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To risk is to live!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Off to God's own county but not by balloon!

I am rushing around packing to go to Devon, (not a familiar experience as, like a snail, I usually just move my whole home!) I had planned to have the boat all watered up and sitting on visitor's moorings when my friends arrive to take Don't Panic over. So much for plans. The visitors moorings are rammed with boats and I got a call this morning to say there is something wrong with our water supply as the tap is producing something that looks more like chocolate than water!

Ah well, never mind. They can start their cruise from my mooring, which is looking beautiful since Neville - my neighbour on Water Lily - cut the grass with his mower which is so much better than my strimmer. There is a water supply on the way up the lock flight so they can fill up there.

Meanwhile we had some excitement this morning. This is what I saw on returning from our morning walk...

The balloon crossed low over Hunt's Lock,then swung towards our boat. I thought it was going to land on top of us! Bonny could hear the roar of the burner and was going crazy, racing up and down the mooring! It then swung back into the field behind our boat and landed safely. All very colourful and exciting!

I hope I'll be able to blog from Devon, although it will be a non boat blog for a change!

Monday, 27 August 2012


I have to thank you Neil R for your kind offer of an army to help me sort out my problems! However, after careful consideration I have concluded that getting my angry neighbour duffed up will not help!

I have been experimenting with ways to diffuse the situation. Before I went on my cruise I tried appeasement; being excessively polite and friendly in the hope he would respond. That didn't work as I think he then saw me as weak and would therefore let him get away with being as rude and aggressive as he liked. I was also not sincere in my friendliness and I think most people can sense when someone is not being congruent. In the week before I left he was particularly obnoxious and I lost my temper and met anger with anger, although it wasn't quite even as he had a large barbeque fork in his hand at the time! This certainly didn't work as my anger just fed the flames of his.

Then I left for two and a half months and assumed that when I returned, whatever had got him so angry would have died over time. I gave him a bright 'Good Morning' when I first saw him but only a grunt was returned. Very quickly I realised that he was still very angry - almost certainly I wasn't the cause, but I was the focus. One day he seemed to tip over the edge when I was on the phone whilst walking Bonny on the towpath opposite the mooring. It was the middle of the afternoon but I was speaking quite loudly as the person I was talking to is a little hard of hearing. All of a sudden I heard screamed swear words of the worst sort. I looked back and saw Mr Angry yelling at me, spittle spraying from his mouth. The general gist I think was that I shouldn't be talking on the phone within his earshot. That was particularly illogical as both he and his partner regularly walk past my boat in full flow on the phone.

This was a turning point for me. As people turned to see what was happening and I saw what they saw - a man totally out of control, I realised that Mr Angry couldn't help how he was at that moment. That level of anger and frustration is like an illness and I would never take someone's illness personally. They can't help it and it would be silly of me to hold it against them. I also realised that I couldn't help him either as for some reason I am the object of his rage - or at least the outlet for it. The best thing I can do is not provide any fuel for the flames. So since that day I have not looked at or spoken to him. I haven't reacted to his words or scowls. I have just carried on my own life as if he wasn't there. I don't think that has lessened his ire but it's very hard to fight with someone who won't engage at all. I suspect that's what Jesus meant when he advised us to turn the other cheek.He wasn't advising that we become permanent victims - rather by rising above the conflict and not letting it get to us, we end up freeing ourselves (and probably really winding up our enemy!!)

I have also had a less comfortable insight. A boat came and moored opposite us and stayed for a couple of nights. I really thought I had risen above letting this bother me - I haven't. I've been spoilt, as BW or as they are known now CART (Canal and River Trust, or putting the cart before the horse tee hee) haven't cut the undergrowth on the towpath for ages and as a consequence no one has moored opposite since I returned. But this couple did and then ran their noisy engine. I found myself increasingly resentful and at one point when the squeak in their engine reacted on me like nails on a blackboard, I found myself shouting 'Will you please shut up!' I hastened to add I did this out of their earshot, but all of a sudden I was in touch with the same sort of anger that I imagine Mr Angry feels. My anger wasn't logical - they have every right to moor opposite me and run their engine, but that didn't stop me feeling that frustration. The only reason the people in the boat didn't suffer from my anger is that I have enough self awareness to realise how illogical I was being and enough self control to keep my anger to myself.

As with everything that happens to us in life, it contains a lesson for me to learn and the very thing that frightens me or winds me up will almost certainly continue to happen until I have learnt that lesson. Continuing not to react to Mr Angry is also a really good ongoing exercise in self control for me!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Being Back

It's a little surreal being back on our mooring. It's bank holiday weekend and as usual it's heaving with boats and people at Fradley Junction. I see the queues for the locks and am happy to be watching it all float past me with a drink in my hand! On the other hand, 'normal' life has well and truly dragged me into its clutches. I have been rushing round shopping, doing laundry, gardening, getting Bonny's jabs and MOT (she is disgustingly healthy with an 'athletes' resting heart rate, according to the vet). I have also been catching up with friends on the mooring and trying not to let one angry bully of a man get to me!

It's all a far cry from the extraordinary experience of cruising. Mind you it's a heck of a lot better than working for a living! I can't work out now how I found time to fit work in with so much else to do. Still, sooner or later looming penury will force me to find some way of earning a living - but not just yet.

Meanwhile I am starting to do some serious cleaning to prepare my boat for my friends. I am also starting to contact Devon friends to warn them I am on my way, giving them the opportunity to hide or invite me to lunch!

Thank you for all your kind messages and emails about the blog. I will carry on writing but it all might be a little dull after my cruising adventures. Mind you, as some actor in some film said "Life is a mighty big adventure!"

One of the best things about being back...

Monday, 20 August 2012

The end and the beginning

We are back to our home mooring. My goodness it was overgrown, but beautifully green. Here is my bench almost swallowed by nettles:

overgrown home mooring

Bonny was very happy to be back in familiar surroundings and has spent the last few days happily exploring the undergrowth without showing any inclination to wander off! Here she is in meditative mood:

meditative dog

Oh and just because I love the photo, here is a friend I met at Great Haywood:

highland cow

So, our great adventure is over and we are back safe and sound. Thinking about all the things that could have gone wrong mechanically, physically and emotionally, I am very grateful to have done it all with only a bruised leg to show for the risks I took.

It is good to be back. Friends on the mooring have been lovely, (with the exception of one grumpy bloke who seems utterly un-delighted that I have returned safe and sound!) It has been great having my car to do shopping and the massive load of laundry I had piled up in my bath! I am a little sad that the great adventure is over, but as the title of this post suggests, it is the end of one adventure and the beginning of the next, as my future at this point is totally unknown!

The immediate future is more certain as tomorrow I take to the water again, but only as far as Barton Marina to finally get my water leak fixed. Then on 1st September I’m off to Devon to stay in a real house for two weeks! Oh the bliss of just flushing and forgetting, of turning a light on without worrying how much power I am using and perhaps even having a bath without having to replace the water! Deep joy – for a change, but only as a holiday; I wouldn’t swap water borne living for anything.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Am I Odd?

perfect mooring weston

I have been moored in the above spot since Friday. It is just above Weston Lock on the Trent and Mersey. Because of the vegetation and silt, there is only comfortably room for one boat to moor. Since this trip began, I have only found a handful of moorings as isolated as this.

I have found that I can only deeply relax when I know I am going to be without company. My spirit expands to fill the space I am in and it feels wonderful. I can honestly say that I have not missed human company at all on this trip. Yes, I have had friends and family at the end of a phone or computer and that has been good, but day to day living without being face to face with anybody else has felt so normal I haven’t even really noticed the lack most of the time.

So I come back to my question – am I odd?

From Genesis onwards when God said ‘It is not good for Man to be alone’, society has arranged itself in communities and has treated with suspicion anybody who lived outside the group. These days, it seems to me, you are a second class citizen if you are not in some sort of relationship with somebody. It doesn’t really seem to matter if it is with a lifelong partner or someone you fell into bed with the night before, but if you live as a single person, I find you are treated with pity if not with downright suspicion.

It seems to be assumed by most people that if you are alone then you must be lonely. If you are single then you must be in search of a man – or woman! If you are a single handed boater, you must be in need of a crew (or as a woman, a captain!!) And if you actively seek out solitude then you must be, at the very least, odd!

I have been exploring what draws me to solitude and have come to conclude that it feeds both the unhealthy, damaged side of me and the whole, spiritually searching Mandy. The scarred by life part of me feels threatened and therefore frightened when anybody gets too close to me. I want to push them away – aggressively if necessary. But this part of me needs to be healed and the only way I can see of addressing it is by being in the company of other people and practising not feeling threatened.

However, the wise woman (as a close friend persists in calling me) needs space and time alone to explore the universe, both outer and inner, and that is where any wisdom or spirituality I have comes from. And there’s the rub. How do I organise my life so that I have both company and solitude? How do I begin to address the ‘defensive child’ in me, whilst at the same time feed the ‘wise woman’?

As for being odd, well I can live with the label. One of the advantages of being at home in my own company is that other people’s opinions of me are held fairly lightly.

OK, end of introspection for today. Normal service will be resumed shortly!

Oh, one more question. I have started to consider how I am going to earn my daily crust again and wondered whether I could write for a living – articles or even a book. If anybody has any comments or suggestions how to go about making money from my ramblings, they would be gratefully received. (Lynda, I’m particularly thinking of you!)

Friday, 10 August 2012

Tunnel and Town

I faced my greatest fear (during this cruise) when I navigated the Harecastle Tunnel – all 2926 yards (or one and three quarter miles) of it!

Here it is. The man with the brolly was the really kind and helpful lock keeper. Note the colour of the water!

north entrance of Harecastle

And inside the belly of the beast, approaching the end – this is one of the higher partsinside the belly of the beast of the roof – at one point I had to bend over to avoid hitting my head. The boater following me wasn’t as careful and gashed his head, lost control and sheared his chimney off half way down! I’m really glad I only heard this story afterwards and not before I went through!


When I came out the other end, the lock keeper told me the usual transit takes 45 minutes to an hour and I had come through in 35 minutes. I wasn’t going to hang around! Seriously though, the most helpful thing the first lock keeper told me was to keep my speed up to 3-4 mph. That way the bow wave created would help keep me off the tunnel  walls. It worked perfectly; the only time I got near the wall was when I slowed down approaching the exit.

Then I had to get through Stoke on Trent and Stone, before returning to my natural habitat – the countryside. For those of you bored of all the pictures of green and pleasant land, here are a few of the sights I saw in town…

industrial stokeStoke – the pottery town.

flowery wallIf you have to be surrounded by walls, it helps if they are covered in flowers!

bottle kiln stokeOne of the famous old bottle kilns.

Ramsted HallHow the pottery owners used to live!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Attitude alters reality

Or does it? I wrote a scathing review of the Macclesfield Canal only a week or so ago. I called it a neglected, silty ditch masquerading as a canal. I criticised the towpaths, the lack of dredging and the visitors moorings. And all this was absolutely true – in my reality, at that time. But my attitude and feelings at the time had a huge influence on what I was perceiving.

I had just completed ‘Heartbreak Hill’ and was exhausted. I had been dreaming of cruising the Maccy for so long that I had built up a level of expectation that the Grand Canal in Venice would not have been able to match! I was also entering a period of travel weariness, where having to plan where I was going to buy food, wash my clothes or moor for the night had started to feel like hard work and I had started to miss my home mooring for the first time on this cruise. (Note I now say home mooring and not home – after three and a half years my boat is finally home for me and not the place that it is moored!)

For the past three days I have been travelling back down the same canal, with roughly the same sort of weather (sunshine and showers) and it now seems utterly beautiful to me. I have found moorings without difficulty – the first night I returned to the idyllic mooring near High Lane. This is the only place I have found on my cruise that rivals Fradley Junction as a long term mooring spot. The next day I discovered a hidden gem in Dane’s Moss – a small but perfectly formed nature reserve really close to the mooring I had on the way up, which drove me to despair and to writing my damning account of this canal. Yesterday I managed two swing bridges, 4 miles and the 12 locks of Bosley and moored at the bottom of the flight just before the first rain of the day. Today I have only moved far enough to find a secluded mooring, facing ‘The Cloud’, with plenty of hunting opportunities for Bonny along the overgrown towpath. (She is so good now I have allowed her free rein and she has voluntarily stayed close to the boat.)

I am seeing this canal through different eyes because my attitude has changed. My expectations are now reasonable and because the end of my cruise is almost in sight, it makes me appreciate what I am experiencing here much more sharply. Also, I believe I am now more ‘in the flow’ of the journey.

When I was on the Llangollen, a boat passed me, its engine straining, the boat kicking up a big bow wave and a red faced,angry man at the tiller. Because of the speed he was travelling, he threw my boat about on its ropes. When I pointed this out, he said ‘I’m not going fast, I have to fight the flow’. He meant the flow of water you find on that canal. That phrase and picture of him and his boat stuck in my mind though.

I think for a lot of this cruise if I haven’t been actively ‘fighting the flow’, then I have at least been trying to control it. Instead of being open to what comes, whether that be weather, people or challenges, I have tried to force reality to fit my wishes and expectations. It’s hard to explain but it makes cruising – and life – feel like hard work, with lots of disappointments along the way. But when I let go and ‘go with the flow’, then, although I feel less in control and so not as safe, life is better. I am not nearly as stressed, the challenges are less daunting and I don’t waste energy on worrying whether I’ll manage, or will I find a good mooring or will someone come and moor right next to me etc. etc.

I am reading a Buddhist book at present – The Wisdom of no Escape by Pema Chodron. In it, she says that we are all at the centre of our universe. around us is a sacred circle and everything that enters that space around us, whether it be people or problems or experiences come to teach us something. Therefore we should welcome whatever comes into our sphere of existence, not labelling it good or bad, because it is there to teach us something and help us grow. This fits well with what I am beginning to understand about this journey.

So here is to ‘going with the flow!’

swirly stream