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...