Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Long Weekend at Home

[Kyle]After a long week that allowed no time for anything except eat, sleep and work, I arrived back home in Preston pretty tired after the overnight flight.

For once in what seemed like a long while, our plans for my days off were all very local. Footprint would get a well-earned rest.

We started with quiz night at the local pub –The Ribble Pilot. Actually, we started with an early afternoon nap, but then we headed to the pub. The quiz was a slightly different format than what we had seen before. It was in the style of the American TV show “Family Feud” {Family Fortunes in the UK}. Points were given for each of the top five answers given by a group of respondents, with double points for getting the top choice. In this quiz, it seemed like not having an iPhone was less of a disadvantage for us this time. It was our almost complete lack of knowledge of British pop culture and boy-bands that killed us. Still, we had fun and we didn’t finish last. It’s the little things…

We got up fairly early (at least for me, who was still struggling with the time zone) and went on what was supposed to be a ten mile Preston maritime history hike led by a local park ranger. The hike was measured at nine miles by a walker with a GPS, close enough to the ranger’s estimate, which he admitted to doing the old fashioned way with a piece of string. We took in parts of the Preston Basin, the River Ribble and the pretty Lancaster Canal, as well as a few other minor waterways. We also went through a couple of nice parks, a farmer’s field and a few neighborhoods ranging from inner city depressing to postcard village quaint.

A pleasant Hike around the Lancashire canal system

The history part was a bit lacking; apart from a few initial tidbits about the length and breadth of the Preston Basin, most of the walk was just a walk. Still, it was nice to have an easy way to explore the surrounding countryside and it started and ended only 2 minutes from our boat! We chatted with each other the way people do when meeting strangers and occasionally there were comments on the scenery, but there was no underlying theme tying together the history of what we were seeing. It seemed we could just as well have had the same experience if we had purchased our own OS 1:25,000 map and done the same route ourselves. At least that way we would know better where we were at all times. Still, the weather was clear and bordering on warm, so it was a nice day out.

The following day, Saturday, was the beginning of the Riverswalk Festival, also on our doorstep. This involved all manner of sunny day fun: Ice cream, fried, sticky foods, live music, street performers, balloons, a bouncy castle for the kids and plenty of fun competitions, all centered about Preston Marina. Milling around in the crowds gave me a heavy dose of the Lancashire accent which, to me, is still so thick that I have to squint and pay really close attention to understand. It seems harder than Scottish.

Festival Scenes

Also in attendance were two little Brigs, billed as the world’s smallest tall ships. Each boat was just thirty feet long but had two short masts and eight sails apiece. All weekend long, they gave free 30 minute rides around the basin including setting and furling all of those sails each time.

At the end of the day Maryanne and I were invited to join a bunch of other marina residents at their barbecue and spent the rest of the evening swapping stories. I was relieved to hear that NO ONE likes the Irish Sea. It wasn’t just a fluke. I can’t wait to go back!

Around sunset, many of the heavily decorated canal boats formed an illuminated parade around the perimeter of the basin. As they left, someone in our group (not us!) produced a giant, three person slingshot made of surgical tubing and a bag of water balloons and started pelting the canal boats. There seems to be some long-term, friendly rivalry between the “yachties” and the “bargies”. They were doing it from such a long distance that none of the victims could seem to find the source. The whole game ended rather abruptly shot came a little too close to police officer on a bicycle on the other side of the basin. No sooner did the water balloon explode than everyone assumed the air of perfect ladies and gentlemen as if a good/naughty switch had been thrown.

Later came the fireworks. The council put on a pretty impressive display lasting fifteen minutes or so. I had completely missed out on fireworks on July fourth in the U.S. and was happy to get a belated dose here. The music seemed all wrong, though. It sounded less like American independence than a college commencement, but there was still plenty of oohing and aahing all around. {Maryanne: I had no idea what Kyle was going on about – the “wrong” music, but it turns out that in college award ceremonies in the USA, they regularly use the music we Brits know well as the sing-along patriotic “Rule Britania”. I assume they are unaware of the words that almost any Brit will start to sing as soon as the chorus is reached}

The next day’s main event was the inflatable dinghy races. Preston Marina provided two brand-new dinghies, each with a brand-new 4hp motor for the race. Maryanne and I signed up and were partnered with opponents of approximately equal weight and experience. Very early in the heats, it became clear that there was something slightly wrong with the engines. People came back reporting intermittent power and slipping gears {It could just as well have been poor technique, but no bubble bursting please!}.

I was the first to go. The other guy got a much better start, but I was soon on plane and catching up fast. My strategy at that point was to zing by him by executing a perfect turn at the buoy and keep my speed up until the finish. Just as I caught up to him, my engine slipped out of gear and I mushed to an ignominious stop, then some power, then another stop. I finally got turned around and moving again and flew by the finish about the time the other guy was getting back from the shower.

Maryanne had a much better race. She got a fantastic start and was way ahead at the turn. I was screaming my head off. Then her engine quit on her and by the time she was back on plane again, Paul, her competition had won. Oh, well that gave us more time to root for our new friends.

In the end, the race ended up being one of the great stories in Preston dinghy racing history. Anna, in a heat against her husband Tom, flew off the start line while Tom’s boat mushed along, unable to produce any power. She ran into, and then bounced off the turning buoy without actually rounding it, disqualifying her. Tom was so busy trying to catch up that he didn’t notice this. Figuring he was beaten, he just brought his dinghy back for the next racer without finishing the course, disqualifying himself. After a consultation with the judges, it was decided there would be a re-race. This time Anna rounded the buoy and beat Tom fair and square by huge margin. She then went on to beat everybody she raced against, starting with her daughter and finishing with the three-time champion, ending his streak. She claims to have never driven a dinghy before. {Maryanne: I’ve no idea where Kyle is getting these boat owner names, nor the relationships. The winner’s name was Anna? I don’t remember that, but I could be wrong, REGARDLESS, Tom was NOT her husband and she didn’t race HER daughter, but one of the other boat owner’s daughters (Also American, incidentally). Maybe between Kyle and myself we can make up a half decent version, but for now, be aware you’re getting Kyle’s version of events… Oh my!}

We didn't make it to the winners Podium - but we sure tried!

We refueled from all of our cheering with one last lap around the sticky food tents, snapping up bargains as they packed up (Girl Guide cup cakes – Yummy!). It seemed eerily quiet now, no loud music, no announcements, no cheering. Everybody was dispersing as if they were drops of oil in a greasy pan and soap had just been added. The tents packed up, half the canal barges left and before we knew it, Preston was back to its same old, drizzly self again.

1 comment:

kate said...

the dinghy races look, and sounded, like loads of fun. and you each made a good showing, even with (suspiciously) temperamental motors - kudos! it would be odd to watch fireworks while listening to "pomp & circumstance." here we feel obliged to hear the william tell overture - i guess because americans feel strongly about matching explosive bursts with Even Louder Music. glad to hear you had such a lovely day.