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Drifting Part Three

This is Part Three of our Canal Boat Odyssey. Parts One and Two can be found HERE and HERE respectively 😉

Towel Sign

We spent a total of four nights on board the Henley.

In hindsight we probably set ourselves way too big a journey, because we wanted to go all the way from the hire place in Trevor to the picturesque Black Mere, and then return back past Trevor and go all the way to Llangollen in the other direction. It didn’t seem that far on Google Maps… But we hadn’t reckoned with the boat’s average speed of around 2km per hour. At one point we were overtaken by a mother and daughter, out for a casual stroll along the towpath. They moseyed past us, and disappeared into the distance, leaving us in the dust. Over an hour later we finally caught them up – but only because they’d turned around and were coming back again! I think on our biggest day, we managed a staggering 12 miles…

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Drifting Part Two

Area we got stuck

Before we get started, here’s some rules about canal boat conduct:

  • Always pass other boats on the right.
  • Always pass other boats at walking pace.
  • Do not intentionally ram other boats at top speed.

And while we’re at it, here are a few facts about the boats themselves:

  • They are long and narrow. Kind of ram-shaped.
  • They are bastard impossible to steer. Impossible!
  • They have absolutely NO BRAKES. NONE.
  • They hate you.
  • They want you to die screaming.

Putting all that together, you might gain an insight into the first few minutes and hours of our boat stewardship.

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Drifting – Part One

Side-of-boat

Four adults on a relaxing, 4-night canal boat cruise. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, when three of the adults are Slaters, things are bound to get interesting…

It’s always been a dream of ours to try living aboard a narrow boat, and drift along the English countryside on the canals, occasionally winding a lock up or down. It all sounds so relaxing…

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Postcards From The Edge

A picture tells a thousand words, right? Well, let’s hope so. Because I’ve run out of words! I’ve been talking so much these last few weeks that I am literally losing the ability to expel new words from inside of me.

So what I’ve decided to do is dazzle you all with the photos we’ve been taking – ones that have missed the cut so far, and not made it onto Facebook or the blog. Partially this is because I don’t post photos as often as I should, and partially it’s because I take pictures of really weird sh*t that amuses me, and somehow it doesn’t seem nearly as funny five days later when I find the photos…

It’s a context thing. That’s my excuse.

So in celebration of that, I will attempt to give you a brief context for each picture. You may even gain some insight into the inner workings of my mind… in which case, BEWARE! It’s not a particularly wholesome environment in there…

Paperwork

I’d like to begin with a salute to the sheer amount of paperwork I brought with me on this trip…

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Leaving Las Vegas

Right, where were we?

Next stop was on our grand USA adventure was Death Valley Junction. We checked into the only motel anywhere near there, finding it delightfully knackered and ‘quaint’. The ladies who ran the place were very friendly, but as we were leaving the next day they were reporting a guest to the police. An older man, staying in one room with a young girl – when the cleaners went in, they found her long hair had all been cut off and left in the sink… Definitely something strange going on there!

Death Valley Motel 1

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USA Take Two!

Hi folks!

So, some of you may have noticed that I have a new book out!

Shave My Spider Cover

I know, I know. FINALLY! Yes, well, after taking me almost a year to write, ‘Shave My Spider!’ turned out to be a monster at over 180,000 words. That doesn’t seem to have deterred people though, and at the moment, over a month after its release, ‘Spider’ is still hanging in there at no.1 in all its Amazon categories.

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Book Five Progress Update

Welcome back blog readers, and apologies for the incredibly long wait between posts! Sometimes real life gets in the way of travel and blogging and stuff, so we will ease back into it with a short one  🙂

Tony has been furiously working on his fifth book for the last few months – in fact, he started this book at the same time as the fourth one, but soon realized that six months in Asia AND a wedding were simply too much for one book to handle! (To be honest, it’s still a bit too long at just over 150,000 words – but we did have some pretty crazy adventures in those six months!)

Some of you may have seen the sneaky-leaks about the title of book five, but in case you haven’t, here it is:

Shave My Spider

Yes, I know this is a weird title for a book, but let’s be honest – most of the content is a little crazy too. My advice: expect the unexpected!

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The Twizy Experience

Roo has always had an obsession with small things. Sometimes I think that’s why she married me gets so excited about hamsters. Ahem.

In China, we spotted THIS:

Chinese Bubble Bike

And Roo was besotted. She talked about the weird bubble-bike-thingumy for days, eventually mapping out a grand adventure all around Australia in one – or possibly in two, seeing as how they weren’t big on luggage space. Or big period. She ranted on to anyone who would listen about converting the bikes to solar energy, getting sponsorship from a big solar company, and doing the whole expedition for some charity or other.

Anyway, we were stymied in our efforts to import a pair of bubble bikes because neither of us speak Chinese… and, well, to be honest, importing vehicles did seem a bit grown up for us.

And then Roo saw the Twizy.

Twizy at ASDA

It was parked outside our local supermarket, and I couldn’t drag her past it. The owner came out with his shopping, saw us staring, and said, “Oi! You lookin’ at my Twizy?”

To which a variety of responses occurred, but fearing bloodshed was imminent, I simply said, “Ah, yes.”

“Well come on then!” he beamed. And before long we were sitting inside, as he explained some of the more peculiar features, like clip-in windows and the immensely long power cable that is fitted with a regular UK-style 3-pin domestic plug. “Charge it anywhere!” he explained, which was good as the thing could only go about 40 miles before it ground to a halt. “But perfect for about-town driving!” he enthused.

So, not ideal for a month-long sojourn across the Aussie outback then, I realised – although town driving would surely come with its own challenges. Particularly in England, where kids tend to throw bricks at things they don’t like.

But then we picked up a free magazine – in the same supermarket where we’d first spotted the Twizy – and inside was an article about an exciting scheme only 3 hours south of us; the New Forest Twizy Hire experience!

Row of Twizys

To say Roo was excited… well, let’s just say she had to be restrained for her own safety.

And so, with our time left in England rapidly diminishing, and a whole host of things still to do – like packing, visiting friends, writing books – we instead opted to ignore all that crap in favour of navigating our way to the New Forest, in search of a mini-adventure. I haven’t seen Roo so excited since we got married… no, scratch that – since her hamsters arrived, a year before the wedding.

roo in twizy

From here on, I’ll let the video do the talking. We’re trying to do more filming of stuff as we travel around, and the result will inevitably be more of this kind of rubbish – Video Blogs, as all the cool kids are calling them. Or, “Why do I sound like such a goon?” as Roo calls them. Personally, I can’t stop looking at the size of my nose. Good God, if the camera adds 5lbs, that’s where all mine went!

Oh, a few things I should mention: we’d planned on camping the night after hiring the Twizy. Suffice to say, we didn’t.

The company doing the hiring had recently gone bust, and all the Twizy’s had been bought up by the boss of a VW camper hire place – you English types can get hold of them on: 01590 624066.

And in case it isn’t obvious from the video, we had an absolute blast!  🙂

An Unexpected Journey

Roo and I have been back in England for a couple of weeks now, and I still haven’t managed to write anything about our month in Wanaka. I guess because the memory is still so sharp; our time there was, to misquote a popular novel, the best of times and the worst of times.

Well, mostly the worst.

As many of you may know, the reason that Roo and I changed our plans at the last minute and flew to New Zealand was because Chris, my sister Gill’s husband, was starting to lose the battle against pancreatic cancer.

Chris Ice CreamIt’s hard to believe that less than six months ago I was writing a book about his wedding; he wore blue, insisted that I wore blue too, and looked like the happiest man alive as he stood next to Gill in the gardens of Polquhorn Fort in Cornwall, and said “I do.”

Gills Wedding

Gill and Chris – as happy as I’ve ever seen either of them.

And now… well, six weeks ago we laid him to rest in a wickerwork casket, in a narrow plot in Wanaka cemetery. Chris passed away on the 29th of May, aged just 38 – leaving behind not just my sister, but their two beautiful daughters, Hazel and Holly, aged 18 months and two months.

Even now, as I sit here writing this, tears are falling freely onto my keyboard. That’s been happening a lot lately; I might have to invest in some kind of rain cover for my laptop…

Anyway, it’s not like me to be so doom-and-gloom, and I’ve always prided myself on finding the positive in every situation. And here in Wanaka, the positive is impossible to ignore – it’s all around me, everywhere I look.

Because Wanaka is, beyond shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Wanaka Beauty

It’s beautiful alright – this is the view from our hostel. Which is in the centre of town.

Even Chris has a spectacular view. If I had to spend eternity contemplating one particular vista, well, I could do a lot worse.

Graveyard View

We laid Chris to rest overlooking the town where his girls live, and the mountains he spent his life on.

We’ve visited Wanaka before, of course. Back then Hazel was just a baby, and Wanaka was in the grip of a deadly epidemic – of drive-by knitting?!?!!? It’s still the town’s biggest mystery – no-one knows who is responsible, or when they will strike.

Knitted Tree

Random bits of the town are regularly discovered wrapped in colourful knitting. Truth!

That kind of says it all about Wanaka. It’s a placid place, like something out of a fairy-tale; stupendous mountains, incredible scenery, friendly folk, healthy and wholesome almost to a fault. People here don’t lock their doors. Even when they go on holiday. It would be a thieves’ paradise… except, there aren’t any thieves. Which is ironic, really, as it’s one of the most expensive places on Earth to live!

And the only downside? Well, other than a loaf of bread costing $5? The town is the central hub for three of New Zealand’s most popular ski resorts. So every winter, scores of penniless ski bums just like Gill and Chris show up, taking jobs on the mountains and living anywhere they can – three to a room, sleeping on floors, in vans, in garden sheds… and the town becomes party central for the next six months solid.

So, you know, major bummer  🙂 

Wanaka Dawn

They get plenty of snow here – this is the view we woke up to on our second morning in Wanaka.

Yes, it’s fair to say, I like it here. As for Roo, well… if you’ve read anything about our time in Canada, you’ll know that anything even remotely involving snow turns Roo into an eight-year-old.

Roo Kissing Snowman

Obviously I wanted to make a giant sculpture of a penis, and leave it in the middle of the park – but Roo demanded we make something she could kiss.

Gill and Chris had just bought a new house when we arrived, so we moved into it on their behalf. Predictably, I broke at least one thing per day, so that by the time Gill set foot in the place there was already a lengthy maintenance list…

Broken Shower

Welcome to your new house Gill! Here’s your shower door handle…

Broken Knife

I have no idea how I broke this knife. Just don’t know my own strength, I guess…

Broken Table

And I’m sure this table isn’t supposed to look like that… I also broke a shelf in the fridge 🙁

I try to take something, some message or life-lesson, from everyone I know who passes on. From Chris, I have taken a timely reminder of something which is all too easy to forget, especially for a struggling, self-published author.

Chris wasn’t about money, not in the least. He was happiest fixing skis, barely scraping by, and many times stated that life was not about abstract concepts like success, or the accumulation of wealth.

It was about fun. That was why he left a promising career in genetics to spend his life ski-bumming around the world, earning sub-minimum wage, and loving his life in the snow, and his growing family.

So the next time I find myself obsessively checking my sales, or carefully weighing out the financial cost of an adventure, I’ll remember this: life is too damn short to be stingy.

You never know, ladies and gentlemen, whether or not you’ll live to spend it, so take a piece of advice from me, and – posthumously – from one of the cleverest people I’ve ever known: enjoy what you’ve got, while you’ve got it. Money is only as good as the enjoyment you can get out of it, so squeeze every last drop of fun from those pennies! Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

Mum Sky Dive

Grab life by the balls! This is my Mum, doing her first sky-dive – at 62 years old. Apparently, it’s never too late!

Anyway, to conclude the tale, we all retreated to England to spend some time together as a family, helping Gill with the girls and hopefully giving her a safe space to grieve. It was a fairly daunting prospect – taking one baby and one toddler on a series of long-haul flights totalling over 24 hours in the air – but amazingly, we came through it all unscathed. It wasn’t until after we’d landed in Heathrow Airport that Hazel decided to projectile-vomit, Exorcist style, emptying her stomach of everything she’d eaten since we left Singapore. Made a fair mess of the landing gate, I can tell you.

Happy Holly

Baby Holly, on the other hand, rather enjoyed the flight!

But we did it! And now here we are, in England! Facing the same journey back again in just over six weeks’ time… Like I said – life’s all about the fun  🙂

And while we’re on the subject of fun, I’d like to take this chance to invite everyone else who is in England to a ski-event we’re holding in Chris’s memory. It will be at Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre on the 29th August, from 8-10pm, and we’ll be raising money for pancreatic cancer research. The plan is to try and make 1977 runs down the ski slope (Chris’s birth year), so we’ll need all the help we can get. Entrance costs £40, including 2 hours on the slopes, ski/snowboard gear hire and a meal at the restaurant. Non-skiers are welcome, and there’ll be a sledging slope set up for a bit of fun. Let me know if you fancy coming along! And for anyone who’d like to contribute without getting their asses cold and wet*, Gill has set up a Just Giving page – all proceeds go directly to Pancreatic Cancer UK:

https://www.justgiving.com/robinsonskichallenge

Hope to see you there!

*Snowboarders have to sit down at the top to fasten their boards on. This is why my ass gets wet, NOT because I’m so afraid that I pee myself – no matter what you may have heard.

Leaving Nova Scotia

So, the time has come to leave our little bolt-hole in Nova Scotia, Canada. We’re flying out to New Zealand, postponing our US trip slightly for personal reasons. We’ve really enjoyed our time here in the Bay of Fundy – home of the world’s highest tides, and… um… ah…

No, sorry, that’s it.

But man, is it ever beautiful!

Nova Scotia Cabin

When we arrived, the whole place was still buried under a thick blanket of snow – much to Roo’s delight. She set about building a snowman, then hollowing out a snow cave… you know, the kind of stuff that non-Australians generally get out of their system by age 10.

Roo Snowman

Meanwhile, I settled in to write about Asia. It was a little odd, filling my head with scenes of steaming jungles and sprawling concrete metropolises – only to look out of the window at the pristine snow every time a car drove past our cabin. Which happened roughly three times per day…

Nova Scotia Deer

We had plenty of other visitors though!

Most days, we took a stroll down to the beach – a rugged and dramatic location, the sand black beneath the white snow, and strewn with boulders and great chunks of ice. An awesome place for photographs; sunbathing, not so much.

Icy Beach

Overlooking the beach was (and still is) my favourite house in the area – a delightful little cottage with a bay window and panoramic views over the bay. Snow ramped up, covering the front door, and we could tell that no-one had visited the cottage in months. It was obviously a holiday home, and one I was rather jealous of.

Port Greville Cottage View

In a tantalising twist, we happened to be walking past it again a few days ago – just in time to spot a real estate agent, taking photos of the place. The owner had taken ill, and put it on the market; “Needs a bit of redecorating,” he admitted, “but it’s in great shape!”

Port Greville Cottage

The price? $98,000. That’s Canadian dollars, by the way – putting the UK market value at a tad under £50,000. (It’s HERE if you’re interested!)

“It’s the view,” the lady who runs the local shop told me. “Any house with a view like that shoots right up in price.”

She was right – a quick check of the estate agent’s website revealed a house on 7.5 acres for sale nearby – for $30,000 (£15k). That’s the price of a decent car in Australia…

And speaking of the shop, there is just the one; a tiny place that sells bread, milk, eggs… and not much else. Not much of those either, to be honest – in the last two months we’ve bought three cartons of eggs from them, all from the same batch. They expired shortly before we bought the first lot, and by the time I bought the last pack I had to point out to the owner that I was now paying full price for eggs that were two entire months out of date. She apologised, and nipped out the back – returning with a pack that was only one month out of date. Score!

The shop also has one of those Kuerig coffee machines that posh people have in their kitchens. This has become a bit of an addiction, and I make an excuse to go there every couple of days to buy one. But, other than that, we haven’t been to a single shop – groceries or otherwise – in eighteen days.

I think that’s a personal record.

So, yesterday we borrowed our landlord’s car, for the third time since we got here. It’s a knackered old wreck, squeaking and shuddering the 20km to the nearest town – but it’s still a lot better than walking.

Buried Camper

Nova Scotia winters are seldom kind to vehicles…

Roo and I flipped a coin for the driving privileges, and I lost, which meant it was my turn. My first, actually, and as Roo pointed out, I was badly in need of the practice. Roo and I will be sharing the driving on our US trip – so far that’s in the order of 10,253 miles, split evenly between the two of us! But so far, I’ve never actually driven in this part of the world. Or in an automatic.

It took me a while, getting used to that auto transmission – bunny-hopping down the road with one foot on each pedal, while Roo gently reminded me that I was still on the wrong side of the road. I suffer left-right confusion issues, which to be honest doesn’t stand me in the best stead to be a driver. Or a navigator. In fact, it begs the question, “What the hell good I am going to be on a three-month road-trip around America?!” I frequently find myself driving on the wrong side in England, and I’ve never had any continental experience to confuse me… just my crazy old brain, up to its usual tricks.

Left Right Hands

I used to do that thing where you make an ‘L’ with your left hand – until I noticed this…

So we made the first turn (there are only two turns on this 20 minute journey), and Roo convinced me to move over to the opposite side of the carriageway. I started to speed up, and amidst the myriad clangs and squeals of tortured suspension, I was sure I could hear the regular thud thud thud of a flat tyre.

Roo was also listening to it. “Might just be a stone in the tyre,” she said.

So we carried on.

Then we came around a bend in the road and saw, in front of us, a police blockade. One cop car, lights flashing, on either side of the road, and a handful of vehicles queuing through the gap in between them.

Roo and I exchanged a look of horror.

“Thank God you’re driving!” she said. Because her license had expired a month ago. The new one was still en route from Australia, and hadn’t arrived yet. This hadn’t stopped her driving on our last trip to town, but thankfully this was the first time we’d seen a police car in Nova Scotia.

“We still have a bit of a problem,” I pointed out. “This isn’t our car. We’re not insured to drive it. I don’t know if it’s even registered. Hell, I don’t know if it’s even roadworthy…”

It was a long, dead-straight road down the hill to the cops. No way out. I fumbled on the back seat for my jacket, groped in the pocket for my wallet, and gave it to Roo while I slid my licence out of it. Then my hand twitched; the license fell from my nervous fingers, clattering down the narrow gap between the passenger seat and the centre console – the single hardest-to-reach place in the entire car.

“CRAP!” said Roo, “You’ve got to be f’ckn’ kidding me!”

I pulled up behind the driver who was currently talking to the cop.

The voice inside my head was going, “SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT-SHIT!”

When it was my turn, I inched towards the cop, leaving an almost suspiciously large gap between myself and the car in front.

Just don’t hit the wrong pedal, I told myself. Don’t kangaroo the damn car right past the guy. That almost always looks bad.

The policeman was inspecting the tyres of the car opposite me, which didn’t bode well.

“Morning sir,” I said, as cheerfully as I could manage. Roo dug my license out just in time and I held it out before he could ask for it. This was because I was terrified he would ask – like every traffic cop in every move I’ve ever seen – for my “license AND registration.”

I had no idea where the registration was, or what it looked like, or if there even was any – and if there was, it sure as hell wasn’t in my name.

The officer was frowning at my UK driving license. “You don’t have a Canadian license?” he asked.

“Ah, no, we’re just on holiday,” I explained, “staying back there in Port Greville.”

The officer winced in sympathy.

Port Greville Beauty

Don’t know why he wasn’t keen – Port Greville may be boring, but it’s absolutely stunning!

Then he walked around the back of the car, studying something. He bent down for a closer look, then reached for his radio…

I was braced for a shout of “Step out of the VE-hicle!”

But it didn’t come. He just handed back my license, wished us a pleasant day, and let us go.

I don’t think I’ve moved off as carefully as that since the day of my driving test.

But we made it.

My fears of being stranded beside the road, several hours’ walk from our landlord’s house, with no phone to call him – and him with no car other than the one we’d just had impounded…

I was suddenly reminded of this moment:

Droids meme

“I can’t understand how we got past that trooper,” I told Roo, “I thought we were dead!”

Roo got the reference straight away, because Roo is awesome like that.

“The Force is strong with us,” she explained. “I just hope they’re not still there on the way back…”

* * *

Right well, that’s enough waffle from me! Next time I promise we’ll have Roo back, and you can look at some of her stunning images instead of reading my rubbish. 🙂