Monday, 27 September 2010

Canals and Cycles




Fri 24th

The day starts with a Facebook chat with Grae who informs me he is on a site on the edge of Dartmoor for less money than I am to pay here. I check out the website and realise that it has more to offer than saving money. As it’s near the moors, Fin would love the walks, it has an old disused aerodrome that would make a good cycle route to improve my fitness and it’s out of Plymouth. I am definitely interested. The only downside I can see is that it is at 500 feet so might (will) be colder than being in Plymouth, which is closer to sea level. I shall have to have a look see and make a decision when I get back.

Leanda has done all the things she needs to do so that we can have a day together. I get my cycle shorts on and get my bicycle ready. Fin’s tail is ever wagging and he knows we are up for some fun and exercise. We put the bicycles on the back of her car and drive a couple of miles down the road to the canal that runs into Bradford on Avon and I have a vibration of anticipation running through me. I have decided that I love the idea of barges, but think I would probably be bored after a month of a live aboard. It’sall straight lines and no sails. As we cycle along I inform Leanda of Fin’s running speed and we keep to a nice steady pace for him and my cycle computer chalks up the mileage. Many boats are moored alongside the canal which is filthy brown and quite unlike the brackish transparency of the Great Glen Canal. I do not notice too much wildlife either. However I am distracted by the amount of water traffic of varying quality and order. Some are painted and look like traditional boats; some list to port, moored alongside and in sad need of love; some obviously house families as baby buggies sit atop; some have piles of wood on the toe path and smoke coming from chimneys. I had expected friendlier faces, but only a few acknowledge my smiles. Perhaps it is the face of the grinning cyclist with a small white pooch sporting a red bandana, looking far too happy to be sane that prevents them smiling back. Perhaps they are just miserable and today is not their day to smile.

Four miles later we walk along the roadside and into the small town. It is very touristy and brimming with small shops, competing for cash. I walk into a small independent book stall with a child’s book I found in the rack outside and make eye contact with the store owner. He is engrossed with his computer and is checking out something for another customer. He grumbles something at me about being busy and I blink, but stay calm and as I want the book, remain in the store. After I stand awhile, a woman walks in and gets served immediately. I look at Leanda and ask her if I am invisible. Life’s too short to let others ignorance rile me, but hey fella, customer service is important at this point in history. It is a lovely little book store, so it is a shame the man is such an arse!

Out of the door I am taken up along a side road and we window shop. I am promised a fine lunch and Leanda is conscious of Fin, so takes me to a tapas bar with outdoor seating. As I enter to get a menu, I ask a young waiter if dog’s are allowed and given an affirmative, bounce outside and tell my friend. We find a window seat and order coffee.

As I look over the menu I realise that I am starving, but not for a large meal, but small meals are not available here. Tapas in the UK are not tapas so I elect for coffee and fabulous carrot cake to share and Leanda suggests fish and chips by the river and ancient barn. Still in pursuit of the best fish and chips I agree and we have our coffee and devour the most splendid carrot cake with a creamy cream cheese on top. Happy tummy time. A colleague of Leanda’s enters the restaurant and she joins us. The young waiter is funny and I like his humour, which is rewarding after the grump in the book store.

We walk to the chippy, sitting on the corner of the street near the car park. Getting our bicycles, we walk to the barn that sits in a courtyard of shops near the river and I have to admit I think I have found the winner of the fish and chip award. I had suggested to Leanda that we share a portion after eating cake, but she gets us one each and I just accept my friend’s generosity without complaint. Opening the box, a beautifully crisp, battered fish and just the right thickness of golden chips waft their freshly fried smell up at me. I pour my mayonnaise over them and dig in. I can stop now. I never have to eat fish and chips ever again, my quest is over. Hmmm…. Jakes cheesy chips are not the same as fish and chips are they?

I am stuffed way before I finish the meal and Fin gets to share the fish with me. He is of course happy to oblige. I have made myself sound like a fish and chip monster, but truly I am not. I worked in a chippy as a kid, as I remind Leanda. She worked in the fruit store where we grew up and we were envied by our peers as both of us had the highest wages around for Saturday jobs. I hated the way I used to smell after a shift, getting on the last bus home stinking of chip fat. I probably would not have cared but as a shy with lads sixteen year old, I got on the same bus as the young matelots who had to be in camp before midnight curfew at the local navy gunnery school. ‘Ello darlin’, cor you smell nice, I could eat you up!....’ In my adult life I have not really enjoyed a trad Friday night supper, because of it.

The Avon, where we sat to eat, has a little ancient bridge crossing it and has water birds swimming along. It is very pretty and I feel very glad that I stayed another day and give a verbal appreciation to Leanda, thanking her for wanting me to stay another day. After, we walk into the courtyard that surrounds the ancient threshing barn. The shops don’t sell anything I couldn’t buy elsewhere, but a mooch with a friend is always better than a mooch alone and we enjoy ourselves and Fin makes friends with the shopkeepers. In the barn I am impressed. It is an English Heritage building dated 14thC and in pristine condition, the massive ancient oak beams supporting a very interesting roof structure. A sign board informs us that the beams are not all in one piece and explain about the shortage of wood and clever use of using more than one piece in a strut. I vocalise to my friend that is so nice to see a heritage site that is not being charged for. I love it.

Back to the canal and back to Leanda’s reality. It has been a pleasant day and spending time with my old friend and her boys is easy. I’m glad I stayed.

Back at home her boys come home from school and chaos reigns as usual. The boys are nice lads and ranging in age from 15 to 9. They cope with my teasing and smile at me, joining in the banter. We watch a movie with them that is way too old for them, full of adult content that I feel could wait a couple of years, but they laugh their heads off at it and they are not mine, so I stay quiet, well, apart from guffawing at the funny bits!

The day is over all too soon and I settle in for another night in the car park, feeling mildly anxious about the next day and what may be to come. Going home. I wonder if it will feel like home or just another place to rock up to, before moving on. I phone the farmer I have booked with and confirm that I am to arrive tomorrow and get some shut eye.

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