Friday, April 28, 2017

Captain's Log

I started this blog back in September 2011 with the intention of it simply being a diary for our own future reference. I was somewhat surprised, then, when 85 people read my first post, and several commented. Nearly six years on, I'm consciously writing for an audience, not just for Grace and me - I suppose I have been for some time - and my readership is counted in the hundreds, not tens.

It's rewarding to know that that so many people enjoy reading this, though I'm disappointed that so few leave comments. When I was a teacher, I wrote a blog called "ICT Grump" under the pen-name of Grumpy Old Teacher. This was about new, innovative ways of using ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in schools, right across the curriculum, and I was inundated with comments on that one, comments that turned into conversations, debates. But that blog got over a thousand reads each week, so it was rather different from this humble diary. (Don't go looking for it. I stopped writing it a few months before I left teaching, and I took it down a year later because I couldn't keep it up-to-date, and by its nature it just had to be.)

The thing is, I really enjoy writing. I always have. Mrs Fincham, a gorgeous English teacher I had a crush on in my early teens, told me I'd make a good journalist. But that idea didn't actually appeal to me, and teaching called instead, and teaching didn't really give me the opportunity to write anything outside of lesson plans, worksheets and student reports.

At least, it didn't until I started my ICT Grump blog, and then two things happened. First of all, I got invitations to speak at teachers' conferences, lots of them over the years. And then came several invitations to write for various professional publications, the biggest of which for me was the website of the BETT Show, on which I wrote a blog during the months leading up to the annual exhibitions in London.

I was hooked.

After I retired, I wanted to turn something of  my teaching experience and knowledge into a book. All right, I thought, people used to pay me to write for them, and others paid to come and hear me speak. Why not write a book? So I did.

OK, it was self-published, and I was selling it on Well, I sold eight copies, I think it was. Without my Grumpy Old Teacher blog, and with no more speaking at conferences or the like, I had no way of publicising it. I put it out on Kindle as well, but that was a big mistake. The back cover bears the words, "This is a book to be read, to be scribbled on..." and "Let the student add his or her own notes". Not easy in an e-book.

I withdrew it from sale in both formats. Early copies of "Life with our feet under water" had an advert for it on the final pages. I soon re-published it without.

When we bought Kantara, and started our life of retirement on board, blogging was the obvious way for me to record it all, and when readership of that started to soar, the book idea returned. Many of you will know what happened next.

Partly because of my rather disappointing failure with my revision book, and despite my tendency to be arrogant, I wasn't really expecting either of these to succeed. But I'd greatly enjoyed writing the first one, and, when that sold so well, I had a lot of fun writing the second, too. And now, the next is currently being proof-read and edited.
Beyond that, I have no further plans for writing at the moment. What I've done has been enormously enjoyable and rewarding of itself, regardless of sales, but I'll need something to write about, of course, and I see no more possibilities for boaty books. Grace has suggested I try writing a novel, but I've tried that a few times in the past, and they never came to anything. They sort of fizzled out after six chapters. Better writers than me say that novels "write themselves", but I've never found that to be true for me.

Any ideas for a new book? Please be polite!

And how about you? If  you love to write, and have ever had it in mind to produce a book of any kind, then I encourage you to go ahead and do it. Don't hold back. Just write! Write because you like it, because it gives you pleasure. Write because it's satisfying to be creative. But do it with discipline, too, because it's not fun if you only write for short spells every now and then, and find that you lose the plot, as it were! You need to put aside specific, regular times when you can give it the hours and the attention it deserves.

When you've finished, it's hard to find a publisher to take your book on, because they get bombarded by so many. Self-publishing in paperback is easy, but these books are printed on demand, and the price you have to put on them is ridiculous in my opinion. So e-books are the only way to go. To start with, at least. Kindle's not the only outlet for e-books, but it's the only one I know well, and the whole process of publishing and selling on that platform is simplicity itself.

I do urge would-be writers to get the services of a friend or family member to check your copy very thoroughly before you publish it. Someone who reads a lot, who really knows English and understands punctuation and grammar, And do encourage them to be critical of the content and the way you write, too. Believe me, it's far too easy to miss your own mistakes, and to think that your way of saying something is the best way. If you've chosen the right person for this job, then they'll have your best interests at heart. They'll be on your side. So listen to them. Discuss it with them. You do get the last say, but make sure it's well-informed. I'm very fortunate in having Grace as my reader/editor. What she doesn't know about dangling modifiers isn't worth knowing!

Enjoy your writing! Have fun! 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Finishing off

The weather the next morning was glorious, and absolutely perfect for painting. There were still no other boats with us as we cast off.

Husband's Bosworth Tunnel was plain sailing this time, with only a small and very timid boat crawling along the wall towards us half-way through.

When we arrived at Welford Junction, we were very surprised to find just two other boats moored at this well-known painting spot, one of them the Cheese Boat off to their next destination, there to sell their Welsh cheeses.
We moored, and we painted. I did the first coat of blacking on and below the rubbing strake, Grace primed the scrapes and chips on the black deck paint above it. The sun shone, the birds sang lustily, and the painting didn't take long.

The next morning, we completed the job. A second coat of hull blacking, and black deck paint on the panel above. When we considered it to be dry enough, we left for the marina. We were short of food, we had no bread or milk at all, and we had a large, smelly bag of rubbish to get rid of. Unfortunately, the nearest rubbish skip and shop to this point are in Yelvertoft, so we had no real choice but to move on.

We played with the thought of continuing south for another week, but we have to be back at the start of May to meet up with friends, and we decided against it. It's looking as though our longest cruising is going to be done later in the year than usual.

Back to Yelvertoft, then.

NB Blue Belle was back in the berth next to us, getting themselves ready to leave the next day to go to Alvecote, their next trading place.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Moving out to finish the job

We got off to a late start on Monday. The weather wasn't conducive to painting, so we decided to turn around and go back to Welford to finish the job. We'd have liked to carry on for another couple of weeks, down to Market Harborough, perhaps, or head off towards Leicester, but we couldn't think of any places where the mooring would be good enough for hull painting on the starboard side, and that had been the main purpose of the trip.

Some of the floating traders had left their reserved moorings, so we moved into a space the other side of the bridge, next to the horse and boy statue.
From here, Grace went down to the shop to buy milk, and I did a couple of treks down to the disposal units. We had a brief exchange with Roger and Cindy who were still busy touting their wares on Blue Belle. Theirs was one of the few trading boats left, but there was still quite a good number of people out, making the most of the last day of the long weekend.

Needing to fill our water tank before we left, Grace winded where the canal divides to take boats to the top lock on one side and to the inclined plane on the other, though the latter route is no longer passable. Having turned, we reversed to a water point and topped up, then made our way out under the bridge, waving goodbye to Roger and Cindy, and moored again not far from where we'd come from earlier. We tied up behind NB Blue Moon, but there was no sign of Barry. After lunch, we made off out of Foxton, and moored just before the pipe bridge a mile from Husbands Bosworth Tunnel. It was a delightful spot, bright and open, remote and very quiet. It was a beautiful evening, and the sky was quite remarkable.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Foxton Locks at Easter

Easter Day had a gloomy weather outlook. Heavy rain all day from about 10:00am onwards. Grace and I stopped to talk with Roger and Cindy on NB Blue Belle at around 1:30pm, and it hadn't rained a drop. Business was going fairly well for Roger, though he said that he'd sold more paintings on his way to Foxton than he'd sold since his arrival on Friday. He was a bit concerned about the weather forecast. I assured him it was not going to rain!

Apparently, other floating traders there had complained to the Foxton management because the market had not been very well promoted, and they felt that they weren't getting value from the fee they'd paid to be there. And it was true. A visitor to the Locks could have a really pleasant wander up to top lock, buy refreshments there, and not see any reason to go any further. The trading boats were hidden from view at that point by the bend in the canal. It was shame.

Steve, Jess, Naomi and Eddie arrived before 2:00, and we had a really good Sunday Carvery Lunch together at the Foxton Locks Inn before sauntering up the locks, looking at the remains of the inclined plane boat lift, enjoying the panorama from the viewing platform, and perusing the floating market before crossing the bridge and boarding Kantara for a family catch-up over tea and coffee on board Kantara.

When they left at about 6:30, it still hadn't rained!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Isn't it always the way?

Sitting in the marina, using their wi-fi, my laptop is fine. No problems. Hardly ever. And the last time we were out on the cut, our 3G dongle worked just fine, too. But this time, the dongle works perfectly for Grace, but my computer refuses even to notice that it's plugged into it. And, just to make things worse, when we tried the 3G router, that wouldn't work for either of us!

I gave up and swore I wouldn't bother with the internet while we're out. Grace told me off for swearing, and spent the next hour making our laptops talk to the router. And she did it, of course!


So, where was I? Wednesday...

On Wednesday, we took the boat back to bridge 17, where I painted the port rubbing strake and Grace primed the scratches on the panel above it. We're seriously considering having the hull hot zinc sprayed. Pricey, but guaranteed to protect the entire hull from rust for 10 years - and probably longer.

Barry arrived not long after us, Barry from NB Blue Moon, moored at Yelvertoft. He was in need of a break, he said, and he spent many hours fishing from the bank.

Thursday's weather didn't deter Barry from fishing, but it almost stopped us making any further progress with the painting. But after some hours of indecision, Grace took a gamble with the elements, and painted the port side below the gunnel.

The paint was dry on Friday morning, so we moved on to moor just before the Welford Junction. The weather was cold but largely dry, though when we left, it hadn't tempted Barry to get out for some more fishing.

The next day, it was very cold, but dry and bright. Spring was very evident again. Tiny lambs gambolled as only lambs can, calves lay next to their mothers, blackthorn blossomed whitely in the hedgerows, and the trees and skies were full of birdsong. It was a beautiful day in so many ways.

Our journey from just before Husbands Bosworth Tunnel was slowed considerably when we caught up with a very slow day-boat. As they entered the tunnel ahead of us, we pulled over to wait for them to get well ahead of us, because Grace didn't want to go through the tunnel at tickover, which is what the other boat was doing all of the time. Mercifully, they did speed up eventually. That is, until the final stretch between bridges 59 and 60, and we arrived at Foxton in crawl mode once more.
Seeing the moorings before bridge 60 to be rather full, and with no empty spaces visible beyond the bridge, we took no risks, and hauled and squeezed into a space before the bridge, a space which was precisely the right length, so tight that we were literally fender-to-fender with the boats at both ends of Kantara.

After lunch, we took a stroll down the locks and back. The moorings beyond the bridge were, in fact, all taken, having been reserved for boats in a floating market. We met Roger and Cindy again, the painter and his wife on NB Blue Belle. He was displaying many of his paintings and drawings right down the length of the boat. We really couldn't imagine just how they managed to store them all on board. There were two or three pictures we'd have loved to have bought, but we really don't have the wall space for them.

Several of the traders said that business had been slow over the first two days of the long Easter weekend. The weather tomorrow is going to be less pleasant. At least, so the BBC forecast says. Let's hope they're wrong yet again!