Thursday, 7 January 2010

And the rest of New Year

Well - things did not quite work out as expected! We arrived at Lower Heyford as planned on Sunday 28th only to find that the engine compartment was flooded almost to the top of the engine. We are still not entirely sure what caused it - perhaps a combination of a dripping stern tube (the repair at Birmingham may not have been as effective as we hoped) and the heavy rain not escaping from the rear deck via the drain holes.
Whatever, we had no electrics and no power - the flood had caused the leads from the batteries to char right through. Undeterred, we were at least able to light the stove and use the cooker - first task: a cup of tea.

After bailing out most of the water, Mike set off to Banbury for some candles and other things (he had crossed the thread on the water pump as well, just to make life yet more interesting!) whilst Christine continued to unpack. The evening was spent reading by candle light! It could have been romantic but . . .

Next day we were able to make contact with David from the boatyard and he was able to make up a shore line (we have never needed one before) and thus restore power. It was quickly established that we would be going nowhere by boat this New Year!

Joanna, Alice and Jessica arrived as planned around ten o'clock and the two girls were left with us for most of the day. They much enjoyed a walk along the towpath and back through the village. Jessica, not yet two, walked all the way and only grizzled when there was no snow or ice to walk on!

Tuesday: we went into Marston first thing as planned - Joanna and Ellie had booked to go on a ski lesson and we were to look after the other two girls, keeping them out of Adrian's way as he had quite a bit of urgent work to complete. When we arrived there had been a change of plan as the weather was quite unconducive to outdoor ski lessons! They had instead decided to go to Milton Keynes for the indoor toboggan run, along with one of Ellie's friends.

We set off into the centre of Oxford with Jessica and Alice to visit the Ashmolean Museum - Alice had been before and enjoyed it. We took the bus - a rare opportunity to use our bus passes - and found our way to the museum where we went to the cafe for a drink. Then it was on to various galleries - even Jessica took an interest in many of the pictures, saying  few words - such as 'baby' - to tell us what she could see!

Then to Debenhams for lunch - Jessica demolished the larger part of a banana! Since Alice was without gloves we bought her some new ones as well as mittens for the littler one.

Thursday was cinema day! In the morning Mike and Alice went to see UP, a good quality animated story about an explorer in the South Americas. At that stage in the day the Vue cinema was not too busy but when Ellie and Mike returned in the afternoon it was a very different story - queues everywhere. Nevertheless they found good seats in what was to become a very full screening of Avatar 3D. The latest technology for 3D films is much advanced on earlier coloured spectacles - it is still necessary to use glasses but they do not alter the colours and work really effectively.

The story was quite political in many ways - about the fight back of local inhabitants in the path of the seemingly unstoppable might of an American corporation prepared to destroy anything that stood in its way of making large amounts of money by plundering natural resources. It was set on some distant planet with only vaguely human-like creatures which made it sci-fi, but a good story nevertheless.

Friday morning we went first into Oxford to look around the shops, although we came away comparatively light-handed, even Mike from Blackwells! We had lunch and we were just on our way to catch the bus back to Marston when Christine received a plaintive mobile call from Ellie - where were we? It was already 2:15 and she thought that we were picking them up at 1:30!

However, all was well and Ellie and Alice were ready and  packed to come back to the boat with us to see in the New Year whilst Adrian and Joanna were away at a party in south London to celebrate. After a meal with the favourite pasta bolognaise (a short stop at Sainsbury's on the way revealed Ellie's expensive tastes - making a plea for Parma ham  and expensive chocolate puds no less) Alice eventually succumbed to sleep.

No such thing for Ellie who was determined to watch the fireworks from London on the tv and kept going by a near-midnight feast with her gran!

The next two days saw us let off grandparent duties whilst the family were able to spend some time together. After doing some DIY on the boat - mainly to varnish the new outer door panels - we went off to Banbury. Our main reason for going there was to buy rail tickets for Monday, having agreed on a plan with Ellie and Adrian the evening before. We also had a gentle stroll around the shops - Banbury is quite a good place for doing this.

Sunday morning we went to the nearby Lower Heyford village church for their family service. Led by their churchwarden, a pianist and two flautists, it was not a large gathering but very genuine worship and a most welcoming place. We have been once or twice before and one or two people almost recognised us!

By the time lunch had come and gone we were no longer motivated to take the walk we had half talked about so read and lazed the day away before tucking into our 'roast' dinner. (Actually the only bit that was properly roasted were the potatoes as we were using up most of the remaining cooked gammon joint we started on Christmas Day)

Monday morning we rose very early in order to drive via Bicester to the M40 service station where we had arranged to meet Ellie - Adrian was driving to Beaconsfield for work. It was bitterly cold and we drove rather gingerly as there was obviously a lot of black ice about. Still, we caught the 9:25 as planned and in under an hour we were at Marylebone station in London.

From there we made our way to the V and A - Ellie's choice - and over a mid-morning drink in their cafĂ© we planned which exhibits and galleries to visit. First came the fashion section which showed the way in which clothes - especially more formal clothes - have developed over the past 2 or 3 centuries. Ellie was especially interested.

Next came Decode - a special exhibition based mainly on digital displays with quite a bit of interaction. It was surprisingly good - not the pretentious stuff one might associate with some installation art. The first part was a corridor of LED reed beds which responded to touch. Other displays had touch screens for visitors to influence the way in which patterns were made or pictures altered. One large projected screen had perhaps 30 or 40 smaller images each containing a 1 second video loop taken of the visitors who happened to be in front of the camera at that moment.

After a late lunch in the museum cafe we went up to the modern gallery which focused very much on the way in which fashions and art influence the design of everyday objects as well as designer-furniture. Again, all this was very much up Ellie's street (we found it most interesting as well, although somewhat hesitant to admit they we were actually around when many of the items were first introduced!)

Next to Oxford Circus as Ellie was determined to buy a new pair of boots - suitable to go to school in - somewhere in London! At the second shop we found just what she was looking for at a sale price she could (almost) afford. We took a short stroll along Oxford Street to look at the Christmas lights as darkness began to fall.

Later, whilst we were waiting for food to arrive in Pizza Express we relented and let her change into her new boots! Although we had our own meal ready prepared back on the boat, we had promised to feed Ellie before taking her back home - she demolished one of their Piccolo four course meals with little difficulty and our snacks were really tasty.

Time then to head back to the train. It was packed (the first off peak service) and we had to stand as far as the first stop. Nevertheless, we all agreed that we had had a great day out.

Tuesday and time to return home. It was very cold overnight - perhaps not quite as sharp as on Monday - but no further snow had fallen. However, we learned that it was snowing heavily in Banbury and we could see very ominous clouds fast approaching. So, we made good speed in packing the boat and draining off the water.

There was also time to speak to the electrician - the boatyard had thought that we had left for home yesterday as we set off so early - and they had investigated the engine and the electrical systems. Connecting wires were replaced and a few tweaks later they were able to re-start the engine and confirm that it was charging the batteries correctly. At this stage they cannot find anything wrong with the systems which can explain why we continued to have problems through the autumn.
The journey back to Cornwall was uneventful - we preceded the really heavy snow clouds by about two hours, although there were some stretches made more tiresome by having to drive through falling  snowflakes.