Sunday 28 December 2014

All together

Although a 60-footer, Erin Mae has only 4 berths max – one main bedroom and a convertible Pullman dinette. When the kids are with us in the summer we fit the three of them into the bedroom and, at a pinch, we could sleep an extra person on the floor of the living space. But this is not hire-boat design, with room for 8 or 10 for a week's holiday. So we have no hopes of getting our extended family all on board.

In fact, we don't often get the opportunity now to all be together. So it was great that number one son was able to come to Norway with us, and that newly-married number three and wife could join us yesterday.

We're not actually having a picnic in the forest. That's the wall-covering and it's 10˚ under outside. What the Norwegians call "10 cold degrees".

Today the three brothers and their Norwegian brother-in-law have gone snowboarding. My days of even thinking about such things are long past, so we remaining adults and children went out for a walk and sledging in the cold forest,

ending up at a cabin café in the woods for hot chocolate and waffles. Yummy, even at Norwegian prices!

Saturday 27 December 2014


Oldest son and I have some things in common, and some things definitely not in common. One of the commonalities is ownership of a floating life-support pod – in my case Erin Mae and, in his case, a 24ft Achilles class boat called Snow Goose. He keeps her where he lives, at Falmouth, and in that is considerably more fortunate than we, who have a drive of several hours to get to our marina. This Christmas he has given me The Levelling Sea, by Philip Marsden. It's a story of Falmouth, and the way in which its development mirrored the place of the sea in British history. So far I've read just the first chapter. It's been a delight and has wetted my appetite for the rest. And it has contained a lot about Marsden's grandfather, the figure in his life who infected him with a fascination for the sea.

I have just four images of my own grandparents. That of my maternal grandmother is of someone in a bed when I was, I suppose, about 3. The bed was certainly taller than I was. My mother portrayed hers as a wonderful woman, confined to her bed with arthritis in her later years, but I never knew her. Of my paternal grandmother I also have just one image – a small person sitting in a chair when we stopped to visit on our way to a summer holiday in Wales. Because of her dementia she hardly knew my father, and I certainly never knew her.

My paternal grandfather had been a cabinet-maker. The sole image I have of him is one from a visit he made when I must have been 9 or 10. An old man, he sat in my father's chair in front of the fire and talked to me about the characters of the different types of wood that were waiting on the hearth, ready to be added to the flames. He gave me a copy of The Sword of the Volsungs, a child's collection of old Norse tales, which I still have. I don't remember any other interaction with him. My maternal grandfather lived longer – he died when I was about 17. When I was younger we would go down to Felixstowe from time to time for a day's visit. He was a tall figure who had played county-level golf. The only image I have is of meeting him once walking back from his regular visit to the putting green. He smiled in a friendly-enough way, but I don't remember him having anything to do with us. We would be under the care of Mrs Lacey, his housekeeper, or go with my mother to visit an elderly friend of hers a few roads away, or dance among the pebbles on Felixstowe beach and eat sanded sandwiches.

This was, of course, a good many years ago, when travel was harder and less commonplace, and when old age came younger. But I am sad that my grandparents had no input whatsoever into my life. My own parents were splendid in their interactions with our own children and their cousins, and left a significant legacy there. Now it's our turn. One of the motivations for buying Erin Mae was to be able to bring over the Norwegian grandchildren for some summer holiday time, since the daily, weekly or monthly contact some of our friends enjoy is out of the question for us. And it's been great fun to be over with them for this Christmas season. In the end, I'm not worried whether or not they get a taste for boating (like Marsden did for the sea). But I'm so glad that we get the opportunity of building into their lives something that comes out of the relationship with us. If that, for them, can be a positive experience, then perhaps the impact will go on down the generations.

Friday 26 December 2014

White Christmas

No sign of snow back home, so we flew to Norway (actually it was all arranged weeks ago). The differences are subtle. Lots of good food – but the whole thing a touch more formal.

Not a pair of jeans in sight! The Christmas Eve menu in this household is one of the traditions from the west coast. "Stick-meat" is the literal translation – steamed lamb ribs with mashed potato, swede and loganberry jam. It would actually have been a poor family's Christmas treat. Dessert was "Rice cream" – like a very rich rice pudding served cold with blackcurrant sauce.

After that we joined hands (all 15 of us) and walked round the Christmas tree singing various Christmas songs, before finally opening the presents. Children in bed by 10 p.m. In Brazil they had to wait for the presents until after midnight.

Christmas Day in Norway is usually a day for getting out and walking off the previous evening's input, but in our case it is also oldest grandchild's birthday. So exactly the same group met at the other grandparents'  house and did more of the same, though with a dash less formality.

The view from the room was stunning – the lights in the photo are due to my reticence at stepping out onto the balcony to get the photo when it was 10˚ under outside!

This is the part of Oslofjord where a famous incident from WWII occurred – the sinking of a battleship that enabled the Norwegian king, the Norwegian government and Norway's gold to escape from use the eyes of the enemy. Or so I am informed by my grandchildren's other grandfather…

The food was equally delicious, but from a different section of Norwegian cuisine, pork ribs / steaks with delicious crackling. Not many vegetarians in Norway!

Kompis the puppy got in on the delicacies by a slightly unorthodox ruse.

Then, today, we did get out for our walk, down to a frozen lake about 10 minutes away.

 The children had great fun in the snow, in the woods and on the ice,

on their own,

and with their uncle.

We just avoided frostbite, and are back in the warm for tea.

Erin Mae's getting snowed on, we think, but it's not like this!

Friday 19 December 2014


A mailing list email from Phil Grundy / LICC arrived in my inbox today. I thought it interesting enough to reproduce. Merry Christmas!

On this day in 1843, a short story was first published that has played a significant part in our Christmases ever since. Never out of print, it has been adapted many times for film, stage, opera, and other media. Darkness, loneliness and death are juxtaposed with light, joy and warmth in a moral tale of second chances and redemption.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was partly inspired by the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the working class poor, children in particular, and Dickens’ desire to convey their plight. Into this he blended the supernatural and spiritualism, feasting and family togetherness, generosity and compassion. Charitable giving increased after its publication. It popularised the phrase ‘Merry Christmas’, and established other words – like ‘Scrooge’ and ‘Humbug’ – in the English language.

Much of its sentiment remains at the heart of our modern day Christmas. We now have a curious blend of the biblical account of the coming of Christ the Saviour King mixed together with stories like A Christmas Carol, with its ideas of togetherness, family and charity told against a backdrop of commerce and consumption.

If Dickens were here today, what might he have made of the scenes a few weeks ago during the discounting frenzy that is ‘Black Friday’ – with strangers engaged in tugs of war over plasma screens? The inequality and selfishness evident in A Christmas Carol are still with us. Technology has connected us in ways that could only be imagined in 1843, yet loneliness hasn’t been overcome. Is that perhaps why the story still resonates?

Two high-profile TV adverts this season seem to point back to the sentiment of Dickens’ tale. Sainsbury’s sign off with the strap line ‘Christmas is for sharing’, whilst John Lewis prefer ‘Give someone the Christmas they’ve been dreaming of’. Behind the marketing strategy seems to be a genuine search for a more profound message to accompany the call to consume. Both are centred on sharing and people, not objects or wealth.

Margaret Oliphant, Scottish novelist and historical writer, wrote that A Christmas Carol ‘moved us all those days ago as if it had been a new gospel’. And its popularity and pertinence remain undimmed. But shining even brighter is the old Gospel – the ultimate story of second chances and redemption that is ready to move us again this Christmas and lead us to sharing it with others.

Monday 15 December 2014


To the outsider, boating looks like a very healthy pastime. Fresh air, locks to work, walks to the shops, and so on. For those in the know, it doesn’t quite work like that. Ever since my best beloved decided that the strain of working the locks was nothing compared to the tension involved in steering Erin Mae straight into them, I’ve stood like a lord on the stern while most of the hard work went on around or above me. Exercise consists of a yard this way or that across Erin Mae’s delightful cruiser stern, though occasionally I would gallantly climb up a dripping ladder with my windlass to give a hand. It doesn’t take long to note that the average waist-band size among boaters is no less that that of the population as a whole.

Many moons ago, a colleague and I agreed that one day we would run the London marathon. One day… We never have, and probably never will. Meanwhile my main exercise was via playing hockey through the winter months, and doing various things with my students in the summer. But about 8 years ago I said farewell to wielding a hockey stick, and I haven’t had any proper exercise since. Not even on Erin Mae. My best beloved, on the other hand, had acquired a gym membership to help with recuperation after surgery, and was getting quite addicted to the machinery, the endorphins and the company. Once we started spending serious time on Erin Mae, however, the gym membership lapsed and she, too, began to be concerned, especially about the lack of aerobic activity during the winter.

So we took ourselves (and the wallet) along to the local sports emporium, and came home with a cross trainer. It was a bit like an Ikea flatpack to put together, but we managed it, and now it sits in the garage, cajoling us into some cardio-vascular worthiness.

As it happens, it’s a Kettler (mostly because all the other fitness equipment firms seem to have gone into liquidation over the last year). That means our garage is getting extremely full of German technology, what with the new Grundig fridge freezer I wrote about last week.

I wonder if Erin Mae will notice the difference in the new, sprightly us, when we get back on board in the spring.

Saturday 13 December 2014


Falmouth is full of boats, none of which look in the least like Erin Mae.

Number 1 son this year acquired a cool looking Achilles 24 called "Snow Goose". Very nice.

He was as keen to show us around as we were to look, so we enjoyed a good inspection.

Sometime next year we'll hopefully get to accompany him under sail to Frenchman's Creek or some other spot suitable for a picnic.

We're actually down in Cornwall in honour of a significant birthday – what a sweet child he was those X0 years ago. Given that it's December, and considering the weather conditions at Erin Mae's marina, we're doing very well. We've a very nice location…

… (that's our room, at the top, on the sunny side) with a pretty stunning view from our balcony.

 We even sat out on the balcony in the sun for a short while this morning after inspecting Snow Goose.

Tomorrow, of course, is likely to be very different as we motor home in the afternoon.

But first we have a celebration at what Number 1 son calls "Falmouth's best kept secret" – a speciality seafood restaurant. A crowd of his friends will be there, and we're anticipating that a good time will be had by all. He doesn't yet know that my best beloved has baked a couple of her best chocolate cakes, to be topped by some silly X0th birthday candles.

Well, these occasions don't come along very often.

Thursday 11 December 2014


Erin Mae doesn't have a freezer. I dread to think what one of those might do to the batteries and, anyway, there's not really room. The fridge has one of those hanging compartments with a floppy door which freezes nothing, but produces a film of ice over the inside and a constant supply of cold drips underneath. Its main value is that it keeps fresh meat satisfactorily chilled. So we've discovered we can live perfectly well without a freezer. Adjust and cope.

But the house is a different matter, and the time has come to replace the tall one from Comet which is 28 years old. An electrician who came to fix something else told us we would probably re-coup the cost of a new one in a couple of year, just from the greater efficiency. We've also had a second, relatively old fridge sitting next to it in the garage, and the obvious thing was to replace both with a fridge freezer. Question: could we live with the reduced amount of freezer space? The answer from the Erin Mae experience is that we probably could.

Of course, it's never that simple. A little research shows that modern freezers expect an ambient temperature of at least 10˚C. Counter-intuitively, anything less than that and they start to de-frost. They like to be kept inside, in the warm (just as well we didn't have one in our kitchen when I was growing up!). But ours is in the garage and I'm sure that, even though that's integral with the rest of the house, it gets down below 10˚ when there's a freeze on outside. There are some horror stories out there of manufacturers not honouring warranties.

Fortunately we discovered that Grundig have recently entered the British market with an A++ model which, they say, will operate down to 5˚. It got a thumbs-up from Which, and we've taken the plunge. Today Currys delivered it and took away the old machines. It's up and running, and we managed to get into the new freezer everything we took out of the old one. So far, so good.

However, it really feels funny to have a fridge freezer by Grundig sitting in the garage. 1950s tape recorder, yes. Radio, yes. But fridge freezer…?

Tuesday 9 December 2014


I've just read Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves. I'd known about it for a long time, but only recently got a copy, at a charity stall on a summer's day during the Wimborne Folk Festival. I really enjoyed her combination of passion about the way that punctuation serves proper communication and realism about the fact that language develops.

Especially fascinating were her insights into the history of some of our punctuation marks – a reminder that things weren't always so, which is a helpful corrective to the conservative tendency to preserve things in stone. It was intriguing to see her examples of text from not-very-long-ago-at-all, with numbers of commas and semi-colons that look completely over the top today. She makes the case for punctuation being really significant to the extent to which it (a) makes the meaning completely clear, and (b) helps the reader to enter into the music of the language. But even more memorable was the wittiness of way she critiques her own prejudices as well as those of others.

We've a number of classic children's books on the shelves, and this afternoon over a cuppa I've been reading Amy Le Feuvre's Probable Sons, with a sharper eye (in the light of Lynne Truss) for the punctuation she uses. It certainly has more colons and semicolons that Harry Potter but, given that it dates from 1895, it is remarkably disciplined and a model of clarity.

Some favourite moments from Truss: her mention of a report of a clinic offering semicolon irrigation;  her justifying of her scorn for emoticons (smileys and their children); and her reminder that the unmasking of a document in the government's 2003 dossier on Iraq as a complete fabrication depended, at least in part, on the plagiariser not having removed an erroneous comma.

Friday 5 December 2014

Christmas lights

Today was the day for turning on the lights along the small row of shops in our village. There was a big turnout of all ages, and a loud countdown to the pressing of the switch. It's actually only a dummy switch, and the real reason for the countdown is so that the person waiting by the real switch can hear when to press it! A bit like Father Christmas for the kids, really – everyone knows but nobody says. The switch is pressed and the light comes on – so what if the cause and effect link isn't exactly what it seems!

Enveloping the moment of the lights coming on is the carol singing, everyone joining in at full volume in the open air. And, for that, I take my piano accordion along – it's good fun to lead a crowd enjoying their carols. However, it has to be said that it's not the same as playing on the towpath in June. I dress up warmly, and I have a nice pair of red-and-black striped fingerless gloves, but the temperature at 4.30 p.m. in early December is still guaranteed to remove the feeling from my fingers in about five minutes. Doesn't matter too much for the right hand – it's a keyboard and after all these years my fingers pretty much know what they're doing without too much intervention from my brain. Anyway, I can always glance down.

The left hand is a different matter. I've played the accordion since I was 11, but I only got my own last year, and my fingers have never acquired the same degree of automation on the buttons as on the keys of a piano. When I play, I'm mostly working it out from first principles on the hoof. That's not too bad – until you can no longer feel your fingers. Then your only clue as to whether you hit the button(s) you were trying for is the sound – catch it quick, work out where you are relative to where you should be, and switch. With a bit of luck, and if you do it quickly enough, nearly everyone will think it was a cunning modulation or embellishment slipped in to liven things up. Unfortunately, when you're playing for a sizeable group in the open air it can be a bit like playing the piano underwater with cotton wool in your ears (if you'll forgive my metaphor-mixing). With the sound taking a while to register, your last hope of staying on track disappears. Then the danger is that the analytical part of the brain is so busy working out what to do that any connection to the right hand also evaporates and lively embellishments start to happen down that side of the instrument as well.

But turning out for village carol singing is one of the joys of life, even with frozen fingers. I love it.

Thursday 4 December 2014

Le Mans

Congratulations to my friends Charlotte (director / writer) and Jon (Theme song "Drive") on the film / documentary "Journey to Le Mans" which aired on ITV4 tonight. Exciting stuff, following the small British Jota Sport team as they make their way to compete in the 2014 Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. Pretty far from Erin Mae's world.

Tonight's version was abridged, but a longer one is available on DVD / Blu-ray, or via iTunes. Not that I'm advertising or anything, but they are my friends…

And they get some good reviews on iTunes!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Battery bank

Evesham Battery Centre (at the marina) phoned me today. My four leisure batteries had come back from testing by the supplier, pronounced no longer fit for purpose. The problem, both for yours truly and the marina people, was that the supplier conveyed considerable suspicion that I hadn't been treating 'em right. Was I a liveaboard? I'd clearly been draining the batteries far too much.

I assured the marina that I was far too soft to be a liveaboard, that Erin Mae spends half the year attached to a mains hook-up, and that when we're cruising we typically do 4 or more hours a day. Supplemented by extra engine running should the voltmeter suggest that we've been using too many electrons for comfort. All the evidence in the world is available on the Erin Mae Log, should anyone care to look.

The supplier was suggesting they might meet me half way, so I'd only have to pay for replacing two of the four. Neither the marina (who give the supplier a lot of business) nor myself think this is fair, with the batteries being only half way through their 3-year warranty period. I'd actually been getting quite paranoid about keeping them charged up, with conversations on the CanalWorld forums and research on the Battery University and the SmartGuage websites. It was the fact that they seemed not to take or hold charge as they should that got me worried in the first place.

So the marina people are going back to the supplier to convince them we need a more complete solution. Meanwhile, I'm back to the interweb to see whether I should think about an alternative type of battery. It's quite a good way of amusing yourself on a rainy day.

I'm actually pretty relieved with a "faulty" diagnosis for the batteries – it simplifies thinking about the future. But I'm hoping that "battery bank" doesn't mean a special Lloyds account into which large amounts of dosh have to be placed until there's enough to pay for a new set.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

More cashback

After my success in reducing Erin Mae's insurance premium, I thought I'd try the same thing with the car. Last year I think I got a dual policy discount from Direct Line – car and home insurance both from them. This year's home premium seemed reasonable, so I forked out, but the car quotation seemed rather high, and anyway I'd seen that people of my age-group (cough, cough) are the ones getting stung by the companies.

So I got a quote from Saga and rang DL. Choosing the best automatic response choice (If you are thinking of leaving us, press 2) I was speaking in no time at all to a helpful guy, to whom I revealed the enormous chasm between his quote and Saga's. He investigated and found that he could drop the price by £50. Fifty pounds!! He still couldn't quite match Saga's price, but I judged the few pounds extra were worth it – DL have served me well over the years. But it still irks me that I have to ask.

Meanwhile the time had come to bless my best beloved with a new iPad. Her old one was 1st generation, generally working well, but occasionally crashing in DocsToGo or FaceTime, with a resultant, annoying loss of content. And the new ones are faster, and do different things better, and – well, why shouldn't I buy her a nice present! Off we went to Southampton on "Black Friday" (about as aptly named as "Devil's Garden" on the River Weaver). Apple weren't offering any deals at all, but John Lewis were price matching someone else, with £30 off. So JL it was. They were even offering 20% off a very nice cover.

I'd think I was saving money if my bank balance wasn't going down so fast.

Monday 24 November 2014


Erin Mae is insured with GJW Direct – we had a recommendation when we bought her. Comprehensive cover, with one or two extras, for peace of mind.

But there's no point in paying more than you have to. When I got my quote last year I decided to look for competition. The problem is comparing policies to make sure you're getting like-for-like – they don't make these things easy to read. However, in the end I found an alternative which offered the same cover but was considerably cheaper. Then I decided to ring GJW to see if they would match it. They did, knocking over £30 off the price.

So when my quote came in this year – about half way between last year's original and eventual prices, it seemed worthwhile doing it again. I got a quote from Haven, which seemed to cover the same things, and rang GJW. Once again they were able to match it, bringing the price down about £35 – and over £50 cheaper than last year's quotation. I'm sure Haven are good, and if ever GJW can't match I'll be happy to transfer. But no point in moving if both product and price are pretty much the same.

Mixed emotions – why aren't they offering me the best price in the first place? Why should I have to do the work to bring the price down? And what does that £20 administration charge cover? But a good result. Just a pity it comes at the same time of year as the CRT fee, and the marina fee, and Christmas…

Thursday 20 November 2014

Customer satisfaction

A hotel has been in the news for charging customers £100 if they put up a bad TripAdvisor review. I imagine their business is about to slump. To offer such appalling service is bad enough, but to end up on national news for such a heinous practice is plain stupid.

We've got a small Dyson vacuum cleaner on Erin Mae, on the back of the experience we've had for some some years with a larger one at home. Wear and tear had taken their toll on the larger one, so I looked into how to get it serviced. I found that the easiest way was to get Dyson themselves to do the whole thing. For £79 they either get someone out to you, or (as in our case) arrange for ParcelForce to pick it up from you – providing a suitable box if you don't have the original. They do a complete service, which includes replacing any parts that need it, and get it back to you.

Ours has come back today, and they had replaced a number of parts with a list price of about £45. The dust it picked up in the first few seconds was amazing! However, along with the machine itself we'd sent the stair tool, the flexible bit of which had fractured after several years use, but neither the broken one nor a replacement was in the box today. I rang the customer service line – an 0800 number, note – expecting they'd say it couldn't be included in the deal. But the nice person on the phone said she'd get one out to me right away. That's another £10 part.

Box, carriage, service, parts, extra part, pleasantness, all for £79 – Dyson have a very satisfied customer. I doubt they made much on the deal, but now I'm blogging about it, just like I did about the people who service my car – they're getting free publicity. It can't be all that difficult to get good PR, if you understand what people want.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

World Toilet Day!

Well, here it is. The day we've all been waiting for – except for those who couldn't wait (ho-ho!). It's WORLD TOILET DAY! Check out the website, squirm at the humour, understand the issues.

And maybe do something to help. What we did was to twin Erin Mae's toilet. Here's the certificate to prove it.

The twin's in Burundi. Are we awash with warm feelings of moral superiority? Hardly. We haven't exactly saved the world. But, so they say, something is better than nothing.

Yesterday I discovered that the Toilet Twinning office is not far from where we live near Christchurch when we're not on Erin Mae. They're looking to grow their team, and they're asking those who know them to pass on the word – see the website if you're interested.

Or just think about twinning your own loo, like we did.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

On the road

The 900 year old Christchurch Priory Church has a most splendid setting.

It is itself the most splendid setting for all sorts of events in addition to its primary purpose of Christian worship…

and it's hard to imagine a better setting for a graduation ceremony.

On Friday night the class of 2014 graduated from Moorlands College, from which I retired three years ago after 25 years. No pictures of the actual occasion, I'm afraid, but as ever it was a great event, with the address given by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali. It will probably turn out to be the last graduation ceremony for students I personally have taught.

Saturday morning we were up early to get to Mansfield by around 11 a.m., for the annual get together of the Boaters Christian Fellowship, which we joined last year. Coming through the New Forest just before 8 we found another of those scenes which are so hard for the non-expert to photograph.

The mist was sitting in the valleys (if they are grand enough to carry that name) and the tops of the hills were rising out of it. The sun on the clouds in the sky made for a pretty magical picture.

After a good day with the BCF people, we got back to Erin Mae on Saturday night for the rest of the weekend, and then on Monday morning cruised round to the Great Haywood Anglo Welsh yard to get her winterised.

The manager Keith is really helpful, talking me through the process so I can do it myself next year. One of the things I had not realised is that running the taps to drain the water tank does not drain the calorifier (hot water tank). The water pump by then is pumping air, which comes in at the bottom of the tank, rises through the contents and out of the exit pipe at the top. Nor does this particular tank have a drain at the bottom. So we removed the pipe from the top, and Keith used an old water pump and a hose to extract most of the water.

He also lent me a couple of old batteries to put in Erin Mae while we take our current set down to Evesham marina (who sold them to us a year and a half ago)  for testing. Keith's initial test with his gizmo suggested that one of them was in a very different condition from the others. Unfortunately, the initial test at Evesham found no difference between them. However, they're going to send them off to the distributors for testing, and hopefully they will conclude that I haven't been imagining the problems I've had with them.

Finally, home again. We've probably put in almost as many miles this weekend as we did in the whole of late summer and autumn on Erin Mae!

Thursday 13 November 2014


Like anyone else, boaters value people they can trust. I suppose you build up a list of those you'd go back to because you're confident they know their job, will charge you a fair price, won't rip you off, will help if they can. In our short experience on Erin Mae, and outside of our own marina, Kings Lock Chandlers in Middlewich, Oxley Marine at Autherley Junction and the Anglo-Welsh guys at Great Haywood all definitely come into that category.

In the world of the motor car, such things are more rare. But today I've had my car serviced by people I've learned to trust, over a period of about fifteen years. Keith Motors in Christchurch are a family firm, and a local Ford dealership. They keep their staff, and they have a good mixture of the older guys who know what's wrong by listening to the rattle, and the ones who are extremely comfortable with the computer analysis. They ring you up to check that's it's OK to do a bit of unforeseen work, and they tell you if something is unnecessary. If they've slipped up somehow, they'll put it right. They're friendly, they know their customers, they're helpful without being pushy.

I don't mind doing a bit of advertising for people like this. A world dominated by politicians and bankers always raises the question of who you can trust. It's nice when you have at least a few answers.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

A Stitch in Time

Overnight on the 10th October we were moored up in the Castlefield complex in the middle of Manchester, and in my post on the 11th I mentioned the old churchyard gardens I walked through on my way to the shop.

Into one area had been transplanted an RHS award-winning garden by Daniela Coray which I didn't have space to comment on at the time.

I found it very hard to get a compelling photo, partly because the autumn conditions seemed to conceal its bounds and its true character, and partly, no doubt, because of my lack of photographic competence. A board informs the visitor of the project, and I thought it was worth reproducing some of the text.

"Local residents and a host of volunteers worked tirelessly to help replant her Gold award winning garden 'A Stitch in Time' in St John’s Gardens in the heart of Manchester. With a focus on providing a respite for urban dwellers, the garden is a green oasis. It offers an escape from the hectic surroundings of the city, with handcrafted benches inviting a moment to relax. The oak benches, made to look like apple cores, will weather naturally over the years. The drainage channels are aimed to reflect a dried up river bed, while abundant planting includes many edible species.

With its traditional grid layout of apple trees under-planted with wildflowers and perennials, the garden makes reference to the rural idyll of an orchard. The planting illustrates beautifully the ability for urban green spaces to be both aesthetically pleasing and useful. Promoting biodiversity with plants for wildlife, native hedges and apple trees, the garden will serve as an important wildlife stepping stone within the City."

Boaters passing through Manchester will tend to overnight at Castlefield, and I can thoroughly recommend a walk up past the Museum of Science and Industry and along Lower Byron Street until you reach the garden. At the very least, it's the most pleasant route to the Sainsbury's Local and the Tesco Express!

Monday 10 November 2014

Twin toilet

Erin Mae has a very nice loo.

And now, Erin Mae's loo has a twin. However, it's not on Erin Mae. It's in Burundi!

We signed up to twin the loo at The idea is that it helps with the provision of sanitation in places de-stink-ly lacking it, and thereby makes a contribution to the solving of a number of social issues. It's a great initiative, and the website reveals how it's much more than a project to go and dig a hole in the ground – in fact it isn't that at all.

Returning to the website to get the URL for this post, I see that Wednesday 19th November has been designated World Toilet Day! And not by card manufacturers (who, I believe, invented Father's Day) but by none less than the United Nations General Assembly. So if any of my readers feel inclined, perhaps I could recommend twinning your own toilet with one in Burundi, or Bangladesh, or Afghanistan, or Sierra Leone, or…

Apparently, we shall in due course receive a twinning certificate with a picture of the twin or one like it. When it arrives I shall proudly post it on this blog. And if ever you are in Burundi…

Thursday 6 November 2014


We've been reading through all the stuff delivered to our house by Royal Mail over the 3 months we've been away cruising on Erin Mae. Out of a copy of Canal Boat magazine fell a 2015 wall calendar, which was on its way to the recycling bin when I thought of entering into my computer calendar some of the events that might interest us.

The first was the Crick Boat Show. I double-clicked the date to make a new entry, and had only typed "Cric" when it offered me Crick Boat Show as a suggestion. What's more, it offered to put it either in my personal calendar, or the one shared with my best beloved. I was well impressed! I've just upgraded my MacBook to Yosemite, the most recent version of OS X, and I don't think it did this before. There are lots of little improvements of this sort, where the computer searches likely sources of info in order to offer you options. I haven't a clue how it knew so quickly that I would be interested in a Boat Show. It even knew about the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival, which was the next entry, and then the IWA festival in August. And it knew enough for all of them to be able to create one item spanning the days of each event.

I adopt a middle path in relation to internet privacy. I don't hand out all my personal info without a care, but I'm not paranoid about divulging nothing. While I know how readily most internet organisations harvest information for advertising purposes, I'm not sure that these items fall into that category. So I'll be watching my calendar, to see what else it knows about in advance. For the moment, it's impressive, and useful.

I wonder if it knows Erin Mae's birthday?

Tuesday 4 November 2014


To me, two really significant words are "home" and "why". While we were out cruising on Erin Mae, we'd be out for a walk and decide it was time to go home – i.e. go back to the boat for tea. As it got nearer to the end of our autumn cruising, heading for home meant we were on the last few stretches before getting back to our mooring at Great Haywood – something not undesirable but to be delayed as long as the October sun was shining. Having half packed up Erin Mae for the winter and headed for our house in the New Forest, we've talked about coming home – we're home for the winter months. There was a time in our family life when we lived in 13 different places in 10 years, and it was really important to create a sense of home for ourselves and our boys, no matter where that actually might be. Perhaps home is a combination of familiar people, familiar practices, familiar routines. It's a powerful word, especially when combined into a phrase like "coming home". It's part of my make-up.

We've been enjoying Brian Cox's BBC series "Human Universe", and one of the things he wrestles with is what it means to be at home on planet Earth, understanding our place in the universe. He talked about the growing realisation over recent centuries of where we fit as being "the most glorious descent into insignificance", at the same time as affirming the uniqueness and preciousness of what it means to be human. He also asks all sorts of "why?" questions – the second in the series asked why we are here. In the end I found his answers both fascinating and disappointing. He opted for a variant of the "best of all possible universes" theory, concluding that the only universe in which we could exist was one in which the conditions were exactly right to permit it; that probably an infinite number of universes had popped into and out of existence; that ours was the one with the parameters to survive – leading eventually to the existence of the human race. In that sense, he concluded that the answer to "Why are we here?" is that it was inevitable.

But of course the question "why?" does not only mean "how did it come to be?" It also means "for what purpose?" And that question Brian made no attempt even to recognise, let alone address. Perhaps he will do so by the end of the series. If so, it will be interesting to see what he makes of it.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Moving house

I'm afraid we're not minimalist. So when we move on to or out of Erin Mae there's a fearsome amount of stuff that gets carted up and down the motorway. We thought we'd get packed up on Friday, but that turned into a day for lounging about and doing very little. So on Saturday I washed and polished the outside of the boat, while my best beloved started on all the things on her mental tick-box list relating to the inside. That worked pretty well overall. We got away late afternoon, bought a lasagne from M&S half-way down the motorway, and had it cooked and on our plates by about 9.40 p.m.

In a fortnight we'll return for a day or two to get the winterisation done. That will also provide the opportunity for removing the batteries and getting them down to Evesham for testing. Whether or not there's an issue with them, at least we shall know and be able to take appropriate electrical measures. In addition, Erin Mae's safety certificate is due in February, so we'll want to leave things in sufficiently and obviously good order to make the awarding of a Pass something straightforward for the examiner.

I woke in the night with a variation on one of my dreams about Erin Mae being in imminent danger from something. I couldn't work out how that big mirror on the wall fitted with the dimensions of our cabin, which way we were facing and what had happened to the gunwale. Looks like being back in the New Forest is going to take a bit of getting used to.

Friday 31 October 2014

All fired up

When we were out cruising for an 11 week stretch in the summer of 2013, we came back to find that the car battery was flat, in spite of a 2.5 watt solar panel from the AA shop having been in place. In the autumn, after a six week cruise, it was just able to fire the engine. So during the winter I researched and then bought a 7.5 watt panel, of the folding suitcase sort.

The 11 weeks that have just ended have been its first serious test. When we arrived last night I tried the button on the key to see whether the car would unlock, but it just sat there and I feared the worst. But when I unlocked the door manually, the alarm began to sound and turning the key in the ignition brought the whole dashboard to light. The engine started fine. I turned it off after a few seconds and measured the battery voltage at the cigar lighter. It was reading 12.58v, which is about what it was when we left it, maybe a bit more. I used my new clamp meter to measure the current into the battery with the engine running, and it was was just over 20 amps, which I think indicates a battery charge well above danger levels. I conclude that the solar panel has done a great job, and that the failure of the doors to unlock from the key button was simply an indication of the depth of sleep into which the car had fallen. That's a bit of a result, after last year's experiences. Let's hope what I have planned for Erin Mae's batteries meets with the same success!

We met one of our new neighbours today – Scott on NB Thistle Patch. It's his first boat, a 2005 56 footer from Liverpool Boats, freshly painted. So here she is, looking a treat alongside Erin Mae on this quiet evening.

Nice to meet you, Scott! Hope we run into you again soon. And hope you have a lot of joy in your boat.

Thursday 30 October 2014

Home run

All good things must come to an end, they say. It isn't true, of course, but our late summer cruise has finally done so.

We started out under some blue sky from our lonely mooring, to wend our way through territory that's now quite familiar, though we haven't actually been here since last autumn. Across the aqueduct over the River Sow…

through the beautiful but now practically deserted Tixall Wide…

past the last stretch of moored boats…

before the handsome bridge at Great Haywood junction. 

Then round the corner and through the last little wiggle of the canal…

before arriving at the entrance to the marina.

We took it slowly, and even found time to stop in the Wide for a lunch of the two remaining home-made Scotch eggs with a salad – my best beloved is much better at preparing that sort of thing than I am.

It's strange to be tied up on our home mooring again, after 11 weeks out on the cut. We have new neighbours both sides, neither of which are home. One of the odd things will be to sleep in a bed whose orientation to the horizontal is practically normal, instead of being sloped slightly one way or the other by the way Erin Mae is tied to the bank. But we'll need to sleep well – tomorrow will be the big clean-up!

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Grumpy gill-catchers

Is there an archetypical fisherman? They seem to me to come in every type available. But the ones we met today on the approach to Penkridge took the prize for being the grumpiest ever!

Could have been the weather – it was cold with some damp in the air. But anglers are supposed to enjoy that sort of thing, or at least to turn up their noses at the thought that such conditions could depress them. Could have been that it was a midweek competition and nothing was biting, but they really didn't look as though they were having a lot of fun.

I think among the first twenty there was just one that actually met our eyes in a greeting as we approached. Perhaps another two muttered sort sort of unintelligible response to our cheerful "Good morning". The rest looked the other way, messed around with their bait, fiddled with a line – anything except acknowledge a couple of passing boaters. Apart from the one who cynically commented that we'd lost the guy behind on water-skis, apparently not noticing the extent to which I had slowed down to aid his pastime.

Ah well – takes all sorts. Perhaps Jaspers the exceptional Penkridge bakers had decided not to open this Wednesday when they went to buy their day's nourishment. But that angling club could do with calling in a therapist or two. Perhaps the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen could open an inland section. If they do, I nominate Penkridge as the place to start.

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Normal service resumed

The Three signal was strong over the weekend, but the speed of the actual internet connection was appalling, so we've one or two days to catch up on. Went to join with those nice people at Brewood on Sunday morning…

and then pushed off to one of our favourite moorings on the Shroppie, just a mile and a half out of town.

Come Monday morning, we completed the rest of this canal down to Autherley Junction near Wolverhampton, and turned right for our date with some more nice people, this time at Oxley Marine.

We've visited them before – once for a non-functioning alternator, and again for a replacement tiller bearing. This time we'd decided they were the folk to fix the bit on the stove which had broken.

There's the broken-off half, and the two new ones I got Ely Chandlers to send in the post. They are the supports for the grate at the front of the stove.

15 minutes with Phil from the boatyard, and the new ones were in place, and he was even able to use the old machine screws. It wasn't quite the problem I'd thought it would be – I was fairly sure he would have to drill out the old ones, and that was one reason why we'd gone to them in the first place. But these are people I trust – to do a good job and charge a fair price. I told Orph Mable (the proprietor) I would let my readers know he was a gentleman!

We went on down the Staffs and Worcs a bit, winded at the junction with the Wolverhampton branch of the BCN, came back tied up just the homeward side of Autherley Junction. This morning we were trying to identify this amazing tree, flaunting its remaining upper white leaves in the morning sunshine.

For the last day days of October, it really was a lovely day for cruising.

We took it gently, enjoying the autumn warmth,

and eventually tied up at Gailey Wharf. Not quite as far as we'd thought we'd come, but now that the end is on sight, we're not sure we want to hurry!