Back in Essex

Another day in Wivenhoe. It has a draw for me. Today I wanted to walk to Arlesford Creek. There’s a circular walk. I did it. It was lovely.

Wivenhoe was also holding an art trail. It does this a couple or three times each year. I have always missed it. Because of the art trail the Norwegian baker was open and doing a good trade. She closed her shop over an hour earlier than advertised, presumably having sold out of her wares.

The church extension in Wivenhoe is complete and the stained glass window is superb.

It turns out Arlesford Creek was where they filmed the Essex Serpent. It’s on Apple TV which I don’t have.

Walking the path beside the River Colne I could smell the sea. Then the path led up through the woods above the fields before dropping again to the creek.

I met two cats called Ronnie and Reggie, and the dachshunds were at the window again.

It was a good day.

Here are some pictures.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 20th March 2022

Octavia has got Covid. Triple vaccinated, she started feeling unwell on Friday, tested positive yesterday morning. We spoke last night and she was croaky. Today in a text message she says she’s feeling awful. Cases are rising again, yet all around precautionary measures are being cast aside. Fewer people are wearing masks on public transport. At the theatre last week the audience was asked to wear face coverings, but many people did not comply with the request. At the interval the foyer the jammed with people jostling for space. The safest place was undoubtedly behind the bar where perspex screens protected staff from contact with customers.

I sent Octavia a link to this piece by David Baddiel about cats. Cats are on my mind today. Not all cats, but MasterB who is currently outside in the garden, Hartley and Romeo the two garden cats, and the new cat on the block, named Treacle by Helena, who has joined the feeding regime, and has so far not been claimed by any neighbour. Also Freddy, aka Cat.

It’s eleven years ago tonight since he died. Reading David Baddiel’s piece moved me. Unlike Baddiel I came late to being owned by a cat. Freddy, a cat of Opinions, marched into my life, took over my home, ambushed my affections, stole Mother’s heart, and had Aunt wrapped round his paw. He was a joy, a tie, a distraction, a comfort, a worry. How I had lived so long without him became a mystery. He was macho, affectionate, demanding, imperious and a great companion. He loved eating or sniffing my cut flowers – carnations were his favourite – adored broccoli and would beg for noodles. He changed my life.

When I took him with me when I visited Mother she loved it. He knew the way from the car to the cat flap in her front door. He would announce our arrival by walking in and rolling on his back beside her. As her dementia increased he could calm her and bring her peace. She remembered his name when she forgot mine, though she often called him a little dog. She loved the way he knew her and showed her he loved her. He didn’t ask her awkward, difficult questions. He was beautiful. She loved watching him, admiring him. When others admired him she basked in reflected pride. So many of my good memories of Mother from that very difficult time are of her interactions with Freddy.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 4th August 2021

There’s something about dusting and vacuuming up two weeks worth of shed cat fur that is grounding. I’d say I am more or less back home mentally tonight as well as physically, though there is still a slight sense of dislocation. Maybe a trip to an exhibition, a play, something of that sort will reconnect me properly with London.

My dreams on Monday night were very muddled, switching between Ireland and home. MasterB was asleep at my feet, a comforting, constant presence. He has been very cuddly, very purry, very affectionate. I’m hoping Cousin is walking Westie Boy and Poppy now I have left. If she is, perhaps she has met Poppy Junior, the gorgeous young retriever at the bottom of the first hill. She, Poppy and Westie Boy have made overtures of friendship, mostly through the fence.

Poppy Junior
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The Coronavirus Diaries, 15th July 2021

It’s odd, or perhaps interesting is the word I want, the things that give you street cred. In my case it’s never going to be my clothes or anything else about my appearance, though in my defence I can claim to have been a precursor of several clothing trends: Levi shrink to fit straight leg jeans when everyone else was in flares, a tweedy jacket several seasons before they featured on catwalks, and Adidas Stan Smiths decades before they became the in footwear. All of these were accidental, driven by economy and thrift.

Today was different. I was walking home from MCQ, a wonderful treasure trove of a shop owned by Clyde, and Mary Portus’ idea of a vision from hell. I was carrying my newly repaired amp. A man sitting outside a café on the Walworth Road beamed a huge smile at me and made continuous eye-contact. “NAD,” he said, “A 3020. Nice. Very nice.” I was beaming myself as I continued my journey home.

Some simple interactions like this can do so much to lift the spirits. I don’t think I’d recognise the man if I met him tomorrow, and I reckon unless I was again carrying my amp, he wouldn’t even notice me.

My MCQ collection was just one of the things of my to do list. I was working via Zoom in the morning so at home, tied to phone and internet. The flat needed cleaning. With the windows open these past weeks the amount of dust is startling. I am very glad I do not have asthma. I took some fabric to Rocket Van. They are going to photograph it for me to include in the virtual yard sales. They have turned down my Tourlet Lulu. I am realising people are prissy about second hand portable toilets, however little they have been used and however much they have been cleaned and disinfected. I’d hate it to end up in landfill, so I shall have to keep trying. Anyone here who goes camping/glamping/champing or makes long car journeys where public toilets may not be available, or whose toilet is unusable thanks to building work, or if you are just having problems with an on-board toilet on your boat, please get in touch. I can share pictures.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 5th July 2021

Some pictures from last week at the das Boot.

I love the cows. Some are very friendly, others are shy. One young bullock couldn’t get enough of me. He licked my arm, nuzzled my shirt, wanted head scratches, raised his nose to my face. If we had been on the same side of the fence I reckon he’d have sat on my lap.

When the bull approached I thought he was going to tell me to keep away from his herd, but no, he wanted head scratches too. No sign of Mr Handsome from last year. I fear he has been slaughtered, butchered and eaten. A sad end for any animal, but especially for one who loved humans as much as Mr Handsome did.

The cows in the field next to the marina. This bullock would like some attention
This younger chap was up for a face rub and chat

The ducks turned up and stayed around. One has very orange feet, one has muddy orange feet. They work singly as and as a pair. They woke me early on Thursday morning doing some sort of duck flamenco outside the window. My neighbours across the pontoon feed them, so I am guessing the ducks thought the café was open. they were remarkably persistent. One even flew onto the roof of the boot and peered over the edge to watch me. They quack softly and plaintively, tap imperiously on the windows with their beaks, march up and down the gunwale (they are surprisingly heavy footed) and do a good job of staring at me beadily eyed.

The one with muddy orange feet

The one with orange feet

The swans also turned up. One young swan, last year’s cygnet by his feathers, was alone and so excited when I came out of the door on das Boot I thought he was going to climb aboard. This pair, swimming off the Portside, were more self-contained.

On Friday morning I was about to open the door at the back of das Boot when something caught my eye. I paused. A kingfisher. I took a picture with my little camera through the glass. Obligingly the kingfisher then flew to another boat to prt of my galley window, which I opened very gently and slowly. My little camera does not have a strong zoom, so I ma quite pleased I can see the bird at all in these pictures. I was feeling a bit blue, and this encounter, followed by the ducks visiting while I had breakfast, and then some affectionate bullocks, did a lot to lift my mood.

Swans off the portside
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The Coronavirus Diaries, 30th June 2021

Much to my surprise I have been dancing around the forecabin this evening.The sound system at das Boot is great, but I was barely able to lift myself off the cushions to eat a short while ago. Maybe it was the power of Nanci Griffith, or maybe the fact that after a day of rain and drizzle it’s approaching a fine evening. Maybe it was the power of curry. Maybe it was the adolescent swan who appeared at the rear of das Boot as I was preparing to head over to the shower. It was so excited when I hung my wet trousers on the grab rail it almost climbed aboard.

I didn’t have high expectations of dinner. I prepped a curry while it rained this morning, Fortunately there were chilli flakes and ground ginger in the cupboard because the amount of curry powder was less than meagre.But it was plate licking good. Yes I did lick the plate. And tomorrow I’ll have seconds. curry is always better a day or two later.For pudding I had soya yoghurt with mandarin oranges. A can that came from Mother’s so is at least a decade old.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 29th June 2021

I’m at das Boot. Alone. MasterB has stayed at home and is being looked after by Celia and B&J. It’s odd to be here without him, but I am going to be busy cleaning and doing noisy things he doesn’t like, so probably just as well. He wouldn’t have liked the journey much either. There were several diversions. I saw more of Leytonstone than I have ever before. I was quite worried about being totally lost. I did learn that there is an Alfred Hitchcock Hotel in Leytonstone. I wonder what it’s like. Leytonstone is his birthplace and I am acquainted with the mosaics which honour him at the tube station, but the hotel was a bit of a surprise.

it’s coming up to 10pm and the light is fading, but you certainly couldn’t call it dark. A duck, maybe the same one that visited last year just came onto the gunwale, and then round to the foredeck and tried to get my attention, tapping on the window glaring at me fixedly. I was rather glad I had closed the windows to keep the insects out a few minutes earlier.

Das Boot is very grubby. I spent the first hours removing the worst of the dirt from the interior, discovered a half pint of very off semi skimmed milk in the fridge. Who put that there? Not me, I don’t drink milk. Maybe Stuart when he was working on the boat earlier in the year.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 27th June 2021

Octavia is going to a party tonight. There may be thirty people. I am finding this difficult to imagine. Yesterday I gave a talk to a room, admittedly a large one, where there were around 150 people. two years ago this would not have seemed unusual. Maybe it’s how the pandemic has changed our attitudes and expectations in subtle ways which is going to affect how we behave in the coming months.

Astonishingly a member of the government has resigned after being caught on camera kissing someone. The someone is married to someone else. The kissing also breached socially distanced rules. Matt Hancock has been our Health Secretary. He has had links to deals that reek of cronyism, indeed the kissee was a friend he appointed who had benefitted from these deals, as did her brother. He of course did not resign for such things. Corruption and lies in our present government are such every day occurrences we have learned to accept them as the norm.

Boris Johnson, our unesteemed Prime Minister, is the Liar in Chief. He is also the Adulterer in Chief, so Matt Hancock may have been following his example, believing that casual acts of adultery were not only acceptable but part of the job description. Unfortunately for Hancock he is thoroughly disliked at the Department of Health, and someone appears to have leaked the CCTV footage to The Sun newspaper. I use newspaper in the loosest sense of the word. It is red top, a tabloid to avoid if what you really want is to learn what the news is, as are all the red tops.

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 19th September 2020

I should sleep well tonight. This morning I scrubbed the foredeck and then parts of the port gunwale until my spine ached from nape to lower back. I have no doubt I shifted a lot of dirt, the water in my bucket turned a muddy brown and there was great deal of sluicing to be done to see the results. They were good, but not as good as I’d wanted. My mop decided this was all too much and fell apart. After washing down the top and sides of the boat I did the windows inside and out again, inexpertly as I could see later, but a job that needs repeating often. My neighbours, who had spent a relaxing morning as the day warmed up, set off for Waterbeach and I walked crab like to the tap to rinse my waterproof trousers and my cleaning cloths. Then a hot shower. That did much to restore me and I realised I was hungry, too hungry to drive to Reach, order food and wait for it to be served. I had a lovely lunch on das Boot, and was just finishing when I noticed a kingfisher had landed just by the boat. I sat mesmerised by its closeness and compact perfection, then it flew away. I didn’t see where it went, but maybe if I’m lucky I’ll see it again before I leave tomorrow.

Washing up done, MasterB asleep under the rug in the fore cabin, I went to Reach to pick blackberries and sloes. Then onto the farm shop where (hurrah!) they had salad. Just one bag so I bought it and then went slightly wild buying fresh chard, a bunch of azaleas, a bag of new potatoes as well as some mammoth beetroot and a delicate thyme plant for B&J. Driving back to das Boot I was aware how much I had slowed down and was enjoying the rhythm of the day. On the road, I passed teenage girls riding their ponies, any number of cyclists, mainly adult and in twos and threes. It seemed a good way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in September.

Cherry, from the neighbouring boat, and I had been wondering about Mr Handsome as we hadn’t seen him. He turned up this evening. I am so glad he’s not on anyone’s plate, though I suppose that is his inevitable fate. It won’t be my plate, but that’s not much of a comfort. Unusually he did not come over to say hello. Maybe he has learned the horrid truth about human beings. He is just as handsome as ever, and, I think, quite a big bigger.

Mr Handsome and Friend having a paddle

Mr Handsome gets up while his lady friend remains in the water

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The Coronavirus Diaries, 18th September 2020

There were watermelons at the organic farm today so I bought one. I haven’t cut into it. It’s in the boot of the car and I shall take it home intact. The fridge on das Boot is not much bigger than a sheet of A3 paper, and I already have quite a lot of fresh food in it. Making sure it doesn’t go off means I have been eating very well, though having established that the pub at Reach is now properly open for business I am tempted to go there for lunch tomorrow before I start my sloe and blackberry picking in the afternoon.

I had a short stroll around the marina, admiring some boats and noting the absence of others who have either been sold or moved to new moorings elsewhere.

Jolly yellow boat

The countryside around is flat. It’s one of the things the fens are famous for.

Flat as far as the eye can see

Bare fields

MasterB has had two walks ashore. The first this morning as the day warmed up, the second this evening. Given that the weather is gorgeous though autumnal, I expected lots of people to arrive this evening. They didn’t. So tonight’s walk was an unexpected bonus, and achieved just in time as, having had a very long pee (yes!!) and spent almost as long covering it up, MasterB looked about, evidently considering his options and a car turned into the marina. I watched it drive the length of the track and guessed correctly it was our neighbours who have the boat the other side of the pontoon.

Boats

MasterB has been gradually become braver about people and cars at the marina, but the likelihood of him having a panic when he saw people walking towards him was high, so I made the choice for him, lifted him up and popped him through the window of das Boot. He was quite calm while I took his harness off, but when the footsteps crunched on the shingle close by and the pontoon began to rock he displayed his disquiet by growling and sinking his belly to the floor. He didn’t rush to hide though, and that in itself is progress. The light was already fading while we were ashore, so there has been no socialising between our two vessels, and I am guessing they will set off somewhere early in the morning. I needed to cook my supper,* so I drew curtains, popped a CD into the player and poured a glass of wine. MasterB remained crouched on the floor until I lifted him onto the bed. He looks pretty relaxed now. Maybe he’ll join me in the fore cabin in a while. Continue reading