Last night I had the strangest dream

It was nothing to do with boats to China (80s pop reference). Rather it was about cricket. I was playing with a group of colleagues in India from my old job. And I made the most amazing catch – diving, rolling, clutching. This is a strange dream for many reasons, not least of which is I am genuinely terrible at catching!

Ben Stokes – sportskeeda.com

What caused the dream? Probably a combination of things. I had made and eaten a rather spicy curry. I have been listening to a lot of cricket matches from the Indian Premier League (IPL). I have been talking to my old employer about a tax issue.

But it was a nice dream. I woke with a smile and felt good. I wish I was better at sport but my hand-eye co-ordination is rubbish. Instead I have always espoused the mantra “It is not about the winning. It is about the taking part”. The dream last night reminded me that just as with so may other parts of life, that winning is good too.

I am lucky to have had many wins in my life and have many more to look forward to. Plans are now firming up for our narrowboat summer in England. Hopefully we will be moving the boat from Scotland in the first week of July. It is all very exciting.

But I still feel happy that I caught the ball last night. Even if it was a dream.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or is that a narrowboat coming towards you?

I have been walking through a couple of canal tunnels this week. Some of the most exciting and scary times on a narrowboat are travelling through tunnels. Most canal tunnels have very little space around the boat profile. This is deliberate because when the canals were designed, the boats were pulled by horses, and the horses would not go through tunnels, so the boats were “legged” through by two strong men, lying on either side of the barge roof and using their legs to “walk” along the tunnel. These days we have engines and we have to steer 50-60 foot long boats through the tunnel with often less than a foot space on either side.

Falkirk Tunnel

There are two keys to success. Don’t be overconfident and don’t panic. Fluid mechanics give us a big advantage because the water being pushed either side of the boat as you travel through the tunnel, gives pressure to keep the boat away from the walls. But if you are overconfident and drive too fast, or if you panic and over-react to each boat movement, then before you know it, you are bouncing the boat off the walls side to side.

I wonder of there is an analogy. Here in the UK the Covid numbers have fallen right back. Deaths and hospitalisations are very low, since so many of the population are now vaccinated. Society is reopening, with shops, bars, gyms, cinemas now back or soon to be back. In a month or so we will be nearly normal. There is talk about Coronavirus treatment in pills taken at home next winter. It really feels that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

But two things could get in the way. One would be overconfidence. If we relax the rules too fast, give up on social distancing, refuse to self isolate, then it will be back. The other would be to panic. There are some horrible new variants out there, but the science is working and we can steer our way through this perilous tunnel.

Have wonderful weekend. Let me know hat you think.

What is wrong with being a shiny narrowboater?

We have been living on our narrowboat this week. We are lucky that it is moored relatively closely to our house so we can stay there without breaking too many rules, and it needed some maintenance for the start of the season. It is amazing how good it felt to get back to being on the boat. We so miss travelling on it, and hope that maybe next month we will be allowed once again to cast off the ropes and set off along the canals. The dogs loved it too. When we bought the boat I worried that the dogs would get claustrophobic, or would hate the engine noise, or would keep jumping off in the water. But like us, as soon as they arrive they seem to settle. The only problem we have with them is that they consider the towpath as being part of their territory, and so bark at other dogs walking nearby.

I was reading an article on a narrowboat forum this week, and came across the idea of “shiny narrowboaters”. These are people who care more about the appearance of the boat than what they do with it. I think that I am quite shiny. One of the jobs I did this week was repainting the roof and one side of the boat (I ran out of paint). I also varnished some woodwork, changed a left hand cleat for a right hand one (getting too technical for a blog here!) and put up a sign that was made for me by my work friends when I retired. I think the boat looks very smart.

However, for some in the narrowboat community, I am concentrating on the wrong things. Boats are about living on, not about polishing. I am sure there is some truth in this, but I still like it to look good.

One of the things I love about narrowboating is that the canal community in incredibly varied and tolerant. We have hippies who want an alternative life, We have young people who cannot afford a house. We have people on their first ever canal holiday, and those that have lived their life here. We have people who make their living on the water, and those like me, who have retired from all that, and want the peace. And we all rub along just fine. There is something about the common enjoyment of boating that brings us all together.

And so yes, some may call me “shiny” but it is said with a smile, and with respect. I love my narrowboat, and I love my friends on the water. Good health to you all, whether shiny or not.

What about you? Are you a shiny person?

Ten reasons life is sh*t. Ten reasons it isn’t

I can’t decide whether to be glass half full or glass half empty this week.

Let’s consider the facts. First looking at the bleak side:

  1. We have given up hope that the Scottish government will allow us to travel in March or April for the Orkney holiday we originally planned for January.
  2. My wife Mandy and I have not received a vaccine invitation, but our younger son, Tin, who is just 31 years old, has. No idea why.
  3. The sunny weather promised for this week has turned into low cold cloud. So much for spending time in the garden.
  4. The backup disk for my PC has failed, and the new one does not work.
  5. We bought 3 cubic metres of wood for the fire, and it will not burn.
  6. The heating is not working in our boat.
  7. My niece is going to have her first child in a few weeks, and we aren’t allowed to see her.
  8. Having spent several days last week trying to sort out funding for my Dad’s care home, I still do not know whether the council will allow him to stay in the one where he is now.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are a waste of time.
  10. I am really missing the people contact I used to get at work.

Reframing these in a more positive way:

  1. We have rebooked Orkney for the whole of November. As with our original plan, this should be dark enough to catch the Aurora Borealis at least once.
  2. Our son is super lucky to get the vaccine early, and for Mandy and I it should be just a few weeks away. So close!
  3. Monday was a lovely day here and looking at the crocuses, spring is definitely coming.
  4. There are many reasons to hate Amazon, but if something doesn’t work, they replace it without quibble.
  5. I have 3 cubic metres of wood stacked neatly in my wood store, and by the autumn it will be perfectly seasoned.
  6. Pierre, the best narrowboat mechanic in Scotland, has promised to fix my heating this week, so I may be able to get back there at the weekend.
  7. All being well, the reopening of Scotland will allow me to travel up to Fife to see my niece and her new child very soon.
  8. Wiltshire council have agreed to pay for a bed for my Dad, and if his current care home does not have a “council bed” available, we can pay a top up. He will not have to move.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are relaxing and good for my mental health. They are exactly the kinds of things I never had time for when I was at work.
  10. I am not missing at all being on constant zoom meetings. My time is my own.

What do you think? Half full or half empty?

Is lockdown damaging your mental health?

A couple of things have made me reflect on my mental health this week. I read an excellent blog from someone managing depression. I won’t share it here because it is personal but it reflected on how difficult it is to balance taking ownership for solving mental health issues yourself, with the need to ask for help. The author is in the final year of university, with the stress of coursework and exams reinforced by demoralising rejections for job applications. That would be the same in any year, but layer on a lockdown when the opportunity to get out, get away and get support is more difficult, and depression looms all too easily.

The second thing is much more positive for me. For some reason this week I have had quite a few friends reaching out to check in. It is amazing how much difference it makes to receive a message asking how you are. I have certainly found this lockdown the hardest. I am not sure if that is because now I am retired, I do not have work to distract me; or if it is because vaccines make the end seem so close and so far at the same time. But the small contacts with friends have certainly helped. A lesson for me that I should make more effort to stay in touch. Not a strength for me!

My wife and I have been talking about what we do with our plans for this year. We were meant to be staying on Orkney for six weeks and then travelling the English canals in our narrowboat. Realistically the Scottish government seems to be saying it will be summer before we are allowed to travel. Perhaps we should see more of Scotland and postpone moving the boat. Or move it at the end of the season. We are just looking forward to the time we can make decisions without restrictions.

Has the lockdown affected your mental health too? If so, how are you managing it? I’d love a comment to hear from you.

Being selfish

When the lockdown came down in Scotland this week, I was on my narrowboat. So rather than rushing back, I have spent the week in quiet isolation here, doing just what I have wanted. No dogs, no wife, no son. Just me, Netflix, several books and my euphonium.

It has been very cold. In the daytime and evenings I can heat the boat well with diesel central heating . But overnight I have tucked up under a thick duvet and woken to ice coating the windows. As I climb out of my cocoon I can hear the canal ice cracking around the boat.

It has been a wonderful selfish time. I have done what I wanted, when I wanted, and had such peace. To start with I felt guilty. I felt I should be at the house doing jobs and helping out. But I have realised that the break has been as good for my wife and son as it has for me. For many years I have worked a lot away from home, and in recent months we have been together 24 hours a day. Too much of a shock for all of us. They don’t need me organising their lives, and I am allowed to want time for me.

I return today, and with lockdown will not be back for some time. But I think I have learned an important lesson this week. Sometimes it is OK to be selfish.

What do you think? Do you give enough time to yourself?