Sunday, 27 March 2016

Friend Ship


Morning all
It's Easter Sunday and I was awoken this morning by the joyful bells of Braunston church ringing out over the village. What a very English start to the day and the warm sunshine is very welcome too after the wet, cold , windy day we had yesterday. In spite of the terrible weather, the determined holiday makers were collecting their hire boats from the village and setting off in the teeth of Hurricane Katie - the usual shorts and sandals well hidden under waterproof trousers and storm coats. As the wind gusted across the fields, it would catch the unwary helmsman and send their boat clattering along the length of our hull until Carl had the bright idea of putting the tyres down. He hung them out on the water side to cushion the worst of the scrapes and we're sitting snugly and smugly in our cosy cabin.
To pick up from last Sunday, you may remember that the jottings were produced by the light of the midnight oil and, I fear, not even spell-checked before I sent them off at about 2am. This was due to a very welcome interruption in the form of 'Visitors'! I've used capitals as having 'Visitors' aboard is the highlight of our boating routine - it's a major event and creates a hum of activity. Carl whips round with the hoover and I dust, polish and stow everything away in the wardrobe (or behind the shower curtain – hoping that nobody will find tomorrows washing lurking there). If there's time I make a batch of scones and put the kettle on the stove to get a brew going. We love it when you come and visit - after all, what's more important in this life than sharing good times with nice people.
After a busy week of entertaining and being entertained on the Ashby Canal, we're back to our normal routine – Carl's reading, Tricky's snoring and the wind is howling around the boat again making the covers flap and the water slap noisily against the hull. The rain clouds have chased the sun away again and the cabin feels chilly. We've been moored in this spot since Friday and it won't be long before cabin fever sets in if we don't get out for a walk soon. Carl and I are used to spending 24 hours, 7 days a week in close proximity and we're normally good shipmates but sometimes there are 'moods'. Generally, Carl retreats to the 'shed' on the stern deck and rearranges his mooring pins until I'm in a better frame of mind and only ventures back when he hears the kettle whistle like the 'all clear'. Tricky's always unsociable unless there's food involved; anyone coming aboard with a treat for Tricky will be made very welcome indeed.
This week we have travelled back along the Ashby Canal, rejoining the Coventry Canal and made our way south through Hawksbury Junction and Rugby arriving in Braunston before the wind got up. Most days this week, it's been chilly on the back deck and we've been pleased to moor up and get inside to the warmth of the stove. It was Friday before the sun finally came out and we chugged through Rugby and up the locks at Hillmorton, bathed in warmth and good humour. The locks were all set for us and we tootled along accompanied by birdsong and fluffy lambs skipping in the fields. I'm sure I have written about lambs before but I never tire of watching them running and jumping – it makes me laugh out loud. There have been lots of sights to make me smile this week. A quartet of black ducks – two sooty black and two with the iridescent sheen of mallard green – they were busy preening their unusual plumage as we chugged by. Further along, a pair of pond ducks splashed in the shallows, snow white except for a black top knot. I'm beginning to suspect that a rogue black duck has been along here, leaving his trademark on the local population. The coal boat was a welcome sight on Monday, he moored alongside and chucked the bags up on the roof for us which is no mean feat from the depths of his cargo hold up to the roof of our boat – its a hard life delivering coal around the canals from a working boat. It's hard to imagine how whole families lived in those tiny back cabins – those were hard times.
I walked the dog this evening and only just made it back before a heavy shower came on and the wind got up again. I sat in the bows, mopping the mud from Tricky's paws and unlacing my new boots which now look 2 sizes bigger due to the thick mud sticking to the big cleats in the sole. They are supposed to stop me from slipping over but I think they used the tyres from a JCB by mistake. I looked over towards the church and the evening sun shone through the downpour, creating the most beautiful double rainbow.
As usual, its getting late and my creative juices are running out – I think it may have had something to do with the cider I was drinking last night. That's the trouble with 'Visitors' – they do try and lead you astray!
Thats all for this week – Happy Easter everyone
Love as always
The Floating Chandlers

Monday, 21 March 2016

Foxy Loxy

Morning All
The first day of Spring arrived in all its glory – warm sunshine and blue skies here in Shenton today. The Ashby Canal is a most beautiful, rural canal that winds through very pretty Leicestershire villages with quaint names. Shackerstone, Stoke Golding and Market Bosworth are a pleasant stroll away from the towpath and, once you get through Hinckley, the canal meanders along through pastures and under historic bridges towards Snarestone Tunnel. The canal ends in a newly built basin and we moor up and walk along a newly laid towpath to find that an extra half a mile of canal has been dug out and is now 'in water'. 'Will we still be boating when the canal finally reaches Measham?' I wonder to Carl as we follow the markings for the next stage of restoration. ' I do hope so'

A week of sun and wind has dried the muddy puddles to the consistency of plasticine and Tricky and I can stride out again on our morning walks. The shy violets peep out from under the hedges and a bank of primroses glow yellow in the gloom of a wooded cut. A quick brown fox runs over the canal bridge and disappears in last years bracken – I peer through the undergrowth as we pass the spot where he disappeared but he's long gone, A kingfisher perches on a branch, orange and turquoise against branches still black and dead. I hold my breath as we chug closer, expecting he would flit away, but our luck is in – we passed by on tickover, a long arms reach away and he glares at us with beady eyes and sits quite still.

If you want to see nature at close quarters then living on a narrowboat is the ideal place to be. This week I've seen some spectacular sunsets and this evening the sun was blood red as it dropped behind Shenton church. In times gone by, I would often see the sun rise as I tore down the M42 or the M6, going much too fast to appreciate the dawning day. Nowadays, if I'm up watching the sunrise, its because I want to be or perhaps to be more accurate, its because Tricky wants to be. The dawn chorus this morning wasn't the angelic song of the wren or the blackbird but a cacophony of shrill shrieks from the courting pheasants interspersed with owls hooting from the trees over the way. Tricky is now sniffing every blade of grass as she trudges back to the boat, ignoring my calls of 'Come on Woofer' and 'Tricky – get a flipping move on' as I stand shivering on the towpath in my dressing gown.

Talking of which (ie people wearing strange things on the towpath) – you do see some strange sights as you chug along. Boats with green tarpaulin curtains – definitely a single man living alone on that vessel. No woman could arrange a huge sheet of green plastic so that the eyelets were in just the right place to attach to the curtain rail. Then there was the runner I met on the towpath with a fluorescent orange lycra jump suit covering everything but leaving nothing to the imagination, if you know what I mean. He had the most enormous feet flapping about in clowns shoes of lurid green with yellow laces and two bottles sticking out of flaps with a straw arrangement so that he could drink without having to stop running.

Its been a mostly cold week, the promise of mild weather never really materialised and that raw wind has frozen us to the marrow most days. It was too cold for Tricky to be on the hatch and I kept finding excuses to go below and sit on the step by the fire. Captain Carl is made of sterner stuff and wasn't complaining so I rewarded him with a batch of fresh scones. Treats have been in short supply since I'm still 'weight watching' – Carl is trying to show his support by eating every bit of chocolate as soon as I bring it back from shopping – he says its so I won't be tempted! I'm glad to report that my scones came out well – the last batch I baked went horribly wrong and came out like biscuits, but these were delicious with jam and butter, still hot from the oven. Am I making you hungry? I promise to make you some if you come and visit us.
We moored on the Shenton Enbankment this afternoon and walked to the Whitemoors Antique Centre for a browse amongst the collectibles and curios from the last century. What is it that draws us to 'ooh' and 'aah' over a 70's glass fish or a dusty old radiogram. Of course, most the customers are only there for the delights of the lemon drizzle cake and other naughty treats on offer in the tea shop - I managed to resist, but it was touch and go!

I'll have to cut the jottings a bit short this week as I've been having such a good time today, I didn't start writing until late.  The owls are hooting again and Carl and the dog have retired leaving me with only my small light of creativity burning and I've just noticed that the 'battery low' light is flashing on the laptop - you and me both matey!
Have a good week everyone - love as always from
The Floating Chandlers

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Dithering Pensioner

A sunny Sunday in early March - one of those soft days, when I love to be boating. Spring is visiting the hedgerows and copses along the way and the first green buds are braving the chill as we swish by. It sounds poetic as I write it, but the reality of our journey so far today, has been far from idyllic – the modern curse of plastic wrappers and empty vodka bottles are everywhere along this stretch. For miles around Nuneaton there are floating bergs of plastic garden chairs and old TV's and the trees are festooned with items that look suspiciously like doggy bags. The locals don't seem to mind and we wave to hardy pensioners in bobble hats and stout walking boots, striding along with rucksacks full of tea and sandwiches. The dog-walkers march along with their Labradors and Staffies and Tricky turns her back in a huff – we've not had our usual walk this morning. I have new boots and I'm a bit precious about wading through muddy puddles until they get a bit more 'lived in' which has been a challenge with all the rain we had earlier in the week.

When I wrote to you last week, we were moored in the lovely village of Alrewas and on Monday I set off on the bus to collect the car from Willington and drive over to Mum's to deliver a package of the local sausages. She's rather partial to them but in hindsight, I'm wondering if I should have stuck to something more traditional for a Mothers Day gift, especially as our car will be cluttering up her drive for the next 6 months! I'll gloss over the train trip back to Burton except to tell you about the exceedingly annoying couple who were giggling the whole way into Nottingham and making loud conversation about contraceptives (as if I needed to know what flavours are available!). They managed to find me when I changed trains and sat just across the aisle to continue their flirtation. Isn't is flipping marvellous!  I almost ran along the platform at Nottingham to get away from them and found myself a seat in a quiet carriage on the Birmingham train for the next leg of my journey. My heart sank when they came and plonked themselves down right by me and they managed to get on every single one of my nerves until I got off at Burton.

Carl and Tricky were pleased to see me although Tricky pretended not to know me and ran right by me to sniff aimlessly at some tufts of grass. The weather forecast was for heavy rain on Wednesday so we wasted no time and cast off to do the 5 locks to Fradley, where I was hoping to have another night off from cooking and eat in the pub there. The White Swan, known to boaters and locals as the Mucky Duck, always looks so inviting in the summer. For some reason we've never been in so I was looking forward to seeing if the inside matched up to the quaint outside. I was disappointed to find the kitchen closed and so was Carl, although he chewed down the hastily prepared ham and cheese omelette without complaint.

Wednesday dawned wet and miserable but dogs need walking whatever the weather so we donned full waterproof gear and set out along the towpath, which had turned into a river in places. We intended to walk to the first bridge and come back via the road, thinking it would be less muddy. As we trudged along the lane, a party of cyclists went zooming by us and found themselves up to their wheel hubs in flood water. When I saw the bow wave, I thought better of the 'dry' route and we turned back to the much shallower towpath puddles. By heck, it must have rained during the night!

Luckily for us, the canals rarely flood and so we have been able to travel onwards through Whittington, Hopwas and Polesworth reaching Atherstone on Saturday morning. I was ready for tackling the 11 locks and we whizzed through the first six and stopped under the railway bridge to let a descending boat come through. I made Carl a sandwich while we waited and when I got back to the lock I found they'd moored up for water. There is a simple etiquette amongst boaters, designed to ease the flow of boats through busy areas. It's certainly not the done thing to fill the lock, open the gate and then pull over for water! I pasted on a smile and asked if they minded if we boated through. The three young men shrugged and carried on trying to untangle their hose and attach it to the stand pipe. It was entertaining to watch them as I waited for the lock to empty and the day was warming up bringing people out to enjoy the sun. We passed another boat coming down and I hurried on to the next lock just around the corner and met a Neanderthal man with two very young children – the kids were collecting stones and chucking them into the water. I'm always worried when there are young children around locks, they teeter on the edge and often their parents seem oblivious to the dangers. These tots thought it was great fun to chuck handfuls of stones down onto the boat and both Carl and I shouted 'Oy – stop that' which set Mr Neanderthal off swearing and shouting at us. 'Never mind' I thought, only one more lock then we'll moor up for a nice wander around Atherstone, which has always been one of our favourite spots for browsing. As I waited for the lock to fill, I heard shouting and a man was coming towards me shouting loudly and pointing. Oh heck, he's coming my way. What's he saying? I can't tell you how awkward it is trying to hold a conversation with someone with their volume turned all the way up and who sprays you with every word and makes not one jot of sense. Carl was a captive audience as the boat rose up the lock and when we puttered off, he tagged along behind us, still shouting and pointing at us. We couldn't face Atherstone after all that, Carl shot off to the Tool shop for essential supplies and we carried on to find a quieter mooring.

I asked the most stupid of stupid questions in the pound shop this week. I stood at the till with two items in my hand and asked 'How much?' - the assistant would have been quite within her rights to have given me a hard slap for asking such a daft question and I had to smile to myself and shake my head as I fished the two pound coins out of my purse. I took a while as I have a new purse and the clasp's still a bit stiff. 'Oh no' I thought as the young girl stood there with her hand out ready to whip the money into the till. 'I've turned into a dithering pensioner'

That's all from me, have a good week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Sunday, 6 March 2016

A Very Pretty Skirt

Morning All
The jottings are back – have you missed them? The winter has flown by with so many good friends to catch up with as well as the joys of the 'Murder Mystery' in the Village Hall. Then there was Christmas and the New Year celebrations and sadly, some old friends to say goodbye to. I wasn't idle through those long, dark months though – the little blue car has been zooming here, there and everywhere and is now languishing in another hedge, waiting for me to get back the bus back there tomorrow. I'm very happy to be swapping the steering wheel for a windlass.

We had a false start on Wednesday as Captain Carl had forgotten the boat keys. Luckily, we'd only got to Ropsley before he remembered so the day wasn't spoilt. 'American Pie' was on radio 2 and I trundled along, singing about driving my Chevy to the Levy and quite forgot to be cross. The sun shone, the sky was blue as we bounced by the village pond for the second time and tried to ignore the black clouds looming on the horizon. We knew the forecast for Wednesday was for wintry showers and blustery winds but once the calendar turns over from February to March, our love of boating is stronger than the threat of a few flakes of snow. The sleeting rain started as we flew down the new dual carriageway between Nottingham and the M1- that's an improvement after the terrible roads around us in Lincolnshire– a smooth road with no pot-holes.

It's such a joy to get on board 'Lady Aberlour' after being away for so long. The cabin smelt fresh – not a trace of mustiness anywhere except in the large drawer that I call the 'airing cupboard'. Its where I keep the spare bedding and towels and everything in it is clammy and smells odd – it will have to be washed before we can use it. Undeterred, I potter through the cabin, smiling at the curtain lace, the books, the pretty postcards, the sheep coaster, the 'Beach Huts' plaque – things I collected on our travels or gifts from thoughtful friends. It's good to be home. I find the new diary and place it in the usual spot by the radio, ready for Carl to keep a record of our battery usage, weather, engine hours and other mundane matters. I think its more interesting to write about swallows, ducklings and kingfishers and often scribble in large letters 'Kingfisher day' across the bottom of the page – I must try to be a bit more descriptive if I want to be a real Twitcher. Nothing to record so far, our one day of chugging from Burton to Alrewas started with snow and sleet and was bitterly cold and grey. The river Trent was running fast as we crossed it and Carl throttled up to power us through the cross current. We love that river stretch from Wychnor to Alrewas and most years we have moored here and walked up to the picturesque church, but this year the water levels are too high and we can't linger.

The big orange casserole dish has been bubbling away on the stove almost every day since we left Burton, I made a beef stew large enough to feed the crew of the QE2! The big kettle and the little kettle jostle for room on the stove top and I can squeeze my porridge pan on there too. Tricky quickly remembered where the warmest spot is and can usually be found gazing at the cosy glow from her place right in front of the it. I've had to make her a new bed by stuffing a cover with old tee shirts and woollies – I forgot that I threw her old bed away when we left the boat last year and spent a while looking for it before I remembered. The older I get the more time I spend looking for things!

Another old 'friend' I re-discovered since we got back is my lovely comfy bed. I was shattered on Wednesday night after all the packing and unpacking and it might have had something to do with the large glass of wine I had with our friends from Naga Queen. I'd had both hot water bottles in the bed all day but even so. The edges felt a little chilly and the rain was lashing down and the wind was howling through the trees when we finally settled down. The boat rocked us to sleep and we slept like babies - when we surfaced the next morning, it was a beautiful day, sunny and calm, perfect weather for turning around, a manoeuvre which can be tricky when its windy. If anything is guaranteed to start an argument between Captain and Crew its trying to turn the boat in a gale!

Today, the boat is moored in our favourite spot in Alrewas and the sun has been shining on our solar panels for most of the afternoon, which has pleased Carl greatly. The canals are quiet, only a handful of boats have passed our mooring but there have been streams of people along the towpath. A big dog put his head in through the hatch this morning and drooled at the smell of bacon and his owner almost did the same – I had forgotten about the delights of the 'gongoozlers' who press their noses against our windows and seem surprised to find real people living inside. Carl is alternating between reading a book and entertaining me with snippets about those devils across the channel who are trying to keep us in the EU against our will. When he finally crossed into the 21st century and bought himself a tablet, I didn't think he would use it for trawling through the political pages and sending his blood pressure sky high.

And Finally...

As Carl came chugging into Alrewas Lock, a man on a bike went by and cycled off along the towpath. Not unusual, except for one thing – the bobble hat, waterproof jacket and boots were all quite normal but the knitted, yellow and green, pleated skirt, revealing a pair of very knobbly knees, was most definitely unusual. And so, another boating year begins

That's all from me, have a good week everyone

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers