Approaching Leicester

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Here are further images of the journey through England’s midland waterways taken by me walking alongside Sam and James in Pacific Pete in July 2003.

This stone stork beside the Cherwell section of the Oxford Canal seemed amused by the attempts of their mother to draw her offspring away from him.

Small bridges, narrow locks  and a few narrowboats on this section required careful negotiation by the rower. Navigator James looked quite thoughtful in the third picture.

The River Soar for part of the Oxford Union Canal stretch. The towpaths here were better tended than some. Willowherb thrived in the brickwork of this bridge.

Dragonflies mated; waterlilies bloomed; and a stone wall provided a backdrop for wild flowers.

An art group concentrated hard on a lock as we approached Leicester.

Nearing the city of my birth, we passed a derelict graffiti-bedaubed factory,

Leaf on waterweed

outside which a leaf lay on a bed of water weed.

Soon Pacific Pete was gliding through the city.

Supermoon

Fast forward to today, and we have a supermoon,

heralding in Jackie’s classic cottage pie served with perfect cabbage, broccoli, and carrots, with which she drank Hoegaarden whilst I drank more of the Chateauneuf.

 

 

Thorns And Scratches

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Jackie is making good headway on her Spring planting

Sarcococca

Two sarcococcas, small shrubs which already dispense amazing scents, have been tried out with temporary plonking in their pots;

Other seeds, bulbs, and corms to come, are marked with packet labels;

Daffodil

Our first daffodil needed a helping hand to hold up its head.

Camellia

Camellias are now proliferating,

Cryptomeria

and the cryptomeria is sporting fresh needles.

Snowdrops

Most beds are blanketed with snowdrops;

Hellebore

more varieties of hellebore are blooming.

Many cyclamens have survived the winter, the white one here offering a fly a perch.

On this fine morning we took a trip into the forest.

At North Gorley a murder of crows were taking a very cold bath in the temporary pools. In order to park safely for a photograph we had to drive on and tun round, by which time most had flown away, a few engaged in aeronautics, and one remained  alone in contemplation.

One of the countryside crafts much in evidence in this area is that of hedge laying. A fine example lines a section of Hungerford Hill at Hyde. Water from the fields is fed into the ditch from pipes sunk into the banks.

This seven minute video demonstrates the skill required to maintain such a living boundary:

Donkeys largely eschew the grass they leave for the ponies that they perhaps regard as wimps whilst, occasionally pausing for a good scratch, they tear away at brambles and anything else prickly enough to test their mettle. These creatures were seen, as usual, at Hyde and Frogham. Could it be that the calloused craters between the nostrils of the young white one trimming the hedge at Frogham, have been caused by its chosen nutriment?

This evening we dined at Lal Quilla. Service was very friendly and efficient; the food was as superb as ever. We shared special fried rice, egg paratha, and onion bahjis. My main choice was Davedush; Jackie’s was Noorjehani. We both drank Kingfisher.

A selection of three photographs have been made from those I submitted. The size chosen is A3+. Raj, manager, wasn’t there, and the others want to check once more with him before I go ahead and produce them.

 

 

 

 

Head To Head

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A patch of mostly dull and cold weather is giving me ample reasons for continuing with the scanning of the negatives of the long walk of the rather hot July of 2003. Today we are again back on the River Thames in South Oxfordshire.

Couples walking 7.03

This was still near enough to normal civilisation for elderly couples to be out walking along the banks.

If there were any footpaths on this stretch, they lay beneath the ripeness of Summer requiring negotiation, in the form of wild flowers attracting bees; grasses in seed; plantains trip over; broad backlit leaves bearing shadows of other floral forms; and convovulous carrying tiny beetles.

Convolvulus reflected 7.03

One of the latter plants trailed over the river, reflecting on the murky water.

Derelict hut 7.03

An avian trio perched on the coping stones of a derelict shed in need of replacement tiles;

a pair of peacocks entered into head to head negotiations;

Mallard and ducklings

a mallard paddled along ahead of her imprinted offspring;

Swans and cygnets

and a pair of swans introduced their cygnets to further reaches of the Thames.

Sheep and farm buildings 7.03

A flock of sheep grazed alongside what I took to be farm buildings of some sort.

The sun-baked natural world disregarded the two young men taking a leisurely row along the sleepy waters, passing a dangerous-looking weir, and negotiating a narrow lock.

Here, at home, dusk this evening lent a dramatic air to the looming skull of the virtually gutted North Breeze next door.

Shelly and Ron gave me a couple of very good Blason du Rhone Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2015 wines for Christmas. I drank a glass this evening with Jackie’s excellent chicken jalfrezi, and aromatic pilau rice, served with vegetable samosas. My lady finished the Coquimbo.

A Bottle Of Rum

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Today I scanned another batch of negatives from the long walk of July 2003. I have managed to become slightly out of sequence, but who cares? I never had much idea of where I was, anyway.

The first few were images from the early stages of the row, as Sam, with James’s guidance, left Henley and enjoyed the width of the River Thames, as he approached Sandford Lock.

James rowing

Once through, James took the oars,

Girl in punt

and we soon passed a young lady in a punt considering modelling for Ophelia.

Cattle and horses, with their foal, drank from the river,

while a red-legged partridge took her chicks for an airing. Can you spot two in the second picture?

Sam and James in Pacific Pete 7.03

Fast forward to Napton where, with far less oar-space, the lads were making their way through the moored narrowboats.

Don, Sam and friends

It was quite likely The King’s Head where we enjoyed a meal and a drink with friends we had found. I was not to know it at the time, but, Don in the front of the image, had given Sam a bottle of rum with instructions not to open it until he had won the Atlantic race. Fortunately he was victorious, and, as a thank you for my support, was to start on it with me.

Just beyond that location is the 250 metres long Newbold Tunnel. As we didn’t have a horse, a couple with a narrowboat offered to tow Pacific Pete through it. Here are the preparations taking place.

Bridge underside 7.03

This underside of a bridge may or may not be part of the tunnel, but it would be similar.

Goodness knows how I reached the other side, but the standard of towpath was all downhill from here. However, I did, and was able to photograph grasses, burdock, and convolvulus clogging up the potholed paths.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s splendid turkey fillets jalfrezi, perfectly aromatic and colourful pilau rice, and small vegetable samosas. The culinary Queen drank more of the Coquimbo and I finished the Shiraz.

 

On The Turn

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Anyone who had imagined that the long-running saga of the British Gas electricity bill had reached its conclusion will have been under the same misapprehension as me. Here is a brief recap. I had paid the delayed bill over the phone on 11th January. On 21st I received the next bill, including the paid amount. I was told the payment hadn’t gone through because of a problem in their system. I paid it again. Today I received a reminder for the first amount. I telephoned once more; said I knew my views would make no difference, but that they would make me feel better; then gave my views.

Afterwards I continued my scanning of the colour negatives from Henley to Newark trip of July 2003.

Grasses and wild flowers still covered the footpaths, and I was treated to what I believe was my first sight of a damselfly.

Sheep and fields of grass occupied the landscape on the opposite bank of the Oxford Canal,

Garden with 4X4 and phone box 7.03

which seemed an unlikely resting place for an iconic red telephone box.

 

I caught up with Pacific Pete at the Braunston Turn Bridges. theoxfordcanal.co.uk website informs me that this section of the waterway, which shares its route with the Grand Union Canal Main Line as far as Napton Junction, is ‘one of the few places on the entire stretch of the Oxford Canal where there is narrow boat access to another river or canal. It is worth noting from the point of view of use by cyclists and walkers that the towpath really deteriorates very soon after Braunston Turn Bridges. In fact this section of the canal has hardly any towpath in some places and is a real mess suffering from collapse, potholes, mud, nettles and brambles. It can be all but impassable in places if there has been any sort of recent wet weather.’

Unfortunately, I didn’t know this.

According to Wikipedia, ‘The Horseley Ironworks (sometimes spelled Horsley and Iron Works) was a major ironworks in the Tipton area in the county of Staffordshire, now the West Midlands, England.

Founded by Aaron Manby,[1] it is most famous for constructing the first iron steamer, The Aaron Manby, in 1821.[2][3] The boat was assembled at Rotherhithe. She was only the first of a number of steamboats built on the “knock-down” principle. The ironworks have also been responsible for the manufacture of numerous canal and railway bridges of the 19th century.

The ironworks were built near the Toll End Communication Canal[4] on the Horseley estate, which had been sold by their owner at the turn of the 19th century[5] due to demand from engineers wishing to profit on the construction of the BCN Main Line through the estate. The date when the ironworks were constructed is unknown but is believed to have been by 1815.[5] Industry in the area prospered and the location retained the name of the Horseley estate as shown in an 1822 survey of the area.[6]

With the increasing popularity of canals, the ironworks quickly became popular for manufacturing canal bridges, mainly in the local vicinity.[7]Canal bridges made by the ironworks include the Engine Arm Aqueduct (1825), two roving bridges at Smethwick Junction (1828),[8][9] Galton Bridge (1829), and Braunston Towpath Bridges (1830).[10][11] By the end of the canal construction era, Horseley Ironworks had emerged as one of the most prolific manufacturers of canal bridges in the West Midlands region,[5] especially in Birmingham.[12] This was a result of their signature bridge design which had become popular amongst canal constructors. The design has been replicated more recently, for example in Birmingham during the regeneration of Gas Street Basin where Worcester Bar is linked to Gas Street.[13]

Horseley Ironworks were also responsible for manufacturing in the railway industry. Railway bridges constructed included that of the viaduct for the London and Birmingham to Holyhead railway at Shifnal, Shropshire which was cast in 1848.[14] As well as manufacturing bridges, they also produced locomotives.[15]

The company also manufactued construction steelwork for the pier of Ryde, the Palace Theatre in London, Rugby railway station, a seaplane hangar in Las Palmas and the Dome of Discovery at the 1951 Festival of Britain.[16]

People who have worked for the iron foundry include Charles Manby, the son of Aaron Manby, James Thomson,[17] William Johnson[18]and Richard Roberts.[19]

The firm moved in 1865 to a site on the now defunct Dixon’s Branch, off the BCN New Main Line (Island Line), near the South Staffordshire Railway line. The factory survived under a succession of owners until 1991, when it was closed down and subsequently redeveloped as a housing estate.[4]

I managed to keep up with Sam and James in the boat whilst, having passed under the elegant bridge from the time of Queen Victoria’s predecessor, King William IV, they negotiated their way through a narrowboat-congested area to the next flight of locks. As can be seen, there was barely room for the lengthy ocean-going oars.

Sam rowing

Eventually the rower was once more under way.

After this, I had to find my way up and down various hilly areas, where I was surprised in the darkness by the only badger I have ever seen alive. I was amazed at how fast it could run. It was fortunate that the creature took off in the opposite direction, because running anywhere, by that time, was quite beyond me.

This evening we dined on Mr Pink’s perky cod, parsley flavoured fish cakes and crisp chips plated up with pickled Freshona gherkins and Garner’s onions. We both drank Pedro Jimenez Coquimbo 2016.

 

Waiting For The Dilation

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A wander round the garden this morning yielded

 

spears of crocosmia, tulips, and daffodils piercing the soil;

Crocuses

crocuses opened further;

Primulas and snowdrops

and varieties of primula.

Daphne odorata

Daphne Odorata remains wary of the possibility of a cold spell.

 

The winter flowering clematis Cirrhosa now cascades down the gazebo,

 

while, in the Rose Garden, Winchester Cathedral has bloomed for several months; Mum in a Million and Festive Jewel are in bud;

Spring sculpture

and the sun shines on “Spring”

This afternoon Jackie drove me to Lymington Hospital and back, for my eye appointment. I received efficient treatment, the nurse being rather more friendly than the consultant, but it is not his bedside manner that I suppose one looks to. After the nurse’s checks, she administered drops intended to dilate my eyes. They were effective, and, according to Jackie, gave me a sexy air. On hearing this, the gentleman sitting next to me asked her to look at his.

The consultant advised me that the laser treatment to my left eye was, as I thought, required. Apparently another cataract is forming in the right eye. I was asked if I wanted it done. No advice was given. I declined. I now await a date for the operation to the left eye.

Further administrative confusion occurred, in that a handwritten notice on the wall advised that, as stated in the appointment letter, we may have further checks carried out after the examination in order to save repeated visits. These could take three hours. Neither my nor anyone else’s letter carried such information. However this didn’t happen.

Waiting for the dilation to take effect gave me sufficient time to finish ‘The Locked Room’, being the third short novel in Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. In the penultimate chapter the author suggests that all three of these works are the same story. He also uses the word ‘absurd’ on a number of occasions. It is. We are lulled, in this final episode, into thinking we might be reading something that makes sense. The writing flows with excellent descriptions and presents a plausible situation involving apparently real people and their relationships. A childhood friendship, for example, is beautifully told. There is, as usual, no ultimate clarity as nonsense finally prevails. Not that I could follow, anyway.

Tom Burns’s illustrations were, however, a delight, true to the text to the end.

           For our dinner The Culinary Queen produced succulent pigs in blankets; sublime sage and onion stuffed roast chicken; firm Yorkshire pudding; creamy mashed potato; toothsome manges touts; and tender runner beans. Good gravy, too.  With this, I drank Wolf’s Leap merlot 2016.

A Haven Of Peace After The Storm

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This morning we wandered around the garden investigating signs of Spring regrowth. We have snowdrops, hellebores and crocuses coming into bloom.

Daphne odora

The still small daphne odorata is keeping its powder dry until the temperature is warm enough for its burgeoning buds to burst open.

From these signs of burgeoning life we visited the Woodland Burial Ground at Walkford so that, on what would have been her mother’s birthday, she could add to the planting around her burial plot. Pleased to see her earlier snowdrops coming through, she added more and a further primula.

The idea of this scheme is that human remains be allowed to rest in communion with natural woodland. There are no gravestones. Some bodies are buried; others’ ashes are interred. Each has a little marker. The soil around the plots settles naturally back into the earth. Only native woodland flowers are permitted to be planted on the sites, although it is clear that many people do stretch a point.

Jackie

Wreaths, such as that which we set in place in December, must be removed by the end of this month. Jackie took it away today.

Gardener

Two gardeners were busy tidying up after yesterday’s gales. In speaking to one, I observed that there was much to do after the storm. He agreed, adding that what was worst was the rain, bringing a great deal of mud and heavy soil that was difficult to work, especially in the digging of graves. I described his workplace as a haven of peace.

A diversion on our return home took us past Shelly and Ron’s home. Naturally we called for a pleasant chat, coffee, and, in my case, a slice of delicious Christmas cake.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s savoury rice served with Thai style prawn fishcakes, peas, and green beans.