Saturday, 16 February 2019

Broughton (a day in Penfold city)

A male Brimstone – our first butterfly on the wing this year
On Wednesday we had a pleasing reminder of one of the reasons we love living on the boat.  Having breakfast looking across the cut I caught sight of a kingfisher perched on a tree opposite us.  The sight of seeing a kingfisher flying fast and straight over the water always brings a smile to our faces.  The distinctive flash of the electric blue and the way they stay at a constant height above the water is so different to other birds we see.

Even though we are still having frosts at night, the days are feeling unseasonably mild; even our daffodils have started flowering:

Our mini-boat-daffs (bulbs saved from last year)
Thursday saw us having a day trip to Cheltenham. We fancied a look around the Cotswolds, searching out VR boxes and Karen arranged to get fitted for some new running shoes.  We were successful on the last two fronts; however, it was too foggy to take in the beauty of the Cotswold views.

We found six hexagonal Victorian pillar boxes that were designed by a guy called Penfold and were cast in the 1860s making them over 150 years old.  The boxes are now known as Penfolds and there are only a couple of dozen originals left in the country.  The Cheltenham ones all appear to be original, manufactured by Cochrane Grove & Co at their Woodside Works in Dudley between 1859 and 1866.  We could still make out the maker’s inscription on five of our boxes.

One of our Penfolds in a less salubrious part of town
There is a seventh box that we didn’t find and, until about two years ago there was an eighth but that was destroyed by a reversing demolition truck on 1st June 2017!

The destroyed Penfold on College Lawn opposite the ladies’ college (from Gloucestershire Live)
Friday was yet another spring-like day and we got on with some spring cleaning.  It’s amazing how much ‘rubbish’ we accumulate on the boat and we did a good job clearing out a load of stuff that we definitely won’t need in France.  Items we wanted to keep were taken to Karen’s mums house as she kindly has a room set aside storing a lot of our gear.

It was whilst leaving Ann’s that we saw our male brimstone flying along a hedgerow.  This was the first time we have seen a butterfly in the last four Februarys that we have been living on board.  The early spring butterflies overwinter as adults and the warm sun brings them out of hibernation, so we do hope these early fliers don’t suffer if we get a prolonged cold snap.  The brimstone picture at the top was taken by Karen last summer.

It still doesn’t feel like spring to us until we see our first orange tip; these overwinter as chrysalis and undergo their last stage of metamorphism in late March/early April.

The final task of the day was to get some coal and diesel as we never made it back to the Grand Union in time to catch Jules & Richard when they were passing through on Monday.  We have found a fuel supplier in Long Crendon that sells red diesel (at 71p a litre) so filled our two 20 litre jerry cans and then popped into the coal merchants at Marsh Gibbon.  The coal merchants are W G Smith and they supply coal to a lot of the fuel boats.  We had a good chat with the guy who loaded our bags into the car.  He knew nearly all the fuel boat operators (and their boat names) that we have used over the years, up and down the country, and he used to run a pair of fuel boats before joining the company.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Broughton (back in the country again)


Monday broke to glorious blue skies, sunshine and a light frost so it seemed we had picked the perfect day to cruise out of Aylesbury.  Karen moved the car whilst I filled up with water and set off for a mini-cruise to meet Karen and Buddy walking down the towpath after they had parked the car.

Passing the, ‘Thank you for visiting Aylesbury basin’ sign

Turning out of the basin
The first lock wasn’t set for me and it took a while to empty it as there was so much water in the pound above; water was flooding over the top gates almost as fast as it was escaping through the bottom paddles.

The lock was one of the ones that was closed in November while new lock gates were installed which can be seen in the next photo.  When there are double gates on narrow locks like these the lock wheeler can usually step from a closed gate across the gap to the other side or vice versa.  This avoids the need to walk all the way around the lock to open or close both gates.

The new lock gates at lock #16
The Aylesbury arm, although with double gates, is a bit different.  The hand rails are set such that it’s practically impossible to make the step across; in addition, the locks, although narrow, are slightly wider than most narrow locks.  When doing the locks on your own you can still open both gates without walking around the lock. This is done by standing on one gate and pushing the other one open and then open the gate you are standing on.  As these were new heavy gates, I couldn’t quite get the momentum going and ended up walking around anyway.  Not that it really mattered as it was a lovely day, I wasn’t in a rush and there were plenty of onlookers chatting away, interested in seeing the lock operation.

As I was leaving the second lock a passer-by offered to close the gate behind me which was jolly nice of him.  It avoids having to leave the boat in the lock head whilst stepping off to close the gate.  Usually lock heads are quite long and it’s quite safe to leave the boat while closing the gate.  Sometimes there are also handy bollards to temporarily tie the boat to for added security. 

On the Aylesbury arm there are neither bollards nor long lock heads so it’s a matter of leaving a line lying across the ground hoping that the wind doesn’t take the boat away.  I’ve yet to lose the boat in that scenario but have had many occasions where I’ve had to stop closing the gate and hurry back to grab the line to pull the boat back before completing the operation.

I could see Karen and Buddy in the distance as I was moving away from the lock.  When we met up, Karen asked me to pass her a windlass as she wanted to walk up to the next lock to get it set.

Karen caught me having help at lock #15
We moored up after the third lock at a place called Broughton and stayed there for lunch.  In the end we stayed all day as it was peaceful and a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the basin. 

Our mooring at Broughton for Monday night

During the afternoon I did a bit more revising for my Marine Radio Short Range Certificate and when I was extra bored, I spent some time rearranging my email folders.  I have always had two folders for holidays, one for upcoming holidays and one for old holidays.  The upcoming holidays folder would contain details associated with holidays like flights, accommodation bookings etc.  After a holiday was finished the mails would be moved to the old holiday folder.  I noticed for the first time ever that there were no mails in the upcoming holidays folder.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain as it’s only six weeks until we move to France and many people would call that an extended holiday.


Tuesday was an early start as we had to be in Leamington for our annual dental appointments by nine.  Early starts mean that we have to wake Buddy up and get him to the car where he falls fast asleep again.  We arrived with 20 minutes to spare, ample time to let Buddy have a quick walk around Jephson Gardens and have his breakfast.

After the dentist it was off to Stockton to sit my Marine VHF radio practical and theory exams which I passed; just as well as it’s a prerequisite for us living on the boat in France although most of the stuff I had to learn would never be required in inland waters!  Karen took Buddy off for a walk while they waited for me and picked up some eggs from a lady we used to use when ccing in the area and Karen was touched that the lady remembered her.

Steve (the owner of the Willow Wren training centre) was on form and as chatty as ever.  Ironically, he said he doesn’t use the egg lady as she chats so much and he can’t get away.  We finally got away from Steve and headed for Braunston where we picked up our extra long lines and zig-zag fenders – a job we have been putting off for what feels like months. I know we said recently that there was nothing else to buy for the boat and that was true as we had paid for the lines and fenders back in November.

Fenders so heavy I had to have a rest carrying them back to the boat
We then popped in to Long Itch to see Chris & Sue’s new home they have recently moved to there.  A lovely location and it seemed ideally designed for people who’re going to be living on their boat for most of the year.  We went for lunch at the Stag in Offchurch and heard about their cruising plans for this year.  It made us feel quite nostalgic as it reminded us of our visits to the places they were planning on visiting, the hills they planned to climb etc.  By the same token, they were excited for us and looking forward to hearing about our foreign travels.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Aylesbury (trespassers on the boat)

The weekend saw revellers climbing on the back deck, whilst we were on board, on both Friday and Saturday nights. Fortunately, on both occasions, I was able to go out and diffuse the situation.  We do feel that the first response should always be unaggressive and to try and appeal to the better nature of the wrongdoers.  Explaining that it’s our home and that we expect the respect that they would expect us to show for where they live has always helped.  Luckily for us, we have never been the target of stone throwers (or worse) where the same approach may not work.

On the Saturday night they were exceptionally apologetic and explained that they were trying to take photos of themselves pretending to drive a boat – I’m not sure how the pictures would have come out in the pitch black.  As we were going to Yorkshire for four days, we were a bit concerned about leaving the boat where it was even though we had left it in the same position for three weeks over the Christmas period without any issues.

With this in mind, on Monday, we moved the boat over to the pontoons and breasted up against Liz’s boat.  Being on the pontoons gives the added security of being locked and gated, although, determined and agile people could easily jump the gap into the secure area.

Karen doing a different sort of locking up as we left for Yorkshire on Tuesday morning
After moving the boat, it was a quick trip to the vets in town for Buddy’s second titre test.  We have to leave it 30 days from the rabies injection before being able to have the test.  All the signs are that he should pass this time, but we still have no idea what we will do if he fails until we know whether or not (or how) we’re leaving the EU at the end of March.

We hadn’t been up to Yorkshire to see my parents since before Christmas, so it was good to spend time with them during the week.  Mum is more confident since her falls and, although, she stays in her room she is talking about being able to go downstairs for meals again soon, which is positive news.  Dad, who was given a week or two to live a year ago, is as mentally strong as ever and we enjoyed hearing him recounting stories of his youth whenever we visited (he said he enjoyed recounting them too).  He has also been able to visit Mum a couple of times recently thanks to a local group of volunteers who transport those without mobility to visit loved ones etc.

There had obviously been a lot of rain recently as we couldn’t take our normal walk into my parent’s village across the stepping stones.

No way over the River Aire into Gargrave
On Wednesday we spent a lot of the day in Harrogate at the newly refurbished Turkish baths, one of only a handful of Victorian baths still left in the country.  After a guided tour, two hours in the baths, thirty minutes in the spa, lunch we then had a full body massages for an hour.  Yes, we were relaxed 😁

These pictures hopefully show the splendid decoration of the brickwork and tiling in the baths

The original changing rooms

The cooling down room
A treatment room

Welcome plunge pool we used after each visit to the steam or hot rooms

One of the hot rooms
We felt well and truly relaxed for the rest of the day and it was all we could do to walk around the corner and have a cream tea at Betty’s tea rooms…

…with a view over one of Harrogate’s many green spaces
I can’t move on from talking about Harrogate without mentioning a lucky find.  We had parked out of the centre and to get to the baths had to cross on a high-level walkway across the railway station.  Looking down at the platform we caught a glimpse of a pillar box.  We expected it to be Victorian as most boxes on stations are still the originals but we have only come across wall boxes before so this would be a first.

After a bit of faffing around and cajoling the station staff we managed to get onto the platform without a ticket and found that the box was indeed Victorian with the classic curved VR cypher found on pillar boxes.  

Victorian pillar box in Harrogate station
We stayed in Yorkshire until Friday and, after a final visit to my parents, set off home before we got caught in the Friday evening traffic.  We arrived back at Aylesbury basin just before darkness and, as expected, the boat was safe and well, if a little cold.  Ours was the only non-permanet boat left as the others had all left whilst we had been away.

The trip boat, Woody’s boat, Liz’s boat and then us
Saturday saw us heading off for Reading on yet another long car journey.  We were picking Jake and Lewis up on our way to see the Southampton-Cardiff game.  On the way we dropped Buddy off in Wokingham as our friend Ali had offered to look after him for the day.  We were rather hoping for an easy win, especially as Lewis is a Cardiff supporter.  We were sadly disappointed even though we had most of the possession and were clearly the better team, as no player seemed to want to try and score.

Fully expectant before the kick off
We were going to move out of the basin on Sunday and start heading back up the Aylesbury arm but decided to have an easy day and stay on board.  We had managed to avoid the results from Saturday's Six Nations matches so had a full afternoon catching up and watching the England-France game.

I did move the boat back to the side after breakfast as we felt a bit guilty breasted up to Liz’s boat, especially as she and Colin were spending the weekend on it.  As I have my marine radio certificate exam on Tuesday, I also spent a few hours or so doing some revision.

One reason we had planned on moving out of the basin on Sunday was to get up to the Grand Union mainline ready for when Jules and Richard come through on their fuel boat on Monday.  As we will now miss them, it looks like we’ll be making trips to a local coal merchants and to find a garage that sells red diesel. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Aylesbury (Brexit and the Post Office farce)


Apart from a brief thaw on Friday, when some areas of ice disappeared, the cut has been frozen over since the last update.  We had some snow at the end of last week but only two or three inches so Aylesbury didn’t grind to a halt.  We did go over to Wendover to clear Ann’s driveway and put salt on the road outside her house; she has a slope to negotiate to get onto the main road so Karen wanted to be sure it was safe for her.

Ducks, gulls and geese happy to be standing on the ice in Aylesbury basin
Although I said we had bought everything boat-wise for France we decided to get new sack barrow wheels.  Our current tyres are pneumatic and therefore prone to punctures.  We will probably be using the barrow more often over there as fuel points are few and far between so boaters often have to get their fuel from the local garages and this means wheeling the jerrycans to and fro.  I ordered some spare wheels with solid rubber tyres so that we are not stymied by an unexpected puncture.

We haven’t completed the list of non-boaty things yet and on Friday I popped into the Post Office to get our International Driving Permits (IDP). For those of you who have arranged your own IDPs you will know that it’s a fairly simple process.  Not so over the last few months with the uncertainties over Brexit.  It seems that every few weeks, the Government issues new procedures for the PO staff.  A job that should have taken five minutes at most for one person ended up taking two of them over half an hour.

First of all, they couldn’t find the latest process update.  A call to another branch ended up in them finding a new process had been received that morning but they hadn’t even opened the package!  It then took them about five minutes to read through the changes but there seemed to be so much panic that they were just skipping through the paragraphs with glazed expressions.

An IDP with the all-important words, ‘Convention of Road Traffic of 8 November 1968’
One of the girls started completing mine while the other girl carried on serving other customers.  My server ended up being talked through the process on the telephone by a staff member from yet another branch.  I won’t go into details of all the farcical things that ensued but she ended up with indelible ink all over her hands and my IDP; she used a glue stick to attach the photograph because they had run out of glue and there were countless other things.  Several times I wanted to put her out of her misery and say that I would go elsewhere but for some reason I wanted to see how it all unfolded.

When she handed me my document the first thing I noticed was that it wasn’t the correct one for most European countries!  She had used a permit that was only valid for driving in Brazil, Iraq and Somalia – those countries only recognise the Road Traffic convention of 1926.  The rest of the world are split between 1949 (The Geneva convention) and the one we needed, 1968.

So the process started again which was just as well as there was ink everywhere and you could hardly see my face in the photograph. I also noticed that the main five things that have to be copied from my passport and UK driving licence were incorrect.  E.g. instead of my name she had written the classes of vehicles I could drive, instead of my address she had written my date of birth.  The trouble was that the description for each item was in French and she was guessing at what each meant.

The French descriptions alongside the (finally) correct details
So, she started again with me helping her whilst the other girl did Karen’s in parallel.  As I said it took over thirty minutes for what should be a simple task but at least we got them in the end.

Also, it means our job list is easily manageable over the remaining few weeks.  I have included the main items here, so I have something electronic to refer to 😀
  • Get a green card
  • Buy Eurotunnel ticket
  • Pass VHF radio exam
  • Pick up ropes and fenders from Braunston
  • Arrange insurance for the period boat is in transit
  • Put SSR (Small Ships Register) number on side of boat
  • Inform insurance company that boat is now in France
  • Buy a VNF licence (the boat licence for France).  No need to get a refund in the UK one as it runs out at the end of March
  • Get French SIM card for boat internet
  • Get French mobile phone
  • Arrange for somewhere to stay in Migennes whist waiting for the boat to arrive
  • Make sure Buddy passes his second titre test
The last one could be a stumbling block.  He gets his next test done tomorrow and if he fails that then it's back to the drawing board.  The chance are that he won't as he had another rabies jab before the test to help improve the chances of passing.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have fixed the leaks in the sea valve outlet for the black water so that's another tick on the job list.