Friday, July 03, 2020

Wot next?

So now people can go boating and stay overnight.  Is that technically the end of lockdown then?  We should examine the definition in context:

Lock up - 
a) a secure shed or garage in a public area
b) ascend a lock in a boat
c) secure or incarcerate a person or an object

Lockout -  
a) the exclusion of employees by their employer from their place of work until terms are agreed to.
b) the exclusion of a partner from his/ her home after committing a misdemeanour

Lock in    -
The practice of some publicans allowing customers to consume alcohol after legal closing time

Lockdown -
A pain in the arse

I think that about sums it up.

What we have got now I think, is some relief of symptoms of lockdown rather than the return to a pain free existence, and like a lot of other people I wouldn't be surprised to see it come back again.

All is not wasted however, and I have been learning some very useful things during this period of spending more time at home.

Firstly, right at the start of lockdown I learned that it is not a good idea to fall off a garden wall and break a couple of ribs. That lost me six weeks of exercise and now I am several pounds heavier and my blood pressure has gone up.

Then I learned  it is an equally bad idea to break a drill bit whilst drilling  a bit of metal held by the forefinger of one hand.  I know piercings are quite fashionable  but not right through a finger.  The wound is nearly healed now but the hole in the fingernail  still has a way to go before it grows out. 

I have also learned how to spend £296.24 in half a second by carelessly pushing our rotary lawn mower over a large pebble which I had inadvertently raked into the grass..  The resulting slingshot did this to our patio door.

On reflection I think perhaps I ought to go boating again before I kill myself at home.

On the up side, I've always been a reasonable cook (I can do a Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal in not much over an hour) , but I never baked before and now I have become moderately proficient  in making bread, Irish soda farls, and scones.  Farls in particular would suit life on a boat well as they are so simple and quick to do and don't need an oven warming up.

Then during all the sitting about in the garden, I've learned a bit about bumblebees.   All very scientific you know. Did you know that the ones with red tails are called red tailed bumblebees, and the ones with white tails are called white tailed bumblebees?  Fair enough, you might have guessed it, but I bet you don't know what this is (answer below):

CRT says  hire boat companies have experienced a sudden flood of bookings - 315% of the same time as last year. Well, I'm sure we're all pleased for them, but I won't be joining the happy throng on the cut until the dust settles a bit more. Let them have the teething problems I say.  We're off up to Cambridge to visit Bella, our son Peter's cat, (and Peter too I suppose).

That insect is not a bee of course, it's a white banded drone fly - Volucella pellucens.  It visited one of our fuchsias while we were bee spotting.  In size nearly twice as big as a bluebottle.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

What price freedom? plus the birds and the bees and spooky songs

So CRT confirms that from July 4 we can stay overnight on our boats.  Hooray .  Will we be dashing out to Herbie and setting off into the wide blue yonder?  Not yet we won't.  We'd rather watch and listen to what goes on and how daft / sensible people appear to be. Looking at some pictures today of the crowds on beaches, I'm not all that optimistic.  Having said that, most boaters are more sensible than that, and many of being older, have the need to be more careful.  I'd be interested to know what your plans are if you're a boater.

In other news:

The birds and the bees

Strangely, the number of birds visiting our feeders this week  has diminished drastically.  Well the robin and the pigeons are always around but the tits of various types have largely gone AWOL.  The only reason I can think of is that they have better things to eat since there seems to have been an explosion in insect life.  Our garden is quite literally buzzing with them. A lot of it is due to our huge lime tree which is smothered in its flowers right now.  It looks and smells lovely  but there is a downside - not long now before we're covered in sticky goo. Already we are having yellow snowstorms of bits of the flowers.  The garden needs a good hoovering.

With fewer birds to watch, we've been watching bees instead and until now we never realised how many different sorts we get.  We've had Early Bumblebees, Carder Bees, Leaf Cutter Bees, Red Tailed Bumblebees and of course Honey Bees.  Who'da thought it?  Don't think we're experts - we just looked 'em up when we saw 'em.

In future I think we'll take more notice of hedgerow bees when we're on the towpath and impress other boaters with our new found erudition.

Kath's got some respectable pictures just with her ageing iphone.  We think this cute one is a Common Carder Bee, but if anyone knows different we'd be happy to be told. Nice furry little thing ain't it?

The last couple of days sunshine has brought out the butterflies too, but strangely not on our buddleia.  Obviously the insects haven't read that is is supposed to be the Butterfly Bush.  For some reason they seem to be attracted instead to our conservatory (that sounds posher than it is.  For conservatory read ramshackle old lean to). Kath has spent many a happy hour thrashing around in there with a fishing net trying to rescue them for release outside.  It's only a matter of time before something gets broken. Getting photos of butterflies is hard because they won't stay still for long enough but I shall persevere.

Spooky songs 

Finally, in my search for songs for my mythical money spinner Canal Lockdown -the musical, I was thumbing though some old songbooks noticing how many 60's hits could be brought up to date by just changing the odd word.  Anyone remember Thunderclap Newman?  How about this - I've only substituted the underlined words:

Call out the contact tracers
'Cos there's something in the air
We're gonna get it sooner or later
'Cos the Covid 19's here and you know that it's right

We have got to stay in together
We have got to stay in together now

Lock up the streets and houses 
'Cos there's something in the air
We're gonna get it sooner or later
'Cos the Covid 19's here and you know that it's right



or how about minor changes to a Boxtops hit to describe the start of lockdown?

Give me no ticket for an aeroplane
Ain't advised to take a fast train
Social days are gone, I'm a stayin' home
'Cos Boris just wrote me a letter.

The search continues.

Well it keeps me off the street.

Bye for now.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Lockdown by the Canal - the musical

"Maybe I should be using my lockdown time more productively"  I thought to myself.  Instead of sanding down the garden table and slapping on a coat of Sadolin, I could have been becoming famous and getting rich like Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Sadly my songwriting credentials haven't exactly cut the mustard in the past.  My first attempt was a little ditty going something like:

It's raining wet water from out of the sky 
If I don't get wet then I shall be dry 

 Unaccountably, that was not a commercial, or any other kind, of success

Then as a young Engineer  (note the capital E) in the late 1960s  in Bedford I wrote my biggest hit so far, The Ballad of Charles Wells and Greene King  (being the two rival brewers having a stranglehold on Bedford pubs in those days) which I dare not print for fear of litigation but suffice to say  the phrase "tastes as though it was filtered through his socks" might have been included.

After the last year of taking my guitar theory and technique more seriously than in the previous fifty years and steeping myself in scales, modes and arpeggios, I've now returned to basics digging out some actual songs.  Things I used to play have faded somewhat in memory and I can't always recall the lyrics, so I though I might as well make them up in the hope that no-one else can remember the originals anyway.

One of the first songs everybody learned to play way back then was House of the Rising Sun ( which actually requires knowledge of 5 chords - I had previously thought there were only three). So I thought I'd adapt it as the first song of a Canal Musical.  How's this for starters (It is admittedly helpful to have a knowledge of the canal through Berkhamsted)?

There is a pub in Berkhamsted
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many an old fart
And God I know I'm one

My mother steered the butty
All she cooked was beans
My father was a number one
Down in Milton Keynes

Now the only things a boater needs
Are a windlass and some rope
A bottle of beer, a lump of cheese
A bucket, a mop, and some soap

Another thing a boater needs
Is a hammer and a stake
A bag of coal, an engine 'ole
And now and then some cake

Dad put one foot on the gunnel
The other foot and the bank
He gave a shout, the boat moved out
And he fell in the water and sank

Oh mothers tell your children
When you need a loaf of bread
Don't stop your boat at the Rising Sun
Press on to Waitrose instead

Feedback is welcome-please choose one of the following

a) Needs improving
b) Needs scrapping
c) Needs certifying

Friday, June 19, 2020

Lockdown briefing canal style

Good afternoon and welcome to today's canal lockdown briefing.  I'd like to start by looking at today's graphs based on data by the Canal and River Trust.  Can I have slide one please?

This graph shows the percentage full levels of canal reservoirs in a number of popular cruising areas, and as you can see things are broadly holding up well thanks to the efforts of the British Boating Public who in these difficult times have responded magnificently by not doing any boating.  Sadly (puts on serious face) there has been a decline in the Leeds and Liverpool area due to a number of factors which our scientists are looking into.  Fortunately I believe that's somewhere up North so it doesn't really matter.

Can I have the next slide please?

This shows the number of Boaters broken down by age and sex as a result of being locked down for three months and is broadly in line with expectations.

 Can I have the last slide please?

This is a special commissioned Pie Chart showing the number of Fray Bentos Steak Pies (often referred to as Boaters Pies) consumed by the boating community.  You can see that after a sudden fall as boaters returned ashore in the early part of the epidemic, there has been a welcome recent increase as people isolated at home resorted to raiding their store cupboard for anything to eat.

Now we move on to questions from members of the public and the press, starting with Roger from London.  Roger.

"Thank you minister. With the canals full of water and the beautiful April and May weather why didn't the Government arrange for the Coronavirus to come last December when it was too wet and everything was on red boards?  We could have got all this over when boating was impossible  and been out enjoying ourselves. "

Well Roger, thank you for that incredibly important question. I totally understand as I have actually watched half an episode of Tim and Pru myself. Um, and now onto our next question which comes from Jim in Braunston.  Jim.

"Thank you your worsjhip.  If the two metre rule is moved down to one or one and a half metres, where does that leave us boaters with narrowboats that are two metres wide?  Will we have to saw them in half.?"

Well Jim thank your for that vitally important and wonderful question.  I absolutely get it, and what I can tell you is that we will at all times be guided by the science. (and Dominic Cummins).  And onto our last question which comes from Maisie from Stoke Bruerne (is that a place?) .  Maisie.

"Thank you your holiness. Is it alright if I take my boat through Blisworth tunnel to test my eyesight?"

Well Maisie thank you for your stunningly vital and significant question.  Blisworth tunnel is something we've been looking into but unfortunately it is very dark in there and we need more time to carry out investigations.  Although this particular  tunnel is a lot more than two metres wide, I'm told that many are a lot narrower and so we don't want to set a precedent.  So for the time being I'm afraid we''l have to wait until our world beating tunnel navigation app is ready.

And that concludes today's canal lockdown briefing.  Remember: Stay Ashore, Keep paying your licence and save the CRT.  Thank you. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

The birds and the bees and other fauna

Well lockdown hasn't been too bad so far I suppose.  Despite no boating we've been enjoying the fine weather and we're not missing Herbie too much because we've been mostly living the outdoor life anyway. I must be saturated with vitamin D because we've spent nearly all day every day in the garden - not doing much gardening of course (Alan Titchmarsh  am not), but reading, occasional Zooming, and watching the birds and bees.  (Perhaps I'm turning into Chris Packham)

We now have a number of fledglings, mostly great tits and blue tits and it's been fun to watch their parents helping them to feed on our feeders.  They do spill huge amounts of seeds but the squirrels and the pigeons clear that up nicely.  My experiment with nyger seeds has completely failed, none of our birds show the slightest interest in them which is a bit of a disaster because I bought several kilos.  Doh.  Ill hand them over to a neighbour who seems to be more successful with them.  I've decided to major on sunflower seeds and fat balls because they're clearly the favourites.  I hope I'm not wrong in this because I ordered them in bulk  on line and when the delivery came this morning I could barely lift the box over the doorstep.

Kath has suddenly got into bees.  They're all over our cranesbill (geranuim) flowers. I would show you a photo of one, but the little buggers won't sit still for more than a second.   I will get one one of these days. Here are some of the flowers anyway.

Checking on our bee identification sheet, they mostly seem to be Early Bumblebees which are quite small as bumblebees go.   Other interesting visitors have been red damselflies that find their way into our conservatory

- rather odd as we live near the top of a small hill and the nearest water course is a ditch over 200 yards away.  Nice to see them though.

I'm taking a daily turn round the churchyard behind our house and keep finding more and more VIPs and more foxholes dug into graves.  Here's a big one

There are holes at either end of this grave.  I hope the human incumbent appreciates the company.  I would.   Our current churchyard foxes have had quite a number of cubs and our next door neighbour but one has had them playing in her garden - how nice is that?  Sadly, our netting to keep our Claire's little Ronnie the Chorkie in has kept the fox cubs out of our garden.

In other news, the doctor send me for a blood test to try and find out why I am getting short of breath as I did a year ago, so I had to brave another hospital visit, thankfully to a place where they don't have covid patients.  I got all excited over the results which showed everything normal except a big jump in monocytes which indicate I am fighting some sort of infection.  At last a clue?  Well maybe not, after it occurred to me that I had only recently had a tetanus jab, so I'm guessing it might be the consequent surge of antibodies or it could have been brought about by the injury when I drilled through my finger (now healing up very well thanks.)  Discussion with the doc pending.

Must check on how the canal reservoirs are doing after all this dry weather.  They ought to be OK following the really wet winter and very few boat movements since.  I'll check and report back next time with some nice little graphs to make a change from the Covid ones we see every day.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Off topic, but I hope useful info : A visit to A&E

What happens if you need to go to A&E just now?  Is there a risk of picking up a Covid infection? Well  dear readers I can tell you because yesterday I had to go.  I found the experience quite interesting, so I though I'd pass it on here for info.

1. The injury

Here is our new cheapo gazebo from Argos - modelled by Kath in its shade

Can you see the little wall bracket for the guy rope at the left hand side? On Thursday I was drilling a 2.5mm hole in a strip of aluminium, making that little bracket when the drill bit broke and as the drill jumped, the stub pierced my left hand index finger.  Ouch!! I rushed into the house with my finger in my mouth and said to Kath "oi illd ooo my inger".  Eventually she worked out what I was saying and expertly applied a pressure bandage to stem the prolific bleeding from the entrance wound.  What we didn't realise until changing the dressing next morning was that the finger had also been bleeding from the other side.  Sure enough on the other side of the finger there was an exit wound, so the drill had gone right through!

2. The decision to go to A&E

I can't remember ever having had a tetanus injection, or if I did it would have been many years ago, so having read up on the seriousness of tetanus, and in spite of a fear of picking up 'The Virus' I decided I should take myself to A&E at the Royal Berks Hospital (fifteen minutes drive) to get a jab and let them look at the wound in case of infection.  There are known to be quite a lot of Covid patients at this hospital so I wasn't a trivial decision.

3. Covid screening

On arriving at the A&E building I was surprised to find people queueing  outside in the yard (all at 2m spaces and many wearing masks and looking somewhat like a gang of bank robbers).  The Reception desk had moved into the entrance lobby and nurses could be seen just inside the doors attending to people booking in.  After half an hour it was my turn and on stepping inside the lobby  I was pointed to a chair only just inside the door and sat while a masked man interrogated me on my social contact history while he took my temperature, blood oxygen level and blood pressure readings.  He also went through a list of Covid symptoms asking if I had experienced any.  Having thus decided that I probably was not carrying the Covid virus. I was given a "certificate" to go to another (presumably Covid free) outbuilding for treatment to my finger.

4. Treatment

Arriving at the second building and handing over the certificate, I was briefly interrogated once again, then let into a waiting room with chairs spaced at 2m intervals.  A nurse came and looked at my finger.  "Ooh that's a good one. Better XRay it just to check no debris or bone fragments to cause infection".

Another nurse escorted me to yet another waiting room, complimenting me en-route on the pretty mask which Kath had made for me.  More spaced out chairs and a ten minute wait for the XRay.

To cut a long story short, the XRay showed it was only a clean flesh wound and I was given a tetanus jab and sent home. "Looks like you got away with it." said the nurse.

I'm happy to say that the wound is healing up remarkably quickly and I hope to be back to guitar practice in a few days.

5. Conclusion -Is it safe to go?

Well nothing is 100% safe, but it seems like a good system and I would go again if I needed to.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Something got done!

Howzabout that then?  A fresh stock of fodder for Herbie's new, and as yet  unused, stove. Kath, bless her has been sawing all day to cut up one batch of beech logs kindly donated by the council worker dealing with a fallen bough across the footpath outside our house, and another batch of holly kindly donated by our next door neighbour who has been indulging in the non trivial task of hacking at his hedge.  The hedge along the back of our houses  actually belongs to the church beyond  and is very old and some of the holly trunks are eight inches or more thick.

Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that I have weighed and labelled one of the logs to monitor its water loss over time.

Some of the logs will need splitting, for which I shall be using our trusty log splitting mall which we bought at Aldi some years back. One clout is all it takes (as long as you don't miss).

Holly and beech both burn well and are both very dense and hard, the holly being very white against the orangey colour of the beech.

While Kath was spending her calories on the sawing, I have been having a go at reinstating our shed to a properly functioning store rather than a mere inaccessible junk pile. It was getting over full. I'm asking myself why we have a lumpy patchy scruffy lawn and three lawn mowers.  Something has to go.  

Once I got the shed emptied (finding all manner of lost items in the process including the collar tag of Treacle, our little Jack Russell over forty years ago  and a useful book on how to play the ocarina), it became clear that the shed's polycarbonate roof was in severe danger of collapse.  No matter.  Amongst all the stuff I found at the back of the shed was enough stout timber to effect a repair. Out came the trusty drill and a box of screws and a couple of bracing hours (geddit?) later its good for another few years. Result!

I hope this won't be the last post I will ever write, but just in case, I'll report that I persuaded my doctor (over the phone, because the surgery is shut) to prescribe me a change of blood pressure tablet.  For years I've been taking beta blockers - famously used by some snooker players to steady their hands. (apart from Bill Werbernuik who I seem to recall used several pints of lager)   Reading around I discover that they might just be contributing to my shortness of breath, so now the doc has given me a substitute and I made the mistake of reading the list of possible side effects in the accompanying leaflet.  So if I collapse on the floor wheezing and vomiting with my skin bursting into blisters and falling off  in large patches, you'll know the reason.  My children will no doubt be amused to know that the name of the pills includes the word Retard.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lockdown diary - relaxation?

Lock down next phase.  Great excitement - not. This morning an email arrived from Wigrams Turn announcing that the marina will reopen on Wednesday.  We are welcome to visit our boat provided we observe social distancing etc and use our boat's toilet rather than the marina one.  However, in line with the small print in Boris's 50 page thriller, we are not allowed to stay overnight on the boat.  As I write, an email has also arrived from CRT with much the same message - you can visit but not stay or cruise.  So it hardly seems worth it just now.  CRT says they will publish plans in a few days time indication how the canals may reopen at some future time. So we'll give it a couple of weeks and reconsider a short visit. I'm not complaining about the continuation of restriction. We have to remember that this pandemic started with one person, so as long as someone somewhere has it, it could all start again.  I'm content to stay put for a while yet.

It's now seven weeks since I fell off the wall and bust a rib or two and although it's a lot better, my back tells me I still can't do any heavy lifting.  I can feel myself losing fitness though. The old blood pressure is creeping up. Note to self- get more exercise.

Not to worry, I'm finding worthwhile stuff to do.  For a start I quickly knocked up a bird feeder post now that the tree where they used to hang is now so heavily in leaf that the feeders were hidden from view.  Kath on seeing the new post made some cheeky remark about Calvary.

You can see my camera set up to get birdy photos.  Birds are very clever you know.  When I point the camera at the fat balls, they land instead on the seed feeder and when I point it at the seed feeder, they go mad for the fat balls.  I have got one or two good shots though.

Notice my exotic chicken wire fat ball feeder.  Elegant it might not be, but the birds are fine with it and it cost nothing.

I got my last batch of bird seed from Sainsbury's but I shan't be using that again.  What happens is that the birds land on the feeder, then chuck nine tenths of the seeds on the floor while they hunt out the sunflower seeds.  The great tit snap above shows him caught in the act. The upside I suppose is that we have at last found a good use for our resident squirrel.  Now instead of raiding the bird feeders, he sits on the ground clearing up all the seeds that the tits have chucked out.  Result!

In a bid to attract goldfinches I've also bought a new feeder and filled it with nyger seeds which they are supposed to love. A neighbour two doors away gets lots of goldies that way.  Results so far in our garden?  Zero.  Ah well, it might take them a while to spot our new feeder. A blue tit landed on it yesterday but only for a second on its way to the fat balls.  

In other news I found a way to waste some more time indoors when the cold snap arrived.

This dogs breakfast of crocodile clips and wire is a prototype 2 watt guitar amplifier.  How does it sound?  Bloody awful to be frank, hums and crackles all over the show but that's not surprising with all those dodgy connections.  Anyway as it sort of worked, I made a proper soldered up version and installed it in an old wine bottle box (like you do) and now sounds rather better and it looks like this.

Hmm still need to tidy up the wiring. Notice also the elegant use of gaffer tape to stick the circuit board to the box - all PA equipment has to have gaffer tape by tradition and custom, so it's there purely for the purposes of authenticity you understand. The idea is to use the amp when I'm sitting on the sofa in the garden or in the conservatory.  Running off a PP3 battery it's not even loud enough to be heard in the next room but that's not the point really.  It just allows me to play a solid body guitar with a more realistic sound.   And as a bonus, there's room to hide a bottle of beer inside. As it could take anything up to 20 volts I did consider running it off one of Herbie's old domestic batteries I still have in the conservatory, but a 30kg battery driving a 25 gram amplifier circuit did seem a bit over the top, not to mention rendering it somewhat less portable. Either way,  I don't think Marshall or Vox will be panicking over the competition.  The cost to make? £1.18 for the amp chip.  The other bits and bobs, capacitors etc, I had lying about.  Oh I tell a lie, I bought a new speaker for it.  That was £7.94.  No expense spared.

So you see my time in lock down has not been wasted - well alright it has, when I should have been doing proper jobs, but at least I've been doing something.  Clearing out the shed can wait until my back is a bit better.