July 7th

Willow Lodge

Drove down to Heathrow from Mercia Marina on July 3rd. Unusually easy 140 mile drive via the A38/M6/M42/M40 (Meaningless to those in the USA I'm sure, but it enabled me to avoid the notorious M1 which is a continuous ribbon of construction zones and slow-moving traffic). Barb duly appeared on time, emerging from customs with a big grin on her face. It was lovely to see her, I forgot how beautiful she is.

We stayed overnight in a hotel and then drove back by the same route on Wednesday. Now we are lolling about in Willow Lodge (left), our base for 2 months, walking round the marina (poppy and bee, right) and watching Wimbledon on TV.

Bee & Poppy
July 12th
I am wrestling with the difficult decision of whether to sell Basil Boat or not. On the one hand my heart is telling me NO and on the other hand my head is screaming YES! Every time I go down to the boat and look out over the shimmering water dotted with birds I think 'I can't give this up'. Nothing engages me as completely as narrow boating. It's a perfect combo of almost all my interests: wildlife, nature, photography, engineering, cooking and keeping fit. Then there's the skill involved in navigation, a skill I am still refining after 45 years at the helm.

On the other hand, this is a perfect time to sell. The boat looks resplendent in its new paint job. As of this week it has a new Boat Safety Certificate which lasts for 4 years and it runs as well as it ever has. Brexit looms over the British economy. My arthritis has improved since I got here, but I am not blind to the fact I am 74 and my health is on a downward trajectory. As Barb constantly points out, I do get very stressed out with worry over prepping the boat and when things aren't working right, which is often. In general I agonize, more as I get older, over things that would never have bothered me years ago. Although I managed to navigate single-handed in a practical sense, I really do not enjoy being alone without my partner in life. I am not unaware how selfish this is. It's totally unfair to her to leave her for weeks while I selfishly indulge myself in my obsession. Blaming her for jumping ship sort of worked this year, but it won't wash any more.

What to do? What to do? I am hoping that spelling out this conundrum in my diary will help me make a decision. All comments, observations and opinions welcome.

Since I last wrote we have been out with friends Robert & Ken to Esquina, a Spanish Tapas place in Sawley that Robert found. Good food and wine and a great evening of fun and ribald wit, catching up with everything. So much fun I forgot to take any photos. Maybe Robert has one I can publish?

We also took Azar, who helped me with the new boat batteries, and his wife Selena on the boat for a day. We picnicked on the bank near Weston and sailed back in the rain. Barb and Azar worked Stenson Lock in the wet, not the easiest of locks at the best of times.

Yesterday we drove 1.5 hours round Birmingham to Kinver, a nice village that we last visited in 2011 by boat. I took Basil's cratch cover in to be repaired. Kinver did not seem quite as quaint and pretty this time, probably because every place looks nicer when visited by water.
Bridge 21
Barb at Bridge 21, Outside Nadee Restaurant.
A typical Brindley bridge, now bypassed by a
modern road bridge.
Blooms (Rhododendrons?) at the Ragley Boat
Stop. We passed here with Azar and Selena.
Kinver High Street
Kinver High Street

White Harte
The White Harte, Kinver, where we had lunch.
Giant Carp Sunbathing near Basil
In the Dragon with Fish n'Chips and Fish Pie
Mercia Swan
The Trip Boat, Mercia Swan with Attendants
Next Tuesday (16th) we are driving down to Kent to stay with my bro Mick and his wife Ange and to visit my family.

July 24th
We are back at the Marina in the grip of a mini 'heatwave'. Flashy electrical storm overnight. High 80's, 96 predicted tomorrow, nothing as bad as Phoenix, but there's no air-conditioning in our lodge or anywhere else except most businesses and cinemas.
We had a whirlwind time in Kent, rushing from town to village and back again to visit all my sibs. Unfortunately, I took none of my dear sister Angela in Walmer, where we had an excellent pub lunch on the seafront and back to her house after. Here are some photos from the other forays into deepest Kent:
Woodchurch Sign on the Green where I
played as a kid.
Barb and my Bro Mick on the Prom at Hythe

Nigel &
Nigel (Bro) and Sandra at Home in Canterbury
Trad Hat
Traditional British Summer Hat

Lamb &
With Mick and Ange at the Ewe & Lamb,
Mick and Ange at Folkestone Inner Harbour

1885 Funicular Under Restoration at Folkestone
Barb at Folkestone, White Cliffs of Dover
in the background

Tiny Pub
Tiny Pub, the Bathtub & Gun, on Folkestone
Harbour Wall. Part of a fun restoration of the
Harbour area.
Sole Kitchen
One of many small Harbour cafes and shops .
We visited Sissinghurst Castle.
These old Oast Houses, used for drying hops,
are in the grounds.
Part of Sissinghurst Castle, former home of
Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
                    Castle Garden
The Castle Tower, from the Garden
Garden 2
Sissinghurst Garden Scene
Garden 3
Flowers in the Garden
Willow Lodge
Horrible drive back up to the Midlands. There was over an hour of traffic delays which the TomTom (GPS) traffic receiver failed to pick up or guide us around. It is a new GO 620 - a supposed upgrade from my old XXL which worked perfectly in the UK but was deemed obsolete by TomTom. Beware of 'Lifetime Maps' offers. 'Lifetime' is that of the device, not the owner. The GO 620 is a heap of bug-ridden expensive junk.

Went out to Esquina with Robert and Ken last night. Now we are relaxing in Willow Lodge before embarking on another long drive to Cornwall on Friday. 300+ miles of hell, no doubt, on roads choked with vacationing parents and their snotty kids packed into overloaded cars and caravans. Wish us luck.

Barb & Ken
Barb with Ken in Esquina, the Tapas Bar
July 27th
The drive to Cornwall was even worse than I expected. The M25 was clogged all the way from Bristol to Taunton. It took us 7 hours of intense concentration to get here including two 20 minute pit stops. The TomTom quit working altogether before we left Mercia, causing apoplexy on my part. I hate to admit it, but we were saved by Barb's new iPhone 8 and Apple Maps which guided us flawlessly to St. Ives but then lost the plot finding the hotel. I used my fading memory of last year and got us here without too much trouble.  Once checked in, the cares of the road lifted as soon as we saw the view from our balcony - a cerulean sea, sandy beaches and blue skies. We are in the best room in the hotel, room 9, which Barb scoped out last year when we were here.
Barb on Balcony
Barb on our Pedn Olva Balcony
Pedn Olva
The Pedn Olva Hotel
Porthmnster Beach
Porthminster Beach Today (Saturday)
Window Dressing
Flowery Trail to Carbis Bay
Flowery Trail
St. Ives from the Flowery Trail
(except panorama below)
St. Ives
July 31st
On Sunday we drove to Tintagel, former home of King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table, blah blah. We arranged to meet my old High School friend Peter and his wife Jane at the church of St. Someone Obscure high upon a cliff overlooking King Arthur's pad. They provided a picnic of quiche, couscous, quinoa and salad from their garden which we ate in the graveyard sitting on an old tomb of someone called John. May his ghost not rise up and smite us. After that we meandered around the Cornish countryside, had tea perched on a farm track near a triangulation point marking a hill and drove 'home' to our hotel, sans traffic for once. Weird and wonderful day. Apres, le deluge. It rained buckets most of Monday and were glad to be safe and sound in our cozy cliff dwelling as the rain and wind pounds upon our windows and the sea rages beneath.
Picnic on John's Tomb at
St Materiana's church near Tintagel
with Peter and Jane

                        Arthur's Castle
Supposed Site of King Arthur's Castle

Classic English Weather at Porthminster Beach
Rain Barb
Sign Language (No Photos in the Rain, Please!)
Imposing Railway Viaduct above Carbis Bay
Carbis Bay
Looking out over Carbis Bay
House at Carbis Bay
Yesterday we took the little branch line train from St. Ives to St. Erth, surely one of the prettiest short railway journeys in Britain. It rumbles along high above the sandy beaches of Carbis Bay and Lelant. From St. Erth we took the main line to Truro and changed again to another branch line to Falmouth Docks.

Barb had the brilliant idea of going to St. Mawes which we last visited in 2013 with my brother Mick and his wife Ange. So, in Falmouth we walked to Custom House Quay to catch the ferry. We had lunch and walked around the town for a bit, unable to find the apartment, Upper Tresulian, where we stayed last time.

Back on the ferry to Falmouth where it rained heavily as we trudged back to the station to go back to St. Ives.
St. Mawes
St. Mawes
Post Box
Victorian Post Box, Truro Station, still in use
The Busy Platform at Truro

Truro Station Sign. I Heartily Approve.
Ancient Signals at St. Erth, perfectly maintained

May Queen
The May Queen. One of the ferries on the Fal River Route to St. Mawes, she has been repainted in dazzling colours as an art project. She is 80 years old, built on an unusually shallow (2' 6") draught carvel wooden hull. She was requisitioned by the Navy during WWII.


The May Queen Ferry
Schooner in Falmouth Harbour
St. Mawes Inner Harbour and St. Mawes Hotel, (far left) home of the World's Most Costly Lunch
St. Mawes Castle, a Fort built by Henry VIII in 1540-1542
August 8th
We've been back on the marina a few days now. The drive back was even more harrowing than the drive down: 8hr 20min including about 45min of rest stops. Here are a few last memories of Cornwall:
Tug of War
Massive Tug-of-War Contest on the Beach

(Except panorama below)
High & Dry
Boats in the Harbour High & Dry at Low Tide
High & Dry 2
Another Low Tide View
Pedn Olva Dusk
The Pedn Olva Hotel at Dusk
Panorama of St. Ives at Low Tide

Now we are expecting a visit from my old friend Richard's wife Viv. Sadly, Richard is very ill and unable to brave the tortuous journey up here from Kent. After that, we are going to London for 6 days from August 15th.

Britain is in total turmoil over Brexit, careening out of control towards an almost-certain "no-deal" exit from the European Union. Instead of open borders, free movement of people and free trade there will be customs and immigration checks at all ports of entry including between Northern Ireland and Ireland and WTO rules on trade. Every trade deal that exists between Britain (as a member of the EU) and the rest of the world will have to be renegotiated, which will take years. The US Congress has warned that any trade deal with Britain will not be ratified unless the terms of the Good Friday Agreement between the UK and Ireland are preserved. The GFA led to peace in Ireland after decades of bloody conflict. Free movement of people and trade between the North and Ireland is a pillar of the Agreement.

I fear for my country. I predict a terrible recession, food shortages, long lines of trucks at the ports, depreciation of the pound and great difficulties for EU nationals living in Britain and British nationals living in Europe. London's status as a financial hub will be severely curtailed and property will plummet. The political chaos has already begun and the people will totally lose faith in Government. Scotland may leave the UK and join the EU. Domestic terrorism and crime will run amok. I fervently hope I am wrong but I think that unless some Churchillian figure emerges to lead a National Emergency Government before October 31st, the country is doomed.

August 14th
Viv duly arrived on Thursday (8th) and we had a great time with her. She is a vivacious ball of fun and an ideal no-stress guest. That evening we took the boat to Nadee and met Carolyn, my cousin, and both her current man and previous husband (both named Phil, as it happens) there for dinner. Current Phil is a Yorkshire lad with a riotous sense of humour who kept us chuckling all evening. Old Phil is more quietly cerebral but interesting nonetheless. Caro is struggling amid a long recovery from an attack of infectious spondylitis which she caught on a trip to Australia. It took ages to diagnose, by which time she was crippled, but she is making slow but sure progress. We were the last to leave at about 10 p.m. and cruised home in the dark.

After I winded Basil at Stenson on the way to Nadee he developed a severe case of rudder judder at engine revs over 1200 or so. I hit nothing and heard nothing unusual while turning. There is nothing on the prop and the power train is running smoothly. We managed to limp home on reduced power and I will investigate further.

Next day we went on a tour of the Peak District, north Derbyshire, by car. We drove through classic Peak countryside over hill and down dale. The fields and roads are fenced with drystone walls and the motoring is hairy but fun. The weather was ideal for showing off the views, blue skies dappled with fluffy clouds. Viv was impressed with the old limestone towns and villages, especially Ashborne which was all decked out in bunting as we drove through. After an hour we arrived in Hartington, an old favourite of ours, where we looked around before eating lunch at the Charles Cotton Hotel, where we once had a family reunion. After that we drove on to Chatsworth House. The weather disintegrated into torrential rain on the way, so we took a look from a distance and decided to abandon plans to visit  the grounds and drove home instead. Ate a disappointing meal in the Boardwalk.

On Saturday the weather was not predicted to be wonderful, although it turned out fine, so we stayed local, relaxing in the Lodge and going for walks. Dinner in the Dragon, Willington which was good but Nadee was the star restaurant as usual. Viv left us by train on Sunday and we were very sad to see her go. Hopefully we will see a lot more of her over the years. She has her hands full caring for my sick friend Richard. He is technically my Uncle, though he is a few months younger than me. It's a long story best told out of print.
Viv at Helm
Viv at the Helm

B & R
                    at Helm
Barb & Rog
Nadee Group
Nadee. L-R Phil, Rog, Caro, Barb, Viv, Phil II
Caro &
Carolyn & Phil II at Nadee

Charles Cotton
Barb & Viv Outside the Charles Cotton Hotel
Chatsworth House

Viv & Barb at the Dragon
Delilah. She adopts us annually.
Kayakers at Willington
Willington Pair
Barb & I at Willington
Mercia Night
Marina by Night

That's it for now. Off to London

August 26th
London was a blast as usual. The highlights included meeting up with Barb's niece, Debrah and her family, a visit from friend Liza who came on the train from Norwich just to see us, two theatrical performances and a film (reviews follow) and a huge animal rights demo. Plus the usual excessive amounts of eating and drinking. The city was swarming with tourists from all over the world, even the Brits with their kids out on school holidays. High security is evident everywhere. Westminster Bridge is heavily fortified with anti-vehicle traps and barriers. Parliament is similarly equipped and guarded by armed police, once a rarity in the UK.  We stayed in our favourite hotel, the Premier Inn, County Hall, right behind the London Eye on the South Bank of the Thames. We can highly recommend this hotel, it punches way above its weight in cost. The quiet rooms are converted from old Council offices so they are larger than most budget London hotels. The staff are friendly and helpful. The hotel sports a decent restaurant and bar, and the location is hard to beat. London Eye
The View from our Room
Deb &
The Van Djik Family (Max, Ed and Deb) on
the South Bank with Barb.
Ed & Deb
Eddie and Deb Van Djik
Max Impersonating his Dad (I think)
County Hall
The Old County Hall. now converted into two
hotels, a theatre and meeting rooms, etc.

We hardly ever see Eddie and Deb as they live in the frozen northern wastes of New Hampshire where she works as a human resources manager and he as a probation officer. Their son Max has doubled in size since we last saw him. He is a witty, intelligent guy who will start College next year. We met them at the Tate Gallery, walked the Thames together and had dinner in the Premier Inn before they departed to see Witness for the Prosecution in the adjacent theatre. We saw the same production with Anita (Barb's sis) and John last year and sat in the same seats. The next night we had dinner with them in Da Mario, Covent Garden, an Italian restaurant we found last year when we celebrated Anita's 70th birthday. Next day they departed for Holland where Eddie was born and his parents still live.

We took a water bus to Millbank and the Tate Britain, where we concentrated on William Turner, one of my favourite painters of, among other things, ships under extreme duress. On another afternoon we happened upon a huge demonstration by animal rights activists spilling out of Trafalgar Square and marching down Whitehall.
Salisbury Cathedral, by John Constable
in the Tate Britain Art Museum

Animal Rights 1
Some of Hundreds of Animal Rights Activists
St. Mawes, by William Turner - looking
somewhat different in 1809 than in 2019.
Pilchard fishing depicted, is now extinct.
Animal Rights 2
Armed Police
Armed Police outside the House of Parliament

Animal Rights 3
Trump Paper
His Excellency's Face on every Sheet.
 3 pounds each, in aid of Mental Health.

Liza is an old friend who has featured in these pages before and who is still a legend on the marina. She took the long journey down from Norwich to be with us for a few hours.
Rog, Barb and Liza
With Liza at Brunch
Barb & Liza
Victoria Park
Barb In Victoria Gardens
I have always loved the theater, ever since I saw Helen Mirren in Stratford playing Juliet at the age of 18. The problem is that since then I have sat through so many hours of tedious, if well intentioned, productions littered with the corpses of dead scripts and lame acting.

Once in a while, though, everything gels and I am transported again by that sense of wonder as the best writing and acting ignites upon the stage. Sheer joy takes over as  great actors strut their stuff and deliver the immortal words of great authors. The time flies by and I can't sleep for hours afterwards thinking about how I felt.

The two plays we saw this year are both candidates for such an experience but only one delivered. We first saw Equus in 1974 at the National and it was an epic ground-breaking play at the time. A searing psychodrama by Peter Shaffer about a young man who worships horses and the efforts of a burned out, disillusioned psychiatrist to 'cure' him, it introduced many new concepts and theatrical devices which endure to this day. The script is dense and philosophical and a real challenge for the two actors who carry the brunt of it.

This new production is staged in a smallish studio theatre just off Trafalgar Square. The set is minimalist, just three white sheets form a cubicle on stage. The drama is carried purely by the actors and the lighting and sound design which is mostly effective. The acting is good. Ethan Kai does a fine job playing Alan Strang, the troubled youth who blinds six horses in a sex-induced rage against his God, Equus. Ethan is a young actor to watch.
The horses are played sensuously by half naked actors of fine physique. Somehow, though, the sum of the parts did not add up, though I cannot fault any one part. The evening turned into a bit of a 3 hour slog and it was with some relief that we escaped into the night air.

The new production of The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, was a horse of a different colour. A brilliant ensemble cast led by Clive Owen (Gosford Park, Croupier, Prime Suspect) brought Williams' script to sparkling life. Just as long and wordy as Equus but in no way tedious. We left the theatre on a huge high, rejuvenated by the experience. We had front row seats to see them all sweating in front of us as they developed the story of the disgraced and licentious preacher leading a party of Baptist ladies into the tropics of Mexico. Wondrous stuff! Four or five of us gave them a standing ovation (frowned upon in London except for the most outstanding productions, unlike in the US where ovations are awarded every time). They deserved it and Clive, six feet from us, looked us in the eye and gave a nod of appreciation. Icing on the cake!
Camden Street Scene from the top of a double-
decker London bus.

Last look at Father Thames and London by
night from Jubilee Bridge
Gay Rights spreads to Sandwiches (on the train home)
August 28th
Grand Central
Birmingham New Street Station (Lower Level) and Grand Central Mall (Upper Level). Does not enlarge.

Birmingham Street Scene
Gas Street BasinWe took a train to Birmingham for a day. The major redevelopment of the city centre is almost complete. We were impressed with the swanky new New Street Station and Grand Central Mall above it. Both are linked with walkways to the old Bull Ring shopping district which has also had a facelift. New tramlines are being built and trams (streetcars) are already running. We walked down to the canal to see Gas Street basin (inset) where we had moored in past years. It was a fine August Bank Holiday weekend and the city was swarming with people and reverberating with music and the shouts of unruly brats. The trains were also packed and I'm sure we were pretty smelly by the time we got home.
Canal House
The Canal House Pub and Restaurant
A couple of days later we drove 26 miles to Calke Abbey. We had intended to go here with Viv but the weather turned nasty so we deferred the visit. Calke is a National Trust property and is billed as the 'Un-Stately Home' as it remains in the sorry state it was in when the impoverished Harpur-Crewe family deserted it in 1981. The rooms are full of ancient junk. Generations of the family were avid collectors during the 18th and 19th century. There are cases and cases of stuffed animals and birds, rocks and portraits of the family. Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, the 10th and last Baronet, died in 1924. He had no male heirs, so the entail died out as female children could not inherit aristocratic titles. The female line inherited the Estate, though, and tried to keep it going until the 1980's when crippling Estate Taxes forced the family to hand it over to the National Trust.

It all sounds a bit depressing but it was actually fascinating. Room after room of Victorian artifacts, a derelict kitchen, old servants quarters and a tunnel to the Brewhouse. An amazing four poster 'State Bed' was found dismantled in storage boxes by the Trust and is the one thing that has been reassembled in its original glory. It is kept under glass in an environmentally-controlled atmosphere under dim light. The gorgeous fabrics have never seen the light of day, so are resplendent in their original bright colours. Everything else is as the Trust found it. Numerous volunteers offer illuminating yarns about the life and times of the old house. As usual with most stately homes, Calke Abbey is surrounded by acres of glorious scenery, a deer park, a church and formal gardens. We spent so long in the house that we only had time for a cursory glance at the gardens. We will return...
Calke Abbey
Calke Abbey

The Largest of Two Libraries

The Grand Staircase
State Bed
The State Bed and Fabric Detail (below)
Bed Detail
Early Shower
Mantelpiece in the Dining Room

Detail from one of Hundreds of Portraits

(Except Garden below)
Formal Garden
The Formal Garden

Now our summer here is over and we are packing to fly back to Phoenix on Sunday, Sept 1st. There we have a week of searing Arizona summer before we fly to Montreal where we will stay for three days before embarking on Insignia for a 17 day cruise round the ports of Nova Scotia, through the St. Lawrence Seaway and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States via Boston and New York, and across to Bermuda for a day before disembarking in Miami. Click Here to follow our progress.

FOOTNOTE: My heart won out over my head and I will keep the boat for another year. Thanks for all your comments on the subject.

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