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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Les Biggs, March 19, 1948-January 24, 2017

"Because my boat has sailed from sight, it does not mean my journey ends, it only means the river bends." ~Anon

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)
~e. e. cummings 

I took this picture of Les on the Trent and Mersey in 2012, the Bluebird of Happiness dancing down the towpath.
             "Gentle Soldier of My Soul" by Carter and Grammer

Monday, January 09, 2017

London Town

“My Dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you're born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train's pulled into Piccadilly Circus they've become a Londoner.”  ~Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho
 
     Sorry we've been so quiet lately. Life has simply kicked me sideways and Les hasn't really felt well enough to blog for awhile. So grab a cuppa' and something to dunk in it, put your feet up and off we go--this will be a long post in order to catch everyone up!

     As many of you know, NB Valerie was scheduled to go into dry dock at Cow Roast Marina for blacking and some other work on December 5th while we arranged to stay in a London hotel courtesy of a year and half of saving up Tesco club card points, transferring them into British Airways Avios points to purchase tickets to fly Stateside next May; cancer put the nix on the trip home but British Airways kindly gave us a full refund of our money and our Avios points back so we paid 63,000 Avios points and £50 a night for three days of four-star hotel accommodations. But first we had a local holiday party to attend at the Red Lion in Marsworth.
 THE COW ROASTARIANS
   The Cow Roastarians as they call themselves, are a band of local boaters with private moorings on the off side at Cow Roast. Each year they
host a Christmas party at the Red Lion for close friends and family, with a festive buffet, drinks from the bar, and a raffle to raise money for a local worthy charity. We were chuffed to be invited, and it turned out that no less than three of us attending had recently had knees replaced so there were crutches in abundance!
   We happily placed names with faces and boats with owners. We've been tucked up amongst these boaters since August--a safe place to land, with the kindness of our neighbors who check in with us to ask if we need anything, and find out how we are doing, so it felt grand to spend an evening sharing laughter and joy amongst them all. The raffle raised a respectable sum of money which was donated to the local Hospice program, and the event put us in a holiday mood--essential to set the stage for our trip to London. 

DOWN TO LONDON
     Monday the 5th of December dawned mild and bright. Once I cast us off from the moorings, Les backed up NBV, turned her gently into the Cow Roast marina entrance and deftly brought her aside the mooring for the dry dock, the wind pinching his cheeks and the short jaunt putting a shine in in his eyes. There is almost no happier place for either of us then out on the stern of NBV, cruising along the cut. Darren Killick, our marine engineer, tied her up, went over the various jobs we asked him to undertake, and bid us a happy three days in London. 
     We were fortunate to have as near mooring neighbors, a boating couple who live in London and kindly offered us a ride down and a visit to their Thameside apartment for lunch!
What a view to come home to each day!
     Theirs is an astonishing place to call home--with the Thames lapping away about fifteen feet out from their second floor flat. Views of iconic Tower Bridge and London buildings with famous nicknames: the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, etc. were readily available as was the never ending pageant of boats coming and going: a lot of commercial traffic with sighseeing boats, and some boats pulling barges of rubbish, along with smaller private vessels.
   Across the river people rode horses, walked, jogged, and presented a colorful and fascinating moving tapestry. Even when this section of the Thames was empty of boats it still entertained with the tidal flow, waves catching the sun, oozing history from every molecule; a fabulous place to come home and unwind. 
     Lunch was delicious with the Thames in the back drop and pleasant conversation with our friends in the foreground; books, art, learning and education, travel, boats--oh so many wonderful topics were touched on as we ate our way through creamy salted butter and rich pate on crackers, a light and lovely salad, mini quiches and buttered baby potatoes, our thirst quaffed by good wine and even better coffee! We offer our sincerest thanks to you both for a grand start to our London holiday!
     With our bags kept to a respectable five: two small carry bags each as well as my back pack which functions in lieu of a purse, we headed off for the bus stop, each of us with a crutch and a crooked smile of delight. We were on our way to check in to a four-star hotel! We also had an agenda for our three day visit; after spending two weeks perusing the book A Curious Guide To London by Simon Leyland, we had a list of London curiosities we planned to seek out: The Lion's Head Early Warning System, The Panyer Boy Statue, Saint Etheldreda's Cathedral and the only private street left in London (Ely Place), and the Cold War Russian Spy lamp post in Mayfair. We had a lot of London ground to cover on crutches and only three days to do it! Les, being filled to the gills with various and sundry forms of Morphine and other drugs for pain, was feeling none and ready to rock 'n' roll; I, on the other foot, had to stash some of my pain pills and do with less for the preceding week, in order to augment the amount I was taking while in London in order to keep up with Mr. Painless.

CHECKING IN TO LUXURY
     The bus to Victoria Station didn't take long and a second bus dropped us only an hour and half later, less than a block away from our hotel, The
Danubius, located adjacent to Lords Cricket Ground in Saint John's Wood. The Regents Canal ran just under the bridge by the bus stop. A doorman in a long green coat and a top hat greeted us at the door. Inside, the lobby was lit up for the holidays with decorated trees and yards of lighting. A baby grand piano sat in the middle of the lobby with a pianist playing holiday tunes. 
     Up on the second floor, our room offered us a fabulous queen size bed, the telly mounted on the wall above the desk and a huge marble bathroom with a tub! Ahhh yes, scented bubble baths all around! (One simply cannot appreciate the benefits of soaking in a hot tub until one has lived on a narrow boat for some years with a shower the size of a tea cup and two minutes of boiling hot water after which it simply goes stone cold.) After drying off and elevating my right leg for an hour, we decided to try the hotel restaurant--Minsky's Deli.
   This hotel is owned by a Eastern European business concern and all the staff reflected this--Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, Checkolslovakian, Albanian, Lithuanian...it was like staying in a very fine place which had seen better days--a bit shabby chic--but whose staff treated you with impeccable manners--nothing was too much trouble as a fascinating whirl of languages and accents played upon our senses. The food was excellent as was the service. Too tired, ill, and old to wander out in the London night life, we took our happy selves back to our grand room, peeled out of our street clothes and into PJ's, stretched out in bed with mountains of pillows and watched telly!

LONDON DAY TWO
     Tuesday morning dawned dry and slightly overcast. We both slept well--and with each other for a change! Since my surgery five weeks previous I had been sleeping on the dinette. So it was grand indeed to cuddle up close again to my Best Beloved. 
     We decided to try out a nearby local breakfast place, Gails Artisan Bakery so we hopped a bus to go three blocks, and found a very small closet sized venue stuffed to the rafters with people coming and going manically. Les wasn't crazy about the fact it only had available a tiny table with two chairs by the door which was in use perpetually; I wasn't in the mood to attempt to dodge people with my tender leg and my crutch.
   We spotted a crimson eatery next door called Richoux's with a board that declared "All Day Breakfast!!" It was nearly empty, but the tables were set impeccably with white cloth, silverware and plenty of china. Les ordered a basic English breakfast and I ordered Eggs Benedict with ham. What arrived was basic white bread toast, and the cheapest of ingredients. The Hollandaise sauce came out of a jar and the poached eggs were cold. The food was barely edible and it came to just over thirty pounds! We learned through experience why Riochoux's was practically emtpy and Gail's Artisan Bakery was continually heaving. 

BOAT RIDE ON THE THAMES
   Never mind, we caught a bus down near Mayfair and made a connecting bus to the Pier at Westminster so Les could satisfy a lifetime desire: a boat ride on the Thames. We floated slowly from the Westminster Pier down to Tower Bridge where we disembarked and waited for the return boat coming up from Greenwich. The view of the iconic skyline and the buildings from the river was wonderful and we sat in the warmth and comfort of a glassed in boat, enjoying the trip.
As we pulled away from Westminster Pier we passed the London Eye with another trip boat returning, in the foreground.
The interior of our trip boat. Comfy, warm, with plenty of space to enjoy the view.
Southwark Bridge
Cruising beneath one of London's iconic bridges, past the columns which hold it up!
The dome of St. Peter's Cathedral.
The building known as "The Walkie Talkie" looms in the background above the graceful Golden Georgian architecture of Old Billingsgate Fish Market, now a spectacular events space. 


HMS Belfast
The Shard disappearing into the fog.
The roundish building is the London Mayor's Office. I have nicknamed it the Olive due to its round shape.
Tower Bridge, our turning point for this river journey. 
Looking back at the bridges of London.


The Tower of London, from our trip boat.

On our way back to Westminster Pier we spot a sunken boat being raised.
The monument to the Great London fire of 1666 is dwarfed by the buildings around it.
Gulls diving in close with the London eye and the former Greater London council Building which now houses the London Aquarium.
Westminster Bridge, looking to the South side of the Thames.
The iconic Elizabeth Tower of Westminster which houses the clock which houses the bell named Big Ben!
LIONS' HEADS
We killed two birds as they say, with this trip for Les had found the Lion's Head Early Warning System listed in the Curious Guide, and it was one attraction he was determined to find. As it happens, the Lion's heads are all along the embankment and were easily spotted from our boat. 
 These Lions' Heads are a part of the Thames early warning flood system; the saying goes, "When the Lions drink London will sink. When its up to their manes we'll go down the drains."

     Back at Westminster Pier we were hard pressed for time to meet our dear friend Carol at Bella Italia for lunch in Covent Gardens, so Les indulged in another desire: hailing a black cab! Carol had a table waiting for us and wow was it grand to see her. It had been two years since we last touched base. With early retirement and a positive change in personal circumstances, our lovely friend looked fifteen years younger, totally relaxed and very happy. We enjoyed lunch and a two and half hour natter before realizing dusk had fallen and we needed to head back to our hotel.
     After parting with our friend, I realized how exhausted Les was. He had to have a fair amount of Oromorph (liquid oral morphine) to get going that morning and a bit more just before lunch. Evening found him tired with muzzy, Morphine hazed mind, yet the earlier amount of meds were wearing off and he was in a bit of pain. 
   It is at such moments that I have to fight hard not to be overwhelmed by despair. My husband has such a fine mind--sharp, witty, curious, insatiably thirsty for knowledge, and I would lay his general knowledge of the London streets side by side with any London Black Cab driver with The Knowledge. Born and raised in West London, Les worked as a parcel delivery person for over twenty years in The city; he knows it like the back of his hands. The thought of losing all this knowledge--of coming back to London on my own, to investigate and find things makes me so sad...
    Never mind I didn't have time to wallow just then. Les needed a place to sit down, my freshly operated leg was swelling with fatigue and pain, and we needed to figure out which bus would take us back to the hotel.
   At times like this London can quickly turn from a friendly lit-up back drop to a strange and frightening unknown. While we sat outside a closed deli, I sussed out the buses and the one we needed just happened to be coming along towards us! On it we hobbled, to sit quietly in the gathering dark as we traversed our way through central London, Les dozing on and off; we disembarked near the canal bridge by Regents Park just opposite the street to our hotel. 
     Inside Les had more meds, we peeled off our gear, and resuscitated in a hot bubble bath. Aaahhhhh! LUXURY!!! Too tired to consider finding a restaurant for dinner, I coaxed Les into trying Room Service from the hotel restaurant. Viola! Brought to our door piping hot with metal cloches keeping our food hot and delicious--another first experience for Les and he was tickled pink.

  LONDON DAY THREE
   As we prepared to go out we discovered Les' wallet was missing! We knew he had it the night before because he paid for our room service meals by debit card. We looked in all the usual places--no wallet.
   When something or other is missing, Les operates from the idea that the missing object could literally be anywhere; he does not attempt to apply logic to the situation as I do as I look in selected places where the item is likely to be found; Les casually pulled the rubbish bin out from beneath the desk, looked inside and Hey! Ho! There was his wallet sitting on top of the rubbish in the bin. We quickly figured out that after paying for last night's dinner, Les laid his wallet on the desk near the edge. He sat down at the desk and at some point, his elbow bumped his wallet over the edge and into the waste bin. Lesson learned. Look everywhere!! 
   I had sourced a restaurant in Soho near where we wanted to start our day's "Curious London" search, called the Breakfast Club. It garnered rave reviews so off we went on our buses into central London; a lovely walk through the holiday decorated streets and we rounded a corner to find---a huge line snaking down
The bright yellow Breakfast Club; well worth the wait.
the sidewalk outside The Breakfast Club. Never mind, we stuck it out for an hour and ten minutes and finally were seated in a bijou spot. The food was well worth the wait! Out plates were heaving with the best breakfast I've had outside of the USA, and our glasses were filled with fresh squeezed orange juice. Coffee came to our table in a French Press (Cafetiere as Brits call it) and the piped-in music was excellent too! There was an air of joyous conviviality all around as happy diners sat waiting for their plates while others tucked into heaping piles of fresh, delicious breakfast. Amazingly this generous repast cost only £7 more than the crappy Richeaux breakfast the day before and this morning's fare included the 12% tip.
Heartily fulfilled, we left the restaurant with a call from the barrista behind the counter: "So pleased you joined us. We hope you come again!" 

   Off we went hand in hand, crutches clacking on the pavement to see what we could find. We started off for Ely Place. Here is what Simon Leyland's book has to say:

THE LAST PRIVATE ROAD IN LONDON
   "A pair of iron gates separates the quiet littel cul de sac of Ely Place from noisy Holborn Circus. But very few people know that this street, once the residence of the Bishops of Ely, is not actually part of London. Once you are in it, you are technically in Cambridgeshire and exempt from the jurisdiction of the rest of the capitol. Even the Metropolitan Police have no right of entry, unless they are invited in by the Commissioners of Ely Place, the street's own elected governing body, which was formed after a local Act of Parliament in 1842.
   Ely Place was bought by the Bishops of Ely as a London residence suitable to their rank after a snub in the thirteenth century (1200's) when one of their number was refused entrance to their former lodgings at Temple in the City. They promptly proclaimed their new resident part of Cambridgshire. The border runs through Ye Old Mitre Tavern, the local pub, whose licensing hours were, until 1964, controlled by the Camridgeshire authorities...
   The Commissioners of Ely Place still employ a couple of Beadles, who make sure the street gates are closed to cars and bicycles after 10 p.m.; they are also responsible for keeping the place clean. Until 1968, the beadles would announce time and weather on an hourly basis from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., but this practice was stopped after complaints about the noise they were making. 
The gate at the entrance to Ely Place--the last private street in London.

Looking down to the end of Ely Place. Now where is Etheldreda's Church?
ETHLDREDA'S CATHOLIC CHURCH
   Also in Ely Place is Etheldreda's Church, the oldest Roman Catholic church in Britain, and one of only two buildings in London that survive from the reign of Edward I (1239-1307)." (A Curious Guide to London, e-book. Bantam Press, 2014. loc. 1380, 1387, Kindle Book, Chapter:Holborn.)  
Amazingly we found St. Etheldreda's church tucked off to our left as we walked down to the end of Ely Place from the gate.
Looking across the ancient floor tiles and up the stairs.
Looking up the aisle of the church. It is simple and hushed; the silence of the ages speaks to those who sit quietly and listen.
Ancient holy water vessel carved out of the rock wall.
THE PANYER BOY STATUE
   Next we set off for the neighborhood of nearby St. Paul's to find the St. Paul Underground. We were looking for the Panyer Boy statue, dating back more than 350 years and marking the area which was once the site of the Panyer Inn--a hostelry offering rooms for the night and freshly baked bread to buy of the morning. It was said to have marked the highest point in London, placing it above the flood line of the Thames however it shares this dubious distinction with St. Peter Upon Cornhill Church--a place we shall also seek out shortly for its own hidden tale. 
   What do we know? We know an inn by the same name was located around the corner on Paternoster Row. Its last incarnation burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666. We also know Panyer Alley as it is still called, was the site of a corn market where boys once sold loaves from their baskets each day to the passing trade. We also know parts of London were ten to twenty feet lower than they stand today, and that this bas relief of a small boy picking up a round loaf from the basket in which he sits has been moved around the general area and re-sighted many times as the buildings upon which it has been mounted have been burned down, demolished and re-modeled. In the late 1890's a guard was set to keep an over enthusiastic American from knicking the Panyer Boy after his offer to purchase it for a ridiculously large sum was turned down.
   Les and I walked together down Cheapside toward St. Paul's Underground, past Cafe Nero on the corner and its bouquet of tiny black metal bistro tables and chairs. Les went down into the Underground to ask after the statue and returned two minutes later pointing to my right. I turned around, facing the side wall of Cafe Nero where the outside seating sat vacant. Sure enough, on the wall we--and millions of others--walked nonchalantly past, was the mounted plaque with the Panyer Boy, sadly much the worse for wear, sitting in his basket, reaching for a loaf of bread. I closed my eyes and forced the 21st century to recede from my mind. For a moment I could feel what it must have been like in the early 1600's as a much smaller populace came and went on the wood paved streets of a distant time.  
   We nipped into a nearby Sainsbury's express store and stuffed my back pack with fresh fruit, candies, and refreshments for the day, then wandered on to find The Devils of Cornhill!!
St. Paul's Underground entrance is behind and to my left as I stand looking at the sign that says "Panyer Alley." Oh! Yep there is the relief of the Panyer Boy, on the wall and visible between the two men on the left.
St. Paul's Cathedral can be seen at the end, looking down Panyer Alley. The Panyer inn was located just a stones throw away from the cathedral.
His face worn away long ago, the curly haired little boy sitting in a Panyer basket, reaches down for a round loaf of bread. The words below say, "When ye have sought the citty round yet this is still the highest ground." This alley was once the centre of London’s bakeries - and said (wrongly) to be its highest point.
THE DEVILS OF CORNHILL
   The church of St. Peter's Upon Cornhill is today, located in a maze of buildings heading toward Threadneedle Street and the financial district. There are so many buildings sitting cheeck by jowl and truth be told, neck and neck and on one another's lap as it were, that siting this church was all but impossible! It took both of us and Les' GPS on his phone to actually find that we were standing literally yards away. Why were we looking for this particular church?
   Well St. Peter's church on Cornhill was built on one of the two highest hills in London--the other spot being the hilll upon which St. Paul's cathedral now sits. As you may well imagine, at one time this church was surrounded mostly by open fields. As time marched on and brought civilization and success with it, land around the church came up for sale, as happened in the 1800's with the lot directly next to the church on its West side.
   Upon reviewing plans for a new building, the rector of St. Peter's noticed that the build intruded upon the church lot by about twelve inches, and he kicked up a fuss. The architect had to redraw the plans at great expense so by way of revenge he added three gargoyles to the building. Overlooking the church property, it is said one of them is an exact replica of the rector. If this is true he must have been an ugly man indeed!
Okay, supposedly the Church of St. Peter-Upon-Cornhill is located "right here!" Really ???

Oh! One can just see the red doors of the church form across the street! Crikey that ole' rector would roll in his grave if he could see how overgrown and overtaken his beloved church has become in the 21st century!


The reddish building on the right was the offending property in question. Looking closely one can indeed see three gargoyles or "devils" sitting on this building: One sits turned looking down on the doorway of the church. It has breasts!
Another Gargoyle is perched above the top most window.
A close up of one of the three "Devils of Cornhill."
This 1868 map of London shows St. Peter Upon Cornhill Church on the corner of Cornhill and Church Streets.
This 2016 Google map shows the same area, outlined in yellow above.

  We thought about trying to see the final item on our Curious Guide list but dusk was upon us, it was cold, we were tired and our luxurious hotel room beckoned. Back at the ranch, we stripped down, soaked in hot water and lashings of bubbles, and settled in to watch telly and eat chocolates from the comfort of our fabulous bed, reading the paper and several magazines we picked up, cuddling, laughing, and generally have a damned good final night in the Big Smoke. 

LEAVING LONDON
Up early, we packed, went through the hotel room three times searching meticulously for everything and anything that belonged to us, checked out, and laden with our five bags of luggage, no coffee or breakfast inside, we trudged in the leaden, wet, overcast cold to the bus stop. On the bus and then off again at Mayfair, we used the GPS on Les' phone to show us the exact house used by the Russians during the 1950's Cold War. It was nothing special and didn't stand out in any way--exactly what is required when one is using a domicile to spy on the host nation. Out in the driveway was a streetlight and on its side was a locked door, through which notes were posted to the Russian spies on site. Down and dusted then! We caught a bus to Euston Station, ate brunch at Ed's American Diner, waddles out to catch the train to Berkhamsted and away we went-home again, home, jiggedy jig!
The prosaic looking cold War Russian Spy House in Mayfair with the "special" black street lamp out by the curb.
Me pointing to the locked box in the lamp post where Russian spies used to drop messages to one another.
NB VALERIE ON DRY DOCK
   We arrived back to Cow Roast in the early afternoon and Darren Killick, our marine engineer, was out running an errand, but our boat was still on the hard standing so it gave us time to walk around and inspect his handiwork. Our boat bottom and lower sides gleamed with layers of fresh black Bitumen, dried and hardened. Four fat new anodes were attached--two to a side, front and back. 
   Darren arrived back and soon NBV was afloat again. With NBV tied up, Darren gave us a tour, showing us all the completed projects he had obviously grafted hard to complete in three days. We offered our immense thanks and gratitude, paid the bill, and Les took us out of the marina and back to the mooring on the cut and I moored us up.
  A fire in the stove, as well as starting up the Ebispacher on board heating system and soon everything inside the boat was back up to a proper room temperature as we settled down to prepare for the holidays ahead. 
NB Valerie in dry dock at Cowroast.
With a newly blacked bottom and new anodes, one of the two new orqnge colored Steel T-Studs mounted on either side of the bow locker is just in view above, below the corner of the coal bags stacked on the bow.
The new back rack Darren built is mounted behind the tiller on the stern, and my new fold up bike gifted to me by Angela on NB Bright Eyes, sits jauntily on its new perch.
 I will blog in the near future about the work on the boat with a list of projects completed and pictures for your pleasure! 

 HEALTH MATTERS  
Les:
Les on the London trip boat.
  The cancer continues to make its inexorable headway through my pelvis, spine, and hip bones with advancing pain and immobility. Jaq does more for me as I can do less for myself. I sleep a lot thanks to the pain meds. On good days I try to get out for a walk or we take a bus to Berkhamsted or Tring to run small errands or catch a movie at the Rex Cinema. 
   Bad days? Well there are a few more of them lately as Hospice and my GP work to tweak my medication in order to address the advancing pain. That done, it is effective for awhile until Mr. C makes further advances into my bones and body and we have to re-evaluate everything again. I take liquid morphine which Jaq administers to me, when I have break through pain. I don't like taking it though because it addles my wits. I can barely string a sentence together, simple maths is beyond my comprehension, and memory is a thing of the past. I have trouble remembering what was said to me an hour previously, and I sleep a lot. This is not how I want to spend the remaining time I have left.
   At present I am staying at St. Francis Hospice in Northchurch for ten days to try and tweak various different pain meds. Methadone has now been added to my regimen and I am hopeful that between the Hospice palliative care team and the District nurses and my GP, something can be found to address my pain without robbing me of my brain. In the meantime we look for something each day to make us laugh as laughter really does ease my pain.