Caroline Shipsey

Monday, 28 May 2007

Canal Boat Confusion

I’m confused, very confused. When narrowboat Harlequin came into my life I had this vision of peaceful, sunny days cruising through the English countryside, passing skilfully through lock after lock as we headed into previously unexplored parts of this idyllic isle. After 3 attempts at a restful w/end doing just this, let me tell you it hasn’t happened for me.

Honey Street, Kennett and Avon Canal

Ok, I know Brits have a reputation for talking about the weather, I’m no different. This is a bank holiday weekend here in the UK, and traditionally one which, given good weather, sees busy roads, packed campsites and B & B’s, caravans coming out for their first trip of the year etc. Its now 6am on Bank Holiday Monday, it has rained persistently for 24 hours, with gale force winds for the last 12 of those, and it is cold. There is also FOG, its not enough that I live in the foggiest place in Somerset, the damn stuff seems to follow me around. There should be fine views of the Vale of Pewsey from the canal but even if the boat windows weren’t permanently steamed up there is nothing on the horizon that can be identified as anywhere in particular. During the night the wind was so strong it rocked the boat, blowing it into the bank it is moored against with irregular thuds, all the equipment that inevitably gets stored on the roof, has shuddered and rattled ominously all night long, and peaceful is not how I would describe things.

Things didn’t go to well on Friday when I arrived at the boat. So desperate for the loo was I that I couldn’t wait for Chris to get Harlequin properly moored. As the bow came within about 3 feet of the bank, I stretched my left leg out to gain a foothold, intending to leap aboard. How 10st of female can cause 17 tons and 57 feet of canal boat, to move so swiftly towards the opposite bank I don’t know, but it did, and my choice was either to fall, with outstretched legs into the murky waters or throw myself back to the bank. I chose the bank, but instead of landing gracefully on the grass, it was the most vicious bunch of stinging nettles on the Kennett and Avon that received my panic stricken body. This was as close to electrocution that is possible for the human body to experience, closely followed by spontaneous levitation from the nettles onto the canal path with a thud. In the space of the next couple of hours, 2 of the dogs had fallen in the canal, and Dusty had puked up the mostly undigested body of a dead squirrel she had found in the woods earlier.

Saturday started badly with Dusty, the bosses No. 1 dog, now requiring a trip to the vet, not easy from the canal, especially as she was now so ill she couldn’t stand. On arrival she was admitted to the vet hospital (McQueens in Devizes – a very fine and caring place) and given the necessary treatment to restore her to health and life, which took 24 hours and a large amount of money. The loo had stopped emptying properly, looking ominously like it would spew its stinking contents on the floor. Emptying it, the obvious solution, involved going down the canal – you can’t just turn the boat around wherever you happen to be – to a winding hole, though a swing bridge, twice, and then up the canal, to the lovely George Gibson, who, for a modest fee, will suck out the vile contents of your loo with a huge vacuum device. Worth every penny believe me.

Most of Sunday was spent getting wet, getting the dogs out for pees etc, and drying off said dogs and self afterwards. I’ve fed swans through the kitchen window – they come to the side of the boat and peck at it to attract attention, and read most of ‘Notes from a Small Island’ by Bill Bryson, which is gently amusing mostly and causes belly laughs too. I’ve walked miles in the rain, seen very little and found nothing particularly stunning to photograph. I’ve met other boaters and exchanged banter but we’ll probably never recognize each other again unless we are always encased in waterproof clothing peering out from tightly fastened hoods that cover 50% of our faces.

Soon I will be loading up the car and heading for home, the heater blasting out to dry me off, I expect the wind will drop and the sun come out when I’m halfway there – confused Me ?

Friday, 18 May 2007

Curious Cows and a Sunset

Anyone with the tiniest oodle of commonsense who has lived all their life in the country, as I have, will know that cows are curious creatures, that is curious as in inquisitive. The younger they are the more inquisitive, playful and above all FASTER they are.

What does this have to do with photographing a sunset you may ask ?
Well quite a lot in the circumstances.

The weather here on the Mendips has been pretty dismal of late, in fact, Priddy is renowned for its dismal climate – it’s a well known fact that prospective house sales fall through when the buyers “hear about the weather”. Day after day we are shrouded in mist, fog and drizzly rain while just 2 or 3 miles down the road in Wells the sun shines.

So when the fog and rain cleared yesterday giving way to a typically English spring day, with brilliant blue skies, puffy white clouds and the countryside fresh in its new clothes, I planned taking an evening walk at Deer Leap. A sunset I thought, that’s what I will photograph today, I’ll take the dogs with me and together we will enjoy the end of the day, taking in the finest view in Somerset.

Off we strode, just me, and 5 happy dogs scampering around, plus Fly, who only has 3 legs, in her buggy being pushed and carried over gates and stiles, camera dangling off my shoulder. Tripod ? No way, I don’t do tripods and dogs and buggy. The light was a bit iffy, not as clear as I hoped but it had possibilities, so we kept going. The sun broke through the clouds exactly at my eye level, blinding me temporarily but long enough to ensure that I failed to see a number of cows on the horizon until I was within 20 yards or so of them. The first group of cows however had plenty of time to see me approaching and were already regarding me with some interest - Its not everyday that a dog in a baby buggy passes their way.

My tactics were to walk slowly, calmly, back in the direction I had come from keeping the dogs close by me, but they and the cows had other ideas. Now remember that I was walking towards the setting sun and the cows, and that the angle and brilliance of the sun had more or less blinded me. The dogs disappeared into the distance as the sound of hooves thundering towards us increased, and my legs were propelling me forward as fast as they could manage considering that now I could feel warm bovine breath on the back of my neck.

Ok I thought, I’ll stop them dead in their tracks, and with my loudest “I’m not scared of you” voice I turned and roared “ Gid on,gid on” (this is what I thinkI hear farmers shouting), waving my arms madly. Unimpressed the cows continued to advance on me at speed, whilst I was facing them roaring “Gid on you *!!*??*’s. Now these were cunning creatures, they came around the sides of me and before I knew it I was completely encircled by them. Every time I tried to take a step they were heading me off and getting ever closer to me, and the now terrified Fly, cowering in her buggy. A tripod might have come in handy now to defend myself I thought wistfully.

Remaining stationary for a couple of minutes I tried to collect my thoughts and plan my escape, I realised that no-one knew where I was and as my partner was away, no-one would miss me, except the dogs that is. Then in the distance I saw my salvation in the form of a man walking towards me, though he seemed oblivious to my plight. “Help” I shouted repeatedly – no reaction, “Please get me out of here” I bawled hysterically. He called back “They’re only curious”, followed by “Don’t worry” as an afterthought. At this point I dropped any pretence of being a lady and screeched at the top of my voice “For **!! sake get get these !!***??? ** cows away from me PLEASE” He came over to me and as if by some miracle these beasts just parted and began to amble off having completely lost interest. With a sigh of great relief I thanked him for his trouble and headed for the car, only now could I see my fearless dogs watching intently from a safe distance – thanks dogs! Off we went, striding out into the gloom of dusk. If there was a sunset I didn’t see it, and I didn't care about it either, I was relieved to be safe and heading for home, and then…… the front wheel fell off Fly’s buggy.