Sunday, January 24, 2021

Things to do in lockdown

I find it quite remarkable that nearly three weeks have passed and I've not posted to this blog. It makes me feel really boring. My life must be dreadfully dull.

That's not how I'd describe it, though, but it has - for obvious reasons that I share with millions of others right round the globe - been restricted. Most of my time has been spent in the house, the only respite being when I go shopping or take an exercise walk.

I'm extremely grateful that we have very adequate shops just a ten-minute walk away, and an excellent farm shop a mile away that sells locally-grown meat, fruit and vegetables. However, since we choose to avoid the large Sainsbury's on the outskirts of town where we would normally (remember normal?) fill the car boot with food and drink to last us over a week, we have to visit these local shops several times a week. It's good exercise, though!

Because I spend most of my time in the house, my activities have been... 'small' is the best word I can find. I'm either writing my book (working title Those who can), posting my digitally enhanced photos on a number of Facebook groups,

reading, or watching the telly, punctuated by times on the stepper and doing other exercises. I don't play my guitar much because there are always too many people around; I don't want them to hear the mistakes! The weather's stopping me from gardening. There's decorating I'd like to get done, but the place is far too crowded. I quite happily do the housework, strange as that may seem, though lethargy and indolence do occasionally kick in to cause that to happen rather randomly.

I guess most of you are experiencing the same kind of thing, so I'm sorry if I'm boring you. These aren't complaints, please understand. Simply observations. I am exceedingly grateful that the virus isn't affecting us in far more awful ways. I hope the same is true of you.

Always on the lookout for fun and interesting things to do/play/see/listen to on the interweb, I came across this the other day, and spent half an hour or so looking through the windows of houses in fifteen different countries. Each view is a ten-minute video, but you can move on whenever you want. I've not been through all of them, so I have no idea how many there are. Do try it - it's fascinating! Perhaps you'll want to want to add the view from your own window. Enjoy!

This little guy looks even cuter when you see him moving.

We keep in touch with Yelvertoft Marina via Facebook. There are quite a few folk living on their boats throughout the winter, so I get some insight into the weather they're experiencing. A while back, they had the torrential rain that hit the midlands and the north, and the water in the marina rose so much that every boat's moorings had to be slackened. This was done by a small group of men who braved the wind and the rain to attend to every boat in the marina - no small task!

Neil, the marina manager, does a regular check of the balance on each boat's mains electricity meter, and tops it up if it's getting too low. There are many boats, like ours, that have thermostatic heaters to prevent freezing in the cabin. Some have dehumidifiers, too, as we do. It's good to know that Kantara's being kept safe. It's just as well. The weather today looks decidedly chilly!

Meanwhile, the Google forecast on my phone has messaged me to say we should expect snow here in St Albans in... Oh, six minutes! Camera at the ready!

Take care, everyone, and be safe and well.

(this, and the picture at the top of the page,
courtesy of

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

It's on the boat!


Let me start by belatedly wishing you all a Happy New Year, wherever you are in the world. The happiest possible in the circumstances, that is!

We left Kantara back at the end of October, not knowing what restrictions were likely to be imposed next; we really wanted to be back with the family for Christmas. Steve and Karolina dropped in to see us on their way back from an EBay collection trip - a really lovely old oak dining table - and we packed a load of our stuff into Steve's larger-than-ours car, thus saving us one of the two trips back and forth to the house that we usually have to do at the end of the year. We were forced to pack quickly. It had been a spur of the moment decision not to stay on Kantara any longer - it's usually late November or early December, so our packing wasn't carefully considered.

In a guest blog post I wrote for the CRT website some years ago, I talked about the need for boaters to have on board all of those things which would be part of their life wherever they were. But the biggest problem with that is that most of those same things have to return with you to your house if you choose, as we have chosen for the past nine years, not to stay on the boat over winter. Guitar, sewing machine, exercise bike, stepper and kettle bells, artist's painting materials, the winter clothes and footwear, Grace's best pots and pans and cooking utensils (because the ones back in the house are not the best ones!), cameras, boxed games, plants. Stuff stuff stuff stuff stuff! We even had to take the TV with us once, because it had gone wrong and needed to be returned whence it came. Then we have to get the stuff from the car into the house. And find room for it! We must be mad!

"Get yourself another set of plates, you f*****g idiot!"

Thus commented a reader when I mentioned the matter in this blog. I didn’t publish him. He suggested "the problem might be somewhat relieved if we got ourselves clothing, crockery, cutlery, pots and pans, videos and DVDs for both the house and the boat. Skanky pair that you are!" Except he didn't use quite those words. The odd thing is that I hadn't said anything at all about cutlery or crockery, and we do, indeed, have full sets of tableware in both places. And glasses, cups and mugs. He forgot those. Pots and pans and other large kitchen utensils are a different matter, though, because, having bought new ones for the boat, we didn't feel we wanted to go to the considerable expense of buying duplicates for the house. But the old ones are really not up to the job any more, however, so we take the lot back and forth 'twixt boat and house. It's a heavy boxful. Maybe when we’re rich… When I’ve made my millions from my books, perhaps.

It's been a source of some amusement and not a little frustration recently that we've found ourselves needing things that we can't find in the house. String, a very particular small spanner, pin punches, a card game, hair bands (not for use on hair), a specific charger, a set of tiny screwdrivers, a belt, rubber wedges, a CD, a DVD. And each time we've had these needs, the response has been the same.

"We've got it/one/some on the boat!"

Of course, we make do without them, but it's irksome nonetheless.

Then we watch the news, and we're reminded just how blessed we are, the way things are now around the world. We're very grateful for all that we have, wherever it may be.

Be safe and well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Don't you just love it?

Don't you just love Google? Don't all shout at once. Personally, I've been using so many of their products for so many years that deciding not to be a Googlite would be very inconvenient.  I was sorely tempted the other day, though.

I wanted to post here on the blog but, for reasons I could neither fathom myself nor discover from the web, Blogger simply wouldn't work. I gave Google the benefit of the considerable doubt, and waited a few days to let them discover the problem and fix it. The few days later, there was no improvement. I spent less than two minutes deciding that, though I would very much like to be shot of them, I valued my sanity too much; sanity which was very likely to be compromised if I actually tried dumping them..

Then it occurred to me that, at the very heart of all of the Google products I use - GMail, Blogger, Maps, YouTube, Drive, Calendar, Photos, Keep, Slides, Translate, Earth and Meet - is Chrome, their browser.

I installed Opera, Blogger worked! Just like that!

How is it, then, one may ask, that Google Blogger doesn't work with Google Chrome, but works with someone else's browser?

Rant over. Sorry about that. I only came here to wish you all the very best possible Christmas, and the same for the new year! I got distracted. Apologies for letting off steam on you.

It's entirely possible that some of you might be forced to spend Christmas alone, and that's really not a happy prospect. I'd hate it with a loathing, I'm sure. So I hope that this will help. It's a list of tips on how to make the most of being alone over Christmas, written by someone who has a lot of experience of that... (@MittenDAmour on Twitter)

If you are suddenly facing Christmas alone, I have tips. I LOVE Christmas alone, so get on board.
Food: What would you ideally like to eat if no-one could limit you or judge you? Nothing but pigs in blankets? Just cake? Pot Noodle? Get that! I’m having cheese and crackers.
Drink: Same goes – what would be a decadent treat? Endless cups of strong tea? Babycham? A robust red? Get it, you’re worth it. If you know booze makes you cry either limit it or buy extra tissues. No judgment.
Activities: Make a plan, don’t leave it to the day and find yourself lost. Doesn’t have to be a rigorous agenda but ‘wake up whenever, hot buttery toast and tea for breakfast, bubble bath, watch films, go for walk’ will give you a structure to enjoy.
Company: Many people can feel rotten lonely in a house full of relatives. Remember that. Even people in bustling houses can be miserable. Arrange to make call one or two people, just to say Merry Christmas and hear about how they dropped the turkey or what they’re watching on TV
Decorations: Do it! Get some decorations up – it makes a huge difference and shows that YOU are taking control of this fate, plus twinkly lights and bright things are cheering. I like to put on Christmas music and pour a hot mulled wine while I put mine up.
Gifts: If you have gifts to open maybe you’d like to arrange to do that at the same time as a friend over video chat. If you don’t have gifts please consider a spot of self-gifting and YES, wrap them up so you can open them on the day. Hard recommend on this one.
And lastly... hold on to the fact it is just 24 hours and doesn’t have to *be* anything. Even if you spend it sobbing, it will not last forever, it ends. Be gentle to yourself, make your own rules, turn it into your ideal lazy selfish Sunday. I learnt to lean into it and love it.
Oh and by the way, going outside for a stroll on Christmas Day is also a strong recommendation. Cheery cries of “Merry Christmas” exchanged with strangers and their dogs is an absolute tonic.
Own it, make it selfish and decadent. You deserve it, and I hope you enjoy it.

So, from Grace and me...


Sunday, December 06, 2020

Something very special amongst all the vlogs

There are lots of boaters out there who put a lot of time and care into recording, editing and publishing vlogs. I've seen many, but there are very many more. All of the ones I have seen are about the vlogger's waterway travels. You'll see them cruising through countryside and town, village and city. You'll see them going through locks and tunnels, swing bridges and lift bridges. You'll see them moor and cast off, fill up their water tank, top up the diesel, light their stove. At some point, they may take you down into the engine room.

Many of them give useful demonstrations of how to get weed from around the propeller, touch up the paintwork, change a battery, service a toilet cassette, clean the cratch cover, change the gas cylinders. I'm sure there are hundreds of boaters or would-be boaters who find these vlogs an excellent source of information, and I know that the most popular vloggers have followers in six figures.

A new face on You Tube, though, isn't interested in those details of travelling on the cut. He has a totally different reason for vlogging. He's Dave Thompson on board Narrowboat iSNESS, and this is his story, published with his permission.

After losing my wife to cancer abroad, I moved back to the UK with just a suitcase, a bike and an inflatable kayak. I came back empty and saddened. I didn't own a home so I slept on my mother's sofa near Birmingham. Not staying there long, I couch-surfed from place to place. It was getting me down, not having a home where I could settle and properly grieve for my great loss. I was uprooted and with no real income. My world was falling away and I decided to give up. 
I woke up in hospital after taking an overdose of medication. That morning, a light switched on within me and I realised how close I had been to not being here, but more importantly what my my family and friends would have had to go through. My waking up was a new beginning. I was determined to push forward and survive. I got work, made lots of new friends and, through having faith that there was a light shining again, I was happy.  
And the greatest treat for me was buying a narrowboat and living on it. Being surrounded by nature, wildlife and beautiful, tranquil scenes has changed me and my life. I love who I am, and every moment. And my experiences as a boater I share with you now via a vlog I started during lock-down. My vlog is about my narrowboat life and my experiences. It's relaxing and chilled out. If you haven't seen it, then please take a moment to check it out. If you enjoy please share, subscribe and like. 
This is not just about me, but sharing something that may bring wellbeing and good change to someone else out there who's been or going through difficult times. 🙏 Namaste, thank you. Dave.

Dave's fabulous vlog is to be found HERE and I recommend it to you highly. The physical and mental health value of being near water, in the countryside, surrounded by natural beauty - which is what this vlog is all about - is being promoted by CRT, who are encouraging people to use the towing-paths for walking, jogging and cycling. )This doesn't meet with the approval of a number of boaters, needless to say, but there does seem to be an increasing number who love to whinge!)

Please don't be put off by the fact that clicking the link above takes you to a page where you are asked to confirm that you want to continue. I don't know why that happens, but I assure you, Dave's vlog site is totally safe. I've been there several times.


Stills from Dave's vlog

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Stay home, essential travel only

Those of you who read this blog because it's usually about our life on board NB Kantara are going to be disappointed for... well, who knows how long? I mean, in any other year I could say with a fair amount of certainty that we'd be back on board in February or March, but the big C has demolished one's chances of being even half sure about anything beyond the next meal.

Suffice it to say that we went back to Kantara yesterday. We were there for less that an hour, picking up a handful of bits and things that we hadn't realised we'd need when we returned to the house last month. We were able to verify that the electric heater and the dehumidifier were working properly. Then we drove back, feeling just a tad guilty as we drove under several matrix signs on the M1 telling us to stay at home unless our journey was essential. My excuse for carrying on was that we couldn't stay at home because, in fact, we were not at home, but driving down the M1. Though a more intelligent response to these perfectly reasonable signs would be that we were "simply completing the process of moving home - an activity which is permitted under current regulations, constable".

We weren't stopped by the police.

So now our life has moved from the well-ordered, peaceful solitude of the boat to the utter chaos of the house, though it's not an overly noisy chaos. The home that we're being told to stay in simply isn't big enough for the amount of stuff that seven people have. (Well, five in fairness. Naomi and Eddie live pretty tidily in the totally separate annex.)

Our bedrooms belie the word 'room', because there's really not much room in them - though, fortunately, there are beds in each. Grace's studio has been renamed the box room because it's full of boxes - and stuff. The former box room is now the library and archive. The front room doubles quadruples as a day-time workplace, evening TV and dining room, home for a silly number of musical instruments, and an occasional recording studio. The dining room table has no space for dining, the living room five-seater sofa seats two - for eating and TV-watching. The hall, stairs and landing are holding areas for things on their way out and things on their way in. The loft is full. It became a little less full yesterday when I took the boxes of Christmas decorations out. But they're now in the living-room. Three cars sit on the front drive, but there are two parked on the street. There's a work van in another road. 

It's... interesting, challenging! And, perversely maybe, I love it. The house is really lived in. Three kids, two parents (us!), two in-laws.

But we won't be sad to get back to living on the boat next year, and nor will Steve and Karolina when they move into their own house. The house space we four vacate will be considerable, but Jess is perfectly capable of gobbling up all of it, believe me. I'll let you know next winter.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

A night to remember

Right across the nation, Guy Fawkes Night was severely restricted by the new lockdown. In St Albans, it meant that the normal mega-display in the city's Verulamium Park couldn't go ahead.

(Photos, Herts Advertiser)

But St Albans Cathedral, the organisers of this annual event for more decades than I can remember, were not dismayed. To replace the ticket money they normally take from the thousands who attend, they launched a crowdfund, which raised the money to fund fireworks and charity. And this is what they did.
"Instead of a ticketed event for thousands of people in Verulamium Park, we took inspiration from New York's approach to this year's 4 July celebrations and are planning an aerial display. This display will be visible from doorsteps across the city, without the need for people to leave their homes. We estimate that 55,000 people will be able to see the fireworks in St Albans, due to the positioning of the firing sites. It will also be live streamed on our YouTube channel."

And so it was that the Distill family (minus Jess, who's still in Iceland) stood out in the street at 6:00, wrapped up warm, drinks in hand, and watched the aerial firework display. And we weren't disappointed. Somehow, it felt more special to me than the mega-display in the park has ever done. And they were special! 

Afterwards, we sat around a fire in the garden and Naomi served us sausage and squash stew, washed down with wine or beer, followed by marshmallows toasted on the fire and sandwiched between chocolate biscuits. It was a great time of fun and chat and laughter, and we finally went indoors just in time to see the Ten O'Clock News and hear the good news of the US presidential election. Truly a night to remember!