Tuesday 31 July 2012

Couch potato

Dreary weather, too wet for varnishing, no desire to go for a walk, Olympics on. So no exercise in this part of the UK to match that going on elsewhere. Instead, the day's nourishment has happened in a steady stream of uncomplicated episodes, accompanied by rowing, tennis, diving, hockey, more tennis, and women's football still to come.

The hockey always amazes me now. When I started playing, offside involved goalie plus two defenders. Over time, and even since I stopped playing about six years ago, technical developments and being open to rule changes have changed the sport out of all recognition. Apart from the skills set made possible by astroturf, three things stand out – abolishing the offside rule, allowing shielding of the ball when in possession, and the recent change to allow you to hit the ball to yourself when bringing the ball back into play, taking a corner or a free hit. Whoever thought of that one is a genius, and I wish they'd done it when I was playing. The speed and intricacy of both men's and women's games make it fantastic viewing.

It's been a thoroughly sporting day, in spite of the score: Calories ingested – considerable, Calories expended – 0.

Monday 30 July 2012

Parental pride

One of the more human touches of the presentation of the Olympics is when parents of athletes are shown or interviewed. Rebecca Adlington's come immediately to mind. Of course, it's hard for the TV viewer to distinguish between parents who have sacrificed and encouraged, and those who've been pushy and as ambitious for themselves as for their kids. But with people like Rebecca, you get the impression (only that, no scientific study here) that she's celebrated and valued by her community as much for the person she is as for her medals. That's a parent's dilemma – how to encourage and congratulate a result without sending the message that it's the success you value in your offspring, rather than who they are.

My best beloved and I are very proud parents – our youngest (at 33) has just graduated with a high 1st class degree in Design and Technology from Goldsmith's College (part of London University), which carries a teaching qualification with it. This he achieved while continuing to run his function band full-time, and in spite of a measure of dyslexia. He starts teaching in September at Archbishop Tenison's school near the Oval. But, as with all three of them, in the end it's the person he is that counts. And of all three of them, we are very proud.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Hog roast

It's apparently an annual event, and it seemed half the village and most of the marina were there. Formula is simple: put up a marquee and hire a band; cook a pig; lay on baps, apple sauce, stuffing; get in some kegs of beer and a means of dispensing them (and alternatives for those who prefer something else). Hope for a dry evening.

In the event, even given the size of the crowd, almost all of the boaters we know were elsewhere, and we spent most of the time chatting with Mike and Mo and their friend Jude. Mike and I continued our afternoon conversation about music, teaching, travel, politics, social history, boating, families… As you do. All good fun.

We did get a fine evening. And the varnish on Erin Mae's doors continued to dry.

Saturday 28 July 2012


Mike (NB The Great Escape) and I finally had a bit of a jam session this afternoon, which included getting his Egyptian oud out for a while. We've come to where we are musically by totally different routes, and that always creates interest both in the music and the chat. I'd had to put new strings on my guitar earlier, an Elixir NanoWeb set I bought from Eric at Guitar and Son in Stafford. Cheaper on the internet, but I needed them in a hurry and got a nice warm glow from patronising a local business.

NanoWeb sounds like something Tim Berners-Lee might have invented (intriguing to see him included in the list of Olympic things-to-celebrate last night), or what one of Charlotte's babies might have spun, or the result of my natural networking abilities. Actually it's just a special coating on the string. The guitar sounds re-juvenated. Still a pity about the voice.

Friday 27 July 2012

A good rub down

Started on Erin Mae's front doors today. It's too long since they had any varnish applied, and June's cloudbursts did them no favours whatsoever. All good learning experience – can't remember the last time I applied varnish to anything.

So I tried to do what it said on the tin. My good friends Brian and Jon, (and everyone else for that matter) say it's all in the preparation. I like varnish. None of this primer, undercoat, topcoat, oops I did it wrong, start again, business. Just rub it down, clean it off, on with the varnish. It didn't even try to run. The rubbing down was actually the hardest bit – go with the grain, get sandpaper into the corners, judge when to give up on the bit that's been rain-darkened.

All a bit strenuous, really. Managed to do one coat on just the front of one of the doors before my back said it was cup-of-tea time. Now I could do with a good rub down – wonder if I can persuade my best beloved I'm as worthy a cause as those Olympic athletes.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Mercian mercy

We've had a window sealed up by means of a temporary and unsightly fix for far too long, my own attempts at removing and attending to it having come to nought. This being the season for sorting out windows, we drove over to Mercia marina to see if they could offer some help. They have both one of the main centres for the people who made Erin Mae, and an engineering works involved in making boats as well as looking after them.

Justin in engineering was really helpful and, sure enough, had worked with Aqualine boats before. We were able to talk with him about fixing windows (i.e. what can go wrong) and fix a date in August for having Erin Mae over there. Then we dropped in on the New and Used Boat Company and talked with Ian about various things to do with paint and maintenance. He's been boating since he was the size of a windlass, and it was very useful to tap into his experience about a number of things. Following up on something he said we came home by way of Streethay Wharf to ask Bruce in the workshop about the butyl sealant strip he uses for windows.

The root meaning of "mercy" is apparently about showing kindness to people in need. Today we qualified.

Wednesday 25 July 2012


Driving back up to Great Haywood yesterday, we listened to a report on the national Happiness survey. Seems it's the northern isles at the top of the poll, in spite of their long winter nights.

Got me thinking about the contrasting effects on my happiness levels of England losing a Test match by an innings, and finishing a really good piece of database construction late on Monday evening. Those northern islanders seemed less dependent on this or that actually happening, and more on the nature of the communities they live in.

We're very happy to be back up on Erin Mae, and shall enjoy various things we've got planned. But that will be a bit different to the joy of having Elissa and Sam with us earlier in the month. In the end it's relationships that contribute most to Happiness, and being over-reliant on the actual state of things is problematic in the end. Old-fashioned contentment – now there's a state of mind to cultivate.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Educating Daddy

Great excitement for Elissa and Sam as their dad arrived from Oslo late on Monday. Like his brothers, he'd never seen Erin Mae, so it's been a time for exploring. The children showed him the boat and then, on Tuesday, the stretch down to Wolseley Bridge and the woods around the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust centre which are brilliant for playing in. Down and back up the two locks, windlassing and pushing beams, and Chris applying his boating skills to this form of craft. All great fun.

On the way we stopped to say hello to Paul and Lynne on NB Piston Broke, still moored up south of Great Haywood. It was good to meet them, since theirs was one of the first boating blogs we came across when we started looking.

Then it was Wednesday and time for the kids to pack up (sob sob). On a windy morning we had one last trip down to Tixall Wide and back, with some interesting rope manouevres to extricate ourselves from the marina as the wind objected. Then off to Manchester for an evening flight. It's been a brilliant week with them – hopefully we'll be able to repeat it in future years.

Today we collapsed.

Saturday 7 July 2012


This morning dawned bright and clear and we were all getting up by 8 o'clock, Iain coming in from his van, and Simon from his tent. Everyone knows uncles are great fun, and Elissa and Sam were as keen to test the theory with Iain as they had been with Simon the night before.

Porridge all round and out as soon as we could – this was Iain and Simon's first sight of Erin Mae, and we wanted to fit in a reasonable cruise. The sun was out at times and hot, but a lot of the surrounding countryside is flooded – the River Trent has spread all over the neighbouring fields and a BW man on duty at Hoo Mill lock told us tales of significant water further up the cut. No alarms, however. We met a working boat pulling a full length butty (with a very traditional wooden tiller / rudder) down Weston lock, and stopped for lunch just before the bridge at Salt. It was as we pushed through to wind just beyond Sandon lock that the heavens opened. Fortunately the rain was coming straight down and, though heavy, it wasn't cold.

Iain is a qualified day skipper and enjoyed trying his hand at the slightly different demands of an inland waterway. Both of them were a big hit with the kids. A great day all round.

Friday 6 July 2012

Rainy day man

Shocker of a day, filled with delights. While the rain came down I walked into the village to see if my mislaid credit card was at the Post Office. It was – "Knew you'd be back for it in a couple of days", he said. He's a star. On the way back I noticed the hairdresser had an old-fashioned barber's pole outside, so I popped in to discover that they would cut my hair for £6. For me, Great Haywood's stock is rocketing skywards.

The rain came down, and the kids played in the boat. Elissa made crowns for us all out of card, and imaginations ran riot on the floor under the table as Luke Skywalker and the fluffy cat competed for attention.

Still the rain came down. Plans to go for a stroll across to Shugborough evaporated. So I googled "Things to do in Stafford" and, thankfully, what came up was Things To Do In Staffordshire. Standing out in flashing lights was "Come Into Play" in Stone. I'm sure this sort of indoor play area exists all over the country, but it's the first time I've been in one. Wooden towers and rope walks and slides and sponge ball cannons and swings, all in a warm warehouse with lots of tables for parents to drink coffee. Even a quiet chill out room for craft and reading (and chilling). As the MasterCard advert might say: As long as the kids want in an energetic and creative play zone – £4.50; 3 hours of carefree relaxation for grandparents – priceless.

The rain was still coming down as we left. But Simon was joining us from London at 6, and Iain from Cornwall, probably nearer midnight. Elissa and Sam haven't seen their uncles for years, and are excited at having them come, even for a short time. So we'll plan a run up to Sandon. It's not going to rain tomorrow.

Thursday 5 July 2012


Thought it would be a straightforward matter, blogging about the Norwegians being here. Thing is – when do you do it? No time during the day – there's far too much going on. After tea (a pretty late affair - see previous sentence), it's time to get them into bed and collapse over a coffee. Before you know it, you can't wait to get the dinette bed made up and tumble into it, so that at least you're ready for the next day by the time they've decided it's started.

I went over to Oslo last Friday, and brought Elissa (8) and Sam (7) back on Monday. The UKBA passport official decided I was sufficiently like them to be their grandfather. The car, parked at Manchester airport over the weekend, started fine and the journey to Great Haywood was smoothed by a cunning battery-operated DVD player. We'd decided to sleep Elissa on our bed and Sam on a "Ready Bed" (lent to us – thanks, Jon, Michelle and Jake) on the floor at the side, and it worked so well that we continued with the arrangement after the first night.

Tuesday morning was reasonably clear so we did our favourite short trip down to Tixall Wide for lunch. They did a bit of steering but there was too much going on around for much concentration on exactly the right direction to go in. Feeding the swans out of the side-hatch had its moment when one of them decided Sam's hand was part of what was being offered!

Wednesday morning we moved the boat across to the service wharf for a pump-out (good education!) and then decided, since we'd left our berth anyway, to go out and moor near where we could get an ice-cream. One thing led to another and we took off down the cut to go through a couple of locks. Tied up at Wolseley bridge in the afternoon, went for a walk in the Wolseley Centre, and then decided to stay the night.

So today (Thursday) we carried on into Rugeley under bright sunshine, bought some supplies from Morrison's, and then came back to the Wolseley centre for a further, more extended visit. Great fun splashing in the stream, swinging on the swing and making friends with the ducks. Back to the marina in time for a (very late) tea. Weather forecast sounds horrendous for tomorrow.

Since they were born, our contact with the grandchildren has been limited to two long weekends a year. It's been a joy to be able to build the relationship during this week – they've adapted brilliantly to being with us, and we're having a lot of fun. But I don't know when the next blog entry will be posted!