Tuesday, 17 November 2020

An excursion to Nor'n Ir'n.

                    So ... in the dying days of August, setting out from Tara Marina, heading East Sou’East from Tara Marina ...  

 ,,, on a delightful morning (above), via the Shannon-Erne Waterway.

Although this is a divided island, it is not actually a 'partitioned' country; as evidenced (amongst other organisations) by Waterways Ireland; which administers all the cross-border rivers and canals in Ireland, and the Shannon-Erne system stretches North from Limerick, right up to Belleek in Nor'n Ir'n ... that's 'Northern Ireland' to you; that piece referred to in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and (parts of) Northern Ireland. To be culturally sensitive (politically correct), where we now reside one refers to ‘the north of Ireland’ or, more commonly: ‘The North’ … which is not considered a political statement.

(Tangent warning! Tangent warning!)

Ireland is one of those places which the whole world might do quite well to emulate. It has a violent history of subjugation by a neighbouring, foreign power; with that colonialist entity, forcibly populating one of its regions with poverty stricken citizens, from a religious denomination, antipathetic to the aboriginals. (Read about ‘the clearances’.)

I was born in Belfast, so I stem from forbearers evicted from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, to facilitate the cultivation of sheep … to the great profit of English landlords, who owned huge swathes of Scotland, but made little profit from arable farming. My pauperized, forcibly transplanted (protestant) ancestors were encouraged to feel superior and fortunate (“You were lucky!!!”) in comparison to the oppressed people, amongst whom they were settled as ‘tenant farmers’, for (Surprise, surprise! Drum roll please.) … English landlords!

Since its inception; firstly as a ‘Free State’ and latterly as a Republic; the government in Dublin has always refused to accede to the legality of the border across the island … although successive Irish governments have been realistic enough recognise its ‘de facto’ existence. So – having been born in Belfast – I am a British Subject; but my birth within the confines of the island of Ireland, confers upon me automatic Irish Citizenship. Lucky me!

(“Bejabers, Tom; y’r ‘tangent’ has wandered in the territory of ‘diatribe’, has it not?” “Y’r right Tom, so y’are!  Now … where was I going with this??? Ah, yes, I was going to The North.”)

So ... in the dying days of August, setting out from Tara Marina, heading East South-east (downstream) on the River Boyle, it took only an hour or so to arrive at the confluence of the Boyle and the Shannon. A smart left-turn had us butting into the current coming down from Leitrim Village. It is so-called because the 'county town' of County Leitrim is actually Carrick-on-Shannon; at this point, slowly disappearing in our wake. The only municipality bearing the county's name is Leitrim Village. It is a picturesque, if small, community, with the appearance of some vitality when a global pandemic isn’t impacting here, as it is everywhere. None of the hostelries in the village could host us for a dinner-reservation, as a local Gaelic football match was closed to spectators but being broadcast on television, so all establishments were full! Not to worry … Moonstone has a small, but well-stocked freezer, and similar wine cellar!


Next morning, less than a kilometre North of Leitrim Village found us ready to negotiate Moonstone through her first 'push-button' lock.

(The term 'Lock' can become confusing. The arrangement by which a boat changes altitude is a lock … spelling and pronunciation the same as the security device on a door. Almost – but not quite - a homophone, is the local appellation for a lake, which is: ‘lough’; in itself similar in pronunciation to the Scottish: ‘loch’ … as in Loch Lomond.)
The water in these regions is stained a deep amber colour, by dint of all the 'peat' suspended therein. The effect of this in agitated water may have been the inspiration of Ireland's national drink ... stout'!


The locks on the Shannon-Erne Waterway are electrically self-operated, although lock-keepers are plentiful, and universally friendly, informative and obliging characters … chatty to the point of garrulousness.

          (“There’s a pots and kettles thing comes to mind here, Tom!”)

 Anyway … at this stage we have left the River Shannon and are proceeding along the Ballinamor and Ballyconnell Canal. This piece of the waterway is the link between the Shannon and the Erne, and not greatly recognizable as a 'canal'. It is more of a 50 kilometer (30 mile) series of linked-up loughs, large, small and intermediate. It rises and falls through sixteen locks, and across the border between the two Irelands, until it eventually joins the Woodford River and Upper Lough Erne. (Again; here is an opportunity for confusion, but only because Northern hemisphere brains tend to be north-centric.) Upper Lough Erne is, in fact, south of Lower Lough Erne; because the River Erne flows from south to north. By the time we enter Upper Lough Erne we have crossed an invisible (literally, invisible) border. However; there’s nobody around, so you can’t discern the radically different Ulster accent, and there are no nearby shops so you can spend neither Euros nor Pounds Sterling. 

At one point on the journey we thought we might have crossed the border, as - sparse though they were - the navigational signs changed from red OR green, to red AND white. It was a while before it dawned upon us that the change in signage merely denoted that we were now, officially, on the Erne, rather than the Shannon. Regardless of being either in the Republic or in the Province, the River Erne (and its loughs) navigate using, solely, the red and white beacons.

Of the two Lough Ernes, Upper Lough Erne (the southerly one) is the least open, with a plethora of islands both large and small. This provides plenty of shelter and few 'long reaches' for swells to develop; so it’s much more suited to the particular characteristics of a narrowboat, designed for the placidity of the U.K. canals and the occasional river. Being on a narrowboat in such (comparatively) large stretches of open water, can be daunting; and ‘keeping a weather-eye peeled’ is a basic requirement. We take Moonstone on these loughs/lakes only after duly consulting several forecasts.

However, weather awareness is only one difference from U.K. canalling. In our four years of cruising in England and Wales, we never felt any requirement to carry binoculars. For watery peregrinations in Ireland; we have come to realise that these vision-enhancers are indispensable. I make no claims to be any sort of navigator, and the ubiquitous and essential Nicholson’s Waterways Guides make navigation of Britain’s canals almost laughably easy … certainly in comparison to our current life. This is not to disparage Waterways Ireland’s estimable publications such as the ‘Navigational Guide to the Shannon and Erne Waterways’. For a start it’s MUCH bigger than any of the Nicholson’s publications … in fact unwieldy. A full 16 inches by 12; and considerably smaller                                     in scale, therefore – of necessity – rather less detailed.

On a lough with multitudinous islands, this make the post (Lyn’s) of ‘Navigator’s Assistant’ of inestimable importance. With four possible islands for which to choose, independent observers might consider some of our choices of course to be ‘meandering’ … to say the least. Nonetheless; ‘lost’ is only a viable concept if one stays lost; or requires to be ‘found’ (rescued!) by some outside agency. Mind you ... the unbounded joy occasioned by the resolution of some imbroglio of pilotage is not easily communicated to those who’s wayfinding suffers no such shortcomings.

 Whatever … within just a few hours we found ourselves gliding, serenely, into Enniskillen; not that much later than we had calculated.

Heaven forefend … this place is practically English … almost resolutely so! There’s even an Asda! Now, Carrick-on-Shannon does have, a Tesco’s it’s true; but the merchandise there is charmingly peppered with local delicacies, not the least of which are the bready comestibles. The variety of bread, scones, rolls, etc., available in Ireland - both sides of the border - is a glorious treat for the taste-buds.

Whilst, in the Irish language, 'Carrick' denotes a castle; in Carrick-on-Shannon, castle is there none! Enniskillen, however, has a small but perfect castle, and it was beneath its walls that we found a mooring suitable for us to call 'home' for two or three days.



Having spent some of our U.K. currency (Pounds Sterling) we unexpectedly found ourselves with a problem. The banknotes we were spending in the shops were British (English) twenty-pound notes; which we had brought over with us. These are issued by the Bank of England, and a commonly accepted in all four nations of the United Kingdom.  

However ... Scotland and Nor'n Ir'n (not Wales, for some reason!) issue their own banknotes, from institutions such as the Clydesdale Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Bank of Ireland and the Ulster Bank.

Now ... none of these are legal tender in the Republic of Ireland, but - in theory - all are legally negotiable anywhere in the United Kingdom. In theory!!! In practice ... English retailers are extremely loath to accept payment with any banknotes other than from the Bank of England.

The great majority of retail staff will argue vociferously that they are not allowed to accept such Northern Irish and Scottish currency; indeed that these things are not legally valid in England! Both of these arguments are completely incorrect, but then again ... these are people who doubtless voted for Brexit!!!

("Ye'r wanderin' off topic again, Tom." "Oh. Sorry about that.")

Whatever; we are now stuck with a fair amount of folding money (we've still got a few Scottish banknotes from the last time I was gigging North of the Border!) we'll have difficulty shifting. Perhaps I can keep my eye out for a visually challenged beggar?

(Are ye' allowed to say 'beggar' dese days, Tom?" "Alright: 'street person', then!")

 We departed Enniskillen on a fine sunny morning, but there was a bit of a breeze blowing. By the time we got down to Upper Lough Erne, the weather had become duller and considerably more gusty. Once we got into more open water, Lyn and I became aware that we were in a canal-boat and not any sort of 'ship'. We never felt in any actual danger; but we realised that change can come quickly on these more open waters, and we tended to adjust our course so that we could head into the wind or take a track in the lee of islands.

Whilst we have never been unaware of Moonstone's shortcomings in the sea-going stakes; our long-held ambition to cruise the whole of Ireland's waterways, without fear or favour, is crystallizing into a search for (yet) another boat! We have focused our gaze on a Dutch barge style of vessel. It will need to be small enough to fit into the locks, and under all the bridges, on both the Royal and Grand canals; whilst being sea-worthy enough to carry us on the loughs without trepidation. Of course: as the years progress, a little more elbow room would not go amiss; although we're actually seeking a craft a few feet shorter than Moonstone.

Something along these lines, perhaps??? 

If anything significant transpires doubtless the news will be noised abroad on Watery Peregrinations.

More next time. Stay well, Tom.

Sunday, 4 October 2020

(A)MUSINGS #2 - The Show Must Go On.

            ‘House-concerts’ can suffer from circumstances, differing radically from events in more recognisable venues … the basement of a church, an upstairs room of a pub, the stage of an arts theatre, a bandstand in a park, or the ‘performance space’ of a community centre. I’ve performed in all of those, but presenting a show in the living room of an amateur organizer can present unique challenges. One such opportunity which came via an enthusiastic, would-be impresario; however, has left me with an invisible – but indelible - scar.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is one of the small number of American ‘folk music hotbeds’; with a greater than average spread of folkies, in comparison to most areas of the U.S.A. In a roundabout manner, I had been offered a fill-in gig, to coincide with a tour carrying me through the Philly area. Todd (not his real name) had the idea that he would like to start up a folk concert series he could present from his reasonably spacious home; and made contact to offer me the opportunity of featuring in the debut concert of this putative series. An extra gig which meshes well with an already arranged sequence, is always attractive; so I had been pleased to accept.

On a Sunday evening, following the completion of a charming little ‘Kites and Seafood Festival’ in deepest southern New Jersey, I had a date with a folk music radio show host of national renown … Mr. Gene Shay – a true giant of the American folk movement. (Sadly; Covid-19 deprived us of Gene’s company, personality and talent, earlier this year.) Gene and his guests went out ‘live’, late on Sunday evenings, so Todd had arranged to meet me, and Lyn, at the WXPN radio studio immediately after the show. Mere minutes after having met him, in order to get us to his abode, Todd tersely instructed us to: “Follow me.” We boarded our elderly Dodge campervan, with Lyn at the wheel, whilst he got into his car and took off like a rocket. The traffic light he was approaching was just turning to red, but rather than afford us an opportunity to catch up with him, he just accelerated and jumped the light. The hour nearing midnight and traffic being almost non-existent; Lyn followed suit. Soon we were on a freeway, going at quite the clip, when Todd pulled into the outside lane, alongside an 18-wheeler. Barely having passed the big truck, he suddenly indicated, and pulled across the bow of the behemoth. With absolutely no knowledge of local geography, location or destination; Lyn fearlessly put her foot down and followed … occasioning a great and well-warranted hooter blast from the trucker.

Eventually, Todd pulled over in front of a low-set, darkened duplex; lacking only the lightening-bolts, the turrets, the bats and the theremin music of movieland foreboding. Inside, we were introduced to: “my Dad”; who seemed ready for a couple of hours of lively and diverting conversation … from me … not him! After the shortest possible polite interval; having had a fairly exhausting weekend; we enquired as to our sleeping arrangements and Todd escorted us to “my Dad’s half” of the duplex. We found ourselves in a sun-room with walls entirely of glass; its pitifully few curtains ragged and poorly hung. Wading through a sea of ‘dust bunnies’, we found our ‘beds’ comprised a pair of ex-army cots – with ex-army bedding! Introducing us to the ablutions, just along the corridor, our eyes stung with the aromas of generational ammonia of a male-only household. Before bidding us “Goodnight, folks”, Todd casually intoned: “If you hear screams during the night – don’t worry – it’s just my brother!!!”

 Astoundingly; we slept deeply, for a while … but very little after the prophesied screams. Morning broke blindingly through the acres of glass and inadequate curtaining. The sparse breakfast was accompanied by “my brother”; dressed only in a bathrobe and (we hoped) underwear. We never saw ‘my brother’ in any other garb and his face gave no clue as to his age. Anywhere between fifteen and fifty was our estimate, and we never heard him speak.

As ‘curtain time’ dragged inexorably closer, we assisted in arranging every seat in the two households into some semblance of seating for my performance. I was pleased and hopeful, as there were seats for an audience in excess of fifty. Sadly; only nine people arrived; and the majority of those appeared to be relatives of our host.

I was installed directly in front of the television set; presumably so that my audience would know whereon to focus their attention. The ‘front-row’ consisted of one eight-foot settee … totally bereft of any posterior … as front rows tend to be. With what could have been an effusive welcome from the host (but wasn’t, it was non-existent), I introduced myself and made to start the show. Before I could do so, ‘my brother’ ran in – dressed as before – and sat ‘front row, centre’.

As is my normal routine: I commenced my performance with an unaccompanied song and, without interval, into a chorus song accompanied on button-accordion. The (few) audience members seated towards the rear could ascertain that ‘my brother’ was getting into the swing of things, as his shoulders were undulating to the rhythm of my song … they were deceived,

Immediately upon throwing himself onto the settee, this nearest member of my audience had groped in his lap, and produced his own member. As the chorus began, he joined in … rhythmically but silently. Whilst the rest of the audience, manfully and womanfully, attempted to compensate vocally for their paucity of numbers, my eyes were trying to ignore a situation for which all my previous show-biz experience had left me totally unprepared.

Todd, however, soon became aware of the circumstances and – in the middle of verse three – hustled to the front of the room and in thunderous tones bellowed: “STOP THAT! GO TO YOUR ROOM! NOW!” Hastily complying, ’my brother’ fled the scene; leaving the rest of the audience perplexed; and me concentrating on the mantra: The Show Must Go On.

As I said: House-concerts can suffer from circumstances, differing radically from events in more recognisable venues ... really!

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Irish Peregrinations #1

I looked across the table to the pleasing sight before me ... a half-litre bottle of (O'Hara's) I.P.A. (That's IRISH Pale Ale, and very palatable it is, too!) But hold-hard; what vision is this … hovering just above the flagon??? Heavens to Murgatroyd!!! As I live and breathe (neither to be taken for granted, these days) it is none other than Dick Miles … bon-vivant, singer, player, shanty aficionado, Grand High Everything of the Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival, property owner and taxpayer-in-good-standing of the Village of Ballydehob, West Cork, Ireland; wherein is situated ‘Le Petit Bistro; the establishment wherein we are currently ensconced. I can confirm that Dick is in fine fettle, great voice, excellent good-humour; and that rumours of his marriage to a brewery-owning multi-millionairess, are greatly exaggerated.

Having made good on our long-promised (threatened?) intention of relocating across the Irish Sea, here we are! Lyn and I are hugely pleased to, once again, be living afloat. Moonstone lies snugly moored at a berth in Tara Marina, in County Roscommon; near the geographic centre of Ireland, in the northerly reaches of the Shannon/Erne waterway system.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow famously wrote: " … into each life, some rain must fall …"  but this is ridiculous!

Arriving in the Republic, we were assiduous in our 14-day quarantine. However; during that fortnight there was not a single 24-hour period devoid of precipitation! Now; just five weeks into our Irish sojourn; we struggle to total-up a week without rain. Mind you ... reports from the (dis)United Kingdom describe similar conditions.

The weather forecasts not being encouraging as to an extended river cruise, we had driven down, close to the Southwest tip of the island, to say hello to a few friends, un-visited for a couple of years or more. (Friends of Ray and Verna Connolly may be pleased to note that; although Ray passed several years ago; Verna is keeping well and cheerful; appreciated and well cared-for by a supportive community of good neighbours. (For those who wish to be in touch with her; the e-mail address is VernaRay@hotmail.com.)

In preparation for our first extended cruise on the Shannon/Erne waterway system, we took a three-day expedition to Carrick-on-Shannon and Drumshanbo.

I am long used (he opined, modestly) to being somewhere around the centre of attention, but unused to having the limelight stolen by our lovely boat. Our arrival in Carrick swiftly attracted much admiration … all for Moonstone! Multifarious comments flowed; along the lines of: “That’s a really lovely barge, ye’ve got there!” It quickly became apparent that – for the Irish – a boat is make of white plastic, but superior forms of water-borne transportation are made of base metals, and referred to as ‘barges’. One such observation was followed by an invitation. “We’re havin’ a session, over on m' barge tomorrow afternoon. We’ve got beer and wine, so come and join us.”M' barge’ was just around the corner, and proved to be a vessel built by the Guinness company, around one hundred years ago, for the delivery of their world-famous  beverage; and somewhat longer and considerably wider than Moonstone. You may note, from the images below, it doesn't always rain in this part of the world.

'George' is on the extreme right of the group of musicians ... and me ... 

Here's George again (see above), at his day-job ... 

After an enjoyable and relaxing weekend, we turned Northwards on the Shannon, past Leitrim Village, and up our very first Irish canal: The Lough Allan Canal It is only about five kms. long, but totally bucolic and without a great deal of traffic. It opens out onto Acres Lake, just on the Southern edge of the small village of Drumshanbo (famous for Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin … as yet untried by your humble researcher!). Acres Lake is a very popular recreational destination, but we managed to find a mooring. (This is going to be an issue on the Irish waterways. Most mooring spots are set-up for craft around ten metres or less. Moonstone is just shy of EIGHTEEN!)

Acres Lake

Whilst Lyn and I may have our issues with Irish weather, Wednesday morning found us taking an after-breakfast swim in Acres Lake ... lovely! Then it was back down the Shannon; right turn up the Boyle River; and return to Tara Marina for an appointment with Damian the Electrician and a couple of minor maintenance jobs.

I don't want to bore you with my garrulousness, so I'm going to call this ... 

'THE INTERVAL'    (more soonish!)

Saturday, 13 June 2020


This is the first of what may become a series of reminiscences. They are in no particular order, although I may collate them more rationally at some later stage. My intentions are to communicate these in a light-hearted manner, ‘though most of them have resulted in ‘teachable moments’.
    Without further ado … 


Instantly-- from a sound sleep, my heart pounding-- I am wide awake, noting the time on the bedside clock: 2 am. Lyn, seemingly oblivious, lies beside me, unstirring.
Almost immediately, there it is again: the voice of a woman in great distress, shrieking desperately. I’m sure I can discern her words: “I’m going! I’m going!”

I leap out of bed, wearing my watch … nothing else … just my wristwatch. At the door of our motel room, I undo the security chain and rush out onto the second-floor walkway, not consciously registering the deeply sub-zero temperatures.

There, poised precariously on the handrail of the parapet twenty feet above the parked cars, is a woman wearing … well … wearing very little at all! The towering spike-heels on those bling-encased sandals aren’t contributing to her balance, and the sequins which comprise over ninety percent of her skimpy attire are assisting neither her modesty nor her bodily warmth. Standing a few yards along this upper walkway with an attitude of seeming disinterest is an older, smartly dressed fellow with his hands in the pockets of an expensive – and definitely more suitable for the weather – overcoat. My mind is struggling to make sense of the scene before me ….

Although we are Brits, Lyn and I, at that time, made our home over a hundred miles north in Salmo, a small community in the mountains of British Columbia. What was I doing stark naked, freezing, outside the bedroom of a cheap motel, in the seedier area of Spokane, in the state of Washington? Well … it’s a bit of a story.
I’m a touring folk-singer; therefore, every Dollar, Pound and Euro needs to be considered, husbanded, stretched, accounted for, and made to justify its expenditure. Just a few weeks prior to Christmas, my record company in Toronto – finally – had my new CD ready for distribution. Toronto could never be thought of as the centre of gravity of North America, nor Salmo considered to be a significant geographical entity in the federation of Canada. Whilst Canada Post/Postes Canada is a thoroughly estimable communications delivery organ of the Canadian government, its pricing structures are prey to the vast distances covered by its services. Sending anything larger than a simple letter, within Canada, involves some considerable expense. Sending similar items from Canada outwith its borders … well, let’s not go there … it’s ruinous!

Salmo, however, is barely ten miles from the border with the United States of America; and Spokane (pronounced: ‘spow-can’),  with a population in excess of two- hundred-thousand souls, is just a two-hour drive from home. The city has hotels, restaurants, multifarious shopping opportunities, and even a thriving night life. Salmo has none of these! Spokane also has a U.S. Post Office with very efficient and obliging staff who are committed to the motto: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

TANGENT WARNING!!! Back in the 18th. Century, the United States Postal Service was founded with the idea that it would be a part of the ‘glue’ which would bind the citizens of a fledgling republic into a continent-wide community. As part of that ethos, the prices of services were tightly controlled, to keep those services within reach of all. It is almost forgotten that, a couple of centuries ago, Democrat and Republican politicians were at loggerheads over the issue of postal charges. One side felt – passionately - that newspapers delivered by the postal service should be allowed a ninety percent discount for such service. The other side held - just as passionately - that ANY CHARGE WHATSOEVER was an iniquitous attack on Freedom of the Press. How times have changed!

Be that as it may: the U.S. Post Office cost to mail a CD, to anywhere in the USA, was considerably cheaper than mailing it from Canada; moreover, mailing a CD from the USA to anywhere in Canada was cheaper than sending the item from Salmo’s Canadian Post Office … go figure!

Anyway, in order to take advantage of these conditions, we arranged for Borealis Records to ship five hundred CDs to the Post Office in Spokane, for us to personally collect. (Again, less expensive than sending them from Ontario to Salmo.) On the Friday morning we had driven across the border to Spokane with pre-printed labels for nearly 350 ordered-in-advance CDs. Having collected our waiting package and purchased the requisite postage stamps, we checked into the cheapest downtown accommodation we could find: the Ruby Motel.

The scene of the crime. (our room was at the top of that upper flight of stairs.)

We set up our room as an impromptu dispatch office. Over the space of the next several hours we licked, personalised, double-checked, stamped, and collated for all we were worth. By the time our labours were completed it was mid-evening, the Post
Office long-since closed, and we were exhausted. Because the hotel was located close to the centre of the city’s ‘entertainment district’ (I use the term very loosely), our presumed dining choices would be limited to typical American small-town options; but, rather than the ubiquitous burgers or steaks, we happened upon an unusually good Thai/Chinese dining emporium. Solid comestible requirements having been satisfied, we repaired to a local establishment with a very decent I.P.A. on tap and a fairly good, but overly-loud, band playing mainly 60’s and 70’s covers. By ten-thirty we were more than ready for a well-earned night’s rest, so we traipsed beside the piles of dirty snow, left by the passage of numerous snowplows, back to our room. Having retired in the warmth of the Ruby Hotel, we slept the sleep of the righteous-- for all of three hours-- until I was rudely awakened by that aforementioned scream … Onwards, gentle reader.

In an heroic attempt to be of some assistance (i.e. ‘damsel-in-distress’ mode) I rushed toward the young woman … being completely oblivious to my state of (total) undress, and likewise the ambient temperature (by this time around 5 degrees Fahrenheit
/minus 15 Celsius). In as calm a manner as I could manage in the circumstances, I addressed her saying: “There’s no need to jump. Why don’t you let me help you down?” At this point the gentleman (i.e. her ‘John’) grabbed at my arm violently, saying: “F### off, a##hole!”.  I had only just managed to reply something in the way of: “Might I possibly be of any assistance, my good man?”, when he shoved me, quite violently, saying: “Just get back into your f###ing room!

It was, by now, slowly dawning on me that --far from entertaining suicidal thoughts, nor perceiving herself to be in any danger – the young woman was hugely under the influence of some recreational drug and had been calling, uninhibitedly, to a co-worker engaged in some commerce across the parking lot: “I’m golden! I’m golden!” At this point my ‘knight-errant’ mode was commencing to shrivel (as was much else in those freezing temperatures) so, with as much dignity as I could muster, I departed the scene.

Back in our motel room, my bloodstream still suffused with adrenalin, I clambered into bed beside Lyn, and tried to return to the sleep from which I had been so rudely awakened. I had barely dropped off when I was, once again, awoken--this time by heavy and repeated hammering on the door of our room. Assuming that the girl’s customer had returned for Round 2, I dialled ‘911’ on my cell-phone (without pressing ‘send’) and handed the phone to Lyn. With my eye to the peep-hole, I discerned a uniform at the door so I opened it. Before my eyes were three representatives of the Spokane City Police Department:  a pair of large, and quite young, males, and a more diminutive, and even younger, female.

Before I could speak, one of the male cops announced: “We’ve had a complaint of public noodity!!!” I was on the point of admitting that I could well be the occasion of such a complaint, when the largest of these officers of the law pushed into the room –
accompanied by the female officer – leaving their compatriot outside guarding the door. Lyn was still in bed, whilst I was wearing no addition to my earlier wardrobe!

(Here’s a little gem, for your delectation. The term: ‘naked as a jay-bird is not originally an Americanism, but from 17th century Dutch usage.)

Standing in front of the constables, without any thought for my state of undress, I attempted to explain the circumstances; but the only part of my dissertation which caught the law officer’s attention was the word: “Canadian”. This appeared to enrage him (even further) and he demanded sight of my passport. My response-- that I didn’t, at that particular moment, have such about my person-- seemed to fly right over his head. I explained that everything he required was in the hanging-space behind a curtain, a few yards away at the end of a shadowy passageway.

It occurred to me, as I was sauntering into the gloom (to comply with the officer's instruction: “Show it to me!"), that he obviously trusted Canadians not to carry firearms. Had I been a Second Amendment fanatic asserting my rights to own and carry a ‘Saturday Night Special’, a hand gun, as is practically ‘de rigueur’ amongst the local citizenry, this tale might have had a very different outcome for the young, but obviously poorly trained, representative of local law enforcement.

After examination of my passport he informed me: “Public noodity is a crime in this jurisdiction, mister. I could arrest you right now!” Since he evinced no interest in any explanation I might offer for my behaviour, I decided that my best response was no response. Then, seemingly bewildered as to some route out of this quandary, the officer decided to extract from me a promise that I would “not again, this night, leave
the room in a state of undress”, and required that I give a solemn undertaking to return to Canada on the following morning. I duly complied … all the time looking directly at
the female officer, who appeared ill-at-ease and - for whatever reason - unwilling to make eye contact with me.

Eventually ‘Spokane’s Finest’ departed; presumably to continue their ‘Public Noodity Patrol’; whilst the persons who actually occasioned the whole incident remained, unexamined and undisturbed, about five doors away. Obviously, in the lexicon of American jurisprudence, ‘Disturbing the Peace’ does not weigh against the much more serious: ‘Public Nudity’.

Next morning at breakfast in the hotel dining room (such as it was), some other diners remarked upon ‘the ruckus last night’! Lyn and I were on the point of assuming that my interaction out on the walkway was the subject of this conversation when we were treated to a blow-by-blow description of the noisy and hilarious hours of sound effects, coming from the room next to theirs … obviously the overcoated gentleman had received excellent ‘value for money’!

Now ... I have always adhered to the adage: ‘no good deed goes unpunished’.

Having left Spokane and returned to our Canadian home, Lyn and I felt that we had escaped unscathed, but with an amusing tale to tell. However … about two weeks later our credit-card bill, which included the expected charge for our accommodation at the Ruby Hotel, arrived.  We were nonplussed to register that an unexplained fee of fifty dollars had been added to the bill. A telephone call to the hotel connected me with a young woman who informed me that I was conversing with the hotel manager. Upon checking her records, she stated that the night manager had appended the additional charge-- “as per the regulations posted in every room”-- pertaining to a police visit occasioned by a guest at the hotel. When I told her the story, in excruciating detail, she commenced to giggle uncontrollably. Once she regained her composure she offered to refund the extra charge, on the sole proviso that I send the story to her in an e-mail. The gracious offer was hastily accepted and the anecdote sent off as requested; in a pleasing result, our next credit-card bill showed a $50 refund.

The lesson I took from the above encounter was: Never argue with someone who is wearing a gun … and clothes … when you are wearing neither!

Next time ... an Army ‘sick-bay tiffy’, 200 feet under the South China Sea!

Friday, 29 November 2019

Irish Peregrinations

Here's a wonky image of our baby, being loaded onto a lorry; for its journey to Ireland.

It's nearly the end of November (2019), and Moonstone is now moored in a lovely little marina on the River Shannon. Viz: http://taramarina.ie/.

That location and the current sociopolitical situation are not unconnected ... the prospect of living in a United Kingdom which returns Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, is a prospect just too depressing to contemplate. The societal consequences released by the referendum - initiated by 'call me Dave' Cameron; purely for reasons of internal Tory Party stresses - may have irrevocably changed the way people of this country treat each other ... it's not a pretty sight! That is, of course, a generality but; nonetheless undeniable, for all that. (The voice in my head sounds almost like Donald Trump ... "So sad!"

Lyn and I are hoping (against hope) for an election result which denies Boris Johnson his heart's desire but, realistically, we are preparing for disappointment ... whilst working for our local Labour Party candidate! However; the overwhelming forces of the mainstream media, established financial superstructures, and various international vested-interests, ranged against radical change to deliver social justice, are probably too great to withstand. I am old enough to remember what happened to Clement Attlee's government, in 1951. It appears that, now; as then; the turkeys will vote for Christmas. "So sad!"

Those of you who receive e-mails from me, will be aware that each one is signed-off with a quote from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt 's second Inaugural address (1937): "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." That statement is, for me, the epitome of social justice; and a tenet to which I shall cling, until I depart this world. Enough!

Ceasing, herewith, all polemic; I will try to devote my time on this medium to commentary on the Watery Peregrinations, which Lyn and I are undertaking. We have made arrangements to be on the boat over Christmas. The marina will be to all intents, bereft of humanity, saving only ourselves! We are hoping for a day or two (or 3 or 4?) of clement weather, so that we might have our inaugural cruise on the River Shannon. Just a scant ten (or so) miles away, is Carrick-on-Sahnnon. Surely even inclement weather will allow us to get as far as that?

Carrick-on-Shannon is a pretty, small town; on both sides of the river; in the counties of Roscommon and Leitrim. Though of no great size, it has all the amenities necessary for a comfortable life and, at just 14 kilometres remove (by road) from Tara Marina, is a not too onerous bicycle ride.

 ... and here is Moonstone, doing 55mph. on the M62, heading for Holyhead, and the Dublin ferry.

That's enough for now. If we don't chat beforehand ... all felicitations for the Festive Season.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Aegean Peregrinations.

Hello! It's been a while since I added anything to this (sort of) blog ... but here I am again.

It has been a year - almost to the day - since Lyn and I moved 'onto the bank'. During that time our life has proceeded, gently and pleasantly, in the wise of the broad mass of landlubbers. We've visited - for gigs - Poland, Spain and Ireland; and toured around England, wherever engagements demanded my presence.

The visit to The English Folk Music Club, on the Costa Blanca; and staying with our old friends Carol and Ian Smith; reignited our (mild) passion for snorkelling. That engendered a search for an affordable sea-going adventure: which led us to joining a cruise on a Turkish 'gulet' (pronounded: 'goolett'), around Gokova Bay, in South-West Turkey.

Our craft was NAVIGA 1, a beautifully outfitted (motorised) two-masted, wooden sailing vessel, about 28 metres long with a beam of about 6 metres.

It has 8 en-suite cabins, plus a cabin for the captain, and quarters (not quite so salubrious) for the (3) crew-members. Life was lived 'on deck', as the weather was gorgeous enough for us never to need to resort to the 'lounge'; so all meals - delicious, and heavy with fresh fruit and vegetables - were served on the after-deck.

Anyway ... we departed Leeds/Bradford airport on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 12; setting down on Kos around 9pm. and by 10:30 we were seated in a lovely open-to-the-pavement restaurant in Kos Town; listening to three elderly (sort of MY age 😉 ) Greek musicians, and watching the locals dance. The food and wine were delicious!

The following morning we took the ferry to Bodrum, in Turkey; about a 50 minute trip.

Whilst the population of Bodrum is about 43,000; compared with about 23,00 for Kos; the harbour of Bodrum is only a little larger than Kos, but much more crowded due to the thriving holiday sailing industry based there. Once through Turkish customs and immigration formalities, Naviga 1 was mere steps (about 50 mtrs) away and, within minutes we were comfortably ensconced in our cabin. Not all our shipmates (read: fellow-passengers) had arrived, so there were just three of us for a delicious and casual dinner; we two being joined by Suzanne: who was 'an army brat' all around the world, now a Belgian citizen, currently residing in France! Nowhere near as cosmopolitan as the rest of our shipmates, though ... read on.

Whilst our cabin was well outfitted and very comfortable, a restful night's sleep was not to be. In the season: Bodrum is a 'party town', and very loud. That cacophony had not long died down when the muezzin called the faithful to prayer ... at 5:30am. ... 3:30 UK time ... and the 'sound guy' had the sliders set at eleven!!!

At breakfast (the last time I'll wax rhapsodic about the lovely eating options of coffee, fruits and copious deli choices) our complement was fully assembled. Joining Lyn, Suzanne and me were ... 
Srinivas (from India), Ahmed, Adel and Ali (from Egypt); all employees of the Carrier air-conditioning company, in Dubai; on a company funded jolly ... 
Ayesha and Hussain (from Istanbul) ... 
Paola and Gerardo (from Naples) ... 
 ... thankfully our (shameful) deficiencies in Hindu, Arabic, Turkish and Italian were deferred to; and English became the 'lingua franca'. Even the young Turkish captain and his (3) crewmen all spoke English.

Raising anchor (literally) after only one more blast from the speakers on the mosque, we set sail (not literally) from Bodrum and 'pointed her nose', westward, into Gokova Bay.
Break here so that you can make up substitute lyrics, and hum the melody of Otis Redding's: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay. My version starts: 'Cruisin' on the Gokova Bay, Ain't no clouds to get in the way-a-a-y. Cruisin' on the Gokova Bay, Wastin' ti-ime.


In what was to become the pattern of our cruising; after less than two hours we dropped anchor in a deserted cove and went swimming and snorkelling whilst lunch was being prepared. In the afternoon, once everyone was done playing in the water, we would cruise to another bay for swimming, supper and our overnight mooring. Occasionally we went ashore into small villages (to which we could swim or take the small outboard boat); and we spent a few hours at an archaeological site known as Cleopatra's Island - which has the bluest water I have ever seen. Legend has it that the sand on the beach, which doesn't match anything found in that area, was imported for Cleopatra by a besotted Mark Anthony. 

For the whole week's duration of our cruise the (daytime) air temperature hovered around 23-25°C, with water temperatures maintaining 22-23 °C ... gorgeous! At this point I find myself with very little to add. We came seeking relaxing indolence and, having achieved that, I find descriptions of it to be decidedly prosaic. We spent a full week enjoying the company of our shipmates - each of whom proved to be delightful and interesting - sleeping, reading, conversing, swimming, lazing; accompanied by an occasional glass of beer or wine. As the weather had just taken a turn for the worse; when we were in our cab to Leeds/Bradford; we worked very hard to avoid any sense of schadenfreude . really!

We can't claim that the skies were always cloudless. Look ... there are some clouds!

At the half-way point of the trip, Our 'Gulf' contingent, along with Ayisha and Hussain, left us; so we had a small party to wish them all bon-voyage; enabling them to proffer their gratitude to our crewmen ... 

Our skipper - stage right - is looking suitably serious and responsible, but I must mention Servet: standing next to him. Servet was the gulet's  second in command/cook. He was unfailingly cheerful, helpful. and proficient. He is working towards his command qualification, and we can truthfully say that we would be very happy to sail with Servet, at any time.
We were concerned that, with our complement reduced to a mere quintet, we might lose our 'critical mass'. Happily; Veronika and Martin - from exotic Slovikia - replaced our deserters! Their arrival reduced the average age of souls-on-board by several years.

We've sacked the official photographer. We can't find Martin anywhere, but here's Veronika!

I've used the terms: 'sail' and 'sailing'; which were appearing to be redundant, until I led a mutiny and several of us nagged our skipper, until he relented and, eventually, raised the sails so that we were wind-driven for two or three hours ... blissful, and better than nothing.

Every night; excepting only the first and last nights, in Bodrum harbour; we spent anchored in small, deserted coves ... very quiet and peaceful. Often there would be one or two other boats moored nearby; but they were as quiescent we; so we were never disturbed. We did drop in, for water, bread and a few other supplies, to one (nameless) little community. We contributed to the local economy by purchasing, and drinking, beer ... but within an hour or so, we were back aboard Naviga 1.

 ... and so; after a week of near-perfect indolence; our bowsprit was pointed back towards Bodrum: that port of noisy tourist bars and minaret loudspeakers. We made poignant farewells to our shipmates and took the ferry back to Kos.

We spent an almost prosaic six days - after our cruising idylls - in a quiet, comfortable hotel; as a base for exploring the town and island ... but that was not a watery peregrination; so any description has no place in this journal. We drank lots of wonderful coffee - made by Nikolas - in The Coffee House; and imbibing some of the finest I.P.A. which has ever passed my lips! REALLY ... and in Greece too! Who'd have thought it? That was in Cafe Zero; where we jammed with Kostas and Tom ... lovely fellows ... for metalheads!!!

I've already taken up too much of your time. If you want any information about how we booked this (fabulous value) trip, just drop me a line. For now ... stay well. Tom.