten us

Daffodils in Warwick Town Centre

 Sunrise at Kate Boats

The two photos remind me of the beauty to which we can look forward.