Tuesday, 23 May 2017


We are feeling stunned this morning - the bombing in Manchester Arena and the needless deaths of all the victims are too close to home.

Our son lives in Manchester, as does another good friend, and our grandsons spend time there with their dad.

It is beyond me how to express the horror and fear that event brings into my heart, and indeed, I expect, into the hearts of every parent or grandparent, brother or sister who considers themselves lucky not to be facing that unutterable grief, the rage at the unfairness, the callousness, the supreme thoughtlessness of the person or people who conceived and carried out that bombing.

While we feel that relief that it wasn't one of our own, we cannot shuck off the horror when we consider how other parents, grandparents, family and friends are suffering.

David and I lost a granddaughter to cot death several years ago - we still remember the agony we felt, as grandparents at losing her, but even harder to feel was the helplessness at the suffering of our son and daughter in law, knowing we could do and say nothing that would help ease their pain.

So, we stand beside you, parents and families, friends and neighbours; that is all we can do, and we do it.

In Maori, the word for all that we can offer is awhi - loving support.

Awhi, awhi, awhi.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Norton Junction

After the wettest day's boating we've ever done from Crick to Norton Junction, we decided to stay put for a bit.
In the staircase locks at Watford. No sunshine, but that meant no queue because almost no one else was nuts enough to be out in it.

He does look damp, eh?

My hair usually stands up but rain flattens it. Yes I have the umbrella, but the umbrella stand was useless for under bridges, so I resorted to holding it until my hand hurt and I just got wet instead.

We had a couple of days moored up in a lovely spot with a grand view across the fields.

One of the days was sunny and required for drying out and blobbing after a busy week of boating, and the next one was raining again and required for engine repairs.

On the blobby day I did just that - I was very tired and needed a break from this holiday lark! However at about 10.30 I realised that Dave and Jan would be coming through on their mammoth day heading for Rugby (they had sensibly stayed put at Crick while the precipitation took place). So I texted and invited them to stop off for a quick lunch at the UK's answer to Cafe Rata onboard Waka Huia. Invitation accepted so I made bread and Ministry of Food Cheese Scones (the recipe is here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/food-wine/cuisine/69193940/recipe-ministry-of-food-cheese-scones   They are the yummiest cheese scones ever.)

They don't look as good as the ones shown in the recipe, but they taste divine. As Luke, our builder: he loves them.

Bread ready to bake

And I made a batch of pastry so I could make a cheese tart for lunch with Tim and the grandsons.
After the Carringtons had left we decided dinner would be at the New Inn so I could have a night off cooking. We checked out the menu on an afternoon walk a few locks down the Buckby flight. Chardonnay was by the bottle rather than the glass, so David manfully offered to share. Good thing too, as I would have been comatose if I'd been forced to consume it all, don't you think?

But dinner was a hoot. I ordered a chicken burger with salad and chips - wonderful chips, best I have had for ages. Fat, crisp, heaps of them. The salad was good - varied, colourful and yummy.

However the chicken burger just cracked me up. It consisted (bottom to top) of half a bap, a piece of breaded chicken, half a bap. No butter, no dressing, no lettuce leaf, no piece of tomato, and no piece of beetroot (a key burger ingredient in NZ). I had to take a photo once I had stopped laughing. Seriously, I was in stitches.

I discarded the bap, fought my way into the salad cream sachet (had to ask for assistance from a man at the bar - the sachet was harder to broach than the cheese that accompanies crackers in airline meals) and the mustard sachet (I am a quick learner - see previous parentheses), spread mustard and salad cream on the chicken, mixed them together and ate the chicken and enjoyed every mouthful.

We had intended to travel to Braunston quite early on Friday to find a good mooring, do some grocery shopping, buy some meat the the lovely butcher shop and wait for Tim and the boys to arrive on Saturday. However on Thursday morning, when it was very cold in the morning, we found that the Webasto would not start up. Damn!! We phoned Ed for some advice, tried what he suggested re re-setting it; well, most of it as we couldn't pull out one set of wires from its seat. So Ed said he would come and see us Friday morning to attend to the Webasto and to why the engine was struggling to start.

We agreed to meet in Braunston, but changed our minds and stayed put and had him meet us at Norton Junction. There were three reasons and I am not sure which one was predominant:
  • it was raining
  • the engine was taking three goes to star, and they were three long, noisy blasts of the starter motor and engine struggling, and we had a boat moored right behind us - starting the engine at 6.30am would have been unkind
  • we thought it would make more sense for Ed to hear the engine trying to start for the first time in a day, as it always started just fine after the first time.
 So we arranged for him to come to us at Norton Junction - a five minute difference for him but a 2 hour journey for us.

As a reward I warmed up the remaining cheese scones for morning tea, and made more bread and french onion soup for lunch.

It turned out that every one of the glowplugs were kaput and Ed wondered how we had even managed to get the engine started at all. A drive to Northampton to purchase more and for David to get a couple of key grocery items.
Ed at work, being watched with avid interest by David.
New glowplugs fitted and the engine started first go with only one key turn. Yay!! The Webasto was successfully reset, and Ed also changed its power source from the rather too small battery, and attached it to the step down converter already in place.

The last job was drilling and tapping a few holes to fit bolts to replace ones that had broken/disintegrated in the sliders for the pram cover.

As a celebration, after Ed had headed off home, we cracked open the wine. It was such a relief knowing that the engine non-starting was simply fixed, plus having the Webasto functioning again given how chilly the weather has been.

David was tasked with chopping up carrots for dipping in hummus for dinner (the soup, bread and scones were rather filling and lunch was very late). Somehow, sorting out the TV took precedence and carrots and hummus were forgotten. Not to worry, I had grapes for dinner - fermented grapes, but grapes nonetheless! I decanted myself into bed and slept very soundly ...

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Sunday, Monday, goodbye and hello

Sunday was sunny after a rainy night. Well, I think it was sunny, but my memory cannot be relied upon - after all that was 4 days ago, for heaven's sake!

Our intention was to get to Welford for lunch at the Wharf Inn. But in the meantime, little Neill had to retrieve the car from Foxton. But he also wanted to go through the Husbands Bosworth tunnel. No worries, both could be achieved without any hassle for me, at least ...

Getting ready to enter the tunnel was a bit of a chuckle, as both Neils thought it looked too narrow for two boats to pass in it. They were reassured when I was able to read to them that the sign at the entrance clearly stated it was two way. Good thing too, as we did meet another boat in it - a hire boat whose steerer was rather cautious and pretty much stopped as I approached - I don't think I was intimidating, but I remember my first few tunnel traverses and being reluctant to keep moving at much more than a crawl as I approached another boat.

After the tunnel, we pulled over and chatted with a man with a very familiar face - the barman and server at the Bell Inn at Gumley - where we'd had lunch with Mick and Julia last week. We stopped after the tunnel mainly though so little Neill could cycle back, the 7 miles to collect the car, do a bit of grocery shopping in Husbands Bosworth, and join us at Welford. But the conversation with the Bell Inn man was a bonus!

As the three of us (plus Enzo) proceeded at slow pace towards Welford, big Neil booked a table for lunch, for which we gave ourselves a fairly careful margin. The journey was faster than we'd thought though, so we all had time to get cleaned up before heading for the pub. I'd winded (turned) the boat,  David filled the water tank and we pulled forward to the mooring we would occupy for the night.

A good thing too, as lunch was at least 50% liquid and all but a pint of that was alcoholic (water for me to wash chardonnay down with). We didn't leave the pub till 3.45 and then just sat out in the sunshine on the towpath.

However there was some activity - little Neill repaired a puncture on his folding bike, big Neill covered the other bar stool. However I don't think I did much of anything at all.

Dinner was cheese and salami on toast made with my bread. Bloody hell, I have ODed on gluten recently!

Early bed, then a walk into Welford in the morning before brekkie for little Neill, Enzo and me (I think the others were still in bed ...) - David Carrington had texted asking if we could get him a paper. That was the first I knew there was an actual village and an actual shop! Welford is lovely! And there I was thinking it was just a pub ...

A second and more extensive walk (after brekkie and cake baking) with all of us, then back to the boat for:
  • big Neill doing the dishes and polishing the brass taps (yay!!)
  •  some packing up (N&N), 
  • re-filling with water (D), 
  • selling David the folding bike (N&N, & a willing buyer in D) and 
  • leaving by car (N&N) and 
  • leaving by boat (D&M). 

The contrast - hot is polished with Barkeeper's Friend, the cold is about to be.

Neil standing with feet about a metre apart so his head doesn't reach the ceiling.
N&N were off back to Bude, D&M were off to just past the junction of the Welford Arm to meet up with Dave and Jan Carrington - boaters we met way back in 2002 on the Kennet and Avon. To be honest, they probably wouldn't have talked to us back then if they had known we were on a hire boat - but the one we had had no branding identifying it as such. However they may have guessed we were hiring as I did some daft things based on there being no mooring possible where it said there was a wharf and where we had arranged to meet Melita and her boyfriend.

But talk to us they did, and we became firm friends - we have boated together, stayed at their home, they have stayed with us in NZ. So catching up this season was always going to be a given.

After an eventful hovering at the lock (grumpiness and swearing by two, one of whom was me and the other of whom was not David), we found the Carringtons exactly where we had agreed - I do like it when a plan comes together. A cup of tea on their boat, then off I went back to ours to prepare dinner - 3 courses no less and all very yummy:
  • thai salmon fishcakes (courtesy of Waitrose - defintely will get them again if I can find them) with a homemade sauce garnish of yoghurt, mayo, chilli flakes, chilli chutney, lemon juice, coriander and chives - the last two from the pots on top of the boat;
  • a cassoulet-type dish with a few additions and every vegetable onboard included, accompanied by fresh warm homemade bread
  • rhubarb and cinnamon cake, baked that morning, served with pouring double cream.
A fair amount of wine was consumed by all (natch) and I retreated to bed before the Carringtons left - I did continue to participate in the conversation for a wee while though, but my contribution petered out ...

We spent last night (Tuesday) with the Carringtons too after cruising through the showers to Crick - the route is very attractive, but needs to be taken at more of a sedate pace than we did it - it was boring as there were no locks and David spent most of the time in the cabin. Let's face it, I was lonely!

We all went to dinner at the Red Lion in Crick - lovely food, lovely place, great service and understandably very popular - it got very full from about 7pm on.

We said good bye to Dave and Jan this morning - they had decided to stay put as it was hosing down.

In all of the time we spent together, I didn't take one photo - how slack is that!!!???

Saturday and we put the guys to work!

On Saturday morning, or as big Neil called it, the middle of the night, we got up at about 8 to have brekkie because we were heading up the Foxton Locks – as it happened we were the first ones up – two down before us. But not much traffic there today at all.

Little Neill is working the locks with David and a volunteer lock keeper.

Big Neill is waiting to open the gate and also keeping Enzo under control.

It was quite a quick trip up as we didn’t have to wait for anyone else to come down, and we moored up at the top, and more activity ensued:
·      Neill fixed David’s bike,
·      I prepared the green curry paste for dinner, baked the bread and then we all munched on some of it as …
·      we set off to investigate the incline plane. Magnificent engineering, as are the locks. Bread wasn’t bad either.
·      But wait, there is a choice of pubs below, and true to our friends Mick and Julia, we went into Bar 61 for a drink…

This is where we used the interactive app which we loaded on to my phone. When we stood at this place and aimed the phone towards the incline plane, it showed a moving picture of how it had looked as a boat came up in the caisson. Really impressive - both the technology and the incline plane!

Back on board for BLATs (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) for lunch, using fresh home made bread, and then a short cruise to Bridge 55 near Laughton. Lisa on What a Lark has often mentioned on her blog about how beautiful it is along this stretch, and she's right - it is.
Enzo investigated the roof then came back to consider whether the towel was a suitable place for him to rest.

No, he wanted to be held while Neill steered.
Our mooring place - lovely sun on the solar panels, and a peaceful view for the evening.

Talk about busy in the kitchen: I made more bread as the first two loaves disappeared rather quickly, put the chicken curry into the oven – it was Donna Hay’s green chicken curry, but with substitutions (lemon juice instead of lime, ginger root instead of galangal, chilli flakes instead of green chillies, spring onions instead of shallots, and no fish sauce) so really it isn’t Donna Hay’s green chicken curry at all! But it did taste very yummy anyway. And to be honest, not very different at all from the DH version.

While dinner was cooking, big Neil reupholstered the first of the bar stools for me – little Neill stripped off the old torn covering in preparation, and big Neil made them better than they have ever been – with padding no less! Yay!!!

Big Neil upholstering

Little Neill has finished the stripping off of the old seat covering so he's cuddling that dog again!

 Not sure what David was doing but he was suspiciously quiet …

It was Friday, so it must have been Foxton

Anyway, as I said at the end of the last post, I was awake at quarter past very early. 

However, being awake early meant I could get up and do a bit of work – there was a Lessons Learned Workshop output to translate into suitably worded lessons, so dressing gown and socks on, gas under the kettle turned on for tea, and the webasto heating switched on, and away I went, beavering away at the laptop. Then excitement of excitements: I saw an otter swimming past the boat – I know it was an otter because:
a.    It looked friendly
b.    It was pretty big
c.     I wanted it to be an otter rather than a mink

However I didn’t have a chance to get a photo unfortunately, but I was able to wake David and tell him about it. Well, these things need to be shared and it was about 6am by then, so not early at all!

We had a slow start to boating that day – it was raining and there seemed to be no reason to get wet, especially as Neil and Neill didn’t leave Bude until about 11am and they had far further to travel than we did, some of it fast and some at about the same pace as us through Friday afternoon traffic …

I think this is my happy face. Hard to tell tho as my eyes are almost shut. I need to get better at selfies and practise the open eyes wide at the same time as smiling and selfie-ing. Three things at once are going to be difficult!

The trip up to wind (turn) at Saddington was a bit damp but quiet and peaceful – the wild flowers in the fields across the cut looked lovely – but I do struggle with the plethora of dandelions: we have them in our lawn at home and, to me, their seed heads mean 7 years of weeding, so over here I have to resist the impulse to strip them off and bury them in the rubbish …

The turn was accomplished without David even knowing it was happening as he was down in the boat doing house bitching or technology consultancy or a bit of both. However I was daydreaming as I approached the winding hole, looking at the boats moored a bit further on, and the bow of the boat was almost passed the winding hole before I realised. Note to self: stay alert, Marilyn. You may be travelling at 2.5 mph, but a 62 foot steel craft takes a fair bit of slowing down and stopping! But gently does it, no need to panic, no-one is watching and all is well.

And as we went past Debdale again, I managed not to hit Mick and Julia's boat, the lovely replica working boat known as Unknown Number 3.

So onwards to Foxton, which is usually bustling and busy. But this early in the season it was pretty empty. So finding a mooring was simple – fill with water and then reverse back behind the boat closest to it.

What wasn’t so simple was finding a conveniently located place for Neil and Neill to leave their car for the weekend. I knew where they could leave it, but I had forgotten how far it is from the junction back to the Black Horse Bridge – about a mile. But they are young so no worries. They were stuck in traffic though, so instead of the journey being about 4 or 5 hours, it was closer to 7 hours by the time they got to us. After checking the location of the place to park their car, and going to Foxton's little village shop, we of course had to wait to guide them back to the boat, and where better to wait than in a warm bar of a pub? The Black Horse was pretty good and had a decent chardonnay too. Points indeed!

No drinks for them there tho – there was plenty of wine on the boat (Central Otago Pinot Noir for them for a start, plus the obligatory chardonnay and moscato); all prep for dinner had been done and it was ready to be cooked. Given it was such a wet cool day, I had prepared comfort food: toad in the hole and mash, to be followed by raspberries and cream as a nod to summer. 

But I was really tired (an early start, you understand), and after the main course, I just HAD to sleep, so I retired to the saloon and fell asleep on the couch while the guys had dessert, did the dishes and constructed the bed for David and me on the dinette (with our new Duvalay mattress topper pads – very yummily comfortable) – when Neil and Neill come to stay, we give them our bed as Neill is 6’4”, and the dinette is less than 6’. As it is, he cannot stand up straight in the boat, except at the rear hatch when it’s open… How he copes, I don’t know frankly, but it’s unlikely to ever be a problem for a person like me with duck’s disease, now is it?

After much faffing, we are off!

But before we left, there were lots of things to do. We bought a pair of overalls for David so he could happily get down in the engine bay to clean it up. For some reason, it was pretty damp in there and all the puppy training pads we had placed before we left in 2015 were sodden.

So while I went out to take the rental car back to Leicester, David used the little pump thing to suck up the water in the bilge and wiped down all the surfaces.
Two strange things about this photo - 1) David's hair looks much greyer than it actually is, and 2) he is wearing overalls - for the first time in his life!!

It has been sunny since we arrived, honest! Still in the marina and you can see, if you look with a discerning eye, that the pram cover is attached. You can even see the red tape that was meant to tell me so much - see last post.

See that manky looking swim? Needs a good clean, a rub down, an application of fertan, then a paint! David, prepare yourself ...

Later that day (Tuesday) Ed, our trusty engineer from Four Counties Marine, came to visit and took out the diesel stove - we hated it. We used it two or three times back in 2014 and 2015, but the water pump that was connected to it to heat the radiators whined and the noise was unbearable, mostly for me, but also for David. So we have donated it to Ed - he was the fabulous person who connected all of the radiators to the Webasto in 2015, so we can heat the whole boat easily at the switch of a button, with a hard-working Webasto, instead of just heating water and one radiator - such treatment had gunged it up, and at the same time as connecting up the radiators, Ed had given us a replacement heat exchanger or somesuch important piece of kit to make it function properly.

We also had Mick and Julia come over for dinner on board with us that late afternoon - it was great to catch up with them again. They had returned from a US holiday and were also jetlagged, so it was an early night ...

And finally, on Thursday we were ready to leave the marina, in sunshine no less - warm enough for a short sleeved shirt but not shorts at that point ...
It was sunny so I wore my elegant cap with handsewn hankie neck protection ...

Not sure why David crossed the bridge - oh yes, now I remember: as I came out of the marina entrance, he had to get off the bow and haul me around - I didn't turn widely enough to get around in one go ...

And we tootled about a mile up towards Saddington Bends – we were going to moor up there, all of two miles from the marina. But as we came through Bridge 70, we looked at the view across the cut and decided to stop. Out on to the sunny towpath came the little wine table, bottles, glasses and nibbles and then the chairs. And so we celebrated the first day of any boating on Waka Huia for 18 months.

The wine table is ready, the drinks are poured, I've changed into my shorts and sandals - so where is the photographer?

Aha! There he is, the lovely man!

Happy sheep across the cut

Wildflowers in the evening light.

I think this is hawthorn - I want a tree in our garden at home. So I must check if we can buy it in NZ. The perfume of the flowers is beautiful!

After a walk up to Saddington Bends in the lovely twilight, I had an early night – the airplane cold, cough and snot bugs were still attacking me. But as is usual when I go to bed really early, I wake at quarter past extremely early to compensate for being sleepy early in the evening – methinks this is a self perpetuating phenomenon …

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

The fallibility of data storage systems


We have forgotten so much about the boat and how to set it up in the 18 months since we left nb Waka Huia in the good hands of the folk at Debdale Wharf Marina!

Although we thought we had all of the important information stored carefully in our brains or recorded on paper or in the computer, we got here and found there were gaps in all of those storage facilities. Double and triple AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

And the boat was already pretty full and we have brought more stuff to try and squeeze in. I sense a trip to charity shops coming up before we give back the rental car on Wednesday ...

Our old buddy, Mel, was waiting for us patiently. And although my sister Dee and her husband Murray will no doubt say we are guilty of pet abuse, you can all rest assured he was in fine form and what’s more, he had kept the boat safe from almost all intruders – apart from the brave little spiders that had managed to come on board in spite of the conkers we had stuffed behind the curtains.

So to the embarrassing but short list of things we had forgotten:
·      How/where to turn the water pump back on – that confusion was momentary, to be fair, and not necessary as the DWM people had done it, and filled the tank – which we discovered after David had belayed miles of hose to the tap a couple of jetties away from where we are moored …
·      The ignition – where the hell should the key go? It was obvious that years of hiring from Black Prince where the ignition is on the same side as the throttle had left more of an imprint on the memory than 2 seasons of boating on Waka Huia – we were both hunting on the port side, even though the instrument panel is on the starboard side. Doh!!
·      How to restore power to the freezer (answer: connect up the wires David and Barry disconnected before we left in Oct 2015)

But worst of all, and so bad that I had nearly erased it from my memory, was how to put the pram cover back together! Somehow or another, we managed to mess it up without giving either of us grounds for divorce. But it was a bloody close run thing.

Back in October 2015, I had (well, I think it was me) put red tape on the port side poles and the port side of the curved poles that join up with the starboard ones. And I’d put 1, 2 and 3 pieces of tape on showing the order of them. And I’d noted in the calendar for May 2016 (and then transferred that reminder to May 2017 when we didn’t come over last year) that red denoted port (of course it does – what colour is port, after all?).
·      What I didn’t note was whether the one band denoted forward or stern.
·      And what neither of us could remember was whether the single pole was forward or at the stern end.
·      And what I didn’t check, as we started putting the framing back together was whether the holes for the lugs to slot into actually matched up with said lugs. No they didn’t, dammit, So all change with much teeth gritting!
·      At last we thought we had it right.

So then it was on with the cover. Which of course was another mission of huge proportions. It’s like putting up an old heavy canvas tent. We managed to drop the frame on each other’s heads at different times, and I did some quiet swearing, and neither of those actions got the damn thing sensibly in place and fitting well.

We did stop for a soothing cup of tea, and while that was brewing (well, while the kettle was coming to the boil – making tea on board is much slower than using an electric kettle, so there is plenty of time to do the washing up, the vacuuming, make a batch of scones, , … And if the kettle is slow, the washing machine on a fast wash allows time to travel to London and back. Heaven knows what it would be like on a longer wash, and I am not planning to find out, thank you very much!) we hunted for a photo of the pram cover to see if we could confirm the positions we had put the poles in is correct.

I found a photo on the blog and we did have them in the right place, so off I went out on my own to see if I could make it all work without jeopardising my marriage or resorting to biffing the pram cover into the cut to make somebody else’s day by having it wrap around their prop (see, Jaq, I am considerate really …) I thought it made sense to slacken off the straps – why didn’t I think of that sooner? I also thought it made sense, given I am such a short arse, to drape the cover over the frame with it lying on the roof, instead of being up in position – why didn’t I think of that sooner?

Yes! At last!! Success!!! So out came David to help get it all finished off and erected properly. And apart from feeling embarrassed at how inept we looked to the other boaters around us in the marina, we were very pleased to have sorted it. We are such numpties! I can just imagine my dad or our son Tim looking at us struggling and wondering what on earth we thought we were doing having a boat when we are both so non-DIY.

My first task after that was done was to enter a detailed description of the pole differentiation and the process. I haven’t quite gone to the lengths of drawing up a process flow diagram, but it may come to that …