31 July 2008

No F in sight

All this hoo-hah recently about BW only excising the rude words from graffiti splashed bridges reminds me of something I clocked on our recent trip up to Ellesmere Port. And that is, the higher standard of colourful daubs you get in Chester. Oh yes, this is the land of quality spray can scribing. One bridge sticks in my memory, as instead of the usual Fs and Cs and ‘Stevie is gay’ and ‘Natalie’s a slag’ scrawls, you got instead a nostalgic game of noughts and crosses and the philosophical legend ‘Colours are what keep me alive’. Meanwhile, on a railway bridge further down, someone had painted SASQUATCH across the top. To even know about Sasquatch is one thing; but to spell it correctly is a triumph. Who said literacy standards were on the decline?

To end with, my most favourite graffito of all time:

To be is to do – Sartre
To do is to be - Rousseau
Dobedobedo - Sinatra

30 July 2008

Two feet out

Question: How do you lose two feet off your boat in six hours? Answer: Wishfully think that the Leeds & Liverpool is big enough for a 64 footer. I’m indebted to Bruce of Sanity who has reminded me that while we’d all like the Leeds & Liverpool to take 64ft, it only takes 62ft. What about if you go in diagonally with your fenders up? I probably won’t risk it which means that the Hammond organ is definitely out. Unless we go for the first ever butty as floating music studio - Abbey Flowed anyone?

Organ-ic growth

I fancy a stretch. Not the arms up, arch back sort of stretch but the cut your boat in half sort. I didn’t even know such things were possible until we moored at Streethay Wharf for a couple of years. The stretch is a Streethay speciality and there was always a boat on the stocks with its bits hanging out whenever we went up there. I think it’s a fantastic idea actually. We’re very attached to the old girl and we know all her ways and foibles but as a future liveaboard maybe she could do with a few more feet. I haven’t looked at all the canal dimensions in detail yet but I’m sure taking her to 64ft would only rule out the Calder & Hebble on the main system. So would we trade the C&H for another 6 feet? I think so, so that leaves me with the issue of where to add the extra length. Most stretchers seem to plonk for somewhere in the middle but I was intrigued to read that NB Piston Broke are looking to extend their well deck.

"On our journey we stopped at Starline boats in Nuneaton to get a price to have the boat stretched. We want a few feet put in the bow section to make the cratch area bigger, our plan is to go to Streethay to get a price from them as well. "

I would definitely love a couple of extra feet in the cratch and maybe the rest the other side of the doors in the saloon. That should be easy then - just hack the front off and start again. To be honest, I would have been fine with 57ft but I’ve had to make concessions to A for our future liveaboard life which demand more room. He’s not coming without his keyboards. Great, more tat to clutter up the place. He’s only got two but god knows how many he might collect between now and D-Day (which incidentally is scheduled in our current life plan - Life plan No 36 - for March 2012). Maybe he’ll grow out of them as this key-bashing and knob-twiddling is only a recent thing – although a worrying sign is that he has started to cruise Ebay for old analogue synthesizers. Heaven help us if he spots a Hammond organ.

I suppose stretching her at the bow would be the equivalent of boat rhinoplasty?

29 July 2008


I think I may need treatment...in fact, it’s too late, I’m clearly a hopeless case. You see, there’s a significant birthday coming my way and A has been fishing around for ideas for a present. For a while, we had both settled upon a Mac Air laptop but then I reasoned, did I really need another laptop as I have a perfectly good one already? So out went that idea. Perhaps an HD camcorder? Lovely thought but I know me, it’d be used enthusiastically for the first week and then forgotten about (narrowboating, greyhounds, motorhoming and my husband are the only fads I’ve never grown out of!!). Luxury trips to New York are out because they won’t allow dogs in seats (they could all have a middle row each so I don’t really see the difficulty) and so I’m getting a bit stuck. And time is drawing near...Then yesterday, inspiration struck.

Yes, I'll have a 2000 Watt inverter, please - now come on, that is sad. Disturbed even. Is there a doctor in the house?

28 July 2008

Mad dogs...

...may well go out in the midday sun but they're not doing a lot. We let everyone off in the field this morning and it was embarrassing. No-one ran, no-one jogged, even the peeing on the hay was pretty subdued. You can usually rely on Arthur for a furious poopy dance but I think the 80 degree heat had already curbed his enthusiasm.

The weather these past days has reminded me of our Leicester Ring trip a couple of years back, particularly the four days spent going from Market Harborough to Willington. I thought it was quite possible that I was about to test the bounds of modern science by melting. I can remember the Sunday afternoon especially because as we moved through those wide locks to Kilby Bridge, it got hotter and hotter and hotter and there wasn't a single breath of wind. I was sure all my organs were going to deliquesce and, apart from the obvious benefit of losing a few pounds, I didn't think that would be a particularly good thing. Somehow I survived (the grey roof on the boat helped keep the interior cooler, I think) and at the end of the trip I was sporting one of those tans that prompts the 'where have you been - the Caribbean? No, Leicester' type of exchange. The leper-like peeling one week later was less attractive, of course...

27 July 2008

First timers

Lesley of NB Caxton's recent reminisce about caravans prompted me to rewind back to the weekend where we lost our motorhome virginity. We picked the van up on a Friday in September 2006 and after the official handover we were left to our own devices on the overnight camping area the dealer had thoughtfully put aside for newbies or owners who are just passing through. So we were only two seconds away from help if we needed anything. I can remember the excitement we felt, like two overgrown schoolkids with a new toy. The dogs had already settled down onto the large U-lounge as I’d predicted and A and I got on with fettling up the van in readiness for the following day. The idea was to go to Clumber Park before heading onto our campsite for the Saturday night. An easy trip, no stress....

Fettling started with filling the water tank. We had bought one of those flat reel hoses but we’d never used one before so we simply put one end of the tap, rolled enough of the hose out so that we could stick the other end in the van, turned on the tap...and the whole hose assembly blew up, sending parts various rolling across the tarmac. Very quickly, a fellow camper came up and kindly explained that you had to roll out the whole hose before using it...whose bloody stupid idea was that then? But we duly followed instruction and soon had a full tank. One cup of restorative tea later and we were beginning to feel like old hands. The next couple of hours were spent finding places for things, then moving them around, then moving them around a bit more until we’d squeezed everything in. The dog food had to stay in the shower but I call that improvisation.

We were too tired to eat that night so I went in search of a couple of quarterpounders at McDonalds. I also treated the dogs to a hamburger each but when we were feeding them outside, Arthur’s meat pattie fell out onto the ground, to be set upon by the rest while he was left sucking his bun. That is the story of his life really.

And so to the last big test of our first day – bedtime. Of course we had always seen ourselves as sleeping together while out in the van and the U-lounge converted into a monstrous king-size bed – no problem there then. That is, until Susie, Arthur and Monty decided that they’d like to sleep there too. Suddenly the bed didn’t seem quite so large with three hoofing great dogs lying across you and next to you. A better passion killer you couldn’t wish to ask for and while we tried to tip them onto the floor, they just kept sneaking back on when we turned the light off. We gave up and let them stay. They had a fantastic night’s sleep, ours was less so. Something to do with no circulation in my feet and hot dog breath in my face. When we finally awoke, it was to find Arthur actually under the covers snuggled down between us, blowing a feather up his nose. As the next night followed the same pattern, it perhaps comes as no surprise that on the next trip A decamped to the Luton over cab bed and there he has stayed ever since. I sometimes think of joining him, particularly when four dogs want to me join me on the now smaller fixed bed we have in the Bessacarr. And there I was, thinking that I was the alpha...

Saturday’s plan was to go and walk the dogs round Clumber Park before heading off to our campsite for the night. We’d chosen somewhere close to the dealer, just in case anything went pear-shaped, so today was meant to be all about a gentle introduction to driving the van and proper motorhoming/camping. Now there are days you look back on in life when you think, what if. What if we hadn’t gone to Clumber Park? What if I hadn’t made A go past all the lovely green open spaces where people were parked up enjoying a picnic? What if I hadn’t made him turn left instead of right...into the carpark, not the coach park? Well, for one thing, we wouldn’t have hit the Ford Focus parked on the corner. And for another, we wouldn’t have hit it again as we tried to reverse out of our nightmare. The trouble was, the car park was small and tight, our van was big and A momentarily forgot both these two rather salient facts. After the second impact, we just felt sick. We didn’t like motorhoming after all and maybe we should just go home. After honourably putting a note under the Focus’s windscreen wiper, we finally got out of the carpark, me walking in front of the van waving everyone out the way. Another couple of minutes and we were parked up in a delightful leafy glade, which would have been absolutely heavenly were it not for the fact that we had an ugly scrape all the way down the right hand side of the van. We made a brew to try and quell the feelings of nausea and after an hour’s walk with the dogs we were seeing things in rather a better light. No-one had died, the damage could be repaired, so what if we’d bust it on our first trip out? Worse things happen at sea.

Thus equanimity was restored as we headed off to the Milestone campsite. When we arrived, the self-same equanimity started to do a vanishing act. We discovered that the campsite was next to the A1 and downward of a sewage works. Was this some sort of joke? Some sort of test to see if we were equal to the challenge of motorhoming? My favourite Carry On film of all time is Carry On Camping and Paradise Camp this was not! And yet, when we booked in, we found the place positively heaving. And after an hour’s walk round the camp, I understood why. Despite everything, it really was a rather delightful place. You couldn’t hear the road because there was a big embankment between it and the camp; the wind was northerly, leaving our nostrils unassailed; and on the far side of the camp there was a beautiful, huge fishing lake, plus a couple of smaller lakes in the middle of what was a perfectly manicured site. And, best of all, what had I espied from the top of the embankment? An OK Diner! That was dinner sorted then. That evening, we eschewed the one mile walk by road in favour of a scramble down the embankment and a 100 yard walk to the front door. What we hadn’t counted on was the barb wire fence at the bottom. Cue two large adults scrabbling on their bellies through a gap just large enough to tempt you in, just small enough to snag your knickers. But I wasn’t to be denied. My milkshake and chilli burger were making their siren call so one firm tug and one rip of the elastic later and I was free! Getting back in was even more a struggle as we had consumed our weight in curly fries. I lay in the stinging nettles unwilling to move, a beached whale with torn pants and a caterpillar in my bra. This was not how I thought my life would be.
P.S. High point of the weekend - the walk to Cromwell Lock on the Trent. The lockie's got a big one, that's for sure...

26 July 2008

Wash day

The highlight of my week? Annual dog wash day. It took a bit of time and coercion to round them all up but once in the bath with a tepid hose on them they were fine. Thankfully, greyhounds don’t tend to smell really doggy – owners will tell you that, if anything, they smell rather catlike, so there’s no real pressure to put them through regular ablutions. Once a year does for us. Of course, all hell broke loose afterwards as no-one recognises anyone else as they no longer have the same scent. Half an hour of reacquainting themselves did the trick and the hot weather dried their fur off within the hour. The bathroom looked like a disaster area and we’ll be cleaning hair out of the plug hole for weeks to come. But at least it’s done for another year. If anyone rolls in fox shit tomorrow, they’re on a one way ticket outta here...

25 July 2008

A gap in my life

For some time now I have felt as if I should – and could – be doing more for greyhounds. Yes, I know I have already adopted a small herd of them but because you’re aware of the scale of the problem facing greys, you invariably feel that it is never enough. Before we moved to our present house, I went regularly to our local Retired Greyhound Trust branch and helped with mucking out, walking, home checking and dog delivery and derived an enormous sense of satisfaction from my efforts. A day at the kennels was so much better than four days at work and I was lucky enough to see many of the hounds that I had befriended go off to their forever home (my home, in Monty's case!). With no branch really near enough now, I have instead offered my services to Greyhound Gap, a superb charity that coordinates the efforts of ‘freelance’ volunteers all over the country. They specialise in getting greyhounds and lurchers out of dog pounds where they are under 7-day PTS (Put to Sleep) notices, and moving them either to kennels or foster parents as a stepping stone to permanent adoption. I’m not sure I’ll be doing too much fostering (seems a bit unfair on the foster-ee to have to cope with my lot) but I’ll certainly be happy to help with the regular transport requests that are posted on the forum. Of course, A thinks that I won’t be able to resist and will want to bring them all home with me...that’s him in the shed then.

24 July 2008

Bouquets and brickbats

Two newly minted BW licenses arrived in the post today – complete with name change correctly administered. A lot of people seem to have trouble with licensing – there are often posts and blog entries berating cock-ups here and there but I have never had cause to complain. Admittedly, this year I did have to chase up the renewal form (one was raised apparently but it never reached me) but another one arrived the next day and I received my licenses, and prompt payment discount, in around ten days. That puts an end to eight months’ masquerading as one thing on our license, another on our rear panels, and the hurried explanations to lock keepers etc as to why they don’t tally. I don’t know why I always felt guilty as the license number is the same on both, but then I’m one of these people who can’t walk past a policeman or through customs without looking highly suspicious.

So a bouquet to the Leeds licensing office from me. But I see from Geoff on Seyella’s recent post that there’s a brickbat going in the direction of a boatbuilder. Geoff met a disgruntled customer of theirs, unhappy with a perceived lack of after sales service. It’s not for me to go into the wrongs and rights as there are invariably two sides to every story but you do see quite a few grumbles about boatbuilders and their lack of interest once the boat has passed out of their hands and the money’s in the bank. I guess some of that is down to the pressures of a small business where the focus is on the boat in hand (where the next money is) rather than tying up people and resources on a boat where the money’s already in the account - and probably already been spent. But, given the community nature of the cut, given new communication tools like forums and blogs, and given the oldest marketing tool in the book, word of mouth, you wonder why builders risk being so short-sighted as to short-change their customers in this way. Bad word, however unjustified, travels faster than Dwayne Chambers and mud sticks, however unfairly. Ask the Ashton canal. We were fortunate in that we were looked after very well by MCC and as a result we have recommended them as an excellent value, mid-range builder to many people over the last six years. When we go back to visit, they value us still as a customer – not surprising when you consider that over time we’ve probably eaten the boat’s weight in bacon sandwiches at the cafe....

23 July 2008

Buckby brings it back

Some days you get an unexpected little bonus walk into your life. Today I accompanied the other half on a trip to fix something at a client’s premises in Northampton and we got thanked with lunch in a pub. And not just any pub. A pub by a canal. As we drove up, there was instant recognition – the New Inn at Buckby Top. The cheese skittles weren’t in evidence but it was still the dark, low rickety place of old. And just to make me feel right at home, some unfortunate crew member was having a right old battle with the bottom right hand paddle – some things, unlike Stansted, don’t change.

While the memory can play tricks on you, it also has the most amazing capacity for capturing with startling clarity and accuracy events from times past – and not just memorable ones, but totally unmemorable, inconsequential ones too. So as soon as I looked back from the lock towards the visitor moorings I was transported back thirty years to a family holiday on board Sandpiper. This was an Ian Goode boat that we’d picked up from Welton Hythe as the closure of one of the tunnels on the Leicester Arm had forced them to base their fleet with the Weltonfield boys for the summer (which was how we were introduced to the Mayes family’s superb hire boats). We obviously didn’t get that far on our first day as we moored up at Buckby and we were passing the time listening to Sports Report on Radio 2. I can remember as if it were yesterday my brother’s best friend Milford (curious name, never met another) lamenting the fact that Man Utd had lost again while Liverpool had won again. This was several years before Fergie dragged United out of the doldrums and Liverpool were at the peak of their powers. He remained despondent until a shandy and a packet of cheese and onion were wafted under his nose that evening. Oh fickle youth.

It was the Sandpiper trip that provided my horrific dump through loo blow-back experience. Of course, it wasn’t the boat’s fault, it was my dad’s. And the reason was his low boredom threshold. Let me explain. When my dad used to drive his car, he loved playing chicken with his petrol gauge. He wasn’t like normal people who’d pop into the garage as soon as the yellow light came on. No, he’d go on and on, pushing his luck until the inevitable happened. It somehow added some extra excitement in a mundane world. It also added some stonking rows to the marital record. I can’t recall how many times he ran out of petrol but each occasion was an effective catalyst for another frank exchange of views. It was very tedious - just what did he think would happen? Anyway, translate this mentality to a dump through loo on a boat with five people holidaying for a fortnight. Day 9....Dad, we probably need to get a pump out. Pass by pump out. Day 10..Dad, we really do need to get a pump out now. Pass by pump out. Day 11...Dad, listen, it’s getting serious now – I can see things. Pass by pump out. And thus the following lunchtime, parents went off to pub, leaving son, daughter and friend on board. Daughter goes nervously to loo, operates pedal and runs screaming from the boat as a torrent of unmentionables comes spewing out the hole. That was enough to scar an impressionable 10 year old for life; to make her a life-long fan of the remote tank; and to never pass up the opportunity of a pump out when the boat’s listing to port.

22 July 2008

Down good memory lane

Many of the best moments on the cut come unbidden and unplanned, the lack of expectation making the spontaneous experience all the sweeter. Our first acquaintance with Market Harborough was one of these. If I recall, it was a sunny Friday in mid-September two or three years back and we’d trundled up the Leicester Arm in splendid isolation before hitting the boat queue at Foxton. But we got down pretty smartly, leaving the rest of the boats behind as we turned into the Harborough Arm around 4ish. Aside from looking like a set from The Land that Time Forgot, this was a sinuous ribbon of reed-fringed water that glimmered in the late afternoon sunshine before gently depositing us on the visitor moorings outside the basin. It was a lovely way to arrive and the fact that there were no other boats in evidence gave us the pick of the moorings – we took the first outside the basin to minimise the walk into town. And it stayed like that for the duration of our 48-hour stay – we had the whole place to ourselves and it was wonderful!

That evening we wandered across to the Italian restaurant, sitting outside to enjoy an al fresco meal with a minimal stumble.. er, walk back to the boat. The next morning we pootled into town and discovered that MH was another in the long line of classic English market towns that have managed to hold onto the essence of what it once was. I smelt a Cafe Nero at 200 paces and it duly materialised, we did a quick provisioning at Sainsbugs and then we returned to the boat for some R&R. The peace and quiet was shattered a bit later when three local greyhounds thought it would be a wizard wheeze to stick their heads through the sidehatch – my gang soon told them what they thought of that particular idea! Curiously, the most innocent, inoffensive and innocuous of my lot, Miffy, is by far the most vociferous when it comes to warding other mutts off the boat....dog psychology anyone? Being original sorts, we went back to the same Italian that night and had a second very good nosh up, once again toasting the Indian Summer with a couple or ten Peronis. All the while we were able to keep an eye on the boat, thus ensuring that no impromptu greyhound raves took place.

We left the following morning, not without a tinge of regret because the whole two days had been cracking – a lovely mooring, nice locals, good food, a pleasant town, fantastic weather, no crowds, and this a place that we hadn’t even intended to visit initially but just popped down to on a whim. The temptation is to go back and repeat the experience but we all know that it can never be the same second time around – you can’t make spontaneity happen, you can’t magically recreate the conditions for your original happiness. We will go again, of course, but with happy memories, not unmatchable expectations.

21 July 2008

Progressive whinge

In the summer of 1991, I took my friend Alice to Stansted Airport where she was catching a Continental Airlines flight to America. I drove up and parked directly outside the terminal building – no problem because mine was the only car there. We then fought our way through the crowd of two to check her in and then we said our goodbyes at the security gate that was devoid of any other travelling passenger. I think I saw about a total of ten people the whole time I was there. Lovely. Fast forward to the summer of 2008 where STN appears to be shorthand for stinking, as in hellhole. Lots of cars, lots of people, lots of noise, me going one way, three million people going the other, absolutely no redeeming features about it whatsoever. Oh and a crud cup of Costa Coffee, just to really put the boot in. Yes, my mother was delivered safely to me, for which I am duly grateful, but I sometimes wonder about the price of progress...

Let's get quizzical

Mention of the Queen’s Head pub at the bottom of Tardebigge by Bruce of Sanity got me started on a nostalgic wander through my adolescent boating years. The QH was a veritable beacon on two trips up/down the W&B after very long days and I can recall piling in for a pint and a......long stint on the quiz machine. Yes, for some reason, we never got round to eating as dad and I had developed this unhealthy obsession with Trivial Pursuit, not to mention a worrying intimacy with one-armed bandits. Some nights (all overnight stops were carefully planned by yours truly to coincide with a pub – dad liked his ale and was a rubbish cook) we did dine before we started digging out the pounds and fifty pence pieces. But the food part was but a short prelude to the main event, the marathon session that would sometimes last until closing time. I can remember being in The Vine, I think, at Kinver and getting the whole pub round the machine trying to help. I can recall a three hour stint at the Shroppie Fly which gave me the most tortuous cramp in the early hours of the morning. I can definitely call up those sweet moments when I would count the snaffled booty at the end of the trip – yes, the winnings always went into my pocket and topped £100 on one occasion. I think I bought a squash racquet from the proceeds – I know, what a stupid waste of money...

From memory, the QH used to be extremely popular because it appeared to offer a permanent running carvery-style buffet. That great dining game – just how high a food mountain can I build on this plate – was much in evidence as was the pudding puzzle – how do I cram four different puddings in one small bowl. When I recount these tales, A goes all misty eyed as he dreams about what might have been if he’d been my childhood sweetheart and canal companion. The dogs meanwhile have gone online and are tapping the postcode into the AA route planner...

20 July 2008

Readers' poll

Your boat's tied up, your motorhome's parked up, your dogs are behaving themselves, there are no domestic dramas or disasters - bugger, what on earth do you blog about? Ah, I know...I shall invite my dear reader to help me decide on the mutts' new winter wear. There is a general feeling in dog bed city at the moment that they're all getting a bit of a bum deal when it comes to their cold weather gear - we have other greys in the village that seem to boast the latest in canine couture and they're walking around in last year's fashions. The main problem is that their coats (and I'm talking here about their fleecy coats that they wear outside if it's dry but chilly) are a bit on the dull side - plain, solid colours with a velcro belly band. Obviously we are a little more conservative over here than when compared with somewhere like America (totally bonkers when it comes to doggie apparel) but I think it would be nice to be a little more adventurous. Enter AK Creations! The question is, what fabric do I get for which dog? Skull and crossbones for Ranger? Leopard print for Monty? Sheep for Miffy? And is it snood or s-no snood? Whatever I decide on, I'll have spent more on their wardrobe than I have on mine. But I can just see Susie striding out in her new togs, cocking a snook to those girl greys who have the cheek to be younger, prettier and better behaved than her. I'm hoping there's sufficient room in these outfits for the boys to be able to cock something else.

19 July 2008

Stratford making a comeback

You know how I was saying that Bugsworth as the autumn destination was coming up on the rails? Well, the thing is that I’ve really been badly bitten by the BCN bug and while the ‘big trip’ is pencilled in for next June, I would dearly love to get a taster in this year too. So the Stratford option might be putting in a late spurt, especially if we do the main line/N Stratford on the outward leg and Kingswood/Camp Hill/Garrison/Farmer’s Bridge on the homeward leg. That means plenty of new territory plus, if we get time, we could exit via Stourbridge rather than retracing our steps down the 21. The only snag is it would probably require a ‘working week’ either side of the fortnight to complete the Nantwich-Brewood section, where we need to give the impression that we are actually still working while also shuffling the boat along. Not impossible but the best laid plans and all that.

I’ve found some excellent photo libraries from NB Slipstream here to get me in the mood. I wonder if the top end of the North Stratford has improved since our last passage seven years ago – a more unedifying sight I can barely remember. It was, quite frankly, a shit heap and you could quite clearly see that the cut for many was purely an extension of their own back garden shit heaps. It still stands out in my mind as the worst place I have ever been on the system for crud – and by quite some margin. One can but hope that they have since cleaned up their act but I’m not holding my breath. Oh and it will be great to renew acquaintance with those main line toll islands – which side shall we go? This side? The other side? Okay, this side and...oh bugger, Susie’s jumped ship and is sniffing up ghosts and White Lightning cans. Note to self: keep hold of dog when going through narrow bits.

18 July 2008

Bitten by the bug

You know I’m easily pleased so you can imagine how buzzing I was this morning when a big, fat parcel from Amazon arrived for me. It included, amongst other things, two books on greyhounds: Iggies and Greyts, a small coffee table book of beautiful photos, and Greyhound Tales, Stories of Rescue, Compassion and Love. The latter will have to be read in small doses as it’s bound to make me blub. Every dog book makes me blub though. You should have seen me at the end of Marley and Me, tears streaming down my face. If you haven’t read it, beg, borrow or steal a copy because it is a simply wonderful, funny, touching and redemptive book.

However, I digress. Also in the parcel was a freshly minted GeoProjects map of the BCN. Oo-er, talk about hard core map porn! I’ve been drooling over it all day, thinking up wilder and wilder itineraries for next year. At the last count, we were doing Ryders Green locks about 26 times. I think I may have to curb my enthusiasm a tad.... But, to be honest with you, I am wrestling with a bit of a problem and that is: Do we just set off with a loose plan and go with the flow or do we commit to visiting every nook and cranny? The adventurer and competitor in me favours the latter but that brings with it its own concerns. Like, how do you know when you’ve got to the end of a particular spur or stub? Does it always end in a brick wall? Is there a boom across the canal to mark the end of navigation? Or do you just keep going until you realise you’re atop an underwater midden? And of course, an end doesn’t necessarily come with a convenient winding hole so I envisage plenty of reversing manoeuvres and stern-hauling...Just another half mile to go lads, heave ho!

In my researches, I’ve seen a mix of the ‘Get out and see the BCN, it’s amazing’ and the ‘The only safe place to moor is Gas Street’ schools of thought. The latter seems to consist of those who have only ever hurtled through on the main line and don’t know what they’re talking about and the former of those who have actually taken the trouble to go and explore for themselves and been well rewarded for their efforts. Well, I’ve heard enough and seen enough on my map to be thoroughly intrigued – and I want to see for myself exactly what’s what, what’s hot and what’s not. Then I can opine based on actual knowledge and experience not tenth-hand hearsay and outdated rumour. Cassandras of the waterways, take note.

By the way, I’m not the only one who’s got a taste for Brum. Adam of Debdale is another one badly bitten by the BCN bug and I’m looking forward to what he has to report when he ventures forth on his next big trip. Remember Adam, when you’re leaving Birmingham, don’t stop until you’re at least in Derbyshire, just to be on the safe side...

Gratuitous picture of the day

My uncle's gorgeous whippet Tess, who rules the house with an iron paw

17 July 2008

Decisions, decisions

This autumn’s cruise is turning into a three-horse race as far as destination goes. Ahead by a nose is an out and back to Stratford; pushing it hard is a tootle down to Froghall on the Caldon; and bringing up the rear but by no means out of contention we have a pootle up to Bugsworth Basin. They all have their pros and cons. Stratford means an energetic holiday and more Shropshire Union – we like the Shroppie a lot but we’ve seen an awful lot of it lately. But the southern Stratford is virgin territory for us both and there’s the promise of a decent Chinese feed in Birmingham. Plus himself gets to play with his favourite ‘all singing, all dancing’ lift bridge at Shirley (the power goes straight to his head).

The Caldon is a canal that, bizarrely, we seem to cruise every year yet never actually complete, with either poor timetabling or weather putting the mockers on our ambition of reaching the end for another 12 months. Happily we did at least manage to get to Leek last time, enjoying a beautifully quiet weekend on the wide before the tunnel only to turn round on the Monday to encounter a narrowboat version of Whacky Races on the trip back to Hazelhurst. So Froghall awaits but the downside is this very intimacy with the Caldon which renders it less of an adventure. And there's that slog through Stoke and Etruria... Mind you, it would mean another couple of trips through Harecastle so I’m beginning to see some upside....

Last but not least is the little foray up to Bugsworth. It’s been a while since we visited the upper Peak Forest canal and back then the basin was still leaking and therefore closed. From Andrew Denny’s pictures, it looks like a triumph of restoration and worthy of a trip in its own right. Plus there’s the Swizzles Matlow factory at New Mills which can get me high in about five seconds.... why isn’t there a seconds shop fronting the canal where I can go and buy twelve dozen damaged Double Lollies and half a hundredweight of chipped Refreshers? Some people just don’t think about the needs of others...There’s also the added bonus of doing the Macc again, a canal I never tire of cruising. The downsides? Well, Heartbreak Hill is not a downside, more an inconvenience. And...well, that’s about it really. The route is familiar, yes, but not so familiar that every twist and turn is imprinted in my memory. Cripes, I’m talking myself into this...could it be Bugsworth in Autumn 2008?

16 July 2008

Ready for the off

I’m delighted that Andy on Khayamanzi has got himself all sealed up – it’s just days before the off and it would have been rather heart-breaking for a much looked-forward to summer holiday to have hit the skids at the 11th hour. While I’m pleased for our resident deputy head, I’m also delighted for me, because Andy’s cruise posts are always very good value. He really covers the ground and reports back in plenty of detail. Anyone falling in with him is also guaranteed to meet a very considerate gent – he’s one of the few boaters I’ve ever met who was courteous enough to ask whether we’d mind if he ran his engine for a bit to charge the batteries. And this was after we’d interloped into one of his favourite spots! Happy cruising, Andy – just keep an eye out in those locks!

Mug shot

You may recall that gang member number 5, Ranger, was a sob story rescue because no-one had shown the slightest interest in him. I've just dug out the picture they used to 'advertise' him on the RGT Croftview website. I don't think they did him any favours....more bovver boy than cutey pie!


How sad to read Elise’s latest post on Bendigedig. She relates:

“We enjoyed our stay at Rickmansworth once again and had some lovely walks around the lakes with Ben the dog. When we passed one visiting boat Ben being his noisy self put his nose in their open side hatch and we were told to f... off by a very unfriendly boater!”

I’m sorry but is swearing at something as inoffensive as a dog looking into your boat really suitable behaviour for an adult? Or was this person formed from the sweepings at the bottom of the gene pool? If you don’t like it (and everyone has that right, I appreciate that not everyone is dog-friendly) there are ways and ways of telling someone to desist. Using the F word in an innocent situation like this is the last resort of the rude and moronic. And no, I'm not a saint and I can swear with the best of them but not when an occurence is as innocuous as this. Thankfully, the incident doesn’t seem to have spoilt Elsie and Eric’s day – and a nicer couple you couldn’t hope to meet – but it’s things like this that really get my goat. Bleat over.

Dog roll update

Three new entrants onto the Dog Roll - Slow Pace with Jemma and Woodbury;

Free Spirit with Judy and Jade; and Daniel Oakley with Pip and Jet. Welcome!

P.S. Mustn't forget Syncopatiom and Arrow!

15 July 2008

Not mine but still handsome

Exploring we will go

The BCN has been on my radar a fair bit recently. First there was the cruising guide in one of the canal mags and then we had Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream blogging about their recent peregrinations around Brum. They’ve certainly helped to crystallise a rather nebulous plan that has been floating round the vacant spaces of my brain for the last couple of years. So next year we are definitely going down to Birmingham to have a bit of a shufty. I reckon a couple of weeks of exploration will see us cover those bits of the BCN we haven’t yet seen, with the main focus being the spurs and loops off the main lines and the northern waters. I have an urge to get to the end of the Cannock Extension Canal just to see if I can burrow my way through to the Road Chef motorway services for a Costa Coffee. Being rather sad individuals we have already done a BCN virtual cruise courtesy of Google Earth and it looks absolutely fascinating, simply bursting with interest.

As we’ll be looking to cover a fair amount of ground, I’m also hoping that friend A will join us again – a third body will definitely come in useful as there’ll be lots of locking up and down, no doubt a few long days at the tiller to get to our preferred destination, the extra weight might come in useful if we need pulling out from a bridgehole, and generally I think we’ll just benefit from having an extra pair of everything. It’s too early to do any formal planning but I’d certainly be eager to hear from anyone with suggestions as to good overnight mooring spots, handy facilities, must sees, etc. Most people seem to be concerned with finding a safe mooring spot, understandably. The things is, I’m not so sure I really believe in the concept of a safe spot. Experience should tell us that anything can happen anywhere and nothing can happen everywhere. Maybe your odds worsen if you moor up in a ‘dodgy’ area but I’ve found that bad things tend to be fairly indiscriminate in their choice of timing, location and victim. I will, of course, be mounting a 20mm cannon on the front of the boat....

P.S. Why did they do away with the BCN Challenge? (This link will give you the idea) It was something I’d always dreamed of doing in our own boat but they pulled it just as we were ready to compete. Such a shame – perhaps we can create our own points scoring table and then share it with any other lunatics, er, sorry... intrepid boaters who want to have a crack?

14 July 2008

Walking up to happiness

Sometimes dog walks can lead you to the most scintillating places...

This is taken overlooking Derwent Water on the most gorgeous autumn evening. And talk about a poser!

Fess up time

Judging from the comments to my last post, it’s pretty clear to me that there are plenty of us out there in thrall to our pampered pooches. I speak as one who bought a motorhome (pictured) to ferry her hounds round on holiday and then bought a bigger one because it wasn’t quite to our, er... their collective taste. Come to think of it, we also bought a bigger house because of them! And of course, we’ve said goodbye to exotic holidays (no loss really, much prefer going to Stoke on Trent and Birmingham), romantic weekends sans chiens (we won’t kennel our lot), long lie-ins (someone always woofs us out of bed eventually), an economical car (have you see the new tax rates for people/dog carriers?), clean floors (twenty dirty paws!), 10-hour cruises (I wish!), normal pockets (not stuffed with poo bags), personal decorum (wiggling through a hedge on my belly to retrieve an escapee) and relaxing walks (without five snouts continually poking their noses where they don't belong).

Of course, we are also considerably poorer financially – beds, house collars, walking collars, fleecy coats, waterproof coats, winter coats, one set for the house, one set for the boat, one set for the motorhome, soft toys, pigs’ ears, Frontline, Drontal, Pet Passports, Champagne, caviar....But the huge upside is we are very much richer in terms of mental, emotional and physical well-being, courtesy of the special relationship we enjoy with our hounds. I’m sure that’s something that every dog owner identifies with....So come on, spill the beans. What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made for your mutt? What has been your greatest dog indulgence? Fess up, I know you want to.

13 July 2008

Dogs lobby for 5-star treatment

Can you believe it? I’m faced with a fit of dog pique. The gang is not impressed that Caxton’s canine crew, the alliterative Floyd and Fletcher, will be enjoying a 5-star floating kennel – sorry, floating dog hotel – when Lesley and Joe finally launch their pride and joy. As opposed to their own clearly 3-star accommodation...Wait until we harness them up for a bit of dogboating (five dogpower = 1 horsepower), just hear the complaints then! What they don’t understand is that Caxton is a new full-time home for everyone, and the gorgeous array of mod cons will help make life afloat even more enjoyable. When we had our boat built, we didn’t do it with any conviction that it would be the boat we’d retire onto (one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, tomorrow would be nice). Instead our thoughts went no further than high days and holidays...good job because it was a struggle making the spondoolicks reach even that far!

So we started cruising with a boat that was nicely comfortable for a week or two but with none of the ‘big ticket’ items that once might expect on a liveaboard. But we reasoned with ourselves that we would soon get a feel for what – if anything – was missing and we would hopefully find it more affordable to take things on a case by case basis. And it’s an approach that’s worked well. Over the years we’ve added a cratch and cover, a battery charger, a hospital silencer, a fourth leisure battery while also changing the WC – not massive additions but all ones we feel we’ve had value from. A much bigger inverter is just round the corner and a cross-bed is a sine qua non of my liveaboard future! The bad news, gang, is that we will always maintain a certain simplicity on board because I subscribe to the theory that the less there is to go wrong, the less will go wrong (Why do I have the feeling that that statement will come back and haunt me? And for heaven’s sake, why didn’t I apply it to you dogs?). Anyway, if you want to go up in the world, then I suggest you put your black labrador costumes on and go and make doe eyes at Lesley.

P.S. To add insult to injury, the Caxton crew have just got a dog bed upgrade! I feel a mutiny coming on..

12 July 2008

Fire down below

Granny's item on former North West Tonight presenter Nigel Jay and his canal video diary is good to see. Not least because I'm pretty sure it was Nigel who, a couple of years ago, suffered the trauma of returning to his boat to find it ablaze. The burnt out shell was towed back to its mooring, just a few boats down from us, and for several months sat as a stark reminder of how it can all go horribly wrong. The fire investigators reckoned that it was caused by the solid fuel stove, but as some toe-rag apparently stole the stove before Nigel returned the next day, presumably that could only be an educated guess. What is it with some people?

A really rubbish idea

I know this sounds weird but one of the highlights of our last ever hire boat holiday c. 2001 was an impromptu canal clean-up while going through Brum. It started as we left the Black Country Museum and unexpectedly crashed into half a shed. For some reason I felt compelled to pick the wood out of the cut and stick it in the well-deck, to be decanted at some suitable rubbish point later. Well, the bug bit and during the morning we retrieved a gas cylinder, a tyre, a fire extinguisher and a wheelbarrow but drew the line at the washing machine with its concrete insides clearly still in place. When we’d disposed of everything, we got a real rush of ‘feel good’ feelings and a germ of an idea was seeded.

The grand plan was: give up the day job, buy an old working boat, put a winch on the front and scour the BCN collecting rubbish. We could count on high levels of reoccurring crud thus we would never run out of work. And so why are we still shackled to our laptops and not swinging a grappling hook with abandon? Well, scrap prices back then were so low that we could never have made it pay. Fast forward seven years and, of course, they’re now through the ceiling...talk about an idea before it’s time. So, the question is: will five dogs fit in a back cabin or should we go for the butty/kennel option?

11 July 2008

That sinking feeling

Granny’s report on the sinking of NB Abigail made me go all queasy as it brought my near Northgate staircase disaster ‘flooding’ back to me. Abigail’s owner and I were both ‘in the same boat’ in that we faced a situation where time was against us and everything was happening in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, we both escaped unscathed (bodily wise), me drier than him, but I still get sick thinking about what would have happened if....What would the dogs have done if we’d sunk in the bottom lock? I have visions of me performing a gallant rescue of all five but I know deep down that if things really had gone tits up, I probably wouldn’t have had the time or the mental capacity to do anything but sauve qui peut. What the whole experience has done though is make me extra vigilant. I have always been pretty careful but perhaps over the years, over the course of many locks successfully navigated, one can drop one’s guard a bit and get a huge left uppercut for one’s pains. So if you meet me in a lock and I’m not talking to you, apologies – I’m concentrating. I know, I know, I’m a woman, I should be able to multi-task. But there are only so many brain cells to go round, you know...

10 July 2008

Saluting Marmaduke

One of the blogs that I always tune into is Marmaduke. This is the blog of John and Cathy, a couple who have shown remarkable stoicism and fortitude over the last year or so as they coped with the derailment of their boating dream. Marmaduke was still in build when Severn Valley Boat Centre failed and thus the dream quickly turned into a nightmare. I am probably not alone in marvelling at how John and Cathy not only survived this huge initial blow but came back even stronger, determined that they would live their dream come hell or high water. With the help of friends, family and complete strangers, they recovered themselves and slowly but surely put Marmaduke together, refusing to look back and let rancour or bitterness destroy their hopes and simply pushing on, pushing on until the great day when the boat was declared complete. I mentally raised a toast to them because that was a comeback Lazarus would have been proud off. And while it’s no consolation, at least they know exactly what’s gone into their boat having had to closely supervise the build themselves. The other day I heard a real horror story about a well-known, six-figure boatbuilder – actually, a number of horror stories – so at least the ‘DIY’ approach means that John and Cathy can be reassured about the integrity and quality of the workmanship.

Now that Marmaduke’s out and about, the tenor of the blog has happily changed from dour struggle to sheer enjoyment. John perfectly captures all the buzz of the new boater although I think he’s being a bit hard on himself vis a vis his helmsmanship – or perceived lack of it. John, if you’re reading this, even those of us with a few years under our belts can still make a total hash of things. And everyone has to start somewhere, so just relax and enjoy it. If anyone deserves to, you do.

'Scuse me

Picture it. You've had a hard day, you've got up at 5.30 to go to London, got back at lunchtime, done some more work, gone to the osteopath (must blog about him again), done some shopping, walked the dogs, fed the dogs, made the supper and now all you want is a quiet sit down. Er, where?

P.S. Is it any surprise that I'm falling in love with Hebe, the black and white whippet down the road? She's soooooo cute.....and tiny. Whoa, there's treachery afoot here!!!

09 July 2008

Hearts of gold

A visit to the RGT Croftview website provided a very uplifting moment today. It is always very sad to see some dogs remain unchosen for weeks, then months, occasionally even stretching into years. There’s sometimes a reason why the potential rehoming is so protracted – a dog is too shy, too excitable, too nervous, too big, too loud – but just as often, there isn’t, it’s just bad luck. I can’t bear it when a dog goes ignored for so long and that’s exactly why we went and rescued Ranger. But you can’t save them all and for most of last year and the year before I despaired at the fate of a black dog called Crystal (who incidentally was Ranger’s kennel mate). Crystal was very nervous but also very wilful – the bed was hers, the food was hers, she’d only go for a walk when she wanted. In other words, a bit of a madam, but also a rather scared, frightened little girl. It takes someone with a big heart to look past all the negatives and to give this sort of dog a chance, particularly when there are so many eager faces looking through the bars and competing for one’s affections.

So I was delighted to see a few months back that Crystal had finally got a crack at her forever home and today the website carried an update from her new owner, together with some pics. Having once seen her lying at the back of her kennel seemingly disinterested in everything around her, how wonderful it is to see her in her new home seemingly buzzing with new life and energy and happiness. And to Crystal’s new mum and dad and to everyone who’s found it in their hearts to change the life of a long-stayer, thank you.

08 July 2008

Allez allez

As Sue and Richard of Indigo Dream will tell you, greyhounds tend to travel brilliantly. I’ve never taken mine on a train (we’d need one of those old corridor trains with the separate compartments, where the dogs could sit against the anti-macassers) but have found them to be remarkably compliant and patient when travelling by boat, motorhome or car. Arthur has the odd moment when he gets a bit stressed but I think that’s due to things flying out of cupboards. These occurrences are not limited to the boat either – one of the fundamental checks you should do before you set off in your mobile behemoth is to check all the doors and cupboards are properly closed and locked. Unfortunately we don’t always remember and Arthur has been successively traumatized by a tin of spaghetti hoops that launched itself out of an overhead locker, a bread board that rolled over his toes from the under sink cupboard and a fridge door that flew open and deposited half the shopping on the floor. I know, I know, what is it with us and fridge doors? Thankfully, this was pre-Ranger otherwise we’d have had an impromptu dog chow down. At least the new van has a proper fridge catch so such things can’t happen again – good job with Golden Jaws around really.

Anyway, why am I going on about travelling? Ah, I remember...it is looking very likely that we’ll be having a visit from my mother in a few weeks and we’ve mooted the idea of driving her back home (a little village west of Carcassonne), rather than forcing her to go on the smiling airline that is Ryanair. We’ll then stay on for a week or so, giving us a chance to have a quick battery recharge in the south of France. Tres bon. The journey, which we’ve done once before, will probably take us nearly a day when you factor in the journey to Folkestone, the sleep that inevitably overtakes you just around Orleans once you’ve driven through the night, and my mother’s insatiable need to stop at every service station for a cup of coffee. Now you can understand why the dogs need to be able to travel! They were absolutely brilliant last time, dutifully trotting out at every wee stop and watering the French shrubbery. They loved tearing round mum’s garden and winding up the neighbour’s dogs, and they got lots of curious glances as we walked them round the village. We tried to explain to one lady about the plight of greyhounds but with my pidgin French, I think I said they killed themselves...bloody reflexive verbs. And this time, we’ll be going in the summer, not the winter, which has one huge advantage called hot sun. And another, called swimming pool. This will be the first time for Ranger, of course, and he has his passport ready. I hope mum’s fridge door is secure....

07 July 2008

Neff off

Lesley and Joe’s NB Caxton blog is shaping up to be one of the most detailed of all the boat build blogs written thus far – and I’m loving it. They’re chucking everything into it, even the kitchen sink. I like the fact too that they’re sharing their thought processes with us, including why they’re having a dishwasher. However, I’m concerned Lesley may have made a mistake. The model she’s having is a Neff, whereas I’d urge her to have rethink – the model I use is a Husband. The Husband is infinitely better in that it doesn’t cost you anything, it doesn’t take up any extra space, it doesn’t use any power and it gets rid of those really stubborn stains. Plus it makes you a cup of tea if you ask nicely. Come on Lesley, it’s not too late!

Pedigree post

One thing I get asked quite a lot when I’m out with the gang is whether there are any champions amongst them. To be honest, champions tend not to end up in rescue centres as they have a huge value as sires or brood bitches. A top dog can earn a million pounds in stud fees as long after they’ve retired they can still be ‘servicing’ a bitch - I’m also reliably informed that there’s no mechanical intervention, so that’s a good gig for the lads if they can get it. Monty’s dad Roanokee sired over 4000 offspring so I guess he died tired but happy...

Sue on Indigo Dream has already mentioned the brilliant database that is http://www.greyhound-data.com/. Here you can look up the lineage of your rescue and check out dads, mums, brothers and sisters and endless generations back in time. For example, Ranger was Rangers Law, son of a famous sire called Come on Ranger. He's the one who looks like he’s run through an oil slick. Arthur (Stowell Arthur) is the spit of his dad, the very cutely named Deenside Dean, while Monty (Movealong Baron renamed Remote Al) definitely has the look of his pops, particularly when he folds his ears over.
Susie (Stifflers Mom) and Miffy (Bow Inn) don’t
boast particularly famous parents but their ancestry is still pretty impressive, with some notable dogs on both mum and dad’s side of the family. What is really amazing about the whole site is how far back you can go – I can trace Miffy’s lineage back to the late 18th century! No photos of course....
Little did I realise when I used to tune into the greyhound racing on Sportsnight that one day I’d have some of my own. Those were the days of Ballyregan Bob and Scurlogue Champ, when the dogs made not just the back pages but the front pages of newspapers with their amazing exploits. And then twenty years later, in a strange quirk of fate, as we sat outside the Stenson Cafe during our original boatbuilder research, we met a chap and his two children together with their four greyhounds. I think we were smitten right then and there. They were so soft and placid, so gentle and well-behaved. How we were conned! I’d always imagined myself ending up with a lab or a pointer but within a month of turning freelance, A and I went down to our local RGT and chose Susie. And then the fun began...

06 July 2008

Hooked on helping

I see that Bruce and Sheila of Sanity are once again giving generously of their time and energies, this time at the Saul Festival. They do an awful lot for others during the year so well done both - I hope that in the future, with fewer commitments, we can also give a bit back to the cause. Prior to the dogs, we did attend a national canal clean-up event on the Walsall canal which was an absolute blast! On arrival, we were issued our equipment, which caused me some immediate consternation. You see, I personally would never give anything as potentially dangerous as a grappling hook to A, who throws like a girl and could wreak some serious damage with a sharp pointy thing on a rope. Thus I wrestled it from him, placating him with a keb instead, and off we went. We soon realised that the most fun, and the richest pickings, were to be had at bridgeholes so we strategically separated ourselves from the main group to go and have a forage in these more fertile areas.

Well, you can’t believe the amount of crud we hauled out....well, you could actually. Just think of anything and everything that could be chucked in and you’ll have an idea of our booty – traffic lights, safety fencing, motorbikes, road signs, wheels, steering racks but sadly, no safes and no suitcases of used fivers. For about three hours we were ably assisted by three young lads who pitched up on their bikes. Shamefully, I thought that they were just going to start lobbing everything back in but they came up and asked us politely if they could help. They actually thought it was disgusting – their word, not mine - that people threw stuff into the cut as they liked to fish in it. They helped us pull in the grappling hook and you should have seen their faces light up when we brought in something like a lorry tyre. They only left us when they realised that they were very late for their tea, compounded by the fact that their mums were apparently going to kill them because they were so filthy. I told them to tell their mums that they had been brilliant – and so they had. A little further up, we met another group of kids who were also trying to pitch in. One lad was doing his best with just a couple of bungee clips, bless him. He still managed to haul in a load of carpet, a triumphant smile on his face as if he’d just landed a prize fish. At the end of the day I couldn’t help thinking how much better off we’d all be if we could somehow harness the energy and enthusiasm of kids like these, kids who genuinely wanted to help but who I sensed were usually denied the opportunity. They thrived on interaction and involvement – who would have thought that a grappling hook could prove so inspirational?

No apologies

I make no apologies for this post. This video is ridiculously schmaltzy but I still blubbed....not sure why as it's totally innocuous. It's only pictures for heaven's sake. Maybe the tears are for all those who haven't got lucky...or the Rod Stewart music. You need to have your sound enabled and if you're a soft shite like me, a tissue handy.


Sue, I hope Lou and Blue are listening...

P.S. A propos of nothing (well, maybe the last line of Granny's post), I have thought of another reason why I hang my rope over my tiller pin...leave it on deck and Susie does dog macramé with it. I wouldn't mind but she doesn't even make anything useful, just chokes herself.

05 July 2008

Holiday dilemmas

Can someone tell me why planning one’s next cruise is such a nightmare? I’ve hit warp factor 8 with the old Canal Planner, putting in more and more ridiculous itineraries until there are not enough intermediate places available to give me a sensible route. The trouble is, my head battles with my heart. My heart wants to go mad, to do an impossible trip, to rekindle the energy of my youth and knock up a four figure lock mile total. My head says ‘Calm down, love, you’re old and crumbly and six hours a day is about your limit. Get real.’ So currently, I’m like a ball in a pin-ball machine, pinging excitedly from a lunatic trip to Stratford on Avon and back via Braunston to a perfectly sane pootle up to Bugsworth Basin, with maybe some Weaver action on the side.

But deep down I know my limitations and I’m also aware that we’ve developed a bit of a routine and it works for us. So why fight it? By the time we’re up and about and we’ve walked the dogs and tidied up, it’s invariably 10am before we up sticks. We tend to have a short break at lunchtime for dog tiddling and by 4-5pm we’re looking to moor up for the evening. And that does for me as I’ll be in bed by ten and asleep by one minute past! A tough trip means lots of early mornings and we’re not too good at those...even if we manage to get up by 6.30 (rarer than a hedge strimmer on the South Oxford) it’s still 8 before we’re ready, what with woof duties and all. I comfort myself with the fact that one day there will never be a beginning or an end to a holiday nor a halfway point or a turning round point. We will be on one continuous cruise and everything I’ve missed out on thus far I can enjoy at my leisure. So Stratford or bust? Er... I hear the Peak Forest is delightful in autumn...

04 July 2008

Au revoir, not adieu

We’ve just said goodbye to our boat guest of the last two weeks. Now that’s not something I ever thought I’d write! We don’t tend to have people to stay very often, not because there’s no room with the dogs but because I want to throttle them after about a day. For some reason, previous visitors just haven’t ‘got it’, fiddling and fidgeting around unable to enjoy the peace and solitude and annoying the hell out of me. But friend A was different. He loved the whole thing from start to finish, throwing himself into it with a will but able to relax and kick back and not have to constantly be ‘doing something’. He took my Captain Bligh moments in good part – ‘Push that, pull that, don’t stand there, get out of the way, why isn’t that bloody gate open?’ – and has even volunteered for a winter cruise to Llangollen.

In the course of the two mini-cruises, his helmsmanship went from the constantly diagonal to the mostly straight and he experienced a whole wealth of stuff for a first timer: narrow canals, broad canals, lock flights, double and treble staircases, beer, gorgeous views, brilliant vistas, beer, miserable gits, happy campers, more beer, near tragedy and final triumph as we got home in one piece and had yet more beer. We’ve also proved that it is possible to have three adults and one dog on a trad stern but it doesn’t leave you much room for drinking your coffee. Sometimes I’m very envious of those cruisers....think how many dogs we could have then?

03 July 2008

This is my chair

Er...I thought this was mummy's recliner...

In the foreign

I’ve just been visiting the Billy Bubbles website for a catch-up. If you’re not familiar with it, this is the home of the online chronicles of Bill Davies, charting his Odyssean wanderings across the canals of the continent. It’s an excellent read and will take you a while if you’re a new visitor as his regular reports stretch back to 2001. But Bill repays the effort with some great narrative and travelogue detail and collectively it’s a very useful account of boating in the foreign. I’m undecided at this stage whether we’d ever take our boat over to Fance but as my mum lives quite close to the Canal du Midi, I’ve seen enough to make me think seriously about hiring one day. The basin at Castelnaudary is absolutely charming and my dogs are just champing at the bit to get into the Cat Museum there.

Talking of my mother (vis a vis an incident many years ago), how can anyone leave their own hire boat, come over to the pub for a drink with her husband and daughter and go back and get onto someone else’s boat instead? She said it was the gathering gloom that foxed her but you would have thought the German voices coming from within would have been a big clue....

02 July 2008

Day five

I am delighted to report that day five – and the final day – of our mini-cruise was completely uneventful. That’s just the way I’d like things to stay given the events of day four – and the dogs are in complete agreement. They don’t mind this cruising lark but would prefer it if they weren’t assaulted by honey, olive oil, Worcester sauce etc flying out of the cupboards at regular intervals. However, for Ranger, every cloud has a silver lining because in all the traumatic events of yesterday, the fridge door also flew open....

Having been bobbed around in the locks previously, I decided that I’d had enough uncertainty (understandably) and elected to use the centre line round a bollard to keep me steady. And I have to say that our progress was very much more slick and smooth and my blood pressure all the better for the change in tactics. I wonder if this technique falls foul of the purists? My habit of hanging my stern rope over the tiller pin certainly does although I’ll keep doing it just to annoy them. Their theory goes that placed there it is at greater risk of falling off and getting tangled in your prop. And putting it at your feet where it can trip you up and where you can kick it off the counter isn’t risky? As for taking it off the dolly and putting it off the slide, well, I like my ropes ready for action...I mean, has anyone actually put any of this to the test? Mine has never once been in danger of falling off as I coil it neatly and secure the loose end carefully. Surely chacun a son gout? Oh and in case you were wondering, Ranger’s gout was the luncheon meat first, followed by the boiled ham, with a couple of slices of wholemeal to finish.

01 July 2008

Day four

And the highlight of day four of the mini-cruise? Er...well, still having a boat and quite possibly still being alive would seem to be in contention. Oh yes, today was every boater’s nightmare as we avoided sinking in the Northgate staircase by a very narrow margin. I still get a squidgy bum just thinking about it but the main thing is we survived in tact....although the dramatic heeling over of the boat as I finally freed the back fender from under the paddle rod drew loud gasps from the assembled throng ( accompanied by the sound of crashing crockery and dogs running for cover). There were various other events in the sequence that led up to me being pushed back on the gate and getting hooked up but I’m glad I was vigilant enough to see what had happened...but also annoyed that I should have let it happen in the first place. I think, on balance, that there were extenuating circumstances (like the boat coming down that thought the quickest way to fill the locks was to open up all the paddles at once) but it was a very, very sobering experience and one that I’m sure will give me nightmares for months to come.

But on to lighter matters. Do you live in Egg Bridge? If so, could you tell me why there exists such antipathy to boaters within your precincts? Not only was there the completely charmless ‘Do not moor opposite these houses’ notice (someone had, well done sir) but we also got yelled at out of a bathroom window merely for having a minor marital discussion over how best to get off the mud (we’d gone aground in the process of picking up the dogs). If you do not like boats, then could I suggest that living next to a canal might not be the most sensible thing to do? Or could I go further and suggest that you simply bugger off and stop adding to my already heightened stress levels?

We decided to toast our survival with a barbecue, although the wind picked up at just the wrong time and fanned the flames towards the boat. God, if one element doesn’t get you, another one will. I’m off to bed before the earth swallows me up.