Was, without a shadow of a doubt, the journey home today. All the time I was on the boat I didn't feel the cold at all; wrapped up and with the stove going constantly, the biggest surprise was that the cold just wasn't an issue. Instead it was something to be marvelled at and enjoyed. But coming home.... I've never really noticed a car's heating system before. Handy for defrosting or demisting the windscreen, but hardly used otherwise. What I never realised was that even when you're not actively using it, that heater is taking the chill off the air. We discovered last week that Tufty's heater isn't working, but only really felt the full implications today - feeezing air constantly circulating around our feet and legs and the whole of the car, despite my best offorts to staunch it with a blanket. Even though I kept all my boating layers on, including two pairs of socks and my very excellent new boots, by the time we got home my feet were frozen, and the rest of me well chilled. None of that happened while we were actually boating. I've interpolated a few photos from this morning and I'll upload a selection tomorrow (or sometime soonish). It was another lovely bright crisp morning, and I even suspected that the canal was starting to thaw a bit - but not enough to take a chance on. So I rang up a taxi to take Jim back to Kings Bromley, where he collected the car and dropped off the keys, and perhaps said a small final farewell. Meanwhile I took the rubbish over to the rubbish point where I met Adam of Debdale and his partner whose name I'm afraid eludes me, which was a nice surprise. Having passed us at Kings Bromley on Saturday morning, they'd got as far as Tixall Wide before becoming stuck, and they likewise were awaiting a taxi to Norbury to collect their car. I took the opportunity to show Adam over Chertsey, and when he had left to drain down Debdale's water systems (what a boon it is not having any! Talking of which, I think it is a myth that you keep the water can next to the chimney to stop it freezing. Ours still froze solid), I got chatting to Annaliese from one of the hippy boats (I hope they won't mind being called that) that we're tied up behind, and she promised to keep an eye on Chertsey until the thaw.
Last Thursday, I had to go to Stratford (East London) to teach a class- this will be a regular weekly thing from now on. For those of you unfamiliar with the tube, my apologies now for something slightly esoteric. My habit had always been to get the Victoria Line from Euston, five minutes from my office, and change at Oxford Circus for the Central Line to Stratford. Yes, in some ways this was an unnecessary journey (and as my colleague Ben pointed out last week, in the wrong direction) but it had one inestimable advantage - I couldn't get lost. But no, Ben said, it's easy, you should walk to Holborn and get the Central Line from there, it's only ten minutes. Well, I beg to differ, it's nearer fifteen but not wanting to be a wimp I took his advice and last Thursday I got to Holborn to be greeted with the information that Central Line trains weren't stopping there, on account of a person under a train (yes, that really is what they say) at Tottenham Court Road. So I spent another fifteen minutes walking back to Euston, knowing already that I was going to belate for my first class of the year, and resumed my normal route. Because of the earlier delays the Central Line train was packed; OK, that's par for the course on the rush hour tube. But when we finally arrived at Stratford it was to be met by policement directing us to the furthest exit - due to covercrowding - entailing a long walk through packed tunnels. I'm not claustrophobic, but I couldn't help but see myself suffocated under a heap of rampaging panicking people... It didn't help that Stratford is just two stops after Bethnal Green.
I survived, of course, and I kept telling myself, this time tomorrow you'll be on the boat. And here I am. I was thinking of this as I walked along the crisply snowy towpath earlier, just before it got dark, and thinking how much happier I am here than there. Here being Great Hayward. And so to the story of today's exploits.
So much for the early start. Having gone to bed at eight thirty - yes, half past eight - and woken to tend the stove only at eleven and two, I still managed to sleep until quarter to eight this morning and wake up to the stove nearly - but not quite, phew! - out. We left at quarter past nine. We were breaking ice in earnest this time; no one else had passed through in either direction and it wasn't thin either. Jim reckoned an inch; I more modestly went for around three quarters. It was interesting, and rewarding - a new challenge requiring a different style of boating. Bends could take two or three attempts as I tried to break a big enough space to turn into. The locks though were not as bad as we feared; it was possible to crush the ice behind the gates. Mind you, we only managed two of them. At Haywood Lock we at last met someone coming the other way. Hooray! Only they had come from Stone, not the Staffs and Worcs where we were heading, so our joyousness was short lived. I didn't count how many attempts it took to get round Great Haywood Junction, but I got there in the end. This however was a different kettle of fish, as we discovered very quickly. It's still shallow, and we really couldn't get the purchase to power through the ice, which itself seemed to be thicker here - over an inch even to my eyes. After a couple of hundred yards we gave up, and reversed back to the narrows for lunch, while Jim went off to scout out a stopping place. He found one, just - dangerously only just but I doubt there'll be many more big boats coming through - beyond bridge 74, so I backed all the way out again and turned back round. Handy for the shops and the rubbish point, if we were staying, but we've decided - barring an unexpected overnight thaw - to head for home tomorrow, and make another attempt next week, if possible, or even later.
So a disappointing end but a wonderful adventure. The weather has been beautiful, the scenery stunning. Everything is crisp and white, the snow powdery. The icebreaking was a splendid challenge which I really enjoyed meeting. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. And given the chance, I wouldn't swap it for London life either, never.
It took us until gone one o'clock, and a new battery, but we did get away in the end. Three and a half hours (sorry Blossom!) haven't got us quite as far as Great Haywood though, bad light stopped play just short of bridge 70. Hopefully tomorrow will be OK... we have wrapped the engine up warm and the battery too to give them their best shot, but a lot of the problem this morning was all the diesel having drained down, and we don't have a priming tool for this like we do for Warrior's National.
This afternoon's boating was divine. The ice was already broken (thanks Adam) so we just had the pleasure of moving the pieces about. The sun was bright and the powdery snow mostly untouched, white and perfect. The picture is of before we left this morning... no sad farewell, we were just so pleased to be on our way, and having had a look at the new mooring yesterday, excited about getting there. A way to go yet, but all being well... we really will be off first thing in the morning.
Well, it would be plenty... if the engine would start. It's 10 o'clock and we should have left by now. The main cause of the non starting seems to be the battery, which hasn't liked its rather crude charging regime over the last month or so. On top of that of course everything's so very cold and choggy. The dilemma now is, do we give it a bit of artificial help, warming up the engine room with an electric heater... or does that just risk us being stuck tomorrow morning in the middle of nowhere. Or will the engine retain enough heat from the day's running to make things a bit easier tomorrow. Obviously by the time you've sent in your answers on a postcard, the decision will have been made. I'm sure that if we can get it started, then we will go, and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
It is such a beautiful day. It must be cold, because water is freezing as soon as I spill it, but since making the most significant discovery of my life - warm clothes work - I am scarcely noticing. I was of course much too hot in the night, as I hadn't managed to get the stove to settle down, and I certainly didn't want it to go out. So I was up at midnight, to see the moon shining through the trees onto the frozen canal, at three, to feel that the air was perhaps a bit warmer, then at four, woken by the almost imperceptible sound of snow on the roof.
This morning there was a light dusting of white over everything, and now thyere is bright sunshine. All the taps are frozen of course, so we are very glad of Chertsey's water tanks, and the fact that we can take off the cover , break the ice on the surface, and ladle out the water with a jug. I am obsessed with amassing as much hot water as possible - hence last night's title.
Just now there was the most extraordinary sound, as Debdale (was it the Debdale? Was that even perhaps Adam, but more bearded than when I last saw him?) came through breaking the ice. It's not very thick, but he said it had been hard going. We shared the fear that it could well get worse. So should we give up, not set out? Well, apart from the fact that we're supposed to be off the mooring by Tuesday, I just don't want to give up or to miss this opportunity at least to try. I guess you'd better watch this space.
Well, I never did tell, did I what our secret source of fun was. It was... whisper it... being on the committee of HNBOC. Oh how we love a committee (until we remember how much we hate it, that it). Jim has been co-opted as Fens rep, and it appears (subject to a sample press release) I may be about to become their press officer. Last Saturday we went to a committee meeting, prior to a very interesting and enjoyable presentation of photographs of Birmingham by Bob May. So there it is, our secret vice revealed.
And so to bring this bang up to date, here I sit in Chertsey's cabin, the kettle burbling away and my cheeks reddened from the heat of the stove, looking forward to setting off tomorrow for what promises to be a bit of real winter boating. I did see a forecast last week that promised as low as -9, so that's what I shall claim it was, as I don't have a thermometer. I am, wardrobe-wise at least, fully prepared for this eventuality, starting with two thermal vests and finishing with the arctic parka, while for lower down I have my marvellous three sizes too big jumble sale Rohan padded trousers, and more thermals. Less dance of the seven veils, more pass the parcel.
So, hopefully we are all set. The car shuffle has been done (dear old Fang starting first turn of the key. Tufty, we have discovered, is a summer car, as the heater doesn't work. I returned from Braunston last week all wrapped up and with a blanket over my knees - proper motoring!) A quick lok at the new mooring shows it to be very nice indeed, and I was reminded that not only is there a toilet there, it actually has heating! Oh luxury indeed. Tomorrow then, we should leave with the dawn. Allowing three days for a trip that would take only two with longer daylight hours, so should be OK.
Just when you were ready to write it off, I finally have something new and boat related to write about. Apologies to anyone who both noticed and cared about the long absence. For a bit there, I just couldn't be bothered. All blogged out. Taking a well-earned rest. And nothing, but nothing, happening on the boat front, apart from worrying about Chertsey languishing in the cold and damp 200 miles away.
However, all that is about to change. Next weekend we shall be moving Chertsey to a new mooring - or, in fact, back to its previous temporary home at Stretton on the Shroppie. We'd become increasingly disappointed with the mooring at Kings Bromley. It has such potential, especially as a wharf for old boats, but this just can't be realised as long as there's nothing to tie up to, piles of rubbish, and the already grim toilets are never unlocked. So when I heard that Keith was planning to let a couple of long term moorings, I leapt at the chance to take Chertsey back to a yard where we've always felt welcome and comfortable, since we first arrived there with Warrior back at Easter 2006.
Plans are starting to firm up for next year's work too; I have made tentative dates to get the gunnels (and various other bits of timber), and then the cloths, made after Easter next year. Both of these will be done at Braunston, by Pete Boyce and Sam Noon respectively. The plan is to go to the Easter gathering at Ellesmere port (for the first time by boat), and then to head back down to Braunston.
Meanwhile, next weekend will see the start of the short trip to Stretton, and then after that we're going to be taking Bill and Michelle's boat Shilling from Stretton to their new mooring at Tardebigge - another new adventure.
In the meantime, i.e. yesterday, we have been having fun as only we know how, which I will tell you about tomorrow. Or perhaps the next day. But not too long, I promise.
The days are getting shorter, but dragging. There's not enough natural light to give us energy, but electric light keeps us awake and working when we should be sleeping. The cold and wind and wet keeps us hunched and cowering in hermetically sealed double glazed energy efficient airless houses.
God, I need to go boating. To wrap up against the wind and rain, get the stove going and the hatches open; find the little scraps of sunlight that are left, and breathe the fresh cold air.