Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year's Eve

We did not need to make a prompt start to today as there were no planned maintenance tasks! Instead, we set off mid morning to drive over to Windsor - Jess and Alice are staying with us tonight,

However, Christine wanted to visit the shops in Windsor town centre - which turned out to be quite busy. Finding a car park with en empty slot took a bit of effort not least because the 'number of spaces' sign seemed to be wildly optimistic! Even the large  - and expensive - multi storey car park was almost full (despite alleged;y having several hundred spare spaces) and we had to go up four levels to find somewhere to park. £3.70 just for two hours - ouch!

Christine is wanting to replace her handbag - never an easy task - her current one was bought here on a previous visit some while back. We headed first to Fenwicks where that one had come from but even in the sale their bags were very upmarket - several hundred pounds for something that did not look especially attractive.

Sad to say, but after looking in several shops and spending quite a bit of time deciding not to go for one particular bag - nothing eventually stood out as a satisfactory replacement.

Whilst waiting in Daniells's, Mike was unexpectedly taken back around 55 years to when as a teenager he had Christmas jobs in a south London department store (no longer there). Both places record their buying cost on the price tag - so that senior staff know what discount they can offer in the sales. These are encoded and, not sure why it has stuck, but Mike can never forget YCNOSWAPFI. It was supposed to be a secret but perhaps the cat can be revealed after all this time and Daniells were careless enough to leave theirs lying around on one of their stock trolleys!

We went to a small cafe at the bottom end of Peascod Street, one that specialises in continental breads and cakes - there is a choice of about a dozen different breads for sandwiches! As it happens we both opted for something we had not seen in a cafe before: rosti with toppings. Christine had smoked salmon whilst Mike had chicken and cheese.

By then our two hours was fast running out so we returned to the car park and adjourned to Bolton Road. Ellie was up and about so was able to update us on her recent trip to Belfast - she returned only late on Christmas Eve.

On the way back to the boat with Alice and Jess we called at Morrisons so that they had a chance to decide on their preferences for an evening meal.  At that stage Jess was not over hungry as she had had a large lunch with her Mum at the local 'greasy spoon' - as they describe it!

However, by the time they had finished watching a film about taming a dragon, food was required - Mike ended up serving four different plates - Jess's choice of a  burger in a bun quickly disappeared. Note that the bun had to be a brioche bun as 'that is what we have at home'!

Whilst Jess retired to her bunk at a reasonable (ish!) hour, Alice was determined to see in the New Year for the first time. We all watched several tv programmes including a very clever ventriloquist who not only used her traditional monkey puppet but also involved three members of the audience. She  voiced all the parts using masks that she could make the mouths move up and down!

Most of the last hour was spent listening to Jools Holland who has been seeing in the New Year with his eclectic mix of singers for the past 23 years. This year was no disappointment and included Tom Jones not only on his own but also in combination with some of the other singers in quite remarkable performances.

And then it was midnight - we were already armed with celebration drinks and, like the audience in the studio - linked arms to sing Auld Lang Syne. Mike sent an email to the Rembrandt Gardens booking service at 30 seconds after midnight - the earliest acceptable date for booking spaces in February. The CaRT replacement service for the trial run by Sarah which we used before is much less flexible and our previous request for this break was deemed invalid but by the time they managed to tell us that, all the spaces had been allocated!. We will just have to wait and see if they really do play fair and that not too many people automated their emails for 10 seconds earlier than ours!

Finally, we stood on the back deck of the boat to watch the fireworks - at least a dozen different ones at all points of the compass around us. One of the boats in the marina set off a very bright red flare that lasted for several minutes!

Time then to wish each other a happy 2016 and to retire to bed.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Yet More Maintenance

Another day largely of doing those things which are put off when cruising but which niggle at the back of one's mind until there is no more excuse!

Mike began by completing the rear deck surfacing - he is rather disappointed with yesterday's results as one of the two pieces has not properly adhered in the middle and there is a visible bump. At least it seems to be quite firm and perhaps it will flatten with use.

Learning from that experience, the adhesive on the two small remaining pieces was applied slightly differently (and not as suggested on the container) with a much more satisfactory outcome.

Christine also suggested that we use the left over material to cover the steps up into the roof to make them feel a bit safer when it is wet. That task went much better to plan! We also used the old mat which sat just inside the back steps (we bought a replacement with us this time)  to fit under the locker lids to see if that will prevent vibration noise when under way. We will have to wait for another visit before we can give it a go but this also has long been an irritant and a previous attempt to resolve did not last. (Just don't look too closely at the locker contents!)

Time then to go shopping - not that we had a lot to get but enough to fill a couple of large shopping bags. We did need some more potatoes . . .

In the afternoon we needed to clear the visitors' bunks as we have had a text asking if Alice and Jess could come and stay for New Year's Eve so that Adrian and Joanna can go to a party. When doing work on the boat there is a tendency to use one of the bunks as a temporary resting place for tools and components which normally have to live buried deep under one of the bunks or seats.

Christine requested that the main cabin table should have a new varnish - we picked up a tin yesterday and so today was the time to do that. It needed several coats before we were any where near satisfied with the result. But it does get heavy use, not just as a dining table, office desk but many other activities take place here. (OK, so this picture was taken the next morning when the varnish had had time to dry properly!)

Early evening when we tried to put the television on it started with a signal but quickly refused to do anything more. There has been a suggestion of an intermittent fault for some months so now Mike spent a while trying to track down where was the problem. Our new sat finder proved its worth by showing that whilst there was a good signal coming from the aerial itself, nothing was arriving at the outlet in the main cabin. Eventually he thought that he would need to get some more materials to investigate - we had bought a new fitting for the outside of the front cabin where the fly lead from the dish connects to the built-in lead, but we had not fitted it.

Sadly, during the investigation, Mike confused the radio aerial with that for the tv (silly really as the latter is original and hidden behind the panelling whilst the other we fitted and is visible at the back of the cupboards all the way through the boat! Sadly, having re-assembled it the radio works even less well that before - it has never been anything to rejoice about. Fortunately, we have now discovered how to connect a mobile phone to a bluetooth BoomBox speaker so we can listen to radio stations that way.

Whilst all this 'stuff' was taking place, Christine, in addition to preparing tonight's meal, has been reading a book which she has been asked to write a review about. Autobiographical works - this one about someone's experience of caring for his mother whilst she developed dementia - are never easy to review especially when the writer's emotions figure very openly.

Christine pressed for an explanation of the tv problem and in the the middle of showing her what the situation seemed to be, Mike tried fitting the new connection box. It was apparent that there was corrosion not only of the outer sheath of the co-ax but also where it had been connected to the old box. There was just enough of the cable to clean up the sheath and to make a better connection to the new box. With not too much hope, we then diffidently tried switching on the set and much to our surprise it worked straight away! (Photo taken the next morning also reminds that some sealant around the cable entry is needed now!)

This meant that we now had to finish the job by re-attaching the connector box to the wall - of course all of this had had to be done in the dark with Christine holding the large lantern torch. Even with that, some parts of the job needed a second one to shine into dark corners!

At least it meant that we would not have a rush in the morning to go in search of components and to conduct further investigations.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


Mike began the day by writing another short piece of work for the diocese before turning his hand to a task that has been on hold for some while. The back deck has been a bit of a problem for a while. Left just as painted metal it quickly becomes quite a hazard in the wet. For a while we have had a spare piece of the material we put into the foredeck which allows water to run through it. However there was insufficient to do the job properly at the back and what we did have moved around too readily. however, it did work as a non-slip surface and show its benefit.

So, back when we were leaving Mercia Marine we bought a roll of Treadmaster – it is quite expensive – but had not had time to fit it until now. Mike was a little nervous as cutting to the right shape did not feel like an easy task. In addition, there is a lifting centre section of the rear deck which is used to gain access to the engine compartment and the weed hatch.

It took most of the remainder of the morning to prepare the two pieces to fit with a lot of careful making of paper templates, measuring and eventually cutting. The deck pint was also sanded down ready for some adhesive.

When we bought the material originally we were advised that we could get some suitable adhesive that was not quite as expensive as the special stuff supplied by Treadmaster. Now was the time to find something!

So, after lunch we set off to Screwfix in West Drayton and a helpful lady served us but she was not confident that the product in stock was correct and it did seem rather a small pack for almost £30! This is a job one does not want to strat and run out of adhesive part way through! She, instead, directed us to Wickes, up the road in Uxbridge. Although they were not as full with their advice we did come away with a couple of tubes of something that promises to do the trick.

Back at the boat Mike began to stick the decking down. By now the sun was well down and what had been a very warm day earlier was now becoming definitely chilly. Hence there was not a moment to lose.

As the adhesive was not an impact type there was a little more leeway in adjusting the positioning. It is supposed to cure overnight and weighting down any key edges is also recommended. So some pieces of ballast were retrieved from under the cabin bench and put into action. All we can do now is wait until the morning when a couple of small side pieces remain to be cut and fixed. There may also be enough left over to put on the steps up onto the roof.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Phones and Beds

Mike carried out the last set of tests requested by Orph and then waited for his phone call whilst finishing off a piece of work for the Diocese. Orph duly called but had found that Beta marine (the engine suppliers) were not open after the holiday break until tomorrow. However, he confirmed that he was inclined to the view that it was a simple failure of the alterator - Mike remains ambivalent! However, he is confident that a resolution should be possible this week.

We then set off on a bright sunny morning by bus into Uxbridge to find a Vodafone shop to sort out Christine's mobile phone (she has been attempting to take over Mike's old contract for the second phone (an old HTC) and then to switch to the phone (Sony) which he upgraded earlier this year. The process has not been simple!

In the town centre we not only spotted the terminus of the Underground but also a statue called Anticipation which was installed some 13 years ago. Another one, in the shopping mall entrance was more seasonal but less artistic!

We quickly tracked down the shop and a helpful young man soon sorted us out and we had time to wander around the town centre shops - the only thing we bought was a re-supply of reading material from Waterstones! We also spotted the winter outdoor ice rink run by the local council - sadly the mild weather meant that it was closed and the rink was just a pool, of water.

We took the bus back to the marina and had lunch. Mike made a start on trying to cut the new deck surfacing for the stern deck and di enough to feel that he had made progress when Christine was ready to set off once more.

We drove by car to Hayes to visit bed shops. In fact we only went to one as we found a suitable replacement mattress for our boat bed at Dreams but it took about an hour and a half by the time we had tried out ll the options and then placed the order. We were served by Harry, the store manager, who was keen to sort us out! It was also interesting to see how he still kept a beady eye on his staff and what they were up to!

By now it was dark and time to return to the boat - just as well Mike had managed to prepare the chilli before we left!

Fixing Problems

Andrew decided to return home as we were not on the move! Mike made an attempt to investigate the problem with the battery charger and gathered some evidence. He then emailed Orph Mable at Oxley marine and was somewhat surprised to get a speedy reply.

There were several exchanges during the afternoon gathering yet more evidence but the final set of questions had to wait until the next day as by then it was too dark to see outside.

Whilst this was going on, Mike also set about adding new catches to the under-bunk doors, same as those which we have had for some time on the larger cupboard doors which we have found effective. The child-proof catches we originally fitted to these smaller doors have never worked terribly well and when we have a bump, such as in a lock, then most of them tend to fly open and be an obstacle to walking through the cabins.

Saturday, 26 December 2015


I am just testing Open Live Writer as I heard that it has just been re-enabled to work with Blogger – I last tried it about 10 days ago and it was still not working.


Boxing Day

Our plan (now!) was to have perhaps a four day trip so that we would turn around after today. We did not manage an early start but when we did turn on the engine there was an alarm from the control panel and elsewhere the monitor reported that the battery was not being charged. In addition, the amount we were down from full charge was a lot more than we would have expected overnight despite having the tv on for quite some time.

Despite checking what we could there was no obvious problem other that that it appeared that the alternator was not making any output - our testing equipment is rather primitive and our knowledge spartan! in any event, the only real option was to turn back now and head for the marina and a shoreline. We just managed to wind without having to go up the next lock as the canal was exceptionally wide where we had moored.

A few boats were again on the move - although there never seem to be many along this stretch even in summer. The weather today was mild and dry - unlike the forecast for more northerly parts of the country.

The journey was uneventful. Surprisingly few onlookers although we did have a little helper at Denham Deep.

At Widewater Lock Mike was able to take a photo of a milestone which is normally hidden behind a line of moored boats and so was missing from his collection!

With lunch on the run, we were back into the marina with daylight still available. Indeed we were able to walk down to Morrisons for a few larder items and get back for dusk.

Spotted what we think is a new sign at the junction and start of the Slough Arm. Certainly not noticed before.

As soon as we tied up we reconnected the shoreline and the batteries started charging at a high rate. We did have a moment when the current reading seemed to go up and down with alarming irregularity. Still, we seem OK for the moment but we will now have to explore options for an expert investigation. If the issue is indeed with the alternator - part of the new engine - then we will have to contact Oxley marina but they are up in Wolverhampton so no prospect of taking the boat there for a repair!

Friday, 25 December 2015

Christmas Day

Andrew was expected late morning and a few days ago had suggested that we might take the boat out on a cruise instead of looking for a traditional Christmas Day walk! As a result, Mike was up in good time to make all the usual trimmings for this evening's roast dinner.

Andrew reached the marina just after 11 and, once we had disconnected from the electricity and water connections we cast off and made our way our from the marina onto the Grand Union. A brief discussion and a check that there were no nearby closures we opted to go north - going into London might prove hard for mooring, based on what we saw in Paddington Basin a couple of days ago.

The morning has seen the forecast rain but by the time we set off it was down to a light drizzle. the temperature was also still remarkably mild.

We were surprised to see fewer winter-moored boats along the towpath just north of the marina. In past years it has been quite well packed here. Today there was plenty of room for new arrivals or over-night moorers.

We did spot a kingfisher but were too slow to catch it on camera - we did try but the light is too low level to get many pictures.

The rain became a bit heavier just after lunch but before we could see anywhere for an early stop it cleared again and we continued on. With plenty of cloud cover it was obviously going to get dark quickly tonight but we continued until just below Stockers Lock. Going further would have brought us within range of the extended permanent moorings around Batchworth and also we will now be able to pick up a paper in the morning - supermarkets only close for the one day! We did see a couple of boats on the move.

8.5 miles - 7 locks

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve and, with Christine laid somewhat low but on the mend) Mike went with Jess to do the last of the Christmas shopping at Morrisons. It was, surprisingly, not as busy as might have been expected - perhaps we were still ahead of the rush!

Although it was a slowish morning we did not have too long as we were expected at Windsor around midday for lunch - a splendid steak pie prepared by Adrian. Whilst the finishing touches were being done, Joanna gave us the full guided tour of their new shed and greenhouse. A new residents parking scheme (beloved by some and disliked by many others) has meant that they have had to re-instate their small off road parking space which then involved demolishing the old shed. Their wood pile also is now undercover (separately) and Joanna can chop kindling for as long as she needs to for 'anger management' purposes - or so she says. In any event, we came away with another bagful ready chopped sticks.

Mid afternoon we all packed into their to drive over to Reading. We had been invited to join the family for the Crib Service at the church where Adrian's parents have long been members of the congregation. Over the years, Adrian's father has done a lot of work on the church - his latest and recently completed project was a new altar table which we were taken to admire - a substantial piece of woodwork.

The church itself is a typical huge Victorian barn but it does now have a new heating system (must cost a fortune to turn on!) which really does heat the space. Sadly most of it is at least 20 feet above the heads of the people on the ground!

We arrived very early!
The service as well attended and lively with the Vicar making creative use of Powerpoint - flying angels and wonky stars!

Afterwards we were invited to visit Adrian's parents home after which we returned to Windsor and collected our own car to drive back to the boat.

Late evening we went to the midnight service at St Matthew's church in Yiewsley where we have been several times before. A full church - it was apparent that many were infrequent attenders - as is often the case with Christmas services these days. At least a good opportunity to make newcomers welcome.

Finally, back at the boat we indulged in a Christmas drink before finally retiring!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Firework-maker's Daughter

Today we had tickets - bought earlier in the autumn - for The Firework-maker's Daughter, a modern opera developed from Phillip Pullman's popular story. It was being staged by the Royal Opera house in their Linbury Studio Theatre.

With a bright cloudless sky, we made a good start at 10:30, going down to West Drayton station - we could have walked but it will be dark when we return and some of us might be a bit tired! Whilst Christine and the girls bought train tickets, Mike went to park the car. The nearest is beside Wilkos but run by the local council. Parking is cheaper for residents but, for what we needed, visitors have to pay £8.70! Although he had taken all available change it was not enough so he had to go in search of more coins. In Wilkos he bought a new washing up brush for £1 so was rewarded by a pile of coins which he proceeded to feed into the machine in exchange for a ticket.

The train into Paddington was straightforward but Andrew had suggested that, if we had time, we might check out the mooring situation in Paddington Basin. this we did but alas it seems well packed out with several boats double moored at the end.

It was a bit early but we called into the M and S cafe beside the basin for lunch. Jess opted for a sandwich but the rest of us had soup. Not everything was finished before tummies were full and Christine managed to charm one of the staff into providing us with a box for the sandwich, a cup (with top) for the soup and a bag to carry it all in!

On then to Edgeware Road station and a ride down the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross - we actually emerged on Trafalgar Square. A short walk along the Strand and then up a side street to Covent Garden. We were a little early so we wandered around the market stalls - the street entertainers were not too interesting and alas we had just missed the singers inside.

Alice was struck by the lights and Mike was amused by the board listing the regulations when this was once a fruit and vegetable market. Even then the greengrocer's spelling for potatoe was in use!

Time then to make our way into the theatre and find our seats. We had an excellent view in Row J. The seats quickly filled up and it was time to begin.

The show was amazing - shadow puppets were a strong feature. Never before have we seen images created both from the front and the back of various screens. Some creative use was made of old style overhead projectors and coloured films.

The music and the action flowed along, telling the story of Lila who desperately wanted to be a firework-maker like her father. Although she had some understanding, she was missing a key ingredient: royal sulphur. Another important character was Hamlet a white elephant and his scrubber who, according to the command of the king, kept the animal shining white at all times.

The orchestra were seated around the back of the stage so we could see all the different instruments as well as the conductor. The girls were pleased to note that the conductor was a woman, still less common than it ought to be.

During the interval we went out to the foyer for ice creams - delicious - but soon the bell rang to summon us back to our seats. The action started once more with a long scene showing a couple of foreign firework-makers competing in a kind of strictly competition with judges raising up cards with their scores.

Although they did well, when Lila was summoned on - the rest of the characters thought she stood no chance - her firework-making easily won with a final score of 17 and a half, beating the 9.999 of the others!

In the final scene all, as in the best stories, was reconciled and sorted out with even the elephant (who had earlier been sentenced to prison in order to release the firemaker and friends) living well in a zoo, finding a partner and having several baby elephants.

Show over we walked back to Trafalgar Square - it was now well past sunset. We took time to have a closer look at the huge illuminated Christmas tree close to Nelson's Column and looking almost as tall!

Back down the Underground to Paddington and then we found the next train back to West Drayton. After collecting the car and returning to the boat we had our evening meal - nothing exotic and a chance to use up some of last night's left overs as well as sausage and chips - with baked beans especially for Alice and a fresh tomato for Jess.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Shopping and Collecting Alice and Jess

The plan today was to spend the morning shopping and after lunch to go over to Windsor to collect Alice and Jess, ready for tomorrow's trip into London. This was pretty much what happened!

We called first at B and M for a new hosepipe. Alas, this is not a gardening season and head office have decreed that items such as hoses have to be put away in favour of the huge pile of Christmas-related tat! When we asked one of the staff he was somewhat put out as he has had quite  number of people asking the same question as ours! Must be something to do with the unseasonable warm weather

Most of what we wanted to get was found at Morrisons. Whilst Christine made a start, Mike went across the road to try again for a hosepipe only to discover that Wilko is equally focussed on one department and no hosepipes!

After finding all the items we wanted (except for a new washing up brush! Also unseasonable?) we returned to the boat. By now it was close to lunch.

Google told us that there is a garden centre near the point at which we join the M4 so we set off early to see if they - just by some chance - still have hosepipes in stock. As we turned into the car park we saw that there is a hand car wash so we left the car in their care whilst we looked around inside. (The car was quite a mess - the drive up did not clean it much but the real problem was Mike's near disaster encounter with SatNav oddities that took him down a forest track on the Boconnoc estate en route to a concert a few days ago)

Although the appropriate department had been somewhat overwhelmed by Christmas goods, we eventually found what we were seeking! With only a few days to go, it seems likely that a large quantity of cheap decorations will soon have to go back into store with the hope that more can be offloaded next year.

It was a little early for our Windsor date when we collected the car - now gleaming - but a quick call established that an early arrival would be OK.

After a cup of tea, we packed the to girls and their luggage into the car, along with some logs to help keep them warm on the boat. They both brought along their instruments - Alice is really doing well now. A few days ago she took Grade 1 although not yet had the result. She has quite got the hang of how to interpret the symbols on the page. Jess has just started on the ukulele and mastered several chords already.

We called at Tesco on the way back - the main reason was to pick up some olives which the two girls enjoy and suggested that they would be an essential component of the individual personally-assembled pizzas.

Back at the boat we were treated to a concert from Alice whilst Jess did much of the making of cheese straws and then the pizzas.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Back for Christmas

We woke up as early as we could manage, following quite a hectic December. Th car was then loaded but we had to pop into town to collect the meat order almost as soon as they were open for business.

By 9:15 we were on the road, calling in Bodmin for a fill up with diesel at Asda. It was raining most of the day - not heavy but a little drizzle that made driving rather difficult with spray from other vehicles. Concentration was needed all the way, with just a short 'comfort' break at Sedgemoor. Fortunately there were no holdups - even the M25 turn off just before we left the M4 just slowed us down rather than creating a long tail back as can sometimes be the case.

When we stopped for fuel, Mike re-arranged the ladder in order to have a better view of the left side mirror. What ladder you my be asking? s the blog recorded, last time Mike fell into the marina water from the side of the boat and we became aware of jut how difficult it can be to pull oneself out again. So, in the intervening period we bought online a rescue ladder and gangplank made from aluminium. It is not quite as long as our original wooden plank but much more deployable and can double up as a rescue ladder.

Arriving at the boat after a longish break is always a bit unnerving - what may have gone wrong in the intervening time, especially in winter? Of course, this time the weather has been so mild that the effects of a freeze up were not on the list but there has been plenty of rain. The only significant item on this occasion was that the hosepipe had blown off the roof - fortunately we did not leve the tv dish still there!

As it happened, Mike had left the hose stretched out along the rooftop in order to make it easier to fill up on our return - especially of we had arrived in the dark (it being the Winter Solstice!). So only the last part of the hose had been immersed but its condition and that of the reel showed why we would not want to use a hosepipe after such an event. Mike managed to cut the pipe well above the waterline and there was enough, joined to a spare length, to reach the filler point. Without that it would either have been a quick trip to the shops or a lot of kettle filling!

We had brought most of our evening meal ready prepared so it was only a matter of putting jacket potatoes in the over to cook.

Texts from Three added to Christine's frustration as she tries to switch from her old mobile to the one that Mike replaced earlier this year. Surely issuing an unlock code (not needed with newer phones, of course) ought to be done in seconds but they seem to insist on taking at least a couple of weeks over it. To top it all, a spec call from their sales department, starting with a line something like, "Of course you have been having such a fantastic service from Three . . . " as a prelude to selling us yet more options, did not get the hoped-for response from this end! The caller's attempt to connect us with someone who might look into it was not a lot more successful but did result in another text saying that it will take another seven working days! They also left  a message on voice ail but the number to call back does not respond . . .

Calls to Windsor and Devizes established more details for the next few days. It now sems possible that we might even leave the marina by boat for Christmas and Boxing Days!