Ups and downs

I was looking at some ponies in a field on a very rainy and windy day. They just stood and bore the weather. Were they hoping that it would abate, were they thinking back to the sunny days just gone and looking forward to spring? Were they thinking anything or just reacting as a leaf reacts to the wind that blows it? I have no idea if animals have any concept of good days and bad, the ups and downs.
However I find it really makes a difference to try to balance the down days with the knowledge that all is relative to the good days, unless of course it is all very bad all of the time. I used to cycle in the fenlands, there were no hills to struggle up, but no glorious down hills to swoop carefree down. But even then there were head winds but turn around there were tail winds to push you back home.
I have never been a good hill climber on a bike therefore in Wales or the Lake district I frequently found myself wondering why or why was I struggling up another hill. The view from the top and the descent would briefly remind me, until I got to the bottom of the next incline.
So with the weather, day and night, summer and winter, rest and busyness there are natural balances, feasts and famines, the cycle of nature.
The rain this week needs to continue if we are not going to suffer a severe shortage for the canals, and everything else, in the south east this summer. So it has been quite pleasing to see it. On a dry day I spent some time along the tow path in my role as a Waterways chaplain, that is looking out to give what ever help we can offer. I finished by visiting the my boat for the first time in a couple of days. Taking my muddy bike shoes off on the rear deck I descended looking forward to getting warm and having lunch aboard. At the bottom of the steps inside my chilly feet immediately got colder on the mat. To be precise they got colder because they got wet. The mat was wet. The carpet tiles under the mat were wet. The floor boards under the tiles was wet. The the floor of the aft/stern/rear half of the boat was wet. Was it rain entering through a leaky window or driven in through a vent. Perhaps domestic water leaking after a frost? Maybe those old disused deck skin fittings letting water in, or a hole in the hull?
Oh well, lunch would have to wait and if it had been caused by a rainy day, at least there would probably be a dry day coming along when it could be fixed and dried out. I”ll change my socks first though.

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January sun

Locking down towards the sun

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Catkins, backlit, are draped as a pelmet above the path.

The brilliant white light of the sun’s reflection erupts from the dark pound waters which are cracked apart by parallel flashes of the ripples.

The winter brown of the woods is edged by the verdant green tow path edge and the sun fights a battle with the afternoon shadows made by the leafless trees.

Crunching footsteps of walkers are accompanied by the constant gush of whitened water leaking from the gates.

Against this background can be heard the first singing of a robin, staking his claim on the territory. And then the rattle of steel against steel, followed by familiar but unwelcome clanking as the paddles are raised. The gush is itself drowned by the torrent of white water, seemingly steaming and hissing in its haste to fill the lock. Once the lock has filled peace returns. The final eddies chase each other on the lock surface. The gates, with their darkened wet wood and bright white beam heave a sign of relief and begin to swing of their own volition.

And yes peace returns to this place where man has trod, not too heavy, on nature to bend it to his will. And oh that I could sing as that robin, not in conflict, but in thanks to all creation’s Creator.

Burning issue

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The topic of air quality is itself ‘in the air’. My boat like many others is fitted with a solid fuel burner which can burn wood or ‘smokeless fuel’. There are alternative ways to heat the interior, but which to choose.

Burning solid smokeless fuel releases CO2, sulphur and smoke particles. Burning dried wood, produced locally and in a sustainable manner does not add to CO2, but still adds to smoke pollution.

One could fit a diesel heater but that also emits CO2 but less smoke and I have no idea about the particle production.

One could fit a propane heater. That does not add to particles or smoke but propane is a fossil fuel and adds to CO2.

One also has to consider that the manufacture of a new heater adds to global warming.

There are two other options, one is don’t use the multi fuel stove, just switch the gas oven on and put up with the condensation, CO2 production and possible CO poisoning. The other is don’t use any form of heating, don an extra jumper,  feel cold, smug and miserable.

Do you remember Fagin’s song in the Oliver Twist musical .. “I am reviewing the situation”? The following is my version, though not a very close copy.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to heat my boat without the smoke

Coz Mr Gove says my stove

is bad and wood will have to go

so I can put in a gas burner

which burns a flame that is much cleaner

but uses up a fossil gas

which adds to all the carbon mass

and canals dry out for lack of rain ……

I think I’d better think it out again.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to heat my boat and still be green

By using local kiln dried wood

the carbon footprint can be good

but there is still a little smoke

on which the passers by may choke

instead of logs in my pile

should the trees be left a while

and leave the forests just the same? …..

I think I’d better think it out again.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to boat while being warm and green

If I don’t use a wood burn stove

I can then please Michael Gove.

If I just don another woolly

with all flesh covered fully.

But what about the frozen milk

and all the bugs to make me sick

and I’ll end up with aches and pain,

I think I’d better think it out again.

Feeling drained

A cold spell is coming so off I went to ensure the boat’s plumbing will not be not damaged by the water freezing in the pipes and equipment. All it takes is to drain down the domestic plumbing. You know the sort of thing, open a drain valve and open a tap and let the water run out. Except of course the drain valve is at floor level of the boat and the floor of the boat is below the water line outside. Water does not drain up hill.
That is where my modification comes in, I put in a tee piece and air vent before the pump so I can pump the water uphill to a sink and let it run out. Well that was the first modification. Valves and tee pieces are fun inventions I think, the meccano set or lego set for the amateur plumber.
The other winter I decided that it would be useful to have a gas water heater for when the water tank had been drained. The water tank had a valve each side of it, so by adding a couple of tee pieces and a couple more valves I could switch over to the gas heater without refilling the tank.
That worked.
After a while I realised that if I had been using the tank, but it was tepid I could run water from the tank through the gas heater to get it hot enough for a shower. That needed a couple more tee pieces and a valve or two, my third modification.
Last winter it took ages to empty the tank ready for winter using a drill pump, but I got this idea that if I created a loop using hose pipe, from the bottom of the tank to the inlet of the domestic pump I could pump the tank dry in no time. But I had to add another valve.
So there we have it, the only thing I had to do when I got to the boat was to connect the hose and find the coded instructions which I now need to tell me which valves to turn to get the combination that I currently need. With valves A to G in the wardrobe and three others elsewhere I can easily drain the system, flood the floor or blow up the tank depending on whether or not I get it right.

This is the last month that I am keeping the boat in Apsley Marina. It has been OK for the last 7 years but I have not really got the value out of it. One of the things that the marina has, and it is outside the security fence, is an elsan disposal room. As an aside, the “security” fence is one of those low chain fences that you can either step over in the daylight or trip over into the canal at night.
Anyway the elsan point is in its own room which I have used quite a few times. I nearly always forgot to take my CRT key to open it, taking instead only the marina “security” gate key. Over the years I have remembered at last. At least once out on the canal I would still be able to use the elsan point, many boaters do because the nearest other one is a hour away by boat.
This week I went to use the point for the last time and I remembered to take the CRT key.
This week the lock has been changed to take a marina key. A key that I will have to give back when I leave the marina.
How is that for Murphey’s law?

Dividing Paths

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For those who look forward to a read I must apologise for being silent recently. For those who just read these posts out of some sense of loyalty then thanks for hanging in there and I hope that you enjoyed your break. I am back “on-line” with a few things to write hopefully for your amusement or pleasure or information. All sorts of things are whirling around in my head from global warming, diesel emissions, plastic …

When I say these things are in my head I really mean the topics are, I do get a hot head sometimes, and plastic and diesel particles have been found about everywhere so they may be in my head as well.

I also promise to post a few more cheerful and practical things but first of all I wanted to put to bed a musing that has been on my mind. It does not fit into the normal facebook type blog, you know the type where everything is wonderful and isn’t life great. It is a musing on loss which is itself a part of life that these days we try to ignore. The problem with that approach is that when loss strikes we can be unprepared and do not know how to carry on.  Accepting loss as part of the journey would enable us to be better prepared to carry on in a more positive manner, knowing that we should not feel regret or guilt at enjoying life in our changed situation.

Paths

The two of us are walking side by side, along a country path with green pastures on every side.
The path has grass growing down the middle, she walks to the left of it, me to the right.
As we walk quietly on, the grass in the centre gets taller, until it begins to brush our hands, it is then that I realise that that we are gently touching hands, lightly holding them, and have been for longer than I remember.
We walk on and the grass is mingled with wild flowers but also gorse, nettles and thistles that occasionally prick and sting, yet we hold on. Gradually her path begins to veer away from mine, the green partition grows, the thistles increase and I tighten my grip.
She seems to be totally accepting that she is now on a different path, focused on where she is going.
As the paths continue to diverge our arms reach out further to keep our hands touching, until it is just our finger tips touching. The hedge, for that it is now what it is, is so high that occasionally I loose sight of her face for a moment.
We have to keep walking and I know that my path does not yet lead to her destination.
Then her path takes a slight dip and our fingers loose contact, I can’t see her any more.
My whole body is filled with a silent scream, a scream containing all the things I never said or did, all those missed opportunities. The scream is echoed by an empty silence as I stare at the green divide, there is no sign of her. I walk on with no awareness of where I tread.
Now and then, far ahead, I get glimpses of what might be a divergence from my path. I wonder if it leads to her destination, I wonder how peaceful I would be, no, will be, at turning aside from this path. But for now I walk on, slowly beginning to notice anew the green of the grass, the smell of the hedgerow flowers, the buzzing of the bees and the gentle breeze in my hair.

The Pulley

I have not had many opportunities recently to take Gentle Breeze out. That got me wondering about the sense of restlessness many of us feel. The poet, George Herbert seems to have captured the sentiment. He was born in Wales at the end of the sixteenth century, thus you will have to read this slowly to get the sense.

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When God at first made man,Having a glass of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:
Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
The beauty flow’d, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottom lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness:
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.

George Herbert.

This was reflected by a prayer, the collect for the day, at church today.

Almighty God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you: pour your love into our hearts and draw us to yourself, and so bring us at last to your heavenly city where we shall see you face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

I am looking forward to getting GB out of the marina, and playing at full blast “How great Thou art” as I cruise past the autumnal colours.

Hooligans or helpers?

I moved the boat from Cowroast to Bulbourne, just a few miles along the Tring summit. Those locations themselves are full of local history.

The name of Cowroast on the old A41 was probably derived from cow rest, a place where cattle were rested up on the drive down to London.DSCN8169

Bulbourne is still a Canal and River Trust workshop, much diminished from the time when lock gates were made there. There is still a privately run dry dock alongside the first lock descending northwards since the London and the Thames some 37 miles and 56 locks away.

The summit cutting is up to 30 feet deep, or high depending on your point of view, and several miles long. It is a cool place to cruise as it is mainly shaded by trees on both sides.

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As usual I was following a kingfisher as it flew from one waterside perch to another, catching insects from the surface as it went.

Mooring up early due to the heat I was able to spend some time watching the fish. Now being a trained biologist I know my fish. These were of the type that I would definitely describe as medium to big, about two foot long each. They seemed to be in a family, or gang, I think that is called a school, or is it shoal? Anyway these were fish. Like I said I know my fish when I see them as close as this. They were very close to the surface, I suspect that oxygen levels were low, due to the heat, and they were keeping near to the surface where it was more concentrated. That gave me a good view and enabled me to identify them, as fish. They had eyes, a mouth, they definitely had fins, no arms or legs, and were swimming, so I conclude these were fish. If you think that my definition could possibly include other types of aquatic animals I have checked and it is quite unlikely that they were dolphins or whales.

Now during the afternoon I got quite fond of my slow moving family of fish. They seemed to like to be around the bit of water where I was moored, it is nice to have a bit of company, even if my attempts at dialogue did not seem to result in any meaningful responses.

It was hot, really hot therefore even though my lighter painted roof reduced the impact of the sun I was driven to go for a shady walk. By shady I mean in the shadows of the trees, not anything underhand. Near Bulbourne there is a wildlife reserve where I sat and watched a tern swooping and diving to take insects off of the surface. It kept this up for at least 30 minutes that I watched it, a fantastic aerial acrobat.

It was one of those very hot nights, about 26C in the boat, when sleep does not come easily anyway. I say “anyway” because I was disturbed. I woke in the night to a noise best described as a “toyng, toyng”. A bit like a soft mallet hitting the metal of the boat. It kept happening but was not located in any one place, it seemed to come from all over the boat, suggesting that it was not a burglar or the usual type of vandal. It would stop for a bit then resume, “toyng, toyng, toyng, toyng”.

I looked over the side in the twilight, it stopped. But there in the water was the occasional bubble and tell tale movement on the surface that indicate there is something moving just below the surface.

Now I know that they meant well by cleaning the algae off of my hull, but why the hull couldn’t they do it in the day instead of lazily basking in the sun? No wonder they did not answer back during the day, they were embarrassed about what they were planning.

Anyway, I have finished my bit of carping.