Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas Afloat

The lead up to Christmas, for us as for most, is a hectic time. For us, it meant lots of driving too and from the boat, performing in schools and at Christmas parties - even at the Canadian High Commission. Both Drew and I were glad when we had finished the last performance of the "season" and could have a day or two of "rest" (by which I mean preparing for Christmas) before Santa came to visit.

At the moment, we're moored near a little village called Grafton Regis - only a handful of houses, but one of the Queens of England was born here (hence the "Regis" in the title of the village). It's a gorgeous place to be - we overlook a field with grazing sheep and a 13c church.

On Christmas Eve, we decided to be good and go to Midnight Mass. The church we went to - St. Lawrence's, Towcester, is 600 years old - amazing to think how many midnight masses would have been celebrated there, and under what circumstances!

All was going well, until Drew felt a bit woozy and had to sit down. A few minutes later he said he wanted to leave, and on the way out collapsed! The Ushers were very helpful, and we knew it wasn't the warming whiskey he'd had on the way to church. A quick trip to A and E confirmed low blood pressure - prescription? More salt in his diet!

On the day, our friends Robyn and Reg, their 16 month old son Evan, and cousin Gordon came to the boat for a meal. Getting a Christmas meal ready in an ordinary kitchen is work enough, but preparing it in a small space a few feet long and wide is even more of a challenge - but we managed. We had a great time - and it was good to celebrate with good friends.

My brother, his wife, and her parents were in England for Christmas - but in Swindon - a few hours away. Jetlagged from their flight over, they wanted to meet up on boxing day, so we stopped in at their hotel on the way down to Bath to visit Drew's cousin and family. Another nice meal, more chocolate, and a bit more driving!

We saw my brother and the family again on the 28th, checking into their hotel for the night and enjoying the pool, sauna, and free electricity! On the 29th we went to explore Bradford upon Avon (one of our favourite towns), Avebury, and Bath. That night, we stayed with friends Donna, Reedy, and their son Ethan.

So, our "post Christmas" season has been busy!

We're keeping warm - the weather has been lovely - and keeping busy - including planning how to spend an Arts Council Grant Drew received (what a great Christmas present!). All and all, a great end to the year.

All the best, everyone, for a wonderful 2012.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Back on the Grand Union

Wow - time sure flies. I hadn't realised it had been quite so long since I updated this blog until my mom asked me about it - at least my mom is following me!

So, where were we? Oh yes! Bath and the Kennet and Avon Canal. Seems like years ago!

Those who know English geography will know that Bath is in the West Country. We've since turned around, and went back up the Kennet and Avon to the Thames.

The Kennet and Avon has been a wonderful experience. Much of the canal is rural, and it runs through some beautiful countryside. The countryside itself bears the marks of ancient inhabitants, with stone circles, earthworks, and other iron-age remnants.

It was great being in the West Country, but we did seem to have a lot of work going on in London and the South East, which meant that our trusty little Fiesta travelled up and down the M4 countless times. The only injury she sustained was a flat tyre, and that was while parked near the boat - so really, I couldn't have asked for better motoring luck.

The Kennet and Avon joins the River Thames at Reading. Apparently there is nice mooring in Reading, but I've never found it. Our night there, we were moored next to a very grotty park where there was evidence of drug users, and we saw a "sex act" being performed. Not really the kind of place you want to stay for long - and we didn't!

Cruising on the Thames is an entirely different experience to being on the canals. By and large, on the canals you have to operate the locks yourself, where as on the river they are much larger, and are done for you. Mooring is also more difficult on the river, as along the canal, one side is always "Towpath" - and so public land, but on the river, much of the bank is privately owned - which means you either can't moor there, or need to pay. Still, we saw some beautiful properties...!

We left the Thames at Oxford, continuing north up the Oxford Canal. We've done this bit before, and were back in territory that was familiar. The Oxford, Leicester, and Grand Union canal all join around Braunston, and so we took the Grand Union canal south, and are now slowly chugging towards Marsworth - where we like to spend our Christmas - it's a bit of a tradition now.

Ever wondered why the path on the side of the canal is called a "Towpath"? At first I thought it was a "Toepath" - i.e. somewhere where people walked - but it's actually the path that the horses used to walk when they towed the boats. The photo is of a horse drawn boat we encountered on our way to Reading.

Autumn is here, and winter is almost upon us. Dark days, and the little light we do get is used mostly to collect wood! We're still warm, though, and waiting to see if we get a bit of Christmas snow.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Ancient Graffitti!

I'm sure I've said it before, but one of the things that has always fascinated me about living in England is visiting buildings and monuments that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. The town Hall in Antigonish - my home town - was built in 1905 - and I remember, even in the 80's, thinking "Wow! That's 75 years old!". Nowadays, when I visit a church and see that it's Victorian - a mere 150 old, I think "Meh. Let's find a proper old church".

Of course, many ancient buildings and monuments have survived in England for hundreds of years because of their beauty and the fact that they remained useful and relevant to those who lived nearby - but often it's hard to imagine the people the actually used these places. You can imagine the work and craftsmanship that went into building them - but WHO built them? What were their names?

At the moment our Narrowboat is moored in Bath, Somerset. This city was built as a Roman spa town, and became very fasionable in the 18th century. The city is a world heritage site because of its wealth of Georgian architecture. Though beautiful, what struck my eye was a piece of graffitti.

I guess some things never change - I saw this piece of graffitti - if you can call it that- under a bridge in Bath.

To think that it was carved before Canada existed as a country is amazing. I've since seen graffitti under bridges from the late 1700's.

Mr. Hodges - your stone graffitti has now entered the digital age!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Want upper arm strength? Try the Caen Hill workout!

What is 2 1/2 miles long, 70 metres tall, and takes 3 hours to climb or descend? Caen Hill!

Caen Hill is a series of 29 locks near Devizes, Wiltshire, on the Kennet and Avon Canal. Drew and I have been moving to boat towards Bath as we have some work in the West Country and Wales over the next few weeks.

We hit Caen Hill a few days ago, and began the slow descent towards Bath around 11.30 in the morning.

Thankfully, we met a boat that wanted to "share" the locks with us, which sped up the entire process a bit - and took some of the weight off my shoulders!

For those of you who don't know about locks on canals, very quickly, locks on broad canals (like the one we are on) consist of 4 gates - two at either end of the lock - and 4 paddles (which are plates of metal or other doors inside the lock gates that can be opened to let water in or closed to prevent water escaping.

To operate the lock (going down) goes something like this:

1) Skipper moors up and drops off the "locker" (for want of a better term! - the person operating the lock)

2) The locker checks to see if the lock is full. If it's full, he opens one of the gates so the boat can get in. If it's not, he opens the two paddles on the top gate to let water in so that the water level in the lock comes to the same level as the level on the canal where the boat is.

3) Once the boat is in the lock, the locker closes the gate, goes to the end of the lock, opens the two bottom paddles and lets the water escape from the lock (thereby making the boat drop down)

4) Once the water level in the lock is even with the water level below the lock, the locker closes the two paddles and opens a gate letting the boat out. Once the boat is out, he closes the gate and tries to hop back onto the boat.

Doing this 29 times is hard work! The paddles are heavy to raise, the gates often sticky and also very heavy - and running up and down the lockside to open and close gates and doors is good excercise.

When doing a "flight" (series) of locks, if you manage to do it with another boat, the whole process is sped up as while the crew of one boat operates the lock both boats are in, the crew from the other boat can run on to the next look and get it "set".

It was a long afternoon -but afforded us with some beautiful views of the Wiltshire countryside!

The next week or so will be spent mostly behind the wheel of our car as we speed up and down the M4 going to our many gigs over the next few weeks. We may end up looking back on the Caen Hill day with envy - but at the moment - well, my arm is still sore!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Gin Palaces, a sick cat, and a lot of locks!

Well, we survived London!

The canal in London - or at least the one we did - may not be beautiful, but it certainly is convenient! For the first time in my life, I was able to get out of bed, walk a few hundred metres, and find a tube station! When I lived in London we lived "south of the river" - so tube (subway) stations were few and far between.

But, we needed to move on and so hit "old Father Thames" with gusto! We'd never taken the boat on a tidal river before, and the currents took some getting used to - but Drew managed well! I made tea and worried!

Moorings on a river are harder to come by then on the canal - but we managed to find them when we needed to. The biggest differences - aside from the currents - were the size of the locks (Huge! 5 boats sometimes!) and the size of the boats! Those who live and play on the Thames are rich. Really rich. Their boats are huge - their houses are huge - and we saw millions of pounds (£!) worth of boats and houses in a few days. One night, moored across from a beautiful mansion, I barely suppressed my urge to start shouting "hey - do you give to charity? Well, if you can afford a house that big, you don't give enough!".

We are now back on the canals, having left the Thames at Reading and joined the Kennet and Avon Canal. While the Thames was nice, in my heart of hearts, I prefer the canal - not as rough in terms of navigating, but a bit rougher - and more "real". Real people - real boats - and though the houses and boats are smaller, every bit as beautiful.

Oh - and Monty the cat had a viral infection - thankfully easily sorted (though expensive) and, seeing as he caught 3 mice last night - he's clearly better!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

From Rural Idyll to "The Big Smoke"

Finally, after having spent a lot of time in Hertfordshire, near Tring, it is time to "stretch our legs" a bit and head off down the canal.

Drew got some bookings in the West Country, so a few weeks ago we decided to upgrade our Boat Licence to enable us to go onto the River Thames and other rivers. We will be slowly (4mp/h) be moving towards Bath!

The last few days have been spent cruising towards London, where soon we will join the Thames and head off west.

Cruising from morning till the afternoon brings back lots of memories of when we first moved onto the boat. We spent most of our days cruising in a mad dash to get to Yorkshire (we failed!).

Then, as now, the car was in London, which meant that we could spend the day cruising and the evening relaxing. Since about March, when we retrieved the car from London, any cruise along the canal meant a bike ride or walk back for me to get the car and move it along. Now, as we don't need the car for a few weeks, we are able to fill our days with cruising - and cover a fair bit of ground. We left Tring a few days ago, and now are in West London. We certainly didn't push ourselves, but it has been nice to moor up somewhere new each night....

Well, I say new...

We spent most of the first few days re-covering the Grand Union Canal that we did when we first moved off from the Slough Arm over a year ago. Once we passed the Slough Arm, though, on our way to London, we started "virgin territory".

It is odd being in a city again - and moored here. At first I was a bit nervous - imagining gangs of youths attacking the boat our untying our mooring pins - but after a false start yesterday (we abandoned our first mooring after a gang of youths on the bridge were hurling abuse at passers-by) we found a good mooring in North West London. We're now near Ladbrooke Grove - much nicer!

Here's hoping the moorings keep showing themselves, and the weather stays fine - and the cat adjusts to city life!

Friday, 1 April 2011

Heathrow - scene of joy and tears

Any expat knows that an airport is where you experience some of your most extreme "highs" and "lows". What better feeling is there than hurrying through the passport control desk to be greeted by hugs from family you haven't seen in months or years? What compares to the giddy feeling of waiting at arrivals to spot the first glimpse of your family as they arrive for a visit?

My mom and dad, who I hadn't seen in 18 months, arrived for an 8 day visit to the UK a few weeks ago. I could hardly wait! While they were here, we ran them ragged! They stayed at a local Hotel (as our narrowboat really isn't suitable for 4 people to share!) and each day I picked them up and showed them as much of my adopted homeland as I could. We also enjoyed their help in going down the first few locks of the Aylesbury Arm!

While here, we went to London for a day, and to the West Country, visiting Bath, Frome, and places in between. We introduced them to The Archers (a favourite on this boat!) and they got us caught up on what was happening back home.

They also brought a "taste of home" with them - again, expats will know that there is nothing better than a parcel of food from home - Mollases in England is completely different than good Nova Scotian Mollases - and Green Tomato Chow is unheard of in these parts.

Saying goodbye at the end of the 8 Days was tough - it seems to get a bit tougher every time I say goodbye to my family - but they left us with good food and happy memories - even if we left them lighter in both their wallets and their backsides!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Canadians are Coming!

Wow - time sure flies when you're busy!

Our 2 weeks in the Tring cut were very convenient for transport (the train station was only 3 minutes walk away!) and for heating (lots of dead wood and forest) - but not so great in terms of light! The "cut" is deep - and so the canal is surrounded by the banks of the hill that it is cut into! I also got a parking ticket on my car as I had parked on a road with a double yellow line - which in the UK means "no parking". I parked on a muddy area off the road, thinking that would mean I was ok - but apparently double yellow lines mean "no parking" both on and off the road!

After our time in Tring, we carried on to the next village - Cowroast, where we had our montly pump out and then turned around and headed back towards Marsworth. After an overnight in Tring, we went on to Bulbourne Junction, where the Grand Union and the Wendover arm intersect.

What a great place to be! Good signal, good parking, and a beautiful view! We spent the week there as most days we had work in London and so it was useful to be able to quickly pop out to the car - and useful for me in my work editing an online newsletter.

Next week promises to be even more busy - as my parents arrive from Canada for 8 days. I am looking forward to it - and have been for weeks! I only see members of my family once a year - if I'm lucky - and haven't seen my parents since August 2009 - I'm hoping my father's first trip to Europe will be memorable!

Here's hoping the weather holds - always a dicey proposition on "the sceptered isle"

(photo is of Bulbourne Junction's former British Waterways Workshop - sorry it's so dark!)

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Spring is Springing!

It only seems a few days ago that I woke up each morning and could see my breath. It seems like yesterday that I would trudge along a snowy towpath along the canal to the boat, which was frozen in the canal. What a difference a few weeks make in this little country!

After having been moored for the past few weeks on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal, we decided earlier this week to move on.

The Aylesbury Arm is much under-rated to my mind - sure, it's a bit shallow (though we heard from a British Waterways Mainenance man working on one of the locks that it will be dredged this summer), and sure, mooring is a bit tricky - but....

The Aylesbury Arm goes from Marsworth to Aylesbury, and passes through the lovely village of Wilstone - home of a great little village shop and the pub where the last witch trial in England was held! It is scenic, and very quiet - both things I like!

After leaving The Aylesbury Arm getting our monthly pump out of ...well - you know... we headed up the Grand Union and decided to try the Wendover Arm. This little arm of the canal has recently been restored, and we'd heard it was pretty. It was pretty, but it is also short - and mooring was hard - we only stayed one night.

We are now near Tring Station in the Tring Cut - a huge ravine where the canal passes through some of the Chiltern Hills. Though signal is bad, it's convenient, as a train station is only a few minutes walk away, and parking is easy.

So, we're hanging in there, and glad for the good weather.

Oh, and to make my Canadian friends jealous - the picture is of a Primrose and some snow-drops. Taken this week. Can YOU see snow? No. I thought not. No more complaining about English weather!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Where I grew up, most buildings that were over 100 years old had a little plaque on them saying so. If the building was 200 years old, it was probably a museum.

When I first came to the UK, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of physical history that surrounded me. Walking down the same streets in London as Samuel Pepys, going into the castle where Anne Boleyn grew up - it was fascinating.

After having lived here for a few years, though, my attitude changed slightly. So much history all around meant I started to tune it out a bit - when everything is historical then historical things are a little less special. When I lived in Canada, I loved looking at Victorian architechture. In the UK, there is SOOOO much Victorian architechture! Besides, Victorian- that's, what, like only 150 years old? Psssh! Brand new by English standards.

Still, though, from time to time, something bowls me over and reminds me of the sheer wealth of history in this little island and makes me appreciate it a bit more.

On Tuesday, to celebrate Drew's birthday, we went for a drive through Oxfordshire. We visited a few churches, as we often do, and one of them - St. Andrew's, Great Rollright, featured the door carvings in the picture.

The zig zag pattern is Norman.... people have been worshipping in this building for probably over 800 years - 800 YEARS! - and people still do.

It's a bit humbling to come across someting like that Norman Doorway- yet to the congregation of that church, it's just the door to their church. Seeing it gave me goosebumps - and reminded me of that feeling of excitement I first had when I came to this old country almost 12 years ago.

Oh, and next time you visit a church - Norman, Victorian, or anywhere inbetween, pop a few quid into the collection box at the back - it's not about supporting "the church" - it's to help make sure those buildings will still be there in 800 years time.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Little Blue Light - I love you!

Oh Dear.

I've written this post 3 times.

3 times it has not posted.

I can't type the whole thing again.

Here's the short and sweet version -

Internet Connection via mobile internet and a dongle is precarious.

Being in the middle of nowhere is beautiful, but it sucks if you have no internet connection.

Now, please, dear God, when I click "post" - POST!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Work work work!

It never rains but it pours, apparently. Like buses, employment offers seem to come in threes!

As you know, I work as an Adminstrator for my husband's puppet company Objects Dart ( While I enjoy that work, at "dry times" when we haven't got a lot of work on, things can be tight financially. Working in the Arts Sector, it's often "feast or famine" and income is not always regular.

To try to mitigate this, I applied for a job to produce the weekly newsletter of Puppeteers UK, a puppetry body which promotes puppetry and puppeteers. To my delight (and surprise) I got the job.

Back in September, I had also applied for a job working as a Temporary Care Assistant - sort of an "on call agency" job - where I could take assignments if I had time, or say "no thanks" when I was busy. I thought this would be an excellent way of also dealing with the "feast and famine finances" issue. I was offered a job, but the CRB check (Criminal Records Bureau) only came through 2 weeks ago! So, this week I have started doing some care work - which I'm enjoying, but it's not what I'm used to.

I had worked for a charity called L'Arche ( which supports people with learning disabilities. Though in my interview for my new role I said that learning disability was my speciality, I have been offered temporary work on a unit supporting people with Brain Injury. It's been challenging doing something new, but I have learned a lot in the short time I have been there.

So, it's work work work these days - which is good for the finances if not always for the sleep patterns!

I hope to post some pictures on my blog in my next post - do get in touch if there is anything in particular you'd like to see!

Monday, 10 January 2011

We ARE safe!

We ARE safe, at least according to the very nice BSS examiner who pronounced our boat "safe".

A little background on what the BSS is, and what it means to us;

Every 4 years, boats that are on the Inland Waterways system of the UK are required to undergo a Boat Safety Scheme Test. After the test, if you pass, you get a certificate. Without that certificate you cannot licence your boat, and your boat's insurance is invalid. As we live on our boat, we desperately needed to pass our BSS test as the risk of being "illegal" was too great - if we failed, we could potentially be homeless!

The man who did the test (who I won't name - but if you are interested, email me and I'll give you his name) was incredibly helpful.

When you have a test of this sort, you want the person performing it to be both strict in areas where your safety is at risk - and flexible where regulations say you must have a label on a door, say, or something similarly banal.

Thankfully, our examiner had that perfect balance between able to discern between what was an important element that protected our safety, and what was important but, provided we made it right on the day, he could pass us.

I can't tell you how relieved I am that we have our new BSS - which lasts 4 years. Not only does it mean we can relax a bit, but it also means that, maybe, perhaps, we actually bought a boat that is in decent shape! When we boat our boat, we knew nothing - less than nothing - about engines, electrical installation, propane installation, and the "nuts and boats" of our floating home. We sure aren't experts now but we do know a little bit more....

Friday, 7 January 2011

Are we safe?

I don't know - we'll know on Monday!

Monday, the day that I have been dreading ever since we bought a bought with a one year safety certificate. The day I imagined someone would come along and tell us "Are you insane? It's a wonder you haven't been killed by that boat of yours! You are hearby relocated by Government Order to a DSS flat immediately!"

Yes, Monday, at our expense, someone comes along to inspect out boat to tell us if it is safe or not. If he agrees that, after one year of living on the boat and not killing ourselves, it must be relatively safe, and that though the boat is not shiny and new, it does what it is meant to do, then we will be given a certificate and allowed on our way for another 4 years.

If he decides that the tiny little bit of rust in the gas locker (where our propane is stored) is likely to kill us both in our sleep, then we are in for a rough day.

If there is something terribly unsafe that is a real threat, of course, I want it fixed and sorted - but part of me wants to slip the guy a £50 note and say "That's for you. Now, how about a safety certificate?".

I remember someone I won't mention by name scraping the inspection sticker of the windscreen of a car that had "died" but still had a valid inspection and sticking it onto his car - would that it was so easy!

Pray, chant, channel whatever saint or diety you believe in - but think of us on Monday. We need to get through this, and we need it to be cheap!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Coffee and Mornings

Last Tuesday, without a lot to do, Drew and I decided to visit the local village of Aldbury. The Morris men who we had sung Christmas Carols with came from Aldbury, and we thought a little nose-around the village was in order.


The English have a term for villages like Aldbury - the call them "chocolate box" - because in the past, chocolate boxes were adorned with very idealised paintings and pictures of English life. Aldbury certainly is a chocolate box village - beautiful ancient buildings, a lovely village green and pond, and the church is absolutely amazing.

Inside the church is a tomb of some local "well off" folk with a Green Man lying at their foot. The church also features medieval glass and a plaque to the memory of a seaman who died in Bedford Basin, Halifax, in 1877.

We were inspecting the church when we were invited to a "coffee morning" - which is, as the name suggests, a little group of people drinking coffee (or tea) and eating cakes. Everyone makes a small donation for the coffee and the proceeds go to the church.

We met, at this coffee morning, amoung other people a veteran of World War Two who had been dropped in the ocean in Norway after his plane had been shot down and a woman who had taught in international schools all over the world. "Polite conversation" does not begin to describe how interesting a morning we had.

As we are still iced in nearby, we went again to the coffee morning, and again had a lovely time. Aldbury has become one of our favourite places to visit - and who knows, we might end up as Morris Men by year's end!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Bye Bye 2010!

So that's it. 2010's all gone. Now begins the annual struggle to remember to write the new year properly - signing checks and contracts with "2011" instead of "2010"

To celebrate the New Year, we walked the mile or so up the canal from where we are moored (well, frozen) to a pub in Marsworth - The White Lion.

The sign outside the pub promised "music and raffles" - and on our arrival around 8.30 they had run out of most of their lager supplies - which meant a night on the real ale!

Earlier in the day, I had driven to Marsworth to check to see if their water point had unfrozen - and it had! A couple was filling up their boat's water tank, and they stopped to let me fill my little 25L jug. We saw them later in the pub and had a nice chat - in fact, we had a lot of nice chats!

Having grown up in a small community, I sometimes miss meeting the same people on the street each day, knowing the names of people who I pass by, and recognising the same faces in the shops. Having spent over a month in this area (partly on purpose, partly due to the ice) both Drew and I are now "known" a bit, and people recognise us and our boat. Last night, lots of people who we recognised but had not found out their names spoke to us - we got great tips about nice places to go for a cruise, the trials of ordering a bespoke boat - and lots of other useful info.

But, most of all, we just had a wonderful evening - dancing, talking to folks, and ringing in the New Year well. It also re-affired not only how wonderful it is to live on a boat (no one we spoke to regretted their "lifestyle choice") and how, people are people no matter where you go - and chances are, if you go to a small village or community, people are that little bit nicer -

...or maybe it's just boaters!