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