Written June 1, 2023. At Kansas City, Missouri.

Yesterday a good friend reminded me that I had not written a final post from our seven weeks in England. As you will see, my mind has been on other things. Before I explain further here is a brief recap of our May 10th return to the United States:

Our final night in Manchester was spent at the Radisson Blu Hotel located in Manchester’s International Airport. It was pleasant enough, but we were desperately eager to be on a plane heading west. We ditched tourism that night in favor of room service. When the time arrived to check-in for our flight we received notification that online check-in was not available to us. This created some anxiety.

It turned out that this was nothing more than a requirement that we present our international travel documents in person. However, not knowing this at the time, we arrived especially early the next morning at the Virgin Atlantic desk. To our relief check-in went smoothly, and then on impulse I asked if there was any possibility to secure an upgrade to first class seats. The answer was YES! “How much?” I asked. The sum was quite reasonable to these travel weary souls. I forked over my credit card. As first-class passengers we were entitled to relax in the Virgin Atlantic Airway lounge prior to takeoff, food and drinks included.

The only remaining stress was the timing between our arrival at JFK airport in New York and the departure flight for Kansas City. According to the flight itineraries we had less than an hour to make it through customs and board the final flight home. We were told it was a virtual impossibility and we were likely going to be spending the night in New York.

The flight across the Atlantic was elegant and we were pampered by the delightful attendants. Real food, real China, real cutlery, and best of all real booze. Could it get any better than that?

YES! Our flight landed an hour ahead of schedule! What was more, as holders of Global Entry passes, we were able to casually walk by the near endless serpentine line of humanity at passport control and thanks to facial recognition we virtually walked straight through to the terminal to pick up our bags and re-deposit them on the other side of Customs. We made it to our next flight with time to spare.

As we approached Kansas City black storm clouds loomed in the distance. There was the staccato strobe of lightning strikes that were cloud to cloud and cloud to ground. The pilot aborted his first approach to the runway and circled a few times before attempting a second landing. On his second approach he got closer to the ground, but a sudden gust caused the plane to bank sharply. The pilot hit the gas, put the plane’s nose skyward, and retracted the landing gear.

The third time was the charm… sort of. It was again a rough approach. As the plane touched down it was again struck by the gusting winds and bounced two or three times hard on the tarmac, skidding sideways before finally being secure on the ground. Among the passengers there was a communal “gasp” followed by the silence of relief and then applause. More good luck, we were almost home.

It was at least four days before my sleep cycle was restored, just in time for the crush of reality and the next “adventure” to begin.

Between May 16th and 30th I had appointments with a dermatologist, an audiologist, an ophthalmologist, and my general practice physician. These were all routine checkups along with my annual physical. Each of these appointments went well, but it looks like hearing aids may be in my future. I now have proof that I do not intentionally and selectively ignore my wife.

At Christine’s insistence we made time for family pictures.

I have not yet mentioned the two most important medical appointments: On May 17th I spent the better part of two hours meeting with staff at the University of Kansas Medical Center for my final pre-surgery work-up. One after the other I met with personnel from anesthesiology, pharmacology, and surgery. The big event is tomorrow, (June 2nd). I will report at 5:45 a.m. for Deep Brain Stimulation surgery (DBS). Neurosurgeon, Jennifer Chang, MD, will bore a small hole (about the size of coin) through the left upper area of my skull. My head will be immobilized while she inserts a tiny electrical implant into the thalamus of my brain.

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

She will then run wires under my skin and down to my chest where in two weeks she will surgically implant a controller (neurostimulator), attaching it to the wires.

Image from Boston Scientific

Much of the first procedure, lasting between 4 and 6 hours, will be done while I am awake.

Image from Wikipedia

It is hoped that this procedure on the left hemisphere of my brain will reduce or eliminate the life-long tremors that I experience in my right hand and arm. These tremors have become progressively worse with age and are now significantly impacting my quality of life. Later in the year I will decide whether to undergo the procedure on the right side of my brain.

I did not come to the decision to undergo this procedure easily. I announced it to my wife in an open letter published as I was hiking in Spain last year. Here is a link to that letter:

“The Decision”

I previously wrote in greater detail the specifics about the DBS surgical procedure. Here is a link to that post:

“My DBS Surgery”

I greatly appreciate the kind words and the expressions of thoughts and prayers that I have received in anticipation of tomorrow. A candle has even been lit by a dear friend and her mother on my behalf in a small church in Germany.

The likelihood of the “unthinkable” occurring is less than 1%. However, this is major surgery and unlike my arm, which is an arm, or my leg, which is a leg, my brain is the essence of me. Christine and I have had “the talk”, and we will likely have it again tonight. My life of 71 years has been a blessing and borrowing from the lyrics of the song, “My Way”:

“My friends, I’ll say it clear. I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain. I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way. Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption. I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this… I did it my way.”

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written May 8, 2023, at Manchester, England.

I am 32 minutes into our last full day in England. Seven weeks we have been here on this journey. A trek, perhaps even an adventure, it began when we left Kansas City and landed in Manchester on March 23rd. If all goes according to plan it will end with our departure for Kansas City tomorrow. Manchester is our Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of an excellent passage. Has it gone quickly or has it taken forever? It depends upon the moment and the mood when I ask myself that question.

However, this is not the time for a concluding reflection. We left the canals four days early in hopes of adding a new and different chapter to this trip. In that we have exceeded our expectations.

Our first decision was where to stay. We had an excellent experience with the INNSIDE Hotel in Newcastle. Another INNSIDE Hotel is located here in Manchester’s city center.

Good location, excellent price, friendly staff (Hi Dominique!) and comfortable accommodations made the decision easy.

We booked three nights (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) at INNSIDE. For convenience we will spend tonight night at the Radisson Blu Hotel located at the airport.

The second decision was what to do. Staying cooped up in a hotel room for four days would have rendered irrational our decision to leave the canals early. We decided to seek fun on the town. As it turned out fun also sought us.

For Friday night we booked front row tickets at an intimate candlelight concert. The venue, the Manchester Cathedral.

The performers, The Piccadilly Sinfonietta. The program, two works by Mozart and Vivaldi‘s Four Seasons. “Front Row“ is actually an understatement. Less than 10 feet separated us from the musicians. It was excellent!

Like most of the United Kingdom we watched the coronation of Charles III on Saturday morning into the early afternoon. Television but still pretty remarkable.

I was one year old when the last coronation occurred. Elizabeth, born a year after my mother, was originally third in the line of succession and unlikely to become monarch. Fate intervened and she became England’s longest reigning ruler. Born third in line and now fifth, Harry shouldn’t hold his breath in hope for the same good fortune.

On Saturday night we took in a movie, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3”. While that may sound pedestrian, the venue was anything but. The Everyman Theater features a restaurant, bar, and lounge.

Drinks and food were served to us as we lounged on couch-like reserved seats in the very comfortable theater.

By the way, we thoroughly enjoyed the movie and highly recommend it.

Sunday was a beautiful day with sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s. Thus, like thousands of the city’s citizens, we sauntered. Occasionally we stopped for a coffee, a drink, a snack, or just to watch the people.

We had purchased tickets for another evening concert at the Manchester Cathedral but needed to make reservations for an early dinner. What could be more perfect than dining at the spacious beer hall/restaurant, “Albert’s Schloss”, located (amazingly) on Peter Street!

We stopped by in person to make the reservation. When I gave my name to the hostess her shocked expression was priceless.

So was the experience at dinner. As we were waiting for our table Christine was “accosted” by two delightful women who were self-appointed “glitter police”. Makeup in hand they decorated the faces of select patrons, taking special joy in their interactions with us.

The food was good and the service was “interesting” insofar as different staff people came by on three occasions to ask if Schloss was really my name. The young and trendy crowd (translation; minimalist clothing on many of the ladies) and live band made for a loud experience. Unusual for us, but still enjoyable.

The evening concert at the Cathedral kicked off at 7:30 and again we were front row and mere feet from the small orchestra and four vocalists.

The London Concertante ensemble presented two hours of songs selected from such classic musicals as Porgy and Bess, West Side Story, Oklahoma, Les Miserables, and others. Delightful!

At the conclusion we left the church hand-in-hand with songs in our hearts and smiles on our faces. Perhaps that is the reason why a small group of young ladies celebrating their friend‘s 20th birthday stopped us on the street to ask how long we had been together. “We’ve been married 46 years.” Just those few words and one of the women exclaimed, “You’re Americans!“ We became instant celebrities with one of their number adding that she had never met a “real American” but had always wanted to. It was such great fun, for us and them.

2:07am. Picture are uploaded, narrative is written. I’ll stitch it all together and post later.

Good night… and of course, Peace Everyone. Pete

A Change in Plans.

Written May 3, 2023, at Nantwich, England.

We are only two short cruising days from our final destination of Middlewitch. We were scheduled to return Fjord Empress this coming Monday, five cruising days from now. Taking that into consideration, along with the predicted deterioration of the weather this coming weekend, we have decided to return the boat Friday morning. We have booked four nights of accommodations in Manchester where we will treat ourselves to some final sightseeing and urban nightlife. We fly out of Manchester for Kansas City on Tuesday. We are seriously warming to the idea of being home!

Nantwich has been (again) a delightful experience. Not much has changed since our visit in 2019, which is to be expected in a city that measures its life in centuries rather than years. Instead of writing a new post on our current visit, I have chosen to re-post from our visit in 2019. As you will see, that post digs deep into the city’s history and includes some personal reflections on faith and religion. Pete

(The Following is From April 23, 2019)

We arrived in Nantwich today on the Shropshire Union Canal. The plan is to remain in this port until Thursday, and then return to Middlewich Friday where we will be joined by our Canadian friends, Tom and Nanci. The weather is predicted to take an unfortunate turn for the week that they will spend with us, colder temps and rain. It is what it is. A bad day on the canal is still glorious.

The “wich” in Nantwich and Middlewich harkens from the time of the Roman occupation and signifies a place of salt production. Salt had been produced here over the millennia not only as a condiment, but for the tanning of leather, as a food preservative, and for the production of world renowned Cheshire cheeses. At one time there were over 400 salt houses (16th Century), the last one closing in the mid-1800’s.

Nantwich is a large community with a population of over 17,000. It is believed to have once been the location of a sacred pre-Roman forest grove worshiped by the Celts. It was listed as an urban area in the Domesday Book at the time of the Norman Conquest (AD 1066), though the Normans burned and sacked the town leaving only one building standing.

Disaster again visited Nantwich’s resurrected community in 1583. A massive conflagration again leveled the town, sparing only a few buildings. Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) personally contributed to the restoration of the community. From the ashes of that disaster arose a beautiful market center that, second only to Chester, boasts the highest concentrations of historically listed buildings in England. The town center is littered with buildings dating to the late 1500’s.

As we wandered the serpentine streets we beheld a beautiful church and green space. The green displayed a stone announcing that it was a sacred burial ground that had been “closed to new burials” for the last 200 years. Anglican St. Mary’s Church is the oldest listed building in Nantwich, and is stunning!

Construction began in 1286, was suspended from 1349 to 1369 by the Black Death, and then completed in 1390. The church twice served as a prison, once in 1644 following the Battle of Nantwich and again in 1648 during the 1st Jacobite uprising.

The church features scores of remarkable gargoyles, and a beautiful red sandstone exterior.

The interior is breathtaking, with colorful stained glass windows, and a choir comprised of 20 “misericords” which are 600 year old intricately carved wood choirstalls.

The St. Nicholas side-chapel features funerary effigies of a church founder, Sir David Cradock (d. 1390), and Sir Thomas Smith and his wife Dame Anne (dedicated 1614).

Another intriguing feature are the scores of hand needlepoint kneeling cushions, they are in daily use and courtesy of the local guild.

This is a fitting place for a linger day on the canal. We look forward to visiting the many shops, taking a coffee and later a pint, and perhaps returning to the church for a moment of contemplation and gratitude.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Lest I have given conflicted messages regarding the current state of my spirituality, I offer the following: I believe in the philosophy and teachings of Jesus Christ, but not to the exclusion or rejection of all other faith traditions. I have long had difficulty with the “rules of religion”, but at two important times in my life I encountered priests who admonished me not to concern myself with the rules, but to listen to my conscience. The first of those meetings occurred when I was 20, the second when I was 60. Each priest was German and each “meeting” occurred in Europe during a rare visit by me to a Confessional. Each priest asked if I considered myself a “good person”, and then expressed confirmation that they believed that I was. As an act of penance, the second priest commissioned me to always listen to my conscience and be so guided the remainder of my life.

My difficulties with the state of many religions today are manifold: Many (not all) create god in man’s image and likeness. Many (not all) mispronounce “dogma” as “faith”. Many (not all) mispronounce “exclusion” as “inclusion”. And many (not all) adherents profess to follow the teachings of Christ but never stop to ask, “What would he have done”…

Again, Peace Everyone. Pete

Written May 1, 2023, at Nantwich on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Our 6 mile and 6 lock passage to Nantwich today took more than six hours instead of the anticipated three or four.

The delay was not occasioned by difficulties with the locks, difficulties with navigation, or foul weather. Instead, it was a self-imposed delay brought about by the opportunity to tour an unusual remnant from the Cold War.

A sign under a canal bridges in the rural countryside announced that 200 yards from the canal was the once top secret Hack Green Nuclear Bunker, now open to the public. We immediately tied up to shore and set off on foot to explore.

Declassified in 1993 this 35,000 square-foot underground complex was one of 17 such hardened nuclear bunkers in the UK which would serve the needs of continuing government and military operations in the event of nuclear war.

This facility was provisioned with food, water, fuel, and life-support necessities to supply the needs of 160 essential personnel for over three months.

Now a museum, the bunker offers the public a glimpse into Great Britain’s preparations for nuclear Armageddon.

This is the heart of the life support system which includes 15,000 gallons of drinking water.
The infirmary.
This is a small BBC broadcast center in the Bunker.

Within the underground complex are actual radar and communications equipment from that era. There are even decommissioned nuclear weapons.

A decommissioned 400 kt nuclear bomb.

Most chilling was the 45 minute long 1966 BBC docudrama, “The War Game”. Post-production it was deemed too graphic to be broadcast to the general public.

It received a limited screening at the National Film Theater in London, and went on to receive the 1967 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

I sat through the entire movie which drew from the experiences of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Dresden in depicting the physical and psychological consequences of nuclear attack. The black and white movie was brutally stark and unsanitized.

One take from the movie: Great Britain has the largest concentration of nuclear targets in the world. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of its population would be dead within the first few days of attack.

(Pray for) Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. On the heels of yesterday’s report on Christine’s “lock marathon” I thought I would share a couple of images to illustrate what she chooses to struggle with instead of piloting the canal boat.

Written May 1, 2023, at Audlem on the Shropshire Union Canal.

It’s May Day here in the UK, and a “bank holiday”. There will be two more this month, the traditional one at the end of the month, and one next Monday to celebrate the coronation of Charles III. While it’s not a holiday for us we are hopeful that it will be an easy and relaxing day on the canal. 6 miles and six locks separate us from our destination, Nantwich. It should be a 3 hour cruise unless we share the fate of Gilligan and “The Minnow”.

A view during a pause in the rain.
Not all narrowboats are pretty or well kept.
We have seen worse than this,

“Easy and relaxing“ was not the case yesterday. It took us nearly 6 hours to travel 6 miles. One of those miles featured 11 of the 16 locks we navigated. Those 11 locks are arranged in a virtual staircase.

A portion of the one mile long lock “staircase“, looking up from lock number 10.
The green narrowboat in the distance is our Fjord Empress.

The cold and rain had returned, transforming the canal path into mud. Christine again chose to operate the locks rather than tackle navigating the boat into, out of, and between them. During the 1 mile staircase of locks she accumulated over 12,000 steps, plus a significant upper body workout at the gates and winches. For the day she opened and closed the often “stubborn” winches 132 times, plus she opened and closed 48 massive lock gates, each weighing over 3,500 pounds.

Yesterday’s destination, the town of Audlem, was our reward. It is a beautifully restored canal town situated between locks 11 and 15.

This 200+ year old home was once the lock keeper’s cottage.
The market square.
St. James Parish Church.

It being a Sunday, the “Shroppie Fly” pub served a delicious traditional “Sunday Roast” with all of the trimmings. Christine opted for lasagna and cheesy garlic bread.

Roast turkey, dressing, cheesy cauliflower, vegetables, and Yorkshire pudding.
Christine with her lasagna, happy to be finished for the day.

“Fly” on the canal refers to the former practice of staging tow-horses along the route so that the canal boats could periodically put fresh horses in tow and proceed day and night non-stop with perishable cargo. This was much like the Pony Express of the American West, just at canal speed.

Our plan this morning is to enjoy a cooked breakfast onboard, fill our water tank, and find a laundromat along the way to Nantwich. We look to spend two days there, one of those as a day-trip by train to the ancient town of Chester. We are about 15 cruising miles from our final destination in Middlewich where we will return Fjord Empress early Monday morning. At this point we may have the luxury of time on our side to “smell the roses”.

Peace Everyone. Pete.

PS. In 2019 we visited both Nantwich and Chester. I wrote posts then that included pictures and “dug deep“ into the history of those communities. It is probable that I will republish those posts as a part of this journey.