Resonance

Some twenty years ago, as a much younger man, I worked as a teacher in what is now referred to as an “Independent School”. Part of my pastoral responsibilities lay with the care of a group of cathedral choristers, during times outside school terms when these talented young singers were required by their musical establishment to be performing at public services, concerts, broadcasts and the like. Naturally, this involved Christmas. As well as my teaching, I, too, was a professional singer in the same cathedral foundation – singing the adult parts of the music – alongside my young charges, and Christmas became a time of mellow dark evenings, soft lights, good company among the families I served, and lovely music. The lights of the High Street twinkled in the distance, yet never dominated; my heart would hum contentedly at each Christmastide that passed – a real resonance with the music, the symbolism, the people with whom I shared the season. Life in those days was good.

For whatever reason, the bombs of stress and depression soon began to fall on my once comfortable existence in the Church and its school, as my social profile began to work against me. I believe I was never guilty of any sort of misconduct, yet that profile, in the evermore nervous, secular world of child protection no longer seemed to fit comfortably – male, unattached, knocking on the door of middle-age, yet still working with young children. And the Establishment seemed determined, simply to dispose of me in order to maintain their “squeaky clean” public image at any cost. I was left with no choice other than to get out as quickly as possible, and my exit from a world that for a time I thought might be life-long, was painful, to say the least. It took me to the very edge. Christmas, for it’s part, became nothing more than a grey, annual ritual to be survived, with nothing to protect me from the brash, garish glare of shopping mall and supermarket lights, exhorting us to give them as much of our money as they were able to prise from us. Christmas had now become for me just an empty, commercial ritual – the resonance to which it once rang had fallen silent…

Having stared into the abyss of mental oblivion, a young locum doctor at my local health centre – she was called Kate – offered to refer me to a professional counsellor at the practice. I must admit that, up until this point, I had been rather dubious, even cynical, about the value and merit of counselling, but with nowhere else, realistically, to go, I took up the offer – and a lady called Dot took me under her wing. The final, and most vividly memorable thing she taught me was a set of coping strategies – let’s call them relaxation techniques – all based around reconnecting with my five natural senses. Close your eyes and think of your favourite place… And I thought of white sands and blue ocean on Lady Elliot Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A special touch… My old cat, Bairstow, ever content to be held upside-down, all four paws in the air, having his tummy tickled. A sound… At that, a humming began from deep within, an up-welling of feeling, the sort that makes the eyes fill and breathing become deeper, in response to something extra-special, pleasurable, infinitely meaningful. Dot noticed. The memory of that moment remains with me, vividly, to this day. Dot had succeeded in her mission; I had reconnected… Certain musical sounds, particularly the treble or young soprano voice, and particular pieces of music, seem intensely to stimulate a certain space in my brain and instantly turn me into a heap of quivering mush. Resonance.

And so, with Dot’s help, the foundation of a new “me” was laid. I left teaching and went to drive a bus. I loved it; good times with young folks, old folks, folk I’d never met before, a new, warm feeling of camaraderie with co-workers. The hum began to grow again. Resonance.

The years have passed, and with it the slog of being up at “stupid-o’clock” in the morning for the early shift on the buses, or finishing at equally stupid hours at night, has gone, too. In a new state of semi-retirement, I took a little job at Bristol’s Temple Meads Station, in the tiny Pumpkin coffee bar on platform 7 – my own little “Broom Cupboard”, with a grandstand view of the hustle and bustle of daily commuter life. More to the point, I had the privilege of working with some simply lovely young people, mostly from Europe, as well as regularly teasing the punters who innocently came for their coffee, only to be lambasted with my truly dreadful jokes! It was all so refreshing, being among young folk again. I got on particularly well with one young Italian lady co-worker; I would teach her new words of English, and she would give me some Italian in return, and not all of it was repeatable! Working in the Broom Cupboard was actually quite fun. I even struck up an “understanding” with Nigel, the leader of the station’s seagull mafia and regular winged felon, raiding my store for munchies just when I wasn’t looking. It’s now been some months since working there, and I miss Nigel in a funny sort of way – rumour has it that he, too, has left Temple Meads for pastures new, citing a belief that raiding the Platform 7 Broom Cupboard for packets of Quavers is no longer an adventure! Nevertheless, the resonance of life continues to build anew.

So, Dear Reader, the story comes a full circle, right up to the here-and-now. These days, the fall of the year invariably sees our national broadcaster, the BBC, putting onto television a colourful live family dance spectacle each week, over the course of some three months; this has become the institution of Strictly Come Dancing, in which fifteen celebrities from British society train to dance Latin and Ballroom, and entertain us each week with what they have (or have not!) achieved. One leaves the competition each week, until there are just four left standing for the final. I must admit, that dance has hitherto left me in something of a state of artistic scepticism, but the resonance is still rising in me, like the bubbling of magma, up from the depths of the Earth’s core, just desperate to burst forth over the surface of the planet. Dance is actually stirring and pumping it some more…

As the show’s sixteenth season started, we were introduced to this year’s crop of celebrities: Nothing remarkable resonated for me…yet. Just another regular season of Strictly Come Dancing…? There was a cute-looking red-headed lass called Stacey from Luton, an investigative journalist by day, and a young lad called Joe, who, we were told, used to be a thatcher in Wiltshire, and now regularly blogs on YouTube (Joe who?); dear Joe didn’t really look any more substantial than the straws he once used for doing those roofs! Then there was a professional para-sportswoman called Lauren, minus her right arm from birth, but game for anything. And then, we had two former pop singers, one called Faye (from Steps), and Ashley (once a Pussycat Doll)… These were but five out of the class of fifteen.

The viewing public gets to vote for their favourite dancers each week, and seems determined in its demand that the celebrities have some sort of “journey” during their time on Strictly. And so it began: In Week 3, Movie Week, Faye quick-stepped her way to the top score of the evening, whilst Ashley just caught my eye with the first really daring lift of the series during her Salsa – recreating the famous moment between Patrick Swayzee and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing: Ashley wobbled a bit, but she did it, and the audience roared.

I missed the Hallowe’en special in Week 6, stuck on a train travelling back from a day on the south coast… Somewhere in the Wiltshire countryside that evening, my ‘phone went ding, announcing a message from a friend to tell me that Ashley had just scored 39 with her “Trolls” Charleston – near perfection. And later, Faye, too – 39 for her Jazz number to Peggy Lee’s Fever. My heart fluttered a little at the thought of watching these two on catch-up when I got home; I was not disappointed, the resonance was beginning…

Two weeks later, Strictly hit me like a train: Ashley prefaced her performance that evening with a tearful pre-recorded piece to camera about recently losing her father – not something with which I usually empathise particularly well. But then… the performance… the first ever Contemporary dance to be seen on Strictly… and it was 90 seconds of sheer ecstasy. Mesmerising. Ashley looked incredible. That dance was an open window, straight through to her inner being, everything she must have been feeling for her lost father. The up-welling of emotion inside me was uncontrollable – Shirley Ballas, head judge, sobbed live on national TV as she delivered her critique…and so did I. Three 10s and a 9 – only the ultra-demanding Craig still withheld the perfect score; it was rather early in the series for that, after all. Ashley Allyn Roberts’ performance just screamed to me that evening – perfect harmonic resonance, and even as I awoke the following morning, I was still quivering. I later read that Ashley had lost her father just months ago… to perhaps the worst of all, suicide. I resonated some more.

The following week was Strictly’s annual trip to the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, and in those hallowed surroundings, Ashley Roberts reached her “Palm Sunday” moment: Judge Bruno Tonioli described her Jive as a moment of “Strictly history…” The audience simply roared at Craig to finally bring out his “10” paddle, and roared some more when he did. A perfect 40, and that evening, Ashley could, seemingly, do no wrong.

But people are just cruel. From that moment on began the passion of Ashley Roberts, as social media lit up with spiteful, even hateful, comment about Ashley having an unfair advantage, on account of her perceived previous “professional” dance experience. The annual Strictly social media punch-up was on! Frankly, I just don’t give a damn about the debate that blew up – the young lady had delivered to me, and thousands of other like-minded folk like me, performance of such deep resonance, and that performance was coming to mean more and more every week. Resonance.

Ashley did make it to the final of Strictly this year and completed her own, unique, Strictly journey; so did Faye, Stacey and Joe. Dear Lauren was eliminated in the semi-final, but spoke so eloquently on live TV as she left, and that, in itself, was a huge moment. The stage was set for what promised to be the biggest show ever to be seen on British TV; I was beside myself, day-by-day, with artistic anticipation. The “Ashley” row raged on, and it was clear that the hapless girl had no chance of actually winning the trophy – but that, somehow, seemed to provide a release for her: What Ashley gave us in that Finale was utterly a masterclass, total perfection, and most importantly, a real poke-in-the-eye to all the bullying haters who were giving her such a bad time in the media. Faye, too, gave us stunning grace and beauty with her own favoured Hollywood glamour style, and the two of them headed into the Strictly stratosphere, in a league of their very own. Meanwhile, Stacey received the Glitterball Trophy (then apparently misplaced it at the show after-party!), and Joe did himself no harm at all, gaining, by all accounts, a new girlfriend in dance partner Dianne. I wish them every happiness 🙂

It is many a long year since I have experience the sort of emotional stimulation I received from Strictly this year. Just a TV show…? It was more than that. Days later, I was still humming with the resonant response to it all. As I walked out with my new-found buoyancy just before Christmas, I wondered, could I ever, one day, find that long-lost REAL Christmas of years gone by once again? Just like the ones of old, when I was still making music in the Church and looking after kids at Yuletide? Mmmmm… It’s a bit late this year, I thought. Maybe next time…

Christmas Day 2018 itself was grey and drab outside, not really promising anything more than a regular day. Another regular Christmas. No sign of Real Christmas here. But then, a lovely moment twinkled, as I sat on my bed wondering what the young people I had been working with so happily at Temple Meads might be doing on that day. I thought about sending out a couple of texts to them, but put the idea to the back of my mind for a while. All at once, the ‘phone went ding, and there it was, a Christmas message, quite out of the blue, from my young Italian friend; and in that one, tiny moment, Real Christmas was right there before my eyes, right there in front of me. Resonance rang like a bell inside; Christmas Day was finally special once again. And that is now forever etched in my memory. Wherever you are, young Lori, I wish you the very best for 2019… 😉

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Milestones

Saturday 19th May 2018…

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Early morning at Sharpness

The Sun peeped over the horizon early. Well, actually, it was bang on time, as always – the passage of the Sun across the sky can be predicted to the very second each day – but it just feels early. And I awoke on my very first morning out here alone on “the cut”, away from the sanctuary of the marina, away from the support of mains water and electricity, no-body, just no-body else around, within either sight or earshot. I’ve long imagined what this experience might be like, and the reality was – is – quite magical.

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A splendid day for a cruise… Not a breath of wind, and already pretty warm, even at this early hour.

Saturday 19th May is not over yet as I write, but the magic has continued, a day quite devoid of the usual toxicity of modern living in the big city. The blood pressure is coming down just nicely. Just what the metaphorical doctor has ordered.

Meanwhile, in Windsor, Prince Harry, all round good bloke Royal, heir to the British throne #3 and Meghan, his gorgeous American bride-to-be awoke on their wedding day. Every couple dream of perfect sunshine on their wedding day, and today of all days, the weather is is just that – perfect.

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Purton

Widewanderer staggered into the galley of Faith and fumbled around for a few moments, gathering together the implements for coffee-making. Soon the caffeine was doing what it says on the tin, and the body was responding to the stimulus – Widewanderer was waking up. Outside, the surface of the canal lay smooth as silk, myriads of flies skittering across its surface, hotly pursued by the fish underneath, occasional plops punctuating the Dawn Chorus as fish jumped to catch a tasty breakfast.

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Purton Ship Graveyard

Purton offers much for the early morning photographer: Just down from my mooring, still dominating the canal, are the remains of the former abutments of the Severn Railway Bridge, whilst just over the wall, the Severn river itself. Purton is the final resting place of many Severn river vessels, deliberately beached here at the end of their useful lives rather than being cut up for scrap. Over the decades they have filled with the silt of the estuary, and now serve as a vital defence to the canal, protecting its flank against the relentless erosive power of the river.

The Severn is quiet at this time of the year, and the Purton Ship Graveyard is a draw for many visiting tourists, able to wander around the old hulks, each marked with a plaque commemorating its building date and the day it was beached here. Sometimes, it has to be said, an old hulk has attracted subsequent attention, and it is now conspicuous by its absence, pulled off the mud and taken for preservation some place or other. But the plaque still marks the spot.

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Concrete that once floated…

Meanwhile, in Windsor, the big wedding ceremony is under way. Widewanderer has chosen not just to sit watching on a big TV screen, but instead to listen by way of an internet stream of the radio broadcast. And he is imagining what the scene is like in the Chapel of St George within the bounds of Windsor Castle. A sumptuous new arrangement of Ben E King’s classic Stand By Me, in Gospel style, and a rousing address by American Bishop Michael Curry, delivered in true gospel style as only, really, an American cleric can. Millions of us, listening from canal narrowboats to the very top of the highest high-rises around the globe, are now in no doubt about the Power of Love. Powerful stuff, indeed.

Faith is a sanctuary for me as a person, and Faith – that’s now Big Faith with a BIG F – is the bedrock of humankind. The power of Love. Today was a day of milestones, most certainly; May 19th 2018 is now a day etched forever in the stone of history…

I wish Harry and Meghan a long and happy life together. The two of you make the perfect couple…

I’ve got Faith

It is Sunday morning. This isn’t going to be a sermon – Faith is a 50ft narrowboat, and this week she became all mine. Built in 1979, she is pretty much a classic, and lovingly looked after for the past nine years by her previous owner, Keith and Sonia. And I do mean lovingly looked after – Faith is in superb order, considering her age. I very much sense that Keith, certainly, is quite sorry to see her go, but I think he and Sonia have greater boating plans in mind.

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Narrowboat Faith in all her glory.

Faith lives at Saul Junction Marina, some eight miles south of the city of Gloucester. Not long ago, I decided a day out was in order, so I caught the bus and headed northwards out of Bristol towards the little village of Whitminster, the closest point along the bus route to Saul Junction. For a bus, it takes half the morning to get there, then there is a mile-and-three-quarters walk to the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal (big and wide, originally built for sea-going coastal vessels to transit from the tidal river Severn to the docks in Gloucester), not far from Frampton-on-Severn. The walk was worth it; Saul Junction (where the former Stroudwater Navigation once crossed the Sharpness) is an idyllic spot, complete with swing bridges and a smashing cafe for a spot of breakfast, lunch or even afternoon tea…perhaps all three if one’s appetite can cope.

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Sunset over Saul Junction

I wandered in, just as a tourist on that day, to the marina office, where I met Cheryl and Bob who run the place, and very briefly (since she was on her day off, and rushing hither-and-thither) Nicki, who keeps a tight reign on the boat brokerage. They all looked at me a bit sideways at first – after all I was just a strange face casually wandering around – but after not many minutes, the welcome that has come to epitomise the Saul Junction community for me shone brightly through. The threat to one day spend my retirement years afloat has been there for a while, as you might be aware, dear reader, but on this Friday in question I felt hooked – Saul Junction felt like a perfect spot for me.
The weeks rolled on, and communications with Nicki began in earnest. “I’ve got a real gem of a boat coming onto the market soon,” she beamed. “She’s a mid-engine…would you consider a mid-engine?” Frankly, the answer to that was an immediate “yes” – mid-engine boats typically feature the classic-type diesel power units… dub-dub-dub-dub… associated with boats, perhaps, in the early part of the last century, rather than the modern high-revving engines built today. A visit was duly arranged, and that’s how I came to meet Faith.

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Other suitable candidates? Not at this time – both of these two are already well-loved!

Commentators about canal life will often advise to spend much time looking at many boats, but almost universally they will tell you that you will know which boat is to be “yours” almost the moment you set foot on her for the first time. So it was with Faith. I loved her.

Nevertheless, Faith was not cheap, and at the asking price, my budget was going to be severely, perhaps even fatally, stretched. Then came a phone call from Nicki one Saturday afternoon – it was one of those massive moments in life, when one instinctively knows that something just has to be. Nicki’s words, in so many words – Keith was, beyond everything, wanting Faith to go to someone who would continue to love and cherish her; it was almost as if Faith was choosing me. And so it was that that the die was cast, and the deal took shape, a good deal for me, since the stress on the budget was being smoothed away. I will look after Faith, love and cherish her – she will, after all, be my home, probably now until my final days.

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This graceful individual is one of a pair – apparently they’re both quite used to activity around the marina, having grown up on these waters.

Just yesterday, then, came the massive moment as the keys were handed to me, and Faith became mine. I spent my first night on-board, and rising on a lovely, almost spring-like March Sunday morning, on the water for the first time, is something I cannot adequately put into words. So, dear reader, I’ve take a few images, in the hope that the images might do the moment a little more justice.

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Reflections on a calm evening. Calm, indeed, before the storm. Just a few hours later, the air was frigid and it was snowing, as another Siberian blast from the east arrived.

Thank-you, everyone at Saul Junction, Keith & Sonia, especially, Bob & Cheryl, Nicki, and all the Saul Junction boaters who have universally taken the time to stop and say hello as I have passed by. I feel that an extended family has taken me in as one of their own already – and for that I feel immensely humbled and privileged.

Did I do the right thing in buying narrowboat Faith?

HELL, YEAH!

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This is Bella. Always on the lookout for a bit of fuss and adulation around the marina…
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Dusk falls on another marina day, and the pontoon lights take over.

Portsmouth…The Fish & Ships Move

There is…or was…until the Railway Authorities chose to raise the price by over a quarter, almost overnight…a good value railway touring ticket entitled Freedom of the Severn & Solent, FOSS for short, amongst the railway enthusiast fraternity. Covering an area from Worcester and Malvern in the North, right down to the South Coast of England from Weymouth to the Solent, it is just brilliant for me during the warmer months to do a bit of travelling around with my camera. Take the three day version of the ticket, and travel in that pretty huge area cost an average of about fifteen quid a day, until some bean counter in an unseen office somewhere decided that we were getting far too good a deal. Now is about twenty quid a day, but still not too bad if it’s Bristol to Portsmouth or Southampton that’s on the agenda. One really has to have an appetite for three days in a week of quite intense travelling to make it pay now. But that’s a topic for another day, perhaps…

Last May was rather a while ago now, but rifling through my photo archive recently reminded me that there had been a really decent spring day that month, and armed with my FOSS, I had, indeed, been out for a wander all the way down to Portsmouth.

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Iconic “New” Portsmouth – Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower

There is a simple reason to visit Portsmouth as a starting point – the Britannia Fish Bar just outside Portsmouth Harbour Station and the Navy Yard gates serves really excellent fish & chips. But fortune did not favour me as a representative of the brave that day, and I found the Britannia well-and-truly CLOSED…for refurbishments. Bummer! Much gyrating on the pavement in front of the scaffolding ensued, the sudden frustration causing a hiatus in my train of thought. So, off I trotted (or perhaps I should say, marched in a rather grumpy fashion, ‘cos I was right hungry by that point) in search of an alternative supply of the said fish & chips.

Well, dear reader, it is rather fortuitous that the Britannia was closed that day, as I was forced to explore further afield, for the day was just gloriously clear and sunny, perfect for the amateur photographer to practice the art.

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“…Really, I see no ships.”

Southsea is an area of Greater Portsmouth which is very familiar to me from my earlier childhood. My father worked extensively in the building industry as a Quantity Surveyor for Costain Contruction, and for about half a decade, that sent him to the area for work. And he would often take us, the family, to the city for trips out during the summer holidays. I remember well taking the ferry over to Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and indeed eating chips, and playing lots of pinball, at Clarence Pier in Southsea. Happy days! So, here I was nearly half a century later, and very much overdue for a retracing of my childhood steps all those decades ago. I’ve no idea if the Portsmouth city fathers have chosen to keep the building my father helped to build – things are always getting torn down and replaced at great cost – but I am certainly pleased that events took my father and me as part of his family to that place, to be a tiny microdot in its long history.

Portsmouth is very much a naval city, and an important base for the British Navy since time immemorial. Henry VIII set sail in his fleet to have yet another little scrap with his dear friends the French in the sixteenth century, only to have his flagship Mary Rose topple over and sink with huge loss of life on the way out. It looked very much as though dear Henry had simply overloaded his flagship with guns…but guns of that age do tend to be, well, bulky, and no-one had considered the basic schoolboy physics of something being a bit top-heavy and wobbly as a result. Ooops!

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A statue of Lord Nelson now stands close to the Royal Garrison Church

Naval history, however, has continued proudly and unabated since. Portsmouth was the last little bit of Good Ol’ Blighty that Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson was ever to see as he departed to join his flagship Victory in October 1805. Yet again, us Brits were off to have another scrap with our favourite friends the French; this time the French had the Spanish out with them, but that was an age when Britannia really did rule the waves, and we won. Poor Horatio, though, had had a french sniper take aim at him, and he died of his wound just before the British victory at Trafalgar was declared. For the 21st Century tourist, though, it is still possible to walk through the tiny gateway thought to be Nelson’s route as he left for his ship. I must say, I find the thought of all that naval scrapping in that day-and-age quite stomach churning – had the press gang arrived to take me out of the Britannia Fish Bar for service in His Majesty’s Navy, they would have had to carry me out feet first, and even once aboard, I think I would have preferred to walk the plank and take my chances with the little fishes. I like boats, but not ones like Victory in the 19th Century. Not at all nice.

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HMS Victory from the starboard quarter

Victory for its part is now a national monument, and can still be visited in Portsmouth’s Naval Yard, as can the remains of Mary Rose, which were raised from the seabed in the early 1980s.

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The Round Tower

During the 1940s, Portsmouth naturally received a good deal of attention from Hitler’s Luftwaffe: The nave of the Royal Garrison Church remains roofless to this day. But happily, much history has survived to be seen today. On my visit in May 2017, I still roamed happily around the Square and Round Towers, and in the grounds of Portsmouth’s Cathedral. Portsmouth Cathedral’s origins stretch back into medieval times, and, I think I am right in saying, was originally the parish Church of St Thomas of Canterbury. In 1927, the Diocese of Portsmouth split away from neighbouring Winchester, becoming a See in its own right, hence the elevation of the parish church to that of cathedral, the seat of the new bishop. It is a striking Romanesque building, well worth a visit.

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Portsmouth Cathedral from the south-west
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The striking Romanesque character of the West Front
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Beep! Beep! ‘Scuse me…!

History, fish & chips aside, there is plenty for the casual Portsmouth visitor to enjoy. Ships, lots of ships, and the famous hovercraft service to Ryde, leaving from right on the beach at Clarence Pier. The local gulls are up to their usual tricks, and sophisticated defences must be employed by the visitor to preserve his or her lunch. I generally employ the word Boo! quite loudly, then chase the gulls around flapping my arms wildly – it seems to work, and the chips remained all mine. One can also procure one’s own fish out of the ocean, of course, but that’s not something I generally do…I like to spend more time talking to the local pigeons…!

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Waiting for supper…
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Coooo! There was a time, as a boy of maybe four or five, that I might have chased this hapless fellow…

Quinessentially Saturday

Widewanderer has landed back in Old England. It is to be an indefinite sojourn in this green and pleasant land, although the world does still offer an open invitation for to explore. For now, the bag is packed with camera (and pack horse booked to carry it!), and out into the verdant landscape of south-western England we go.

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Quintessentially English… A few overs of cricket then tea, then…a pint of the decent stuff.

The cities are their usual bustling selves on a summer Saturday afternoon, not really much of an attraction for me; but only a half hour or so on a train gets one out into the countryside where typically English pursuits are to be found, just bubbling under the surface. Beer, cricket, puttering along the canal in a boat, cyclists, walkers, the polite “Good afternoon, how are you?” rarely to be found in the city, the country railway station complete with resident cat. Not necessarily in that order…

No more than twenty minutes out of the city of Bath on a lamentably crowded train, we’re into the valley of the River Avon. Mobile phone signal fades, and the incessant buzz of train passenger conversation is merely a background as I gaze out of the window at the gently passing landscape.

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A GWR Portsmouth-Cardiff working pauses at Bradford-on-Avon station

Farms, aqueducts and viaducts, weirs along the river, passing country stations at which the trains only call but occasionally, manor houses, ramblers out for a weekend hike (or older folk like myself, strolling in nonchalant fashion)… The robot voice in the train announces Bradford-on-Avon, my destination for the first time in five decades on the planet – I surprise even myself in the fact that I’ve never specifically visited this lovely little spot in rural England.

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Life in the very slow lane…

Bradford can trace its roots back to Roman times, and fragments of evidence of this civilization still exist. However, it found most of its prosperity through the woolen trade in the 17th century, and dozens of mills sprang up along the Avon to produce cloth from the raw material. Transport would be crucial to get the goods away to market: First to arrive was the canal, the original transport link from Reading and the River Thames in the east, to the Port of Bristol in the west. Use of canal declined in the 19th century with the coming of the railway, and it fell into dereliction. But restoration in the latter part of the 20th century created a working waterway once again, though more for the tourist trade than for the movement of goods.

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Two canal residents who seem to know each other…

The Kennet and Avon canal is also home to a vibrant community who make the water their residence, albeit constantly mobile. Meanwhile, the railway carries trains every hour or so in each direction from Bristol & Bath in the west towards Southampton, Portsmouth and Weymouth on the south coast.

 

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No churns, no porters, but the local station cat is still at home in Bradford.

Michael Flanders and Donald Swann sang about the railway, “The Slow Train”, essentially a lament about the impending closure of much of Britain’s rural railway under the Beeching Axe, “…No churns, no porters, no cat on a seat…” Today, though, the station cat at Bradford-on-Avon station was still on the prowl, across the tracks and sitting, majestically, on the edge of the platform. The cat is a cat, of course, and he didn’t stay there for long… He’s too expensive for entertaining the tourists, and he certainly won’t pass political comment about the up-coming EU Referendum!

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Bradford’s 14th century Tithe Barn

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Many micro craft businesses surround the Tithe Barn…

One of the most striking buildings in Bradford is the medieval Tithe Barn. It is a barn of a place in every respect, 168ft long by 33ft wide, built in the 14th century. Originally part of a group of farm buildings, known as a Grange, it was part of the estates of Shaftsbury Abbey until the dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in 1539, at which point it became simply a farm building, in use as such until as late as 1974. In medieval times, it may well have been used to store “taxes” to the Church, or Tithes, hence its name. In the present age, it is now a tourist attraction, managed by English Heritage – and on this particular Saturday, its vast interior was set up as a theatre for a stage play. Well worth a visit if you are passing through, dear reader – and entry is free. As far as I know. At least that’s what is stated on English Heritage’s website.

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This is the life…

I reckon another visit to the Avon Valley is needed soon. This time, I may well get off the train before Bradford, perhaps at Avoncliffe, where there is a delightful walk along the canal or riverbank towards Bradford Lock and the copious tea shoppes and canalside pubs. Life in the slow lane, folks – and I am quite warming to the idea of one day owning one of those narrow boats, and spending retirement days just puttering along England’s inland waterways, camera (and maybe the occasional pint of beer!) in hand, of course ;-D

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Entering Bradford Lock, eastbound.

I am a dove…

I think doves are known for their homing instinct – well, at least it sounds better than “pigeon”!

Truth is, I’m heading home. Canada has been very good to me – and I really do mean that – but there is no escaping the gravitational pull of “home”, and the family that is there, waiting. Here in British Columbia, I’ve found a fascinating, warm city that is Kamloops, filled with good folks who have welcomed me with open arms; I have more genuine friends now than I think I have every had in times past.

So, even though I am heading home to Good Ol’ Blighty once more, I certainly don’t consider this as a final farewell to Kamloops – more of a “see you in a little while”, as I fully intend to spend time back here again, once retirement years finally arrive.

That is, of course, if they’ll have me…

I reckon they will, though – I’ve worked on and off in the local bus industry here for the last six years, and I think I’ve gotten along pretty well with the other bus drivers. Right now, they’ve been teasing me mercilessly, and you know, dear reader, I rather like that, a real act of endearment on thier part…I think! There’s a rumour going round that they are going to park the buses in such a way at the depot next Wednesday morning (as I fly out on the 0630 flight to Calagary and onward to Europe) to resemble a certain Gallic gesture…it would be sooooo cool if they did that! I’d love ’em to bits.

For now, then, farewell…but batten down the hatches, ‘cos the Widewanderer will be back…when you least expect it…MWAHhahahahaha!!

As Douglas Adams wrote in “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, So long…And thanks for all the fish!”. Luckily though, in this case, the Earth is not about to be demolished by the Vogons to make way for their proposed new Galactic Superhighway, and the dolphins are quite likely to stay put. There is, after all, an abundance of fish still in the sea.

The world of the Railway Modeller

A day or two ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Taunton Model Railway Exhibition in…Taunton (!) Pricey to get in, and pretty packed with all sorts of middle-aged gents quietly indulging their innocent little hobby, and, I'm happy to relate, young families, perhaps with the modellers of tomorrow. But it was a treat – the detail in the layouts on display was astounding – the modellers are indeed artists in what they do.

His & Hers railway enthusiasts

And the modellers have a great sense of humour. It's worth spending a good half hour, at least, gazing at each model, and striking up a conversation with its creator if the said creator is willing and in the mood, as hidden in the various little nooks and crannies are all sorts of little cameos, little jokes and pithy observations on life.

Dr Who has arrived...

For me, model-of-the-day was Northbridge, a tiny 6'8″ by 1'4″ OO-scale shunting layout by Mike Kelly. Set in the British Railways London Midland region of the 1960s, it invoked every inch of atmosphere that once existed in the steam railway of that era. The whole layout was beautifully lit, conjuring up the mood of a dark autumn evening, while all along Northbridge's platform were little cameos of people up to all sorts of tricks. In the yard stood a little blue police telephone box, the sort of tiny structure put there back in the 1960s by the local Plod to enable the private citizen to contact the law while out-and-about – loooooong before the days of private mobile communications, other than jumping up and down, screaming and hollering, that is. Mike flicked a hidden switch and a small blue LED on top of the box began flashing on and off. And every visitor to the layout with even an inkling of knowledge about Dr Who immediately mused, “hmmmm… Tardis.” I certainly did!

Caught short?

Mike beckons me around to the side of the model. “Here, have a look at this…” I peer closely. OMG – there's a bloke in a tiny outhouse sitting on the loo! Mike flicks another secret switch and on comes the light in the loo. The bloke in the loo has his car parked at a crazy angle, and I cannot be sure I didn't see a small whiff of exhaust coming from it. Bloke must have been pretty desperate! Mike beckons my gaze once more, to a spot close by – another bloke has not been so lucky with the comfort of a cosy outhouse; he is busy “inspecting” (and probably watering!) the axle box on a coal wagon… Meanwhile, in a flat by the mainline overbridge, an artist is engrossed in his painting. Tremendous detail at every glance – Mike certainly deserved my vote. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the scene of the local constabulary raiding the local premises of ill repute!

There were many, many opportunities, dear reader, for capturing the mood and atmosphere of the model railway. I close with a selection…

The artist in his loft

Raiding the den of ill repute!

Northbridge Station by night