Saturday, 31 March 2012

At last nearly ready to go

The work is almost done.

What a long time I’ve had to bide my patience though, while the Skipper, in his own sweet way, has  muddled through the list of jobs to be finished.

I have to say that I’m beginning to feel like a proper boat again. I certainly feel a lot better than I did through the bleakness of that cold winter.

On Monday morning I go into Tooley’s Dry-dock to have my underside done and me bits and pieces checked over to make sure they’re all okay. The engineer John was aboard yesterday checking that all the diesel and oil leaks on the Russell Newbery were now sealed and the engine was run for a couple of hours at full temperature to make sure.

They still have my roof box to repair and have assured the Skipper  it’ll be ready by the time I come out from the dock on Wednesday. He plans to paint the box himself and actually he is in a painting mood (BIG BIG faint!).

In Cropredy when we were starboard side to, he repainted the Oxford Blue from the gunnel down to the rubbing strake along my whole length (I find it irritating that he insists on calling it the sheer strake… wants to remind us he’s been in the Merchant Navy see! I think It’s about time he started behaving like a boat person now not a seafarer) Anyway he was quite good at getting the job done and it looked splendid when he had finished.

Now we’re port side to in Banbury, this afternoon he did exactly the same thing on this side. I should look beautiful on Wednesday when I’m newly blacked up to this line. And now the roof has been painted too, it looks as if I’ve had an engine room hatch in it forever.

Hope I shall look like new.

My trouble is, I long to get cruising and I think he does too.

018  The South Oxford Canal during high Spring

The wonderful South Oxford Canal in high Spring

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

To Cropredy and back

The glorious weather remains wonderful and heart warming and since on Tuesday I had an appointment with the nurse at the Surgery at Cropredy for blood samples that, as part of my annual ‘MOT’, will indicate whether all my bits are working correctly, on Sunday I decided to take ‘Futurest’ there as well, to give her a run. I still have suspect oil and diesel leaks so needed to test everything whilst under pressure.


001  The Red Lion at Cropredy. Now under new management

The Red Lion at Cropredy


The wonderful weather continued and the two and a half hour run north was most exhilarating. It became so warm that I was very soon stripped down to my tee shirt and straw hat (don’t be silly! With trousers on of course!) and Nature appeared to be luxuriating in the warmth as well.



A good year for Primroses; these on the bank by Cropredy Lock


Arriving later on Sunday afternoon gave me plenty of time until we left again earlier today to cheer us both up with a bit of painting. The scarred roof around the engine roof hatch had badly needed sorting out for a long time and now we had the weather to do it. It really needed stripping back to the steel work but without 240 volts this was impracticable, so a good touch up with the Oxide primer and then a couple of coats of red raddle paint on top of everything improved the look of the boat immediately. The old Merchant Navy  saying that a good coat of gloss covers a multitude of sins was certainly relevant in this case. Luckily the paint was dry before the sharp frost settled on it overnight otherwise all my efforts could have been ruined.


004  Red roof before painting

The red roof before painting


While in the mood for painting (or touching up anyway) I also tarted up the Oxford Blue sheer strake, above the blacking, all the way along the starboard side which was against the towpath and it is amazing what one can accomplish with Poundland paintbrushes and small roller sets. It looks a treat down that side now so when we arrived in Banbury this afternoon, I made sure I was moored port side to, so that I can repeat the performance down this side.


005  Frost on the new roof paintwork

Frost on the new paintwork


On my walkabout around the pretty village of Cropredy I went to see what remained of the beautifully ancient and thatched Red Lion, which I had heard had been forced to close about a month ago; in a way it was a kind of pilgrimage. I was disappointed that of the two pubs in Cropredy it had been this one that had become a victim of the current economic climate. To many boaters over the years the Red Lion has been almost a shrine, as the pub which Tom Rolt had visited on his honeymoon in 1939 on ‘Cressy’.


007  Also a good year for Magnolias they say

Also a good year for Magnolias


It was still there as beautiful as ever in the bright sunshine and to my utter joy and surprise it was open for business. I went inside and ordered a pint of ‘Hooky’ Bitter and met the new landlord Chris and his lady who have taken over the licence and have been there for the last three weeks only. This was splendid news and after only the one pint I returned to the ship but not before promising to return before I left for a meal. This I did on Tuesday night and enjoyed a superb beer battered fish and chips (not too many… just right) garnished with posh salad and peas. I finished up with apple pie and custard and in the end two pints of Hooky Bitter made me feel nice and relaxed.


013  A leafy lane up to the Church

A leafy footpath up to the church


The passage back to Banbury today was equally as sunny, warm and full of contentment. There was no breeze except that made by the ship’s gentle movement through the water and not a cloud interfered with the perfect light blue sky above. Off went my coat and shirt again, for it had been quite chilly earlier after another very evident frost during the night and on went my straw hat. I took my time with the three locks and of course ‘Futurest’ was at her impeccable best.


016  Taking on fresf water at the winding hole

Taking on fresh water at Cropredy

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Reminiscences on a walk in Banbury

Such a warm sunny day on Monday suggested that I take a walk in the town, the place of my birth and upbringing. Obviously I know the area very well but on each occasion that I come here I notice that old shops have closed in the meantime.  However though it is sad to see old businesses disappear, it is good to see that the town is thriving enough to encourage new shops to open.

The Castle Quay Shopping Mall is amazing I think and so full of customers all the time, though it’s sad as a result to see that the historic High Street is very quiet now and where the bustling business used to be when I was growing up as a boy is now kept alive only by banks, lots of estate agents and numerous charity shops. But it’s heartening to know that there are not that many empty shops to be seen anywhere in the town.

I sat for a while in the Sun on a bench in the ancient Market Place near the medieval Bishop of Lincoln’s palace and though the whole area has been recently resurfaced in the popular red paving bricks to remind motorists that it is for the use of pedestrians predominantly, the faces of the surrounding buildings are still the same as they were certainly well before I was born. The ancient shop fronts along the whole of the northern side of the square cleverly hide the very recent and ultra modern shopping mall behind. Well done the planners.

There were lots of people bustling about in the Market Place while I was there and it’s a favourite occupation of mine relaxing on a seat ‘people-watching’; I can be entertained for hours this way. Apart from the last three years when I have lived on ‘Futurest’, having had a home in the town means that I recognise so many people without actually knowing them. Over all the years as they have aged from childhood I have grown up with them and yet know nothing of their lives. They all remain characters to me even if they live very ordinary lives.

When I was a tiny child during the War we had our milk delivered from a beautiful dray horse and wooden covered four wheeled cart, briefly by the ‘Worried Milkman’, as we used to call him. A slight facial disfigurement made the unfortunate man look continuously sad even when he smiled. Over the intervening years since then I have regularly seen him about the town and on Monday again this week I saw my ‘Worried Milkman’, obviously retired now, complete with anxious countenance, but in fact not looking a day older than he did when he delivered the milk about sixty years ago. He must be getting on now though.

Then there is the lady that I went to school with, a contemporary of mine at five years old; Billie Cunliffe was her name. She had a brother there with her called Barry; I think they might have been twins in fact. I never see the latter around the town any more and often wonder whether my Barrie turned out to be the same person as the famous Oxford historian Professor Barrie Cunliffe, whose many books I have read.

The three of us were very good friends at St John’s Priory and again over the years since, I have grown older with a lady who always resembles the Billie that I went to school with. I have passed her by many times during this period and she has always smiled at me, which I have returned politely and on each occasion I have nearly said and wanted to say: “Excuse me. Are you Billie Cunliffe as was?” but I’ve never had the courage to do so in the end. A polite “Good morning!” is all I’ve ever murmured and perhaps two memories have passed again as ghosts.

However the sunshine was wonderful and now feeling in very thoughtful mood I decided to walk up to the Hardwick Hill Cemetery to visit my wife’s grave. It was a special day as it would have been her seventieth birthday had she lived just a little longer. So I bought some flowers at Freefields in the Market Place and walked the two miles arriving about an hour later.

I tidied up the area around the gravestone and displayed the flowers and they looked lovely in the bright sunshine. I am sure Miranda would have approved. I spent another half an hour sitting on a seat nearby thinking of old times before returning to the ship along the tow path via ‘The Tea Caddy’, a mobile kitchen caravan in the layby outside the cemetery. Here I enjoyed a delicious fried egg and bacon sandwich and a big mug of hot tea, while being entertained by the lady’s continuous happy chatter behind the counter.



All her favourite flowers



Inquisitive donkey



Trees in Spiceball Park



A  work of art or a child’s playground apparatus?



Miniature daffodils and hyacinth

Thursday, 22 March 2012

At Banbury

We arrived at Banbury over a week ago, late on Monday afternoon of the 12th March after an idyllic but fairly swift passage (for me anyway) from Warwick. The sky had been overcast totally and we were accompanied by swirling fog patches for most of the time, some of which were quite thick at times. But the Russell Newbery chugged along beautifully without missing a beat and it felt so good to be on the move again.

002  Catkins an early harbinger of Spring

Catkins an early harbinger of Spring

After our night spent quietly outside the Lidl Supermarket in Leamington Spa, the four man delivery team astern of us rushed off at some early hour as they had planned, whereas aware that there was a stoppage at Bascote Lower lock that would not be cleared until 4pm that day, ‘Futurest’ and I were content to make a more relaxed start at around nine thirty arriving at the lock landing beautifully just as British Waterways were clearing away their debris. Two boats were already tied up near the lock landing abreast of one another, one of which was the boat with no name, with our delivery friends pacing up and down impatiently.


A relic of our industrial past on the Stockton Flight

‘Futurest’ and I ‘hovered’ while the two boats ahead of us entered the lock together and we were subsequently joined by ‘Daisy May’ with mother and son Joy and Colin aboard. We had met briefly before when they had called in at Kate Boats with engine trouble. So we two boats happily shared both the Bascote and Stockton Flight of locks with a night’s snug mooring at Cuttle Bridge in Long Itchington in between.
We left ‘Daisy May’ at the top of the Stockton Flight, when they stopped at the marina not happy that their engine problems had been properly sorted, and we ventured gently down to Wigram’s Turn at the junction with the South Oxford Canal on our own.
This part of the canal system, between Napton Junction and Banbury, is always magical to me and inevitably I tie up for the night at the temporary mooring just above the Bottom Lock.

005  Between the locks at Napton

The mooring between the Locks at Napton

In the wide flat Warwickshire Plain, this little hill, about two hundred feet high, with it’s restored windmill (now a private property) and ancient square towered church on the top among the mantle of trees and the village of Napton-on-the-Hill clinging to it’s side always has a mystical feel about it to me; my brother always laughs at me when I mention this. But without fail, whatever the weather has been up till this point and whatever it is afterwards, the Sun always shines brilliantly at this little mooring. Also, though there are many visitors by road to this spot, it always remains for me very tranquil and quiet. All that one is aware of is the lonely echoing caw against the hill of the black Corvidus, the sharp ‘peewit’ of the lolloping Lapwing or the bleat of lambs as they leap about together before dashing for a quick confidence boost at their mother’s teat. Life to me is peaceful here and I always look forward to it.

001 Boundary Lift Bridge - The first of these from the north on the S Oxford

The lonely Boundary Lift Bridge, The first on the way south.

But the whole of the northern end of the canal is wonderful as it meanders its way sharply through to Fenny Compton and Cropredy. Apart from these two centres where many boats congregate, there is absolutely no sign of human habitation, apart from the odd farm building usually well away from the canal. Wildlife abounds including the Green Woodpecker, while the close proximity of the Robin is always evident by his sweet underrated call and the occasional Blackbird beginning to loudly sing his heart out again, thrills me inevitably as my daydreams are suddenly cut short by the need to concentrate fully on navigating one of the frequent hairpin bends.
After spending the next night near the Wharf Inn at Fenny Compton, I made an early though very misty start on Monday morning to make sure we arrived at Banbury that afternoon. We made uninterrupted progress and weary but happy tied up close to Tooley’s Boatyard and near the Castle Quay Shopping Centre late in the afternoon.
Life has been busy since then with visitors and making arrangements to have ‘Futurest’ blacked in the dry dock as well as other little jobs that are tedious only, but still need to be done. My blogging has suffered as a result for which I apologise. I hope to be able to do better from now on.
As I passed through Cropredy my friend Maffi on ‘Millie M’ was just leaving to return to Banbury. So he followed me down through the three intermediate locks. He was moored nearby for a while before setting off north again so I managed to catch up with him while he was here.
Also nearby is Bones, the lovely friend who persuaded me that blogging was a good idea in the first place and who has now introduced me to Windows Live Writer. Today is my first attempt at using it so soon we shall see whether I have managed to make a success of it or not. Previously I have used Word 2011 and transferred it from there onto the blog.


A day trip south to Nell Bridge and back
Son Alex bringing ‘Futurest’ to her mooring

‘Futurest’ is booked in for the dry dock on 2nd April so we are killing time till then. The job will take two days and then we shall have to make good time north to arrive in Newark-on-Trent by the end of April to rendezvous with Janis on ‘Roots and Wings’. It might be a tricky passage because lack of rainfall this winter has caused water shortages already in the south and there is currently a restriction of use on the Foxton Locks, which is the way I wanted to go. If I take the longer route via the North Oxford and Coventry Canals there is also a restriction at the Hillmorton Locks. At the moment we’ll be going by the first choice of route and see how it goes.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A Modest Start

Making our fond farewells to Rebecca in the office, at eleven o’clock ‘Futurest’ and I made our great big getaway very boldly this morning for the 2012 cruising season.

Goodbye again Kate Boats
We began very positively, as we mean to go on of course, and covered at a very gentle pace, a whole 1.3 miles down to the twenty four hour mooring alongside the supermarket Lidl. I meant to stop at Tesco’s originally but there were no moorings available here, so we moved down to where I’ve now decided to stay the night. There is no hurry as Bascote Lock, further east along the Grand Union, is closed until 1600 tomorrow for repairs.
After stocking up for the passage to Banbury in the shop, I walked along the towpath into Leamington Spa and after a sustaining pot of tea at the Pump Room Restaurant, began the return journey.
When I returned the ship, bathed in the afternoon sunshine, she was as cosy as ever but moored astern was a boat that hadn’t been there when I left and the three man crew were enjoying a glass of wine together in the cratch. They too were awaiting the opening of the Bascote Lock and this was a rare moment of relaxation for them. I chatted for a moment or two and they invited me to join them in a glass.

So I did!

The moorings at Lidl

They are delivering a new hire boat to Anglo Welsh in Bath and are usually in a tearing hurry, being put on a tight time schedule by the hire company. But tonight the crew were relaxing and all of us being about the same age, we swung the lantern freely and furiously as the wine flowed. We decided that all four of us had led busy but contented lives overall.
A fourth crew member who had been ashore for a walk, returned and I gave them all a conducted tour of ‘Futurest’. They seemed to enjoy it.
We have said goodnight now and they will be away early in the morning, probably before I wake up. They will be back on their normal schedule.
Bon Voyage bothers Jim and Jeff, Bernie the retired airline pilot and Foxy the single man of the party with an eye for a good meal and a pretty female face. It was great meeting you all and I hope we meet again sometime.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Eve of our new Journey

For the first time in a long time I feel happy ..... and I think the Skipper’s happy too.
Considering he reckoned he was so poorly last week he is showing a remarkable amount of energy today getting me shipshape for tomorrow.
I’m now topped up with diesel and the bike, which for ease of use has been plonked in the cratch all winter, has now been stowed away under the bunk. He’s washed down all the outside paintwork and solar panel during and in between the frequent rain showers today and I’m beginning to look quite special again I think.
He had planned I know, to repaint the whole of my roof while we were here but quite honestly the weather hasn’t been good enough to do so since he’s been feeling better.
But what can he expect! A whole fortnight of beautiful weather was completely wasted while he was feeling sorry for himself!!
As it is I am clean enough, though with a hotch potch patchwork of silver coloured oxide primer all over the top.

Kate’s flowers

And while the washing machine is on its second cycle to make the most of our last day of shore side 240 volts and with drying laundry draped all over the saloon, at the moment he’s having an internal clean ship. I think everything should be finished by the time it gets dark. All that is left then tomorrow morning is to top up the fresh water tank before we leave.
It’s wonderful and such a difference to last week when our spirits were at such a low ebb I think. He was a different man altogether then.
His friend Kate came to see him on one afternoon. She was in Warwick for the day and just had to call, she said  .... Ugh!
She brought him some flowers, he made her a cup of tea and she seemed to cheer him up. He tried to do his usual artificial charm thing but he’s so false all the time .... Makes me squirm! .... I can see through it all, a mile off! It was even more obvious on that day as he wasn’t feeling well. I feel so sorry for these lady friends who show him any sort of kindness. They deserve better!
But tomorrow we turn over a new leaf and start again. I do hope he concentrates more this year on the job in hand. He gets distracted far too easily and that was the whole problem last year ... his lack of concentration!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ready for Cruising

Though the temperature is a little on the cool side still, the Sun is shining gloriously today and the rippled olive coloured stream of the Grand Union Canal beckons me seductively. A young couple have just arrived here to hire a boat, have been given their thorough tutorial and instructions and have just left with optimistic eagerness in their hearts and eyes.
All this feeds my need to travel soon.
I long for the relaxed chug of the engine with the feel of the familiar vibration beneath my feet; the fitful tug of the wind at my hair and the pressure of the rudder through my arm and hand. I need to satisfy my eyes and peace of mind with the colours of early spring again; the luxuriantly thick Blackthorn blossom just prior to the green bloom that arrives with early summer sunshine; the myriad fragrances and the call of happy bustling sounds of Nature. These are all overpowering after a long, cold and quiet winter.

The renewed Engine Room Deckhead sheathing.....

.....and Calorifier in the Shower Room

At this time of the year I always find myself ruminating about the year ahead and I wonder where we shall be taken and what is planned for 'Futurest' and I. One thing is for certain that within the few short months ahead of us, until we return back here at Kate Boats in November (the only definite plan so far and even that is open to cogitation) such a lot will happen. Many events, hopefully all of them happy ones, and new friends, all unknown at the moment will enter my life and that of ‘Futurest’s, all adding to the adventure that she and I have set ourselves up for.
Halfway through last year all seemed at first glimpse to be disastrous. We were miles away from our winter moorings without an engine and with no engineering facilities at all on the Chesterfield Canal. The waterway was like a little country creek and ‘Futurest’ and I didn’t even have half a paddle between us. But of course somehow not only did we manage to have the engine replaced and to return here before any bad winter weather arrived but eventually we managed to have all our outstanding jobs completed. I left the ship briefly for a week and was most surprised to find that not only the Engine Room deckhead sheathing had been replaced, but the leaking calorifier, an anxiety of mine for quite a while, had also been renewed by the time I returned. All done by this excellent company Kate Boats. They were brilliant!
So in true naval parlance ‘We are now ready for sea’ and eager to move by this Thursday when the Grand Union and the South Oxford Canals should both be unobstructed for our journey down to Cropredy and on to Banbury.

Flu jab considerations

This year with all the other excitement in my life, I forgot to have my annual flu jab.
This is a procedure that routinely I have had for about twenty years. Since the age of sixty five I have been entitled to it by right, but for about fifteen years before that, whilst looking after my disabled wife, it was deemed wise for me to have the protection as well as her. So that is how it all began.
In those days when we lived in a house, everything was easy. I just made an appointment at my local surgery and the job was done. But now being of ‘no fixed abode’ and not having my GP local any more, I have to be a lot more circumspect regarding this as well as all the other considerations of my medical care.
I am forever grateful that my health is so good but once a year I like to pass through Cropredy on the South Oxford Canal, where my doctor’s surgery is located, for my annual ‘MOT’ and up till this year giving me my flu jab has been part of this procedure.
On this occasion though, I forgot to ask for it and my doctor forgot to suggest it. So for the first time for many years I was unprotected during the two month period after Christmas.
Since I had always been sceptical about how effective the procedure was anyway I was not overanxious about the omission and fairly confident that I would be okay in any event. So imagine my disappointment when, over the last fortnight my body has felt as if it has been the site of World War III, with rival armies of bacilli giving no quarter and fighting to the death for the overall possession of this pile of flesh and bones. It has been hard work but over the last two days the ‘good guys’ appear to be winning and I’m now feeling much better, especially since regaining my appetite.
However I shall always make sure that I have the flu jab in future.