Sunday, 22 December 2013

Boats, Beers, Buses and Yuletime Cheer

I am assured, by those in the know, that forgetting the odd thing as you get older is not unusual. So I was rather taken back when, after forgetting a simple task that Pat had asked me to complete the other day, she cried “If it’s not beer, boats or ukuleles, you just switch off”. I thought at the time that was a bit rich, but having just read through the rest of this blog, it does appear she has it spot on.
It’s been a little over two weeks since I last blogged. My birthday was round about then and we were joined by our boating pals Ian and Irene and Jan, who we hadn’t seen for over a year, and had a Christmas lunch in one of the local pubs in the village. The picture is courtesy of Irene. Thanks for all the cards folks.

My birthday lunch with Ian and Irene and Jan in The Dragon, Willington
Christmas preparations dominate everything at this time of the year and we have not forgotten the boat. She now looks very smart with the new blue Tonneau cover we had fitted last Sunday by Stafforshire Canopies. It fits very snugly over her rear end and will offer the back of the boat some protection from the elements and also a level of security when we are away from the boat for any time.

Tim from Stafforshire Canopies fits the new Tonneau cover on to The Cat's Whiskers
We seem to spend a great deal of time either travelling or waiting for buses, or one in particular. For Adolph Hitler may have had his V1 and V2 rockets, but in this part of South Derbyshire, it’s the bright yellow V3 that rockets us between the towns of Burton-On-Trent six miles one way and the city of Derby a similar distance the other. We are not quite on first-name term with the drivers yet, but they know where to drop us off and it’s a terrific service we get, considering our rural location.
The V3 thunders over the canal at Willington Bridge
I have tended to favour Burton as the destination of choice, probably due to sheer number of decent pubs, especially the Burton Bridge Inn, which I mentioned in my blog before last. I have started Aqua Aerobics on Wednesday lunchtimes at the Leisure Centre: me and 20 ladies! and there is just enough time, after a quick shower, to grab a pint and a locally-made pork pie, before catching the bus back.
My regular "after exercise" lunch at Burton Bridge Brewery
I think that neither of us were that impressed with the town when we first arrived and the area that the canal goes through is not typical of the area where the Trent runs in the south of the town. Burton seems to have everything we need, including an Aldi (loving their supreme mince pies) and on Fridays there is a free bus that stops outside the marina and goes to Tesco in Burton. I have my bus pass, which irks Pat, but that trip is free for her.
As much as I like Burton, I am beginning to be drawn more to Derby city centre, helped by members of the Derby Ukulele Club, who I have re-joined, and have made me very welcome. They meet in an excellent pub for real ale in the city centre, and I was introduced to two others fine drinking emporiums, which were equally good.
Yesterday (Saturday) we appeared in The Market Hall, in the city centre, for an hour of ukulele-lead Christmas songs, which seemed to go very well. They are a nice bunch, and unusually for a ukulele club, they have a very wide age-range with some good singers and players.
The Derby Ukulele Club perform in the Market Hall, Derby City Centre.
Pat bought me the red music stand as a birthday present.
There is a lot of activity in the marina at the moment. A long-awaited project to develop a finger of land jutting into the lake has started and the trucks and diggers are making excellent progress in developing this into a bar/restaurant and shops that will open next August. I am glad we are on the other side of the marina, especially when they were pile-driving last week, but most of the boaters immediately in front, do not seem that bothered about it. Most are pretty laid-back, which seems a feature of the place.

Taken from outside the Marina shop, the new "Boardwalk" development, in the distance, begins to take shape.
Our fire is now on 24 hours a day, and we are burning both wood and coal. We can get this from the marina shop, and they sell several varieties, which we are experimenting with. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Pat is Chief Fire Officer. We have experienced a lot of wind, in common with the rest of the country, but not too many frosts as yet.
On Saturday night the marina threw a “Huddle”. This is an East Midlands term for a get-together where everybody brings along some food. It was fairly well attended and we got to know a new couple, who arrived here at Mercia, the same time as us, Brian and Charlie. This afternoon there is a carol concert outside the marina office, so more mince pies, sausage rolls and mulled wine, I guess.
Our turkey has been ordered from Betty’s Farm in the village. Pat is walking up there tomorrow morning and I will be boarding the V3 to do the remainder of our Christmas food shopping in Burton. We have had to be quite prudent, as our fridge and freezer are quite small, and hope it’s nice and cold over the next few days so we can put some stuff under our new cover, where it’s nice and dry. It will be a bit strange, just Pat and me, especially compared to some of the crazy Christmases we have had of late, but I am sure it will be very pleasant.
Hope you all have a peaceful and joyous Christmas
Toodaloo chums.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Moored in Mill Hill

Hello folks
A number of fellow bloggers, boaters, pals and family have been in touch recently, fearful that we had drifted off the radar, as all has been quite from the world of the Cat’s Whiskers, which is not typical, as I like to blog around once a week.
It would be good to report that we have been living a quiet life here at Mercia Marina, but the last two weeks have been anything but, as we have been down south, staying in a friend’s home in Mill Hill, which is near Finchley, in North London. Our pals Penny and Bob are swanning around the world at present and asked if we fancied a couple of weeks of super-fast internet and wall to wall running water at their place. With careful planning we managed to visit 16 different addresses during the 12 days we were there, with a day off to do our washing, and even got to see our son and heir, Kevin, on Saturday morning, who was in good spirits. He even bought me a drink in The Chieftain. Now there is progress.
But more of that later. We have quickly settled into life here in Willington and my bus pass is still warm from all the activity it’s been receiving as we whizz around the county. We are also slowly getting to know odd people around the marina. Not “odd people”, you understand, but odd people!
Most are very friendly and there are a number of musicians around, so there might be some scope for some impromptu playing  on the run-up to the festive season.  Merica is not a residential marina, but there are a large number of winter moorers here, some who come back year after year, and there is a residential feel to the place. We are very happy here, and I am glad I put my foot down and insisted we came here, rather than a marina down south. I don’t get my way that often.
 At the monthly quiz a couple of weeks back the marina announced they are erecting a large marquee in the grounds on the run-up to Christmas and hope to  have a party for all the resident boaters there, the Saturday before Christmas, as well as a carol concert of the Sunday.  Evidently the last couple of years has seen a poor response to any mention of a party, but we are hopeful that that might change this year.
We have had our first visitors. Dave and Caroline came on board around three weekends ago, all the way from Gloucester, with two of their dogs, including Twix the puppy, and we took TCW out on the Sunday, for its last cruise of 2013. It was good to see them, though they have got me into “Monopoly Hotels” on my tablet now, which is becoming a bit of an obsession.
The Saturday before we travelled down south, we caught the train into Central Birmingham to see the German Market and meet up with Fred and Lisa, another “Kingfisher Couple”, who were moored close by. We hadn’t seen them for months and it was good to catch up. Fred is very practical, and I am clearly not, so it was good to ask all sorts of technical questions, while we enjoyed lunch and a couple of pints in the Wetherspoons in Broad Street.
Pat outside the new Birmingham Library and German Market in Broad Street
Our time in Mill Hill is the first time we have been away from the boat this year, and as Pat said, it was a bit like going on holiday. We rented a car from Enterprise, but they messed up our booking,  and we had a car not much bigger than a Smart Car that I had to shoehorn myself into. It was OK, but we needed to bring back stuff, especially wood, so it was a very cramped journey back.
I shudder to think how much weight I must have put on with all the meals out, and the big spreads we enjoyed. I just counted up and we visited 16 different addresses and met up with over 40 old pals and family. I also managed to squeeze in the John Lewis Retired Partners Christmas Lunch, at the hotel where I used to be resident DJ up to three years ago, so it was a double reunion.
We certainly found it a bit strange swapping our very limited living conditions with the facilities of a large, modern home, and like all good boaters we were very economical with running taps, diligently turned off all unnecessary lights and found the facility of a central heating system a bit of a novelty. In case some of you think we live in the dark ages on the boat, we do have a central heating system, as do a lot of boats, but not many of us use them as our wood or coal burning stove gives us more than enough heat throughout the boat.

Our new low-power heating solution when off the boat
And speaking of heat, we went out and purchased a couple of low-power heaters from Argos, before we set off. These were recommended to us by our neighbour Kev across the pontoon, who had used them successfully on a number of occasions. They are like greenhouse heaters and cut-in when the temperature dips under five degrees. I think we used around £7.50 in electricity running them over the period we were away and it was quite pleasantly warm when we arrived back on Saturday evening, so that’s a success and a load off our mind for when we go away to New Zealand at the end of January.
Our neighbours get into the Festive spirit
During our absence several neighbouring boats have been getting into the Christmas spirit. The two beside us, are the stars of the marina at the moment, and I have tried to get a decent photo of what they have done to get them into the festive spirit. I expect we will make a token effort, even if it’s just a mini Christmas tree.
We visited out tenants a couple of times while we away and I was glad, and somewhat relieved, to find all was well, though there are still on-going shower issues, which we are working on together. They asked if they could get an estate agent in to value the property, as they may be in a position to get a mortgage if the price is right, and are interested in buying the place. I think both Pat and I are curious to see what the property is worth so we told them to go ahead. I think of the two of them Simon is quite keen, but Liz seemed a bit reluctant. Time will tell. We are in no hurry to dispose of the property and it will only increase in value. It’s clear that prices in and around London are climbing steadily again, so we are in a strong position.
Sue & Geoff's Pod in their front garden
Lunch in "The Pod"

Malc looks somewhat surprised as the Duck is carved.
The Big Chins Xmas Reunion

So thanks to all of you who welcomed us into your homes over the last two weeks. Memorable was the “Pod” we had lunch in last Sunday in a pal’s front garden, and on Friday night all the old narrowboating team (The Big Chins) met up for a Chinese meal for the first time in ages. The ladies (The Chinettes) had a rival event at a restaurant close by. The Cat’s Whiskers is heading north next year and I think it will be difficult to sort out a long weekend away for us all, with the distances involved, but I expect we will see a few of them for a weekend or two during the season. In the photos we took last night we look like extras from “The Last Of The Summer Wine”.

Toodaloo chums