Friday 28 January 2011


I took a group of students on retreat yesterday. Time out to stop, remember who they are, consider where they’re going, what they’re doing. It was a chilly day in the New Forest, with room for reflection and worship, listening and talking, silence and sound. The warmth of the interludes in the village hall, the church and the pub nicely counterbalanced by the nip in the January air. I even got space during the day for my own time alone, the bridleway a bit slushy underfoot, a buzzard cold against the cloud, and the enjoyment of an unexpected companion for ten minutes.

Such days are a godsend. Will boating be too full of top paddles, ropes, watching your rubbing strakes and concerns about those who abuse the system to allow for times like these? I hope not.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Eating at Great Haywood

"What do you do for breakfast?" I asked the retired farmer running the retired farm as a motel. Continental for £3, it seemed. We weighed our options, and the benefits of something large and warming to sustain us against the wind while we worked on the Erin Mae, and decided to look elsewhere.

But first we had to choose where to eat on Saturday evening. A nice pub in Weston with the snooker on a huge screen? A swish hotel in Weston, which would double the cost of the weekend? The first pub in Great Haywood clearly didn't actually want our custom that evening. Then we found the Clifford Arms and that seemed a good choice – service with a smile and some friendly advice about when to come to avoid the rush.

So we turned up just before 7. There were four twenty-somethings standing round the door, having a smoke. The wind was biting, and they huddled into their jackets as they chatted. We greeted them as we passed through, and I said, "Gives a new meaning to the idea of a smoking jacket, doesn't it?" I don't think it was the accent, but they looked at me as though I was from another planet. Ah well, I thought, just because the Beatles are finally on iTunes doesn't mean that every notion from their era is suddenly common currency.

The steak and kidney pie was great – only a tiny bit of chewy stuff on the steak, lots of kidney, and gravy that (yes, really) reminded me of Mum's. Potatoes and peas on the side. It was the salad on the other side that didn't quite compute. Was it to persuade us that we'd gone for the healthy option? But the seriously low-priced glass of Australian red meant we weren't complaining.

Next morning healthy options disappeared on the wind. Something hearty at Frankie & Benny's in Stafford would set us up nicely, we thought. Two of their huge New England Breakfasts for a fiver each, with as much tea and coffee as you wanted. James the manager, fitting in with the 50s theme of the chain, wouldn't have looked out of place in a smoking jacket, though he was only about 25. Talk about helpful and enthusiastic! Did it have to be fried eggs? No, any way you want. Scrambled? If the cook doesn't know how I'll cook them myself. If you don't like them, you can have something else. Anything you want, just ask.

James, we'll be back.

Tuesday 18 January 2011


On Saturday, at last, we had our first day on the Erin Mae. Well, half a day. And we didn’t go anywhere. But we were on the boat, afloat! No water on board. To eat, just the soup and sandwiches we had brought with us. No chance of staying overnight. Who cares? We were on our boat. And the diesel-powered central heating works!

So far, the people we’ve met have been amazing. On Sunday, Steve the marina manager, and Dave and Jenny who work at the marina and live aboard a narrowboat there, helped us to move Erin Mae from the temporary mooring to her own. Dave took the tiller – we're not yet ready to handle a boat nearly as long as a cricket pitch in the wind that was blowing. These guys could not have been more helpful, showing us the ropes (literally) and how to manage some of the systems. I hope that, further down the track, we can be as supportive to others as they have been to us.

Sunday 2 January 2011

Wistful eyes

"What are you going to do when you retire?" they ask. "Let's get there first", I think.

Normal question to a busy person, I suppose, especially one who keeps his innate laziness relatively well concealed (except from his wife). Do they assume that you can't do "not busy", that without it you'll get the mental or physical shakes?

Among other things, older brother number 1 had developed a hobby restoring books, and began acquiring grandchildren at just the right time. Older brother number 2 already restored pianos for a hobby and an income (retire at your own pace), and had been successfully practising serial grandfatherhood for several years. Younger brother has a useful sideline performing and teaching various forms of music. No danger of boredom when his turn comes. Clearly not a family that survives well on mere tick-over.

Perhaps it's another assumption – that retirement marks a transition to the abhorrent realms of non-productivity. Won't your stock drop unless you're making a tangible contribution to the cause? Five years as honorary adminstrator of a Christian literature trust is quite an example for your own much-loved father to leave you.

"We've bought a narrowboat", I say. Responses, depending on a person's mixture of knowledge, experience and imagination, range from a blank look, through "How lovely!" or "Whatever for?", to "When can we book a week?" Some of those not totally confused by the name, or mixing it up with "longboat", think that restoration must run in this branch of the family as well and envisage weekends up to the elbows in creosote or vintage diesel parts. Weekends, mind you, because you will obviously be wanting to spend the greater part of your time being productive in some more self-evident way.

"It's an adventure", I say. "We're going exploring. Don't quite know where we'll end up or who we'll meet along the way. There'll be time enough to find out." Then I confess that it will probably be for only half the year, so we can doubtless find something productive to do during the winters. They look relieved, except for the ones with the wistful eyes.