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.

Friday, May 08, 2020

How to start again

How do we get going again when they let us?  If you are a UK boater, you've probably had an email from CRT asking you to complete a short survey about your post lockdown boating plans.  As soon as I started to fill in my response I quickly realised that we might have some hard decisions to make.

Regular readers may recall that we abandoned Herbie's move from Cropredy Marina to Kings Bromley Marina part way and that she now rests pro tem at Wigram's Turn.

CRT asks whether we would first just go to visit the boat where it is, or perhaps venture out locally for a couple of days, or whether we would plan to make a longer trip.  Hmmm.  Good question.

Let's say that sometime in June, they allow non essential boat trips. Certainly we'd want to go and check over the boat and collect a few things we left there that we find we need at home.  I'm thinking that, given fine weather, we might pop out and moor up in the sticks for a couple of days.  Presumably social distancing rules will still apply, so we'd have to find a quiet spot.  But would we carry on up to Kings Bromley (taking a week or so)? 

Well, we'd need all the food for the journey because the pubs would be shut and I still don't feel ready to go into shops if I don't have to.  Then what would happen when we get to the other end?  We'd need to get back to our car at Wigrams.  I can't imagine feeling ready to use public transport for quite some time.  No, I can't see us completing the journey in the early days of any relaxing of rules.

We'll just have to wait and see what unfolds I suppose, but I'd be surprised if we got to Kings Bromley before August or September.  Actually, just to go out to Herbie and spend a couple of quiet days on the towpath in the sticks would be enough of a treat for a while.

I'd be interested to know how other boaters plan to emerge.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Boating in our prime, plus a prime event.

I've lost count now of how many weeks we've been incarcerated.  The days seem to merge into one another.  I should be busy in the garden and clearing the shed but my busted ribs still start to hurt if I do anything at all strenuous..  I've also lost count of how many weeks it is since I fell off the wall, but I must be getting close to the six to eight weeks they say it takes for them to mend.  Never mind, at least we haven't picked up the lurgy yet.

About now, we'd normally be on our annual sailing weekend on the Norfolk Broads.  I don't know whether to feel sad or not, because some years they are blissful with sunshine and mild breezes and other years we get frozen and wet and terrified as the winds hurtle us helplessly this way and that.  Of course the company of old pals is always the best bit, a number of us who go have known each other for nigh on fifty years.  I think our first sailing outing together was in 1973 when we hired the famous old Wherry Albion for a week.  At least five of us from those days still meet up to sail these days.

Albion at that time still had her old heavy black tarred canvass sail which had an enormous weight.  Young and fit though we were, it still took two of us on the winch to wind her up into place.  The boat (built in 1898 if memory serves me right) had no engine, so if the wind didn't blow or was in the wrong direction, you had three options a) stay put, b) send a party ashore with a rope to haul you along like a canal horse or c) use the long 'quant' poles to shove the boat along.

Here's what c) looks like


ably demonstrated by our dear departed friend Roy and behind him looking very young, and dare I say sexy, Marilyn (of Herbie blog fame) with a young but not so sexy Rick looking on.  We must have quanted for many a mile that week. 

Option b) was used too when the river was too deep to quant, here's the shore party on their merry way to the bank with the rope.  Once again featuring Marilyn plus my friend Esther on the oars, and I'm sad to say I can't remember the names of the others.


Excuse the quality of the photos, my old colour slides have deteriorated somewhat over the years.


This next photo shows Rick feeding out the rope, while I sat in the tender to take pictures. Rick is clearly under the instruction of our long time friend PDS seen on the left here.  PDS still comes with us to Norfolk every year. The competition between them as to who is the better sailor thrives to this day.

Finally here we all are on Barton Broad, little knowing that that night there would be a heavy thunderstorm  with each of us lying in our bunks hoping that someone else would go outside and lower the mast.  No one did.


It's fair to say that lowering that huge mast is a non trivial task at the best of times let alone in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm.  Despite being hard graft it was one of the best weeks afloat I ever had, and no doubt contributed to my love of boats and waterways in a big way.

Talking of good old times   I recently came across a somewhat fuzzy on line poster showing the line up of the Windsor jazz &blues festival in 1967.

Bonhams : A poster for the 7th National Jazz & Blues Festival,
  This festival later morphed into what is now the reading Festival.  I remember going down there from Bedford on my little Honda 50cc bike on the Sunday.  I think I paid £1 for a ticket and for that I saw (hold your breath)  Cream, the debut of Peter Green's Fleetood Mac, Jeff Beck with his pretty much unknown new singer Rod Stewart, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Pentangle and quite a few more.  I've been to many musical events over the years but I can't recall another with such riches.  I consider myself very lucky to be born when I was. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Something unusual 'falls off the back of a lorry'


So says the message on the website of Castle Marinas which includes Wigrams Turn where Herbie now rests.  The web page goes on to say that in line with Government guidelines, 'visiting your boat cannot be deemed essential' and ' we are asking all marina users to respect the advice and not to travel to the marina for the time being.'  It then goes on to say that all boats are being checked on a regular basis (presumably to ensure they are not sinking or damaged). 

So that's all pretty clear and quite proper in the circumstances, although we would dearly like to pop out to see Herbie as soon as we're allowed. Actually our separation from Herbie is bit bit less intensely felt today, now that the weather has turn cold and wet. Every cloud has a silver lining :-) And . . we have chocolate - mysteriously sneaked on to our Sainsbury's delivery list by me. Deep joy, and to hell with the waist line.  Pity our poor Sainsbury's delivery driver - we got a call from the store to say our delivery would be late because the driver had fallen off the back of the lorry and broken his ankle!  Luckily a substitute driver was quickly found and our stuff came only 45 minutes late.  I've often heard about goods that had 'fallen off the back of a lorry' , but never a driver.

Time flies.  I was looking back over previous years and found this photo of our grand daughter Grace taken 10 years ago this week at Little Venice


Now she is 5ft 6ins tall and still growing and rather more camera shy than she was then.  Still a sweetie though.  As for her brother Jacob, seen here in another favourite blog photo learning essential skills also at Little Venice


he's now coming to the end of his University degree and is about 6ft tall and built like a brick outhouse.  Still good at pouring beer though.

Monday, April 27, 2020

More lockdown musings - how would you want to be remembered?

What's the opposite of having your cake and eating it?  Having your boat and not being able to access it, that's what.  How lovely it would have been in this fine weather we've been having to moor up in a quiet spot in the sticks and potter about on the boat.  However CRT say's NO so we can't.  I would mind so much except we left some things on the boat that we could do with at home - some tools, my kitchen blowtorch, some books I need etc.  That's the trouble with having a boat and a house, you either have to have two sets of everything, e.g saucepans, spanners etc, or carry everything back and forth as you move from one to the other. Never mind, when at last some sort of slackening in lockdown rules comes along, maybe it'll allow us to do some sort of boating or even just visit the boat to check on it and bring a few things back home.

To keep my joints from seizing up and my brain from addling further, I've been doing daily walks around the churchyard behind our house and reading more of the gravestones.  What begins to strike you after a while is the place of women in society.  You can't help feeling that they are treated as property. The gravestone always says Joe Bloggs and his beloved wife Mary.  Never Mary Bloggs and her beloved husband Joe - no matter who died first.  One grave even called the lady the man's 'relict' - apparently an old term for widow.  Will things ever change I wonder or shall we have Philip Duke of Edinburgh and his beloved wife Elizabeth?

I think it's a pity that except for high falutin types , the gravestones never tell us anything about the occupants except dates of birth and death and sometimes that they died peacefully.  Some even say so and so 'fell asleep' which strikes me as somewhat alarming.  I would have though interment was a bit over the top as a treatment for drowsiness.

I recall seeing gravestones in Bedford indicating that occupants had been killed in an air crash, and at another cemetery in Gairloch, Scotland indicating people who had perished in various shipwrecks.  At least that tells us something about them.  I think maybe the stones ought to record the person's occupation, or some achievement no matter how humble.  Even a simple 'gardener' or 'shopkeeper' would tell us something.  Of course many people don't strongly identify with their occupation.  I doubt anyone would want 'Telephone Sanitiser' or 'Credit Controller' on their gravestone.  They'd be happier  to cite their hobby, something like ' Ballroom Dancer' or 'Sheffield Wednesday Supporter'. Come to think of it I can't think of anything suitable for my own stone except perhaps 'Dabbler in odd things.'   I suppose I could legitimately claim 'Author' or 'Third rate musician' but that would hardly describe my life any more than 'Boat Skipper' would.  How about 'He tried to keep people amused' ?

Anyhow maybe that'll give you something to mull over regarding your own epitaph while we wait to be set free.  All suggestions for yourself or anyone else are welcome.

PS A recent time filler amongst friends has been to list songs that mention the name of a US State. No googling allowed. Apparently Google leads you to '21 songs that name drop Utah'  but none of us could think of any. I got to 27 states then ran out of ideas.  BTW the old Perry Como "What did Della Wear "is not allowed. That would be cheating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Meet the neighbours

Warning: Nothing to do with boats or canals but interesting(I hope) all the same.  After all, it does concern a fox cohabiting with a privy councillor.

Well it's been a lovely afternoon so I thought I'd drop in to see how the neighbours were doing.  Despite our home being a humble modernish semi, we do have some very illustrious neighbours, among them an editor of The Times newspaper, a couple of baronets, a famous polar explorer, a couple of privy councillors, and a  former federal Secretary of the Federal Malay States.  They must have been gutted when rabble like us  moved in next door, but they clung on to their patch and they are still there. It wasn't hard to maintain social distancing because they are all at least six feet under.

Here, let me introduce you to a couple:

Image result for john thadeus delane


A not very legible tombstone of John Thadeus Delane,  Editor of The Times for 36 years in the 19th century,  Apparently after a tip off by Lord Aberdeen he was the first person to leak the information that the government was planning to repeal the corn laws thus setting a very large cat amongst the pigeons.  Delane was also a great supporter of Florence Nightingale and was influential in helping her to raise money for her work.  I'm happy to have him as a neighbour.  If he was alive today, he might have been campaigning for more PPE for nurses.




Here's the Rt Hon Sir William Goodenough Hayter  Bart, MP. Privy councillor etc.  - Good enough for me anyway, and he was twice Liberal Government Chief Whip.  Amazingly I discovered today that you can get his portrait as a jigsaw puzzle, so he's persona grata I guess.



 I don't think I'll bother to buy one though at £23 plus postage.

Our favourite neighbour, and only ten feet or so beyond our garden hedge is Major Frederick George Jackson, the celebrated polar explorer who like most of the others has his own Wikipedia page.



What a sweetie.  Who wouldn't want him as a neighbour? Here's his stone -


and he has a nice little footnote, well a note at his feet at any rate:


Isn't that nice?

Undoing a couple of panel screws in our garden fence and ducking under a bush brings us out here.


right at the back of the picture by that furthest gravestone, and there's Jackson's  grave nicely picked out in the sunlight.

It's a lovely extension to our back garden,  the first thing we see when emerging is this


I get a view of that path from where I'm sitting in the spare bedroom now, here, look,


 you can see the bit of fence where we sneak through (screwed down tight when we're not here) and of course the neighbours are very quiet.

Now here's a thing - what do you reckon is going on here?


That hole under the tombstone of The Right Hon Lord Arthur W Hill - MP for County Down, privy councillor and prominent Orangeman.

Arthur William Hill, Vanity Fair, 1886-08-21.jpg

 (What the hell is he doing buried in Berkshire?  I don't like the cut of his jib somehow. He looks typical Orangeman of the worst kind) Anyway back to the hole under the stone. Could that be where our fox has been living?  At first I thought it would be distressing to have your grave shared with a fox, but on second thoughts I rather like the idea.  Lucky Lord Arthur.

It's a bit of a surprise to have so many VIPs in such a small churchyard, but there are one or two old mansions within the parish, so I guess that's it.  These days the mansions belong to institutions of one sort or another.

The graveyard no longer accepts new occupants ( a pity really because when I pop my clogs, the family could just chuck me over the hedge) and is maintained as a small nature reserve now.  At the moment there are a lot of bluebells out there.  Now I'm used to seeing a few white ones among the blue, but here we also have pink ones.  I can't recall seeing them before.


Well that's another lock down afternoon wasted.  I hope you are wasting yours in equally pleasant ways.

Take care.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Accidental Gardener

I'm really enjoying our garden during this lock down.  Unlike many of my more hard working and diligent friends, and contrary to my upbringing, I am a lazy and useless gardener, which is to say I devote very little time to it in a practical sense.  Consequently much of what grows in our garden has found it's own way there.  I could of course  make a claim that is was all intentional and that I had deliberately set out to create a wildlife friendly natural habitat, but in truth it's just that I don't interfere.   Before going further I should stress that we have a small suburban garden and not a country estate, a couple of proper gardeners with the right equipment would knock it "into shape " in a long weekend if we let them.

There is a saying that a weed is just a flower in the wrong place. Well in my garden if a plant has nice foliage or a pretty flower, then I welcome it, no matter where it came from.  So our current crop of dandelions, daisies, forget-me-nots, primroses, bluebells and pulmonaria are more than fine with me, even though most of them arrived uninvited. 



Added to that we have plants which we did bring in, but have strayed, like the hellebores growing out of cracks in the garden steps,


or the clematis which was supposed to grow up our fence but instead chose to find it's way along the top of our holly hedge


and I really can't remember planting our second lilac which has appeared at the opposite corner of the garden from the original.  Also waiting to come into bloom are loads of different types of geranium or cranesbill for which I deny any responsibility.It seems that nature is a far better gardener than I'll ever be.

Anyway the upshot is that I sit here quietly ignoring the terrible state of the lawn while watching lots of butterflies (orange tips, red admirals, holly blues,


speckled browns,


unidentified whites etc) and bees and frequent visits from garden birds to the feeder, plus of course the dunnocks who hop out from under the hedge when I'm not looking although I did get a hand held shot of one yesterday


As to mammals, our local fox keeps away while I'm out here so we don't see him lately, but the squirrel makes a daily visit to make attempts on the bird feeders.

To be fair, I think we do have an unfair advantage in that over the hedge behind us, we do have a mature churchyard with a variety of very large mature trees and largely undisturbed wildlife habitat.

Our "resident " lime tree that grows adjacent to our hedge is a whopper and in the summer supports a plethora of insect life, although sadly much of it is aphids which drop clouds of sticky goo all over our washing line.  In fact the tree is dropping something on us in every month of the year.  In the winter it's the dead twigs which we seem to get daily.  Some of them I keep for kindling, the rest go in a pile in a corner of the garden for insects to live in.  Then in the spring, as in right now, we get showered with the leaf bud husks as the thousands of leaves burst out.  They're all around my feet and even dropping on my head as I write!  Then come the flowers and the aphids, and then the little whirlygig leaves gently spinning as they drop the fat round seeds to earth, then of course a ton of dead leaves and round we go again.  It's a love-hate relationship.

So there we are, a very modest little garden, little tended, but much loved, especially now we are isolated here.  We could do a lot worse.  Of course I could use all this free time to smarten it all up but I suspect I might regret it.  And even if I did plant it all up neatly, who would look after it when (fingers crossed) we go away cruising aboard Herbie?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Belated quiz answers.

Sarah Chertsey's recent post about a musical 'plague' list of songs about isolation remind me that I never gave the answers to my quiz (see my post of April 5th) about songs containing everyday objects.  If you missed the quiz, try not to look at the answers below before you visit the original post to have a go. Sorry folks to be so late, but here are the answers;

1. When we called out for another drink , the waiter brought a tray    -  Whiter Shade of Pale
2. Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door - Eleanor Rigby
3. I couldn't unfasten her safety belt - No Particular Place to Go
4. And beneath it was a bloke in a bowler hat - Hole in the Ground
5. I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more - Delilah
6. Bang Bang Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon her head
7. The only thing a gambler needs is a suitcase and a trunk - House of the Rising Sun
8. Put a gun against his head - Bohemian Rhapsody
9. Found my coat and grabbed my hat, made the bus in seconds flat - A Day in the Life
10. I see right through your plastic mac - Substitute
11. I told her I didn't and crawled off to sleep in the bath - Norwegian Wood
12. Carrying her home in two carrier bags - Streets of London
13. Message in a bottle
14. Late last night I heard the screen door slam and a big yellow taxi took away my old man
15. I see a red door and I want it painted black - Paint it black
16. He could play his guitar like ringing a bell - Johnny B Goode
17. Lay across my big brass bed - Lay Lady Lay
18. Neath the halo of a street lamp I turn my collar to the cold and damp - Sound of Silence
19. Get sick, get well, hang around the ink well - Subterranean Homesick Blues
20. Bus stop wet day, she's there, I say, Please share my umbrella - Bus Stop

Well done to anyone who got more than half of them and apologies to those who got equally correct alternative answers.

I also forgot to give the answer to my earlier question about the picture in the Herbie blog heading.  Believe it or not that lovely clear water and lush surroundings is the dear old Slough Arm just west of High Line Yachting at Langley.

A to Sarah's list, I can only think about prison based songs at the moment, but that seems unfair as I don't feel as if I'm in jail.  In fact isolation isn't going too badly so far.  I have yet to get bored at any rate and my cultural education is growing even at my advanced age.

Things to keep culture vultures entertained.

Tonight we will be watching the National Theatre's Treasure Island (with a short break at 8pm to stand outside with our neighbours  to applaud NHS and other workers braving the plague on our behalf).  Last week's NT production of Jane Eyre was super and next week I'm looking forward to their production of Twelfth Night which is a real joy.  This will be my third time watching it and I can't wait.  Also tomorrow, courtesy of the Met Opera in USA we will be having a crack at Madam Butterfly.  Never seen that so I'll be there with an open mind.

If you like a short but entertaining quiz, take a look at Jimmy Carr's daily  Little Tiny Quiz of the Lockdown on you tube.  It only takes 5 minutes each day, but the questions are interesting.

That's all for now, I'm off to stalk a dunnock with a telephoto lens.

Stay safe.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Burt Lancaster lives! Further notes from an isolation diary.

Yes, I'm rapidly turning into the bird man of Alcatraz, keeping myself sane in lock down by garden bird watching. I've just sent in my weekly figures for Garden Bird Watch which runs all year on the website of the British Trust for Ornithology  Normally you have to be a paid subscriber, but during the Covid outbreak it is free. As well as birds, you can also report other wildlife.  This week we got 9 species of bird (robin, blackbird, blue tit, great tit, coal tit, long tailed tit, dunnock, magpie and wood pigeon) , 3 types of butterfly, two species of bumblebee and a squirrel.  Sadly you are not allowed to count birds that fly over without landing, otherwise I could have nabbed our local red kite to be a bit more exotic.  Other species we get occasionally but not this week include nuthatches, woodpeckers and jays.  Neither has our local fox made an appearance, but that could well be because I'm sitting in the garden.

Getting photos of birds on the feeders is easy if you have a tripod or some kind of stand camera that can be triggered remotely, which many can. Here's ours.

That gubbins on top of the camera is a little wireless receiver which triggers the shutter when I press a button on a remote control stick.  The wireless range is very good I can trigger the camera in the garden from inside the house, even upstairs. It's made by a company called Viltrox and people like amazon sell them for under £20 for the whole kit and caboodle.  You can get them for Canon and Nikon models - I don't know about other makes. It does time lapse too.  Kath's little Sony compact camera can be triggered from a mobile phone app.

Lots of photos end up on the cutting room floor of course but you're bound to get a good one now and then.  Here's another of one of our Robins which came out well



The one bird that evades me because it feeds always on the ground is the dunnock.  It creeps about under the hedge and then hops out to pick at insects in the grass for a minute or so, then heads back under cover.  Every time I position the camera at where it might come out, it chooses a different spot.  It's becoming an obsession now to get the little blighter.  Kath got this one of him (or her) perched in the bushes by grabbing my camera tripod and all and approaching it on foot.  I've had to enlarge it many times to show it this close



and using the tripod /remote setup I got this rather sub standard (and also much enlarged) one of it poking about under the hedge.



We still need a better one.

Anyhow, it's all very therapeutic.  Why not give it a go while you're a prisoner in your own home.  If you can't tell a great northern diver from a house sparrow, now's the time to learn, the internet makes it easy to look things up.  I might have a go at seeing how many types of bee I can get.  When you look at bumble bees you soon see there are a few different types.  Chris Packham would be proud of me.

In other news, my back is still suffering from when I fell off the wall.  I'm having to lie flat in bed all night, because it hurts to adopt my usual comfy foetal position and I'm waking up with a very stiff back.   Earlier in the week I refurbished our wooden garden furniture, light repairs, sanding down and re-staining and that did my back no good at all so now I'm forbidden by Kath to undertake any heavy duties.  Every cloud has a silver lining.

While I've been idling on an old sofa in the garden, Kath has been busy sewing scrub bags for our local hospital.  Apparently, the intensive care nurses etc get their scrubs washed by the hospital but other healthcare workers in the hospital,  - therapists, radiographers and so on - don't.  They have to take them home to wash, so what they want is a simple cotton drawstring bag to stuff their scrubs into which they then take home and bung in the washing machine still inside the bag.  Kath handed over her contribution to a grateful neighbour who works at the hospital.

Harrumph! As I write, that pesky dunnock has appeared in the very spot where I was going to point the camera before changed my mind. Missed him again. Typical.

Our cultural life continues to flourish, courtesy of arts organisations putting out free showings on YouTube.  This week we've watched Jane Eyre from the National Theatre (we scored it 9/10), Hamlet from the Globe Theatre (7/10) and Cosi Fan Tutte from the Royal Opera House (8/10 for performance, 5/10 for the actual opera). After now having seen quite a few operas, I'm beginning to realise that they are definitely not written for sophisticated audiences.  I suppose they were the hit musicals of the day. As far as the plot goes most of them would make a Father Ted episode look highbrow.  Of the ones I have seen I've really enjoyed about half of them. As for the music, well it's all good and the singers are amazing, but with the notable exception of Carmen, I don't find myself humming any of the tunes afterwards.  I shall persevere.

As the weather is not supposed to be so good this week I shall return indoors to my guitar looper pedal, where I have the ambition to create a multi track version of a John Mayall/ Eric Clapton song off the famous Beano album.  I've been slowly transcribing it note for note - a painstaking and non trivial task. Having studied it carefully, I'm beginning to think that Eric Clapton might be a somewhat better guitarist than me. Well there's no harm in setting your ambitions high.  I am after all a legend in my own mind.

And so the weeks in isolation drift on reasonably comfortably.  I see that CRT's latest guidance forbids even brief visits to, or short trips on, your boat.

I hope you are as comfy and well fed as we are, and that whatever you choose to occupy your time gives you pleasure.  Stay safe folks.


Sunday, April 05, 2020

Prunella visits our garden

Oh that's a mean trick. Sorry, we didn't get a visit from  the Pru of Canal lovers Tim and Pru, but Prunella Modularis aka a dunnock aka a hedge sparrow.  Dunnocks might be accused of being drab little things but I quite like 'em and I'm happy to report that they seem to be resident in or near our garden.  Unfortunately the dunnock's habit of hopping about on the ground near the hedge keeps him out of sight of my camera which is trained on the hanging bird feeders.  Here's today's pick of the ones I did catch.

Our resident Robin looks fierce


Lucky to see a coal tit.  We don't get many.


Long Tailed Tit - a favourite. Cute or what?


 and of course the ever present blue tit




And so on to more mundanities of life in isolation . .

I've spent nearly all day in the garden as the weather is so good. The garden seems strange at the moment,  it feels like summer - blue sky, warm sun and birdsong, but as yet our trees and the ones in the churchyard behind our house have no leaves. If this tree ever falls towards our house, the top floor is a gonner.



I've recently started making bread.  I wish I had done it years ago because it's a lot easier than I thought.  All that kneading and rising had put me off, but it turns out it's not hard at all. It'd be a handy thing on the boat when we're away from shops.  Until today I did it from the basics-flour, water, yeast etc, but today I tried out a bread mix packet to knock up a garlic and rosemary focaccia which turned out really yummy. Not exactly slimming though with 6 tablespoons of olive oil!



Kath has been busy making face masks from Henry hoover dust bags.  Unused ones of course.  They have HEPA filter fabric which is a lot better at keeping nasties out than plain cotton or whatever.  You can find designs for these on youtube.  I may need to try one out tomorrow to collect my prescription from the pharmacist.

Lastly I knocked up a quiz to challenge friends and family.  Maybe you'd like a crack at it.

A Lightweight music quiz.

It occurred to me in the middle of the night  (like these things do) that most songs don't contain many nouns describing everyday objects.  Here is a list of objects mentioned in big hit records of the 60s and 70s. Can you identify the songs?

The words are as written - no synonyms, but in the song "they might be "a ---",or "the---" or "his/her---" in one or two cases.  Some have more than one correct answer, but mine is the right one :-)

1. A tray
2. A jar
3. Safety belt
4. A bowler hat
5. A knife
6. A hammer
7. A suitcase and a trunk
8. A gun
9. A coat
10. A plastic mac
11. A bath
12. Carrier bags
13. A bottle
14. A screen door
15. A red door
16. A bell
17. A big brass bed
18. A street lamp
19. An ink well
20. An umbrella

Answers next time.