Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Spiky Poky Things

Female Food-Providing Human came home early recently. I was pleased to see her because my water bowl hadn't properly defrosted outside and I thought I might get an early dinner. But no, she only gave me a little handful of food, and put it in the bottom half of the Nasty Dark Wobbly Box. I should learn that these small food offerings often lead to a journey in the Nasty Dark Wobbly Box, but I was too excited about eating my favourite crunchy food. Suddenly I was trapped in the box. I was most aggrieved.

The box moved all the way across the Big Grass (I could just about see out) and it moved too much to be able to sit still. So I wobbled about, and squeaked and tried to tell Female Food Providing Human how horribly annoyed I was by this turn of events, as I could hear her voice close by. But the wobbling continued until we came into a place full of other boxes containing similarly aggrieved cats (I could hear them trying to tell their humans). Then the Growly Yappy Things arrived. They weren't in boxes but at least I was safe in mine.

Suddenly we were on the move again and the box opened. Another human took me out and began prodding and poking me. Nasty Proddy Human poked my ears, looked in my mouth and I didn't like it AT ALL. I jumped off and ran around under the table, but Female Food Providing Human picked me up again. Then, the worst thing: a nasty long spike was stuck in the back of my neck! I squealed and then they put me back in the box. For once I was glad to be in the box - away from the Nasty Proddy Human and the spike.

Soon the box was moving back across the Big Grass, and then I could see Warm Home Place Boat and the door was opened again. Finally!

I hope I don't have to go back in there again soon!
(Lyra is very healthy and now all vaccinated for the year. She has no fleas, probably because she doesn't see any other cats, despite spending all day every day outside. We went to Clarendon Street Vets just the other side of the Common - Female Food Providing Human aka Amy)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Have an Ice Day

On Sunday morning at 9:30, and with temperatures apparently at around -5, we set off for a rowing outing, with me in the boat and James coaching. Earlier, the boatman  had come and warned us that when he went out in the quad earlier, they had not been able to get any further than Logan's Way (about half a mile from the boathouse). But we thought we may as well go out and see how far we got. We saw quite a few plates of ice float past but nothing actually stopped us rowing until we got half way up the Reach and found that we couldn't get our blades in to the water anymore, there was so much ice on the surface of the water. Ice can also damage the gel coat of glass fibre rowing boats like ours so it wasn't worth continuing. Instead, we raced up and down the ice-free part of the river, and although most people's hands and feet felt pretty cold, it was still a fun outing. No photos - we were tempted to take the Duck out and go do some icebreaking, as it was a beautiful day, but we had social commitments that didn't allow time for it.

This morning we did have some snow in Cambridge but it hasn't lasted. I left Lyra peeping out of the cratch cover, looking confused, but was running late for work so didn't take a picture. I will be sure to take photos if we have any more!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Committee Commitment

Last night James and I went to the AGM of Camboaters, the resident's association for all the boaters on the River Cam, It formed several years ago following attempts by the council to ban boaters from mooring in Cambridge. The boaters obviously won, and the system currently in place was created. However, over the years, the group has become dispirite and not as sociable as it once was, with a small group of regulars keeping things going.

This AGM, there was even talk of a 'dormant' committee who didn't meet if there was not enough interest in forming an active one. But thankfully, that has not happened. Luther came forward to be the Chair - the hardest job, I am Secretary, and Charlotte is Treasurer. James is also on the committee, but without an official position. There are seven of us in total, although I've yet to be sent the full list, as several people who weren't there may also be on it.

I'm pretty excited by it. As well as being a chance to get to know people (we put several faces to boats/names last night, which was nice) I hope we will be able to reinstate events which have proved so popular in the past but haven't been held this year, like the Great Cam Clean-Up, and the Boat Open Day. Camboaters isn't perfect, but there's only one way to change things, and that's to get involved.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

What makes an ideal live-aboard boat?

James wrote this in response to this question being posed on CWDF, but I think it's an interesting enough topic to warrant a blog post:

To an extent, it's brokerspeak- because of course you could live onboard any boat, even in a 9' back cabin with no water tank or electricity if you wanted to!

I'd say, though, that if you are going to live aboard your boat, you'll find some things more useful- but not essential- than others.

For example, as a liveaboard with a mooring, I don't move that often, only short cruises to the waterpoint and back, and occasionally longer weekend or holiday trips of a week, with a long summer jaunt for a month. As a result, I'm glad that:

  • We have instant gas water heating, so no need to run the engine or an expensive diesel heater to get hot water
  • We have a solid fuel stove, and lots of storage space for buying coal in bulk, rather than a diesel heater.
  • We have solar panels and a (small) genny, and we've been almost entirely self-sufficient from that 130w panel since April- only run the genny a couple of times when watching TV for an extended period, etc.
  • We have plenty of storage for my entire wardrobe of clothes, from dinner jacket down to boat-blacking overalls- although fitting Amy's collection in too is a challenge...
  • We have a proper amount of storage in the kitchen, so we can store a good deal of food.
  • We have a lot of storage for all my tools, spare diesel cans, paint, and all the supplies needed to maintain the boat.

So in my opinion, the most ideal liveaboard boat will be equipped to allow you to live on it without having to rely on running the engine every day for hot water or power, will have an economical form of heating with space to store the fuel, and the space to allow you to bring all your possesions with you.

Of course, you can do without some or all of the above- there are of course liveaboards who do run engines and gennies for extended periods of time, and have adapted their lifestyle around the needs of their own boat. But I think my central point is that the ideal liveaboard boat allows you to live aboard it with the minimum amount of faff, and to not have to rely on moving every few days. 

To illustrate: a picture of the domestic cosiness of a liveaboard!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Emma Novice Regatta

On Sunday we got up quite late - James had been out til the wee hours at a friend's stag do, involving viking costumes and cocktail making, and I was tired out having rowed in two races the day before.

When we woke up we noticed that the river was full of rowers dressed in silly outfits, and we remembered that it was Emmanuel College's annual Novice Regatta that afternoon. So we walked out to the Long Reach to watch. Novice rowing is brilliant fun to watch, they have so much enthusiasm but so little experience that things can go very wrong and cause spectacular results! Added to this, they were all dressed quite colourfully in crazy costumes. The best one we saw was a boat full of gondoliers coxed by a Venetian masked lady with a bunch of roses tied to the bow!

They were racing side by side, with novice coxes, so there were lots of blade clashes and boats slewing into the bank. No-one was hurt at all but many were dispirited to see their several length lead disappear as a result of a coxing error or a crew-mate catching a gigantic 'crab' and losing control of their blade.

Clare Hall and Trinity Hall as reindeer and cats

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Utopia in Norwich

On Sunday, after rowing, James and I decided that it would be fun to go for a walk along the Lee and Stort navigations. So we headed for the station only to find that all the trains that way were replaced by buses. Change of plan! We had a look at the departures board to see what other trains were running, and saw that there was one to Norwich in 7 minutes. So we hopped on.

An hour and 20 minutes later we arrived. It was raining but we were dressed up to go hiking so it didn't really matter. We had a lovely walk around the city centre, and particularly enjoyed the beautiful Art Nouveau Royal Arcade. It is a city of contrasts really. Arriving from the station, we passed about 20 nightclubs, but once in the historic centre, discovered loads of little trendy boutiques selling organic food and things like that. It also has so many churches, all decorated with lovely cut flint.

A very modern 'forum' has been built in the centre since my last visit. A very multifunctional building, it houses the city library, various shops, and a Pizza Express. It's quite a stark contrast to the older buildings around it, but I liked it.

One of the most amazing things we came across while wandering around was a disused building covered in writing. Intruiged, I looked it up when I got back and found that it is the entirity of More's Utopia, written on the building by artist Rory Macbeth.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Full Set

So, now the Duck has featured in the full set of waterways publications: Waterways World, where we had a article about our trials and tribulations in their 'Breaking Down' issue, Canals and Rivers, where Neil used some images of us blacking the Duck to illustrate his article, Towpath Talk, where our blog was featured, and now we're in this month's Canal Boat, with an article about our trip down the backs.

Thanks to everyone who has commented on the article! I really enjoyed writing it. I also owe a massive thank you to my friends who got off the boat and took such wonderful pictures - it wouldn't have been possible without them.

If anyone happens to come across somewhere which sells Canal Boat, I'd be grateful for a copy - nowhere in Cambridge sells it now Borders has shut down, and James' sub has run out. I'd pay you back! We may be sent a proof copy, but either it's not arrived yet or guest contributors don't get them.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Trial Run

Recently, I have been looking for ways to get more exercise. In the winter, we row only at the weekends, and odd evenings when there are enough people to row and a willing night cox. Instead the focus is on land training: circuit training twice a week, or the dreaded rowing machine. But that still leaves lots of time when I could be getting out and doing more. Crucially I don’t want to spend a lot on the gym. I would love to get back into swimming, but need to get the council to provide proof of residency in Cambridge before I can apply for a City leisure card and get it cheaper.

Partly I have been inspired to do more exercise by the website www.heiaheia.com. It’s a social networking site where you can record your training, and see what training your friends have been doing. It ranks you and your friends according to how much training you’ve done that week. It have brought out the competitiveness in me, as I can see how much training the boys are doing and want to encourage the girls to match it! I’ve definitely been doing more since I joined the site, since I know others can see, and I’d feel embarrassed to leave it blank for days! 

Training logs on Heia Heia
Lots of the boys enjoy running, and  so I thought I would have a go. It’s a way to get out and do some cardio/legs training without needing to involve a single other person or any complicated kit. So last night I began with a short circular run up and down the river, alternating between walking and running. I rather enjoyed it, but I need to prove to myself that I can keep it up regularly. I already have most of the kit I need, in that rowing kit serves well as running kit. But I will need to invest in some better shoes if I am to keep doing it more seriously. So I’m going to build it up over the coming weeks, gradually increasing the ratio of running to walking. I also like the idea of doing interval training, to make it more interesting. And if I still enjoy it, I’ll invest in new trainers. This will also hopefully keep me doing it, as I won’t want to waste the investment!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


On Sunday, a friend of our brought her mum and dad over to visit. Her mum in particular is a follower of the blog and we had been planning to meet for some time. She is an author, and gave me a copy of one of her books which the library doesn't stock, as well as some tasty gingerbread! It was lovely to meet them, to introduce them to Lyra and to show them around the boat. We went for a short cruise down to the waterpoint, to drop them off in town as well as empty and fill the Duck's tanks. In the course of our conversation, we learned that they were looking to buy a portapotti, and so we offered to give them the one we bought at Emmaus some months ago but never used. Always useful to rid ourself of things we don't need!

Lyra of the Leaves

Monday, 8 November 2010

Going with a bang

The biggest annual public fireworks display in Cambridge takes place on Midsummer Common on the 5th November. All the boaters (including us) are asked to move out of the 'fallout zone' for the duration of the show, which realistically means moving the night before and returning the day after. We moved down to a 'safe' part of the Common, opposite Queens' boathouse.

It was dreadful weather on the night itself but despite this, several of our friends came over to enjoy the fireworks and shelter from the rain with a glass of mulled wine afterwards. We crammed 10 people into the Duck, and so it was very cosy, but good fun to have a little party on board.

Photo Claude Schneider

After most people had gone home, we headed to a friend's house and ended up watching Ghostbusters and staying til 2am!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A weekend of boating

On Saturday, after rowing, we spontaneously decided to go boating. It was such a lovely day, and we had to collect Lyra's cat transporter from the Pippins who had borrowed it the weekend of the Backs cruise. While we could have just taken public transport or cycled, and it would have been quicker, boating seemed much more fun. James had to convince me, but I'm so glad we did. What's the point in living on a boat if you can't just grab the opportunity to chug off out of town on a sunny day?

At Bait's Bite Lock we came across a bit of drama unfolding, as a cox had been taken ill with a bad asthma attack, and was awaiting an ambulance. We had thought tht we could help provide blankets etc but just as we moored up, the FRV arrived, and the paramedic was soon with her, follwed by an actual ambulance. She was on a bench a hundred metres from the lock, but there are bollards preventing any emergency vehicles driving down the towpath. We were surprised that the ambulance crew didn't have the code to unlock and remove the bollards. When our rowing club organised a race, we were given the codes so we could take a car down to the start line along the towpath. As it was, she was close to the carpark at the lock, but had an emergency occurred further away, the paramedics would have had a long walk. Once she was safely in the ambulance, we spoke to one of the bystanders who had helped. As it happened, the woman I spoke to had been walking with her husband, an asthma sufferer, who knew what was needed and improvised a nebuliser out of a drinks bottle, and her daugher, a cox from the same college as the girl. So she was able to cox the boat back home! How fortunate to have had the exact people who could help on hand.

We continued on out to our old mooring, having called in advance and arranged to eat with Pippins that evening. John cooked up a simply delicious meal involving lamb seasoned with rosemary, garlic and capers, roast parsnips and potatoes, and carrot and swede mash. There was also gravy made with the juices of the lamb, red wine and John's Secret Rocket Fuel. Delicious. It was so good to catch up that we ended up staying far later than planned, drinking and talking. However, this is the great thing about living afloat. We simply didn't bother chugging home that evening as planning, but stayed on the boat.

Alas, we had an outing at 8am, but it is a nice cycle ride into town, and although I was glad we did it, I was knackered before we even started rowing! After the outing we cycled back rather more slowly, and had a cup of tea on the Duck before heading back over to Pippin for a much needed and enjoyed cooked breakfast. How lucky are we? Several others who moor/moored there were also about and it was great to catch up with Rhoda (from Hullabaloo) and Andreas (sadly boatless at the moment).

After brunch, we headed over in John's car to Jones' boatyard in St Ives and got some diesel at sensible red diesel prices, as well as some chemicals for our new loo (more on that soon). Rhoda also needed to go for a filter for her engine, but they didn't have the right type so she is going to be living with her parents for the next few days until it arrives, as her engine is her only source of electricity! Poor girl. I hope she finds the right one. Tea and teacakes followed when we got back. By the time we left, it was getting dark, but we quite enjoy night boating. We went all the way in to the water point to empty the old loo, and James amazingly managed to reverse all the way back to the mooring. It is a good 500m away!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Loving London

I was in London for a conference on Friday morning, but it finished at 1pm, and so James (since he was still on half term) decided to join me afterwards for a lovely long walk around London. When I lived in the city, we used to spend evenings just wandering about the Thames and the Regents' canal, dreaming of living afloat. So it is fun to come and follow the same routes as bona-fide live-aboards.

We started in Lambeth, at the IWM where my conference had been held. Then we headed West, to the river, and began our walk along the Thames just oppsite Westminster, where we saw laden tugs Resource and Redoubt pulling barges full of rubbish containers. With their dirty industrial aesthetic, they formed a stark contrast to the elegant buildings they passed. We also saw one of the London Ducks, the amphibious vehicles designed for the D-day landings, and now used as tour vehicles. First we saw it pass under Wesminster Bridge, then later on it crossed Blackfriars bridge on the road!

We walked along the South Bank, which is quieter, passing the Royal Festival Hall (one of my favourite concrete buildings!) and the little urban beach at Gabriel's Wharf. Our desitination on the Thames, however was my friend Priscilla's benches at Fish Wharf, on the North Bank, just near The Monument and in sight of Tower Bridge. She won a design competition run by the City of London and the Worshipful Company of Stonemasons. They are lovely: carved by apprentice stonemasons, and inspired by the flowers she saw while researching for the project and walking along the river. I went to their unveiling last year.

We then took the tube up to Camden, to go the market and sit on the lock beams eating a picnic. Dusk was falling so we didn't expect to see any boats, but one narrowboat did come up throught the locks, and we were able to help them, as they were a bit inexperienced. I love the vibrancy of Camden Lock market, it's just so much fun to wander around, even if you don't buy anything.

We had to get the slow Liverpool line home but got there eventually. Thankfully we weren't on the train which was held at Royston for 4 hours!

Tomorrow, I will post a blog about our fantastic weekend cruising out to our old mooring and catching up with our friends out there!