It’s a fascinating thing, this life we lead. Some people never leave the town that they were born in, some never return to it. Many around the world still firmly believe in the marriage and children model, yet there is also an increasing level of individuals who opt to live without this, either through long-distance lives and reunions, or by simply directing their energy onto other facets of the human experience.
Personally, I don’t fit the standard boxes and have long-since accepted, and in fact celebrated, my blog’s namesake – a wondering wanderer. (I did give it to myself after all!) Though this causes deep pains for me at time, it also brings me divine joys. And this chapter is more of the same. Plus, who says life has to be any of the above? I’m writing the pages as I walk them….
Since fully recovering from the life-changing month of March, many things became softened, simplified and greatly emphasised. Certain energies around me left or were excused, and alignment felt more in my reach than I believe I’ve ever had at my fingertips before.
And upto this present day as I write, the time period from then until now has been the setting sun upon my African love affair, at least as I currently know it, and as I walked (flew) away, I can tell you without shame – my heart shattered into a million pieces.
If we have learnt anything at all from this Covid era, it is that nothing at all should be taken for granted. So many freedoms, rhymes and rhythms of our lives have been disrupted, upended and in some cases, entirely denied.
Yet when things change in a severe way within a matter of hours, I believe the human nature worldwide is that of a state of shock…..
Last weekend of February 2021, I found myself with plans being changed, amended, and returned to. Leading me to be an attendee of the Lagos Yacht Club 88th anniversary dinner dance. However, with all the back n forth, it seems I missed the obvious play on words from the invite, and found myself as the only member wearing a ‘real’ mask, whilst everyone else (until they reached their bubbles), wore their face masks with ease.
Anyway, it turned out that this was the least of my concerns.
Some hours after leaving, it was noted that my body was absolutely burning hot – my skin felt like lava to touch. Yet I was lying there feeling utterly freezing, like I had been trapped inside an ice cave….
As the weekend continued, my temperature soared and soared, my energy went down and down, and my ability to move even my fingertips disappeared. Every single bone in my body felt like it was broken; such pain that I have no words to describe it. I was sweating whilst uncontrollably shaking. I was unable to walk yet very much needed to get to the bathroom regularly. Lifting my water bottle felt akin to the power needed as a heavy weight lifter. I was utterly and entirely poleaxed.
As August approached, so did the end of my Masters thesis. Hours and days, weeks and months of pure tension in my mind and body were on the precipice of being released. With this, there was the chance to jump overboard for a few days, to enjoy full-time electricity, some kitty love, and access to a hot bath; all of which enabled me to scramble (crawl) over that last hurdle. [Well, almost]. I was delegated cat-sitter, so that I could have the total silence to push through to the final post, whilst my family embarked on a coastal holiday in Anglesey, Wales. Admittedly, I remained confined to the corner of the kitchen as I tip-tapped away on the laptop, so in all sense and purpose I had become accustomed to boat-space and was a fish out of water in the house!
With the luxury of this opportunity, came the luck that I felt able to join for the last few days of the beach trip; such a wonderful thing amidst so much distance and separation with my sister and her family over this time, and when considering all the hardships that people around the world had been facing since the impact of the pandemic.
I had the great fun of taking each of my boys out on the StandUp Paddle board, with my eldest quickly mastering the technique and swiftly paddling off without me! (Particularly pleasing to me rather than him, as I had already begun to turn into an ice-block; will I ever stomach cold shores again?). I also had the chance to go on scooter rides (a first for me, and I admit – I loved it!), climb hills, and have lots of fun hanging out with my beloveds. What a relief from the constant drill I had put myself under during this entire lockdown.
Wales really is a spectacular country and to have time there roaming around felt like a freedom I had not had in quite some time. Typically the weather was changeable, as is known across all of the UK, but this is what helps to make the countries so luscious and vibrant.
Alas, it was just less than 72 hours’ worth of holiday for me, yet worth it’s weight in gold.
Upon returning to the boat, we then had to up the ante on our cruise control. Time was now ticking rapidly for my mum and stepdad, in order for them to make it on time for their pending departure to New Zealand, and there was a lot of water to cross. (A song comes to mind….but I’m going off on a tangent, haha). We now had a matter of weeks to get from Staffordshire to Leicestershire. No easy feat when internet was still required most days, and when we met upon various escapades (as had become the norm), such as conducting a motor boat rescue for a quirky couple on their way down to Evesham! Here and there, we snuck off the boat for a cheeky pint of ale, lavishing the taste that I had missed for so long when back in Lagos.
We passed through gorgeous villages, some sporting UK icons of old (spot the phone box), and scenery to truly take your breath away. It was hard to remember at times, that the entire world was going through a hugely turbulent time, hospitals still over-flowing, people still not knowing when their children could go back to school, or when their work would recommence. Perhaps this is one of the key take-aways from why people such as my mum/stepdad seem to get younger with each day that they live on the canals – you can go looking for the highly populated areas and get wrapped up in all that brings for you (good as well as bad), or you can simplify and discover what was hiding beyond the horizon, (again this isn’t always easy, as reduced social contact and transport opportunities come with their own challenges). However, having some extra time to be able to get involved with cruising, to look out to the sights, to sup up some tasty drinks, and to become a lot more aware of the life I had found myself within…well, it was the right tonic for me. Naturally, often accompanied by the home-brew gin of course hehehe.
Passing across the country also meant being that bit closer to one of my oldest and dearest friends, so I practically jumped for joy when she devised a means to get to us during one of our overnight stops. The boys had visited my folks previously, so they were excited to come on board again, albeit whilst we did our best to socially distance. Their favourite part of it all however, was not quite as appealing to us adults! (They discovered the boat phone, allowing the captain to call down to those in the other end of the boat….needless to say there was a LOT of calls made that afternoon).
We were lucky enough to moor up in one final spot (just about) in reach of my sister, and they happily came and stayed on board with us. The boys simply adore being aboard, and who wouldn’t at their age! I got convinced (coerced?) as always to be the one to go into the river with them, so that they could do more SUP and simply enjoy the country pleasures of swimming in fresh waters. In all honesty, if it hadn’t have been for the squelchy ground and the long reeds, I would even go so far as to say I enjoyed it too…. (but let’s not get carried away).
And then, in the blink of an eye, the journey was complete. We were in full lockdown no more, our movement was over, and we found ourselves moored up, preparing to ‘move into’ Debdale Wharf marina.
Some mornings were so brisk it took my breath away, and the air was unsure which way to pass. Others were bright and sun-filled.
Of course, whilst we traversed the waters, it was not without taking pause to check on the bird-life of our surrounds. And therefore, we continued to adopt various ducky families, swans and cygnets along our way. In fact, to the point that the supermarkets on our routes must surely have begun to run low on stock, for all the pennies spent on bird feed!
Meanwhile I think it would be fair to say, that by this point, cabin fever had started to set in for me. That and the never-ending study that is. So much so, that I was excitedly distracted by my new discovery of silver polish (who knew the difference it could make!). Rather than continue watching the letters and words scramble around on-screen, I took great delight in whiling away a few hours, scrubbing up the brass from the boat’s lounge area. They say small things please small minds…well, I definitely found it most satisfying!
Hmm. Perhaps I had been on the boat too long 😉
By now, the lockdown ease had continued to fluctuate and vary, with the overarching motto – Stay Alert. Somehow this assumed attentiveness would mean that none of us were at danger anymore. Yet we still couldn’t visit public places with more than a set number of people, they had to be within our bubble somehow or another, but we could begin to think about returning to public houses and whatnot. Honestly, the mind boggles.
Therefore, I was able to enjoy a socially-distanced visit to my sister and nephews, though not entirely enjoying the paddling pool experience at my age and aversion for cold things, and I was also to make arrangements to finally pay a visit to my dad. Whilst we kept our distance, it turned out his loveable bear-like dog, Luke, had other plans, as he opted to shower me in doggie-slobber and give me a good ‘ol wash of love!
Moving onward with the boat (Areandare – can you say it correctly?) we now arrived parallel to the River Trent. The beautiful Shugborough Hall was our next door neighbour, and the gorgeous star bridge our passage.
Even the cows were pretty cool-looking, and we managed to acquire a rather nice mother-daughter picture to boot.
Moving further along, we ended up near my aunt’s house, close to Fradley Junction. And for the first time since I had landed in the UK, I left the boat for an overnight stay on land! (To sort out my rather bedraggled hair and see some of my cousins and aunt from afar). It was such a surreal experience to then enter the city of Lichfield and walk past “real-life” humans. With no-one wearing masks either, and to eat “out”, especially as the meal venue had formerly been the site of my mum and stepdad’s Calendar club store. that I had helped out in, some Christmases ago!
And then once again, I arrived back onboard the boat, to be gifted with a beautiful hand-made Paua mask from my mum, made from some of her wedding top-table material! Canal life went on.
After using up our mooring allowance of 14 days at Grindley Brook, we continued along the canal, until we reached a new spot. This time with more quietness, less passerbys, and so many wildflowers and grasses that they came up past my porthole!
Happily, Fela and Kuti had begun to master the fine art of selfies, and gained nimble thumbs to boot, and I was able to receive word of their continued happiness in their caretakers back in Lagos. So the guilt of abandoning them was put to one side for a while longer once again.
The new home-made garden was pretty exceptional, given that we had sunset views over the fields and farmlands but more intriguingly, such was our position that we could see both England and Wales in the horizon. Such was the effect that, assuming the camera never lies, it quite literally blew my mind….
A couple of wonderful weeks were spent admiring this beautiful spot, yet with all moorings, it could not last forever. More time with the brazier and outdoor cinema, and much fresh air absorbed by our lungs. Temperatures constantly changing however, as seems to be the standard norm for life in the UK.
Though my Masters was continuing to drag at my heels, I was able to extricate myself from the books for an afternoon, enabling me to join in with a socially distanced walk with my sister and nephews, where we made friends with more local wildlife.
When this mooring spot reached it’s expiry also, we hit the road, oops, cruised the canals, once more. Passing by some extremely remote areas, with foreboding walls of forestry and crumbling mud, and rather high, overbearing brides that made us feel like we had stumbled into the set of The Borrowers.
As we passed through, I sensed a strange sensation run through my bones, as I imagined what it would be like should I be on the boat solo at this stage, without another human in sight, and certainly no indication of where I would locate food and supplies!
After a long day of travel, we found the latest mooring spot with sufficient internet signal to allow the online workers onboard access to their required radio waves. However, it wasn’t that ideal and after just a few days we were off again. This became a fine art of time management, as when we moved the boat, we would often lose the broadband. Which is fine when you’re able to freely enjoy the scenery, fully focus on being the captain of the ship, and when you have no need for contact with the outside world. However, we all had our various requirements for this accessibility and there were numerous Canal Club house meetings onboard, to work out distances achievable in the time brackets available, set against the apparent quality of signals we could receive. All very well when this all matches up, but as we found out many a time, just because it says it will take x amount of time, it will probably take y, and even though the signal radar may appear strong in location z, this is debatable to say the least. Apparently it really can depend on which way the wind blows….
It also transpired that it can depend on who/what you pass as you amble along….as my stepdad discovered when unbelievably (I kid you not) he got shot.
We had passed through another set of picture-postcard scenes, of quaint villages, amazing meres, long grasses, flower patches and open skies. As I sat working away at one end of the boat, and my mum at the other, we heard a series of gunshots. My mum quipped, ‘gosh, I hope that isn’t Barry getting shot!’. And never in a million years did I take her seriously, nor she herself. Why would we!
All of a sudden however, there was a commotion outside with my mum calling me to attend. Wherein she exclaimed that what had first been a silliness between us was indeed fact. There seemed to have been some illegal bird poachers nearby, and through using what we believe to have been double-barrelled shotguns, some of their wayward bullets had ricocheted, with one or two bits hitting my stepdad in the leg. Ouch. In fact, he was able to locate one of the pellets, for us to all examine, whilst we all had a stiff drink in disbelief.
All of life’s journeys take us along paths unknown, though for sure, this is one we had not foreseen along our current way. Perhaps we should have taken the other turn? Or perhaps there was something far worse waiting for us had we have done so.
So, with June came the ease of Lockdown, and start of the Corona Canal Club’s journey towards Debdale Wharf Marina, Leicestershire. The ease meant we were finally about to leave Hurleston junction and head up the Llangollen canal, allowing for closer access to my sister and her family, as well as some wonderful countryside mooring spots.
We climbed the first set of locks, and headed to the picturesque village of Wrenbury. Some of the houses there were really intriguing, and almost fairtytale like. The local store was also quaint, with a help-yourself herb garden, which I loved!
From here, we passed through various lift bridges (time to get my muscles working again after all the time sat typing away on the laptop) and more idyllic villages based along the canal side. There was such a plethora of UK wild flowers along the way, that added to the visual beauty.
There was even the odd moment when I drove the boat, though I refrained from doing so when entering the locks – that is a fine art I am yet to master.
Onwards, to one of our first moorings nearer to my sister, where they greeted us and assisted with lock openings whilst maintaining social distance. Gosh that time period was hard on families and young ones – lack of physical connection between extended family and friends was such an emotional challenge, bless everyone.
And then, to ensure things were not entirely brand new to our little canal club bubble, we sorted out our lovely Brazier and chairs setting, ensuring that for the time we were there, we once again made the most of the stunning views, the fresh air, the sounds and sights of the wildlife, and the tranquillity of being far from traffic and built-up areas. Though to be fair, it wasn’t quite as quiet as we’d hoped! (Lots of people passing by, seemingly totally unaware that people actually lived on the boats there were adjacent to their shoulders! Meanwhile, my Masters work continued, and the snippets of outside views to assist with the locks and bridges fell into the background, as I continued on my merry way through the melee of books and papers and data, trying in vain to reach the final page of writing.
Oh but of course, I found myself a new little duck family to tend to…..I couldn’t help myself 😉
Much time has passed and life has continued with many uncertainties and adaptations to the new norm…I have now been living on the canals for almost 23 weeks! So over the course of the next few blogs, I thought I would give some recaps from life with the Corona Canal Club, aka myself, my mum, and my stepdad.
To follow on from the last blog, I had settled into a routine of online working, continued research and analysis for my Masters, camp fires in our canal garden, daily fun with Brock the dog, and a growing kinship between a cute family of ducks and myself. They would ‘call on me’ in the mornings if I hadn’t yet sighted them, and after some time, they began to eat from my hand. Brock got jealous for the divide in my attention, and at times it was hard to know if he understood he wasn’t a duck himself (He came to love eating the birdseed I was keeping in constant supply for Sparky and his siblings!).
There were some beautiful sunny warm days, but I was mostly sat attached to the laptop, feeling like I was slowly going insane with square-eyes, screen time, and little exposure to the outside world. Days rolled into one, as we manoeuvred our way around each other for internet signal, use of the bathroom, sharing meals, music and film tastes, playing cards, and ways to see my sister and her boys, whilst maintaining appropriate social distancing.
Meanwhile, life had become ultra simplistic, with no traffic to fight against, limited time in supermarkets, no social meetups, less and less time on the phone, as I was getting frequent headaches from Zoom etc, and we moved the boat only for our water refills, pumpouts, and food collections. Small things turned into big adventures, such as the access to a canalside shop during one such cruise, leading to the only case of Corona any of us have experienced during this whole period…
However, with the announcement of the eased lockdown, it was time to make our farewells, not only to my beloved Sparky and kin, and of course beautiful Brock, but to our lockdown friends, who had been in the Hurleston junction with us.
And then, the next chapter began, with an ‘almost’ return to normal, as we began movement along the canals once more. Although not before we had refilled on our delicious free-range eggs from the local farm, and after getting back into the swing of things with the locks on our way.
More updates to follow, in Corona Canal Chronicles #2!
I now find myself having lived a boat-life on lockdown for two months already! It feels like much longer than only 1 month since I last wrote on here, and I feel like my life in Lagos is a very murky memory right now!
Life on the canal has now become my norm and we three seem to have fallen into quite a comfortable rhythm. I teach Mon-Fri and run my private sessions in the evenings or weekends, also catching up with assesments, emails and my Master’s across the days and hours, my mum works online also and schedules her meetings ideally around my live lessons, and Barry (my stepdad) has been avidly working on repairs, modifications, and improvements to our living space (their boat, AreandAre).
My working life has experienced a huge overhaul, to enable both myself, my team, and my students, to adapt and assimilate as quickly as possible into an online learning routine. And dare I say it, it seems to have worked!
“Just a quick note in this Teachers’ Appreciation Week, to say that we celebrate and appreciate your indefatigable zeal and all your hard work to bring out the best in XXX. Thank you indeed!”
So, here we are, weeks into lockdown, no idea when we will come out of it. For me, and many families around the world, this is also the Easter holidays. Whilst so many people around the world are struggling to adapt to the enforced stay-at-home protocols, as they adjust to the dramatic change in social situation, and the absence of schooling and usual work life, there are also many, many people, including myself, who are working somehow harder than ever before.
My phone and social media are rife with messages, of frivolity, dark humour, inspiration, risk rates, health care guidance, let alone melancholoy, anxiety, frustration and some despair. Loved ones with children are somewhat overwhelmed with their newfound 24 hour parenting regimes, single friends and loved ones are verging on the balance of gratitude and loneliness, and then there are us teachers, finding their way through the mud. Somehow, akin with the parents, we need to keep children reassured that everything is fine, fine, fine, and that it won’t be long at all until we are back together , when they can return to their daily squabbles, curious moments, and mind-opening sessions and routines.
Words crossing everyone’s lips, world-wide, right now. Oh, and of course, vaccine.
Social media is on fire, full to the brim, an absolute plethora of this topic. Everywhere you look, read and even listen, you will find it as the central point, as the entire globe faces a pandemic it has never known before.
Quotes of positivity, joyous, inspiration, encouragement, reflection, are abound. Likewise fears, anxieties, observations and reports of economic collapse, relationship breakdowns from too much time together, stressed out parents, highly vulnerable elderly, exhausted medical workers; all of this, right now, is omnipresent.
So, I am not here to add to all of this, to give you a tale of woe, nor a story to uplift. I don’t feel it is my place to confirm the unease many are feeling with the uncertainty, nor do I have the right to suggest everything is going to be okay. I don’t know about either. None of us do. And that, is the crux of it. NoFor the first time in my lifetime, I do not have even a tiny sense of what may come when I open my eyes upon the next dawn. And whilst I can take comfort in knowing ‘we are in it together’, we aren’t, not really. Parents are finding themselves navigating an entirely new world, as they try to work out how to home-school the children that have befallen upon their every waking hour. Medical workers around the world, who have been fighting for better pay, working standards and conditions, and credit where credit’s due, are now all of a sudden being celebrated each week, by an evening clapathon. (How this negates the life and death risks they are putting themselves under, nor the millions of hours of hardship they have already suffered within their careers, I cannot fathom. But anyhow, it makes people feel ‘like they are doing their bit’ so…..) Employees around the world, myself included, are fearing when they will receive salary, if at all, employers and huge businesses are just the same – watching crestfallen as the economy crashes, companies go bust, airlines are grounded and basically, the entire capitalist world comes to a standstill.
(The planes are not the only thing presently unmoved).