Monday, March 30, 2015

Work starts, eventually.

It wasn't exactly "first thing" when they started on the job of blacking Kantara. Everyone seemed very laid-back about it, so we simply had to get used to waiting while the staff here did various things other than tend to Kantara's needs. John Barnard came to see us and chat over the work that he'd be doing. He was very confident that she would be a pretty straightforward job, but that we'd have to wait for him to start, too. The job he's on at the moment has been delayed for various reasons, so it could well be the 18th of the month before he starts. He did say, however, that he still reckoned on finishing by the same date as he'd previously given us. He's taken on extra help so that he can catch up with his schedule.

Finally, Grace was able to ease the boat into the bay from which she was craned up and laid on trestles. Kantara, that is, not Grace.

Then came a two-hour pressure-hosing.

So Grace and I left them to it. Strolled down the towing path towards Foxton Locks, cold and windy, lined with tiny violets. There was a man in a tree. Sitting there, doing nothing. Wearing a hi-vis jacket and a hard-hat, so obviously official. The tree he was sitting on must be quite famous amongst boaters. It is one of an adjacent pair which have been for many years threatening to fall across the canal, looming at less than 45 degrees across towards the towing path, and causing the skipper of every boat passing beneath to speed up, lest it choosethat moment to fall on them. Except now, one of the pair was no more, and the second, the one this man was sitting on, had been halved in size. He was, he told us, waiting, not to be rescued as we had imagined, but for someone to bring him a bigger saw for him to finish the job.

We carried on to the Foxton Locks Inn for lunch.

The pub was surprisingly busy, we thought, for a Monday at this time of year. Come high summer, the place will be packed daily. Stopping to buy the penultimate bottle of milk from the tiny shop where Grace had bought the ultimate loaf of bread the other day, we walked back to Debdale. The trees had gone. So had the man up the tree. Boaters will be very thankful as they glide past in future. One of the team remained, clearing up the smaller bits of tree from the towing-path. 

Back at Debdale, the washing had almost finished. We were able to inspect the hull sides and baseplate, and we were really pleased to see how intact the blacking still was that had been done two years ago.

The "bobbles" on the surface are drops of water.
Now, however, the paint rollers had all absconded, and some minion was seconded to go and buy more. But it was raining now, so the painting has to wait until tomorrow. We were escorted back into the boat. Aeroplane-type steps were provided for us to ascend to the six-feet-high club that is, for the time being, our home.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Well, that was interesting!

Wind. Lots of it, and very strong. When we finally got to leave our mooring yesterday morning, the gusts were the kind of gusts that try to knock you off your feet. Luckily, it didn't make too much difference to Grace as she drove Kantara down the flight, but I was buffeted lots. The volunteer lockies said they'd never had it so bad. We're in Debdale Marina at the now, and it's still that bad. We're moored to a pontoon which is only about a third of Kantara's length, and so close to the boat next to us that we could only just get a side fender between the two of them. We think we won't blow away.

We have a mains electricity feed, which makes the weekend better, whatever the weather. And the weather is direVery, very strong winds, and intermittent heavy rain. It's nice not to have to go out.

I forgot to mention the two films we've seen recently. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was every bit as good as the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Possibly better. It certainly wasn't second best. With a strong story, and a cast like that, what can one say about it?
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the expansionist dream of Sonny, and it's making more claims on his time than he has available, considering his imminent marriage to the love of his life, Sunaina. Sonny has his eye on a promising property now that his first venture, The Best ExoticMarigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful, has only a single remaining vacancy-posing a rooming predicament for fresh arrivals Guy and Lavinia. Evelyn and Douglas have now joined the Jaipur workforce, and are wondering where their regular dates for Chilla pancakes will lead, while Norman and Carol are negotiating the tricky waters of an exclusive relationship, as Madge juggles two eligible and very wealthy suitors. Perhaps the only one who may know the answers is newly installed co-manager of the hotel, Muriel, the keeper of everyone's secrets. As the demands of a traditional Indian wedding threaten to engulf them all, an unexpected way forward presents itself."

The other was Focus. Very disappointing. Dull. Both of us slept through bits of it.
  1. "Nicky, a veteran con artist, takes a novice named Jess under his wing. While Nicky teaches Jess the tricks of the trade, the pair become romantically involved; but, when Jess gets uncomfortably close, Nicky ends their relationship. Three years later, Nicky is in Buenos Aires working a very dangerous scheme when Jess - now an accomplished femme fatale - unexpectedly shows up. Her appearance throws Nicky for a loop at a time when he cannot afford to be off his game."

Friday, March 27, 2015

And we're off!

On our way to Debdale Wharf for the whole painting jobby. Two pairs of buzzards wheeled overhead as we set off this morning. The sun shone on us periodically, just so we didn't forget it altogether. Birds abounded. A kestrel plummeted out of the sky and snatched up a vole from the towing-path next to us. People were scarce. Boats on the move, even more so. New-born lambs bleated at us as we passed. One shook itself like a dog, and fell over. It feels like ages since we've done this. I just want to keep going.

We're moored up now just above Foxton Top Lock. Debdale tomorrow.

This might be your final look at Kantara's old, tatty paintwork. Actually, the photo does it a justice it doesn't deserve. It really is very thin and tired. You can't see them very well, but the roses on the side were painted by Grace, in practice for the real thing.

Monday, March 16, 2015


It's that waiting time of year when frustration abounds. Waiting for... well, we're getting Kantara repainted at the end of the month. Hull blacked, bottom included, and the rest of her. New paintwork following her original schemes, and then her name. Grace will do the Roses and Castles. So long as she spends the next three weeks practising a lot. The whole thing will take seven weeks, so that's seven weeks less cruising this year, and six weeks less that we spend living aboard this year. (On February 8th, I said it would take four weeks. That was a wishful mistake.)

Last Wednesday, we went back to St Albans, and drove on from there on Friday to Taunton, for Kathryn and Alistair's wedding on Saturday. The Travelodge in which we spent two nights left a lot to be desired, but at least it was cheap. Is it unreasonable to expect more? Like a heater that works, and an extractor fan in the bathroom that works? And beds that don't resemble camping beds, with mattresses that don't resemble very hard things? They were foolish enough to ask Grace to complete a Customer Satisfaction Survey. She was honest. Blunt even. But none of it distracted from the wedding, which was a great event. K and A had invited a relatively small crowd of their closest friends and family, and we all had a lovely day. We caught up with family, and got to meet and know a little about Alistair's family. Most unusually, the day finished with a games evening. The bride and groom didn't want dancing, and they weren't alone in that. Instead, we sat around tables and, well, we played games. Ours was Cards Against Humanity. A bit rude, foul even at times, but largely very amusing! There was Jenga, giant Connect Four, and Twister on the floor with the children. Others played... erm... not sure. Other games, I suppose. Brilliant! A really good ending to an excellent day.

So, we have less than three weeks before we take Kantara to Debdale for the painting. Grace has painting to do, I have writing to do, and we have three films to watch at the cinema. (Oops, I typed "enema"!) It sounds like fun!

Monday, March 09, 2015

A first!

Well, I'd like to be able to report that we're halfway to Llangollen, or about to turn onto the River Stort, but the weather's waaaayyyy too hostile for that. The winds just won't let up, and we've had a fair drop of rain, too. I'm a bit concerned for NB Achernar who left for Market Harborough a week ago, and still aren't back. I'm hoping they were loving the cruise so much that they extended it. I wouldn't want to be out there.

Yesterday, we went to the ballet. The Bolshoi. In Moscow. Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. It was a first for us. We'd been saying for years that we really ought to experience ballet and opera, having been averse to both for as long as we can remember. So yesterday it was ballet. We knew the music, but not the dance.

OK, so it was a film at Cineworld. But it was a film of a live performance, in front of a live audience, by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, recorded two years ago. It was enhanced by scenes of the dancers limbering and warming up behind the curtains before each of the two parts, and shots of the orchestra preparing to start. It was superb, and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Next, an opera. Then a play, National Theatre or Royal Shakespeare Company, also at the cinema. What a brilliant concept, bringing top-class ballet, theatre and opera to cinemas. Tongue in cheek, I reckon it saved us around £400 in travel and ticket costs, plus about another £100 for a night in a Moscow hotel. Total travel time over sixty hours saved. Not really an option, is it?

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Musical moorers and more.

Back in the Autumn, I gathered together a little band of musicians of a wide range of ability to meet together weekly to make music. I play guitar and bass, and I can sort of sing. There were three other guitarists, and a bassist. While we were away over Christmas, we gained a drummer who bought himself a full set of electronic drums especially for the occasion. And Grace has joined us now, to sing. Bob sings a bit, too.

And it's all going quite well. Most importantly, everyone's enjoying it. We meet every Wednesday evening in the lounge, and play for a couple of hours. Until very recently, we've been playing a bundle of standards from the world of Rock. Hotel California, Comfortably Numb, Whatever You Want, Brown Sugar. Honkey Tonk Women, some of them rather too high for my vocal range, so either amusing or painful, depending upon your mood. We rock, if nothing else! But I personally not that keen on trying to play everything exactly as original, so last week I took them a song I'd written especially for this mega-group. I'm gonna leave tonight, it's called. Jess would like the lyrics. Sort of folksy story. Guy having to leave gal because... well, to be honest, I didn't write that bit in, and I don't have a clue. When I handed the words and music out to them, they said they thought I was handing in my resignation. Smart-arses. It went down pretty well. We'll see how it goes this week, after everyone's had the chance to get used to it. Bob likes Country and Western. Someone has to, I suppose. So I put my tongue firmly in my cheek and wrote Oh, Lordy, what do I do now? They haven't seen it yet. They might tell me what to do now when they have.

We saw Project Almanac yesterday. It got off to a very slow start. I think I fell asleep for some of it. But when they finally got around to doing the serious time-travelling, the film took off. They should have shortened the first part, and concentrated more time on the real action and development of the story. Some very creditable acting from the young stars, but a number of direction weaknesses. Still, it cost us nothing, and it was quite entertaining.
  1. "David Raskin is a high-school science nerd who dreams of going to MIT. When he and his friends find his late father's plans for a "temporal displacement device," David can't wait to start tinkering. When they finally get the device to work, the teenagers jump at the opportunity to manipulate time in their favour. But their joy is short-lived when they begin to discover the consequences of their actions."
  2. For some weeks now, there  has been underway the construction of a slipway from the canal into land next to the marina belonging to the same owners. This is ultimately to be a facility where boaters can have their craft winched up onto a hard-standing where they can have access to the below-waterline area of the boat, for painting or other servicing. 

They seem to be making good progress, though I'm told they're behind schedule. While they've been doing that, CRT workers have dredged this stretch of the GU, and cut back a lot of vegetation from the banks, making the canal wider as well as deeper. The mud they dredged up has been spread alongside the towing-path, as you can see in the photos. I guess the idea is that it should eventually become grassed over, though that would take a long time, I'd think. Particularly since there are obviously idiots around who would love to make their mark upon the world by walking over the mud, leaving deep prints behind.

The workers on the building site have had problems, too. Boats have been coming too fast around the bend from the north, putting workers at risk of injury or worse. There are times when there are men wading chest deep in the canal there. Just a few days ago, one such boater demolished the metal shuttering you can see above. To counter this, they've now put up notices.

I'm hoping that it doesn't mean that we have to paddle past with our hands!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Being busy but not very boaty

You know those days when the sun's out, it's warm for the time of year, the blue sky is dotted with small, fluffy white clouds, and the air is still? The birds are singing like they're practising for the Proms, and everyone's relaxed and walking in the park? Yeah? Well, we've had none of those. We've had rain, hail, sleet and none of the snow which everyone's been on about for the past three weeks. We have had some sun. It's out now as I type, and it's waved at us in passing several times. But the wind! It's crazy! The boat's shaking most of the time, swaying, and bumping the pontoon. The water in the marina's rough. The ducks would be surfing, I'm sure, but it's too windy for them. They'd just get blown off the waves. The geese fly sideways. Swans don't even bother trying. It's windy, believe me! Phil and Jacquie of NB Achernar went out on Saturday, headed for Market Harborough. I don't envy them. The rain's been torrential, and the wind...!

We've kept busy. Me with writing, Grace with sewing and jewellery-making. She's made a beautiful necklace and matching earrings to wear at a family wedding in a couple of weeks' time. And an extra pair! Plus there have been the normal jobs which are routine in a boat. The Arrens, Karen and Darren from NB Cream Cracker, came round for the evening on Saturday. Bottles of their excellent home-made wine, a delicious meal prepared by Grace, and six hours of chat! A really good time. I wish I were Irish, and had "craic" in my vocabulary. I don't think English has one word for it. But craic is what it was. Good craic.

Last Monday, Grace and I went to see 50 Shades of Grey. The depths of depravity, I know, but we just had to. The reviews are almost universally damning, and we simply couldn't believe it was that bad. IMDB gives it just two stars. People were saying they'd walked out after just twenty minutes! No-one who does that can be relied upon to give intelligent reviews. Having seen it, we can only surmise that all of these people found that it didn't have enough naughty bits, or that the bits weren't naughty enough or something. Grace and I both enjoyed it. It was very well acted, well adapted from the book, and tastefully, thoughtfully directed. We're looking forward to the second in the series.
"When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too - but on his own terms."

That's all for now. If you want to know any truly boaty stuff, we have a leaky pipe from our water pump. Just a drip, but wet.