A Nod To Little Gidding

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Today I scanned the final photographs of the Henley – Newark row/walk of July 2003. The last leg, from Nottingham to Newark was 25 miles in length.

Sam set off without James, and I trailed in his wake. It is hard to believe that I managed to keep within sight of him as he rowed along the River Trent, but these photographs would seem to prove it. Perhaps the cattle would bear witness.

As the rower moved into Farndon, James, Louisa, and Gemma set out to greet him and to follow him towards

Newark Castle station 7.03

Newark Castle, first passing the railway station;

to be greeted by his reception committee as he docked. Louisa, as requested, handed me two pints of beer – all for me.

Perhaps this was a lap of honour alongside the castle ruins. This 13th century castle was originally built for the Bishop of Lincoln. A Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, ‘in 1646 the garrison surrendered, but only after a direct command from Charles I. Parliament ordered the castle destroyed so it could never be held against them again, but fate took a hand; plague broke out in Newark town, and the destruction of the castle was halted.’ This quotation is taken from  http://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=93 which contains a more complete history in very readable form.

So, what has all this to do with T.S. Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’? From this, the last of the poet’s Four Quartets, I have borrowed

‘What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make an end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from………….

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time’.

The reason is that I do not have the negatives of the last of my photographs as they are prints, which must have been produced by our friend Alison, or her sister, Rosemary, both of whom were there to send us on our way.

Sam took delivery of his boat at Henley where he and James set about preparing and stocking it for the journey. Note the black bin behind my son,

which I strapped on with the rather optimistic intention of collecting sponsorship money.

Pacific Pete left the mooring,

and we were under way. This was to be the last sound footpath I trod for the next eleven days.

This evening we dined on Thai inspired fish cakes from Tesco served on Jackie’s succulent bed of sautéed onions, peppers, leeks, mushrooms and manges touts; noodles; prawn toasts and spring rolls. The Culinary Queen drank her customary Hoegaarden and I drank more of the madiran.

P.S. See Mike’s bitaboutbritain comment below for a much fuller illustrated history of Newark Castle

 

 

The Foxton Flight

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It rained all day today. Aaron, who could not work in such weather, came for a pleasant chat over a mug of tea.

I will not bore either my readers or myself with full details of today’s BT episode. But it does warrant a brief mention. Yesterday, as you know, I had been promised a phone call from a manager about the charge of £50 to change the name on my account. The young lady who telephoned me from India this morning was certainly no manager. When we came to an impasse she transferred me to someone in England. The best I could glean from her, after she had consulted with her manager, was that this could only be done free of charge was by changing the phone number then transferring it back. There was no guarantee that our existing number would be accurately returned. I told her, for the recording, precisely what I thought of her company, stated that it was only my reluctance to change our number and my e-mail address, that kept me with them; and that I wouldn’t bother to take her up on her kind offer.

Then I scanned another set of colour negatives from my longest walk.

I don’t usually tinker with the colours in my photographs, but I did have a play with these three landscape shots.

Sam in Pacific Pete 7.03

Beyond Oxford, Sam took to the Grand Union Canal

alongside which the footpaths were often completely overgrown, albeit

with pleasant wild flowers, such as meadowsweet and willow herb.

Of the many butterflies flitting about, I only recognised the red admirals. (See John Knifton’s comment below)

Oak leaves 7.03

The shade from trees like this oak was often welcome in the heat of the day.

About the Foxton Flight of Locks, built between 1810 and 1814, Wikipedia informs us:

‘Foxton Locks (grid reference SP691895) are ten canal locks consisting of two “staircases” each of five locks, located on the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal about 5 km west of the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough and are named after the nearby village of Foxton.

They form the northern terminus of a 20-mile summit level that passes Husbands Bosworth, Crick and ends with the Watford flight

Staircase locks are used where a canal needs to climb a steep hill, and consist of a group of locks where each lock opens directly into the next, that is, where the bottom gates of one lock form the top gates of the next. Foxton Locks are the largest flight of such staircase locks on the English canal system.

The Grade II* listed locks are a popular tourist attraction and the county council has created a country park at the top. At the bottom, where the junction with the arm to Market Harborough is located, there are two public houses, a shop, trip boat and other facilities.’

On the day Sam guided Pacific Pete down this staircase, family visitors were out in force. For once I was ahead of my son, and reached the locks in time to learn that the canal-side telegraph was buzzing with the news that a large rowing boat was on its way through.

The audience gathered to watch Sam use his giant oar to steer and propel the boat through the locks because there was no room to row.

Asian family leaving Foxton Flight 7.03

Did you notice the Asian man gesturing to his family in the first picture, and shepherding them over the bridge in the last, in order to lead them down the slope to see the rower on his way?

Child helping at the locks 7.03

There had been no shortage of helpers to push the long balance beams operating the gates.

There were plenty of narrow boats on the waters, but no other ocean-going rowing boats.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s glorious sausage casserole; crisp carrots, cauliflower and red cabbage, and creamy mashed potatoes. She drank Hoegaarden and I finished Helen and Bill’s Malbec.

Tales From The River Bank

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BT excelled themselves today. Readers will remember that on 18th December I had cancelled my useless Broadband package, and retained the landline, having to create a new account to include £5 per month to keep my e-mail address. I was told that this new account would be in my name. Even though the payment has come out of my bank account for years they have never been willing to substitute my name for that of Mrs Stockley, who is in any case now, once again, Mrs Knight.

The latest bill still includes the full package, so I went through the hoops and the wait to speak to a man with an Indian accent. He was very helpful. He assured me that there would be a refund on the next bill. But. That is still in the name of Mrs Stockley. It cannot be changed. I politely expressed my displeasure. Eventually the gentleman told me it could be changed at the cost of £50. I hit the roof, and demanded that this be lodged as a formal complaint. It took him a while, but he returned saying he had done so, and included  something to compensate for the ineffective Broadband. A manager will call me back within 48 hours. We will see.

Believe it or not, British Gas then capped this. I received, in the post, a bill for almost £700, including a sum of more than £650 I had paid by phone on 11th. I telephoned them. I went through more hoops. And another wait. I learned that the payment, like many others, had not gone through, because of a fault in their system. I was advised to check with my bank that this was so. I expressed displeasure at having to do this. The woman at British Gas offered to call me back in 20 minutes to check. My bank statement confirmed what she had said. She did ring me back. I paid the money and advised her that a simple letter of explanation enclosed with the bill would have been in the interests of customer service – something that her company could well do with.

Later, I decided to go on a long walk. Not, this time, literally. The trip was undertaken in July 2003 in a supportive fundraising effort for the epic row Sam was to undertake the following year. I have featured various anecdotes from the walk, the first appearing in ‘Nettle Rash’, before I had unearthed the negatives. I began to scan them today.

Sam took delivery of the specially designed rowing boat at Henley on Thames, and off we set on a fine Summer’s afternoon around the time of my 61st birthday. He and his friend James took the boat, whilst I walked along what I had hoped would be the footpath. I soon discovered that the banks of the River Thames and the Oxford Union canal were not as smooth and foliage free as that branch of London’s Regent’s Canal alongside which I had trained for the event.

Couple on riverbank 7.03

The stretch along which I followed this couple was plain sailing in comparison with what I had to battle through in the post highlighted above.

Lock gate 7.03

Elderly lock gates, green tresses dripping with possibly unsavoury water, were to be a regular feature of the journey. This was quite useful, as it gave me an opportunity to catch up.

Waterfowl 7.03

Waterfowl were plentiful;

Suckling goat 7.03

a woolly goat, or perhaps a sheep, suckled its young;

Riders

slightly older horse riders ambled leisurely along;

Lichen 7.03

and yellow ochre lichen clung to knobbly branches.

Bridge

Numerous bridges were to be negotiated.

This house is one of those in which I enjoyed a peaceful overnight stay. The story of the most notable exception is told in ‘An Uncomfortable Night’.

These fields were probably located in the vicinity of the above house.

This evening, over dinner, we experienced more of faceless moneymakers’ scant regard for customer service. Our meal was taken at The Raj in Old Milton. On this Saturday night the carpark was virtually empty and, although the restaurant was doing brisk takeaway business, we were the only diners. The first thing we noticed was that, entering the parking area as usual we found ourselves passing through no entry sign. Then came the frequent notices stating that parking at any time, was only permitted for 20 minutes and anyone overstaying would be charged £100. Jackie parked in the street outside and I spoke to the  manager. Apparently, with no warning whatever to the row of shops fronting the parking area, the landlord of some of the buildings has implemented the restriction. Many of the outlets, including The Raj, are freeholders who bought their buildings with free parking included. The first owners of the Raj building did so in 1962. There are two other caterers in the block. None of their customers could eat and leave in 20 minutes. All the occupants of the block have joined in making a legal protest.

Jackie chose chicken sag; I chose king prawn khata; we shared a plain paratha and special fried rice, and both drank Cobra beer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boat Maintenance

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This morning I printed some pictures for Christmas presents, which it would be premature to publish here.

This afternoon I scanned another batch of colour negatives from early 1986.

Matthew, Sam & Louisa 1.86

During that prolonged winter, Sam’s and Louisa’s expressions show quite clearly how cold it was when Matthew, dubbed by Louisa ‘the best big brother ever’, took them out for a buggy ride from Gracedale Road.

Matthew reading to Sam & Louisa

It was clearly much more cosy when he read them a story.

Sam and Louisa (bouncing) 1986

At 10.19 one morning Louisa bounced up and down, possibly trying to dislodge her mother and brother from bed. Sam was not impressed. The bedside lamp was made from a stone hot water bottle gained from our ‘Mudlarking’ days.

That year snow lay on the ground for the first three months. It would have been after that when Jessica, Sam, and I spent a week in Mary Dewsberry’s holiday home in Haslemere. The evidence for this is the farm track up which we walked on a recce. Last year’s bracken and autumn leaves lingered in the country terrain.

Jessica, Sam and Louisa feeding ponies 1986

This may have been the occasion when we discovered that the two children both had allergies to horses, the touch of which caused their eyes to swell up alarmingly.

Under the cloak of a little coppice, Louisa made a diving effort to reenter her mother’s womb. Sam insisted that there was room for two.

Mary’s son, Nick, and his children Jack and Dora, welcomed Sam and Louisa into their boat maintenance crew. Louisa made a quick recovery after her early tip-up, and everyone set to with gusto.

This evening, Jackie produced succulent roast duck, suitably reduced spinach, boiled potatoes, and crunchy carrots and cauliflower. She drank Hoegaarden and I drank Western Cape Fair Trade shiraz 2015.

Crossing The Line

Our new granddaughter’s name is Poppy, which we rather like.

Scooby

Although the weather was warmer and sunnier today, Becky’s photograph of Scooby sunning himself in my chair, illustrated the general lack-lustre mood of the still recovering party.

It was therefore another good day for scanning colour slides from May 2004, and incidentally reducing the tension with which readers were left by the cliffhanging ending of yesterday’s post. That first rate storyteller Bruce Goodman ( Weave a Web ), for example, was forced to speculate about whether Sam ‘made it’, or was foiled at the last minute.

Sam finishing race 5.04128

Sam continued along the western shore of Barbados, on his route to the finishing line,

Sam finishing race 5.04135

Sam finishing race 5.04125

which was an imaginary one stretching from port and starboard markers.

Sam finishing race 5.04124Sam finishing race 5.04131Sam finishing race 5.04127

Sam finishing race 5.04133Sam finishing race 5.04126

Of the reception committee Chris wears a blue shirt; Fiona a white T-shirt and black trousers; Jessica, a blue and white sun dress; Louisa, a dark top and grey mini skirt; and Frances waves the flags. Dixie records a video for the Ocean Rowing Society.

Sam finishing race 5.04134

Having crossed the line Sam aims for the Port St Charles dock into which he is required to manoevre his boat. I imagine this  must be rather like coming off motorway and finding a berth in a municipal car park.

This afternoon, Helen and Bill visited with a bottle of prosecco, with which to celebrate Poppy’s birth, and a sweet little outfit for us to take when we make her acquaintance.

For our evening meal Spice of India delivered another excellent takeaway. I drank Lion’s Gate cabernet sauvignon shiraz 2014. As for the others, Jackie says ‘we’ll all drink whatever we like. It’s none of your nosey business’.  Naturally this was received in the jocular spirit in which it was intended. Given that everyone knows what she drinks, I don’t think that really matters.