Thursday, 31 May 2012

Jubilee Pageant Rehearsal

On Saturday I was privileged to be on narrowboat Indigo Dream to participate in the rehearsal for the Queen's Jubilee pageant this coming weekend. Unfortunately James was too busy working to come too. Although we had travelled from Teddington to Brentford in the Duck in 2008, I'd not been boating on the Thames since and was really excited to have the opportunity to see London from a narrowboat! Twenty-three other boats were participating in the rehearsal (out of the 40 narrowboats which will be joining in the real thing). The Herbies as well as Sarah and Andy from DogsonTour were also joining in - practising for the real thing!

We had an early start - out locking out from Limehouse was scheduled for 7:15, so I caught an early train. We met up on Indigo Dream and then waited our turn for the lock and out onto the river. Limehouse lock is amazing. No paddles, they just crack open the gates to let water in or out depending on the state of the tide. It was low water when we emerged.

Then it was off downstream, all the way to the Thames barrier and beyond. I was surprised to see lots of rowers out on this stretch - including several single scullers! Beyond the barrier, we waited for all the boats to arrive and then set off in single file upstream.

Gort and Fulbourne
 I was lucky enough to be at the tiller as we passed back through 'Echo' span of the barrier. Richard took several pictures of me which I will post when I get them! Through the centre of London it all got very choppy and exciting, but Indigo Dream held her own, ably steered by Sarah.

Next was our rendezvous with the mooring buoys. I think Neil sums it us by saying it wasn't our finest hour! Well, actually Indigo Dream was perfectly handled, but quite a few of the other boats struggled and had to be pushed into place by the PLA ribs!

We locked through into Brentford at about 5pm, quite exhausted, and went for a drink and a delicious dinner in the Weir pub. I then headed home, but the rest stayed to crew the boat back downstream , leaving at 5am the next morning. Neil has posted some wonderful pictures of all the boats in perfect formation!
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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

To Marion

Yesterday, James's beloved nanny Marion, passed away.  
She was a kind, warm-hearted lady, always cheerful despite her illness, who will be much missed by her family and everyone who knew her.

Having done a lot of narrowboating in the past, she was always incredibly supportive of our boating plans and along with James's Grandad, was one of our most avid blog readers, so it feels fitting to dedicate this post to her. No longer mobile enough to go on boating holidays any more, she loved hearing our stories and dreamed of a little cottage by a canal to watch the boats go by. In 2008, we visited by boat and took them both on a cruise down the Kennet and Avon in Reading. She was determined to come boating with us and we had a lot of fun that day! Rest in peace, Marion.

Today I was supposed to be writing about the amazing trip down the Thames I had on Saturday on Indigo Dream, but that will have to wait for now.

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Wednesday, 23 May 2012


The weather was cold and grey for my Oxfam walk (I'm still aching from that, and our donations page is still active if anyone would still like to sponsor us retrospectively!) but just yesterday we began to wonder if Summer was finally here!

The buttercups are out on the Common, it is warm enough to sit out in the welldeck and watch the river in the evening, and the cat thermometer has been reading 'warm'.

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Friday, 18 May 2012

First Ducklings

First ducklings of the year that I've seen. Taken from Victoria Avenue bridge.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Gas Saga

On Sunday night, halfway through making a batch of falafels, our gas ran out. We use 19kg bottles so this only happens twice a year, but it's always at an annoying moment! 

So, on Monday, I rang up Cam Gas. We have always got gas from them because they used to be able to get access onto Midsummer Common, and would deliver while you were out, if you left a cheque under the empty bottle. The Council no longer give them access, meaning that I had to go and fetch a key to the Common to let them in but out of habit I still ordered one from them.  I arranged for a low neck 19kg bottle to be delivered then cycled over to the council offices and got the key, awaited the gas truck and let him in, riding in the cab of the truck to show him where to go. I hopped out and he got the gas bottle down. 

A 19kg high neck gas bottle that wouldn't fit in my gas locker. I was seriously unimpressed, but it wasn't the chap's fault, he'd not been told. Anyway, I refused it. I want the lid to fit on my gas locker! So I let him out of the Common and called in on Tarquin, who runs the Georgina trip boat and sells gas. He had a low necked bottle ready and so I brought the boat down to collect it. 

Suffice to say, I wouldn't be getting my gas from Cam Gas again! But even if they had delivered the right bottle I still wouldn't want the hassle of fetching the key again.

For another gas saga (did you notice that the title is a palindrome?), read this hilarious tale from the Canal World forums.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

More of the Washes

A story in the Cambridge News put me on to the photography of Bill Blake, who uses a kite to photograph from above. These stunning pictures were taken of the Ouse Washes which I recently saw when I travelled across them in the train.

Bill has an exhibition of his aerial photography in All Saints Church, in Jesus Lane, Cambridge, from this Saturday 19th May for a week. More of his photographs can be found on his Flikr photostream, in particular his set on the Washes.

Photo Bill Blake

Photo Bill Blake

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Washes Awash

The Old Bedford and New Bedford Rivers are two man-made bypass channels linking Denver and Earith. The New Bedford River is tidal and navigable by those who find its extreme boringness novel enough to warrant exploration. It's also much quicker than taking the Great Ouse route. 

Anyway, the gap between the two channels (known as the Hundred Foot or Ouse Washes) is used in times of flood for water storage. As you can see from this map, there are normally dry-ish fields (actually a lot of it it wetland) between them:

View Larger Map

But when I crossed them in the train at the weekend this was what I saw:

Yes, those are trees!

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Off-Grid Making: Falafels

I've got a new culinary obsession: falafels. Surprisingly simple to make, I've cooked up a couple of batches over the last week or so. 

1 400g tin chickpeas
1 carrot
1 white onion
clove of garlic
tsp cumin
tsp ground coriander
1 egg


Chop small and then fry onion and garlic until translucent. Grate carrot. Add cooked onions and carrot to drained chickpeas in a bowl. Add spices, salt and pepper. Mash it all together then beat in egg to bind it.

Make into little patties and fry in a finger's depth of olive oil until golden- about 3-5 minutes on each side. Place on sheets of kitchen roll to soak up excess oil. Eat with hummus and salad.

In my most recent batch I added a handful of chopped wintercress which I found growing right next to the boat. It's a pepper rocket-like wild plant and it worked pretty well in the falafels.


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Saturday, 12 May 2012

In the Detail

Our Cam Conservancy licence sticker just arrived (over a month after I sent them the money) and I noticed a few things that worried me:

1) The boat reg. number was written in waterbased ink which I was able to remove
easily (I have now gone over it with a permanent marker)

2) It is sticky on the back meaning that it is designed to be stuck on the
OUTSIDE of a boat unlike the EA and mooring stickers which go on the inside 
and are sticky on the front. (I'm planning to get a tax disc to hold it inside a window)

These two things combined mean that it would be possible to remove someone's
sticker from their boat, rub off their number and replace your own, which
strikes me as extremely ill thought out and insecure.

Additionally, if you look at the letter, it was originally addressed to 'Sir' and has been replaced with Madam by hand. Firstly, if they just printed off hundreds of the same letter, had it not occurred to them that some of their licence holders are women? Why not just address it to Licence Holder? Perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this is a one off-error.

It's details like this which really show the Cam Con up as being a bit inept.

/end rant

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Friday, 11 May 2012

Wild Food Walk

Last night I went on a Wild Food walk, organised by Cambridge University Gastronomic Discovery. The walk was led by Jacky Sutton-Adam, a local wild food expert. We walked around Grantchester Meadow, learning about all the wild greens which can be found at this time of year. I really enjoyed it, and although I had begun to recognise some of these plants by myself, it was good to have these plants' identities confirmed by someone more experienced. It was also nice to meet other wild food enthusiasts - sometimes it feels like I'm the only mad person who likes to eat weeds!

With my new-found knowledge I had a poke around my end of Midsummer Common and found it to be a veritable salad bowl, with lots of dandelion and nettles I already knew about but also loads of chickweed and mallow. I'm really excited to learn more about wild food, especially it seems the Common is my version of a vegetable garden!

These are the plants we identified, along with some I already knew like dandelions and nettles

Dead Nettle

Brook Lime

Prickly Sow Thistle


Ground Ivy

Hedge Garlic


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Thursday, 10 May 2012

Bank Holiday 2 - Little Venice Canalway Cavalcade

On the way back from Norwich, I called James to let him know I was on my way, only to find that he was in London with Mike A at the Canalway Cavalcade. He suggested that I join him, as he was going to be going on a little jaunt with Mike on Victoria and James B on Archimedes. I couldn't resist that offer and so despite being tired from hen party I made my way to Little Venice to join them, having to sprint to catch the boats before they set off into Maida Hill tunnel!

We moored to boats up above Camden locks and stopped for dinner and a drink. James B took Archimedes all the way into Dead Dog Basin (under the warehouse), which I didn't know was possible!

The boys raced back to Little Venice after we'd eaten at top speed and made it in time to circle the island a couple of times before mooring up when the illuminated boat parade started. We got back to Cambridge at 1am.

On Monday, we had a big old sort out and took a lot of bits and pieces down to our garage. The well-deck is looking very clear!

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Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Bank Holiday 1 - Hen Party!

I'm still recovering from the Bank Holiday weekend, but it was such fun. I went to my friend Richenda's hen party in Norfolk. It wasn't a conventional hen party, but then she's not a conventional hen! We met up at Norwich station and then took a train and a taxi to a little village on the coast just west of Sheringham. Then we walked 4 miles along the beautiful coast. Just beyond Sheringham, we set out a lovely picnic to surprise Richenda with a spread of delicious gluten free delicacies which we had made . I contributed a couple of savoury tarts - goats cheese and wild leek, and Roquefort, bacon and kale, both on oatmeal pastry as well as a sweetpotato and red onion Spanish omelette and some gluten free brownies. Then we continued another 4 miles along the coast path, which winds along country paths to Cromer, where we had a cup of tea and later on some fish and chips. 

Back in Norwich we got changed and ready to go out. The city has some simply wonderful bars and pubs, really eclectic, serving tea menus as long as their cocktail menus! In the first place we went to (42 King Street) I compromised with a tea cocktail! All evening, the chief bridesmaid, Rici, set challenges for the bride-to-be, from getting an After Eight mint from her forehead to her mouth without the use of hands (we all had a go at that one!) to explaining the basic principles of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, whose work informs her PhD topic, to a stranger. The latter backfired somewhat when she enjoyed explaining his work to the barman, and he seemed genuinely engaged and interested! Later on we headed in the Bicycle Shop, another great bar, where we played the chocolate cutting game, and set more challenges for the bride. We kept going until 2am at another pub, before heading home quite exhausted after the walk and the night out! 

On Sunday morning we fended off hangovers with a delicious full English breakfast before going our separate ways. It was a wonderful weekend so thanks to Rici for organising!

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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Oxfam Walk 2012

On the 20th May, I will be walking 26 miles for Oxfam with a couple of friends, as participants in the Cambridge Oxfam Walk. Now, I know walking 26 miles isn't quite as impressive as running them but it is for a good cause, so if you could sponsor us even a little bit, that would be amazing.

Picture from 2009 walk - Oxfam

thank you!

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A Change of Scenery

Despite the raised water levels and fast flow, we've had to move. The May Fair is in town over the Bank Holiday weekend, and there is a rowing race which requires the boats to move off the Common.

So, we're here (third from the bridge) for the time being. It's shadier, but we have some nice neighbours and fewer rowing boats passing. Lyra likes playing in the trees, too.

Our old friend Mr ASBO the aggressive swan has also had a change of scenery as he and his mate have finally been removed from the river. His antics had escalated and there were worries that he would drown a sculler if allowed to remain. The story (complete with quotes from various rowing friends) is here, and has been extensively commented on. The Duck also appears in the Cambridge news's story on the floods, here.

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