Sunday, 29 November 2009

In Memoriam: Angela Nadine Witts: A life that taught.

My Auntie Angela died last week and the funeral was on Friday.

Angela was mentally handicapped. I should say "learning disabled", or "special needs", or something a bit more modern and P.C. However, I was born in the sixties, brought up in the seventies and that is what we called her then. To change now to a more fashionable description of her condition seems to me to somehow diminish her.

She was born with an abnormally high roof to her mouth that restricted the development of her brain. It was estimated that she had the mental age of an eight year old.

Auntie was difficult.

She was prone to sudden and profound rages, born, I think, not of malice or even of attention seeking (well, not all the time....) but more of an irremediable frustration at the world, its inexplicable complexity, and her own inability to decipher its codes, adhere to its requirements, or bend herself to its shape.

She challenged us. She tried our patience, perplexed us, and was a lifelong source of worry to my grandmother, and, latterly, very much so, to my father and mother.

The way they rose to meet those challenging behaviours says much of them, and all of it good.

For the last 22 years, after Nana Witts' death, the burden of care fell increasingly heavily on Mum and Dad.

Although Angela had been found a place in a block of wardened flats in 1979, (where she lived almost until her death), they not only visited regularly (an often thankless exercise) but also saw to her finances with a care and unimpeachable probity that our politicians should aspire to but won't, should achieve, but can never.

Their only thanks was an increase of the burden: as the withering of age compounded Angela's condition, they stepped up their efforts to the point where my now octagenarian father could go no more. It cost him more in pride, love, and care than lesser men would have been bothered with in the first place, to admit that Angela was beyond his ability to support, and that it was time for Social Services to take over.

They did their best in a difficult situation. Indeed, when four of Angela's support workers turned up at the funeral, I was impressed: not only by their attendance, but also by their calibre. Social workers get such a bad press. A bouquet for these from me though.

Angela died of age and weariness in hospital last Thursday.

In her life, she taught.

She challenged.

She tried us.

I learned of her, but imperfectly, tolerance, acceptance of difference, and most importantly, and least perfectly of all, patience.

Her leaving was quiet and fuss free, marked with such terms as "end of life care".

All that could have been done for her was, however, done.

I hope that now she is in a place where she is allowed a full flowering of a spirit denied in life: does a caterpillar know it will become a chrysalis? Does the chrysalis know of the butterfly it shall become?

Rest now, Auntie. No need to be cross any more. Stretch your new-found wings and fly.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Proper Boating, and proper boaters.

Today's trip to Cambridge could not have been less similar to last week's catalogue of disasters, misunderstandings and PR issues.

We set off this morning at about 8.45 a.m. Jackie took the car to Rosemary Road to buy gas. I took Pippin upstream to Bait's Bight where I met Jackie and loaded the cylinders. We had a nice chat with Jimmy, the lock-keeper, who was happy to let us leave the car there while we chugged to Cambridge.

The sun shone brightly, so the world was treated to the vision of me at the helm in full foul weather gear and my ludicrous (but very expensive in their day) 1992 sunglasses. Sort of 'fading movie star meets Sir Ranulph Fiennes'. With a paunch.....

It had the makings of a good trip: fine weather, not too windy, and the rowers would all be safely tucked up having exhausted themselves the previous day in a lengthy series of racing divisions.

(This, incidentally, delayed The Lucky Duck's return to base until after dark. So when the Ducks boarded Pippin last night armed with fresh chicken, peri-peri sauce and a desire to cook supper for us, it seemed churlish in the extreme for them to be repelled. James and I cooked while the girls talked about important stuff. (It is the way of the world.) We had a lovely time so thank you James and Amy!

All this, by the way, was on top of a visit by bro'-in-law David who joined us on Friday night for a relaxing time away from being a high-powered journalist and magazine editor. So Saturday would have been hard to better!)

Now where was I? Oh yes, rowers, tucked up safe and warm on Sunday after their exertions on Saturday.

Some hope.

We saw lots of crack no.1 type crews hacking up and down once we'd past Bait's Bight:(you can't miss them, they splash so much less....) and we gave The Tree of Death a wide berth, despite having un-shipped the chimney before setting off as an added precaution.

No, it wasn't until the railway bridge that things got a little hectic. I lost count of the number of novice eights out, all in fancy dress! Yes, we saw pirates, smurfs, Dalmatians, reindeer, but not, as far as I could see, any crew dressed as Muppets....... Hmmmmmm.

But Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzy Bear et al were certainly present in one boat.....

When they altered course, with the speed of vegetable growth, across our bows and towards the bank, I thought "No, surely not, they're just lining up to come in round our stern so they can form up with the other crews"


Thirty feet from Pippin's stem and they've crossed our tee and aren't moving. Jackie was in the bow and later told me the novice cox was rigid in her seat, transfixed, as 26 tons of widebeam bore down on them. Her crew were similarly 'rabbit-in-the headlights'.

By this time The Mighty Pippin's Beta 50 was bellowing at 2000rpm in reverse. We stopped in time. Just.

I do wish the young people of today would have a little more consideration for the tired old hearts of more senior folk. And the fact that it's not fair to frighten me like that when I've got clean underwear on........

Anyway, no harm done, apologies offered and accepted with no more admonition than a weary shrug, we carried on to the pump-out.

The man who owns the pump-out and water-point was thankfully absent when we arrived, so we experienced none of last week's unpleasantness. Indeed, we chatted with tourists who were curious about the boat, it's generator and that sort of thing.

I decided we needed a treat, so we chugged back down stream to moor up at The Fort St. George for lunch. Here we were helped immensely by Elisabeth from nb Sirius who rendered us a huge favour by taking in our bow line and helping us make fast in a vicious crosswind and a torrential rain shower. She joined us later for a drink in the pub where we lunched, wetly.

Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and the high wind plus sudden downpour seemed to have dampened the ardour of even the hardiest novice crew. The racing had been called off, and we chugged out of Cambridge in very light traffic and in that sublime post-storm light.

Back home now, the wind is blowing so hard that our traffic light says amber, despite having had the Ship's Computer and some lights on all evening.

Good old Windy, our Marlec Rutland 913, is moaning his head off as the free amps pour into the batteries.

Night night, all!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

It's done!

And the bilge is a lot drier too!!

Friends rally round.

Yesterday's tribulations were awful. It left me seriously considering getting off the river and back into nice solid bricks.

Good things then began to happen:

John III and Susan from nb Monteyzoomer arrived back at the mooring. John is an engineer and has been away working in The Congo. He regaled me with some great stories of this last trip over some soothing beer aboard Montey.

Then Jackie popped her head through the hatch to ask me the base diameter of our chimney. I'd just measured it so was able to say "6 inch, why?". Well, some other neighbours had gone over to Whilton Marina to look at bigger boats and were in the well stocked chandlery there. Did we want anything?!!! So they got us a chimney, coolie hat, a new rope (to replace the one snapped while dealing with a Muppet boat at the Cambridge pump-out which I forgot to mention in yesterday's rant) and two cans of Morris's waterproof stern gland grease. FANTASTIC!! This means we don't have to go to the local chandlery who have not, by all accounts, improved one jot since last I mentioned them.......

Our friends dropped all the new stuff off last night, so we paid them, then cooked a big pasta as a thank you. Very convivial!

James Duck also dropped by to swap some fudge for some kindling and left with it and some Codis for Amy Duck who isn't feeling very well.

As I write this, the wind has dropped, the sun is out and I am slowly sloughing off the utter negativity of yesterday.

Better get the chimney up and the bilge pumped out then.........

Saturday, 14 November 2009

A very very very bad day..................

Today we lost our nearly new chimney and coolie hat over the side.

Not a direct result of the high winds we have been experiencing, but to do with a collision with an over-hanging willow tree near The Plough (incidentally, a rubbish rude establishment, so file it under "avoid") public house on the way to Cambridge.

So why did we hit the willow and lose our chimney? Well, I could have manouvered out into the mid-stream and missed it completely. This, however, would have placed the crews of two overtaking rowing eights in such jeopardy that no insurance company would look at them.

Hobson's Choice: lose your chimney or risk drowning, maiming or otherwise injuring the crews of two eights?

The Mighty Pippin held her course, to the rending of metal and scratching of paint and the slow-motion inevitability of £80 worth of chimney going splosh into the 'oggin.

[Choice words of an unbloggable sort deleted here]

The misery of this trip did not end there.

On arriving at the pump-out, we duly hooked up and were nearly done when Jackie noticed the washing machine had run out of water. One of Cambridge's Camboater boats had plugged itself into the fresh water point by means of a 1/4 of a mile long hose. I don't know how much they pay for the right to do this but it is clearly a lot.

I unplugged their hose to take on ten minutes worth of water,at the suggestion of another Camboater boat, "Pyxis". A minute or two later, a young man arrived and delivered a lecture to me on my lack of consideration, decency and respect.

He lives yet, but only by the grace of a God he doubtless refuses to acknowledge.

Pippin left the pump out mooring with Pyxis' skipper and our new-found moral guardian discussing the finer points of water-point etiquette.

I hate Cambridge.

I hate Camboaters.

They all rhyme with 'bankers', and from now on we will dump our sewage straight in the river just like all the dutch barges that moor up in town and NEVER EVER EVER go to the pump out!!!!


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Sinks, boxes and a short discourse on architecture

Well, the standing box by the tiller has well and truly had it: it has got very curly on the top where the veneer has lifted. I plan to fix it today with some marine ply and some spare moulding.

I bought another box from Emmaus the other day. I popped up there while Jackie was out with friends walking their dog in Thetford Forest......

Here it is:

In scale, it's a lot smaller than would have been ideal for standing on, but I liked its grain, the smooth 1930's line and its little bakelite handle. It was scruffy where the varnish had been rubbed, but responded really well to the old 240 grit sandpaper/wire wool treatment. It was then wiped over with meths, massaged with linseed oil, then brought up to a nice sheen with Briwax.

I then gave it to Jackie as a present. It went down nearly as well as last week's surprise flowers.......

A worthwhile afternoon's tinkering then!

The Belfast sink is going to be sold, though. Our friendly carpenter, Ian, dropped by to have a look at the job, and while it's all do-able, with new taps and his labour, we'd probably be looking at £200-£300. This, then is no longer the bargain I thought it was. I will ring Mike P-J and see if his chums are still interested. If not, ebay it is, then....

I had thought when starting to write this, that I might sound off about the windows that besmirch many of Cambridge's lovely buildings, then I remembered Amy Duck actually is an architecture graduate, and may have many post-modernist ideas and opinions that would make my amateur ramblings seem reactionary and even twee.

But what the hell? Here goes!!!!

Why oh why oh why do shops in Cambridge have to disport their wares through acres and acres of bland, flat, dull, boring plate glass?

I mean, here we are, blessed with some of the loveliest streets which have grown up, unplanned, in that empirical muddle that so delights the eye, and which no architect, town planner, (not even with a Royal Warrant - sorry Prince Charles!-) can hope to replicate without pastiche, and what do we do? Rip out the original shop fronts and install plain plate glass, which is then brutally lit to produce cold, antiseptic sterility in what was a characterful and charming ground level view.

Of course, this is no new thing. It has been going on for years. So long, in fact, that we have forgotten what a shopping street should look like. Is this because they now all look the same?

Boring, Boring, Boring!!!!