Tuesday, 31 May 2011

BCN 24 hour Marathon Challenge 2011 Part 2 - Saturday

...there was certainly boating to be done! Team Yeoford left Gas Street Basin at 6:30am, and headed around the corner to position the boat at the top of Farmer's Bridge flight. At this point, I should introduce Mike, our fantastic skipper for the weekend. Despite being a somewhat over-skilled set of hirers, company policy dictated that we have a skipper. We had already let the company know that we were planning on doing the BCN Challenge and that we were going to be going late and starting early, but weren't sure if a 3am start on Sunday would still be acceptable! However Mike was totally amenable to this, and when we finished, said he'd really enjoyed the weekend!

Team Yeoford (Mike the skipper in the yellow) T.Lewis is photographer
So, at 8am we were moored up at Farmer's Bridge top lock, and as a nearby clock struck the hour, we simultaneously opened the hallowed BCN Marathon official envelope, and set off down the flight. The locks were set in our favour, but to be honest, with 10 people to work the locks we were not hindered by anything except the speed the locks took to empty!  

Farmer's Bridge Top Lock - our first of the challenge


When we reached Aston junction at the bottom of the flight we made the fateful and somewhat unwise decision to head down the Ashstead Flight to Digbeth Basin and the skip out the Aston flight by heading down the section of canal between Digbeth Basin and Salford Junction! Although one of our maps had this section down as being part of the BCN, it appears that it is technically part of the Grand Union and therefore not officially part of the BCN challenge route. Oooops! Still, it is an interesting and little used section of waterway, so we felt like it was still within the spirit of the Challenge, and made the most of it! It was on this section that we got the worst rubbish on the propellor blades - a curtain and plastic bags halted our progress for some ten minutes. Unlike modern boats, Yeoford doesn't have a weed hatch so a boathook was required.



James finds a use for the square bollards!
Removing the curtain!
Yum! One of Rebekah's cookies.

Soon, we were at Salford Juntion, where the canal passes under Spaghetti Junction. This is one of my favourite sections of canal in the country - the slow dark waters of the cut form such a contrast to the soaring concrete pillars supporting speeding cars on the mights M6 motorway. 



We headed up the Tame Valley Canal, up the Perry Bar locks and enjoyed the way we felt like we were in the countryside, despite still being able to hear the noises of the city. beyond the trees. Once through Newton Junction and onto the Rushall Canal, the scenery becomes even more bucolic. It was quite beautiful, although very shallow - Yeoford's deep draft meant that the going was quite slow.


Pippa serenades us on her tin whistle
Weeeed!


Photo: T. Lewis

However, once past Longford Boat Club, we were able to speed up as the water got deeper. It was on this section that we passed nb Indigo Dream, fellow Challengers and greyhound lovers who were doing the Marathon for a greyhound charity. 

Indigo Dream
Greygal, Mr Greygal and the hounds!
At Catshill Junction we nipped up to Ogley Junction on the Anglesey Branch for there were points to be had up there, and a question to answer which would get us even more. Evening was drawing in but we continued on, hoping to stop up the Cannock Extension, where Sarah E's family have a boatyard, and we knew we could stop safely for the night. We passed Sarah's house, where her parents waved from the garden as we heralded them with a blast from the klaxon! James was steering as we turned into the Cannock Extension and he made a very good job of it! 

However, not long afterwards, we met the pair Atlas and Malus coming the other way, which forced Yeoford into the bank where we promptly went aground, but were were soon on our way again. We couldn't find the answer to the question, unfortunately, as the light was dimming and we missed the crucial sign. But our thoughts were soon distracted by the promise of a Toby Carvery at the end of the branch.

Photo: T. Lewis
It was 9pm when we stopped, meaning that we'd have to be off again at 3am if we were to keep to schedule... but it was worth it - we all had heaped plates of meat and veg which were extremely welcome, before heading back to the boat to grab a few hours sleep!

Will Team Yeoford sleep through their alarms? Will they make it down the Walsall Canal, or will they have to bowhaul all the way back to Gas Street? Tune in for the next exciting installment!



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BCN 24 hour Marathon Challenge 2011 Part 1

Gas Street - Farmer's Bridge - Digbeth Basin - Salford Junction - Rushall Junction - Ogley Basin - Brownhills - Cannock Extenstion - Birchills - Walsall Town Arm - Pudding Green Junction - New Main Line - Smethwick Junction ( and back to Gas Street via the loops)

58 locks, 47 miles

Birmingham Canal Navigations
24 hours (8am - 9pm and 3am - 2pm)

We spent the weekend competing in the BCN 24 hour Marathon Challenge. It was a fantastic if tiring weekend of boating, with some great people, on a wonderful old boat, the Large Northwich Yeoford, operated as a camping boat by Birmingham and Midland Canal Carrying Company. The company is now trading as the nondescript Bespoke Executive Solutions. Yeoford has a draft of 2'10", probably nearer 3' once it's going, is 71' 6" long, 7'2" wide, and built in 1937 by Yarwoods. It has an Armstrong and Siddeley AS2 air-cooled engine, which is certainly loud!


The object of the challenge is to complete as much of Birmingham's network of canals in 24 hours as possible. The event starts at 8am on Saturday morning, and finishes at 2pm on Sunday, leaving boaters to take a 6-hour rest period however they wish. Many opt to spend it in the pub... Points are given for each mile travelled and for each lock, with bonus points given for answering questions correctly, having a deeper-draughted boat (which we did) and for doing the more weed-and-rubbish strewn, more challenging shallow canals.

If this all seems a little last minute, that's because it was! We had hoped to compete in the challenge with the Young Working Boaters Society, and had spent a long time plotting and scheming over which boat to use. Plan A, to use Sarah E's Josher motor Ling, didn't work because Ling was in paint dock, 5 days cruise away. Dan's steam narrowboat Emily Anne was too far away too, Ariel was just out of the paint dock and delivering coal, and Rebekah's plan to "borrow" Roger Fuller's tug Growler (with a Lister HA6...) didn't work out.

We considered hiring a boat for the weekend, and a quote for a 40' semi-trad came out at £600 for the weekend. OK when sharing between several people, but not a working boat...

And then Amy and I had a simualtaneous brainwave. We came home from work, and both said "What about Collingwood and Ash?" These ex-working boats are for hire to parties as camping boats, and we'd seen them at Gas Street several times before, and coming down the Wolverhampton 21. Amy got in touch, and arranged to hire Yeoford for a very reasonable sum- and the challenge was on!
Surprisingly comfortable bunks- from Winson Green prison!


All mod cons on board!

Friday saw us heading out from work to catch the 4pm train to Birmingham. Unfortunately, having got on and secured seats, the train was cancelled, so we had to get off and wait for the next one. However, we were soon in Birmingham, and met up with the rest of the crew for the weekend- Rebekah and Theresa (who run Ibex and Ilford), Tim (Fulbourne), Mike (Victoria), Sarah (Ling), Pippa, and Dan.

We dropped off our luggage on the boat, moored at Gas Street basin. We were perhaps the best equipped party of hirers they'd ever had! We'd all bought our own windlasses, BW keys and handcuff keys, and lots of useful stuff. I bought a 12v floodlight (useful for night boating- and we were planning on doing a lot of that!) and my klaxon. Dan stole the show by bringing a very heavy suitcase containing a Tirfor winch- a very powerful hand winch which is just the thing for pulling deep-draughted working boats out of bridge holes or locks that they've jammed in, or off of shopping trolleys, safes, and the other detritus on the canal bed. Unfortunately the £13 suitcase had lost one of the wheels and he was dragging it behind- clearly the designers didn't have 50kg of winch, chain and cable in mind when making it!

As we were all hungry, we headed over to the Nandos restaurant in the Mailbox, and had a very good time over some good, substantial food. A quick trip to Tesco bought the supplies- including 8 packs of bacon and a LOT of biscuits, fortuitously on Buy One Get One Free!- before heading back to the boat.

Unfortunately, Gas Street is very, very noisy on a Friday night. The local nightclubs blasted sounds until 2am or so, and we were all woken at 5am by several hundred glass bottles being tipped into a skip.

But, despite having had not a great deal of sleep, we were all up and ready to go at 6am on Saturday. There was boating to be done!

Will the YWBS get Yeoford jammed in a bridgehole? Will it run horribly aground on many shopping trolleys? Will they eat all those biscuits? Tune in for the next exciting installment....

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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Off-Grid Baking 7: Proper Shortbread

Sarah of Chertsey commented on my post about the Duck shortbread I made about two weeks ago, saying that proper shortbread should be much simpler than the recipe I used. And now having tried it, I agree. To be honest I expect I should have known that shortbread should only really contain three ingredients, but having never actually made it before I was ignorant to the ways of shortbread baking. So I tried again, following Sarah's recipe:

6 oz plain flour
4 oz butter
2 oz caster sugar

that's it.
Roll out, cut out, 30 mins at mark 2

Egg is for cakes; it has no place in biscuits (Sarah's guide to life no. 4) 

I had a bit of a headstart when it came to combining the butter and sugar - the hot weather had made my butter so soft that it took about 10 seconds to cream them together! I added some chocolate chips I had left over from last time, used my new rolling pin to roll out, cut it into duck shapes and put it in the oven. James and I had eaten about 4 between us before they had a chance to cool! I have to say, proper shortbread is much better than the hybrid recipe I used last time. They are deliciously melt in the mouth crumbly. Yum.



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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Soup on the Roof

Last night our good friend Freya came round to have dinner before the rowing outing at 6:30. So I wanted to cook something really quick but from scratch. I settled on my favourite summer soup recipe, which is based on Italian minestrone style soup but contains all my favourite things and certainly no celery! This is one recipe which doesn't really need sticking to religiously!



Ingredients
olive oil
garlic (as much or as little to suit taste!)
an onion
200g bacon lardons (smoked in this case)
6 small potatoes
6 sweet tomatoes - cherry or on the vine are nicest!
a handful of fresh basil
dried oregano
mini pasta - I used De Cecco's stellette which my lovely local waitrose stocks
stock cube

Method
Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add bacon, keep stirring and cooking until nicely browned and the fat's starting to get a little bit crispy (that's just how I like the bacon in this - it gives a nice texture). Add stock and water to fill the pan, the potatoes, pasta and tomatoes, and then cook until the potatoes are soft (about 20 mins). Add basil about 5 mins before the end. 

Eat in the sunshine with friends!


We sat out on the boat's roof, watching the boats on the river, and had local strawberries and cream for dessert. Later on we'd hoped to go to the Beer Festival to see the Herbies but were feeling a bit zonked and James was suffering from terrible hayfever. So we'll try again tonight!


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Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Marathon Challenge

This coming weekend is the BCN Marathon Challenge - a race to cover as much of the Birmingham Canal Navigations as possible in 24 hours

Our blogger friends Richard and Sue on nb Indigo Dream are going to be competing in the challenge to raise money for the Greyhoundhomer branch of the Retired Greyhound Trust and so I thought I would put an appeal for support up on the blog on their behalf. 

Picture from Indigo Dream
We've sadly not met their band of lovable hounds as when we visited Indigo Dream quite by accident recently, the dogs were not on board, but we enjoy reading about their escapades on the blog. Their greyhounds are all rescue dogs and are lucky to have such a great life on and off the boat, but not all are quite so lucky.

This is what they have to say about the charity on their donation website:

We want to dedicate our Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) Marathon Challenge to our favourite good cause - Greyhoundhomer Essex!
Greyhoundhomer is a small charity where all the money raised goes to the care and rehoming of retired racing greyhounds - any money we can raise will make an immense difference to them.

Every year, hundreds of racing greyhounds end their careers either because of age, injury or merely the fact that they weren't winners. Many are put to sleep humanely, a small proportion are cruelly abused and abandoned. The lucky ones find their way to a caring rehoming centre (of which Greyhoundhomer is one) and are found loving homes.


Greyhounds are generally 3 - 5 years old when they retire. They make wonderful pets - placid and loyal, enjoying every home comfort that their doting owners can provide. They do not need a lot of exercise and their favourite activity is sleeping - which is what our three will be doing while we're busy cruising on the marathon challenge!

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My Favourite Finds v.10

My favourite charity shop in Cambridge is Sally Ann's the Salvation Army shop. It's a big warehouse type shop, a bit haphazard, and has lots of space for furniture. Unlike a lot of the other charity shops, it is really cheap - proper jumble sale prices. I don't begrudge paying a bit more in some of the shops on Burleigh St if I really like something, but I enjoy finding real bargains in Sally Ann's. 
I'm still on the look out for pretty pots and containers to keep the place tidy and so I was really excited to find all these in Sally Ann's for 20p each! The tall tin is now where I keep spaghetti. The smaller ones are useful for storing hairclips and jewellery, and I hope to make jam to put in the little glass ones when it's blackberry season. The rolling pin will come in handy for making biscuits and pastry and it was 20p too!


In other news, Burleigh Street is getting its 8th charity shop, mainly selling furniture, books and bric-a-brac! The existing Red Cross shop is staying (I checked!) mainly selling clothes.

 
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Sunday, 22 May 2011

Non stop weekend

We had one of those weekend where there doesn't seem to be a moment to sit down (until now). Saturday morning was spent rowing and coxing (I did a bit of both), and then in the afternoon I headed into town for a delightful cream tea at Browns with a friend from university while James did even more coxing for his old college. When I got back from my cream tea, we both got on our bikes and cycled out to help our friends paint their living room. They used to live on nb Kestrel but have now moved to back to land as they have a baby due next month! We were well rewarded for our efforts with a lovely lasagne made by Emma, and got home at about 11pm! 

On Sunday morning we had a lie in because there was a race so didn't need to be out rowing until 10:45. I rowed the first division and James coxed two divisions and rowed the last one! The conditions were very difficult - a very strong head wind making rowing a major struggle. James was, however, runner up for the Champion Cox prize - for the best racing line around Ditton corner.


Sights rarely seen - James in the 3 seat!
This is where Lyra spent most of her weekend!
I'm writing this on my laptop at home (having just got back from yoga) thanks to a 12v laptop charger kindly given to me by Mike of Innocenti. Maplin never did respond. Later, we are off to the cinema to see the latest Pirates of the Caribbean with some friends for a bit of escapism!



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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Cute Coots

I was in London on Tuesday for work, and on the way back I had a while to wait for my train so decided to make my way over to the Regent's Canal which passes just north of the station. Both James and I find it difficult to visit anywhere that we know has a canal without seeking it out. In London it feels a bit like a pilgrimage, heading for that hidden ribbon of calm snaking through an otherwise noisy city.

As I descended the steps to the canal I heard a great commotion of cheeping, and saw a little family of coots happily playing together and being fed by their mother, who periodically dived beneath the surface of the water. Cue gratuitous cute fluffy animal time:



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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Off-Grid Baking 6: Ricotta Chocolate Cookies

Over the course of the past week, I had two lots of dough in the fridge: the Duck shortbread and this ricotta chocolate mixture. Every so often, I've been taking the dough out of the fridge and cooking half a dozen or so cookies (which then get eaten very quickly while still warm!)


When I saw this recipe, I was keen to make it because I really fancied the idea of having soft, slightly gooey cookies using less fat than normal. They were really quite successful, and did stay soft inside even the next day (I had a struggle leaving them uneaten for this long!). I also think they'd make great 'whoopie pies', if you stuck two of them together with frosting.



1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips




Combine the ricotta cheese, butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar, whipping until well blended and slightly fluffy. Mix in the egg and vanilla.
To the wet mixture, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt, mixing well to combine. To this mixture, add the chocolate chips, again stirring until well blended.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 20 minutes (I just put it in the fridge as my freezer compartment is tiny). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/gas 4.
Once chilled, use an ice cream scoop to place golf ball sized pieces of dough on baking sheets covered with greaseproof paper. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.
 Next week: 'Proper' shortbread!

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Tuesday, 17 May 2011

ALDI 12V power gadgetry

Just to let all fellow boaters know about a couple of really useful things in stock in Aldi at the moment. We were tipped off my Mike of nb Innocenti, and so James headed over there on Sunday.  He came back with two of these 3-way 12V car socket adapters for £2.99 each and one mini 150W inverter £14.99. Since we try to run a 12V ship, these will be really handy, eliminating further any need to run the generator for 240V power for any other reason than charging the batteries in the winter.




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Monday, 16 May 2011

Sunday Yoga

Photo: WikiCommons

I've discovered the perfect way to end a busy weekend: a yoga session. It's not something I've tried before, but I really enjoyed it because it is relaxing and physically tough simultaneously, and I'm planning to continue going to these Sunday classes. Hopefully it will help me become more flexible which will improve my rowing, too. James has even expressed an interest in going! There were quite a few boys at the class.

I'm only sad that I don't have the space at home to practice. I don't really fancy doing it out on the Common with everyone watching!

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Saturday, 14 May 2011

Happy Weekend

Happy weekend, all!
Last night James and I went to see Avenue Q which is touring the UK and currently in Cambridge! For anyone who's not seen this fantastically hilarious show, it's a musical comedy using puppets telling the story of a English graduate trying to make his way in life, and living in Avenue Q with a bunch of eccentric characters. We saw it in London in 2008, but very much enjoyed seeing it again. We were very lucky, not only to get tickets (it was pretty much sold out) but also to find that our friends had also managed to get tickets for the same performance!

This week I discovered a lovely blog by Belle, whose husband blogs at Captain Ahab's Watery Tales:
Her blog I know a bank where the wild thyme grows documents her "attempts to forage along the Inland Waterways and hedgerows of my locality" So far she's made beech leaf liqueur, and dandelion marmalade! . It's a novel take on the standard boat blog and I'm looking forwards to seeing what she comes up with. My attempts at foraging have been limited so far to blackberries. Although this year I WILL make blackberry jam!

Another blog post that caught my eye this week was Sarah's photos of chimney chains at Ellesmere Port: so much variety, and I love the jaunty angles of her photographs! 

Also, apologies if you have noticed odd things going on with the blog these past days: it is the fault of Blogger who have been performing 'important maintenance', which has meant that no-one who uses Blogger has been able to post, formatting has gone out of the window and latest posts have disappeared. Hence this Happy Friday post became  Happy Weekend post!

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What's in my bag?

Lots of girls whose blogs I read have recently done 'What's in my bag' blog posts, and for a while I'd been thinking it would be fun to do one of my own given the array of random things I end up keeping in my handbag as a result of rowing and boating!

But it wasn't until Michelle of Daisybutter posted about a promotion on facebook where you could get a 'reading' based on your bag contents that I finally got around to it. I just thought it would be a bit of fun to see what Debbie of Handbag Therapy made of me, with my spanners and gaffer tape amongst everything else!

So, this is what was in my bag at the weekend


Purse
Phone
Keys
Bottle of water
Old train tickets
Apple
Gaffer tape (probably left in there from last time I raced off-Cam)
Spanner aka 'rigger jigger' (for tightening nuts on rowing boats)
Prescription sunglasses
Headband 
Pen
(Normally I'd always carry a torch, but I had temporarily misplaced it when I took this.)
(On a work day I'll also normally have a hairbrush in there too.)

And here's what Debbie had to say about me, going on what I keep in my handbag:
Dear Amy, Wow! This is definitely a first for me - to come across a boater  and rower's handbag.  I always love finding new and unusual things in a lady or gentleman's bag - you are now on my top 10 list!  Here is what I would say about your bag:  It suggests you are grounded, meaning 'rooted' not head in the clouds or ethereal.  You have a solid sense of who you are.  If I were a friend of yours I would describe you as reliable, and practical and pragmatic: someone I could depend upon.  So if you say you are going to do something, you do it!  I can also sense that you either need some more balance in life right now, or you are someone who does focus on achieving a sense of balance.  It isn't clear which it is.  I think you are a lady who has a reflective learning style and will process events and experiences afterwards to draw meaning and learning from them.  You are also someone who can afford to be a little more daring with your travel plans.  "Push the boat out" a little further as they say (sorry about the pun!). Another way to be more bold is to be more expressive - it is as if you are kind and tactful and have a quiet power - which are great qualities - just make sure you are equally as willing to be strong and surface your own needs and desires.  I feel that you are open to new ideas and opportunities.  You are active, busy and single minded.  This will be especially useful when pursuing your goals.  Keep to the plan - you are someone who needs a plan, and will do well when you surround yourself with like minded people.  I do hope you have enjoyed your reading, and good luck with the water sports. 

Not a bad assessment of me I thought. But then, a person's possessions say a lot more about them than, for example, the lines on their hands or what star sign they were born under!

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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Off-Grid Baking 5: Duck Shortbread


Last night I made a batch of duck shaped white and milk chocolate chip shortbread biscuits with the lovely cookie cutter that Athena gave me. They were really easy to make, following this recipe from Lauren:

Ingredients

175g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g plain flour
Choclate chips

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180c. Cream the butter & sugar together until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs and vanilla.

2. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking powder & salt. Add the dry ingredients to the butter and eggs, and mix.

3. Halve the dough, form into fat discs, wrap each half in plastic wrap & rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

4. Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, place a disc of dough on it (not taking out the other half until finished with the first) and sprinkle a little more flour on top of that. Roll it out to about ½ cm thickness. Cut into shapes, dipping the cutter into flour as you go, and place the biscuits a little apart on baking trays lined with baking paper.

5. Bake for 8-10 minutes, by which time they will be lightly golden around the edges. Cool on a rack and continue on with the rest of the dough.

They took a bit longer in my little oven than the recipe states to go golden round the edges, but after about 15 minutes I took them out. I put aside 9 to give to the girls in my outing tonight then James and I polished off the rest. I've still got half of the dough in the fridge (yay, fridge!), so I'll make some more tonight!


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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A Little Gift

I can't wait to make some cookies with this lovely little duck cutter!
Thank you, Athena!

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Monday, 9 May 2011

Last Slice

On Friday night I made the delicious white wine, cream, mushroom and bacon spaghetti that I blogged about (from What Katie Ate). It was eaten far too quickly to be able to photograph it but it was delicious! Since I had a big race on Saturday (the Head to Head race is double the distace we normally race on the Cam) I was carb loading, so I also made a creme fraiche chocolate tart. It ended up more like a baked cheesecake texture because I used more creme fraiche than before but was still really nice!


When James came home for dinner he passed on a mesage from the crew he had been coxing (a Lucy Cavendish/Hughes Hall composite) that they needed a sub for the race on Saturday, but in a different division to mine. They have helped us out with subs in the past so I agreed. I also decided to eat even more pasta as this mean I would now be racing two 4km races back to back!

Saturday's races went pretty well. My Chesterton boat had a good solid first leg and maintained it through the second, although I don't think we ever really left our comfort zone. We got 8:42 for the first 2km and 8:52 for the second. There's a video here, for anyone who might be interested, although it's from Facebook.
 
Then it was back home for a quick break, a slice of chocolate tart and and apple before heading over to race for Lucy Hughes. They were hoping to win their category and were racing one boat ahead of Peterhouse, their closest opposition. They put me at 7, a fairly responsible position in the boat, and so I got a little nervous heading to the start: could I do what they needed of me, especially as I'd already raced that morning? I knew that I'd have to push myself to give everything I had and maintain my technique so that the rest of bowside could follow me! They had a good, very motivating cox which helped, and after the end of the first 2km, I felt like I'd done OK. Then I had to do the same again the other direction! By the end of my 4th 2km of the day, I felt more spent than I have for a long time, but pleased to have done it, and not let them down. I had also definitely left my comfort zone during that race, which felt good. And to top it all, we won the category with 17:18 overall, leaving Peterhouse behind quite significantly! 

Later on, we had visitors: Skippy and Loupie, and their friend who are hoping to live aboard soon, and wanted some advice. We had a nice afternoon chatting about boats and I hope they found it useful to hear about our experiences! They also helped us finish off the chocolate tart!


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Sunday, 8 May 2011

My Favourite Finds v.9

I went to the seven charity shops on Burleigh Street during my lunch hour last week. I was actually looking for some pretty boxes for bits and bobs, and while I didn't have any luck with them I did find a few other fun and useful bits and pieces.


A vintage game of Tell Me (RSPCA shop, £1.50). When I was younger, and in fact every time my family gets together at Christmas, we play this simple quiz game. It has an alphabetic spinner, and the quizmaster calls out the question "Name a ___ beginning with..." before spinning the wheel. The first person to answer gets the card. This old version has great questions like 'An Outstanding Sportswoman', 'A Radio Artist, male or female' and 'Part of a Motorcar'.


The green china jug on the far right of the photo. I've been looking for pretty green and yellow things for my kitchen, and this is perfect! (British Heart Foundation, £2.50)


For ages, we've had a nasty plastic drying rack for crockery and cutlery. I found this simple wooden one for £3 in Oxfam and I'm pleased with the way it looks in my kitchen.

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