Sunday, 24 April 2016

Where Did All The Crocodiles Come From?

Well hello readers! A while back I promised to give Linda a well deserved rest from the jottings. It seemed a good idea at the time; still, there you go. Anyway, this is Captain Carl, doing my humble best to regale you with tales of our “adventures” on the cut. I have undertaken this formidable challenge twice before, and learned that a monologue comprising of the state of charge of the batteries and the advantages of mineral oil over synthetic oil would not win me a favourable position on “Britain's got talent”, let alone the attention of you good people in Jottings Land. Something else is required. A new paragraph, for a start.
This time last week the boat was moored at Market Harborough. On Monday morning we were back on board and eager to be on the move again. It was after 10.00 a.m. in the morning when I started the engine and untied the ropes. Within seconds I was pulling the boat back in to the pontoon and retying the lines to avoid running into another boat that was manoeuvring just in front of us, which I hadn't noticed. Next time I'll look before I untie. Finally, our way was clear and I slipped the lines again. Then we were off.
The Market Harborough arm of the Leicester arm of the Grand Union canal is a very pleasant and isolated ribbon of quiet water. Although the day was cold and grey, the banks were vibrant with colour; primroses, bluebells, cowslips and other unknown species were bursting forth to greet the Spring. The peace and tranquillity were disturbed eventually, but in a rather amusing way. As we drifted by a remote garden, a tiny black dog appeared from nowhere. He stood for a while, watching us. Then he saw our dog, Tricky, perched comfortably on the hatch. Instantly, he was transformed into a clockwork dog, barking and jumping excitedly. He kept up with us for as long as he could, with his little tail a blur of wagging and the non-stop happy barking continuing. We looked at Tricky, expecting her to be sitting there looking confused and slightly alarmed. Well, wonders never cease, as they say, but not where Tricky is concerned. There she sat, in grumpy mode, looking confused and slightly alarmed.
It was shortly after this that I noticed the crocodiles in the water ahead. As we drew closer, I began to regret leaving my crocodile gun at home. Happily, the crocodiles transmogrified into logs. It appeared that the Canal and River Trust, or their contractors, must have been tree trimming/felling and had dumped the product of their endeavours into the wet stuff. They must be the sort of people who, when they wake up in the morning, try to set fire to their dreams. The next half mile was an assault course, with us steering this way and that, trying to avoid collisions. Some of the logs must have been two feet or more across and five or six feet long. Once we cleared this barrier we moored up for the rest of the day and had a lovely cuppa.
We both love the Springtime (although I prefer Autumn; I always find it more honest). Spring can be an even better season when you have plenty of coal and wood for the stove, so you can get warm after having spent some time outside.
Having stated an opinion about Spring, I will now share with you, dear readers, my experience the next morning. Being woken early by the dog, I dressed quickly and put some breakfast down for her, which she tampered with briefly. Then, after putting Tricky out, I stepped onto the deserted towpath after her. The scene that greeted me took my breath away. The cool air was alive with the most glorious birdsong. A drifting mist was slowly melting over the canal, fields and woods opposite, and the sky was the softest shade of pale blue that there could ever be. No CGI film could ever reproduce anything like the scene that greeted me on this morning.
The magic continued after we set off towards Foxton. We saw swallows, kingfishers, a field full of lambs jumping vertically then bounding off at speed the way only lambs can do. There were cattle in the next field with young calves that stared curiously at us as we drifted by. In a bluebell wood I spied two young squirrels courting around an old oak tree. This tree was coming into leaf which, according to the old proverb, is a good sign. We haven't seen any ash trees showing signs of life yet, so maybe we'll enjoy a good summer this year. Every living thing seemed to be celebrating this day.
At Foxton we bought some coal and booked our passage up the locks. The ascent through Foxton locks went well. Being so early in the year, and being a week-day, there weren't many tourists about. Tourists are a welcome addition to the canal scene; any interest in canals and waterways is a good thing. Also, Linda likes the opportunity to chat. The only fly in the ointment is that I can be a rather unsociable, often miserable old so and so. I prefer to stand quietly at the tiller, watching the world go by and generally feeling bewildered. When there are tourists about they see straight through my “try to look invisible” act and sooner or later one or other will start to talk to me. Sometimes Linda will rescue me, but other times she is otherwise engaged (winding paddles, opening/closing heavy gates and so forth). Usually, it's the questions that baffle me. For example, say I'm in a lock, and the boat is pointing uphill. In this situation I have been asked more than once “Which way are you going; up or down?”. Another common query is “Aren't you cold in there?”. So I have to explain about our central heating, and the stove. “Oh”, they say, inexplicably disappointed that we are able to keep warm. Then it will be “Can you burn things like wood and coal on your stove then?”. I'm waiting for someone to ask if our boat floats. I'm sure that question is waiting in the wings.
Talking about standing alone at the tiller, this is a very good place to be if you want to wonder about things. I find I can wonder about things even when I'm feeling bewildered by everything. Isn't that strange? We went through Crick tunnel on Friday. Luckily I had my “Indiana Jones” hat on, together with my waterproof coat, so I didn't get wet in the various re-enactments of Niagara falls that occur in most of these excavations. Halfway through I was wondering about hills and suddenly, from that, I found myself wondering about Ridge mountains. My question to myself was, are all Ridge mountains blue, or is it just the ones in Virginia, USA?
We saw our first ducklings yesterday (Saturday). They were fairly newly hatched. I counted seven of them. There could have been more than seven if some were hidden in the rushes nearby. They do panic though. If we see a dabble of ducklings (I don't know what the collective name for ducklings is, but I like the sound of dabble. Hopefully someone will know the correct term) I always try to steer the boat by the whole lot of them, rather than through them, but inevitably one or more will get separated. When this happens, the ones that have been separated squeak madly and paddle furiously, almost running on the top of the water, until they rejoin their peers. An exercise in pure panic.
We're now moored on the Grand Union canal proper, at a place called Long Buckby Wharf, having come through the first broad lock of a flight of seven. And here we must leave you, as I've said enough and don't want to wear out my welcome. We're back to normal next week as Linda will be in charge of this keyboard while I check voltages and oil levels and lots of other engine related things. Its a mucky old life, but someone's got to do it.
Love to you all
The floating Chandlers
PS I've noticed that Linda sometimes adds a PS, so I thought I would too, but I can't think of anything to say, so I won't.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Tea Pot Noodle

Did I really wake up to snow yesterday? Oh yes – the unpredictable April weather cast a wintry coating over the spring blossoms to remind us that summer might still be a way off. I noticed a blue haze of bluebells as I walked Tricky this week and longed to be back in the magical kingdom of the River Weaver. It's on the list of 'things to do' later this year along with our other northern favourite, The Shropshire Union, but we'll miss the bluebell season. Maybe next year. Do I sound a little nostalgic? That's because the boat has been tied up in Market Harborough for a week and I've been sleeping in a landlubbers bed. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to my cabin tonight, although I'm hoping that I don't wake to the sound of rain on the roof.
So, what will I write about this week? I was wondering that myself and thinking I might have to look through the archives for something to amuse you with your Monday morning coffee but then I met Noodle!
It was a sunny morning when I went to collect my Mum for a garden centre outing and I was racking my brains to think of somewhere different to take her. My Mum lives in the shadow of Belvoir Castle so we set off across the very pretty Vale of Belvoir looking for garden centres and tea shops. One of our more recent finds is the Dove Cottage Cafe and Charity Shop right by the Grantham Canal. The approach is down a long, narrow lane and over a very steep hump-backed bridge to get to the little cottage that serves snacks to anyone brave enough to attempt that bridge. My little blue car only has about six Shetland ponies under the bonnet so its a case of 'toot the hooter and hold your breath' as you race up the steep incline with Mother holding tight to the edges of her seat. It's busy with walkers, bikers and pensioners and we're too early for lunch and too late for the Cherry and Ginger scones - what a shame! We settle for a cup of tea and their very acceptable fruit scones and browse through the books and CD's in the library near the door. The sun is still shining and we set off again, with no particular plan in mind, heading for Melton Mowbray and a bit of retail therapy. As we tootle along, I notice another 'Tea Shop and Garden Centre' sign – one I've not seen before, and it looks interesting. I think about calling in but decide that even my Mum can't make room for another cup of tea so soon after leaving Dove Cottage. We carry on towards Melton and the sunny day is perfectly lovely when viewed from the warmth of the car but there's an icy wind blowing. We're reluctant to walk round the town so we hurry into the warmth of Tesco's for a birthday card and some broccoli. Of course, you never come out with only the things you went in for. I have to admire the clever marketing strategy which persuaded me to buy a pair of bright turquoise bath towels, which I didn't really need, as well as the milk, eggs and yoghurt which I did! Well, such is life and I'll leave you to mull that one over with your cup of coffee and let me know if you too, have been guilty of buying scented candles when all you went in for was a packet of frozen peas.
As usual, I've completely forgotten the whole point of the story which was to tell you about 'Noodle'. By the time we left Melton, it was past time for Mum's tea fix – she's a terrible addict and gets all twitchy if the tea levels fall too low. It took a little time to find the place again but eventually I pulled into 'The Old Brickyard' and found a little wooden cabin set on the edge of a large grassy area with lovely views over the fields beyond. A collie cross doggie wearing a hi-vis jacket came running over to us as soon as we got out of the car and I bent down to say hello but the doggie hadn't come for fuss – this was a working dog with a job to do. On the jacket was printed 'Follow Me for Tea and Cakes' and the dog was intent on rounding us up and taking us to the tea shop. It would run a few steps and then look back at us as if to say 'Come On – this way' and circle round us to make sure we weren't side-tracked by the garden centre. Once inside the charming tea cabin, the lady owner rewarded us with a dog biscuit (for the dog, of course, not us!) and we were introduced to Noodle who sat there patiently waiting for her reward for 'fetching' the customers. That's the best marketing strategy I've ever seen and if Tesco's could employ a 'Noodle' to bring in the customers their profits would soar!
I was up with the larks this morning – happy to be going back to the boat and hoping that I can find the hot water bottles to take the chill off the bed. The boat will be cold after almost a week without any heating and the stove does take a little while to get up to temperature.  Carl will be worried about Grumpy Wife Syndrome which often kicks in when the thermostat drops below 'tropical'.
Have a lovely week everyone – I'll write again soon

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Bushy Beards and Wandering Eyebrows

This week we've taken a luxury mooring on the Union Wharf in Market Harborough. The water point and services are close by and we have mains electricity hooked up to the boat. We have a splendid view over the mooring basin and there have been lots of boats coming and going to keep us entertained, especially now the winds got up! The 'Gin and Fizz' restaurant is just by our stern doors which means that Tricky has an audience every time we take her ashore for 'emptying'. Her normal exit is through the bows, but we have reversed onto the wharf here and tied up to a short 'finger' mooring - the bows are well away from the bank. The only way ashore is through the stern doors and off at the back deck - Tricky is far too much of a lady to want to use the tradesman's entrance, so she has to be carried ashore waving her paws to the customers in the window seats. Of course, this is only a temporary arrangement and we'll soon be back to 'roughing it' on the cut and to be honest, I much prefer the tranquility of a tow-path mooring.
On our first night here, I realised that there was a weird groaning noise overhead when we went to bed. I tried to ignore it, but it groaned intermittently throughout the night and woke me every hour until the dawn chorus took over about 4am. Those of you who are related to me, or have had the misfortune to share a breakfast table with me, will know that I'm not at my best in the mornings. If you add 'lack of sleep' into the equation then you might wonder how the Chandlers are managing to stay afloat! Carl, not wanting a grumpy wife, solved the problem by changing the whining centre line for another piece of rope, which was older and much more co-operative and hardly moaned at all. This is especially good news because the wind is blowing even harder this evening and is gusting so much that it almost blew the fire out. We had turned a bit chilly so Carl was trying to light the stove when a great puff of wind blew down the chimney and smoke poured out of the stove into the cabin and set off the smoke detector. I rushed around opening hatches and windows and tried to waft the smoke out of the back doors (more entertainment for the dining crowd in the Gin and Fizz) while Carl battled to get the battery out of the smoke alarm. By the time we'd cleared the smoke and the stubborn fire had got going, the cabin was at least ten degrees colder than it was before we started. Luckily for us, the wind has dropped, the stove is glowing nicely and peace reigns once more in the saloon of the 'Lady Aberlour'.

This week we have travelled from Norton Junction, up the pretty Watford flight and through the dripping wet Crick Tunnel, along the Leicester Arm of the Grand Union Canal towards Market Harborough. We moored overnight at the top of the Foxton flight and were the first boat down on a chilly, grey morning. There are volunteers helping with the locks and, for once, they are friendly and chatty and help me with the gates. As I set off from the bottom lock to open the swing bridge on the Harborough Arm, I spotted a chap with a huge white beard sweeping up at the cafe. I was so fascinated by the hairiness of his beard that I wanted a closer look and, if he had been willing, I would probably have had a chat to him, he looked like an interesting sort of person. Unfortunately for me, he wasn't feeling very sociable and turned his back as I approached, leaving me no opportunity to wish him a 'Good Morning' and start a conversation. I glanced back over my shoulder and saw that Carl was out of the lock and halfway across the basin heading for the swing bridge and I wasn't even halfway round to open the gate. I hurried up the steep, slippery bridge and my feet flew out from under me and I came a right cropper. As I lay there, flat on my back, looking at the grey sky, all I could think was – 'how the heck am I going to get up'. I was OK folks – nothing damaged, but I cursed my new boots with their super grippy tread, which weren't up to the job.

As soon as we arrived in Market Harborough, I went off into town to have my hair cut and get my eyebrows tamed. I had a bit of a wait for an appointment and spent a good few hours wandering around the town, drinking coffee and resisting cakes in a delightful Italian Cafe and browsing through the vinyl 45's in the Oxfam shop. When I eventually staggered out of the hairdressers, face red and stinging, grey hair sheered and mauled into a quiff with some waxy stuff, I couldn't face the long walk up the hill and decided to catch the bus. 'Do my eyes deceive me' I thought as a little Yorkshire Terrier ,wearing a pink and white spotted coat, got on the bus, apparently by itself, and came running up the aisle. It jumped up onto a seat and stood looking out of the window until a little old lady got on, pushing a bright pink pushchair - it was all decked out with blankets and covers and had a matching bag hanging from the handle. She parked the little buggy and got a pink fleece blanket out and made her way down the bus to her doggie, which was dancing with delight to see her. She sat down, put the blanket on her knee and her little dog hopped on and snuggled up on her lap. It made me smile to see the pair of them and I'm still smiling now. It could only happen in England!

That's all for this week my friends. I hope you find something to smile about this week and don't forget to share it if you do.

Love as always

The Floating Chandlers

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Sheep, Pigs and Pants

Now, where was I – I think we had taken shelter in Braunston last Sunday and were waiting out the terrible winds and driving rain in the shade of Bridge 89. There's a handy footpath from bridge 89, through the field to the church at the top of the hill. It's by far the best option for getting to the village. You may have to tiptoe around the earthworms that have been missed by the early bird and try to dodge the sheep pellets scattered liberally along the route, but generally, you get to your destination looking fairly presentable. Any trip along the tow path takes twice as long, due to the amount of time required to slither along without falling over and then the mucky job of scraping the mud off Tricky's paws when you get back.
The boat moored in front of us broke free from its moorings twice during the windy weather. There was no-one on board and so it was up to us to rescue it and tie it up again. The first time, it was tipping down with rain, so I hung onto the centre line while Carl did a temporary lash up with a handy bit of rope – well, it was actually more like thick string but it was the best we could do at short notice. I was hoping that the owner would come back and fix it himself, but no – the next morning, the stern rope had pulled free and the boat was making its way towards the sheep field again. I had to sacrifice my best orange washing line to tie it up for a more permanent repair – how will I dry my smalls now?
Once the wind had dropped we set off for a short cruise along the South Oxford to charge the batteries and get a change of scenery. The lovely views from the canal as you leave Braunston and chug towards Flecknoe are a welcome change of scenery and all three of us are happy to be on the move again. Tricky was in her usual place on her mat on the hatch and Carl and I stand just inside the boat where it's a little warmer than being totally exposed to the elements on the steering platform. By the time we got to the first winding place, the dark clouds were gathering and that cold wind had got up again. Carl leaned on the tiller and the boat whizzed around in a graceful circle to turn us round and we started back towards a nice little mooring spot we had noticed on the way down. We had traded one sheep field for another and I spent some time watching two of the stupidest ones standing nose to nose, locked in some kind of staring game, only moving far enough to make room to butt heads from time to time. Am I turning into Shauna the Sheep? Is sheep spotting a recognised pastime? I'll stop bleating and move on.
We arrived back in Braunston in time to do a 'big shop' in Daventry before meeting up with our friends, Terry and Liz, on their boat Beertriss. I was soaking the bread in cold tea when they arrived, those of you who have made this old fashioned teatime treat will know that I was making Bread Pudding. I flung the rest of the ingredients into the mix and I crossed my fingers hoping it would be one of my better attempts. I'm afraid to say that Mary Berry would have had something to say about my 'soggy bottom'! I had to resort to the old faithful BeRo scones as our contribution to the celebratory lunch on board Beertris at the top of the Braunston flight. We had a couple of glasses of wine to celebrate our maiden voyage together and then set off on the last leg of our joint venture through Braunston Tunnel. Tricky and I hunkered down under the hatch as usual and watched the world getting smaller and smaller in the vanishing light behind us. 'I should drink wine more often' I thought 'this tunnel's not scary at all'
The next day, we left our boat at Norton Junction and went off to help our friends with the 7 broad locks of the Buckby flight – mainly so that we could have breakfast in the Whilton Marina Cafe at the bottom of the locks. Carl had a windlass in his hand for a change and the damp, drizzly morning soon brightened up into a beautiful warm spring day. I looked over a hedge and there were half a dozen porkers in a field, sunbathing, sprawled contentedly in the mud. Further away, the M1 motorway traffic crawled along doing less miles an hour than our narrowboats.
A man came up and told us a very sad story about his home life. Apparently, he had been ironing his pants on the worktop and ruined the surface, which had annoyed his girlfriend who 'had a go' at him. Then he'd got the wrong air freshener so she'd sprayed it on his toothbrush to teach him a lesson. He'd had enough, he told us and he'd left her to it and come out. Now I'm a person who likes to 'share' but that was too much information, even for me!
Sometimes I wish I wasn't the eldest child! I am condemned to be forever the 'bossy' one – I can't help it. No matter how I try, I cannot keep my nose out. When we met up with a holiday boat coming into their first lock on the Buckby flight, I was very soon chatting away to the man with the windlass on my side of the lock. I looked down into the boat and the four ladies of the party were crammed into the bows, some still in their pyjama's, clutching coffee cups and looking worried. I'm afraid to say I went into bossy mode, getting them roped up and then spotting another boat coming along for them to share with and generally directing operations to get them safely through their first lock. I do hope they enjoyed their weekend break and that they're all still friends – 8 people sleeping together on a narrowboat might test the best of friendships!!
On that note, I'd better call it a day before I test your patience too.
Love as always
The Floating Chandlers
PS We saw the first swallow today as we went up the locks at Watford – how blooming marvellous!