Thursday, 13 December 2012

Warm & Windy in Wellington

It's not long now until we will be experiencing a proper upside-down Kiwi Christmas now we have arrived in New Zealand, which will be our home for the next few weeks, before we set off after the new year to visit friends in other parts of this marvellous country.
I did our last post on my little tablet and couldn't get all the Aussie pix I wanted on, so here are a few more.
Pat enjoys a paddle on Nobby's beach on the Gold Coast

Feeding the pelicans on the beach draws big crowds

Pat tries out Stu's pool

It will certainly be different to our traditional Christmas in the northern hemisphere, influenced, of course, by the temperature. It's the beginning of summer here, and although Christmas trees, santa hats and carols are very much in evidence, Santa is as likely to arrive carrying a surfboard with sunglasses on than on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, though I must say I noticed a number of cars with reindeer ears poking out on either side of their front windows while we were on the Gold Coast in Australia and a lot of the TV adverts feature snow falling in the background as they announce the huge savings they can offer, if you buy before Christmas.

And when I say upside down that goes for the Christmas colours too. The traditional green, red and white which we associate with the tree, Santa and snow are transposed here to the green of the grass, the red of the blooms on the  Pohutukawa tree, which Kiwis call their “Christmas Tree” and the white of their sandy beaches.

As we said in our last blog, written in the north of Tasmania, we were a bit underwhelmed with the island. I had spoken to a lot of people who had visited and really raved about its beauty, and there is no denying it is an attractive, lush island. Their annual rainfall and temperate climate see to that. But to call it “A World Apart”, is a bit of an exaggeration. It has some great beaches, but so do a lot of countries, and the terrain around Cradle Mountain, is very picturesque, but so is North Wales. Pat reckons we are now “over travelled”, and destinations we used to embrace have lost their “wow” factor for us. I am not sure that is completely true, but I was not unduly unhappy when we hopped on the plane for Sydney and then on to Auckland.
Our Tassy transport

Our base in Hobart

The only Tasmanian Devil we came across was at the Cascade Brewery

View looking towards The Bay Of Fires

The excellent bottle-conditioned Kentish Ale at "Seven Sheds"

Auckland is a city we have driven through a couple of times, from the airport, but never stopped to investigate so we decided to have a long weekend there, and I am glad we did, though our accommodation was not that great.

Apart from our first day, the weather was warm and sunny, and we took in as much of the city on foot as possible. Erica had recommended some nice beaches and on Sunday we caught a ferry over to Waiheke and had a lovely time exploring on the islands buses.
Auckland's downtown area from the harbour front

Onegeri beach on Waiheke

Now we are at Erica and James place on the outskirts of Wellington. They live in a new town house, that literally backs on to a park. The local professional cricket team, the Wellington Firebirds, have moved in, following a fire at their base in the city, so all week there has been the clatter of leather on willow and cries of “Owzat” reverberating around the park, which lies in a natural bowl, with steep hills on three sides and dense woodland behind us. It’s a very pleasant spot.
It’s early summer here and the weather has been quite hot for Wellington, but today (Friday), the winds that the city is famous far, have returned, and the clouds are scudding across the sky. We are baby sitting our nine-month granddaughter today and she is being as good as gold.
Livi helps her Grandpop to celebrate his birthday this week

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tanned in Tasmania

I am pleased to report that they are "Decking the halls" with Australian holly as I write from Tasmania, and earlier this morning I head Dean Martin pleading over a supermarkrt PA to "Let It Snow, Let it Snow". I think there is about as much chance of that happening round here at the moment as being bitten by one of those pesky Tasmanian Devils.
Anyway, all is well with Pat and yours truly. Our access to wi fi has been problematic over the last week or so. So this will be a short blog. Record summer temperatures have followed us from the Gold Coast in Queensland, down to Melbourne and south to Tasmania, though today has been decidedly cooler.
We had three days in Hobart and we are currently in the north of the island in  Swiss mountain resort. Think Port Merian and "The Prisoner " and youll get the idea.
We both like Australia. Whats not to like, and its been great to catch up with old friends and family as we have travelled south. Everything is so expensive though, thanks to our pound being weak against the Aussie dollar .
We like Tasmania, but think its a bit overrated. They have some stunning coastlines but no better than in New Zealand and their food and wines are good but not great.
In some respects its very much like being at home. They are as paranoid about their weather as we are. there are fears about mass immigration - electricity prices are out of control - unemployment is rising - retail sales are stagnant - and nobody has  good word to say about their prime minister.
Pat gets spiritual in a wat in Chaing Mai

My oldest pal Stu, Nikki, and us on the Gold Coast
New Zealand next week.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Tearing Around Thailand

It's been two weeks now since we left the UK, and all is well. However, it did not start that way and our Bangkok flight from Heathrow was cancelled, so we spent the night at at local hotel and flew out the following day.

So we had only two days in Bangkok, but fitted a lot in with a food tour of the floating markets on day 2. Yummy food, which is what I will remember most about our Thai adventure.
Got lots of good pictures and will upload a load when I get to Australia.
It is supposed to be winter here but most days its hovered around 34 degrees. We assumed when we headed north to Chian Mai it would get a little cooler, but it was much the same. Made this bit of our journey with my pal David and his Thai wife Nong.

After a few days there we headed south for the beach and currently in the city of Pattaya. The guide books describe it as the centre for prostitution, drugs and general debauchery, and I suppose  its like Blackpool on Speed. It's tacky in parts, though our hotel, to the north of the city, is very pleasant, and full of our German friends,  who are still at it, with their beach towels!
On Monday night we leave from  Bangkok and fly to Brisbane via Sydney before travelling south for a week in Tasmania.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Back to base

So that’s it for year one of our sojourn around the waterways of England and Wales. Some 850 miles and around 600 locks I make it, which is a ridiculous figure really, and I reckon we will halve that next year.
We are now back at Trent Lock on the Erewash Canal, from where we departed in April and I think we are quite pleased to be stopping now. As much as we love the life, the cold and damp are starting to seep into this “soft southerners” bones, and my lower back, which is held together with mechano, is aching more that it has of late. The system is looking lovely though, with the reds, yellows and browns of autumn being very much in evidence.
Our journey up the River Soar from Leicester saw us cruising into Loughborough last Saturday lunchtime. After a shuffle around the shops to look for suitcases, Pat went off to have her hair cut and I adjourned to “The Swan In The Rushes”, which is an outstanding pub, and close to the basin. I was only going to stay for one, but the beer was so good, I had a couple more before Pat joined me for a fourth. “Strictly” was a bit of blur that evening and Pat assures me that I slept through most of it.

A cracking pub
The Soar goes up and down like a yo-yo, and we were acutely aware of its reputation. The weather forecast seemed to change whenever we checked and the river levels on the Environment Agencies website see-sawed wildly. We had built in three to four days of possible hold-ups but we were only held up at one lock where the red traffic light advised us not to proceed, and that was only for 24 hours. Some boaters chose to ignore the warnings, but having never cruised the Soar, I was not going to take any chances. The Soar certainly has a lot of charms, but both of us would prefer to be on the canal network.
At one lock we had our photo taken by the Leicester Mercury, a daily paper serving that area. Volunteers from The Canal & River Trust were out maintaining a certain stretch of canal north of the city, and the photographer from the paper who was taking pics wanted a boat in the background as we approached the lock.
From Loughborough it was a slow meander north where the Soar meets the Trent. The river got wider and when the cooling towers of the Radcliffe Power Station emerged through the mist we knew we were nearly there.

A local landmark
As soon as we crossed the Trent and entered the lock the skies opened and it poured most of the afternoon. What a welcome back.
It was good to see Mick and John again, who built TCW. We have a bit of a list for them to go through while we are away, which they can do at their leisure. And we now have our "Mythical Manual", for the boat. Hooray!
“Chynadour” arrived at back at the  lock on Thursday. This was the next bespoke boat built here after ours. Now two weeks old it is looking fabulous and Fred and Lisa are very proud owners. They left Saturday morning for a trip up to Nottingham, and I did a bit of painting while Pat got to work cleaning the boat from top to bottom.
We now have under two days left on the boat. Monday lunchtime we head south to my sisters in Potters Bar for a few days before we depart for Thailand on 1 November. As much as we are excited at the prospect of our travels to come, we will certainly miss life afloat. TCW has become our home and we wouldn't want to be living anywhere else. I am sure come next March, we will be itching to get back to her. The Boating blog will resume then, but I expect I will put the odd posting up as we travel round the world.
Thanks for all the comments, by the way.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Warm, Wet, Wild and Windy!

Conkers banging on to the roof – “Strictly” back on the box – it was only a matter of time before we broke out the gloves and woolly hats as the temperatures started and the winds picked up. And it does seem that the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” has arrived with a flourish with the canal network starting to appear very autumnal. No frosts, as yet, but there is still time before we finish cruising and head for sunnier climes at the end of the month.

Roger models this season's autumn collection
I am pleased to be able to report that our progress remains steady and we have easily averaged the five miles a day, we set ourselves as we left London and headed north, some three weeks ago. As I write this we are on a very nice mooring in Birstall, a village to the north of Leicester. There is a nature reserve opposite, a good-looking pub I will investigate later and the village shops are only a couple of minutes away.
Last weekend we experienced another of our canal networks major features. The Foxton flight of 10 staircase locks, about 10 miles south of Leicester, attracts huge crowds every weekend. They turn up to watch as boats climb and drop 75ft, in a very attractive setting, with two pubs and a tea room. On busy summer days you can wait in line for hours to navigate this flight and the nature of them means that five go up and then five go down. Luckily, we were first in line in the queue on Saturday morning and we were down at the bottom in around 40 minutes.
Foxton is unique for having been the sight of an “inclined plane” in the early years of the 20th century. The remains of this spectacular lifting mechanism can still be clearly seen. Boats would enter a “caisson”, a sort of floating bath, and this would be lifted on cables and rails, sideways on, up the side of the hill and dropped back in the water at the top.

Top: Foxton Inclined Plane, c1905
Bottom: What it looks like today

It was unique to the waterways and plans are underway to restore it, which will be impressive if the trust concerned, can pull it off.
We met up with our boating pals Dai and Jan at Foxton, on their Kingfisher-built built “Jandai”, and had a very pleasant evening with them in The Boathouse Inn, at the bottom of the flight. We last bumped into them in central Birmingham earlier this summer and it was good to catch up again, and see “Foxy”. Dai also helped to lock up down the flight – thanks mate, despite the derogatory T-shirt you insisted on wearing.

Pat, Dai and Jan is in there somewhere
In the last blog we posted, I whinged about tunnels, and how I wasn’t too keen on them at all. So imagine my deep joy when, on approaching two more this week we discovered that our tunnel light had packed up, and that it was a sealed unit. Pat stayed at the helm shining a Maglite on to the ceiling as I edged through, picking up the wall with another torch. We have no more tunnels, thank God, but our next lamp with have a replaceable bulb.

Why is Pat so excited about this bridge coming up?

Ohhh. That's why.
The rest of the week has been trouble free, but today, was very, very windy. It was a bit silly even going out in these conditions, but we have a schedule and I thought we would be sheltered as we were coming right through the centre of Leicester. Wrong! It was very....challenging and we were bounced around a lot. The fact that we did not meet one boat coming the other way probably says it all. Tomorrow we will be in Mountsorrel and are considering having a couple of days at Pillings Lock Marina this weekend, to start preparing the boat for its winter incubation. Then, all being well we will have a couple of days in Loughborough, before arriving at Trent Lock towards the end of next week.
We are hopeful of meeting Fred and Lisa before we leave. They took possession of Kingfisher’s boat after ours last Friday. It looks stunning on their blog so we are keen to swap notes and have a good nose around, before they set off on their adventures on the Trent and Mersey. We believe they are cruising the Erewash Canal for a few days.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Tunnel Vision

We’ve been gearing ourselves up for lashings of rain as we slide north westwards through Northants, but it’s been positively barmy over the last few days, well since the weekend anyway. The forecast keeps saying rain is on its way, but, as that old adage says, “the sun shines on the righteous”, and that’s me “Righteous Rog”.
It has meant, though, that we have been able to put a bit of a spurt on, as this cannot last for much longer, and today we are resting on the Welford arm of the Grand Union. We spent much of last weekend in the environs of Milton Keynes. I have been through the city by canal a few times, but it was a first for Pat. It is an attractive route, bordered by the linear park that runs along one side for much of its length, though the canal does skirt some of the more “well heeled” areas of the MK. Joining us was our old pal Laura, who I think, on reflection, I have known since I was about 15, so we go way back. Laura is a keen boater and I felt very confident in handing over the tiller to her. However the combination of her height and the huge suitcase bursting out from under our top box, made steering difficult for her. We also picked up another boating chum  Paul, who I cruise with every year under the “BIGCHINS” flag, and Viv. It was Viv’s first time on a narrowboat, and I think she had brought her seasick tablets. She soon got into it though. They got off at Wolverton and Laura stayed until we got to Cosgrove Lock.  
Our weekend guests. Viv, Paul and Laura

Considering that we often cruise on a Sunday (when not at the launderette), and have now clocked up over 600 miles, we had not encounted club fishing before. Perhaps the season is just starting. Throughout our cruise on Sunday there seemed to be miles of poles reaching out across the cut, almost daring you to collide with them, until the very last second, when they raise them skywards or shuffle them in beside them. Now, I have nothing at all against fishing. Personally, I don’t get it, and the waterways system is for all, but this phenomena just went on and on and on. Most of them were charming and we nodded to each, and passed the time of day with others, but it became quite tedious after an hour or two.
Of course, Stoke Bruerne is something else. Described as the “perfect canal village”, we arrived at the top lock in the centre of things at 2pm, and, it seemed, the whole world and his wife, had pitched up, as the weather was so nice.

Stoke Bruerne
One of the features of Stoke Bruerne is the Blisworth Tunnel, just a couple of hundred metres from the centre of things. This is the third longest tunnel on the system, coming in at around 1 ½ miles long. I think we were in there about 40 minutes, which was about 39 minutes too long for me. And then we had the Crick tunnel which is a bit shorter and took us 20 minutes to get through. Pat informs me we have a couple more as we head north. I’m not that keen on tunnels but we managed to get through without meeting another boat coming the other way.

Half way through the Blisworth Tunnel
We moored at Crick one night, and then turned right at Norton Junction, and are now on the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union, which will become the Soar at Leicester and take us right the way up to the Trent, and then we just have to cross that and get through the lock and boat is back home.
Yesterday was a long cruise through very remote locations and we decided to turn right off the main navigation and travel the mile or so down to the little village of Welford. I think the front of the boat is in Northants and the back in Leicestershire as the boundary is only yards from where we are moored in a very attractive basin with a marina on one side, all the facilities we need on the other and a decent free house, The Wharf, in the middle. The pub had a beer festival over last weekend and there are still a few tasty beers left, so as soon as I have finished this I am off down there.
Tomorrow, we cruise up to the famous Foxton flight of locks, where we are meeting our pals Jan and Dai, the Kingfisher boat before ours, for a night out.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Who’s pinched the water?

You can do without a lot of things on this boating lark but one thing you definitely can’t do without is a drop of water, so as soon as we looked out of the window on Monday morning we knew we had a problem. It was reinforced by all the drawers in the kitchen gaping open and a definite list to starboard. Walking from the stern of the boat to the bow was very “Titanic-ish”.
Overnight the stretch of canal we were on had dropped about a metre. We were not too bad, being in a deeper part of the cut, but the rest of the boats in front of us in this part of Berkhamstead, were cheekily showing the world their rudders and one its propeller.
That leaning feeling

Looks like the tide has gone out

We thought it all quite exciting, especially as we had not planned to go anywhere on Monday, but we should have guessed that mooring close to the summit of the Grand Union could present issues. The boys from C&RT (Canal and River Trust), scratched their heads and walked from lock to lock, saying their boss was on it, and sure enough, within an hour or two, we were floating again. It must be some borehole,  that they tap to balance either side.
This was in Berkhamstead, a delightful town on a very attractive stretch of the Grand Union, with three good pubs on the towpath and some good mooring (water permitting) outside Waitrose.

Cheeky swans in Rickmansworth
The last week has been very hectic aboard The Cat’s Whiskers with a number of comings and goings. First up was our pal Vic who joined us in Rickmansworth and stayed overnight as we chugged through Watford, mooring in Casiobury Park overnight. He left the following lunchtime and we continued to Apsley, close to Hemel Hempstead. Here, my pal Claire, who I worked with at John Lewis, joined us, with her Partner Phil. Neither of them had ever been on a narrowboat before and it was very much a baptism of fire, with 14 locks negotiated over a four-mile stretch into Berkhamstead.

Phil & Claire - First time boaters
They left and our pals Penny & Bob arrived the following day and left this morning. As attractive as this part of the Grand Union is, there are a flipping large number of locks to ascend and then descend and in the last two days we have done 24 of them, many with very “Sticky” paddles and heavy gates. That will ease over the next few days as we skirt Milton Keynes, heading for Stoke Bruerne and the Blisworth Tunnel, as this area is “lightly locked”, if such an expression exists. Finally, this afternoon, my sister Carol and her hubby Rob, popped up to see us at our mooring outside Tesco in Leighton Buzzard.

Sister Carol, Rob, Pat and bag of rubbish...oops
We have more guests this weekend and then it is just Pat and I. We have to average about five miles a day to get back to Long Eaton and Trent Lock by the last week in October. Weather and more importantly, river levels permitting, that shouldn’t be a major problem. Hopefully our next blog will come from somewhere in deepest Northants.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Here for the beer... and a few other things

So many people that we encounter, on the tow path, and around locks, often sigh and say how envious they are of our adopted lifestyle. Well, here’s how we normally spend our Sundays folks – in the local launderette. It often means a walk of a couple of miles there and back, normally in the rain, where we spend two to three hours as drums whirr, and my glasses steam up, in some run-down establishment, normally on the wrong side of the tracks.

Another Sunday....another launderette
Glamorous or what! And who wouldn’t want to empty the contents of your loo down a smelly hole, in a wooden hut, every couple of days. Corr, this is the life!
Most folks also think that cruising in the rain would be a problem and uncomfortable, but I say “bring it on”. After spending several years commuting into central London every day on a motorbike, getting wet presents no problem for me.  It’s the wind that I, and most boaters, do not like. Having little or no control over your pride and joy is no fun, especially when a big gust catches you sideways on, and sends you careering towards the bank, or inevitably, another boat.

The trusty fold-up Brompton delivers "The French Bread Express"
Listen to me, sounding like some sort of expert. It was only a year ago this week that the boat was lifted into the water and I got the chance to cruise on her, albeit, pulled by another boat, our pals on “Jandai”.
 Despite my general indifference to the weather, and by that I mean the wind and rain, it does impair our movements a bit, and while we have enjoyed a bit of an Indian summer up to last weekend, that has changed since we have arrived in London, and over the last days, it has rained on and off pretty much all of the time, though, to be fair, those in the North and North East have had a torrid time compared to us in the south. The shot of a narrowboat half submerged in York on the news on Tuesday night was particulary disturbing. Our worst day was Monday and we just stayed put and read books and watched TV most of the day.
Pat’s been nagging me for some time and I finally caved in last Sunday and lit our wood-burning stove for the first time since May on our return from the launderette. It soon became very toasty and I guess it’s the sign of the times that will now be lit most days now that autumn has well and truly arrived.

A novel form of propulsion
Last week I posed a question to our regular visitors to this blog. Why are there so many coconuts in the Grand Union in the Greenford, Southall, Brentford area?  A couple of you have told me that the local Hindu population in that area throw coconuts into the canal after family funerals, in the hope they will reach the sacred River Ganges. From our experience, most are stopping lock gates from fully closing!
The journey from Greenford up through Uxbridge and Harefield to Rickmansworth has been far more picturesque than I had imagined or remembered. Rural, with lots of lakes and rivers running alongside as we skirted the Gade Valley. Each bend offered a new take of the canal, with  smart gardens tumbling down to the waters edge but little of no wildlife, except the obligatory ducks and swans and the sounds of owls hooting at night. The lock gates and paddles have proven very heavy and we’ve deliberately taken it slowly, after the frantic pace of the last couple of months, finding time to entertain my step mom and brother, and my pal Wenda and her partner Headley during the week.
We are currently moored in the centre of Rickmansworth, close to Batchworth Lock, which means we are now officially back in Hertfordshire – our home county. My family have lived here for at least 400 years, though generally in the north of the county, around Hitchin. Coming back to Herts means we are going to be very busy entertaining friends and family, and Pat’s diary is pretty full over the next few weeks as we snake our way through Watford, Hemel Hempstead and up to Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes.

At last, my own long-term mooring (but not so much of the historic, thankyou)

And if people can get to us, I can do the same the other way. There’s a green line bus that links Harlow to Heathrow and leaves the railway station here in Rickmansworth each hour, linking Watford, St Albans, Welwyn Garden and Hertford. So yesterday I visited my GP in Welwyn Garden, had a bite to eat with some of my pals at John Lewis and then zipped over to St Albans for the St Albans Beer Festival, my normal spiritual home for this one week of the year, since I helped launch it some 17 years ago. It was strange to attend as a guest rather than an organisor, but was good to see all my CAMRA pals. At this rate my bus pass will be in meltdown!

Friday, 21 September 2012

I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of ...

Yet another coconut!. Me with Paul, Pete and Roy,

It’s been positively tropical this week. Our cruise down the Thames from Reading to Brentford saw us basking in the warm September sunshine while flocks of parakeets  darted around our heads.  And then there were the coconuts. As soon as we entered the Grand Union, they started to appear in locks and on the cut. We counted  25 just today. We can’t work it out where they have come from. I was in two minds whether to break out my Hawaiian shirt and give the crew a chorus of “Agadoo”. Any boating chums out there know there are so many coconuts in the Grand Union.
I’ll get back to the Thames in a bit, but we pitched up in Reading this time last week and moored in the middle of the town in a little basin, close to the Oracle centre. Good mooring but no water and no method of emptying loos. There followed an almost fanatical regime from yours truly about using water, but our tank lasted, with care, over five days, and when I finally filled up on Monday afternoon, it was still ¼ full.
Last Friday night we returned to Hertfordshire for my pal Sue’s retirement party, which had a nautical theme, so we just chucked our life jackets on and wore some of headwear brought for us as a joke when we first started on this boating lark.
The kids flew back to New Zealand very early of Sunday morning. Sad to see them go but we will be with them over Christmas the New Year. My crew for our Thames adventure turned up later that afternoon. Several weeks previously we’d  had a difficult journey from Oxford to Reading, and Pat was not looking forward to another 60 miles of the Thames, running wild. So she tootled off to spend some time with a couple of her pals, and to sort out the sale of our trusty old Picasso, as we settled in at Wetherspoons, across the basin, for a drink or two.
Windsor Castle from the Thames

The Cat's Whiskers approaches Cookham Lock

Our journey down the Thames, was nothing but very pleasant. Not much of a current and tot, sunny days and empty locks, but finding a mooring, especially a free one, is a bloody nightmare.  They took another £110 from us to travel down the 60-or so miles, and then they want you pay between £6 and £50 a night to moor.
Hat’s off here to Staines and Kingston, who have some very good 24 hour free moorings. Henley, Marlow and Cookham: hang your heads in shame.
Two of my crew, Paul and Peter, were keen to helm, so it was like a bit of a holiday for me, and I took the opportunity to relax as we glided past Windsor Castle and Hampton Court, as well as the multi-million pound pads of “Rolf”, “Cilla” and “Parky”.
The last bit was a bit a dash. From Teddington to Brentford is tidal and high tide was around 5pm. Four boats set off and we really motored on down, through Richmond and Kew to the sharp left turn back on to the Grand Union at Brentford. We had booked the lock for 6.30pm, and got there at 6.28pm. The lock keeper was well impressed at our timing.

TCW finishes its 60-mile Thames trip at Brentford as the sun goes down
After mooring in the basin at Brentford overnight, we whizzed up the Hatton Flight, through Hanwell and Southall. Here I got the chance to get off the boat and do a bit of locking, which I rarely get a chance to do, while Peter piloting TCW safely up the flight.
The boys needed a tube station to get home, so we turned on to the Paddington arm and finished the cruise at The Black Horse in Greenford, where I said goodbye to them all at 5,30pm and hello again to Pat an hour later.
This weekend we got back on to the main line and start to inch northwards through Uxbridge and Harefield. We will be in Rickmansworth by next Wednesday, ready for my visit to the St Albans Beer Festival and my GP.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Pat's Autumn Almanac

This week Pat writes:
Since Erica, James and Livi left the boat, we have concentrated on getting all domestic tasks completed with the use of our electric hook-up. It was quite a novelty to have “on-tap” electricity after months of generating our own.  So everything was washed, and thankfully the good weather enabled us to dry everything quickly. I even managed to do a complete change of bedding, and get it all dry, before my cousin Janet and her hubby Bob came on board on Saturday. This was ahead of Sunday, which saw us all heading back to Little Marlow for the christening of Olivia Ann. As usual she cruised through all the attention paid to her from people she has never seen before. The weather was perfect, as was the day. Loads of family and friend descended on the King’s Head, where a small celebration took place in her honour.
Speech time at the Christening

First time out for our travel iron and mini ironing board, ahead of our christening

As the sun went down, we hopped on a train and headed back to Newbury to prepare for our departure the next day. We filled up with water and all the other chores that are necessary and then it started to rain. And rain. And rain. On my walks down the towpath, between locks and swing bridges, I was made aware of how we are now moving inexorably into the autumn months: leaves were falling from the trees and there was a distinct chill in the air that I hadn’t felt before.  
Friends and family enjoy the September sunshine after the Christening

Monday night we met up with Barry and Helen at Woolhampton for a meal. We travelled from Newbury to Devizes with them a few weeks back and they keep their boat “Midnight” in Froud’s Bridge Marina, not far from Aldermarston.  They are currently preparing their boat for a re-paint so we dropped in to see the progress they had made and took the opportunity to fill up with diesel. God it’s expensive down here. We were buying it 20p a litre cheaper in the Midlands.  Our plan is to arrive in Reading on Thursday and will stay there to say goodbye on Sunday to the kids before they fly home to New Zealand. I am then leaving the boat for a week while Roger takes The Cat’s Whiskers from Reading, down the Thames and onto the Grand Union. He has invited three friends to assist on the journey. So it’s a lad’s week on board. I don’t know what goes on during these breaks and I am hoping I don’t find out. I am off for a girly break with plenty of baths and white wine.
The first time in four years we have all been together

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Floating Kiwis

Living in a narrowboat can be a little claustrophobic. Our boat may be 60ft long, but in common with most others of its type, it is only 6ft 10in wide. You need to be organised and tidy. Now I am pretty well organised, but by no stretch of the imagination am I particularly tidy.
Now add in our daughter Erica, her husband James and their five-month daughter Olivia (Livi) on board and the dynamic shifts enormously. I had forgotten how much stuff was needed to keep a little one like Livi functioning, but it was an absolute joy having them aboard, even if it was only for three days, which flew by.

Our grandaughter arrives at the Marina

Livi is a little treasure – very placid with a very cheeky smile. Although Pat had been to NZ to see her, just after she was born, this was our first encounter. I think I handled myself reasonably well. Livi’s behaviour was exemplorary and if she whinged a little, it was only because she is teething.

"The Cat's Whiskers"
Erica likes to bath Livi every night before bed. In the absence of a bath on board, the galley sink was pressed into use, and proved to be a very suitable alternative.
Galley sink becomes a bubble bath

Our original intention was to go away for a couple of days, but we decided to just do a day afloat. Erica and Livi sat at the bow and enjoyed the view. James flitted between them and doing a bit of lock duty, when required. I think James was a bit non-plussed when he saw this sign as we went into Newbury town. It’s a bit extreme, don’t you think.

Last Saturday night we went out for a change. James’ parents run a pub in Little Marlow and they put on a belated 30th birthday for Erica. It was a low key affair, but the sun shined and James’ father Clive, rustled up the biggest paella I have ever seen. It must have been good. Pat went back for seconds, which is very unusual for her.

Clive stirs his paella

We are here now in Newbury for just a few more days. On Monday we head off for Reading, a distance of about 20 miles. We hope to be there on Thursday or Friday and the following Monday head off down the Thames towards London.
James, Erica and baby Livi

Friday, 31 August 2012

The Generation Game

One of the Kingfisher narrowboat family, “Dai”, from “Jandai” contacted me after reading last week’s blog, asking if we were trying to do the whole waterways network in six months, so frantic was the pace we  had set ourselves.
Well the brakes have now been firmly applied (not sure you can do that on a narrowboat though!), and since Bank Holiday Monday we have been ensconced in a marina in Newbury, where we will now stay for the next two weeks. So in the last week we have travelled just 2 miles, and are now very comfortable thank you. One of the plus points being that we can now use our washing machine on a shoreline, without it keep stopping or cycling.

Our mooring over the Bank Holiday by the swingbridge in Newbury
This stopover is to enable us to be within striking distance of our daughter and her family, James and Livi, who arrived from New Zealand on Tuesday afternoon. Erica is having a belated 30th  birthday party this Saturday and the following weekend we have her daughter “Livi’s” christening in Little Marlow. They are based in Marlow area, so this seemed a convenient location, though on doing the journey a couple of times now, our home in Welwyn Garden City was nearer Marlow, than here.  So we have gone from a life where we rarely know what the day of the week is, to planning buses, trains and  table reservations. We have had to reinvent a diary again such is the whirl of activity we find ourselves in.

The Harvison Gang with Pat and Livi at the arrivals gate at Terminal One
The other reason for being in a marina is so we I can give the Cat’s Whiskers some TLC. She’s had a good clean and polish, both inside and out, and between us we gave the gunwhales and rubbing strakes two fresh coats of black paint on both sides.

Roger admires his handiwork (Amazing what you can do with a jar of Nescafe)
Last Friday we ventured back home for the first time to see our tenants, book doctors and dentist appointments and pick up our car. It was a bit strange driving again, after 6 months, and only the second time we had been in a car, during that time.
Last weekend was, of course, another Bank Holiday weekend, so it was not surprising that it rained a fair bit on the Monday, though the rest of the weekend was quite warm and sunny, with the occasional shower. My pal Sid from and his wife Mave, visited us on the Monday and we took them from our mooring on the outskirts of Newbury through the town and on to our marina where we had lunch. I worked with Sid at John Lewis, and he had always shown a lot of interest in the project, so it was good to invite him and Mave aboard. They were on their way to a steam fair in Dorset.