Sunday, 18 December 2011

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

Thursday 8th December to Sunday 18th December 2011

We had our first snow of the winter on Thursday (15th) and then again (snow – not the 1st snow) today – 18th.
Ice on the water in the marina - a sure sign that winter is here

The snow last Thursday barely touched the ground before it melted and of course we were out there to take photos and enjoy it – after all we don’t see it very often – and now doubt by the end of January we might be fed up with it – but not anywhere near that stage yet.

About as much covering of snow as we were to get
The frozen puddles and the crunching of ice and snow beneath the feet are all strange to us – the sliding down the icy incline is something we have quickly learned to avoid.

1st snow of the winter - we may not be smiling in January
but for now it is still new to us

no hot dogs here - Banjo has taken the changes in his stride
It is particularly enjoyable when we are out walking the dog and the sun is also out and with no wind it actually is quite mild.

We have had very interesting 10 days.

Diane has finished the double glazing and it works a treat – still a little moisture on the cabin side of the windows and she does take them out occasionally to dry between them but nowhere near as much water as we had been experiencing – and all for the bargain price of less than ₤150 compared to an estimated ₤3000 to replace all of the windows.

The pram-hood cover is nearing completion – a final fitting on Wednesday last and all looks very good – hoping that this will be finished and up something early this week. The new cratch cover was marked up ready for the completion and final fitting – again, it should be done this week.

The pram-hood cover nearly there -
Diane and Banjo making themselves at home inside

We were down at The Swan Inn last Monday night for the Karaoke final, but sadly Mike didn’t win it – I think he was handicapped in being the 12th out of 16 to get up on stage and whilst the other 11 were doing their stuff we were a bit too busy sampling the ales; we managed to get home OK (thanks to the pre-booked taxi), but we were a bit the worse for wear after that.

A great night out

I am blaming the massive swaying of the boat as I was getting off onto the pontoon for suddenly finding one foot and the lower leg in the water and being spreadeagled across the wooden pontoon – it had nothing to do with the 12 pints that seemed to vanish down at The Swan. I was quite happy to just sleep there – others decided not.

Tuesday morning was a hoot (not really) and it took until 11 until I was anywhere near ready to be anywhere near capable of being able to start doing any work (or being able to bring the computer screen into focus) – yet I can say that no matter how bad I was from the night before, I still made it into work the next day – about 10 feet to the dinette.

We took the train yesterday into Birmingham to meet up with Debbie and James and the girls and take a look around the German markets in New Street – now into their 21st year it has become a Brum tradition and their were so many people about – despite the weather not being that great – a bit of rain throughout the afternoon.

We can now cross off on the bucket list, going to the Birmingham Womens Institute Christmas Carol Service – and so glad I am that we can.

It does still count as attending if you pop in to see the last 10 minutes – which we did – D&J had to pick up daughters Kat and Rachel who were in the choir – but we attended.

An interesting thing with the train fares – we were going from Stone to New Street with a change at Stafford – apparently with some, the fare is cheaper if you buy it in stages – so we asked for Stone to Stafford and then Stafford to New Street (return naturally) and saved ₤3.80 - very glad that the conductor told us about it – they really are very good on London Midland – even able to give full details of the next train to catch from Stafford.

Being Sunday we are trying a new locality for our traditional Sunday roast – Diane has decided that we need to do one for ourselves.

Tastes as good as it looks - these two didn't get a look in!

I have to say that as usual it was well cooked and very very tasty (wouldn’t say anything else – would I?)

We are now awaiting the next fall of snow and seeing all of the surrounding fields covered in a blanket of white.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

To the Land where you can’t buy a vowel

Monday 14th November to Wednesday 7th December 2011

No travel for these three weeks if you discount the two movements for pump out and for fuel – which seemed a bit like cruising for half a day as we exited from the marina and up the canal to the entrance and back onto the mooring.

Reversing is definitely an art that we have yet to master as on both occasions we (read that as I) made a complete hash of it – the second time it took 5 attempts to get the boat back in properly – at least I didn’t hit any other boats.

Life in the marina is certainly very different to being out on the canal proper and there are vastly different priorities – with power and water on tap there is no need to really have to watch after these things, so life becomes more about the things to do on the boat and the things that are going on around the marina and the town.

Diane has continued with the job of double-glazing the windows – she is a marvel with a doggedness sadly lacking in her other half – there are just two windows left to be done and it is merely waiting for that to come in after being ordered.

She has even taken them out again and improved on the sealing of each. Whilst there is now some condensation on the boat-inside of each window – there is none between the glazing and vastly less than appears on the two remaining windows – and it is much colder than we have had earlier in this task.

On the evening of the 21st we ventured down to The Swan Inn in Stone along with Mike and Stella, (nb Isobel) for an evening of Karaoke – it was Mike who had entered a competition who took the microphone for that part, although Stella was up as well during the non-competition part of the evening – the beer was flowing quite well and we all needed the taxi to get back to the boats.

Diane has finally resolved the doctor problem – now registered and seen a doctor here in Stone – all is going well.

We have also managed to purchase some tractor seats from Old 20 Tractor Sales in Derby. Now we just need to get someone to put them on the back.

Work started on putting on the pram-hood cover that we ordered about 6 weeks ago back in Atherstone – the frame is up – well it was before it was put down again, but it is still fixed onto the boat – the cover is due to come soon.

About 6 weeks ago the Daily Mirror had a promotion running which meant that you could have a night away for £10 with a token – we collected 3 and have had three nights away in SouthWales – a return to the land of the missus.

Ross-on-Wye - I think they sell just about everything - but what about a kitchen sink?

I understand the desire for the Welsh to retain their own language and admire them for that, but by golly it is difficult at the best of times, but when they start abbreviating the place names and some of them do not appear any different in English or Welsh; the markings on the road start wearing away and suddenly you have no idea where you are heading – for Cardiff (or Caerdydd) they abbreviated it to C’Dydd – huh!!! – where am I again.

You have to hand it to the Welsh - they are all about protecting the wild life
My mother-in-law will be in good hands
We visited Ponty markets for her faggots and peas – so much has changed since our first visit together almost 20 years ago; a visit to her grandparents grave and to where she was born – she couldn’t exactly remember the house, but it was narrowed down to two (or three).

We caught the last 20 minutes of the Wales v Australia game – the send off for Shane Williams – he scored a try in the 81st minute – a great way to send off a great player – what is important though is that the Wallabys won.

Sunday was trip into Cardyff, Caerdiff, Cardeydd, Cardiff (that’s the one) and a walk around the city following one of the tourist trails that visitor information invariably set up was as usual informative and showed us a bit more of the city.
It's about time for a new Time Lord (or is that Time Lady)

A visit to Ross-on-Wye on the way there and to Gloucester (and the docks) on the way back completed the trip.

part of Gloucester docks - plenty of craft of all shapes and sizes
We wanted to be back for around 4:30 to pick up Banjo from the kennels – we were trialling them for our US trip in February – and found them to be very good, so another problem solved

It's a mighty big lock down Gloucester way - this leads onto the River Severn
Now back on the boat and the cold weather has started to hit and very happily the boat is quite warm inside during the day even without the heating on – so that is good.

We are expecting it to get even colder and I guess it will not be too long before the snow starts.

Xmas decorations and tree all up and carols on Classic FM – all feels very seasonal.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Aston or Bust - wait up we are here

Monday 7th November to Sunday 13th November 2011

5 Miles, 9 Locks – for this week

Totals: 973 Miles, 806 Locks, 28 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 20 Swing Bridges

This week has seen our last travel for a while as we enter into Aston Marina for the winter.

We are not as experienced in the trials and tribulations of English winters as most other boaters would be and decided a while ago that we would make sure that we had a few creature comforts over the colder months – like electricity and water.

We spent a few days in Stone after cruising along from Barlaston and made sure to stock up on the heavier grocery items – like tinned goods and extra dog food and on some of the alcoholic beverages.

Thursday was our pre-determined day to go down the last two locks and the last mile.

We moved into the marina; moored up on the visitor moorings whilst we sorted out access to the pontoon; some pump out tokens and I think there was some payment of money as well in there somewhere.

I am not going to regale anyone with stories of perfection with the reversing into the space between pontoon and neighbouring boat – mainly because it didn’t happen.

The smallest of cross-winds seemed to move the front right around and we ended up having to pull the boat in most of the way – Diane making sure to limit the bumping with the other boat to a minimum.

Banjo had found himself on the pontoon – Diane was on the boat – naturally he wasn’t happy being separated from his mistress – and he really doesn’t have this distance perception licked yet – not even close to leaping onto the boat, so whilst I was with rope in hand hauling the boat, I suddenly needed to keep control of that and also fetch the dog out of the water (yet again).

All settled finally; dog bathed and shampooed; electricity plugged in and cosily inside and time for lunch.

We have reaffirmed the reasons why we selected Aston Marina – coffee on the deck or inside; a beer and lunch as we see appropriate; perusal through the farm shop with purchase of a few selections and many temptations yet to come.

We have continued with the self-double glazing and another window in place – this time a porthole and working very well and very dry – the amount of hand-cutting is justified when it works and works well.

So only another 9 to go – leaving the bathroom porthole out of the equation as we do open this regularly.

Sunday lunch at The Three Crowns was a bit of a disappointment – not from the taste of the meal – a bit from the value, with an attempt at traditional fayre at a new-age restaurant interpretation. But we did enjoy it none-the-less and part of that was enjoying the company of a new friend – Stella from nb Isobel – we had met Stella and partner Mike a few weeks ago when we popped in to deliver documents to the marina and started chatting – very nice people they are – unfortunately Mike is down south with work – earning enough to keep Stella in the manner…

Banjo enjoys the open space here and the longer walks that it affords – also a half kilometre walk for the paper – so some good exercise for both of us – she remains in the warmth under the doona whilst we battle the cold and winds and rain and sleet and snow – OK, not quite that bad just yet.

apologies for being a bit late in posting this.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Winded, Winding, Windest (I winded, I am winding, I have wind)

Monday 24th October to Sunday 6th November 2011

33 Miles, 24 Locks – for this fortnight

Totals: 968 Miles, 797 Locks, 28 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 20 Swing Bridges

We left Tixall Wide on the Monday as we had intended to do and Diane had made up her mind that she would wind the boat as practice – winding at Tixall Wide, as people will know, is not at all any practice – it is wide enough to be able to turn the Queen Mary around – but she did it smoothly and confidently and we were on our way.

Our intention was to head for Stone, but we first of all wanted to stop off at Bridge 86 and visit the pub – The Greyhound Inn at Burston - which had been spoken of in glowing terms. Using the GPS in Diane’s phone, we soon found that we needed to ask directions and with local guidance we found the pub.

Diane reconnoitred the establishment – yes they were dog friendly in the bar which only had bar snacks, but not dog friendly in the restaurant which was well appointed – we would return to visit without the dog.

When we did return it was mid-afternoon and it became apparent the she had not asked enough questions – they were closed until 6:30.

Alas we moved on the following day to Stone – I am sure that I have mentioned that we both like Stone very much – this is where our canal experiences started.

We needed water and we had some time on our hands so before any of the closures we thought we might head on up to Stoke for a week and get a bit of cruising in as well.

With a lot of time available to us we only went very slowly, stopping at Barlaston for a night and then to Stoke – mooring down from the marina for 3 nights during which time we decided that we would do a pumpout at the BW station at Etruria Junction – we of course still had cards from our Llangollen journey earlier in the year.

She who must be obeyed – oops, I mean the Captain - had thought that we would wind at the marina, come back down and wind at the winding hole on the Caldon before the pumpout and that she would handle both – more practice.

Which some guidance the first winding went well – the boat was a bit slow in turning but we were around; down to the junction, then around onto the Caldon; after that there was just the simple matter of winding at the corner – there was no new world record set for handing control of the boat back when things didn’t quite go right, but it was fairly quick.
We moored up at the pumpout point – would have liked to have been a bit further on to be able to fill the water tank at the same time, but there was however another boat there who were doing a self-pumpout - this of course got ‘er indoors thinking and that usually, no always, means work for moi. “Why don’t we try the self pumpout next week?” – she was right, but don’t tell her that – we had the gear, but we had not taken it out to even try it at all – I was fearful of connecting everything up and messing up the line and it wouldn’t work properly or we couldn’t work it properly.

Anyway the BW pumpout completed and water tank full we set off.

In amongst all of this, we had pursued another of her intentions – in talking to Paul and Lynne on Piston Broke a few weeks back – to make push in windows to create double glazing.

We visited the B&Q, bought the materials and tried cutting the Perspex – first with the jigsaw – blade too coarse – then with the finer blade – jigsaw too fast – then by hand – template too big. Adjusting the width and the height allowed the piece to fit perfectly into the space and the clear tubing around the outside along with some BluTac to fill the small gaps gave a double glazed window, which surprisingly works very well.

Now only 11 to go – could be spring by the time they are finished.

We decided to spend a night at Westport, which of course meant that we would need to wind again – more practice – and as they say it does make perfect – she is such a delight when it all goes well for her and so modest as well.

Back to Stoke to moor for a few more nights – in amongst all of this we had visited the Toby Carvery for a Sunday lunch – excellent meal – but much better value if you go through the week for the carvery.

By now it was Saturday again and we were off to Barlaston – when we went through last week a notice caught her eye – Fireworks – Free – Cricket Club – 5th November.

We would have been off sooner if not for the fact that we needed to fill the water tank again – so back around Etruria Junction and to wind again – more practice – but this time the boat didn’t respond – no amount of coaxing would help it move quickly – even slowly would have been good. Eventually we got her to the BW station.

Whilst Diane looked after the water tank I was down the hatch to remove whatever was around the prop – from the feel of it, it was some type of garment – shirt I thought at first, but it wouldn’t budge – the large knife was called for – bit like taking to the 1 wood – and after a good 15-20 minutes it gave up the fight, just before I was preparing to call it a draw.

Someone’s dress – well we can restrict it to a little over half the population – but it was free.

After all of that struggle I heard those less than magic words – “remember last week when we decided we would try the self pumpout – we could do it now” – there was no deciding on anything last week – it was a majority of one that did that, and after the struggle I was less receptive to trying something new. But as all good and cowering men do – we did it her way.

Pleasing to say that despite the time factor for our first try – it all went very very well.

The situation here of seeing fireworks for sale here there and everywhere is a bit strange for us as the sale of fireworks to the public is banned in Australia – has been for 40 years – there were far too many injuries (and deaths) through misuse. We haven’t bought any as we don’t see the need for us and anyway the dog doesn’t like the explosions.

But seeing a display is a different thing – we trudged along the designated route – using the phone GPS again – until it stopped working because there was no signal – through the dark and the dark and more dark we found the nominated place – we opted to stay outside with the throng of people – moving every so often to get away from the metal fumes of the sparklers (affects she) – standing in the cold is not so bad – so long as the coat is warm and it isn’t too long – an hour was too long by the time the display had finished – which I have to say was well done – thanks to the Barlaston CC.

The back was excruciatingly sore and the walk back down to the boat eased some of it, but I was ever so glad to get inside where it was warm and even more so to go to bed and lie down.

Next day was Sunday and of course it was Sunday roast again – the Plume of Feathers is a favourite of ours, but I will resist the idea that she had – “we could walk the 5 miles from the marina for the roast” – on your own.

The meal was, as usual, very good and despite being a perfect afternoon for cruising back to Stone, we opted for the sit down and do nothing exercise regime.

No husbands were harmed in the writing of this; management has approved the content.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Is it cold outside Dear?

Monday 17th October to Sunday 23rd October 2011

13 Miles, 5 Locks, 1Tunnel, 1 Swing Bridges – for this week

Totals: 935 Miles, 773 Locks, 28 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 20 Swing Bridges

We spent an extra day at Fradley Junction and finally got the chance to take a good walk around the nature reserve there – they really do marvellous work on the old quarries and give back to nature an area for everything to flourish.

The weather has continued to be very much unseasonable (in a good way); allows so much more chance to take longer walks both along the towpath and also “off-track”.

I couldn’t understand it really – the cafĂ© at Fradley Junction, which is actually part of the caravan complex does not have a licence to stay open throughout the year – this is a business in its own right and services the visitors, moorers and walkers around the junction area – so naturally I signed their petition which they will use as evidence to the council should their initial application not be successful.

One day we will have to move – but not a case of waiting for a good day – but we did move on Tuesday – this time no further than Rugeley, but it did mean that we were past the last possible impediments for our passage to the marina – the two locks immediately up from Fradley are the two due for stoppage maintenance commencing 7th November.

I have moored at Rugeley once before for a few days and found no reason why I would not moor there again, plus it provided us with access to the railway station as we needed to go down to Watford and sort out Diane’s registration with the doctor.

We did walk around town to find the things that we needed – a shoe repairer for my Ugg Boots (one had been chewed by the dog – he did survive my wrath); supermarket – well serviced by Morrisons, Aldi and Iceland; but there are a number of lovely shops as well and even better there was a Costa (real coffee).

We found that Rose’s does a great breakfast and the coffee is excellent – “barista-on-site”.

One morning whilst I was busy earning a few dollars for Diane to spend sometime, she took Banjo out for a walk, before we were venturing up to the supermarket.

Upon her return and after I had finished what I was doing we were ready to head off – the customary question “Is it cold outside dear?” – to which the reply came “you will be OK without your coat, but I will take mine”.

I didn’t process that answer in the usual way that I would and we headed off – shopping bags and trolley in tow – the breeze had an unusual chill about it – we had gone too far to return for the coat and I had time to think about what I hadn’t earlier.

A nice day in the sun but rather cold in the shade – the air was pretty chilly.

At least one of us was cosy warm.

After our trip down to Watford; catching up with Maggie, Paddy and Phil; we returned with a doctors registration for Diane – job done.

How did we get it done? I will keep that secret for now.

Now for the bank account.

We moved again on Saturday and had decided to make for Tixall Wide where we now are moored. The Clifford Arms is very much a dog-friendly pub and Banjo enjoyed the experience – even with the barstaff treating the pooches to some munchies. We returned for Sunday lunch, which whilst it wasn’t a traditional roast, was more than satisfactory and very good value. A bit more of a wander around – over to see Shugborough Hall (from outside the area) – we will visit at a later date.

Back to the boat and Diane was ensconced in front of the TV for Strictly Come Dancing (the elimination).

The weather is expected to get a bit wetter on Tuesday so we need to consider when we will move – either before or after – which will it be?

The “Wide” is wonderful and so peaceful – we could stay here for another week (but we won’t be).

Monday, 17 October 2011

Do you want batteries with that?

Monday 10th October to Sunday 16th October 2011

47 Miles, 14 Locks, 1 Swing Bridges – for this week

Totals: 922 Miles, 768 Locks, 27 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 19 Swing Bridges

A quite pleasant way to spend half an hour on a Monday – we had no sooner pushed away than when we went around the corner at Hillmorton when who do we run across – Paul and Lynne on Piston Broke – so naturally one stops in the middle of the canal for a bit of a chat, catch up on things and said our goodbyes when not one but two boats came along and needed to pass by – a very pleasant start to the day.

We were on our way to Rugby to catch up with my eldest daughter Rebecca, who timed it to perfection and was just arriving in the carpark as we were mooring up. It was too windy for a cruise – well too windy for winding twice and end up back where we were, but we ate lunch at the Harvester and found out how everything was going – she was over here for 2 weeks to see friends before returning to Australia and continue her studies on the way to becoming a paediatric surgeon, which will involve a stint in New Zealand next year.

We lingered for an extra day in Rugby for some restocking and a much needed haircut for me – it was starting to look a bit wild and woolly, but I am assured that the result is much better.

Onward to Hawkesbury Junction and as I had indicated last week, working whilst Diane cruises along and watching changing scenery is very much better than the lifeless view from an office.

As we were going to be passing through Nuneaton on the next part of the journey we took the opportunity to visit Les and Pauline (nb Nibby) whom I had met last year and spent a bit of time with – they are still such wonderful people and is was great to be able to introduce them to Diane – even if Les was going to try and get me into some make-believe trouble – all backfired on him.

Whilst we were shopping in Nuneaton earlier Diane really embarrassed one of the check-out girls (well not really a girl but a woman).

Anyone who knows us will be aware of our usual response to the inevitable question when buying something – “Do you need a bag?” – to which one of us will reply “No, I married one” – this time it was Diane and the usual giggle and smile from the assistant ensued; but this time the shop was promoting packs of batteries and the woman asked Diane “Do you need batteries?” and very quickly the retort was “No, he doesn’t need batteries – he is fine without them” and the woman turned bright red as she obviously was thinking about something she could not say out loud.

Down through Atherstone and we moored up at Alvecote outside the Samuel Barlow pub – after dinner we were over there for a drink and to catch up with Paul – who runs/owns the pub (not exactly sure – but has worked wonders with it) – it was busy as usual and caught up with Robbie and discussed a bit about boating but also the Wales v France game on the following morning.

It also transpired that Paul was putting on breakfast for some of the regulars and very pleasing to say we qualified so we rocked up at 8:45am into watch the match on the big screen and enjoy a very delicious breakfast.

All bar one were supporting the Welsh, and unfortunately Wales fell foul of the referee and the French as well – try again in 4 more years – the same as for the Australians against the All Blacks.

Robbie was the lone supporter of the French (due to parentage only I suspect).

In the space of just 12 hours we had enjoyed ourselves immensely and as usual we will be back there next time in the area.

It is not hard really to meet up with people who you just want to keep seeing again and this week has been just something to prove all of that.

A while ago we had made the decision to change the name of the boat from “Gypsy Rover” to “Ferndale” and I have almost completed the repainting of the back panel on each side – removing the old name. We have indicated this to a number of people along the way and are finding less people reacting to the old superstitions of changing the name. So when the time for the licence renewal comes in December the name will be changed with BW as well.

We are now nearing the point where we will be past the point of winter stoppages that would have prevented us reaching the marina and well ahead of schedule we are.

We will be able to take it a bit easier in the travelling which lays immediately ahead and continue to enjoy this unique lifestyle that we have – with or without extra batteries.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Summer has gone – and winter is around the corner

Monday 26th September to Sunday 9th October 2011

79 Miles, 86 Locks, 3 Tunnels, 3 Swing Bridges – for this fortnight

Totals: 875 Miles, 754 Locks, 27 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 18 Swing Bridges

The first week was very enjoyable at times – just plain too warm at others, but we were to find out how much it would change for the second week – from shorts and t-shirts to long trousers and jackets.

After a very enjoyable weekend down at Rickmansworth we journeyed back up to Watford to say our goodbyes to Maggie and Paddy – and we also caught up with Lisa and son, Jonathon (off to University next week).

That notorious Chelsea supporter Phil was also home, but we managed to have a very good night anyway.

Wednesday morning came and we were off after getting some work completed and we have made very good time and distance without being too crazy about it all.

Our first time-frame was to be past the Winkwell swing bridge by 3rd October when it was being taken out of action for a month – achieved that with 3 days to spare.

Further along we stopped overnight at Berkhamstead – we do enjoy it here and it is a most friendly location – next time we will be spending more time along the way – circumstances for this trip mean that there was limited time to stay more than overnight.

The moorings at Marsworth on the reservoir were very good and the early morning sights really were so very delightful – especially after enjoying the late afternoon/early evening light the night before with a beer or two.

Watching the flocks of birds landing and using the water gave one an added perspective and greater understanding of the need for these sanctuaries.

But onward we must and we did – reaching the Grove Lock later on Saturday before deciding this would be fine for the rest of the weekend – after all from our mental schedule we were a day ahead.

A morning walk into Leighton Buzzard whilst it was still coolish was a good way to start the day – the walk back once the heat had started was less welcoming.

Sunday lunch at The Grove was good without being something to yearn for in the future.

The weather this week has been the source of constant conversation – with the temperatures more reminiscent of a British summer than a British autumn.

We were still in need of getting more miles (and locks) behind us – although we were well on schedule, it cannot be taken for granted that we will want to travel each day – the weather being the main interruption to progress.

We travelled to Water Eaton, a now favourite spot as it provides a very good area to walk Banjo and also it is extremely quiet and peaceful.

Through the ubiquitous Fenny Stratford lock and swing bridge and we moved a long way after that.

With a lock-free pound for some 11 miles, Diane took control of the tiller and sent me below – not for domestic duties but to get on with my work. It added a new dimension to working afloat – watching the scenery constantly changing and meaning that by the time we reached our destination we had both travelled and I had finished a fair share of the quota of work for that day.

There was an occasional whistle from the tiller as she decided that the obstacles immediately ahead – mainly moving and moored boats in combination needed a steadier hand while she could just watch.

There was the later afternoon experience with canoeists starting to increase in numbers – sprinting past the boat and suddenly darting in font – very similar to a motorcyclist and a semi-trailer (HGV) – there was even an attempt by one to try and make it through a bridge hole in front – only at the last minute did they stop – sensing that I wasn’t making any allowances for their potential stupidity.

Speaking of things stupid we had two consecutive days travelling through the Stoke Bruerne Locks and then the Buckby Locks where we encountered groups of boaters who waited until the lock they were in was filled before thay sent someone forward to set the next lock and then waited in the lock until the next was ready – effectively holding up everyone behind them.

Diane could not help herself and went forward telling them to get someone to go ahead whilst they were working one lock and prepare the next – didn’t work – some people are just thick and don’t deserve any sympathy.

Still we arrived in Braunston on Saturday and after a reasonable Sunday lunch we were off to Hillmorton – Monday we need to be in Rugby to catch up with my eldest daughter Rebecca – over here on 2 weeks holiday.

We have started watching Strictly Come Dancing and I fear this may overtake our Saturday nights – now that the darker cooler/colder nights are rapidly approaching – still it could be worse (I will just need to think about how)

Monday, 26 September 2011

Bankers are Fl****g *ankers !!!!

Monday 19th September to Sunday 25th September 2011

18 Miles, 28 Locks, 1 Swing Bridge – for this week

Totals: 796 Miles, 668 Locks, 24 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 15 Swing Bridges

We left Berkhamstead last Monday and arrived in Watford on Wednesday and started the process to get a bank account sorted out and doctors registration done for Diane.

You would have thought that we were there to raid the country. Diane is still a UK citizen – with valid passport – and with the explanation that she had arrived back in the country and did not have her own address.

Trying to open a bank account with a passport was easy peasy when I came here last year – and I am Australian. All she wanted to do was to put her own money into an account and withdraw her own money out of the account; she wasn’t looking for any bank interest (as if there would be any) – wasn’t even that concerned when she told it could only be cash withdrawals from an ATM.

But no, she was declined by the bank for an account and they would not even explain why – let’s just call them Bank B (for Barclays). Then they wanted a photocopy of her passport for their records because she had made a request to open an account – she told them where they could go.

The doctor local to the address that we have, was the next – we both presented ourselves – essentially for Diane to register – but because she had no proof of address (like a bank statement) she couldn’t register. The clincher was that I could – I had the bank statement and the passport. The irony of it all.

The long walk from the moorings at the bottom of Cassiobury Park into Watford town centre started to have an effect on us after the third or fourth trip in – the legs and feet were deteriorating and we were a wee bit knackered from it all.

We have taken a few steps forward but a few less steps backward this week and will need to spend a little bit more time in finalising everything.

Diane did manage to find a new android phone that she liked and after duly purchasing and going through it with the very helpful Ian at T-Mobile she was set – just like a kid with a new toy – well at least like any teenager walking down the street and pressing buttons on the phone – completely oblivious to anyone or anything around her – just as well she was on her lead and I could guide her along – even if she had to apologise to others along the way for obstructing them.

No amount of playing however prevented her from needing further help and we returned to T-Mobile the next day after discovering that there was a problem with the phone - it wouldn’t allow text messages to be sent or received – so another helpful person Fraser, resolved the situation – the SIM card needed to be replaced.

(Her picture is now up on the noticeboard at T-Mobile under the heading “Beware of this woman”).

Sunday, 18 September 2011

She has cometh

Monday 12th September to Sunday 18th September 2011

24 Miles, 24 Locks, 2 Swing Bridges – for this week

Totals: 778 Miles, 640 Locks, 24 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 14 Swing Bridges

The last part of my journey to reach the point from whence I would pick up Diane was reached on Tuesday. Thought that it was Fenny Stratford, but I miscalculated the roads after that so I needed to travel just a bit further down to Bridge 98 – on Tuesday – and precisely 15 seconds after I left the heavens opened up – all of this at the Fenny Stratford lock with its quirky swing bridge in the middle of the lock – usually a nice exercise to enjoy, but in a downpour it was not the first thing on my list of wants for that day.

Still, that behind and moored up – all was well with the world.

After that all went like clockwork and reached Birmingham airport at 12:20pm and at about 12:40 Diane appeared from the arrival hall – she had returned.

Of course she had returned, but I have to say that the fitness level indicated that just a wee bit too much of the “off-season” jaunt back to Australia had not left anything in the fitness tank.

I wasn’t going to let her wallow over her jet-lag – we moved from Thursday – and have made it as far as Berkhamstead for the Sunday roast at The Crown; then movement up to The George to see the end of Tottenham demolish Liverpool 4-0 and then Man United beat Chelsea 3-1.

Saturday had also been a day of watching the football and we caught the end of the 4-3 Blackburn win over Arsenal and the 3-0 QPR win over wolves – this time in Tring – just a short 1.5 mile stroll from the canal.

It will be a fairly well travelled couple this week as we head further south and with me being on annual leave from work, it will be even more enjoyable.

The weather certainly is starting to turn cooler/colder the days progress toward the end of September, but we are looking forward to enjoying this time and the time to come as we can finally embark on the journey that we have planned for so long.

Life is Good !

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Agony, the Ecstasy and the Apprehension

Monday 5th September to Sunday 11th September 2011

33 Miles, 21 Locks, 2 Tunnels – for this week

Totals: 754 Miles, 616 Locks, 24 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 12 Swing Bridges

The heater was finally reinstalled last Monday and really works well, not that it didn’t before, but it sounds as though it does – more from relief that it is back and running than from any sound idea that it really is better. Nice to know that it will (in all likelihood) give us good service over winter.

These are for Elly and Mick - the restored
Dover - as seen on TV
Heading off from Braunston on Tuesday, after a lengthier stop than originally planned, I met a group of Australians that I had spoken to last week (amongst the many that I had talked to) and they had not been through a lock before so as I explained to them how it all worked, we quietly and gently worked through the 6 locks at Braunston and then I followed them through the tunnel.

Up on the hard stand at Braunston
We became separated at the top of the Buckby locks due to a boat already waiting, and I bid them farewell and teamed up with an older couple – Sheila and Colin on a converted tug - I say older and by way of example Sheila offered the information that they had been married for 51 years. So a single-hander and two older people worked down through the 7 Buckby / Whilton locks in pretty good time - I moored up for lunch and they continued.

I was heading for the moorings at the top of Weedon, which were duly achieved and I settled there for a couple of days before heading down to Stoke Bruerne where I hadn’t quite decided on how long I would moor up there.

As is the case, I again met an Australian family (we are everywhere) just being gongoozlers– wife and husband and there three boys over here to see her sister who had married a farmer and settled in the area – not her first trip her, but the first for the rest of the family.

I had decided that I would head off the next day, but thought I would just walk Banjo before going and I met up with Anne (and Chas) on NB Moore-2-Life and of course Molly – it was then that I heard that a boat had come to grief in the lock above us – caught on the cill, with the bow underwater and the front saloon with a fair degree of water.

I ventured up to take a look at the scene – something I can’t forget – the sheer agony of seeing a boat lying at such an awkward angle – fortunately the two owners as well as their 20 year old cat were safe (and fairly shaken). BW were on the scene trying to work out the best way to rectify the situation.

The obligatory dog photo for Sam and Vivienne
They certainly determined what needed to be done and came down to advise the people on the 5 or 6 boats in the long pound that they would need to take their boats down from this pound and maybe down through 2 locks as they drained this pound to remove water from the lock.

We were all held up no matter which way we were heading as they wanted to keep the water levels in all of these lower pounds up for the additional boats in each.

Met another lovely couple Marian and Richard on NB Eleni Mae and we shared a few hours together waiting for the time to go – 5 hours after the initial problem we were able to move down through the remaining tow locks and were off to Cosgrove.

The boat had been refloated and the water had been pumped out in a way to minimise any further damaged – a good job done by BW – well done guys.

Eventually I have made my way to Milton Keynes and moored up on the city side of the canal at one of the four 48-hour moorings – a rare find indeed – and as the elderly person on the boat following said “I’ve only ever managed to get in their once in my boating experience) – the sheer ecstasy of it all. Not saying that the other side is not good – this is just better.

Beautiful countryside viewed from the Cosgrove Aqueduct

Part of the mural in Milton Keynes - too big for one shot

So as of tonight there are just 3 more sleeps until Wednesday and my beloved will be returning, but I have a dilemma, how do I explain to her that as thrilled as I am that she has returned, ITV1 has the 1st game in the Champions League that night and Man United are playing Benfica – maybe she will be tired and won’t notice – I don’t think so – sounds like a bit of a scheduling problem.

Monday, 5 September 2011

No absolutes; no absolutions; no ablutions

Monday 29th August to Sunday 4th September 2011

10 Miles – for this week

Totals: 721 Miles, 595 Locks, 22 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 12 Swing Bridges

Earlier in the week it looked likely that the most exciting thing that had happened was going to a pumpout and fill up with diesel and turning the boat around to come back to Braunston, but as the week went on and I sat down and thought more about what had actually happened, I really saw that all of the things that we all espouse to about what is great about being on the water was what had happened and what I should be most pleased about.

For me (us) it is about being relaxed; doing what we want to do; meeting and talking to perfect strangers; having a freedom to explore new places and to truly enjoy all of this – and that is what has happened this week.

Yes, there are still needs to be satisfied, like getting the pumpout; like filling the diesel and water tanks; and the shopping for food and of course removing the rubbish.

But this week I have had so many different and varied conversations – not the standard ones about toilets and engines but more about nature and history and family and people.

I met a couple who had been on their boat for 28 years and it has only been in the last 8 years that they really have had a chance to spend extended periods of time on it and be able to travel further than what a week had allowed; how it is not just movement for movements sake, but enjoying the location where you are. The dog laid down in boredom until he got some tidbits from the lady of the boat.

A casual conversation introduced me to a couple who were with friends on holiday back to the UK from whence they had moved 30 years ago to Australia – Perth to be precise. How much they all enjoyed the canal lifestyle – the more relaxed that they were, after even a day on the water. The man was an ex-lockie from the Braunston area and I was listening to someone who was able to talk about the way of life from many years ago and how the canals were; what they were all about – the dog of course couldn’t have cared less – he just wanted to go for his walk, but as usual he showed great patience as I listened.

A meeting with a woman waiting for her daughter to arrive for a couple of days afloat and she told me about how much she loved thunderstorms and her desire to be one of the storm chasers in the American mid-west; her dog was more patient. Her husband intermittently wandering back from the road way to say no sign of them yet. Banjo started the whining act but I wasn’t listening.

Discussing an upcoming talk on canals with the man posting the details on the noticeboard – he was 76 years of age and didn’t look it, had had a stroke which didn’t show and had spent 30 years as a liveaboard prior to all of this before he bought a house right along side a lock and was involved with the Braunston History Society; the dog gave up and went to look at the water in the lock.

And in-between all of these there have been so many numerous short conversations along the tow path about things of inconsequence but all of which give a chance to meet and talk to total strangers.

Nowhere is there a system as large as this one where people cruise along, walk along and talk along and seemingly wander aimlessly through each day, but at the same time experience the unique qualities of another person; engage them in sometime deep conversations or just simply discuss where they have been or where they are going.
the building on the left is the Admiral Nelson pub at Lock 3
the building on the right a private cottage - no problems
with the drive home - and all flanked by a lovely lock setting

No, it may not have been an exciting week in terms of what most people would call exciting, certainly not from our kids point of view, but, yes, an exciting week in terms of the people that I have met.

part of a pathway we discovered leading from Lock 6
back to Lock 3 - flanked by plane trees

Now, off to clean up after the dog who has really been bored witless!

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Cows !! – BW Cut Costs

Monday 22nd August to Sunday 28th August 2011

11 Miles, 3 Locks – for this week

Totals: 711 Miles, 595 Locks, 22 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 12 Swing Bridges

It used to be that when you were younger, the day after you got a haircut was always a lot colder than the day before and because of the haircut you thought you were freezing; well the boating equivalent was this week – Richard from RML Services (Mobile Marine Engineers) came on Thursday to take away the diesel heater for a service in preparation for winter – what happened the next day? – Winter arrived – well, Friday was a very cold and wet day and probably would have been a day when the heater would have been on, but it wasn’t there – in fact Thursday was a fine and sunny day up until 5 minutes after he disappeared around the bend below the Hillmorton locks – then it got colder.

Thursday was also a memorable day, as earlier on it seemed to me that BW must have read my blog last week and seen the two guys mowing the towpath grass, when we were moored at Hawkesbury Junction – at Hillmorton we had a mother and child double act achieving a similar result but at a much reduced cost (see pictures); so I am thinking, were BW the real instigators of this escape from the adjoining field to get the grass trimmed on the cheap.

"not quite my best side"

"try that again - I forgot to smile"

Back to being a single-hander means that locks are a potential place to hold up other crews and I was aware that the Hillmorton locks with three relatively close together should be traversed early; with this in mind I set off on Saturday rather early but quietly; I also needed to fill the water tank so a stop at the water point – the one nearer to the locks than the other – knowing that the boat in front (on the long term moorings) was empty – hadn’t seen anyone there at all and it was all locked up – I gently and quietly pulled in – obviously not quiet enough for some. The woman from the boat 50 metres back poked her head out and whilst I could not hear all of the words, the ones that I did told me that unlike the name of the boat I might be wrong to say she was lady-like.

Seemed strange to me, because standing at the back of my boat I could clearly hear the noise from a major road nearby and the trains from the line – both of which were more audible than the engine on the boat.

For my favourite sister-in-law, Vivienne, I have including these pictures of Banjo as she has requested.

Looks just like a gremlin before he is fed after midnight

The left-ear up, right-ear down technique

This is the same dog that this week has achieved the following:

1. decided that he would lie on his back and scratch it on the grass on the towpath – on the towpath grass that was sloping down to the canal – the same grass that was still wet from the overnight rain – the wet grass would have been fine – the splash into the canal gave him away – yes – slid down the grass and straight in – he did manage to scramble out himself

2. as I was about to exit the top lock at Hillmorton and before I had engaged the prop, the sounds and the water splashing onto the back deck gave him away again – despite telling him to stay on the boat he has decided to jump on/jump off on either side of the boat – I guess this time he mistimed – he had a few more miles to think about what he had done.

3. has decided that canal water tastes better than fresh water from the tank on board

Moving along the part of the canal shared by both the Oxford and the Grand Union a sad sight for those whose interest lie in the boating heritage – a boat moored on the bottom

Someone will see value in restoring it
- not me

NB "Iceberg" - 90% below the water

A walk into Braunston on Saturday, was followed by a thunderstorm on the way back to the boat and not just the lightning and the thunder but we had hail as well – result was a drenched dog; my umbrella protected all of me but my shoes.

He is a bit cleaner now after the bath – a pastime he decidedly doesn’t enjoy.

So we have settled in for the long weekend – a long weekend signifying the end of summer – I think that arrived last Thursday at 11am.

Sunday was a chance to have a day off from work and anything else to worry about – first real day off in two months – a phone call from James on Friday to see where I would be on Sunday and then another this morning to make sure of where we should meet – The Boathouse (on the canal) – walked into the pub at just after 12 and didn’t have time to even order a beer when he was there – neither Debbie nor the two girls – Rachel and Kathryn – knew anything about it and were very much surprised to see me walk out to the car to greet them.

Had a really nice day – walked back to the boat so that they could spoil Banjo; talked a lot and then back to the pub to have a meal – they left about 5 hours after arriving, but it was such a good afternoon.

Above everything else for this week the very best news of all is that Diane has booked her return ticket and will be back in mid September – so we now only have to count the days off the calendar.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Can you hear the hum, Fernando?

Monday 15th August to Sunday 21st August 2011

12 Miles, 1 Lock, 1 Tunnel, 1 Swing Bridge– for this week

Totals: 700 Miles, 592 Locks, 22 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 12 Swing Bridges

The newest crew member has had a very good week continuing to learn about boating life and sleeping in a bit past 4 am when he came to check if I was awake – I pretended to be sound asleep – I am sure he wanted to go out for a pee – have to hold on for a bit longer

We had moored almost at Hawkesbury Junction – well only 500 metres away.

Over and back many times across the lock gates at Sutton Stop Lock – a old dab hand at this he has become.

So an easy walking area with a nice towpath – not muddy or really that dirty – plenty of boats moored along the line – as is always the case.

we didn't actually cruise past this but did walk past it a few times -
bridge decoration on the way into Coventry
Banjo’s attitude this week during the regular 3 times a day walks was to poke his nose into everyone’s cratch if it was open and, if he could get away with it, walking onto the back deck to see what was happening.

The ducks have not caused any concern – he walks along and really without deviating from the towpath, they seem to want to go onto the water.

The first encounter with a swan went well – well it went well for the swan who reacted, as could have been predicted, when a dog gets too close; raised itself to full height with loud hissing and didn’t back off an inch when the dog was barking – the dog however wimped out of it.

The Greyhound has become a firm favourite with him especially around lunchtime – seems something finds its way from the plate directly to him and usually other dogs around to get to know.

not only police travel in pairs -
 how many does it take to cut the towpath grass

why does it seem to cost double to cut the grass

The moorings are pretty good here really, the only thing that could be said against them was the constant humming from the M6 motorway which is only about a kilometre away.

Inside with all of the doors and windows closed, it can still be heard quite clearly through the mushroom vents and is a constant in the background when outside; further down the towpath and near to the crossover point it can be quite noisy, so not sure how the natives feel about it.

Moved just a few miles on Friday down onto the North Oxford – still the continuing hum of the M6 in the distance; he alternated equally between the roof, the back deck and the seat.

that pesky M6 - funny that it was noisy only on one side
- after we passed underneath the noise disappeared
- must be uni-directional mufflers on the trucks
Don't get me wrong, the hum is not causing any problems to me, it is just that I wonder about the people who live around and near the motorways and the fact that there is enough traffic in the early morning to be causing the hum that it does.

A pleasant morning cruising down to Rugby, where we caught up with Geoff and Jackie from nb Benson, whom we had met at Hawkesbury Junction – we chatted again for quite a while and Geoff took no pity on the woman from nb Suant when she was enquiring about some porthole covers – stirred her unmercifully – she took it all very well.

Sunday – a day of rest – that would be nice – but I did manage to find out how to carefully remove the windows from the boat – Steve on nb Vivien Anne was doing two of his – removing any underlying rust, painting and resealing, so very much an instructive day – now all I need to do is be confident enough to put the theory into practice.

Banjo is finding his place when moving; has found his place when moored; and will find his place pretty quick again at 4 in the morning.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

If the dog floats, does that mean he is a witch?

Monday 1st August to Sunday 14th August 2011

25 Miles, 2 Tunnels– for this fortnight

Totals: 688 Miles, 591 Locks, 21 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 11 Swing Bridges

I decided that for the first week there really wasn’t anything worthwhile talking about – just a lot of time spent working, no travelling and nothing really worth disturbing anyone’s napping time.

A family of swans "terrorising" the end of the Ashby

The highlight this week has been the arrival of our dog, Banjo – a gold spoodle, now 10 years old. He flew in by Qantas and arrived on Wednesday morning at Heathrow.

No trouble with duty-free or declarations and no rabies either. No need for quarantine as he had his paperwork and vet certificates in order. So a trip down to the Animal Centre at Heathrow to pick him up.

Do you ever wonder what has gone wrong when you encounter a government run department that actually runs efficiently; is friendly; and ahead of time? Well you will have a lot to be wary of regarding the Animal Centre because all of these apply – I arrived a bit ahead of time – about an hour – you can never be sure of traffic; I entered the door which was marked for pick-ups; followed the instructions on the inner-door. A person appeared within 10 seconds; asked me my name and the name of my pet; within 2 minutes was back with the paperwork – I only had to sign that I had received it and then a further 5 minutes and Banjo was out.

From the time I stopped the car in the carpark until I drove out, the elapsed time was no more than 20 minutes – surely these people are able to run a whole country – on that basis England would be out of the mire in which it finds itself.

But I guess they are different to the politicians – the animal people are sticking to something they know about.

So the rest of the week was taken up with acclimatising Banjo to his new surroundings; making sure that he got used to the sounds of the boat; starting up, stopping, getting up and down the back steps – not an easy task for a small dog.

Later in the week we moved the boat; let him get the wind in his hair and then moored up; long walks to let him familiarise himself with the English smells.

Saturday was a longer cruise and involved mooring up for water, so we needed to start working on where he should be and he was fine; he was almost mesmerised by the sound and flow of the water from the prop and laid down on the back deck to watch it – the ducks did not deter his concentration and he wasn’t concerned about much else.

After a while he decided to move up onto the roof and wander back and forth to see what was happening around him.

All went well until…..

Being a single-hander, there is always a time that comes for the need of a natural break (as they say in cycling) – you can’t just duck downstairs and spend a penny; I needed to moor up and ‘do what I gotta do’.

Well, anyway, I couldn’t quite get the back of the boat in close to the edge – well it was out a fair way – so far that I needed to move down the gunnel to midway to jump to the towpath and tie up.

It was during this process that Banjo decided that he would emulate what I had done; so he walked carefully down the gunnel, got to where I had jumped from. It is worth saying that he is not the type of dog that is really gung-ho about doing things – in fact he is pretty timid. Not on this occasion – and jump he did.

He is not known as a dog that jumps far and he didn’t astound me on this score – straight into the canal; but no panic, he was on the water, not under and it was only a matter of quickly pulling him out.

Looking like a drowned water rat, he shook himself off and I tied up and went below, leaving him on the towpath.

As I finished there was this strange scratching noise on the outside of the boat – yes – he had tried to jump back on again and missed. Plucking him out again and onto the roof; getting clear of the dog spray as he shook, I untied and got under way again.

Banjo was left to think about what he had done and, not being too cold, he dried off relatively quickly during the rest of our cruise.

In his defence I can say that he has mastered everything else that he has been asked to do – he is very good at getting off and getting back on – when the boat is right along side the towpath.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Evidence of Things not Seen

Monday 25th July to Sunday 31st July 2011

14 Miles – for this week

Totals: 663 Miles, 591 Locks, 19 Tunnels, 18 Lift Bridges, 11 Swing Bridges

No cycling this week, football hasn’t started yet (well that’s only if you don’t count the SPL), the Olympics are a year away, so what is there to do for watching any sort of sport – well I didn’t count the European Darts Championship as truly a sport – only in the sense that the training revolves around drinking alcohol and eating – it’s a bit like saying the jockeys are sportspeople because they weigh next to nothing and can steer a horse – in my mind it’s the horse that actually does the running.

But I did poke my head into the realm of the aforementioned darts this week – now I know how to throw a dart or two, but not with any sort of accuracy, but I saw something that had the commentators in ecstasy about yesterday – what was the equivalent of a perfect 300 ten-pin bowling game (another “sport” based on alcohol and food) – the 9-dart leg – reaching 501 on a double with only 9 darts – you find something new everyday and now I can cross this one off my list of things I must see in my life – and I didn’t even know that I wanted to see it.

However, one of the things that I did want to see and I did (in fact) see it – or not see it – not quite sure.

The Ashby runs along side the Battle of Bosworth area, so I went for a bit of a stroll (long walk) to see it all.

The exhibition in the Battle Centre is very good and explains a lot of the history surrounding this period in England’s past, but with the re-examination of the area in the last 5 years, it was still unclear to me where exactly the actual battle took place – I know that they are in the process of moving the commemorative stone and signs and that this does take time – it just means I will have to go back again to see the battle site for sure.

The weekend had for a little while, been assigned as the time for re-varnishing the two sets of back doors and the frames of the wardrobes – it had taken a little while to actually be able to get what I wanted and it would take some time to apply the necessary number of coats of the varnish.

The varnish in question is a marine-grade waterborne polyurethane satin – very low odour and suitable for exterior as well as interior use.

Preparation and removing everything in the area took some time and then on Saturday it was into it – 4 coats in the day – 2 hours between each coat. Sunday came and time for the second round of varnishing – I consulted the data for a second time for recoating information – mmmm!! – one says the maximum recoat time is 6 hours and the other says ….. 6 days ??? - both sets of glasses said the same thing
Took the advice on the can and resanded before reapplying.

After all of that it was off for Sunday lunch at The Globe which was excellent by the way.

Where emphasis is placed on the result, without the public necessarily associating the people in the same way as you would an athlete or swimmer – what was SkySports showing – Formula 1 and Superbikes.