Sunday,1st August: Little Venice

Yesterday I collected Patrick and Elanor's luggage as they arrived in Paddington, having earlier in the day visited a launderette where a drama was played out with the 'supervisor 'dying' from some nameless and dreadful condition and refusing to do service washes, thus causing terrible agonies, particularly among the young male clients.  In the evening we met our visitors in Paddington to guide them to our mooring in the basin - vital, as I still manage to get myself lost. After a lazy cuppa and chat we took dear Gloriana from our impressive high-tech surroundings at the far end of the basin, up the arm and into the basin in Little Venice and LO! an amazing mooring was awaiting us there, this time, not opposite the noisy Waterside Pub - much better for Caspar who is still limping. At least I have learned of a vet who is not too far away in Maida Vale and a trip there is planned for tomorrow.  We all walked down to the Lebanese restaurant along the arm where we enjoyed a meal, having deferred a visit to a  Persian restaurant 'til later in the week. There followed a further exploration of the area which is so impressive in its modern architecture,  allowing Elanor an opportunity to let off steam as her day had been relatively sedentary with the car journey and theatre. Back on board it wasn't long before daughter and Dad were tucked up and fast asleep and nothing was heard till eight-ish this morning.

There was a bit of high drama this morning when Elanor was stung on the foot by a 'buzzy-bee' (or something!) It was clearly quite painful and unfortunate that it was where she put weight on the heel. In spite of this she limped off, after the obligatory breakfast of porridge towards the city and museums while I headed for my third meeting at Friends House. It was, again, well attended, and was an especially busy meeting in terms of ministry. This started with a ministry regarding science - the point being made that we tend to put too much faith in science, rather than in God. This necessitated a positive response in pragmatic Friends: a reading by S. Jocelyn Burnell, an eminent astronomer, from Quaker Faith and Practice,  and a whole lot of others. One was on the theory of 'the big bang' - explained simply by the explanation of the awesome amazing chain of events /various build up of gases etc. and the simple wonder in the response, 'Let there be Light!' There was penultimate  ministry from a heavily pregnant lady who felt that 'the big bang' was about to occur within her body and her life  and she pondered on the biological miracle.

Tuesday,3rd August: Little Venice

On our visitor's return, foot-weary (Patrick more than Elanor!) but cheery, with poorly foot quite forgotten, we enjoyed a roast meal together and an evening of reading and dominoes and bed. We had planned to go down to Camden on the boat but other plans had been made - the London Eye, a boat trip to the Tower and the Crown Jewels. This means that, as we plan to move on Wednesday we will have had our full quota of fourteen days in Little Venice. So I did another launderette visit and walked further up into the centre of Maida Vale to a vet, where I had a consultation about Caspar's shoulder. I now have a supplement and we need to limit stress on the joint and monitor things. If the problem continues an anti-inflammatory will be necessary. The problem seems to be resolving itself - certainly in the mornings there is no sign of a limp. The issue of the jumping on and off and stepping down into the interior of the boat is one which is a problem for him and us.

Patrick and Elanor arrived back to collect their belongings, enjoying a cup of tea and a rest before returning home via Paddington and Reading. 
We then awaited our next visitors, Geraldine and Terry, bearing the, for me, vital, printed instructions for our tidal odyssey on Saturday. We walked down to the Edgware Road to the tiny Persian Restaurant recommended to us. There is seating for just about ten and it was full but they took our phone number and we had a drink at a nearby pub and were summoned in a short while. The recommendation was good, the best thing being the flat bread cooked in a clay oven, and topped with sesame seeds to have with the delicious starters. We sat a foot or so away from the chef busy with a flaming grill and could see our grills prepared. I particularly liked the bill, hand-written and torn from a note-pad. Needless to say we were the only Anglo Saxon faces in the place! It was good to see Geraldine and Terry again and we walked back through Paddington Basin to the boat before they set off to Warwick Avenue to start their return journey.

Thursday,5th August: Kings Cross

We had a relaxed Tuesday, our final 24 hours in Little Venice - no major outings or tasks achieved and no major excursions. Yesterday, after watering and pumping out, we left Little Venice after our full 14 days allotted time though moored awhile in the lovely central basin awaiting Dermot's arrival. He joined us shortly before midday and we hadn't been travelling for long before the heavens opened - our first serious rain for months having left the rainless north-west which is now apparently very wet, only to arrive in the dry south east! However, it can usually be guaranteed that the summer ends as the school holidays begin, but at least the children have enjoyed their first week before the weather changed. Shame for Dermot though. We stopped awhile in Camden, where it happened to be sunny for a while, where I had a further foray 'round the market and a grocery shop. My return to the boat required an unusual route!
After a bite of lunch we travelled on to Islington where we moored beyond the tunnel on the visitor's moorings, our particular one having been 'condemned' as being unsafe. We stayed, after 'engineer Nick' surveyed the scene and declared it 'okay', and as there were a number of other boats there we elected to stay. A fisherman told us we'd be okay - that Boris would sort us out if the wall collapsed on us - apparently he lives just round the corner! Nick and Dermot went for a wander taking in Duncan Terrace, immediately above the tunnel entrance, where their aunt, a nun, had resided years back, before they returned to the boat for a meal.

Today we've moved back to Kings Cross, just the other side of the tunnel, which is altogether lighter and brighter. We moored outside the London Canal Museum which was worth a visit: it used to house ice, brought over by ship from Norway, and stored in a basement there, having been brought by horse-drawn boats up from the docks. Surprisingly the horses which brought the ice were lead up a ramp onto the first floor to be stabled. A picture there shows the Islington end of the tunnel, where we were moored last night, as it was in 1820: it looks a lot different now (the blockhouse to the right no longer exists though there is evidence on the present-day brickwork of its past life), the canal is screened on both sides by tall Sycamore and Horse Chestnut, but the houses above and beyond the entrance remain part of Duncan Terrace. Between these houses and the tunnel entrance ran The New River, an artificial watercourse constructed in the early 17th century to bring water from springs in Hertfordshire to London. Most of it is still in use today though it now ends at Stoke Newington. The section between there and its original head at Sadler's Wells has been largely in-filled, but it is still possible to trace the old course through streets and parks, one in Duncan Terrace,  where fragments of the "river" survive, some as decorative water features. Charles Lamb, the 18th Century essayist, lived for a time in Duncan Terrace before moving with his sister to Edmonton.
Now of course, in 1820 the barges were horse-drawn, but for obvious reasons tunnels were not built to accommodate the passage of the horse, so when the tunnel was reached, the horse would be untethered and  taken over the tunnel, in this case up the ramp to the right, which still exists, and the barge would be "legged " through the tunnel: it looks a fairly laid-back type of job but probably the only time the boatmen were able to lie down during the day. For the Islington tunnel, a steam tug was provided in 1826 which pulled itself along with a chain on the bed of the canal.
(Now there's a bit of culture and history for you!)

Friday, 6th August: Islington

With the weather set poorly for Saturday and brilliantly for Sunday, we've postponed our departure from Limehouse 'til Sunday morning. Jackie set off for Euston and, as she called me to say she'd be returning via Islington, I returned with Gloriana to the other end of the tunnel, to Islington where, in the late sixties I worked for BICC in White Lion Street. Though I've been back here two or three times in the intervening years, there's something special about being resident here (albeit only for one night); about wandering the streets of my (relative) youth; about seeing the change from what was then a fairly low economy area to one which is now very different - single-bedroom flats costing upwards of £400 a week. I moored once again under the condemned brick wall and met herself in Upper Street
It was time for a haircut so I went off, planning to use the Uni-sex establishment that Jackie had been to earlier in the afternoon. Finding it full of septuagenarian females, I decided to look elsewhere and wandered along Islington's main thoroughfare, and through Camden Passage in search of a barber. I eventually found one in a road off Upper Street (Theberton Street, if my memory serves me right), went in with a questioning glance at the proprietor and, on his nod, sat down. Ten seconds later I stood up and walked out: I'd seen the tariff in front of me on the counter - "Gentleman's Haircut  £28" (come back Robert Johnston, all is forgiven). Now there's only so much the best barber in the world can do with the thinned hair I have on my head: in these times of well-advised frugality, passing on such an exp(eri)ence seemed a wise move. I walked on, down into Canonbury, and found a perfectly adequate practitioner; had a non-stop dialogue with him, primarily about our lifestyle, whilst he cut my hair, and returned to the boat £20 better off than I might have been. Of a little further note is the fact that he lives just around the corner from Fergus and Karen in Stanstead Abbotts.

Sunday, 8th August: Kingston

Yes, we spent Friday back in Islington - strange how Duncan Terrace, just a stone's throw from Islington High St, can be so quiet and discrete, with gardens in the middle of the road. We both visited Chapel Market, which was great, and bought some lovely fruit having sussed the best stall was where the locals queued. We both managed to get our hair sorted, amazingly at prices comparable with anywhere on our travels. On a dull, wet, Saturday, after shopping for the next day or so, we set off to do the last few locks down to Victoria Park where Kim joined us for supper. It's just as well we hadn't talked to Alan before spending the night there - more murders apparently in that area than elsewhere in London, sadly, mostly black lads killing black lads - gangs, drugs, testosterone, you name it. It was quite noisy. Black lads slamming a ball into a basketball net till well after dark and a few passing bumps and bangs on the boat, from the towpath. Apart from a sleepless first part of the night with distant sirens sounding, and my stomach churning in anticipation of the morrow, I finally settled . Caspar had caused us some disquiet on our arrival at Victoria Park . The vet had recommended Dondral from the chemist as a wormer which I had given him on Friday night but it had had a strange unsettling effect on him. Luckily he settled by bedtime and was okay this morning for the big day!!!!

We were up really early to do the final five locks which were to take us down into Limehouse Basin, and all except the final lock were set for us so we made good time. Caspar seemed better which was a relief. The basin itself was impressive with lots of boats and modern building all around: in the mid-distance the Docklands Light Railway bringing Alan and Susie from Kew. We were on the second locking out having watched a load of smart plastic boats make their passage and for one of them a huge road bridge was swung impressively off the exit into the river, by no means necessary for narrow boats. The lock was quite different to any other lock we've previously encountered but, instructions followed, no problem. It was a little disquieting watching the turmoil of water below as the lock gates slowly opened. And we were off, onto a river which looked like a millpond. The highlight for me was the approaching Tower Bridge which looked luminous and very beautiful as the sun broke through the cloud from behind us.

I found the next three quarters of an hour challenging in that the river narrowed, the river traffic increased in size and number and we were riding quite large washes  one of which swamped the cratch and left us with damp bottoms. But with that there was so much to see and Susie and Alan's knowledge of the landmarks was great.  Just as Tower Bridge had done, Westminster looked stunning in the silvery morning light and once there we were through the worst of the busy part and I could relax. Bridges soon were further apart and we were then on the boat-race course.  We finally approached Teddington exactly four hours after leaving Limehouse, at two o'clock.

It was great, finally to be leaving Limehouse Lock and moving out onto the Thames. Warnings regarding the tidal flow as one entered the river, for this morning at any rate, were overstated: the exit from Savick Brook back in April was ten times as severe. However as we approached Tower Bridge, a very sizeable catamaran trip boat came up from the rear, necessitating my holding back to allow it to pass before I followed it through the centre arch of the bridge. The wash created caused significant rolling though this was minimised as I turned into it, changing roll to bow/stern 'seesaw'. This was a manoeuvre required several times in the subsequent hour, one of them being due to a wash of such magnitude that we shipped some water in the cratch. The run from Limehouse to Westminster was exhilarating though at no time concerning; thereafter it was pretty 'quiet'. After Tower Bridge my first notable landmark was The Prospect of Whitby, a dockside pub we used to frequent in our late teens/early twenties and which I last remember visiting with my brother, Greg, when he was on shore leave during his time in the Merchant Navy. I do remember that as being the only occasion I have ever won money on a fruit machine: the proceeds paid for our beer all evening!
The passage past the Houses of Parliament reminded me of my vision three years ago, as I stood with a friend on the opposite bank and contemplated this day. (the background to this month's page was photographed on that trip to London). Once we were past Westminster the traffic seemed to disappear; passing MI6 HQ, Chelsea Bridge, and Battersea Power Station (woefully derelict), we and our companion narrowboat, Our One, were the only boats under way. Other recognisable landmarks included Fuller's Brewery (oft' passed on its road side), the boatrace course, and, of course, Kew Gardens. Our One, shortly afterwards, left us at Brentford Lock, and the last hour up to Teddington was completed in solitary splendour. Having moored just above Teddington Lock, we retired to The Anglers, where Alan and Suzie treated us to lunch.
After I had paid Gloriana's dues, Thames Licence, at the lock keeper's office, we set off for Kingston where Alan, Suzie, and Kim left us to settle for the night.
A truly memorable day!

Wednesday, 11th August: Kingston

Yes, things are altogether more serene without the prospect of the tidal Thames ahead and , certainly there is something about the summer Thames that creates a leisurely, even lazy, feeling and it's not just the fact that lock-keepers look after you - it's something to do with the width of water, so it's all too easy to dream away your time. However, that is not such a great idea if you find yourself on the wrong side of the river and meet a large vessel powering towards you!

We had Monday to relax after the rigours of Sunday, and after a stop-over and leisurely morning in Kingston, we travelled on upstream to stay overnight on a splendid mooring in Shepperton nearby which we discovered an ideal place for Angela to leave her car on Tuesday, a day which turned out to be disappointing weather-wise.  At least the rain is causing the grass to green-up. It was just as well that old friends have lots of catching up! We only travelled a while because it was just too damp  and miserable. Angela came, armed with Rummicub which we thoroughly enjoyed after our evening meal.

However, the lovely weather has resumed today and we cruised gently back downstream, first stop, Hampton Court - all very nice. Angela and I walked across the lovely bridge and found the quilt shop I had been told about. There were lots of enticing books and the most wonderful selection of fabrics. I fear that my first efforts will be a bit amateurish!

We then travelled on further downstream, back to Kingston and the busy-ness; kids playing on and in the river in the afternoon; large trip boats going up and down and, in the evening,  earnest rowers and their militaristic escorts causing us to bob around furiously.

Friday, 13th August: Cliveden

It was just before nine when we set off this morning, having said goodbye to Angela who had stayed an additional day with us but had to be back to attend to her Mum. Nine and a half hours later, all but two of them travelling, and after twenty-two miles and the negotiation of nine locks, we moored a mile below Cliveden.

Thursday morning passed with nothing more than a leisurely shopping excursion (Angela and me) for provisions ,followed by a quick sortie by Jackie to get a new piece of clothing for the forthcoming wedding. Soon after midday we set off, headed back to Shepperton, where Angela could be re-united with her trusted steed (Ford Focus) for her return journey to Lancashire. The weather forecast for Friday was not good, heavy showers, so it was a pleasure to wake up to a bright, if none too warm, early morning. My idea to make a six o'clock start had never been too serious but we did approach Shepperton lock at nine o'clock just as the lock keeper was coming on duty. Angela's company for the previous seventy hours had been so comfortable and thoroughly enjoyable and we were already aware of her absence during locking: one less crew member for me to worry about! The cruise plan was to be in Maidenhead by evening taking in a decent mid-term break in Windsor which is, essentially, how it panned out, and it was two o'clock as we tied up just west of the castle. Approaching Romney lock, just east of the town, after motoring through the Home Park (Crown Land: No Mooring) the heavens had opened, and though I caught most of it before I got there, I was able to hold beneath the railway bridge whilst it blew over.
While we relaxed for a couple of hours, the rain continued sporadically, more on than off, and when the sun shone, soon after four, we set off again and it stayed more or less dry until we had moored for the evening. We had been momentarily tempted to stop just east of Maidenhead town centre, but a sign indicating a charge for the privilege persuaded us otherwise, so, adding one more lock (Boulter's) to the days tally, we selected this charming spot and settled for the evening. Henley is the target for tomorrow: a shorter travelling day in prospect.

Well, it's been all go! Caspar has been particularly impressed with Kingston: first, boys from a neighbouring boat came over with three sausages left from their barbeque, and the following morning he found a huge slice of pizza in a box while Angela was busy picking up his mess! After shopping in Kingston, where I managed to find a top for which  I had been searching for the wedding. In spite of wandering round the state of the art John Lewis I found the garment in TKMax. In the afternoon we poodled back upstream to be back in situ for Angela's getaway on Friday morning. We have lost the warm summery weather and the sandals we have been wearing for weeks and weeks have now been put aside. In spite of this the river is still enticing - as I walk to the stern and look out it is great to see the expanse of water one never gets on the canal. After a final evening meal and game of Rummicub we settled with our visitor for the night and said an early farewell before  a long day's travel. Angela arrived at her home-base (more or less) at midday, having covered 230 miles, whereas we were travelling all day with a stopover at Windsor, which was as impressive as ever, even in the rain. We finally stopped upstream of Maidenhead, 22 miles from Shepperton, managing to moor on an uneven piece of riverbank so that Caspar was challenged getting on and off. He wasn't impressed but managed brilliantly and we did evening and morning walks under beech trees beneath a steep hillside at Clivedon.

Saturday 14th August: Henley

Looking out of the side hatch window, bank-side this morning, I was entertained by a shoal of 4-inch fish,  not so long after which we set off under grey, oppressive skies and Caspar was delighted to  meet up with some doggy friends, camping down-stream of Cookhan Lock - a young golden retriever and a dachshund. Having established a relationship and ensured there was nothing to eat around the campsite, it was all on board again and approaching Marlow the heavens opened and we moored awhile to let the worst pass over. Worse was to come - a shame, as this part of the river is particularly lovely. We moored for a couple of hours, just above the bridge in Henley to allow me easy access to the town to replenish supplies, and then cruised back-away to a mooring downstream of Phyllis Court which was lovely for Caspar - no anxst about getting on and off and lots of open space, so very different from the previous night. (only the second time since we left Hungerford that we've had to pay to moor (!), but it did give Jackie a short walk to her meeting on Sunday morning (aren't I considerate?))

Sunday 16th;  Chazey Bank; chez Brazils

On Sunday morning I went in search of Henley Meeting - a long-standing Meeting House which has a wonderful garden and is clearly very loved and cared for: one of its members has just produced a book on the history of the place. On my arrival I was warned that there might be no body else attending but I believe there were about ten of us in the light, bright Meeting Room. I looked out to the beautiful greenery and trees of the garden and felt very privileged to be in this lovely space in the precious nurturing silence. Afterwords were thought-provoking and one member mentioned his visit of the previous day to the London Canal Museum and the Regents Canal. I immediately felt connected! As usual I felt I had come home. 

Soon after my arrival back at the boat we set off up river leaving Henley behind us, finding it especially busy with queues for locks and lock keepers packing the boats in! I took over at the helm for a short, very short, while: I foolishly left the beer I shared with Nick and managed to get a wasp sting in my mouth as I took a drink - alarming and really painful - had to take Nurofen for the rest of the day. We arrived in Reading with just enough time for Nick to catch the last ten minutes of Tesco. Having stopped on Caversham Meadows  to walk Caspar we found  preparations well underway for the Reading Festival. We arrived at Trish and Edward's on a very special day. Laurence, their youngest, had had his 8-month twins christened and the family were all gathered in preparation for his wedding next Saturday. I missed seeing Matthew, with his little one, Xavier, but it was great to see Guy, over from Melbourne and Trish's brother, after his near-death escape from the terrifying bush fires in which his wife didn't survive. That family have certainly experienced trauma in recent times. It was lovely to see them all and catch up with their news but sad to see Edward far from his usual active self.

Monday 17th: Pangbourne Meadows

After a leisurely start, finding the family less exhausted, and sharing more talk and farewell wishes, we left mid-morning and cruised gently upstream to Maple Durham Lock which we shared with two plastic boats and a Dutch barge, 'Inevitable'. We managed to secure the last space on the meadows at Pangbourne. I did a quick recce and shop - the place hasn't changed much apart from a spectacular new riverside canoe and youth centre which has replaced the dismal asbestos-lined wooden building where I once did some youth work many moons ago! We had Jenny and Martin Holliday for a cup of tea and have been invited to have dinner with them later in the week. They directed me to where I could find another old friend,Kath Hodge, in her new home in Grahame Avenue.

Tuesday 18th August: Goring

On my first foray out of bed, sometime after six, I watched a vast number of noisy Canada geese flying upstream along the course of the river: surely this is not heralding the end of summer! I visited the launderette - still as busy as I remember, and there followed a morning of busy phone calls to determine our immediate future. You see, our tenants in Hungerford rang asking to be released from tenancy with an immediate deadline, and soon, much sooner than we had anticipated. So major decisions had to be made and it seems we will attempt to re-let our house in Hungerford for one short let and return next year, or maybe for a longer let and ourselves rent elsewhere for a trial period. So many options!! So.....we approached Whitchurch Lock not long before one o'clock travelling up past the Seven Deadly Sins - three attractive riverside homes where, apparently, Edwardian/Victorian gentlemen kept their mistresses, then past the Beale Trust and on through this very lovely part of the river. We were surprised to find a mooring but as the day went on it became very busy - first a small boat (sixteen foot) moored alongside, three chaps,  two in the boat and one on bike 'doing' the Thames Path, and later another narrow boat. In the evening Mags, and Jo, and baby Bo, (there could be a ditty here!) along with dad and granddad, came for a visit and a meal - a lovely evening and a very chilled-out baby girl! (Mag is Nick's sister, thus Beau is his great niece.)

Thursday 19th August: Goring again

Wednesday dawned a little on the damp side and, as the forecast was not good, wet-weather gear was donned. Jackie had arranged for Jean, her friend from Beenham, to join us for the day. (Editors note: Jackie tends to be a little proprietorial about friendships that predate our relationship, hence the adjective associated with "friend") and our friend Jean joined us just in time for coffee at eleven. Soon after, we slipped into Goring lock and headed upriver on a morning that improved weather-wise as in most other respects. Cleeve lock was immediately upon us and by one o'clock we were tying up just above Wallingford Bridge.

Jackie left soon after 8.30 on Thursday morning for her appointment at the John Radcliffe and I, after a quick trip to Waitrose (new and by far one of the smartest I've seen) for milk, set off downstream for Goring, arriving soon after midday. Stopping above Cleeve lock I was able to make coffee whilst waiting to move onto the services pontoon for water, and I was also able to get an internet signal good enough to receive and send emails. Moving two foot three inches down, and three hundred feet south, I lost the signal completely, so I am still unable to send our pictures of our tidal companions, John and Diane aboard Our One, or, for that matter, update the website: when we get to Pangbourne all will be resolved!
As we found on our journey north, two years ago, this area is a favourite of the Red Kite, and several of them were aloft above the lock this morning.

Friday 20th: Pangbourne Meadows

We've had quite an eventful few days. On Wednesday Jean joined us for the cruise up to Wallingford on a dullish but dry day. We explored the town - no major changes there and had lunch and Jean caught the bus back to Goring. On Thursday I caught an early-ish bus to Oxford and walked down to Magdelan College, a pleasant morning walk enjoying the lovely colleges, with their creamy, golden stone, then jumped on a No 13 for the JR where I was seen and dismissed promptly - no great change seen on my scan and while I'm coping they're happy. Then it was back to the city where I had arranged to meet Su. It was lovely to see her and she was able to fill me in on the Gregory family of Howard Road (the chap we met up on the Lee & Stort) and of course we caught up on the family news. It was lovely to see her - we had a sandwich in the museum cafe and then walked across town via the covered market to the castle where we enjoyed a cuppa! Plenty of time to 'catch up' with news before we went our separate ways, she to Stadhampton and me to Goring, via Wallingford, to where Nick had moored the boat. So today we travelled back downstream to Pangbourne where we had an appointment to dine with the Holliday's and Eve Neiland  - splendid food and a jolly time had by all. 

Monday 23rd: Aldermaston

With much socialising and moving around, this diary has been neglected! On Saturday morning I spent some time with Molly, my ex's aunt, 82, and if the adjectives 'frail' and 'tough' apply, those are what she is! I enjoyed a while with her and was delighted  to know that both she and her son, Dougie, get a lot of support from neighbours and the state. I also found the address of another aunt who  has moved away from Newbury so can make contact!  We then travelled down to Mapledurham to sort out the bare necessities, then back to Pangbourne for an overnight before an early start on Sunday in order for me to attend Meeting for Worship in Reading. It was well worth the effort - a wonderful hour with the first ministry a song learned during a Buddhist Retreat  by a member, simple musically and in its sentiments  but delivered with great feeling; the beginning of thoughtful and deeply-inspired ministry - the theme moving being how acting 'on principle' might possibly conflict with acting with loving consideration for another or others.  I was reminded of Lancaster Meeting - the elegant high ceiling the same, the lighting identical and indeed the number attending - about 40 or so ... and children who gathered on a beautiful quilt laid on the floor for a short while at the beginning of the hour. I felt very much at home ... yet again.

On my return to the boat at Blakes Lock it was good to see Tim who had joined us for an hour or two and we made our way into Reading, and Chestnut Walk, under the walls of Reading Gaol. Tim left to allow Nick to smarten himself up a tad, and Ben picked us up to take us to Shinfield Road to the 'Ideal Homes and Gardens' place where he (my 'ex') now lives with his wife, and 'Relate Guru', Caroline. We enjoyed a drink in hot sunshine enjoying their lovely garden with nearly perfect lawn and herbaceous border before sharing a tasty meal. They ran us back to the boat and so were able to witness how we live and survive in a very different sort of space which is certainly not 'Ideal Boat' space. How lucky I am to enjoy a reasonable relationship with my ex - it helps us both and certainly helps the boys.

As Nick and I settled for the night the heavens opened - the first serious, heavy, long term rain for a long, long, time. Nick had to weather the storm to  cope  with the rain bouncing off the watering can and making the occasional 'boing.....!!' which we found we were awaiting expectantly amid the continual battering of the rain. We finally slept but were rudely awakened when it seems that the prisoners were let out for recreation at 3.30.am!!! Or maybe it was a riot and all the officers were trussed up and we were about to be boarded and murdered! That went on for about an hour, so our plan to leave early after a good night's sleep was foiled! The Abbey ruins being shut, I took Caspar for a walk in Forbury Garden, it looking especially lovely under the clearing skies, and it was nine thirty when we pressed the green light to allow us through the one way river route through the new Oracle Shopping and Entertainment Mecca, just coming to life.

We had intended to stop for provisions but the chance to do so didn't materialise and with heavy showers forecast for late on, we pressed on, along the Kennet which is remarkably benign .... at first. Then come the challenging locks (particularly powerful gate paddles with strong weir streams) and the heavy showers  and the gusting wind  and the numerous electric  and non-electric swing and lift bridges which take roads south from the A4. I was ready to stop before Aldermaston where we finally moored up some time before six.

Tuesday 24th: Newbury

As we went to bed last evening a beautiful almost full moon rose in a clear sky reflecting in the cut; just before dawn it was setting. In spite of planning an early start it didn't happen - a shame because the copious showers started quite early in the day. Another boater encouraged me to make a dash across the Aldermaston Swing Bridge before the traffic barriers went up - a serious mistake as I pulled some muscle or other in my left leg and am now seriously limping and far less useful than I was yesterday. But tonight we are in Newbury.
The run from Reading to Aldermaston is 11 miles and involves nine locks, not to mention the five swing bridges: the run from Aldermaston to Newbury is 7 miles and has ten locks, three swing bridges and the infamous Aldermaston lift bridge. The full journey took about fourteen hours. Aldermaston lock is, in our experience, the most difficult on the whole network. We paired up, at separate times, with a couple of first-time hire boat crews on the Aldermaston-Newbury leg which relieved the work load a little.
We arrived in Newbury half an hour before five and, as the kettle was coming to the boil, Simon arrived, on his way home from work. We are moored about 150 yards from his flat and have been offered the use of shower, washing machine, and waste disposal; facilities that will be most useful as we will probably stay on this mooring for a week or so subject to the weather which is not too promising for the next five days.
Shortly after finishing our evening meal, our good friends, Dave and Gill Glare, arrived and we shared a couple of hours and a bottle of wine updating one another on the past six months activities.

Saturday 28th: West Mills, Newbury

Well. we've been in Newbury for a few days, a couple of those east of the A339 bridge and Victoria Park 'enjoying' some rain, needed, I guess, by gardeners, but thoroughly depressing. It's making me yearn to go landside where I  will not worry about condensation, washing, drying, wet dogs, toilet emptying, whatever!   The weather is a little more settled and we are now at West Mills, (welcomed on our arrival by Jenny who we last saw in Aylesbury, where we enjoyed a companionable week together on the Grand Union and the Aylesbury Arm). We are now moored on the off-side above the swing bridge, courtesy of Karen and Roger Swaffield who live on 'the island'. We have enjoyed the company of some local friends: Dave and Gill came to see us on Tuesday bringing some of Gill's homemade chutney and then, yesterday, arrived with produce from their allotment across the way from where we are moored. Delicious!! We're lucky to have such friends. I met Isobel for lingering coffee in Costa and discussed our present life-style dilemma on Wednesday morning. Simon called for tea on two occasions when he was en route to home from work.  And Emm and young Joe called this morning - sixteen months is such a delightful age. She brought the croissants, we provided the coffee, and heard of all the arrangements for next week's wedding - just a week away! My knee continues to be a bit of a problem - better Wednesday but not at all good yesterday or today.