Archive | July, 2012


25 Jul

I escaped to Southwold last week. Lucky me.

I do like it there and, true to form, it didn’t disappoint.

OK, so the weather could have been better but that wasn’t what the day was all about. No, the real reason for the trip was to catch up with some dear old friends: old school chums from the County High School Wellingborough, which we all attended some 40 odd years ago. Not that it seems so long ago…

And yet it was a lifetime.

A select few of us CHSW girlies have stayed in touch, one way or another, throughout the years. Amazing really.

We don’t all get together too often, making it a special treat when we do. A real occasion.

The last one was a real biggie…

There were only half a dozen of us this time but it isn’t eveyone that can get away midweek. Not all of us are retired yet or enjoy such flexible employment that allows us to take off willy nilly and some of us live further away these days. Terry, who sadly couldn’t make it, lives somewhere in the frozen north and Ann, also unable to be there, is about 5 hours drive away (almost in the wilds of Wales). And both have hefty work committments.

Jude (who lives in New York) was over here already so up for this mini re-union and in fact probably what inspired it in the first place.

So here we all are on the pier which, I have to say at this point, has been made no smoking. WHAT? I say to the man that popped up the minute I flipped open the Zippo. Suppose all that fresh air and surrounding sea makes it a real health/fire hazzard….. Beats me.

From left: Jose, Yours Truly, Jude, Soo, Kay and Jackie. And Archie of course, lurking in the foreground. Picture taken by an innocent bystander – came out surprisingly well considering. I was convinced he had snapped at the precise moment a passer-by passed by, obscuring at least one of us. Well done that man!

Aren’t we great?

We are all still those same girls, still looking good and still laughing, despite what life has thrown at us. And it seems we’ve all had our share of ups and downs, as revealed in the non-stop chatter as we caught up.

This is how it was when we weren’t posing for the camera….Natter natter natter….

One has to have fish ‘n’ chips when at the seaside so we walked to the Nelson to do just that…and they were, of course, delicious.

We walked some more (to walk them off) and, having passed several tea rooms on the way to ‘The One’, were a tad disappointed to discover they closed on Wednesdays. Hey ho.

Back to Jo’s caravan then, via the harbour, for liquid refreshment. And more chatting. Great.

I’m not sure the specialness of this occasion will come across here. It’s one of those ‘you had to be there moments’ I suspect – both last week and back in school all those years ago.

One thing’s for sure though; the next one will take some beating. It is to be held in New York in 2015, on Jude’s suggestion – the year that most of us will mark our next big, very scary birthday. And what a way to celebrate!!

Jude is going to book us all into rooms, where she may also stay, and be able to show us the Big Apple where she’s lived for years. Thanks for that Jude old buddy.

Better start saving….

Can’t wait.

Missing the Boat

24 Jul

This bird has become separated from her boat. How careless is that…?

It is in truth a planned separation and my version of gameful employment. I am house sitting. Or to be more precise; cat sitting.

I have been left in charge of a superb home and garden for 10/11 days. It really isn’t any hardship as said house comes complete with (amongst other things) a bath,  piano, comfy sofas and a summer house; all of which I have made good use. Hobo is quite well appointed but, apart from being a summer house in itself, does not offer any of the other three – which I miss from time to time.

So I’ve wallowed in luxury in the bath (and been re-vitalised in the ‘knock your nipples off’ power shower), indulged my love of the piano (though sadly very rusty) and sunk into the sumptuous sofas as I veg in front of Sky TV on a big screen.

And I’ve enjoyed playing house.

As for the cat… she is a delight. Very vocal but endlessly affectionate. I am revelling in the love and cuddles.

Its been a long time since Lottie (my own long-dead kitty) has curled up on my lap, head butting me if I dare to stop stroking for even a second, and filling the air with much contented and very loud purring.

I like to think we’ve become firm friends, though it could just be she is missing her proper ‘mum’ and I will be consigned to history as soon as the lady of the house returns.

Isn’t she gorgeous?

Next door’s cat also comes a calling, allowing me a stroke or two, and is in fact keeping me company right now

as I type in the shady and cool sanctuary of the summer house.

I estimate that this place is about fifteen miles north of London. From the back of the house, across the fields, the city skyline can be seen clearly – Canary Wharf, The Shard, St. Pauls and so on. Quite a sight and, in my opinion, even better at night when all the lights are a-twinkle.

So, all in all, I am in a good place. I’d show you more but it’s not mine to show…

But I do miss Hobo and have snuck back a couple of times just to drink her in. This is truly my space – I feel it the moment I set foot aboard – and where I am meant to be.

I busy myself for a couple of hours, getting on with painting the hatch replacement that John has made. He makes – I paint – he fits. The stern hatch has always been pretty horrid; a dip in the middle gathering water, which means rust…

…see what I mean? How bad is that.

So John has crafted a new one from wood, which I am busy painting. Red. Or it will be when finished.

And there will be glass recessed in for light in the engine room below. Can’t wait for it to be fitted…it’s going to be good!

Inbetween coats, I continue to prepare the roof – now with the aid of my trusty mouse. We’re getting there.A quick look round sees ‘Gerry’ is fine

The daisies from HMF are positively blooming…And the new herb garden is doing OK.John’s nest boxes looking good…Late additions so no occupants…Maybe next year.

So now my current asignment draws to a close and the house owner is expected back tonight.

I am gradually clearing out my stuff and cleaning up after me. Eradicating all trace.

It’s a lovely home and has been an absolute pleasure. But I will be happy to be back on Hobo. Soon soon.

Bella update

7 Jul

I woke this morning at the unearthly hour of 7.10am to the sound of a caffeinated rattlesnake. That is the noise my chosen text alert makes – a sort of ‘tssccchhhh’ noise. Scary.

This rude, sleep interupting message informed me that the Environment Agency had issued strong stream advice for the River Nene. I immediately forwarded this to Bella as she was heading rapidly towards this naughty bad river.

On sparking up the craptop when I got up a little later, this e mail awaited me:

‘Strong Stream Advice has been issued for the River Nene. Several locks on the River Nene are closed to navigation and are being used to discharge flood waters. The Environment Agency strongly advises against attempting to boat on the River Nene. River flows are above normal and head-room at some sites will be restricted. In an emergency, please contact the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 stating you are in the Anglian Region’.  

Oh bugger.

I rang Dave to pass on this news. I knew he wouldn’t want to hear it but he needed to know.

As it happens, he was just one lock away from joining the Nene so I advised he find a nice spot PDQ and hole up there while he phoned the EA to check out the situation and get back to me.

John, who would love to ‘shoot the rapids’ as it were, would no doubt say I was a wuss but no, not on a narrowboat!

He’s done his time as a tugboat driver on the tidal Nene up near the wash – a whole different ball game. No, it’s not a good idea to be on this river when in flood. Dangerous in fact.

I’ve seen pics of those who have tried – broadside against a bridge with insufficient headroom when ‘brakes’ applied at last minute, waiting in trepidation for the emergency services to arrive. Not a good place to be.

Of course, I couldn’t find the exact image I had in mind but here’s a couple of similar scenarios.

Makes your toes curl eh..

I’m still waiting to hear back from Bella…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             …hope all is well.

The Boatbird Cap

7 Jul

Well, the boatbird cap has had a much overdue airing – see Moving Bella.

It’s not the original boatbird cap; that was lost to high winds on The Thames last year. But, as it was a find on Southwold beach many moons ago, it was never really mine in the first place. No, it was just a temporary possession and my time with it was obviously over.

But the old grey number served me well. It gave me courage in the early days, a sort of comforter and a key part of the ritual that got me on the tiller when it was time to move the boat. When that trusty cap was on my head and my silken tresses pulled through to form an integral ponytail, a message zapped to my brain. A message that said: ‘be brave – you can do this – you are in charge – you are the skipper’.

So, RIP the grey cap and long live the black one…

…seen here modelled by Boris; First Mate in John’s absence, Skipper and caretaker when I’m away.

I acquired this (the cap not the bear) in South Africa last year, it being made by John’s flying friend Jaco. A very nice man, police detective by trade, but we won’t hold that against him.

The new model is showing all the signs of being an excellent successor and seems to have the necessary qualities expected of such an important piece of headgear: it fits, looks good, keeps my hair in check and the sun out of my eyes. OK, so it doesn’t have to work too hard on the last task but rises to the occasion, should the sun ever decide to come out and play.

It also works the same magic. For me, it’s more than just an item of clothing, a fashion statement or useful bit of kit. It is organic – a living breathing thing. A trusted friend.

But for now this hangs on the curtain pole, eagerly awaiting its next outing…

…which hopefully isn’t too far away.

Moving Bella – Day 2

5 Jul

On Sunday at silly o’clock John and I pitch up for more crewing duty. We wanted to get an early start but Reg ( a man after my own heart and not an early riser) would join us for lunch at some point further down river –  exactly where yet to be decided.

Dave didn’t get a lot of sleep it seems – too excited. How well I remember that feeling – the first night aboard my very own boat – even though it was six years ago now. Seems like yesterday.

Another lovely day, less wind, so let’s get going says John – tea/coffee on the move. The first lock of the day is just around the corner so John walks on to set it filling while Dave and I slowly trickle Bella forward. Gates are still shut when we arrive so my pupil, given the choice of tying up again or hovering, chooses the latter – good man – and pulls it off like a pro.

Just three more locks put us on the Lea – a much wider river where we should be able to ‘put our foot down’ a bit.  And with luck/the law of averages we might just get a few locks set in our favour – to date they’ve all been against.  As we turn on to the Lea, the first lock looms and…yes!  A boat just coming out so, at last, straight in we go.

We trundle on with Dave mostly at the tiller, me and John enjoying the view and recognising places/landmarks along the way. Funny, it feels so familiar – like home ground – well I suppose it sort of is now.

One lock in particular sticks in the memory – Carthenagena – see below for why. Someone clearly loves this place. It makes for a lovely sight on approach and, whilst I do appreciate the feat of engineering involved and their serious old age, a pleasant change from the norm.

There’s a few live-ons hereabouts and I suspect it will be down to them –  frustrated gardener/s in their midst maybe.

You may have noticed, though probably not, that I have re-arranged the roof. I can’t bear stuff that gets in the way and is a trap for the ropes to tangle on so John has shifted the plank and poles all forward. Much better. I do so hate a cluttered roof.

We soon reach the agreed rendezvous point, The Crown at Broxbourne (or Frogspawn as we like to call it), so we pull in and wait for Reg. The delicious aroma of roast pork wafts its way through the garden and down to the river and succeeds in sucking us in. We are still only three so call our no. 4 who is still in bed on his way, stuck in traffic so don’t wait. The pork by now was disappointingly sold out so we did a deal and had the beef for the same price. The waitress sold us cauliflower cheese as an extra (we’re all big fans) but the chef must have run out of cheese as there wasn’t a trace. So, cauliflower in white sauce then.

They were very busy and there was a bit of a kerfuffle with the old dears at the next table, complaining we had been served out of turn ahead of them, which in truth we had been. Thankfully, their meals turned up quick quick so any awkwardness was avoided but it makes me glad I’m on the receiving end of service these days. I remember all too clearly how difficult the great British public at large can be from my years at The Star.

By the time we were all fed and beered it turned out to be a longer than planned lunch break. We would be running till late though….OK justified.

As we leave The Crown and round the bend we dodge hire boats, rowers and pedalos – blissfully unaware of our existence.

John just loves to invite people aboard for a ride (usually from one lock to the next) and a nosey downstairs inside the boat. And today was no exception. He spotted a couple of lads on bikes (Orthodox Jews from America on a visit it turns out) and has them stow their bikes on the (previously decluttered) roof.They were a nice couple of lads and, once I managed to convince them it wouldn’t end up on Youtube, let me take their photo.An unusual look but each to their own. They seemed to enjoy this little interlude, especially when let loose on the tiller, although a teensy bit puzzled by the accomodation. But, I think we may have made their day…happy to oblige.

The river had been quiet but then  we found the gongoozlers..It wouldn’t be the same without them and John does love to chat…And I love the way the kids are so fascinated…

Anyway, before you could say clutter up the the roof again why don’t you, John has found more bikes for temporary stowage thereon and  victims enthralled passengers to entertain till the next lock.A very snazzy number in pink..And its proud owner.

We’re not opposed to a little child labour help along the way, kids are so willing and eager to take part. “G’wan…put your back into it laddie..”

From the serene…To the beautiful…To the downright….There was the obligatory shopping trolley… if you look hardA fight with a fish…That the fish…                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           finally won.

And I witter on about a cluttered roof….. !

An interesting abode and check out the plantlife.

The pylons march along with us..And cyclists are ever present on the splendid towpath that is newly ‘done up’ ready for the Olympics.John went for a spin with a local lad on his old tub..As he went to turn around..Before he joins us…In the lock.Reg misjudged the speed of the boat as he jumped on the roof…But he moved a bit smartish when I told him about that bridge coming up.

And he was feeling the cold at Enfield..

Or perhaps just trying to blend in.

We ended up at Tottenham Hale at 7.30pm. Dave’s friend was training in so this was a convenient stop, though John and I would have liked to have carried on a bit further – keen to see how our money had been spent in the name  of the olympics since our last visit to this neck of the woods.

Still, we’d had another brilliant day and made pretty good progress, considering.

We had planned on a day three but when we rang in the morning, Dave was full of confidence, had a mate with him and it was raining…..

So we had a lovely lie in instead.

We are in constant touch by phone/text and our man’s doing fine, just like John said he would be. My Mother Hen instinct wanted to give him another day or two but it really wasn’t necessary. By last night he had reached Hemel Hempstead on his way up the Grand Union. Even managing to do locks on his own now. Clever cloggs.

He was due more help from other friends today, swelling numbers again to four, and hoped to reach Stoke Bruerne by Friday with enough time to spare to take in the museum there.

We are hoping to hop aboard again along the route – maybe the Nene and/or the Denver crossing – and will tell it here if/when we do.

I know he has a birthday coming up in a matter of days so would like to think we’ll get an invite to the party, which will take place on a river somewhere soon…

Moving Bella – Day 1

4 Jul

Into July already and the Hobo hasn’t moved an inch, not even the sniff of a cruise. Static R us. Whilst this was always the plan for this year, knuckle down, earn some money and tart the old girl up, I was definitely getting withdrawal symptoms and missing being on the move. So you can imagine that when asked to help move another boat we jumped at the chance.

Our good friend Reg has sold Bella, his 50 footer, to a very nice young man called Dave who has secured a mooring at Isleworth on the River Lark in Suffolk. He was going to cruise the boat there – a good two weeks from the River Stort (with ten-hour days, lots of luck and a following wind) but with limited boating experience, and none at all of locks, he was in the market for some assistance in the early days, until other friends could join him.

A mission in itself to get to his destination within his deadline but we also had to be clear of the ‘Olympic Zone’ before it was closed off at 8am on Tuesday. Originally we’d planned to get going on Sunday but decided this was cutting it a little too fine and brought it forward.

Reg suggested to him that John and I could share The Knowledge and provide some tuition/advice as well as being another couple of pairs of hands to speed Bella on her way. We were more than happy to do this and we all got cracking on Saturday.

It was warm and sunny as we tied up at the first lock, which Reg and Dave went to fill as we waited for John (who had gone to lose the car) to join us. He pitched up right on cue so I set about supervising as our new boater took Bella into the lock.


It’s a very open spot and the strong gusty wind did its worst… Suffice it to say that it took three of us and much reversing to keep Bella off the bank for long enough to motor her into the chamber.

Bella is a lovely boat, of which John and I are very fond  and have driven before. She responds beautifully but is a different animal to Hobo; being a cruiser stern for starters, meaning the driving position and technique is strange at first to that of Hobo’s trad, and the engine/gearing is all different. Well, that’s our excuse anyway..

Still, all good fun and an invaluable first lesson in narrowboat versus wind, which I would like to say was deliberate but, you know me – boat (honest) bird – I have to tell the truth. It wasn’t.

Next up is a very low rail bridge (mind your head), successfully navigated, followed by a stretch of moorings where Hobo lives. I am impressed by Dave slowing down on approach to these moorings with no prompting from me – something I still have to remind John about. Even now. We say hello to Hobo as we pass and trundle on.

As we chug along, we discuss boatie things, living aboard and, inevitably, embark on the great toilet debate: pump out v cassette. It is not humanly possible for any gathering of boaters not to get on to this subject sooner or later; new ones no exception.

Dave seemed to be a natural; his boat handling skills developing rapidly as we let him do the majority of the tiller work while we answered his questions and imparted our knowledge. It was great to be out on the river again and we were enjoying the ride and the company. It’s different somehow when it’s not your boat (I think that’s a responsibility thing) and also being four of us made the workload lighter and progress faster.

Our journey started at 3 o’clock (ish) and some seven miles, nine locks and four and a half hours later we tie up for the night at Hunsdon Mill. This is a lovely spot in the middle of nowhere, just the odd cottage or two, with the sound of rushing water from a mini weir to drown out the road noise from the A414, which runs parallel at this point.

We had a lovely time on the river and Dave is, I think, a happy bunny after his first (short) day of cruising as we leave him to his first night on board his new home.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           The lovely Bella.