Saturday, July 14, 2018

Peace of mind

Picture the scene. There I am, half way down the M40 on the way home after a boating expedition when a nagging thought enters my mind. Did I tighten the stern gland before we left?  Did I turn off the inverter? Oh ‘eck, the boat will sink and /or the batteries will be flat.  I think we get more like that as we get older, at least I do.  Normally of course, I have done whatever it is, but I spend the next week afraid that I hadn’t.  So now we have a solution.


I printed off a stack of these and use one each time we leave.  It works! Peace of mind at last. Except there are a couple of things I mean to add to the list, but I can’t remember what they are.  Any further suggestions for the list are very welcome. Of course it’s important to take the completed list home with you, or else you’ll worry that you did actually tick this or that.

In other news:

My new novel is in the hands of three kind friends who offered to endure a reading of it.  Hopefully they will confirm that it makes some sort of sense and that the story hangs together.  It’s no good reading through it yourself because your head is full of what you think you wrote.  Kath has been using her digital graphics skills to help with the front cover, a joint effort, which will look like this.

cover at

If it passes the reader test, I’m hoping to publish in a week or so. Exciting or what?

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tales of the Unexpected

Things rarely turn out how you expect, and our trip down to Oxford and back was like that. The idea was to give our Peter a holiday break and a free bed while he attended a jolly in Oxford over the weekend, then to scuttle quickly back to Cropredy.  Bish bosh, job done.

We didn’t (or at least I didn’t) think I’d find time to rub down my starboard handrail, fill, undercoat and two top coats, but I did. (Adam, I’m still a big fan of that masking tape.)

I didn’t image for one minute that I’d find time to finish off my novel (bar the proofing etc.) but I did.

In all that hot weather, we thought we’d be overflowing with solar power, but sometimes we weren’t.

We thought we would be our own company on the return trip, but it was very sociable.

Instead of coming back in three days, we took six.

How did all that happen?  Well the weather had a lot to do with it.  Like most other people we elected for early starts to avoid the heat, so we were done and tied up by lunch time most days.  This gave us the afternoon off, which is when those jobs got done.  and like all the other boaters we headed for the shady spots to moor up, like here at Aristotle lane in Oxford.


Kath and Peter skulk in the bushes  Before long, the shade moved right over the boat, which is why the solar panels didn’t get a feed of sunlight.  They do seem to like a direct view of the sun. Also I have read that they are less efficient when they get very hot, and despite them having a good air gap underneath, they did get very hot.  Nevertheless they were a big help, even if not at their optimum.

As for sociability, our cup overflowed, the only disappointment was not being able to meet up with Bones as planned.  The diaries never seemed to fit.  Maffi was about and we had our usual natters with him of course.  Tying up early and sitting out, we got to know our neighbours each afternoon and spend many a happy hour swapping stories.  In particular, we spent three or four afternoons in the company of Ray and Lucille on Nb Lucy Lockett who we had not met before, but now know each others life stories intimately!

Another unexpected thing was to see how many of the CRT notices had already changed to the new livery.  Like most other boaters, we’re not at all sure it’s as good as the old although at least the blue does attract the eye more than the old white.  Time will tell. In principle, I’m generally against strap lines, especially ones with the first word ending in “-ing”. They always seem a bit naff to me.  I have in my career endured awaydays when such things are developed.  Like all things developed by committee, they tend to come out as bland or trite.  I shall say no more on the subject.


Here’s another thing I didn’t expect to see, especially on a pub wall:


This one was outside the Bell in Lower Heyford.  Maybe they should look at the cholesterol in their menu.

The reason we took twice as long to come back up the canal was simple.  The thing we had to get back home for was cancelled, so why hurry when we could just do two or three hours a day and spend the rest of the time sitting in the lovely countryside.

PS  My book is nearly ready. Kath is reading it through.  I think I might have thought of a good title.  Now I need to design a cover.  Once again, I’ll stick it on Amazon / Kindle.  I think these days it’s automatic that people can order a print version, so those out there who don’t like reading from a screen will have no excuse.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018


When it comes to a knowledge of Botany
I'm a person that has not Gotany
I've been searching through flowers
For hours and hours
But of rare ones I never did Spotany

Such is the standard of my poetry! Talking of such things, down here on the Oxford there are miles and miles and miles of wild flowers, currently mostly meadowsweet and rosebay willowherb, or on the shady bits, the big leaves of what I suppose are. Gunnera - giant rhubarb.

Now some boaters have said to me this week that they think the canal bank is too overgrown and there are not enough places to stop. Hmmph! That's a bit like complaining that all the paintings in the National Gallery are blocking the view of the wall. I counted the number of good mooring stops ( clear straight banks with piling and nice mown grassy bank to sit out) between Thrupp and Aynho, 10 miles, twenty good moorings, many big enough for a number of boats. That's fine isn't it?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Something very exciting has happened

Yes, it has, but before I get to that:

Here we are in sunny Jericho. I haven't seen any walls come tumbling down yet, but we live in hopes. Actually we're not all that sunny because we're moored under some sort of maple tree, which is stealing all our would be solar power and covering the boat in what might best be described as maple syrup. I haven't tasted it, but it sure is sticky. All week we have been busy going not very far, starting earlyish for us, and finishing by mid day to avoid the heat. I must say, it's a very pleasant way to go nowhere fast. We have dined very well, on barbecues and the odd treat such as a mid day cream tea at Annie's tea room in Thrupp. Maffi is loitering around Thrupp, so we had a natter with him. As we left on Thursday morning, we passed his boat and he rushed onto his back deck and shouted either "ice cream's empty" or "I've been tempted." I think. I wonder what that's all about.

Tonight we are dining on a street food takeaway from Gloucester Road market in Oxford, where foods of many nationalities can be had. Ours is Indian and I think its gonna be a hot one. It's in the oven as I write. I said to Kath that we should be washing it down with champagne because . . .

I have reached the end of my second novel !!!! Well, when I say reached the end, the story is done and dusted, but I still have tidying up to do, the odd scene trimming and a couple of bits to add in the middle, then a thousand and one typos and punctuation errors to correct, but the story is told. It's all these lazy afternoons that have done it, I've been going like a train, my fingers a blur over the keyboard of my little tablet, hence all the typos. A week ago I didn't know the story would end and how all the threads would come together, but they just did, and if I may say so, I think it might be fun to read. Of course it has all the gravitas, romance and sensuality of my first novel i.e. none, but I think I'm happier with it that I expected when half way through. A proper re read now will be the test and then I'll have to let someone else read it. That's the scary bit. I wouldn't start queuing outside Waterstones just yet.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


I think we ought to move Herbie to the South of France where it's not so flippin' hot.

It all got pretty noisy this morning as lots of boats set off early to beat the heat. Now in mid afternoon they're all moored up in shady spots like us. Here we are just north of Heyford lift bridge.

We had a long chat with a CRT canal inspector checking out the section between Aynho and Heyford. He showed us his list of things that needed attention, and it was huge! Fat chance of getting that lot done, I suppose they'll have some way of prioritising.

Always interesting talking to these guys and as ever you discover that things are never as simple as they seem, for instance, stop planks. Apparently they've tried a range of materials and designs, but nothing is as good as spruce. Problem is, it's a very buoyant wood and again despite all sorts of ways of holding them down in the water, a gang of chaps standing on them still works best. I bet elfin safety doesn't think much of that.

Yesterday a chap I met at Nell Bridge told me he'd accidentally trod on an adder at King's Sutton. Basking in the sun I suppose. Anyway it didn't try to bite him.

Funny the stuff you learn while doing not much on a hot day.

Monday, June 25, 2018


This can't be us on hols, it's not raining. Clearly no-one told the met office we were out cruising for a couple of weeks, because it's hot and sunny.

Currently (Monday breakfast) we're at camp 1, aka Spiceball Park in Banbury, before continuing on towards the dreaming spires of ye olde Oxenford. Saturday night at Base Camp, aka Cropredy, gave us this spectacular sunset over the marina

In an effort not to be boring, last night we thought we'd give the Three Pigeons Pub a try (the Reindeer was probably sending out search parties). Anyhow it was very good in all ways, food, beer and service. Kath had a burger that was taller than Ronnie!Recommended. They keep a lovely pint of Purity Gold.

Young Ronnie, now mostly recovered from his horrific encounter with a car ten days ago, is with us as far as Heyford, and he's well enough to get back to his crisp stealing habits.

Wor lad Peter is also on the crew this week so he can use us as cheap(free) accommodation while he is on some jolly in Oxford next weekend. That's what mums and dads are for, we are told.

We'll send our sherpas out to Morrisons on the way out of Banbury, so we have enough grub to allow us to dine in the wilds. Probable Camp 2 is Belcher's lift bridge just before Aynho, cunningly chosen because it should offer us the shade of the hedge, and we love it there anyway.

Yesterday despite the canal being busy, all the locks were in our favour. Fingers crossed that might continue.
Stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Near disaster but all's well

You all remember our little Ronnie the Chorkie

Grace's dog I suppose you would call him, but he's a family pet anyway and a regular boat crew member. Well on Thursday last he got run over by a car. He was getting out of our car outside the house, saw a cat and gave chase across the road. The car's wheel went right over him. You can imagine our horror, but after two separate thorough vet examinations, one at the nearest vet within ten minutes of being hit, and a second examination next day by his regular vet, it looks like he got away with it!! He's been somewhat subdued for a few days and no doubt he's got bruises and an abrasion on his thigh, but yesterday he was quite perky and trotting about and wagging his tail. I'm not sure who was more traumatised, him or us.

We bumped into Maffi on Saturday. As we were baby sitting Grace over the weekend she requested a boat trip so we took Herbie down to Banbury which is where we saw Milly M and the man himself sporting an alarmingly neat haircut. He hopped on board for a trip down to the winding hole and back and was impressed by Grace's driving skills. For the first time she has this weekend been steering the boat into locks, both up and down and doing it really well. Not bad for a ten year old.

Next week we're cruising down to Oxford with our Peter, who although nearly four times Grace's age would freely admit to being less good at the tiller.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


First an apology.  I have just discovered that a number of comments that kind readers have put on my posts have not been finding their way through to me.  Blogger is supposed to be sending comments to me by email, so I know they are there, but I just discovered that in over forty cases over the last few months, the comments never got through to me in this way. So in a lot of cases I didn’t know they were there. So if you made a comment without a reply or response from me where needed, that’s the reason why.  Very sorry folks, I’ll try to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Now what might be a useful tip to someone.  Like us you might have a Cobb barbecue on your boat, or perhaps at home.  I think Oakie has one at any rate.  We like to use their Cobblestones as fuel.  At a couple of quid a time, they are not cheap, but they do give a good heat very quickly and maintain the heat steadily for up to two hours.  As I may have written before, these Cobblestones (sort of compressed coir wheels) are real pigs to light.  I used to end up using half a box of matches to get one going.  Well folks, I have found the answer to the problem.  For my birthday last January I asked Kath to buy me a chef’s blowtorch so I could fool about making creme brulees or charring peppers and the like. Last week I used it to light the Cobb and hey presto, the Cobblestone was fully lit in seconds.  It was hot enough to start cooking in barely a couple of minutes.  These little blowtorches don’t cost a lot.  They might even be good for getting charcoal briquettes or whatever to light.  If I were you I’d get one.

I don’t know if it was the late spring and then all this warm weather or what, but our garden has exploded in the last couple of weeks. I’m going to have to buy a machete if this keeps up. I hesitate to complain when things are growing too well, but we’re in danger of being overwhelmed by greenery.  Anyone else with the same problem?  Maybe I should get a goat.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

A week not wasted

I may not have written a blog post for a week or more, but I have not, dear reader, been idle. Well, not all the time anyway.  We have been on Herbie trying to get her more spick and span.  When we arrived at Herbie in the marina a week ago we were pleased to see that the flags were out for us.  That’s yellow flag irises of course.  Moon daisies, dog roses and all sorts of other stuff was out too.  The marina surroundings are looking very lush and pretty.


Down our end of the marina, away from the car park and the office etc, we get all the wildlife, song birds especially, including, I am happy to report, skylarks twittering away up in the sky. Down in the water, apart from the ducks and swans there are some proper big carp that will come up and eat your scraps of bread if the ducks don’t get there first.  And, best of all, about an hour after sundown, we got spectacular displays of bats swooping low over the water at speeds that would put swallows to shame.  I’m no bat expert but I guess they are daubenton bats since they are supposed to feed over water and seem about the right size. The light reflected over the water surface gives you a better view than you would normally get of bats in flight, but they were much too fast to photograph.  Suffice it to say there were lots of them. Just look at this picture and fill in your imaginary bats.

20180605_213846 (1)

Just to finish off this wildlife section, here are a couple of  the little fellows that came to see us when we sat out in our deck chairs.


There are five cygnets in all, and like all swans they have little fear of us humans.

Despite weather varying from too misty to too hot to too breezy, I did manage to get a bit of painting done.  The section of Herbie’s roof where the roof box sits now has three fresh top coats and the box is at long long last installed.


I also managed to do the other roof areas that needed repainting, although I suspect that having done it in sections at different times some bit of it will need seeing to before very long, a bit like the Forth bridge.

Our wooden handrails need regular attention as the wood expands and contracts in the weather and the ropes drag over them etc.  I feel guilty when I let them get scruffy after all the hard work Marilyn put in on them when we did the big Herbie repaint.  This time they needed more than a touch up so on the port side I sanded almost all of the rail back to bare wood and filled a lot of the cracks and screw holes before putting on a thick undercoat and three gloss coats and now it looks like this.


The first of the top coats didn’t go too well, I painted it too late in the day and  an evening mist came down and gave it a frosted finish.  That’ll learn me.  Note to self:  Don’t paint outdoors after 2pm.  I hope the finished job will pass Marilyn's inspection next time she comes to visit. Hopefully her eyesight might not be what it was. The starboard side will have to wait until we can get that against the bank or the pontoon. 

I have a tip to pass on.  Having left my best masking tape at home, I despatched Kath down to Wickes in Banbury to get “the best she could” and she came back with this stuff.


It’s made by the Duck tape people and I like it very much.  The photo is a bit misleading, it’s about 2cm wide, normal sort of masking tape width.  The outside in plastic and the sticky side seems to have some sort of fine webbing.  That’s the sticky side in the photo.  It sticks well, comes off well (no bleeds at all) and is not as stretchy as a lot of tapes.  I found it easy to apply it all along one side of the boat in one straight strip – something other tapes wouldn’t let me do as they tended to pull into a curve.  It’s not cheap, I think Kath paid about £8 but don’t quote me, but there is a lot of tape on the reel.  I shall be using it for similar jobs in future.

I suppose I should just add for the record that during the week I managed to get the aft deck cants painted as well.


The rest of the time I just loafed about tightening crews and stuff like that, but mostly watching paint dry.  Oh and I wrote another episode or two of my number two novel.  I will finish it this year.  I think. I still have no idea how it ends.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The tale of a piece of wood

This little history does finish up with something about Herbie, so bear with me.

Many many years ago when I was young and slim I had a friend called Paul who was moving out of his flat.  In this flat was an old pedal organ which he had rescued from a skip when a church or chapel was being demolished in Henley-on-Thames.  Not having room for it in his next place, Paul was getting rid of the organ, So I bought it off him for £4 plus some other bartered object I now forget.

It was a fine old instrument, made by the Bell Organ Co of Canada. I can’t find a photo of it, but it looked very similar to this one which I saw for sale on the net at one time.


The carcass was of the finest solid oak, some of it an inch and a half thick! It had fine panels and quite a lot of intricate carving.  Complete with it's ornate cast iron rimmed Patent Mouseproof Pedals, it was a joy to behold –maybe not in a modern Habitat furnished house, but it was a fine thing in itself.  Inside the organ however was a somewhat different story and it appeared to have been made out of clothes pegs, lollipop sticks and coat hanger wire!  It did however have several rows of tuned brass reeds, most of which were intact.  The webbing that attached the big plywood bellows to the Patent Mouseproof Pedals needed replacing in order to make it play, so I set about fixing it.  Luckily, the majority of the carcass was held together by gert big dome headed screws, so it was easy to pull to bits.  Once inside, I recall a great deal of head scratching, because it looked to me as if the things was built back to front.  All the air valves were on the wrong side. A quick phone call to Paul solved the problem. “That’s because it’s an American Organ, not a harmonium.  Harmoniums blow, American Organs suck!”  Not a lot of people know that. Well you learn something every day.

Well I got the thing working after a fashion and spent many a happy hour getting most of the stops to work and fixing dodgy keys. Despite not being a pianist I managed to learn a tiny bit of Bach and a passable rendition of the folk song “The Lark in the Clear Air”. However, modern central heating took its toll and over the years the innards started to fall to bits as the glue dried out and lost its stick.  Had I not has a busy career and three kids and a wife to keep me occupied I might have restored it, but I didn’t.  The time came when It had to make room for proper furniture in our living room.  I took the whole thing to bits, removed the two hundred and odd brass reeds (I still have them in a box, can’t bear to part with them) and took the rest of the crumbing mechanical  innards and the keyboard to the tip.  But that oak was just too good to throw away, so I had a brainwave.  We needed a bench seat in our conservatory so reassembling the carcass in a different order, I made this.


There it stood for many years, while the organ stop drawers long the bottom gradually got broken off by wayward feet, until the day came when we decided to take it to bits and install something more comfortable, but still I couldn’t bear to throw away that lovely oak and much of it stands in my shed as I write.

So why am I telling you all this?   Well I’ve found a use for a small bit of it.  On Herbie’s rear deck seats we keep a box for windlasses, stakes, mooring chains and the like.  In spite of several coats of varnish the plywood box lid has delaminated, so we need a new one.  Now do you remember a couple of posts back that picture of the lovely old sailing boat? That’s what inspired me to make a new lid out of some of the old oak.  If that boat can last a hundred years under lots of coats of varnish, then my hundred year old oak can do the same, and look good into the bargain.  So here is my new hundred year old box lid, cut to size, rubbed down and given four coats of exterior varnish – and I managed to include some of that lovely edging.


The photo makes it look bigger than it is. I purposely left a couple of small dings in it to show its age, but what a lovely old bit of wood eh?  That’s a bit of history that is.


PS while I’m doing stuff like this, our conservatory is slowly falling down.  I seem to have an issue with priorities Smile

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Art and (not much) alcohol in Cambridge - and a ghost B&B

No boats or canals this time, but you could visit Cambridge by boat, so that’s my excuse.  We left the paint on Herbie’s roof drying and drove there.

Well I left you with that picture of steel bars in my last post, so let’s take a few steps back to reveal what it is.


Yes, dear old Anthony Gormley is at it again, this time in kettles yard n Cambridge.  Those people in the background are real by the way.  His theme in this exhibition is objects built on the three axes, X,Y and Z if you’re familiar with that kind of thing.  In another room is a glass cube about three feet across containing 10x10x10 LEDs all very neatly soldered on a 3d grid of what look like thin brass wire.  No doubt he got his assistant to do all the donkey work.  Anyway, when you get up close and peer in, the effect is one of staring into infinity.


Some modern art I don’t like. I recall getting a bit annoyed at one or two exhibits in Tate Modern, for example an exact replica of a domestic radiator, or a square of red paint, but Gormley I do like.

Kettles Yard also has The House, oh and what a house it is.  The “creator” Jim Eade converted it from three old cottages in the 1960s and set about making it a home full of lovely simple things, all set out with immaculate care and precision to delight the eye.  If you like pebbles and paintings of fishing boats and traditional English chairs, you’re in for a treat.  Best of all you are encouraged to sit in the chairs and take in the light and the atmosphere. I’m tempted to say that of all the many houses we have visited over the years, this is my favourite.  I would move in tomorrow.  It’s light and airy and cosy all at the same time.  And the house and the exhibition are both free to enter and come and go as often as you like.

Earlier we had to drop in to Nova, an upmarket coffee bar I suppose you would call it, to see another art exhibition, this time displaying the work of the Cambridge Urban Sketchers Group, of which our son Peter is a member.  Peter, although a scientist and computer geek is getting quite arty in his old age and works in all sorts of media.  In the exhibition was Peter’s needle felt picture of knitters in  Cambridge pub.  Not for sale as he has promised it to Kath.  The sketchers draw/ paint/ etc from life, in situ, picking a different venue for each monthly meeting.  I suppose Peter sat there with his wool and felting needles and bashed away. I don’t know if he finished it off at home, I forgot to ask.


Sorry about the reflected white line across the middle.

Then, on to our real reason for going to Cambridge, our annual sortie to the Cambridge Beer Festival.  You probably won’t believe me when I say that in a total of ten hours at the festival (over two days), I drank three and a half pints in total.  Seven halves to be exact, one cider, two perrys and four beers.  It’s all about quality rather than quantity although I did eat two monster curries and some pork scratchings.

Well while I’m indulging in a post not about Herbie or canals (sorry), I might as well tell you about one more thing.  B&B’s in Cambridge are frighteningly expensive, so we searched for a cheap alternative to our usual.  What Kath found was a B&B with no-one there.  Really.  You book in on line and they email you a key code for the door locks.  You let yourself in, the room, with en-suite bathroom, is clean and comfortable but basic.  In the morning you go downstairs to the silent kitchen where you help yourself to cereal, toast and jam/marmalade, eggs if you want them, tea, orange juice etc.  Then you wash up your dishes and that’s it.  Over the two days and nights we didn’t see a soul except for a fleeting glimpse of another guest as she went out the door.  It saved us £60. It worked for us although I did miss my B&B treat of a Full English .