Sunday 16 September 2012

Introduction and background

The dream of retiring and living on a narrowboat endlessly and randomly cruising the 2000 miles of canals and rivers in Great Britain owes its origins to a Google search for camper-van hire in 2001.
With a sudden impulse to join my sister Margaret and brother-in-law Bob on one of their many UK adventures in “Annie” the ubiquitous VW camper-van, a lack of space required us to hire our own vehicle and travel in tandem.
By chance, the first van-hire site visited by Lynne offered the alternative idea of hiring a narrowboat for a week or two, which immediately appealed to our adventurous and non-conformist natures. A quick phone conversation with Margaret and Bob ensured the next few weeks were spent researching hire-boat companies, locations and prices with mounting excitement and expectations. Ultimately a choice was made on the Canal Holidays (or “weed”) company, a small family-run firm at Weedon near Northampton, which eventually resulted in the four of us, plus Chloe (11) and Joel (10), the youngest of five siblings, on Tumbleweed, a frightening but magnificent 65 footer in grey and red. The extremely short “instruction” trip overseen by one of the company’s experienced boatmen, covered steering, turning, lock procedures, cruising speed and a wealth of other necessary skills, way beyond the memory capacity and expertise of both Margaret and myself, the First Mate and captain appointed purely by default, apart from an offer by Joel, universally rejected for the sake of the hire- boat owners, lock keepers and other canal users likely to encounter us.
Having been turned round by the instructor, we dropped him off at the marina to undertake our first trip alone to the next winding hole, a matter of a few yards down the canal. At the rate of at least 1mph we quickly – too quickly - arrived at the winding hole and I attempted to replicate the faultless manoeuvre previously demonstrated, in front of many other boaters enjoying their cucumber sandwiches and Pimms, plus many gongoozler families enjoying the sunshine in their gardens adjoining the canal, one of which was home to an extremely large Weeping Willow overhanging the winding hole. Embarrassingly we ended-up in the tree, we and the boat emerging covered in leaves, branches and debris, which we all hurried to remove prior to passing the marina again.
Apart from hitting a bridge the first part of the trip was uneventful until we decided not to risk going through 3 sets of locks prior to darkness setting in and mooring in what we thought was a quiet spot, only to later discover the M1 motorway behind the hedge on one side and the East Coast railway line on the other! Sleep was at a premium.
Parts of the Grand Union, Oxford and Coventry canals were traversed, again without incident, during the following 2 weeks, and our next boat-hire adventure was already being planned prior to our return to the marina.
At least one trip per year followed from bases at a variety of locations across England and Wales, covering a wide range of canals, including the Four Counties Ring, Trent and Mersey, Shropshire Union, Caldon,  Bridgewater, Llangollen, Montgomery, Leeds and Liverpool, Ashby, Middlewich, plus Monmouthshire and Brecon (Mon&Brec) twice.
The trips were largely incident free, or at least ones I can or want to recall, with the following notable exceptions, in no particular order:
A very angry and aggressive male swan continually flew at and attacked the boat rudder on the Ashby canal, initially frightening, then amusing the children. Neither the boat or swan suffered any injury.
On the Caldon we had the infamous “loosely moored incident”, now almost as legendary and equally funny (to us) as the Monty Python “Dead parrot sketch.” The canal towpath was under repair and fenced-off on a particularly hot, sunny day. We decided to have a picnic lunch in the boat as it was cooler than outside, so we moored-up on a fenced-off section of towpath, but tying to the adjacent hedge instead of bothering with the usual metal pins, confident in the knowledge public access was restricted so no-one could trip over the ropes. At that time my knot tying skills were minimal, but for some unknown reason I was trusted to moor the bow end. To my long-term regret during my return inside I stupidly announced I had “loosely moored” the boat. After lunch I relaxed reading the paper, whilst everyone else lounged about until the utter tranquillity was shattered by a resounding thump, the boat rocking and the sound of loud and angry voices somewhere outside. The wet, hairy end of a mop appeared at the canal-side window, which prompted most of our crew to head for the deck, to be confronted by the bow of a narrowboat embedded in our starboard side and an angry crew trying desperately to push our bow back to the shore with the mop and any other implement to hand. It appears my “loose mooring” had failed and our bow, unknown to us, had drifted across the canal, effectively preventing through-traffic. Throughout the incident I sat resolutely with my head in the paper, in the vain hope my non-involvement would somehow alleviate any subsequent physical and/or verbal abuse. Margaret later presented me with a Christmas present of a book on knots, together with a length of rope on which to practice. To this day any mention of the incident results in spontaneous laughter.
On a particularly warm and sunny day on the Llangollen, Lynne and Margaret took advantage of the conditions to dry smaller items of clothing on the boat front and roof. I can only liken crossing the pontycysyllte aquaduct to tightrope walking over the Grand Canyon. Two thirds over, a sudden gust of wind lifted a pair of Margaret’s “Bridget Jones”            knickers which floated like a giant parachute, embarrassingly slowly, down the 127 feet to the valley floor below, fortunately missing the river Dee and a startled practising golfer. When we all stopped insanely laughing and after completion of our crossing Lynne and Joel volunteered to scramble down a steep and slippery embankment to retrieve them, but only after apologising to the golfer and strenuously denying ownership.
On the Oxford, again on a warm and sunny day, Chloe and I were soaking up the sun and steering respectively, whilst the rest of the crew were below, doing whatever crews do between locks. For some reason Chloe decided to move from the bow to the stern along the  side of the boat, a manoeuvre frowned upon by all boat manuals and experienced boaters. I took no particular notice until Chloe magically disappeared. A quick glance around revealed a rather shaken girl standing waist deep in the canal. The crew quickly appeared once I had raised the alarm and an attempt was made to get the boat to the relevant side of the canal as quickly as possible whilst Chloe, in a scene reminiscent of those slow motion ones in *Baywatch (minus the large and wobbly bazookas), waded to the side and hauled herself out. She resembled a rich tea biscuit having been dunked in a cup of hot chocolate! A quick shower and clothes wash ensured there was no lasting physical or ego damage.
*TV drama about LA County Lifeguards, 1989 – 1999 starring David Hasselhoff and large girls with small swimsuits
Having hired a boat in shocking yellow and maroon livery for our trip on the Leeds and Liverpool, it only took a few hours to notice a breather pipe at roof height close to the stern. It was particularly noticeable because of the inescapable sewerage smell emanating from it. We later learned, but far too late, this was a new design to help eliminate internal smells  from the two pump-out toilets aboard. Apparently the design was subsequently discontinued, which says it all. After a week or more cruising the smell became unbearable and, following a quick phone call to the hire company, it was decided to find a marina with pump-out facilities at the earliest opportunity, the hire company picking up the bill. For far more time than we wished, with the captain desperately praying for a world war two gas mask, our boat cruised the Leeds and Liverpool looking for pump-out facilities, eventually found at a particularly tatty, run-down jetty. The number of double-moored boats made getting close especially difficult, resulting in us being triple-moored. A figure resembling old-man Steptoe* eventually appeared and a pump-out hose was passed over two boats and connected to ours. Two of our crew were reluctantly allocated the job of holding the pipe above the other moored boats to prevent any accidental spillage or worse accident. The pump-out commenced with the non-involved crew members shouting “there goes the shepherd’s pie” and “there goes the all bran” plus other comments to entertain the many gongoozlers gathered around, despite the potent smell. Anyone who has had the bad fortune to be marooned in a traffic jam near the M25/M3 junction, very close to the Heathrow airport sewage works, will have an idea of what everyone suffered that day.  Anyone needing proof of the poor nutritional standards in on-board catering need look no further than the M25/M3 junction. We were all keen to have a shower as we left the jetty!
*Steptoe and son  TV Comedy series featuring a father and son rag and bone merchants.1962 - 1974
Subsequently at the age of 57 and 58 respectively Lynne and I really began the dream of retirement on a liveaboard  narrowboat, endlessly cruising British canals and rivers, with the option of France* if time, age and health permitted.
*Narrow dog to Carcassonne  Terry  Darlington
With hindsight time passed quickly whilst the gathering of sufficient funds progressed frustratingly slowly, eventually resulting in a trial run by the two of us on the Mon & Brec in September 2011 to hone my boating skills, Lynne to undertake boating manoeuvres for the first time and to test if we could endure being confined together in such a small space for any length of time. The weather was almost tropical and the canal quiet. The experiment was a great success. Our 42ft hire boat had two speeds - dead slow and stop, which suited us ideally, although it was embarrassing to have an old lady with a zimmer frame outpace us on the towpath. We feigned running aground to allow her to disappear round the next bend!
Plan A in 2010 was to purchase a house in Warrington as student rental accommodation and insurance for our extremely old age (Joel was at Chester University, Warrington campus at the time). The house search was very stressful, partly because of the four and a half hour journey and our hearts not really being in it. Whilst houses in Warrington were relatively cheap, the reason for this very quickly became apparent. It was clearly not the place we would want to spend our last days in.
Furthermore we were selling our property in Chessington and having to ensure the place was spotless at all times, free of dumped socks, shirts, knickers, bras etc pending potential  buyers scrutinising it.
 At the same time, adding yet more pressure and stress, we were scouring the country for suitable secondhand liveaboard boats, or a boat builder, the one we had previously chosen having recently gone belly-up. Second-hand boats imposed too many compromises for our liking, thus after intensive research and recommendations Stensons were chosen to build our boat from scratch, for which a deposit was proffered.
In the event, the stress of selling our house, (successfully as it turned-out), searching for other properties and boats, working and life in general took its toll and I went into deep depression. Everything was put on hold.
Our house, The Tardis,  was withdrawn from sale, understandably to the disgust of the successful buyer and our Estate Agent.
My depression grew deeper and was further assisted later by an extremely frightening brain seizure and the subsequent and frightening discovery of a large, but benign, brain tumour, necessitating daily drug dosages for the rest of my life, the length of which I was assured would not be jeopardised.
March 2012
Stensons kindly confirmed boat-building could be deferred pending my recovery. The situation was transformed in early 2012, prompted by the chance comment of a close friend whilst at lunch in a local pub. During the usual lunch-time chit-chat he mentioned he had just put his house in Anstey, Leicestershire, up for sale. Anstey is close to Stensons and the house would be ideal as a bolt-hole should the canal system freeze, run out of water or other disaster, like one of us (or the boat) being incapacitated.
Lynne’s brain whirred into overdrive and Plan B sprung into action. We immediately decided to buy the house, having stayed there in the past, and once again put our house on the market, this time via a different Estate Agent to save embarrassment. Eliminating the search for a new house reduced the levels of stress significantly as did a relatively quick sale of ours. However, we had forgotten to factor-in the mortgage company. It seemed such a simple process, transferring the remaining 7.5 years of our current mortgage to the new house, thereby reducing the financial commitment and risk to the Bank by 50%. The process could and should have been simple, but unfortunately the description better fitted the staff than the product! There followed weeks of deep stress, frustration and, at times, anger. I initially somehow managed to avoid depression. For the sake of libel laws I will not name the Bank, other than to hint it is Spanish owned and used to be called Abbey National.
Gordon Wilson, our “personal” mortgage advisor at the Bank could easily have won the one
minute  yes - no interlude in Take My Pick*.

*One of the first TV game shows offering cash prizes, hosted by Michael Miles 1955 – 1968. Contestants had to avoid using the words yes or no during one minute of quick-fire questions for a small cash prize. Few succeeded. 

May 2012
Two months later we were no nearer getting an answer, or indeed, an alternative offer from the aforementioned Spanish Bank, resulting in us searching for a new mortgage on our waiting new Anstey house, with promising signs. The Spanish banks were suffering credit problems due to the Eurocrisis at the time and it was not difficult to see why.
At this point I have to praise Stensons (or Midland Canal Centre as it became known, and no, I am not - or was not- on their payroll.) Throughout the extreme delays and Lynne adding major fittings to the boat, including such essentials as a wine-cooler and rotary washing line, the Baldwin family ( originally called  Stenson’s by us until we were belatedly and embarrassingly put straight) remained so laid-back as to appear horizontal. Absolutely nothing fazed them and this calm was magically transferred to us during a very stressful time.
Nationwide, a British Bank with old-fashioned customer care traditions, came up with an offer within 24 hrs of us applying – Spain 2months, England 24hrs = no contest. Unfortunately the amount fell considerably short of the funding required to service our needs for a house and a boat, but at least it was an offer. Next stop Halifax Building Society with a similar result, again within 24hrs. So near yet so far.
The tensions between Lynne and I at this time were palpable and not pleasant. I had an extremely embarrassing tendency to break into tears for no apparent reason anytime.  Anti depressant tablets started again. Efforts to raise money included Ebay sales of our trusty ergo rowing machine, a tea set, our youngest son’s vintage Fiat Cinquecento Sporting and a trip to a Soho record shop specialising in vinyl LP’s armed with boxes of long-ago played examples, for which we were well compensated. However, the gloss was taken off our celebrations a little by the fact we received a parking ticket and £65 fine.
Our attempts to get a response, any response, from the Spanish Bank failed miserably. The Bank Manager refused to take or return calls, ignored letters and generally made himself scarce. We , or they, could hardly cite a language problem as the manager was English!
Stage 1 and stage 2 complaints were fired-off, but equally ignored – not even an automated response confirming receipt. As a satisfying by-product the Spanish Bank’s financial crisis in it’s homeland grew worse and as a consequence British customers withdrew their funds by the million, transferring them to “safer” locations such as under the bed, in bra’s or jockey shorts.

June 2012
On 3rd June the intrepid four narrowboat fanatics made our annual pilgrimage to the Crick Boat Show. Two years previously we had endured the heaviest horizontal rain ever seen at the show, last year being warm and sunny for Lynne and myself. This year was cool, windy and showery, leading to the theory Margaret and Bob could be the weather jinx.
I came away having ordered a magnificent, but expensive, leather revolving chair for the boat together with mooring chains. We also learnt a lot about boat freezers and toilets. Margaret presented me with a brass elephant tiller- topper to end an enjoyable day.
On Tuesday 5th Lynne and I picked-up a hired Transit van, loaded it with garden furniture, bikes, framed  paintings/pictures plus bags/boxes of belongings and headed for Anstey, where the whole lot was deposited at 6, Edward Street before heading home again in pouring rain. Having started at 6.00am we parted with the van at 10.30pm, exhausted  but hopeful our adventure was finally starting to happen……..surely nothing could go wrong?
7th June was a very bad day. The boat appeared to have sailed further away into the sunset, a bit like theTitanic really. Our post-Spanish prospective mortgage provider, Accord, refused to accept our solicitor on the grounds he, (or more specifically his firm), was of insufficient size and stature. As he had already completed all the legal bits and pieces regarding our house sale and purchase it would have made financial suicide to change solicitors at this late stage, with the boat being the inevitable sacrificial lamb. Our mortgage broker worked feverishly behind the scenes to rescue the situation via a furtive partnership between our solicitor and a larger firm, acceptable to the mortgage lenders. It was a long day, sitting on the edge of our seats (sometimes toilet seats - although in a more central position) waiting for texts/emails outlining the situation as it changed again and again. Furthermore it rained and rained, a “non-cruising day” as known to seasoned boaters. Ear-syringing at my doctors failed to improve my hearing, necessitating another appointment. A large cheque from previous employers almost bounced as the writer had omitted to add the year to the day and month on it. My offer of adding 2012 was declined on the basis the original writer had to do it. As I knew the writer was on holiday for 2 weeks I put on a disappointed face close to tears, at which point the bank teller took pity on me and added the missing numbers herself! Furthermore my new ipad, a gift from Lynne to keep me in touch with the outside world whilst cruising, failed to connect to the internet and the sellers, Curry’s, wanted £25 to do it. In the mood Lynne and I were inevitably in at the time, this was a suicidal strategy and, needless to say, in the end they did it for free. The following weekend was spent taking lessons on Ipad usage from our friend and computer expert, Terry.
11th June. Still in depressing non-stop rain and very low temperatures it turned out our solicitors “partnership “ would cost us an additional £200 overall with £300 required up-front, money we neither had or knew where to obtain. In the end our trusty credit card came to the rescue, postponing the inevitable financial meltdown for a few more weeks when repayment became due. In the meantime, whilst all the aforementioned shenanigans were going on- or not- depending on your point of view, our buyer was also dragging her feet. In our view this was to frustrate us to such a degree that after several months she could obtain our house at a further reduced price, due to our overdue wish to move at whatever the price. A personal survey was requested  and undertaken by our clients surveyor, with a suitable delay in providing the final report, which indicated she was getting a good deal at the price and a few minor faults of no great consequence.
14th June  Fed up with the ongoing delay I finally flipped during a telephone call from our Estate Agent  when I threatened to put the house back on the market unless our prospective buyer got her finger out, signed contracts and sorted her move at the earliest opportunity. This news obviously found its’ way to her as she arranged for her partner to measure for curtains and furniture within days!                                                                                                       
15th June  Letter received from Spanish bank, in poor English,(lost in translation?) confirming £6k early repayment “penalty” justified.
20th June Our mortgage for Anstey house/boat approved by Accord. 2.5 weeks for process from start to finish. Time now of the essence as “our” boat has probably commenced building and first instalment overdue.
22nd June. £40 credited to our mortgage direct debit account by way of apology for the Spanish Banks mortgage advisor failing to attend a meeting with us in April. Deadline of end of June for sale and purchase of our house contract issued by our solicitor. All hell breaks loose!!! Lots of emails flying about. We sign our contract and return it.
29th June Deadline day for contract signing, exchange planned for following Friday. Buyer failed to sign but indicated yet more questions on the way, plus demand for a further £6,000 discount. She is told to “go away” and the house duly put back on market.
30th June. Another visit to “new” house in Anstey, car laden with yet more crates of miscellaneous bits and bods  New M&S sofa and bed-settee delivered without the expected problem of levering them through the narrow front door. Experienced crew took them apart in the street and rebuilt indoors. No tea/coffee or biscuits as electric and gas still off and no shopping done. Off to Stensons, both silent and quietly sweating over having to tell them of yet further delays, our mental stability not helped by being directed to lock cafĂ© for tea/coffee as both Eddie and Dean busy. Dean eventually rescued us and we followed to the office, reminiscent of school days when summoned to the Headmasters room. As laid-back as ever Eddie and Dean listened to our tale of woe, shrugged their shoulders and informed us it was not a problem. Due to my phone call a couple of weeks ago warning of foreseen problems Dean had put “our” hull steel on-hold with the suppliers so no costs had been incurred to date. It was agreed boat building would only commence once we turned-up with wads of money or a cheque for the first instalment. The elephants sitting on our shoulders magically floated away, the relief showing itself via a big hug and Lynne’s sobbing once out of the office. We almost had a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers moment before retiring to the Bubble Inn for a celebration drink or two. The journey home was a happier affair, even singing along to Magic radio – luckily we were on our own in the car with the windows tightly shut.
July 2012
 The summer continued as before. Heavy continuous rain, high winds and relatively freezing temperatures. June confirmed as wettest since records began. Our phantom “buyer” withdrew her offer, fully three months since first agreeing it with us and several weeks after we had told her to get lost. She obviously did not take “B****R Off” as an answer.3 months totally wasted, although to us the news was very welcome. First viewings by two new buyers set for 4th July, resulting in one of them returning on 8th July for a second viewing, raising spirits a little. Two days later and an offer, eventually talked-up to our minimum requirement…… on again.
 The complete hash-up by the Spanish bank and prolonged procrastination by our first “buyer” could actually have worked in our favour (the glass half-full theory). April had been relatively shower-less after a particularly dry winter whilst May, June and July had been torrential, conversely coinciding with the imposition of a nationwide hosepipe ban by the many foreign-owned water companies (never mind the quality, admire the profit). The bans remained in two of the southern companies’ areas into mid July, during which large swathes of England and Wales suffered unprecedented floods, causing untold damage and a number of deaths via drowning. The surplus of water in the north and the dearth of it in the south should surely raise the question, why is it not possible to move water around as necessary in Britain, given the vast network of linked waterways? To the best of my knowledge only the Llangollen canal is used to transport water. We land on the moon yet cannot supply one of the basic life-needs in a developed country on earth. Cruising in the above conditions would not have been pleasant, but an Indian summer is forecast for later in the year just when Tardis Two is likely to be launched. Roll on autumn. We sold our house again on 10th July, but hopefully to a sane and “normal” human being on this occasion. Surely lightning doesn’t strike twice? The launch champagne was hijacked and quaffed prior to yet another Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers moment.
On 10th July the Spanish Bank confirmed it was their mistake we were not offered a mortgage due to a phantom “maintenance order” against me and in the circumstances our early repayment “fine” of £6k is under review, result to be notified within 7 days. This money will prove invaluable to us if we are to achieve our goals.
The Spanish bank finally confirmed on 24th July by phone the £6k “penalty” has been rescinded, note further delay from schedule above. “Confirmation letter due”. The origin of the phantom maintenance order was never traced. The boat now back in plans, but likely to be for spring 2013 launch because house sale frustratingly still pending, 3 weeks after initial agreed offer, apparently due to hold-up in buyers chain. Another revision of the boat plans now includes zimmer frame access! Two confirmation letters from two different Spanish complaint centres received 28th July. They certainly know how to waste paper but not how to communicate between departments.
Unbelievably progress with our second buyer appears to have shuddered to a halt, or to be more exact not started at all. No contact with buyer, estate agents or solicitors since offer agreed four weeks ago. Our threat to estate agents of yet again taking house off the market and Lynne camping-out in their office works again with survey arranged for 2nd August and flurry of questions from buyer’s solicitors.  Deja-vue.
August 2012
A trip to Anstey in the Toyota Previa, (yet again filled to the roof with a mattress and boxes of odds and sods for storage pending our move), made me think how great it would be if our boat proved as reliable. 21 years and 170.000 miles of absolute reliability, only the usual parts such as brake pads, light bulbs and tyres required, plus only one new exhaust. What a pity Toyota do not build narrowboats.                                                                                            The Olympics in London were a great success with Ben Ainslie winning his third consecutive gold medal in the sailing, giving me the idea of entering Tardis Two in the 62ft narrowboat event in the Rio Olympics 2016. Watch this space!!
August 15th. Contract signing and exchange arranged for 7th September. Light at end of tunnel brighter and not an oncoming express train this time.
September 2012
Lynne and I were quietly consuming our respective breakfasts, teas and coffees watching the leaves of our apple trees falling on the lawn. At the start of the year who would have thought we would still be in Chessington for the autumn? The thought did little to cheer us up whilst sitting amongst the last boxes of our belongings in our “old” house now resembling an abandoned East-end warehouse. Farewell drinks with friends and neighbours only added to the growing feelings of sadness leaving them behind after 25 (me)and 38(Lynne) years. Our feelings of excitement and overwhelming joy at the start of the process now long-forgotten, wrung out of us by circumstances way beyond our control or influence. Would the spark be re-ignited and, if so, how and when?                                 Another trip to Anstey with yet more boxes and Margaret and Bob raised our moods a little as the “new” house met with their approval and began to look more like a home with pictures on the walls and mugs, pots and pans on the kitchen shelves. A pub lunch and drinks helped a little too. Our dining table was confirmed as too big and too little room for a couple of cupboards, all destined to appear for sale on ebay. In the event the cupboards sold but the table failed to reach its’ asking price. The delays in our house sale, increased legal fees, new mortgage up-front charges, petrol for our Anstey trips and continued additional costs of our “old” house reduced us to penny-less refugees, literally searching the cracks in our sofas to finance our next pint of milk and meal. Life was hard, practically and physiologically. Fortunately my new anti-depressants worked well for me, Lynne unfortunately not having the same benefits. It was not easy for me to watch. I felt guilty and selfish dragging her through all this aggravation to fulfil what was primarily my retirement dream. Lynne shared my dream but only to see me relaxed and happy, in her mind somehow repaying me for surviving diabetes, cancer and brain tumour whilst supporting her and the family and making the best of things. What more could I have done? Without the slightest exaggeration deep in my heart I know I owe my life to her. What further reward do I need? Sorting through and discarding some of our lifetime possessions to downsize sufficiently for our “new” house and boat did nothing to raise our spirits. What kept us going and sane was the thought of finally relaxing, totally stress-free on TARDIS TWO, now within touching distance. Reading “Narrow dog to Wigan Pier” * and “Dreams really do come true”**once again raised my anticipation and excitement to near their original levels.
*Terry Darlington  a good and funny read even if not a boater-recommended  ** Cherryl Holliday  less so!
Moving and/or divorce are always reckoned to be the most stressful parts of living and, when you think of it, the two are often the result of the other. I can vouch for that. Arranging mortgages, house sale and purchase, packing, sorting and transporting all your worldly goods (particularly if you’re downsizing),unpacking again, plus mustering funds and ordering a boat (having spent months deciding on a specification), is certainly stressful and relationship testing. The latter fortunately remained intact but it took considerable effort to keep it that way. The target of a stress-free retirement overriding all the problems in achieving it                                                                                                                                    
  In the event the move on 6th and 7th went reasonably well. A Luton van was procured at 07.15am   by myself and close friend Owen, loaded to the roof with furniture and boxes full of our accumulated lifetime possessions. With the help of Joel, two trips later all was completed.  With the house funds in place we visited Stensons at the earliest opportunity to officially confirm the order, specification and price of Tardis Two. The steel would take around 2 weeks to be delivered and we were promised notification of its’ arrival to enable photo’s to be taken for posterity. Apparently “our” engine had already arrived and was being kept in storage, the warranty to begin once fitted. Launch scheduled for late January/early February 2013.  After yet another Fred and Ginger moment we retired to our new “local” in Anstey -  The old Hare and Hounds – (we have yet to find the new one) for a celebratory glass of wine or two. Later our celebratory evening meal almost failed to materialise as we discovered Anstey closes on Mondays. All the restaurants were closed. Fish and chips at home seemed inappropriate so In desperation we headed out of town and within minutes chanced upon a very salubrious eatery. Having eaten a wonderful meal and downed a few wines we notified everyone interested of our purchase and retired to bed, slightly the worse for wear -  happiness personified. Thereafter to be called “the boat owners” at the start of every text message from Margaret.
September 15th.    The aforementioned computer expert Terry  spent two days over the weekend reconnecting us to the internet, creating this blog and giving in-depth instructions on useage. The weekend included another visit to Stensons to enable Terry to assess one of his next allocated tasks - setting up TV and Internet services on TARDISTWO    

September 20th.      By way of celebrating becoming boat owners we spent the week transforming our new house to “our” tastes by way of decorating and refurnishing our bedroom, repainting the bathroom and downstairs toilet and generally moving things around a bit plus adding a few mirrors in a variety of locations. As a result the house looked brighter whilst we looked knackered. So much so that we allocated the next day as a relaxation break.   

September 29th     Arrived at Stensons to view TardisTwo progress to be faced by a sheet of heavy steel 60 x 7ft on the welding shed floor and a new outline boat plan incorporating changes requested at previous visit. The steel sheet would eventually form the boat “floor” with the remaining hull material due in a few days time. Whilst only a sheet of steel it was still exciting to see, the long-overdue result of hard work,stress, frustration and hardship over many months/years.   The missing 2ft length will be achieved by adding the pointy bow and curved stern.       

October 2nd.  A “domestic” at our eldest son’s house in Birmingham resulted in us driving over to alleviate rough water. As it turned out the trip took 55 minutes and we arrived to find no-one at home. A quick mobile call confirmed they would return home in about 20 minutes so we decided to find a local pub to wait. The house was in Tipton with a canal next to the front gate and a huge, dark and intimidating industrial estate surrounding it. Not knowing the area we set off in the direction the car was facing and quickly found ourselves at a huge, dark and confusing junction of umpteen roads with no obvious escape route, headlights facing us from all directions. We sat at the traffic lights frantically trying to ascertain where we should go, aware of a large pub behind us to our right. Undecided we opted to turn right intending to return on the correct side of the road for the pub, only to find us driving the wrong way down  a dual carriageway, followed by 3 other cars equally lost. Quickly realising our mistake via the reversed road makings and headlights of several cars fortunately stopped at traffic lights way in the distance, we turned round, hazard lights flashing, again followed by the 3 “lost” cars and returned to the pub car park where we sat regaining our composure before entering.  We had often seen on the TV news or in newspapers cases of 90 year old duffers found driving the wrong way down motorways and laughed at their mistake, only to commit the same crime at a much earlier age.  Over a small drink our discussion came to the conclusion some traffic light obsessed clown at the city transport engineers department had been high on drugs at the design stage and omitted the large roundabout screaming out to be put there. His training had clearly missed a visit to Milton Keynes and his work presumably remained unchecked until after huge sums of money had been poured into a potential disaster site, embarrassment preventing belated alteration.   Surprisingly we could see no trace of a memorial at or near the site.     

October 10th .  A further visit to Stensons revealed no progress since our last visit, apart from our boat being deeper covered with dust. The steel required to finish the hull had been delayed but we were assured by John the welder two weeks would see it complete and ready for launch. Our only  consolation being the thought of better cruising weather if the eventual handover ran past the scheduled January/February target.


John (owner) and John (welder) aboard TARDISTWO 10.10.12.              
18th October.  With no progress on Tardis Two we opted to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, following several recommendations. Which gives me yet another opportunity for a rant, far removed from canal boating. Just bear with me for a minute or two. It always angers me when our brave men and women are sent to some obscure and remote part of the globe to fight a war, supposedly to protect Britain for reasons never sufficiently defined, yet the physically wounded and dead return without  any government recognition or thanks, whilst the psychologically  wounded are left entirely to their own devises, often resulting in suicide, alcohol dependency and family break-up.   The National Memorial Arboretum was a civilian idea made real by sheer determination and private finance without any government funding or assistance. An old, disused gravel pit and land-fill site was donated by the parent company on a 99 year lease for the princely sum of £1 per year. Hundreds of native trees were planted together with the erection of memorials, some vast, some small,  to every service personnel who has lost their life since the end of the second world war, including army, navy, RAF, police, fire and ambulance service etc. Apparently the only “service” missing is the Boy Scout movement, an omission soon to be rectified.  Entry is free with their only income from car parking, which is reasonably priced. When mature the arboretum will form part of the surrounding national forest. It is awe-inspiring and a must-see experience for all British citizens and others, reinforcing the criminal negligence of successive Governments. They should be ashamed.                                                                                                                                                                  Whilst on this subject it would be remiss of me not to mention the Faulklands Conflict Memorial Chapel at Pangbourne College, near Reading, Berkshire. A modern building, privately funded, designed to represent a ship  with a breathtaking stained glass “sail” behind the alter donated by residents of the Faulklands as thanks for preserving their freedom.  Behind the chapel is a simple concrete “pillar” encrusted by stones. Each one represents a life lost and comes from their garden or a spot they loved when alive.                                                                               
20th October. Another visit to Stensons reveals no progress since our last visit, other than a new pile of steel sheets soon to form the hull sides . An apology and promise of progress by our next visit in a week’s time is given and accepted.

20th October. Another visit to Stensons reveals no progress since our last visit, other than a new pile of steel sheets soon to form the hull sides . An apology and promise of progress by our next visit in a week’s time is given and accepted.  
25th October    The swivel/reclining leather chair ordered at the Crick boat show arrived and has been confirmed as an amazing piece of kit. Stylish, comfortable and an absolute bargain at the price.
28th October.  Yippee – Doo. We have a boat, or at least an almost complete hull minus the stern. Excitement levels reach fever-pitch with beaming smiles all round.
29th and 30th October.  Having gained a hull we set out to agree on and purchase a bed-settee for any guests, invited or not. On more than one occasion it was suggested guests should sleep on the floor to discourage frequent and extended stays. Buying a bed-settee? A simple and short operation? What could possibly go wrong?  On our way to the first factory/showroom near Nottingham a new section of road and roundabouts totally confused our sat-nav and we became hopelessly lost, arriving half an hour late for our appointment. The bed-settee was a remarkable combination of brilliant design and practicability which we loved. Our mind was set. We made our second visit without getting lost. The design was under-whelming to say the least but after an interesting hour or two and a few design tweaks requested by Lynne it became obvious how practicable it was and how impractical (on a narrowboat)our first choice would have been in comparison. A very difficult head over heart decision requiring hours of discussion between the two of us (and others) spread over several days and sleepless nights.  
November 2012.                
1st November.  Yet another visit to a sofa-bed factory/showroom  which only managed further confuse things.  This one was easy to change from sofa to bed and back, comfortable, took up very little room and offered valuable storage space. In addition several had been used by Stenson’s over the years and were recommended by them.    Added to the list of options for further discussion/sleepless nights.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

4th November. Little progress at first sight of Tardis Two, but closer inspection reveals additional steelwork and welding. Another non-cruising day, heavy rain in morning and cold afternoon.   

The week between visits had been a difficult one. Half my head was saying”your boat is nearly ready so cheer up you miserable b**st**d “,whilst the other half was refusing to play ball. A double dose of happy pills (for 3 days only and under medical supervision) resolved the issue and transported me to a better place. The tension was due to major works in the new house which would ultimately transform the appearance and functionality   of the kitchen. However, tons of dust, piles of tools, no cooker, sometimes no water and piles of rubbish for the tip did little to raise a smile. On a brighter note our frequent visits to the excellent and award winning Dragon pub near Stensons resulted in us being awarded a Dragon supporters card giving 10 0/0 discount on future meals and drinks. The other plus point being it’s close vicinity to the Trent and Mersey canal, raising the possibility of mooring for a week or two in the near future!  Roll-on non-cruising days!  A quick thought and opinion on depression.    Before I took early retirement I managed three large businesses and over 350 staff, the majority manual plus supervisors and managers. None of the manual staff ever suffered with depression, the medical profession preferring to call anything they were unsure about  “a virus”. Officers/managers rarely suffered with viruses but the diagnosis, in the absence of certainty, tended to be depression for which doctors dished out tablets like Smarties. I was very sceptical about any staff supposedly suffering with depression as I failed to accept its very existence and yet here I am with it myself(?). I’m still unsure if it really does exist but I am scared the happy pills are with me for life, very much like the anti seizure ones. I have always avoided taking pills, even aspirin. I never suffered with headaches prior to discovery of my tumour. There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest coming off the happy pills results in worse depression, often resulting in suicide or unexplained aggressive behaviour. Something to look forward to? I later discovered my irreplaceable personal assistant Jo (or Blot as she was affectionately called) had suffered with depression for most of her life. With hindsight I should have known but she never complained or even mentioned it until long after her return to New Zealand. Had I have known and already suffered my present condition  perhaps I would have been more sympathetic to her. Another of life’s regrets.

6th November. Yet another visit to the boatyard, this time with my sister-in-law Marlene and husband Brian. This place is magnetic to us and a matter of great interest to family members. We don’t need any excuse to visit. Yet more steel added but progress slowed by the steel supplier delivering sheets of the wrong size. An exchange due very shortly and John the welder promised “considerable progress” by the weekend  when the cabin sides and roof should be added.  Yet another excuse for a visit.  Excited or what?  Like a child in a sweetshop. In the meantime progress on the house “personification” continues apace. The improvements are amazing, project managed by Lynne. Changes like this always do my head in at the best of times, let alone in my present brittle state, so I’m not much help to her I’m afraid, not that she complains at all.  

November 14th. Personification works reach a crescendo with two plasterers and two friends skimming walls and removing wallpaper/rewiring plug sockets repectively. All furniture  deposited upstairs or covered with dust sheets…absolute chaos. The dust reminded me of African sandstorms and the house reminded me of London after the blitz.(not that I was there, of course!) My mood verged on the suicidal. Accidently  breaking one of four matching uplighter lampshades did little to improve the situation. Roll on the boat…..tomorrow would be good.    

15th  November.   House improvements continue apace. The shattered lampshade looks like new following a dose of glue and fine-filler. After sanding and painting no-one will notice. Partly to avoid the chaos, partly to avoid the lack of heating and more importantly because I needed it,  I retired to bed for the afternoon, finally woken up around 6.00pm for a tea of Kentucky Fried Chicken (the cooker still not wired up). Late night investigations revealed the dust had penetrated the carefully placed dust sheets and endless lengths of polythene, shock-horror.

16th November. With only 1 builder remaining on-site and our exhausted friends escaping for the peace and quiet of London serious cleaning operations commenced. Thank God for Dyson vacuum cleaners. Dust had settled in every orifice, but for the sake of privacy and younger readers I’ll leave the issue at this point and discretely move on.

17th November. A very dark day for me.  Pressure or what? I ended up in bed mid-afternoon with a head I can only describe as including a wall of death ride (when a motorcyclist circles a vertical “tube” at very high speed, inertia keeping him/her attached to the side). My brain leant this way and that, following the motorbike as it circled round the inside of my scull changing direction every few minutes. Surreal.  My mythical thoughts on the use of prescription drugs? Having been dependant on pork insulin since the age of 3 and having no problem with it, within the reasonable guidelines of food and drink intake, apart from a short enforced change in the 80’s to synthetically produced “human” insulin and subsequent analogue insulin following the cynical withdrawal of pork/beef insulin production by the world’s biggest supplier, (Danish) largely due to the significantly higher price and profitability of the synthetic types. (Never mind the product or customer preferences, admire the profits).    I, and thousands of other diabetics worldwide could not tolerate the new insulins, many dying (night deaths), others like me suffering significant personality changes and sudden hypo’s (low blood-sugar induced disorientation and unconsciousness)  without warning. I was lucky to survive a glancing accident with a pink Mercedes convertible on my way home from work of which I knew nothing. The result was a court appearance, a sympathetic judge and four points on my licence. A small company in Wales undertook to increase its’ production of animal insulins and remains, along with a small company in Turkey, the only suppliers of them worldwide. Lamotrigine controls my brain seizures/fits and citalopram originally helped with my depression. They got along nicely until I suffered with severe night sweats. I then changed to Fluoxitine for depression and again the two co-existed quite successfully until I began to suffer dizzy spells and/or fuzzy moments in my head (as my doctor referred to them). The wall of death sequence is, I believe, another manifestation of inter-drug conflict. I am sure they initially live side by side quite happily until another drug passes through such as Paracetamol, aspirin, senna, Viagra,   et-al, wearing fish-net stockings, short skirt and a low neckline, when one aspires to appear superior to the other and a battle ensues, generally in the patients’ head.

18th November.  A sunny and warm day revealed our boat as a completed hull and roof, although the latter lay on the workshop floor awaiting fitting on top of the cabin sides, which were nowhere to be seen. Marian presented the mid-term invoice and we subsequently decided to pop-over   on the 22nd to pay and discuss/clarify some minor interior design and equipment issues with Eddie. The presence of 3 of our 5 granddaughters raised some laughter as the eldest enquired how many centimetres the boat was long. Having never managed to convert from imperial to metric there was a long pause before I answered “about 20 metres” leaving her to work it out from there. The apparent lack of windows and a bed were commented on!                                                             

19th November. A non-cruising day!!
20th November. Another non-cruising day. Heavy rain yesterday and today, plus overnight. Makes the boat order appear a good decision. Visions of Noah and the Ark. The local Co-Op supermarket car park was under at least two feet of water as the river Soar burst its’ banks
22nd November. Having received the second scheduled invoice from MCC we had planned to drop a large cheque in today but due to a surprise and rare visit from our son and two granddaughters the trip never materialised and is reallocated to the next day . I find it quite bazaar writing and signing cheques of this magnitude having spent (excuse the pun) my life checking and re-checking my bank balance on a daily basis to ensure I remained solvent.    
23rd November.  The road on Willington side of Stenson is under about 2ft water (river overflow) and road through Stenson is similar (burst water  main) but , more by luck than judgement, we still managed to reach the boatyard. John the welder is currently working on the cabin sides  but otherwise no noticeable progress made. However, we took the opportunity to finalise interior design and fittings, plus who is supposed to supply what and when. For instance, we supply the TV, freezer,settee and mattress all included in the original estimate. As a result Eddie will send a revised price, hopefully much the same as expected. One exterior change agreed is chrome “mushrooms” and window surrounds  instead of brass. Better looking and easier to clean.  On a similar note china toilets (not made in China or Taiwan!) will be fitted instead of  plastic.   Both at additional cost. Eddie also offered to get a self-seeking tv aerial at a price lower than we can manage.  Hopefully the ins and outs equalise financially as regards the boat. Most items we will supply are already purchased and at the house (mainly in the loft) ready for transport to Stensons nearer launch date. Finances remain knife-edge.
Whilst at the yard we took the opportunity to look aboard a near-complete Aqualine boat. These used to be built in Poland but recently transferred to MCC. This particular 62ft model, in pristine and very smart black livery, was different from ours with bedroom at stern and galley at bow, but was worth looking at to discuss cupboards, drawers and other minor fittings. The build quality was excellent. The final discussion revolved (excuse yet another pun) around the self-seeking tv aerial fitted which, by all accounts was brilliant.  One was added to our must-have list and Eddie offered to obtain it at a better price than we could achieve. According to the MCC staff the self-seeking aerial is more entertaining than the tv programmes it receives.  
       December 2nd
Apologies for the missing week or more, partly due to myself, Lynne and two friends (ex-friends?) attempting to transform our living room from blitz to livability. A very successful operation.
The terraced house dates back to 1897 but now has an ultra-modern 2012 style living room with power points and light switches where they should have been in the first place. The two styles manage to complement each other despite the age difference. A bit like the old house taking in a toy-boy!
Talking of relationships, mine with the computer, any computer, is fraught with problems based on total ignorance, a more plausible and real reason for the blog absence.
December 3rd.  We have made a concious decision not to visit the boatyard for a couple of weeks to allow some visible progress to be made and reduce our disappointment/frustration. whilst retaining our confidence in the launch date remaining unchanged . As a consequence today was allocated to our massive raid on Waitrose for our monthly replenishment of food and supplies. As a result three shopping trollies of goods were tranferred to the car, then to the house and finally to cupboards, the fridge, bathroom windowcill and,of course, the drinks cabinet. Exhausting stuff. On our return to Anstey we caught our first glimpse of the Christmas lights after their switch-on yesterday. The decorations on street lamps hardly rival Regents Street, but overall a commendable effort. In contrast the Xmas tree on the central roundabout  is crap. Sadly it looks like a reject from Wilkinsons.