Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hello Hugo

Homemade Hugo cocktail

MWNN is away, so, in his absence, I prepared a Hugo to accompany my solo Aberdeen Angus steak dinner.

I think I may have overdone the fresh lime juice and underdone the elderflower cordial and mint. Plus, I had no straw with which to drink it, which necessitated constant stirring of the cocktail - with a spoon.

The Aberdeen Angus never fails to impress. Rump from Waitrose, pan fried in butter, served with growing salad, fried  tomatoes, and a wholemeal roll with goat's butter.

Absolutely lovely.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

An absence of three years

made me a little nervous about attending this year's WriterConUK event.

I needn't have worried.

There were lots of friendly faces, some old and some new.

There were goody bags and  a build and fly-yer-own dinosaur icebreaker activity  before the quiz (my group won, thanks to the presence of super-geek Hils)

which was followed by cocktails.

There was a newly refurbished (to me) break-out area

and cocktails.

On Saturday, There was a full day's programme.

Fanfic as Conversation between writers

10.00 Fanfic as Conversation between writers
11.00 Refreshments
11.30 Bearable fanfics from Mills and Boon summaries (very silly but such fun)

12.30 Lunch
14.00 Pimp your Fandom
15.00 Writing dialogue
16.00 Refreshments

16.30 Decorating your goody-bag pencil case

Two Hugos and a Tequila Sunrise

17.30 Cocktails - I finally took the plunge and ordered a Hugo

18.00 BadFic
1900 Dressing for dinner
19.30 Banquet
22.00 Cocktails

I was grateful that I had booked a suite as there were times when I felt rough or was too tired to participate fully. I was able to retire to my rooms and have some tea and knit.

Cowl on blocking wires

No one minded when I opted out, and I wasn't the only one to do so because the day was so packed

I even managed to finish a lacy cowl I was working on.

I had a great, if somewhat tiring time. Best of all, in my opinion, people came foward at the AGM to fill the vacancies left by the outgoing Chairperson and Treasurer - guaranteeing the continuation of The Event into its eighth year, and beyond.

The Event ended with the raffle. This year, people were so generous and brought more than one item each. Everyone managed to snaffle more than one raffle prize. Mine was a bottle of Cremant de Limoux and a box of Guiness Fudge.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Leaving France

We travelled back from France the day we had our narrowboath lifted onto a low-loader for her journey back to the UK.

I had mixed feelings. 

Cruising somewhere on the Loire/Nivernais waters

First, there were the dozen or so years we had spent exploring the French (and Belgium) Inland Waterways. We had some pretty hairy 'adventures', but also some wonderful times.We'd met oodles of interesting people (from around the world) along the thousands of km we'd cruised. I learned that the rural  towns and villages of France are very different from the tourist spots. Each region has its own identity and the people are fiercely protective of it. 

And then, there was the food - and the wine. Again, each region has its specialities and we both have our favourites.

When we first started cruising, in 2000, we had confidence that we would have a traditional (regional) meal whenever we stepped into a restaurant or bought produce in a local bakery or deli. As the years passed, this became less frequent. 

So, it was pleasurable for us eat each evening  in the centre of St Questin, at the Grand Cafe de L'Universe, knowing that the food and wine would be good.

And it wasFood and wine from Alsace featured strongly on the menu and wine list. 

MWNN no longer enjoys red wine, but has begun to drink white wine. At L'Universe, he ordered a carafe of Dopf et Irion
Gewurztraminer. This is a truly stunning, complex wine. Like many Alsace wines, it is dry, but fragrant and flowery on the palate; the nose,  floral (roses) and fruity, with complex white flower blossom, mineral and honey. 

The search is on for a similar Gewurzt at a reasonable price.

Flammenkuche at L'Universe

On both eveninings, MWNN ordered Flammenkuche.

I opted for steak on the first evening and lamb cutlets on the second. Not very exciting but very acceptable with a coupe de champagne.

The decor at L'Universe is Art Deco. We had hoped to sit in the high-backed chairs at a table for two but they were all occupied on both evenings.

Mixed feelings about leaving France for the last time have more to do with how France has changed over the past 14 years, than anything else. Moorings that were almost brand new in 2000 have been neglected and locks (built for 39 meter long cargo barges) and canal banks are in a state of dis-repair, making navigation dangerous for a narrowboat.

Our home mooring at St Quentin is no longer secure now that VNF has taken over responsibility for the Port. There is no 24 hour security now that the capitain is gone ( friends of ours had their narrowboat vandalised and lost several costly items), and there is rarely anyone there with whom to socialise. The numbers of boats moored is down by 60%.

We have been photographed many times but rarely seen any of the photos taken by other people. 
This one was taken by  Rick of Mary and Mick  Munden, cruising Orca’ their 31-foot Westerly Berwick, from Cambrai to Chauny in 2011. Rick wrote in his blog. One of the joys of cruising the canals is seeing the variety of boats and people along the way.  North of Chauny we ran across an Irishman on an English narrow boat.

Our new adventure begins in Oundle. By October, we hope to be safely moored at Blackthorn Marina and exploring River Nene - and beyond.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Day 1: Boat Renovation

Thanks to Mark at Oundle Marina, and Richard of CPL trucks, MWNN and I had a rest day on Wednesday. They lifted the boat from the truck using Oundle Marina's gantry, and lowered her into the water.

Egyptian Goose was declared a pest in the UK in 2007

We had an appointment with Mark early on Thursday morning to discuss  the work schedule.

As we were parking the car, we were greeted by this beautiful bird. Is it a duck, or is it a goose? I think it's an Egyptian Goose (a relative of the shell duck, so not really a goose at all.).

Steel thickness marked at regular intervaks

To our  surprise  we found the boat out of the water, on a trolley, and already cleared of the muck and waterways' livestock.

MWNN gets a verbal report summary from Michael

MWNN had booked a hull survey with a local surveyor. Michael was half-way through the survey when we arrived. The survey involves measuring the thickness of the steel to see how much corrosion has taken place. For a boat built in 1991 and launched 1992, she's lost very little from the original 6mm (0.2mm - 1mm)

Damage - port side

Mark told us thar he checked the inerior of the boat and found that the cooker had fallen forward, deposting parts from the hob onto the floor. I went aboard and checked that it hadn't damaged the gas pipe connections.

Damage - starboard side

What Mark didn't mention was the fact that the front cratch cover had been ripped off its anchor-points by the wind as the truck travelled back from St Quentin on Tuesday. MWNN was a bit concerned that the relatively-new cover had failed so spectacularly. I pointed out that it was designed for a narrowboat - top speed 4mph, not a truck - top speed 60 - 65mph. We'll need a replacement which can be fitted to the new cratch board we had made in France.

We're pleased with the progress so far. Next Monday, the Safety Surveyor will do his survey and the gas man will service the gas appliances and change the tanks from French to English ones. In the following few days, any remedial work required by the safety check will be carried out so that we can apply for a cruising licence. If all goes well. we hope to move the boat to its new mooring by the 9th September.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Day 2 Boat Repatriation

It rained hard on Monday evening, so we checked the boat to make sure that the automatic bilge pump was switched on. 

As we entered the port, we passed the CPL truck that was our boat transporter back to the UK. We decided to make an early start on Tuesday morning so that we could speak to Richard, the driver, and  finish off getting the boat ready for the journey home.

Crane setting up.

We arrived at the port at 08.40. There was no sign of the VNF port manager or the President of our cruising club.

It was a good thing that we made such an early start. The crane was booked for noon but, on the stroke of 09.00, we spotted the 'convoi exceptionnel' approaching the gates. The crane was preceded by an escort vehicle, and followed by a low-loader carrying the weights, straps, and spacers.

The crew told us it would take about 40 minutes to set up the equipment ready for the lift. During that time, we finished clearing the boat and stowing stuff safely on the floor.

When the crew was ready, I walked back to the CPL truck to ask Richard to reverse into place.

Straps in place. Lift begins

Getting the straps and spacers into place was a tricky operation. It needed four men and the crew was down to two. MWNN and Richard were pressed into service and I was left holding the remaining boat rope. Using one hand on the rope to stop the boat drifting out while the straps were hauled into place underwater, was made doubly difficult by trying to help Richard manoeuve the rear strap against the pull of the water and the movement of the boat. 

Out of the water

The crane driver was very skilled. There were hazards to negotiate. 

Tight on space

A lamp-post, an abandoned truck trailer, and a parked car limited the available space.

Cleared the lamp-post and turned in one smooth action

The boat had to be turned as it was being lifted as the truck driver wanted the bow at the front of the trailer.

Getting the props into place.

Once over the truck trailer, the crane driver took instructions from Richard and the other crew-member, who were re-adjusting the props on the deck of the trailer. 

Barnacles cover the hull and anodes.

The boat is covered in barnacles and some sort of worm. It was a good thing we didn't need to start the engine to motor the boat to another lifting point because the barnacles had colonised the prop and joined it to the lower stern gear bar.

Props in place

Once the props were in place, the boat was lowered gently into position.

Richard signalled to the crane driver to make tiny adjustments to make sure the stern of the boat was not over the end  of the trailer.

Straps are removed

By 10.30, the straps were off and the boat was secured to the trailer.

MWNN gave Richard advice about the best route out of the port and the approach to the UK boatyard on Wednesday morning and, a few minutes before 11am, the truck was leaving the port on its way to Calais.

The crane crew were busy dismantling the crane while we packed a few boat things into the car. There was still no sign of the VNF port manager or the crusing club President. We had to leave our shore-power cable behind as the electricity point was locked. There were no rubbish bins in the port so we piled our rubbish sacks underneath a boat that was out of the water for repair work.

MWNN signed the paperwork and we headed off to the hypermarket for shopping and lunch. We were half-way through our shopping by noon - the time at which the crane should have started lifting the boat.

On board Le Shuttle

After a leisurely lunch, MWNN drove us to Calais. We were booked on the 18.50 crossing but arrived so early that we were on board and leaving the station by 18.15.

There was 15 minute delay at the Dartford Crossing (it really should be automated to prevent the bottleneck at the toll booths.) We arrived home at 20.15. It had been a long, tiring day.

We were not looking forward to an early start today when the truck delivered the boat to Oundle. What a pleasant surprise it was to receive a phone call from Oundle, just as we were setting off. The manager at Oundle had phoned Richard last night and they had organised everything for early morning, instead of noon. By 10am, the boat was off the truck and into the water to soak before being cleaned and blacked tomorrow.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Day 1 Boat Repatriation

Ibis Hotel room

MWNN had booked us in for two nights at  the Ibis Budget Hotel, St Quentin.

We'd not stayed there before, so it came as a surprise to find that the shower and basin are in the bedroom. There is a door into the separate toilet.

The room is spotlessly clean. The checkin staff are on duty 24 hours a day and speak excellent English.

Boat exterior is really filthy

After we'd booked into our rooms on Sunday afternoon, we went to look at the boat. She's looking very sad and is absolutely filthy outside.

We were quite worried about what the inside might be like, but didn't open her up as we knew that the rain-covers over the engine compartment would  be unusable once they were removed..

MWNN begins removing the rain-covers

We knew that Monday was going to be a wet day but that the main part of the work was to clear the roof and clean the outside of the boat so that the crane crew could do their work without getting dirty.

MWNN set to, removing the covers in drizzle while I waited in the car.

The inside of the boat was good. No damp, and not much dirt other than dust that had entered through the ventilators. The electrics were working which meant I could give the whole boat a good vacuuming and boil a kettle for tea,

There was a little respite from the rain, allowing MWNN to clear the roof, while I cleared the inside of the boat of spiders (sign of a dry boat), dead insects, and cobwebs. We stopped for lunch, which we'd bought from Monoprix, and we ate in the car. 

MWNN removes the rain-covers

After lunch, MWNN worked in heavy rain, cleaning the outside of the boat. I removed anything breakable from shelves and cupboards and packed it all away in boxes on the floor of the boat. There was a lot of rubbish to be dumped. Out-of-date and open food packets and bottles, all the pillows and a sleeping bag, along with lots of leaflets and other no-longer-needed stuff.

By 3.50pm, MWNN was soaked and getting cold and I had backache, so we called it  a day. Most of the work is done, just a few things to put on the front deck and rubbish to be dumped before the crane lifts the boat onto the low-loader tomorrow at about noon.

A good day's work.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Repatriation of the boat

is progressing well.

The hotel and crossing to France is booked.

The house/dog-sitter is booked.

 The French crane is booked.

The low-loader is booked.

The boatyard at Oundle is booked.

Yesterday, MWNN and I visited Oundle boatyard to finalise the timings of various surveyors and remedial works before we can cruise down to Blackthorn Marina.

We lunched at The Ship, a family-run pub that is over 450 years old. The meal was very good indeed.

The Ship, Oundle

With a bit of luck, and a following wind, we may be at our new mooring by the middle of September.

Monday, 4 August 2014

They'll be home by Christmas

Well, they weren't.

And too many of them never came home.

Poppies in an English Field

Remembering my grand-uncles who served in the Great War.

Those who never came home.

Thomas Harding Nothing can be found about where he served or where and when he died. Family legend says he was killed in action.

Poizieres Memorial

James Alfred Ryder, Lance Corporal MM (2nd /6th Manchester Regiment). Volunteered August 1914.  Awarded Military Medal for carrying messages under shellfire at Poelcapelle, October 1917.  Killed in action, 21st March 1918, Fervaque Farm.

Commemorated at Poizieres.

Those who returned.

George Elphick (King's Liverpool Regiment) Volunteered January 1915. Severely wounded during the first Somme offensive, Ocotber 1916. Discharged as unfit for further service, January 1917.

Stanley Elphick. Volunteered August 1914. Trained with 11th Cavalry Hussars. Discharged as unfit in October 1915.

William Mooney, acting Sergeant (13th Manchester Regiment). Enlisted October 1914. Posted to France, September, 1915. Posted to Salonica, November 1915. Served in Salonica until 1918. Posted to France, June, 1918 as part of 66th Division which had suffered great losses in the March - June fighting. Wounded October 10th 1918 (Battle of Cambrai) Discharged June 1919.

James Mooney (East Lancs. Company). Volunteered  March 1915. posted to Royal Engineers J Depot Company. Served on the Home Front as as a saddler. Discharged November 1918, medically unfit (asthma).

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The front garden

is almost finished.

Click for larger size

I added some alpines (Sempervivum and Sedum) yesterday in a lovely half-priced terracotta pot.

They need a sunny spot so there is some discussion about where to site them.

Summer sun at about 3.30pm Click for larger size.

I favour the front of the garden, where they will get morning and late afternoon sun. MWNN wants the pot near the house.

Click for larger size.

I also planted a Sedum and a Dianthus  in the front end of the retaining wall, hoping that the creeping sedum will creep over the unsighly broken bricks.

This Sedum has different coloured flowers. I suspect they are red, (very evident) white, (some evidence) and blueish-purple.

Click for larger size.

The pots beside the front door are looking wonderful.

All that is needed to finish the makeover is more shingle to cover the bare patches and a regular blitz on the weeds that keep popping up.