Thursday, 2 July 2020

Three Celebrations

Not surprisingly very little has happened since I last posted 6 weeks ago (having written the blog - maybe more has happened than I thought!).  We did go back to try to repeat our wonderful canal side walk the next day, but found it was suddenly too busy, so we abandoned it and went home.  
I have done one socially distanced walk with our daughter - I had my first sighting of her as she approached the car park in our local park, which was our starting point.

We walked along the grassed area at the end of the car park,

crossed a road to arrive in a large field that almost goes up to her house.  As you can see it was pretty deserted and Monty really enjoyed such a wide expanse to roam in.  There is just one downside - if you look to the far distance in the middle of the photo below you will see .....

yes it is a gantry on the M5, so it was not the most peaceful of walks!

To compensate somewhat we did come across this group of three alpacas who share a field with a couple of horses.
It was wonderful to spend some time with her and have a proper chat.  We will do it again (or similar), but she is working from home and has two boys to home educate, so does not have a lot of free time.

Another day I met up with a friend in the local park and we went for a gentle stroll before finding a bench to perch on to enjoy the flasks of coffee we had brought with us.  Who would ever have thought that meeting with a real '3D' person could be such a joy.  We took so much for granted before.

Chris and I have also taken Monty to the park a couple of times - it is so big that there is always room to keep your distance.  It is being well used - the last time I was there there were exercise classes taking place.  Just small groups with each participant at least 2 metres apart.

Apart from that we are still walking round locally, which is mostly okay.  There are always occasions when one is left flummoxed wondering why people stop to chat across the path rather than creating a line horizontal to it!   Thankfully that is rare and we are lucky to be able to walk along pleasant paths that are just around the corner from our house.

At one point on our route there is a small lake/large pond - I believe it is a balancing pond.  We have ducks, moorhens and just recently a Canada Goose arrived.  There are high trees all round the pond and we are wondering if the goose can get out again - does anyone know how much room a goose needs to take off and gain sufficient height to get above the treeline which must be at least 20 foot high?  The pond is fenced off for safety, but there is one area (at the front of the picture below) where people stop to feed the ducks.  Many a time we have gone past and stopped to look at the rats!  About a week ago official signs were erected that ban feeding the ducks.  We haven't seen a rat since.  

Although as C&RT volunteers we are not officially back at work it has been suggested that if we are out and about we might take our litter pickers with us.  This morning we decided to go back to 'our stretch' (Tardebigge tunnel southern end to B51/lock 41 on the Worcester Birmingham Canal) since our last official ranger patrol on 16th March.  It was so good to be back
Tardebigge New Wharf 
The reservoir
 At the other end of the reservoir is a dog box and last time we were here there was a general waste bin.  I guess it has been removed as with staff furloughed it is one less job for C&RT to worry about.  I am sure they hoped it would mean that people would take their rubbish home - sadly that is not the case.  They just fill the dog box and dump the overflow!

We removed all the stuff on the ground - there was evidence of a good party - four bottles of wine and a litre of vodka!

It was a job worth doing - we managed to fill two shopping bags.

So now to those celebrations.  The first was Chris' 70th Birthday, but how to make it special whilst in lock down.  We had planned a special dinner 'a deux', but I managed to add three Skype calls that he knew nothing about.  The first was the family (son and daughter, their spouses and the five grandchildren) at 5pm.  Actually our daughter in law and eldest granddaughter were missing as the latter was in A&E with suspected she had appendicitis.  Thankfully it wasn't within a few days she was fit and well - it was put down to a mystery virus, but thankfully, not of the covid variety.  They were both around for the last call of the day, albeit not for long for the patient who was keen to get to bed, but we did at least get to see them both.

Our youngest granddaughter decided to wear the party hats of her missing sister and mother, so they did not to waste!

Our daughter had made a cake for us and one for themselves. You may wonder if Chris was 10 or 70 - the jury is out on whether it is a 1 or a 7, but it was all I had in the cupboard and there were none available in Tesco! 

 She also provided each house with banners, balloons and party hats,

Chris opened his gifts from the family and blew out the candles on the cake, an appropriate song was sung (and no we weren't washing our hands at the time!) and we all enjoyed our own tea and cake.  At 6pm our son, daughter and four sets of friends from our RAF days joined us to raise a toast to the birthday boy.  Finally at 10:15pm our son and daughter joined us again along with Chris' brother in New Zealand (hence the late hour), our brother in law in Surrey and three cousins in Wales - a total of 8 Skype links.  Well that is not quite true - for some reason our brother in law could not connect via Skype so our son contacted with him via Whats App and then held up his phone so we could see Mike and he could see us! The wonders of modern technology.

It got a bit chaotic at times, but it was great fun.  All in all we managed to 'see' a total of 24 different people - far more than we would have done if we had not been in lock down. 

Our dinner deserves a mention - we started with a cold cucumber soup topped with prawns and a swirl of two sorts of oil - lemon and chilli.

Followed by a small piece of delicious lobster and a lot of salad.  This may look a lot, but it is only a small plate.

We finished with a strawberry semi-freddo. The starter and dessert were new to us and both have won a permanent place in our collection of recipes.

Now you may all be wondering what I gave Chris bearing in mind I could not go shopping!  As chance would have it I came across information about a young lady who paints miniatures of narrowboats.  They are only 4 inches square, but the detail is amazing.  I sent a load of photos, we corresponded by email and a plan was agreed about what I wanted.  She sent the finished article to our daughter (no awkward questions to answer!) and I managed to get a photo frame from Amazon.  It does need a different mount, but that will have to wait until I can get to a photo framing shop to choose the right colour - we think the blue of the water.

This is the actual size on an A4 sheet of paper.  

This is it in its frame - it is hard to take a photo to show much more detail, but I promise you every letter is there.  We even have the Worcestershire flag fluttering away.

The artists name is Jessica Duncan and here is her logo and email address - just in case anyone else is interested in taking advantage of her skills this is her contact details.
So that was celebration number 1 - what about the other two?  We celebrated our 47th Wedding Anniversary on 23rd June.  Inevitably it was a quiet day with another dinner 'a deux'.  We did, however, get the best present we could have wished for that led to celebration number three.  

Just prior to lock down Chris had been for an MRI scan, seen a consultant who said there was an area for concern and sent him for a bone scan (all clear) and ordered a biopsy.  Lock down put an end to the latter and it was a very long wait until 10th June when Chris attended a local private hospital as an NHS patient for the biopsy.  Then we settled in for at least a two week wait for the results.  They arrived on our anniversary with the news that he was all clear - no signs of cancer or abnormal cells.  He will be reviewed in 3 months.  The relief was immense.  

We will now wait patiently until we can resume normal life.  Chris is still vulnerable, so we have to be very careful, but we are nothing if not patient.  We have been to see the boat once and she is still there and okay. We will go again to do some jobs, particularly when we can stay over.  The first of those will be to fit the new loo!  Will we cruise?  Well maybe, but we won't be going far from home. The only shop I have been to is the chemist for prescriptions.  Everything else is done online.  

My only other outing apart from taking Chris to hospital for his biopsy was to the dentist.  I was in the middle of a course of dental treatment when lock down started and I was one of their first patients when they returned to work on Monday 22nd June and I will get my final crown and bridge on 6th July.  All the precautions they have in place meant I felt as safe as houses.  I was escorted in from outside, had to walk along red tramlines to stand in a yellow box.  I had completed some questions and an online update of medical and personal details on line before I got there.  There were a few more questions whilst I was in the yellow box and I was then told which of the three plastic chairs to sit on.  The dentist called me through and I found him and his nurse in much the same kit as usual - the plastic visor was the main difference.  They were both wearing plastic aprons, but neither of us can remember if that is normal gear or not.  He did explain that if they had to use the drill, I would have to leave the room whilst he and the nurse put on their full PPE.  Thankfully for all of us that was not required.  My temporary crown and bridge came away with just a touch - I had been aware for a while that it was unstable!  All that was required was a scan of my mouth now everything has settled down since the front tooth was extracted - or what was left of it.  I broke my front teeth whilst in the local swimming baths when I was just 12.  Do you remember those metal bars around the edge to hang on to?  Well that was the guilty party.  Sadly one of the front teeth had developed a deep seated infection and the only guaranteed cure was extraction.

We do have one ongoing battle which keeps us on our toes - a mole!  Some years ago when we were off boating our daughter fought a losing battle with mole hills in our back garden.  We only have a small garden with grass (thankfully not a lawn or we really would be tearing out hair out) and the whole thing is designed to be very low maintenance as we are usually away all summer.  I think we ended up with about 50 molehills in our small patch of grass!  We were told that if you put windmills (the sort you buy at the seaside for children) into the ground that the vibration keeps moles away.  We did and they did until a few weeks ago when after cutting the grass Chris forgot to put the windmills back.  We woke one morning to find 4 mole hills.  We put the windmills back, but sadly it is too late (or it was just a coincidence that the mole kept away) - we are now back up to about 33 or so and one completely surrounds a windmill!

I do dip in and out of various blogs.  It is an odd world we are all living in.  I hope you all continue to remain safe, well and are able to enjoy some cruising.  

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Who would have thought ......... 13th May 2020

Wednesday 13th May 2020

If you had said to me a few months ago that I would find something so simple as a walk that was not around our estate so exciting, I would not have believed you!  For the past 8 weeks the car has sat in the drive and we have just walked around our estate.  To say it is unbelievably boring would be an understatement.  We do have grass spaces and have managed most of the time to maintain social distancing.  The trouble is that it gets busier every day.  Our biggest problem is the runners - well not all of them, but there are sufficient that come up from behind with no warning and make no attempt to keep their distance.  We have 8 quiet roads to cross, so it is one long training session for Monty, but he is very good and sits and waits at each one before proceeding.  As you can see from the picture below there are (in most parts) quite wide grass verges to enable us to keep our distance.  
Monty has been 'bomb proof' as far as bikes go since he was small (tow path training!), but he is a timid soul and hates the noise small wheels make and also that of bouncing footballs.  8 weeks of close contact with a lot of those and he is getting more used to them. From today we were allowed to go out in the car to get to somewhere else to exercise, so we decided to go for it!

Chris ran the engine yesterday and checked the tyres, so we were good to go as soon as Tesco had delivered our weekly shop.  We went the long way round both going and coming home to get the engine up to heat and what a treat we had when we arrived at a bit of towpath we know is usually very quiet with no moored boats on the towpath side.  We were prepared to give up if it was busy.  As we arrived two cyclists appeared on the road form the footpath - I enquired if it was busy - they said they had not seen anyone, so off we went.

It was utter bliss.  To see the canal, vegetation, wide open sky and well just anywhere that was not our estate and also very quiet was just amazing.  We did meet one other couple - we found a slightly wider bit, tucked ourselves into the fence with our backs to them as they went past.  Not 2 metres apart, but we reckon safer than the estate which now people can go out for as long as they want and as often as they want will, we think, get busier and busier.  

The camera worked overtime!  It is a stretch we know and love, but I never thought it would mean quite so much to me!

 One happy dog!


First bluebells we have seen this year!

 We did resist the temptation to have a go on the swing!  I would love to be have been watching when someone rigged it up there!  It can't have been easy.

 To the top of the path and through the gate

along the footpath

to be rewarded with wide open space -  the first we have seen for 8 weeks

 Almost back where we started - it was good to see a few boats afloat

 Behind the towpath were a lot of very free range chickens

Turn right before the paint shed and you are back onto the road.

It was blissful on so many levels.  I will never take my freedom for granted again.

Having said that we will not be going far for a very long time, but if we can continue to find isolated walks we will both for our sanity, our health and for Monty who was quite surprised when he was told to get in the car this morning!

ps - my enthusiasm and excitement got the better of me!  I must add that the only reason we chose this bit of towpath is purely because we knew it was likely to have very light, if any footfall, and most importantly that there was very little chance of anyone being moored along here.  We are aware that there are many of you who are 'hunkering down' in an effort to keep safe and understandably do not welcome footfall.  Had we come across a moored boat we would have turned around and gone home.  We have been walking this stretch for around 9 years and have never yet seen anyone moored, so it was a safe bet that we would not put anyone at risk.

Friday, 8 May 2020

What should have been - Friday 8th May 2020 VE Day

Friday 8th May 2020

One month on from my last post I just thought I would pop in to let you all know we are alive and kicking and thankfully Covid free.

In our pre lock down days we should have been on day 3 of a Birmingham Canal Navigation Society Explorer Cruise.  Today would have been around a 7 hour cruise from Longwood Boat Club to Walsall Basin.  This evening was planned as 'an independent evening', but allowing for the fact it is VE Day and the weather is so fantastic, I am sure the BBQs would have come out.  That is what should have been and will be again - maybe next year for us.

Chris is one of the vulnerable ones, so we have been nowhere since I last posted.  The daily Monty walks are our only escape, but we are both well and manage to keep busy.  Quizzes seem to come in from all sorts of sources and some have kept us busy for hours.  This week's from 'The Happy Puzzle Company' is particularly hard, but it keeps me quiet!  I have also made quite a number of laundry bags for health care workers.

Family Skype sessions continue twice a week.  We played 'The Logo Game' with them a couple of weeks ago.  I thought we would be rubbish, but we trounced them!  Today we met early (09:00) and Chris' brother and his wife joined us from New Zealand.  I am certainly talking on the phone to people I don't usually call, so something good is coming out of this situation.

We have continued to manage to get Tesco slots and we share some click and collects with our daughter.  There is a local farm shop (we did not know it existed before lock down!) that delivers as does our local butcher/green grocer/deli.  At weekends we treat ourselves to a 'proper pudding'.  Chris did an amazingly good syrup sponge two weeks ago.  Last week's was not a great success and although we ate most of it we won't do it again - the centre was a bit too much like blancmange for me.  That is one of the few things I really dislike.  This weekend I will be making lemon yogurt sponge cake with boozy prunes.  Fingers crossed it is a success.

I continue to make cards and keep busy with my crochet in the evenings.  You would think I had got all our Christmas cards done by now, but sadly no - they have not been started yet.  There are too many tomorrows to do them in!  I am enjoying the streaming of National Theatre productions and tonight we are going to watch the Andrew Lloyd Webber production of 'By Jeeves'.  I have to say that the internet has made this lock down a lot easier to cope with.

We have a lot to be grateful for in our lives.  Everyone in our family is well and those that are working are still in work and being paid.  Our pensions remain the same.  There are so many people in desperate need at present.  I count my blessings every day. 

So stay well and stay safe until the next time I pop in.  I do love my blog catch ups, so please keep them coming!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Today was the day..... and a new Compoosting Toilet

Wednesday 8th April 2020
0 miles, 0 locks!

The plan was to leave Droitwich Spa Marina on 1st April and make our way slowly to The Queen's Head, Stoke Pound where some friends were going to meet us last Sunday to tackle Tardebigge.  Chris had his last pre-cruise appointment due on 7th April (since cancelled of course) and we were going to set off on our summer cruise from Tardebigge today.

The plan was to meet Sue and Ken on nb Cleddau in Lapworth, head to Stratford before joining a BCNS (Birmingham Canal Navigations Society) cruise in early May.  There were to be 15 boats plus a lead boat and we would have spent a week travelling around parts of Birmingham we may not have found on our own.  There would have been meals out, a quiz night and plenty of socialising.  From there we were off to Lincoln, Doncaster and then up to York before heading west along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to Wigan.  A great summer cruise and a lot of new water for us.

However, it was not to be!  I guess it means the planning has been done for next year!

So what are we up to?  Being good and staying at home.  Some jobs have been done, Monty is walked twice a day, although sadly our walking route is extremely limited and rather boring, however most people are keeping their distance and we are managing quite nicely.  I think Monty must be wondering where the rest of the world has gone to.  He does not, however, seem to be too stressed by the situation.

We are both fit and healthy and long may it stay that way.

We are having three way Skype sessions with the family and even managed a game of Trivial Pursuit with them on Sunday.  I have caught up with a lot of people on the phone that I have not spoken to for a while.  Wednesday is our Skype session with Sue and Ken.  I have several girlfriends who are widowed, so I speak to them as often as possible.  Isolation is one thing when you have someone to share it with, but must be much harder when you are alone.  Chris is on the 'most vulnerable' list with instructions not to go anywhere for 12 weeks, which means that, apart from Monty walks, we are both at home all the time.  To date I have managed to get Tesco slots once a week and our daughter is local if we have any other needs - mostly collecting prescription medications.  There was one emergency call to her - I am in the middle of a long dental procedure and am living for a lot longer than expected with a temporary bridge and crown where my front teeth should be (I broke them on 7th April 1963 - yes it was that traumatic!) and the temporary construction came away last week.  A very large gap and a stump is not a good look!  She came to my rescue and sourced some emergency 'cement' from a local chemist.

As most of you know we have had a composting loo on our boat since day one.  Sadly the main bowl, which is the only part of the Airhead that we could not find available to buy as a spare part, developed a couple of hairline cracks.  Chris has repaired it with some 'jollop', but we decided it was too much of a risk to set off and hope for the best.  To be stuck in the middle of nowhere without a loo is not ideal!  Having seen the Foxes Afloat vlog on the Compoosting Toilet, we decided that was the way to go for us.  It looks a lot better than the Airhead, I think it will be easier to clean, the liquid container is bigger and best of all as far as I am concerned - a light shows when the liquid container needs to be emptied.  The gauge on the side of the Airhead liquid pot never worked well.  There were a few occasions when there has been an 'overflow' in the middle of the night!  We collected it from Coventry just before lock down, so it is still in our garage untested!

The button that sets off the solids stirrer and lights up when the wee pot needs emptying

There will be a modesty cover over the solids hole at the back.  

The solids container at the back is smaller than the Airhead, but we don't think that will be an issue - it will be a lot easier to empty.  Just a small bucket to remove, rather than taking the whole thing apart.  

It is an ingenious design which came about because the person who makes them wanted a composting toilet for the boat he is fitting out that looked good.  He makes them in his workshop (he is a professional carpenter).  To date he has made well over 300.  This is the Website if you are interested.  We will report back once it has been installed and put to use!

So this is me signing off for the foreseeable future.  Stay well, stay safe and stay at home whether that is your boat or your house.