Tuesday, March 19, 2019

It's looking promising!

Every year that we've been on Kantara we've returned to our house and family around Christmas time. And every time we've returned, we've needed to do it in two trips, simply because there have been things we've forgotten to bring back, or because there's too much stuff to get in the car in one load. This year was no exception, and we've just come back from that trip, 2019-style.

We're very glad we did go back, though. Steve and Karolina had found a house they were very interested in, and they asked us to join them on their second viewing, to give them our opinions. And we agreed with them. It's a good house in a nice area, at a sensible price. It needs work, but the two of them are perfectly capable and happy to do almost all of that. It has potential for extension, it has good-sized rear and front gardens, and parking space for two cars. We gave them the thumbs-up, they talked a lot together, slept on it for a couple of nights, then put in an offer. It was accepted today!

Meanwhile, Jess was enjoying four days exploring Bruges with a friend,

(Jess's photos)

and we were looking out of the window at gale-force winds, rain, hail, sleet and snow, and wondering if cruising would ever again be possible. Not even the hardiest of my contacts on social media were being brave/foolhardy enough to venture out. When the weather deigned to give us a break for one afternoon, we went to our wonderful local retro cinema to see Green Book, a fabulous film.

Back on board Kantara now, we're experiencing rather better weather and are actually daring to think about a cruise. It's looking promising!

Friday, March 08, 2019

And we're back!

Finally! We returned to Kantara on Wednesday with a cargo of most of what we'll need for the year ahead (though we already have a list of important things that got forgotten. You'd think we'd have this off to a fine art by now, wouldn't you?)

The marina was wet and galeforced - Freya's last stand? - and the boat was cold but dry. I lit the stove straight away, and ran the engine to charge the batteries. The mains electricity supply was down, had been for some days, and the solar panels had been deprived of light by the cloud cover. "The electrical fault'll be put right tomorrow." Yeah, right. John from Lyndsey Ann next to us had managed to purloin an extension lead, and had plugged that into an outlet on a pontoon further up our rank that hadn't suffered from the power-out. There wasn't such a lead for us.

Slowly, Kantara warmed up. It takes a while for the heat to soak into the walls, ceiling, floors and furnishings after it's been empty for a winter, but we kept warm bringing in and unpacking the cargo. The rest of the day was very windy, very chilly, very dull and pretty windy, but we were warm now, and very much at home.

We went to bed warm and woke up cold. The gas boiler wouldn't fire up, so we had to use the Bubble stove again, and that takes quite a lot longer to heat the domestic water than the Alde. Shower cancelled. The day was very windy, very chilly, very dull and pretty windy, but we were warm and very much at home, and spent the day odd-jobbing, reading, writing and finishing a jigsaw puzzle.

Power was still a problem. The vacuum cleaner battery died after two minutes of use. I ran the engine again for an hour or so, and did so again just before dark, but we finished the day with no mains electricity. We saw that coming!


 A windy day on board Kantara
This is the tail-end of Storm Freya, and it’s most impressive. Sitting in front of the stove, watching the flames rise and roar as the gusts outside draw air up the flue, I can feel every movement of the boat under me; bucking, rocking, bumping against the pontoon, jerking against her mooring ropes with not a pause. Constant movement.
The stove chimney wears a cowl. It swings continuously to keep its back to the wind, and it rattles and squeaks in the process. There’s a constant tapping, too. Is it the zip of the cratch cover against the hull, or is it the aerial cable across the roof shaking under the onslaught from Freya? I’m not about to go outside to find out. 
The water seems to be getting the worst of it. There are waves across the marina, foam-flecked and frantic, slapping against boat hulls, splitting noisily around pontoon legs, breaking up noisily in the reeds. 
The birds are silent, though. In fact, there’s only one to be seen. For the past half-hour a single black-headed gull has been sitting lonely in the middle of the marina pound, facing into the wind, paddling continuously to stop himself from being forced backwards, riding the waves as they tumble towards him. Gone are the resident geese, swans, ducks and moorhens. I imagine they’re sitting it out in the depths of the thrashing reeds which line the banks. Where the blue-tits are, the great tits and long-tailed tits, the robins, reed-buntings and warblers, I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be good for tiny birds like these to be out in this, and the heaving trees offer them no safety whatsoever. 
The weather forecast says that the wind will have abated by tomorrow, the marina will return to normal. But, in a strange way, I’ll miss this.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

We're getting there!

...but still only in small steps via all sorts of diversions, some of them pleasant, some of them not so. One of the pleasant ones was three nights in wet West Wales. Except that it wasn't wet. I read just this morning that Cardiganshire (Ceredigion to the locals) was the second hottest spot in the UK at the start of the week, topped only by Kew Gardens. And it was New Quay  (Cei Newydd) in Ceredigion to which we drove on Monday. It was a lovely drive (after the initial crawl on the M25). The weather was fine and the traffic light and intelligent.

You know you're in Wales even if you miss the Croeso y Cymru signs. Distances are measured in milltir, and bendy roads warn you Araf, or the far more angry Arafach Nawr! And town and village names are far too long, with too many letters l, w and y. Just try saying them!

We arrived at the B & B (Summat Else, highly recommended) under a warm, low sun. Our very pleasant and comfortable room had views over a gloomy holiday village to the not-at-all gloomy Cardigan Bay, and we were enticed by that to drive down to the sea-side town to take a closer look. The dusky light was beautiful.

We wandered around, looking for somewhere to eat later on, and found that most of the eateries were closed for the winter. In fact, The Pepper Pot was the only place that served more than just fish and chips, apart from a pub with just one star for hygiene. No problem. The Pepper Pot  was just fine, and we ate and drank well before returning to the B & B.

The weather the next day was incredible. It could easily have been a day in June, not February. At 12:30 we looked down over the beach. The sun was quite low in the sky, and people threw shadows taller than themselves, yet women lay bikini-clad on the sand, and naked children paddled and splashed in the sea. (It was half-term week in Wales.) Very summery.

In mid-July of last year, I wrote, "The weather being what it was - and it was actually a bit cooler than yesterday - Grace and I took the opportunity at last to do the Foxton Locks and Village Treasure Trail." Well, the weather on Tuesday being what it was - and it was actually a fair bit warmer than that July day - we did another of the Treasure Trails.
It was a lot of fun. We did it slowly, spending time to look more closely at places, or to take in the views, or to have coffee, we walked for miles, and we discovered that the Welsh language very conveniently has words for very important things that can be easily understood by the English. So we have ambiwlans, toiledau and difibrilatew for example, and siop and brecwast and teledu (say them out loud for best effect).

New Quay was the birthplace of Dylan Thomas, and he featured a fair bit in the trail. New Quay tourist office has its own Dylan Thomas trail. The New Quay townsfolk were his inspiration for Under Milk Wood, and Quite early one morning was very closely based on his own walks through the town. The edge of love, the 2008 film about the poet and his wife, was made in New Quay.

The town and its beaches and harbour are very photogenic.

This sign is not the Australian insult we thought it might be!

It actually means No climbing.

We completed the Treasure Trail before lunchtime, so we drove out to Llanerchaeron (Lllanerchaeron in Welsh), a National Trust property we first saw just a few weeks ago on Flog It on TV. After a tour of the house and a good lunch in the cafĂ©, we decided we'd have to return the next day to finish seeing all there was to see.

So back we went the next day to see the gardens and farm. It had been a self-sufficient house in its heyday, and that involved a lot of food growing, animal farming, butter and cheese making, bread-making, fish farming and so on, and this is still maintained to some extent.

On our weary way back to the B & B, we took the scenic route and stopped off at places of beauty for the inevitable photos. The sea is always a favourite.

Our days of beautiful (though worrying) weather came to an end the morning we left. It poured with rain for much of the day, but the driving was good, and we split it up a bit with a visit to a restaurant for lunch, and to WHSmith for some Welsh language tuition books for Grace, who's been learning Welsh (cwnraeg) for a while now. I'm learning Italian (italiano), which is far easier!

And now we're back, and... we'll get there eventually!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Cars, eh?!

I've come to think that the modern motor car is just too darned sophisticated. My Ford B-Max is a good car, and a max step up from my trusty old Honda Jazz - which I loved. But it seems that it's got many times more things that can go wrong. It's the same with Steve. Having driven old Fords for twenty years - and been able to service and repair them himself - he's now got an S-Max. He had to face the fact that his last car just didn't have the safety features - including the safer build - that modern roads demand.

So it came as something of an annoyance and disappointment when his S-Max developed an electrical fault which finally totally disabled the vehicle. It's been with the repairer for getting on for four weeks, waiting for the Engine Control Unit to be tested/repaired/re-tested.

My B-Max lost steering assist one morning. To cut a long story short, it turned out to be a failing battery, and didn't have to go in for repair. Though it almost came to spending £50 ("No sir, £49.99") on an "assessment".

Cars, eh? I can't help thinking what a good thing it would be for the planet and its population if we didn't have them.

But since I do have one, I drove us out to Milton Keynes the other day. Having been to the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, we found out that there is one such in glorious MK (which is very nice to travel through by boat!)

It's very different from the Whipsnade one. It's more formal, more architectural, being based on Norwich Cathedral, with a west front, nave, choir, transept, alter, cloister, chapels, chapter house and so on, laid out to match the real building. This photo from the Parks Trust gives you the full effect.

The day after this, I published my novel on Kindle. It was a couple of months overdue, but it was worth it - well, I think it was! I'm really quite excited about it. It's my first published novel. (I still have two unfinished ones.)

As I write in the Foreword,
This is my first published novel. Having already published two travelogues – which are, of necessity, factual – I really wanted to move into the world of my imagination, and I had a great deal of fun writing it. Out of the Dawn is a fiction told against a background of narrowboats and canals. But they’re not what it’s all about. It’s about two people and a dog who choose to live on a boat. Well, the people do. The dog had no choice in the matter. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not he thought it was a good choice. They could have stayed in their jobs, with their flat and cars, and a cello and a tuba. They could have travelled the world, and their story would have been very different from this. But they chose a narrowboat, and canal life changes things. It changes people, too. And dogs.
 As with my other books, this one's available from Amazon for Kindle Readers or any other device (with the Kindle app). It costs less than a pint! (£2.50) You can read the first 10% (I think it is) before buying it here. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

(17th February - To latecomers to this post, I have had to unpublish the book temporarily while some issues are being sorted out. I apologise for this, and expect to be able to re-publish soon.)