Sunday, May 21, 2017

A musical feast!

So, when I checked Google Maps to see how long it would take use to drive to Guildford, it said 57 minutes. OK, thought I, it's mainly down the M25, and you know what the M25 can be like, so we'll give it two hours. Just in case.

And the case was that the M25 was the road to hell, and the A3 was just as bad because the M25 exit onto the M3 was closed.

The annual Trinity Folk Festival at St Mary's Church in Guildford started at 1:00 pm. We left the house at 10:30 am. Jess was with Grace and me. Said the Maiden were to perform on the main stage at 3:30, but she needed to be there well in advance of that. We finally arrived outside the venue at 1:30, dropped Jess off and carried on to the nearest car park.
It was full, and cars were leaving that had driven around, looking in vain for a space. We had no choice but to drive around, too, and we did this for no less than half an hour. Space found and claimed, we hurried back to the church just as the first band finished their set - Kim Lowings and the Greenwood, whom we had been very keen to see. Already somewhat peeved by the traffic and the car park, we were a tad annoyed to have missed them, but consoled by the fact that there were still five top groups to perform. So we relaxed, ate a quick sandwich, swallowed a speedy drink, and settled down to enjoy the rest of the festival.
And it was truly a superb line-up. The Maidens were the only group we'd heard live before (many times), and they were outstanding yet again. But so were the others, too, and the whole programme was thoroughly enjoyable. Watch and listen to them yourself, and see what you think.

The journey back after a very full, very fabulous eight hours, took us 45 minutes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A strange cruise

Will any of you boating readers be tootling along the summit of the GU Leicester Line in the next few weeks? If you are, keep an eye out for Kantara, please. Give us a wave, stop and have a cuppa with us, cheer, jeer, whatever takes your fancy! The thing is, we're going to be doing a cruise between Watford and Foxton locks, and we're going to be doing it several times while Grace is adding her artwork to the side of the boat. The summit is 27 miles of lockless, lovely canal. Our trip will be a matter of driving to a good mooring, doing some painting, moving on to another decent mooring, carrying on painting and so on until the job's complete.

Having spent some time practising her traditional roses and castles - and doing a pretty good job of it, though she will never admit to that - Grace has come up with a style that we've never seen on narrowboats. Some will dislike it simply because it's not traditional, some will love it simply because it is, but it'll certainly catch people's eyes and prompt comment.

No photos until it's on the boat, but just a clue... glass.

Of course, if you stop for a chat and a coffee, you'll see it in progress, and you can tell us what you think!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A four-day jolly with three friends

Let's be clear about this. Kantara is licensed to carry up to six people. But, strangely, that doesn't actually mean that six people would be comfortable travelling together in her. In the past, we've had one or two friends or family spend a week or so with us, and that's been manageable. The demand on the boat's resources - space, water, food, waste disposal - haven't been excessive. But when we invited Colin, Frankie and Andy to spend four days with us, it wasn't without some trepidation. Five adults in a sixty-foot narrowboat sounded like a recipe for trouble.

For a start, our dinette only seats four. We overcame that with the addition of a folding stool at the end of the table. The table was crowded, but manageable.

The saloon has a sofa-bed that seats two - or three real skinnies, I suppose. And there's the step up onto the well-deck, and Grace has made cushions for this, one for the seat and one behind the back. That's good for one person. There are two floor cushions too, but only room to use these if we take away the coffee-table thingy that's normally on the right-hand wall. We put that in the car for the duration. Two more seats. So theoretically we can seat five in the saloon.

Beds weren't an issue. Strictly speaking we can sleep six; two in the permanent bed, two in the bed that can be made up in the dinette, and two on the sofa-bed. There are curtains to hang across the boat between the dinette and the saloon to give a degree of privacy to the occupants.

Our fridge is quite large, and perfect for the two of us. But for five...? Grace prepared some of the meals in advance, and put those in the fridge. Cooking for five in a smallish galley with four others passing through from time to time wouldn't be easy. Add to that prepared food all the other edibles and drinkables needed, it did all fit in.

The shower room wasn't an issue, of course, because none of us minded not sharing it. However, there was the matter of the 20-litre toilet cassette, and how often it would have to be changed. But we do have three cassettes, and there would be several places where they could be emptied, so I was confident - ish.

Water was a bit of a concern. Our tank holds 180 gallons. It sounds a lot, but if five of us wanted to shower every day... And washing up for five would be a factor. As would loo-flushing for five. But there would be places where we could fill up if needed so don't panic, Roger!

So, off we went on our jolly (thank you, Nikki and Ralph on NB Miner Bill, for reminding me of this aged but perfect word) south down the Grand Union. None of these three friends had been on a narrowboat before, and boaters out there will know the feeling of responsibility you have as the boat-owner in that situation! They had to have a good time!

And they did. We all did. They arrived at 11:00 am, and we were en route by 12:00. We stopped for lunch just before Watford Locks. When we arrived at the flight afterwards there were no other boats, and we went down quickly. We even got the assistance of a vollie. Buckby Top Lock, heavy though the gates are, was easily managed by three of us.

We moored for the night below Top Lock.

That short trip was very routine for us, but very new for them, and they were full of questions, and keen to help with everything. After dinner at The New Inn, we went back to Kantara to learn Linkee, with the help of generous quantities of wine.
I lost. 😒

Bed-time was the first trial of the workability of  having five of us together. It worked fine - of course it did. Everyone was very laid-back and patient, and it wasn't long before we were all contentedly asleep.

We carried on down Buckby Locks the next morning. There were several other boats on the flight, and we shared with NB Valour all the way down.

The bottom two locks were tiresome, as they often are, with water entering at the top of the lock (over the top of the gates and through leaks) faster than it could leave through the bottom paddles, but it was a challenge, and not a little amusing, too.

Elsan disposal and milk purchase at Whilton Chandlers halted our progress for a while, then we continued, with Colin at the tiller, and Frankie walking. Perhaps she didn't trust him!
The weather was beautiful. Tuesday had been dull and quite chilly, but this day was sunny and hot. I was glad there were no more locks.

We winded at Stowe Hill, and drove back to a beautiful spot opposite a farm camp-site, with a lovely panoramic countryside scene the other side of us. Beer, wine, sunshine and chat. Grace prepared dinner, turning down several offers of help.

Thursday's weather was cooler than the day before, but still fine for cruising.

We stopped at the Heart of the Shires shopping village, but found it rather uninteresting. The Tea Rooms were über-busy, so we couldn't even get tea or coffee there. We went back to Kantara, and had lunch.

Frankie drove as we moved on towards Bucky Locks.
At Bottom Lock, we were joined by a solo boater on NB Red Rebel, and went up together as far as the Top Lock mooring we'd used before. No New Inn this time. Grace served up a superb Chilli Con Carne with salad.

On our last day together, Frankie and Andy needed to be back at the marina by about 2:00 pm, so we set off with plenty of time ahead. We shared the lock with another boat, turned right at Norton Junction, and headed up to Watford Locks. We only had a short wait at the bottom, and we ascended quickly.

And we arrived at the marina at 2:00! No sooner had we tied up and gone down into the boat than it rained. It poured. Our three friends left for Milton Keynes with time to spare. Despite my anticipated difficulties, we'd all had a really good time, and the three of them were talking about "next time..."

My goodness, it's quiet here now!

The single-boat-going-up-a-lock trick


Hints and tips for life with your feet under water


Not to scale!

Having opened the first ground paddle (1 in the diagram), cross to the other side of the lock, but leave the ground paddle over there closed for the time being. Instead, slowly open the gate paddle on that side (2). This will have the effect of letting water rush down the side of the boat, holding her even more firmly against the wall. If she drifts away from the wall more than a little, or if the skipper’s not happy about it, then close the paddle immediately, and open the ground paddle on that side as normal, and use the gate paddles as normal, too.

If the gate-paddle trick is working well, open the remaining ground and gate paddles as normal (3 and 4).


Friday, May 05, 2017

Mixing with the big boys

We saw giants today!

One of the zips in our cratch cover lost a couple of teeth a while back, and we finally got round to booking a slot on one of Harris Hood's occasional Repair Days. So today we drove off to Worcester with the cover carefully folded in the back of the car.

The DVD player in our TV stopped working when I dropped it the other day. Hardly surprising really. There's apparently only one TV repair shop in a 20 mile radius, Trafalgar Electronics, and that happens to be in Rugby, so we added that trip to our journey, setting out early to allow for that, and for any traffic problems we might encounter. Our repair slot was at 2:00 pm, and we arrived at 1:00.

Harris Hoods works out of  Upton Marina on the River Severn, and in the marina stood dozens of the big boys. (all photos courtesy of the marina)

OK, so some of these cruisers are small, but the largest were intimidating! They are huge! Narrowboats do feature in a small way here, but they're tucked away safely.
It's a very impressive site, with impressive facilities, including boat sales, servicing, and a chandlery amongst all the others you'd expect to find in any marina.

They also have a pub restaurant, and this is where Grace and I ate while we waited for our cratch cover to be repaired. The young man doing the job had several various covers and canopies lying on the grass outside his workshop when we arrived, but he said ours would only take about half an hour to do - he just had to replace the zip. Nonetheless, we were surprised to get a call from him just as we were preparing to leave the restaurant only minutes after 2:00. He'd finished. Furthermore, he didn't charge a penny. We were very pleasantly surprised.

I'd had another phone call shortly after his. We were still in the restaurant. It was the man at Trafalgar Electronics, saying that that job had been completed, too. That one wasn't free of charge, though. Never mind, it was a lot cheaper than buying a new TV. We collected it on the way back to Kantara.

And the icing on the successful-day cake was the lovely weather. Very warm, with clear, blue skies, though very windy.
OK, almost clear, blue skies!
Now we have to prepare for a visit from Frankie, Andy and Colin next week. It'll be the first time we've had five on board. It's going to be interesting! And fun, too, of course!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Captain's Log

I started this blog back in September 2011 with the intention of it simply being a diary for our own future reference. I was somewhat surprised, then, when 85 people read my first post, and several commented. Nearly six years on, I'm consciously writing for an audience, not just for Grace and me - I suppose I have been for some time - and my readership is counted in the hundreds, not tens.

It's rewarding to know that that so many people enjoy reading this, though I'm disappointed that so few leave comments. When I was a teacher, I wrote a blog called "ICT Grump" under the pen-name of Grumpy Old Teacher. This was about new, innovative ways of using ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in schools, right across the curriculum, and I was inundated with comments on that one, comments that turned into conversations, debates. But that blog got over a thousand reads each week, so it was rather different from this humble diary. (Don't go looking for it. I stopped writing it a few months before I left teaching, and I took it down a year later because I couldn't keep it up-to-date, and by its nature it just had to be.)

The thing is, I really enjoy writing. I always have. Mrs Fincham, a gorgeous English teacher I had a crush on in my early teens, told me I'd make a good journalist. But that idea didn't actually appeal to me, and teaching called instead, and teaching didn't really give me the opportunity to write anything outside of lesson plans, worksheets and student reports.

At least, it didn't until I started my ICT Grump blog, and then two things happened. First of all, I got invitations to speak at teachers' conferences, lots of them over the years. And then came several invitations to write for various professional publications, the biggest of which for me was the website of the BETT Show, on which I wrote a blog during the months leading up to the annual exhibitions in London.

I was hooked.

After I retired, I wanted to turn something of  my teaching experience and knowledge into a book. All right, I thought, people used to pay me to write for them, and others paid to come and hear me speak. Why not write a book? So I did.

OK, it was self-published, and I was selling it on Well, I sold eight copies, I think it was. Without my Grumpy Old Teacher blog, and with no more speaking at conferences or the like, I had no way of publicising it. I put it out on Kindle as well, but that was a big mistake. The back cover bears the words, "This is a book to be read, to be scribbled on..." and "Let the student add his or her own notes". Not easy in an e-book.

I withdrew it from sale in both formats. Early copies of "Life with our feet under water" had an advert for it on the final pages. I soon re-published it without.

When we bought Kantara, and started our life of retirement on board, blogging was the obvious way for me to record it all, and when readership of that started to soar, the book idea returned. Many of you will know what happened next.

Partly because of my rather disappointing failure with my revision book, and despite my tendency to be arrogant, I wasn't really expecting either of these to succeed. But I'd greatly enjoyed writing the first one, and, when that sold so well, I had a lot of fun writing the second, too. And now, the next is currently being proof-read and edited.
Beyond that, I have no further plans for writing at the moment. What I've done has been enormously enjoyable and rewarding of itself, regardless of sales, but I'll need something to write about, of course, and I see no more possibilities for boaty books. Grace has suggested I try writing a novel, but I've tried that a few times in the past, and they never came to anything. They sort of fizzled out after six chapters. Better writers than me say that novels "write themselves", but I've never found that to be true for me.

Any ideas for a new book? Please be polite!

And how about you? If  you love to write, and have ever had it in mind to produce a book of any kind, then I encourage you to go ahead and do it. Don't hold back. Just write! Write because you like it, because it gives you pleasure. Write because it's satisfying to be creative. But do it with discipline, too, because it's not fun if you only write for short spells every now and then, and find that you lose the plot, as it were! You need to put aside specific, regular times when you can give it the hours and the attention it deserves.

When you've finished, it's hard to find a publisher to take your book on, because they get bombarded by so many. Self-publishing in paperback is easy, but these books are printed on demand, and the price you have to put on them is ridiculous in my opinion. So e-books are the only way to go. To start with, at least. Kindle's not the only outlet for e-books, but it's the only one I know well, and the whole process of publishing and selling on that platform is simplicity itself.

I do urge would-be writers to get the services of a friend or family member to check your copy very thoroughly before you publish it. Someone who reads a lot, who really knows English and understands punctuation and grammar, And do encourage them to be critical of the content and the way you write, too. Believe me, it's far too easy to miss your own mistakes, and to think that your way of saying something is the best way. If you've chosen the right person for this job, then they'll have your best interests at heart. They'll be on your side. So listen to them. Discuss it with them. You do get the last say, but make sure it's well-informed. I'm very fortunate in having Grace as my reader/editor. What she doesn't know about dangling modifiers isn't worth knowing!

Enjoy your writing! Have fun!