Monday, 30 September 2013

Beers, Boris and Brompton Bikes

Hello again and greetings from Roger, Pat and especially Boris, our new permanent ship mate. Boris moved on board  last week and has taken up residence behind the fire in the corner.
Yes, he or she is a spider, and quite a big bugger, if you’ll pardon my French! Every time Pat shows him the door he returns and no matter how many times I have destroyed his web by walking through it, he comes back for more. Other spiders seem to come and go on the boat, but Boris hovers in the middle of the galley, oblivious to our comings and goings.

Our new first mate. Boris the Spider

We are moored at Apsley, which is just south of Hemel Hempstead. It’s a rejuvenated area, being for many years the home of John Dickinson Paper Mill where they made “Basildon Bond” paper. It is now the usual mix of supermarkets, pubs, and very picturesque marina set around a flight of three locks.
We are here for two reasons. The first is it only a short bus ride from Hemel Hempstead to St Albans, where it was beer festival week. The St Albans Beer Festival is the biggest of its kind in the south, outside the annual London bash at Earls Court, featuring over 400 different beers and ciders. All my pals were there, and I volunteered to work on the door Wednesday and Thursday and most of Saturday. Before I found my sea legs I used to be the Festival’s Site Manager.  It was very, very busy and the festival sold out of beer just before closing on the Saturday night. Naturally I helped and consumed a liberal amount of alcohol and a number of brews that were new to me.

At the St Albans Beer Fest with my best chum John

One of the 10,000 guests that came through the door was wearing a Brompton shirt, which is the make of my trusty fold-up bike. I fell into conversation with the gentleman, who just happened to be the factory manager at Brompton’s factory  in London, and he has offered me a conducted tour of the factory when we are down next in November and some assorted goodies.
The second reason we were in Apsley was to accommodate my Leisure pals from John Lewis, who arrived from Brent Cross, John Lewis Watford, Cambridge and Waitrose on Sunday.

Phil, Claire (in my hat), Capt.Tracy, Jim and Sally
I never much think of work these days but for several years we were a very close team working together on a number of projects big and small, so it was good to see them all and find out what they had been up to in my absence. Most of them had never been on a narrowboat before, so it was quite funny, seeing how they responded to life on the canal. We were very lucky with the weather – we did a circular trip - and they all had a great day. We even saw a dinosaur on our travels.
A bit of wildlife I wasn't expecting to see around Kings Langley

My loverly Leisure Ladies from John Lewis

My day off from the beer festival saw another two guests arrive for the day on Friday and Sue and Brenda also enjoyed good weather and really got into it. Brenda was walking across lock gates very comfortably within a very short time, and they both got to grips with working the locks, of which there are no shortage on this section of the Grand Union.

Sue and Brenda get stuck in on lock duty

Tomorrow (Monday) we will overnight in Berkhamstead and I would imagine we will be In Leighton Buzzard a couple of days later.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Back in Herts....again

Our sojourn into our great metropolis has finally come to an end and has been marked by a noticeable change in the weather with a drop in temperatures that most of the country has also experienced. Pat is now lighting our stove most evenings as the nights draw in
So it looks like its goodbye to T-shirts and shorts and hello again to hats, jeans and waterproof jackets. I have not felt the need for gloves yet, but seen a few boaters sporting them. I noticed David Beckham on TV earlier this week modelling black and grey Belstaff motorcycle wear during London Fashion Week, I reckon I could give him a run for his money in my grey autumnal wardrobe, tailored by “George” at Asda.
Just in case I forget my name
After a couple of weeks mooring around Uxbridge and Cowley we have moved back into Hertfordshire again and are currently moored opposite Tesco at Batchworth, which is really Rickmansworth. We have moored here a couple of times and it’s a good, safe mooring, with most of the facilities we need just a few minutes away, so we plan on staying here until after the weekend.
Last week we had a very special visitor on board as our granddaughter joined us, all the way from New Zealand. Livi was joined by her parents Erica and James, who are over to attend James’ sister’s wedding. So last week we hired a car for the week and spent a fair bit of time with them. Our mooring was only 10 minutes from the M40, so their base in Little Marlow was less than A 30 minute drive. 
Grandad entertains Livi. Everyone else looks bemused
Then on Saturday we had Sid and Mave on board for the day. Sid and I were good mates at John Lewis. We both drove the same motorcycle for a while, and he loves engines. By trade he is an electrician, so I was keen to probe him about volts, amps and if the purchase of a battery management system would be a sensible purchase.

Sid & Mave join us for an autumnal day's cruising
Pat and I generally share the cooking, but neither of us likes to cook on a Sunday and we normally find a Wetherspoons for lunch. However, at Cowley Lock there is the Tollhouse Tea Room who were advertising lunch for £5.99. We went several weeks ago when we were going the other way, and it was good value, so we gave it another go last weekend. It was very good, especially if you like your veggies. Good quality and well cooked. If you are cruising in the area, check it out. You will not be disappointed.
After nearly 900 miles and 700 locks this year, The Cat’s Whiskers has picked up a fair bit of battle damage and I have carrying out some remedial painting over the past few days. The rubbing strakes on both sides are now black again and I hope, weather permitting to be to go over the gunnels with a roller with the special Epifanes paint, containing plastic, before Sunday when our next guests arrive.

Is it a waste of time? I don't think so
Then it’s a short hop to Cassiobury Park in Watford for a day or two (one of Pat’s favourite moorings) and then the short hop through Hunton Bridge to Apsley, near Hemel Hempstead, for a few days, to take advantage of the St Albans Beer Fest and to accommodate our last big assembly of guests, next Sunday, before we make the dash north (though not sure you can dash in a narrowboat).

Toodaloo Chums

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Capital Experience

Over the last week the Cat has been purring through London, down the Lea, through Walthamstow, Hackney, or should that be ‘ackney, and then we took the Hertford Union to cut off a chunk of East London. This was very pleasant piece of waterway, and hugged Victoria Park along much of its length. It gave us another view of the Olympic stadium, and we took the picture below at Ponders End Lock, just south of Enfield.
Our last view of the Olympic Stadium from the junction of the Hertford Union cut

A "Cheeky" request at Ponders End Lock
From the Hertford Union, it was a quick right turn back on the Regents Canal. The bit through East London is fast being gentrified, but there is still the remnants of the old East End, complete with the usual graffiti – and a sort of “shabby chic” emerging, with many of the boating communities in this area adopting an “alternative” lifestyle.
A fairly typical sight in some parts the waterways in East London
But once you get to Islington things change somewhat. Your passage through theMaida Vale  tunnel reveals the most expensive canal-side moorings in the country at “Little Venice”, a term coined by Byron or Keats I believe. Before that though, you have the honeypot that is the Camden Lock flight, with its famous market, hundreds of gongoozling tourists, London Zoo and the mansions of Regents Park.
A lot of canal communities, town and marinas hold waterways festivals during the summer months so we often collide with these but when we moored below City Lock last Saturday night, I had no idea that we had landed right in the middle of the Angel Canal Festival and the following morning, before our guests arrived for the day, we had to shuffle TCW around, as boats jockeyed for position  and were moved around the basin just ahead of us.
The Angel Canal Festival gets underway as we leave City Lock

The Tubridy/Dean clan arrived on time and they got the “Full Monty”. The sun shone and they saw the bits of the canal the tourists flock to see in central London. Locks, tunnels, Regents Park, Camden Lock and the regenerated Kings Cross all drifted by. And we chucked in Little Venice. We even got a mooring in Paddington Basin without too much fuss this time. It was a bit cramped having seven bodies on the boat for lunch, but at most times, two of them were walking alongside the boat, so it was not that noticeable.
Lorraine, Cara and Alana. 

John at Camden Lock

Going through St Pancras Lock with Lorraine and Anne

Both brothers on lock duty, John's brother, and good friends of TCW, Paul

Paddington Basin at night
Our last guests arrived on Wednesday. Roy and Geraldine are very old friends and it was Roy’s birthday. He hasn’t been too well of late and I think they both enjoyed the experience, though Roy and I have been boating for years. Geraldine, who is self-employed, maintained this was her holiday for 2013. It was a nice hot day, and though the scenery on the Paddington arm is not up to much, once we turned right at Bulls Bridge, back onto the main Grand Union, it was much more interesting.
Roy puckers up to blow his birthday candle out
They left us at Uxbridge, where we will be, here or hereabouts, for the next week or so.  Our daughter and her family arrived from New Zealand for a family wedding this morning, so it was easy to get to Heathrow from Uxbridge, about 15 minutes by bus to say hello.
We are hiring a car for a week from Saturday, so we can spend some time with them, so our blog will be very different next week.
Finally I was looking back over some old blogs last night and noticed that I had not had a good rant recently.
So excuse me while I adopt my “Grumpy Old Man” persona (Pat says I do not have to adopt it - it comes as standard)
Why do a particular group of cyclists who use the canal tow paths have to dress as if they are Bradley Wiggins and ride like him too?
I, like a lot of boaters, use a bike, but I am careful to be respectful to pedestrians, and peddle at a speed where, if I have to stop suddenly, I can do it safely. But for this particular group, it’s heads down, and full speed ahead. You know I would like to talk to one of them about their style of riding, but even if I hurl abuse at them they can’t hear. They are going too fast and I would never be able to catch them on my little fold-up machine.
I know our boating governing body, the Canal & River Trust, have an ongoing campaign to educate cyclists, with the “two ring” warning message. I think I would rather swap the “educate” for “castrate”. “Enough”, I hear you say, and quite right. Anyway, I feel better for that.
Toodaloo folks