13 May 2009

Smothered in fish sauce

I haven’t died…but I have been suffering from Nam Pla asphyxia, which has curbed my enthusiasm for blogging. Yes, I know, how can you be suffocated by a cooking ingredient but that Thai fish sauce is dangerous stuff. Especially when it falls over in your motorhome fridge during a ferry crossing and someone hasn’t pressed the lid shut….I’m not kidding, for a week it was like living in an intensely cheesy but essentially rank Wotsit. And despite one’s best efforts to clean it up, it just hung around like a….well, like a bad smell really.

That aside, we did have a great time while we were away but we were also pleased to get home. Unusually for us, we didn’t have any major incidents, unless you count Miffy running off not once but twice from the van as A tried to get her back in after dinner. There she was, scampering around the campsite without a care in the world while I did my best fishwife impression (must be the Nam Pla again) shrieking at her to come back and not get herself squished under the wheels of a tag-axle caravan. She obliged me eventually…

Our BH weekend in Orkney was certainly the trip’s highlight and we took our behemoth down every road we could and some we definitely shouldn’t have. But if there’s a bistro with cakes at the end of a windy narrow track, then what’s a bit of scraped paint and bashed plastic matter? Oh and then there was that episode in Stromness where your head is telling you to turn around, your heart is telling you to turn round quickly and your mouth says ‘carry on, dear, it’ll be fine’. Have you ever been down Stromness High Street? You can walk down it and touch both sides of the street at the same time with your outstretched arms. Well, at least that’s what it felt like, with the walls closing in the further we penetrated. It was a genuine squeaky bum moment but at last we emerged into daylight and breathed a sigh of relief. Very similar in fact to the one we had let out when the marshall at the ferry office offered to reverse the motorhome onto the car deck for us. We don’t do reversing except onto a campsite pitch, ever since we crunched a car with our first van twenty minutes after taking possession. It was good to see how the dogs reacted to a complete stranger getting into the cab and making off with their motorized kennel while mum and dad stood on the quay looking on…not a sound. Useful huh?

That said, the dogs have been very well behaved of late and so we rewarded them with brand new house collars from www.kitschcollars.com as their old ones were looking a bit frayed and shabby. I’ll try and get some pics in due course. Of course, having been home for five days, we’re already looking forward to our time away on the boat in June. If all goes to plan, this should be one week of work cruise to get us to Red Bull; two weeks of holiday to get us to the Pennines; and then potentially another working week to take us to Castleford where A’s client has a northern office and we’re hoping to install some techie bits and pieces. At some point, we shall take up residence in Sowerby Bridge for the rest of the summer before wending our way to Stenson over the autumn.

It’s probably going to be a little quiet on the blogging front until we resume our adventures but I’ll drop back in from time to time. Oh, and all you diet watchers….the weight’s staying off, thankfully, and I think I’ve even lost a little more since hitting my target. It’s a race now between me and Susie as to who can have the smallest waist…

30 April 2009

Too busy

When we came up to Scotland for our working week, I did hope that we'd be able to squeeze in a bit of leisure time too but things have been absolutely manic! This van is a hive of activity, the two little worker bees cranking out emails and copy and software in a show of unprecedented energy and focus while the five doggy drones just....well sleep really. Our days have all had the same structure - wake up - walk dogs - work - walk dogs - work - walk dogs - feed dogs - feed ourselves - go to bed. And nice as it's been to be in such a pictureskew spot, it has been a little fevered and relentless. It's not helped by dogs that insist on extending their walks by disappearing into the dunes or splashing about in rock pools, showing that selective deafness that my husband also appears to be catching. What part of 'do the washing up for once' doesn't he understand?

Anyway, such has been the pace of the week that we've awarded ourselves a long BH weekend and so tomorrow, we're making an unscheduled side trip to Orkney. Judging by the winds today, the crossing of the Pentland Firth - comfortingly one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the world - should be 'interesting', and I'm not overly keen on undertaking any cliff-walking without a carabina or three. We're planning a couple of nights of wild camping - wild being the operative word - before returning to the mainland on Sunday. In the meantime, we're going to try and squeeze a 7.5m motorhome into the local Tesco car park tonight - if you see us driving along with a trolley mangled beneath the wheels, do give us a shout won't you?

27 April 2009

Just beachy

The fact that the highlight of this morning’s dog walk was Susie attempting a ‘wall of death’ run up a vertical sand dune will tell you that we successfully arrived at Dunnet Bay over the weekend. The lowlight was me chucking the pink Frisbee left-handed straight into sea and having to go for a bracing paddle to retrieve it. I later threw it right-handed and the wretched thing, unclaimed by any of our disobliging non-retriever greyhounds, rolled annoyingly into the surf. I couldn’t be arsed with the shoe/sock kerfuffle again so I just got everything wet. Let’s hope they’re dry by now as I’m about to go out.

The journey up, though long, was without incident, except for the small matter of a fridge pack of Diet Coke falling on my head. I’d told A that things shifted in transit and to be careful when opening lockers and what does he do? And with me sitting directly beneath? Of course, it was all my fault as I should have put the box elsewhere although there was no place else for it…never mind my sore head…We overnighted at Balbirnie CC site near Glenrothes which was surprisingly only half full, before making our way to the top of Scotland on Sunday. We were greeted by wind and rain but today it’s sunny if a little blustery, and it does make for a very pleasant backdrop to work.

We’re staying until the weekend when we head a little south east to the Grummore site, by which time the dogs will be completely exhausted if this morning’s antics are anything to go by. Like most greyhounds, ours love the beach, Susie in particular, but I know that what they really want is to get up into the dunes. This happened last year and I lost Susie and Arthur for a good half hour. When they eventually deigned to show up, Susie had to have a lie down and Arthur’s tongue was dragging on the ground… She’s had one failed go this morning but it’s only a matter of time. I ask you, is this any way for a pensioner to behave?

Just beachy

The fact that the highlight of this morning’s dog walk was Susie attempting a ‘wall of death’ run up a vertical sand dune will tell you that we successfully arrived at Dunnet Bay over the weekend. The lowlight was me chucking the pink Frisbee left-handed straight into sea and having to go for a bracing paddle to retrieve it. I later threw it right-handed and the wretched thing, unclaimed by any of our disobliging non-retriever greyhounds, rolled annoyingly into the surf. I couldn’t be arsed with the shoe/sock kerfuffle again so I just got everything wet. Let’s hope they’re dry by now as I’m about to go out.

The journey up, though long, was without incident, except for the small matter of a fridge pack of Diet Coke falling on my head. I’d told A that things shifted in transit and to be careful when opening lockers and what does he do? And with me sitting directly beneath? Of course, it was all my fault as I should have put the box elsewhere although there was no place else for it…never mind my sore head…We overnighted at Balbirnie CC site near Glenrothes which was surprisingly only half full, before making our way to the top of Scotland on Sunday. We were greeted by wind and rain but today it’s sunny if a little blustery, and it does make for a very pleasant backdrop to work.

We’re staying until the weekend when we head a little south east to the Grummore site, by which time the dogs will be completely exhausted if this morning’s antics are anything to go by. Like most greyhounds, ours love the beach, Susie in particular, but I know that what they really want is to get up into the dunes. This happened last year and I lost Susie and Arthur for a good half hour. When they eventually deigned to show up, Susie had to have a lie down and Arthur’s tongue was dragging on the ground… She’s had one failed go this morning but it’s only a matter of time. I ask you, is this any way for a pensioner to behave?

21 April 2009

Cheshire cat - and dog

Linda the lockie was on duty when we came up Hurleston on Friday and it was a chance for a natter and a catch-up. Of course the big news is that she and partner Mark have taken over narrowboat hire outfit Cheshire Cat – so while shepherding boats safely and considerately through the flight, Linda is also fretting about whether her customers are having a good time. She desperately wants them to enjoy themselves and to have a positive experience of the canals so you can only imagine her reaction when she got a hysterical call from one of their first hirers – “we’ve crushed the dog between the bank and the boat”. It transpired that the dog – as is their custom – had attempted to follow its owner as he jumped off the boat but didn’t make it. Poor pooch then got walloped by the boat as it thrashed around in the water but proving that it’s not only cats – Cheshire or otherwise – that have nine lives, the dog escaped albeit with a broken leg. I’m pleased to report that the vets in Trevor promptly attended to the limb, the patient is now doing well and the hirers, on their return to base, said that they’d had a fantastic time notwithstanding. Now that’s the spirit, isn’t it? Makes you wonder about the odd miserable sod you see cruising for whom travelling our wonderful waterways seems more like a penance than a pleasure.

How can you not love doing this?

20 April 2009

The pig and camel

No, the pig and camel is not some outré new gastro pub that we hit upon as we wended our way back home; no, it’s simply the easiest way to sum up the long weekend that has seen us return to first base (by boat) and second base (by car).

The pig is the large sow, accompanied by her nine piglets (surely that makes them nonolets?) that had broken out of the farm below Minshull Lock and was making muddy merry on the towpath. From the state of the grass they’d obviously been rootling for a while and having a damn good time while they were about it. Apparently, according to the blue shirts who had been summoned to the scene, it’s not the first time it’s happened but unfortunately the farm owner has been watching too many Scorsese films and considers himself the local godfather. We heard all sorts of lurid tales which I won’t repeat here for fear of waking up with a horse’s head next to me tomorrow morning.

The camel is the large humped beast that we found chowing down on the local village green this morning. In fact, it was two camels and they had two mates which looked remarkably like zebras. Had my latte been spiked with some hallucinogen? Maybe the pig farmer resented me taking pics of his porkers and had already wreaked a terrible revenge and I was dead and in some Dantean netherworld? Actually, it appears that the circus has come to town and they thought the lush village green would be a lovely place to peg everyone out in the sun. Llamas too apparently…

So you can see we’re back to ‘normal’ after the perfect execution of the Friday/Saturday cruise plan. So often when we’ve promised ourselves an early start, we’ve simply thrown the alarm clock on the floor in a hail of throaty invective and gone back to sleep. But the threat of Middlewich madness had us walking the dogs at 5.30 (their expressions all said the same thing: what time do you call this?) and pulling the pins bang on six. It all went off very well until Wardle Lock, when a stream of Andersen/Alvechurch/Middlewich boats decided to come down, with one turning the lock in our face so blatantly that A was in danger of having an apoplectic fit until the nice lady behind them came and calmed him down. Let's just say, if he'd had toys, they'd have been out of the pram...and probably shoved somewhere very painful.

I was just hoping that we’d be able to moor up close to John and Fiona on Epiphany and sure enough we slotted in right in front. Yes, get the kettle on, you two! It was really lovely to see them both again after what must be at least a couple of years and I only wished we could have chatted for longer. They have exciting cruising plans ahead of them and I’ll certainly be following their blog with interest. This was yet another meeting (following on from the likes of Caxton, Indigo Dream, Seyella, Contented Souls etc) that demonstrated once again what a diamond bunch of folk there are out there on the waterways. Yes, sure, you get some muppets but you get them anywhere, but on the cut you do seem to have more of those precious encounters with people you quickly realize will be friends for life.

The rest of the cruise back to base was uneventful apart from the Beatrix Potter-esque interlude at Minshull and here we are at home…until Saturday when we take off again for some work-cum-motorhome adventuring. Poor old Arthur….just when he thought he’d escaped the whiz-bang-clonk of the boat, he’s got to cope with the flying baked bean tins and falling ladders in the van. Tune in again next Monday to see just how many Costa outlets it is possible to visit in one trip up the length of the A1.

16 April 2009

Homeward bound

I think today can be summed up as follows: we’ve been passed by more boats in one afternoon on the Trent & Mersey than we have seen in our entire two and a half week sojourn on the Weaver. We just want to go back down again…Actually, it’s always nice to renew acquaintance with this stretch and we’ve had a good run down, stopping just short of Bramble Cuttings on the rings on the right hand side. We had earlier shared the lift up with Adagio on the 11.45am passage and once again were struck by the calm efficiency of the all the staff there (you can give the café coffee a miss though…)

I think the dogs were relieved to get back on the shallower canals as mummy had made them rather nervous with her speed trials – well, I thought I’d use the run from Barnton back to the lift to see how fast the old girl could go as I’ve always had this suspicion that she’s a bit underpowered for some reason (there’s a growing consensus that we should take a serious look at the prop – size, type, manufacturer, with Crowther being the name consistently popping up). Now maybe it’s because I’m a woman driver but I’ve never felt the need before to ‘see what she can do’ and take her beyond her usual 1500-1700 revs but again, my ‘advisers’ said that this was barely scratching the surface and to test her out I should really crank her up to 2400 or so. Well I did and we certainly did seem to shift a bit but A shot out the back wondering why we were making a sound like a torpedo and that if I didn’t slow down and return the noise levels to normal, poor Arthur would hyperventilate into an early doggie grave.

So the results were inconclusive….just for the record, the speed/power thing is not to burn off other boats but for peace of mind if we ever need to punch a tide or cope with strong conditions. Deep down, I feel a 57 footer powered by a Beta 43 should have a bit more grunt on her, in fact a lot more grunt on her…the prop is 18 x 12, the size specified by Beta, but again I’ve been told that three same size props from three different manufacturers could give you three different results. I don’t know if there’s any truth in that, the whole thing is a complete mystery to me in fact, but I may well put in a call to Crowther and see what they say. Shire Cruisers, our likely summer home, recommend them so maybe if there is some work in that department that needs doing, they can do it for us before we return Midlands-wards in the autumn.

This evening we’ve been fortunate enough to find a safe field in which to let the dogs have a run (just by bridge 176) although they all seemed more interested in eating grass. They eventually got going, charging about the place for ten minutes or so before running out of puff - we even felt plucky enough to let Monty off, with me standing with the rest of the dogs at the field exit/entrance and A hand-slipping Monty like in his old schooling days. The question was, would Monty run straight towards us? Yes. Would he try his usual trick of dodging around us and carrying on into the far yonder? No. Would he wait patiently for mummy to come and put his lead back on? Yes. And he got a big warm hug from said mummy who was mightily relieved that he did stop and didn’t tank right into us as he was going at a fair old lick, I can tell you! But it was wonderful to see him in full flight, it really was. We’re just hoping his legs don’t swell up as they’re wont to do after vigorous exercise. Frankenpaws we call him...

We’re looking to make a very early start tomorrow as we’d like to get through Middlewich before any scrum develops, leaving us free to saunter across the arm and back to base in time for a Saturday am getaway home. Home…funny that, as this feels like home now. Actually, it feels like a greenhouse because we lit the fire at teatime and it must be 90F in here!

15 April 2009


Today has been a bit curate's eggy. We awoke to the sound of rain on the roof so promptly pulled the duvet back over our heads, only finally emerging when our need for tea outdid our need for sleep. I was struck once again by the barometric sensor that seems to exist within our dogs, which has them quiescent for ages whenever it's a damp and miserable morning, but squeaking and sticking their noses in my face from 6am when it's fine and sunny. Who needs seaweed or BBC Weather? Just look at Susie - is there any sign of a raised eyelid or not? Is her bum still in her blanket?

Thankfully the rain cleared away by about 10.30am, and the arrival of a boat below Dutton was our signal to get going and save the lockie the trouble of penning us through separately. We took it slowly to Saltersford so that we'd time our arrival for the end of the lunch break, but lost our companion en route who was seduced by the two for one offer on at the Riverside pub. A meanwhile was seduced by the Spam that I'd bought for the dogs. Why did I bother getting Sainsbugs' Taste the Difference Wiltshire Cured Ham for his sarnies when all he wants is bloody Spam? And the dogs' corned beef looks as though it's been tampered with too...

We moored up for the last time in Barnton Cut and I made arrangements with helpful local cabbies, Twinz Travel, to pick me up in Nantwich later in the afternoon. I then recovered the car from Barnton and drove it to Nantwich in readiness for Saturday's return home, eventually meeting up with the lovely Kev from TT; he drove me back to the boat while demonstrating that it was indeed possible to talk incessantly for 55 minutes without pausing for breath or having your passenger leg it at the lights just for some much needed respite.

Tomorrow we're due to leave the Weaver and it'll be with heavy hearts I'm sure. It could be a couple of years before we're back but back we will be, if they'll have us. Thanks for a great time, RWN - we'll miss you.

13 April 2009

Easter snapshot

Now where were we? Ah yes, planning a Saturday ‘from bottom to top of the Weaver’ cruise…Well, that was always going to happen, not. We got seduced by the sun at Barnton and pulled over onto an empty mooring at 2pm, whipping out the chairs for a bit of reading, dozing and footie listening. Our plans had earlier become unraveled anyway as we couldn’t fit under Newbridge swingbridge, forcing us to turn well before Winsford. The compensation was that it was a glorious morning and although it became noticeably busier at Hunts Lock and Northwich with boats heading Vale Royal-wards, there was still a free spot on the town quay that enabled me to do a quick bit of shopping. Then we were off again, with revised intentions of going to Dutton but as I said, the siren call of the grassy bank at Barnton meant that it was a foreshortened cruising day. However, we reasoned that we could equally well go to Weston Point and back to Dutton on Easter Monday, as we had a lunch date with friends in Nantwich on Sunday. And as luck would have it, the car was only parked up in the village so it did all work out for the best really.

Sunday’s strategy was to take the dogs on a mammoth walk before we left them for the afternoon and after 2 1/2 hours tootling along in warm sunshine, they were absolutely shattered – well, not so shattered that they didn’t take a good close look at Neo the Great Dane who was frolicking by the boat on our return. But a look seemed to do the trick as you could see their little doggie minds all realizing the same thing at the same time – he’s very big and I’m very tired, just let me by please. They were still in a fairly somnolent state when we returned a few hours later, which made seven of us actually, as we both had eaten far too much and were just aching for a lie down. In fact, after dinners and wees (dogs), everyone just drifted off to bed and the boat’s complement was asleep by about 9pm. My slight gastro-discomfort, which is still lurking 24 hours later, I put down to my wanting to be a good guest – well, if your host has gone to the trouble of cooking two roasts and enough veg to feed a battalion, it would be a mite rude just to help yourself to half a sprout and a mange (pas) tout. And to refuse a chocolate torte as well….I’d never get asked back.

So for today’s trip to Weston Point and back to Dutton we have been well fuelled, I can say that. Turkey, lamb, roast pots, parsnips, sweet potato, babycorn, greens, carrots, etc etc, they’ve kept me going throughout and I daresay will see me through to tomorrow now too. (Oh and the Cadbury’s mini-eggs we had with coffee afterwards were soooo tasty…all the better for not having had any for months, methinks!).Obviously this was my second trip to the northernmost stretch of the Weaver but A was very excited to see it for the first time, and thanks to a new floating pontoon that’s been installed since last weekend at Marsh Lock, we were able to have a good recce of the Ship Canal too. The dogs weren’t impressed with the pontoon though, its odd surface causing much clawing uncertainty and a couple of 4 fault refusals. Eventually though they all made it up safely and we went off for a look-see-cum-wee-stop.

Now whether it was the wind that’s been with us pretty much all day or the salt in the air (there must be salt, given the briny nature of the whole place!), we’re both sitting here with crusty old sea-dog faces – you know the sort, when your eyelids feel gritty and your face is all reddy-brown bar the white wrinkles round your eyes. It’ll no doubt prompt the usual question when we get back home, oooh look at the colour on you, where have you been? The Carribbean?, to which I will reply, with a perfectly straight face, no, Runcorn.

10 April 2009

Easter plans

If all goes to plan, tomorrow we'll complete the full length of the navigable Weaver in one go. We'll turn in the flash and with a fair wind, we'll hopefully get up to Weston Point, enabling A to finally enjoy what I had a foretaste of in his absence last weekend. We'll then backtrack, probably as far as Dutton, leaving us well placed to go and retrieve the car from Barnton on Sunday morning. We'll need that to get to our lunch date on Sunday and we'll probably take the dogs with us - a Dutton to Barnton trek should seem them pooped for most of the afternoon so it should all work out rather well. We'll probably stay on the Weaver until Thursday, as we really do love the peace and solitude down here - I know that we'll take our leave with heavy hearts but we'll certainly be back.

As for the Easter Sunday lunch, I shall be celebrating the end of my diet with the biggest scoff-out that I can possibly manage. Not edifying I know, but boy have I been hungry and I think I deserve a little treat...And on Monday, the hard work of keeping the coal sack off begins...

09 April 2009

Emergency ward quay

Well I’m sitting at the dinette and things are back to normal. A is scowling at his laptop, threatening it with violence and the dogs are vying for ‘nearest the Squirrel’ supremacy, with Miffy close to opening the door and hopping in. I, meanwhile, am basking in the afterglow of being a good citizen, having come to the rescue of an epileptic on the quay at Northwich. Lots of flashing lights and flagging down of ambulances, much hand-holding and sympathetic words and at last Tony was taken off to hospital, the paramedics perhaps more concerned with his cider consumption that morning than the small fit he’d had. Unfortunately that left Tony’s friend Alan all alone with his cider bottle but actually he was more in need of someone to talk to – cue a fascinating life story (or possible Walter Mitty complex) that involved being recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, getting home one day with Tony to the house they shared with Tony’s girlfriend to find her dead and being subsequently charged with murder, although she was declared to have died of natural causes. And for good measure, there was the confession that, despite denials to his friend Tony that he was not having an affair with the girlfriend, the girlfriend had in fact thrown herself onto him as he kipped innocently on the sofa in his jimjams. He relayed verbatim what the girlfriend asked him to do next, at which point I coughed and made my excuses, citing limited passage times at Vale Royal Locks for my impromptu haste to get away. I mean, you couldn’t make it up could you?

After all that drama, the afternoon’s cruise down towards Winsford could have been a huge anti-climax but was saved by the wonderful workings of the two locks we went through. Unlike the automated locks at Saltersford and Dutton, Hunts and Vale Royal need manual working – not so bad on the diddy Hunts Lock but a real physical effort at the big Vale Royal one. They have to wind up these massive paddles which have steroidal gear and handles and then, to open the gates, they have to walk round and round and round with what looks like a butty ‘ellum stuck in a slot. Then they have to reverse the procedure, open the paddles at the other end and before they can let you go, they need to wind open – by hand – a bridge that rather inconveniently spans the chamber. They earn their money do those boys!

At Hunts I was reunited with lovely lockie Chris who had seen me on my way through Saltersford on Saturday and when I rang to alert them to our approach, he remembered me and asked me whether I was still on my own. He had a colleague with him as both these locks are two-man working and he was just as friendly, as were the two at Vale Royal. In fact, the Weaver lockies are some of the very best BW employees I’ve ever come across and it’s such a shame they don’t get to work more boats through…although the Vale Royal chaps may be pleased about that…

We moored up in a strengthening wind and immediately released the hounds who had a mad gallop about the place – we can see along the towpath either way which is a real boon – and that small amount of exercise seems to have done for them. Which makes for a peaceful boat, well at least for another 30 minutes or so until Ranger’s dinner alarm goes off…

Also enjoyed some retail therapy in Northwich prior to Casualty, flexing the plastic in the marvellous Bratts cookware shop. I didn’t think it would be long post-inverter project before we succumbed to a toaster because our grill is absolutely hopeless, you may as well ask Monty to breathe on the bread…and a girl has to have a decent grill pan…and a big sauté pan for home…and a sharp grater….and, okay, a lemon zester too, but honestly, I haven’t done any serious shopping for weeks!

Tomorrow will probably be a stay put and mooch day, although we'll definitely walk back up the cut and see the work going on at Vale Royal small lock, and I'm in a foraging for firewood mode too - the adjacent embankment looks as though it could contain untold riches. Now all I need is for A's laptop to work properly and I'm all set for a heavenly Easter. Have a happy and safe one wherever you are.

08 April 2009

Imminent return

Wow, I keep having to remind myself that I'm married. I haven't been apart from the crew for this long in years - but thankfully he is due back after lunch and I'll celebrate in my normal fashion with a big shop in Tescos. Well, may as well make use of the car while it's handy...Apparently A hasn't really eaten since he left me - pathetic really - so I will whistle up a fave Thai red curry tonight to bolster his flagging spirits. And tomorrow we'll start our Easter hols early and set off, at last, for Northwich (sidetrip to Costa) and Vale Royal, Winsford etc. We are really looking forward to just relaxing and chugging, cruising and chilling for a few days as it's been a busy old time of late. And it will be very nice to actually see the rest of the Weaver - it's like Tantalus at the mo, all the goodies just out of reach, but we'll make up for this extended stay-put by going up and down a couple of times for good measure. The dogs will certainly be pleased to see their master - Monty has taken to snuffling down inside the bed on A's side, rearranging his pillow, and trying not to get too upset when he rushes into the saloon only to find mummy coming through the door. I wouldn't mind but who feeds and walks him? There's gratitude...

Flat cat

I forgot to share this with you and I must because I don't know whether it makes Arthur really clever or really thick. We were walking back along the towpath yesterday, me, him and Miffy and he suddenly stops dead in his tracks. He's turned his head and is looking intently at this boat Annie. And I mean really intently, standing-stock-still-and-not-moving-a-whisker intently. I follow his gaze and there's a cat on this boat. But not a 3D live cat posing on the gunwale...but a 2D painted cat adorning the cabin side. A very lifelike painted cat obviously but Arthur would have been a long time waiting for it to move...

07 April 2009

Good dogs, naughty dogs

Choosing to walk the dogs in two shifts each time (while we're on non-home territory) must be doing wonders for my waistline - and it's also opened up a whole new world of the 'walk without fear'. Allow me to explain. When I go out with any combination of the toppest of top dogs Susie, anxious, fragile Monty and the greyhound world's answer to Frankie Fraser, Ranger, I am always anxious. I'm probably overly anxious and it's my own fault for not dealing with the issues at source but I'm constantly on the lookout for 'problems' - problems largely being innocent, nice dogs hoving into view on the horizon that might, just might, come close enough to get my lot kicking off. Now it is limited to kicking off...well, it has been thus far..so maybe I just need to accept I've got a mouthy crew, but it's a shame that I don't feel that I can let my dogs mix and mingle as dogs should (and which would no doubt address the fundamental issue, that they are not fully socialised). But I just don't want to take any risks...

So how nice it was today to take out Arthur and Miffy on their own and not to have to worry about a thing...they are pretty bombproof these two, but obviously in a pack of five, three baddies always outgun two goodies. But on their own they were a delight, enjoying an off lead romp and rummage along the towpath as we walked from Barnton Pool back to the Lift. They behaved impeccably when they met a young pup - they ignored it actually - and came back when called and didn't hare off to find the nearest road...the perfect recipe for dog walking bliss. So Arthur and Miffy are now officially the A team and Susie, Monty and Ranger are...well, it begins with B, and ends in uggers. Still love 'em though. And I shouldn't really blame them for their mummy's mistakes...

06 April 2009

Upside down world

I shouldn't laugh but this evening I had a call from my absent crew who is 'languishing' at home. I use the word advisedly because a) the broadband's gone phut, b) there's no water as someone's gone through a main down the road and c) there's no heating due to b). I, on the other hand, have hi-speed internet access via my T-Mobile dongle, lovely hot water thanks to the engine and a warm toasty interior courtesy of the Squirrel. Houses? Who needs 'em? Apparently, he's about to put half his worldly goods on eBay in a fit of pique...

05 April 2009

Lonesome pine - not

Okay, maybe this is a naughty thing to say but I've had an absolutely fab weekend as a single girl! Yes, I have missed A, who is still stuck down south, but I've also been able to please myself to the nth degree and it's been great!!! Yes, I've been helped immeasurably by the excellent weather admittedly, but I think what really floated my boat was just having me to worry about and me to indulge for a change. (I know, I know I've got five dogs to care for but they're much easier than a husband!).

So what have I been up to then? Well, Saturday morning seemed to pass all too quickly in two dog walking shifts, a trip to the shops and a coffee break, meaning that I only got away at lunchtime. Having been moored in one place for almost a week, it felt weird to be on the move again, weirder still that I was alone but for my canine crew. However, despite it gusting up once I'd dropped down Saltersford Lock, I made unfettered progress towards Dutton, and tucked myself neatly on to the visitor moorings below the lock with a show of boatmanship that impressed even me. I took everything deliberately slowly, was extra careful with my footing and simply maintained the sort of circumspection that's sensible when you've got just five dogs to rely on, not one of whom can chuck a life ring or give you mouth to mouth if you need it. No, actually, given Ranger's vigorous lickage of me this pm as I had a lie down, mouth-to-mouth is quite possible now I come to think of it.

The rest of the day was passed in a tableau of dog walks and paper-reading, culminating in an evening 4 miler from Dutton to Acton Bridge, up to the Trent & Mersey, along the canal towpath and back down to Dutton via the convenient footpath that joins the two navigations. With all bar one of the Black Prince boats out at Acton Bridge, you can tell the holidays are here. Not that you'd know it if you remained within the confines of the Weaver, mind. I've only seen a handful of boats all weekend and this despite the fine weather. One look out the porthole at seven this morning saw me make one of those executive decisions that you don't regret, well, not until much later when the early start revisits you with a migraine. The mist on top of the water, the still beauty of the day, the promise of meandering delights, it all had far too much of a siren quality about it so no sooner had the dogs done what dogs need to do than they were bundled unceremoniously aboard and we were off. Now, amazingly for me, I'd actually thought ahead about what I'd need during the morning, as my plan was to get to Weston Point/Whites Bridge and then return to Sutton Swing Bridge, where I would stop for a dog/human comfort break. So there I was at the stern complete with thermos mug (full of coffee), thermos flask (full of coffee), two packs of chewing gum, my fleece coat, my radio, my camera, my phone, my Nicholsons, my Weaver guide, my binoculars, my phone charger...You couldn't see me for all the crap I was surrounded by and the only thing I really wanted during the trip was a pee...

It was a grand day though, and apart from the occasional flurry of crews from the Runcorn Rowing Club, I had the river to myself. Mafeking was duly relieved when I made it back to Sutton Swing Bridge, where I also took the opportunity to forage for some wood like a proper liveaboard, and then it was back up river, through Dutton and Saltersford, which were both manned by very obliging relief lockies, to finally draw stumps at Barnton Cut. Ahh, back home..I'm now sitting here with the vestiges of a headache and a very hot face, wondering whether my scurvy crew have earned their dog tack....

03 April 2009

Taking root

I think we're in danger of putting down roots in Barnton Cut because we're still here, our earlier attempt to move down to Dutton thwarted yesterday with the news that a paddle in the big lock had bust. Obviously as the small lock hasn't functioned since Noah was a lad, this left us with the difficult decision - not - of sitting it out in God's enchanted England for another day. This morning we were going to get up nice and early and, in expectation of the lock being fixed by the industrious team from Blackpool that had arrived in a blaze of oxy-acetylene, set off for Weston Point. Well, a call at 7.15am put the kybosh on that and the long and short of it is, is that I've lost a key member of my crew as he's had to travel down south to fix a major problem with a system somewhere. So I'm sitting it out, enduring the sunshine and the peace and quiet and the lack of grumbling from the other side of the dinette, half tempted earlier this pm to cut loose and do a bit of single-handing but opting for walking the dogs in shifts instead. It's a nice life...wonder how A's getting on?

01 April 2009

The key to happiness

Don’t you wish you could bottle some experiences? Like our trip down the lift yesterday. Like our five mile walk in the warm evening sunshine today. Like the peace and tranquility we’ve been luxuriating in for the past 24 hours. This is a wonderful spot down here on the Weaver, and with a booming 3G signal we’ve been able to get on with our work uninterrupted but for interludes of dog-walking – oh, and my successful search for a tin opener. Thanks, M&S Convenience Stores, my dogs’ pilchards have been liberated!

However tempting it is to stay here, tomorrow we will move on down to Dutton for water before pushing onto the northern terminus of the Weaver and break new ground in so doing. We plan to be back at Barnton Cut for the weekend and then spend next week on the southern reaches of the river. We were going back to our mooring in time for Easter but sod that, we’re enjoying ourselves too much so we’ll take a cab to our Easter Sunday engagement instead. I guess we’ll have to tear ourselves away at some stage but I’m not thinking about that yet…too many more experiences to bottle.

A propos of absolutely nothing, greyhounds and stiles do not mix. Under, over, under over, they just couldn’t make up their mind. In the end, they squeezed through the middle, just to be really contrary…

And a tip for marital harmony...don't discover your BW key has been 'misplaced' after your hubby has gone to all the trouble of foregoing his elevenses, untangling the hose and shifting the coal sacks to unscrew the water cap...Note to all careless spouses: spare keys can be bought at the Anderton Boat Lift.

30 March 2009

Fudge it

A quick post tonight as it’s late and I’m cream crackered. A good day though, well at least until 7pm when A and I both turned our attention to the work that we should have done earlier. But it’s a reasonable trade off, cruising in the daytime, slogging away in the darkness, although shoehorning the dogs’ dinner and our dinner in as well has made it a long old night. Not helped much by the tin opener self-destructing and both of us losing our tempers trying to liberate some pilchards with a Swiss Army Knife.

But from the lowlight to the highlight of Monday – mooring behind the fudge boat in Middlewich. I only stopped because I saw them taking delivery of about 10 tonnes of caster sugar. I had mistakenly assumed that they bought in and resold their fudge but no, quite the contrary, they make all of it on board, in a single trusty pan on the stove top. Well that changed things completely – this was something definitely worth breaking the diet for so I willingly took up their invitation to go to the hatch for ‘samples’. I got a bit worried when the samples box emerged as there were 20 plus Tupperware boxes inside it each with a different flavour fudge in – I could see my diet being wrecked for about the next week as I was surely duty bound to taste them all. Thankfully, each sample was just a tiny taster rather than a big lump and I made my excuses after number four, moving to quell any insistence that I try the ‘rhubarb and custard’ or ‘cherry brandy’ with an order for four bags – choc mint, choc orange, choc banana and mocha, which I handed over to A as an early Easter gift. Judging from the alacrity with which he scoffed the stuff this afternoon, it was very fine fudge indeed.

We called it a day at about 5.30, mooring up at Marbury, but only just as we had a massive fight with our stakes and the concrete-bank-masquerading-as-grass, which the bank won of course. We shuffled a bit further on and got in okay, but a few more rings around here wouldn’t go amiss. But it would be wrong to end on a negative note as I absolutely love the run up here from Middlewich and today has been a real joy, recalcitrant tin openers not withstanding. Goodnight.

29 March 2009

Years roll back while clocks go forward

Definitely one of those days I’d happily have back at the end of my life – the first proper day’s cruising of the year and what a corker! Warm sunshine more redolent of May than March, chatty, happy boaters, uneventful locks, glorious scenery, a hysterical dog walk when Monty decided to race the boat with daddy at the helm, dragging us all in his wake, and here we are, tied up snug for the night just shy of Middlewich. Tomorrow, we’re aiming for an early start so that we can get up to Anderton while also making time for a conference call in the morning – fingers crossed, we’ll be down on the Weaver come Tuesday.

Such a contrast to yesterday, which was basically horrible weather-wise but was brightened up considerably by the arrival of Geoff and Mags off Seyella for a cuppa, chat and dog inspection. Two hours later we were still going strong but dogs’ walking needs broke up the party rather precipitately – we do hope we’ll catch up with them again later in the year as they are marvellously warm and genuine people, the sort you feel better for just being around.

One look out of the porthole this morning confirmed that the forecast was accurate and I didn’t hang about, walking the dogs and then pootling onto the service dock for fuel and a pump out. It was there that I had a very uplifting experience – I think. The boat tied up on the other side of the cut is one we’ve seen a lot of and we’ve talked to the owners quite a bit too – we’ve just never picked up on their names. Anyway, his head pops out of the sidehatch and recognizing the boat, says to me, ‘Where’s your mum?’. An odd question but maybe we’d talked about mum when we chatted in Llangollen last year so I said, ‘Hopefully in France where she should be.’ Then he says, ‘That’s your mum’s boat isn’t it?’, at which point I think he’s been on the port a tad early. I replied, ‘ No it’s our boat, the same one we were on when we saw you in Llangollen last December.’ He stops and stares and then blurts out, ‘Oh my god I thought you were your daughter ! You look so young! And half the size!’ Much merriment ensued and I felt elated until at least half past two when I realized that up to November I must have looked like some ancient fat old walloper. Now I’m mistaken for my own ‘daughter’…maybe he should get his eyes tested… come to think of it he was squinting into the sun…

I also discovered during the day that the GPS application on my iPhone has had loads of new features added to it, which I will have a play with over the next two weeks. Out of curiosity I set it running to record our speed, as I’ve always believed that we are the slowest boat EVER in the whole wide world of canals. I was surprised to see it register 3mph so maybe I’m imagining it but we are always being caught by other boats…it doesn’t bother me as you can’t be in a hurry on a narrowboat but it sometimes has me wondering whether we’d have enough oomph to punch a tide or cope with a strong stream.

Interested to see that the old canal stables house at Minshull Vernon is for sale – it’s been beautifully converted although it seems to be fenestrationally-challenged. Took a look earlier at the estate agent’s website to see what it’s on for - £610,000! Are you having a laugh? Yes, it’s got a great view but then so have I – and I’ll have another one tomorrow which will be just as nice. Bricks and mortar? Pah, you can keep them. I’m a confirmed water baby. No, make that a water daughter.

25 March 2009

Learning the ropes

Although we’re a few weeks away from leaving our long-term mooring, mentally we are already gone. Some people would argue that I’ve been mentally gone for a while but that’s another story…That’s perhaps why these few days pinned by the wind above Swanley locks have been so interesting, because, while not doing anything that we haven’t done a hundred times before, we are thinking differently. I am in ‘Greygal at large’ mode, looking at things from a liveaboard/continuous cruiser perspective. Now I know that we’re not actually going to be these things for some years to come, but cutting the umbilical chord from a ‘fixed marina berth in perpetuity’ situation has encouraged a quasi full-timing mindset.

For example, now I know why ccers are so organized and attentive: they plan when they’re going to shop or when the shop will come to them; they keep tanks topped up/emptied just in case; they keep a good eye on the weather and take advantage of weather windows; whereas we just sat back and enjoyed the lull in the storm when we should have been moving to tackle the ‘no milk ergo no coffee’ crisis that developed yesterday...and potentially the water one if himself decides to shower with his usual gay abandon.

As it was, because we’re still within reach of our car, that little crisis was soon solved with a shopping trip and a double lug down the towpath, once with shopping, the second time with coal. Who needs to diet when you get all this exercise for nowt? But soon we’ll be travelling/working and the car won’t be in reach; the weather may still be bad; we may still be a day’s cruise from a waterpoint; and the fortnight’s supplies that we brought with us may have been polished off within the week. So we need to get our act together a bit, I reckon. Although work/cruises tend to last only 1-2 weeks, I can envisage longer sojourns, particularly over the summer when things are quieter for us – and of course, there is the new dynamic in play of propelling ourselves around from A to B which may well demand extended stints on board. No hardship, but planning will be to the fore.

Despite the grim weather, we’re thoroughly enjoying our time out. Geoff and Mags on Seyella are still with us, our dogs disgracing themselves as we walked past this afternoon, kicking off at lovely Meg through the window. Susie went straight up to the glass, peered at Meg and let rip with a fusillade of bossy barking. Honestly, she is such a show up! After a close encounter with a dead fox (there’s an equation here: the more minging something is, the greater the attraction) we came back and set about lighting the fire, so we are now all toasty and contemplating dinner.

Earlier this morning, we had a visit from Mike of Dutchy Engineering to discuss a few bits and pieces we want doing to the boat before we leave the area in May. If you’re within an hour’s drive of Nantwich, I can thoroughly recommend Mike for all things boaty – he’s conscientious in his work, his rates are very reasonable and he is professional in his approach eg he actually rings you when you ask him to, which is more than a lot of canal-related traders seem to manage. Also to be mentioned in dispatches today are Snaygill Boats and Lemonroyd Marina, both of whom responded to my request for information about casual moorings.

Last but not least, my thanks to all those people who left comments last time round – it’s great to know that we’re not alone on this journey and that there’ll be a welcome in the hillside when we travel Pennines-wards.

23 March 2009

Plan C takes shape

I don't hang about me. A quick email exchange with the very helpful and obliging Nigel Stevens at Shire Cruisers and we've got ourselves a temporary billet on the Calder & Hebble sorted. So we'll go from Nantwich in late May, taking three weeks to go up the Macc, Peak Forest and Huddersfield canals and onto our summer residence at Sowerby Bridge. We'll probably shuttle between there and the Aire & Calder over the course of a week or two with the odd weekend thrown in, before moving on properly at the end of September. We'll use our autumn hols to tackle the Rochdale and then head as far south as we can before Christmas, the ultimate destination being Stenson, but with probable stop-offs at Preston Brook and Great Haywood along the way. We'll then use 2010 for a good old chug around the southern canals. Wow, this sounds exciting even on paper – what's it going to feel like actually doing it?

Wind of change

When we are in our bricks home, we tend to go to bed later than we should and get up at, well, a relaxed hour, shall we say. In our floating home, we go to bed earlier, not for the lack of things to do but because we always find ourselves absolutely plum tuckered out, and we rise earlier. Strange that our habits should change so effortlessly with our surroundings. Yesterday, we were clearing dogs off our bed at about 10pm, exhausted by the spring cleaning and pleasantly anesthetized by the chicken breasts and five veg that I cooked for supper. Being an enthusiastic amateur cook who is just finding her way, my lesson from yesterday was to put the stuffed chicken in a dish in future – that way, you have a much better chance of catching the brie that will make a headlong dash for freedom if given a baking tray to slide over. It was also the first outing for my little steamer and what a revelation – I have to confess I think it’s superior to my all singing, all dancing electronic one at home. It made short work of new potatoes, baby corn, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower and I just need to tweak the timings slightly so I’m on the right side (crunchy) of al dente.

Today it’s been blowing an absolute hooley, exactly the same as the last time we tried this work/cruise lark. However, this time we have a good mobile signal and it’s all quiet on the A front – so far, so good. He also reckons the boat makes him brainier as he is frequently struck with inspiration here, whereas at home he is more stuck in frustration. Don’t now why that should be, maybe just a more relaxing environment? At this rate, the house will be going on the market a few years earlier than planned…

Forgot to mention in my last post that just as we were about to walk the dogs yesterday morning, a fit, lithe chap came pounding down the towpath - aha, I spy Geoff off Seyella. Monty and Susie gave him a very vocal welcome but soon calmed down when they realised there was fussing to be had. We had a brief chat with promises to catch up over a cuppa when they come past us..which should have been today but in this wind, I don't blame him for staying put.

22 March 2009

A big decision

Do you remember The Littlest Hobo? It was a US kids' programme about a German Shepherd dog that made his own way in the world, stopping to help those in need a la Lassie. It had an annoyingly catchy theme tune, the only words of which I recall are 'must keep movin' on'. Okay, I know what you're thinking, she's been at the cooking sherry and she's rambling...But no, I'm sober and I mention it as it sort of sums up the Damascene revelation we had on Friday/Saturday after arriving at the boat Friday lunchtime. We were looking around us and it struck us very forcibly that we were getting stuck in a rut. You see, quite a few of our neighbours live on boats but don't choose to 'go boating'. They could but don't because they prefer to stay put within the residential community they've created - now we have no problem with that, that's their choice, but we want to be part of a boating community. And yet there we were, sitting tight, not bothering to unplug, untie and get out and about....what happened to seeing the canals? Our boat's got an engine for a reason but we appeared to have forgotten that. But no more and yesterday, after a breakfast pow-wow, we gave notice and will leave our permanent mooring for good in a few weeks' time - we will officially be footloose and fancy free! 

At this early stage, plans are a bit in flux but we anticipate moving the boat around the system as other 'must work but want to cruise' boaters/bloggers do very successfully, finding a pace and a way of doing things that suits both our work commitments and our doggy needs. With so many more marinas now open than there were even three years ago, casual moorings for a week, month or quarter would appear to be quite easy to come by, especially as boaters become more mobile and less wedded to a berth for fear of not being able to find another one. We are both very excited by the opportunities that lie ahead, of the greater freedom and adventure it will bring and the large dollop of 'living the dream' that it will inevitably give us. 

Although it's been a sudden decision, it's one that just feels instinctively right. My trip last week with Sue and Richard on Indigo Dream, where they relished even a short cruise and for whom a minute stuck in the marina is a minute wasted, may have played on my subconscious a little but I wouldn't have wanted to push the idea of 'must keep movin' on' to A, as the concept, while right up my street, would probably have unnerved him as it introduces a few too many unknowns. Just shows what I know...as long as I do the planning and we have every mobile dongle going, he's game. To be honest, I'm not sure how much more extra boating we'll actually end up doing, as we do both have 'full-time' freelance jobs to hold down, but if we can get even a few additional work/cruise weeks in, in different parts of the country, then that will be a real bonus.

As a result of this change, it looks like we'll be moving on to Plan C for our June holiday. Haven't done any detail yet but if we head roughly north via the Huddersfield Narrow, then we can strike out for a marina on the Leeds/Liverpool. We'll then use the rest of the summer to go east to west over the Pennines, maybe taking in Liverpool, before travelling down to the Gt Haywood area. We'll use that as a base for the autumn hols and hang around in the vicinity until November time when we'll hand the boat over to Midland Canal Centre for blacking and modifications. By then, we should know whether we were born to be Littlest Hobos or whether it was a completely crackpot decision - but I'm confident we'll never be in one place for long again.

Brimming with new found enthusiasm, we cast off on Saturday morning and found ourselves a lovely spot above the Swanley Two locks. Out came all the cleaning materials and the Brassmaster himself, A, and so began a weekend of top to bottoming. And how! The brass, which was truly disgusting, is now gleaming, as are the cabin sides, the cratch, the glass, even the dogs got a little buff in the sun. We're exhausted and stiff but we have a glorious view out of the sidehatch, it's beautifully tranquil and there's chicken breasts stuffed with brie wrapped in pancetta for supper. Oh, and a booming T-Mobile signal too, so everyone's happy!

P.S. My heartfelt thanks to those excellent people who donated money to greyhound rescue as a way of marking my recent weight loss achievement...you know who you are and you are stars.

P.P.S. In answer to Heth's comment, there'll be no before pictures posted if I can help it - I don't want to scare you. As for after pics, I'll see what I can do - I don't want my double size zero dogs making me look fat..

P.P.P.S If you have any recommendations re: helpful/accommodating marinas, safe 7/14 day moorings etc, indeed any advice for the soon to be 'at large' Greygal, please do post a comment

18 March 2009


Forgot to say earlier...my scales tell me it's game over, target reached, four and a half stone shifted. And that's with both feet firmly planted and no hanging from the shower rail. Now the hard work begins...keeping it off!

Counting down

This beautiful Spring weather and everyone coming out of hibernation has given me a real yearning to be back on board and out there asap. Touch wood, plans for the working week on the Weaver are still on schedule. In fact, it looks like we’ll be leaving home a day early, giving us the whole weekend for spring cleaning and maintenance. Cue the rain….I also hope to catch up with Geoff and Mags on Seyella – they’ve had a tough week with Geoff’s brother sadly losing his battle against cancer and it would be nice to see them before they head off to Ellesemere Port.

Next week, I have a meeting in Harrogate on Monday, A’s off to Manchester on Thursday and then we’ll take the day off on Friday to get moving. We need the full works before leaving – water, gas bottle, pump out, diesel, rubbish, but then there’ll be no stopping us. As the Middlewich branch has an excellent Vodafone signal along much of its length, I suspect we’ll stop short of the town to enable us to do a work catch-up in the evening. Then after a quick paper run in the morning, we’ll push on through the locks before it gets interesting with the hire boats coming up, with the aim to get up to the vicinity of Acton Bridge. This stretch is one of my absolute faves and we’ll probably stop there on Sunday before moving back down to Anderton first thing Monday for passage down. That leaves the weekenders on the Weaver to do their stuff without us getting in their way, although we may well walk the dogs down to the river from the cut and have a bit of a gongoozle.

First stop will probably be Barnton Cut and from then on, we’ll potter about as and when the fancy takes us. We do want to see both ends of the river this time but as we don’t have to be back at Nantwich until the 10th , I don’t suppose this will be a problem. Currently, neither of us have anything in the diary that necessitates being at home so we could conceivably extend our stay to after Easter – and if we take a taxi to our engagement on the 11th, we could stay out, rather than come back just for this one social obligation. We’ll have to see…I know from experience that it pays to keep plans fairly fluid but interestingly both of us are showing no particular inclination to rush home...

This trip is important because it’s once again testing the viability of the work/cruise concept. Our last serious trial of whether it’s possible for us to do both ended in a slight marital disagreement and male hissy fit, thanks in large part to storm force winds that pinned us to the bank just shy of Coole Pilate on the Shroppie – and well clear of any serviceable data signal for A’s work. If we’d only been able to get to the embankment at Nantwich, then he’d have had booming 3G and all would have been well. As it was, there was lots of ‘I can’t work like this’ chuntering and the week was a bit of a write-off. Thankfully, we know the T&M is pretty good signal-wise and as we have three mobile operators to play with, we should be okay. My default, as mentioned in a previous post, is to go and colonise McDonalds in Northwich and use their free wi-fi. I can see us building a nice collection of hamburgers to take back to the dogs, although this time I’ll take extra special care to make sure Arthur’s beef pattie doesn’t fall out into the mouth of a conveniently placed Ranger.

One footnote. As you’ll have seen from the sidebar on the blog, you can now follow our riveting adventures via Twitter as I’ve crawled into the 21st century and worked out – roughly – how to tweet. So for the next couple of weeks at least, consider me your roving canal correspondent for the north west. I’m the twit @greygaltweet.

16 March 2009

That was the weekend that was

Well, what a weekend! It kicked off in fine style with a long overdue rendezvous with my fellow bloggers, boaters and greyhound nuts Sue and Richard of Indigo Dream. For one of Sue’s characteristically brilliant reports of the day, I refer you to her blog post here. Although we’d never met, I felt as if we were old friends from the off, and as the coffee flowed generously and we cruised off into new waters (for me) the conversation flowed non-stop, with the occasional pause for breath as I rudely pointed at something and asked ‘What’s that?’. The dogs obviously got quite a bit of attention and they are a lovely pair with very distinctive personalities – it was strange for me as they reminded me so much of Monty and Susie in manner but had the wrong fur coats on!

I thoroughly enjoyed cruising a part of the GU that I’ve never even seen before, let alone boated on, and to pass through the famous Bull’s Bridge was quite a highlight. By a strange coincidence, later that night I was watching Narrowboat Afloat on Sky and he went over the very same ground that I’d been on just a few hours earlier. Our pub stop was remarkable for the sight of Lou and Blue happily and quietly settling down on their sheepskins by the table, eating their own sausages and behaving impeccably. Why remarkable? Well, if I took my lot into a boozer, there’d probably be a riot with them turning over tables as they hunted down people’s dinners, not to mention them muscling in on us, sticking their noses under our elbows to try and lick the gravy off a nice steak and ale pie. I mean, we just wouldn’t take them within sniffing distance of a pub, not if we didn’t want to be barred from every dog-friendly inn going. But Lou and Blue, you’re a credit to greyhound society – and it comes to something when dogs are better behaved than children.

Indigo Dream ate up the miles on the way back and all too soon Sue was performing an inch perfect manoeuvre back into what is a tricky marina berth. Sad to say goodbye, we promised one another that we could certainly meet up again soon, probably in the Midlands or further up north depending on the ID’s cruising plans. I had a fairly good idea from the blog that I’d be spending the day with a cracking human and canine crew and I wasn’t wrong – and while I made a terrible fuss of the dogs, what I appreciated most was meeting up with like-minded people who were warm and witty, interesting and interested, and just delightful cruising companions. Thanks again, Indigo Dreamers!

Sunday was never going to equal Saturday in terms of excitement but it ran it quite close as A and I went over for lunch with friends that we haven’t seen for over ten years. Mind you, it felt like about ten minutes after we’d done the reintroductions and we had a superb afternoon of food and conversation. By a happy coincidence, they were following a low GI diet so the potentially heavyweight lunch turned more into more of a light middleweight affair. Not that I stinted, stuffing down a big slice of chocolate and pecan pie after my watercress soup and poached lamb. Well, a girl has to treat herself occasionally and as the Indigo Dream had sensitively put a doughnut ban in place on Saturday (you really shouldn’t have!), I thought it wouldn’t hurt…and it didn’t because it tasted fab! One incident to report: the local cat – Hovis Brown, what a name! – took a fancy to my car and taking advantage of the lowered roof jumped in for a gander. We came out at the sound of the alarm to find him pacing the dash – just imagine if he’d stowed away until we’d got home. The gang would have considered that a doggy(catty)-bag beyond price….

So all in all a cracker of a weekend, and I was in a very chilled state. Then came this morning and an early walk with the dogs. As A had to be on site by 8.00am I took them on my own and as it was a lovely day I thought I’d let them have a run in the field. Now when in the field they never go near the road, never, ever, ever…cue heart in mouth moment as Susie, Ranger and Arthur hare off in the verboten direction, their attention taken with something or other. Thankfully they stop short of actually jumping down from the field edge into the lane but I could so do without that sort of pulse-quickening so early. A couple of strong lattes back home and equilibrium has been restored. Now I better get on with my work….ah, do you remember work, some of you? Yes, I’m sure you do miss it..

12 March 2009

It ain't Friday yet

I seem to be having Friday 13th one day early...I get home from a day in London really, really looking forward to my dinner: calves' liver with a balsamic glaze, mash, lots of veg, lovely. Open up the liver and despite having an 'eat by' date of the 12th, it had gone off. Well, it smelt like it had gone off but I cooked up a little morsel just in case I was being neurotic. I sampled it, swallowed it, didn't like it, gave some to A who promptly choked and spat it out. Sensible chap - I fear I may become reacquainted with that morsel later tonight. As all the veg was already prepared I had a quick rethink - slightly tricky when you don't really have much in but there were three eggs going spare so I convinced A that a ham and cheese omelette with mash and veg was going to be his best bet. I'd have a poached egg - poached in my smashing new poach pod - with veg, and cheer myself up with some strawberries for afters. Well, the omelette stuck to the pan; my egg fell out of the poach pod as it hit the water and self-destructed in a sea of raging albumen; the veg - bar the carrots - were decidedly yuk (even the dogs rejected them) and half the strawberries had gone off. And I can feel that bit of liver just waiting to strike...

11 March 2009

The story of the gluttonous five

An absolute stunner of an early Spring day so cue an extended lunch break for dog walking through the little valley that surrounds the village. It was really quite warm and if this continues then we may see a repeat of that fabulous Easter of 2003 when yours truly was sporting shorts, T-shirt and bare feet. I remember quite clearly polishing the brass…then polishing off about eight hot cross buns.

Talking of which, I was reading a woman’s mag yesterday and fell upon an article on dieting. The usual stuff, don’t deny yourself, have a balanced intake of food and increase your exercise blah blah blah but there was one little nugget I latched onto. It said forget a blanket ban on 'bad foods' - instead you should just try and do without your ‘gluttonous five’, those foods that you just love but that are your serious undoing. Just cut them out, whatever they are. Now what was a little bizarre was that they were insistent that you were specific rather than generic. For example, if your weakness was cheese and onion crisps, ban cheese and onion crisps…but it’s okay to have salt and vinegar apparently. Huh? Well, unless that was also on your gluttonous five list…I guess the logic behind it is that there are some foods more than others that we love to stuff and that bust our diets wide open – if we can at least cut those out, then it’s going to help us lose weight in the long run.

So out of curiosity I compiled my own G5 index, which shocked me with its infinite breadth and variety:

> Cinnamon whirl/Belgian bun

> Caramel shortbread/chocolate tiffin

> Pain au raisin/croissant

> Hot cross bun/Chelsea bun

> Doughnuts

Now you understand why I’ve had to lose that sack of coal….But the thought of going without...If there’s anyone who can supply me with a low-cal recipe for a doughy, tasty treat, please make yourself known to me. Grubby used fivers may be in the offing.

P.S. Someone is bound to suggest Soreen Malt Loaf as a low-fat alternative. Trouble is, I love Soreen and those loaves are...well, deceptively easy to get through. Especially when you've made free with the Lurpak. And don't get me started on the SnackPak version...at one stage you couldn't see the carpets in my car for little yellow plastic containers in the footwell. Oh the shame.

10 March 2009

Changing direction

The news that boaters will now be able to take their own craft through Standedge Tunnel, albeit with a BW man in attendance for when you chicken out at the pinch points, is a great fillip to our Pennine Ring cruise plans. I wouldn't have minded the 3 mile schlep over the top but it seemed such a shame not to be able to enjoy the full tunnel experience - not when you'd made all that effort to get there. Now we can get mucky aong with everyone else. Goody. However, it won't be this spring - it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind, so I've done a Mrs Slocombe and unanimously decided that the Pennine Ring will now feature as our autumn cruise. Which means that, at last, we get to go south!

My grand plan is to go into work/cruise mode during the last week of May (half-term) and so better position ourselves for a jaunt down to Stratford, returning up the cut to then dive down the Worcester & Birmingham. A quick river saunter to Stourport, a let's-get-a-move-on mosey up the Staffs and Worcester and a breakneck dash back up the Shroppie should see us pushing the holiday envelope to the max. But as we don't actually have to be back anywhere by any particular time, we could just flick over into work/cruise mode again and finish off at a more sedate pace - we'll just have to see how the mood takes us.

I have to confess that the Stratford/W&B thing is an itch that I've been needing to scratch for some time. I've never done the southern part of the Stratford canal and it's been well over twenty years since my dad and I did a couple of mega jaunts up and down Tardebigge. And yet it remains one of my favourite canals and repository of many happy memories. It's definitely overdue a revisit and despite previous plans to get down there, something or other has always put the kybosh on it. Fingers crossed that we pull it off this time. So that's June sorted. Now, can I squeeze in another week somewhere, she says, looking at her calendar? Mmm, Bugsworth in December maybe?

Working week on the Weaver

In ten days or so we should be back on the boat admiring our new carpets while simultaneously tutting at the state of our brasses. I've told A that we're not going anywhere while the exterior looks so unkempt so I'll be on wash and polish duty while he gets mean with whatever kick-ass brass cleaner comes to hand. The plan is to do some work-related visits that week while we still have access to the car and then to set sail in the general direction of the Weaver, on which we will pootle about in work/cruise mode and hope for decent dongle reception. If all else fails, we will go to Northwich and find a McDonalds to set up camp in - chips and free wifi? Wahey! The loose idea at present is to meander back slowly in time for Easter Sunday lunch with friends but we'll have to play it by ear, as ever. I can't wait until time is truly our own to do what we want with; work just gets in the way of having a great time. It's a stupid idea, whoever thought of it.

We were blessed with some absolutely delightful weather on our first Weaver trip, which of course helped make the experience all the sweeter, so I'm praying for another burst of Spring to see out March and welcome in April. There's not enough polish to go around for all the brass monkeys out there at the mo...

09 March 2009

Summoned the courage

I didn't so much summon the courage as let curiosity get the better of me but either way, I stood on the scales on Saturday morning and learnt my fate. First reaction, (inevitable) disappointment that I was not yet at target although realistically I'd have needed to lose a body part to have achieved that in the timeframe I'd given myself. But then after plonking myself down on the loo seat and using my fingers to work out what I'd actually lost over the last month, I realised that I was 12 pounds lighter than I was at the end of January...so not too shabby at all. Now all that stands between me and my target is four measley pounds but I know that they are going to be the most stubborn, intransigent, miserable pounds of the whole lot, the sort of hard to shift pounds that have you asking whether the game is indeed worth the candle and eating into your resolve when the girl at Costa asks 'any cakes or pastries with that?'. But shift them I will, shift them I must, and hopefully in advance of diet D-Day on 9th April. There's a huge Easter egg in Waitrose with my name on it...

05 March 2009

The weighting game

It has been brought to my attention that there has been no weight report of late. Well, that's partly down to the fact that we've been away (actually, that's just an excuse) - it is, in fact, purely down to the fact that I'm being a bit of a wimp and a coward. You see, I'm so close to target now that if I stand on the scales and it tells me that I'm still a few pounds short, I might (perversely, you may think) feel a bit crushed. What I want is to stand there one more time and for the right figures to flash up. Then it's job done, let's celebrate, don't bother cutting me a slice, I'll have the whole cake. So my thinking is, the longer I leave it, the more likely I'll get the right result when I do eventually brave the scales. Whatever happens, this all ends on April 9th, five months after it started. Whatever I am on that day, that'll be that and I'll move on to a maintenance style diet - in particular, maintaining my love of sweet doughy pastries and Indian takeaways. Which is a roundabout way of saying that you'll have a weight report no later than Good Friday and hopefully earlier if I can summon the courage to step on and let go of the wall....

04 March 2009

Midweek report

Flippin’ eck, dogs are worse than children aren’t they? Since the onset of canine plague last week, the gang have all been a bit off their food. Well, I say off… Ranger is not attacking his with the same gusto, Monty is leaving some of his, which is unheard of, Arthur can’t make up his mind to eat or not eat and the girls are just disinterested. However, because of the general queasiness that has been going on with the occasional exploding bottom, I haven’t been that surprised at this suppertime malaise…so how come last night, after they have reluctantly picked at the finest offering of pasta, chicken, cheese and pilchards on a kibble coulis, do they suddenly take a huge interest in the jam doughnuts I’m proferring and gobble each one down without a backward glance or indeed a wrinkled nose or cough and splutter? It’s like the kid who pulls a sickie to stay off school but is well enough to demolish four Shredded Wheat, a loaf of toast and play on his Wii all day. I think I’ve been had…

That aside, it’s been manic since we got back on Sunday hence the absence of a post. (I thought I’d better get one in before my legion of fans started begging for more…Oh, too late, she already has, although, in my defence, this was written before I saw the prod! ) It was with great reluctance that we set off for home, especially as it was gloriously sunny when we left and it got more depressingly foggy the further south we came . Having had a fortnight on board, we’d just got nicely into the swing of things and to come away was a fair old wrench, even for big bed loving A. However, we did achieve a fair bit in the old boat enhancement line, which was very satisfying even if a little damaging to the pocket. In no particular order:

- New cratch cover with plans afoot for a table and proper seating

- A new 2000w inverter which A successfully installed – well it didn’t catch fire and it powered the coffee machine long enough for me to get two lattes out of it

- A magnificent new fender arrangement on the stern with a double tipcat/button set-up, which is just the dog’s dangly bits. It gives me a better than evens chance of not smashing up the rudder now

- A freshly blacked stove, courtesy of yours truly. Next time, I’ll wear gloves – black fingernails at client meetings are so last year

- Replacement LEDs in the saloon that actually shed a decent amount of light. The last lot were less luminous that Arthur's white belly.

- New carpets for the saloon and bedroom selected with a fitting date for next week. I knew there was a reason why we kept 800 packets of blue plastic overshoes from the Huddersfield National. The dogs will be sporting a new line in canine footwear, secured by the red rubber bands that the Royal Mail so liberally sprinkle about the pavements these days. Maybe they’d make a profit if they weren’t so careless..

- A new TV that encouraged us to attack the dust cum cable spaghetti that lurked behind the old one. No-one had ventured there for some time and I think things were living in it…

- A bin for the kitchen, the first ever. A has always held that bins fill too quickly so we’ve coped hitherto with a black sack on the floor in the corner. But I was in homemaker mode so decided the time had come to get something a little more sleek and stylish. While walking round Dunelm Mill, I chanced upon a bin with a sensor – the lid automatically opens when you put your hand over it – and realized that this was my salvation. There’d be ructions if I came back with a normal pedal bin – but a bin with a sensor? That makes it a gadget! Obviously, within 24 hours I was regretting the decision as A suddenly became very tidy and the bloody lid was buzzing back and forth like a thing possessed. Unfortunately it also sounds like the electric hare that greyhounds chase so you can just picture the scene..

- I’m also indebted to my friends on Indigo Dream for introducing me to the potential of sheepskins as dog beds. We’ve always struggled to find beds that work as comfortable areas for the dogs AND as manageable obstacles on the floor. We now have about 8 brown sheepskins littering the place but the dogs love them and we don’t trip over them, so result!

I am now going to do some work so I can earn some money to pay the credit card bill which will come with – or probably without – a red elastic band, but either way, will make me wince and fill me with regret for about….well, two minutes should see me right.

P.S. My decision to bunk off last Friday and go blogger hunting was rewarded with a delightful hour in the company of Geoff and Mags off Seyella. Such lovely people, and Meg the dog is a real sweetie. Good to see you all again, guys. Unfortunately, my mission to track down Bruce and Sheila on Sanity foundered as conditions conspired to make Market Drayton a destination too far for them. They can’t escape me for ever…

P.P.S. Another blogger meet is on the cards as I’ve done the usual and invited myself round to see Sue and Richard and Lou and Blue off the aforementioned Indigo Dream. They’re keen for me to bring the gang – obvious gluttons for punishment – but I’d like our friendship to be long-lasting so my hounds will be left to the tender ministrations of himself while he guts another synthesizer. There’s talk of a mini-cruise – never having done any of the GU south of Maffers, I’m already buzzing like my bin lid!

P.P.P.S. Caxton Lesley, don't think you've escaped. Once you're back on board, I'll be coming to find you...

26 February 2009


If anyone's got RN or MN experience, could they tell me what flag to run up the mast to indicate rampant dog sickness? I take a trip to London today only for it to emerge by late morning that I have inadvertently left A holding the vomiting baby in the shape of a very sickly/poopy Monty (who has never, ever been ill). Then within minutes of getting home tonight, Susie decides to get in on the act with a bit of reflux action of her own. I fear a restless night coming on. Ranger, on the other hand, has demolished about three dinners, is fighting fit and delighted that his mummy is home at last after a trip to the smoke. So delighted, in fact, that he decided to brand me by pushing me back on the stove - I guess I'm his property now.

Oh and a word on the trip. All that way for a lunch of bream (and I walked from Euston to Smithfield)...I expended more calories digging the flesh out of the bloody bones and peeing about with the skin than I actually consumed. Steak next time, methinks. And another thing while I'm at it...is it me or do Virgin trains make you queasy? Can't say that was the most pleasant return journey I've ever made. Or maybe I've got the dog bug and will shortly be jostling for position at the sick bucket?

Tune in next time, folks, to see who's still standing.

25 February 2009

Pennine plans

One of the things that I love about my hubby is that he’s a very trusting sort, quite happy to leave holiday planning to me and to only be informed - when it’s too late to change anything – exactly what I’ve got up my sleeve. In return, I try to be accommodating of his likes and dislikes while also catering for my own, of course. So for our first big holiday cruise of the year, penciled in for the beginning of June, I have been mindful of his preference for excellent scenery and the less busy waterways, and a definite predilection for the circular jaunt as opposed to the out and back. I have overlooked his fondness for lie-ins in favour of my desire for adventure and achievement so I’m just going to tell him that we’re doing a modest northern ring. I’ll omit the detail that we’re actually going to go up and over and around the Pennines via the Huddersfield Narrow and Rochdale canals and that he’ll have to put his back into about 7000 locks. Once we’re off, it’ll be too late!

23 February 2009

I don't like Monday

How I was feeling at about seven pm last night should give you sufficient indication of how our weekend went. As I sat slumped in the chair, it felt and indeed sounded as if the Royal Philharmonic had taken up residency in my stomach. Heaven, the sounds that were coming from my bloated tum! There was a certain musicality and rhythm to them but I could have done without to be honest. But then again, if I will stuff my face two days on the trot, what can I expect? A’s birthday lunch at the local Chinese did for me on Saturday and before I’d had chance to recover we were round at friends for roast pork, crackling and all the trimmings on Sunday. They were, it goes without saying, absolutely delish but I’m back on the straight and narrow today getting excited about celery. Mind, after the day I’ve had, I could do with a big comforting stew and half a fresh loaf ladled with butter to restore my equanimity.

I had everything planned out, you see. One project to start this morning, conference call at 11am, then a number of miscellaneous items interspersed with liberal coffee breaks to take me through to 5pm. Well, I was just ferreting around for some clean socks, ready to set the world on fire, when I sense that all is not well. I notice that Arthur has had a little accident, tell-tale dribbles on one of the dog blankets informing me that we really should have got up earlier. No problem, I’ll sponge it out and dry it in front of the fire. And then I realise belatedly that while my head was in the wardrobe, Arthur had actually climbed on the bed and done most of his widdly business on our duvet. And on our sheet. And on our mattress topper. There was no time to dwell on how strange this behaviour was (greyhounds very rarely soil their 'kennel' and the boat is merely a glorified floating dog-house) as it was all hands to the pump for a rapid bed-strip and an executive decision that we could do with a new duvet and topper, plus some extra fresh bed-linen. One conference call and emergency dash to Dunelm later, I’m back with a few bits and pieces (well, they just seemed to jump into my trolley) and I’m ready to remake the bed. I go to pick up the remaining, un-weed on dog blanket and discover that it is now a puked up on blanket instead. And in quite a major way too, so it immediately joins the old duvet and topper in the toxic waste bag. There are no further bedroom incidents other than me putting the duvet cover on, which is always a comical interlude

Now I don’t know whether this disruption to the bedroom was to blame or whether there’s just something in the air but the dogs have been a right royal pain in the arse all day. Growling, barking, pestering, snapping, most unusual for them and really, really tedious. Add in incontinence and barfing and they’ve been a real joy! No-one looked out of sorts so it wasn’t until dinner that I realised who the sick puppy was – Miffy was completely disinterested in her dish and she didn’t get a chance for a rethink as Monty decided that Monday night was double dinners night. However, judging from the grumbles and woofing coming from his direction, it’s obviously given him a touch of indigestion. Which is where we came in. Let’s hope a degree of quietude returns in the morn…

20 February 2009

Friday doodlings

Not much to report really as we’ve been hard at it, but we did sneak off on Wednesday night to a pub quiz with friends. We came second after a tie-break but sadly the runners’-up prize was a trio of naughtinesses – Jaffa Cakes, Chocolate Fingers and Orange Matchmakers, so I didn’t get to enjoy the spoils. However, tomorrow it’s the last of A’s extended birthday celebrations – a trip with more friends (yes, we have more than two) to our favourite Chinese in Nantwich, although we appear to have also received an invitation for Sunday lunch as well. Mmm, testing times for the old diet but I’m sure I’ll survive.

We’ll kick off the weekend the same way we always do when we’re static on the boat, and that’s an early decamp to the Nantwich Canal Centre café. We used to tuck into the full English but for obvious reasons I, at least, am a little more restrained these days and will content myself with a couple of their excellent coffees – and yes, sanctimony is my middle name! We’ll see what A has. When we leave the car, he’s all ‘I’m not that hungry, maybe just a slice of toast.’ Which is odd because when he’s standing at the counter, it comes out as ‘All day breakfast please with beans and extra bacon’. We’ll then have a bit of a towpath jaunt before returning to unleash the hounds and then abandoning them again for lunch. Poor dogs, stupid mummy forgot to pack any dog food thinking we had plenty on board. Sadly not, so I’ve had to improvise – with disastrous effects! Whatever they put in Bakers, they might want to think again because I have never seen such elephantine stinky do-doos as my lot dropped this morning. Unable to easily put my hands on their usual food, I have instead done a mercy dash to Pets at Home today to get them something a little more wholesome and less likely to give them anal pyrotechnics on the morrow….

18 February 2009

Now there's a thing

Although I can't weigh myself until I get home in 10 days time, I'm fairly confident that I'm now approaching the 4 stone mark in terms of pounds lost (56 lbs in total). Today, because his lordship was doing something terribly important, I had to heft a 25kg bag of coal into the boat (55lbs in total). It was quite a shock to feel just how heavy that was...and to think that my bum's being wearing a sack of nutty slack all this time.

Grass not growing under feet

Right, I've planned my first GU walk for those who may like to come and assist, preferably by administering Costa intravenously or just by keeping me company. I'm going to kick off on Saturday 14th and do the Brentford to Uxbridge section and Susie's drawn the short straw and will accompany me. (Er, I love the way some of you think that all the dogs will be involved in this...well they will but not all at the same time. I mean, come on...I want to finish this walk next year, not when I'm about to collect my pension, and dragging the whole lot around would extend proceedings by about 20 years.)

I'm reliably informed that dogs are allowed on the Underground as I plan to park at Brentford and catch the tube back from Uxbridge to somewhere like Chiswick or Gunnersbury. Heaven knows how this is all going to go but Susie has had big city experience - she took a hoity-toity, look-at-me stroll down Baker Street once - so I'm pretty sure she won't be fazed...exhausted maybe, but fazed, no. I'm going to put all my greyhound rescue badges on my hat, wear my greyhound rescue sweatshirt, plus my greyhound rescue wristband and if anyone asks me what sort of dog Susie is, I'll swear blind that she's an anorexic labrador...

17 February 2009

Toe to tow

So the answer to the plan B poser? Well, Bobcat was pretty much on the money with walking all the canal towpaths – except I’m not quite that ambitious and would happily settle for completing the length of the Grand Union – at least to start with. Yes, there’d appear to be lots in favour of Brentford to Birmingham – two-fifths of it I’ve never boated on and it’s been a while since we did our last jollificating on GU waters. (Most of my memories are from a time when my knickers sported an Age 8-10 label…okay, I was sixteen but times were tough…). It’s practical from an accessibility point of view, with plenty of public transport to get me there and home again. Judging from Google Maps and Canal Planner, it also breaks down nicely into convenient 8-12 mile sections, a sensible pace for someone with a gammy leg and caffeine addiction (I can sniff out a coffee shop from a thousand paces so cue diversions…)

As lots of my weekends are taken up with other stuff, I’m not going to set unrealistic targets either. On the contrary, if I can get the Brentford – Braunston section done this year and then Braunston – Birmingham done next, I’d be pretty happy. And of course it may inspire other adventures – the BCN by bike maybe?

At this precise moment, snuggled down in front of the Squirrel (yep, we did a 3 coffee stop dash for the boat this morning), I’m actually quite content to do nothing whatsoever…although I am ogling the ring doughnut baker’s dozen that was on special at Sainsbugs this afternoon. The dogs are endeavouring to remove temptation though…they’ve thrown up a stockade around the galley and are using a lead to lasso the box…

16 February 2009

Plan B

Now I no sooner mention the words ‘walking’ and ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ and the old left peg starts bleating and moaning – the ache below my knee I’m translating as ‘you’re absolutely stark raving mad if you think you’re going to drag me any further than about 8 miles a day – if you’re lucky’. And having done some research and then slept on it, and then seen the comments from my kind readers, I thought that actually, no, maybe I don’t have to ‘achieve’ something like that – maybe there’s something else, and yes, a plan is already hatching.

The problem with Hadrian’s Wall isn’t that it’s nastily hilly in some places (I am genetically incompatible with inclines), or that it’s not dog-friendly, or even that it’s so crowded you have to take your ticket from a deli counter ticket dispenser to get on in the first place (yes, I made that up but you get my drift), no, the problem is that, deep down, I just don’t think it’s me.

The Greeks had a little phrase – Know thyself – and after four decades I’m finally getting the hang of it. And knowing me as I do, I don’t honestly think I’d enjoy day after day of walking on my own, and I’m really not confident I’d cope physically. Another thing, as wonderful as the landscape is, I’m still not sure it’s enough, as for something that amounts to a personal challenge, I really feel I need another dimension, an extra ingredient that gives me a bit more purpose, that inspires and drives me on, that, in essence, taps into an existing passion – and then it came to me.

This is something that I can do in stages, over months or even years, it’s dog-friendly and A can join me on it when he fancies, it’s something that, critically, takes me way beyond a walk for the sake of it. And it still measures up to ‘achievement’ status…well, in my book in does. So, what is it? Answers on a postcard…

15 February 2009

Walking the talk?

We were going up to the boat today but we've just deferred that until mid-week as A needs to be close to one his servers - he thinks he's fixed it but he can't be sure until everyone has come in on Monday and given it a good hammering. We would have all had the pip if we'd gone up only to have to trail back again...Besides, it's given us some recovery time from A's birthday celebrations. He's got another year on the clock and thankfully is sounding better than his car which has got some sort of death rattle thing going on...so embarrassing when he drops me at the station...We had an enjoyable night at Romford dogs where my bets got more and more outlandish and my capital got more and more diminished. There was compensation in the form of very tasty lamb fillets in red wine with herb mash, followed by a toffee crunch gateau that caused me to put on seven pounds just by looking at it. One mouthful and I could feel my arteries hardening and much as I wanted to demolish the whole lot, the iron-willed dieter in me passed it to A - well, it was his birthday and his syrup sponge wasn't that big...honestly. However, I did steal the piece of Dime bar off the top before transferring ownership...blimey, how good was that? And there I was thinking I'd ditched the sweet tooth...

Yesterday I had the mad idea of walking coast to coast along Hadrian's Wall, taking one dog in turn to keep me company every day while A drives the motorhome cum support vehicle. I did wonder whether I'd taken Arthur's pills by accident - why else this flight of fancy - but thinking about it some more, it would be a great achievement. I look back at my life and worry that I've not actually 'done' anything, well not anything noteworthy, like swimming the channel or climbing a mountain. So does that mean I'm not sufficiently dedicated? Mmm, I think the truth may be something even more unpalatable - I'm too bloody lazy! Well, it's never too late to change so watch this space. If Bruce of Sanity can go for a new boat, I can go for a new lifestyle. Follow my adventures at insanebinthaslosttheplot.blogspot.com

P.S. Apologies to dundustin - you left a comment and my stupid computer that's got a mind of its own rejected it, rather than published it. Thanks for taking the trouble and glad it raised a smile!

11 February 2009

Ramblings of a food-deprived woman

Now this is one of those posts that's going to burble on about nothing in particular so you have been warned...

First of all, I'd like to add my support to the excellent notion that the best form of exercise is that which you can incorporate into your normal everyday life. As one who eschews gyms (except for one sustained period a while back when I was recovering from a broken leg. It was fine for a while but all ended in tears when I kept persisting in lifting heavy weights above my head while listening to Peter Kay and Eddie Izzard on my iPod. Trust me, you can not laugh and lift at the same time...), I've been looking at alternative forms of activity to help me get in shape. Something that doesn't rank as a commitment, but can be worked into a routine...

Our recent embracing of geocaching has reminded me that I do have a pair of functioning legs and now that I'm relieved of half a hundredweight of nutty slack around my midriff, walking is very much more pleasureable that it was. So why not do it wherever possible? Obviously I'm already dog-walking every day and we have some decent cache-based walks at weekends but what about in the week? One idea - How about forgoing the tube/bus and walking everywhere in London whenever I have meetings in town? After my taster last week - Liverpool Street to Islington and back, I upped the stakes a bit yesterday with a round trip of Liverpool Street to Monument, Monument to Oxford Circus, and Oxford Circus back to Liverpool Street, a reasonable 7.5 miles. It was perfectly comfortable, much more pleasant that the underground, all I needed to do was allow a bit more time to get there and remember my trainers - and there was the added bonus of being able to pop into Costa for a pit-stop. At this rate I'll be able to keep up with Caxton Lesley...

Now apparently, if we don't get a grip of ourselves, the whole of the nation will be obese in fifty years time and the island will start to sink...well, no, I added that last bit in, but the rabidity of the anti-fat lobby is such that they'd probably claim anything. Now I don't doubt that there are a lot of chubsters out there (hey, I'm one of them temporarily masqerading as Mrs Average) but to be honest, I'd be more worried by what I saw at the school bus stop this morning. I was struck very forcibly by this group of waiting teens, most in the 13-16 age bracket, for the very simple reason that they all looked chronically undernourished. Mid teens is when you should be starting to develop some shape and stature but the boys were all streaks of piss and the girls, with their bowing matchstick legs and tiny torsos, looked virtually anorexic. That can't be healthy can it? There's got to be a happy medium between worryingly fat and dangerously thin - what is going on in the world? I wanted to rush up and tell them to get a decent meal inside them - I mean, my dogs have got larger waists than most of those on show!

Talking of dogs, some sad news yesterday. We are in touch with the owners of Arthur's brother, William, and they have just been told that William has an inoperable brain tumour. They can't be sure but he's probably got between 6 weeks and 6 months left and Colin, his dad, is understandably devastated. He's ruled out radiotherapy because it's a horrible treatment and is focusing now on giving William the best possible time he can in his final days. It brought home to us that every day is precious with our family, friends and pooches as you're never quite sure what life's going to throw at you. The only thing I find problematic with the 'carpe diem' philosophy is that it tempts me to go and 'carpe half a dozen doughnuts'. Hey ho.