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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Down the Atherstone Flight and Onward to Tamworth

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." ~Blanche DuBois, character in A Streetcar Named Desire written by Tennessee Williams, American author and playwright
 

     Monday August 7th dawned bright and dry, with rain forecast for late in the afternoon. I decided to move up to the water point early as it is located in an awkward place--the top of a lock flight and the side of a winding hole! I swear the design of the canals was the forerunner to today's action video games! 
The lock gates are marked in blue. The rubbish bins and Elsan toilet disposal is in red and the two water points are the yellow dots at either end of the winding hole!
Here is an excellent picture of what it looks like as one is cruising through the Coleshill Road bridge. Atherstone top lock is directly in front of you and to the left, out of site behind the brick wall is the service point and winding hole. I pinched this from Tom and Jan Jones' blog, dated June 11th, 2014. Thanks Tom for being such a fabulous photographer!! Big hugs to you both back in Oz.
     While Les took most things in his stride, I find that every day is accompanied by a minimum low level of anxiety which can quickly ratchet up to overwhelming, making my skin crawl and my stomach clench. I wasn't really aware of this continual anxiety until I was filling at this water point. It was 7:30 am and there was no one else around. There was no reason for me to feel anxious but I did and I sat on the bow listening to water pour into the stainless steel tank as I analyzed my feelings. I realized I feel the way I do because up until the last three weeks of Les' life we have always been on the boat facing things together. I seldom had anxious moments on NBV with Les--not after my first year aboard. I always knew Les would take good care of me and our floating home. Now I am going it alone and there is so much I don't know and I cannot plan for every single possible contingency--something that drives a personal control freak like myself to distraction. I realize I either deal with these feelings through crazy dreams or I find I must talk myself down off the anxiety ledge and work my way through the issue at hand. 
     Anxiety is no stranger to me. I spent all of my childhood and more than the first third of my life as a single parent dealing with it every day. Facing cancer and battling it seemed to put paid to my constant anxiety and of course Les showed up and we fell in love. Anxiety was a thing of the past until he received a cancer diagnosis and then it climbed back in bed with me; now it keeps me company at my meals and creeps through my dreams. I am trying to work through all this while I work through my grief at losing Les because I really do want to enjoy life and I am far from that most days.
     Right so back to boating. When my tank was nearly full I walked over to the top lock gate with a windlass and was going to set the lock for myself when I looked down the flight and saw a boat coming up the next lock down so I actually emptied the lock completely and set it for them, at which point a boat came through the bridge hole and moored up for the lock to go down so, okay I would have to wait until they went down and then set the lock for myself. The boat coming up out of the next lock was NB Bracken and Anne was at the tiller. Her husband Steve appeared on the towpath walking towards me and I called out a hello. He walked up and wrapped his big bear arms around me, giving me a hello hug.
     We met Anne and Steve in 2014 waiting for a bus into Tring. Our paths have crossed many times since then and it is always lovely to see them. Les and I had moored up near them on the Grand Union just north of Leighton Buzzard last July on our way back down to Cowroast. Informed of Les' 'terminal cancer diagnosis, they had contacted other boaters ahead of us who were aware of our need for speed and we found many of the locks in our favor as boaters coming north who knew of our plight through Anne And Steve had left the locks set in our favor, helping us along the water road. After a quick natter and catch up, they came out of the top lock and waved goodbye and the other boat went in. I moved NBV over to the towpath and queued for the lock, helping to lock the other folks down.
     A lock keeper in a bright blue jersey with a screaming orange life jacket on came over and asked me if I was alone.
     "Good morning and yes I am."
     "Right then, I will send my husband along to help you down the locks."
     "Oh that would be such a blessing. Thank you!"
 Off she went to get her OH and I set and filled the lock for myself. She returned to help me while her husband went down to set the next two locks below me as on this particular lock flight the locks fill twice as fast as they empty. Gwynneth and Steven work the Atherstone flight on Mondays as Canal and River Trust (CaRT) volunteer lock keepers and they are a force to be reckoned with! It didn't take long at all before Steven and I working together, had NBV down the first five locks.
     "Right", Steven said, "There is long pound between between locks seven and six. Then there is another set of four locks and another long pound before the final two. Are you planning to go straight through?"
     "Yes I am."
     "Do you want me to walk down and help you through the rest of the flight?"
     "No that's Okay Steven. I think I will be fine now. We've broken the back of it haven't we?"
     "Yes indeed we have. Okay, if you are sure you will be all right I will go back up now and begin working other boats down. Take care of yourself now."
With a wave he was off up the towpath. I wasn't at all sure about how well I would do on my own because as I have mentioned before I don't set the locks and then jump down on the roof or climb down the lock ladders. I bow haul my boat out by hand and it takes more time, which some boaters are loathe to give me. The only way now was downward and time would tell how I did.
     I began meeting boats coming up and everyone was very friendly and willing to help me set the locks, allowing me to jump back on the boat before it dropped too low for me to climb aboard from the side and opening the gates for me. I also met John--a member of the CaRT Asset management team. He was testing the gates on all the locks in the Atherstone flight and so he helped out with lock gates as I went along.
     I reached a lock where no one was coming up and so I set it myself and was about to go across the lock gates to open the far side when another boater coming up the locks came up and offered to get it. He was a young fellow and he watched me with admiration as I bow hauled NBV out of the lock, pulled her over to the side and climbed aboard while his partner came up out the the lock below and passed me to enter the open gate behind me. The young man called out, "Good on you for keeping going on your own and for doing it your way and keeping old traditions alive!" 
Bless his sweet, kind, patient heart. All was managed without mishap because no one was in a hurry, no one was rude, and we all helped each other as and when. which is how this boating life is supposed to work--and does when selfish gits are off doing other things.
     Soon enough I was in the long pound between the ninth lock and the final two ahead of me. There is a white foot bridge half way through this pound and Les loved to stop there at a low gap in the hedge. It is quiet countryside with a lovely view of the surrounding rolling fields. I wanted to stop and plant a daffodil for him but I felt the pressure to keep moving as there was now a line of boats behind me, so I cried as I went along remembering our last time mooring there. My left knee replacement was seven months old and doing well but my right knee was in a very bad way. We took great care of one another as we each limped uncertainly into a dim and limited future together.
A view of the white footbridge from the back of NBV as I cruise past one Les' favorite mooring spots.
     I made it through the final two locks, meeting another single handed boater coming up the last one. It was just past 11:00 AM and the weather was beginning to deteriorate. I needed to find a good mooring spot for two days as another low pressure front was bearing down, bringing loads of rain and wind. I fetched up at Bridge 40 on the North Coventry canal with farmland all around me, and one other boat moored by the bridge. I put my pins in a lovely stretch between two sentinel Oak trees with a large open space in the hedge row between for sun to reach the solar panels. After mooring up, I set the panels towards the direction of the sun and I hoisted the TV antennae, having made note of which direction the antennae was facing on the nearby farmhouse. I mainly watch BBC Four with its historical documentaries and science programs, but I have to be able to tune in All Four for Outlander--the marvelous series made true to every word and idea in author Diana Gabaldon's amazing book of the same name. The winds rose, the rain came and the temperature dropped so low I had to start a fire! Sorted...
 
From the series Outlander. Claire's husband Frank Randall reaches through the mists of time for her. She has been transported from Scotland in 1947 to 1743 by the magic in the standing stones at Craig NaDunn. In Scotland 1743 she meets and falls in love with Jamie Fraser...whom she also marries!

This is a lovely old working boat. It belonged to the present owner's parents. he remembers going on holidays as a kid. His parents bought a working boat so they could bring the family goats! Now 'days the cargo hold is a garden area and quite lovely too!
     The next day with a short break in the weather I went for  walk along the towpath to stretch my legs. The flap on the cratch cover of NB Hope, moored by the bridge, flipped up and a man stepped out with a spaniel on a lead. We greeted one another and as he walked off down the path, his wife stuck her curly auburn head out the bow cover and we chatted for about twenty minutes. Her name is Morwenna, isn't it lovely?
     She and her husband cruise throughout the summer months but live in a house down in Sussex, I think she said. She makes and sells lovely Lavender wands.  We had a long chat in which she shared with me that she and her husband were waiting for a lock and she fell in the canal just outside of a lock which was being filled with a boat inside. Morwenna recalled that she was not wearing a life jacket which actually saved her life although they usually wear one. She was stuck at the bottom by the suction of the water pouring into the lock. Her husband managed to reach her hand and tried to pull her up but instead he fell in and was sucked through under the gate and came up in the lock and Morwenna ended up making the same trip. If they had been wearing life vest they would have gotten caught in the hole and the water could not have forced them through the gate and into the lock. She doesn't remember taking a breath between falling in and finally coming up in the lock but she feels as though she did...under water! My breath was in my throat as Morwenna shared her story. What a terrifying ordeal and it could have turned out really badly. I am so relieved it didn't though and we hugged goodbye as Morwenna pressed a Lavender wand into my hand and suddenly I hear boater Mo from NB Balmaha who has also sadly passed on, saying, "Aren't boaters lovely?"
Sunset lights the evening sky and the sides of the boats moored in front of NBV.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Into Atherstone

"What was it like to love him? Asked Gratitude. It was like being exhumed, I answered, and brought to life in a flash of brilliance. What was it like to be loved in return? Asked Joy. It was like being seen after a perpetual darkness, I replied. To be heard after a lifetime of silence. What was it like to lose him? Asked Sorrow. There was a long pause before I responded: It was like hearing every goodbye ever said to me—said all at once.” ~ Lang Leav, Australian poet and author

     I left Brinklow on Monday, July 31st at 7:30 am. The morning sunlight was just stretching forth golden fingers across the cut, lighting up the solar panels and topping up my batteries, to my deep satisfaction. Before I leave a place and push on, I always check the water level in the engine radiator, grease the stern gland it needed, and empty the bilge of any water. So far, so good!!
     I had eight miles to go to arrive at Hawkesbury Junction--a long haul in a craft whose top speed is four MPH and which usually cruises at 1.5 MPH when nothing is moored up on either side, or just above tick over which is about .50 MPH and there are always lines and clusters of boats to pass in summer. Passing the spot where Les I met Geoff and Mags Wade (NB Seyella) at last in early summer 2016 I broke into sobs which made my shoulders wrack and my chest ache. We saw our first ever Water Vole there in that same place. We were headed north to Chester and we thought the world was our oyster at last. Les was complaining of lower back pain then but it was a twinge and we thought a chiropractor could sort it out...
     I made the journey from Brinklow to Hawkesbury Junction in just over over five hours hoping to beat the advancing line of storm clouds from the west. I came around the sharp bend at the end of the North Oxford to find one spot available--right on the curve--so I backed up and as I sorted out mooring up on a curve, the clouds moved in and rain pissed down in a torrent that soaked me to the skin in less than a minute. By the time I finished tying up the boat and stuffing large fenders in the gaps on the ends, the rain passed and the world was washed clean.
Moored on the curve at Hawkesbury Junction.

     Inside I took advantage of plenty of hot water to scrub the travel grime away and warm up again. In clean clothes with a cup of hot tea, I settled in for the rest of the day. Despite having never entered the famous Greyhound Pub about eight boat lengths in front of me through the shallow stop lock marking the convergence of the North Oxford with the Coventry canal, I didn't bother to check it out. I find myself with a nearly total lack of curiosity or interest in most things these days. Even eating is a chore unless it is crisps or gummy bears which have done nothing for my health or my waistline. Without Les to cook for the act of fixing a meal feels pointless and my endeavors don't taste very good either. I simply cannot cook well without putting my heart into it and my heart is fractured and limping along at present.
     As the clouds lifted I looked out the port side window to spot a mare and her offspring
tethered in the grass nearby. As I watched they each took turns rolling in the grass, nuzzling each other and then playing a quick game of chase and bite with the pony always just out of the reach of mamma's teeth. Just as I put Les' camera down I was aware of a lot of engine revving coming from the starboard side, and NBV rocked as a boat passed close. With boats moored up on both sides of the canal here, it is necessary to go slowly and take one's time--especially in passing other boats. As I looked out the window at a hire boat cruising slowly, closely by me, I was rocked nearly off my feet as another boat hit mine! I recovered my balance and popped up through the stern hatch to see NB April Mist, backing up and revving the bollocks out of their engine, narrowly missing a boat moored permanently across from me.
     I piped up, "Hey what the hell are you doing? You hit my boat!!" The man at the tiller ignored me but his wife said, "Oh did we tap you?
     "That was more than a tap. You slammed into the side of my boat. This is my home so have a care please."
     She rolled her eyes as she declared, "Well we've been stuck three hours behind a bloody hire boat going one mile an hour. We were trying to pass them. It's been utterly ridiculous. Some people have no regard for others." Brits would think or say "Well that was the understatement of the century," but Americans including this one respond with,"No shit Sherlock, and you without a clue."
     "Did you signal to them that you wanted to overtake them?"
     "We walked up to ask them and they refused to answer, she said huffily. Huh??? Walked up, really?? Where was that at--the hire base?? And no reply was forthcoming?? What a load of codswallop. 
     "Is Autumn Mist your boat?" I asked. 
     "Yes of course," she replied frostily.
     "Well then regardless of what any of the other boaters are doing around you, you should be able to maintain control of your own boat--which clearly you have not managed," and I popped back down inside as she gave me the finger. They moved slowly forward and waited their turn to go through the stop lock. What a couple of losers. A shiny, lovely boat, and they drive it like they are on the race track at Le Mans. I'll bet they were right on the stern of the hire boat the entire time and I am sure they didn't bother with any manners or signals. This couple is a prime example of  the selfish mindset which says, "I've brought my boat out of the marina for summer fun so all of you tossers need to get out of our way. We have a schedule to keep."
     I was up at 5:00 AM just as the sun was flowing across the grass and the water. By 6:30 I was through the stop lock just as a young woman came along with her spritely terrier on a leash. Her name is Sharon and she stopped to chat with me as I stood, mid line in hand in front of the Greyhound pub. 
     "Are you alone then on your boat?" She asked as she looked around for someone else.
     "Yes I am. My husband I were married for six years and lived aboard continuously cruising. He died a few months ago and I am continuing on my own." After the usual condolences, she asked me how I found it on my own, explaining that she had wanted to sell her flat and buy a boat for about five years but she had been told women couldn't handle a boat on their own and being single and forty seven she didn't think she could have her dream without a man.
     "It is quite possible and I urge you to reconsider. If you really want a life afloat then research it carefully, and know that women are as capable as men when single handing. Never let anyone rob you of your dreams." We parted ways and I climbed aboard NBV, turned the boat in the sharp basin, went off through the bridge only to find CaRT employees had tied up a huge CaRT barge on the water front by the rubbish bins and a plastic cruiser was tied right in behind them, also on the last of the water point bollards. I went forward then through the narrow gap and moored up at the water points on the Coventry heading north. Of course a hire boat was moored up on one of them. It is a wonder there were any water taps available.
Keep your eyes peeled for this boat; blink and you will miss them as it cracks on past you at Mach 2.
     After topping up the water and dumping the rubbish I was off at 7:35 AM, attempting to outrun another low pressure ridge bringing more rain and high winds. As I cruised slowly past the long line of moored boats I spotted April Mist. At last I was away, remembering last July as I donned Les' rain gear and plowed on through a torrential rain shower that lasted all day. Time was of the essence and we needed to get from Nuneaton, through the junction and back to Cowroast ASAP. Les was in too much pain to sit with me and so he was lying on the bed while I motored on in the rain,which mingled with my tears because I knew the next time I came this way Les would be dead and I would be without him...and so it is.
     Just before reaching the charity dock between Bedworth and Nuneaton I slowed as I started through a bridge hole. I could see a small boat moored up just ahead in the gloom of the close growing trees. A woman was untying it and so I slowed right down to tick over as she stood waiting for me to pass, ropes in hand. I smiled at her and she suddenly shouted, "You are the only person who has bothered to slow down at all when passing!"
     "That's because I am a woman too and I know what it's like when you are on your own and trying to hold on to your boat as some idiot cracks past at the speed of light." She laughed and thanked me, letting my gentle wash pull her bow out as she climbed aboard and moved into the middle of the canal.
Gorilla on the cut!! This house used to be a pub. Through the bridge hole you will see a small boat. She is waiting for me to pass so she can pull out behind me.

     I continued on into and through Nuneaton, lost in my thoughts of Les and better days as we honeymooned on the Ashby canal, whose entrance I passed along my way, and before I knew it I was out the other side and headed for Springwood Haven Marina. I
Springwood Haven Marina and Chandler's.
think it is one of the loveliest marinas in England. Nestled in the lee of a low hill covered in grasses and edged with oaks, the main two story brick building sits right on the cut at the jetty and it is easy as pie to pull in for diesel, propane, or other items from the Chandler's inside. Across the cut is a small, dense woodland where Les and I moored up in late February 2012. Trees had been felled and another boat was moored there cutting wood. he invited us in to help ourselves and we made the acquaintance of Paul and Jenny on NB Panda Julienne. I topped up the diesel, bought two more 18 inch long mooring pins so I can double pin when I moor on soft ground and trundled off to moor up just around the curve, out of site of the marina with woods all around but a break in the trees to allow all day sunshine for the solar panels.

     The wind had been steadily rising in gusts and it felt good to be moored up safe and sound. There were two tatty looking boats moored up about three boat lengths in front of me under some over hanging trees. Otherwise nothing else to infer humanity or civilization was nearby. I spent three glorious days cocooned here as rain and very high winds tossed the world around me to and fro and NBV sat solid and calm, moored tightly to the metal siding, which was a good thing because as I was washing my hands in the bathroom, I heard the approach of a boat's engine going like the clappers. Without any drop in revs as they cracked on past me, their huge wake yanking on my mooring chains, I stepped to a galley window and opened it with the intent of shouting, "You lost your bloody water skier!" As soon as I saw it was NB April Mist and he swilling a can of beer while he lounged against the tiller, I decided not to waste my breath.

     The second afternoon, with a break in the rain offering sunny weather but still very high wind gusts whipping everything around, I washed two loads of clothes on the solar panels--no engine power--and hung them outside to dry. The wind would whip the water out of everything in a trice and my clothes would smell like clean air. I returned to the boat to do some much needed boat cleaning inside, singing happily as I cleaned with the side hatch doors open to the wind and fresh air, remembering how I always sent Les out to take a walk or run an errand while I cleaned. He showed such appreciation for my efforts, telling me that I made our boat a lovely home.
     An hour later a bloke on one of the boats moored up in front of me came walking along the towpath with his dog on a lead. He was wearing baggy sweat pants and an old down jacket, walking with a pronounced limp. Given that he shambled past my boat and then returned less than two minutes later I figured he had come along to check out the neighbor. 
     "Hello. How are you today?" I asked through the hatch doors as he started to pass.
     "A darn sight better for hearing your lovely singing," he replied with a smile as he slowly walked onward. 
     "Thank you, " I said, sincerely touched.
     Very few people know I have a lovely singing voice. At one point in my life after seven years of concert choir in junior high and high school, I won a voice scholarship to Kings Lake Fine Arts camp and my instructors were targeting me to apply for university and earn a music degree in voice, hoping I would take it further and go into opera. The top of my range was e above high c. This is the note that breaks glass. But I had no interest in singing opera or indeed singing in public. Extremely shy, I had no problems singing with a choir but singing solo was not for me. Too much emotion is required to do it well and I wasn't going to stand on a stage alone and emote for the public. I also couldn't get into Uni at age 17 because the Financial Aid laws at the time required the parents of any student under the age of 25 to contribute 30% financially to each year's tuition and fees. My step-father was a mean, violent alcoholic who drank the money up, when it wasn't going for attorney's fees over his public violations or the continual custody cases brought against my mother by my alcoholic father. There is no line on the FAFSA form to explain such behavior--only a box to tick for gross household income. With both my mother and step-father working full time and my step-father working part time on top of that (drinking money), I could not qualify for aid and I could not afford tuition on my own. My step-father couldn't read or write and I was often severely chastised and several times I was physically tormented for reading at home when he thought I should be doing chores--even if all the chores were done, so I knew he would never agree to help fund a university degree. My attitude towards singing solo changed only in my thirties for singing at funerals. People attending funerals are too caught up in the life and death of the deceased to pay someone singing any real attention. One thing I have learned though; never attempt to sing at your own husband's funeral--especially with a raging head cold!
     After the winds finally died down and the rain abated for a day, I upped sticks and motored onward into Atherstone, finding a spot six boats back from Coleshill Road Bridge, the main artery into the village. I moored up and walked into the Cooperative grocery store for a a few bits and bobs and then moseyed across the street to the Aldi store for a few other bits. Home again, I put things away and then spoke to my dear friend Bryce in Canada. Hearing his voice is balm for a sore and weary heart. His tones are mellifluous and his accent easy to understand, an audio hug from someone dear.
Keri Ann's Cosmetics in Atherstone.
     I spent three days at Atherstone, mooching around the shops for tweezers (I cannot seem to hang on to a pair these days. Since Les died I have gone through four pair!), I found an amazing shop called Keri Ann's Cosmetics which had shelves and baskets of every kind of makeup, perfume, skin care, and beauty accessory known to woman; if they don't stock the product then it simply is not manufactured on this earth! I loved the wicker baskets full of pots of lip color, nail polish and other amazing items. I purchased two pair of tweezers just to be on the safe side and took myself off down the sidewalk to the book store of St. Giles Hospice where I picked up a decent abridged Oxford dictionary, a Welsh-English dictionary, a couple of other books, the entire set of I Claudius on DVD, the complete set of Wire in the Blood on DVD and four Cd's--all American artists, paying a song for them. These book stores are lovely jewel boxes, clean, well organized and with such a great variety of books, DVDs and Cd's to choose from; a veritable feast for any book lover. 
     Back home by 10:00 AM,  I settled in while a predicted thunderstorm made its way towards Atherstone. It could be heard from eight miles away. When it arrived, the heavens opened and chucked rain, hail, and lightening! 

I sat warm and dry with a small fire in the stove, planning the next leg of my journey down the Atherstone flight of eleven locks. Should I go early and attempt to do  it all myself or wait until 8:00 AM and risk the help of other boaters? The answer will be in my next blog post!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Goodbye Braunston, Hello Rugby, With Some Characters in Between


"Sometimes you will never know the true value of a moment until it has become a memory." ~ Anonymous

     I never purposely sought to have any connections to Braunston and yet I find they are there. Chronologically the first one is imparted through the video Les made for me in November of 2010, introducing me to the area. It was a means of showing me a place he liked and bringing me into his world. I showed at his memorial service last March.

     My next connection came in December 2012 and January 2013 when we saw Christmas and New Year's in aboard NBV, moored up on the fourteen day moorings just across from the water point near Midland Chandlers and the two bridges. We were pointing south and planning our spring and  summer cruise down to London, up the Lea and Stort and onto the Thames. It was at this moment when Les' body began giving us signals that something was wrong and a visit to the doctor was in order, but Les being a typical man, shrugged it off and refused to listen to me. Seven months later after symptoms had become so bad Les was constipated, vomiting up his food and in so much pain he literally beat his head against the counter, he finally went to see the doctor, to be referred back to his GP, who examined him and referred Les to a Gastroenterologist. Two weeks later we met with the surgeon, and finally, nine months later Les had the first surgery to remove the cancerous mass in his rectum which had grown "as large as a two year old's fist", to quote the surgeon. Every time I pass this mooring spot my heart aches with the knowledge that Les would probably still be here with me if only....if only.
     So there I was moored on my own. I came to Braunston on Wednesday the 19th in the afternoon to meet up one more time with my friend Ray. I had every intention of leaving on Thursday and heading for Rugby but the weather deteriorated into overcast skies, rain showers and strong, gusting wind on Thursday and Friday, so I decided to stay through Sunday as I wanted to get my Saturday Daily Mail TV Magazine. I wish the other papers had a telly mag as good but they don't so I only pick up the paper on Saturday. Les always used to get me my paper, even when I would insist that I could and would be happy to go and get it myself.
     "No, let me Jaq. It is a small thing and I love doing this for you. You take such great pleasure in your paper and it won't take me any time to all to walk up to the shop for one."
Shortly thereafter my Best Beloved would come back through the door with a smile, eyes twinkling to hand me my paper.
   I fetch my own paper now on Saturdays, a lump in my throat as I remember Les' love for me in such a simple and thoughtful act repeated weekly.  I was off up the towpath about four boat lengths to Butcher's Bridge and the foot path across the canal, between the meadows and up to the main street store by 9:00 AM. There was a break in the weather and the sun came out to make it a pleasant doddle. I love this walk because there are so many of my favorite green allies allowed to grow along the way, In the States they are classed as weeds and sprayed with poisonous herbicides, Here the Brits leave nature to its own devices for the most part along the verges which allows me to stop and say hello to some of my favorite plants: Burdock, Nettles, Comfrey, and Maid's Petticoats (Hollyhocks). It was a joy to be able to walk up the hill without any pain in my knees, and to enjoy the beauty of the cottage gardens along the High street where my senses were assaulted by the scent of roses, and a lush green scent I could not identify.
Burdock is a biennial. The first year it makes a large rosette of leaves and establishes a root system.
The second year it sends up tall stalks with large wavy green leaves sometimes mistaken for rhubarb.
Burdock is the only non-spiny thistle growing here. It is form the spiky seed heads that Swiss engineer George De Mestral received the idea of creating Velcro. He was walking in a field and several burdock seed heads stuck to his clothes. Examining them closer gave him the idea to create a synthetic version and viola! Velcro was conceived.
The root is the medicinal part, dug from three year old plants. It can be used fresh as the Japanese do. they call it Gobo and it is added into soups and many other dishes, sliced thin. It can be cleaned, cut into small pieces or diced and dried and then used in medicinal medicines. Burdock is a potent anti-cancer plant and a  main constituent of Essiac Tea which I used in combination with Gerson therapy to fight ovarian cancer. I had Les on Essiac until we were told that his cancer was traveling through his blood stream and not his lymph. Burdock root cleans the lymph system of everything including cancer cells.
This is Comfrey in bloom. Its leaves are hairy and slightly prickly. This plant was used to close surgery incisions and deep gashes before modern surgery techniques. It is loaded with allantoin which our bodies manufacture in our skin cells. It's folk name is knit bone and it will indeed knit bones back together.
     It is my custom to make a cup of "Kwahfee" and sit with a pen, reading through the TV magazine and marking any shows I find interesting, then reading the articles and checking for a good recipe in the back of the magazine. The newspaper is rubbish as far as I am concerned and I use it to wrap up garbage and wash windows.
    After being pinned down by rain and high wind gusts through last weekend, fueled by a deep trough of black depression which renders me filled with a malaise that can make the simplest things like getting out of bed, brushing my teeth, and facing another day a very difficult proposition, I had a good stern talk with myself. It is painfully difficult to cruise along passing places Les and I have been to together or to moor up somewhere we spent time; especially our last spring and summer together.
     "Jaq, if you allow depression to eat up your life then you might as well be living in a house again. Depression will steal all your joy and if you have no joy in living this life what is the point?" Point taken on board literally, so I moved to the water point on Tuesday the 24th at 7:00 AM, filled up the tank, dumped the rubbish, and set off cruising to Rugby. It was warm, humid, overcast and slightly breezy weather.
     I cried passing the Onley prison moorings, remembering mooring up there in October of 2011 and our first meeting with George and Carol Palin on NB Rock N Roll, Maffi on NB Millie M, Ann and Chas Moore on Moore2Life, and Paul and Lynn on NB Piston Broke. I was over the moon meeting boaters whose blogs I had found and followed back in the States and I felt as a child would have when meeting one's super heroes in person. Our lives as husband and wife and fellow boaters together was newly minted with all the hope of a long and happy future ahead of us.
A burned out sunken boat; someones pride and joy gone now, floating in the cut, waiting to be removed by CaRT.
Entry to the new Onley Marina, the newest of the six marinas now circling around the Braunston/Napton area.
Les and I used to moor up along here before this marina was dug out.
Swathes of Joe Pye Weed or Eupatorium Purpureum, whose other folk name is also gravel root. Teas of the roots or tops were used as a diuretic, as well as for rheumatism, gout, fevers, diarrhea, respiratory disorders, and even impotence. (Gravel-root refers to the kidney or bladder stones that E. Purpureum was supposed to eliminate.)
     Eventually I made it to Hillmorton for the trip down the dreaded Hillmorton lock flight. Why do I dread it?
     In the six years Les and I traveled on NBV, every time we faced the double set of locks at Hillmorton (three on one side and three on the other which theoretically should make passing up and down this short three lock flight a dawdle), at least one if not more, of the locks would be broken, with reams of yellow caution tape and bright orange plastic webbed "walls" festooning everything. Queues of boaters in both directions meant on our first trip down the locks, a two hour wait!
     Also, on the starboard side locks as one is going down, the landing is terrible; uneven footing caused by a landing made of rocks of differing heights which jut out under the water. One cannot always bring the boat in closely to tie up, which requires jumping on and off across the gap. So while this flight is actually only three locks it is seared in my mind as an unpleasant experience.
     And finally, I've made my acquaintance with a fair share of those who are a part of the shiny boat brigade (SBB) at these locks. For those elsewhere in the world who are reading this, "the shiny boat brigade" is a term for those boaters whose boats sit in a marina or a mooring for most of the year, and whose owners bring them out on an occasional weekend over the summer and expect everyone else to get out of their way, as they not only pay their CRT license but they pay marina mooring fees, which they feel is unfair (Continuous Cruisers only pay a license fee as we have no home mooring) entitles them to take command of the cut and any locks, AND their boat is clean, shiny and hardly used; their precious if you will and they don't want a scruffy boat like ours within a thousand yards of their boat. Also known as the G & T crowd for sitting on the stern of their boats a lot of the weekends throughout the year, drinking Gin and Tonics but not moving out of the marina, one cannot call them on their egregious behavior without being told, "I have been boating for thirty years and I know what I am talking about." Never mind that in those thirty years they have only actually cruised two years worth of days and never consecutively. Now please understand not all boaters who keep a boat in a marina behave this way, but far too many do for my liking. I wouldn't give a fig about these people--mainly men with dependent wives doing all the lock work while their husbands stand like Lords at the tiller waiting for the little woman to put her back into it--if they didn't throw their weight around, especially in my direction.
     Imagine my surprise to find no queue at the either end of the lock flight! AND both sets of locks were in working order!! Blimey...so I moored up on the right hand side, jumping the gap of uneven stones and pulling in NBV as best I could against the jagged edging. There was a very nice woman there from one of the boats, with a cat in a harness on a leash. As I was tying up she walked the cat over and it promptly tangled its leash in my mooring lines, requiring a bout of hokey pokey to sort it out. As Cockney comedian Mickey Flanagan would say, "'Ere we go, 'ere we go," and we did. I strode to the lock gate with my windlass only to have cat woman follow me, pet in arms, asking to walk over the lock gate. Okay, but her eyes widened in alarm as she spotted a boat moored up at the top of the adjacent top lock. The owners had two Staffies or Pit Bulls as they are known in the States, and they were loose on the lock landing so I had to stand and wait while a conversation ensued about whether or not it was safe for woman and cat to come over the lock gates. One dog would be fine with the cat, the other would not, so its owner had to take it back to their boat, while I stood waiting for all this happiness to unfold.
     Meanwhile sure enough a member of the SBB on NB Adventurer pulled in behind me. His wife jumped off with a windlass and two small Spaniel looking dogs at her heels just as I was setting the lock. She inquired as to whether or not I was alone and I replied in the affirmative. She offered to help me with the lock and I thanked her and said yes.
   Once the paddles on the top gates were up, I walked back to my boat, untied it from the bollard, and set about getting back on board by jumping the gap again, windlass in one hand and midline in the other, whilst grabbing for the roof rail. The bloke on NB Adventurer asked if I needed his help.
     "No thank you, I am fine."
I proceeded to steer NBV into the lock as the gate was opened by his wife. Once inside, I hopped off our boat, wrapped the midline loosely around a bollard and went to lift the paddles on my side of the bottom gates. As the water dropped, taking NBV with it, she replied,
     "You can get back on your boat now. I will get the gates for you."
     "No, I cannot jump down on the roof and clamber down into my boat now. I've had knee replacement surgery and that is just not possible." ('Nor is it necessary, as you will soon see). Her face fell as I shared this news. She just looked at me as if to say, "Well how in the deuce will you get your boat out of the lock then you silly woman?" And I thought, "wait and watch." We opened the bottom gates, I unfurled the midline from the bollard and begin bow hauling the boat (pulling it by the midline) out of the lock. This is how Les taught me to safely enter a lock going up or exit a lock going down and I stand by it. He said to never ever use the ladders as they are too dangerous, and being a short arsed woman jumping around on the roof is not an option for me. I have no trouble bow hauling our 18 ton boat, however it does take a moment or two to get the boat moving. Just as I had things in hand, Mr. Adventurer appeared beside me, grabbing the midline from my hands and stating in an exasperated tone,
     "Let me help you. We haven't got all day."He might as well have waved a red flag at a bull.
     "Give my line. My husband died six months ago and I am doing it all on my own. I'm sorry if I don't do it to your satisfaction. I'll pull over once I am outside the lock and you can go ahead of me since your in such a bleeding hurry. You shouldn't be on the cut if you're in a hurry. The motorway is over there and that is clearly where you belong." I grabbed my midline out of his hands and then I turned away and burst into tears of frustration and anger, which I hate. I pulled NBV out of the lock and tied up at the landing outside the bottom gate, nipping inside to blow my nose and have a wee. When I returned top side, a confrontation was taking place.
NB Adventurer with its overbearing owner at the tiller.
     The woman with the two Stafffies, working the other top lock saw what had happened and while her husband steered their boat into the lock and set the bottom gates she strolled over to have a chat with Mr and Mrs. Adventurer. As I approached the knotted group I heard Mrs. SBB exclaim snootily,
     "Well we tried to help her and she refused our help."
      "No," I replied, "What your husband did was grab my mooring line out of my hand, commandeering my boat and and taking control of things."
The woman with the Staffies said,
     "Well now. When someone's boat is in the lock its their lock not yours.  And when someone is single handing a boat as she clearly is, they have to go about things differently then we do with partners to help out."
     "Exactly," I replied. "A single handed boater has a set way of doing things in a certain order to get through a lock and your interference only throws us off our stride. If I had wanted or needed your help I would have asked for it."
     "Yes," said Staffie woman. "That's it exactly, and I watched her. She did everything right." Turning to me she gave me a hug and said,
     "Bring your boat over to our side of the lock flight Pet, and I will help you down." And so I did just that. I tried to remain calm as her two Staffies and NB Adventurer's two dogs wove in and out of my feet while I worked the lock gates, thinking to myself that I wish CRT would make it mandatory for all dog owners to keep their pets on a lead or in their boats at locks and service points, but that is a different conversation for another day.
     As we locked down I chatted with this lovely woman. Her name is Mary and her husband's name is Trevor. Their boat is NB September. They have lived  aboard as CC'rs for eleven years and they were really kind. She was patient and helpful. Mary told me not to let the SBB couple ruin my day. At the bottom of the lock flight Mary said they were also traveling north to the Weaver and we would no doubt pass each other along the way, hopefully having time for a cuppa. I look forward to it Mary. I'll bring the biscuits!
   Calm restored, I cruised past a couple of trading boats with bright Hippie signs posted and various colorful materials flapping in the breeze. As I rounded the bend NB The Old Bovine came into view moored up. I slowed to a stop and called out for its owner but there was no answer and I spotted locks on the doors, so I continued on again.
     Les and I met L. down at Watford in 2014. He was a successful jazz musician in London for thirty years. His wife had died from cancer and he couldn't bear to stay in their home so he sold it and bought his boat--a replica working boat--which he keeps spotless and tidy. You may have seen him out and about. He wears women's clothes and rides a woman's bike. He is a cross dresser, not transgender and not gay. Wearing his wife's clothes is a means of staying close to her memory for L. and he gets on with it. Sadly he gets a lot of stick for this penchant of his from a judgemental world. L. is a good boater;  he is also kind, funny, and good company. Les and I enjoyed tea with him and always looked forward to seeing L. so I was sad to have missed him.
Our friend's lovely boat. © Joe and Lesley Kimantas, 2013.
     I cruised onward towards Clifton-Upon-Dunsmore, planning to moor up by bridge 66 just before Clifton Cruisers hire base through the bridge hole. Les and I moored here several times and this was a favored place. We preferred it to mooring in Rugby. We could walk up to the bridge and catch a bus into Rugby or the train station nearby. There is also a very good chiropractor located at the top of the lane who has no issue at all working on boaters just passing through. His name is Peter Sawyer and his American wife is from Boston. I wanted to moor here and visit Peter for a much needed and anticipated adjustment.
     Across the cut from this mooring were the lovely back gardens of houses up the street. The gardens were well cared for, filled with flowers, fruit trees and vegetable patches. A farmer let his cows out into the adjacent field and they often made their way right down into the cut on hot days, hanging out in the shade of the water side oak tree, splashing in the water and entertaining us with their antics. Les and I had a memorable day there with son Kevin and his partner Adele visiting us, enjoying the sunshine and time spent with family.
Bovine bath time in the cut. Les, Kevin, Adele, and I enjoyed the beauty of a sunny summer's day in 2015 watching the cows. Kevin used to work at a dairy and he knows cows up close and personal. We had a lively discussion about different breeds. These are English Longhorn.

One of the back gardens in 2015, with a lovely apple tree, tomato and potato plants, a raspberry patch and lots of love invested in the space.
     So imagine my surprise when I reached this spot and found CaRT no longer trimmed the towpath and it was completely overgrown with plant material, keeping me from mooring there. On the off side across the way the lovely back gardens were gone; the apple tree had been cut down and untended plots choked with weeds were all that greeted my gaze now. The farmer's field next door was empty of cows and someone had tied rope to the tree at the edge, making swings on the branches. I was shocked by the changes. Les and I passed this way almost a year ago now, and the lovely gardens and cows in the field were still in existence. It is amazing how quickly nature reclaims something untended by human hands. Dismayed at these changes, I continued to cruise on towards Rugby. Rounding a bend I was amazed to see NB Arch Stanton, piloted by Mick Granger, while his wife Julia popped her head out from under a canvas flap to say hi in passing. When I saw them last, we were moored up on the N. Oxford with NB Waka Huia a month back. In that time they had been to Birmingham and other north bound places and now they were on their way back to the Leicester Arm where their home base is located.
     A few minutes later I pulled into Rugby, mooring up on the off side at the park, and just before the water point, right in front of none other than Mick and Julia's mate Laughing John on NB Woodiggler. We hugged hello and had a lovely twenty minute chat before John had to be off to Braunston to catch up with the Granger's and give Julia her groceries he had procured in Tesco. I decided to pull over to the towpath side further on towards the Black Path to make it easier to come and go as I had a long list of bits and bobs on my own shopping list.
     I stayed three and a half days, loading up with provisions from Tesco, returning a coat to Fat Face clothing store which I had bought in late March and which was too small. Despite not having any receipt and nearly four months passing, the store took the coat back in exchange for other items and I went away a very happy woman. The customer service at Fat Face is akin to that of Nordstrom's in the States, not to mention they have wonderful clothes which are comfortable, well made and actually fit me.
     On Thursday I walked from the boat, down the Black Path past Tesco on along into Rugby town center to pick up a couple of items at Dunelm. Back along the streets and pathways to Home Base, Wickes and finally Maplins for some items, then to the Range for a couple of things and finally home again for a distance of 3.5 miles with all the in-store walking as well. My feet were swollen and painful, so a hot shower, some tea, and a nap were called for at this point. Later in the afternoon I took the number 4 bus into Rugby town center and hired a Taxi to take me to the chiropractors at Clifton. The lovely staff there remembered me even though I had not been seen since August of 2015. My neck, back and hips are ever so much better now.
     Friday I screwed my courage to its sticking place and ventured out to a large city for the first time without Les. I caught the number 4 bus from Tesco into the city center and the number 585 bus from Rugby to Coventry IKEA. I spent three hours in Ikea, eating lunch first, then casually wandering the marketplace aisles. I picked up a couple of plastic bag holders that mount into the wall, two planter boxes, a cordless drill/driver to replace Les' very large one with the knackered battery, a couple of throw rugs and assorted other bits and bobs. I left with two large blue IKEA bags and made the journey back home on the two buses. I was so grateful to see NBV moored up in the diluted afternoon sunshine. I feel very anxious now whenever I leave her. She is all I own in this world.
     While moored in Rugby a boat moored up in front of me, NB Music For Foxes. As I was passing on the towpath I asked the man mooring up about the meaning of the boat name. He was rather vague about it, saying it was the name of a song he and his wife liked. Later, he was gone into town as I was coming back from Tesco. I happened to look in the window on passing and saw a woman who I assume is the wife, standing with her back to me, chopping veg at the galley counter. She had on a red and white calico apron and underneath she was wearing a leather harness! Now I've been around enough to know S & M gear when I see it. This provided some insight into the boat name, and I chuckled to myself as I wondered about their safe word. Could it be screaming vixens???? I wonder if they keep a ball gag and a riding crop in the wardrobe...
     While moored here three boats passed me in the very early hours over a period of two days. Moving at 6:30 AM is unusual but all three boats were piloted by single women and I knew exactly why there moved so early. It allowed them to move on to swing bridges, and locks without having to suffer from unnecessary "help" by boaters who assume they know it all and a woman on her own is completely helpless without their intervention.
     After three days of pouring rain showers, Saturday dawned lighter if not brighter. No rain forecast until late evening so I walked one last time down the Black Path to Tesco for a Saturday paper and off I cruised, heading for the service point at Newbold. As I cruised along I passed three hire boaters zigging and zagging along. I slowed down in narrow places and let them pass with a smile. Everyone starts out somewhere and I have infinite patience with new boaters as long as they aren't drunk.
      I also encountered another of the SBB coming out of a bridge hole. I was at least three boat lengths back, taking it slow and easy as I always do when approaching a bridge hole and yet when he saw me--and I do mean me, a woman at the tiller--he pulled his shiny boat so far to the tow path he was scraping along in the soft weeds as he wildly waved me on past him--a rictus grin on his face. I thought he might try and drive up on dry land to avoid me despite the fact I was on my side of the cut and in complete control of NBV.  "Some people's children," as my own are wont to say.
     Lest you read this and think I am blowing things out of proportion I can assure you I am being truthful on all accounts. I belong to an online group for women single hand boaters called The Tiller Girls. I have checked with them and my experiences as a singular woman on a boat are not the exception. Sadly, they are all too common to all women who live aboard and/or pilot their boats on their own. There is an unspoken assumption on the cut that women on their own cannot possibly manage a boat as well as a bloke, and some people will say things to and engage in unthoughtful behaviors towards a woman on her own that they would not have even considered saying or behaving in like manner to Les for example--or any other man, single or part of a boating couple. 
     Shortly afterward I nearly had an encounter with a Labrador running loose on the towpath who decided to jump in the water at a bridge hole just before I was headed into it. Honking my horn brought its owner running and she called her dog out of the water. I would have been devastated if I had hit the animal, and an 18 ton boat on the move will not stop on a dime.
     Moving on I soon came to a line of moored boats with a gap and suddenly a side hatch popped open and Mike and Phyll on NB Garnet were waving at me! They invited me to pull over for a cup of tea but sadly I had to decline as now I was moving I needed to keep up my momentum. I plan to be on the Coventry before the middle of this coming week.
Me on the stern of NBV, taken by Mike and Phyll Muir of NB Garnet.
    I pulled over at the service point in Newbold, shocked at the changes there.  Apparently the pub there made its car park available as a lay over for caravans and they were nut-to-butt right up to the pick-nick tables just before the cut. There was dog shit in piles on the verge making it difficult to get off the boat and tie up for water, but I managed while avoiding it.
     Les and I had spent seventeen days frozen in at Newbold in the winter of 2011. We walked everywhere and got to know it well. While the pub car park backed onto the canal at the service point it hadn't been unpleasant. A wall of caravans certainly did nothing for it I'll tell you. Water tank full, all rubbish emptied and the bow pushed out to go, I hopped aboard and gave it a bit of welly to pull away from the side and head forward when a sudden strong wind gust came up, blowing NBV back into the side. I was going to hit the boat permanently moored up just past the water point in an attempt to move forward off the side. I couldn't jump off with midline in hand, push the bow out again, and jump back on--the siding was again, rough uneven rocks that jutted out making it difficult for a short legged person to jump on and off and the wind wasn't going to let me break away from the side. I decided the best thing to do was to back up, putting the stern farther out in the middle of the canal and then go forward passing the moored boat and heading into Newbold tunnel.
     As I was backing up another boat came through the bridge hole right behind me and slowed to a hover with their bow thruster, waiting to see what I was doing. The wife came forward to their bow and inquired exactly where was I going? I shouted that the wind was blowing me back against the towpath and I was backing up to break away (I would have thought this was obvious, but then I don't have a bow thruster and some boaters have never done without one). She went back through their boat to relay this information to her husband. As I broke away from the side, slowed the boat, put it in forward gear and began to pull forward I turned to wave and say thanks for waiting. They waved back and pulled in for water.
     I cruised onward and soon enough I came through Bridge 35 and the lovely vista Les loved stretched out in front of me. A farm takes up all of the right side as the canal curves around passed it and widens out. Ahead trees grow close together as the canal makes another turn and disappears into the gloom of  the trees, near a small car park. Les loved this bit of canal and always wanted to pull in and moor across from the farm but every time we passed this way it was full of boaters so we had to carry on past the car park and moor up just the other side of it.
     It was just past 10:00 AM and not another boat in sight! I pulled over, banged in the pins and moored up. A small burble of bliss rose up in me as I planted my new bow garden and sat with cup of tea in hand, watching the swallows dive and dip for water, taking to the skies again with a graceful arc. Cows chewed their cud in the fields nearby and a lone chicken meandered in and out of their legs. I had a quiet uneventful night's sleep and now boats are pulling over left and right, filling up the vacant spaces. Tomorrow I shall leave very early and push on though the swing bridge and onward to Hawksbury Junction and the Coventry canal where I plan to moor up for a day or so, fill with water again, dump the rubbish, and then turn right, heading for Atherstone.

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs