A Meandering Mann

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

10,000 Hours

Courtyard leading to the Scuola del Cuoio, 2016

Some time ago I was listening to a CBC radio program where they were discussing what made a band successful in the long term. The person being interviewed believed it was a long period of playing together before a band became famous. He used the Beatles as an example. Long before they were successful in Britain, and subsequently around the world, they played gig after gig in Hamburg in the fall of 1960. Four and a half hours a night during the week, and 6 hours on Saturday and Sunday. They were honing their craft, both individually and as a band. He cited the 10,000 hour theory, which in part states that practice, practice, practice is an essential part of success in accomplishing goals. Of course there is great controversy about whether natural skill plays a part, but the old saying goes “practice makes perfect”. I am drawing comfort from the 10,000 hour rule at this moment in time.

This is my work station, the picture was taken in 2016

In the summer of 2016 I was touring Italy with friends and my sister Mary joined me in Florence, Firenze. She came upon the Scuola del Cuoio while visiting the Basilica Sante Croce, it is attached at the back. She insisted that I see it. When not entering by the Basilica you come through the courtyard above. On the left side of the courtyard was a large room with a beautiful vaulted brick ceiling and obviously a leather working workshop. I was intrigued. We visited the retail store and picked up a brochure about courses they offered and my mind began to plan a way to work a course into my retirement. It was one of those times when you see something and it just felt right. So here I am.

The course began four days ago and we have been learning techniques at a terrific rate, one could say “like hell bent for leather”. Sciving, or skiving, which I knew to mean playing hooky from school, or generally getting out of something that you didn’t want to do, now means reducing the thickness of leather at the edges allowing it to be folded more easily. Net now does not mean your income after expenses have been deducted, but the pattern that is the same size as the finished leather item. Several, maybe even four or five, times a day the teacher gathers us around to demonstrate a new technique or the next step in what we are making. By the end of day three we had produced our first item. I made a document case. I really didn’t want an eyeglass case, or a phone case, so I bigged it up. Made it a bit more challenging, but how was I to know that, not knowing much of anything at the time.

My first finished item, don’t look too closely.

We are experiencing an apprenticeship that would have taken years and years in times gone by condensed into 10 weeks. Which is why I take comfort from the 10,000 hour theory. By day three my mind was giving me some pretty bad self-talk because I wasn’t doing everything perfectly first time, or sometimes even second time. My ruler would slip while I was cutting, my measuring would be off my a millimeter or two so a pattern would have to be re-done. And then I had to get a grip and get realistic. It was day three. And I have just about 10,000 more hours in my life to practice before I am perfect. It helps to keep the bad self-talk down.

Tools of the trade. And some big scary machines, not pictured.

Firenze fact. You don’t put your garbage, recycling and organic waste out to be collected, you deposit it in bins that are placed fairly frequently around town. So when I leave in the morning I take a bag of recycling, or organic waste or garbage and walk it to the community bin. I am staying in the historical district, so I don’t know if this applies everywhere.

How far did we go?

People on Board From – to Miles Locks
Sally, Trevor, Lucien and Dani Overwater – Chester- Overwater 47 26
Sue and Katherine Overwater to Kinver 48 48
Katherine Kinver to Saltisford Arm, Warwick 62 113
Mary, with guests Wendy and Dan in Reading Saltifsord Arm, Warwick to Bath 179 175
Single handed Bath to Great Bedwyn 42 56
Jane and Martin Great Bedwyn to Thatcham 17 26
Jane Thatcham to St Pancras Cruising Club 95 53
Single handed with guests Mary and Suzie at Camden Lock St. Pancras Cruising Club to Bridge 191, Grand Union Canal, Main Branch 19 3
Anne Bridge 191, Grand Union Canal to Fenny Stratford, 45 68
Jim and Karen Fenny Stratford to Banbury 65 42
Jim, Karen, Cathy, Les, Mary, Charlie, Ann Banbury to Cropredy to Banbury 10 10
Cathy and Les Banbury to Kidlington 21 14
Single handed Kidlington to Bossoms Marina, Oxford 6 5
John, Martin and Daniel Bossoms Marina to Lechlade 29 11
John, Martin and Daniel, with guests Julia and Carla as far as Kelmscot Lechlade to Oxford 30 11
Sally, Wendy and Derek, and their dog Blue Oxford to Banbury 27 17
Single handed Banbury to Napton on the Hill 20 20
Derek Napton to Atherston 41.5 9
Single handed Atherston to Stone 43.5 19
Sandra Stone to Sandbach  24 36
Single handed Sandbach to Overwater Marina 20.5 11


891.5 773
Single handed
124 136

Well, this looks a bit like a dogs breakfast! I wish I was more tech savvy because the whole spreadsheet shows the dates and the canals traveled, but I can’t even expand the locks column, never mind figure out how to get the other columns to show up when I cut and paste it over here.

The numbers are pretty impressive though, I think. Well done everyone, it was a great adventure from beginning to end, rain, sleet, thunderstorms, wind and lovely sunshine. Lots of laughter, great company and great food, with some culture thrown in from time to time.

The Secret Bunker

Taking leave of Little Star

Each time I have driven in and out of Overwater Marina I have passed “The Secret Bunker”. Sally and Trevor came to collect me and all my accumulated gear but we had time to finally explore the Bunker. It felt like an interesting continuation of visiting Bletchley, the 2nd World War code breaking centre. The Secret Bunker is all about what came next, the Cold War, the background of my childhood. The Bunker is dense with information, but not well curated. I have been very impressed with the curation of places such as Bletchley, Blenheim, and a few years ago, the Cabinet War Room and Hampton Court. As a child I and my siblings were dragged around from boring museum to boring museum. Specimens in a display case completely out of context with their everyday use. Then I went to exhibits at the Museum of Ethnology near Piccadilly in the early 70’s and everything changed. There was a Bedouin village and a street representing a market in north Africa somewhere, contrasting the different lifestyles. So amazing. So the bar is set pretty high these days. And I am sorry to say that the Bunker did not make the grade. Maybe it is privately owned, or underfunded by the ministry of defence, but it needs an infusion of Lottery money to transform it. I think it has an important part to play today.

I learned about ICBM’s (inter continental ballistic missiles) in high shool when I was 12 or 13. We did not practice nuclear bomb drills the way that my cousins did in Canada, basically hide under your desks, but it was always hanging over my, and I imagine many others, head. We never spoke about it. It was too awful and scary. The Bunker was all about detecting a nuclear attack should it be happening, and giving the public warning. 4 minutes warning. What were we supposed to do? To my mind, back then, no one would survive, and given what would happen to the planet, who would want to. But there were companies willing to sell you a fall out shelter.

My question would be, what happened if you were on holiday when the attack happened? Four minutes is not long enough even to get home from work. So there was all this elaborate planning to let the public know of the impending attack, and there were provisions for the people who were monitoring the attack to be safe underground, and there were systems to measure the fallout, but realistically, what was the benefit to the people who were just about to be vapourised?

My parents certainly never built a fallout shelter, and it was not discussed at home. We just lived with the tension of worrying that it might happen.

I think the Secret Bunker has a big role to play in education about a world under threat of nuclear war as we seem to be heading back in that direction at this moment in time. And how helpless we really are should it happen. How I would have loved to have been a curator.

Merry Meet, Merry Part, Merry Meet Again. Little Star’s crew and visitors

What a rich adventure I have had, not least because of all the lovely people that have joined me, for an hour or a month!

February 2019

My sister Sally who has gone above and beyond with her help, collecting things for the boat and ferrying me to the boat and then bringing summer stuff and taking winter stuff back with her. And my nephew Lucien, my steering coach.
Trevor, Sally’s sidekick.
Dani and Lucien conferring. A candle in a gin bottle for mood lighting.
Katherine and Sue arriving
Sue driving. Happy as a lark.
Diver, Zoey’s favourite toy, she had to come along.
Katherine on the towpath. Our first al fresco lunch, in February!
Katherine, enjoying helming

March 2019

My sister Mary who joined me for March. We navigated the first stretch of the Thames together, along with the heavy and stiff locks on the Kennet and Avon canal.

My first cousin, once removed, Wendy, and her friend Dan. They joined Mary and I for a couple of hours in Reading.

A star on Little Star. My great nephew Ruben.
He had to bring his parents, nephew Edmund, and wife Laura holding the phone!
Laura, Ruben’s Mum.
Getting ready for the Anti-Brexit march. Mary with college friends Suzie on the right of the picture, Sarah on the left. Suzie later visited the boat in Camden

Suzie and David’s son Jamie and his wife Helen with their son Robin stepped onto the boat for very short visits in Bath. I visited them at their home in Frome, pronounced Froom!

April 2019

Sister Jane on board in April
Martin, Janes’ partner, came on board for a weekend. Don’t know why I don’t have a photo from then, but here he is at a wine tasting at Big Head winery last summer.

Jane was on board for the return trip along the Kennet and Avon and the second stretch on the Thames.

May 2019

Anne Chetwynd with the prizewinning maple syrup that broke when the pound ran dry and the boat listed violently
Anne, very quickly comfortable with the locks

Then came cousins, from the Oakden branch of the family, Mums sister’s children.

Cousin Jim and wife Karen visited for the first week of May. Jim is Wendy’s uncle, they live in Fernie, BC so this was a great way to get to know them

Karen broke her leg while skiing in January and lost her walking stick in the canal. We could not recover it. Here she is holding her temporary walking aid, a glove and apron over a stick.

We had a mini family reunion in Banbury, the Manns and Oakdens.

From left to right, Jim with Mary, Ann and brother Charlie, and Cathy.

Sally, with cousin Cathy and husband Les. Cathy is aunt to Wendy.
Sally and Les

Next were my Hastings neighbours, Martin and Daniel, and my cousin John from Dad’s side of the family.

Julia and Carla

June 2019

Derek and Wendy, friends of Sally’s came for a few days, along with Sally, then Derek came back by himself to get more of a taste of narrowboating.

Last, but certainly not least, Sandra. One of my earliest massage clients and now friend.


Rain in June, persistent rain

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Yep, it is raining, and it has been for quite a while. Oh for the days in February when we had a picnic beside the Droitwich Canal, or similar days in March and April, and May. It has been a very dry winter and spring, and I have been the glad recipient of wonderful unseasonable weather along my canal journey, but the tables are turned, and it is wet, in June. The month that I anticipated summer clothes and sandals is actually rain gear and the heat on in the evening to dry it out for the next day. I sincerely hope it is better for my last crew member, she is one of my very first clients from the early 80’s, who is joining me this weekend.

Who could resist a boat named after them? If I was to do this again, perhaps it would have to be a Maggie boat, but I have enjoyed Little Star. Such a lovely name. She reminds me of The Little Engine That Could. She just chugs along and gets on with it, at her own speed. But what about a boat named after a country:

I caught this on the fly, between rain drops and picking up garbage, rubbish in English English, from the canal.

This is two days worth from the Coventry Canal and the Birmingham and Fazely Canal. That is only the stuff that I grabbed while I am also steering the boat. Such a sense of achievement when I grab it, such sorry when I miss, or can’t reach it, or it is on the other side of the boat. So, there is an organization from Australia that is promoting plasticfreejuly.org. And on the BBC on Monday was War on Plastic with Hugh and Anita (that is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani) who are exploring reducing our use of single use plastics. It has got me thinking and thinking as I drive along, grabbing plastic, mainly plastic, out of the canal about how I can re-train myself about single use plastic. And it really does come down to re-training ourselves. So watch this space for future workshops on making your own re-usable vegetable bags when I am home in Owen Sound.

Which brings me to magnet fishing. This really is a thing. My friend Sue sent me links to YouTube about it which were amazing, but I saw one today on the canal. He had found mainly big stuff.

You can tell by their clothes that it was not a hot and sunny day
The graffiti isn’t bad, but it is the bike and scooter he found.
Finally, a lonely windmill in the south
Gorgeous poppies
Those beautiful yellow irises

Just in case you are feeling too sorry for me I had a break in single handing for a few days. Derek really wanted to do more narrowboating so while his wife was away in sunny Spain with my sister Sally for a preliminary 60th birthday celebration he came back to the boat. He took the helm, and it rained and rained and rained. On his second night the wind was so strong, gusting from every direction, and the rain was so heavy that I could not sleep. It was the worst night storm of my whole adventure and I am glad he was aboard. So every day we heard about how wonderful and sunny it was in Spain and we got soaked. Him more than me. But in my defense I cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner, and got a lot of paper work done. The detritus of our lives that collects and collects until we have to do something about it. Not surprisingly a tree came down over the canal as a result of that storm and we had to halt at about 3 pm. We booked dinner in a local pub and walked there at 5.30 pm and by the time we came home, about 8 pm it was done. Well done, sub-contractors of the Canal and River Trust.

You may have to enlarge the picture to see the tree
Iconic canal bridge. This would have been for the horses to change from the towpath on one side of the canal to the other.

So many pictures….

Daniel at the helm on the Thames
River Thames, Longworth. It is supposed to be a video, but doesn’t appear to be.
John holding the boat steady in a lock on the Thames
Lawn daisies at the Trout Inn
Trout Inn at Tadpole Bridge
Martin and Maggie
The lock keepers look after the gardens. Some have very green thumbs.
Haunting
Wisteria in Lechlade.
Is Tonka Toys a world wide brand? They made or still make small trucks and cars for kids.
I love the drama of the clouds
Kelmscott Manor
Greylag Geese with chicks, or could be White-fronted Geese
Crops agrowing, barley? Oats?
Try pronouncing that….
Kingston Bagpuize, Georgian Manor with Redwoods
Trying the Manor life on for size.
Memories of Morse
Hertford College
Bodlein Library. One of their sites. They have the right to a copy of every book published in the U.K. Maybe Dad’s published PhD thesis is buried on one of their shelves. All of Harry Potter?
Christ Church
Oxford Pride
Returning from a concert in Oxford
Worcester College Quad, side one
Worcester College Quad, side two
Worcester College Quad, side three. What a place to go to university! What a sense of entitlement it must engender.
Me again
University Church of St Mary the Virgin. That is a mouthful, and was she a virgin?
View from the spire
All Souls College
Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Anne Hathaway’s childhood home.
John, Daniel, Martin. Daniel lost his sunglasses…. had to buy these.
Going to look this up. A lot about plastics in the papers this week. I have been treating myself to the Saturday Guardian. I know, it contradicts my desire to bury my head in the sand about world events.
Derek and Wendy
Had to end with this. Yep, glad it is not recorded, anywhere.

The kindness of strangers and those wonderful volunteers.

Cygnets. Mom and Dad were close by.

It has been an amazing experience to have traveled through the seasons as well as travel the canals. I began in darkest winter, literally dark by about 4 pm, but I could see right into the distance during the day – there were no leaves on the trees. And hardly any boats moving on the canal. As we moved into spring the birds began to mate, and build nests. And the flowers came and then the leaves on the trees. So many daffodils! A personal favourite. And then the lambs and chicks came. It is almost impossible not to count how chicks or cygnets there are in a family group, and it is quite a challenge. They skitter all over the place, it is as if they hydrofoil, they paddle with their feet so quickly that they rise up out of the water and wizz along the surface. They almost seem drawn to passing in front of the boat even though Mom is on the opposite side. Then they chirp like crazy trying to find her after they are on the wrong side. I have had to abandon coming in to a mooring because one was between the canal side and the boat. Finally it scampered away, if you can scamper in water.

Now the grass is even greener, the fields are filled with crops including rape, which we call canola, and the trees are in full leaf so my view is limited unless there is a break.

The lambs are growing up, it is amazing how fast they grow, and their moms have been sheared. Who knew sheep have such long legs. Sadly, the wool is not used commercially, it is too coarse. In this age where we are trying to reduce our use of synthetics it is sad that we can not find more use for this natural fibre. Sheep that give good wool for weaving and knitting are from sheep specially bred for that and are not usually used for meat.

I have never seen a lamb or sheep kneel to eat before, but this one nibbled in this position and walked on his knees to reach new grass. Hilarious.
Leaves on the trees and men in boats

Each year this group of men get together to travel the Thames, virtually from the source, but I am not sure where they end. They have all made their boats by hand, although some were not using them this year. One used his feet, like a paddle boat. He could read while he traveled!

On the Thames between Lechlade and Oxford

I am in the middle of a stretch of single-handing and it never ceases to amaze me how much help has been to hand every day. Lucky lucky me. When you have crew and someone helps you out at a lock it is a bonus, when you are single-handing it is invaluable and you really appreciate canal etiquette. What is canal etiquette you may ask? Well, it is a lovely thing. If you arrive at a lock that is already in use you take over closing it and the people in the lock move on. This works whether you are going in the same direction, or opposite direction. I have been single-handing for three days, and every day I have had help at the locks. Today is a perfect example. I was just pulling Little star out of a lock with ropes when a boat showed up behind me. It was the first lock of 9. They took over the lock and I drove to the next lock. I set up the lock, e.g. fill it with water, as all of them were empty on arrival, open it and drive my boat in and close the lock. By which time the boat following would have arrived behind me. The top paddles would be opened, and the lock emptied, and they would open the gates and I would drive to the next lock and repeat the whole process. In the pouring rain. Yes, it is June 7th and it feels like March or April, not early summer. Now, I got to the last two locks, and low and behold, there were volunteers. No fair weather volunteers either. They were all wrapped up in rain slickers and they helped me through to the end. The Napton locks were in the bag, now for a long stretch with no locks.

Beautiful yellow iris, they grow everywhere along the canal side.

After a hot shower, and several hours figuring out the route back to my home base, Overwater Marina, I went to the local pub, The Folly Inn, to back up all my devices, and hopefully all the pictures that I was having trouble with would be sorted out by icloud, and, of course, to have a drink. And in the pub were the three people on the boat behind that were helping me.

John, Glenda and Torbin from narrowboat Isla

All from Perth, Australia, doing a couple of weeks on the canals. So of course a round of drinks were bought for them and we had a lovely chat after I got my devices sorted out and a bit of this blog written.

Opportunistic flowers, although I am sure they would not have chosen this location

I sat down at a table that has an electrical outlet, necessary for all that backing up, and at the same table were a couple with a greyhound. Turns out they are fostering him, his name is Alan. He dislocated his hip and after a while was given up by the dog racing people. There was no treatment for the dislocation so his body has done the best it can to stabilize the joint and he is under weight. They are re-habbing him for adoption. Turns out they are both trainers for guide dogs for the blind. Talk about pulling on my heartstrings. Zoey was a failed hearing dog, and she dislocated her hip. I think Alan will land on his four paws with a good family.

Alan, just 9 months old
Alan, hard to get a good picture in a confined space
This is the first time I have seen anything that even begins to look like Zoey.

It is getting busy here in the pub, I am at a table that has been booked for 7.30 and they have arrived so it is musical chairs at the moment as we all get sorted out, the couple with Alan have moved tables and I need to evacuate. So more later.

Something I keep meaning to write about is the number of houses that have pv (photo-voltaic) panels on their roofs. Now I know that it takes good government subsidies to get a huge uptake in innovative technology that is quite expensive but I am still impressed. Sometimes a whole flock of houses situated together are covered with panels. It warms my heart to see all of these mini power stations generating power. I wonder how many panels it takes to put one coal burning power station out of work, and how many more for a nuclear power station. And wind turbines are common here, but it seems more in the north than the south. I haven’t seen too many from canal, but I have seen lots of high tension wires with their massive pylons appearing to march over the countryside and I know I would prefer to see elegant windmills. Apparently traditional windmills were seen as an eyesore when they were first built and now we treat them as tourist attractions.

Three men and a Mann in a boat.

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Daniel, Me, John and Martin

I love organizing things, so when I had the idea of renting a narrowboat for 5 months (it began as three and expanded) of course I put out the idea to friends and family that they could join me on my adventure. Anyone who wanted to could. Steadily my weeks were booked up. Little did I realize what a rich experience I was creating for myself, and I hope for those that have joined me on Little Star.

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Carla and Julia Joined us for 2 days in Lechlade and Kelmscott

What an amazing experience it is being! Presently my cousin John, one of two cousins from my dad’s side of the family, and Daniel and Martin are on board. Daniel and Martin are friends from Hastings Avenue. We got to know each other while organizing the Hastings Avenue Street Party. We had a lot of fun at those planning meetings, and given that Martin and Daniel are a sophisticated gay couple we did not do things by halves. From the very beginning we rented tables and chairs for the potluck, and bought tablecloths that matched not only each other, but the canopies we bought and the street party colour, a delightful green. We did call upon neighbours for their BBQs, and we had one for meat and chicken, one for fish, and one vegetarian. Karyn organized the kids entertainment which is always phenomenal, and we have added kids movies under the stars with popcorn, live bands for the adults, and a badminton tournament. I will be returning to the street for future parties.

All our matching colours

We ask the Firefighters, Police, the Canine Unit of the police, and Paramedics to come and entertain the kids. The adults enjoy it too.

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One year we did a dress-up photo booth! Spot Daniel and Martin

I am not sure how we landed on Oxford as the place we would visit, but once we did it was obvious that John had to join us. He went to university there in the 70’s when you could get into the university on merit, not by the size of your parent’s bank account. And I thought we would all get along. I was right, we have had a blast, and we have all found our niches in terms of the running of the boat.

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Martin doling out the daily dose of Gin and Tonic

In my opinion Martin and Daniel live a pretty sophisticated lifestyle, and they love to try new recipes, which is right up my street. We spent the first day reviewing what we wanted to see in Oxford and the towns nearby, and then planned meals for the nights we would be home. Then we had to do a shopping marathon in Waitrose in 20 minutes before it closed. We were set. John avoided all these preparations by having appointments in London.

Just so we know where we are going on the water.

It has been a wonderful two weeks, great food, great company and lots of experiences, in Oxford, Blenheim, along the Thames to Lechlade and Kelmscott, and today, Stratford on Avon where we did two days of exploration of Shakespeare’s life in 3.5 hours.

Someone was being very cheeky.

Talking about Lechlade, I did not intend to travel virtually the whole length of the Thames, it wasn’t an aim of my time on Little Star, but I just about have. My sister Mary and I were on the Thames between Oxford and Reading. It was early spring and was raining, which made the Thames rise, and it was very windy. After being held up at Abdingdon for a day we fairly flew down the Thames. It becomes instantly wider and fast flowing as soon as you leave Oxford, and the wind added extra excitement, especially when we were trying to moor. It was a relief to get off the Thames at Reading and begin the journey west along to Kennet and Avon canal.

My sister Jane was on Little Star when we returned to the Thames at Reading and we enjoyed pretty wonderful weather as we tootled our way past Henley, of regatta fame, Windsor Castle, Eaton, of old school tie fame, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, and many many really expensive homes.

Three men and a Mann made their way up the Thames from Oxford to close to the source of the Thames. We ended our journey at Lechlade but the river is navigable for a few more miles. And goes on for a few more miles after that. So I only missed the very beginning, and the very end. I was not about to travel on the tidal Thames under any circumstances. I have walked along the embankment in London, and seen a narrowboat. It looked minuscule in comparison to the other boats and ships.

Another highlight of my time on the water was that journey to Lechlade and Kelmscott, and it did not fail to entertain. The river quickly becomes quite narrow and very very windy. We were constantly turning in almost 360 degrees, and the water was almost pristine. We could see the plants growing in the water beneath the boat. Luckier birds than those we saw living in the plastic debris in the canals of London. I didn’t use my garbage grabber once. Kelmscott Manor was a huge draw for me. It was the summer home of Arts and Crafts designer William Morris, he of elaborate, repeating floral designs. But his company also produced all kinds of household goods including furniture, carpets, tapestry, stained glass and metal work. Later he turned his attention to promoting his socialist beliefs, leaving the running of the company partly to his daughter May, who had a lifelong companion called Mary. They died within months of each other.

So it has been a time rich in friendships and family, and all have been very special, whether they were for an afternoon or much longer. Who could ask for more? I am having the worst time trying to upload my pictures of all the wonderful people and places I have enjoyed. Now they are saying that I can not upload an .HEIC picture and I have no idea what that means or how to convert it to a .JPEG. Argh. And I can’t load a lovely video of my neighbours children, Connor and Sophie performing at the street party. I may have to edit later, but really want to post this. So here goes…..

Blenheim: How much stuff does one family need?

Blenheim Palace, the only non-royal palace, was a gift from Queen Anne to John Churchill for successfully winning the Battle of Blenheim. The gift was in the form of money, initially 300,000 pounds, reduced to 240,000 pounds when John’s wife Sarah fell out with Queen Anne and she withheld the rest. Now that is a pretty generous gift for one battle. Sarah, later the first Duchess of Marlborough, had to build the place. It is said that she did not want something quite this fancy, and would liked to have built something a little less expensive. She was not above getting a cut rate price for a painting job that she thought was quoted too high by one “contractor”. It was started in the first decade of the 1700’s but took several decades to complete, if it can ever be said to be completed.

Capability Brown was hired by the 4th Duke in the 1760’s. From ProLandscaper magazine “The landscape setting he devised in the 1760’s provided such a sublime form of beauty and harmony that every generation of the Marlborough family has endeavoured to preserve it.” Lancelot “Capability” Brown created landscapes that would only come into its own a hundred years after they were planted. An amazing gift to future generations.

The great lake, dug by hand and lined with clay. Gave a lot of work to a lot of people I guess, at least for a time.

Sarah Churchill was a woman to be reckoned with. She was a great friend of Queen Anne before their great falling out, caused by an impoverished relative of Sarah’s that she introduced to the Queen, Abigail Masham. Sarah had had huge influence over the queen which probably accounts for the extraordinary gift to John Churchill. Anne, poor woman, had countless miscarriages and live births, close to twenty births, but none of them survived to adulthood and she died childless, hence the Hanoverian Georges who followed her, and the whole Georgian era. The had to go up the family tree and down another branch to find them.

This painting, on the ceiling of a portico over the front door is quite extraordinary. Don’t know its reason for being there, early CCTV?

Blenheim is a big tourist business these days, after all, they have to pay for its upkeep which can’t be cheap. They employ over 450 people to run the place and all the attractions they offer which include a downstairs tour, and upstairs tour, a Capability Brown tour, a butterfly house, and more.

And there were Zebra Finches in the same place

We took the narrow gauge railway to visit the butterflies, and they have a bottling plant for Blenheim water which is apparently shipped to Dubai and Hong Kong. In glass bottles. Even though the estate is green conscious.

All in all it was a lovely day with Martin and Daniel, friends from my street in Toronto. I was 72, they live at 102.

We started the Hastings Avenue Street Party, from Dundas to Queen, therefore the DQHASP, eight years ago. The meetings were huge fun, and the day wasn’t bad either.

Back to Blenheim. I love the gift stores in such places, but I hunted and hunted for something to buy, but alas, nothing caught my eye. So no mementos from that day’s outing.

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.

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