Thursday, 30 December 2010

That dread word

Stoppages. Just as we were starting to see a thaw, thanks to Debdale I've just been alerted to a couple of scheduled stoppages which could bugger our plans right up.

We only have - in an ideal, melted, world - a day and a half's cruising to go to get from Great Haywood to our destination at Stretton. Within the first hour or two we should be clear of Tixall Lock and Shutts Hill lock. These locks are scheduled to close on January 4th - and stay closed until March 11th, in one case. So will it be thawed enough for us to be through before the stoppage hits? Will the stoppage maybe be postponed? (I shall ring them up and ask).

On the plus side, at least we are more or less free to leap into action as soon as the thaw lets us. It's just a case of keeping our fingers crossed and waiting. Any updates on the state of the S&W will be most welcome.

Later update
In the process of trying to find a phone number, I've downloaded the Boater's Guide for the S&W which contains the welcome correction that the Tixall Lock works are scheduled to finish on January 28th, not March 11th, which is good news, I guess. Tried phoning them but they're all off until the 4th.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Laid up

Wot no Christmas picture? No seasonal greeting to the loyal throng of readers? Well, no. Because I've had flu, and frankly, communicating with the blogosphere was pretty low on my list of priorities. (Top of the list came activities such as coughing, moaning, and lying on the sofa). In fact it was only yesterday that I first turned the computer on after more than a week - which must be a record - I half expected it to have seized up. Bit like me. I'll not go into details, as there's nothing more boring than other people's illnesses (yet they feel so fascinating and unique to the victim).

Given that there is still little sign of a thaw, it doesn't look as if I'll have to break off from recuperating any time soon to move the boat. So I'm off back to the sofa.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cards in the post


My Moo cards arrived today and I'm pretty pleased with them. The card is nicely stiff, the matt finish printing sufficiently crisp, and the envelopes good quality. Even though I didn't take much trouble over choosing the photos (I didn't decide until the end of the process that I was actually going through with it) they all look reasonably good (though I could have done with removing that sign on the aqueduct by Anglo Welsh). At around a pound apiece for the minimum quantity of 25 they're expensive for bulk Christmas cards, but as birthday or other greetings cards that'd be a hard price to beat - and you really can have up to 25 different images for your 25 cards. Uploading the photos and designing the cards was simple too, and, as you can see, they arrived within the week. I don't think I'll ever buy a card from a shop again now!

Monday, 6 December 2010

On the cards

I am SO organised this year. Most of my Christmas shopping is done, and yesterday we went out into the outbuilding and fetched in the Christmas decorations. There were about three big boxes of them, built up over the years, but as we seem to be downsizing Christmas a bit lately, and a lot of it is old tat anyway, I decided to have a good sort out. Out went all the plastic baubles (superseded by beautiful old glass ones from a jumble sale); the envelopes of old cards going back decades, the tinsel and beads that are more trouble than their worth to put up each year, the cards without envelopes, the cards with damp envelopes, the stuff that it seemed a good idea to buy in the post Christmas sales... It all went on Freecycle and this morning is off to a local primary school.

Well, not the old cards. I put them in the recycling, but not before taking the pinking shears to them and making about three years' supply of gift tags - a family tradition which I'm very happy to continue, and now finally looks environmentally responsible rather than just mean.

I am left with the lovely, specially chosen tree ornaments collected over the last few years, quite a few from my childhood (although it was a little sad to open the box and discover the shattered remains of the very last one of the set of 12 glass baubles that, for some reason, I was given when I was about four).

Then I wrapped up my presents and wrote my cards, finally nearly getting to the bottom of the Amnesty bargain pack I bought a few years ago, and using all my IWA cards, so I thought I should order some more, as Jim hadn't written any yet. So I went on the IWA website and ordered three more packs of ten, and only then did I read Debdale's blog about how they designed and ordered their cards from Moo, (with a handy link) so I thought, hmmm, I must look into that - and ended up ordering 25 Chertsey cards from there. Well, I've never had such great Christmassy pictures before. (Although ever canny, I haven't put any seasonally-specific greeting in them, so they could be used for wintry birthdays too.) Can't wait to see how they turn out. The site was certainly easy to use, once you get past a slight cutesiness, and even techie-boy was surprised that you can have up to 25 different pictures for your 25 cards. I've shared mine between seven.

Only problem is that I've posted all this year's cards now, so you'll have to wait until 2011 for your exclusive Chertsey greeting.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Getting the measure

Without wanting to be obsessive about it, I do like to keep an old fashioned feel in Chertsey's cabin. It's a chance to use all the old bits and pieces I actually like to have around. In many ways it's practical too - for example, I keep my enamel washing up bowls under the stove, where I'm not sure a plastic one would sit very happily. I'd love to live in a world where it was possible never to buy anything plastic - such a nightmare for resource usage and subsequent disposal (and more than other materials, plastic does seem to be treated as disposable, despite its durability; maybe because its cheap and easily made into fashionnable shapes and colours) - but it's very very hard to avoid. I certainly don't want to be looking at it in all its gimcrack garish forms more than I have too though.

What I do like is enamel. Always have has a soft spot for this heatproof, easy to clean and cheap (albeit chippable but otherwise everlasting) all-purpose material (or combination of materials) of its day. Plates, jugs, trays, ovenware; hopsital equipment; fire surrounds... pub ceilings - its versatility must have seemed endless.
Until now though Chertsey has lacked a decent enamel jug. I've had a few, but all too battered and rusty to actually be used. However, whilst Christmas shopping yesterday in the charity shops, antique shops and flea markets of Lewes (finished off with an excellent and very reasonably priced lunch at the Lewes Arms, just thought I'd get a plug for that in) I came across not one but two; and not just milk jugs or pitchers, but proper measuring jugs, so I treated myself to the nicer of the two. At six quid it cost about fifteen times as much as a cheap plastic one, but well worth it I think. I shall put up a hook for it and dsiplay it with pride, and use it with pleasure.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The sound of the snow


The thing with a thick blanket of snow is how quiet everything is. No passing cars, no singing birds, no echoes, and distant noise absorbed rather than travelling onwards to our ears.

Sleeping in Chertsey's cabin last Friday night, I could occasionally hear the fire settling in the stove, the kettle gently singing sotto voce. At midnight I stoked the fire, and moved the kettle, not wanting the place to be full of steam, and all was quiet. Until at four I again awoke to a gentle rustling hissing sound, like but not like that of light rain on the cabin top above me. I checked and it wasn't the kettle; it wasn't the fire. I opened the hatches and saw that it had just begun to snow, lightly, onto the frozen canal. Could I really have heard it, I ask myself now, whispering on the steel above my head? It seems incredible. Yet at the time - and what could be more reliable - it was certain that there was nothing else it could have been. And by the time the grey dawn broke, there was a light dusting of white over everything, as light and dry as icing sugar dusted from a sieve (not the wet claggy stuff we get down here that turns into treacherous ice as soon as you touch it).

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Meanwhile, back in the sunny south-east...

The difference is, everyone's surprised when it happens here. Might as well have stayed on the boat for all the chances of getting to work are.

click for legibly large version

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Rethinking winter


As regular readers will know, I'm a summer person. A hothouse flower, as an old lady I once worked with called me. I get annoyed when people moan that it's too hot; if it's too hot to work, I say, it's not the heat that's the problem. I've always approached winter with fear and loathing, felt threatened and oppressed by the cold and the wind.

But I have changed my mind. Last weekend's boating has been a revelation to me. OK, the weather was ideal, winter at its very best - but it was cold, and snowing, and that wasn't a problem (well, not for me personally. It was admittedly a bit of an issue navigation-wise). I have now come to the conclusion that if it's too cold to get to work, too snowy for the trains to run - it's not the cold and the snow that's the problem. It's our attitude and the attitude of the world that says we have to get to work at all costs, and the view that we should really just be able to get on with our lives without giving much thought to the weather. If that was ever true, it seems increasingly less so.

So it seems I am ready to embrace the winter as wholeheartedly as I do the summer. But here's the rub. You can only really enjoy - even survive - the winter if you dress for it; six or seven layers, thermals, thick socks, boots. And the fact that buildings are all centrally heated means that immediately you go indoors, you're miles too hot, red, sweating and extremely uncomfortable. OK, you can take off the top few layers, but not the thermal vests, still less the leggings (particularly if you're at work). So basically you have to make a choice: dress for indoors or outdoors, but you can't have both. Which is why winter still finds us trapped indoors, and why the boating felt so liberating - for once I was a cold weather person, ready to take it all on (though the cabin was relatively warmer, with the stove going, it can't have been anything like as warm as a house as I never took off more than a couple of outside layers). But it's not worth getting undressed and dressed again every time we want to go out, so we end up shivering and suffering as before, or just staying put. And what I've realised now is just how much we're missing by cowering indoors by the fire.