Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Duck does the Backs 2

Navigation on the Backs is permitted (with permission) between October 1st and March 31st. With the end of March fast approaching, we contacted the Cam Conservators for one last trip this season, now that the evenings are light enough! Philip and Charlotte joined us and we agreed to meet them at Jesus Lock at 6:30pm. 

We hoped to have the boat ready to go at the point, so we set off from the Common at 6:00pm, and breasted up with trip boat Rosie while we set the lock. Annoyingly there is no way to get to the lock island to close both the gates except for walking over the lock gates which have no guard rails. There is a swing bridge designed for this purpose, but it is locked up and the code given to me for the spare windlass locked to the paddle gear didn't work for the bridge. So James cautiously walked over the lock gates to close the top gate on the lock island side, and then stayed there so we only needed to cross the gates that once. I went back to the boat and drove the Duck into the lock with only one gate open. I was pleased that I didn't touch the side or the gate once!

Once in the lock, we tried to take the chimney off so we'd get under St John's Kitchen Bridge. The outer of the chinmey came off fine, but the inner was firmly stuck in the flue, and twisting/knocking it was moving the whole flue. So we cut our losses and James sawed off the inner chimney, resolving to buy a new inner to replace it, and re-do the flue with heatproof sealant and stove rope, as it is clearly a bit loose. Good to dicover this just as spring approaches. The thought of not using the stove for a few days while it is repaired is not a horrific one any more!

Chimney thus sorted, we were off. The weather, whic had previously been murky and drizzly turned lovely all of a sudden. We were very lucky!

James took a series of videos as we passed St Johns and went under the bridges:

We turned in the Mill Pond, cracked open the mulled cider (thanks, Charlotte!) and headed back towards Jesus Lock in the dusk. It was really lovely. I came out onto the stern to give James a hot dog, and we stood there together in the fading light.

Once back at our mooring we headed to the Fort for a drink, a nice finish to a wonderful evening!

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Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Back to Backs

This evening we had a glorious evening cruise down the college Backs with our friends Philip and Charlotte. On the way back dusk was falling. It was beautiful, and our very last Backs cruise of the season, as navigation is closed now until October. James took a few videos too, so I'll do a full post tomorrow with those and more photos.

The Best-Laid Plans

OK, so I thought I would try and add a narrowboat-related post in here to counter the shoes, frocks and (very tasty!) cake related posts that Amy has been making.

Life as usual is revolving around rowing. We're both down to London again on the weekend, as my senior mens' crew is competing in the Vesta Veterans' Head race on Sunday morning. Over the same course as the Boat Race (of which we shall not speak...) and the Womens' Eights Head which we competed in the weekend before last, it's a good challenge and hopefully all the training will come together on the day for a good performance.

There are also far more sedate narrowboating plans in the offing. This evening, we're heading once more up the Backs; the clocks changing has given us enough daylight to make the trip after work, although if we temporarily pause at a pub we might be back in the dark... Photos will, I'm sure, follow this evening!

We're also thinking about planning our next Summer Cruise - more details soon, when we've decided whether to go to London, The North or the K&A...

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Amy Duck, MA(Cantab)

After the Cam Clean Up, I had to rush off and get changed for my MA graduation, and headed home to get changed and have a shower before cycling over to Selwyn College. It was overwhelming and quite wonderful to see so many people who I'd not seen for so many years. I really enjoyed the afternoon. It was quite bizarre but fun to be back at college, and to be graduating again - the ceremony itself is so arcane, with it all being in Latin, and having to hold the fingers of the Senior Tutor as he presented us to go and kneel before the Vice Chancellor of the university.

This photo is of us just after we collected our MAs. The chaps I'm standing with are a bunch of mathematicians who I was friends with at univeristy including Terry on the left, who I went out with while I was at Selwyn. We are still good friends, and it was great to catch up with him.

We had a wonderful dinner in college, for which I changed into the beautiful maroon dress with white polka dots which I got at the frock swap. I arrrived back on the Duck at gone midnight, and since the clocks were going forwards, only managed to grab about 5 hours sleep before the alarm went off and I had to be up again and rowing!

On Sunday, after I'd finished rowing, I was very happy to meet up with my good friend Rhianna, who I was at university with. She had also graduated with her MA at the weekend, but she went to a different college. She was in town with her husband Simon, so we had a lovely brunch together before meeting up with the mathematicians again for pudding. It was really lovely to see them, and the catch up with the mathmos again.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Great Cam Clean Up

Saturday's Cam Clean up went really well. Alas it was grey day, but dry.
We gathered our teams and the grappling hooks and set about fishing things out of the river, underneath Victoria Avenue Bridge. We had a bike fished out within the first minute of getting to the river, which pleased the photographers! Over the next half an hour we grappled another four bikes out, and then the Cam Conservators workboat, Berky came along to help. It was quite a sucessgul pairing - with the grappling hooks, our team located several bikes, but either got our hooks stuck or weren't able to keep hold of them. Berky was able to use its grabber to fish about and pull them out, along with various road signs and random bits of metal pipe.


The bikes were taken away by the Council, except for one which was nabbed by a chap who wanted to do it up (it was still pretty clean - I don't think it had been in the river long).

At 12, we headed to the Fort, where we had out free burgers and sausages, and met up with Paul, who gave us the honey when we were moored at Shardlow last year, which was a nice surprise, as well as John, Jackie and Rhoda, who were in town to help with the Cam Clean Up too.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

My Favourite Finds v.5

I'm very excited to be sharing this week's find. I first saw these Dr. Martens in the Mind shop about a week ago. I tried them on but I didn't buy them. At £25, even though I knew they were a bargain (new they are £75-85), I still didn't feel like spending the money. But then I came back a week later, and they were still there. I asked facebook and twitter for people's opinions and got a barrage of encouraging messages. But still, I waited until the next day, and they were still there when I came back in the morning. In fact one of the reasons I decided I had to have them was that the strict dress code for graduation requires black shoes. And I don't actually own any other than some uncomfortable heels. So I shall be wearing DMs to graduate in which is satisfyingly subversive (even if they are not traditional DMs, they are as one friend put it what "punks wear in the summer")!

Originally: Dr Martens
Charity shop: Mind

Displaying some of my collection of crazy tights as well as the shoes. They are surprisingly comfortable and also they have the kid of heel that you don't notice but makes you an inch and a half taller. Bonus!

Friday, 25 March 2011

Swapped Frocks

I will do a full post about the Frock Swap sometime soon, but for now, here is a peek at what I came home with after an enjoyable evening swapping!

Happy Friday!

We've got an exciting weekend ahead! I'm looking forwards to:

This evening, I'm going to the Arthur Rank Hospice Frock Swap, which should be fun.

Saturday morning, it's the Cam Clean Up - fishing things out of the river with grappling hooks, yay! Fingers crossed for good weather!

My MA Graduation on Saturday afternoon (to clarify, I haven't actually got an MA, its just that three years after you graduate from Cambridge or Oxford, you are bestowed with an honorary MA, for archaic reasons, as long as you avoid prison or divorce in those years!) Weird, but it will be fun to see people who've not seen for ages so why not?  I get to dress up, have a swanky dinner in college, should be good.

The Boat Race! I will be graduating rather than watching it, but I shall certainly be looking up the result as soon as I get out of the Senate House! Also, did you know that there is an Oxford/Cambridge Goat Race held at the same time?

Photo source

Thursday, 24 March 2011


I went home to eat my lunch because the weather today is just so fabulous, and sat for a while in the welldeck watching the rowers and birds. Lyra was playing on the bank, rolling about in the dust, which was quite hilarious to watch (I especially love Photo 3!). She was mere centimetres from the river, and I felt sure she would fall in!

P.S More on these shoes in my next Favourite Finds (to be posted at the weekend)!



Wombles of Midsummer Common are We!

Today we received our final instructions for the Cam Clean Up. Both James and I are going to be on the Grappling team, and James is to be the team leader, so the email began ‘Dear Grappler’, and went on to explain the proceeding for the day:

09:45-10:00: Volunteers to register with Team Leaders at start point, collect equipment and Health & 10:00 Safety Briefing. 
10:15 Start grappling!
12:00 End, return to start point, return equipment, collect BBQ voucher and proceed to Fort St. George for BBQ
12:00pm – 2:00pm BBQ at Fort St. George

But the best bit is that our Team Name is: Cousin Cairngorm McWomble the Terrible! Apparently all the teams are named after Wombles, the famous animated litter-pickers/recyclers of Wimbledon Common.

We will also be creating a gallery ofthe rubbish and the weird and wonderful things we will collect and stumble upon on the day, which will be fun. I’ll certainly blog about that when it’s ready.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Off-Grid Baking 4: Nutella Cupcakes (success and failure!)

I had seen these Self Frosting Nutella Cupcakes on Home Cooking Rocks, and wanted to give them a try. I LOVE Nutella, and they looked like they'd travel well, so I planned to take them to give to my crew after the race on Saturday.

I also jumped at the chance to use the new whisk my mum sent to me. So I set about making these on Friday night. It started to go a bit wrong right from the beginning - my hand whisk just couldn't get the butter and sugar fluffy enough. I gave up and added the eggs and flour, but the recipe said the mixture ought to be really stiff! Mine wasn't. Hmm. I carried on and added the mixture and the nutella to the cases, but because the cake mix was too runny they just wouldn't marble together properly and it was a bit frustrating. They came out looking OK, but the nutella kind of exploded a bit leaving 'empty' cakes, and where it had stayed in the cakes, it sank to the bottom and didn't really work. Ah well, when I started my Off-Grid baking I expected some fail cakes!


On Monday evening I tried to make Nutella cupcakes again, but this time just in the frosting, but using a basic Quick Chocolate Cupcake recipe from Versatile Kitchen. I like this recipe: it really is quick, just bung it all in and stir! I also like using oil instead of butter in general, as it's healthier, and so much easier to work with - no fluffing of butter and sugar, which is just so hard without an electric mixer!

For the frosting I made up a recipe, using 1/4 cup of butter, 2 cups of icing sugar and about half a cup of nutella! Sooo unhealthy! But so delicious. These turned out really well. I still want to find a recipe which incorporates Nutella into the actual cupcakes, but I will work on that one!


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

To The River

This evening I went for a walk by myself through the centre of Cambridge. Dusk was falling and the streetlights were on. The sky was an incredible blue. I was captivated.

Cat Rescue

Image Source

Last Tuesday I got an email from Hannah, who moors a bit further up river on Jesus Green and who is a fellow Camboaters committee member. She and Frank the Bike Doctor have a tabby kitten called Chiquiti (sp?) who is a cute, playful little girl about 11 months old, but the email said that she had gone missing. They put up posters and left a message on the Camboaters Yahoo group messageboards, but to no avail.

Skip forwards to Sunday afternoon, and I was walking back from having re-rigged Dawntreader, our women's VIII, after the race on Saturday. James was out in the tub training some rowing novices so I was in no hurry and was dawdling along the river, since it was nice weather. I was walking towards the Fort St George bridge on the non-towpath side when I saw a flash of tabby. Now, we walk along this bit of river all the time, so I was surprised to see a cat I'd not seen in the area before. This bridge has spaces underneath, barred in to stop tramps sleeping under there, but not such that cats can't get in. The house next to bridge store things under there and the flash of tabby scuttled behind some wood so I lost sight of her.

At this point I decided I had to get in touch with Frank and Hannah, to find out if they'd found their lost tabby kitty. I texted both, and stayed around the area calling for the cat, and occasionally I swore I could hear miaows. I figured there was no point barging in speaking to the house owners unless Chiquiti was definitely still missing. Then I got a call from Frank, saying that no, she had not turned up and he was on his way over to see if it was her. So I went over to the house and saw a man in the garden mowing the lawn. I called out to ask if he had a little tabby cat, and he replied that he didn't but he had spotted one in the area recently. At this point Frank showed up and I pointed under the bridge to where I thought I'd seen her. She must have recognised his voice because she ran towards him, miaowing continuously, and he picked her up. It was most certainly Chiquiti! She was skinny and a bit distressed, but otherwise OK. Frank zipped her into his jacket and took her home. I was delighted to have been able to help find her, and they are so glad to have her back. Hopefully she'll not go wandering too far and get lost again soon!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Womens Eights Head of the River Race 2011

The crew: James, Ali (not well enough to row), Janice, Lorraine, Bev, Mel (lovely sub!), Claire, me, Jo, Anne PHOTO: Simon E

Saturday morning dawned bright sunny and warm, as promised by the Met Office. Our first task was to load the boat onto the trailer, and then wave it off to be driven down to London by another club. Then we all headed for cars and trains to make our way to London.

We were boating from Furnivall Gardens which has always been my favourite place to boat from on the Thames. It is close to Hammersmith Bridge which is about two thirds of the way down the course and is the best place for spectators to watch from. It also means that you get a warm up rowing to the start and not to onerous a row back from the finish. This year Furnivall only accepted 11 boats so there was a relaxed atmosphere as we rigged the boat ready to go, and we had inside space to store kit and wellies.

Rigging Dawntreader PHOTO: Ali B
Blades ready PHOTO: Ali B
Soon, our boating slot arrived and we carried our eight down onto the pontoon. We pushed off and that was when we realised something was wrong. Only the stern four of the boat could hear James's voice over the speakers connected to the cox-box amplifier. Our boat splits in two, and the wiring is connected at the join by a waterproof rubber connector. I was sitting in the 5 seat, just behind the join, and so I checked the connector. Two bare-ended (but insulated) wires came out of the connector in my hand. Ah. Problem. The solder had come loose inside the connector. If the connector is broken, the four girls in the bow can't hear the cox. So theat means they can't hear his instructions to manouver the boat, or his voice when the race begins, encouraging them on through 20+ minutes of pain. Last year, the cox box ran out of power halfway down the course and so I knew how awful it is to race without a cox. As I was closest to the broken connector, I took it upon myself to find a way to fix it. However, we had to get to our marshalling position first, and couldn't just sit there and fiddle with it. So we kept rowing, relaying calls down the boat until we reached our spot. Staying in one place on the Thames is tough - the stream flows about as fast as a pair of rowers can row, so you always have to have some people rowing. 

The offending component!

Once we were roughly stationary, I tried just sticking the bare wires back into the loose half of the connector. Voices from the bow confirmed that they were getting intermittent noise from the speakers so I knew all was not lost. After a while, I discarded the loose part of the connector and tried just sticking the wires into the half of the connector still attached to the bow end of the boat, losing the part which was broken. I also cleaned the little bits of wire that were sticking out of the insulation as best I could. Stripping the insulation off would have been advantageous but I didn't have a tool to do so. Stuffing the newly cleaned wires as far as I could into the connector, I learnt from the bows that they could hear James voice. The insulation on wires provided enough friction to hold the wires in the rubber of the remaining connector and so I just hoped beyond hope that it would hold. We had another 20 minutes of marshalling and then a 20+ minute race. It held through the marshalling, and then we were off. There was nothing more I could do but hope.

The race started well, and we got into a good rhythm. Rowing on the Thames is quite different to rowing on the Cam, as the water is much rougher, and rowing with the tide means that it feels strange when you place your blade in, as if you haven't really got enough connection with the water. Still, we maintained well, and James' coxing kept us going, Soon we could see Hammersmith Bridge, where we knew our supporters would be cheering for us. We could see our club flag and also a great sign made by Simon - 'ROW FASTER, CHESTERTON, THE BAR IS OPEN!' which made me smile through the pain!

PHOTO: Simon E
That's us in the middle, about to overtake Essex on the left PHOTO: Simon E

At this point, we began to overtake the crew in front (the University of Essex) which was great fun. James thrives on this kind of coxing - when there is a real competition on our hands, and we slowly but surely passed them by. At this point in the race, overtaking was just the encouragement we needed to keep pushing to the end. It seemed to go on for ever, but eventually there was the call to wind it down. I felt pretty wrecked at this point, and couldn't speak to ask the question to which I desperately wanted the answer: Did the connection hold? Eventually I managed to gasp out the question, and got the answer that it had held, which was the best part of the race for me!

We had a bit of a row back to Furnivall but it wasn't too bad, and the sun was still shining. Our supporters met us on the pontoon and we took the boat apart to put back on the trailer before heading for a meal at Pizza Express. While we were there we learned that we'd come 271 out of 302 boats (all results by division), with a time of 23 minutes 21 seconds which wasn't too bad considering that we were a 'scratch' crew - with a sub (thanks so much, Mel!) who was rowing for one of the girls who was too ill to join us. Thanks also to our supporters on the bank and to James for his coxing.

Sunset over the Thames (we had a bit of boat envy!) PHOTO: Ali B

Sunday, 20 March 2011

My Favourite Finds v.4

I had a real bit of good luck on Thursday when I went charity shopping at lunch. For a while, I've lacked a really good waterproof jacket - I have one which belonged to James but its really basic, just one of those plastic macs which get really sweaty because they're not breathable. For winter boating and general boating in the rain, a proper waterproof is essential, but I'd just not wanted to fork out for an expensive one. So, when I saw this is the Red Cross shop, I was so pleased:

Charity Shop: Red Cross
Originallly: Airwalk

Hair cut finally!
I've not been able to find the original specification for this jacket, but having worn it a few days, I keep discovering useful features. It says it's breathable and has crucial seams sealed, and as you can see, it has an awesome hood. When boating, I really appreciate a proper hood that actually stays up and is peaked. This is both, and it feels like it would stay up even in a wind because of its design. It's got double storm zips, underarm vents, velcro cuffs you can tighten to keep the rain out and loads of useful pockets. I love the colours too (although some will notice that it could almost be a Rob Roy or Corpus Christi boat club splash top... ah well, you can't have it all!).

Happy 18th Birthday Milly!

Image via weheartit

My little sister, Milly, is 18 today! 

Wishing you a wonderful day Milly, filled with all the things and people that you love. Sorry I can't be there because of my race in London, I am with you in spirit! Hope you enjoy the presents I sent! Loads of love xxx

Box of presents!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wish Us Luck!

Last year's race
As you read this (assuming you read it bewteen 16:00 and 16:30 or so!) James and I will be in London on the Thames tideway, about to compete in the Women's Eights Head of the River Race from Mortlake to Putney. It is the biggest all-women's race in perhaps the world, with 300 or so crews rowing. James is coxing, and I am in the 5 seat of our eight. This race has been our aim all winter, and despite some setbacks and with lots of organisation and help from lots of people, we are doing it! I'll write a race report on Monday.

Let's go!

Friday, 18 March 2011

I like to be in Amer-i-ca!

Last night, James and I were walking back to the boat after a meeting to discuss the Cam Clean Up. We walked past the ADC (student) theatre on the way, and in a moment of spontaneity went in to see if there was anything on and if there were any tickets. We saw that the Lent Tem Musical was West Side Story, which I've never seen, and James has always wanted to take me to, so we asked if there were any tickets. The show had been fully booked up, but there were three tickets which had just been returned, in the second from front row! Delighted, we bought two of them and went upstairs to eat ice-cream in the ADC bar. We considered going home to light the fire, but decided that it was not too cold and that eating ice-cream was more important!

The show was wonderful (the two people directly in front of us didn't show up so we were effectively in the front row!). Of course the songs are well known, but I only vaguely knew the plot, so I enjoyed it hugely and found it terribly moving. It was well acted, well choreographed (both the fighting and dancing) and the singing was wonderful. I would say try to go see it but all the shows are booked out unless you are lucky enough to get returned tickets like we did.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Frock Swap!

image via weheartit
On Friday 25th March, there will be a charity Frock Swap at St Paul's on Hill's Road. It's in aid of the Arthur Rank Hospice and it's from 7pm - 9:30pm. It involves bringing 5 items to swap for 5 others and costs £7. I'm pretty excited by this, I have several dresses which don't fit since I started rowing, so this will encourage me to do a clear out, and maybe even find some new things! Any local ladies, do let me know if you're planning to go.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Off-Grid Baking 3: Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes (with vanilla frosting)

After lazing in the sun for most of the afternoon on Saturday, the weather began to cool, and so we went inside. I decided to do some baking, to make some cakes for a birthday party in the evening, and just because I enjoy it. However, I didn't feel like going to the shops so I thought I would try and work with the ingredients I had on the boat. Crucially I had no eggs.

So I did a little search online and found these: Fabulous Cupcakes for Everyone from FoodieMommy. They are very simple and actually entirely vegan as well as egg free. I used non-vegan frosting but there are plenty of vegan cake toppings out there (like this vanilla frosting) if you wanted to go the whole way!

  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups water


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Gas 4). Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together oil, vinegar, vanilla, and water until well combined. Add flour mixture to the mixer and mix until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Batter should look and feel more watery than normal cake batters. I just whisked it up with a fork, and quickly added it to the try ingredients, which worked fine.
  4. Pour batter into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup 1/2 to 3/4 full. Transfer to oven and bake, rotating pan halfway through cooking, until a cake tester inserted into the center of one of the cupcakes comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.
  5. Immediately remove cupcakes from muffin tin and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool completely before frosting. 
A note on American measurements : 1 cup is roughly 240ml. I don't have a proper 'cup' measure, although I am planning to get hold of one. I just measured out the volume in a measuring jug and then found a cup which holds roughly that amount.

Basically this recipe uses the vinegar and baking soda to react and cause the cakes to rise. It was creating some bubbles as I was pouring it into the cake cases, and they rose really well! I was so impressed with the recipe. They're also really light and moist.

I topped them with vanilla frosting from the Hummingbird bakery recipe book. I had been wanting to try and make a proper frosting without a mixer to see what happened, and I was amazed at how I was able to whip it up to create really stiff frosting. It was a bit tiring but entirely doable.

  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • 80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 25ml whole milk
  • a couple of drops of vanilla extract

  1. Beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.
  2. Turn the mixer down to slow speed. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in a separate bowl, then add to the butter mixture a couple of tablespoons at a time. Once all the milk has been incorporated, turn the mixer up to high speed.
  3. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. The longer the frosting is beaten, the fluffier and lighter it becomes.
It perhaps wasn't as fluffy as it would have been with a mixer, but they went down well at the party in the evening!