Wherever You Go.

IMG_20161104_154250The A420 down to Devizes. The afternoon light was slowly fading into an early autumnal dusk. Road signs lit up in the lights of the cars ahead but not for me at the tail of the automotive snake winding its way through the grey-green Oxfordshire countryside.

The bulbs burned a warm sepia glow in the dials but there was no evidence of headlights in the fading daylight, and I definitely had no full beam. I wouldn’t make Devizes before dark. Plan B was to make Swindon and continue in the morning. The slate grey clouds weren’t helping and it was pretty much dark when I peeled off the main road through the trees lining the road into Swindon and crunched the gravel into the drizzle soaked car park of ‘The Spotted Cow.’ Soup, warmth, WiFi for the evening followed by tucking up under the quilt with an episode of Game of Thrones.

The journey from now on would be day light only and the hours of light were being squeezed by the oncoming winter nights. Leaves dripping percussive rain drops onto the fibreglass roof over my head drummed me to sleep.

Devizes, a late October chill in the damp morning air. It gets harder to emerge from the Yellow Van when Winter is coming.

A fine, rainless morning for helping move Narrowboat Lechuga to new moorings near Bath. The air barely warms to the pale sun just clearing the near-naked hedgerows as I walk the towpath to meet Luchuga an her way from Caen Hill. The canal is low and exposes the muddy bottom like an ebb tide on a shallow estuary. The next stretch is almost full and I see Lechuga emerging out of the top lock at Seend. The lock paddles are left open to top up the empty pounds below and we follow the flow to the bottom of the flight.

By early afternoon, we reached Bradford lock where we stopped for lunch and phoned ahead with an ETA.. News was that the new moorings aren’t ready for another month or so. The owners were leaving the UK the following day… Solution? Lechuga would be my ward and home for a month or so. I love win-wins like this: home on the water for me and security for Lechuga.

C-SIC2 was its name. An orange lifeboat moored up at the service point at Bradford on Avon. Inside, I spotted Jess with her blond dreadlocks, we had worked together a couple of years ago at Bristol Veg Boxes. She had a flat battery and was blocking access to the water point, to the annoyance of the other canal users. Grabbing my tools from the van, I do what I can to extract the battery from its undersized cavity, take it over the bridge to Bradford Wharf for a boost on the mains.

The inside of the lifeboat is cozy and private. Lit by daylight from two hatches in the roof, with the door closed, no-one can see in. The space inside is the size of a small lounge with double bed traversing the space at the bow. We humans are creative creatures, we can make anything into a cozy home.

I settle down for some vegetable stew and red wine while we wait for the battery to take its charge. I could be just as happy in this lifeboat on this canal as a sail-boat in the Caribbean.

Wherever you go, there you are…


Angel of the North

angel of the northI’ve been absent from writing for a few months now and getting back into the groove isn’t so easy. My excursion to Newcastle to pay my respects to Debbie Bulman might have had something to do with that. The trip was enlightening in that I unexpectedly felt estranged from the world; neither missed in one part nor welcomed in another. Deb has no physical memorial, her ashes have been scattered on the land and the sea. Her memorial is in the ether, and kicking over the Tynemouth sand lost in thought is as close as I could come to an appropriate prayer.

Retracing faded foot steps from shared adventures led me to what felt like a virtual simulation of a place I remembered. Time had subtly changed the landscape and the characters in only 2 short years. Despite Eileen (Deb’s mother) not wanting to see the yellow van as a reminder of the loss of her daughter, I did get to see Eileen and Deb’s family in the end when she became aware I had parked up a few days here and there, discretely far enough away from the neighbourhood. I may never see Deb’s family again now the link has gone with Deb’s departure. But now, it is done. I’ve said my goodbyes to my Angel of the North and the page turns over and away to a new chapter.

I considered taking a trip up to Scotland from there with no particular plan in mind. But I wasn’t in the mood for it in my own company, and instead headed back down south down the A1 to be close to my own family. I stopped at Newark for some of the calamari that Deb and I used to enjoy. The barman told me that it had been discontinued two menus ago. Two menus, wow! I hadn’t realised I had been gone that long… how long is a menu: months, years?

Exiting Newark on the A46, I received a call that my mother had been taken into hospital.

“Dizzy spells and short of breath. She’s in a ward… something French,” my step father said. It was the EAU (emergency admissions unit).

I was an hour and a half away so I headed directly for Northampton General Hospital. She didn’t know I was coming so it was a nice surprise for her to wake up to my 9pm arrival. 5 days later, she was home with newly fitted stents and improved circulation. But this was another reminder that time takes no prisoners and it’s up to us all to live now in this moment since, at the end of the day, this is all we really have…