Tuesday, September 15, 2020

September ramblings and some news

Well I can't say I've rambled far this week, but you know me, I do like to ramble on, so here's what I've been noticing in nature. September is a great month for it I must say.

Over in the graveyard behind our house the ground is littered with a bumper crop of acorns. Apparently this is probably what the Chris Packham's of this world call a 'mast' year when oaks produce so many acorns that the squirrels can't eat 'em all.  Oaks do this every few years.Oaks rely on the squirrel's habit of burying caches of acorns to eat later and then forgetting some, which can grow into mighty oaks on the future.  We have one such sapling in our garden. The mystery that remains is how the oaks seem to co-ordinate this effort, because it only really works if they all do it together.

Our resident squirrels live in this big oak that spreads over the graves of a number of illustrious personages.  Lucky them.

One such is George Shuldham Peard who wrote this book

George (we're on first name terms, him being a neighbour) wrote this first hand account describing his experiences in the Crimean war, including the battles of Alma and Inkermann and Balaclava where he witnessed the famous 'thin red line' and the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade.  It's a very good read and you can find it easily on the net, including some free to read versions.  Recommended.  

Anyway, I digress.

Apart from crunching on acorns and staggering over the uneven ground cause by the older graves subsiding, you have to watch your feet to avoid the foxholes  which seem to be everywhere in the older part of the church yard.  Every time I go over there I manage to find a fresh one. You can also see bits of bones and abandoned dog's toys and bits of garden bric a brac presumably stolen by the foxes from the neighbouring gardens.

Also in the graveyard is this tree which I think is some sort of cherry although I daren't eat any. Can anyone enlighten me?

No doubt Rick might offer a Latin name for it.  Anyhow, it's fruiting well.  Not fruiting so well this year are the hedgerow blackberries.  There are plenty about but only a small proportion seem to have come to proper ripeness.  Dry summer to blame maybe. Where due out on Herbie this week (see below) so I hope we'll find enough to make us a nice pud.

I think it might have been a good year for bees and other insects.  As I write, sitting in the garden, the ivy which is in flowers on our fence is absolutely alive with bees . There must be over a hundred of them in the space of about eight feet.   Apparently so called Ivy Bees are a species that have arrived here since 2010 or so and are becoming very common in the south of England.  They seem extremely active, especially when the sun is out.  Here's a picture I got of one that obliged by staying still for half a second.

I'm pretty sure Ivy Bees don't sting, so that's a blessing.  Come to think of it, it seems like a good year for ivy blossom too. We've never had so much.  That'll be good for Christmas because I like to hang up bunches of holly and ivy  in the house and the berries look good.  Look how thick the blossom is.

In other news:

It's official.  Our plans to move on up to Kings Bromley marina are now officially on hold until next April.  Meanwhile Herbie will keep her base at Wigrams Turn.  We were thinking of making a dash for it in the next week or two, but we eventually decided against it on looking at the increase in Covid numbers. In particular we didn't fancy having to use public transport or share a car with anyone to get back to our car at Wigrams after reaching KB.  So there it is and here we are, closer to home at least.  The staff at both marinas have been very understanding and supportive  in spite of us messing them about.  The lady at KB did say that a good many boater's plans have gone awry this year. Thankfully they are nearly at full capacity, so they can use the space we were saving.  maybe a lot of boaters who would normally be out have headed into marinas.  Certainly Wigrams was looking fuller last time we were in.

Meanwhile we'll still be doing bits of cruising on Herbie, starting tomorrow with a few days out in the sticks and getting a couple of jobs done like re-tiling the stove surround, or to be more precise, replacing the tiles that have come unstuck and fallen off.  We searched for heat resistant tile adhesive and found some, but you have to order it so we can't get it until next Monday. Well that'll give me time to clean up the old tiles and prepare the surface won't it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The lull between the storms


Excuse the smeary side of Herbie, I ran out of polish.  Anyhow I'm beginning to enjoy our plastic magnetic lettering.  I've taken to changing the message daily.  Above shows Sunday's message when we only got out of the marina by the skin of our teeth after backing out of our pontoon and doing a 180 and almost getting blown into a lee shore corner.  Yesterdays message was a more cheerful MAY CONTAIN NUTS.

Miraculously we managed to get two days of fair weather in between the storms.  We were planning to go out on the Saturday evening but the wind was far too strong to attempt the difficult reverse and turn out of our pontoon. We had also intended to return on Tuesday morning, but with storm Francis coming in I had visions of all manner of calamities as we attempted to get back into our marina slot, so we opted for Monday afternoon instead.

Not to worry though, in the hours we were out, the weather was fine and although I was fearful of Claire's dogs Ronnie and Rosie running amok they were as good as gold and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

Grace (a glutton for punishment) had requested a run up Napton locks and back which in retrospect was perhaps not the best choice as they are getting short of water and there is restricted opening of 10 am to 5pm causing long queues, particularly up at Marston Doles top lock where we heard that people were waiting three hours.  It was just as well then that we stopped and turned at the old engine arm and moored there for the night before coming back down next day ahead of the pack.

These delays must be a nightmare for hire boat companies and their customers with delays like that, especially with days of severe wind causing boats to lie up.  Either boaters would not reach their intended goal or they would get back late and cause all sorts of problems for the boatyard.  Having said that, all the hirers we met were very cheery and having a good time.

Coming back down was a breeze, about as good as a descent of a flight of locks could be. I think we had a boat coming up at every lock so the work was easy,  and we arrived back at the Folly well before lunch.

Miraculously there was virtually no wind when we got back to Wigrams Turn, so it occurred to me that if ever there was a time to attempt the difficult turn and reverse into our pontoon, this was it.  The geometry of the place makes it really difficult with boats and pontoon posts close all round us, fore, aft and sideways, but I'm happy to say I did it.  Here we are almost back in with Grace preparing to leap to the pontoon with the rope while Ronnie and Rosie keep a close eye on my performance.  (No I wasn't holding a camera while doing that, I think Claire took the photo from her perch on the gunnel.)

Of course , in the time honoured manner, sod's law prevailed  and no one was watching, unlike when we made a pigs ear of getting out at the start of our cruise when we had a couple of horrified onlookers from the pontoon opposite..

So a short but happy cruise capped off nicely when Claire and Grace did all the hard work of loading the trolleys of stuff to taking all our gear back to the car and loading it up.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Reservoir watching and general messing about

 Blimey, I just Googled 'canal reservoir watch' and this is what came up;

I don't know about you, but if I couldn't bring myself to spend three and a half grand on a watch, in fact I get a bit annoyed that anybody does.  Surely there are better things to spend it on.  

Anyhow, I digress.  Just below was the CRT page I was looking for and I'm happy to tell you that despite my garden at home looking pretty brown and shrivelled until the last few days, the July reservoir figures look pretty healthy for this time of year.  Most of them were above 80% and have not dropped much since the previous month.  Wait a minute though, when did we get the all clear to go boating again?  Hmm, the canals are very busy right now, so maybe next month's figures wont look so good. Although on third thoughts, we've had a lot of rain just recently (and in fact as I write), so maybe they may be so good.  Oh I don't know, let's wait and see shall we?

We've had another family request for a short cruising break so on Saturday, if we're spared, were taking Claire and Grace out for a couple of days.  Grace must be bonkers because she's asked to go up and down the Napton flight again.  I reckon the lockdown  and no school has addled her brain.  I blame that education secretary who looks suspiciously like Alan Partridge.

In a bid to keep get fit, I've been out cycling most days.  Sadly I seem to have been left out of the Tour de France pick yet again so I'm having to content myself with the Tour de South Bracknell - six miles amongst a maze of cycle paths where I frequently seem to get lost.  You don't realise how hilly your area might be until you get on a bike.  Admittedly we don't have huge hills but the town profile is very rolling so it's a constant up and down.  Anyway I'm pleased to report that it is helping to bring my blood pressure down, if not my weight.

In other news, I have made my second focaccia bread, this time not from a bread mix but from the basic ingredients and  I bunged in some olives and rosemary and it was about right I thought.  

 Ooh one other thing, I have found the optimum price to charge for my two block buster novels.  Last week I got rid of 132 copies which is brilliant.  The downside is that the optimum price I set was £0,00.  I wonder if anyone who downloads free books ever reads them.    I worked out that at the rate Amazon pays me if they sold for £1 a copy, I'd have to sell 1090 copies a week to earn the National Minimum Wage for a 35 hour week.

Next time I write, we'll probably be up to our neck in buffaloes.  Those familiar with Napton locks will know what I mean.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Endeavour keeps up canal tradition.

 We enjoyed spotting the traditional misplacement of canal locks in the episode of Endeavour we watched last night.  Following the habitual use (set by several episodes of Lewis) of the Southern Grand Union to show a supposed spot in Oxford, we see Endeavour and Thursday at a murder scene here:

According to the script, it was by "Port Meadow bridge" although what a double gated Grand Union Lock was doing on the Thames, I'll leave you to imagine.

Anyhow, people familiar with the GU would have no problem in identifying Stockers Lock (Rickmansworth, home of Rainman) as the real spot.  Stockers is often used by film crews.  The adjacent farm must make money from it. Their main claim to fame is as the location for filming Black Beauty - although that's a long time ago now. Once when we were moored there some film guys came along the towpath offering people 50 quid to take their boats away for a week so they could shoot some horror film scenes.  Sadly we told them we were moving on before we learned about the money. Doh.  I suppose CRT gets some money from it.

Stockers is not that far from some film studios so I suppose that's the reason they use it, although in the same episode they shot scenes in Venice, the real one.  Why didn't they use Birmingham after all that has more . .  . .you know the rest.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Dog Sitting


Herbie now rests safely nestled among the other inhabitants of Wigrams Turn Marina.  The diamond pattern roof box gives her away.  Not exactly social distancing is it?  She's more used to a smart bankside pitch with car access for loading.  I hope she's not too upset.  Soon we have to decide whether to stay on at Wigrams or resume our pre lockdown plan to move to Kings Bromley.  I think she might like it there.  A crystal ball re Covid would be handy.

I must say I enjoyed our trip up the N Oxford even though the last day was blowing a hooley across the Braunston to Napton stretch.  That bit seems particularly prone to winds.  Ain't that right Rick? (His face will whiten as he reads this.)

I see they've had trouble at Buckby with a busted lock cill. I think the stoppage has been several days already.  That's bit like closing the M1 for a week.  It must give the poor hire boat operators a headache.  I suppose they have to rescue some hirers at the end of the week and then get the boat back themselves.  Then what about next week's hirers?  From what we've seen, the boats are all out, so they'll have none to spare.

Coming down to Braunston turn we passed an abandoned Indigo Dream looking like the Mary Celeste.  A pity, we'd have liked a chat with Sue and Richard.  I expect they're off somewhere rescuing more greyhounds.  S&R will be grateful when I report that Indigo Dream was nicely afloat and un vandalised anyhow. 

Now we're back home baby sitting two naughty youngsters for a week. Rosie and Ronnie.  Heaven help us.  Getting them to sit still for ten seconds to get this photo was a non trivial exercise in itself.  There is a large pile of blurred photos on the cutting room floor.

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Not the luckiest of years, I admit.

I hesitate to admit this but I seem to have done it again.  Not content with falling off a wall and breaking ribs in April and drilling a hole through my finger in May, last night I tripped over a hole in the towpath and I think I may have broken another rib - a front one this time, which is considerably more bearable.  If you ever decide to break a rib or two, choose the front ones, the back ones are ten times worse.

It would be reasonable of you to question my balance or the brittleness of my bones, but I think I just got unlucky.  Anybody not seeing that hole in the grass and catching a foot in it would have gone a cropper, and as for breaking bones, any 200lb gent (yes, sadly that is my current weight) falling prostate on his chest with a bang would I fear suffer the same fate.

Anyhow I can still function pretty well this time although I won't be pushing, pulling or lifting much for a couple of weeks.  Kath and Peter did the lock wheeling up the Hillmorton flight. I did however steer us for three or four hours cruising today without any trouble.

Not to worry.  Undaunted, I baked us some scones after we moored up for the evening and we had a very naughty cream tea with proper clotted cream.  

Buttermilk scones made by my own fair hand.

Now you get where the 200lb came from :-(

Tomorrow we tootle on in the general direction of Napton ready for an assault on the Folly on Thursday lunchtime then back to Wigrams before taking Peter back to Cambridge in the car.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Blackberries, oaks, and Einstein - just another day

Someone told me that summer marches north at the pace of a walking man.  Hmm, well I'm not sure how long it would take me to walk from  home in the, ahem, Royal County (Berkshire) to Rugby, but the blackberries up here are well behind. Down home I've gathered a couple of pounds of juicy ones from hedgerows near our house, but up here this is what we see.  

Nevertheless, the canal sides are very lush right now like this stretch at the seemingly inappropriately named All Oaks Wood (I went for a walk and only saw other species).

When I was walking back along looking for oaks there I took the picture below.  If that doesn't look like something from a hire boat brochure or a calendar I don't know what does.

I'm still pondering the remarkable difference between the North and South Oxford canals.

Compared to the rustic wandering South with its often delapidated locks and sometimes jungly towpath, the North end seems a good bit tidier.  It could be described as a series of tree lined avenues linked by short wiggly bits.

We didn't move much today, just up to Stretton Stop and back to near where we started.  En route, our Peter was explaining to me (like he does) how Einstein's special relativity theory helps explain why gold is that yellow colour.  I sort of understood it at the time, but a couple of hours later I cannot explain it to you, although if you Google it, you'll find that it's true!  Then I was going to polish the boat until I discovered the bottle of polish was empty.  So I had to sit and read instead. Quelle potage as Del Boy would say.


Sunday, August 02, 2020

Croc spotted on North Oxford Canal

How's that for click bait?  Apologies, but I have to get someone to read this stuff somehow.

Want to see my pudding tonight?

Well I did drink the Pimms first, then ate the fruit with some yoghurt and granola,  Waste not want not.

  As you can see, it's a tough life here on the North Oxford as Kath is demonstrating here.

Today we had to do three whole locks.  They're coming thick and fast, there's another one in 22 miles or there would be if we were going that far..  My phone says we're at some place called Cathiron tonight  I can see Kath but sadly we don't have an iron.

I did my first live supermarket shop since lockdown today.  The big Tesco at Rugby.  I have to say it was pretty quiet and I don't think I caught the lergy so you can sit close to your screen reading this.

Another nice sky tonight, they seem to specialise in them up here.

Tomorrow we turn round at Stretton Stop then head back.  Then we reap the benefit of being old because we can't remember what it was like coming up, so it'll all be fresh.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

North Oxford Canal

When the sun is in and the landscape is ordinary, there's always the sky to make a picture a bit more interesting. That's my excuse anyway.
Here we are half a mile south of Hillmorton at the end of day 1 of our 5 day  outing.  The canal is about as busy as it ever gets I should think.  Now I'm no speed merchant but when we get behind someone dribbling along at half a mile an hour I have a job controlling my patience.  I don't think I'm being unreasonable do you? Herbie doesn't like it either, her old BMC engine is a bit choppy at tickover speed. Luckily when that happened today, the guy in question got in a right tizwaz over some canoeists and pulled over in a panic, so I nipped gently past. wearing a benign smile. 

Lots of choice mooring spots were occupied by mid afternoon, but thankfully out here there are plenty to spare and amazingly I've got a strong 4G phone signal, so I'm able to delight you with my deathless prose whether you actually like it or not.

See these those black plastic hay rolls in the field beyond?  I used to tell our kids they had just been delivered for the farmer to roll out like turf for next years crop.  They'll get me back someday I dare say.  I think they still think that people in canoes are called canoodlers.

I can't remember when we last came up here.  Five years ago I think. The North Oxford has a totally different character from the South Oxford and it makes a refreshing  change. The bridges for a start are much wider and in general the canal is wider too and in some places it's alarmingly straight.  I've heard it said that the canal builders began to get short of money when they got towards the southern end so I expect that's it.  It's less cosy perhaps  than the south maybe but no less inviting. and of course it has two prisons to add a bit of spice although quite why you need two prisons next door to each other I have no idea.  

Arriving at Wigrams Turn yesterday evening, we dashed over to the Folly (by car) for a swift pinta and a bite to eat.  I'm pleased to report that the big garden was busy as usual even if we were getting scattered showers.  Folly customers are a determined lot.  

Tomorrow we continue northwards to somewhere or other.  Maybe Newbold. Maybe All Oaks Corner.  Who knows?  We don't.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Fitting it in

Being a Dad /Grandpa has its rewards but it don't 'arf make complicated sometimes.

Peter (son) fancies coming for a boating trip with us, but what to do with Bella his cat?  Peter doesn't drive and would need us to get him to the boat and back.

Claire (daughter) is going on holiday with Grace (grand daughter) soon and needs us to look after Ronnie and Rosie (dogs) while they are away.

Jacob (grand son) and Rosie (not the dog, but his girlfriend) fancy a break before Rosie starts her new job in a couple of weeks time- how about visiting Cambridge and staying at Peter's?


We drive to Cambridge to help get his (untidy) flat ready for J&R (Peter's hoover is broken so we need to take ours).  J&R come up after a couple of days and cat sit while we take Peter boating.  The window to get this done is short because of getting back to Cambridge to release Rosie so she can get home to Sussex to get ready for her job and we have to get back home to look after Ronnie and the other Rosie.

Phew.  Well that's the plan anyhow.  I think we'll have four days boating.  I fancy tootling up to Stretton stop and back maybe.  Easy run, only the Hillmorton locks to do.

I can't let this post pass without expressing my genuine sadness over the death of Peter Green yesterday.  As you know I like a bit of guitar playing and Peter was my all time favourite.  I saw him live, once with John Mayall after he replaced Eric Clapton and played every bit as well.  I stood at the front of the stage and watched at close range while his hands worked their delicate wonder.  I'll never forget it.  Music just flowed out of them.  Then I saw the very first public performance of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac as it was called then and listened as he wrung the emotion out of the music.  Loads of guitarists are better technically (even I can play some of his stuff after a fashion) but few will ever match his musicality.  He was a bloody good singer too.  RIP Peter.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Boating the New Normal Way

Well I'm pretty sure that the Oxford canal on Monday and Tuesday was as busy as I have ever seen it!  For our first post lockdown jaunt we took Herbie from Wigrams Turn up to Fenny Compton and back.  Queues for the Napton locks, particularly at the top,  meant longish waits but people didn't seem to mind, everybody just seemed glad to be out and about in the sunshine.  

Like us, a lot of boat owners were on their first outing post lockdown.  As for hire boats, the largeish Napton Narrowboats fleet were all out except for one 70 footer and there were plenty out from Black Prince and Calcutt too.

Now, about social distancing and all that.  It seems that on the canal at least, the new normal is pretty much like the old one. We soon began to realise that keeping safe is not that hard on a canal.  Of course when you're on your boat you're automatically socially distanced for outsiders, but even at locks we soon realised that although people socialise when helping each other out, it's quite normal to keep a couple of meters apart, the usual conversations take place across the lock don't they? So people were as chatty as usual and no-one seemed over worried.  The main precaution we took was to sanitise our hands after handling each lock.  We've mixed up our own sanitiser from 90% pure isopropyl alchohol and a bit of hand lotion.  That'll kill anything.

Perhaps the biggest joy of the short trip was our first pub meal and a pint, courtesy of the fabulous Mark at the Folly at Napton.  He and his team have obviously worked very very hard to provide a safe and  welcoming environment.  The pub building itself is out of bounds but the big beautifully kept garden has been transformed.

As you can see, lots of distanced tables and a number of open sided marquees.  You fill in a contact form (a hand sanitiser sits alongside to pot of pens), then follow a one way system to order your food / drink, keeping well away from the staff, then the goodies are delivered to your table on a tray by a gloved waiter / waitress.  Food and drink containers and wooden cutlery are all single use disposables.  I must say we felt very safe.  Should the weather turn chilly, they've made a big fire pit in front of the main marquee. 

A lot of thought and planning (and expense) has obviously gone into setting it all up, and it seems to be paying off.  On Sunday evening I counted over 70 punters and on Tuesday at 6pm there were 50 or more.  People who know the Folly will know that the food and drink is always good and Mark the landlord is  a real gem.  If you're out that way, they deserve your custom.

As for the rest of our cruise, I have first to sing the praises of Grace, our 12 year old  granddaughter who did hours of steering and the majority of the locks (she steered the boat beautifully into the rest).  Then a bit of a grumble about the volunteer lockie at the bottom Napton lock who insisted on opening the paddle a only tiny crack until the lock was half full.  No wonder there were queues.  Our general practice is to open the paddle half way until the boat rests against the top gate then  opening fully.  That's quite safe enough and twice as quick as his method. I bet he's not a boater. 

The summit pound, sad to say, needs topping up - we grounded  on a few of the bends, a deeper boat might struggle.  The main thing that cheered me was mile after mile of raspberries-and-cream coloured mixture of rosebay willowherb and meadow sweet on the offside bank.  Really lovely.  Wildlife of course has probably benefited from the lack of human activity in the great outdoors.  While tied up at Napton we watched at close hand a pair of green woodpeckers digging for worms and grubs.  People might think these birds feed on insects in tree bark, but the green woodpeckers are regular ground feeders.  The ones you hear hammering in the trees are the spotted varieties.

Lastly, the towpath gossip is alive and well.  We hear that the third pool at Cropredy Marina is going ahead and the diggers are already at it.  That's another 100 boats' worth I believe. which I think will make it 350 in all.  I also hear that they are instituting a stricter no liveaboards policy there. Maybe that was a condition of getting planning consent.

Next outing?  No idea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Herbie still afloat

Herbie seems to have survived lockdown and much to our relief is still afloat.  Yesterday we drove out to Wigram's Turn to open her up for the first time since March.  Apart from a few cobwebs she seems none the worse for her isolation and we even went for a very short trip - about twenty five yards to move off the pontoon, do a 180 and come back to our berth so we faced the other way.  Very nice it was too and now our shore line will reach the socket on the power bollard.

We're still not that familiar with WT marina having only dashed in there for safety as lockdown was announced.  It's not as picturesque as our previous marinas at Crick and Cropredy, but the people seem very friendly.  There seem to be quite a few liveaboards around.  Covid measures can be seen here and there in the form of hand sanitiser stations and notices about social distancing.

The reason for the visit was to open up the boat ready for grandson Jacob and his girl friend Rosie to have a few days aboard.  They arrived before we left for home and we gave them a lift to the Folly at Napton where the garden is looking lovely and food and drinks are being served only out there.  It all looks well spaced out and very safe.

24 hours later J&R don't seem to have sunk the boat or set her on fire yet, so all is well so far.  Jacob sent a picture of the meal they cooked this evening.

Fajitas by the look of it.  Jacob, having been a student for some years is a reasonable cook.

Next week we're taking Herbie over ourselves for a short cruise (two days) with Grace, Jacob's sister.  We gave Grace (now 12)  a choice of two routes

a) to Braunston and Hillmorton and back - a pleasant trip with no locks or,

b)  up the nine Napton locks and back down again. - hard graft.

Interestingly she chose the latter, but long time readers will know Grace is no stranger to locks and was competently locking us up and down the Watford staircase when she was only 5!  

Start 'em young, that's what I say. I warned her that she'd need to do a lot of the locking and she's up for it.  Good girl!  Of course she's now twice the height she was then.

Anyhow it'll give Herbie a good shakedown after nearly four months  in isolation and it'll give us a chance to try out the Folly for ourselves - our first meal out since March.

At last, some boating to blog about.  Stay tuned.