Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bits and pieces

On Thursday, we saw The Amazing Spiderman 2, and wouldn't have been too bothered if we'd missed it. Far too reliant on special effects - we saw it in 3D - and, well... bring back Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, I say! The hero has gained superpowers that didn't exist in the good old days of Spidey, and this has taken away a lot of his vulnerability. We won't bother with the third in the series.

On Friday we drove to The Musician in Leicester, to see Dave Swarbrick and Said the Maiden together. The Swarb's solo violin didn't impress me much, but he and guitarist Jake Wilson were amazing together. So, too, were Said the Maiden, who performed a superlative 45 minute set, and later sung a Fairport Convention song "Quiet joys of brotherhood", with Swarb on the fiddle. (Recently, in an interview on Radio Cambridge, Dave said that Said the Maiden's version of this song is the best he's ever heard.) A brilliant evening.

Leaving the gig at nearly midnight, the Maidens came back to the boat with us, and spent the night, before heading off the next afternoon to Derby, where they took part in a St George's Day celebration in the town centre.

As we were all enjoying a breakfast of French pastries, Rolling Wave, in the berth next to us, spluttered noisily into life, and left about fifteen minutes later, on her way back to ABNB's base in Crick. She is for sale, and Yelvertoft Marina have a small number of ABNB's boats berthed here. Rolling Wave wasn't selling, and management wanted her gone. With Smudge on our other side also away from the marina at the moment, we have much-improved views from inside Kantara now - very welcome!

This morning, the weather's cold, wet and windy - perfect for cozying down with the stove on!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz!

On Friday of last week we went back to St Albans to spend the Easter weekend with the kids. It was great to catch up with them again. They're all so busy that there's loads to talk about. Jess's gigs with Said the Maiden on tour with Dave Swarbrick,

Steve's production and engineering of the Maiden's new album, "A Curious Tale", and his three weeks of work installing a sound system at Sheffield Cathedral with DM Installations,

and Naomi's brilliant work on the garden,

and the Food Smiles community agriculture project she's spearheading, launched officially today

We had Easter Day lunch together at The Plough at Sleapshyde, which does the best traditional roasts I've had outside of home, and would have gone for a walk after, had the weather not been inclement.

We returned to Kantara on Monday, bringing with us a number of bits and pieces we'd forgotten back in March. The weather's very variable, but we're itching to get out on the cut next month. We'd go now if we didn't have other responsibilities, but there are things to be done here, so we're not bored yet!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It must be spring!

Tiny lambs and very pregnant sheep in the fields, ducklings in the marina (no less than fifteen of them with one mother, but I couldn't get a decent photo), blue skies and warm breezes - and spring cleaning! We'd love to be out on the cut in weather like this, but we're here for a reason, as I explained yesterday. I've been seeing on Twitter fabulous photos of various parts of the system under blue skies. Thanks to NB Talullah, NB Miner Bill and the CRT for these...

I started the job of cleaning the seats on the lockers in the welldeck this morning, and applying a new coat of Sadolin to the wooden edges of each (for waterproofing). The stuff takes ages to dry, though, so it'll be a two-day job at least. I dried the bilges in the engine compartment - I'd tightened the nuts on the stern gland yesterday, to reduce dripping. And I thought about cleaning the boat - well, I've got to start somewhere, haven't I? I'll clean the foredeck tomorrow, and see how enthusiastic I feel afterwards!

Meanwhile, Grace has been busy sewing, making curtains to hang at each end of the dinette to give better privacy for those who sleep there from time to time.

The CRT tweeted this morning that a number of stretches of towing path had been added to Google Street View. I knew that this was underway; I'd read last year that Google were lending CRT cameras for staff to use to take these photos, and I blogged back in September that we'd had one such cameraman walk past us while we were moored at Stoke Bruerne. A quick visit to Stoke Bruerne on Google Maps today, and a peek in Street View, and I found us!

We're moored almost at the tunnel entrance, where the photos stop. If you start a virtual tour HERE you can turn around and walk back past us, and down as far as lock 18 by bridge 54. It was a lovely day for taking the Google photos.

In the evening, Grace and I went along to our first meeting of the art class in the marina lounge. This is led by Hazel, a self-taught, very gifted sketcher and water colour painter. Grace was there to refresh and hone her skills, I was there to... well, I'd warned Hazel in advance that I would be taking my Painting by Numbers books, and Dot-to-Dots! Sadly, I've not done any serious artwork since school, and I'm badly out of practice, but it was good fun, and I suspect I might improve a bit over time. Maybe.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

This is more like it!

Sunshine, blue skies, mild temperatures! It's good to read boaters' Tweets hailing the better weather, with photos of sunsets and sunrises, of canals under the sun. We took advantage of the change and planted out our troughs with pansies. 

While the weather was making up its mind, we went to the cinema again. Having intended to watch "Noah", but then reading lots of very unfavourable reviews, we saw "Non-stop" instead, and we're glad we did.
During a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks receives a series of cryptic text messages demanding that he instruct the airline to transfer $150 million into an off-shore account. Until he secures the money, a passenger on his flight will be killed every 20 minutes.
Tense, action-packed, with mystery and twists, this is an excellent film.

Despite the improved weather, we won't be cruising again until next month. We're going back to St Albans next weekend, to spend Easter with the kids. After that, although we'll be back on Kantara, we're sticking around just in case we are needed to transport Said the Maiden anywhere on their tour with Dave Swarbrick.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Sorry, but is this really Spring?

The weather today's been rubbish! Very strong winds with some heavy rain. But the skies!!

Sorry, I took those in a hurry, and didn't get the exposure set right. Consequently, they're a bit grainy.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Seeing the sights... on land

We concluded that it probably wasn't the best day to be visiting gardens as we drove to Lincolnshire under a sky grey and hazy with Saharan dust. But at least it wasn't windy and rainy, and the flowers would still be out, despite the gloom above. So we arrived, first at Easton Walled Gardens.

We came here four years ago, while were having a short break in the area. It's a lovely site, and the flowers were a delight. The whole place is a major project, having once been the site of a rather grand house which was so badly treated by British soldiers billeted there during World War 2 that is had to be demolished after they vacated it. It's not the first time we've heard this story about the abuse of such houses as this, and it angers us each time, that people who gave up their homes for the sake of the war effort had to lose them entirely. How on earth was it allowed? At any other time, it would be called vandalism, and treated a a crime, with compensation paid.

The project is going well, and we saw a number of signs of improvement as we wandered the grounds. None of what remains of the house is open to the public, however.

Having eaten a lovely lunch there, we moved on to nearby Woolsthorpe Manor, the house where Isaac Newton was born, and spent much of his life. We'd been here before, too, but were glad to return to refresh our memories, and to see and learn new things, too.

The tree still remains under which Newton sat when he developed a theory of gravity. His diary makes no mention of an apple falling on his head, though, as the mythology would have us believe!

It was a good day out, despite the atmospheric pollution.

Today, Said the Maiden start their tour, supporting Dave Swarbrick at 14 venues around England and Wales. Caerphilly tonight. Have fun, Maidens!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The short cruise!

On Thursday of last week, we went again to the cinema, this time to see "Labor Day".
"Depressed single mom Adele and her son Henry offer a wounded, fearsome man a ride. As police search town for the escaped convict, the mother and son gradually learn his true story as their options become increasingly limited."
This is another highly entertaining film, superbly acted and directed, especially young Gattlin Griffith, playing Henry.

As we left Cineworld, the sky had cleared a little, and the wind dropped. Perhaps tomorrow we'd be off on the cut. When we got back to Kantara, Grace cooked a large banana cake, nibbles for the cruise!

Boaty banana cake

2 eggs
4 ozs butter
6 ozs caster sugar (or dark brown sugar)
8 ozs self raising flour
pinch of salt (not literally a pinch, you know what I mean)
heaped teaspoon of mixed spice
3 large or 4 small (ish) overripe bananas
couple of handfuls of sultanas (if you like)
Cream the butter and sugar till it's soft and fluffy.
Beat in the eggs, then the banana.
Fold in the flour and spice.
Stir in the sultanas.
Use a bit of milk to make it softer, or a bit more flour to make it firmer as necessary to get a soft dropping consistency.
Put into a suitable greased container and bake at about gas mark 5 in a dodgy boat oven until...hmmm... until it's done. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour in mine.

Sure enough, Friday proved to be a bright and still day, albeit a bit nippy for the time of year, so off we went. We didn't get to leave until around 1:00pm, and we stopped for lunch an hour later. There were few other moving boats on the water; we saw perhaps twelve in the five hours we travelled.

After lunch, the sky had clouded over a bit, and a wind had sprung up. We set off into that wind, and started to feel rather chilly. Travelling slowly because of heading into the wind, we arrived at Welford Junction wondering if we'd reach the end the Arm before the light failed us, but we carried on.

The water was shallow for long stretches, slowing us even more, but we arrived at a good mooring at around 6:00, and just in time before the light gave out.
The next morning
We ate at The Wharf Inn that evening, the very best mushroom soup we've ever tasted, followed by a superb beef lasagne and salad for me and, for Grace, a chicken and leek pie - which we had to send back to the chef because the puff pastry was not properly cooked. Shame. Their food is generally very good.

We woke to a beautiful Saturday morning, and set off towards Foxton. Our passage was delayed 30 to 40 minutes by a boat ascending Welford Lock, being filmed for Chico Chugg, to be a CBBC programme based on a series of children's books.

Their progress was further hampered by another film crew filming them, making a documentary about film-making.

It was a fabulous day to cruise. Clear skies, bright sun, and very warm. There were again few boats moving, and we had the canal to ourselves most of the time. We moored for the night at the top of Foxton Locks.

Sunday was again a beautiful day. We had a leisurely start, and our departure was even later than we expected because of our failure to remember that the clocks went forward that morning! Our descent of the staircase was at a good pace, aided by a couple of lockies and a host of helpful gongoozlers.

Coming out of the bottom lock, we turned right onto the Market Harborough Arm of the canal - new territory to us. I had problems with the second swing bridge, crossed by a road. In order to swing the gates across the road at each end of the bridge, one has to make sure that the bridge is fully closed - to the inch! But unfortunately, it had the habit of moving slightly as soon as I moved towards the barriers; the mechanism for anchoring it was clearly faulty. This was only solved when a man came along and gave me a hand.

This was followed by an unmoorable stretch, so lunch was late, and when we finally found a good spot at which to eat, we decided to stop there for the rest of the day and night.

As we ate that evening, we listened to Said the Maiden doing a spot on Sue Marchant's evening show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, big smiles on our faces.

Monday's weather continued the warm, springy weather trend, and we made our way down to the basin at Union Wharf, Market Harborough. The canal and the countryside were lovely, but the water had a great deal of floating detritus; cut reeds and pieces of tree, sometimes large, which made travel potentially hazardous. We moored just outside the basin, and Grace went into town for a bit of shopping.

After lunch, we winded in the basin, and returned up the arm towards Foxton again. As had happened on the way up, we found ourselves from time to time behind holiday boaters on their way out of or into the Union Wharf where the Canal Boat Club hire company is based. It made us smile, seeing some of them going so slowly and tentatively; they happily allowed us to pass them at a more confident pace.

The swing bridge was not as problematic as before. I had a brisk walk from there to the first swing bridge at the Foxton junction, opening that in time for Kantara and a Canal Boat Club boat slip through and turn left to the bottom lock. It was only five minutes before the "last boat up" time, but the volunteer lock-keeper let us in, with one boat immediately above us, and the one behind. I was met by Joanna from Smudge in the berth next to us at Yelvertoft. Joanna is a volunteer lockie, and she helped me up most of the staircase. Fifty minutes later, Grace drove Kantara out of the top lock, and to the nearest suitable mooring, where we stayed the night.

Tuesday was our longest cruising day. As regular readers will have noticed, we don't strive to do a particular number of miles each day, or achieve a particular destination, nor cruise for a given number of hours. Rather, we keep going until we find a good place to stop for the night, and this might be mid-afternoon. But this day we set ourselves the marina as a target. The weather was lovely again, although it was beginning to deteriorate a little by the time we got to Yelvertoft. With some slow miles behind other boats, a leisurely lunch, and a no-hurry attitude, we pulled into our berth at around 5:00pm. 47 miles and 22 locks.

It was a lovely start to our cruising season. Today, it's raining!