According to my Fitbit, a piece of technology I love more than I could have ever imagined, I walked around fifteen miles. Which means Celia did too, as we spent the day together. It’s not everyone who would be happy to spend my birthday walking in wind and occasional sunshine across the fens, but fortunately it’s not only poetry and dying mothers that has underpinned our friendship. I’m saying about, as Fitbit speaks metric, so it tells me I walked 26.16 km, and my conversion to imperial is approximate at the least.
We breakfasted on porridge and coffee. Celia normally has tea, so that might explain how even before the washing up was dry she’d broken the coffee pot and managed to move the pull-out table from its runners on one side. Mind, I am the person who threw the kitchen scales out of the galley window and into the mud at the base of the marina where they are doubtlessly puzzling the resident fish.
We set off before either of us could do by more damage, changing our shoes for walking boots, and clothed in several layers against the wind. As a first port of call we were heading for Wicken Fen, a nature reserve run by the National Trust. I went there once with Mother many years ago. We always meant to return but it didn’t happen. Celia and her mother had planned to go, but didn’t make it. So motherly ghosts came with us yesterday. Appropriate for me at least since Mother died on my birthday four years ago.
It’s hardly The Pennine Way. I am listening to Simon Armitage read his book, Walking Home, Travels With a Troubador on the Pennine Way, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys walking. With an hour of listening to go, he reads the sentence, ‘I walk therefore I am’; a feeling familiar to anyone who has enjoyed a spell of walking day after day no matter what the terrain. Actually I’d recommend it to a anyone, but maybe not listening to it on the bus as I started doing, as my snorts of laughter drew curious and worried glances from my fellow travellers. Whether they were members of the Communist Party I know not.
Regular readers of this page may recall that Celia and I have a track record for getting lost when we go walking. I was mildly concerned, though I hope it didn’t show, when Celia said she had forgotten her compass and her whistle. I was hoping it wasn’t going to come to that. Maybe she needed to redeem herself in her own eyes, anyway her map reading was exemplary and we reached Wicken Fen in time for lunch. I was hovering over whether to have a baked potato as well as the soup which sounded greenly delicious when the most heavenly cheesy smell filled the air. Home baked scones about to leave the oven. Decision made, and a severe setback for my progress towards becoming an egg eating vegan (sic).
I even photographed the lunch; it was that good. We went round the boardwalk after spending a long time in the very wonderful shop. Celia upgraded the OS map from the one I had onboard and which I believe belonged to Mother, to a new one with larger scale. There was a windmill, and misled by the Wicken flour for sale in the shop, we assumed it was used to grind grain. Not so, it drained the fens and allowed people to grow crops. In one hide a coup,e with strong binoculars some in whispers about birds they could see several miles away. I took a photo of the information board showing the great crested newt which made me think of Janh1 and Sabina. A modern windmill ironically keeping the fen moist to protect it as a wildlife habitat stood diagonally opposite the old mill. Continue reading
Older Nephew arrived be times on Sunday and we stood looking at the trees and shrubs moving energetically, and feeling the sway of das Boot beneath our feet. But other souls were out on the river, and I'd added ten more litres of fuel to the tank, so off we set, destination Ely, to collect Celia who was arriving by train in the early evening. We met more boats than last time; mainly hire boats being driven too quickly, Toads of the river to our sensible Rattys, leaving bumpy swells in their wake which made it feel like we were moving over stones.
MasterB amazed me by miaowing and then joining us in the fore cabin for much of the journey. He seemed a bit surprised to see the scenery moving past him, but coped admirably. To date he has been under pillows or blankets for the duration of all boat journeys undertaken.
We texted Celia to report our progress, she confirmed she was on the train. Older Nephew who is a less than secret anorak about some things, turned out to have downloaded the details of her journey, and at intervals announced which part of the country she would be in. She's just arriving at Cambridge now he said as the empty green river banks became busy with people and buildings.
Once moored up, I sent another text with instructions from the Cutter Inn, our agreed rendez-vous, to das Boot, but Older Nephew suggested we walk to the station in case Celia got lost. We stopped MasterB from taking a spell of shore leave, locked up and strolled by the water.
Scoping out the marina
A train that wasn't Celia's arrived from Cambridge and I recognised one of the passengers who got off. So the three of us were deep in chat when I saw a familiar figure walk swiftly past us. Celia! I said, and made the introductions.
Will Blogsy be kind tonight? I don't know. I hope so, but the internet signal goes from weak to disappeared so maybe not.
For the record, it's Saturday night. I am sitting in the forecabin with a blanket over my legs and I am warm and cosy. MasterB is on the bed where he has spent most of the day after being extraordinarily vocal for extraordinarily long amounts of time during the night.
I slept in once he allowed me to sleep at all.
He has had shore leave, two lots in fact. One he decided quite quickly he wanted to get back on board, the other he was looking increasingly confident, had just dug a shallow hole and squatted down when a couple approached from the far end of the marina. I thought they were heading for a car, but no they continued towards us, presumably going to the pub a mile or so away. MasterB lowered himself to his belly and scuttled back to the boat and the indoor facilities.
Earlier I went to the organic farm and bought some salad. There wasn't much in the shop. An architect called Colin who I met in the car park explained the lack of rain has held growth back. He started the conversation by asking me if I came there often, a cliché so hackneyed I wasn't sure what he meant. It turns out he helps at the farm once a week and is married. By some curious chemistry we quickly devined each other as non Tory Remainers. That's how I came to stand in the April sunshine for a good thirty minutes clutching the money I still owed to the shop's honesty box while we agreed on almost everything. There was a sticky moment when he asked if the Daily Mail was my newspaper. To dignify the Mail by calling it a newspaper is several steps too far in my book.
It’s not all pink gins, striped tops and waiting for the sun to pass the yard arm you know. No, not at all. Without a yard arm in sight to tell us whether it was okay to drink or not, Celia and I polished off the bottle of white wine that has been keeping me company in the evening since. Friday. We were also having a very late lunch.
This morning I dressed in my horrid three quarter length trews, a pair of waterproof trousers which badly need replacing as the elastic has gone, and I feel like one of those boys who wears their trousers below their buttocks, Mother’s old waterproof, black rubber gloves and my beach shoes. The reason for such glamorous attire? I wanted to start on the task of cleaning the exterior of das Boot.
It’s curiously satisfying work, though perhaps not the traditional way to spend one’s birthday, but I was as happy as Larry as the accumulated filth of the winter months started to wash away. I spent ages on the front cover and wet, it looked pretty good. Dry, I can see all the bits I missed.
I stopped, reckoning it must be approaching twelve, then inside discovered the seals around the bathroom windows need replacing, and there was evidence of my work on the walls. It didn’t take long to clear up, then I tripped off to the shower.
I had just stepped back on board and was wondering whether to eat a piece of bread and cheese or tidy up a bit when my phone pinged. A message from Celia to say she had boarded the train, and was due to arrive in a little over an hour at Ely. Continue reading
The grebes are nesting, but not next to das Boot. This year they have chosen a spot on the river. I watched them busy collecting material. It seems much noisier spot than in the marina, but I suppose most grebes don’t have the luxury of off river facilities. I took some pictures, but it don’t know they show more than vague outlines.
The journey east was varied. We left in sunshine, drove through hail with winds that swept the rain sideways across the roads. Pedestrians in Stratford outlined by garments wrapped round them. Then more sunshine; winds that chased clouds across impossibly blue skies; scatters of raindrops.
There were roadworks. There are always roadworks in spring. One lot had us crawling several miles until we were clear. I stopped at a petrol station and filled the tank.
Near the start of the undulating road across the fens that leads to the marina I nabbed half a dozen eggs from the nice egg lady. The road seems even more undulating than a week ago. Mary and her two uncontrolled but beautiful Labradors was here. They ignored her commands and jumped up at me. MasterB, so had been quiet and accepting most of the journey began to cry plaintively as I emptied the car. I wanted to get the bed made before he came aboard. When I let him out of his box, he made big eyes and sniffed everywhere before taking refuge under a pillow.
The Camembert I bought was so ripe I am surprised it didn't board das Boot on its own. A lucky and completely chance find at the local Co-op. It made a very good dessert. So good I ate rather more of it than I intended, and am only now catching up with the red wine.
I only had one excursion away from das Boot and the marina today. I needed eggs and bread, so set off for the organic farm where the plants made me salivate. Celia hoped to come here on Sunday, but has been struck down by a vicious lurgy, so may have to postpone her visit. I took these pictures to tempt her, now they may serve for her to tell me what she wants me to bring back for her.
I wanted to upload a little video of MasterB to YouTube, but i-Movie and YouTube aren’t talking, so after a lot of time and effort resulting in total failure, I have given up.
I could feel quite cast down, but the weather is too nice for that. It is so very definitely spring. Yesterday I was on the river and there was even the promise of summer in the air. I was on one of the City Cruise boats and had the lower, inside deck almost to my self. I did go aloft for a moment or two. It was packed.
Aunt turned 92 today. I am going to spend a few days with her later in the week. This is likely to be her last birthday. She has decided against having a stent put in, so as her oesophagus narrows she will be unable to swallow. We have been in a flurry, making sure the specaist nurse knows of her decision and that the palliative care nurse are aware and ready to spring into action when she needs them so that she doesn’t get whisked away to hospital. Continue reading
Mother would have been 94 today. Obviously I didn’t have to buy a card, but the day couldn’t go by without something to mark it and remember her.
After my post last week, Memories and Memorials, I had a bit of a think. I like Ruth’s idea of a small volume of Mother’s favourite poems, but there are copyright issues.
So today, I had some copies of poems with me. When I met a likely person, I offered the poems face down in a fan shape and so they could choose one. Beneath each one I had written this:
This is a poem that my mother Anne, 26th November 1919-1st May 2013, loved to listen to. Please enjoy and share it.
I hoped people would read them aloud to someone else. One person did and I stayed to listen. Maybe the others will do so later with friends and family. Over the next few days, I plan to distribute some more copies in the pub, a local café, a shop. As I write this I am wondering if 26th November will become my owm personal Poetry Day. So if you are reading this and nodding, grab a poem that you like and read it aloud. If there is no one with you, share the words with yourself and the day, and feel the power of poetry. Continue reading
Two of my aunts have birthdays this weekend. Both are Mother’s younger sisters. On Saturday, Aunt, who lives relatively near Mother and visits her as often as she can, turns ninety. The baby of the family, Aunt-in-Belfast, is a mere eighty-six on Sunday. I am feeling quite pleased with my organisation. Flowers will be delivered to the remaining sibling, Mother’s adored younger brother. He and she are only eleven months apart and were like twins. She still talks about her brother, though she hasn’t seen him for several years now. She had two more brothers, but Brother is the one she loved and loves jealously. He will take them to Aunt-in-Belfast who is very bad at answering the door. He has a key.