Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy Birthday!

It was just a year ago today that I published "Life with our feet under water" on Amazon. I've been delighted at the way it's sold over that year, far beyond my expectations. Obviously, it's been met with a mixture of opinions, but happily most of the reviews have been good. From...



I knew the quotes wouldn't appeal to everyone, but then, what will? Some people said they liked them. I think Mr Walker missed the story altogether. (I'd like to point out that I've never taught him, so his defamation of my teaching skills are not founded.) But I'm probably not putting quotes in the sequel, which I'm working on at the moment. In my mind, they're not that important. I just thought they'd add an amusing oddness. Or odd amusement.

The sequel's called "Moving home with our feet under water". I don't go in for short titles. It's shifted shape several times since I started writing it, so I'll be interested to see how it comes out. But I'm enjoying it, though I'm not going to hurry it at all. I'll savour it slowly, like a good wine.

"Hints and tips for life with your feet under water" - yes, a bit of a mouthful - hasn't made much of an impact on the Amazon market yet, but I have every faith in it. It's aimed at a smaller readership than the other two - novices and wannabes - so I can expect less sales of this one. But it was given a very good review on Cruising the Cut's Christmas vlog, so the word's out there!

I tell you what, though. Though it's very gratifying to have people buy my books, and the additional income's appreciated, too, it's the writing itself I enjoy the most. Sales are icing on the cake. Life on Kantara has given me the time to write, and a terrific setting for doing the job. I'm a lucky man.

Details of the books can be found on Amazon, where you can read a taster for free before you decide to buy - which I hope you will!


The cold snap seems to be over now. It's pouring with rain across most of the UK, and it's time to get back to Kantara. We've done all sorts of useful jobs here in the house. It's been time well spent. But the boat's calling, and we have things to do there, places to go and people to meet. The next chapter starts here!


Monday, January 23, 2017

Righting a wrong

The thing is, we've never not done this. Winterising, that is. Hibernating the boat so that even the coldest, wettest, snowiest, windiest weather can't harm her during our absence. And the reason we've always done it before is because we've always set aside eight to ten weeks over winter when we'll be living in our house. Full winterising protects the boat, and we know it's going to work, because we've done the whole job.

But this year, we decided not to stay away from Kantara for so long. Rather, we'd bounce between boat and house as the fancy takes us, probably spending less total time away from the boat than we've done previously. But that's created a new problem.

Winterising is an easy, straightforward job for us. Apart from the bit involving the calorifier and its associated plumbing under the bed. Because of the structure of the bed, the layout of the pipes and the small size of the space to work in, draining water from the calorifier is a long job. Pipes have to be disconnected, and water drained by the jugful. Now, to do this once a year is fine, but to do it several times per winter is really unacceptable.

You're ahead of me now. Leaving that part of the job undone has made us anxious. We've visited Kantara three times since Christmas, two of them just to make sure our partly-done job hadn't frozen up; to reassure ourselves that the little heater we're running is sufficient for the low temperatures in Yelvertoft. We keep an eye on the BBC weather site, and it's been telling us that the coldest there has been -2°, much the same as St Albans. But when Naomi's max min thermometer in the garden yesterday morning read -6.7° - despite the Beeb's announcement of only -2° here and in Yelvertoft - we drove off quickly to check things out again. We do not want split pipes or popped joints, and gallons of water in the bilges!

Everything was fine, of course. What was it I said in a previous post? "The heater works, so we can trust it when we're not here, too." Will we ever learn?

While we were in the area, we went to The Wheatsheaf in Crick. We last went there four years ago, on Grace's August birthday, and we were very disappointed with the whole experience, and I said as much in the blog. But now, the pub's under new management, and it has improved beyond recognition. We had a really good Sunday Lunch. The food was delicious, and the service friendly and efficient. So, though I was not actually wrong back in 2012, it would be very wrong of me not to say now that The Wheatsheaf is highly recommended, and we'll be going back there from time to time in the coming years.
Wrong righted!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Different ways

It's several days since Val Poore, an online friend of mine, tweeted these from Veereniging ("Union"), her barge in Rotterdam, though I believe it's still very cold there, though not nearly so windy now.
Vereeniging centre right
I've mentioned Val's books before on this blog, but I'd like to jog your memories. I've never been attracted to memoirs, but I loved Val's, her "Ways" series, starting with "African Ways", an account of her life with her family in South Africa, through "Watery Ways", "Harbour Ways" and "Walloon Ways", which are all stories of her subsequent life on barges in the Netherlands. These books are an easy, fascinating read and I highly recommend them to all who are interested in boats and canals. European canals are so very different from ours in the UK, and the boats quite unlike our narrowboats, but the two boating cultures have a lot in common. Val paints the reader's mental images with great care and colour, and you really get to know the people and the boats in her life, and understand why she loves that life so much.

You can find out more about Val's books on Amazon, where you can read a sample before committing to purchase - which I'm sure you'll want to do. She tells me she's almost finished the next book in the series, and I'll make sure I'm one of the first to buy it.
We're back in St Albans now, after spending three nights on Kantara. The weather was nothing like what Val was experiencing. Boring by comparison! We left the boat on Sunday, content in the knowledge that she's OK, whatever the weather.

It's turned out that there's been a lot for us to do in the house - a garden fence to replace, a washing machine, a fridge a water softener. And we found ourselves getting involved in clearing a lot of clutter out of Grace's den, which has turned into all sorts of other, incidental tasks - you know how it is. I think that living on a narrowboat has made me appreciate the minimalist lifestyle, and I itch to apply the principles here as well, as I move from room to room. It's in my mind, also, that the day will come, though we have no idea when, when we'll want to leave Kantara, sell the house and move to a smaller one. It'd be really good to have down-sized the house contents before we downsize the house!

It's going to be a tad chilly on the marina tonight. Part of me would really love to be there!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Snow fun

With the weather forecast to be snowy and icy by the end of the week. and with us not feeling 100% sure of the efficacy of the frost protector heater, we drove up to the marina on yesterday in the pouring rain. All was well on board Kantara, except that it was extremely cold inside - hardly surprising. There were no burst pipes or popped joints, of course there weren't. We're not exactly beginners at this, but we still can't get around to relaxing in sub-zero temperatures.

We tested the new heater over night, and we were aware of it on occasion as it switched on and off in response to the fall and rise of the temperature. (Note to self - It works, so we can trust it when we're not here, too.) (Pass note to Grace.)

There's something of an enigma about the heater, though, and I need to work it out. The marina operates a "Winter Watch" scheme, in which registered boats have their electricity meters read regularly by marina staff, and topped up if they get low. Kantara's registered on the scheme. On 1st January, I installed the heater, set it to its 5° setting, and left it. The meter said there was £11 of electricity left. Not able to top it up myself at the time, I rang the office a few days later, and explained that Kantara was now using more electricity than before, and please would they top it up for me.

Today, I checked the meter. It read £17. I was told in the office that £20 had been added to the meter on the day I phoned. I did the sums. They weren't difficult. They showed that Kantara had used £11+£20-£17 of electricity on 13 days. £14 in 13 days! The heater only consumes 500 watts maximum, and only switches on when the temperature drops below 5°. Something's not right, and I'm hoping that it's with what the office told me they had added to the meter! I'll discuss it with them tomorrow.

It snowed early this morning,

accompanied by an extremely strong wind. But it stopped before 10:00am, and thawed quickly under a bright sun, though the wind continued. News reports I've just seen on TV tell me that what we've had has been mild by comparison with many parts of the country. It's going to be pretty easy for us tonight.

Monday, January 09, 2017

On the 12th Day of Christmas

my true love said to me, "It's time to take the decorations down!"

OK, so it was on 6th January, the day after Twelfth Night actually. And it's a rubbish day, because the decorations we put up with such care, effort and delight only a few weeks ago now come down with a totally inappropriate speed and ease. And the house looks bare and cold without the lights and the sparkles and the seasonal greenery. We always regret this time of year. The Christmas brandy sits lower in the bottle, the sherry's almost gone, the beer was finished by the day after Boxing Day, and we only have wine left because we've been too unwell to drink any for ages. The stollen has gone the way of the mince pies - well, half the same way actually, because Grace doesn't like stollen. Philistine that she is. Only the jars of flavoured coffee and bags of crystallised ginger offer hope for a week or so more. Sad, isn't it? And so's the weather. Gone are the days when we could pretty much rely on some decent snow over the Yuletide. Now it's grey rain, drizzle and dullness.

But at least we're both recovered from the flu now, sleeping normal hours without the waking moments of explosive coughing. Grace has eaten two chocolate oranges, so she's got to be feeling better! We've even done some significant spring cleaning - cupboards and cabinets so far. Sad pair! And some garden tidying. All right, so it's only leaf clearance, but it's making a difference.  This time last year, there was nothing like the quantity of leaves on the paths as there is this year, thickly, soggily packed together over the whole garden.
January 2016
And it's good for me to be out in the fresh air doing some exercise for a change. I swear I'm not as fit as I was the day we came back to the house. Now I'm feeling better, I'll have to get back to my exercise routine again quickly, and start eating properly, too.

It's possible we'll spend a few days on Kantara towards the end of the week. Just to warm her up and keep her company really, though there's no doubt we'll enjoy the time, too. There's a few jobs for us to do there. Grace is going to make alterations to the taff skirt, and we've got Colin coming to tweek the tension of the morse cable that he fitted late last year. And it's always good to put our minds at rest with regard to the general well-being of a boat that's been left unattended for some weeks. She's not as young as she was, bless her!
It's funny. I've just this moment realised that I've not even thought about the fact that schools have all returned to a new term now. I suppose that happened last week. This has been my sixth Christmas in retirement, and I've actually stopped punching the air and doing a little dance in celebration of the fact that I'm no longer teaching!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Restless in St Albans

Feeling a bit better, I drove out to the marina on Sunday, with Steve, to install the new frost-guard heater we'd bought. Steve came to help me take the mattress and bed-board up, so that I could check that there had been no freezing of pipes. It's a heavy job in a very confined space. I really didn't expect there would have been any freezing, but it's so easy to imagine all sorts of horrors from a distance, isn't it?

I would have liked to have topped up the electricity meter while I was there, but I didn't have a card, and the office was closed. A quick phone call later in the week got the meter fed. There's a Winter Watch service in operation in the marina, in which participating boats are visited on a regular basis, and their meters checked, and topped up if necessary. I was concerned, however, that the office should know that Kantara was now using electricity faster than before, and should not delay their next check.

Grace was feeling much better by Wednesday, and got out of bed for the first time for days. It had been a long haul for her. Neither of us us is fully recovered even now, though, and we both lack energy and drive. I did manage to get out and do some serious food shopping, however. We'd not been eating much, but our stocks were nonetheless depleted.

It's cold outside, It was another frosty night last night. But the beautiful, clear blue sky makes me wish we were out on the cut again. I envy those who post their wonderful boating photos on Twitter. I'm itching to get back to Kantara again, but there's a bundle of things we want to get done here in the house just as soon as we're feeling up to it, so there's no point in me getting restless.

Like I can stop it!!

Monday, January 02, 2017

"This book has inspired me to go and do it all again."

"This book has inspired me to go and do it all again." That makes me really happy. I can't think of a better endorsement!

"Life with our feet under water" is, for a limited time, selling for just £1.99 in the Kindle Bookshop.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Me and flu and 2017

Grace and I didn't stay up to welcome in the New Year last night. We were due to have friends round for the evening, but they, like us, are suffering from colds or flu. So it was a quiet evening watching "A Little Chaos" - highly recommended! - followed by another night of coughing and spluttering. I guess that's why I'm up, typing up this blog, while the rest of the world around me is still fast asleep.

To you all...
I've never really been interested in New Year's Resolutions. My thinking is that there's nothing that special about the start of a new year that means I can't resolve to do things on any other day. A new year starts every day, anyway. In fact...
And I share Swedish Canary's sentiments about the matter, too.
Nonetheless, peering out from two weeks of seasonal eating and drinking, too much sitting still, too little exercise, and flu, I'm thinking I need to get back into my previous exercise routine. I actually brought the exercise bike back from the boat. I've used it once in two weeks. And I've also stopped doing daily brain exercises with my NeuroNation app, which I've found definitely sharpens up my thinking in a number of ways. I can guarantee that my scores will be lower than before I stopped. It's a bit depressing really! So, overall improved fitness - at least a return to previous levels - is a worthy goal. And realistic, Mr Canary!

One thing that's new for me in 2017 is that Jess has given me the responsibility of maintaining the blog of The Company of Players. There's not much there at the moment. They're a new group, and they've not gigged much yet (though what they have done has been amazing), but they're set to grow a lot in 2017, with their first album being recorded this week, and a UK tour in the offing.
(video by John Bailey)

Writing their blog's going to be a lot of fun! (though being one of the Company would be even more so!)