Thursday, 21 March 2013

April Fools....Let's wait and see!

Greetings to all our chums, both land lubbers and those with webbed feet. As you can see we are back in the country and more importantly back on the water, albeit still at our moorings at Trent Lock, where we have been watching the weather get progressively colder for the last two weeks.
Today is the first day of spring but my new Samsung Galaxy reports that it is a chilly two degrees outside and probably colder than that when you take the wind chill in, so somebody needs to tell whoever is in charge of the weather that this is not on. Our tans are rapidly disappearing.
We had rather an uneventful journey back from Dallas and caught the Picadilly line from Heathrow to Cockfosters where my sister and brother-in-law picked us up and we moved back into their house in Potters Bar for a couple of days. Kev popped over as well, and it was good to see him. He looked well, and happy.
The lure of the water was too much though, and we were soon back on board TCW. Like most modern narrowboats she is all steel and that needs a lot of warming up. I reckon it took a good 48 hours to get her warm and we are having to keep the fire going nearly all the time.
Our original intention was to leave Trent Lock, immediately after Easter, but we have a birthday party to go to in Welwyn Garden the first weekend in April, so the revised plan now is to leave on or around the 8th April, weather and river levels permitting. The Trent has just come off a red warning, so we will have to see how things go. Last April we had to wait three weeks to get on to the river, so we could connect with the Trent & Mersey, but there is nothing we can do, if that happens but wait.
Roger gets to work cutting wood - for next winter

We have a nice mooring here and if you were at our launch last April, you will be familiar with it, against a grassy bank, between the two pubs here at the Lock. The Kingfisher boys have serviced the boat, done all the remedial work we asked them to do, and kindly connected us up with some power. The water point and loo emptying are on the opposite bank, so we have everything we need and the Steamboat now sells local Shardlow-brewed ale and is having a beer festival over Easter. We get a good TV reception and the only fly in the ointment is that we have a weak internet signal. I have even found a good source of wood behind the pub car park and been cutting up large branches all week, to lay down and dry out for next winter.
The days seem to fly by. I am sleeping  a lot better in our bed than last year – not sure why. We have been into Nottingham a couple of times and Derby once. We quite like the centre of Derby and there is the classic pub “The Brunswick Arms” just a minutes’ walk from the railway station. I think we are giving Lincoln a bash next week.
My ukulele playing is coming along OK. I have got most of the regular chords down OK, and there are a load of tutorials and on-line lessons on the PC, if and when we get a decent signal. I have been checking and there are quite a lot of ukulele clubs on or near the canal system, so I hope to be able to visit a few on our travels and sit in for a “plonk”.

Roger tackles a tricky B flat maj 7th on his Hawai-bought ukulele

While we have been away the premises next to Kingfisher Narrowboats has been taken over by the Underwater Search and Rescue people. This, it appears is a charity, but they are obviously funded by Notts police as well. All week they have been cruising up and down the cut in their little boat, training a spaniel to react to different scenarios. They threw a gun in and the dog got it straight away and they also practice by throwing in a joint of meat and getting the dog to react when they pass over it. They have sonar and underwater cameras and all sorts of gizmos on board. It’s quite impressive and good fun to watch, though if it were for real, it would be quite daunting to witness.

Pat waits for the water to fill while the rescue team launches opposite

The underwater search and rescue team and sniffer dog on patrol
And that’s it for us. If you want to visit us we will be travelling down to Kidderminster, Worcester and Gloucester through April and May. Then it’s back to Birmingham and on to the Coventry canal, before we slowly head south on the Grand Union during July and August into London. We are hoping to find a winter mooring in or around Hertford, but that all might change over the next few months.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Deep In The Heart Of Texas

Hi y'all, here we are in Austin, Texas, and in less than 48 hours we will be winging our way home via Dallas/Fort Worth, which is about three hours north of here.

Our trusty Ford Hybrid

Our journey, across country, hugging Route 66 wherever possible, has been long and eventful. Many hours staring at nothing but the road disappearing into the horizon, but the car has Satellite Radio built in, so we have never been more than a click away from some great music to accompany our travels.  I reckon by the time we return the car to Avis at the airport on Wednesday we will have covered over 2,000 miles.
The adobe architecture of historic Albuquerque, New Mexico

With our host Lori, at the Route 66 Diner in Alburquerque

Pat in Fort Stockton, New Mexico

Our last blog was from the snows of Scottsdale in Arizona, where it hadn’t snowed for over 20 years, and the weather followed us as we headed into New Mexico. We returned, to Winslow, Arizona, to “Stand On The Corner”, as in the Eagles “Take It Easy”, before heading for Gallup, where it was very cold and snowy. Gallup, on Route 66, is a poor town, whose main inhabitants are Native Americans and we holed up in a motel for the night there. From Gallup we slowly climbed. I must have been pretty na├»ve to believe we could complete this trip without some rough weather and although we avoided it in Alburquerque, where we couchsurfed with Lori and had a great Sunday brunch in an old-fashioned diner on Route 66, by the time we had climbed another 2,000 feet and arrived in Santa Fe, it was freezing and the snow fell most of the night.

I had high hopes of Santa Fe. It was a city I really wanted to see, and I am sure when the sun is shining on its old adobe buildings it is beautiful, but under a few inches of snow it was depressing. Pat was not keen on what they had done to the historic part as well, so we cut our time there to one day and headed off south to find a bit of sunshine.  After dodging snowdrifts and closed interstate highways, we eventually got to Roswell, “the alien capital of the world”, and had a great night surfing with Pam and Bonny, who played a variety of stringed instruments. Pam also was learning ukulele, and able to give me some tips. It was also good to get my hands round a regular guitar again. We both liked Roswell and the sun shone, finally.
At the Buddy Holly Centre in Lubbock, Texax
Pat enlists at Fort Conchos, Santa Rosa, Texas
With Brett, our host in Fredericksburg, Texas

Pat meets a little green man in Roswell

Then we pushed into Texas. We have been here before, when we visited Dallas in 2008, but this was going to be the Texas grand tour, I had always promised myself, when I started getting into Texas music in the late 1970’s. It’s huge of course, and  vary varied. There’s an awful lot of nothing in West Texas, although the hill country to the south is far more interesting. We detoured to Lubbock, to do the Bully Holly thing in his hometown and then headed south east via Santa Rosa and Fort Conchos, to the German town of Fredericksburg, where I got a crash course from our host Brett, on American Football and Texas history. From there it was a short drive to San Antonio, hitting the city, unknown to us, just as they were celebrating Texas Independence Day. We did the Alamo and the famous river walk and our host there, Lee, took us for a drive around the city, and showed us where his German relations had settled and lived in the latter part of the 19th century.  His English side came from Hillingdon in West London, and we past the Hillingdon Ranch, that his great grandfather founded to the north of the city.

Pat at The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas

We spend Independence Day in Luckenbach (population 3), surrounded by dozens of Stetson hatted gals and guys, with fancy belts and fancier cowboy boots, whooping it up, as they celebrated their states 177th birthday. It was just great and the music was OK too. If you have never heard of Luckenbach, then Google it. It’s a very famous country song from the late 1970s.
Texas Independence Day at Luckenbach, Texas

Y'all having a good time

And now we are in Austin, “keeping it weird”, which is their slogan here. There are over 100 bars and clubs for every conceivable musical taste, the climate is great, the people are friendly and the city is a manageable size. Tomorrow we are going for Texas Barbecue, and my syntax is correct. This is a bit of a religion in these part and we have to be at the restaurant at 10.30am and get in the queue for when it opens at mid-day. It’s not like we know a barbecue, but sounds good fun. I think tomorrow we are going to Ginny’s Longhorn Saloon, down the road from where we are staying for a last night of honky tonk music, before we fly home. We’ve had a great time, but we will be glad to get back to the UK and the boat, and have been planning our summer route  while we have been whiling away the hours counting the cactus and the telephone lines.