Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Talking of improvements...

Remember this?

Spot the difference?

No, it didn't fall, and it wasn't pushed (though I did do my best!). I came home one day recently to see a Herts County Council Highways Dept. van parked opposite the house, and two men studying the tree carefully, bouncing it, swinging it, and generally becoming really quite alarmed about it! 

They'd simply been driving down the road, and they spotted it. They weren't responding to my various communications with the Department. They'd been ignored. I'd been fobbed off with half-hearted promises that a team would be out to deal with it "soon". The senior of these two men was on the phone to his office, and his tone was seriously angry, and I heard the words "damage", "injured", "killed!" and "bloody idiots!" as he berated them roundly for having allowed the tree to get like that.

He phoned them back and had another go at them after I'd told them my story.

Less than two hours later, a team arrived and did the deed. Why they left the split stump I don't know, but it is certainly a huge improvement!

Talking of improvements, it'd take a lot to beat this...

Grace and I are supporters of a charity you may well not have heard of. It's true, they don't seem to get much publicity via the media, but Mercy Ships do the most amazing work, taking Africa Mercy, a ship crewed by almost 500 people from many nations, most of them volunteers, to various parts of Africa. Spending months in each port, they perform surgeries to literally thousands of desperately needy folk who cannot otherwise get the treatment they need.

Dreadful growths like this

are removed.

Distorted limbs like this...

are corrected.

Around 7,000 surgeries and other treatments are performed each year,

and hundreds and hundreds of local, African doctors are trained in the necessary procedures, so that the work can be carried on after Mercy Ships leaves.

To date, since they started work in 1978, 2,500,000 people have been helped in 55 countries, 40,000 local professionals have been trained, and the monetary value of their services is put at around $1,000,000,000.

It is an awe-inspiring undertaking. If you want to know more, click here.

Each year, Mercy Ships UK invite their supporters to a Christmas Carol Service. Several cathedrals across the UK host these, and our nearest was Southwark, on London's south bank. We hadn't been before, having only become Friends in April this year.

It was an unpleasant, mizzly Wednesday evening, but that didn't stop anyone. We had hoped to eat in the cathedral Refectory before the service, but found it closed. We ate peanuts and drank bottled water standing against a wall, looking out across a cold, dark Thames.

When the service started, the cathedral was full (the photos above were not taken that evening!), the choir and organ were wonderful, and the whole evening was very enjoyable. Quite moving. Mince pies and mulled wine were served before we set off into the damp night, smiling and humming carols, and feeling rather more Christmassy.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

'tis the season...

In the Distill household, the Christmas season is officially launched, not by the switching on of St Albans' lights...

(this year at two different locations, one at the high street main stage featuring stars of the Alban Arena's pantomime Cinderella, and the other at the Clock Tower by St Albans mayor Rosemary Farmer to the accompaniment of festive tunes from local musician Minnie Birch - of whom you will hear a lot more in the coming months)

...but by the playing of Jon Anderson's Three Ships album in our living room.

And it happened today, the fourth day of Advent. I spent a couple of hours leafleting one corner of the city for the local Green Party, and returned home to find the Christmas tree in place and illuminated, and the surrounding floor covered with all of the dangly things we could possibly dangle on it. Jess came home from work, Three Ships was launched, the tree was adorned, and the Season was welcomed in.

It'll look even more the part when the rest of the decorations go up and I photograph it with a better camera and no flash!

Yesterday, Grace and I shared Bohemian Rhapsody with two other couples at the local Odeon. It's brilliant, a must-see for every Queen fan! We've been waiting until its final week of showing - and went at 2:30 - in order to miss the crowds; hence the small audience!

So, the tree's up, the tree's lit, the rest of the decorations are in now in boxes on the floor and very much in the way, insisting that we finish the job very soon. Mince pies are part of our staple diet, and I've started writing the cards.

Darn! I forgot to buy the sherry!

Friday, November 30, 2018


What can I say? I'm boring! Almost as troubling, though, is that I'm not bored.

Digging my way through the heaps of history in the attic is... fun! We've visited Ikea no less than three times since we hibernated Kantara. Ikea!!

Another time, I've been fascinated by the town of Baldock through which I wandered while Grace gave knitting-machine lessons to a woman who gave her in return a knitting machine she had going spare. Grace used to write knitting machine patterns professionally some decades ago, but never actually produced anything for herself. I posted a "Wanted, knitting machine" notice on Freegle, and this lady came up with the "swap you" scenario. A very good outcome!

 Baldock's Howard Park

A few days later, we attended "The Wisdom House", an evening of very inspirational chat by Rob Parsons, founder and director of  the amazing charity, Care for the Family It was the best £7 I'd spent for a long time!

Does anyone out there remember The Strawbs? They played at the nearby Harpenden Halls (where Jess works) last week, and we went along. We were never great fans, and they didn't convert me to their music that night - part of their 50 year celebration tour - but there's no denying their consummate skill and musicianship. Our main reason for going was to support Said the Maiden, who played a thirty-minute supporting set to open the show. It was a great fillip for them, adding this band to the other big names they've supported over the past six years or so - Lindisfarne, Fairport Convention, Clannad, Dave Swarbrick, Fisherman's Friends as well as some big Folk acts - Jim Moray, Megson, Martin Carthy and Cara Dillon.

The Maidens went down a storm with the Strawbs aficionados.

So this is who people paid to see...
...and this is who they got as an added extra!
I'm still not a Strawbs fan, though.

The weather's really lovely today, just what autumn should be like. The problem is that rain is forecast for tomorrow, and I'm helping with a Messy Church event - lots of small children, silly games and a live mock-up of the traditional nativity manger scene, complete with animals! In the rain! 😟

I certainly won't be bored!!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

One reason for preferring Kantara...

...(apart, that is, from the massive difference in the amount of decorating and maintenance that has to be done in a house, compared with the boat) is the amount of stuff that nutters like us accumulate over the years!

Clearing the clutter seemed like the natural thing to do once the decorating was finished, and we knew it had to be done some time. But it's been too easy to put it to one side and forget it while we've been spending most of the year on Kantara, and, now that we find ourselves in frenetic decorating and making good mode, it seems like the best time to get stuck into it. Strike while the iron's at least tepid.

As I type, Grace and Jess are doing a sterling job in Jess's bedroom. We did ours yesterday. And the day before. A good start has been made in Grace's studio/office/workshop, which has for years been the "temporary" resting-place of a host of objets d'arts (and other invaders) not of Grace's creation.

My main task has been in the loft.

Lofts are evil. They swallow great piles of things that they think are going to be useful and used again some time in the far-distant future, and then they contrive to make you forget they're there. Which, of course, isn't really helpful because when the time comes that some of this hoard of stuff could indeed be used again, you have no idea they even exist.

Recycling centres are not evil. Except in the matter of their opening hours, which rarely coincide with my frequent and immediate need. (The staff there roll their eyes when I drive in, I swear.) Charity shops likewise (though they're too polite to roll their eyes there). Fortunately, both are just minutes away. Freegle and Freecycle are brilliant, and loads of the stuff  has gone to the homes of folk who haven't yet cottoned on to the malevolent nature of their lofts (where all of these items will ultimately, and inevitably go).

Amongst all this frenetic clearing out we have made time for a bit of  respite. Fireworks in Verulamium Park were a must - we haven't been to that event once since moving onto Kantara. As always, it was superb.

Then there was an unplanned visit to Baldock, to take Jess (much too tired to drive safely) to a Said the Maiden gig at The Orange Tree. That was a very good night out, too. A pleasant surprise was being approached by a young man who introduced himself as Andy, a fellow and mutual Tweep who comes from a boating family and has read my books. He now follows Said the Maiden, too, and came to this gig because they make several appearances in those books, and the venue was close enough to for him to go and give them an ear. He tweeted later "Great to meet you. It was a brilliant evening!" It was indeed brilliant!

Then... back to the sorting out! Except on Wednesday, when we return to Kantara to put a coat of protective wax over the Roses and Castles panel, which didn't get treated before because of the rain. Fingers crossed for this time!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Never a dull moment!

We went back to Kantara on Tuesday, to get the jobs finished. It was rather windy, but not too chilly, so we hauled the boat across to the next berth to use that pontoon to wash the other side, and varnish the Roses and Castles. We started to wax using new product, but this was appallingly smeary, despite its claims not to be. We'll take it back to Midland Swindlers if we get the opportunity. We couldn't find a source of the fabulous carnauba wax we've been using for the past three years, so I emailed John Barnard, who'd given it to us.

He doesn't sell it. Back on the interweb, we finally found  a company who did, and ordered it for next day delivery. We did a tiny bit more waxing with the weeny bit remaining in the tub, then more washing and preparation for work the next day.

It arrived the next day, and we finished!

The following day, the sun broke through and gave us the perfect opportunity to take Kantara for a short trip to test the engine after her injector overhaul. It certainly made a difference! The engine was quieter, smoother and far less exhausty. We took her down to Crick, where we had lunch in The Moorings, and did a bit of shopping at the Co-Op. Then we sailed back. An afternoon well spent.

On Saturday evening, cold, damp and windy, there was a Halloween disco/karaoke/social event in the marina. Despite the cold - everyone was wearing coats, hats, scarves and so on -  it was a good evening. We spent our time with a couple of couples we'd not met before - it's always good to exchange boating tales with new acquaintances - and enjoyed a tasty, hot meal prepared entirely by the wife of one of the owners of the marina. Wine and beer at fabulously low prices flowed steadily. Karaoke was... interesting, and the dancing amusing. But all great fun!

We winterised on Sunday, and drove back to the house. We'd intended to visit Ikea and John Lewis in Milton Keynes on the way back, but gave up because of the huge numbers of cars trying to get into the car parks. So, here we are. Decorating to be finished, Christmas to prepare for. Never a dull moment!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Back and forth

When we arrived back at Kantara the Wednesday before last, the weather was lovely. We were having the Indian Summer I'd predicted back in March, April and May when the weather was so dreadful at times.

But then came storm Callum, and winds rocked the boat violently, and rain thrashed down. We were more than a little surprised to see a young man fitting a stern canopy on Lyndsey Anne, struggling to keep it in place while he pulled the canvas down over the frame. Brave!

In the dry warmth of Kantara, we spent time trying to swat or otherwise get rid of several flies that had taken up residence there. Nasty creatures. If it had been a scene in a film, they would have suggested the presence of a dead body, but in reality this wasn't the case. Of course.
Flies gone, we then had the spiders to deal with. Spiders that had patently failed to catch the flies. Two or three of these were quite nasty-looking blighters which we were pleased to feed to the fish.
Finally, the wind did drop enough for us to get out and work on the boat. Grace washed and varnished over one panel of  Roses and Castles, and between us we washed and waxed the rest of that side. Unfortunately, the break in the weather wasn't long enough for us to repeat those processes on the other side.

I did get the opportunity, though, to run the engine briefly. WOW!! Having the injectors reconditioned has made such a huge difference! It runs so much quieter - and it never has ranked amongst the noisiest we've ever heard - and with so little exhaust fumes! We're really looking forward to taking her out for a proper run!

When we set out on Monday to visit Christine and Mike in Torquay, the weather would have been perfect for that proper run! And it was perfect for the stay in Torquay, too, allowing us to get out each day to enjoy the sights and the walks.

Teignmouth sea-front on Tuesday, the dullest of the days...

Beautiful Buckfast Abbey on Wednesday...

Canonteign Falls on Thursday...

followed by Compton Castle...

Babbacombe Model Village on Friday...

and a ferry trip to the fishing village (now large town!) of Brixham on Saturday.

This included a wander around the not-quite-accurate "replica" of the Golden Hind  - a floating museum in honour of Sir Francis Drake.

On Saturday evening, we went to the long-awaited Kadia/Said the Maiden collaboration in Kingskerswell Parish Church of St Mary. The maidens were one short, but the remaining two were unfazed. Kadia were brilliant in their own set and a clever aid to the maidens in theirs. The collaboration set was superb, and the whole show was all it was promised to be!

Their final song brought together all that's best in these two bands. Harmonies. A beautiful rendition of a song that they all found themselves singing impromptu around a bonfire at a very chilly out-door gig a few winters ago when they decided that they just had to perform together again. This evening's event was the second of three performances that came out of that. (Video courtesy of Keith Bache.)

The journey back yesterday was a good one, under a clear, sunny sky. It's the same today. But we hear rumours of an impending sharp temperature-drop, so it's back to Kantara tomorrow, to finish the work on the paintwork, and to winterise.