DON'T DRIVE INTO FLOOD WATER!

I'm not known for my common sense. I know, I know, that's a major revelation. But I'm chuffed to announce that I have far more sense than the bloke who tried to drive down the lane to the marina this afternoon. It didn't end well for his car. And I suspect that he might be feeling a little embarrassed too, especially since I sent this photo to the local radio station who put it on their Facebook page for everyone to comment on. And they have, most of it involved insults and swearing though so it's probably best not repeated here...

Thankfully, no one was hurt (if you don't include pride) in the events of this afternoon but, sadly, a Rover did die.

He'll have fun explaining this to the missus when he gets home.


 

Floods!

The cat has an uncanny ability to tell us when it's going to flood. She went a bit frenetic a few days prior to the 2007 flooding when she obsessed over a puddle in the car park and "eergh"ed at it. My response was to say "yes, puddle. Pud-dle. Well done, kitty." The next day, however, the puddle had engulfed the marina and cut us off from land.
On Thursday Lolly started behaving oddly again. I think she wanted to evacuate the marina. I jokingly told the manager that she knew we were in for some bad flooding. And lo, it flooded and the water is still rising.

Rescuing cars from the car park.
Rob cycling down the lane.



Me, in the lane. Or the Thames depending on how you choose to look at it.
Bye, bye garden.
Having a read in the park.
Rob cycling through the park.
At least it's stopped raining.
Abingdon Marina Park. I remember when all that used to be land...
A braver man than me. It doesn't take much, mind.
This guy didn't tempt fate on the main flow of the Thames.
The bench I sat on to read is now underwater. Rob is having fun.
Moorings on Wilsham Road.
Below Abingdon Lock at Abbey Meadows.
Moorings in Abbey Meadows. They're going to need a reeeealllly long gangplank.

Samhain.

This is always a special time for us. The last few years have seen a muted observance of the occasion due to my poor health but since I am on the mend we decided it was about time to return to our old ways of marking Samhain.

We decorated the inside of the boat with foliage of Autumnal hues:

And carved pumpkins:

Baby pumpkin.
Can you see the outline of a horse in there?

 Rob made a pumpkin scarecrow to scare our guests:


Rob loves Pumpkin Man.
Scary, eh?
 And he made a stew and I baked gingerbread cats, enough to feed ten people (as that's as many as we can cram into the boat):
We didn't really make everyone sit in the dark *cough*.
We also set aside a bowl of stew for those that couldn't be with us. Later, when all was dark and still and everyone had gone home to their beds, we took the time to think of those we miss.

 

Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers (Cotswold Tradition).

Abingdon Traditional Morris Dancers performed yesterday at The Cherry Tree in Steventon. I managed to take a few photographs (especially of Rob in his bells) as they entertained us from the pub car park and afterwards as they played music back in the warmth of the pub.


Moo?
Parading the Horns.
The Ock Street Horns are always present at an ATMD performance. History states that after a bit of an ox roast dinner and drinking session in 1700 a fight broke out in the town between the men of Ock Street and The Vineyard. Ock Street won the scuffle and took the horns as a trophy. Sounds like a regular Friday night to me...

The Fool.
The Mayor of Ock Street.
The side also includes the Mayor of Ock Street who is elected every year by the residents of Ock Street and carries a chalice and sword as his symbols of his office, and, of course,  there is the fool. What's a morris side without a fool?

The dancers and the musicians:
I recognise him.
And back into the warmth of the pub for a spot of music:


Want to know how they sounded?
video



Through the rude wind's wild lament and the bitter weather.

The title of this post consists of a couple of lines from that old classic Yuletide carol Good King Wenceslas which is primarily about saintly behaviour. I wouldn’t know anything about that and so will ignore it and tell you that my main reason for including it in this post is because of it’s references to the harshness of winter conditions and the need to gather “winter fu(ooo)el”.


Ah yes, winter fuel. Where was I on that? I was here, wondering what had become of ours.

In a last ditch attempt at trying to locate our order I phoned the Candle Bridge Carrying Company on Tuesday and used my Stern Voice to scare the man into delivering it. I was given a lot of excuses (none of which included problems with the delivery lorries as previously stated) and was promised (on pain of death, I like to think) that our coal would be with us on Thursday.

Thursday came and I phoned to double check. Yes, our coal would arrive that afternoon...

And lo! it did. There was much rejoicing.


Woooohoooo!
But coal isn't our only source of warmth this year. We're using bees. Not literally. We're not setting fire to them or anything. I don't imagine they would give off much warmth if we did and they probably wouldn't appreciate it either. We’re using the wood waste from the production of beehives. It comes in compact blocks from Burning Blocks and leaves us happy in the knowledge that we're being a little bit more environmentally friendly than we would be if using coal alone. And we're doing our part to support Maisemore Apiaries. So perhaps we are a little saintly after all.


No bees were harmed in the search for winter warmth.

Chalky horses and not the fruit I was expecting. How cryptic a title is that?

There's a lot of white horses in Wiltshire, the hill carving kind of white horse - but you already knew that, didn't you?
We had a mad plan to visit eight of them all in one day. Yes, eight. We're nothing but ambitious... And a bit rubbish as it turns out: we managed two of them and a kiwi (not the fruit. I expected a hill carving of a fruit, imagine my disappointment).

I grew up near the White Horse of Kilburn and thought Yorkshire was unique in its ownership of such a magnificent feature (where the Fey resided beneath) but it turns out I was wrong (about the uniqueness, not the Fey, obviously) and you can't move for falling over a white horse down south.

Our first horse was in Malborough. The Malborough or Preshute horse is a bit anorexic these days. It apparently used to be a bit bulkier when it was first carved into Granham Hill by boys from Mr. Greasley's Acadamey in 1804.
 
No, it really is a horse.
We were still confident in our ability to fill our day with vast numbers of hill figures at this point and eagerly made our way to our next destination. Well, it wasn't even lunch time and the day still loomed large and bright ahead of us. We were, however, reliant on my map reading skills and "umm" apparently should never be the answer to "which way now?" or "where are we?".

We did find our way to the new Pewsey Horse on Pewsey Hill (helpfully named there) and stopped here to have our lunch. This horse is definitely more horse-like and well worth the climb up the VERY STEEP hill to get to - even if it was just to giggle at the 'Animals please shut the gate' sign. Well, it was in a field of (literate) cows. This one was carved in 1937 to mark the Coronation of George VI.

Actually, it does look a little whippet-like.

Did I mention the VERY STEEP hill? There was a lovely view from the top of it but I did have to hide behind Rob and use him to block my view of the sheer(ish) drop to clamber back down.

Don't look down.Don't look down. Don't look down...

It was mid afternoon by the time I had been edged down the mountain (I may have upgraded the hill status here) and so we thought we'd make one final push to fit in another hill figure so we could be home in time for tea.
My navigational skills had improved somewhat by now although I did become a little concerned when we drove down Gaza Road. Gaza? What?
Gaza Road is next to Baghdad Road and that's not disconcerting at all... Turns out we were in Bulford Barracks and here we found a kiwi (not the fruit) carved into the side of Beacon Hill. It was carved in 1919 by the Canterbury and Otago Engineers Battalions awaiting their homeward voyage to New Zealand.

Not a fruit.

It took us a while to find and I was becoming a bit worried that driving endlessly around an army barrack in a white van was a bit conspicuous. There's nothing like vast amounts of razor wire fencing to make one feel welcome. After climbing the hill to see the kiwi and finding a notice about improvised explosive devices I declared that being arrested/shot at/water tortured for looking suspiciously out of place (and clearly dressed as a hiker) was not on our To Do list that day and decided it was time to head for home.

Candle Bridge Canal Carrying Company – Archimedes.

This year we had the opportunity to buy our winter coal and diesel supplies from a traditional canal carrying company. We jumped at the chance as it’s not often we see deliveries by working boats on the upper Thames. It turns out that there’s probably a reason for this: Maidenhead and Reading are full of treacle.
I know that sounds a little odd but it’s the only logical explanation I can come up with that adequately accounts for our lack of coal (that we’ve already paid for). The Candle Bridge Carrying Company *did* bring us diesel and a few bags of coal by river and it was marvellous – can’t fault that at all. Loved it. It was a week or so late but it’s narrowboating and narrowboating rules dictate that Thou Shalt Not Be On Time (it’s a pain of death thing. NEVER break this rule. You have been warned).
IMG_20121002_105734
Achimedes struggled a little in our shallow moorings but eventually was secure enough to enable us to moor alongside and fill our tank. Unfortunately, there had been a problem with the lorry delivering coal to Archimedes when she was in Reading earlier that week and so instead of the 60 bags of coal we ordered (divided between 2 boats) we received 15. Not so bad really, that’s plenty to be getting on with and we were told the rest would be delivered by lorry two days later. Great.
Two days later (Monday) and the coal didn’t arrive - but that’s still okay because we were promised it by the Wednesday…
No coal. Still, we have bags of it and we were *definitely* promised our coal by the following Monday.
Monday came. Our coal didn’t. It’s okay though, because it’ll be here by Friday.
No, I mean Monday… Wednesday… Saturday… Next week… Or the week after… Make that 2 more weeks… Sometime in the future…
Apparently the lorry got stuck in Maidenhead this time. Or was it Reading again? Or both?. Like I said – treacle problems down south, obviously. Traffic is unable to move south of Wallingford. Is the country slowly sinking into a tin of Tate & Lyle?
Or perhaps the narrowboating timing rule applies to lorries too? That might make a little more sense than my treacle hypothesis. Let’s just pretend I never mentioned the treacle…
But still, where’s our coal? It would be nice to have it some time this year. *Please*? <--- There’s a note of begging in the tone with which that plea should be read.

 Addendum:
I have since spoken with Jay from the Candle Bridge Carrying Company and he would like to have it made clear that his company is separate from that of the coal merchants who caused the above difficulties. I would also like to make it known, as I wrote in the post above, that we had no issues with the service Jay provided upholding his end of the business transaction by bringing us fuel via the waterways. I was not aware at the original time of writing that the Candle Bridge Carrying Company operated separately to the coal merchants and was under the impression that they were two branches of the same company. I would therefore like to officially state that we would be happy to conduct future business with the Candle Bridge Carrying Company and hope this sentiment is reciprocated. I reiterate: it was all the coal merchant's fault...
16.04.2013.

Fruit and alcohol. Mainly alcohol…

There was a thick fog hanging over the river at 6.30 this morning and this afternoon the sun shines so warmly that there’s no need for a jumper. I love this time of year.

Another reason why I love autumn is because of the harvests it brings. I have never been religious but I used to look forward to the Harvest Festival in the Methodist church opposite my school. Not for theDSCF5381 service itself, but because of the wonderful display of produce. And then we sang songs at the fruit and vegetables. Excellent.

 

This year the hedgerows have been abundant in their offerings. For us it is the God of Booze that is worshipped and to whom we make our sacrifices (does that make us sound like alcoholics? In case it does I’d like to mention that I love tea too: I love tea too...). But how can you pass up the opportunity for liqueur, whisky and gin when all this is on your boaty doorstep? DSCF5387

 DSCF5377

We usually make bDSCF5394lackberry whisky and sloe gin every year but this time round I wanted to utilise the hips. There are so many and it seemed a waste not to add them to our alcohol collection. The lovely @nbluckyduck of the fabulous nbluckyduck blog suggested I try a liqueur recipe from the Foraging London blog. I must say, it smells divine and very Christmassy already. I think it will be a huge success so I’m not sure whether it will last until Yule time as, well, you know, it has to be tested… a lot. Quality Control and all that…

The cat that (probably against her better judgement) came to live on a boat.

There are three questions we’re commonly asked about life on a boat by those who have no boating experience:

1. Do you have a toilet?
2. What do you do in winter when it’s cold?
3. Do cats make good pets on boats?

Well, yes we do have a toilet. And a shower. And a washing machine. And a dryer. We also have a TV, a microwave, a fridge and a cooker. This isn't the Dark Ages, don't you know? We can't use all the electrical appliances at once though. That would cause the universe to implode. When it’s cold outside we shut the doors and when it’s really cold we light the stove. When we are two foot deep in snow and frozen in our mooring we also switch on the diesel heater – or just when we want to have a shower; it heats our hot water. Cats are like people; some like boats and others don't. My neighbour is currently out searching for his as she didn't fancy a boat trip and has gone into hiding. I imagine a lot of cats do make good pets and crew members but ours doesn't - she’s rubbish. She never helps at locks and if you pass her a mooring line she stares at you before walking nonchalantly away. A dog would probably be better. At least dogs look enthusiastic most of the time.



The last answer isn't quite good enough for the enquiring people of this world. Why, they demand to know, do we make her live in such abject poverty and pikiness?

Well, truth be told, I think she secretly likes it. She’s still here for a start and since she’s a squatter it’s obviously a step up from where she came from. I’d usually go on to tell the unsuspecting passer-by Lolly’s life story but they’re no longer listening. No. They’re too enamoured by the cat lolling at their feet waiting for her belly to be scratched and have, by this time anyway, lost the ability to talk properly. “Poor kitty-catty, do the nasty-wasty people make you live on a boaty-woaty?”

It's at this point that I threaten mutiny unless Lolly tells them the truth. She never does and I never mutiny. Who would own me if I did?
So, this is the story of Lolly’s boating career otherwise known as How We Came to be Owned by a Cat.

She found us on a warm September day in 2005. We’d gone for a walk to take advantage of the late summer sunshine. I like to think that we were putting the world to rights and making last minute wedding plans as we strolled but a) I can't remember and b) I was excused from wedding planning on the basis that I was useless.

Cue the entrance of a little scrawny black and white cat. She pounced on us from out of the hedgerow. We had no warning other than a harrowing “eeerrrrrgh” as she charged at our ankles.

“She’s broken.” I remember saying as a furry mass of bones with massive green eyes looked up at us, for that wasn't a proper meow.

“Eeerrrrgh.” She confirmed.

We decided to work on the basis that she was lost. It never occurred to us that she could’ve been abandoned or never had a home at all. So, we led her back towards town in the hope that she’d find her bearings and return home. She didn't. She stayed with us that night.

When we led her to our boat she uttered a pitiful “eeergh!” I think she was hoping for a house. I could tell that she wanted to know whether we had a toilet and was conrned for our well-being during inclement weather.* "It’s okay,” I soothed, “we do in fact have a toilet. It flushes and everything.”

I lied to her to get her onboard. I told her we had cat food (we didn't) and that we in no way whatsoever had any other pets (we did). Eventually she followed us in.

“Oh,” I said feigning surprise, “we have rats. Did I mention the rats?” Nobby and Tain eyed her through the bars of their cage. They were expecting dinner. Her eyes grew in size when she saw them. I think the rest of her head disappeared at some point because all I remember are those massive green eyes. Still, she was only going to be with us overnight – how could the rats possibly eat her in that space of time (I neglected to tell her that they could open their cage by themselves and that Tain, the smallest of the two, already had an appetite for spiders – not their legs though. He’d leave them in a neat pile once he was done. I had visions of waking up the following morning and finding a set of cat legs)?

Since we didn't have anything even vaguely resembling cat food I gave her a bowl of Cheerios. “Eeeergh!” She said, but she ate them regardless.

The following day I took her to the vet’s. The receptionists declared that she was the most beautiful cat they’d ever seen. Of course she is, I thought, she’s our- I had to stop myself there. She wasn't ours and we weren't keeping her. The rats would eat her, I reminded myself. She’d hate living on a boat – everyone knows cats hate water...

There was much “oohing” and “ahhing” by the nurse too. She told me the cat was at least six months old (or thereabouts) and had either just had a litter of kittens or had reabsorbed them because her body couldn't sustain them in the condition she was in. And “ooh, doesn't she have big, beautiful eyes?”




“Kittens? But she IS a kitten?” I pointed at the tiny bundle of fluff. They start young, apparently.

“You’re a right proper Lolita.” I told her as we left the surgery. I decided against leaving her there after all.

We took her back to where we’d found her in the vague hope that she’d lead us to any kittens if she’d had any. She never did and after a thorough search we came to the conclusion that she’d never given birth.

Once we were home I made posters to put up around the town. Rob phoned the Cat’s Protection League. If she had owners we would find them - Someone somewhere would be missing her.

We thought we’d better name her in the interim. Calling her Kitty and Hey You only went so far (and she ignored them) and she wasn't so keen on Lolita. I think she was worried about her reputation. “Too late for that.” I reminded her, but still, she never answered to Lolita. My dad suggested shortening it to Lolly so we tried it out on her. We waited until she was distracted and I called “Lolly”.

She turned and looked at me.

That was probably a fluke so I tried the name out on her again. She responded. I later tried out a variety of other names and words that sounded similar. She didn't care for Molly, Brolly, Tolly, Colly, Dolly Holly or Polly. Ok, some of those I’d clearly made up.

“Lolly” I tried again.

She turned her big green eyes upon me.

That’s just not normal. Still, Lolly it would be. I tried calling her again just to make sure. She actually got up and walked over to me. I guess she liked that name... Or was expecting food.

No one ever did come forward to claim her and after a couple of weeks Rob declared that he’d found her a proper home – a home with a garden and a home that didn't move or was surrounded by water. Everybody knows cats hate water, he reminded me.

It was time to say goodbye.

Only I couldn't. I did try but I was in love and Lolly had settled in (if you didn't count being chased by rats and the odd tumble into the water).

I decided to sit her down and have a chat.

“There’s some people who want you to live with them.” I told her as calmly and with as few tears as possible. “They have a garden. And it isn’t full of water”.

“Eeerrgh!” Lolly said.

“Blame Rob.” I replied. “He obviously doesn’t love you as much as me.” Really, I wasn't at fault for giving her up.

She looked at me.

I broke.

“I think cats like water just fine.” I said, knowing full well that this particular one didn't.

“If you stay and you’re sad or you’re eaten by rats you’ve only got yourself to blame.” I really would feel responsible. “Are you telling Rob or should I?”

It turned out that it’d be my job. It also turned out (as I suspected all along) that Rob too had fallen in love with the scrawny bag of bones that had come to stay and our life would no longer be defined by us alone. No, we had inadvertently become human pets. Cunning. Cats are nothing if not cunning.

(She was never eaten by the rats, just in case you were worried. They did chase her a lot though).



* I may have made that bit up.