So here we are in Aylesbury. We are moored on a pontoon right in front of the brand new clubhouse. The pontoons are fixed, not floating, and the water levels fluctuate a little, so we leave the lines slacker than we would usually. There are no passing boats to create a wash, so we don’t move much, except in high winds. Canal and River Trust are trying to make improvements to raise the water level, but so far we have not noticed a difference, and we cannot open our side doors as they come up against the pontoon. As this is winter we don’t need them open much, but occasionally it would be useful to load things on or off the boat (e.g. full cassettes).
Lift bridge into the basin
We arrived on Friday 31st October, and, as it was Halloween, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks. There were several locations, and although they were all a good way off, the sounds seemed to reflect off the clubhouse and reverberate all around our boat. Hugo disappeared under our duvet, as he is not keen to celebrate in this way.
Our mooring and the clubhouse
The following night being the weekend, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks. And then again on Sunday night. On Monday night, as it was only two days before 5th November, the good people of Aylesbury decided to let off some fireworks. We had fireworks every night for ten consecutive nights!!! By the end, Hugo must have thought that this was normal life in Aylesbury. One night, at 10pm, when we all thought the last firework in the land had finally died, he at last went outside for some fresh air. There was a huge explosion, which seemed as though it was just above the boat. Hugo shot inside as though someone was trying to kill him! The poor cat was shaking with fear.
We bought our Honda Jazz on the day after we arrived (Saturday) and we collected it on the Wednesday. We are very pleased with it as it does everything we need. It is a 1400 engine, so it doesn’t have lots of power when starting off, but the cruise control is excellent, and it is comfortable. For the first time ever we now have a satnav. The postcode for the Canal Society premises is new, and it doesn’t register on the satnav, but we have marked it as “home” now, so we can get back easily. The car colour is a sort of greyish-brown, which means that we don’t have to wash it so often!
We have been out and about exploring a little. We have seen a bit more of the Wendover Arm, and we saw Matt Baker and the rickshaw challenge passing through for Children in Need.
Aylesbury Canal Society is a charity originally set up to preserve the line of the Aylesbury Arm, and in particular, the basin at the end of the canal. Now they have moved a mile out to the edge of town, and there is a small marina for around 40 boats, and this huge clubhouse, paid for by the local council, so that the town centre can be re-developed. Because of the number of boats moored there it is run a bit like a boat club, with many jobs being done by volunteers from among the resident boaters.
Wishing to contribute to the work, Hazel has learned how the cleaning works, and has joined the cleaning team. Toilets, showers, kitchens, lounge areas, and stairs all receive attention. James took on the painting of red warning lines on the concrete floor of the workshop. This is a long building large enough to house a full-length narrowboat, and, using a winch, the boats are hauled up a ramp on a trolley. When they are inside, a hoist takes the weight, and the trolley is let down the ramp again. The red warning lines are to denote where the legs of the hoist should be. James has line painting on his CV, as he once painted white lines on the runway at Alice Springs airport.
James had had a bad back for the last six weeks of boating, from pushing the heavy lock gates on the Leicester section of the Grand Union, followed by the Buckby locks. He had found a physiotherapist called Don Gatherer, who came with good credentials – official physio for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics, the England rugby team and a few others. He made an appointment for our first Thursday, and drove there using our new satnav (How exciting is that?). He had a 30-minute session with what Don called a microwave, followed by a spine wrench that might have looked good in a wrestling ring.
The following day (Friday) James spent several hours sweeping the dust off the concrete in the workshop, and laying down masking tape. By the end of the day he could hardly walk and was popping ibuprofen. Amazingly, on the Saturday, he was much better, and spent another few hours on his hands and knees, painting the first coat of paint. On the Sunday afternoon he put down the second and final coat.
After our three-day trip to Suffolk, he went for a second physio appointment, had another back wrench and was told not to come back. He had been fine since.
The trip to Suffolk was to catch up with Maggie and Clive, and pick up all our post. We managed to fit in a visit to Minsmere, where we saw a Great White Egret (a first for us). We once again just missed a bittern, and we have still never seen any bearded tits, although they were present. James did manage to glimpse a possible otter for almost as long as half a second, before it disappeared under water. This is his third possible sighting, and if you add them all up together, they last for about 1.2 seconds in total. Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a good lingering view.
Mossy trees at Minsmere
The following Saturday we travelled to Nottingham for the BCF AGM. On the way we called in to Milton Keynes to collect Tim and Tracey, plus guide dog Oakley, plus Tim’s guitar. It was a little cramped but we managed to squeeze everyone in. The AGM as usual was an excellent time of fellowship and worship, as well as the business part.
Worship time at the BCF AGM
On our second Sunday, we decided to visit the Salvation Army, which is in easy walking distance from the marina. Although we had a warm welcome, it is not for us. The style of worship was old fashioned, and the uniforms and titles seemed a bit irrelevant. It was all a bit of a different culture. However, it was good to meet a man called Malcolm, who was the person who started the Waterways Chaplaincy and we know several of the chaplains.
We discovered that there is sometimes a coffee morning in the clubhouse here. This will be a good way to meet and get to know people a little better. The only snag is that it is on Sunday mornings at 11am. This clashes with most churches, and we decided that we should be at the coffee mornings with our new neighbours rather than sitting in a church receiving teaching and enjoying worship.
A day or two later, we were walking out of the marina, and James was wearing his Boaters Christian Fellowship fleece. One of the guys working on the landscaping came and made contact, telling us that he went to a small church called The Ark. James tried to look it up online. All he found was a community forum where someone had put out a warning along the lines of: “Someone brought us some food and said they were from the Ark church. I have contacted the police, and I suggest you all be on your guard as they are acting very suspiciously.”
Hazel was by the gate the following day and saw the chap again, who introduced her to his mother who was visiting briefly. She found out that the Ark meet in a gym not far away, and their meetings are at 8am and 4pm! So on the Sunday we went to the coffee morning and met many of the resident boaters. Then we went to the Ark, and found a small group of around 25 people, from mixed racial backgrounds, who were enthusiastically praising God, and sharing their testimonies. It seems they are mostly new Christians, and some have come out of a lifestyle of drugs, crime, alcohol, bad language or promiscuity. We were the oldest people there.
We made a visit to Weybridge where we had various routine doctors and dentist appointments. We took the opportunity to spend time with friends Graham and Sheila, and to visit our Barnabas group where we were warmly welcomed.
We also went to a social event at Byfleet Boat Club, where we heard a talk by Tony Davis about cruising the French canals.
On the Saturday we had the Aylesbury Canal Society (ACS) AGM. This was the first major use of the facilities. James was one of three serving behind the bar. It brought back memories of working occasional evenings in the Vic at Oxshott in the early seventies.
We returned to the Ark on the Sunday, where we were made very welcome once more. We are still unsure where we should be church wise.
We had our boat engine serviced by a recommended chap called Ed Boden, who seemed to do a good job. He also got our immersion heater working, so we now have hot water without having to run the engine or switch on the central heating. All it needed was to press the reset button! To be fair this button is very tiny and not obvious.
It was good to have a visit from cousin Mary from Birmingham, Alabama, accompanied by her sister Sue, and Sue’s husband Mike. They were passing through on the way to Suffolk. They would have stayed overnight if we had had the space. We can accommodate two guests, but no more.
Mary, Mike, Sue, Hazel, James
We have also sorted out a coal and gas supplier who delivers to ACS, and we took a delivery of four bags of Homefire Ovals. As this is our first winter, we are trying out different types of coal and are still open on the subject. Some burn quicker than others, some produce a lot of ash, and some stay in (i.e. keep alight overnight) better than others.
We have now discovered that the Sunday morning social at ACS is only an occasional event, about once a month. This means that we can try some other churches, so on the last Sunday of November we visited Bourton Community Church. They meet in a school quite close by, so we tipped up there and received a great welcome. It is very informal, although it is an Anglican church plant. The worship was excellent, and the message was very good. We were asked to imagine what it would have been like for Mary to receive the news that she was going to have a baby. We also tried to identify with Mary’s parents, and Joseph, when they received the news.
In the evening we returned for an hour of worship, led by Jack who sang and played guitar, accompanied by some singers and some percussion. It was a very good time, and the first time they had had such an evening. The church also runs a café called More, which is located in a row of local shops. We are very likely to return to this church in two weeks time.
We have discovered the visitor’s book for boats that make it down the Aylesbury Arm. We have found our entry from 1999 when we came on Lystra, and the following two entries are boaters we now know well: David and Jane on Jack Merrick (Now on Rowan) followed by David and Carole on Ichthus (now on Days of Elijah). We have all changed our boats since.
Next week we will be at Weybridge Methodist Church, on the morning following the Byfleet Boat Club Christmas party, and an overnight stay at a local pub.