Friday, November 27, 2015

Time to go!

It's that time of the year. Winter's well and truly here. Cold, biting wind, heavy rain on and off. The Bubble stove is on for most of the day, the dehumidifier is switched on at night. We've had a couple of nights when we had the Alde on on its lowest setting overnight, too. And it's almost December. Time to go.

"You're not biting the bullet, and staying for the winter, then?" asked Phil from Achernar. No, we've still not made that decision to stay on the boat for the entire year. A Christmas with the kids is still very special, so it's not something we'd give up easily. But Christmas here, in our home and with the people here, is an attractive proposition, and something we'd like to try some time.

We've packed a lot of the things we want to take back to the house, and tomorrow we'll drive back. We've chosen tomorrow in order to help Jess. Said the Maiden have a gig in Oxford tomorrow evening. Hannah and Kathy will be arriving there from Scotland, so Jess won't get the lift she usually has. She can drive. She drives well, but the injury to her knee last year, and the subsequent surgery, set her back a lot, and we'd all rather she didn't do the journey alone yet. And we haven't heard them live for ages, so we're going to drive her there, stay overnight in St Albans, and come back to the boat the next day to finish hibernating her. I still have the stern hatches to wax, and there's a number of bits and stuff we need to have with us back in the house.

David on NB Wreyland had asked me to appear in one of his vlogs. The topic is to be that evergreen debating point amongst boaters - toilets. I was to represent the pro-cassette lobby, and someone from the pump-out fraternity would be putting his argument. Unfortunately now, I won't be there to take part. It would have been fun.

Have you seen David's vlogs, by the way? They're really very good. Watch them here.

We've watched two good films this past week, both of them Australian. First of all, a DVD of a 1988 film, Emerald City. With a very young Nicole Kidman.
"A comedy of life's temptations - lust, greed and power. The city in question is Sydney, and the colour green signifies greed and envy in David Williamson's amusing satire on its film and publishing industries."

It's an odd film, but funny and entertaining. John Hargreaves looked and acted like David Tennant. That was odd.

Then, at the cinema, we watched The Dressmaker.
"A glamorous woman returns to her small town in rural Australia. With her sewing machine and haute couture style, she transforms the women and exacts sweet revenge on those who did her wrong."
This was really good. Funny, poignant, tragic. Kate Winslet's also in Steve Jobs, showing at the moment. We're going to have to wait for that on DVD, I think.

Unusually, we had lunch out twice this week. And at The Moorings both times. The first time was on one of the dry, sunny days, and Grace and I walked out to Crick along the footpath/towingpath route to enjoy a tasty meal and a couple of pints. Since we were going to be walking back, we didn't fancy having the three-course Christmas lunch. We thought we'd be feeling too heavy! So we drove out yesterday for that. A three-course meal for just £9.95, and extremely good value for money. Very tasty. And it's a lovely place to eat at.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I pressed 3 - a strange conversation with Heather

My car insurance renewal was due. I was a bit annoyed that, for no apparent reason, the cost had risen from £199 last year to £233 this. I phoned the insurance company. The call could be summarised something like this.

I dial the number.

"Longwayround Insurance Company. If you are phoning about car insurance, please press 1. If you wish to..."

I press 1.

"If you wish to make a claim, please press 1. If you want a quote for car insurance, please press 2. If you have insurance with us, but are considering leaving us, please press 3. If you are..."

I press 3.

Blurb about underwriters.

Blurb about call being recorded for training purposes.

Finally a live voice. "Good morning! Heather speaking. How can I help you?"

"Ah, good morning! I've had a letter about my insurance renewal, but I'm not very happy with the premium."

"OK, sir. May I just take your policy number? And your name? Date of birth? Postcode? First line of your address? Car make and model? Registration number? And your inside leg measurement?"

"Surely, all of that's on your screen in front of you?"

"Yes, sir, it is. I'm just checking. For security reasons, you see."

"Ahh! I see!" Perhaps I imagined the inside leg measurement bit.

"So, Mr Distill. What seems to be the problem?"

"Well, Heather. My insurance premium last year was £199 something, and this year you're asking for £233. And 42 pence. Can you explain to me how that came to be?"

Blather about rising costs and Insurance Premium Tax. I'm not impressed.

"But I've been insured by you for the past 10 years or so, and the cost has never risen that much before. And you've had Premium Tax since 1994. Why the 17% rise now?"

She evades the question. I had, after all, pressed 3. She wants to retain my custom. My questions aren't relevant.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Mr Distill. If you give me a moment, I'll see what can be done for you."

Muzak oozes into my ear. I wait a moment.
"Thank you for waiting, Mr Distill. I've looked into this for you, and I can offer you your car insurance for £211.28."

"That was very quick!" She ignored that.

"How does that sound?"

"Well, it sounds £22.14 better." I can hear her working it out for herself. I wait in the silence. She comes back.

"I can also give you zero excess on any claim."

"No excess? What's the catch?"

She laughs just a little. "There's no catch, Mr Distill."

"But that would normally increase the premium!"

"This makes no difference to the £211.28 we're offering you."

I look puzzled, but shrug. "OK. Thank you."

"Do you have breakdown cover, Mr Distill? I could add 2 years free breakdown cover from Green Flag."

"No, I belong to the AA, thanks."

"But this is free!" There's incredulity in her voice.

"Yes, I understand that. But I have no wish to leave the AA. I've been with them for over 40 years, and Green Flag do not tempt me away."

"Not even for fr..?"

"Not even for free. Thank you."

There's a pause. I get the feeling she's looking up something on her computer, or in the Instruction Manual For Dealing With Customers Who Are Thinking Of Taking Their Business Elsewhere.

"How about a courtesy car? If you made a claim and your car were off the road for whatever reason, a courtesy car would be very useful, wouldn't it?"

"Yes, indeed it would."

"I could add that to your policy. A free courtesy car of no greater engine size than 1 litre. Or we could provide a 1.4 litre car like your own for an additional charge."

This is quite entertaining now. "I'm sure a 1 litre car would be able to transport me just as well as a bigger model. That'd be fine for me."

"You're sure? It would only be..."

...extra money on your premium which you may not notice me sneaking in there.

"Yes, I'm sure, thank you."

There's a pause. I'm wondering if I might get six months free petrol. Half price servicing and MoT. Free tickets to Top Gear.

"OK then, Mr Distill. I'll just run through that to make sure we're in agreement. £211.83. Including Premium Tax. Breakdown cover not required. Are you sure about...?"

"Yes, Heather, I'm sure, thank you."

"Courtesy car with 1 litre engine. Are you su...?" She bites her tongue. I say nothing.

She continues. "Zero excess on all claims."

It's my time to ask if she's sure. "And that really makes no difference to the premium? The premium wouldn't be lower if I opted to have an excess of a couple of hundred pounds, say?"

"It has no effect on the premium at all, Mr Distill. I couldn't get the premium any lower if I tried."

I accept the offer. She gives me the standard spiel about the need to read terms and conditions, the notice about changes in my policy (none of which applied), and my new policy which will arrive within seven days. Then there's the 14-day cool-off period. And finally, payment.

"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr Distill?"

"Any chance of free tickets to Top Gear?"

And all because I pressed 3! How different it would have been if I'd gone straight to the "Pay" option.
Thank you, Heather. That was time well-spent.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Perfect timing!

Yesterday. First of all, it was Darren's timing. In the morning, when the wind wasn't too bad and the sky was only cloudy, he took Cream Cracker off to Foxton Locks, his intended overnight mooring on the way to Debdale Wharf to have the hull zinc plated.

Then, perfect timing, the sun came out and the wind dropped significantly, so we put the finishing touches to the waxing of the starboard side of the hull. We'd not done the tunnel stripes at the back or the bowflashes (at the front!). Having finished those, we pulled Kantara across into Cream Cracker's space and tied her up there. The port side of the cabin had been at least in part in full sunlight from the moment the sun had shown itself, and I was amazed how hot it was to the touch. Nonetheless, applying the wax in such a low air temperature wasn't as easy as I'd hoped. I applied the wax with my bare hands, and they soon began to feel like slabs of ice. Grace came along behind with cloths to buff where I had waxed. That job was slower, too, but we finished the whole job before the weather changed. There had been huge, black clouds forming, and a few moments of fine drizzle. But we'd finished. We went in for lunch, and to warm ourselves in the heat of the Bubble stove.

Just in time! It rained! Poured! Blew up a gale, too. But by the time we'd finished lunch, it had all cleared, and the sun shone in a friendly, blue sky.

Now we can be confident that the paintwork will be well protected from the worst of the weather over the winter. We're really impressed with the carnauba wax. A couple of applications each year should be more than adequate, we think.

There have been so many good films on offer at the cinema recently. So many, that we're never going to get to see them all on the big screen, and several titles have been added to my "buy the DVD from zoverstocks" list. But we did get to see The lady in the van the other day. The story is described as "mostly true".
"In 1974, the homeless Miss Shepherd moved her broken down van into Alan Bennett's garden. Deeply eccentric and stubborn to her bones, Miss Shepherd was not an easy tenant. And Bennett, despite inviting her in the first place, was a reluctant landlord. And yet she lived there for fifteen years."
I think it goes without saying that it was immensely enjoyable. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

For the record...

I've remarked many times on this blog how windy it's been here in the marina. How it seems that the pound here seems to capture the wind more than the local canal and surrounding area. We've had very strong winds here. Often. But believe me, the wind we experienced yesterday and throughout the night was the worst by a long way. The boat shook continuously, buffeted by the water and by the wind. Quite alarming at times, I can tell you. There's a degree of security, however, in the knowledge that the roof can't blow off!

I didn't venture out to take any photos yesterday. We had to go shopping, and being out in it then was quite enough for me. Bringing the shopping from the car to the boat, I was stopped in my tracks several times by the strongest gusts. Three trips back and forth, and I was ready to get back into the boat and stay there! The pictures above were taken this morning, and the wind has abated somewhat. The photos don't really show the wind as it is, though, so I tried making a short video. Too hurried, I'm afraid. The warm comfort of Kantara was calling.
Grace oiled the draining board and other oak boards in the galley yesterday. A matter of sanding gently, cleaning the surfaces with white spirit, then brushing on several coats of Danish Oil, with five hours drying time between applications. Neither difficult nor time consuming, except for the long period of time during which we couldn't use the surfaces, nor do the washing up, for fear of splashing them with water. So it was lunch at Sainsbury's before we did the major food shopping, and a light, cold bite to eat in the evening. The last coat, applied first thing this morning, is drying now.

I write in my book,
"Water filling points are provided at sensible intervals around the entire inland waterways system, but boaters need to remember to keep their eyes on the tank level, and to stop at appropriate moments to fill up. The job takes less than half an hour every five days or so for the two of us. A smallish problem."
So you'd think that when we're not out on the cut, and the water point is just a few paces away, we wouldn't run out of water, wouldn't you? Yes, so would I. But we did. Yesterday late evening when the wind was at its height. Not clever. So that was the first thing I had to do this morning. In the strong wind. At least it wasn't raining.

Oh, it's just started! And we still need to wax one side of the boat. Hmmm.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I was dead chuffed... be asked to write a guest blog for the CRT website a few days back. Odette, the lady I dealt with, gave me a few suggestions as to what I might write about, and gave me 300 to 400 words to do it in(!) It was published yesterday...

From house to boat: Making the move

There are some interesting posts in the Guest Blog. Worth a browse.

Grace had a brilliant idea for a table decoration the other day. The photo doesn't show very well the soft blue glow that emanates from it, but just imagine it...
It's a string of tiny LEDs, bought from the £1 Store. These are powered by a couple of AA batteries in a plastic case at one end of the lead, and the lead is waterproof. So these LEDs are in a Kilner Jar full of water, with chunks of blue glass. We got these from a nursery, the kind of thing with which you might dress the soil for a pot plant. We were hoping for warmer colours than blue; amber, red perhaps. But the blue's lovely.

Having missed The Lone Ranger at the cinema a couple of years ago, we watched it on DVD last night. I can't remember why the critics were so scathing at the time. And I don't care. I was a great fan of the TV original as a child. And this film was brilliant. Very funny indeed, superbly slapstick at times, yet with moments of horror and pathos. Even Silver (his horse) was comical. Johnny Depp was perfectly cast as Tonto, and Armie Hammer (flipping silly name!) did a great job as John Reid, the masked man.
John Reid: Do you know what "Tonto" means in Spanish?
It's a Comanche word, of course, but Spanish it means "fool"! Whereas, "Kimo sabe", Tonto's Comanche name for the Lone Ranger (the meaning of which has been debated for decades) means, according to Tonto "Wrong brother". He'd rather be riding with Reid's dead ranger brother.

The film covers in 149 minutes (so they say) what the first three 30-minute episodes covered in 1949; the story of who the Lone Ranger is, how he met Tonto, how he came to ride Silver, and why he wears a mask. There were lots of amusing references to the TV series way back (1949-57).
John Reid: Hi ho Silver, away!
Tonto: Don't ever do that again.
John Reid: Sorry.
This is one of the few films ever I'd watch more than once.

From the TV series. Yes, in black and white!
P.S.  I just had to do it! I've just found a DVD for sale on the web, for just £2.59. The first four episodes of The Lone Ranger TV series, three of which the 2013 film is based on! How cool is that?

Waxing lyrical about Carnauba

Well, I goofed weeks ago, in that I didn't take advantage of the mild, sunny weather for waxing the boat. But I got to make up for it this morning, in some part at least. The day started sunny and bright. The wind had subsided considerably. Here was the break I needed!

The plan was to wash the boat quickly with the hose - I'd done a soapier job not long ago, and there was going to be no significant dirt to get off - shammy it over, then leave it to dry off for half an hour. There was enough wind to be helpful here. When it came to applying the wax, I had a few reservations about it. Not least that it would be too cold for the wax to be soft enough to use. Also, that the small tub of Dio Wax - Carnauba paste wax - we have (part of the touch-up kit given to us by John Barnard, after he'd finished painting Kantara) wouldn't be enough to treat a 60' boat adequately.
There was no need for concern on either count. I applied the wax with my fingers and palm, as recommended. That may sound messy, but it's not that bad. Application by hand means that the heat from your skin softens the wax a bit, helping it to spread. Also, the trouble with using some kind of cloth is that it absorbs the wax, and becomes very clogged and messy. I know that from using wax furniture polish. And the palm of your hand is a large, smooth surface, which makes it ideal for covering a large area of paintwork. The instructions on the tub emphasise the need to spread the wax as thinly as possible, and the sense of touch in your skin helps you to do just that.

As for the pot of wax not lasting long... side of the cabin hardly made a dent in it! It wasn't right up to the rim in the first place. This tub's going to last for years.

So I got my hands waxy, and Grace followed along with a microfibre cloth, buffing the wax off the boat before it dried. The result was very pleasing! Now we wait for the next couple of hours of sunshine to arrive, and we'll complete the job. Port side, stern and bow. She'll then be waterproof against the worst that the UK weather can throw at her.

OK, I'll be honest about those photos. They were actually taken when the paintwork was brand new, but I didn't get the chance to take any pics today, and it really does look that good after the waxing!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

It's like being at the seaside

You remember the UK seaside? Foaming waves, howling gales, lashing rain and wheeling, mewing gulls? It's a bit like that here! But without the sand and the tide-borne rubbish. It was similar yesterday, but not quite so extreme. Though it was wetter. And towards the end of the day, there was a beautiful respite.

Though the water was still rather choppy, as you can see.

In Kantara, we're snug. Yesterday ended with an evening of good company with Karen and Darren, good food, good wine, and good fun card games. This morning, a lie-in (unintended!), and battened-down hatches. The Bubble stove is on the lowest setting possible, and the boat's so warm we can have three windows open, and the door onto the well-deck. Warmth and fresh air. Perfect.

And tonight, the last episode of Downton Abbey. Apart from a Christmas Special. Darn!

Friday, November 06, 2015

I've goofed

"A cryptic message from the past leads James Bond to Mexico City and Rome, where he meets the beautiful widow of an infamous criminal. After infiltrating a secret meeting, 007 uncovers the existence of the sinister organization SPECTRE. Needing the help of the daughter of an old nemesis, he embarks on a mission to find her. As Bond ventures toward the heart of SPECTRE, he discovers a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks."
"Spectre is the worst James Bond movie in years" (Vox Culture)
I suggest you test that statement for yourselves. We went to see the film on Tuesday. 2½ hours of pure Bond entertainment. Big, bold, brash, colourful, loud, action-packed. If you're a Bond enjoyer without the nerdiness, it won't let you down. We loved it.

I've goofed. We had that spell of lovely weather just a week ago, right? Several warm, sunny days when I could have been waxing the boat, right? I did wash it. Very thoroughly, I did. But I didn't wax it, and John Barnard recommended that we give it a good coat of carnauba wax before winter. To protect the new paintwork from the worst of the weather.

But I haven't.

And now look at the weather! Listen to it, beating on the roof! Rain. And strong wind. Still very mild, but far too wet for waxing. We're here until the end of the month, when we go back to the house for a couple of months. Will we get the right weather? Sigh.
And that is the ceiling in the utility room of our house. Naomi rang us first thing one morning to tell us there was a slow leak under the bathroom, and the ceiling was bulging. She pierced the bulge, and 15 litres of water ran out. She called the insurance company emergency number, and it's all under control now. The ceiling fell down while the plumber was searching for the source of the leak. Eddie took this photo. The rest fell down hours later! Thank goodness for insurance. It'll all be fixed and painted by the time we go back!

Monday, November 02, 2015

A new neighbour from the Dark Side

I can't deny that I felt a little peeved when a couple of Yelvertoft moorers walked along our pontoon this afternoon, clearly considering moving their boat into the space previously occupied by NB Smudge. And even more peeved when they moved their boat in within the hour! Bang goes our view to starboard! We're back to the boat-both-sides situation again now. It has to be said, that's the situation we signed up for back in 2011, when NB 19th Hole was moored there. And the pontoon-end space does cost more to rent. And we had the opportunity to move into it ourselves, and chose not to. Or, at least, we dithered for too long.

Nonetheless, we extend a warm welcome Jan and Ed on NB Emma Jane. They've come from a berth on the other side (aka "The Dark Side") of the marina which they'd occupied for four years, and they're very pleased to have a better outlook, a greater expense of water in front of them. And a better class of neighbour. (My words, not theirs!) It'll be nice for Grace and me to have pontoon-sharing neighbours again who spend most of the year aboard. Three months of the year they'll spend abroad (see what I did there?), but for two of those we'll be in St Albans anyway.
Last night was the Halloween party. The food was hot and tasty, and it was good to spend time with the crews of Doo Lally Ally, Hereward and Wreyland; Alison & Chris, Myra & Adrian, and David.
NB Hereward
NB Wreyland
Actually speaking with them was somewhat hindered by the high volume of the music, however. Throats and ears were hurting by the time we all left early.

Er, this way,Chris?
Count & Countess Dracula

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It's a curious thing...

...explained to me simply by the fact that, for most schools, last week was the half-term holiday. The thing being that sales of my book "A Friendly Guide to Exam Success" peaked during the week. I guess students who have just started GCSE courses this year, or the second year of them, have seen the need for additional help to get the results they want. Or perhaps their parents have perceived the need!

The book is published on Kindle, and can be read on Kindle devices (obviously!) or on computers, tablets or smartphones using an app which is freely available from the Kindle website. It costs just £1.99 - almost a giveaway! Since there may be students who'd prefer to have a paper edition so that they can add their own notes (and the book allows lots of space for that) it can be bought in paperback format at Lulu for £4.99. The paperback will be available on Amazon and other outlets at a cheaper price next month - just in time for Christmas (hint, hint!).