Journal

Already May, change is in the air

It’s been an eventful time, May is here already and change is in the air. That’s usually the case when spring arrives but there is more to it. We are back from our Japan trip and things on Natascha’s side are as much up side down as this tree.

Japan was amazing, but had it’s problems. Natascha didn’t return perfectly rested and healthy. It’s related to her work, she ended the working in London abruptly upon returning from the trip.

Yes, Japan, the land of the raising sun, Mount Fuji and…

… Trump crackers.

Even the colour scheme of the packaging and the cracker itself is fitting. Different shades of orange. We wondered whether they relate to Trump? We didn’t like them, not our taste at all, same like the other name bearer.

Everything is in flux all the time. There were changes in Kingswood Basin too, when we came back Simon, our neighbor, moved on the other side of the pontoon. All of a sudden we had lots of light inside the boat, that was a great improvement.

Light falls on messy shelf unit.

A tender moment. White feather on blackened steel – pictorial poetry on a barge.

We only hope, she wasn’t the reason the feathers were on the boat… that feisty little one, sometimes.

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Winter… and early signs of Spring

Winter was luckily not a cold one, mind you now that we have a fixed mooring and access to electricity we bought a swanky Dyson, which we use to heat the back side of the boat. That makes a huge difference.

Maybe this was the last Dyson product we bought? Not just because of the price. Mr Dyson is a Brexit supporter. And speaks to the hearts of the Brexiteers. We really, honestly wonder, how many of the Brexit supports can afford a Dyson product?

Back to nature. It was wet of course but we weren’t hindered by the weather to go out for walks, our wellies made it possible to walk the wet land. As always, nature as a means of therapy.

Tree hugging was still going strong. But how can you resist this?

As February approached it became clear that it was time for Natascha to pack her stuff and leave the UK. Time was up after almost 15 years.

Work turned out to be a heart ache and Natascha handed in her notice. The idea is to spend the summer and autumn with Adnan in the UK and then towards the End of 2017 to move back to Switzerland. It wasn’t an easy time and such decisions are never made lightly but for her something had to change. Switzerland has its perks too, and is not part of the EU, but for now the most sensible option seemed to go back home.

The whole Brexit madness only contributed to her decision, why staying in a post Brexit Britain, a country having severed its ties to the rest of Europe? And a UK which could quite possibly align with Trump’s nightmarish ‘make America great again’ vision? It was time to make a Brexit exit. Really dark days during the dark winter time.

This photo is quite fitting of the feel at that moment, a tree without leaves, unprotected and exposed in the dark, hoping for brighter days to come soon.

Of course the spring sun came back out, the moss is reaching up to catch the rays. March is here.

We have a trip planned to Japan in April and we were ready to go, three weeks away from all the complexities of the day-to-day existence. And explore a new culture, to visit friends in Tokyo and then some time on our own with a Japan Railway pass in tow. Kyoto, Koya-San and a visit to an onsen, then Osaka was on our agenda.

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Two long journeys, two short ones and finally at home

Natascha thinks we beat all the boater records in the last two days, ever. Pure sarcasm, of course, but at this point she’s allowed.

The first day on our way to Kingswood Basin we spent some 9 hours cruising. That was already challenging for us, and the cat. Although it was September, the thermometer climbed up and it was rather warm for this time of the year. We found a tremendous spot to moor up for the night, cat went out straight away and we caught the last sun rays. It was a beautiful moment.

Day two of the journey turned out the be a back breaking nightmare. There were many locks to work, 27 in total in one day! It was apocalyptic to cruise through Birmingham from the side we did, we came from the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal section and we had to pass under the spaghetti junction. Heavily industrialized landscape for miles on end and then this junction. We had to turn left into the Grand Union and shortly afterwards was a CRT mooring which we both didn’t approve of to stay overnight, silly as we were. We cruised through Birmingham at night, the canal not looking good at all, cranky old locks to work. And we continued cruising, it was getting later and later, we finally had Birmingham Centre behind us, generally it was really dark along the canal and we could hardly see a thing, apart from a massive incinerator at one point. We didn’t have a clue where we were.

The clock was hitting 11pm and we had to moor up, we have been cruising since 9am! We finally saw a boat and we decided to stay near them for the night. By that time it was already 11.30pm. Quickly something to eat, the cat went out, we were surrounded by forest, or at least it seemed.

The next morning we got up, knackered as hell, the cat nowhere. Great. So, we had to wait, had a coffee outside, it was a lovely day again. Then we discovered the mess on the roof of our boat. Blimey somebody dropped a rather big shit! Was it a pigeon or a squirrel? Quickly, we had to wash the roof, the white paint wasn’t fully dry at this point and we just didn’t wanted to have some weird green colour seeping through. The cat arrived, we grabbed her and off we went.

When we arrived at Knowle Wharf we wanted to fill up our diesel tank. Sorry mates, no diesel here…! We had to go all the way back to Copt Heath Wharf, adding another 40 minutes of extra cruising. We got there, got the diesel and went back. On the way back we saw dark clouds in the distance, it really looked like something was brewing. At the Knowle flight of locks the storm was pretty close. Still we decided to do the locks, those are massive ones, doing them alone and under pressure was hard work. Yet again! Natascha’s biceps were getting bigger by the bloody minute.

We arrived at the bottom and the famous sky opened. It was a beautiful storm, the cat unfortunately managed to get out of the boat and had to endure some serious lightning and thunder. When the storm was over we continued with cruising, thinking we will manage to reach our new home. But we slowed down the boat to the lowest gear and quietly cruised the last stretch of the cut. It was a stunning moment & Natascha didn’t make a single photo… Probably because the scenery was so overwhelmingly beautiful, we were so happy to have made the decision to move to the country side, we were in awe of it all.

Then night fell and we just couldn’t get ourselves to go up the last lock and trying to find our spot and quite possibly disturb the neighbors. So we stayed near the railway bridge for the night and discovered that we had a dead Coventry rat on our boat! Yes, bloody hell, we noticed a strange smell when passing the fridge and we thought it was the cabbage we bought… but no, a dead rat under the fridge! Out we threw it in the bushes, got the anti bacterial cleaning out and whipped everything franticly. Then we prepared supper, not the last one, but the first in our new home.

The next morning we did the last lock, filled up the water tank and moored at Kingswood Basin. It was a glorious moment. No more enforcement team, no more clogged Elsan disposal, decent water pressure. And great neighbors. Heaven.

 

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Oh Coventry, what happened to you?

Coventry got a bad resurrection after WW2, it is indeed famous for that. Just how bad it was, only became clear when we did that trip “down to the basin”. For crying out loud, who in his or her right mind had the idea to built a ring road around the centre? And the first City Centre Ikea was opened here in 2007. Yes, Ikea has a massive presence in the Centre, in the famous shape of a blue cube.

Coventry’s Wikipedia page has more enlightening information and we have two photos of the basin.

After one night in the Basin we headed back to Swan Lane Wharf. It was time for a good long break from the stresses of the boater life. At least for Natascha.

 

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Oh Coventry! Let’s get out of here…

Natascha wanted to leave 5 minutes after we arrived at Swan Lane Wharf. It’s a fact – she didn’t like at all where we ended up. Feeling anxious already when cruising on Coventry Canal, she claims she hasn’t seen that many rats jumping into the canal before, the water way became increasingly dirty, the surrounding area desolate.

Was this our new home?

It became abundantly clear to her that she won’t last for long in Coventry and made that very clear to Adnan. Nat cried and screamed simultaneously and wanted to sink Quintessence.

On top, our next door neighbor came to introduce himself, he had a very angry small dog. The Germans bombed Coventry flat during WW2, and this is England and he’s English etc etc. Ok, he was from an older generation, still, his introduction didn’t help. All the others weren’t exactly our sort of people either, one of the neighbors had a massive dog and she introduced herself with her husbands name, and her husband with her name. Then she realised the mistake and started laughing loudly. She had a drunken stupor. Didn’t help either.

At least the cat seemed happy, she had a good patch of land to herself and she didn’t mind the rather large anthill right next to our boat.

Natascha had to go to work to London and was relieved to be away for a few days. Upon her return it was time to consult the CRT website to find if, by any chance, a countryside mooring near by was vacant. There it was, a mooring in the Warwicksire country side, not far from Coventry, in a village called Lapworth, the exact location is Kingswood Basin.

We headed straight out there. We really loved the site, there was a fellow boater, waving at us, asking whether we are there to view the moorings. Sure we are, and he replied it’s the best mooring in the UK, we should apply for it. So we did. Got the place secured with a deposit. We were so relieved, we could so well imagine us staying here. The nature was stunning, the basin peaceful. The cat will have a blast and we can go for long walks. That was a quick way out.

But before moving to Kingswood, it was time to get ready for two trips – one, down to the Coventry basin and we had a month long visit planned to Switzerland. Quintessence will stay at Swan Lane Wharf for the duration. At least she was safe there. The “moving in” at Kingswood was scheduled for mid September.

 

 

 

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Braunston Tunnel & a stop over at Braunston Marina

Braunston tunnel is over 1.8 kilometre long, has a curve somewhere, water gushes down the ceiling and walls – basically it’s an adventure to pass through it. On top, if another boat passes it requires a good wiggle for them to pass each other. We managed.

We were quite relieved when we reached the end of it. 1.8 kilometre have never felt so long. And yes, there is that famous light at the end of every tunnel…

We moored up at Braunston visitor moorings, actually we were lucky to find a spot at all, July is high time. We headed straight out to the marina, we had some work to be done. The back hatch needs fixing and our very old oven had to be replaced. We were strolling around Braunston Marina and came across Carl. Firstly, Braunston is a fantastic Marina, secondly Carl is the most helpful person one can wish for. Quick chat with his mates and we were asked to move Quintessence into the marina. And we moored next to a beautiful old and restored barge. We love Quintessence but check out Monarch!

Braunston Marina at Dusk

And our shiny new oven, installed by Carl. What a pleasure to look at and more importantly to cook with. Worth every penny and it wasn’t cheap.

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Aqueducts, passing Stoke Bruerne, Blisworth tunnel and finally a break!

It was a hot day, already in the morning the sun seemed merciless. But we had to get another 15 Miles or so going before we will have a two day break. Shortly after we started we passed the New Bradwell Aqueduct, it’s slightly uncanny to cross a motorway on a barge on water.

And then came the Iron Trunk Aqueduct, where water crosses over water.

We passed Stoke Bruerne, then Blisworth Tunnel.

On the other side of the tunnel. Lush nature greeting us and a tow path repair going on.

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14 Miles, 5 locks and a discussion about Brexit

We did indeed 14 Miles today, that is a lot in boater terms. It was a good day for Natascha, there were only 5 locks to work. She had time to take the camera out and document a bit the scenery. The landscape is stunning, the lush country side during summer time is a real feast for the eye and the mind.

Some fishing below the motor way?

Some fishing from a branch?

Is this paradise?

We arrived at Stanton Low Park rather relaxed and joyous, considering we had such a good cruising day. We moored Quintessence and not long one of our boat neighbors came around for a chat. As mentioned before, the second question usually asked was where we are from. Switzerland. A short silent moment and his answer was “ohh, Switzerland is not in the EU either”. A smile appeared on his face at the same time. It was clear which topic this conversation will entail, the one question remaining, “Pro or Contra”? Pro Brexit of course. Natascha was in a provocative mood and answered “it’s a shame Switzerland isn’t in the EU. A silly, landlocked island in midst of the EU sea”.

Not sure how well that was received but we were told that people from Somalia all want to have flat screens, that is why they want to come to the UK. Not sure either what that has to do with Brexit, but as suspected after the Brexit vote the ‘closet’ racists got the carte blanche to come out and express their views. The conversation continued and we were told that all foreigners should leave the isle immediately. That includes us too. Natascha asked, whether he will be the one who will go and pick cabbages on the vast fields, for Sainsbury’s or Tesco or which ever supermarket, for a few quid per hour? Most certainly not, was the answer. And it was dinner time for our conversation partner, sausage and mash was on the menu. We were hungry too and went back inside to get on with dinner.

It dawned on us, we were not in liberal London any more. But in “leave” land.

Fed up with negative press – including a Guardian story – calling their city the ‘Brexit capital of Britain’, the residents of Stoke-on-Trent challenged the media to dig deeper. We accepted, and so began an astonishing journey into a remarkable place.

Directed, produced and filmed by: John Domokos
Co-producer and second camera: Bruno Rinvolucri
Editor: Jessica Kelly
Additional camera: Irene Baque
Colourist: Ken MacFarlane
Graphics: Joseph Pierce
Sound mixing: Ben Kape and Rowan Bishop
Stills photography: David Silitoe
Additional footage courtesy of Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Associate producer: Chris Michael
Executive producers: Christian Bennett and Laurence Topham

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Pit stop at Tesco’s in Leighton Buzzard

Tesco’s in Leighton Buzzard is massive and a favourite stop for boaters to stock up. Our fridge was empty, so we were really glad to hop over to shop until we dropped. Food and beverages, that is. And cat food. We got rid of our recycling and rubbish too, that piles up quickly on a barge. The food packaging of goods from the supermarket is astonishing. Back in the days when we had the veggie box scheme from Riverford we produced much less rubbish. On a barge it is much more noticeable what waste we humans make. Food for thought really.

Once we were back we had to move on just a bit further to right at the top of Leighton Lock No. 27 to spend the night. We opened the door and not long Sava hopped out and not to be seen for a few hours. The nature was stunning around there. Were we not as tired as we were, we could have gone for a walk but it was dinner time and soon after bed time. We had to move on early the next morning.

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