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.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

More life under house arrest.

Well done those who answered my little pic quiz.  Adam was right about Black Jacks Lock and Pennyland basic at Milton Keynes, and Bill spotted Clevedon pier - not that far from Portishead from where you could either get down into Bristol or, with a pilot, up the Severn to Gloucester.  And a big thanks to the people who recognised Hillmorton wharf for me.

Life under house arrest is going ok.  Unfortunately my injured back is slowly clearing up so I have been unable to avoid doing a few jobs.  Our conservatory, which is used as a junk store over the winter is now restored into a habitable space!  Garden next I suppose.

Words of praise are due.  First to the good folk at Castle Marinas who have been very helpful about sorting out a flexible arrangement whereby we can swap marinas whenever we are ready and dealing with payments seamlessly. Understandably they are asking us not to visit our boats unless strictly necessary to save pressure on the marina staff, but we are  assured that all boats are regularly checked to make sure they are safe etc.  Then more praise to DPD who very efficiently collected a parcel from us and delivered it next day to our Peter in Cambridge, thus saving us a visit to the Post Office, and yet more praise to people getting in shopping for us - our daughter Claire, her pal Joanne, our next door neighbours Linz and Deepa and next door to them, Lizzie.  What lucky folk we are.

Some people who don't know better  get a bit sniffy about Bracknell where we live because it's 'modern' (designated as a new town in 1947), but I'm here to tell you it's a brilliant place to live - lots of open green space and housing layout carefully designed to make little communities.  Most houses are built not in straight streets but in clusters around communal green spaces.  At times like this the neighbourhood design really works.  People in our patch are really looking out for each other.  When the sun shines they can sit out around the communal spaces and enjoy each other's company in safety, and everyone has a field or a park or some woodland within a few minutes walk with plenty of space to observe social distancing whilst exercising. It looks like we're at a lower rate of virus infection than more traditional towns in our county too perhaps because of the landscape design giving more open space.

We've been doing a lot of Zooming -within the family, with our usual Thursday music friends and Kath with her textiles group.  As time goes on this sort of thing is going to make a big difference.

Well that's us.  I hope you are all as well catered for and keeping well.  If you'd like another picture puzzle, take a look at the photo at the top of the blog, noting the clarity of the water.  You might be surprised to know where it was taken.