Being waist deep in cleaning, shopping and gardening concerns in preparation for the descent of the family at the weekend! Ooh! that’s the day after tomorrow!
And lo and behold, it still ain’t shining.
Not a problem though we did have some quite impressively wet days on the boat.
We picked up the boat at Great Hayward Marina and it was all nice an clean and ready for us and also I got to chat to the rather yummy bloke who runs the reception at the marina. Mmm. I wonder if all or any of the other wives appreciate his charms. He’s a nice new take on the pretty young receptionist theme : ) Also, he’s so gently charming (together with the blue eyes and trim figure) that I wonder if he’s gay. Not that I’d know. I have absolutely no radar about that sort of thing.
Anyway we set off for the first evening just down the canal at Wolseley and crossed the rather splendid Wolseley Bridge, built by John Rennie the Younger, to have a nice meal at the Wolseley Arms and then next day returned to the marina to collect the Marvellous Millses and Jacko (the new ship’s dog) who spent the rest of the week with us. The sun shone quite a bit on the first two days and it was all rather hopeful in spite of threatening weather reports.
After that, it mostly rained.
Now that I’m home (sweet, dry home) I’m trying to remember some of the exciting thangs that happened while we were away. For instance, stopping at the Star Pub at Stone we were entertained by drunken lock leaping which made this sign particularly relevant.
Lock leaping is exactly what it sounds like – slightly inebriated young men attempting to leap across a lock (six foot something wide), failing, falling in and no doubt going home, wetter, wiser and soberer some time afterwards. But only if they do it during licensing hours I suppose.
Our searches for places to eat weren’t always successful. The Italian we’d hoped to visit at Stone was booked up and the Mexican restaurant at Cheddleton Flint Mill was closed on Mondays but we found a pub which was lovely and also had a sign up behind the bar saying “Have you put the chickens to bed?” which we took to be some kind of local in-joke. But after dinner, Barney and I went out for a cigarette and there were two chickens rooting and clucking around next to the busy main road. So I hope someone did put them to bed; it seemed to me that they needed more supervision, they seemed like sort of latch-key chickens.
Later, we went back to a boat which was exceptionally hot as we’d left the central heating on. So we left the back roof open and tethered a brolly over it in case of rain. Seemed effective. On the last night we tried the Clifford Arms in Great Hayward – much recommended by other owners in the boat’s diary – alas, completely full. So we went to Salt and ate yet another gigantic meal at the Hollybush. The size of Mr Mills’ steak and kidney pudding defies description but he did manage to eat most of it. And this reminds me that when we sought dinner at Etruria, we found nothing except pubs serving crisps and nuts until, following directions from a couple of community policepersons, (one of each gender) we ended up at a carvery where, as well as eating the toughest piece of beef ever to be hacked off a joint, we observed with some incredulity a small man eating his way through a mountain of roast potatoes. Small, as mountains go, but large enough to feed several starving families for a week. I was tempted to suggest worm powder or ask if he was on a fertility drug and was expecting octuplets. Clearly he was eating for more than one. His partner may have been eating too but her meal (and indeed most of herself) was invisible behind the steaming mound on his plate. After this holiday, I can only assume that the people who live in this part of the world are a very hungry lot.
Other highlights of the trip included joining a crowd of schoolchildren at Froghall Railway Station to see, not steam trains but owls! Contrastingly, very small owls. I’m not totally convinced that the pygmy owl really wanted a lot of little people to stroke him but maybe that expression denotes some kind of ecstatic trance rather than a desire to snap! Who, apart from another owl, could say?
And then there was the gargantuan meal at the Black Lion at Consul Forge but still no trains even though we moored next to the Churnet Valley railway. Next morning though, we went on to Cheddleton Station and there was a train about to leave. Nice.
This was also the morning on which, for no apparent reason, the key to the back door wouldn’t work. Much wrestling with it produced nothing but a faint bluish discolouration around the heads of the two men. Perhaps we (that’s the royal We, as in Barney) double locked it, I suggested? No, that wouldn’t make any difference they said patiently. Later, for no apparent reason, it did work. Oh, said Mr Mills, it was double locked.
Well, whatever, we were saved a lot of dangerous gunn’le walking and dog lifting. I think this was also the day we discovered that somebody had left the hose attachment at the last watering point – an easy mistake – and it was lucky that Mrs Mills and I had both had our showers before the discovery of the loss, otherwise there would have been mutiny among the cabin crew. Later it turned out that there were 2 spares in the tool box. Obviously the mistake had easily been made by others before us : )
There was a lot of beautiful, dark, wet scenery.
And some beautiful dry scenery too, if a little grey.
Oh and of course there was the hat. Every so often as you glide along, the gliding becomes more of a drift and the engine makes more noise than the speed of our progress would suggest it should be doing. This means something has wrapped itself round the prop.* So the weed hatch comes up and somebody plunges an arm into the wet, oily and greasy depths and unwinds whatever it is and off we go again – free as a duck. So we did all that and Barney brought up a completely undamaged leather hat. It was quite wet, slimy and oily and may never recover it’s original leathery gleam but he rinsed it in the canal and left it on the roof to dry. A dose of neatsfoot oil when we got home seems to have softened it a bit and now he’ll be recognisably one of those boaters who has done a few miles on the cut. (It’s the new boating man’s insignia – where once they all wore captain’s peaked hats with an anchor on the front**, now they all wear Crocodile Dundee hats with a leather plait round the crown. Very fetching.)
The cat sat on the chair with the hat. This is a photo I thought would be suitable for inclusion in a new educational book for small children learning to read – you know, realistic. None of those silly old mats.
*Such as weed, logs, small trees, plastic bags, string, old coats and on one occasion, a whole suitcase full of clothes which were emptying themselves out behind us in an interesting looking trail. The odd bicycle or shopping trolley usually brings us to a grinding halt. Thankfully, we’ve never found any bodies yet though I believe this is not unheard of.
**Barney never actually wore one of those hats, though he did sport a Breton fisherman’s cap for a few years.
Last week, as grandparents, we performed a very enjoyable duty by attending a concert in which certain small people were performing. (Not NGB – she may be a child prodigy but has not, as yet, taken up the tenor horn though I’m sure she’d be willing to attempt climbing over one or eating bits of it or even pressing buttons. In fact I can’t imagine a more wonderful plaything for a very small person).
GB and her very small step-brother were playing tenor horns though, along with the whole of their primary school class, together with classes from other schools in the Reading area. It’s a musical venture in which whole classes in the county are taught to play the same instrument in their weekly music lesson for the year (but a different instrument for different classes), and then at the end of the year, they are brought together to perform a concert. One of the amazing things is that until today, the various classes playing the pieces we heard had never rehearsed together. So we were treated to the spectacle of about a hundred eight to nine year old children playing brass, wind and string instruments and I have to say, the conductor and whoever taught them during the year did a truly impressive job. No matter that between them all they appeared to have mastered about four notes of the scale*. No matter either that one or twenty occasionally lost the plot. It’s probably fortunate that there were only four fiddles – from what we could see they had huge enthusiasm but very little grasp of .. well anything really. Bows were wielded at the right times but not quite at the same time but with flourishes and a sense of style and verve which made me wonder how often strings and bows needed replacing. The fiddles dangled at strange angles and it was a miracle – a series of miracles – that bows and strings ever connected and that neither bows nor fiddles ever left their players.
Meanwhile, down at the front our two grandchildren along with the rest of the class seemed perfectly at ease and relaxed. In fact the whole band seemed fairly relaxed. GB and her partner at the stand spent a good deal of time pointing out where they thought they were on the music and very small step-Grandson seemed to be pushing buttons in time with everyone else. Barney and I went home wiping tears of laughter from our eyes and quite high on Granparently feelings.
Now, a week later, I realise that I won’t see NGB for a whole three weeks what with a looming canal trip and plans for the annual Family Fest. I just hope she recognises me when I get back to her. Oh well.
I wonder whether we’ll have sunshine this time?
And whether I shall see any good topiary
Now I must go to bed and mentally prepare to pack. (You’d think by this time I could have got both of those things somewhat more organised but no. Though I do have a list of things to pack for the boat. It’s just that I don’t know where any of them are).
See you when I get back. Have a lovely week.
*Barney asked at one point, “isn’t this the same piece again” and I pointed out that to write five pieces of music in which only four notes on the scale are ever used and make the pieces sound different is a pretty demanding task. To teach a hundred odd children to play those four notes in the correct, different order, with rhythms, is even more demanding.
All that’s required is a comfortable reading spot, a long way from the nearest bottle, fridge, larder or cigarette and that the book is completely absorbing, and you have the perfect life enhancer. So here are a few of the pages I’ve gobbled up recently. (Now I’m thinking of owl pellets – neat little parcels of bone and feather and feet, which are all that owls leave after dinner)
Prue Leith – The Gardener. I read the last twenty pages at phenomenal speed getting quite excited about the final decision. It went the right way! Phew. And that’s not giving anything away should you ever read it. Some time I must read the last few pages again.
Jane Campion and Kate Pullinger – The Piano. It would have been nice to read it to the music but for a book of the film it was really very good. Tremendously atmospheric. Dark though, very dark.
Marika Cobold – The Purveyor of Enchantment. I don’t quite see what the title had to do with the story (yes it does appear briefly in the story – maybe I missed the point) but it was sweet. I liked Clementine and I shall definitely read Guppies for Tea.
Lionel Shriver – So Much For That. Strikes to the heart of terminal illness and caring and drags you through it all remorselessly. But with wryness and compassion. A rollicking read too. Boldly created characters leaping off the page to give you repeated slaps around the tender parts of your conscience.
Caryl Brahms and SJ Simon – No Bed for Bacon. I read this a long time ago but this time I laughed a lot and recognised a good few of the references. A jaunt through Elizabethan England in the company of Will, Viola, Mr Bacon and Her Majesty herself. Beds pass by. I suspect that this book may have inspired the Elizabethan Blackadder series.
David Guterson – Our Lady of the Forest. It’s a dark, dark forest and persistantly wet too. The despoiled virgin to whom revelation is given is a powerfully sad and single-minded character. All the characters (the forest is one) are drawn brilliantly, at first in hard black and white and then gradually acquiring touches and then swathes of colour and detail until a kind of sunlight illuminates the whole and you find that what, at first, looked like a caricature in black felt tip has become a living oil canvas with the forest as a backdrop.
Maggie O’Farrell – The Hand That First Held Mine. I was riveted and have been scouring charity shops for more Maggie O’Farrell books ever since reading this. Annoyingly I’ve only found one and I didn’t like that so much. A good mixture of haunting tragedy and possible hope.
Emma Donahughe – The Room. It’s as good as and similar in some ways to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night- time. Given a bizarre and haunting setting, it’s a brilliant escape story and a tale of love and trust between mother and son. Unbearable knowledge is contrasted with innocent ignorance. Refreshing after so many depressing stories about Mothers who get it wrong and children who don’t cope. Though there are bits that will make your hair stand on end the towering achievement of this mother and the child who could have been destroyed by appalling circumstance, is completely uplifting.
Rohinton Mistry – A fine Balance. Hmm. Pretty shattering really from quite early on in the book. It’s too big to describe briefly but it’s a very finely wrought insight into an Indian way of thinking against the backdrop of a capricious and oppressive regime. Lives steeped in poverty and misfortune are followed to a conclusion which is only hopeful because the two, irrepressible, main characters never seem to become bitter (and they could – Oh my goodness they would have the right to). Amazingly, they are believable.
Farahad Zama – The Marriage Bureau For Rich People. By way of contrast, Alexander McCall Smith meets Bollywood. It’s like taking an overdose of Indian sweets. A short, somewhat gluey read but it does have some revealing things to say about arranged marriage and maybe about another Indian way of thinking.
Aravind Adiga – The white Tiger. A third way of seeing India. Savage, urbane, endlessly shocking and surprising. Deserved its Booker Man prize.
I’m surrounded by lists. There’s books (in case you didn’t notice), plants for Lovely Gardener to plant, ingredients for a lot of curries that Barney will be making at the weekend, what I’ve got to do today (which doesn’t include this post – an oversight that) and Stamps.
I won’t give you details about The Wing Margin Issues of Great Britain. My part in the production of Barney’s album (and possible competition material) simply involves making a lot of text boxes and pushing, pulling, stretching and squashing them into various positions on a page so that the stamps will look nice when it’s finished. And typing a lot of information which I am immediately able to forget. Occasionally I insert a grammatical suggestion. I believe we have some forty pages to do and we’re on page three. So I needn’t worry about running short of things to do in the long evenings.
Here is a long evening (but a very short sunset)
and going back a few weeks – months? – the pigeon that nested in the wisteria. Daft bird.
And I want one of these.
Now I need to go far away from the larder, the cigarettes, the wine box and the biscuits and lie down in a non-darkened room with a book. Promises to be a brisk, easy read. Something about a cynical soldier-hero, a black ice witch, a lot of elves and a confusion of trees. See you at the end.*
*Actually it’s quite a fat book. See you in the middle.
Over the last few weeks, a combination of two days a week NGB minding with attendant travelling, a number of unexpected outings, and cramming the rest of my life into the rest of the week plus a surprising number of early morning visits to the medical and dental professions, have had several effects.
For instance, instead of spending up to four hours, hunched in a peering posture, at the computer every night, playing, I have spent a large number of hours in a flattish mound* on the soft carpet upstairs, either reading or falling asleep with a book for a pillow (a book is a more comfortable pillow than a keyboard, see. Though obviously a lot less comfortable than a cotton bag stuffed with soft stuff).
And then I have made several attempts to cut down on salt, fat, sugar, alcohol and cigarettes. Barney has been supportive but not wholly successful about the salt (crispy bacon on the fish, mmmmm, I mean oh dear), approving about the alcohol (does he mean to imply that I drink a lot?), forgetful about the fat and unaware of the cigarettes, (well maybe there isn’t much change to notice).
It’s possible I am doing a little more exercise (ambling up the street with NGB in the pram, trotting up and down with washing a lot on the days when I’m at home, suddenly realising I immediately have to leave the house while finishing a dozen jobs before I do so, crawling around and suddenly darting across the room on various intercept courses at Mrs Middle’s place; that kind of thing.
I have filled the little camera with small movies of NGB eating (I could watch her doing that all day, she’s practically scientific in her studying and investigating of every item on her trayful of lunch and thoroughly businesslike in the application of the results of her analysis – into the mouth, approximately, or over the shoulder, no hesitation) and crawling – also an ongoing investigation but much less structured in approach.
Oddly, or perhaps not at all oddly, all the healthful stuff actually sort of partly balances out the time spent away with the
fairy baby. Less cigarettes take less time to roll, less alcohol means less sleeping in and so does having to fit more stuff into less time, less fatty and salty food means less snacks (they’re just not very interesting).
On the other hand I have gobbled up a large number of books recently (not being salty, fatty, alcoholic or containing nicotine they are a useful way to improve your health. And it still seems a long way down to the kitchen to acquire these things so although not helping on the exercise front they are definitely a good thing). But they do take up a good deal of time.
Now I’m off to the garden centre to obtain plants for Lovely Gardener to plant this afternoon. I’m really looking forward to this. And I notice that I haven’t posted a garden photo for a while. Or the field out back
Oh yes, garden
Got to go now. See you soon : )
*Well some might say a roundish mound but I feel flattish to me.**
**Ok ok some might say a large rounded heap but the bit on the floor feels flattish.