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).
The last month has been quite the experience for many people here in Nigeria, as well as for me personally. Some major troubles and some lovely ups.
Tragically there have been some horrific fires, wherein many homes and businesses have been lost. Including for that of a kind-hearted elderly colleague of mine, who lost his entire home and family belongings in the space of an afternoon. There have been video clips sent around of desperate people trying to dampen the outrageous fires with a single water bucket, as they put their lives at risk walking along the rooftop beams, as well as clips illustrating people so caught out by the panic and fear that they were simply standing in crowds aside to the fire and screaming, rather than running for their own safety.
Happily, in the case of my colleague, I am to report positive outcomes, at least of sorts. My work has rallied around to collect monies for him, and due to my wide-ranging business network, I have been able to grace him with an abundance of donations (clothes, shoes, household goods). Interestingly, when another colleague greeted him and gave her condolences, he in fact shrugged with his friend who looked back at her and said – it is just that, it is not bad. We later discussed this, wondering if we would be able to feel the same way…. Would you?
Amidst the devastating fires, I also co-hosted a 5th November bonfire for my students. It was a delight to see them so enthralled by it, yet knowing another fire nearby was destroying livelihoods, I had an eery feeling inside.
There have also continued to be numerous reports of tankers falling in the road, causing extreme traffic issues and again, major loss of earnings for the people involved. In other areas, drivers have chosen to purposely block major roads, due to the fact that their contracts have not been paid. One evening, I found myself caught up in such a road block, and not less than two hours had passed before we moved 100 yards. It quite literally took the best part of the night to get home. Days like these are exhausting. And for many Nigerians, it is part of their daily experience. Often getting up at 4am in order to begin travel and ensure they arrive to work on time. Colleagues of mine will often report of not arriving home again until 9/10pm each night. It really is a wonder anyone can be productive in this situation, let alone get any sort of rest or quality time with loved ones.
Along one such road, (the one I had been stuck on for so long), there later came a report of a man having kept a lion in his home (unbelievably since February!). Questions have naturally been raised as to how this could have gone unnoticed or how he was able to bring the rather large feline into the country in the first place. To me, it really begs the question – how far can you take corruption…. And does it ever serve a positive purpose….
Meanwhile, it is becoming the festive season and with that, it is my busiest time at work. Lectures, meetings, reports, assessments, therapy sessions….these have all taken their toll on my energy. There’s only so many plates one can spin at once! However, I can say with a thankful heart that the month has been utterly filled with joy, through new friends, beach time, playful cats, and spending time alone too. (And the odd exquisite kiss too…not just from the cat!)
I have been part of a catwalk team to raise money for charity; I have enjoyed a Hawaiian beach party (admittedly whilst also studying and marking books); I have played table football (badly-im far too gentle) and lapped up delicious meals (Lebanese, Spanish, Italian). I have supported the wonderful Kinabuti team through clothes purchases (including the most exquisite silk dress that feels like it is part of my skin) and I have managed to squeeze in a couple of games of darts. I’ve also sung on stage, both making a fool of myself with the others as we sang some random bird song amounting to us sqwarking and tweeting in front of a hall full of people, as well harmonizing beautifully to a delightful Yoruba song “Ire Ire”Ire.
Each day that I’m here, I marvel at the experience. Sometimes I do find myself taking a huge inhale, in order to really grasp that I’m living in Africa as it can be easy to just get caught up in the whirlwind of the place and not really appreciate it all. I’m so thankful for all that I have created in my life. And how much I would still have, if my house were to burn down too. Each day I see extreme suffering around me, yet I am in a bubble of wonderful experiences. It can truly be hard to stay grounded sometimes.
I have worked hard to embed this country into my heart and to invest into my life here. And I feel assured that I have achieved this, when I consider how easily I could raise the donations for my colleague, or how the children I teach, talk to each other, mirroring my words and actions.
I am now a moderator for the British Business Group, which keeps me on my toes. It also gives me insights into the use and abuse of social media; how easily things can be misinterpreted when non-verbal cues are missed and the vernacular not always shared. It takes some brain power for sure, but I enjoy the role, considering different perspectives and arguments.
I have also had the great opportunity recently to become involved with a new friendship group. When my best girl and best guy departed, I was sure I would find myself lost at times ahead. Meditation, reflection and my own heart song however, led me to trust this would not be so. And this is the case. I’ve had my heart filled with more love in the last month than I remember feeling, perhaps even ever. I have been asked to be the course rep for my Masters due to my community spirit. And I feel like I am receiving gifts of love in such a plethora of ways, that I would not know where to begin. There may even be glimmers of a love story. At least for a moment in time, which is all we ever really have anyhow.
My biggest struggle with my own life here, is not the here but the what. Having traveled all my life, and often solo, I am used to comings and goings. New friends, new love. New homes, new cultures. Recently I became very sick. My nephew called me and asked – could you just be allergic to Africa? This is not the case, by any means. But I do adore having my people around. And I am getting to a stage where I’d like to invest more of me with another. And I am also turning into a bit of a mad cat lady, filling my phone’s storage with cat escapades rather than my own!!
A beloved friend of mine recently gave birth and I happily spent hours with the baby Buddha, as she wriggled and jiggled herself in my lap, moving my supportive arms out of the way in order to sprawl out as much as she could. Unlike me, I was very broody. And funnily enough, lots of people later told me how much it suited me….
The kids I teach right now, are absolutely ones who stole my heart and will keep it forever. I taught them for their first year of school and I am now fortunate to teach them again for their third year. I am not a mother, and it has been a long time since I have had cause to consider being one. But my heart is full of love and I admit, some things are stirring in my mind. Instead of getting so caught up in the humdrum of work, I am slowly slowly allowing other things into life instead.
Different tragedies have beset people around me here (including the devastating news that another friend of mine lost her newborn) and I don’t want to be so busy making a life, that I forget to live it. Times they are a’changing…
Lagos life is becoming reminiscent of my old London life; fast-paced, not enough ‘end’ in my week, long journey times to reach nearby destinations, and opportunities to do so much, that I couldn’t even write it all into my diary let alone fit it in.
Rainy season this time around has been like no other I have known, for this time of year. Having returned to Nigeria at the end of August, it seems like not a single week has passed when the skies haven’t darkened, day has somehow turned into night skies, and plans have been set aside due to heavy downpours. Even yesterday, as I traveled to the beach hoping to get some ‘fresh’ sea air into my lungs for a reprieve, we found ourselves amidst a full canvas of rains, leading us to be wetter than if we had simply jumped from the boat and immersed ourselves within the lagoon. Arriving at the beach house, shivering and having the sensation of being a drowned rat, my simple choice was to submerge myself under the pool’s water. Despite it generally giving me an initial chill to the bone upon entry, I found myself warmed and soothed. Better under the water than it crashing down upon me.
There is so much of this place that I love. Yet I am working all hours that I can manage, still I find I am behind in almost every deadline that I face, and thereby of course, I feel like I don’t see much of these loves….
So, I have now been here for two weeks and have just arrived in my third and final hotel. The weather has not been as good as anticipated; though I knew it was winter here, that had meant for me some very cool evenings but mostly fine days. Instead there has been a lot more rain within this than expected. Yet I admit, I have no reason to complain. I have been off from work, in beautiful surroundings and the wet weather has given me more chance to study.
I would like some more sun rays now though, for my last week here! That said, I have been delighted with stunning sunsets, and glorious rainbows.
It is indeed romance-central across the island, and though I had been pre-warned that much of the island’s draw as a tourist are the spectacular 5 star hotels it boasts, I could never have imagined this until I saw them with my own eyes. (My drive up the East coast yesterday opened my eyes to hotel complexes I have never imagined could exist). Meanwhile, I have now spent time in both the North and South of the island, and thanks to having hired a little car, I have also circumnavigated the whole perimeter of the island and feel I have a good semblance of how it varies from region to region.
I can certainly state that it isn’t an easy place to meet people as a solo traveler, as this seems to be quite unheard of here. And I would most definitely recommend getting a car if you are coming here, whether solo or with others. It takes a lot longer to get to places than I expected given the size of the place, and though the beaches and the hotels are the main draw, you cannot easily get to one from another without transport. Also, in times of inclement weather it is useful to reach another quarter of the island, as chances are where the rainbow ends, the sun will be shining.