Monday ... last day at home before I leave for France tomorrow. Since I am catching an 8am Eurostar to Paris Nord I made arrangements to stay tonight with a dear friend from my schooldays, M. He lives one stop away from St Pancras and really couldn't be more convenient for when I find myself forced to be in London. It is always wonderful to see him. I know that he will entertain me with his latest passion for the ukulele. He has probably bought a few new ones. If he finds something he likes he tends to go for the set. When we were teenagers I loved visiting his family. His mother always made me so welcome ... and she knew how to cook vegetarian food. Eating with M's family was my earliest experience of eating aduke beans. They are probably called something else these days.
As always on the final day before a French expedition, there was too much to do. I had Christmas and birthday cards to send to the very few people on my list - my choice as a fully paid up Scrooge. I had a list of jobs that needed doing. Chief amongst these was to take my precious instruments to my lockup many miles away and to winterise the boat. I am blowed if I wanted to return to a scene redolent of the great January indoor flood (details here, if required). I have been eking out the water supply so I didn't have to refill the cold water tank again before I left. Even so, emptying the domestic water supply from both the cold water tank under the foredeck and the calorifier in the engine bay took a good couple of hours. During that time I decided also to drain the heating system that extends by means of gravity and convection through pipes in the engine room from the calorifier and the header tank through to the multi-fuel stove near the "front door" of the living quarters where the back boiler is situated. Crawling through some inspection doors I could, by lying on my side and reaching in by torchlight, access a drain tap that I only discovered in January after the repairs to the burst back boiler had been made necessary. Pretty observant of me after living on the boat for five years. I hadn't actually tested the tap, which I discovered on Monday required a crucially-sized spanner to open and close the valve. Naturally it took several goes to find the right spanner. I was able to empty about twenty litres of water from the system (there may have also been a dab of antifreeze in there too, but I wasn't going to take chances this time that there was actually enough). The wisdom on narrowboat discussion forums is that the water/antifreeze ratio should consist of a 50/50 mixture in the domestic heating system. I have a bit of a problem with that. Three sets of pipes or heating elements go through the calorifier - the tank that supplies all my domestic hot water. One of them (circulating from the engine's cooling system) already contains antifreeze. Adding antifreeze to the header tank means that two out of three systems contain a deadly poison. What if one of them leaks and I end up washing or washing up in antifreeze? Will I die?
I also had to remember to arrange for some payments to be made while I was away since they become due over that time. Those tasks finished I shut up the boat having emptied it of any precious instruments that I would rather still be playable should the boat sink while I am away, and headed off to my lockup. I didn't get as far as the farmyard where my van was parked when I caught sight of a musician friend who was visiting the farmer and the horse lady, friends of his since childhood. A., the musician, has been working on a new cd and I asked how it was coming along. "It's finished! It's out!" he exclaimed with justified pride. I had to have one. The ensuing conversation took a good thirty minutes. This was a very special occasion. We musicians don't put cds out every day, you know! Wishing each other the season's best we parted. Onward to the lockup.
I needed to buy a few bits that P. had asked for (it still seems odd that a French man should ask for specific items from British supermarkets, but who am I to question ...?), so I stopped at the nearest one on the way. Just as I was about to step over the threshold my mobile phone rang. It was the chief agitator in our group of petitioners against the Middle Level Bill (more here). I watched the sky turn red and the sun sink below the horizon as we discussed important matters relating to the campaign and our speedily depleting stock of time to prepare our upcoming presentations to MPs in Parliament in a few weeks. The phone call lasted an hour and I still had my shopping to buy and instruments to return. I was never going to get to M. in London by 3pm as planned. Once on the train the journey was more than two hours. It was already 5pm and I was still in The Fens.
Finally, equipment safely stowed under lock and key, I set off again to park the van at another friend's house, about forty minutes drive away. This friend lived in a town with a railway line and even a station (we still curse the name of Beeching in The Fens) - about half an hour's walk from his house - and from where I would catch a (much later than expected) train to London.
I arrived at M.'s flat about seven hours later than planned. He was ill (again - he seems to save colds for when I visit), but he had made a delicious vegetable soup from scratch. No aduke beans that I could detect. Tomorrow is another day. I can't afford for delays. French trains are like aeroplanes and I would have to get the seats I had pre-booked or lose my place and my money.