Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Shakespeare and a Fifth Birthday

Last weekend was a long one away from the ship.

On Thursday morning, with frozen snow making the footpaths still very treacherous, I set off by bus to Stratford-upon-Avon and met my brother and two of his good but separate friends Patricia and Edmund for coffee.

It was grand company and as always happens when retired people get together with time on their hands and good conversation to digest, the time flew by. Though all had proclaimed very early on that we had our own separate tasks to perform in the afternoon, surmising at that early stage that we had plenty of time in which to do it, when lunchtime arrived and we were still at the Encore Bistro with by now cold coffee cups in front of us, we found it very difficult even then to say farewell for the moment and go our own separate ways.

However eventually we did, and David and I had lunch together followed by a little shopping afterwards, but very soon the evening was with us and it was time to  set out for the RSC Theatre. It was the first night of their production of ‘The Winters Tale’. 

It was very popular and though there was one or two empty seats in the house, the audience like me was very enthusiastic.

I thought the production directed by Lucy Bailey was brilliant as well as being very artistic in the set and costumes. She managed to turn most successfully what I think is a very odd plot into something very acceptable but full of wit and colour as well as emotion. The production also made splendid full use of all the technical and impressive wizardry that the new theatre has to offer by way of props etc. As always by the end of this play I was so transported by the whole event that I was sorry when it had to end. I could have easily sat through it all again.

Having stayed the night with my brother, I returned to the ship late the following evening while the ice was still around. A very cold icy wind during the day had impeded any speedy thaw.

But the following day, Saturday, was much milder when I set off early for the railway station on my journey to Brighton. It was a long journey too, through the centre of London and to make matters more tedious, south of the city all kinds of engineering works were going on and I finally arrived at my destination at three o’clock.



The pier at Brighton



A traditional Brighton Cob


I had booked my rail ticket online, but on discovering that to travel on Sunday would have meant even more disruptions and as a result I would have missed most of my granddaughter Delilah-Rose’s fifth birthday celebrations, I decided to travel on Saturday and stay at a bed and breakfast for the night.



The Brighton Eye with pier in the background


006  The Lanes at Night

Brighton Lanes


The bed and brek that I chose was optimistically called The Marine View Hotel and though it was close to the sea front it was not close enough unfortunately to be able to live up to its name. But the single bed was comfortable, I slept well and the following morning ate a hearty breakfast before walking up the hill to meet the family.

The party itself was wonderful and it took me back many years to when my own children were that same age. Lilah’s mother Millie had booked a local church hall for the afternoon and also an excellent children’s entertainer, who managed to keep the twenty five five-year-olds’ attention for an hour if not exactly quiet.


010  George at the party

Grandson George having fun



Candle blowing ceremony

They all enjoyed his blend of story-telling, comedy and magic (with the right amount of audience participation of course), with little eyes wide and mouths open in awe, mostly with sound emanating forth. They loved the man with his gaily coloured props and live rabbit that everybody had a chance to stroke at the end.



The present opening ceremony


The tea party was a much more serious affair with food to be eaten and parents fussing about making certain that their little precious one in particular had enough to eat. It all went so well with Lilah managing to blow all her five cake candles out almost with one blow, while everybody else traditionally sang ‘Happy Birthday’, mostly with the correct words, though one or two of the older boys were ever so clever in using the rude ones!

Lilah’s daddy, my son Rupert was there, as also was E-J my daughter, who with husband Steve and son George, had travelled down by car from High Wycombe for the day. It was lovely to see them briefly again too.

Eventually everybody went home and, in the end, Delilah-Rose went to bed, leaving Millie and myself to enjoy a bottle of wine between us. She had kindly offered to put me up in her spare bedroom that night.

I slept well beneath her sloping roof where a large roof window enabled me to lull myself off to sleep by gazing at the stars above. It was a lovely night and almost like sleeping outside. However I did have the benefit of a warm radiator in the room as well.

On Monday the travelling by train was much better and I was back aboard ‘Futurest’ by 2 pm.

The ice had finally all disappeared.

It had been a lovely weekend.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Small Boat Excursions

You know; my good friend Bones is an absolute genius, though of course she is far too modest to admit it even remotely.

But the fact is, this is not the first occasion when she has suggested an idea which after very little consideration on my part has been swallowed up wholeheartedly, though not necessarily as a result of what I may have read in her column in Canal Boat Magazine.

In the pre Christmas edition of the mag she just happened to mention a wish list she had, which contained a small dinghy that could be very useful for exploring exciting looking waterways; those little green and weedy creeks with low sun-drenched bridges, overshadowed by unkempt trees that draw, in passing, the envious eye of the adventurous narrowboat skipper but which he knows are far too narrow and shallow for him ever to navigate. He has to be content to pass them by forlornly, wondering what magic garden might have been there.

Being of that sort of enterprising nature myself, very early on in my boating career I considered that some kind of small boat would be the only way of satisfying this urge for further exploration so had considered various small dinghies or perhaps a kayak even as suitable options. But I always came up against the same seemingly insurmountable challenge:

Where would I stow this small boat on board when not in use?

I have noticed that lots of people plonk them on the roof along with other clutter. But I find this idea not very suitable since being a single-hander means that in locks, when I am prancing over the top of the boat, any thing up there other than a clear roof, for me is a serious hazard and could prove fatal. Having a rigid solar panel is quite enough, as well as the various mushroom vents, boathooks, poles, planks and centre lines, all of which are there for the sole purpose of tripping me up.

Some people tow dinghies behind them but in the narrow confines of our canal system these can be a troublesome hindrance when manoeuvring and when proceeding through locks they must be a nightmare. Also they become untidy depositories for junk one wouldn’t otherwise have and accumulated rainwater, discoloured with stagnation; all in all a most unsatisfactory setup.

So I was content to just dream as I drifted by, for example tantalising drains that lead off the River Witham or the numerous disused but extensive Brindley oxbows, where the North Oxford Canal has been straightened during its history, and I never gave the idea another consideration.

That is until Bones’ wish list.

Her suggestion was a foldable dinghy (brilliant!) and she had been foresighted enough to insert a web address for me to look up too; bless her.

My mind was on the wheel of adventure again.

The site was impressive, especially when I discovered that the smallest size of dinghy made would fit when folded, neatly and almost unobtrusively behind my easy chairs in the Saloon. This is space beneath the gunnel that I don’t use anyway and it would not be missed even if the boat remained there forever. Also there would be no need for clutter on the roof or any unwieldy encumbrance astern of ‘Futurest’.



The dinghy being carried


I was almost sold on the spot and nearly clicked on ‘my basket’ at the ‘checkout‘ straightaway. However I decided that it would make a nice break to travel down to Wellington in Somerset to see where the boats were manufactured and to see one of the boats already built, in situ.



…. being rowed


Having phoned Steve the proprietor, he arranged to pick me up at Taunton Railway Station, take me the eight miles to show me his establishment and then deliver me back to the Corner House Hotel in Taunton where I had booked to stay for one night.



……. and sailed


And that’s all there was to it.

I travelled down on Tuesday morning to Taunton and returned the following day having purchased the ‘Crafty Scamp’ leaving a deposit, the balance of the agreed price to be paid just prior to delivery in a month’s time.

Hopefully we shall enjoy a lot of extra pleasure this summer.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Awakening

In the glorious sunshine today, as if to welcome in 2013, my customary walk around Warwick and the large St Nicholas Park, which is adjacent to the River Avon, was highlighted by the many people that I encountered on the way.

Like me all of them had bright smiles on their faces and in return to my similar greeting, were full of cheerful and unselfconscious “Happy New Years”, in spite of the late night that many of them must have subjected themselves to earlier.

Sunshine works wonders and after the seemingly endless weeks of gales and continuous rain that we’ve all had to put up with, this day’s opportunity was far too good to miss. The spring-like weather had lured us all out and we were feeling, very obviously, the same cheerful optimism at the beginning of this 2013.

What a difference a little sunshine makes even to Nature herself. After taking refuge during the recent poor weather, my faithful winter companion the Robin was eager to tell us all again that he was around, and with mouth wide open was singing his heart out very bravely and with great gusto; happy to be alive.  At the same time a lively male blackbird flapped around in the undergrowth looking for sustenance with his busy clacking call that sounds like a barber’s scissors, while a confident little Wagtail of the pied variety was happy to strut along the footpath just in front of me, cheekily flicking his long tail in my direction. It was good to see them all again.

Even the flora is celebrating the optimistic beginning of the year. Back at the boatyard, close to the mooring, I noticed the arrival of spring bulbs just beginning to poke through the mulch of dead leaves. After any sort of winter this sight is very encouraging.



Snowdrops and wild Primrose



A circle of friends


It is heartening to know that we have not been forgotten by the Spring. Her awakening is here.