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Friday, May 19, 2017


Serendipity: finding something good without looking for it.

     Back in early March I set off on a trip back to the States. I needed to answer the question, "Where is home?" I hate to travel by plane. I develop motion sickness easily. I suffered from it as a kid in automobiles, on escalators, elevators, Ferris Wheel, merry-go-rounds and even swings. So you can imagine my horror of traveling by plane. Add to this my need to maintain control over me and my immediate space, and the appalling manner in which airlines treat paying customers and it really is a recipe for acute tension and anxiety at the very least. Finally, I used to clean airplanes for a living and at one point I was trained to search for bombs on board planes. I know way too much about what goes on behind the scenes to be comfortable with current airport safety procedures.
     Add to this the fact that I am an emotional empath. I have been able to pick up and read the emotions of people around me since I was very small. This is the main reason I hate crowds; too much energy swirling around--a lot of it negative and ungoverned by the people generating it.  Airports are vortices of human energy. If  I have to go out to a crowded place I have to shield myself and this takes an immense of amount of energy to maintain for any lengthy amount of time.
     This trip back to America required I fly out of Heathrow--Europe's busiest airport and one that is huge and spread out. I was terrified I would not be able to find the actual gate, given that I am dyslexic and the more stressed I am, the more pronounced my symptoms become. Numbers and letters transpose themselves. I lose my peripheral vision and my hearing drops in and out. Les had been dead six weeks and I was a stew of overwhelming emotions, sleeping two to four hours a night maximum, and my new right knee was only four months along in the healing process. I made sure to get to Terminal 5 early--about three hours early. I checked in, checked my bags through with assistance from airport personnel, and made my way to a restaurant to put some decent food in my stomach far enough out from the actual flight that it would have no chance of coming back up again.
     As I sat waiting for my meal to arrive, a woman was escorted to the table next to me.  We began to chat and I discovered her name is Marie and she is a retired teacher. She travels a fair bit, lives in London and has an amazing bucket list blog. Her blog title says it all very succinctly: After60--thenext10: The bucket lists have been written. How much can be achieved in the next 10 years - from the mundane (baking an edible cake) to the ridiculous (kayaking through the rain forest).
     Marie's company during lunch helped me to forget my anxiety and focus on something and someone else. She is interesting and funny, and I like how she divides her list up by tabs labeled, "Around London," "Around the UK," "Around the World," "Around Home." Within each tab are Marie's lists and those she has accomplished are indicated in red print and some have links to her posts about her experiences. She has visited the London Bank of England museum and lifted a gold bar worth £144,000, taken a tour of Lloyd's of London, gone fossil hunting on the Jurassic coast in Dorset, and visited the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.
     Marie's blog is a great resource if one is looking for new things to find, do, and experience. For example her visit to the Hunterian Museum provides a link to the London Museums of Health and Medicine site offering links to twenty four different museums in London all having to do with health and medicine. Marie visited the old Roman Baths in the town of Bath and then went one better; she booked in for the Twilight Package at Thermae Bath Spa which uses the same waters as the Roman baths. I checked out their web site and WOW! The prices are amazingly reasonable and you get a lot for your money. I have now added this item to my bucket list!
Marie enjoying a cocktail at Raffles in Singapore, China
     Marie has climbed a volcano in the Galapagos Islands, traveled through the rain forest canopy along a zip wire in Costa Rica, visited the top of the Empire State Building in New York, and climbed to the to of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, visited Uluru (Ayers Rock), and sat on the back of an alligator in the Florida Everglades! 
     Closer to home his intrepid explorer has conquered more mundane goals: worked as a volunteer at the London Olympics, swam a Km doing the front crawl, tried Zumba and baked an edible cake! Marie still has loads of goals left to complete on her bucket lists and I look forward with great relish to reading about them as she does.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Two Weeks Filled with Gifts

"May no gift be too small to give, nor too simple to receive, which is wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied with love." ~ L. O. Baird

     Earlier the first week of May I met with fellow boat woman and herbalist Kit Acott. She came aboard and we talked over tea. It was such a blessing to share time with another herbalist. I haven't done that in over twenty years. Kit shared some great ideas with me and her presence filled my soul with peace. Thank you Kit!! Gift number one.

     Saturday, May 6th brought a visit from friends Sue and Ken Deveson of NB Cleddau. They came bearing beautiful flowers and amazing cookies! We had a wonderful visit as always, sharing our mutual love of the waterways. I was deeply blessed by their love, encouragement and assistance in the days and weeks after Les died and I so appreciate their still looking out for me now. Gift number two.
     Later that evening our friend Angela Walsh of Berkhamsted and NB Bright Eyes texted me to say she was moving up to Fenny Stratford. I locked her through Fenny stop lock and the pedestrian bridge and she moored up behind me. Then she swept me away to Soulbury Three Locks pub and treated me to a fabulous steak dinner, several hours of deep, wonderful and funny conversation, and finally we returned to our boats to sleep. Sunday morning before I cruised off, Ang and I shared breakfast aboard NB Valerie. Gift number three.
     I cruised up to Pear Tree bridge and waited for forty minutes while a boat filled up with water. I could have been filling as well but a wide beam was sitting on the water point moorings. They filled their tank and two water butties installed in the bow on either side of the bow doors after which they took off in their car and left the boat moored up in everyone's way all day. I was desperate for water having been moored up and broken down at Fenny for two weeks with a non-functioning water point. I filled my tank and washed two loads as I went along in the Sunday afternoon warmth. 
     I fetched up at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes and managed to score a mooring spot on the offside near the park parking lot. The link above is to a blog post for May 29th 2015 when Les and I met our daughter-in-law and grand kids Kiera and Kiernan at the park and spent the day cruising. It is one of those beauty spots with great access to buses, Central Milton Keynes (CMK) shopping, the rail station and post office; gift number four.
     I had business to conduct in CMK to whit, I needed to have Les' name removed from our bank accounts and it is no easy thing to accomplish over here. Most banks require an appointment with a bereavement advisor and they are apparently as rare as hen's teeth. I had to cancel the appointments booked before I left for the States in March, because they ended up being on the same day the River Canal Rescue marine engineer showed up last week to make repairs. I tried to reschedule with the banks over the phone and broke down sobbing and hung up.
     So off I went Monday, May 8th to beard the lions in their dens. Nationwide was fabulous. I explained the situation and simply said I was not leaving until I had this sorted. Within ten minutes a lovely young woman called me and shortly afterward the deed was done. It felt so strange taking Les' name off of an account that was his to begin with. It was necessary to keep our account from being vulnerable to hacking through his log-in and it is also a legal necessity but it feels like I requested that my Best Beloved be erased from our finances. It was tough to I moved on to Halifax and they were asses to be plain. I waited at the information desk for twenty minutes before anyone came to see what I wanted. I was told that I quite simply HAD to speak with a bereavement advisor and one was not available until the following Tuesday afternoon. I left and went back to Nationwide and spoke with the young woman who kindly assisted me earlier. It turns out she could help me close out the Halifax account and switch all of our standing orders and monthly debits and payments to the Nationwide account. Sorted! It was Halifax that required six different visits and six months before we managed to get my name added to Les' account and then they still screwed it up, froze the account, and we had to go back in again to get it sorted out although it was their error, leading to my calling it Halif**ked up much to Les' amusement. What a relief to never have to do business with them again. Gift number five.
     Back on the boat I started fixing dinner and turned the engine on for hot water and a woman on the boat behind me waved and called out to me. It was Fran and her husband Vic on Wide Beam (WB) Moonstone. We had never met but we knew each other from boater's forums.  Lovely to meet at last! Gift number six.
Tea Junction © NB Celtic Kiwi, 2017
     When I cruised in to Campbell Park I passed the trading boat Tea Junction owned by Tracey and Ray Arbon, and their residential boat Billy Whizz. Tracey was out and about on her bike and she stopped in on Tuesday afternoon for a cup of tea and a natter. Les and I first met Tracey up on the Bridgewater canal back in 2012. We had a good long chat and reminisced about Les with tears and smiles. I am so appreciative of those who do this with me as it helps to keep Les' memory alive. Later Tracey stopped by again while out walking her dogs and dropped off a luscious parcel of Victoria sponge cake! Yumm!! Gift number seven.
     The moorings at Campbell Park are only for two days, so Wednesday morning I cruised off at 8:30 am. It was cold and overcast until the clouds parted an hour later and the sun finally made its appearance. After catching up seven loads of laundry and cleaning the boat I needed water again so I pulled in to Gifford Park where I waited while NB Daedalus filled up. I chatted with her owners Pat and Simon. Lovely folks they are, who have lived aboard for eleven years. We exchanged email addresses before parting. Gift number eight.
     There was no room at Linford Park so I cruised on and moored up at one of the most breathtakingly lovely places around--Stanton Low. Les first brought  me here in 2011. We moored here for three days and saw not another soul. I wrote an historical post about this spot which you can read here: at that time the estate of Princess Diana's family, the Spencers, owned the land on either side of the canal. Interest in saving the the nearby 12th century church ruins generated interest in my blog post which led a local group in turn to contact the Spencer family about the land. Diana's brother, Lord Althorp, looked into it and agreed to sell both parcels to the Milton Keynes County Council with the proviso the land was left as a park and not built on. Now there is a park on both sides of the cut with a nature sanctuary behind the church ruins.
Les' daffodil plant (no flowers-just four leaves) in the foreground left. I planted it near the bridge on the towpath side. there are five large rocks to the right which block the bridge from automobile traffic.
The views panning to the right from Les' daffodil across the field towards the 12th century church ruins at Stanton Low.

Beyond the tree line is a lake with an island. It is part of the wildlife sanctuary. Herons, Egrets, and Comorants all nest there in the spring.
The path leading from the bridge near Les' Daffodil. Turn left at the bottom and it leads out to the towpath.
The fields are enclosed now to keep motorbikes and ATV's from riding across them. In the dusk one can watch Barn Owls hunting the fields.
The church ruins used to be inaccessible. Now one can walk through them and there are information boards telling about the history of the village of Stantone/Stantonebury/Stanton Lowe. The village appears in the Domesday Book of 1066. There was a mill and four cottages here at the time. The church and the footprint of a manor house are all that remain now.
I heard cuckoos calling out across the meadow! The clocks really do sound just like these birds. It is a tad strange to hear their call from the woods when one is used to hearing it from a clock on the wall!
My first kissing gate without Les there to kiss me through...
Five Greylag Geese and nineteen babies!
NB Valerie moored up at Stanton Low. The church ruins are just out of site to the right across the fields. The canal bridge is behind me and the park leading up to the Oakridge Park housing estate is across the bridge and  off the right.
On the off side over the old hump-backed canal bridge and up through the park on that side is one of the best designed and built housing estates I've ever seen in this country. A pea gravel path takes one from the canal, through the park and in between the houses on the estate. A right turn on Selkirk Lane brings one around to a new ASDA store and a bus stop. The bus comes every fifteen minutes going into Central Milton Keynes or five minutes down the road to Wolverton Tesco. Despite the close proximity of the housing estate, it is fairly quiet here but no longer empty most times so I was lucky to get a spot. Gift number nine.
Curved knife with wrist lasso
    Wednesday, May 10th brought warmer weather with blustery winds moving the clouds along quickly. It also brought a short visit from Sue an Ken Deveson again. After hearing of my travails down the weed hatch with a bread knife back at Grove lock, Ken thoughtfully went online and ordered a curved knife with a locking blade for me and they stopped by to drop it off! Gift number ten.
    Thursday evening brought a lovely sunset and a knock on the boat. It was our dear friends Robert Rogers and his sister Maria! Robert used to own WB Wind in the Willows. He sold his boat and followed his heart to another country as did I, to marry his Best Beloved Roseni and make a new home in Brazil. Robert returns to the U.K. a couple times a year and he always finds us wherever we are moored.
They came aboard with so many lovely things for me: a beautiful gray scarf covered in butterflies, a loaf of freshly bake Irish soda bread direct from Ireland, a box of ginger cookies and a lovely planter with miniature yellow roses. We drank tea, reminisced about Les through tears and laughter, and walked out to the canal bridge to enjoy the beauty of this favored spot. It was such a joy to spend time with you both. Gift number eleven.

Sally and Joe Horton, friends from Pullman, WA. USA
     Friday, May 12th arrived at last and brought with it a long anticipated visit from our friends Sally and Joe Horton who live in Pullman, Washington. Sally is Scottish and Joe is American. They have been married for forty years and we are blessed to call them friends. We have shared delicious meals and evenings filled with fascinating conversation accompanied by Joe's Grand Seville cocktails and home smoked Steelhead Trout. This is the third time they have visited our boat. More reminiscing took place over lunch after which we took a walk to the church ruins and along the path to view the birds nesting in the sanctuary. Gift number twelve.
     Finally yesterday in the last rays of the evening sun I scattered some of Les' ashes and planted a Daffodil near the canal bridge where we used to stand and survey the view across the fields toward the church ruins. The last time we were here we watched barn owls quartering the fields for food, gliding silently over the meadows in the gathering dusk. This led me to recite the poem by E.E. Cummings that I included in Les' eulogy which says, "I carry your heart with me (I carry it in mine)..."
     What does it mean to carry someone in one's heart?
     The word carry is a verb denoting action. So carrying someone in one's heart
This pendant has Les' ashes inside; a gift from daughter Sparky.
is an activity. No mere jargon or jingoistic words of grief to pause on and forget; carrying Les in my heart means I move through my life with a continued relationship with him. He may be dis-incarnate but he is not gone. Carrying him in my heart requires me to move through my grief and re-member our relationship. I had a statement engraved on Les' wedding ring: "You are my joy." He was, he is, and he will always be my joy. Yes I am sad Les is not here on an incarnate level to continue sharing life with me but without his diseased broken body, Les' soul can rise with joy, move at the speed of thought, create paradise and touch my soul--and my Beloved is no longer subject to the laws of gravity and physical being; no more illness, no more pain, no more slogging through this world wearing heavy clay boots. I am sad for myself but I can no longer be sad for Les. Our relationship continues re-framed: my heart is the sacred space where we come together again as one in a new method of engagement.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Les and Jaq Always

"know that I knew how much you loved me. When life was sweet
and when life was dark. When you told me, and even when you didn't.
When it was easy and when it was hard. I knew. Every minute of every day. I knew." — Mia Hollow, poet

     RCR have come and gone at last; ME Tom replaced the bilge pump hose and showed me how to grease the stern gland. It is an easy thing to do if you know how. I am not someone who can learn how to do manual things by watching a video or attempting to make sense of Chinese drawings without written instructions. Now I have one tube of the proper stern gland grease and two more ordered from RCR as back up. Now I know to grease the stern gland every 200-300 hours on the engine and I will attend to it zealously! Now I know I have a complete set of stern gland seals all ready to go on if need be. For now the boat is sorted.

On the left is the cracked, cheap plastic electrical conduit a certain Cowroast ME used to replace my bilge pump hose. It didn't even hold for a week! On the right, the proper sturdy hose required and fitted by the RCR Marine Engineer, similar to what was originally fitted on our boat. 
The package from RCR with the proper stern gland grease and a picture illustrating perfectly how and where to apply it.
The tip of the tube of stern gland grease...
and the opening of the tube of silicone grease Les had last  used for this job. I have no idea how he managed to pack the stern gland without the proper end on the tube, but he did.
The bag I now have of various tubes of silicone grease, not good for greasing the stern gland!
The prepared stern gland seals with a note to me from Les on how to replace them. I found it under the dinette seat among the dozens of other boxes of spare parts he squirreled away for me.

     I am still at Fenny Stratford and will stay through the weekend. The water point has been repaired but of course RCR didn't come until late this afternoon so I schlepped 15 gallons of water in three separate trips early this morning, adding them to what little water was still in the tank. Imagine my surprise to dip the tank and find it is now almost half full! I had more left than I thought. Of course I have not washed clothes in nearly two weeks and I have bathed in the sink and washed my hair with one pan of water heated on the stove. I washed my dishes in four inches of hot water and soap, and otherwise made 5 gallons stretch for nearly seven days!
     The last time we were here together was late last July. Les had went in to the Royal Free Hospital for one week in order for them to assess exactly where the cancer had metastasized and what could be done to control his pain. Many times in the three years we fought for his life, Les and I waited for trains at this stop. We have a long history with Fenny--long for us anyway. 
     The first time we moored here together it was late May, 2011. I had flown over for three weeks to make sure living on a boat was going to work for me and us, before we returned to Pullman, Washington to get married. Les had one very large, overstuffed leather recliner which took up most of the saloon (for non-boat folks this is what you would call a front room or living room). While big, it was not large enough to accommodate both of us together. We needed to go chair shopping and I thought IKEA might be a good place to start. There is an IKEA just a twenty minute walk from here. So we fetched up here at Fenny Stratford and the next morning--an unseasonably hot spring day with brilliant sun and temperatures up in the 70's F. we set off on foot for the Swedish superstore. 
     Les had his fixed route to the store. Of course he told me it was only a ten minute walk (anyone who knew Les well knows how he downplayed the actual length of any journey on Shank's pony! twenty minutes was always ten, and twenty five minutes was relayed as fifteen. Well this particular journey was my first on foot with Les and I had yet to learn...a lot of things. We strolled across the pedestrian bridge over Fenny Stratford lock and up Lock View Lane to Simpson Road and turned left. We crossed Simpson Road and walked over the Fenny Stratford rail station--an outdoor stop with a covered seat and a reader board. 
    We continued on the footpath past the rail stop and came up at the side of a very busy road--Watling Street--the road that began life as an ancient foot track across this land used by the Britons and paved by the Romans. We walked along the sidewalk for about fifteen minutes, the sun beating down on us until we came to a weird lozenge shaped divergence of Watling street heading North and the B4034 eastward. We needed to cross and the traffic came off Watling street around the curve heading east in thunderous fashion. I asked my Best Beloved,  
     "Les where is the cross walk?"
     "There isn't one. These roads were made to carry automobiles quickly and efficiently and pedestrians crossing them were not a consideration." My eyebrows raised to my hairline. 
     "Well then how are we ever going to get across?" Les grabbed my hand tightly, looked left and yelled,
     "RUN!" and we did...after I took a moment to catch my breath we walked around the side of a very large roundabout to where two widely separated lanes approached and left it, depending on which direction one was headed. These were Bletcham Way and Les took my hand once more and yelled,
     "RUN!" and we were off once more. I felt like Alice trying to keep up with the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. When we finally survived the crossing of both lanes we stood with heaving chests while I surveyed a narrow footpath barely noticeable through a very overgrown lot--Bletchley's version of the forty acre wood! Les said that we needed to follow the path through the shrubs and we would come right out at IKEA. We stumbled through the overgrown greenery and actually did as he said. We popped out of the bushes at the back of a parking lot. I considered all we had endured to get here and asked, 
     "So, are we going to call a Taxi to take us and the chairs back to the boat?"
     "Of course not. There are no cabs large enough to carry us and two large boxes." Les started off across the parking lot towards the store entrance.
     "Well if we aren't taking a Taxi, how are we going to get our chairs home--assuming we find any here today?"
     "We'll take them back in a trolley the same way we came." Les smiled smugly. 
     "Are you out of your mind?!!  We will never make it across all those lanes of traffic with a loaded trolley and no crosswalks, never mind hoiking it through the forty acre wood back there." 
     "It'll be fine. Trust me." So off we went hand in hand and I had another first experience: discovering how indecisive Les was when faced with the need to choose something; to make up his mind and commit to something. I had no idea about the existence of this quirky facet of Les' personality since he was quite decisive in declaring his love for me and asking me to marry him!
     We were in IKEA's chair section for two and half hours while Les circled around, trying each chair multiple times--just like Goldilocks in the fairytale about the three bears. Les had quit smoking four days previously because he felt it was unfair to expect me to live in confined quarters inhaling his smoke. I could see him itching for a fag while mulling over his choices. I finally I sat down in a chair and said,
     "I'm done shopping Les. This is the chair I want. Please make up your mind and let's get this over with." I am one of those female anomalies. I hate shopping!
     Decision made, we went downstairs grabbed a large trolley, found the flat packed boxes with our chairs and paid for them at the register. Now the fun part was about to begin! We rolled the trolley across the parking lot, slowed long enough to be sure no one was watching us, and Les manhandled the trolley into the shrubbery! He managed to wrangle the bloody thing all way through the forty acre wood tipping it this way and that, lifting it over large plants, and out onto the grassy verge near Bletcham Way. He surveyed the traffic, and clutching the trolley with one hand and me with another he yelled, 
     Off we went careening across two lanes, a grassy median and another two lanes. By now I was hot, sweaty, tired and thoroughly unimpressed with this idea. Sweat was beading on Les' brow and he was out of breath too.
     "Never mind Jaq, we'll be back to the boat soon enough and it won't take me any time at all to put these chairs together. We'll sit side by side tonight!" Les turned on his thousand watt smile, my heart melted as laugh lines creased his face around his lovely bright brown eyes, and off we went once more to continue our journey homeward. After careening across one more set of lanes like drunken monkeys, we sidled along the sidewalk, back the way we had come until we turned off Watling Street and headed down the ramp to the Fenny Stratford rail stop. We both took one look at the cool, shaded railway shelter and made a beeline for the seats. Sitting quietly next to one another Les suddenly exclaimed, 
     "Crikey I could use a fag right now."
     "I could use a fag and I don't even smoke!" Les burst out laughing and in seconds we were both cracking up, sides heaving with mirth. 
The boat is back up the ramp, to the left along Simpson Road and down Lock View Lane to the cut.
The sheltered seat at the rail stop. I left a message in the upper right corner of the side wall above the last two holes on the top.

     There are so many memories along all these roads as we moored up time and again here and made our way up the streets to Tesco's for groceries, or to B & Q for varnish, or Halford's or Wickes for some bit or bob on Les' list. 
     While waiting for NBV to be repaired I took the train to Bletchley Park. It took all of five minutes to carry me from Fenny Stratford rail stop to Bletchley station. I walked two minutes up the road and entered Bletchley Park for an intriguing day that carried me back to WWII and the infamous Code Breakers; Alan Turing, the father of modern computers, and the Bombe he helped design and create which broke the German Enigma code--every day anew. My round trip train ticket cost me all of £2.70--cheaper than taking the bus!
     By late afternoon the weather turned fowl, with low black clouds spitting frigid rain and eventually snow! As I disembarked at Fenny Stratford rail stop I thought back to that lovely sunny day, six years ago and I could feel Les all around me. I did something I've never done before and will hopefully be forgiven; I defaced a piece of public property by gently scratching the paint off inside the rail shelter near where Les and I sat that day back at the beginning of our life together. I didn't carve it into the metal for all time. I only removed a layer of paint. The next time the Milton Keynes Council have the rail shelter painted my etching will disappear. But for now, there is a small reminder that we passed this way once upon a time and that we are soul mates forever. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

New Fire Bricks, New Neighbors

"Self Reliance: Trust your instincts; form your own opinions; make good choices." ~Anonymous

     Along with all the other "issues" I have been dealing with over the past two weeks, last week the throat plate or baffle on the wood stove started slipping down into the fire.  I used an Ikea silicone oven glove to reach in and set it back in place, thinking I would eventually get around to figuring out what was causing the throat plate to drop at some other time. I just wanted some room to breathe and not have to face yet one more thing.
     Alas, yesterday evening just after I got the fire going nice and hot, the bloody throat plate suddenly dropped again and I had simply had enough. I kicked the stairs, screamed at the sky and went to bed sobbing "Enough is f*****g well enough already!"
     I remember the last time Les replaced the fire bricks. He didn't want to use cheap vermiculite bricks so he walked into a stove shop in Leighton Buzzard and bought a set of ceramic bricks. These were not fit for purpose to our Valar Willow solid fuel stove, so Les had to measure the inside of the firebox, cut the bricks with a hand saw, cobble them together with fire cement and fit them into the stove box. This is a prime example of Les' love of tinkering and figuring out cheap, cheerful solutions and doing the work on his own. This is not even a possibility for me. I don't have the upper body strength to cut fired bricks with a hand saw. I don't have the mathematical skills to measure the inside of the firebox and extrapolate what angles to cut the brick to begin with! Crap! Crap!! Crap!!!
     This morning I woke at 6:25 am to a cool boat. The fire was obviously out. I opened the stove door and with flashlight (torch) in hand I poked around to discover that the fire bricks Les installed about three years ago had crumbled on the top edge. A large triangular piece was missing on the left side and the throat plate--which rests on the top edge of each brick--could not possible stay in place.
     As Les was well aware and other boaters have commented, I am a very driven person; however I am learning that drive without thought and good directions will NOT take one where one wants and needs to go. So I decided to let things percolate over several cups of morning coffee. I went online and downloaded the instruction manual for our stove, reviewing the directions for changing out the fire bricks. I knew Les had ordered a replacement set of fire bricks for me last August. He wrapped them in bubble wrap, labeled them and they were tucked away under the seat on his side of the dinette.
     I moved the upholstered cushions, pulled the heavy, ungainly lid up on the dinette seat storage and extracted the package labeled "fire bricks" in Les' familiar handwriting. I pulled the taped bubble wrap apart and found a complete set of vermiculite fire bricks made specifically for our stove with the order receipt inside detailing what they were, where Les purchased them from, and how much they cost. Goddess bless his precious soul!
     I proceeded to clean out the fire box with a wire brush from Les' man drawers set the brick in place and replaced the throat plate. It took me all of twenty minutes and was not difficult. I did have to look at the pictures of the throat plate in the instruction manual to get it in the right way up. It all fit together like a glove. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. My Best beloved is still looking after me in his way; his love for me made him think far ahead to the time I would have to cope on my own; he ordered extra parts which he labeled and stored under the dinette seats for me. With Les' help I will become self-reliant. He believed in me so I must believe in myself. 
New fire bricks in place with the throat plate resting properly on top.
The old ceramic fire bricks on the left, and the receipt for the new ones with all the information I need to order another replacement set.

     Yesterday I was blessed with a short visit by Adam and Adrian on NB Briar Rose. They were on their way back northward and pulled in behind me for a cuppa and a natter. Thanks guys! It was as always lovely to see you and spend a bit of time chatting. Thank you for your hugs and kindness.
     This morning a boat moored up behind me with two young women on it. They are partners and I was chuffed to bits to meet them. It is wonderful to see young women living aboard and cruising the cut, reaching for this lovely life and making it theirs.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Odds 'n' Sods While Waiting for Repairs

"Don't squat with your spurs on." -Will Rogers, American cowboy, comedian, humorist, social commentator, vaudeville performer, 1879 - 1935

     Right well after the not-so-grand beginning of setting off for a singular life on the cut (picked up a pram cover around the prop day 2, and the engine showed signs of overheating on day 3; broken bilge pump hose day 4), I came to a dead standstill just after Fenny Stratford Stop lock. Before Tom and Jan on NB Waiouru carried on the next morning, Tom and I opened the engine hole cover and he proceeded to give me a quick tutorial AKA Vetus Boat Engines For Dummies. In the process we discovered the band new bilge pump hose has cracked and the bilge pump no longer functioned so Tom patched it for me. That was a week ago yesterday. 
     I planned to stay in this spot for about four days to visit Bletchley Park, stop in at Ikea and purchase the accent paint I need to finish painting the boat.  I dipped down in the engine hole several times a day to check things out and while there was a small drip occasionally from the stern gland it was nothing to be concerned about--or so I thought. 
     Imagine my surprise and shock last Monday to pop the engine hole cover and find a bloody swimming pool underneath my engine! I baled for Britain, emptied most of it out and used newspapers rolled up and taped as wicks to pull up the remainder. All together I baled 20 gallons by hand and 5 gallons using the patched up bilge pump. Tom Jones called me to check on me and I told him what had occurred--and no we had not had any rain so it wasn't rain water leaking into the engine hole. Monday evening ended with me standing at the bathroom sink brushing my teeth. I bent over the sink to spit and the wooden port hole window frame fell out on my head! I spent two hours gluing it back in place with wood glue and securing it while it dried.
     Meanwhile over the next few days Tom sent me the schematic for my engine--it is the same as his--and he talked me through how to loosen the collar on the stern gland and grease it with silicone grease. I pulled out Les' set of Allen Keys, found the two half used tubes of silicone grease Les used for this job and grabbed a rag. Down into the engine hole I went. The collar was on too tightly for me to loosen it. Every time I poked the Allen Key into the dimple on top of the collar to attempt to loosen it, water began flowing quite briskly from the stern gland into the engine hole, so I left off with it and now I have a fairly consistent drip which bears monitoring and clean up.
     A lovely spot in my week was the quick visit with Debbi and Dave on NB
Chuffed. Dave offered to go down the engine hole and have a look but I knew they were only passing through and I figured this issue could take some time so I politely declined. Thanks for stopping and it was lovely meeting you both in person. Perhaps next time circumstances will allow us to have a longer natter over a cup of tea and a piece of cake.
     On Thursday I called RCR (River Canal Rescue).  When I explained my plight I was told that the repairs I needed were not covered under my agreement with RCR (non propulsion issues are not covered), but since Les had been a member for eleven years and I am a newly minted widow they were gracious enough to send out an ME (Marine Engineer). 
     The two young blokes showed up at 5:45 PM Thursday evening, complimented me on how clean my engine hold was  and how prepared I was with the Allan Keys, etc. The consensus was that the new bilge pump hose needed to be replaced with proper hosing and not cheap plastic electrical conduit, and the stern gland needed a proper greasing. I was told it would be a fifteen minute job and they would return with the parts in the morning. YES!!!
     The grease I had on hand was not considered fit for purpose as there was no screw on attachment allowing the grease to be squeezed out into a tube and forced around the stern gland. Les purchased it several years ago in a Stove shop in Leighton Buzzard but the tubes obviously did not come with fitted nozzles attached to tubing for the stern gland. How Les managed to get the silicone grease into the stern gland remains a mystery to me, especially as Sunday last I spent five hours cleaning out the largest of his three man drawers in the hopes of figuring out what most of it was and for what purposes it all addressed; I sought to tidy it all up and make order out of chaos. I figured out what most of it is for but Ido have two plastic margarine pots of shiny bits and bobs about which I am clueless.
It was freakin' amazing how much stuff my Best Beloved had squirreled away in that one large drawer! It left me scratching my head with wonder at how many scewdrivers and needle nose piers one man needs. I also cleaned out and tidied up the middle bow step. This leaves two more man drawers, two more bow steps, three stern steps, and the bow and stern lockers to be sorted and tidied; and to think that before I moved on board Les used to keep a lot of this stuff in three "nests" throughout the boat so he could reach for things at a mo's notice without having to traverse the length of the boat to find it.
      Friday dawned and at 2:30 PM when I had heard nothing and no ME had turned up, I contacted RCR to be told that the hose and the proper silicon grease for my engine had to be ordered and would be delivery would be delayed by the forthcoming bank holiday. The parts were expected in on Tuesday or Wednesday next (May 2nd or 3rd) and someone would call me at that time to book an appointment with and ME to come out. Crap! I should have known "the job will only take fifteen minutes and we'll be back in the morning," was too good to be true.
     It would have been grand if Les had been able to teach me about the engine however by the time we reached Cowroast after his terminal cancer diagnosis, he was too weak to lift the solid steel engine hole cover and I never could lift it on my own. Les also could no longer climb in and out of the engine bay and I could not do so either with my badly arthritic right knee. I realize now that the things I did on board NBV made our lives comfortable and certainly made Les happy as he was kind enough to tell me so frequently, but it was the stuff Les did that kept us cruising along the cut and I totally took him for granted. Yes I told him often how much I loved him and how happy he made me, but I never once thanked him for his labors in keeping the boat going. He loved tinkering with that stuff and I simply let him get on with it. I wish I had understood how vital his tinkering was to our lives and I desperately wish I had thanked him often. I will be taking the engine maintenance course offered by RCR in September.
     So now my next dilemma is water. I have been moored up here a week on Friday last. I cannot move the boat until the stern gland issue is seen to for fear of causing it to leak severely and now the bilge pump is not working at all for some reason, so...I climbed back down the engine hold again (I am down there at least four times a day. Now that it has been freshly painted and cleaned out it no longer appears to be the Black Hole of Calcutta and it isn't the least intimidating. I am on a first name basis with my engine. I will let you know when we progress to cutesy nicknames), found the five gallon plastic water butty, last used in the winter of 2011/2012 at Newbold to fill up with water when were were frozen in on the cut. I reasoned that five trips to the water point to fill up the butty and empty it into the water tank would hold me well.
     I took the canvas bag off our hand trolley and with trolley and water butty in hand I proceeded to walk to the water point by the service area near Fenny Stratford lock. Imagine my surprise yet again--to find the water point there is not only not working, there is also no "out of order"sign on it. Thank goodness I didn't chance backing the boat through the lock to the service point to fill up with water! Crap!!!
     Back on bard NBV I instituted emergency water measures and after speaking with friends on the phone this morning, I decided to try my luck in asking for water from one of the lock side cottages. First I dumped my rubbish and tried the water point once more to be sure I had not missed something; nope! Still broken...a woman and a man were sitting out at in front of one of the cottages having their morning tea after a bit of bijou gardening. I approached, introduced myself and asked my favor. The woman replied,
     "Don't I know you?"
     "Yes, we met several years ago when my husband and I stopped to sue the water point. You had a lovely crop of Pot Marigolds (Calendua Officianalis) growing in your garden and I asked if I could pick a few to  make a healing salve. You were very gracious and allowed me to help myself.  I took your email as you had a little dog with a skin condition and I emailed you an easy salve to make yourself as a remedy."
     "Oh yes I remember it now. How is your husband?" And so the conversation carried on. Her name is Lynn, she is a lovely person and she happily filled my five gallon water butty for me. I found out through our conversation that other boaters on the long term moorings just under the bridge before the lock have been asking cottage owners to fill up with water as well as the water point has been out of service for some time! I did send an email to CaRT (Canal and River Trust), but of course it is bank holiday weekend so nothing will happen very quickly. Can I just say what a luxury it is to have water heated on the stove to wash up with? This is taking me back to my childhood on Alaska and the early years of my first marriage when we as a young family of three, lived off the grid in a log cabin the sticks with no indoor plumbing or electricity. Aah yes I remember it well and to altogether fondly. A bit too much hardship and deprivation is not good for the soul. 
My precious!! Five gallons of clean, drinkable water.
     Anyway here I sit waiting for Jules Fuels to come by to top up the diesel, buy some coal  (I am down to three quarters of my last bag so that is timely!) and wait for RCR to contact me. One final issue cropped up on Friday to put the worm on top of the whipped cream on this disaster: I checked our bank account and found unauthorized activity--charges when no card was present it said--which leads to ask how in the hell the charges were made--to in Slough! My last amazon order was April 5th, Les' was even longer, and there were no new charges on either account. I had to email Amazon and ask for Les' account to be closed due to death. I contacted our bank and they will refund the monies to our account. This led me to finally contact our banks and make an appointment with a bank bereavement advisor to remove Les' name. I simply could not face this chore before but I see I really must do it and so I will. I don't understand the need to make an appointment with a bloody bereavement advisor. I asked why bereavement advisors were necessary and received this reasoning: 
     "Oh well not all of our employees have taken the bereavement training and we need to ensure grieving customers are handled with sensitivity. An appointment ensures you will be seen by someone who has had the proper bereavement training and can assist you in with this issue." I'm sorry but I think this is a load of utter crap. If the only customer service reps employed by a bank who can show a bit of kindness and sensitivity to a grieving customer is one suitably trained to so then there is something seriously wrong with the bank's hiring process in my humble opinion. At our U. S. bank I went in to the nearest branch with Les' death certificate, our birth and marriage certificates, and a teller assisted me, only requiring my ID and Les' death certificate. It took all of ten minutes. She was suitably kind and sensitive which didn't require special training; being human seemed sufficient. But hey ho I am in Britain where bureaucracy reigns supreme, so I will endure it as all other Brits do. 
   To end this post on a positive note I am happy to say I saw Adam and Adrian pass through yesterday on NB Briar Rose. I knew they were headed my way and I left the boat at 8:30 AM to walk to Tesco for some bits and bobs hoping to return before they arrived. On the rare occasions when I wander in to Tesco do do my sopping in person, I have found that there is a totally obnoxious two year old who follows me around the country form Grocery store to grocery store. She/he/it sets up an ear splitting, hair raising, nerve tweaking caterwauling the minute I walk in the door that makes me want to step on its wind pipe. So I thought perhaps if I went to Tesco early I might make it through my shopping before the little brat child had even had breakfast. It worked but sadly I nearly missed Adam and Adrian. I didn't get a picture but they did and it is on their blog. I will see them again tomorrow for a longer visit involving tea and cake when they return this way.
     Finally I wish to share a nifty item I picked up at Robert Dyas in Hemel Hempstead two weeks ago. It is a night light. Les and I discussed this issue thoroughly in the months leading up to his death. We looked at all sorts of night lights but few if any ran on 12 volt electrics and I was hoping for one with a motion sensor to use in the bathroom and in the galley. Nothing we found online was suitable and the topic feel by the wayside so I am chuffed to bits to have found The Egg!
The Egg on a small boat shelf near some framed pictures to give you an idea of its actual size and dimensions.

The Egg up close while off.
The Egg shining brightly!
     Battery operated, one taps the bottom of The Egg on a hard surface to turn it on and taps it again to turn it off.  If left on it will shut itself off after about a minute and a half. The Egg produces bright light and I can carry it in the palm of my hand late at night to use the loo or make a cup of middle of the night tea. Brilliant!!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Trouble Comes in Threes!

"Everything is hard before it is easy." - J.W. Goethe, German writer and Stateman,  1749-1842.

     Traveling with Tom and Jan Jones was like being shot out of a slingshot! I have done no cruising in nine months and I am woefully out of shape, which became apparent as I watched Jan wind ten locks on our cruise from Marsworth to Leighton Buzzard. I tried winding a gate paddle at one of the locks and while I feebly had to ratchet the windlass around like some crotchety aged wreck, Jan just got on with it, turning her windlass smoothly and lifting the mechanism. I remember when I too could carry on like that. Note to self: Get in shape girlfriend!

     Coming out of Grove lock I spied Jules Fuel boats breasted up on the off side with laundry out on the line. I needed coal as the nights are still quite cold and I was down to one bag. Instead of pulling along side them as my inner voice directed, I continued onward and then when Tom and Jan came alongside me I told them I was going to back up to the fuel boats and get some coal. Tom said they would continue on and moor up as soon as they found a spot. Off they went and backwards I proceeded only to end up with something around the prop! The engine cut out as it should and I was left with no propulsion or steering, essentially adrift. Instead of straying off to one side NB Valerie meandered lazily along the middle of the cut.
    Sighing, I could hear Les' voice in my ear telling me, "Don't panic Jaq. You will not get washed out to sea!" After rooting around in several places I found the bread knife he used to cut things from the prop, pulled the engine hole cover up and down inside I went to lift the weed hatch cover, open the weed hatch and suss things out. Now at five feet one and a quarter inch tall, with vestigial arms and legs, I am a small built package all the way 'round. I was up to my shoulders in the cold, murky water. I could feel it--whatever it was--something large, tough and made of waxed canvas. I made a half dozen attempts to cut through it only to loosen it slightly but I made no real headway.
Image result for weed hatch
This looks exactly like our engine hole with the square weed hatch at the top, which opens to grant access to the prop and rudder. © Tony Porter, NB Holderness.
     Back up on the deck, I decided the best thing to do would be to pole the boat to the towpath and tie up. I texted Tom on NB Waiouru and asked for help. A text came back from Jan that he was on his way. In the meantime NB Grand Cru came by and offered to tow me to the towpath. They were in the process of doing so when Tom arrived. Tom grabbed the midline and pulled NB Val in to the side, I hopped off and held us in place and Tom took the bread knife and plunged into the weed hatch. After ten minutes he managed to hack through a waxed canvas pram cover! Marvelous!!!
What a narrow boat pram cover looks like once it has been wrapped around a prop!
When I moored up behind NB Waiouru for the night I was totally spent. To my credit I did not panic and I kept my head. Tom and his long arms came to the rescue and I thank him most kindly as he still had a walk into Leighton Buzzard to Tesco in front of him.
     The next morning Tom and Jan went ahead of me about a quarter of a mile to the Tesco moorings and I finished my laundry and cruised to the service point to fill up with water and dump the rubbish. It took me three trips to the bin to get rid of the Pram cover pieces. Then I went through the bridge hole and moored up near Tom and Jan. Stiff from all the exercise I was getting, I felt as though I was moving in slow motion through a vat of syrup. I closed all the curtains, remembered to grab my phone, keys, wallet, the trolley, and the front and back locks. After locking the boat I set off to top up my groceries. On return about an hour later, I put things away, made a quick sandwich and ate it, then we set off again towards Leighton lock.
     As we came out of the lock there was a long pound ahead of us until we reached the Soulberry Three locks. I noticed the engine was making a high pitched humming sound I had not heard before. I checked the engine gauges and the heating gauge was up.  In all the years I have spent on this boat--even as we made our way on the tidal part of the Thames--that gauge had never once moved above 50. It usually hovered just above 40. Now it was pointing between 50 and 60. I pulled over and NB Waiouru stopped in front of me. I told Tom what was happening and we shut off the engine and let it cool down for a bit. He opened the radiator cap sightly and it hissed as the seal broke, letting a bit of water out. This is good. If steam had come out then we would know it was low on water. I explained to Tom that the marine engineer at Cowroast had flushed the cooling system while I was in the States. It had never been done on this engine and Les had told me he thought I should have it done before I started cruising on my own. Tom suggested that perhaps some air was trapped in the system, impeding the water from flowing properly. That seemed likely and so I started up the engine again and proceeded slowly. The humming sound was still there and the needle still pointed over 50 but there was no hot smell and no smoke or steam so I continued on slowly. We went through the Soulberry locks with help from a volunteer lock keeper who thought an American on a narrow boat was a funny thing to encounter.
     Onward we cruised towards Stoke Hammond lock, with a long, long pound in between. We passed the place where the A4146 motorway comes right next to the cut and a convenient layby appears on the offside. In 2014 we met up with Leslie and Joe Kimantas from NB Yarwood at this spot. They came by car delivering a cook stove we purchased from them. I remember the four of us gathered around our dinette drinking tea and eating carrot cake. Later that afternoon our friends Carol and George Palin showed up, bringing their new wide beam Still Rockin' down to the Thames. Les and I watched in astonishment as bridge 108 of the Grand Union canal appeared to give birth to their fat boat!
     I stopped at Willowbridge marina to buy two bags of coal while Tom and Jan went on ahead to Fenny Stratford to fill up with water and moor up beyond the stop lock. I pulled in on the towpath side across from Willowbridge as there was a boat on the service mooring. I stood and waited for five minutes. There were two men and woman standing around the stern of this boat looking into the engine hole. The woman clocked me and then ignored me and the men were intent on the boat, so I finally called out,
   "Hi, I need to buy some coal." The three looked up at me and one of the men shouted,
   "So, what do you want me to do about it?"
   "You don't work here?"
   "Nope. You can shove your boat over here and breast up if you like."
   "Okay, thanks," and I climbed aboard NB Valerie and started to move away from the bank when the other bloke shouted out,
   "Would you mind hovering for minute? I should be done in a minute and then you can come on in here."
    "Okay." And so I hovered, and of course just then a Wyvern Shipping hire boat came charging and weaving its way through the bridge hole up in front of me about 600 yard away. He panicked when he saw me and immediately moved over to the side. I waved him on and he slowly started forward, passing me slowly with a smile and a nod of thanks.
     Meanwhile the other boat pulled away from the jetty and proceeded off right behind the hire boat. Some bloke with a blue marina jacket came out, said something to the guy who had shouted he didn't work there, they gave me one look and walked away, inside the marina building. I proceeded to slowly move our boat back and forth until I managed to slot her in the tight fit at the service jetty between the long line of boats permanently moored nut-to-butt in both directions, leaving only one small space for someone to come in for service. Just as I touched the side, the bloke who didn't work there came back out and said, "Here, I'll tie you up," and he grabbed the midline from the roof.
     Inside I purchased two bags of coal from the man who did work there, and the man who did not work there went to fetch it for me. We had a brief chat as he loaded it on the bow hatch for me and I realized this fella was one of three guys Les and I watched when we were in Fenny Stratford last July. All three were totally pissed (that means drunk for you Americans), three sheets to the wind (that means completely pissed for you Brits) and they had stripped down to their skivvies and were swimming in the canal! They were so drunk they were swallowing large amounts of water and coughing it up. They were causing a public disturbance so the police were called.
     I thanked him for his help, and cruised on to Fenny Stratford stop lock where I pulled in and went to move the pedestrian bridge in the middle of the lock. As I finished Tom came along with a windlass and a young bloke clambered over the lock gate with a smile on his face. It was James Tidy, Amy's beau off of MB Willow! He threw his arms around me for a bear hug and then went to get the other gate. With grateful help from two lovely blokes of fine character, I was soon through the stop lock and moored up behind NB Waiouru.
Image result for Fenny stratford stop lock
The pedestrian footbridge in the middle of Fenny Stratford stop lock. © NB Northern Pride.
     Amy came sauntering down the towpath, Jan popped up from her stern hatch and a boaters convocation ensued! Tom and Jan had read Amy and James' blog when they were living on NB Lucky Duck up on the River Cam, and followed on when they sold NBLD and bought Motor Boat Willow. It turns out Amy and James are on their way down to London to get married! 
     After tea aboard MB Willow, Tom provided me with a crash course on the parts of my boat engine, where upon I discovered that the newly replaced hose to the bilge pump had split and was spewing water into the hold instead of out. Tom patched it for me with tape and hopefully it will hold until I can get to Napton.
     Before I left for the States I had contracted with a local marine engineer to do some £1300 pounds of final work on NB Valerie. He had done a lot of work for Les over the years, and for us both from 2013-2016. He is someone Les trusted implicitly with our boat and who I grew to like and trust as well. This same bloke once praised me for being "...a missus who doesn't quibble about the price of the work done. So often wives want to argue with me about the cost of my work but you simply asked how much it would cost and then paid me when the job was done. I really appreciate that." 
     The list of work required included things Les and I had discussed but which he simply could no longer do. On that list was checking over the engine and parts to replace any worn hoses and loose wires. Also on the list was moving the navigation, horn, and bilge pump switches from down below my feet on the side of the stern locker to a position just forward of the gear shift--a place I physically pointed out to the engineer on a visit to the boat to go over the jobs on the list. 

    Les used his feet to turn them off and on. My feet don't reach that far and by the time I hopped off my seat, bent over to find the switches, etc. etc. I would either run aground, hit a bridge or another boat so they had to be moved. Imagine my surprise to return from America to find the switches mounted behind the gearshift and adjacent to the stern seat.
     Now anyone looking at me knows I am not built like Barbie. I am a short, wide load. With the switches mounted next to the seat I not only couldn't access them when cruising if I were precariously perched on there, I couldn't actually sit on the seat! I had to wait around Cowroast marina five extra days for the engineer to return from Easter holidays to move the switches to the place I had specified previously. This cost me time and money in additional marina fees. Now I discover the newly replaced hoses are made of cheap inflexible plastic instead of heavy duty PVC or rubber. No wonder it had split.
     I am extremely disappointed. Les trusted this person to work on NB Valerie over many years. His work was always good and while his fees were not cheap, we paid up as we felt he was honest and could be trusted, but I have to say I have been treated differently since Les died. When Les needed work done, he went over and had a natter with the engineer. They agreed on the work to be done, the date to do it, and when all was said and done we paid the bill in full and on time. Job done.
     Now Les is dead and I am on my own. I walked over in February with a written list of jobs to be done, had a natter, we agreed on the work, and I explained that I had the use of the permanent mooring we were on until the 29th of March for no charge after which the new mooring renters on NB Dreckly would be bringing their boat up to moor the following weekend, so NB Valerie was to be taken by the engineer on the 29th of March and when he was finished with the work it was to go into a berth in Cowroast marina. I had spoken to Jason at the marina and made the arrangements with an agreed upon a price.
     I explained all of this to the engineer at the time I gave him my list of works to be done on February 16th. After a week or so I became worried about the arrangements--don't ask me why. I needed to be sure my requirements were crystal clear. I am aware that over here I am the one with the accent and often I am misunderstood because of it. I called around to the engineer's workshop and asked him if he could come over to the boat so we could go through the jobs in situ. He agreed and that afternoon he paid me a visit. We went through the boat, discussed each job, I showed him exactly where I wanted the switches mounted and I reiterated once again the dates for moving the boat, etc. etc. I know all this because I keep a daily diary so I can refer back to what happened and when. 
     So imagine my shock when a local boater contacted me while I was in the States to say NB Valerie had disappeared from the private mooring the week preceding the 29th and suddenly appeared back on the mooring on the 29th! A hasty and expensive call to the engineer immediately took place. It was five fifteen in the evening in Britain. He had no recollection at all of the dates, times, conversations etc. and said I was lucky to get hold of him as he was just leaving for the night but he would go round and move NB Val to his jetty and then move her to a marina berth on Monday.
     When I arrived back to the boat I found it had been jammed into the marina berth so hard the back button fender was sideways upright instead of extended over the tiller, a cabinet bolt on one of the kitchen cupboards had its knob sheared off somehow, the newly installed radio had moved three inches off its position in the cupboard and the plastic collar around its face had come away, and several items had fallen off shelves onto the floor which all indicate our boat was hastily driven into the berth backwards and slammed to a stop against the back cement.
     I have been treated this way in the past by car mechanics who assume the little lady doesn't know shit from sugar about anything and they can simply nod their head, carry on as they see fit, and then charge me an arm and a leg for inferior work. I just never expected to be treated this way by someone who knew Les and whom Les trusted; someone I trusted too and I am severely disappointed. To be fair the new aluminum checker plate engine hole cover he made is brilliant and spot on. But still....
     I have been down in the engine hole every day now several times checking things. I sponged up the water from the bilge pipe crack, and Tom made me some dandy water wicks which I put in place. He rolls up old newspapers, tapes them tightly and stands them up vertically in the engine hole to wick up any water in the bottom. It works brilliantly!
     Les used to do all the engine maintenance. He tried showing me how to change the oil but the engine hole is so small and while he was bent over doing the job I couldn't see a bloody thing. I hate mechanical stuff and I have zip patience with fiddly bits like nuts and bolts. I am a chef, a writer, and a healer, not a mechanic but hey guess what? I will be learning all about how to service my engine and I will be on a first name basis with all parts of it eventually.
     In the meantime I have stayed behind at Fenny Stratford, taking the space MB Willow vacated as Amy and James continued their journey south. Friends Steve and Anne Folliington on NB Bracken are moored up just in front of me! Tom and Jan need to be in Braunston at a certain time to connect with their son. My journey needs to be at a slower pace. It is still the grief trail and mourning takes time and energy. I don't intend to pass this way again for a long time. There are memories of Les everywhere, and I need to stop and process them. I also want to stop and have a natter and cup of tea with other boaters who know us, as I cruise along.

     I am so pleased I had the opportunity to spend time with Tom and Jan. Their boat is up for sale and when it is sold they are moving to Oz for the next part of their life adventures. I love Tom's sense of humor. His experiences in life have provided him with much knowledge and many good stories to tell. The same is true for Jan whose uncommon sense is rare in this world. She is a good reader of people and I've enjoyed many fine hours chatting them both over tea when they were moored up by us in Birmingham in 2015. My thanks to you both for helping me to get moving again, for all of your help, and for checking on me to make sure I am okay. 
Tom and Jan saying goodbye Kiwi style! (The blue cover on the boat in the background is a pram cover similar to the one Tom removed from NBV's prop).

     So I am recovering now in Fenny Stratford. I plan to tour Bletchley Park where Alan Turing and the code breakers worked during WWII. I am also a ten minute walk to Ikea so I am going to nip in and enjoy a cheap lunch of Swedish meatballs, and there is a Dulux paint center up the road where we bought the Dulux Metal Shield outdoor paint for the boat. I need two small cans of the same in contrasting colors to finish up the paint job we left off in 2015. After a suitable amount of time I will move on to Old Lindford Park and Stanton Low where I will scatter more of Les' ashes and plant more Daffodils.   

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs