Monday 27 July 2015


Having said farewell to Lesley as she was heading back home to Kent, Olek and I drove to Scotland and he was a very entertaining passenger. (David, take note, please.) He responds when I point out things of interest, and spent over an hour on Flight Radar 24 tracking the progress of planes from various locations and discussing that with me, and then a couple of hours What’s Apping with Lesley. Much of that conversation thread covered territory that she should know better than to traverse – her conviction that Mel is merely (whisper this please) a stuffed toy is distressing to Olek and me and supremely distressing to Mel. However we are aware that Lesley is conflicted and confused – after all, if you think Mel is an ST, why would you send him a voice message shouting at him to wake up when she’d been informed, after inquiring if he was bored yet, that he was peacefully sleeping? Clearly she only says he’s an ST to wind us up. I am having to review if she is a true friend.

The Scotland trip was in part to deliver Olek, and collect David. But its primary purpose was to attend the interment of our little grandaughter’s ashes. Caitlin died almost 7 years ago at age 6 months back in Opunake. Tim and Marta brought her ashes with them to Scotland and have been contemplating the interment for a while. Friday was the day, and St John’s Town of Dalry cemetery was the place. It is a lovely cemetery with a beautiful outlook across the fields to the hills beyond. Even though she died back in 2008, this Friday’s service was emotional and, at the same time, quite lovely. However watching your kids experiencing such pain is awful. This time though, Marta had other family around her – in 2008 her only mum Jola was able to come over from London. In 2008 they were surrounded by our family, and this time only David and I were present.

So a sad reason for the trip. It was leavened though by seeing our friends Kate and Marcus and two of their lovely kids – when we Christmassed in Scotland back in 2013 we house-sat for them while they were in NZ visiting Kate’s family. It was also lightened by meeting 2 wonderful couples who are Tim’s recently acquired friends: Issie and Gavin, and Mairi and Alec. A couple of late nights at the Clachan Inn accompanied meeting them … However I did manage not to drink much – assisted by the bar not having a chardonnay in the house wine range – but the lack of sleep does me in anyway.

Our trip back yesterday was in rain from about Cumbria southwards (misty in Scotland, mind, but not raining while we were there, in case you Sassenachs want to complain about Scotland’s weather …), and I was in bed by 8.30, and David retired after his TV watching was interrupted by the wind blowing the aerial off course. Not an early rising this morning either, but we managed to get to Midland Chandlers and buy three new and more sturdy deckchairs plus a new telescopic aerial pole, but not the engine oil we went for …

We decided to stay another night in the marina – there have been several loads of washing done and it might as well have been accomplished while there is a tap right by us, and we are on shore power – the weather today has been such that the solar panels wouldn’t do much! Wigram’s Turn charges £10 a night and that includes power. A good price we think.

Tomorrow morning we need to get up and get away by about 10am – we are meeting Mick and Julia at the top of the Calcutt flight and we are making our way (we hope at a leisurely pace, but knowing them that is a faint hope) up to the top of the Hatton flight over the next few days. We are due back here early on 4 August so we can head down to Surrey to our niece’s wedding. An added bonus is that Tim is most likely bringing the boys down too, so we will see them again. Yay!!!

And another piece of good news – Lesley has had a letter saying that her recent scan shows no signs of any returning ovarian cancer: Hoo-bloody-ray!!!

Fear not, I am back!!

Finally, finally, finally I have my laptop back in working mode: David got a power supply at the Apple store in the Bullring at Birmingham, but as he was on his way to Scotland at the time (back on Friday 17th July), I have only just got my hands on it …

So the last twice I blogged was on my phone, and I lost the will to live when trying to upload photos. Considering they were on my phone at the time, I could not understand why the option of loading them from it was not open to me.

Anyway, that aside, I was easily diverted from posting. We had grandsons, then one grandson and then the addition of Lesley to the crew. So there was plenty of activity to keep me occupied and, speaking frankly as a 64 year old, ready to sleep early in the evenings well before blogging could be contemplated...

One such event was the requirement to rescue the platform that forms one part of our aluminium ladder-cum-plank that David let slip into the cut - fortunately right beside the boat ...
We know it's down there

Perhaps if he leans further over he'll be able to reach ...

He's got longer arms - perhaps he can reach.
We can feel it

But we cannot, any of us, lift it with the boat hooks
So togs (swimming costume) and jandals (flip flops) on and in I go. It's not as cold as the Tongaporutu River when I'd readily but with much yelping get in for skiing. OK, I can feel it with my feet, in fact I am standing on it

Here it is - lifted with my foot rather than putting my head in ... You can see that Olek was in his togs and also prepared to get in and help
Into safe hands - not David's as you can tell from the tattoos!
And up - didn't think I could climb up slimy sandbags on my own ...

And out - then into the shower!
On the day Lesley took David to Leamington Spa to catch his series of trains to Scotland, Lesley, Olek and I went on to Warwick Castle - that was once I had organised a mortgage-sized overdraft. To be fair, given what is included in the entry fee, said fee wasn’t too bad. But I did draw the line at having to leave a £100 deposit for three £4 sets of headphones for the audio tour… I think the highlights were the birds of prey displays (we stayed for both), the tour of the dungeon (although the demo of instruments of torture just served to remind me that these things are probably still being used, and the trial of the witch in the last room was ghastly from a feminist viewpoint – but especially spooky when something moved under our bums on the benches we were sitting on) and Olek’s very successful archery.
Note the position of the arrows in the left hand target - not Olek's, and most of them are outside the rings

Then look at where Olek's are going. He's a natural!
More into the bull's eye

Impressive, eh? So says proud Grammy.

After Lesley left, Olek and I stayed a couple more nights in the flight and then, on the Sunday, we went up the flight to get water at Marston Doles and then on to Fenny Compton to get more water and turn around. (Lots of washing to be done as we moved along therefore lots of water stops required!)  

While Olek and I boated between Marston Doles and Fenny Compton and half way back, David and Tim watched England get thrashed by Australia

After our mammoth boating day, with Olek doing all the locks pretty much single handed but with some help from boaters crossing over, we moored up behind Pauline (a single hander we'd met earlier that day at Napton) near bridge 124 – a lovely peaceful mooring. Ordinarily I would have plied Pauline with food and wine, but it was one of my fast days (David and I are doing the Five-Two diet), so no chardonnay and nibbles allowed. Bugger! And strangely enough, one of the effects of the diet is a change in my eating habits: I cannot drink much chardonnay at the moment – that may be enough to stop this eating regime in its tracks!

On Monday morning, after yet another stop for water at Marston Doles, Olek and I made our way back halfway down the Napton flight to our previous mooring to await the return of the lovely but mad Lesley who came back to stay while David was away. 

Olek decided he wanted to make my brekkie and deliver it to me in bed. He is a gem!

My brekkie - two pieces of toast and a jelly cube, plus a cup of tea. Isn't he wonderful?

The three of us had a lovely time although Lesley has a wicked wiggly tickling finger and is an extremely bad influence on Olek. Fortunately she can be quelled with a wet finger tip on the back of her neck, but the ensuing squeaks are a trifle disturbing to the peace of the waterways.

Lesley with her stunning haircut - performed by me on the towpath. Eating icecream outside the Folly Inn - don't know why she looks so sour!

Olek and I were due to head to Scotland last Thursday, so after coming down the rest of the Napton flight with Lesley on Tuesday, we moored near Bridge 103 – a very lovely mooring with lovely views. The following morning I phoned Jaq Biggs to confirm the location of the nearest winding hole – Nicholson’s says between bridges 99 and 98, and the Memory Map app says at the Braunston Junction. Given it was pelting down with rain, I was pleased to hear that Nicholson’s was right! Just before Wigram’s Turn where we were leaving the boat for the trip north, we dropped Lesley off to walk back along the towpath to the Folly Inn to collect her car – she valiantly braved the rain. When she arrived back at Wigram’s Turn I promptly gave her a magnum icecream to undo all the good work. Ha!!

But in the meantime, Olek and I moored up with aplomb and no scraping of sides, to get a pump out, and then I moved the boat over to moor up on the adjacent jetty. I was thrilled not to mess that up either given it involved reversing followed by a winding-type manoeuvre to come gently alongside. And I was being WATCHED!

In the morning we packed our bags and cleared and cleaned the boat and stripped beds, with Lesley being the fridge clearing star. And while we were doing all that, who should come over for a pump out but Jill and Graham from nb Armadillo. Given I have commented on their blog in the past, and advised Jill to drop Graham overboard when he was poorly with a chest infection, I thought I had best go and introduce myself and ensure he knew that I was only joking. Hopefully we will see them again out on the cut. I sense that some wine may need to be consumed, so best the meeting does not occur on a fasting day!

Wednesday 15 July 2015

it's Wednesday so it must be Ventnor Farm we are near

We unexpectedly still have Olek with us for the next several days. When his mum and dad were here to collect both kids in the weekend, and after everything was loaded in the truck for the journey back to Scotland, Olek suggested that he might like to stay on. Fab news for us, so his gear was unloaded, and here he is.
On Monday, given the weather was pants, we stayed put at Marston Doles and Olek and I spent the morning in our respective beds reading (LOTR  first book for him and some Mary Wesley for me).

David and I had a struggle getting water in the afternoon to stretch the hoses to reach the boat without moving it. Managed it but it was a close run thing.

Even tho I'd been in bed all that morning I was tired and went to bed early, leaving Olek watching TV. Mmmmm! David discovered him at 10.50pm still watching (his bed is the sofa). So on Tuesday he was a sleepyhead in the morning. We left him sleeping as we descended the first two locks and then got him up as we approached the main Napton flight. Toast was provided at the locks and he valiantly worked them with David. On then to the Grand Union and down the three double locks at Calcutt. They broke him!!!

We moored up outside Ventnor Farm Marina and noted the significant amount of goose poo. Olek demonstrated his goose poo avoidance technique - successfully at first. But then a misstep and into the canal he went! I threw my glasses off and was about to jump in to get him, when he clambered out by himself. Unfortunately I was so focused on rescue that I didn't get photos. He has committed to a re-enactment when Lesley gets here tomorrow.

Given Olek's deep joy (not!) at the thought of at least another 13 double locks to get to Warwick, conflated with David's horror at the thought of them (poorly foot is still in play, and it is DEFINITELY real) today a change of plan was agreed. So we cruised up to the Stockton flight but turned back before them, moored up and walked to the Blue Lias pub for lunch, walked back to the boat and returned to yesterday's mooring.

In the morning we will head back to Napton to meet Lesley, the wonderful ODS of various posts. She can only stay s couple of nights. But any time with her is worth it. I may even get to help relieve her of some cash for furniture etc. and she is bringing the next LOTR book for Olek. Yay!!!

Monday 13 July 2015

Kirtlington Quarry to Marston Doles

We still don't have the laptop functioning - even though David spent 20 minutes on the phone with the Apple support chap, the power supply sent isn't the right one. Some time in the next few days, David is taking a train trip to Birmingham or Milton Keynes to replace it in person, accompanied by said laptop. So this post, truncated because of either the vagaries of the iPad or my lack of nous with it, is the best I can do. And I cannot seem to sort out photos on the iPad or phone. So the post ends abruptly - but I cannot get to see the last stuff I typed when in draft or edit mode, dammit!! Ah well, more later and you won't mind a short post for a change, I am sure ...

The week with both the grandsons was full of fun and activity, and it was a close run thing re who was first into bed each night at 7pm - Karol the five year old or me ...

Finding places to moor was a bit different with two active kids on board - it was important to have running space available, and preferably space to play with a ball. The latter wasn't always possible, so on at least one occasion, Karol was given the task of running ten times past seven moored boats. Needless to say, there was excess energy to be burned off.

We tried not to exceed our daily three hour quota of boating as there is a boredom threshold that sets in for kids. We may find it endlessly fascinating and restful, but when you're 5 that is not the case. And we were on a mission for no TV or computer access for the week - just as it would have been if they'd been at the bach at Tongaporutu back in Taranaki. So Karol did lots of drawing and colouring in - poor kid had to use pieces of cardboard from cut up cereal boxes, biscuit packets, teabag boxes etc, and because we had no colouring pencils, until we got to Banbury, everything was in blue or black biro. Now what would a child psychologist make of that?

Olek is a prodigious reader and is currently reading the first volume of Lord of the Rings. Pretty good going for a ten year old. So when he wasn't up on deck, and sometimes when he was, he read. Easy.

We did break the no TV but only once and only for an hour, when the 5 year old was torturing the 10 year old. A dose of coloured patterns going in to the brain seemed calming and soporific. There was one occasion when he was allowed to watch the blue screen with the bouncing No Signal notice ... He had to count the times it hit the side of the screen. Ok, we are mean, we know it.

Both boys helped at the locks. Olek is very lock savvy and amazingly strong for his spare lean frame. I remember the South Oxford locks from back in 94 when I boated this with my cousin Viv. Some of the paddles are extraordinarily hard to wind up and some of the gates are a trifle heavy given their diminutive size. Karol assisted as much as a five year old can. His top trick was being able to use the middle rope to pull the boat. He is little but extremely strong!

Banbury was our destination with the boys before their mum and dad arrived - for a number of reasons, not least of which was to get some coloured pencils so the monochrome days were behind us. Also we wanted to go to a swimming pool complex. Both boys are like little otters and at home in Dalry, they are taken down to the river pretty much every day in the summer. No swimming in the canal, so a pool it was. People in Banbury are extremely helpful and we found info about Woodend Pool and Spiceball Leisure Centre at the I-site, and info about the bus we needed to take to the former from an M&S staff member who was returning from a break as we were considering bussing rather than walking. Two local teenaged girls were helpful in making sure the selected bus route actually would deliver us there and the bus driver was great in sorting the cheapest fare - £5 for 24 hours unlimited bus travel for the four of us. Being seniors rocks!!

We found the pool and the bus trip was lovely as it took us on some roads we were familiar with from living nearby back in 2006/7. We found the pool, and there the pleasantness ended. Lovely pool complex, nice setting, very popular, lovely sunny day. But the five year old couldn't go in as neither David nor I had brought our togs - we had read the terms of admission but misinterpreted them. We were there to supervise him, but that wasn't enough. One of us had to be in the pool with him. But not to worry, he could play in the splash area and he could go down the tube slide as long as we were at the top and the bottom to see him on and off. No worries so £10 handed over (a bit steep we thought) and in we went. Olek was in and Karol was coping but not 100% happy. So we took him to the tube slide. Ah no! Not allowed as David and I were not allowed poolside in clothes ... AAARRRGGGHHH!!!! So we left. I did ask for our money back but that wasn't possible, although they would give us a token for free admission next visit. Yeah right, like we would dcoming back.

So back to the boat, and a short walk over to Spiceball pool. This time I was prepared with my togs as well and in the three of us went. David was blabbing back onboard

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Four McDonalds onboard

The laptop power supply has died and a new one will be here hopefully Friday, from Apple via Scotland. I didn't think about asking Oxfordshire Narrowboats if we could have it delivered to them for pickup. So this is being laboriously typed on the phone. Magic to be able to do it, but quite hard, esp as I am lying in bed before the grandsons wake up. It's the last few minutes of quiet for the next twelve hours...
We are currently moored, courtesy of Bones, on the offside below the quarry outside Kirtlington. I saw Bones yesterday as we came along looking for a place the boys could stretch their legs. It is amazing how having read people's blogs, that you get a sense of knowing someone and an ease in stopping to introduce yourself and chat. Well, I do!!
Bones told me about the quarry and here we are. A wonderful space for ball games, running around, exploring and using up energy. Then a BBQ, a bath for the youngest crew member who was tired and cranky. It used to work for his dad over 30 years ago and worked on karol as well. Note to self: make sure there's plenty of water for a bath therapy treatment each day ..,
Time to get up. So more later with photos when I work out how on the phone.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Lesley and the transformation project

Our good friend Lesley, who has been mentioned on this blog a few times here,  and here, is on the home straight after a mammoth transformation project on her house.

Lesley (aka ODS for Old Darned Sock – when she was my manager in the Home Office back in 2005 she used to call me SFO for Short Furry One – in relation to my being a kiwi and kiwifruit being furry. So I called her Old Sock – she’s not much on expressions of affection as they embarrass her I think [as this may, but who cares …] so Old Sock seemed appropriately disrespectful as well as just affectionate enough. Then she had a couple of serious operations so the Darned got added to the Old Sock – OK, up to speed now?)

So, let’s start again. Lesley never had much time for doing home improvements – she’d bought her house brand new when she was working in London as quite a young bod, and because she is a popular woman, she was almost never home at weekends, and only home during the week between the hours of about 7.30pm and 6am – she was a civil servant, and contrary to popular opinion, a large number of them, including Lesley (and me when I was a de facto one) worked pretty long hours.

A few years ago, my sister Dee and I stayed with Lesley; and, as Dee and I do, we thought about what Lesley's house and garden could look like with some imagination (ours) and money (hers). We drew up plans on the only paper she would give us – small scraps, so we couldn’t go too crazy, and we left – and she promptly lost them. There’s gratitude for you.

So when she fell out of love with work, took early retirement and was home a lot, she decided – with some fairly strong nagging from me on another visit – that it was time to make her house into the home she’d be happy to spend the time in. And that was going to involve a bit of a wholesale makeover.

When I stayed with her a couple of years ago, I took it upon myself to push her (nag her unashamedly she would no doubt say) into planning the makeovers for the bathroom and the kitchen. We got far enough along to buy red pots and pans and a red toaster and electric jug that were stored until the kitchen would be done, plus a new washing machine and new large fridge freezer.

The bathroom was completed last year before I arrived (we had to do a shopping trip for tonally uplifting tat) and the kitchen after we left – it does take her a while to build up speed … The kitchen flooring and the under-stairs cupboard (easy access storage solution, rather than jam stuff in and forget it and buy a new one …) are still both to be done when other stuff that would be detrimental to them is finished. Both the bathroom and the kitchen look fabulous and are a real improvement to the functioning of both.
Bathroom, with tonally uplifting deep erange tat in place.
Shower with two shower heads - very posh! Of course the mirror is too high for normal sized people ...
The old kitchen - OK, I NEVER saw the bench this empty ... and those cupboards - you had to stand back when you opened them to avoid a tsunami of stuff sweeping you away. Seriously, I kid you not.

Mmmm, this doesn't look too bad. Why did she change it? Ah, I remember, that gas stove you can sort of see on the left hand corner of the photo had a non-functioning oven, the bench was tiny, and everything was outdated. That washing machine is the new  that we (she) purchased at Curry's. It's amazing what deals you can get when you go in there with a bald head from chemo - I think it's especially helpful when you are wearing a Taranaki Hardcore cap!
The new microwave and oven tower. Cupboard above, drawers below.
The cooktop and rangehood

The kettle and toaster - the pots match too!

Last year was also the year of sorting out what to do about getting a conservatory built and sorting out the section. The section was a bit of a wilderness as Lesley had been unwell for a while and not able to get out there. I won’t call it a garden, cos it wasn’t. The previous year we'd found a guy to clear it; he did the job but he was a rip off merchant and a bit of a prick.
This is what the garden looked like after the rip off merchant had cleared it . But especially the efforts by Lesley, John (next door) and me after we had cleared the line of shrubs between fence sections. On the LHS, the fence was a gone burger already. That little shed up at the top was jampacked with stuff - so much so that getting anything out was an exercise in rubrik's cube - a pain in the arse.

The pile of shrub clippings. ODS was a champion at clear felling, and John got very keen on using Lesley's loppers.

So last year, while David was back in NZ visiting his mum in the dead of the southern hemisphere winter, Lesley and I were busy planning. Well, I was planning and she was holding her head in her hands …

We saw the demo model of a finished conservatory article at the factory and then at Andy's house. Andy is the owner of Trade 2 Trade. He drove us there to view the one installed at his house so she could see it in the flesh - now that is service! When they came to look at the section, and after partaking of cream sponge (purchased at Morrisons) and pikelets (made by me) Andy and Rob declared that they could sub-contract all of the work that was required for re-fencing, terracing the garden, building steps and retaining walls; and then their firm would build the conservatory and put a window high in her lounge wall (her house is end of terrace) so she gets some direct natural light into that room once the conservatory is up.

Once I was back on the boat, she got Rob to do her a plan, and for some ungodly reason she said she wanted a lean to style – FFS, it looked like a bloody shed or an outdoor bathroom! She told me yesterday morning that she had exaggerated my response to it when discussing it with friends – she said I’d suggested she put a toilet in it and go the whole hog. If I'd thought of it, I would have said that. But with 20/20 hindsight I told her I would have said it would have been the (w)hole bog.

So she rethought it – lucky for her or I was going to send the boys around to sort her out. And she chose the Edwardian style. Good choice. Her intention was to have it look like it belonged there, not like it had been tacked on, so it was to have brick walls up to window height. (How she thought a lean to would look like it belonged I have no idea …)

The shed has gone, so had what remained of the grass

A fire is far more satisfying than carting stuff to the tip ... The steps that Lesley's dad put in place when she first bought the house would soon be gone.

Work started on terracing the garden and getting the fencing up on the correct boundary quite a few weeks ago. 
First tier almost in place

And the second tier takes shape
The terraces, the fab steps, the fences, the shed and the patio. On the right of the top two terraces you can just see the railway sleeper raised garden beds.

Those steps are the business
The first plant which will need to be transferred into the appropriately coloured pot - royal blue, black or grey.
John and Julie, next door, have added a couple of bits of trellis to the top of two fence panels - they look cool.

Doing the terracing was fine, but the fencing was a bit of a mission.  However, it is now done, it looks cool and the garden is terraced, retaining walls are up, stairs are in place and well designed, the kitset shed is in place and its roof secure (thanks, Mike), the railway sleepers that form the garden plots are in position and joined up and stained.
No conservatory but a big mess in front of her lounge doors.

 Over the last week or so, the conservatory has been taking shape – the brickies had completed their work and then it was time for the framing, the roof, the windows and doors. Her doors are fabulous – bi-folds and they are the dog’s bollocks.
Block and brickwork for walls in place. Lesley was very impressed with the brickies.
Windows are in both sides and doors are in. Roof framing underway.

Roof goes on. I wonder if she did a roof shout? Must ask her!
And the view from inside. If I remember correctly, the large windows don't open. They are on the eastern side so she will get morning sun in there.
These doors are the dog's bollocks!

In the late arvo sunshine

Morning tea is consumed here.
Yesterday morning, ODS sent me the above photo of where she’d sat having her morning cup of tea – made me feel quite emotional thinking of all the planning and thought that has gone into getting this large piece of work done. I did have to harden up and send her a message back saying the only thing missing was the pack of Griffins gingernuts … (She is a big fan of gingernuts, as you will know if you have read her comments on various posts, and this year we didn’t bring her any.)
A few days ago the wiring work was completed, and yesterday the plastering was underway - the guys had to work fast because of the heat.
The skylights are in and the ceiling was plastered - on the hottest July day on record!

ODS has already been making use of the conservatory – drying washing (her clothesline needs to be re-installed on the second terrace), sitting in the afternoon sunshine, sitting inside, sitting outside, feeling smug - and why not? She’s accomplished an enormous amount that people (e.g. David and me) usually do over a period of years (20 years in our case) – and she’s done it in under two …

I think I need some time off from boating so I can continue my well-established pattern of helping her spend her money – a dining suite, a new sofa, chairs for in the conservatory, a new dresser, a patio table and chairs, new carpet, and a new TV. Plus garden pots, plants. I am sure I can grow that list ...

Where and when can I leave the boat? Can David steer the boat and look after the grandsons at the same time? It would be dangerous for Lesley to be left too long alone with such a shopping list! Dee, where are you? Can you come over now?