January 29, 2010

Down the pub

Filed under: Canal — Duchess @ 2:58 pm

The new year is beginning to feel old, which, I guess, is a way of saying I am beginning to feel at home again along the tow path. 

I have a new neighbour (Mr Badger) and the swan family has changed, but otherwise things are pretty much as usual:  Ratty emerged from his boat for the first time this morning (that is, the first time I have seen him since I got back), off for a toilet run.  He’s still banned from the pub.  Ferret, working on the new boat, has broken up with Dina, but she still shows up at the pub now and then, never ever without her head covered.

Wheels finally got his engine up and running, and Tad is still moored by the pub because it is easier for Chris to get on and off since she broke her hip after the particularly jolly boaters Christmas party (which I missed) when more than one of my neighbours ended up at the hospital.

Kate, who has one good arm and one shrunken by thalidomide, greeted me warmly when we met along the tow path.  But I have also met her on the street when we are each in our respectable, Oxford lives, and she has shown no sign of recognition.

James and Emma, the young archaeologists, who used to rent Cherry Lea, are gone, leaving their vintage Triumph in the car park, so I guess they will be back.  Pat the Grumpy Mechanic will have a word or two to say then.  He’s let it known to anyone who cares to listen that they owe him at least two Jack Daniels and a Diet Coke for all the work he did on that car. 

John, the new boy in the pub, is now renting Cherry Lea, squatting a mile north by Pigeon’s Lock.

John says he’s going to marry Cherry Lea’s owner, who sometimes lives in the Seychelles and sometimes in Staffordshire, and then it will be their boat together.

I point out that he has just told me he already has a wife in Bicester, Oxfordshire, and several grown children.  He shrugs and says, I’m too old for you, anyway.

When I drift over to talk to Pat the Grumpy Mechanic he nods towards John and says, That guy works on a Bull Farm.

I reply, Oh no!  He makes specialist microscopes! He told me so.

I am an unusually literal person.

Anyway, I was only at the pub because Pat earlier reminded me that on Thursday the fiddly diddlies are there, and so he urged me to come.  I asked the Landlord, Stematos, if he paid them for the gig. 

He looked astonished, and said that he didn’t charge them for practicing in his pub.

Just before I went home alone, to be in bed by eleven (according to my new year’s resolution), I pointed out to Pat, in my literal way, that there wasn’t a single fiddler amongst them: two banjos and more accordions than are probably legal in a single location.

The fiddly diddlies

The fiddly diddlies

January 22, 2010

Fire and ice

Filed under: Canal — Duchess @ 8:51 am

There’s a guy who cruises up and down the South Oxford Canal filling boats with diesel and delivering coal.  In the way that people call each other after their boats, he is known as Dusty.  I have his real name on a bit of paper somewhere, for when I write the cheques, but I think of him only as Dusty the Coal Man.  When he is on his way he sends text messages to everyone along the route, reminding us to fill up. 

The texts are usually vaguely suggestive: “Dusty – your man for hot nuts, exotic red juice and whiffy gas…Nice! Rock on Tuesday, Kidlington Wed, and on to Oxford Thurs/Friday.”

We are the “Rock”, short for the Rock of Gibraltar, the pub on the other side of the bridge.  I have no idea why it is called that.

For several weeks Dusty was stuck in the frozen canal, and now that the ice and snow have given way to rain, we hear he is headed toward Oxford and won’t be back at the Rock for another ten days or more.  Between him and us is a stretch of the River Cherwell, now in flood. 

So I am getting fit, not just by heaving my toilet cartridge up the tow path, but by heaving bags of coal down it.  I keep the fire going all the time, day and night: the trick is to stoke it up with coal and turn down the vents at bedtime, feeding it in the morning and opening the bottom door to fill it up with fresh air.

I was getting quite smug about how well I was doing until the fire went out yesterday afternoon (I got stingy with the coal when I had to carry it), and it has been troublesome ever since.

Meanwhile my engineer friend who fixes things for me whenever I smile pathetically appeared outside my window with sixty kilograms of coal that he had pushed along the path in a cart stolen from a nearby garden centre and left by the bridge for everyone’s use.  He stood absolutely knackered and barely breathing outside my boat, and then he lit up a cigarette to give him strength to hand the bags on board.

The fire, now glowing warmly again.  I lit the candles just for you.

The fire, now glowing warmly again. I lit the candles just for you.

January 20, 2010

Since you asked

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 3:57 pm

Okay, Jan asked. So here is my little grandson, four months and a day old when the picture was taken last week in Seattle, just before I left for the airport.

The Duchess and her grandson

Little Julian and Big Julie

Young Julian is doing well, thank you, and giving his parents exactly enough bother to make his grandparents smile and remember that revenge is sweet.

I maintain that he is a particularly pretty baby. One school of thought declares that I am biased, which might just be possible. Or we could simply agree that he is not only unusually attractive, but also shows signs of extraordinary intelligence.

Here, he looks almost as cute, though perhaps a wee bit more gormless. Nevertheless, as I have tidy hair for a change, I thought I would post this picture too.

Nona and Julian.

Nona and Julian.

The gentleman is 4 months old and the lady is 55.  When he is in her arms she thinks she is a young woman again

January 19, 2010

Snow was falling snow on snow

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 6:01 pm

Heathrow was barely functioning in record breaking cold when I touched down after four months away. The weathermen said the worst was over, but it was still snowing when I got to Oxford.

Meanwhile the government has ordered a go-slow on rock salt use, because we’re running out. Oxford seems to have entered into the ban with great community spirit. There wasn’t a cleared pavement in sight.

Pedestrians made their way gingerly, some using ski poles for help. Others, like the tall woman who grabbed me and nearly brought me down as I later shuffled and slid to the shops, relied on fellow travellers to steady themselves.

I was jetlagged and felt unreasonably foreign as I puzzled over the choice of my evening’s and morning’s provisions, finally settling on bread, wine, tomatoes, avocado, rocket (arugula), the chorizo sausage I have been dreaming about, and, extravagantly, cherries flown in from Chile. I felt bad about the food miles, but I needed something that tasted of summer.

When I finished shopping my ex-husband drove me cautiously to Pangolin, the 62 foot long narrowboat where I now live. Pangolin “lies” (as they say) in rural Oxfordshire, about 9 miles north of the city. My usual route to the boat was impassable; a lorry had been stuck for days, blocking the road, but I was assured that the alternative way, through Kidlington and down Bunker’s Hill, was clear.

A friend had lit the coal fire, and though the boat was burgled while I was away (I knew that, and was expecting much worse than I found), and my car was covered in a snow drift and dead as a door nail, it still felt wonderful to be home again.

The next morning I took some pictures.

Looking north, towards the bridge:

Looking north, up the canal, toward the bridge

Looking south, towards the lock, the Cherwell River, and Oxford. Part of the canal is still frozen.

Looking south, toward the lock, and Oxford beyond.  Part of the canal is still frozen.

My early visitors are lovely, but they are invariably grumpy, and never grateful for the bread I throw.
My morning visitors are lovely, but haughty, and never grateful for the bread I throw.

Outside the window
Outside the window

I gobbled my cherries as I looked out the window and remembered my towpath garden in late September when I had last seen it.

Last September

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