Sunday, July 26, 2020

Fitting it in

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Boating the New Normal Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next outing?  No idea.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Herbie still afloat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.