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.