29 December 2008

Eat, drink and be very fat

My Christmas in a nutshell: Furious eating, furious indigestion, furious walking. Like so many boating bloggers out there, we too have joined the geocaching fraternity and thank god for it: eleven miles and five caches over two days sorted out the bowling ball in my stomach and eased the guilt I felt over consuming my own body weight in turkey and roast potatoes. And ice cream. And chocs.* To eat heartily was good though....in fact, it was bloody fantastic, but you'll be pleased to hear I'm back on the straight and narrow with a rumblin' tum, looking fondly upon a tin of soup and half a Ryvita. With maybe a tangerine segment for pudding...

* I was offered the turkey and sprout consommé by my hosts but just didn't think it in the Christmas spirit to decline the full nosh-up. It is, after all, only once a year...except that we did it all over again on Boxing Day. Hey ho.

22 December 2008

Merry Christmas

To blog readers and especially diet supporters, may I send you warmest wishes for Christmas and the New Year. I will be toasting you all with a lime and soda as I sip my turkey and sprout consommé! 

19 December 2008

I've lost a turkey

According to our Christmas Day lunch hosts, we'll be tucking into a turkey that, avec le Paxo and an orange and apple up its bum, will be topping the scales at close on 25 pounds. So when I look at it next week, I will be face to face with what I have lost since 9 November. Yes, folks, another 3.5 pounds of flab shifted this week has taken me to a 25 pound total weight loss, which I am obviously quite chuffed with. Mind you, the hard work is only just beginning and I'll probably be switching to fortnightly weigh ins from now on. There is nothing worse than slogging your guts out all week only to find you've plateaued...much nicer to go a fortnight and be rewarded with 3 or 4 pounds off instead. Because it's a fact that the rate of loss is going to slow from here on in and I couldn't bear to be disappointed every Friday...might just have to sniff a Crunchie to cheer myself up and that's the fat end of the wedge...

P.S. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to keep my dinner down. It's doing a pretty good impression of a Force 10 outside the hatch and I'm feeling queasy...

18 December 2008

Hey ho and off we go

We’re off to the boat tomorrow, which means the Christmas holidays are here! In fact, it’s been so quiet this week that I think everyone’s got fed up and buggered off early. There’ll be a few work things to finish off on Monday and Tuesday but from then on, it’s books and coffee and chocs and roasting tootsies…oh no, sod it, no chocs. Bummer. I am determined not to undo any (well, not much) of my good work on the dieting front so while I shall be laying about me and demolishing a big dinner on the good day itself, the rest of the time I shall be sat there muttering dark things under my breath as A unwraps yet another Quality Street.

Looking on the bright side, I’ll have a fantastic head start on my New Year’s Resolution (the same one every year) to lose a few stone and I’ll be a couple of weeks nearer my target. If I’m brutally honest, I’m not actually getting a huge kick out of my weight loss this time round – don’t know why, I’m getting lots of support, lots of nice comments, my clothes look like they no longer have a grudge against me, but I can’t get excited about it. I think there is some physical and emotional correlation between eating and mood isn’t there? Well, limiting my intake is giving me the pip more often and not and I’m not exactly bursting with joy. Mind you, in one sense this is a good thing. The last time I dieted on this scale I got so into it that I repeatedly bought new jeans in progressively smaller sizes just because I could. Cost me a small fortune as those were the days when Levis set you back about 50 quid a pop!

I shall also use the holidays to continue my new regime with the dogs. This week I have been dividing the midday walk into two halves – a regular 30 minutes for a gang of 3, then an hour for a pair. My thinking is that if I exercise them more – and in manageable numbers – I will improve our relationship, have more control, make them work a bit harder for things (which is a good thing in doggyland) and generally enhance my leadership credentials and their obedience and passivity. Certainly walking with reduced numbers has been a real pleasure – I’m more confident, I can pay more attention on a one-to-one basis and can assert myself more easily. Monty was so tired after his hour yesterday that he went straight to bed – at 2pm. Today it was the turn of the two fawns, Arthur and Ranger, and they did pretty well, although Ranger was starting to flag on the way back, throwing me his ‘not impressed’ look. I said he should think himself lucky that we’d only done an hour – I could get Caxton Lesley down here and then you’d be gone all day. Every day. That shut him up.

17 December 2008

A spoke in the eye

Now this is curious. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that organizations sending out Christmas cards would take the opportunity to use a relevant image. Indeed, it was lovely to get a seasonal greyhound illustration on my Greyhound Rescue West of England card and a photo of a fleece-adorned lurcher in the snow on my missive from Forest Fleece (dog coats). So how come, when they must have 1001 suitable pics to choose from, did Waterways World send out a card with what looked like a bicycle spoke on the front? Admittedly, a very festive spoke that had a hint of Christmas decoration about it, but still in essence a spoke. That’s like me sending cards featuring the C word – C-A-T-S.

14 December 2008

Dog Whisperer Woe

This morning I really, really wanted a Dog Whisperer walk. Having read a couple of Cesar Millan’s books recently and seen quite a few of his TV shows, I thought today was the perfect time to put some of his lessons into practice. Now don’t get me wrong, the hounds are excellent 99% of the time. There’s no intra pack aggression, they’re hugely friendly towards people, they’re neither possessive nor food obsessed, in fact, they are generally lovely. Unless you’re a cat, that is. Or for that matter, some dogs. Yes, passing some dogs is our one and only ‘issue’ and if I’m to believe the dog man Cesar, it’s all down to the fact that they don’t see me or A as a sufficiently good pack leader, so take the job on themselves. How this manifests itself with a dog they take umbrage with is usually Susie doing a lot of barking and the rest of them looking curiously on until the moment has past and the other dog has gone on their way. So not really too bad…but still a bit worrying as one is always concerned that things may escalate. And of course, the dogs sense the tension we feel and it’s a bit of a vicious circle as they play up to that.

So this morning, we were all ‘calm assertive energy’, walking tall, thinking positively and visualizing a great walk. You can see where this is leading can’t you? I took the decision to keep to the lanes as the fields are so boggy and that’s where the problem started. The main lane we walk down is quite narrow with high hedges either side – there is no space to get into if you want to give your dogs some room in their passing of/encounters with other dogs, but we haven’t really had any problems before so we duly set off, dogs trotting obediently by our thigh. Well, first up, we meet the village psycho dog – lovely owner and I’m sure she’s a lovely dog in the house but she starts to pull violently whenever she sees another dog and the initial ‘I’m going to get you and duff you up’ puffing and panting and choking soon turns into a full-on visceral ‘I’m going to rip your throat out’ bark. Well, this of course is like a red rag to a bull for my own psycho Susie – she can’t abide girl dogs with a bigger attitude problem that she has so she immediately joined in and there was a right old tooing and froing as we got past without them knocking seven bells out of each other. To be fair, as we owners talked at a safe distance they both shut up and I’m sure this is a classic case of letting them off in a field with a muzzle on and letting them sort it out for themselves. The other dog is a grey/lab/Staffie cross and I’m sure would love a good old tear up with Susie – they’d probably end up being bosom buddies. Well, maybe.

As you can imagine, we were somewhat discombobulated by this encounter as we’d had such high hopes for a Dog Whisperer walk, but we took a deep breath and carried on. Two hundred yards further on, we spotted a border collie off lead but with his owner, a hardy Suffolk country type with a crook, just behind and seemingly in control. I mean, every BC I’ve ever met has been intelligent, obedient, placid and biddable…no worries there then.

Even so, I just know that A and I both tensed at that stage but before we had to worry about passing the dog, we had to get the dogs to the side of the road to let a car pass. I had charge of Monty, Ranger and Miffy and A was ahead of me with Susie and Arthur. I had just stood up from keeping their bums in with my hand when Susie lets rip with barking and dancing all over the place. She doesn’t like the collie either seemingly. But then, before I have myself on an even keel, the collie suddenly rushes my group, with Susie looking on frantically but held firmly by A. My immediate thought is to hold Monty as I’m fearful that he’ll react – stupid really as on every other occasion when he’s been faced with a confident dog in his face, he just freezes. I think I just worry about the potential, given his size and strength…

I then look to restrain Ranger but before I can, he’s in there, wrestling the collie and me and Monty and Miffy to the other side of the road. He’s gone for the neck, determined to subdue the interloper and while, in retrospect, I think they would have both worked it out by themselves, one’s natural instinct is to stop the fracas before anything nasty happens. The trouble was, mister with the crook had about as much control over his dog as I did with Ranger and his commands fell on deaf ears. Instead I got a crook up the bum as I moved to take hold of Ranger’s coat to try and restrain him, and then suddenly it was over, with me in the hedge, Ranger looking pleased with himself and the collie bouncing off down the road looking none the worse. He got a right ticking off from his owner mind…something along the lines of ‘You were asking for that, you were’. I was very worried that Ranger may have done him some damage but the chap shouted back that he was fine – I somehow got the impression it wasn’t the first time the collie had enjoyed a bit of rough and tumble with the local dogs.

Looking back now, all the noise and terror and confusion came from the humans, not the dogs – maybe we just make things that much worse? And annoyed as I was at Ranger, I was more annoyed at the chap for not having his dog under complete control. I have no problem with people walking their dogs off lead but they need to have 100% control over them. I can remember our gang passing a collie on the towpath last year – she walked beautifully at heel, eyes ahead and our lot went past no problem. Even so, it was not the behaviour I wanted off Ranger, even if he did think he was protecting the pack – guess he needs to learn who’s boss.

After all this we decided to turn for home and a welcome cup of coffee. On our route back, we had to pass ‘the house with the caravan’. Now ‘the house with the caravan’ is home to a very vocal, very territorial dog, breed unknown. He’s rarely out but when he is, he patrols the hedge that divides his garden from the pavement. And for the hat-trick, he was out today. Off he went, off Susie went, with barking that was apparently heard on South Uist. A tried to manhandle Susie past the garden but she was obviously so wired from the previous incidents that she was completely unmanageable, even turning her ire onto poor, innocent Arthur as he bumped into her accidentally. I was set for a repeat performance from one of my lot as we went past but thankfully, at last, they behaved themselves. In fact, in fairness, Ranger and co do not tend to react to barking dogs on the other side of hedges and fences; Susie speaks for everyone.

You can imagine that we were relieved to get home and whistle up a quick latte to calm our nerves. But then I started to think about why it had all gone so tits-up – what would the Dog Whisperer say? My best guess is that of the five dogs, four of them have the same low energy as A and I do (Monty can run like the wind but he’s very, very laid back indoors). But Susie is different – she is a medium or high energy dog and perhaps she’s not getting sufficient exercise or stimulation as we’re catering for the needs of the lazy majority. Susie is the only one that has a mad five minutes in the living room. Susie is the only one that will run without any stimulus. Susie had her career cut short whereas all the others have raced hard. Susie is a bossy cow. When we travel with all of them in the car, the only one who growls at the others is Susie. We once travelled back from somewhere with two cars and Susie went with A and the rest went with me – god, it was bliss! So I am slowly turning my attention away from Monty, who I thought was the problem because of his nerves, and refocusing it on Susie. (At the same time, I am working on Ranger and reinforcing my boss status – he now waits at the bottom of the stairs for me to call him instead of barreling up past me sending the laundered knickers every which way).

And it’s this refocusing that explains why I was to be seen huffing and puffing up and down the village this afternoon, with a beautiful black greyhound called Susie by my side. She wasn’t puffing, she was just looking at me like I was an idiot, but I do think she enjoyed herself. Interestingly, she jogged perfectly by my side, whereas when we do it as a group she’s always jumping in front of me trying to trip me up. No, throughout all the running bits, she behaved exquisitely, not pulling and only giving a dog on the opposite side of the road a look before turning her attention back to her running. Painful as it was for me, I think we both benefited and certainly when we all went out for our evening walk, the dogs walked extremely nicely, even passing another dog without a whimper. Were they taking their cue from a tired, happy Susie? Who knows but I’ll be keeping up with the Cani-Cross and possibly rotating my running partners more than I originally envisaged. I understand that you can run with two dogs but I sense that may just be asking for trouble and I’ll be back in that hedge before you know it.

12 December 2008

The weight is over

So how did I fare on the scales this morning? Well, I stepped on in trepidation a toe at a time, let go of the wall and discovered that I’d lost seven pounds in two weeks. Or put another way, half a stone in a fortnight, which I suppose is quite good isn’t it? If I could get another half stone off before the end of the year, then I’d be pretty happy – I want this dieting lark to be over by Easter so I can stuff my face with Cadbury’s crème eggs….

P.S. Apparently, a propos of yesterday's post, there's a proper name for running with your dog - it's called Cani-Cross or Canix. I was reading about it last night and my left knee is already hurting in anticipation...


10 December 2008

On the run

Every time I let the dogs off to have a romp, I always feel sorry for Monty who has to stay on his lead. It doesn’t matter how much work I’ve done on his recall, once he’s off, he’s off and totally heedless to anyone or anything. He’s had so many close calls already that I can’t bear to think of something awful happening to him so I keep him close by my side. It doesn’t seem to bother him that much but I know he’d like to exercise his long legs a bit more than he does – what greyhound wouldn’t? Thus I have been pondering how to let him run but run safely. As a fan of Cesar Millan the Dog Whisperer, I have obviously given consideration to rollerblading or cycling but abandoned them both quite quickly as I thought there was every chance that I’d end up in casualty while Monty ended up somewhere west of Cambridge. I thought about a treadmill but realized that that was just lazy and sad, and I ruled out swimming because while there are adult and child prices at the local baths, there’s no dog tariff – curious that.

Then I remembered – in my halcyon days, I used to run…well, jog. As part of a former weight loss regime, I decided I’d get fit by jogging and I built up from a ’20-yard-stagger-and-where’s-the oxygen’ first attempt to a ‘this is a breeze 5km’ on a regular basis. But that was then and this is now. I’m still horribly overweight and having broken my leg five years ago, the old left pin is not as cooperative as it once was. However, on a positive note, I am getting lighter and if I don’t overdo it, there’s no reason why my leg shouldn’t stand up to a bit of moderate impact. And best of all, I’ll have a running mate this time round – what better incentive do I need to get back on the road than knowing Monty’s benefitting from it as much as I am? And one thing’s for sure: no-one’s going to shout abusive names as my wobbling bum recedes into the distance with him by my side. Do you want to say that again, sonny? Monty didn’t hear you…

I probably won’t start until the New Year now…I’d like to lose a few more pounds first and then I can enjoy a bit of retail sales therapy and choose some ridiculous looking trainers. I’ll have to help him with the laces though.

Young Geoff on Seyella, do you have any training tips?

08 December 2008

A week in pictures

07 December 2008


Well, all good things must come to an end and here we are, back at home, having enjoyed a simply scintillating week on the Llangollen. It's fantastic to know that even after all these years, a cruise can instil such feelings of excitement and joy and we're not getting blase and jaded in our old age. Having waited over thirty years to do this particular canal, it didn't disappoint - indeed, it exceeded all my expectations and it was with real regret that we pointed the car south this morning.

Looking back, we were blessed with generally excellent weather, ever changing, ever dramatic landscapes, a glorious isolation and solitude that were only reinforced by the singular lack of boats on the move, all building towards a most magnificent climax as we chugged up to the head of the canal, with aqueducts and mountains vying for top billing.

Once we'd turned around first thing Thursday, we absolutely zipped back, tying up 3 days and 43 miles later just after 11am this morning. I think Saturday's cruising must rate as one of my finest ever days at the tiller, the stillness, the limpid blue skies, the sheer peace all combining with the beautiful countryside to raise things to near heavenly proportions. Oh why did it have to end?

Mind, I did learn a few things this week:

1) Thank god for thermal underwear - a life (and nipple) saver
2) I need to buy some gloves and boots with thermal insulating properties
3) We need to stop working as soon as possible
4) We need to get the Mikuni fixed
5) You can only drink so many cup-a-soups in a day
6) You can't coil a frozen rope
7) Dieting and boating don't mix - I would have killed for a curry (but womanfully resisted)
8) We need to encourage Ranger not to get on the bed at 3am - using me as a springboard
9) We are totally, utterly privileged to be able to do this

04 December 2008

Going with the flow

Now that we're going with the flow, we’ve aquaplaned to New Marton in record time, getting here so promptly in fact that we decided an early finish was called for. Apart from getting stuck on something in the run up to Trevor, we’ve had a relaxed cruising day marred only by some dodgy weather for some of the time. But we’ve also had a decent slug of blue skies and sunshine so we’ll count ourselves lucky. We’re once more moored in the middle of nowhere which means the dogs can have a bit of off-lead time.

Mind you, there was a case of copybook blotting this morning from Mr Monty who decided to lunge at a passing dog. It wouldn’t have been so bad except dog and master fell back in surprise only to find that the towpath sheered off down a steep bank. With profuse apologies, we helped them on their way and the chap was actually very decent about the whole thing. I’m still trying to fathom out why Monty behaved the way he did when he’d been so good yesterday passing all sizes of dog without a murmur? Was it because today he was being walked by A, not by me (the ultimate top dog, of course)? Was it because this time he was with Arthur and not Ranger, the alpha boy? Was it because A was walking those two ahead of my three whereas yesterday Susie was in the lead with Arthur, and Monty was bringing up the rear? I am convinced that this morning’s episode was down to him trying to protect us but being pretty rubbish at it. Thankfully, he doesn’t go in with teeth bared, barking and growling with his hackles up, but because he’s such a big, strong dog, he is quite enough on his own to put the wind right up you. I am still at a bit of a loss so if there are any dog behaviourists out there who’d like to venture an opinion, go for it.

Now, before I sign off, I must just let you know about the recent addition to the dogs’ capsule wardrobe. They’ve been sporting their new bespoke designed ‘boat coats’ this trip and very snazzy they look too. Each coat has the boat’s name embroidered on one bum cheek and the dog’s name embroidered on the other – just in case we forget who’s who. My thanks to the wonderful Sioux Rix at Forest Fleece for these magnificent creations. It comes to something when your dogs are better dressed than you are…

03 December 2008

Monty on the Ponty

Well, where to start? Perhaps at the end would be best. We’re here all snug as a bug in the delightful little mooring basin at the end of the Llangollen, plum tuckered out after an afternoon’s exploration. Funny thing is, we hadn’t planned on staying as we were on a tight schedule. It was going to be a quick in and out, stopping just long enough for water and rubbish, and then we’d point our nose east for the return journey. But as you well know, serendipitous things happen on the cut and we met some friends in the basin who urged us to stay for at least the night so we could go and have a look round. We didn’t take much convincing, to be honest – well, why be your own boss if you can’t make unscheduled changes to your holiday plans?

So we locked up and toddled off with the dogs down to Horseshoe Falls. It was a bit dicey underfoot as the winter sun hadn’t permeated through to melt much of the ice but we came through unscathed. And it was very well worth the effort – not only was it extraordinarily pretty on what had remained a classic winter’s day but there was also a sense of real achievement in getting to the very end of the canal, albeit on foot. It appears that horseboats work this stretch and A was all for harnessing the dogs up and trying it ourselves. I gave him a look, mindful that it had been difficult enough up to now without having a crack at something with a No Entry sign at the beginning.

Oh yes, there were two or three occasions at least when I thought we’d fall short of our ultimate destination. The notorious Llangollen flow coupled with too little water under the boat made for painfully slow going wherever the channel narrowed. Most of yesterday seemed to be spent going backwards as we crawled an inch at a time over the aqueducts and through the tunnels. Passage through the latter was particularly difficult as the flow kept pinning you to one side and I had to crab along the whole way. For a while I thought it was just me but then I saw a following boat experience exactly the same difficulties. Today’s trundle through the narrows on the approach to Llangollen itself meant more of the same, with occasional underwater obstacles forcing me to retreat and take a run up to get past/over them. My tiller arm is sore and tired but I guess we will absolutely zoom back on the return trip.

There was a blogger sighting as well this morning, as Elsie and dog Ben of Bendigedig hoved into view on their morning walk. Typical dog owner, I recognised Ben before I recognised Elsie – sorry Elsie and lovely to see you again!

Tomorrow we return over the aqueducts. Now coming over yesterday was okay, with Chirk being a slightly more comfortable proposition than the Ponty. I’m okay with heights but I don’t really love them that much, so I was obviously keen to regain the other side of the canal and get out of mid-air. My unease wasn’t really helped by the fact that A kept ogling over the non-towpath side and saying ‘Coo, isn’t it high up here’ and ‘You’d never be able to get your boat out of this metal trough’; all the time there’s me, looking straight ahead, clonking the side every two seconds, thinking the whole structure looks horribly precarious and whose stupid idea was it to come here anyway?

But it was all worth it because as soon as you turn at Trevor, the canal delivers its ‘save the best for last’ smack in the kisser, with hills and mountains rising up before you with little white houses nestled in their folds and ridges. It may as well have said Welcome to Wales in forty foot high letters – we loved it!

Today’s walk also told me something I didn’t know. I have always wondered a bit about Ranger, as to whether he’s a bovver boy where other dogs are concerned. I’ve never really let him that close to another dog to find out but today we met a lovely chap who was doing some work around the hotel near the Falls. His little dog – a Border Terrier sort – was actually chained up and we didn’t spot him at first until he came out of hiding and announced himself in front of Susie and Arthur. The owner returned at that point to take his dog out of the way so we could get past – in fact, he picked him up and I was feeling so relaxed that I let Ranger approach to have a sniff. He was absolutely fine, not even reacting when the dog growled at him. Then Susie went over to do her ‘Call me madam’ act and she remembered her manners as well – amazing. Monty was okay with it all too and Arthur and Miffy couldn’t have cared less, so I was greatly cheered by the results of this cautious meet-and-greet. Maybe I should just stop getting so worked up by the whole thing but I am a bit wary of the pack mentality – five against one isn’t really fair is it?

I’ve also had to put up with some moans today from himself. He’s claiming that the weight’s falling off so fast that he’s had to take his belt in by three notches and that this may still not be enough to stave off a flash of boxer as his jeans fall down around his bum. I should add that he is not officially on a diet but as I’m living on short commons, so is he – most of the time. I was kind enough to include a stash of Ginsters pasties in the boat provisions – he’s unkind enough to eat the damn things in front of me. Have men no sensitivity to these things? You can stuff your face, just don’t do it in front of me. I mean, I’m so desperate, I’m eyeing up tiny bits of Steak and Onion slice that have fallen onto the deck…

01 December 2008

Monty on the Monty

Well, wasn’t December 1st ushered in in style? We woke to a real winter wonderland, a heavy overnight frost coating everything in hoary white. In fact, it was so glorious that I had been out of bed for a whole five minutes before I even thought of food. I’m usually dreaming about it as I crawl out of unconsciousness…

I thought it was going to be another heavenly day as we pulled away, noting as we did so that we hadn’t actually seen another living soul from the time we’re moored up the previous evening to the moment we let go this morning. Sadly, the weather did deteriorate and for most of the day we had cloud, interspersed with the odd blue sunny patch and indeed the odd snow flurry. However, stoical me stayed at the tiller all day and I was rewarded with some very attractive evening sunset stuff in the distance. I have to say, the Llangollen is surprising me. It’s wider than I’d imagined for a start, and has all sorts of different characteristics depending on how far along you are. At times it reminds me of the South Oxford, at others the Leicester Arm and of course, the Shroppie influence is never far away. But through the primordial mosses and the meres, from Whixall through to Ellesmere, it really does have a personality all of its own. The film Deliverance kept coming to mind for some reason…

We saw four boats on the move, which is four more than yesterday. These included two intrepid Canaltimes and Braidbar No 51, Cedar. I really should keep a Braidbar spotters’ book as I’ve seen a fair few now, although I’ve still to clap eyes on my blogging muse Bruce of Sanity. One day….

So we’re now moored up just past Frankton junction, and we’ve settled down for the evening having taken Monty along the Monty. I don’t think he appreciated the link as he just kept cocking his leg everywhere, but we enjoyed the trundle down to the bottom of the locks and back again. In fact, we’re enjoying everything about this trip and in the winters of the far distant future, I can see cold cruising in Clwyd easily vying with motorhome marauding in Morocco. I mean, A only wants to do the latter because he fancies wearing a fez….maybe I could cut down a traffic cone….

P.S. I'll be posting all my pics retrospectively when I'm back on something resembling an internet connection. If I hang out the side hatch jiggling my dongle, I may well get frostbite on my particulars and we wouldn't want that, would we? I think losing parts of my anatomy is going a bit far diet-wise...

30 November 2008


It’s days like today that remind you why you love narrowboating so much. The early morning mist gave way to clear, crisp skies lit by a wintery sun, just the perfect backdrop to a cruise through the gorgeous Cheshire/Shropshire/Welsh countryside. I’m so glad that we didn’t have our views obscured today because it was really wonderfully pretty…why do people go hell for leather to get down to Chirk and beyond when it’s so tempting to linger further down the cut?

Amazingly, we were the only boat on the move today. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, apparently, it had been boat carnage at Grindley Brook, according to a couple of friendly gongoozlers. No such problems for us today as we zoomed up unmolested and untroubled. I decided to get some exercise by doing a couple of the lift bridges and I’m now absolutely shattered…I can’t believe how out of condition I am. Or maybe I’m just lacking vital energy as a I nibble on my mung beans and cress….

The dogs have had a great old romp on the towpath this evening as we’re miles from civilization and well clear of any sheep. We’d passed a notice earlier warning that any dogs found worrying sheep would be shot, so we weren’t going to take any risks. It’s Ranger’s ninth birthday tomorrow but you wouldn’t know he was that old from the turn of speed he showed earlier – he was a good sprinter in his day and I think he’s still got it. Mind, he did tend to accelerate more when he could sniff a treat in my hand…

So a great day all in all. Easy locks, despite the odd fierce bywash, scintillating scenery, perfect weather, hot coffee on tap and a warm fire to come down to. Full time liveaboarding? Bring it on.

29 November 2008

Dog in the fog

Gosh, the Llangollen Canal is beautiful, isn’t it? Well, I’m guessing it is as we haven’t been able to see a thing all day. Yes, the foggy shroud was a permanent fixture of today’s cruise but it didn’t spoil our enjoyment. We only saw three boats on the go from start to finish, which is about as busy as we like it.

From all of this you will gather that we have at last begun our holiday. We are now moored just past Marbury Lock having enjoyed a very pleasant day’s pootling, although I was hallucinating half the time and seeing bacon sandwiches and chocolate Hobnobs on the hatch in front of me. The good news is that I didn’t wilt under the pressure of an insidious damp cold that tried to crawl up my Damart and down into my boots; more importantly, amidst all my angst, my stern rope remained neatly coiled on the back of the counter rather than being kicked into the cut. You see, I am in rehab, having been a tiller pin rope dangler in a former life.

Tomorrow, we’re planning on an early start but that sort of depends on whether we’ll be able to see our hands in front of our faces. Or indeed, a bridge or lock or similarly solid objects….

Oh, and just before you ask, yes, I’m coming to that. Weight loss this week was four and a quarter pounds – not bad. Sue of Indigo Dream was wondering whether I’d gained 30 kgs in the shape of a new greyhound…no……well, not yet….

25 November 2008

Scalloped edge

A low point has been reached. At today’s client lunch, when asked ‘Would madam like a side order?’, madam replied with the soul-crushing, never before spoken words, ‘Mixed leaf salad, please’. Oh god, that things should come to this….

In fact, they’d already reached a pretty pass on Saturday when we went down to Kent for lunch with A’s mum. There on the menu, leering at me, teasing me, seducing me was not one, not two but three of my favourite puds: sticky toffee, spotted dick and Eton Mess. I contented myself with just scallops. Again. I had them for lunch on Thursday and funnily enough again for lunch today. In fact, now I think about it, I am bloody sick of scallops and want a Big Mac.

Moving on....Is it only idiots that keep making the same mistake? Or maybe gluttons for punishment? We know what happens when we call into the greyhound rescue kennels ‘just to have a look’. We know, we’ve been there, got the T-shirt, got the stupid dog with his tongue hanging out in the basket, farting for England. And so why, oh why, did I say on Saturday morning, ‘Oh, as we’re going to see your mum, let’s call into Croftview on the way and have a look at the inmates.’ Big mistake…possibly. Watch this space.

P.S. We're off up to the boat on Friday and the first thing I'll be doing is dusting off my thermal underwear. I could do without the Arctic winds whistling up my jumper next week and there's only going to be a Cup o Soup between me and incipient hypothermia. I'll have to ensure the galley slave keeps a continuous supply of hot drinks coming my way, although the effort of keeping warm does burn off the calories, I believe. See, every cloud....

21 November 2008

Aweigh we go

I know that this is the highlight of your week, tuning in to see if I've actually lost anything other than my marbles. Well, let's just say this....the boat will have six pounds less ballast now! Yep, I've lost a round half dozen pounds which is pretty good even if I do say so myself. Okay, so I've had to cut my arm off to do it but hey, no pain, no gain!

19 November 2008

Rumble, rumble


Actually, it's not that bad - in fact, I feel fantastic and the jeans are definitely feeling looser. I'm delighted that I have managed a few days away in the van and not given in to the urge to splurge. Whether I can maintain this iron self-control on the boat is another matter but I'm quietly confident. We toddled back home today, via a client meeting for me, and I'm now enjoying watching something that actually resembles quite a decent football team. Let's hope they can keep it up for the second half.

And let's hope that I can keep this up for another 9 months...One good thing though, I'm saving money. Small lattes don't cost as much as my usual bucket size...And there's no pain au raisin either. Or muffin on the side. Or a caramel shortbread for later...

18 November 2008

I'm a dieter, get me out of here

Work’s quite tedious isn’t it? If we hadn’t had to work today, we could have quite happily walked the dogs for miles around the forests, although I’m not too sure how the dogs would have felt about it. Most of the time here, they’ve spent looking upwards and crashing into trees as a result – well, if you will follow the squirrels rather than look where you’re going, what do you expect? But sadly, despite the gorgeous Autumn weather with all those leaves underfoot just ripe for the kicking, we had to stay in instead. Okay, so we’ve made real inroads into our respective workloads, which is just as well considering we’re off on hols a week on Friday. And we have managed a few decent dog walks as well, so no-one’s suffering. Well, only me. 

Do you know how difficult it is to only get one Twix out of a packet? To open a pack of Wagon Wheels and fish out just a single round? To count your Cocoa Pops into a bowl while someone simply upends the packet into his? It’s trying, believe me. And I have concerns now about the holiday as A is always in charge of the galley. In former, fatter times, that would mean that no cup of coffee or tea would ever come out the back unaccompanied: there would always be a liberal garnish of biscuits and sweets. Lunchtime would also be suitably marked, with A proudly thrusting out his latest concoction for me to admire and then devour. Bacon usually features. And then a few crisps here, a few snacks there….The obvious solution is not to have naughty things on the boat in the first place but that seems a bit unfair on A who is quite happy with just the one KitKat whereas I seem to have some pathological need for three. Ooh, hang on a sec – light bulb moment…get him something I don’t like!  Easy. Dark chocolate. Bourneville. Large bar of. I’ll add that to my list. Under satsumas. Two tonnes of. 

17 November 2008

The Iron Lady

First off, my thanks to Lesley of Caxton, Sue of Indigo Dream and Julia of Even Balance for their support and best wishes in relation to the Diet of the Century. It’s funny, this boating/online community thing, because although I have had the pleasure of meeting Lesley, feel as though I know Sue through our blog exchanges and shared love of greyhounds, I wouldn’t know Julia if she passed me in the street. She’s a perfect stranger in that respect. And yet she is paradoxically a friend because she, like me, is a ‘Friend of Snecklifter’ and if you are a FoS, you are a friend of mine. Through the Holloways weblog, I know about Jess the dog, for example, in much the same way Julia knows about my wild bunch. And these ‘virtual’ acquaintances are none the poorer for being virtual (for the moment at least), as can be seen by Julia’s very kind gesture of donating a fee for a professional survey to the Retired Greyhound Trust – a great fillip for me on Sunday night just as I was getting really, really hungry. The fridge door was banged shut immediately. I do very much hope that one day I’ll get to say thanks in person, albeit as a greatly reduced person.

Now to the weekend just gone. Flippin’ ‘eck, that was the severest test of my self-control that I’ve had in a long time. The motorhoming newbies duly arrived on Saturday and before they’d even plugged in the power they were whipping the cork out of a bottle of red. Within the hour they had some sausages on the go and it sort of went on from there, a continuous stream of food and drink until they left on Sunday afternoon. Amidst all this temptation, I took a little of what I fancied and stopped there, while others who shall remain nameless got on the Eats bus and went to Chocolate Roll Square via Mince Pie Avenue, with a small diversion up Old Speckled Hen Lane. I sucked on a satsuma.

In retrospect, my iron will did not impinge on the weekend in terms of how much I enjoyed it, which is a good thing. I don’t think it would have been any better for eating three rashers of bacon rather than the one modest one I did have, as it was the company that mattered. But I’d be lying if I said it was easy…I don’t think I’ve ever coveted a banger quite so much as I did on Sunday morning and the grilled tomato substitute just didn’t cut it somehow. However, if it takes me closer to my target and earns some dosh for the greyhounds, it will be worth it.

We’ll be here in the forest until tomorrow afternoon as we have an invite to a pub quiz down the road in Nantwich tomorrow evening – more public eats, so another test of will. If sticky toffee pudding’s on offer, I might be a goner. A girl can only resist so much…I don't even want to think about the four lunches in eight days that I've got coming up. Maybe I could smuggle Ranger in under the table? I can see it now - "Yes, he's an assistance dog. He's assisting me with my diet". I don't think anyone could quibble with that..







14 November 2008

Pound for pound

Here we are, playing pixies in the forest…we had a good drive up (just two small lattes on the way for personal fuel) and are now ensconced in Sniffy Dog Paradise…or Chasing Squirrel Nirvana, take your pick. I took the hounds for an explore this afternoon and they loved it, but it has tired them out a tad so they’ve taken to my bed to sleep it off. It was really wonderful to do a walk of that length without any sciatic trouble – my osteopath-cum-acupuncturist has really sent it on its way and it’s only when you are without pain that you realize just how wearing and debilitating constant pain actually is. Three cheers for acupuncture, which was the treatment that worked the miracle. I’m a fan for life. Shame needles in your bum can’t help with weight loss…

Ah, yes, you’re waiting for the news aren’t you? I’ve decided that I will publicise my week’s achievements on a Friday – before the weekend can wreak its damage. Well, bearing in mind this is a short week as I only weighed myself for the first time on Monday, I can tell you that as of this morning I have lost 4 pounds. Not a bad start but it also seems scant reward for my superhuman efforts of the past few days – but no, I must be patient. This is no ‘quick-fix, starve, cry, faint, fall over, sod it, give in and pass me the Dairy Milk’ type strategy, which is doomed to failure and just makes you fatter than before. No, it’s a medium-to-long term re-education of my eating habits. (And I wrote that with a serious expression on my face). Mung bean anyone?

P.S. When (not if) I hit my target, I am going to make a donation to greyhound charities with monetary pounds equaling fat pounds lost. Anyone who would like to show some support and solidarity for two good causes by adding to that donation in a small way, you’re most welcome here.

13 November 2008

Oh cod

In the years BD (Before Diet), going to London usually had its compensations in the form of a slap-up client lunch at someone else’s expense. So whereas once I would have been found eagerly getting outside three scrummy courses, today I had to tiptoe round a gorgeous menu for some diet-friendly food. The result – Parma ham and melon for starters, roast cod on a tiny bed of spinach for mains. Hardly enough to fill a mouse. No bread. No pudding. No petits fours. Just a coffee and some chewing gum on the way home. Whoopee do.

The one consolation was that I survived one of my greatest challenges – maintaining self-control in the face of haute cuisine. I usually crumble and stuff three baskets of bread before I’ve even adjusted my napkin. Bit of a hollow victory though…actually, more like a hollow stomach…

I’ve got another challenge coming up too, an arguably much tougher one. We’re away in the van this weekend, heading to Cheshire and the Delamere Forest. We’re helping our friends who are first timers – they’re arriving on Saturday for their ‘motorhoming and campsite’ induction in a 24 footer they’ve just bought. Why they should want to learn at the knee of a couple who crashed their first van within 30 minutes of picking it up, I don’t know. Anyway, it will be tough for me because, whenever I’m in the van or on the boat, I’m always so happy and carefree that I just think sod it, I’ll eat what I like. So I’ve taken the precaution of doing a ‘diet shop’ this evening at Tesco – that means there’ll only be healthy, boring things on board, and no KitKats or Pringles to seduce me. A came with me and was trying to sabotage my plan at every turn, until I lost him in the Christmas aisles. He eventually reappeared and while no guilty pleasures went into the trolley, there was a curious bulge about his person…He’s having Hot Balls and Beans on toast tonight…don’t know what made me think of that…

12 November 2008

Dancing dog

As a fan of Strictly, I'm well aware of the amazing powers of dance when it comes to weight loss. So as I was making a coffee this morning, I started doing a jig in the kitchen (well, I don't want to overdo it) to some Motown track Ken Bruce was playing. I jigged over to the tap to fill the water reservoir of the machine, I jigged back to the microwave to heat up the milk, I jigged generally in the middle of the room and then..I was tripped up by Ranger,  who wanted desperately to join in but whose attempts at dancing with his mummy make John Sergeant look like Fred Astaire. You can't fault him for keenness or indeed bounce (maybe the jive is his strength?) but he does lack a certain poise and coordination. I think he's relying on the public vote to keep him out of the dog house...

11 November 2008

A slipper up

Sometimes I can be a bit thick. Despite having a good degree from a very fine university, I can on occasion forget that I have any brain cells whatsoever.

Take today for instance. I own five greyhounds at the last count, yes? And I have to go and buy a pair of slippers that don’t just set records for furriness but also do a fair imitation of a small mammal. As a result, the dogs have been savaging my feet all afternoon, with Ranger and Monty at one point undoing me with a sly pincer movement. They think it's Christmas come early. The slippers are lovely and cosy though...well, were....

10 November 2008

A load of bilge

The weekend passed in an oily, greasy, bilgey haze as we set to sundry engine hole based tasks, including a rather assiduous sucking up of water from every nook and cranny. This was due to me wanting to test my new liquids extractor (more thorough than the pump), and in particular its marvelously long and flexible probe which just stuck its nose in everywhere and slurped everything up like a good ‘un. Result? One dry and reasonably clean bilge, which with all the rain we’ve had over the past 48 hours, is probably all awash again. Hey ho. Oh, and those swans had the temerity to come back and start attacking my boots…while my feet were still in them. That merits an avian ASBO in my book.

We also tested out a new coal, Multiheat, which I believe Bruce of Sanity has had a bash with. I found it burnt cooler and longer than Excel and it might be an option to mix the two together as Excel does go with a bit of a whoosh. The boat resembles a coal bunker as I took the car up the road to the coal merchants and stocked up on 5 bags of Excel before being persuaded to try the Multiheat – so that was another two bags.  I think we’re sitting a tad lower in the water now.

We’re pretty much ready for our hols though – a water top up and a pump out as we leave are all that’s required. I’m busily praying to the weather gods that we get some beau temps – having had to cancel our autumn fortnight because of work, I’d be extremely miffed if rain (or tempest, flood or plague) stops play.

Back home and today I’ve done my best to see something appetizing in tomatoes – a light but zesty dressing helped – but I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be a long few months. I’m praying at the altar of St Sue of No Problem, patron saint of blogging, boating weightwatchers…

09 November 2008

Weighty issues

It may be inspired or it may simply be desperate but I’ve bought a little application for my iPhone called Weightbot. Yes, folks, you can punch in your target weight and record on a day-by-day basis your dramatic weight loss, and then see it in a graph for that ultimate inspiration – oooh, just look at that downward trend. I’m hoping that it may keep me on the straight and narrow although it’s already been responsible for a minor coronary this evening as it forced me onto the scales to ascertain my starting weight. Cries of ‘No coach parties please’ resounded round the bathroom and I’ve started to look very charitably on the dogs as potential ‘siphonees’ of my meals. I will go public in this blog on my weekly pounds shed – and if I put on, you have my permission to call me a backsliding fattie.

07 November 2008

Swan song

Now how difficult can the last dog wee of the day get?  Well….I turfed them out at about 11pm last night and we trailed round the grass outside the boat, dogs tiddling, me counting them off and checking that they’d all gone. With everyone done, we started heading back to the boat when suddenly Monty spotted the young swan that has been hanging round of late. It was swimming along the pontoon, coming up to the bows of the boat and basically right in line with the front doors. Monty doesn’t like much, swans included, so he kicked off and I decided to retreat and calm him down, worried that he might have a go at the swam and/or vice versa.

Unfortunately Mr Swan was very interested in any mossy morsels he might be able to scrape off the decking so was in no hurry to go to his bed – unlike me who, clad in only a T-shirt and jeans, was feeling a tad on the cold side and extremely tired to boot. I thought that I’d make a run for it and see if I couldn’t quickly chivy them past and into the safety of the boat. The only problem was just at that moment, gliding serenely out of the darkness, came mum and dad. Unlike normal parents, who would have cuffed their sprog lightly round the beak and told them to get back to the nest, they were more than happy to encourage their wayward child to hang around dark watery alleys at night. In fact, they started feasting on the decking too, which meant that I now had to get past three swans if I wanted to go to sleep.

Monty found his voice again when he clocked the new visitors and was becoming increasingly agitated, and still the swans wouldn’t bugger off. Aha, I thought, time for a cunning plan…I’ll get A to hang out the side hatch and create a diversion with a cheesy topped roll. I called out to him through the front doors..he was sitting at the dinette but didn’t hear me. I called again…and again…and again. I even picked up some gravel and threw it at the cratch glass. Still he didn’t hear me. It was only about 10 minutes later that he finally came out to find out what was going on. Nice of him to be so concerned that his wife and dogs had disappeared for 20 minutes – we’re usually back in less than five after Last Wees.

Anyway, Operation Divert A Swan was put into successful operation though I was praying as I ushered each dog down the pontoon and onto the boat that A wouldn’t peak too early and throw all the bread out before we were safely inside. However we made it back unmolested. They were back today mind, circling with intent…and we’re out of bread. If we get a repeat performance tonight, then I’m going to have to rely on A and a Pot Noodle.

06 November 2008

Busy bees

Well, here we are again roasting once more in the bullion-smelting environment that is a narrowboat with a solid fuel stove. We’ve come up on the pretext of fettling the boat for our hols at the end of November but it’s also a handy hiding place for the dogs as the UK goes firework crazy for the week. One good thing about November on the cut... it’s as quiet as the grave, such a refreshing change from all the crush and bother of summer. Today has been very still, perfect in fact for winter cruising so I’m crossing my fingers that we get more of the same in three weeks’ time. I did foolishly say that we were going out whatever the weather…

The one downbeat note is that we’re back on a diet. This was due to an unfortunate encounter with a full length mirror at Stansted Airport the other day. Yeuughhh….The boat only has one small bathroom mirror, just big enough for checking whether you’ve got toothpaste round your mush –  that’s what you want in the morning, not something that cruelly disabuses you of the notion that you are thin and gorgeous. So we are suffering….and that’s not the royal ‘we’; no way am I doing this on my own. The trouble with dieting, and I speak from vast experience, is not curtailing your intake – willpower soon brings down the daily calorie totals – it’s coping with the sheer boredom of a world without food. Writing this post would be so much more fun if I was dipping into the Quality Street tin that’s staring at me (a leftover from our last stay, before you start!)  As it is, I’m counting the minutes to supper and even the dogs’ dinners are not safe from my fuelled-by-starvation predatory ways…

We’ve had one job added to Saturday’s list – the Mikuni is playing up so A’s going to take a look. I’m praying that it will be a small fix otherwise I have visions of the dinette being pressed into service as a workbench and screwdrivers being waggled in anger. And he’s like a dog with a bone when it comes to getting to the bottom of things so it could be a long day…and night come to that. But we also have to find time for a pump out, a diesel fill, a water top-up, a trip to the chandlery, an oil and filter change, a check on a suspect gas bottle, a general polish up of the boat, plus a mosey up to a nearly coal merchant to stock up for the cruise, not to mention walking the gang three times. However, if we do get everything done, then we can just sally forth without any faffing around come holiday time. I am so determined to get out and get to Llangollen and back – it feels like an age since I’ve been at the tiller and I want to reassure myself that I can still do it!

I reckon this trip will be the final reckoning for my rear fenders. I’ve got a very saggy single button (cue ribald comment from N.B. Caxton) which is wedged over a tipcat. Having called into Tradline last Saturday, I learnt that the optimum configuration for fenders was actually tipcat, tipcat and single button, whereas I’d been toying with the idea of a tipcat and double button. So we’ll be working towards the tip-tip-but set-up for next season but at over two hundred quid it’s not exactly cheap. The upshot is that it should last that much longer.

Stay tuned for more dog coat news….there’s a furtive plot afoot to plunder A’s Paypal account to further develop the canine capsule wardrobe. I’m hoping that there will be firm developments within a couple of weeks.

Note to self: If you ignore a whining dog repeatedly and snuffle under the duvet rather than get up, it can only be a matter of time before he runs up and down the boat spraying wee everywhere.


02 November 2008

Mixed bag

Mmm, a bit of a curate's egg, this week with a couple of highs, a sad low and a corking finish. The sad low revolved around a report from Greyhound Gap about a greyhound that had gone missing off a walk in the New Forest. Despite a concerted search effort over six days, little Meg was found too late - my thoughts are with the owner, as this must be every dog owner's worst nightmare. The boys and girls got an extra hug that night.

On a more upbeat note, I am writing this post with my lovely new Mac laptop. I have been thinking about 'going over to the other side' for a while now as I have become increasingly frustrated with just how crap Microsoft is. It's so bloated and generally rubbish that it's turned my powerful Sony Vaio into something resembling a Fisher Price toy. I was in the 'should I, shouldn't I' stage when I happily read of Nev off Water Lily's positive experiences with his new MacBook. Then I recalled that the undisputed Mac blogging 
king, Bruce of Sanity, never seems to suffer the same PC-related trauma that the rest of us endure on a regular basis. That more or less sealed it so I went onto Amazon, gritted my teeth, avoided looking at the price, and popped a shiny new plaything into my basket. And the verdict? Well, I was converted in about...er....10 seconds...Not only is it a thing of beauty but it is incredible intuitive, quick and reliable. No more waiting for a week for my Vaio to wake up from hibernation...no more applications going crash, bang, wallop in that disobliging way they have. I have seen the future and it is Apple shaped. Like me...

Another high spot of the week was tootling off to London to see French and Saunders live. We're great fans and as it's their last ever tour, we thought it worth the effort of pushing through the crowds on a rainy evening. They gave us a cracking couple of hours and it was really quite poignant at the end as they said their goodbyes and called time on their 30 year partnership.

But leaving the best to last, we come to yesterday's visit to new stalking targets...oh, no, sorry,  I meant, new pals, Joe and Lesley on Caxton. First of all I got some grief off A as I'd forgotten that there's quite a bit to Penkridge and we'd parked up at possibly the furthest point away from our intended target. It wasn't that much of a walk but he is such a delicate flower...After waking the dead with my slap on the roof, doors were opened, greetings exchanged, dogs fuzzed before the royal tour commenced.

 I'm delighted to report that Caxton is a fine, fine ship with a particularly comfortable cross-bed. I think it's the first time I've conducted a meaningful conversation from someone else's duvet, but Lesley was insistent that we tried everything. Mind you, she kept the boatman's cupboard-cum-gin-repository firmly shut... 

What really impressed me was just how easily and neatly the downsizing's been effected - all necessary goods and chattels had their place but there was storage that still hadn't been pressed into service - I mean, how on earth did they do that? It's also wonderful to see Joe and Lesley both looking very settled on board already, like they've been doing it for years. With some luck and a fair wind, we'll be meeting up on our respective boats some time next year - it'll be a pleasure as they are a great couple and we only had time for three pints on Saturday. I think that qualifies as 'unfinished business'....

P.S. En route to Caxton, we diverted to Braunston to renew our acquaintance with the Gongoozlers' Rest. One large cooked breakfast and one mug of tea later, we squeezed out of the side doors and rolled down the towpath, vowing not to eat again, ever. That lasted until a pack of Revels was smuggled into the car at about 4pm...

29 October 2008

DogsonTour at large

One of the compensations of getting to the fag end of the year is that you can start planning lots of exciting adventures for the following year. Now I know that my plans don’t always come off – in fact I probably have a plan/execution strike rate of about 50% - but that’s not the point. You do it for the thrill, the thrill of all those glorious possibilities that exist in the wide world – if you can actually carry it off and turn paper scribbles and internet searches into actual journeying and real experiences, then so much the better.

After reading a couple of books and magazine articles, I’m suddenly taken with the desire to visit Denmark, or at least the bit the tourists don’t go to ie all of it bar Copenhagen. It’s reachable, it’s quiet and clean, there are excellent roads and camping facilities, there’s a nice mix of beaches and woodland, and most importantly, they strike me as having a very positive attitude to dogs. I would be a bit anxious about going to somewhere like southern Italy where the number of roaming or stray dogs might cause us a few issues – I wouldn’t want to cause an international incident if Susie decided to cry God for Harry, England and St George and nip the back leg of some canine Mario. I’m hoping that we’ll find dogs on leads or dogs in close proximity to their owners which makes life so much easier for us – if we came across a marauding pack of Viking  dogs on the loose, I’m not too sure that I could control the situation. Ranger doesn’t wear Burberry for nothing...

To be honest, though, from everything I’ve read we’ll be lucky to see a soul except other motorhomers. Most of the 5.5 million inhabitants are in the three major cities so population is a bit sparse in the country. But of course that’s just the way we like it and exactly why we want to go there. So there’s a good chance that in 2009 DogsonTour will be expanding its horizons to take in the odd pickled herring and Danish pastry. And no, the dogs will not be sporting little helmets with horns...

28 October 2008

Susie's encore

We're treated to this performance most mornings although the boat does cramp her style a bit. 

27 October 2008

Book club

I see that Jo on Hadar has put out an appeal to find a copy of Susan Woolfitt’s Idle Women. She writes:

I am hoping that someone out there has finished with their copy of 'Idle Women' by Susan Woolfitt and would be happy for it to go to a new home. It is a book I have been longing to read, but have had little luck with finding a copy.

I know how she feels. By strange coincidence, I have also been hankering after one of the other books in the series, Maidens’ Trip, by Emma Smith. I have hunted high and low for it with no joy, unless you count the costly second hand examples available on Amazon. So imagine my joy and surprise when, just as I was about to curse my mother for dragging me into a secondhand bookshop this morning, I find, nestling on the Transport shelves, a 1987 copy of the much sought after tome. And it was only £2.75. And mother offered to pay. Triple result!!

26 October 2008

Go Susie

Have you ever tried to video a running greyhound with a mobile phone? Splitting the atom would be easier. Anyway, here is madam showing off in her flash winter duds.

24 October 2008

Cinders, you shall go to the ball

Hurrah! My little ESP elf told me to look at the latest Stoppages on the Waterscape website and what do I find? That they’ve cancelled or rescheduled the works that had put paid to our November jaunt to Llangollen. So we’re back on – I do so like to go all the way...

Of course, the one drawback to going this late in the year is that the weather might be absolutely foul, but I am so determined to get some serious cruising under my belt that we’ll be going come hell or high water. Oh gawd, that has a Famous Last Words ring to it...

20 October 2008

Lights, camera, not much action

It’s all quiet on the Western Front here but that’s set to change as my mother is visiting from France tomorrow. But just to prove that every cloud has a silver lining (only kidding mum!), we have a cunning plan to utilise her for dog-sitting so that we can nip off to Braunston for the day. We do need some ropes (I’m going to make up some springs, get me!) but the real reason is to pay a very long overdue visit to the Gongoozler’s Rest (to the uninitiated, it’s a floating cafe par excellence!). I won’t be eating for three days beforehand just so that I can do justice to their epic breakfasts. Cripes, I hope it’s still there....

I’ll leave you with this fuzzy mobile phone video that I found on my laptop today. In all the hoo-hah surrounding our near Titanic moment in Northgate locks earlier this year, I forgot that we filmed a bit of our three boat shuffle at the Bunbury staircase. It’s not exactly Spielberg but you’ll get the idea!

17 October 2008


Having had our trusty boat for six years now, we know what we like and what we don’t like. To be fair, there’s not much we don’t like about her but that doesn’t stop me dreaming about the things I could change – a bigger galley, granite worktops, new floors, a cross bed and of course, the purpose-built-designed-round-his-blessed-incipient-synthesizer-repair-shop L-shaped dinette. Plus a whole host of more minor modifications as I got completely carried away with myself. In fact, I did a wish list of improvements and then made a rough mental calculation as to how much it would cost. Mmm, I reckon 15 grand would just about cover it.  Time to start collecting again. I’ve already had generous donations of receipts, toffees and a conker from my previous motorhome appeal and I found a fiver in my jeans yesterday so only another £14995 to go.  

16 October 2008

Calling Caxton

Oi, can we uncross everything now? It’s been a painful day with all extremities crossed for the launch of Caxton and I’m hoping that she’s now safe in the water. I say hoping....I texted Lesley this morning to ask her if her new pride and joy was afloat. Sadly, the good ship Caxton had only just made it onto the low-loader with the critical moment still to come. She was due in around lunchtime and it’s been eerily quiet since. Hello, anyone there? Glug, glug, glug...

I bet it’s been a fab day for everyone connected with the build but especially the new owners – after so much dreaming and planning and shelling out loads of dosh and going mad looking for a rug, the time has come for them to see their baby wet its bum and to enjoy that first night aboard. It’s one of my biggest regrets that A and I didn’t wag a day off work to a) see the boat when it was put into the water for the first time for fitting out and b) to enjoy the holdup it caused on the M1 as it went by truck to the National at Huddersfield in 2002. When we finally got to spend our first night aboard some weeks later, it had already had about 500 people through, shuffling along in their pretty plastic booties and commenting on the teapot (a lovely Alessi one but I’d rather have had nice comments about the boat!). It just goes to show, you really should carpe diem and ring in sick. 

Dogs on the catwalk

The moment you've been waiting for....Floyd and Fletcher, get those girdles on, boys.

You've already seen Miffy so I bring you...

Monty, the hunting boy

Arthur, who is soon to get his 'proper' tiger stripes coat (slight misunderstanding on the order)

Ranger Danger

Psychedelic Psusie

...and a group pose

The best dressed greyhounds in town!

15 October 2008

A grand day out

Well, I’m back from the work-cum-Motorhome-and-Caravan-Show trip to the NEC - would anyone have a spare £229,000 hanging around anywhere? I’ve rustled up a grand’s worth of deposit by digging round in the bottom of my handbag but I think they want more – they being the vendors of a very smart Concorde motorhome which was retailing for a cute £230,000. I’m not sure it was that one that had the garage for the Smart car at the back, no, in fact, I think that model was only £165,000 – a mere bagatelle! All these super posh vans had red rope in front of the doors for ‘escorted visits only’ – why not put out a sign that says ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’ instead? So, what have you managed to raise for me? Two fuzzy Polos, one sticky Tune and a ha’penny? Well, that’s probably more than I’d get out of the banks at the moment.

14 October 2008

Divine intervention

Sometimes, work stinks. What can be worse than being dragged to the NEC for a boring old conference? A three hour car journey with the first decent coffee over two hours away. Poo. But what's this? The International Caravan and Motorhome Show is on at the same time! There is a god! Now all I have to do is think of a cunning wheeze to leave the conference early...Oh hang on, A is shouting something at me from the other room. What's that? I didn't quite hear it..something about sucking credit cards at home. Well, what he gets up to while I'm away is his business.

Boating ahoy!

Now the observant amongst you will have noticed that there hasn’t been much boating on this blog of late. Now this hasn’t been by design, it’s just that various things have frustrated our plans. But this is all about to change and I’m planning on going out of 2008 with a – metaphorical – bang. First, we’re going to pootle down to Ellesmere at the end of November if no-one steals away our week’s holiday. Then before Christmas I’d like to squeeze in a meander up to Anderton and after Christmas, we’re hoping to do all of the Llangollen before the boys in blue put in their stop planks. So you should get some cruise reports! Shock horror, don’t overdo it, Greygal!

Before that, though, we’re hoping to get away for a weekend in the van, mainly to help friends who have just bought their very first van and who are looking for moral support. We’ll try and get adjacent pitches and ensure they don’t connect their mains lead to the Elsan disposal unit or wind their awning into a tree. This from the couple who crashed their van within 30 minutes of ownership and blew up their water hose because they didn’t unroll it! Talk about the blind leading the blind...

So we’re counting the days till holiday time. Of course, there are SOME people, mentioning no names, Caxton, that are about to start living the dream for real and doing this cruising lark full-time. I hope they’ve put the plug in the bottom of the boat...

In the meantime, I shall continue to amuse myself with my ‘virtual cruising’, scouring the blogs of Sanity, Seyella, No Problem, Indigo Dreaming, Balmaha et al. One of my new regular reads is Big Martyn’s blog, which I think oozes personality and character and also serves as a wonderfully articulate entree into the perils and delights, the highs and lows of single-handed boating. More power to your big elbow, big Martyn!

And for those of you wondering about the dog fleece coats, they will all be modelled for your enjoyment very shortly. Here’s a taster - you can see that Miffy's yawning with excitement!

09 October 2008

Eat, drink and be fat

Apologies for the lack of recent posts. The trouble is, it’s been such a hedonistic week that I can’t actually reach the keyboard any more, as my stomach’s getting in the way. I’m tapping this out with a long ruler....

First off it was lunch with friends on Saturday. If you’re looking for a good restaurant in Nantwich, then I can recommend Romazzino on Love Lane. Great cooking, good service and a very pleasant atmosphere. Our friends then invited us over for Sunday lunch so that was another big blow-out. A two day rest was then followed by a massive curry fest at the Indian Ocean, which is on Welsh Row and easily accessible from the canal. We’ve previously been to the Jhaipur a few doors down and I can recommend both. Tonight is quiz night with a meal thrown in, and then there’s the prospect of a supper on Friday probably followed by breakfast at Nantwich Canal Centre on Saturday morning. It’s questionable whether we will be able to exit the boat at all on Sunday but our services are needed as our lunching/dining friends are going to look at a motorhome. She’s keen, he’s not, we’re legging it before the marital ructions start.

Other than that, it’s been client meetings and stressing about our savings – yes, they’re all with those Icelandic institutions that have now gone pop. That’ll teach us to chase the highest rates but at least it looks like we’ll get it all back, which is a relief.

We’ll be off home on Sunday and I can’t wait to get my hands on the new dog fleeces that Sioux at Forest Fleece has sent out. I’ll be sure to get the dogs to model them nicely at the photo call and will post up pics so you can all have a giggle. I don’t think Miffy is ever going to forgive us...

The weather up here the past few days has been absolutely stunning and we’ve been gutted that we haven’t been able to pop out for a bit. Even Saturday is down as a ‘chores’ day – the Mikuni needs fixing, the floors are dirty, the dog beds are disgusting and the well-deck looks like a coal mine. So an autumn clean is in order, if, of course, we can move after consuming our own weight in sausages, bacon, egg, beans, toast.....

P.S We’ve got everything crossed here – and that’s a lot of fingers, paws and legs – for the launch of Caxton next week. It’s been a joy to follow the build and I bet we’re going to have even more laughs once Lesley and Joe get cruising. All the best, guys!

Action woman

This is a public service announcement.

When you leave your boat for an evening's entertainment, please do remember to take your boat keys with you. Otherwise you will find yourself getting up close and personal with your Houdini hatch. Like me last night at 10pm. I'm amazed I fitted through to be honest. Good job we'd left it open so that the dogs wouldn't suffocate in the 1000 degree heat of the fire.

End of message

03 October 2008

Tonight's the night

We’re just about to leave for the boat. The dogs have had an early dinner and I’m putting the final touches to the packing. The fact that it has suddenly become winter overnight doesn’t cheer me as we’ll arrive at 10pm to find a chilly old boat and it’ll be too late to faff around with the Squirrel. So we’ll have that infernal ticking Mikuni all night – either that or hot water bottles for us and boat fleece coats (as opposed to house fleece coats) for the dogs. Unfortunately our main hot water bottle is styled in the fashion of Hong Kong Phooey – and every time you lie on its head it plays the HKP theme tune. You can imagine how well that goes down at 3 o clock in the morning.... 

02 October 2008

Food for thought

I’ve changed my dog food. And why, prey, are you sharing that with us, Greygal? It’s not exactly a showstopper of an announcement. No, true, but I’m rather impressed with the dog food manufacturer Burgess. Burgess have been making greyhound food for yonks but it’s been traditionally geared towards racers, who have slightly different dietary requirements. Now they have launched a special Greyhound & Lurcher Food formulated for pets, which I can have delivered to my door for free. But that’s not why I’m impressed, no. The thing is, along with this new product line, has come a whole campaign geared to promoting dog rescues and particularly greyhound and lurcher rescue. They donate 20p to rescue centres from every pack of this new food sold, they’ve got a rescue locator facility on their website and they’re launching a Supadog Rescue Tales competition specifically for greys and lurchers. You can buy food as a donation and have it sent directly to the rescue centre of your choice and there’s also a Just Giving facility. I know that this is a great PR opportunity for Burgess – there has to be a commercial agenda somewhere – but I still think they deserve a round of applause for highlighting and supporting the work of greyhound rescue in the UK. It's nice to know that when you're having to shell out for dog scran, you're doing your bit at the same time.

P.S. All the books say that you should introduce a new food gradually to your dogs. Yeah, right.  I filled the bowls with new stuff and mine just tucked in as usual, throwing it all over the floor as they do - they had a large satisfying poop the next morning and hey presto, the switch was made.

01 October 2008

Reservoir dogs

Here is the news:

Last weekend

Pretty much perfect, thanks. The Blackwall Plantation site near Ashbourne was a cracking base for our Peak Forest sojourn, coping admirably with the influx of several million people on Friday afternoon. Well, not quite, but the caravans, they kept on a coming, the sense of invasion heightened by the fact that we’d pretty much had the site to ourselves on the Thursday. It was like a white wagon train...

As with many of the Caravan Club sites in wooded settings, the grounds had that neat and tidy but not manicured-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life feel about it, allowing us to relax a bit when it came to dog tiddling. Makes a change from having to frogmarch them out the front gate with a cork up their bums....There was also a fantastic woodland walk with views over the reservoir and the reservoir itself was only a five minute walk from the campsite entrance. The dogs were impeccably behaved all weekend for a change, receiving lots and lots of fuss and generally being an excellent advert for the breed.

The highlight of our stay was, of course, hooking up with Mike and Liz, ex of Snecklifter. They joined us on Saturday afternoon and we went off for a walk round the reservoir with the dogs, followed by tea and Bakewell tart (what else?) back at the van. We were then invited back for supper, which meant decamping from Blackwall and setting up home in a convenient lay-by just up the road from Mike and Liz’s house. We had no plans to move until the morning so an excellent dinner of pork in cider was washed down with a very nice drop of splosh. We’d also been promised a cooked breakfast so that was another incentive to stay – what marvellous hospitality! And it was wonderful to see the Holloways so settled and happy in their life ashore. Yes, they do get the occasional twinge of longing for the canals, but they have a great house in a super location and their lives are full of friends and family and new land-based adventures. We do hope we’ll get to see them again before Christmas.


Dog update

With the autumn winds starting to whistle round their bits, I thought it was time to get the dogs’ winter wear sorted out. I’ve been struggling with what exactly to get them as ideally I’d like something to suit all occasions – night-time sleeping, round the house and walking out.  Then A discovered www.forestfleece.co.uk and the fleece jumpers, with crew neck and no leg options, would seem to be just the ticket. So last night was spent measuring, picking the fabrics and ordering – easy, peasy, except that I had an email back querying whether the girth of one of my dogs really was 3 inches! Oops. I think there’s a 1 missing there somewhere...The hounds are going to look fairly ridiculous I feel, particularly Miffy as A insisted on getting her the pink check outfit with a lilac trim. Ranger’s having the red skulls (Ranger Danger) with dark red trim, Monty the green camo with khaki trim, Susie the colour swirl with light blue trim and Arthur the tiger stripe with black trim. Pictures may be forthcoming once we’ve worked out how to put the jumpers on – apparently the boys’ ones comes with a shortened chest piece so they don’t wee on it. That may not be enough with my lot as they do tend to whizz with abandon...

Sponsorship news

As we’ve got five of our own dogs we’ve also decided to have five sponsor dogs – seems only fair. So as well as Heather and Harvey, we’ve now sponsored Barney, Soldier and Freya at GRWE. We’re fast running out of room on the fridge with all the photos, certificates and magnets...

This weekend

Yippee, off to the boat for a week! It’s work admittedly as I have to go to Harrogate and Telford next week but it’ll be nice to be on board for a bit. We may even get round to the great poo tank gauge challenge – challenge in as much as ‘can we bear the stink’? But just think of the end game – no more living in fear of a red light and a protracted buttock clench until a WC or pump out hoves into view...

26 September 2008

Answers on a postcard

Question: If five greyhounds will accommodate themselves happily on a five foot bed, why have we got a 25ft motorhome?

Or then again, if five greyhounds will accommodate themselves happily on a five foot bed and we've got a 25ft motorhome, why shouldn't we have another dog? Or two?

Dog pillow

My dogs don’t do cuddle-up-together-cute. Lots of greys do, but mine don’t. They don’t share baskets and they like their own space. But sometimes, in the confines of a motorhome, miracles do happen.

25 September 2008

In situ

Well this is nice, I must say. And no, that is not me being sarcastic. We’re on a lovely site here in Ashbourne (Blackwall Plantation, if you really want to know) and for today at least, it’s nearly empty. I’ve just been a good girl and done an hour’s work but I feel the lure of a magazine coming on. We had a trouble-free trip and took advantage of our proximity to Derby by calling in at Stenson and having lunch at the excellent cafe by the lock. I munched my egg and bacon sandwich while watching two boats wrestle with that very tricky equation of getting 14ft of boat to go through 12 feet of gate aperture. Like so many of the locks down to Chester that we recently encountered, the bottom gates wouldn’t go right back and so made for a problematic exit – thankfully, both boats were around the 60ft mark so they just about managed to manoeuvre themselves around and out.

We arrived here about 2.30pm and quickly installed ourselves. That is one of the joys of having a motorhome. A just does a handbrake turn, plugs in the electric and we’ve got the kettle on in less than 2 minutes. Pity the poor caravanners who take two hours to struggle with their aquarolls, wastemasters and awnings. Sometimes, they’ve barely finished when it’s time to go home again. How they must be dying for a cuppa by the end of it. Anyway, this is a perfect site for us. Good dog-walking plus woods and grass immediately

around us for post-prandial and early morning wees. We’re in a little enclave of our own at the moment but I’m told that the site is full tomorrow night so we’re expecting a big influx Friday afternoon. We’ve got the double whammy here of it being a Caravan Club site (always full at weekends seemingly) and it being in the Peak District, which is of course the back garden for about six cities. So expect it to be teeming. I’ve been told that there’s a path to the Carsington Water reservoir which might make for a good dog walk when Mike and Liz come over. Apparently there’s a path all the way round too. I thought that sounded nice....nine miles in total, said the warden. Mmm, that’s about eight miles too many, said I. And no, it’s not laziness, it’s my sciatica. (One complaint that sounds at home on an Italian menu, I always think)

And now I think it’s time for tea. Stick the kettle on, darling. Sorry, what was that you said? What off?

24 September 2008

Feeling Peaky

We’re off to the Peak District tomorrow – yippee! The van is in that state of motorhome nirvana akin to the FFEE of the narrowboat – full water, empty cassette, empty waste tank. I daresay we’ll have to shove some diesel in at some stage so then it’ll be empty wallet too. We always have the same routine when heading north, which consists of a coffee and pastry stop at Cambridge services. If I’m feeling fat and determined, I’ll skip the pastry; if I’m feeling fat and carefree, then I’ll have two. I’m very partial to the cinnamon whirl and the raisin and custard Danish and sometimes it’s just too hard to choose... I also take the opportunity to have a dekko at the roadmap to see where we’re actually going – nothing like being prepared. Saturday is the designated fun day with the Snecklifter crew – it will be great to catch up with Mike and Liz and there is the promise of dog-walking, tea-supping, cake eating and pub visiting. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Actually it does, as the weather forecast promises sun. Now if I can just get through the weekend without a dog bleeding all over the plush...

P.S. We're off to the boat for a 'working week' soon but one job on the 'leisure' list is fitting the new poo tank gauge. Why do I get the feeling there may be some reluctance to get started on this particular chore?