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...