We are staying this week in a very new Marina south of Rugby. Dunchurch Pools was designed by the people that built the Eden Project in Cornwall and is very beautiful.
It is set in a remote part of the country, quite a long way from shops and other amenities, but it is right next to three prisons – a category B, a category C and a young offenders institution. They are hidden behind trees, but inquisitive as always I have been for a look.
It made me sad and a little nervous to look at the high walls and barbed wire. The counterpoint between the freedom we have on our boat, and the restrictions for prisoners was very real. I have never been inside a prison, and only once been in court. That was for a speeding offence and although it was a very “friendly” court and I had a good story to tell, I still felt hugely nervous.
I would hate jail. Fortunately I have no plans for a life of crime. But I am hugely grateful that my life has not gone that way.
There is something about sunrises and sunsets that I love. And this time of year is the best. I don’t know if that is just because the nights are getting longer so that dawn and dusk are closer together, or because the sun is lower in the sky, so the sunlight is filtered by dust in the air, or because I am noticing it more on the canal. But we have had the most stunning mornings and evenings this week.
I have visited many countries and seen beautiful sunsets and sunrises all over the world. But there is something about the UK in September that I really love. This week has seen days as warm as the peak of summer, rain as torrential as at any point this year. The old crudgies (like me) are out on the canals, as the children have gone back to school. And everything is feeling that little bit less rushed.
I am so lucky to have the life I do, where my biggest worry this week is what kind of blacking to use to paint the boat hull at the end of the season. And my biggest gratitude is to hear that my wonderful niece Lucy has got engaged to the equally wonderful Dan.
And everything is well as the sun rises and as the sun sets.
We have been in several tunnels this week. We started with the famous Harecastle tunnel, north of Stoke on Trent. It is a 2600m tunnel and takes about 40 minutes to drive a boat through in the dark. Fortunately I am not claustrophobic.
The second is much less known. Froghall tunnel is at the end of the Caldon, one of the most beautiful canals in the UK, if a little narrow. The tunnel is just 70m long but unfortunately less than 10% of narrowboats can fit through it. Our boat was just too tall.
The third was a railway tunnel near Leek. It turned out that for Bank holiday weekend, the Churnet Valley Railway was holding a real ale festival, and we moored our boat right by one of the stations. Beer, steam trains and narrowboats all in the same place. Lucky me!
Our final canal tunnel of the week was also near Leek and was about 120m long. We moored up for the night at a lake right by the tunnel entrance. Really really beautiful
I usually find some kind of helpful life lesson in my travels each week. Perhaps something about darkness, or light at the end of the tunnel? Perhaps something about the bear who came across a hill and could not go over, under or around it, and had to go through it? Or perhaps this week I can simply be grateful for my retirement that allows me to see such wonders.
At the start of the pandemic, it is generally accepted that Boris Johnson wanted to let the virus spread and form some kind of herd immunity amongst the population. It was only when it became apparent that this approach would overwhelm the hospitals and kill over a million that he made a sudden u-turn and introduced the first lock down. Ever since then, the phrase “herd immunity” seems to have been banished from the language of both politicians and scientists.
And yet, in the UK, herd immunity appears to be exactly what we are looking for. All restrictions have been removed and the virus numbers are really high. But because of vaccination, relatively few are getting really ill and dying. So long as this remains the case, politicians and epidemiologists seem happy to let Covid-19 spread. By doing so we are increasing immunity across the population, whether in children, where maybe 60% have now had Covid, or amongst vaccinated adults. In either case, every time someone gets ill, their immunity increases, and their chance of getting seriously ill decreases.
I think what we are really aiming towards is a situation where we all live with Covid. Children will be expected to catch it when young and it is a mild disease (think of chickenpox as an analogy). People will then catch it again a couple of times during their life but each time, natural immunity will mean it is not generally serious. If necessary vaccinations will top us up. Herd immunity will have been reached.
Personally I see only two problems with this approach. The first is that the rest of the world is not following it. Instead, tight lockdowns continue to be used. So will the UK become a plague state that everyone else is scared to visit? The second is that leaders are not being honest that this is our approach. They are terrified that when someone dies, they will be blamed for letting it happen. But if this is what they are doing they should be honest about it.
What do you think? Is herd immunity a goal worth aiming for, or should we go back to locking down the disease?
Our narrowboat broke down again this week. You may remember it overheated when we were in Scotland. This time the alternator belt shredded when we were just south of Wigan. We could have been frustrated or angry. It spoilt our plans, and some people had told us it was not safe to moor near Wigan overnight. But instead we chose to make the best of it, and I have five reasons that the breakdown was a good thing for our retirement adventure…
We met Harry. We had called out River Canal Rescue but unfortunately they did not have the right size belt. Harry was passing on the towpath and offered to help. He fixed the belt with insulation tape and refitted it so that we could get a few hundred yards down the canal to a much safer mooring with other boats. I love the folk we meet on the canal.
We learnt that we should always carry a spare belt. The original one is now replaced, but I will order a second as soon as I can find the part number!
It reminded us that as a 19th Century Prussian general once said “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. As a result we have had a more relaxed week, for instance traversing the Runcorn arm of the Bridgewater canal, which was not in our original plan and was beautiful.
We now know the sound of a slipping belt, so that if it happens again we can be prepared.
It explains our Scottish overheating. The theory that it was a failing thermostat never quite convinced me, especially when it overheated again last week, with no thermostat installed. But the alternator belt also drives the coolant pump, so when it was slipping there was no pump.
Every day is a school day, and that applies equally in retirement as at work. How was your week? Did you breakdown too?
Monday was our 35th wedding anniversary. Thirty five years is an awfully long time. When we first got married I was just 22 and knew very little about the world. In the 35 years since then, Mandy and I have both changed so much. Many people tell you that to make a marriage successful you need to work at it. Of course that is true, but I think there is also a huge element of luck. We are fortunate that we have tended to change together rather than change away from each other. I know many couples who were perfectly suited when they married but over the years have simply grown apart.
This year was always going to be critical for the two of us. After many years when work dominated my life and I was often away from home during the week, suddenly we would be together all day every day – this summer in the confined space of a narrowboat. And on top of that, retirement brings a lot of time to reflect on what you want from life.
So you can imagine how delighted I am that we seem to be rubbing along pretty well. We are both really enjoying the contrast of peaceful miles of country canals with the bustle of industrial city centres. We are both enjoying both meeting old friends and family we have not seen for years, and also the solitude of time to ourselves. So different from who we were 35 years ago, but still in love.
Sorry for soppy post. Back to normal grumbling next week.
We don’t have grandchildren at the moment. And our sons are both over 30. So it is some time since we have looked after children. It was with some trepidation as well as excitement that we looked forward this week to thirteen and fourteen year old boys staying with us for a couple of days on the boat. Noah is our great nephew, and Ewan is his friend. The good news is that neither was a surly teenager with his head in an electronic device. Rather, both were extremely helpful, and on Wednesday we went down 26 locks with them. A great experience, including the famous Wigan flight of 21 locks.
We had a really good time with the boys, including too much junk food and pop, but also teaching them our favourite game of cards, as well as how to steer a narrowboat. What I had not expected was that by the end of the two days I would be completely knackered. Despite the boys being very helpful throughout, and despite them being old enough to keep themselves amused, I was reminded how much attention visitors require, especially in the confines of a boat.
Mandy and I are still in our fifties, so hardly old fogies, and we are looking forward this weekend to seeing Mandy’s brother, Andrew, and our newly qualified doctor niece, Zoë. But we are also looking forward to next week when it will be back to just the two of us.
When we lived in a house we always enjoyed having visitors and equally when they left. The boat just exaggerates this.
How about you? Do you prefer visitors arriving or leaving?
We have been berthed at a marina this week. Rather a good idea because we have mains electricity while our solar panels have been removed. Also good because it has been peeing with rain for most of the week. I have scraped and sanded the old paint and rust from underneath the solar panels, and it is ready for priming and painting as soon as the weather improves. My brother in law, Stephen, commented that a year ago I would have been making high powered decisions about UK banking, and now my hardest decision is whether I think the rain will hold off long enough to get on a coat of red oxide.
He is right of course and I am fine with that. Perhaps my world view has shrunk, as I have retired and started living on a narrowboat. But there is something very satisfying about learning to do things with my hands and learning to live life in the slow lane. Because we have been in a marina, we have been able to spend more time with friends and family, including a few car journeys. And after a month at less than 3mph, cars feel so very fast. Hunks of steel hurtling at each other, inches apart. Very scary.
I am not sure this change in my attitude is a good one. I am very much enjoying my new life, but if I am finding cars too scary, perhaps I have gone too far. What do you think?
I have been told that I will not truly understand retirement till I have been retired for over a year. Until then it feels too much like just a very long holiday. That may be true, but boy am I enjoying this very long holiday. We are now nearly a month into our summer narrowboat trip, and while every day something goes wrong, also every day we get to enjoy the wonderful countryside and slow pace of canal life.
This week we have had the excitement of Bingley five rise, the biggest staircase of locks in the world. We have found ourselves stuck in one of the widest locks in the world at Castleford (we called an engineer). We have spent Saturday night with our eldest son on the boat right in the centre of Leeds. I have wandered the streets of Saltaire and Shipley looking for a barber. We had a wonderful evening in a brew pub with two of our friends we have not seen for six years. And every afternoon we have sweltered in the heat. Even though we have insulation, a narrowboat is basically a steel can, and gets so very hot in the sunshine.
I think my favourite day of all this week was moored up in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Aire valley, and just chilling, reading a book, watching a film, painting my poles.
It may feel like a long holiday rather than “proper” retirement, but it is so much more relaxing than any holiday I have had before. I love it.
For some reason I have been dreaming about big houses this week. I have been fortunate enough to live with a lot of space over the years. When I was growing up my Dad was a priest which meant we had very little money, but we did live in great vicarage, next to the church. Maybe that is why we have tended to buy large houses wherever we have lived.
But now we are living in a 57 foot by 6 foot narrowboat with tiny lounge, eating area, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. If we tried swinging a cat, the cat would not end up well. I wonder if that is why I am dreaming of stately homes, great hotels and very large houses.
But I am not sure I really miss the space. Even when we have lived in large houses, in reality we have spent almost all our time in the lounge and one bedroom. We are getting on absolutely fine in the boat, and in many ways we have more space than we can imagine, as we travel through the English countryside. Certainly I am meeting far more people than if we lived in one place, and narrowboat folk are in general a friendly bunch. We are all very different from each other, but we rub along just fine.
So I think I will enjoy my dreams, and maybe visit a big house or two along our journey. But I will continue to value this way of life for the next few months.
What kind of space do you live in? Do you wish for something different?