Friday, 29 May 2009

Back to work

Today the sun has been splitting the paving slabs all day, it's been perfect boating weather, so no small surprise that I have been working away at the vineyard doing tours, tastings, waiting tables in the cafe and washing-up and cleaning in the kitchen.

Jackie, however, has had all day to luxuriate in the surroundings, feed swans, sleep in and finish treating the 'new to us' garden furniture with linseed oil.

And a jolly good job she's done too!

The above picture shows the table half-way through it's first coat of linseed oil. All the chairs and the table were first given a thorough scrubbing with 'Sugar-Soap' which munched through the old finish, dirt and bird poo in no time!

Thursday, 28 May 2009


Today, I have mostly been making kindling.

I started off this morning by re-organising the wood-pile (A leaden joke involving wood, trees and seeing threatened there, but I resisted....).

I have constructed a shelter of sorts over the split logs. It will keep them dry while allowing enough air to get to them to allow them to season properly.

I then turned my attention to a lerge pile of recovered wood (most of it from when we had the wooden sash windows replaced in Jackie's studio flat in Highgate. I spent the rest of the day sawing plankafter plank to length, then splitting it up into kindling with a hand axe. Most satisfying!

The result filled two large plastic laundry bags. I reckon that's enough for a couple of months at least.

It also means I can actually see some of the little projects which have been hidden the while: Like my patent tiller extension (a broken oar found at the weir), Jackie's garden furniture find, and the varnished pine shelving that may yet go again as a base for the gas canisters in the forrard gas locker (which I will of course have to strip, de-rust and paint properly first.....)

So, one job jobbed, several more found.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Duck gets a louder quack, and I finally start work on the wood pile

Yesterday we sensibly stayed in bed until the rain had stopped hammering down, then hi-tailed it to Cambridge for a very necessary pump-out. I popped to Tesco first to get some diesel (annoyingly, they only let you have 10 litres at a time. Unless you are in a van.......) and check out the reduced counter. This yielded some bargain tasty snacks for our lunch.

Jackie took Pippin out of the mooring and as far as Baits Bight lock. We shared the lock with Papageno, a well-handled cruiser, and then threaded our way through the rowing eights to Jesus Green. Here, we were incommoded by a rather erratically handled visiting narrowboat that tried to wind far too early in getting to the pump-out and ended up a bit all over the place.

Despite the crew of Cambridge's resident disco-boat looking on, no advice was bellowed in plummy tones across the water, which must be a first.

In fairness to the narrowboat, it was jolly windy. Pippin took a lot of getting used to in those conditions and if he was a newby, he did well to get round without hitting us or anyone else. (Jackie was at Collision Stations, with the flying fender in hand....!)

Anyway, we moored up, Jackie went to M&S and John Lewis, and I went to Mackays.

If you don't know Cambridge, then let me tell you that Mackays is one of the Truly Great Ironmongers in the UK.

(Not as good as Castle's in Christchurch, Dorset, who still carry parts for traction engines, town gas retorts, and Magic Lantern spares, but pretty damn good all the same.)

I bought a bottle of boiled linseed oil for half the price I was used to in London. (Our 'free' garden furniture needs another dose)and returned Pippin-ward via Mike's boat Innocenti. Here, I met up with Jackie and we all had a cup of tea on Mike's splendid new home-built sofas. In the words of the late, great Ian Dury, "There ain't half bin a lot of clever bastards".....

We then elected to motor back home rather than stay on the 48's, as the weather forecast was rubbish for the following morning. Golden sunlight and what seemed like Cambridge's entire fleet of rowing eights accompanied us. We managed to keep them happy by letting them past when safe. Some even acknowledged our efforts with a 'thankyou'...... though I think the 'first' crews who are allowed to play on the bendy bits downstream of Bait's Bight lock shouldn't do so without someone on the bank to spot the hoofing-great wide-beams in the offing for them. (It can get a little worrisome, chaps!)

Anyway, we got back home having signally failed to drown, mince-up or frighten to death any of Cambridge's finest, and made a lovely job of manouvering into the mooring.

Of course, no-one was there to see it. ( And had there been, no doubt I would have made the most almighty Horlicks of it....)

Today, the rain fell in the morning again. Pippin's crew could not be persuaded to stir from below deck until midday. Jackie did paperwork while I read "Practical Classics" and snoozed on the sofa.

I gave Jackie a lift to the station at 3.30 so she could catch the train to London there to meet up with girlfriends and have an early supper and chat.

I went via Tesco (more diesel and the jobs section of the local paper) to Emmaus, the world's best charity shop. I love the place. It's a barn full of furniture, knick-knacks, books, CDs, vinyl, junk, old tools, and sundry 'really useful stuff'.

John Heaven!

I rarely leave without a purchase. Today was no different. Some proper folding money was spent on an original boat Klaxon. (Only after I purchased it, did the guys behind the counter admit they would have paid me to take it away, so sick were they of being deafened by the "Ooooo-GAH!!!!" of people trying it out......)

I knew Jackie would not be best pleased, but had a cunning plan.

After spending the rest of the afternoon/evening cleaning up the 22" boat prop for re-sale, I had just settled down to look at a ridiculously cheap 14 cylinder 800bhp Alvis aero-engine on ebay when The Lucky Ducks hailed me......

A cup of tea ensued, during which they apologised for the presence of a poo tank cassette that had appeared without warning in my wood-pile........

(I ask you! The youth of today, eh? It was dumped there, if you'll pardon the expression, pronto-quick-time to hide it from the people from the cat rescue centre who came round today to check that James and Amy are both sane (?) and The Duck is a safe home for Lyra, their cat-to-be. As boat and crew passed with honours, they were forgiven. This time....)

Anyway, I showed James the Mighty Bellowing Klaxon. He came over all weak at the knees, Amy rolled her eyes in that long suffering way they teach girls at Partner School, a deal was struck and The Lucky Duck now has the loudest Klaxon-Quack on the Cam!


Saturday, 23 May 2009

A Day Off

A rare and longed for thing!

"Good-oh", I thought,"I'll be able to really get stuck into sorting out the woodpile."

You may be thinking, perhaps with some justification, that I really should get out more...

However, the "Pippin" woodpile is a true wonder to behold.

It's more of a wooden stockade constructed out of super-annuated 8 foot long posts scrounged from the vineyard.

It currently contains not only about 3 tons of seasoned wood, but also three 20 litre jerry cans, a workmate, an old bucket full of rusty spanners, a 20" bronze propeller and about 80" of stainless steel propshaft, the engine and gearbox from a 1948 Alvis TA14, another complete cylinder head for same, a wheelbarrow and our 'new' garden furniture.

This, then, is no ordinary woodpile.

What makes it all the more special is the fact that due to the careful use of advanced 'stealth' technology, NO-ONE knows it's there!

Except Jackie, of course.

No stealth technology yet devised will dip below my beloved's radar, especially, (as in the case of the Alvis engine, the boat prop, and all those other toys that a chap just has to buy because they are 'a bargain' or are 'bound to come in handy one day'...)if it means spending money that should rightfully be dedicated to the overdraft, or silly luxuries, like food....

Anyway, my blissful day of sorting through my acquired junk was soon scuppered. A BIG SHOP was called for, followed by a trip to the re-cycling centre.

I brightened at the prospect of the latter, as you never know what the chaps at the dump will have put to one side to sell for beer money......

We did the shopping, and later, as we pulled out of the re-cycling place, Jackie espied a travel-worn wooden trunk in the Articles For Sale section near the gate, intimating she rather liked the look of it.......

We don't have a lot of built-in storage on Pippin, so these boxes are ideal.

I did a passable imitation of a greyhound out of the trap (albeit in a podgy, mid-forties, thinning-hair sort of style) and whipped it out from under the nose of another interested party for a tenner.


I forgot all about the wood-pile. After all, we'd just acquired another piece of junk to restore!

After a quick lunch, I set to massaging various soothing unguents into the wood, to very good effect. Jackie, meanwhile, was hard at work with Sugar Soap and scrubbing brush getting all the worn-out finish off of the set of four 'Free to a good home" wooden garden furniture chairs and table she had recently rescued from the end of someone's drive.

She then remembered she had to go to her bro's party in London, and disappeared off at about 6.30. Hmmmmmmm...

I dutifully painted one of the chairs and the table with linseed oil, (watched by James and Amy who sat on the non-sticky chairs to keep me company). They then very kindly cooked me a lovely pasta supper before zooming off to watch "Have I Got News For You" or some-such on their telly-box.

Day off?

I am KNACKERED!!!!!!!!

And I've got another one tomorrrow.........

Communing with a Sadness of Swans

Those of you who folllow The Lucky Duck's blog will have seen the lovely pictures of our swans, Flanders and Swan, and their brood of seven cygnets.

Nature is red in tooth and claw, though, and we were prepared for a fair amount of predator loss. (I mean, what with the freshwater wolfpacks of circling pike, the aerial threat of rooks, owls etc, and of course the depradations of assorted foxy-whiskered gentlemen, it's like the Battle of the North Atlantic out there!)

We weren't prepared for yesterday's calamity, however.

Five of the brood managed to get swept over the nearby weir. Despite Jackie and Helen's best efforts to rescue and revive them, they all died. The two survivors happened to be sitting on Flander's back, so rode out the danger.

I got back very late from work last night as we had an evening Tour and Tasting at the vineyard.

I opened the side hatch to feed the surviving members of the family. They seemed very subdued. We talked for a while in the clicks and murmers of Mute Swan, and Swan chewed my sleeves and jumper elbows and nibbled my fingers while there was still food in the water. Flanders carried her remaining babies on her back. There was a palpable sense of loss.

This morning, though, they are back to more or less normal. All survived the night and, having battered on the side hatch to demand their breakfast, they have paddled off in the direction of the local pub, there to demand tit-bits in exchange for photo-ops with the Bank Holiday weekend crowds in the riverside beer garden.

Et le monde continue toujours......

Thursday, 21 May 2009

A Quick Apology .......

Firstly for not posting for ages.....

Our normally pretty reliable Wireless Internet doobery has been fading in and out like the old Short-Wave signal. Jackie rang our service provider and apparently "engineers are looking into it"......(which has the same ring of truth about it as an MP's expenses claim........)

Secondly, sorry to nb Wibbenwaw and Halfie for deleting your comments from "The Water Buoy and the Car-Wash" post.

The reason for this was a friend of ours posted our location on Googlemaps as a comment on that post.

Call us paranoid if you like, but not all who surf the Worldwide Web do so in the spirit of friendship and co-operation envisaged by Sir Tim Berners-Lee.....

In short, we felt it only fair to our landlord and neighbours in our little floating parish to ensure their continuing safety and security by removing Mike's link to our Googlemap location. (It's a shame because it's a lovely shot!)

Problems arose in the process. Even with the combined efforts of experienced bloggers The Lucky Ducks, we were unable to do so without deleting the entire post and starting again! (Drink had NOT been taken, by the way...)

So, sorry for that, and hope that no-one's offended by our wish to maintain an air of mystery!

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Water Buoy and The Car Wash

Those of you who have been boating a while will no doubt know all about The Water Buoy key fob. It's a great idea, won on BBC's Dragon's Den, and we bought one.

Basically, the idea is that if the key fob gets dropped in the water, a balloon inflates to prevent precious keys sinking gurgle-splosh to the bottom of the Oggin.

Here, however, is what happens when you hand your car keys over to the nice lads at the Tesco car-wash so they can make your filthy old motor car look fit for the parental visitation.........

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

As promised, the photos of Linton Lighthouse....

Here you see, in all it's glory, the truly inspiring edifice that is Linton Lighthouse, standing proud above the seas of oil-seed-rape.

My chum Jules, an ex-Linton resident, has commented that this structure actually dates from the 1930's, is a water tower, and has absolutely nothing to do with the Marquis of Abergavenny.

The first part of the comment is partly true: Having been used since 1871 by local farmers as Europe's first (and as far as I know, only) multi-storey cow-shed, the lighthouse building was converted to its rather prosaic use as a watertower in 1936-7.

However, the good Marquis was in every respect responsible for the original structure and its planned use as a lighthouse. This may have helped give rise to his affectionate nickname, "Bonkers" Abergavenny.......

There is a fine statue of him in the grounds of Chilford Hall Vineyard. A photo of this will follow as proof, so that we can lay any future debate about this to rest.

Friday, 8 May 2009

What a week......!

Quite a lot of stuff has been going on. Mostly work.....However, we shall begin at the start.....

Having got back from Ely, which we left very much in the condition in which we found it (ie hardly dented at all), we had the pleasure of having our Soho chums Rik and Annie over for Sunday lunch.
Jackie did fresh local asparagus with poached egg, sea-bass fillets, crushed potatoes, peas and broccoli and Eton Mess. Fab food, but blimey, did we drink....... John had to go for an afternoon nap, and apparently didn't snore so loudly that the guests noticed (though of course, Jackie did, but then, is attuned to it.....). R and A stayed over on Sunday night and drove back to London on Monday morning at silly o'clock so Annie could get to work at The French House for 10.00am.

The Pippins, meanwhile, did not stir from their bed of pain until gone 11.30, when John discovered Jackie had gargled down The Last Resolve. Lots of fizzy water and a slice of dry toast later, he managed to unwrap the new coolie hat for the chimney that Jackie had bought from the Ely Chandlery. A swift burst of electric drill removed the remnants of the old one (that went "splosh" in a strong gale in December) and drilled the holes for three shiny self tappers that will hopefully hold the new one on for a bit longer..... Some nifty screwdriver work saw the new coolie hat installed.

In all, about 10 minutes work. John then went for a well deserved nap of some three hours, from which he emerged feeling about 67% human, which was as good as it got for Bank Holiday Monday.......

From Tuesday through to Thursday, John was back near Diss, working on the painting and decorating of Erica and Jeremy's cottage: (down to the fiddly stuff now, which takes ages, but makes the difference between an good job and an outstanding one)

Worked at the vineyard on Friday........Came home to a quick chat with The Ducks and a view of this super moon.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Et tout le monde changez le place

mais le monde continue toujours.......

And everyone is changing places, but the world goes on the same......

Neil and Jackie left for Portsmouth and the ferry to Bilbao at lunchtime.

The Pippins, meanwhile, having said their goodbyes, chugged into Ely for the fortnightly pump-out.

We normally go to Cambridge as it isn't as far, but a combination of it being a lovely day, longer hours of daylight, the fact that navigation upstream of Bait's Bight lock was restricted due to James and Amy....... (actually their rowing club, who were running races in divisions from 10.30-2.30.....It wasn't ALL their fault!) meant that we decided to head for Ely. The EA pump-out there is not only free,( whereas you pay £3.00 a go in Cambridge), but it is also much more powerful, better maintained, and more likely to be working.

On the way, we passed several pens asleep on their nests, saw some Herons and numerous Great Crested Grebes. We also came across nb Hornblower, who said they'd seen a Marsh Harrier! We didn't, sadly....

On arrival in Ely, we were greeted by the sight of nb Troll on the pump-out/water point.

(You know how boaters tend to go by their first name followed by their boat's name? Especially in mobile phone address books? The slim and elegant Mel and handsome, chisel-jawed Ewan, who own nb Troll, could never be thus described............. A comma and the "nb" bit had to be inserted.....)

They were un-mooring as we arrived, so I took Pippin under the railway bridge and went downstream to where the river widens a bit to execute what to all intents and purposes is the closest a wide-beam ever gets to a handbrake turn, and having done so (with some flair I thought!) chugged nonchalently back to pump out.

A Bank Holiday event was in full swing in the park by the river, a little trip boat called Liberty Belle was whizzing up and down, and the river was thick with fibreglass cruisers.

Despite it being very busy, everyone was in a happy, smiley, sun-shiney mood, with lots of waving and chatting between boats.

Several passing boats commented on the size of Pippin's Promac 6000S Generator (5.9kva air cooled diesel in a huge sound insulated box on wheels, okay?).

Everyone takes the mickey out of The Mighty Pippin's monster generator, right up until the part when they need us to moor up alongside them and "lend " it to them for an hour or three......

Anyway, having done the necessary pump and rinse, we had a delightful, if uneventful, chug back to Bottisham lock. Here we met Paddy and Rosemary from nb Windflower who were locking downstream with some friends who were on another boat. They had such a great barbecue going on the foredeck that Pippin's crew nearly went to full Firefighting Action Stations. The presence of people dancing on the boat's roof, however, persuaded us to downgrade the alert from Red to Condition Beige, and we put the extinguishers away........

Having got home and moored up, we found our neighbours, nb Brass Monkey's crew, looking weary after putting in a full day of chipping paint and rust, Kurusting, and priming. Their boat makes Pippin look a little careworn. Methinks the brushes will have to come out very soon!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Linton Lighthouse

I had hoped today to take a photo of the Victorian Lighthouse on the Hill between Balsham and Linton in Cambridgeshire.

Sadly I was too busy serving tea, cakes and paninis in the vineyard cafe.

However, a few words about this remarkable structure will not go amiss.

Built in the late 1860's by The Marquis of Abergavenny as a response to increasing local concerns about the rise in sea-level and the imminent inundation of much of East Anglia, the Lighthouse Tower now looks out over a sea of flowering oil-seed rape.

When "The Great Fludde" of 1870 failed to materialise, the twenty ton glass prism, (which floated on a mercury base) and associated clockwork revolve mechanism, was removed and used at Dungeness.

Linton Lighthouse is notable for being the furthest away from any navigable waterway in the country.

Plans are afoot to save it for the nation.

Photos will follow.