Sunday, 24 April 2016

Where Did All The Crocodiles Come From?

Well hello readers! A while back I promised to give Linda a well deserved rest from the jottings. It seemed a good idea at the time; still, there you go. Anyway, this is Captain Carl, doing my humble best to regale you with tales of our “adventures” on the cut. I have undertaken this formidable challenge twice before, and learned that a monologue comprising of the state of charge of the batteries and the advantages of mineral oil over synthetic oil would not win me a favourable position on “Britain's got talent”, let alone the attention of you good people in Jottings Land. Something else is required. A new paragraph, for a start.
This time last week the boat was moored at Market Harborough. On Monday morning we were back on board and eager to be on the move again. It was after 10.00 a.m. in the morning when I started the engine and untied the ropes. Within seconds I was pulling the boat back in to the pontoon and retying the lines to avoid running into another boat that was manoeuvring just in front of us, which I hadn't noticed. Next time I'll look before I untie. Finally, our way was clear and I slipped the lines again. Then we were off.
The Market Harborough arm of the Leicester arm of the Grand Union canal is a very pleasant and isolated ribbon of quiet water. Although the day was cold and grey, the banks were vibrant with colour; primroses, bluebells, cowslips and other unknown species were bursting forth to greet the Spring. The peace and tranquillity were disturbed eventually, but in a rather amusing way. As we drifted by a remote garden, a tiny black dog appeared from nowhere. He stood for a while, watching us. Then he saw our dog, Tricky, perched comfortably on the hatch. Instantly, he was transformed into a clockwork dog, barking and jumping excitedly. He kept up with us for as long as he could, with his little tail a blur of wagging and the non-stop happy barking continuing. We looked at Tricky, expecting her to be sitting there looking confused and slightly alarmed. Well, wonders never cease, as they say, but not where Tricky is concerned. There she sat, in grumpy mode, looking confused and slightly alarmed.
It was shortly after this that I noticed the crocodiles in the water ahead. As we drew closer, I began to regret leaving my crocodile gun at home. Happily, the crocodiles transmogrified into logs. It appeared that the Canal and River Trust, or their contractors, must have been tree trimming/felling and had dumped the product of their endeavours into the wet stuff. They must be the sort of people who, when they wake up in the morning, try to set fire to their dreams. The next half mile was an assault course, with us steering this way and that, trying to avoid collisions. Some of the logs must have been two feet or more across and five or six feet long. Once we cleared this barrier we moored up for the rest of the day and had a lovely cuppa.
We both love the Springtime (although I prefer Autumn; I always find it more honest). Spring can be an even better season when you have plenty of coal and wood for the stove, so you can get warm after having spent some time outside.
Having stated an opinion about Spring, I will now share with you, dear readers, my experience the next morning. Being woken early by the dog, I dressed quickly and put some breakfast down for her, which she tampered with briefly. Then, after putting Tricky out, I stepped onto the deserted towpath after her. The scene that greeted me took my breath away. The cool air was alive with the most glorious birdsong. A drifting mist was slowly melting over the canal, fields and woods opposite, and the sky was the softest shade of pale blue that there could ever be. No CGI film could ever reproduce anything like the scene that greeted me on this morning.
The magic continued after we set off towards Foxton. We saw swallows, kingfishers, a field full of lambs jumping vertically then bounding off at speed the way only lambs can do. There were cattle in the next field with young calves that stared curiously at us as we drifted by. In a bluebell wood I spied two young squirrels courting around an old oak tree. This tree was coming into leaf which, according to the old proverb, is a good sign. We haven't seen any ash trees showing signs of life yet, so maybe we'll enjoy a good summer this year. Every living thing seemed to be celebrating this day.
At Foxton we bought some coal and booked our passage up the locks. The ascent through Foxton locks went well. Being so early in the year, and being a week-day, there weren't many tourists about. Tourists are a welcome addition to the canal scene; any interest in canals and waterways is a good thing. Also, Linda likes the opportunity to chat. The only fly in the ointment is that I can be a rather unsociable, often miserable old so and so. I prefer to stand quietly at the tiller, watching the world go by and generally feeling bewildered. When there are tourists about they see straight through my “try to look invisible” act and sooner or later one or other will start to talk to me. Sometimes Linda will rescue me, but other times she is otherwise engaged (winding paddles, opening/closing heavy gates and so forth). Usually, it's the questions that baffle me. For example, say I'm in a lock, and the boat is pointing uphill. In this situation I have been asked more than once “Which way are you going; up or down?”. Another common query is “Aren't you cold in there?”. So I have to explain about our central heating, and the stove. “Oh”, they say, inexplicably disappointed that we are able to keep warm. Then it will be “Can you burn things like wood and coal on your stove then?”. I'm waiting for someone to ask if our boat floats. I'm sure that question is waiting in the wings.
Talking about standing alone at the tiller, this is a very good place to be if you want to wonder about things. I find I can wonder about things even when I'm feeling bewildered by everything. Isn't that strange? We went through Crick tunnel on Friday. Luckily I had my “Indiana Jones” hat on, together with my waterproof coat, so I didn't get wet in the various re-enactments of Niagara falls that occur in most of these excavations. Halfway through I was wondering about hills and suddenly, from that, I found myself wondering about Ridge mountains. My question to myself was, are all Ridge mountains blue, or is it just the ones in Virginia, USA?
We saw our first ducklings yesterday (Saturday). They were fairly newly hatched. I counted seven of them. There could have been more than seven if some were hidden in the rushes nearby. They do panic though. If we see a dabble of ducklings (I don't know what the collective name for ducklings is, but I like the sound of dabble. Hopefully someone will know the correct term) I always try to steer the boat by the whole lot of them, rather than through them, but inevitably one or more will get separated. When this happens, the ones that have been separated squeak madly and paddle furiously, almost running on the top of the water, until they rejoin their peers. An exercise in pure panic.
We're now moored on the Grand Union canal proper, at a place called Long Buckby Wharf, having come through the first broad lock of a flight of seven. And here we must leave you, as I've said enough and don't want to wear out my welcome. We're back to normal next week as Linda will be in charge of this keyboard while I check voltages and oil levels and lots of other engine related things. Its a mucky old life, but someone's got to do it.
Love to you all
The floating Chandlers
PS I've noticed that Linda sometimes adds a PS, so I thought I would too, but I can't think of anything to say, so I won't.