A Meandering Mann

Thoughts, quirky insights and experiences that occur before and during my year away.

A Coterie of Cousins, Siblings and Spouses

It has been a whirlwind of a week and a half. Two cousins from my Canadian Moms side, their spouses, and two of my siblings, and one spouse.

Mom was one of four children. Two girls, then twins, a girls and a boy. Each of those four children had five children between the late 40’s and early 60’s. Mom started last, 1950, and finished first, 1959. The rest spread them out a bit more, maybe some accidents along the way.

The oldest, Gwen, had three boys, two girls. Mom had four girls and one boy, stuck right slap dab in the middle. Shirley had five boys. Can you imagine that? Then Murray had three girls and two boys. Now if you have been counting that makes 11 boys and 9 girls. This is pretty much as you would expect. There are 103 boys born to every 100 girls. Y chromosome sperm, boy sperm, swim faster because they are less burdened with genetic material so they make it to the egg faster if the timing is right. Unfortunately that lack of genetic material also contributes to a shorter lifespan, on average. More boys when babies, more women when older.

Taken at 409 Hillsdale Ave, Toronto. Someone will supply the year! The house that Grandad built.

All fifteen cousins lived in North America, spread between Canada and the US, so they were as alien to us as could be imagined because we lived in England. Except we look a bit like each other. But some of us have become friends, and this week two cousins from the Gwen branch visited. First was Jim and his wife Karen.

Jim and Karen Oakden

Jim took to it like a duck to water. They sail in their home town of Fernie, B.C., and although this is different he jumped right in, OK, I gave him a bit of a push to begin with. Within a day he was dipping into a space between two moored boats to let a boat pass on the left in a tight squeeze on the Oxford Canal. He steered us out without hitting anything. The moored boat on the right gave him the thumbs up, clearly impressed with his maneuvering. We made great headway, going from Fenny Stratford on the Grand Union Canal to Banbury on the Oxford Canal with lots of laughs and great camaraderie along the way, mainly in the rain. We had lots of rain with some dry spots between, and even a little bit of sunshine. Karen, the other half of this dynamic duo broke her leg skiing in January, so she was just out of a cast and walking with a cane. She was press-ganged into helming and became an expert at narrow locks on the Oxford in no time flat. Then she got a massage in the evening on her leg and kept it up whenever she could. As you can imagine we rewarded ourselves with visits to canal side pubs whenever we were near one in the evening.

This one was not serving dinner, even though we had marched Karen up the hill. Had to settle for crisps and nut.

On the second day Karen’s walking stick went overboard and we could not retrieve it! We tried, but to no avail. Now I had picked a length of 1×1 wood out of the lock as part of garbage picking, so we wrapped some gloves around one end, and tied an apron around the whole thing to make a soft knob. It did the job.

Karen and her home made cane.

After a day of sharing locks on the Grand Union with an Australian couple, Lindsay and Beth we were in the Braunston Chandlery all together in our rain gear and good humour.

Jim, Karen, Lindsay, Beth and Maggie, and soon a new cane.

When asked if there was anything else that we needed Karen said, yes, a walking stick. And low and behold someone had left one six months ago. Instead of black it was flower power, but apart from that exactly the same. She was back in business. What a trooper.

In Banbury we met up with my brother Charlie, his wife Ann and my sister Mary. We ate dinner in the Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn which dates from 1570. Of course we had to go there.

Ann, Charlie’s wife, Mary, Karen, Maggie, Charlie, Jim

We had the Globe dining room to ourselves, the paneling had been removed and sold in 1912, found in Islington, London in 1961 and restored in 1981. Now, how did they know it was from the Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn? One of life’s mysteries.

The next day Martin brought over Jim’s sister Cathy, and her husband Les. Jane stayed home as The Ruben was visiting for the weekend, and Martin did not hang around. Both love their time with him and I can’t blame them.

Such a lovely little boy, and the looks are not bad either.

Cathy and I are almost twins, born just two weeks apart and we have become fast friends. As I only had to get to near Oxford we had a day in hand so did a “there and back” with everyone to Cropredy, for a pub lunch in The Red Lion.

Apparently The Red Lion is the most popular name for a pub in Britain, and I have been in a few on this trip, not counting that it is the name of my sister Sally’s local as well. The food was AMAZING, a proper roast lamb Sunday lunch. We rolled away, slowly, down the hill to Little Star.

The Red Lion, Oxford
The Captains Hat, from my beloved knitting group.
Les is a real Captain, an Air Canada pilot. This is his natural look.

All good things must come to an end and we parted on Sunday night. Then another good thing started. Cathy, Les and I cruised our way down towards Oxford. The weather had opened up and was sunny and warm. There were hardly any locks, and all the lift bridges were lifted open. It felt like an idle. Sauntering along the canal.

There was a friendly war of the Captains. Les is an Air Canada Captain, just like Jim he took over the morning checks, just as he would when getting ready to fly. I really appreciated the short break. In fact, on Jim’s last full day he had got up early, done the morning checks and set off while I was still in bed. I had the luxury of watching the sky out of my bed (it had finally stopped raining) for a while before I too got up. What a treat.

Not that common a name, had to take a picture

While in Banbury we visited Tooley’s Boatyard. It is celebrating it’s 250th anniversary. We toured the smithy, or blacksmiths, where they were making the table decorations for the celebration the following night.

The boats used to be made of oak, so the symbolism is explained. An oak leaf and an acorn. It is a fascinating place, well worth a visit, and soon to be expanded. They have acquired an old wooden boat that they are restoring. It is great to see the history being preserved, not only here but in most places I have visited. A real improvement to our childhood visits to such places, except perhaps Stonehenge. When we were kids in the early 60’s we parked and then walked right up to them. Climbed on them and really explored. Now it is much more controlled.

Charlie and Ann
Now I know what they were doing when I was helming!
One lock was 12 feet deep. Not sure if it is this one. A bit scary, especially in March when I first did it in the wind!

I could go on and on with this post, but all good things have to end. It was a lovely, lovely time.

Bletchley Park, home of the codebreakers

This is the pretty part, the rest of the buildings are very utilitarian, dark, dingy, musty and packed with people, three quarters women.

It was an amazing day yesterday, exploring Bletchley Park. During the war it hummed with activity. At the height of the work 10,000 people worked there. Three shifts, midnight to 8 am, 8 am to 4 pm, 4 pm to midnight. Non-stop work.

Women were strongly encouraged to do war work so that young men could go off and fight, which accounts for the high numbers of women at Bletchley. There was a great sense of camaraderie, but no one knew what was going on in any other hut than their own. This was a purposeful strategy of those in charge. Each person signed the Official Secrets Act as their first action upon arriving at Bletchley, even though they did not yet know what they were going to be doing.

Reminds me of Dad’s office and his cabinets of reference cards.

These pictures are all from the introduction to Bletchley Park before you go and explore the huts and the grounds. I think they speak very well to the work that went on there, a very good overview. There is much more information about the machines they developed and Colossus that Turing had such a big part of. They were very clever, those women and men, solving the problem of high volumes of messages with machines, thinking creatively, putting messages into context by cross referencing with other intelligence. It was said several times that the work done at Bletchley shortened the war by 2 years, and after being there I can understand why. If you are planning a visit to Britain I would highly recommend this, just an hour from London by train, the train station is minutes from the park, and the Cabinet War Rooms. Together they give a very good history of the war from the British and Allies perspective.

The journey to Bletchley

We are cruising up the Grand Union Canal to Bletchley. We are presently in Leighton Buzzard. The railway, as usual, roughly parallels the canal, and that is bringing up memories for me. Do those memories ever end?

The Mallard chicks skitter around, and it is like dodgems trying to avoid them

For about 15 years my parents lived in Bletchley, and when I visited them from Canada Dad and I would often have a day together in London, and we would take the train. Milton Keynes and Bletchley are within the commuter belt of London, and the trains are frequent and take about an hour.

I believe I have already written about one of the days outings when Dad and I walked along the south embankment and he told the me about his early life with Mom, how they survived financially while he was getting his education and having children. All still during rationing, which didn’t end until sometime in the 50’s. So it has been quite stirring to slowly pass the towns on the canal that the train would have stopped in on the way to London. Who could ever forget a town who’s name is Leighton Buzzard, and the next one is Fenny Statford. In many cases the names of places are a combination of Norman French, Anglo Saxon and goodness knows what else, maybe even Latin. Dad had a pretty good handle on their origins, but they are lost on me. If he was interested in something he found out about it, before the World Wide Web, or as Peter Gzowski called it, the information super highway.

How would you like to answer, I come from Cowroast, when asked where you live.

Tomorrow we are going to Bletchley Park, the home of the codebreakers during the Second World War. While Dad was living in Bletchley he was part of the group that was trying to save Bletchley, it was going to be redeveloped. Now it is a major, and important, preserved part of our history. I am looking forward to it.

It’s a VW, don’t think it would pass diesel emissions tests on the canal

Bletchley is next to Milton Keynes. One of those towns that was consciously planned rather than grew up in bits and pieces. It was not well done. The set up many squares, and at each corner is a round about, and instead of having names they have letters and numbers and they all look alike. It is easy to get lost and disoriented, but I am sure it is better now with GPS and with SatNavs as they call them here. They also put pedestrian walk ways under the roads instead of bridges over them. Of course they were not used due to the risk of mugging and rape. I wouldn’t have used them.

Spoiled for choice, and all cask conditioned.
Where we had dinner last night. An old lock keepers cottage.

Sadly, by the time Mom and Dad moved to Bletchley Mom had largely lost interest in her creative ability. Dad and I remained close, but I drifted from Mom. Growing up I had loved to sew with her mentorship, and knit. And I learned to cook partly by being in the kitchen with her. I loved it. We made pies on Saturday morning, meat, then apple pies, basically the only kind of pie Dad would eat, no cinnamon. And then Mom would use the heat of the oven to make a rice pudding. Dads other favourite. We didn’t like it, so Mom and I would make bread and butter pudding for us.

As the years went by it was harder and harder to connect with her, and I regret not trying harder. There are so many questions that I would like to ask, and she never spoke of the past, neither of them did. I miss them both, they were so different from each other, and gave us kids the benefits of each of their skills. I often have dreams with them in it which I very much enjoy. It is like a little visit with them.

A modest days take

My latest hobby. I was disgusted by the rubbish in the canals around London and Birmingham. The rural ones are less offensive, but still lots of garbage. I bought the grabber on Leyton High Street, 1.55 pounds, and have filled at least 5 bags with garbage. This is today’s take, including a kids soother. That rope would have loved to have wound itself around a propeller. Yesterday’s included a shoe, mens, large, and a huge thick plastic bag. I think this is going to be an ongoing habit. I read Junk Raft about microscopic plastic in the oceans filling fish so that they think they are full, but actually starving. Now I have read that cigarette buts are worse than straws. Owen Sound doesn’t know what will have hit it when I move there.

Little robin red breast. I have to take pictures on the fly, and I almost missed it. Sorry it is not quite in focus.

36 hours on board Little Star

I was happily going along, single handed, on the Grand Union Canal going west out of London when I cruised around a corner to see a massive tree across the canal.

I moored up and stayed the night. There was no other choice and no other way round. I was meeting my friend Anne from Canada the next day, and very luckily it was very close to the place I had planned to meet her.

I called the CRT, Canal and River Trust, and they already knew about it, but a tree had fallen on a boat further up the canal and that was their priority. There were people trapped on board.

The boat destroyed by the fallen tree. So sad.

They said they would be there the next day, Sunday.

Sure enough, 8.30 am and a workman was on site. Over the next few hours they winched the trunk onto the bank and sawed off a bit, and winched some more.

I picked up Anne from the railway station, we did a bit of shopping and went back to the boat. We had lunch and by the time we were done the canal was cleared, and all the other boaters along the canal were coming by to pick up the wood for firewood.

We got underway, and somewhere along the line we met up with another boat going in the same direction as we were. That is a good thing because we can share the lock and lighten the lock load or opening the paddles and gates. We had done about three locks and were navigating another one. Their boat was in the lock and ours was entering it. A woman from the other boat misjudged the lay of the land, it fell away steeply, and she ended up having to try and run down it. Unfortunately there was a retaining wall at the bottom and she could not stop herself. She jumped and fell very badly. I watched it all from the boat, and Anne saw it from the bow. I could see immediately that her right ankle was badly injured. They were attending to her and I asked if they wanted me to call an ambulance. I called and gave them all the info and they arrived in about 10 minutes. Good old NHS, or what is left of it. When I spoke to Dr. Jane, my sister, about it and she said she hoped that it got quick attention because an ankle dislocation has to be reduced very quickly to have a good outcome. I certainly hope she got good care. She was in a lot of distress and discomfort and it was hard not being able to relieve any of it except to try and make her as comfortable as possible. As you can imagine that was a bit of an emotional event for all involved.

Shortly after that Anne and I moored up for the night. During the night, during my wakefulness times and going to the bathroom I felt that something wasn’t quite right, but I checked out the window and we were still moored. We had not begun to float down the canal. I checked several times. Our wake up was an almightly crash from the kitchen. All the boxes of food, pots and pans, salad bowls and casseroles were on the floor, along with a prize winning bottle of maple syrup which was a present from Anne. It was broken. What a mess. The maple syrup had won first prize at the Royal Winter Fair, a significant achievement to us Canadians.

We were grounded, not only that, we were on a tilt.

Anne was a trouper, and got right down to cleaning up while I called the CRT. Again, they had already heard about the fact that the water in the pound, the space between two locks, had gone down a foot overnight. After cleaning up and cleaning up, maple syrup is very sticky, we went out for breakfast. 1 mile up hill. By the time we had eaten a traditional English breakfast and got back to the boat we were afloat. Phew.

So Anne had the full meal deal in her first 36 hours. She has not jumped ship, but has embraced the life, anticipating many of the things that have to be done on board. I am very impressed. And is very proficient on the locks and has taken to helming with aplomb. I had coffee in bed this morning as I responded to my accountant about my tax return.

It has been smooth sailing, opps, cruising, since then. A good day today, we have made our targets and some. Hopefully we will get to Bletchley and be able to go to Bletchely Park where the decoders worked during the war.

Memories. Light the corners of my mind. Misty watercolour memories. Of the way we were.

If you are too young to get this reference just enjoy the sentiment.

The new location. Love the wisteria
Chalk Farm Underground on the Northern Line, opposite the old location

What a blast from the past the visit to Camden Lock and Haverstock Hill was.

Hazelnut and Pistachio ice cream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Way off the Weight Watchers points counter.

I normally eat a very health diet, excluding wine, but on this day breakfast was an almond croissant and flat white, and lunch was an ice cream sundae.

Camden Market now
This is Krissy

Jane and I spotted this knitwear store in the market. I think we tried on about a third of the merchandise and had a blast doing it. The artist, Penny Burdett, has been creating knitwear on a knitting machine for 30 years. Of course we both bought something. The designer was not there, but Krissy, the person who patiently helped us, is a designer in her own right. How great is that! When I was first in Canada I applied to a clothing design course at George Brown College. I was accepted but did not think I had the creativity to do it. I didn’t think I could be original. I wonder where my life would have led me if I had chosen that path. But Krissy is young, and she did, and I wish her all the best of luck and success.

I also had no idea that Jane met Simon in Camden Lock! This is the exact location that Simon had his bike shop and Jane took hers in to be repaired. Not long after that the bike was stolen, and she asked Simon to make her a another one. Simon was the consummate re-cycler, way back in the 70’s. He built bikes completely out of used parts and made them pieces of art. One that he made her had 1cm black and white squares all over it, just like a NY cab. It too was eventually stolen. It was either that one, or one that he customized with her name on the cross bar that she saw being ridden around London years later. From that union we have our wonderful nephews Edmund and Lucien, and now Edmund has a son of his own.

Ruben doing dishes.

Jane and I moored the boat at St. Pancras Cruising Club while we were in London. It is a tiny club, 100 members tucked under the rail line going into St. Pancras Station. The Eurostar went past Little Star many times a day, and into the evening, but we were able to sleep. This is the view from the boat. Old gas storage units were moved to this location, three were made into apartments and the fourth is a park, the one on the left. Not a bad view. The next pictures are a 360 view from the boat at the club.

The above shots are a 360 view from the boat

The water tower in one of the pictures was moved to this site as were the gas storage units. Preserving history, just not in the original place. The water tower is the temporary club house of the cruising club until they build their new one. Jane and I were given a tour, amazing views but I didn’t have my camera.

Some last pictures:

With Suzie Elkin on the boat
Our berth at the Cruising Club, after I pulled out.

Easter Eggs

Jane and I are now in London on the Regents Canal, which is part of the Grand Union Canal. It is the same and different from what I expected.

The Harrow Road
Clematis growing wild beside the canal

I was expecting a lot more evidence of the industrial age. The backs of factories and industrial buildings. There is very little of that. However we have seen double decker red buses going over canal bridges, and an aqueduct goes over the North Circular Road. We traveled up through 11 locks on the Brentford arm of the Grand Union, then we entered a very long pound, 13 or 14 miles along the Paddington section of the Grand Union, and it changes name to the Regent Canal at Paddington. Lovely to just cruise along with no locks. What was not very pleasurable was the state of the canals. They are full of plastic, and junk. So so much. And the poor birds (I couldn’t help feeling that, and wishing that they knew there were clean canal elsewhere) were using the plastic and rubbish in their nests.

They are building their nests, are sitting on eggs, and there are now chicks. So exciting to see. We are seeing coots, which nest in the river on floating mounds next to the bank, moorehens, swans, Canada geese, Mallards and other brightly coloured ducks.

We are also having to clear the propeller regularly. We found this in the weed hatch yesterday, completely intact. I was gob smacked as they say here.

Jane worked at Dingwells Night Club in 1973 when she was in medical school. Back then Camden Lock was undeveloped and the night club was a bit if a gamble. Now Camden Lock and Camden Market are a hopping trendy place, full of food kiosks, hand crafts and breweries. We provided entertainment for the crowds hanging out there when we went through the lock and I was able to get this shot

During the summers of 73 and 74 I worked at Marine Ices, an Italian ice cream parlour serving gelato before it was called gelato in the UK. It is just up the street on Haverstock Hill Road, opposite the Chalk Farm Underground, and the Roundhouse Theatre. Theatre goers would come over during intermission and get ice creams from our window service. If you ordered a coffee you got a cappuccino. You could choose from 6 kinds of filter coffee served in an individual filter. Knickerbocker Glory, Chocolate Nut Sundae, Banana Split, Vesuvius. The Mansi family were from Amalfi. It has moved and changed hands but I still visited. It is a real blast from the past being here.

Yes, that is a person asleep in a hammock beside the canal

The Magna Carta: The beginning of the end of absolute monarchs in Britain

Curiously erected by the American Bar Association

Magna Carta Libertatum (Medieval Latin for “the Great Charter of the Liberties”) [wikipedia] The Magna Carta, signed by King John on June 15, 1215 at Runnymede on the bank of the River Thames curtailed the power of the king and made him subject to the rule of law. He was pressured into signing it to prevent civil war. He was a deeply unpopular king. Great Britain does not have a constitution as Canada and the US have, it has a collection of documents and laws which outline the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Of course in the beginning these liberties were for the nobles, and have gradually come to include women and other “minorities” Not sure how 50% of the population can be a minority, but we certainly were under the law.

Another iteration of the Magna Carta, coming into our lock!

When I was studying Tudor history for my “O” levels, think Owls in the Harry Potter series, Thomas More made a deep impression on me. He advocated for freedom of speech. From https://englishhistory.net/tudor/citizens/sir-thomas-more/: In April 1523, he was elected speaker of the House of Commons. His position at court meant that he was to be the king’s advocate before parliament. But to More’s credit, he made an impassioned plea for greater freedom of speech in parliament. Such was his reputation that the the great universities – Oxford and Cambridge – made him high steward.

Sadly it did not prevent Henry VIII from beheading him when he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy confirming the King as the head of the Church of England. Thomas More was a devout Catholic. Henry hounded his Lord Chancellor Wolsey to death and beheaded both More and Cromwell after they had taken the job. It is a wonder that anyone was willing to take it on.

Today, as we cruised up the Thames towards Brentford and the Grand Union Canal we passed Syon House. Ironically it is the house in which Catherine Howard was housed before her execution by Henry VIII for adultery in 1541, but also the house that Henry’s body was lodged on the journey to his funeral in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. His coffin burst open and dogs were found eating his body. The twists and turns of history.

Coming beside us in the lock

It has made me interested in finding out more about the formation of our constitutional history.

Yesterday we passed Windsor Castle, and you can see from the flag flying that the queen was in residence, it was Good Friday. I think that a plane went over the castle about once every 30 seconds

Windsor Castle and plane

Monarch liked to travel up and down the Thames to get to their castles, and today we passed Hampton Court. Built by Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England and a papal Cardinal (talk about divided loyalties) he was bullied into giving it to Henry VIII as he was descending in power. If you have a chance to tour the Tudor kitchens it is worth the price of entry. Until recently it also housed minor royals who had fallen on hard times

Tudor Hampton Court
Georgian Hampton Court and the Magna Carta, again

Not just royals like living beside the Thames. It is a favourite of the 1% as well:

You get the picture

But we did also see more human scale homes for us ordinary folk, and some of them even looked affordable on a regular salary

New definition of a container ship.
Claims to be the worlds friendliest pub for dogs. There was a dog at nearly every table on the patio.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last few days of cruising down the Thames with my sister Jane. It is wide, so it is difficult to bump into anything and easier to take pictures at the helm. It is a bit faster than the canal because you have to go just a bit faster than the river. The locks are all manned, or womanned, so all we had to do was hold onto the lines as the boat went down into the lock. However, finding a place to moor up was a little bit challenging. You turn in the river so that you are going up stream and hope that the place you saw is actually a mooring spot. One night we became quite grounded. However, we went up a bit and moored outside the above pub. Quite lovely. It was a hot day and we were able to have a meal outside overlooking the river.

Mistletoe not nests in the trees of Windsor Park. It is a parasite.
Delicious blue stilton. 220 grams, less than $3

The difference in prices for commodities between Canada and England are interesting. Here cheese is very cheap, but anything to do with energy, such as gas, electricity, and things that consume a lot of energy are expensive. The laundry is about $10 per load for wash and dry. Food in pubs and restaurants is more expensive, but the wages of the staff reflect the fact that tipping is not expected, and never more than 12%. Taxes are included in the price. So it is easy to see what you are spending. In contrast to Canada where you add 13% tax, and then up to 20% tip to the cost of each item. I think it works out about the same.

Last but not least, Jane and I went to the River and Rowing Museum appropriately situated in Henley on Thames. Part of the museum talked about the flotilla of boats that went to Dunkirk to save the servicemen on the beaches. The following is a quote from the 1600’s that still applies today.

A potted history of Georgian Architecture in Bath

The road is an addition for our obsession with cars.

Bath is very easy on the eyes. Bath stone, limestone I have discovered, is a lovely creamy colour and when every building is the same colour is makes for a soothing architectural background to the city. Not only is every building the same colour, but there are dramatic building facades which makes for a very cohesive “look” to the city. This did not happen by accident.

The attraction of Bath as a city to “take the waters” for such ailments as gout, melancholy and everything in between really got going in the early Georgian era, i.e. early 1700’s, and of course the city had to expand to meet the accommodation needs of the increased number of bathers. As sometimes happily happens the right people were in the right place at the right time to create a city that has been designated a World Heritage Site en mass.

John Wood was one of those people, and the story goes like this. This was the age of enlightenment. Which means that people, substitute men, were exploring the natural world, and taking the Grand Tour. A bit like a gap year. Those young men became enamoured of ancient Greece and Rome and desired to reproduce that esthetic in Britain. Bath was expanding rapidly and John Wood bought properties and then designed classical facades such as the span of the Royal Crescent. Then he did that peculiar English thing of creating 99 year land leases of the land behind the facade, all divided into separate lots. These lots were available for speculative builders to acquire and build a house. So the frontage is a unified design but the back is the creation of each individual builder, building next to each other. Clever. Then they sold the building and land lease.

The Circle.

The result is a lovely facade, but a real jumble behind. There was a great demand for short term rentals so many were a kind of boarding house, offering everything from rooms to suites to floors, depending on whether you were pseudo gentry or the real thing. Apparently they are a real mixed bag of design and construction. Sadly, I did not look behind the buildings to see what the back looked like. I wish I had. The Circle, above, was designed so that wherever you entered the circle you saw an amazing facade. While at the Architectural Museum in Bath I learned about columns, and came up with the following to keep them in order. DIC D is for Doric, the simplest column, then I for Ionic and C for Corinthian, the most fancy. The relationship between the circumference (or perhaps width), and the height are ingrained in stone, literally. Check them out on Duck Duck Go (not google) to see what they look like.

Pseudo gentry and the real gentry mixed at the Assembly Rooms. Beau Nash was the unofficial Master of Ceremonies from 1704 to 1761.

His position was unofficial, but nevertheless he had extensive influence in the city until early 1761. He would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers or warning players against risky games or cardsharps). Wikipedia

Which brings me to Jane Austen. Her shrewd observations of human nature were honed during her years in Bath and many of her novels were set there. There is, of course, a Jane Austen centre which I visited. I love her insights into human behaviour and I am tempted to listen to all her books again as I travel the canals. She was the pseudo gentry, a clergyman’s daughter, who, unlike her characters, did not marry. In fact resisted marriage. Not a woman typical of her era where social status was dictated by your marriage. Not a great era for women.

Moving along.

I have been single handing for a few days now, and have enjoyed many aspects of it. I have climbed up from the bottom of a lock with rope and windlass in hand, but I am happy to say that I have not had to climb down into the lock when I have been going “downhill”. Luckily, at every lock there have been people who have helped me through going downhill. Not least the volunteers this morning. Water is low in the Kennet part of the Kennet and Avon Canal, and this morning I was grounded by water flowing out of the pound over night. It seeps through the locks. I went to open the locks then get my boat ungrounded. Lock volunteers showed up and helped me get the bow unstuck, the stern was already free. Then they accompanied me through a number of locks. At each of the succeeding locks there were people who helped me so I could avoid that climb down the ladder. It was not so much the climb that worried me, it was transferring from the ladder to the boat at the bottom, which potentially could be moving around of its own free accord. Phew. Now it is done, and I await the arrival of my sister Jane and her partner Martin tomorrow.

Right now I am in thatched cottage country, in this case, Great Bedwyn. Don’t you love the names? When I was growing up thatched cottages were as far away from my every day reality as Toronto was. They look good, but I hear that the thatch has to be replaced every twenty years. No problem, say north americans, but here tile and slate roofs last for life, that is, life of the building. I have never understood why we use roofing material that has to be replaced every 15 to 20 years in Canada.

Last, but not least, I have to talk about the SUV’s of the canal, the double wides, or broadbeams as they are called.

He said it.

The bow of Wide Boy

Huge and imposing. I am not sure I could easily get into the skin of these boats they seem so big, and the only place I have experienced them so far is on the Kennet and Avon. When they are coming down the canal they are not easy to pass. There is a great risk of going aground. They are not an apartment afloat, they are the whole house.

I have already seen Mallard chicks but could not quite get a picture. Will try again, and the catkins are out. Very chilly nights and mornings, and a chilly breeze, but I couldn’t have been luckier with the weather. It has been a milder than usual winter with lots of sunshine. I do feel very very lucky. Almost half way through my time on Little Star. Can’t quite believe that either.

Not the original White Horse. When does the copy become authentic? Don’t know for sure what the yellow crop is, mustard maybe.
Another bow shot. Late afternoon on April 12th. Gorgeous.

Tea for the Tillerman

How many times have I listened to that album by Cat Stevens and never given a thought to the title. I don’t know what he meant by it, but it has new meaning for me. When you are at the tiller you can not make a cup of tea! Someone else has to make it for you or you have to stop and make one. Tea and diesel are how narrowboats run.

Note the weights on the gates, 3004 kg each!

I left Bath a couple of days ago, and that is another story for later in the post, and I am single handing. Helming Little Star by myself. After two months of experience I finally feel ready for this challenge. It does take a little more preparation, or should I say thought, in the morning to get ready to go. There is no second person to ask to bring the maps to the back because you forgot, or to get the windlass out, or make you a cup of tea.

I was ready to leave Bath in the morning, was psyched for singlehanding. Got everything ready and went to start the boat. It wouldn’t start. Tried a few times but no go. Called Cheshire Cat Narrowboats and had to arrange a call out from RCR (River Craft Rescue?) Brendon arrived at 2.30 pm and began checking things out. Eventually it was revealed that it was the solenoid. Now I own a car, but I don’t particularly want to know how it runs or how to fix it, I just want it to safely get me from A to B. The same applies to boats, but I have been picking things up along the ways. So, from my understanding, a solenoid helps with either turning on or turning off the boat. A replacement is going to be a challenge, so until then a work around was figured out which is not quite as easy as turning off the engine with the key but it works.

Visual interlude, Bath from above. Went to climb a tower but it was closed. This is from a cemetery which will make some people smile.

So I finally got away at 4 pm. Went til 7 ish and had dinner with my nephew Lucien which was lovely.

When you single had you are on the look out for other boats to buddy up with, and the Canal and River Trust do prefer that you go through wide locks two at a time. As I approached the Caen flight at Devizes that is what happened, and we went through 31 locks together, in the rain.

Looking up the main flight. Quite different weather from the way down
Two boats decreases the tossing around that can happen when the water comes in, and the need for a steadying rope.

Now, after I finish this post it is a long pound, the distance between locks. Maybe a swing bridge or two. Been sitting in Cafe Nero, charging up, backing up. That is another post. Time to get going.

Attics and Basements

We humans love to acquire things, and this inlcude people who live on narrowboats. In north america most homes are built with a basement. For basement read: a place to put things that you not quite ready to part with but don’t have any present use for. Or, I know this will come in useful for something, I just don’t know what yet. Or, I inherited all this stuff from my parents and I don’t know what to do with it. Or, I will just put this downstairs until…. In my case, until one of my sisters came and sorted it out. I began to call all accumulated stuff “yesterday work”. I had moved on but the clutter hadn’t, it was created yesterday and today I don’t want to spend my time dealing with it.

Some of us never have to. My last surviving aunt moved into a retirement residence when she was in her very late 90’s. She literally walked out of the home where she and her husband had lived since the mid to late 40’s. Over seventy years of accumulated stuff from life, various hobbies, sewing to lapidary work, painting to who knows what. My cousins had to sort it out in a hurry as they live far and wide across Canada. They worked together for a week pretty well non-stop. Another friend helped his friends who were unexpectedly made executors of a hoarders estate to sort out a whole house stuffed with possessions, including over 50 kimonos. So many that the Japanese Cultural Centre in Toronto could not take them all. My own sisters, Sally and Mary, sorted out Mom and Dad’s home, including over 4,000 books that Dad had in his two libraries, Roman history books, and steam railway books. I am eternally thankful to them.

I, on the other hand did it for myself, but with the help of all of my sisters. Lucky, lucky me. The basement terrified me.

Aside note: This is not how I thought the beginning of the posting would go. As usual, the writing takes over and hauls me in different directions. I will now try to get back to my main theme!

Narrowboats don’t have basements. Nor do they have attics, the sort of British equivalent. I say sort of because attics are a bit harder to get into than walking down steps to a basement. So I think that anything that ends up in an attic has taken a bit more consideration than “I will put it downstairs and think about it later” Not quite so much of a dumping ground. But we humans do accumulate things, sometimes it seems on an almost daily basis. And on a narrowboat, if there is no room inside, it ends up on the roof.

So once again, narrowboats express the full range of human characteristics. Some are totally uncluttered, the owners have found places for all their possessions, and if there isn’t space, out it goes. Others accumulate, and onto the roof it goes. I am impressed by life on a narrowboat. I don’t have all my kitchen gadgets, but I manage to cook meals that I enjoy. I don’t have my full wardrobe of clothes but manage to dress to “go into town”, and to be ready for all weather on the boat. It is a little bit harder to loose something on a narrowboat because there a fewer places to look! And there is a sense of achievement when you organize an area so that it functions well. I wonder if I can transfer that skill back to my home on dry land when that happens later this year.

And human beings are gardeners as well, and we have seen some amazing gardens on the top of narrowboats. I wish I had got a better picture of this one but it can be difficult to take a picture while your hand is on the tiller, especially when the camera is your cell phone. Mine needs to be unlocked and now that it is inside a waterproof case that has to be done with a code not my finger print. Then I have to turn on the camera, hold it up to get the picture and try and snap. All the while steering the boat and hopefully not bumping into something or running aground. But I have managed to get shots that work:

Obviously I wasn’t on the helm for this one!
Mary was delighted to see two different herons fly around the boat. I haven’t seen that yet.
This was a side canal leading to a small community of boats next to a aqueduct.
From the aqueduct. Yes, someone was swimming on April 1st
Going over the aqueduct, after lunching beside it.
I seem to like bridges framing pictures….

We have been having some glorious weather, and the countryside is beautiful. We are in Bath, and have come through Bradford on Avon which are very architecturally interesting towns, mainly built of creamy stone. I should know whether it is sandstone, or ??? but I don’t, yet. I hope to go to the Bath architectural museum in the next few days. It certainly makes the journey along the Kennet and Avon canal worth it, with all its heavy clunky lock gates and hard to budge swing bridges, and difficult to moor at sides. We have used the gangplank a number of times, including here in Bath.

In Trowbridge
Primula growing wild. A favourite of mine
The Snug in a pub was where couples courted, away from prying eyes
Everyone should have a street named after them
Bradford on Avon
Bradford on Avon
Bradford on Avon
Saxon Church, Bradford on Avon
I could live in this house!
The Crescent, Bath Five million per house, pounds that is.
The Circle, Bath

Would I recommend visiting this part of the world? Yes, absolutely!

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