Sunday 31 July 2016

Moving house

Not being on Erin Mae this week, we were free to go up to London to help Nº 3 son and extremely pregnant wife move house yesterday. It was quite a party, with various family and friends involved.

8 month old Jude didn't do much furniture-shifting, but provided plenty of encouragement, and was glad to pass on equipment he no longer requires for the use of the expected baby.

MOB (Mother of the Bride) and MOG (guess!) did lots of cleany, cooky things, in both the flat being vacated and the house being newly occupied.

Yours truly, of course, brought his years of experience to all situations where they would seem to be of benefit. It was a good day!

Thursday 28 July 2016

Pennies from heaven

Preparing for our friends Mark and Cheryl to borrow Erin Mae for a week we took her over to the marina's service wharf for a pump-out and to top up the diesel. To my amazement Doug reported that he could only get 0.1 of a litre into the tank.

I wasn't expecting it to take much, but since we last filled it we've done about 11 hours gentle cruising. I reckon Erin Mae's Isuzu 42 does between 1.25 and 1.5 litres an hour at proper cruising speed, so let's say 1 litre an hour for these trips, because so much is past the moored boats of Great Haywood. That's 11 litres, plus whatever we've used over a two-week period for heating water.

So how come the tank was full? The only thing that springs to mind was whether the pump-out might have affected the trim and the apparent level of diesel. Whatever the reason (and I would love to know the reason), I'm not complaining! Especially as working out a fuel declaration on 0.1 litres is more trouble than it's worth, so I got 6.5p worth of diesel for free. And I wonder whether Mark and Cheryl's diesel bill will be £7 more than it might otherwise have been.

Sunday 24 July 2016

In good hands

On Friday my former students Mark and Cheryl came with Amelia and Sam to take over Erin Mae for a week and a bit.

They're going to see how far they can get towards Stewponey before it's time to turn around and come back. So if you see them, give them a wave.

They've been living and working in Burkina Faso for several years. After that, I doubt whether anything they'll meet on the waterways is likely to be a problem. Anyway, Mark and Cheryl have both had some narrowboat experience before.

I was able to show Sam a knot or two before they left, and to make sure Amelia knew where one or two key pieces of equipment live (e.g. a spare Watermate key). So their parents are in good hands.

Thursday 21 July 2016


Tomorrow two friends plus two offspring are borrowing Erin Mae for a week. That meant a bit of a clean-up and clear-out to give them some living space, and in addition I had two jobs scheduled which I'd been meaning to do for a while. The first was to glue a window catch back onto its hopper. It's been off since I don't know when – always something more interesting to do. So today was the day!

Except that I found I'd left back home in the New Forest the glue I was intending to use. It didn't feel like a job for Araldite, and I'd found this thick SuperGlue which had done another job really well. But, no matter how good the glue, it's no use if it's 180 miles away. It will have to wait – again.

The other job was to put up in the bathroom Erin Mae's framed toilet twinning certificate. It had been sitting on the shelf, held in place by a large bottle of something or other which was about to be removed for a week, so a more permanent scheme was needed. With the slope of the tumblehome side of a narrowboat you have to be careful that things on the wall don't fall off. But a small, sticky, plastic, "Command" hook at the top and a blob of Blu-Tack at the bottom secured it nicely.

"Toilet twinning?", you ask. It's a great scheme to help fund sanitation schemes, which can have positive social consequences for a community way beyond what you might expect. The website is really worth a look. 

Erin Mae is extremely proud to have her loo twinned with one in Burundi. Being a boat, of course, hers has rather more motion.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Forces of nature

Brian Cox is brilliant. He may not himself write all of his scripts in their entirety, but they are sufficiently different from those of every other science presenter, and sufficiently like how he talks when he’s ad-libbing, to imply that he inspires and fashions the whole thing.

When he says something like: “The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand” as he did on Monday’s BBC1 “Forces of Nature” programme, I respond “Exactly – couldn’t have put it better myself!” Because my own fascination is with patterns and how things interact and hang together.

And yet you know that with Brian Cox there’s always going to be a “but”. Brian has this wonderful appreciation for the amazing nature of the universe we inhabit, and an extraordinary capacity for communicating the awe it inspires in him. But he succumbs, all too often, to that little word “just”. “Life is just a temporary home”, he said, “for the immortal elements that make up the universe.”

This is a contemporary version of what cyberneticist Donald Mackay used to call “nothing buttery” – the idea that, because we can describe the human body (for instance) in terms of the chemicals that make it up, we can therefore say that we are “nothing but” a collection of chemicals. Mackay spent a lifetime showing that we need multiple levels of meaning to describe many things, including what it means to be human.

Brian Cox: “You are just chemistry – but what chemistry! The earth is your ancestor.” Here it is again – his sense of awe at the big picture, fatally combined with a total absence of anything to show why it should matter, why it should give me any individual significance whatsoever. “You are a remarkable machine” he said.

I am indeed a remarkable machine – but that’s not all I am. My humanity also includes my relationship at various levels with the Creator of it all. With the one who, in creating this most amazing universe, has filled it with meaning and purpose. And a future. Brian Cox’s smile and wonderfully persuasive manner cannot remove the chill that comes as he looks forward to the final destruction of the earth, the sun and the solar system. He seems at ease with his own dissolution. But, for me, that is no hope at all. History bears testimony to the emptiness and, all too often, the destructive violence of those who go down that path. My own hope is in knowing the one who made it all in the first place, who has plans we can scarcely dream of, and who shares them with the people he has created.

Well, Erin Mae’s new TV certainly provoked a different sort of blog post this time!

Monday 18 July 2016


When at Erin Mae's home marina in Great Haywood, we normally aim to worship on Sundays with Wildwood Church in Stafford. Today Robin, one of the leaders of the church, came for the afternoon.

We couldn't pass up the opportunity, on this very hot day, for another cruise down to Tixall Wide and back. Robin made himself at home on the tiller.

Once down at the Wide, we got folding chairs out on the towpath in the shade of the trees, eating some of the fruit cake Robin had brought. Very nice! Next time, hopefully, his wife Helen (who'd made the cake), won't be visiting relatives in Kent and will be able to come cruising too.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Watery things

Our friends Ted and Mary had been staying locally in their motorhome, so yesterday we went and picked them up. They've plenty of boating experience but they'd never visited Erin Mae. The day was cloudy and threatening rain, but we decided to cruise down to (guess where!) Tixall Wide.

Once there, the hood went up and the rain came down and we enjoyed eating and chatting. As we did so a couple came past the side-hatch in their canoe.

I'm glad to say that, when we met them later as both we and they returned to our respective bases, he had stopped texting and was actually doing some paddling!

Later in the afternoon we went for a walk through the grounds of Shugborough, and found this little fellow.

I don't think I've ever encountered a smaller frog. How he felt about the encounter, I don't know, but he (or she) helped to make our day.

Thursday 14 July 2016

Day off

Yesterday a couple of friends joined us for the day. They're going to borrow Erin Mae in a week's time, so we thought it would be a good thing for them to see what's what before they come. While they were here we noticed that the children-on-board syndrome had struck again – the poo tank warning light had come on. So when they'd gone we took Erin Mae over to the service wharf for a pump out.

After that, and in light of the weather forecast, it seemed appealing to go down to Tixall Wide for the night. Although it was pretty full of boats, we found a mooring spot in the channel just before it opens out, so here we tied up.

I then made two mutually contradictory decisions. The first was to tie to the Armco without using a spring line to steady the boat when others passed. The second was to have a very long lie in this morning. From 7.30 a.m. a steady stream of boats passed, in both directions, and Erin Mae bounced around like (as Henry Blofeld said of Jonny Bairstow when he took a catch today in the Test Match) "an excited trout". Moral – don't ignore the spring!

We've had a delightful day doing almost nothing while the sun shone – think of it as grandchildren recuperation therapy. We also feel very privileged to have this wonderful spot just a half-mile down the cut from our marina, to provide moments like this when needed or desired.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Goodbye to the Vikings

Monday's weather meant no boating again – the rain came in shifts but the wind was constant, and I'm not sure I could even have got Erin Mae out of her berth. So we did other exercisy things with the boys instead. However, we were determined to do at least some boating before they flew back home, so it was up and out early on Tuesday, to spend the morning taking Erin Mae down to the Bridge 68 winding hole and back.

It was two locks and a few miles each way, and they got into it with a will. Both of them steered, and there was a definite improvement from last year.

They met the local wildlife and Sam learned to hold a bow line while I brought the stern in.

Four hours out and about, and downpours for only the middle two. That was when they went back to making their iPhone videos inside, leaving their grandparents to get wet.

Then it was time to get them to Manchester airport for the evening flight to Oslo. We booked them in, ate sandwiches and played Goldfish with the Animal Snap cards. They were finally ushered away at 7 p.m., and we were asked to stay in the airport until the flight had taken off. So we had a coffee, kept an eye on the departures board, and left just after 7.45 when the flight finally disappeared from it. At 10 p.m., checking her phone, my best beloved found she'd had a voicemail from SAS at 8.30 saying there was an issue with the flight and would we please go back up to the check-in desk. By now, of course, we were in Stafford doing some late shopping at Asda and filling the car with diesel! We tried returning the call, to no avail, so rang the boys' father in Oslo, who had also received messages about the flight being delayed. In the end, they did get home OK, but I think it was 2 a.m. local time before they got to bed.

So ended a very happy 10 days with (and, hopefully, for) Sam and Theo. Now that it's over, I suddenly have time, space and energy to write a blog post.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Sun, shade, surf and sand

Two grandchildren coming to stay is not a recipe for regular blog posts, so the content mounts up!

Nº 1 son came up from Cornwall for a few days while we were at home in the New Forest and, as ever, was a great hit with his nephews.

Being at home in the water, he took them surfing, mostly at Highcliffe.

To everybody's regret, he had to go back to work. His parents' surfing skills didn't quite cut the mustard, so we went exploring the forest instead. Moors Valley country park is a fabulous local resource.

We visited the Bournemouth Oceanarium

There were walks,


French cricket,

and ponies.

Yesterday we drove up to Erin Mae, hoping to do a bit of boating before they fly back to Norway on Tuesday. So far it's been much too windy or wet, so today we walked around Shugborough instead. Ah well.