Given the weather conditions experienced when we were heading back to Stoke we were not as sorry as we might have been to leave the boat and head down south. The week ahead was aimed at catching up with as many people as we could, which seemed to involve a lot of eating and drinking with periods in between waiting for the next night out.
The rain was relentless throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning saw it continuing, as promised. The first stage was to get a taxi from the marina to Stoke On Trent station in time for the direct train to Leamington Spa. We could then get a taxi from the rank there to our house in Long Itchington. Funnily enough, the only part of our journey that caused any problem was the first taxi journey. Perhaps linked to the rain, just getting through to any cab firm proved quite difficult. When we did contact them they would not take a dog. In the end we called Intercity Cabs in Stoke who sorted it out immediately with no problem.
At the station we were rather surprised to find that, despite the heavy rainfall right across the region, there seemed to be no disruption at all. The train arrived on time, the carriage was comfortably uncrowded and we didn’t lose any time on the journey.
This was Bracken’s first introduction to train travel so we approached the trip with a degree of trepidation concerning how she would react to the noise and size of these beasts on the platform and how she would behave in the confines of the railway carriage on the trip. She was no trouble at all. She was completely unfazed by the trains arriving and leaving and spent most of the journey sitting on Sue’s lap watching out of the window.
A night at home gave us a chance to gather our wits, catch up with events in the village, attend an appointment or two, pick up some stuff ordered over the interweb and pack the car to head down to Surrey. Jen’s flat is being prepared to be rented out but for this trip it was still available and we could have the place to ourselves.
Thursday evening saw the event that had fixed the timing of this trip in the first place, an evening out with old colleagues from L&G. Some are still being forced to suffer but most of those have retirement firmly in their sights. Dave Hairs is the next of the group about to hang up his umbrella and become a man of leisure at an indecently young age. Sharan Leach was very convincing in saying she would retire this year but it is hard to believe that, in the end, she will actually walk away from the pleasure of working there. As always, it was a great evening and a chance for some of us to appreciate how nice it was that these were distant memories and not daily life.
On Friday the binge tour was in full swing. Lunch with my brother in The Red Lion in Turners Hill, a proper pub with many real ales on tap and the grey pound much in evidence – nearly an hour to produce two baguettes in consequence of its popularity with the non-working community. Just time to get home and change before meeting a group of old friends at The White Bear in Fickleshole. Having sent out a general message to see if anyone was around, there ended up being ten of us in the party so it had been tricky to find a venue. The White Bear proved a good choice and was clearly enjoying one if its periodic up cycles. The weather through the week had continued to be as showery as promised but this evening the sun was shining and it was warm enough to enjoy a drink outside before an excellent and convivial meal.
Saturday was more of a family day. The morning was a fevered expedition to Crawley to find a present for Liam’s third birthday. We were successful although its size meant it couldn’t be assembled before they got it home or it would never fit in their car. We met son Nick with his wife Amy and their two children at Jen and Dave’s house, hoping to have a barbecue. We got that lit just in time for the rain to start, so it seemed more sensible to do the rest inside. We still managed a very enjoyable meal. Bracken and Liam both needed a walk to burn off some of their energy and as the showers came and went we were able to get an hour exploring the King’s Wood, just behind their road. Liam was even more enthusiastic about collecting random sticks than Bracken was and Sue had the important role of carrying them home.
On Sunday we headed home with strained waistbands sighing in premature relief. Mike & Leslie Fielding had left Cropredy in their boat that morning and would be halfway to Long Itchington on Sunday night. Obviously, an opportunity to good to miss so we met up with them at The Wharf Inn in Fenny Compton, near their mooring, for more food, drink and excellent company.
One of the things we had tied in with this trip was an inspection visit from the house developer, Bloor Homes, to run through our six month snagging list. Nothing really seemed to cause concern, although they will now need to get the landscapers in to look at the drainage of the back lawn. The biggest issue is going to be arranging for us to be there when any necessary work is going to be done. This whole appointment took half an hour at eight thirty on a Monday morning, leaving us the rest of a reasonably sunny day to take Bracken for a walk over to Bascote Locks and back, pack our bags for the next day’s journey and stroll over to The Buck and Bell for a pint before dinner.
Tuesday was the day we planned to return to the boat. Honest John the Long Itch cabbie was there, promptly, to take us to Leamington Spa, with no nonsense about the dog. The return journey was just as straightforward as the outward one. On time at both ends and just a bit more crowded than it had been last Wednesday. Once again Bracken was well behaved, though there was a sense of greater confidence. She’s done this before. A few more trips and we might see a bit more inclination to assert her independence – just like any teenager.
We approached the taxi rank at Stoke On Trent and hit an immediate brick wall because of Bracken. It seems they would rather sit there idle, earning no money, than give a dog a lift. Does anyone know why? Once again Intercity Cabs were happy to sort it out and had a driver there in ten minutes or so.
Arriving back at the marina in dry, warm conditions had a very different feel. The chores that seem so onerous in driving rain are easy and almost a pleasure to work through. We had a short wait for the Sainsbury’s delivery to arrive with provisions for the next stage of our voyage. Then, following the advice of the Black prince base manager I reversed the boat through the lift bridge at the marina entrance onto the Trent & Mersey Canal, which proved easier than I had anticipated to be fair. Then we were on our way to moor up at Westport Lake, just a couple of miles further north.