Sad News

June 14th, 2014

It is with great sadness that I report the loss of Julian Parke, JP. My best friend for 35 years, fellow paddler on both Gutless Kayaking trips, and amigo on countless other adventures. His funeral took place last week and I gave the tribute / eulogy. Some people asked for copies of it so here it is:

Hi, I’m Justin and I was introduced to Julian almost 35 years ago by our mutual friend Al Colston, when Al had invited us to join him on a road trip through France. By the end of this incident-filled trip we had become firm friends and I will be eternally grateful to Al for that introduction.

Julian was known by many names, to some he was Julian or Jules or daddy or uncle Julian, even uncle Hooligan. But I always knew him as JP. His full name was Julian Patrick James Parke, JP JP. And I remember when he was considering becoming a Justice of the Peace, so he could sign off his letters with JP JP JP.

In those early days JP started his career as an antique dealer and restorer in Bermondsey. I was always hugely envious of his woodworking skills and would often spend a day or two with him at work, trying to discover exactly how he was able to transform a few pieces of discarded timber in the corner of his workshop into a genuine antique Queen Anne chair.

Over the years we went on many hiking trips, often joined by Paul, his brother and my other good friend. On these trips I’d carefully design each days walking, ensuring we took the most interesting route to our destination. Invariably these plans came to nothing, especially in the early days before I had learnt to take into account JPs love of building dams. No stream would remain untouched by JPs damming expertise. JP fancied himself as Brunel while Paul I were his workers fulfilling his orders for rocks of a particular shape or size.

Our lives grew in very different directions but we never grew apart. JP became a loving husband and doting father. It was in later years that we decided to introduce an annual camping trip into our busy lives. By now, I had a huge range of state of the art camping gear at my disposal. JP on the other hand had a tent called the ‘Summertime’. The Summertime had been designed with favorable indoor weather conditions in mind and had seen better days. The slightest breeze would leave it flattened, and a couple of drips of rain would see the inhabitants getting soaked. But JP, never a great one for throwing things out, insisted on persevering with the Summertime. These were the only camping trips I’ve been on where I would pray for poor weather in the hope of seeing a disheveled JP appear in the morning, cursing the Summertime tent. JP, on the other hand, took on the challenge of proving that the Summertime was up to the job, and he would always emerge triumphant in the morning following a calm night and a peaceful sleep. It was typical of his sense of fun and humour that for the benefit of others he would repeatedly put himself through this pantomime.

One such camping trip ended with a classic piece of JP farce. It was Sunday afternoon and we had to pack up and leave. We carefully packed away the tents, clothes, cooking gear etc into our vehicles and said our goodbyes. It was at this point that JP announced that he’d lost his car keys. We searched the area and couldn’t find them, so we set about unpacking everything. We looked everywhere, inside and outside of the cars. After a couple of hours the sensible thing may have been to call Allison, who had a spare key, and ask her to drive the 3 hours or so to come and rescue us. But, this would have been admitting defeat, so we began discussions on dismantling the vehicles. Should we drain out the fuel first, in case the keys had somehow fallen into the fuel tank? Or simply start by stripping down the engines? After all it would be easy to put everything back together again after we’d found the keys, because, as usual with JP, there was plenty of gaffer tape on hand. But then JP had a stroke of genius. He sheepishly put his hand in his trouser pocket and pulled out the keys. Having wasted about 4 hours and now running late on a Sunday evening, if it had been anybody else, I would have had a chronic sense of humour failure. But seeing JPs funny half-smile always meant I was bound to forgive him, so we just laughed and drove home.

JP’s kids have since told me that that episode was ‘typical daddy’.

This absent mindedness goes back many years.

Before the age of mobile phones, arranging to meet up with JP required careful planning. He and his great friend Robert Bentham had once spent an entire evening at opposite ends of Shepherd’s Bush green trying and failing to meet up with each other.

At the time I was not entirely surprised to hear about this, so I would be as specific as possible with both of them when arranging meet ups. Shortly after the Shepherd’s Bush incident I had arranged to meet JP at Waterloo Station. This is a large station, and very easy to mislocate someone, especially JP if left to his own devices. So I gave him foolproof instructions as to what time and exactly where we would meet. I got there, waited a while and there was no sign of him. I went over and over the instructions in my head. I began to fear another Shepherd’s Bush debacle when I noticed a bench near our meeting point. Someone was sitting there reading a newspaper, with the paper held high, obscuring their face. It was a broadsheet with those big pages, but something didn’t look right about it. I moved slightly closer for a better look when I noticed that two tiny spy holes had been torn into the paper. I moved closer still and the paper started shaking, followed by fits of laughter. JP was in stitches as he recounted using his peep holes, to watch me getting increasingly agitated over the previous ten minutes.

In later years JP continued to struggle with his organizational skills, but he had no real need to improve them because Allison was so brilliant at all the practicalities. He did, however, call me a couple of weeks ago to tell me about a wonderful invention he’d discovered. ‘It’s this thing called a diary’ he told me, ‘I think I might try using one’.

One of the last things he said to me was that he couldn’t remember the past without Allison. I’ve wondered since if perhaps he was trying to say that he couldn’t imagine a future without her. He was heartbroken when Allison died. Theirs was a real love story, complete with tragic ending.

Now we have to try to imagine a future, without JP. There’s a huge void in his place. But when I look into this void I’m going to be reminded of everything he gave me. Thousands of happy memories, the fun the farce the mischief and the laughter, his unfailing good humour and kindness, and how he probably saved my life by rushing me to hospital when I had heart disease, and best of all his four amazing children, Louise, William, Patrick and Elizabeth, who he was so proud of and I’m so lucky to know.

I wanted to try to express how he made me feel when we were together. The best I could come up with is that if I was feeling down I’d come away feeling better. And that if I was in a really good mood I’d also come away feeling better.

I was hoping to be able to balance this account a bit, with details of some of his less loveable traits but I’ve had trouble finding anything. So, right now, I think his only fault was to leave behind four wonderful children, family and so many friends who loved him very very much.

JP was a massive success as a man,

he was my hero

and I idolized him.

JP is the person I hope to be when I grow up.

Please now join me in a round of applause for JP

Day 32 (8th Oct 2013) – Avon Valley to Bristol:

October 10th, 2013

Last day, Wow again. Skipton and North Yorkshire seem a long time ago in a galaxy far away…

The paddlers totaled five, Justin, Stevo, Curtis, Terry and Charlotte as they took off along the River Avon towards Bristol. The first lock encountered was another shocker and the crew had to man-handle their craft down a steep flight of stone stairs and get-in down a five foot length of ladder. The next lock was mercifully open but the kayaks encountered the incoming tide as the Netham lock just isolates the Bristol Floating Harbour from the Avon and doesn’t have an associated weir. By the time they were approaching the Netham lock though, the tide had turned and was getting stronger. The lock-keeper at Netham didn’t want any extra silt from the flood tide in his harbour and wanted the kayakers to wait for the ‘Hannah’ and her pre-booked entry time. There was no get-out point so after Charlotte smiled sweetly and said how cold they all were he relented and let them in – although along with a stern lecture while he had a captive audience in the lock. After they were through and dismounted the lock-keeper redeemed himself by making everyone a cup of coffee with biscuits. ‘Hannah’ turned up presently and also Victoria and then a surprise appearance of Adrian revisiting after the Oxford/Shillingford Bridge leg. They all moved about halfway along the harbour to get through the swing bridge and then decamped to the Shakespeare pub to allow sufficient time to pass for their pre-determined 3:30pm entrance at the Baltic Wharf. Adrian joined the paddlers in the spare ‘Little Red’ kayak to swell the numbers to six for the magisterial final half mile kayak and the waiting throngs at the Wharf. Finally, it was over.

There were some faces from earlier in the trip with Patrick and Paul and also Paul’s wife Camille with her school class with a sign welcoming Justin and Flat Stanley. There was a chap with a gold medallion who was the Mayor or Lord Mayor of Bristol, plus various media, even BBC TV. A buffet was put on in ‘Hannah’ for all and the whole ambitious project wound slowly down.

We’ll finish off with a version of the Lord’s Prayer by the soon to be ex-communicated Catholic JP:

Our Gutless, who art in kayak

Paddle be thy game

Thy destination cometh

Thy waterway may be calm as in thy dreams

Give us this eve our daily TPN

And forgive high canal bank builders

As we curse them for our mangled limbs

And lead us not into public houses

But deliver us from curry

Amen

Day 31 (7th Oct 2013) – Semington to Avon Valley:

October 9th, 2013

Day 31 of 32. Wow. Just the final run left into Bristol. Hard to believe we’ve all made it this far…

The foursome of Justin, Stevo, Curtis and Terry set off from Semington with Charlotte riding her bike along the towpath as wingwoman. Today was another long hike of 20 miles with 11 locks. The tradition of kayak unfriendly locks on the Kennet & Avon continued with the lock in Bradford-on-Avon requiring a portage across a busy street and down the road to the pub. There followed a long pull towards Bath through some picturesque wooded areas and across a couple of aqueducts. After portaging the set of six locks in Bath, Stevo swapped with Charlotte and took over the mountain bike. After stopping to give helpful tips on paddling technique from the towpath, he rode on ahead until finding the Dolphin Inn and stopped for a pint. Stevo raised his glass as the kayakers paddled past and presently rode back upstream in search of the ‘Hannah’ and rejoined her in the middle of the Bath lock flight.

Up ahead the paddlers were having increasing difficulty with the river locks and at one stage had to use the weir as a get-in point. They stopped for a pint at the Jolly Sailor pub at the Saltford lock before ending up at the rather disappointing mooring at the Avon Valley Country Park. The Park had charged the Bruce Trust a substantial fee for use of this rather temporary looking scaffolding structure. Not cool. The ‘Hannah’ eventually arrived after dark, finding her way using the tunnel light and with Tony standing on the bow giving guidance on where the Avon River was going. Walking across lock gates is bad enough during the day let along after at night.

Supper consisted of several courses as Alice attempted to finish off what was left of the supplies and the guys made an attempt to finish off the 40 litres of West Berkshire Brewery’s finest donated by David Bruce.

Day 30 (6th Oct 2013) – Devizes to Semington:

October 9th, 2013

Locks, locks and more locks today. The crew stayed aboard ‘Hannah’ as they attacked the Caen Hill flight at Devizes in Wiltshire. The most impressive were the 16 locks down Caen Hill which the boys and girls did in a respectable 2 hours 2 minutes. New skipper Bobby from the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust was taking over for the day with John, Trevor and Tony from the Bruce Trust. Lock rookies David and Daughter Isabella along with newbies Chris and Charlotte joined the more seasoned hands for the long slog of opening and closing sluices and gates down the hill.

The crew got down to Foxhanger lock in about 3 hours and Justin, Curtis and Charlotte took to the kayaks to push on to Semington. Stevo decided to stay with the support boat pleading exhaustion from his heroic efforts down the flight. There were still another seven locks along the way to Semington and while pulling the kayaks around a set of five Curtis managed to flip his boat and avoided sending a young lady on a cycle into the canal by a couple of inches. Eventually the ‘Hannah’ caught up with the others and bid farewell to Bobby, John and Trevor and hello to new skipper Mike who would be taking them through to Bristol. They were then rejoined by Terry of the Trent, returning to do the final two days after guiding Justin trough the tidal Trent even after badly twisting his pelvis. A couple of sessions with his chiropractor had re-aligned his pelvis so he was back towards full health.

Alice prepared another of her famous curries for the crew to enjoy, followed by a walk to the Somerset Arms pub for a late debrief.

Day 29 (5th Oct 2013) – Honeystreet to Devizes:

October 9th, 2013

The lads woke up outside the Barge Inn to see the bar staff serving themselves vodka and cokes at seven o’clock. They resisted the temptation to place an order. The crew were joined by Charlotte and Chris returning from the first two days up in Yorkshire and Doctor Michelle who had paddled with the lads for a morning in Oxford. Charlotte and Chris were cycling the tow-path while Michelle was joining the kayakers on the canal.

It was a fairly short day with nine miles and a couple of swing bridges before a set of three locks in Devizes. The canal was a little overgrown in places as reeds constricted the cut in places so that one kayak had problems navigating. Curtis and Stevo spotted a bunch of hot air balloons drifting over the Wiltshire sky with a series of happy faces, British flags and polka dots.

Sooty, Ian and Jackie and others from the Devizes Canoe Club paddled out to meet the team and escort them into the town. The crew gathered at the Black Horse pub for an early debrief. The ‘Hannah’ arrived a few hours later and the team bid farewell to the Bruce Trust volunteers; Rob, Cheryl and Alan. Trevor and Tony would be returning the next day along with new skipper Bob.

Justin’s Sister and Mum, Victoria and Gabriel turned up along with David and Isabella and Chris and Helen to feast on the Boston Bean Bake cooked by Sally and delivered by Charlotte and Chris. Victoria and Gabriel had bought a new supply of cake and a re-supply of Bundaberg Rum.

Tomorrow comes the famous Caen Hill set of locks descending towards Bristol. It’s all downhill now…

Day 28 (4th Oct 2013) – Great Bedwyn to Honeystreet:

October 5th, 2013

Today the usual suspects on the paddles was down to two, as Stevo decided to take a day off to let some blisters on his fingers have time to heal.  Justin and Curtis were joined by Roger from the Crofton Pumping Station who is also a keen local kayaker.

The lads set off up the Crofton flight of locks to the pumping station, where Roger had organised a tour for the boys. The station has the oldest working steam beam engine in the world, built by James Watt’s company in 1812. It supplied the summit reservoir of the Kennet and Avon canal and is still capable of doing the job nowadays done by automatically operated electric pumps. After the tour the lads and Alice were treated to tea and sweets at the station café.  The paddlers continued upwards and then through the Bruce Tunnel (500 yards and no relation to the Bruce Trust). From this point the canal would begin dropping towards Bristol. Along the way the lads met a chap walking at a brisk pace and carrying a Google Earth camera pack on his back, mapping the canal tow-path. Justin thinks the cameras caught him relieving himself into the path-side bushes. Further down the track future users of Google Earth can see a pixelated Stevo opening the gate of lock number 56 of the K&A…

IMG_1946

Roger eventually left the lads to return to Crofton and they continued on to Honey Street and the Barge Inn for debrief. Honey Street has a kind of bohemian vibe and Justin attracted the attention of a group of fortyish, stylish American women who had a hippy look. That is if Hippies could afford designer clothes, manicures and personal hairdressers. The ladies donated to the cause with what coins they had, mostly one euro pieces and a US penny.

Meanwhile, back at the support boat, after working through all the locks and the tunnel, the new crew of Rob and wife Cheryl, plus Alan and John were cruising the last few miles with Stevo when the temperature warning light and alarm went off. Uh-oh. The crew pulled over to the canal side and shut down. Alan stepped up as the resident engineer and checked the weed trap for anything wrapped around the prop shaft. All clear there. After inspecting the cooling system he figured the pressure cap may not have been working correctly and water was forcing its way out of the system. The engine was allowed to cool and ‘Hannah’ set off and a cautious 1200 revs for Honey Street. No further problems were encountered and the team were reunited outside the pub. Bruce Trust engineer Ollie arrived later to inspect the engine and replace the cap and was just in time to share in a sausage curry casserole with mash and beans prepared by Curtis and Alice. All was well with the world…

Day 27 (3rd Oct 2013) – Newbury to Great Bedwyn:

October 4th, 2013

The threesome of Justin, Stevo and Curtis set off from Newbury in the general direction of Great Bedwyn, it’s pretty easy to stay on the right path on a canal; if you aren’t in the water you’ve taken a wrong turn. Today was another challenging one, only 14 miles but 20 locks. The access wasn’t much better than the day before, some better than others. The Dun Mill lock, although quite picturesque, was the boys pick as the worst, with the kayaks having to be carried over a narrow road bridge with a blind corner before having to be passed over a fence. It was only afterwards that they noticed the gate…

It was a fairly overcast day and at around midday it started to rain. As they trolleyed the boats around the third of three vaguely close together locks, a nice lady from a narrow boat said to Stevo, “You’re as mad as we are”. “Madder, I suspect”, said Stevo. “Hmm, yes, I think you have the edge on us”, she replied.

As the lads approached Great Bedwyn they were met by Roger, who had walked up the tow-path from the Crofton Pumping Station which he runs. This is one of the old steam driven pump houses that supplied water to the canals at high points like Great Bedwyn. Roger walked alongside the paddlers to the Bruce Trust HQ where they met with Alice and Ollie and the other boats in the fleet, Rebecca, Diana and Rachel. Ollie is the engineer for the Trust. Soon they were joined by Rebecca, Hannah and Louise ‘Mummy’ Bruce. There was also cake. The crew were introduced to the local Wiltshire version of the English delicacy, Lardy Cake; a concoction of lard, flour, sugar and raisins. The Bruce’s left Alice, Justin, Stevo and Justin with a large amount of Rebecca’s famous sausage casserole for supper. Truly Scrumptious.

IMG_1908

Due to the large number of locks and the fact that the ‘Hannah’ had the bad luck to meet the few boats heading the other way at the locks, the support boat was four hours behind and the indefatigable volunteers where taken off by further local volunteers to their respective homes.

The remaining crew retired to the Cross Keys pub for a late debrief…

 

Day 26 (2nd Oct 2013) – Aldermaston Wharf to Newbury:

October 2nd, 2013

Today saw a couple of new arrivals to the crew of ‘Hannah’ with Audrey, a fairly new addition to the Bruce Trust family. With the departure of Paul and the end of the Parke family connection, the paddlers were down to a threesome. Justin, Stevo and Curtis rode east on the Kennet and Avon towards Newbury on a fairly moderate eleven miles and eleven locks. The main problem encountered was the get-out access for kayakers which meant a bit of a forage on occasion to find a useable patch of bank as the moorings were just too high.

The boys got better at getting in and out by necessity and developed better techniques for three guys carrying three boats around the locks. Around halfway along they met Ian paddling towards them from Newbury. Ian had met the crew in Reading when he visited ‘Hannah’ with Marion for cake. Ian was paddling a K1 and had a few decent tips for our lads on better ins & outs. His tales of the top kayakers on the Devizes to Westminster race jumping in and out of their boats inspired Curtis to give it a go which he did with great success at the next lock. Unfortunately Stevo missed it so Curtis attempted a recreation at the top of the lock and managed to put a nasty gash in his knee after misjudging his jump. Luckily Ian had some tissue and duct-tape handy to administer first aid.

They reached the town of Newbury in fairly good time and found their way to the Lock, Stock and Barrel pub for debrief. ‘Hannah’ was about two and a half hours behind due to the number of locks. They were joined by Graham, also Bruce Trust, who supplied a delicious Lasagna which along with Audrey’s apple crumble supplied a fitting supper for the crew.

Image

Heroic moment #2: When Flat Stanley was tipped into the canal at the bottom of a lock, Curtis enacted an exciting rescue and Stevo gave CPR. Flat Stanley recovered but wasn’t quite as flat as before.

Day 25 (1st Oct 2013) – Reading to Aldermaston Wharf:

October 2nd, 2013

The paddlers were the same foursome as yesterday with the addition of Liam Heath, who won the bronze medal in the K2 200m sprint at the London 2012 Olympics. Liam brought his K1 kayak along and after some photos taken by a Peter Bloodworth, a photographer from the Reading Post, the lads headed towards the nearby junction of the Thames and the Kennet. Curtis decided to challenge Liam to a sprint race and after about five seconds Curtis was about five lengths behind and conceded.

IMG_1827

The lads turned into the Kennet and Avon Navigation and went through a couple of locks alongside the ‘Hannah’. After leaving Reading behind there was a fairly long paddle to the next lock along the picturesque River Kennet. At one point Curtis spotted a pigeon who had thought it was a duck and was struggling in the water against the steep slope and leapt out of his kayak to rescue it. After the heroic act the bird shook itself, shat on his hand and wandered off. At the next river lock there was no way out so the boys waited on ‘Hannah’ and went through with her again. The day was a moderate eleven mile paddle but with around 12 locks, so the day was a collection of shortish paddles followed by portage around single locks. The locks on this section aren’t particularly kayak friendly as moorings are quite high making get-out a little challenging.

Eventually the foursome reached Aldermaston Wharf and the Kennet and Avon Canal Visitor Centre and Tea Room where they were greeted by Gary and Sam and family. They are usually closed on Tuesday but opened up especially for Gutless and the team and served up a lovely spread of tea and scones and a delicious stilton and broccoli soup. Word was received that ‘Hannah’ was stuck a few locks back with a lock gate that wouldn’t close and were waiting for the CRT technicians to arrive.

Paul’s wife Camille had arrived to take him home to Bristol so Justin and Alice, Stevo and Curtis retired to the Butt Inn pub for debrief and for Justin to be interviewed by radio Breeze FM from Newbury. A surprise was waiting for the crew back as David Bruce had organised a delivery of 40 litres of Mister Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter from the West Berkshire Brewery. Good man David. The beer was a delightful complement to the pasta bake prepared for dinner by Olwyn after the ‘Hannah’ and been rescued from the broken lock. Curtis insisted to all who would listen that he would have beaten Liam if he’d had a K1 instead of ‘Little Red’.

Our Valued Supporters

  • CME Medical logo
  • HandiWorld logo
  • Bupa Home Healthcare logo
  • ConvaTec logo
  • NABO
  • NCBA
  • Guy Portelli