Friday 29 November 2013

Pontoon haircut

We ordered our Ocado delivery for 8-9am yesterday morning. It was great timing as Mick poked his head out to see if they were there yet and he saw the truck coming down the driveway.

We noticed the water pump was struggling when one of us used the shower but it was fine when using the tap in the kitchen. We came to the conclusion that despite our efforts with soaking the shower head in descaler, it was too blocked and we needed a new one. We hadn't been able to find one in Stone so Mick took himself off to Stafford on the bus.  It did the trick and the pump sounds fine now.  He even bought a spare shower head.... not that he's over the top about such things.

I got a bit of work done before running into a problem I couldn't resolve until someone was in the office again.  What a shame.... nothing for it but to work on my quilt!  I've made it my mission for Winter to use each of the fabrics that the girls in my sewing group gave me before we left home. 

Mick had a pontoon haircut.  We took the £7 folding stool out onto the deck between us and nb Winton's Folly.  He's not so keen on an audience for the process.  I've had a sore back on previous occasions from crouching over in the cratch to cut his hair where nobody could see.

Today's not such a nice day.  It's been a little gloomy from the start.  The wind has increased and there's drizzle.  A good day for work catch up.

Here's a photo of the blocks I've made since we've been on the boat.  I'll make good progress over Winter.  There's plenty of dark gloomy days to come I'm sure.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Home cooking

Today we had a walk into Stone.  It was the first for the Winter.  It was interesting to see the little changes.... a renovation complete... some new apartments being built... trees grown up.  We stopped for a hot drink at Costa; coffee for Mick and chai latte for me.  They had some festive coffee syrups in tiny bottles so I bought them to try.  The last few Christmases I've made up a spice mix... thanks Jen and Jude... to add to my coffee. 

We had our engine serviced this afternoon so that's another job to tick off our list.  Next will be the boat safety.  It's due in March so we'll get it sorted while we are in the marina.  I had a cup of tea with Diane on nb Ferndale

Now we're stopped for the Winter we've decided we're going to go back to cooking properly rather than buying lazy meals.  We won't be stumbling upon Marks and Spencers so often now so that will help!  We've become hooked on a marinated salmon fillet they sell at Marks.  You're supposed to bake them in the oven but we just drizzle a few drops of olive oil over each side and cook them in a frying pan with a couple of lime halves.  The juice from the lime once it's sizzled in the pan for a short while makes the most delicious dressing for a salad and that's how we eat the salmon - on a bed of salad leaves.  It's our favourite lunch.

We decided to have a go at making a similar marinade ourselves so this week we bought a couple of plain salmon fillets and I cut out the ingredients label from the last M&S packet we bought.  The ingredient list said demerara sugar, soy sauce, ginger puree, honey, salt, coriander, garlic puree, red chillies and lime zest.  So yesterday we made up a marinade from these ingredients and cooked the salmon up for lunch. It was pretty good but we think next time we will plan ahead so it can marinade overnight.

Tonight we made the Asian Lamb and Potato Curry that I'd put on the blog last year.  It bubbled away nicely on the Acorn stove.  Free cooking fuel!  I'm glad I took the time to blog about some of our favourite recipes.  We'll be able to make use of them this Winter.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Our first boaters tea party

We know we're back in marina mode when Monday rolls around. Yesterday it was our first boaters tea party for the year and what a turnout!  I didn't take a single photo but there was Paul and Elaine from nb Caxton, Diane from nb Ferndale, Dot and Gordon from nb Ewn Ha Cul, Barb from nb Colombo II, Roly from nb Klara, Andy and Sue from nb Festina Lente, Andy and Jean from nb Josephine, Lyn from nb Valentine, Gil from nb Shoehorn, Barbara who is currently staying on nb Phyllis May II, and Rob... who has a new boat currently being painted and I don't know the name.

We went back with Andy and Jean for a quieter catch up before returning to the boat. We had to meet Milo and Missy, the new feline additions to their family. Cute little buggers they are at 18 weeks old.

Mick had a chat with the fellow on the boat next door.  Nice fellow. Rusty boat.

We're all set for Winter. Mick cleared all the fenders and herb pots from the roof. The herbs will live in the cratch now. Not sure how well they will survive the cold. He's a happy Vegemite with the roof clear of everything but the plank and poles.

Perhaps we are a bit extreme but we love it when we've had a tidy up and having swapped over the duvet the other day... which involved pulling out the stuff beneath the dinette seat... we had a bit more of a sort out then so it all feels well organised at the moment. Bliss.

Today we walked to Aldi to get out for some air. There was a hiccup with work sent to me yesterday so it will have to be resent. It gave me a day off. I spent the afternoon cutting fabric for my quilt and even managed to rope Mick into helping for a bit. He tells me not to expect a repeat performance when we get home.... he will have better things to do then.

Monday 25 November 2013

Back in the marina

Stone bottom lock to Aston Marina : 1 mile, 1 lock
To date : 957 miles, 674 locks 

We were up early this morning so we didn't take the entire day to get sorted back in the marina.  I walked the towpath while Mick chugged along. We stopped on the way to have a quick chat with Roly and Bev and off we went. It will be the first of many many walks along that towpath although we use the road once it gets too muddy.  At Aston Lock it felt like we'd arrived home after a long journey.

What a strange feeling to turn into the marina again. There were boaters to wave to through their windows and then we tied up under the bridge for diesel and a pumpout.  We did the usual circuit - out the exit - along the canal - back in the entrance - by which time there were a few spectators to watch us come into our new berth.  Not to let us down, the wind had really picked up.  We're much closer to the entrance this time and our previous method of aiming for nb Stanley's porthole and then reversing back was out the window.   Mick managed the task admirably and without any hot shoe shuffling.  What a difference a year makes!

There's positives and negatives about our new position.  On the negative side we are next to a rusty tin can.  It's not a pretty sight from that side of the boat.  On the positive side the tin can is shorter than us so we have a fabulous view from our living room window out to the marina entrance.  We're still looking to the front at nb Stanley but across it's bow.  We almost look straight down the line of boats moored on that pontoon.  I'll take some photos tomorrow. 

We mucked about settling in.... aerial, pram hood, fenders, coal bags, mats on the pontoon, paperwork, power leads, electricity cards.  This evening we played cards on nb Winton's Folly for the last time in a while.  Barry and Carol are off to India tomorrow.  They came in later so I could check in online for them.  Barry didn't let us down... he did his usual grizzling... this time because we couldn't get him a window seat on the plane.  Awwww.....

Sunday 24 November 2013

A visit from Clinton and Sharon

Yesterday we had a walk around the shops in Stone, stocking up, collecting parcels from the post office.  We have the perspex polishing kit so that will be a job for me once we reach the marina.  It felt a bit strange to first have the lady in the post office remember us from last year (we had several parcels sent there Post Restante), then we saw Jo (another moorer on our pontoon in the marina) who works in the Co-op, and finally waving to another boater we'd met a couple of days ago.  Makes us feel like we're in our small town back home!

We're starting to encounter some of the other Winter moorers.  We gave Paul from nb Caxton a wave through the window as we played cards on nb Winton's Folly the other day, we've seen Diane from nb Ferndale again, and today Roly and Bev on nb Klara moored up a few boats down from us, giving us a wave as they walked past.  Yesterday Andy and Sue from nb Festina Lente passed by on foot and we had a chat with them through the window too.  They are new additions to the Aston gang this year.

We had visitors today - blog readers Clinton and Sharon.  They'd had the last week on their share boat.  (It was lovely to meet you both and we hope you had a safe trip home.)  Here they are just seconds after he slipped in the mud towards the gap between boat and canal edge! Being very careful here.

I did a last run to Morrisons after Clinton and Sharon had gone and Mick picked up a few bags of coal from the chandlery.  He'd bought the last one the other day but there was new stock in now.  This afternoon we had a catch up with Roly and Bev.  We last saw them at the Tardebigge lock flight nearly 2 months ago.

Barry and Carol on nb Winton's Folly have headed off to the marina today to prepare for their holiday to India.  They leave on Monday.  It's the end of our year's cruising together.  Who would ever have thought we'd find such wonderful friends and cruise with them so merrily for such a long time.  We've loved every minute guys!

So... life's about to change a bit.  We'll be tucked up on our pontoon tomorrow night.  We're looking forward to Monday's afternoon to so we can catch up with everyone again.

Friday 22 November 2013

Winter in a marina or out on the cut

We always knew when we planned this adventure that we would spend Winter in a marina. I remember reading blogs of boaters stuck in thick ice for weeks a few years ago. That doesn't much appeal to us.

There is a definite trade off though. Being lined up like soldiers in a row in a marina isn't exactly fun. The view is limited and its the same every day. After having cruised for months that will be even harder than it was last year. It's one of the nicest parts of this cruising life to look out the window each morning and there's something new to see.  Plus, we've noticed marinas tend to be windy.

There's no practical reason we couldn't spend the Winter out on the cut. We manage fine with power, water and waste disposal. We're lucky the boat has such a great spec.... well, maybe its not luck, we chose her for it.  We can easily go a week on a tank of water, the loo tank hasn't been pumped out for five weeks now (although that's the longest we've let it go so far and it's nowhere near full) and we have never run low on power.  We are always toasty warm. We keep the coal stove ticking over and run the central heating for an hour or two early morning.

Thoughts on this topic came to the fore after talking with Emma and Nick on nb Marpessa2. She said its some of the best days they've had when they're surrounded by snow and her favourite day was following the path of a working boat that had broken through the ice and left a path open behind it. It does sound lovely.  Everything sounds different when there's a blanket of snow and I can just imagine looking out the window to see the canal covered in snow.

We aren't used to these cold Winters and we don't want to risk being iced in. I like the luxury of not having to generate our own power for a few weeks and not having Mick talking about electricity (its his little obsession).  The electricity obsession seems to be a bit of a guy thing. We've met quite a few now.  Sometimes I think when we get home Mick will take to checking our electricity meter there too!

We've allowed in our budget for marina fees.... both over Winter and for a day or so each month. We just like to pause. They usually have enormous washing machines so you can pile in heaps of stuff in one load and there's nothing I like better than a spring clean.  Maybe that's my obsession.

But.... sometimes I think maybe we are missing out on a little bit of the potential adventure by not toughing out a Winter on the cut.  Here's what we're missing.... I had these photos from nb Epiphany in a post a couple of years ago.

A move for water

Stone visitor moorings to below Stone bottom lock : about 300 feet, 1 lock
To date : 956 miles, 673 locks 

It was extremely windy yesterday evening and the boat rocked about like crazy.  Looking out at the lights reflected on the water, it looked more like Port Phillip Bay than a pound between two locks.... very choppy.

Mick went to talk wood bleach with Nick on nb Marpessa 2 and said farewell to Murky.  They're off today in the opposite direction... braving the Winter out on the cut.  We're whimps aren't we!  He helped a boat through a few locks and it turned out they were blog readers.  Mick has no idea of the name of the boat or the folk.

We did a couple of loads of washing today as we were running out of clothes.  Plus, it was time we moved on from the prime visitor moorings and there's a water point below the last lock in Stone.  nb Winton's Folly and ourselves were the only genuine visitors on the moorings.  There was a short engine boat that's used for pulling barges along and there was that annoying Brocklebank boat (still there from a week ago) but nobody else.

We had a bit of a boaters meeting before lunch and Barry and Carol went on ahead of us down the lock. Mick went to work the lock for them.

Now on our own, Mick darted out between rain showers to finish polishing that side of the boat and once it was done we headed off too. Mick had gone off to the lock untying the bow rope on his way.  By the time I got sorted I looked up to see the bow had been blown almost all the way across the canal it was so windy.  I muddled about getting the boat under control without bumping into Brocklebank and by then the lock was almost ready anyway.

The other day when we walked down below this last lock to check out the mooring situation, the moorings down here were rammed with boats.  Something must have gone on because there's hardly a boat in sight.  I suspect they may have been moved on because a couple that were here the other day were bridge hoppers from last year.  We stopped on the very first mooring as there's a tiny concrete pad at the beginning of the armco.  If we angled our mooring ropes in instead of out we'd be getting off the boat onto the concrete instead of the ever increasing mud along the edge.  It worked a treat.  We had discovered a while back that having the ropes angled in doesn't make a huge difference.  We had been on rings in concrete then so there was no choice in the matter whatsoever.  It's worked well today too.

We'll spend a couple of days here now and head on to the marina on the weekend.  Ahhh... the lure of unlimited electricity.

Last night Mick said he felt a bit cold so there was nothing for it but to pull apart the dinette seats to fish out the heavier weight duvet.  I'm amazed we've gone this long with just the Summer one. I vac zipped the lighter one into the bag and put it away and also got out my puffy black Winter coat.  I still can't imagine having to wear it... the weather just isn't cold enough.  How quickly we forget what's it like to feel chilled to the bone.  I had a further thinning out and we got rid of a couple more bits and pieces.

The new rail above the Acorn stove is working a treat with drying the washing.  We should have put it there ages ago!

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Rainy day in Stone

The weather forecast predicted a rainy day and that's what we got.  There was a brief spell where the skies cleared, the rain had stopped and a boat left the 24hr moorings.  We were having a chat with Emma from nb Marpessa 2 and interrupted the discussion to move across to the other side so Mick could get on with his polishing on that side.  We resumed our discussion on the opposite bank as by then Emma and Murky the lovely labrador had walked around back to their boat.  So now we're moored behind nb Marpessa 2 against the carpark.  Nice edging here... it was turning a bit muddy outside the boat on the other side.

We inspected each others boats and met Nick as well.  I figure we can't forget their names.... Emma and Nick... Elly and Mick.  They had just had their boat safety test done at Aston and we're soon to arrange ours so there was much discussion on this topic.  One of the first things Emma said when we stepped into their boat and mentioned the word "bathroom" was that she was a bit "icky" about toilet matters but she's obviously gotten over that because 5 minutes later we were all embroiled in a full scale toilet discussion.  It just never fails to happen!

We've taken a real shine to Murky.  He's the loveliest boy and reminds us of our old boy Zac who lived to the ripe old age of 16 1/2.  He's just as well behaved and obedient and just as spoiled too.  Look at him below in his armchair.

Mick made a start on the other side of the boat but it wasn't long before the black clouds rolled in again.  This time it actually hailed.  For the rest of the afternoon the rain went on but it was warm inside so no matter.

A while ago I had a request from someone asking how they could follow the blog by email. At the time I had no idea.  I did some investigating and found I could add a little gadget on the right hand side of the blog. They told me it worked fine.  So, for anyone else who would rather receive an email of new blog posts, you can type your email address in the box on the right.

A day in port - Stone

It's been an enjoyable day today.  The sun was out for a lot of the day.... watery Winter sun but still lovely.  The temperature only reached about 7 or 8 degrees so there was a good chill in the air.

Over breakfast this morning we discovered that I had accidentally tossed out the mesh filter in the coffee plunger when I so meticulously cleaned it yesterday.  Mick's so careful about not getting any pipework blocked on the boat that we toss the dishwater out the galley window rather than pouring it down the sink.  We're about 6 teaspoons down using this method!  For those back home, I've probably mentioned before that it's the done thing here to use a plastic tub or "bowl", as they call it, in the sink to use for washing dishes.  I'm not quite sure of the reason - somewhere between not scratching the shiny surface of the sink (although the base of the bowl does that a little anyway) and conserving water.  I decided to walk to the shops and find a new coffee plunger... or "cafetiere" as they call them here.  The new one's shiny and insulated and much easier to clean.

Carol came over to sort out some of her emails and bills while Barry went off on the bus to Tesco in Stafford in search of a cartridge for their printer.  I ended up finding one online much cheaper so that will come Post Restante to the local post office. 

I got plenty of work done today too.  Another software update went without a hitch.  It seems we finally have a way to do them long distance and it's worked well.  So a good day workwise too.

After lunch we had a delivery from Ocado... making the most of that free delivery pass.  The van stopped right beside the boat with just a strip of grass and the towpath between.  Couldn't have been better - he just passed the bags straight into the bow.

Mick plowed on with the things he wanted to get done.  He was quite happy out there most of the day.  One thing that he's been wanting to do for a while was to put a little rail up beside the flue for the stove.  It'll be a good place to hang a few clothes to dry.

This afternoon I heard Mick talking to someone outside.... again.  I peered out to see Ray and Diane from nb Ferndale had stopped by.  It was nice to have a chat with Ray as he's off to Oz on Thursday and we wouldn't see him until mid-January if he hadn't appeared today.  Diane we'll see on Monday at the boater's tea party.  She'll be on her own for a few weeks this Winter it seems.  Diane had a near miss of falling into the canal recently.... but she barely got a wet foot. 

I'm finally regaining my "gunwale confidence" back after my slip.  I was nervous of slipping on the gunwales when we were first on the boat but after a while I'd scuttle along without giving it a thought.  After falling I found myself nervous about it all over again. I don't want a repeat performance!

Before the light disappeared we decided to have a walk around town.  Everything was being packed up and wound down.  The Christmas lights were up already.  It was really cold out and returning to the boat was like coming into a warm cocoon.  In all it's been a satisfying day.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

A short hop

North of Stone to Stone visitor moorings : 1 mile, 3 locks
To date : 956 miles, 672 locks

Finally feeling better today.  We had decided that we'd move on in the hope of getting a spot on the visitor moorings right in Stone.  We met a couple who will be coming into the marina for the Winter so we'll look forward to chatting some more Cathy and Martin.  See you on a Monday in a couple of weeks time.

It's a strange feeling bringing the boat back through Stone.  I so clearly remember negotiating our way through all the moored boats around the Stone locks and thinking I'd never have the courage or experience to get around them. Today I did it all myself, including getting in to the awkward water point directly below one of the locks.  At the last lock for the day there was a bit of a hold up.  Two boats had passed us while we filled with water so we had to wait for them at the lock with the worst approach of them all.  There's just a single spot on the lock landing and then a long row of moored boats behind.  Opposite is a hire base with boats jutting out in all directions.  I surprised myself at the fact it didn't faze me at all.  Not even when I discovered that the short hire boat who had passed us earlier had moored right bang in the middle of the single lock landing spot.

They were lovely folk and we'd had a brief chat earlier but as is so often the case they were totally oblivious of anybody else, not even sharing the ring with the boat behind them.  They were getting off the boat as I approached and looked a little alarmed when they realized there was a boat just gone in the lock and I now had nowhere to go.  I couldn't have asked for it to happen better though... the boat actually reversed in the direction I wanted and I got our stern rope around their taff rail. 

It was dry when we started our preparations for the off but of course it didn't last.  The entire time we were on the move there was a persistent drizzle.  It cleared for a couple of hours this afternoon but now tonight, it's raining again.

Monday 18 November 2013

R.I.P. Robin

It's a sad day today.  Mick's mum passed away.  At least the waiting is over and she's at peace.

I've got nothing much else to report - I've been sick in bed since Friday afternoon.  Finally starting to come good today.  Mick's been keeping himself busy preparing for Winter in the marina.  We'll be there for next week Monday's afternoon tea!

Saturday 16 November 2013

Back on familiar ground

Hem Heath to North of Stone : 4 miles, 5 locks
To date : 955 miles, 669 locks

We're on the final leg of our journey for the year.  We do plan to get out of the marina a bit more this year... perhaps a few days cruising if there's a forecast with no risk of iced up canals.   We decided we'd moor for a couple of days at the Northern end of Stone.  The mile or so walk to the shops is nothing to us these days. 

There was no rushing this morning.  We just left when we were ready.  Our first lock for the day was Trentham Lock which we remember being a very picturesque location.   There was a real nip in the air today.  We got out the thermometer and it was barely 8 degrees.

We met boats both ways at Meaford Locks.  One coming from Stone had a good grizzle about boats not moving on from the visitor moorings.  We sure hope there isn't a repeat of last year where "continuous moorers" hogged all the moorings for the entire Winter making it near impossible to take the boat to the bottom of the locks at Stone to shop and stay overnight.  They even went as far as moving to the water point at 10pm to avoid someone else "stealing" their mooring.  Right at the end of Winter there was some sort of action and many of them moved on.  We're hoping something's done about it earlier this time!

We found good moorings just before Tina Paramore boat painting.  We had our lunch and walked into Stone for a few groceries.  The fridge was bare!  On the way back we bumped into a blog reader from nb Gala-Day and had a brief chat.

Barry and Carol have Kinver Canopies coming to make a template for their pram cover tomorrow.

Friday 15 November 2013

Trentham Gardens

We made sure we were moored up at Hem Heath by the end of yesterday as we had a service booked for our Eberspacher this morning.  This was the nearest mooring to the service fellow and would minimize the cost.  He duly arrived this morning to get the job done.

After lunch we walked the mile or so to Trentham Gardens for some retail therapy.  It's a fabulous shopping centre comprising a huge garden centre... UK style... which means it sells all sorts of stuff that in no way relates to gardening.  There's also a little avenue of stores outside which are always worth a look.  We bought pies for dinner from Pieminister.  Hopefully they'll be as good as the other time we've bought them.

It's a little subdued aboard at the moment.  Mick's mum, back in New Zealand, has reached the end of her life and we're just waiting for the phone call.  We promised her (a promise extracted several times before we left Australia) that we wouldn't come rushing back when the end was near.  We said our goodbyes back then when we last saw her but still.... that doesn't help now does it.

Today :
1. Did I mention I now have a husband who likes to browse the internet on my iPad?
2. The cygnets are getting big now but they still peep like tiny chicks
3. Not a bad mooring at Hem Heath
4. Convenient to be at the end of the row nearest the bridge for our heating service
5. A 2 door, 2009 Mercedes for £9,995.  They're so cheap here!
6. Barry and Carol... matching coats... new boots... arm in arm

Thursday 14 November 2013

Phone and internet

Festival Park to Hem Heath : 4 miles, 5 locks
To date : 951 miles, 664 locks

Today was one of those days that make me feel like this is what it's all about.  We had a cup of tea this morning with Dot and Gordon form nb Ewn Ha Cul.  Then we chugged along to the Etruria Junction to fill our water tank.  We chatted with Barry and Carol, Connie fed the geese, we got some washing done.

Then it was on with the locks of the day.  The first one is very deep.  Carol had walked Connie up and down a bit, fed her some lunch, and then walked her around in the stroller until she fell asleep for her nap.  All the way down the locks Connie slept while Carol worked the locks and pushed the stroller. 

There was a bite in the wind today.  I think we're going to have to dig out the other duvet soon.  We still haven't been cold with the Summer weight one though.  We have a second duvet that is a mid season one and then they both clip together for Winter.  I think we'll just swap them over for now.  I suspect we might be able to get by with just the mid season one over Winter.  I remember being plenty warm enough with them clipped together last year but for the bulk of the Winter I was by myself. 

When we moored up at Hem Heath this afternoon we had the washing up to date, the water tank full and the batteries on 100%.  All's good in our world.

In answer to the questions of what phone and internet providers we use :
* For internet access I have a Three mifi dongle and a "Pay as You Go" sim.  The signal has been good most of the time.  There have been a few occasions that we have had no internet at all but not often enough to be an issue. 
* I have a "Pay as You Go" smart phone with O2.  I bought the phone outright when we arrived as mine met an untimely death on the flight over.  I have good reception most of the time.  I can use the wireless "hot spot" as backup if I don't get an internet signal with Three but it's only been useful once or twice. 
* Mick has a cheap little plastic handset with a Lebara sim card.  He gets reception pretty much ALL the time.  The calls back to Australia are really cheap and even UK calls are a bit less than I pay on my Three "Pay as You Go".
* We use the Lebara phone for making phone calls and I only use my phone for phone calls if I need to ring Mick.  I've installed Viber on the smart phone so use that for making calls too.