Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Aylesbury in January and February 2015

Here is a brief summary of what January and February held for us.

Building work in progress near the canal basin

We spent New Year in Suffolk with Maggie and Clive, being careful to treat the speed limits with respect this time. We enjoyed their company as usual, and had a relaxing few days.

Hugo seems to be OK when we go away. We set his automatic feeder, and leave an electric convector heater on keep the cold away. He is always pleased to see us when we return.

Hugo spends a lot of time in the office

We have two elderly people living on a boat in the canal basin.  George is in his late nineties, and has Alzheimer’s. He is meant to be the carer for his wife Ruby, who had her 100th birthday. We all celebrated in the clubhouse, and enjoyed seeing all her cards, including one from the Queen.

We have had some cold days, and there has been ice on the surface at times, but nothing very serious so far.  A light dusting of snow twice, and a centimetre once, which didn’t last long.

Winter day


We have made some excursions into the countryside and discovered the Ashridge Estate and the Bridgewater Monument, where there are lots of walks and views.

Bridgewater Monument

We went to Chesham Folk Club and sang a few songs at their singers night. We discovered that there is a good folk music scene in the area, with a singaround session at the Queens Head in Wing every two weeks, and another at the Half Moon at Wilstone once a month (where there was a power cut, so we sand by candlelight).  They are a friendly bunch of people, with some talented musicians among them.

Half moon at Wilstone

Inspired by this, we went to Reading to buy a guitarlele for Hazel. This, as the name suggests, is a cross between a guitar and a ukele.  It has six strings, and has similar chord shapes to a guitar, except that it is like playing at fifth fret. She is now trying to transpose some of the songs we do so that she can play along in the correct key. 

While we were in Reading we took the opportunity to visit David and Frances Hawkey in their new home in Newbury and John and Barbara Froggatt on their boat  in Theale. We are making good use of our car while we have it.

We have become involved in a life group with the church, where we discuss the message from last Sunday’s sermon. This is a good way to get to know a few people better than we could on a Sunday morning. This church has welcomed us warmly and we feel we would like to return next winter.

We have been taking part in the worship practices at the church. As we are not here for very long, we are not leading the worship on a Sunday, as it would change all the dynamics of the worship band. However, to be part of the practices is a real privilege, as we can keep up to date with new songs.  Even the practices are special times of worship.

The church also runs a café, called More+.  We volunteered to paint the walls of their new storeroom, and spent several hours getting very cold as the door had not yet been put on and there was no heating. Since then the floor has been laid, the door has been put on and the storeroom is now is use.  We have also helped behind the scenes with an Alpha course they are running in the café.

Sadly we have had two funerals recently.  Patrick was someone we got to know on the Droitwich mission in 2013, and he had something related to asbestosis. There was a good number of BCF members there in Burton Joyce near Nottingham, to celebrate his life and to support Elaine.

The following week we were in Fleet for Doreen’s funeral.  Last year we cruised the Basingstoke Canal, and we spent some time with Doreen and David, and attended Fleet Methodist Church with them.  Once again, as is often the case at a Christian funeral, there was a real feeling of celebration as we remembered Doreen’s life.

Having a car gives us opportunities to go to other events and we went to Abbotts Langley for a concert put by the Melrose quartet.  We saw half of them in 2011 in Northampton – Nancy Kerr and James Fagan.  They have teamed up with two others and they have intricate arrangements of folk songs and tunes, many of which they have written themselves. Fiddles, concertinas, guitars, bouzouki and harmonies.  Great.

Melrose Quartet

We put on a “cream tea with songs” event at the canal society, and we performed for about an hour, with folk songs and boating songs There were about thirty people. Very successful.  Hopefully it might have paved the way for a carols event next year.

James has bought a wildlife camera, to find out what walks along the towpath when we are asleep.  There is a learning curve to achieve before any photos get shown around. The camera is still in its box.

We had a BCF social event at the Bells of Ouzley at Runnymede. Again – it is useful to have a car at times.

The annual Canal Ministries conference took place in Stone, at Shallowford House. As usual it was an excellent time, with teaching based on John’s gospel. Hazel and I led the music, and were really blessed by the response.  This year there were three couples added to our number: Tim and Tracey on Sola Gratia, Rob and Tricia on Mistol, and Chris and Sally on Kairos.  It was good also to have Roger and Mirjana Garland with us for some of Saturday.

Hazel’s Dad, Arthur, appears to have had a minor stroke, which has left him a bit confused and less mobile. He is 91 in March, and lives on his own in a 2-bed terraced house which only has one toilet and that is upstairs. Thankfully he has wonderful neighbours, Julie and Brian, who get his shopping, mow his lawn and keep an eye on him.

Snowdrops and crocuses are out, with daffodils almost there. The sun is shining and March begins next week.  We plan to leave by boat on 22nd March, heading north up the Grand Union, then south down the Oxford Canal to the Thames, and downstream to London.  Blogs will be more frequent when we start moving.

Aylesbury in December 2014

Town Basin, Aylesbury

We went to the Byfleet Boat Club Christmas party. A good meal and a live band, with great company. Also some very silly goings on. This was the final BBC event for us, as one of the conditions of membership is that we must go on the rota for hiring out rowing boats to the public.  Whilst we enjoy doing this, and meeting people, we are not prepared to travel from Wales, or the Huddersfield Canal or wherever we are in order to do this. So, sadly, we have had to resign after 16 years.  It is all part of moving on.

Byfleet Boat Club Christmas Party

Rather than drive back, we stayed Saturday night at the Queens Head annexe (a private house in Byfleet which we had to ourselves).  In the morning we went to Weybridge Methodist Church, where it was good to see lots of our friends.

We also went to the Aylesbury Canal Society Christmas party in the local Wetherspoons pub. This was a little more “normal” than the Byfleet one.


Aylesbury Canal Society Christmas Party

The water in the basin fluctuates a bit, and there has been an old working boat at the entrance, stranded on the silt as the levels have been too low. In the middle of December the levels rose briefly, and two guys arrived to move the boat into the basin.  They didn’t start the engine, but instead, they used poles to manoeuvre the vessel through the lift bridge and backwards onto the other side of our pontoon. Our new neighbour is Fulbourne, a “Large Woolwich” town class narrowboat built in 1937 for GUCCCo (Grand Union Canal Carrying Company).  The boat is owned by a consortium of enthusiasts, and we have seen it at Little Venice Cavalcade and elsewhere.

 Fulbourne arriving to become our neighbour

Our daughter Amanda has just bought a house in Poole, so went to visit her and stay overnight. The house is ideal for her, with a cabin style office and workshop in the garden, where she can set up her kiln for her glassware.  She has a lodger who has also moved with her, and this helps with the bills.  She also has an accounting job with McCarthy & Stone, who run retirement homes.

On the way back we visited our neighbours in Portmore Quays who were having a drinks party.  Sadly our tenants were not there, but it was pleasant catching up with the other residents.

Another weekend we went to the carol service at Rickmansworth, organised by our friend Henry Kingsnorth, on behalf of Boaters Christian Fellowship.  We collected BCF friends Tim and Tracey, and guide dog Oakley, from Winkwell, near Hemel Hempstead.  The ancient pub near their boat, the Three Horseshoes, had a chimney fire, and all the patrons and staff were being evacuated to the garden and car park.  There was a lot of smoke, but no serious damage as far as we could tell.

Three Horseshoes on fire

The well attended carol service was canal side, by Batchworth Lock, and involved a choir and a brass band. An excellent evening, followed by a visit to an Indian restaurant on the way back.

 Rickmansworth Carol Service

Another carols event we attended was in the Plough, a pub near us in Aylesbury.  Put on by Bourton Community Church, it was a good time to proclaim the reason for Christmas, joyfully and unashamedly, to the pub regulars and staff.

We wanted to hold a carols and folk songs event in the canal society clubhouse, similar to the successful and popular ones we have had at Byfleet Boat Club.  We established a date and put up a poster, and started preparing some songs.  A few days before the event, we had a visit from one of the committee, who said that we needed to cancel it as very few people were planning to come. Apparently they had seen our Canal Ministries and Boaters Christian Fellowship logos on the boat, and they were afraid of being preached at.  Sadly we agreed to cancel it. Maybe next year.  As it happened, we both had colds coming on, so would not have been at our best.   It transpired later that several people had been planning to come, and they were disappointed that it had been cancelled.

The Sunday before Christmas Bourton Community Church did not hold a service, so we went to Aylesbury Vale Community Church on the outskirts of Aylesbury.  They had an enormous birthday cake for Jesus which really highlighted what Christmas is all about.  Christmas seems to have been hijacked by Santa Claus and all the materialism.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Christmas Day itself was a family affair.  We collected our son Oliver from Farnborough, followed by Hazel’s dad Arthur from Southampton, and journeyed on to Poole, where Amanda hosted a Christmas meal for everyone.  Greg, Jessy, Jasmin and Claudia drove from Leatherhead to join us and they stayed overnight.  We drove back to Aylesbury the same day via Southampton and Farnborough. At least there were very few lorries and vans on the roads.

The final few days of the year brought some sharp frosts, and ice on the water.

Sunrise over Aylesbury


Hoar frost

 Icy rope

The Morso Squirrel

The Morso Squirrel

You really only want to read this if you have a coal fire or are planning to get one.

We are getting to grips with the coal system, and several times each day there is something that must be done if we are to stay warm at our mooring at Aylesbury Canal Society. 

There is a delivery to the area on Wednesday or Thursday, and if we ring up with a credit card on Monday or Tuesday our order will be left near the gates to the basin. For the moment we are using Homefire Ovals.

There are various trolleys, trucks and barrows we can use to get the coal to the boat, where we can stow it carefully either in the bows or on the roof so that the boat does not list.

Bringing it onto the stern deck
To avoid trying to wrestle with bags of coal in the rain or snow, we bring it in, one bag at a time, under the pram hood on the stern where it stays dry.

Filling the coal hod
To get the coal inside the cabin we use a coal hod which we fill on the back deck by tipping the open bag of coal towards the hod. This makes a loud thudding noise so we try to avoid doing this late at night. Sometimes a lump of coal goes astray making a mess of the back deck. This doesn’t please the ship’s first lady.

Bringing it into the cabin
We lug the full hod through the double doors, down three steps, through the galley, past the dinette and into the saloon, where it comes to rest beside the fire, ready for use. It sounds a long way but it’s only about twenty feet, (6 or 7 metres for those of you of more tender age than I)

Feeding the Morso Squirrel coal fire
Two or three times a day we shovel some more coal into the fire.

Riddling and poking
There is a device on the fire called a riddler. This a rod which can be pulled in and out, which in turn swivels the bottom grate, causing the coals to settle and the ash to drop through to the pan underneath.  This is not completely effective, so additional action can be taken with the poker to rummage among the coals, making the ash drop away. It is helpful also to lift the coals with the poker to allow air to reach all parts of the fire.

Adjusting the air flow
There is a ventilator below the grate to allow air in. The more this is opened, the faster the fire will burn. There is also a door to the ash pan which can be opened ajar to let even more air in, for example when first lighting the fire.  There is a further ventilator above the level of the fire which allows air down inside the front of the glass, theoretically preventing a build up of tar on the glass.

Changing the ash tray
We have bought an extra ash tray, which fits neatly underneath the stove out of sight.  When the tray in use is nearly full of ash, and before the riddling and poking exercise, we take it out and exchange it with the empty one from under the stove. It takes an hour or two to cool off. We need to do this before riddling and poking, otherwise we have hot bits of fuel among the ash, which gives off carbon monoxide and sets off our alarm. If the alarm is not working we die.

Removing the ash
When the full ash tray has cooled enough, we take it to the stern of the boat where we empty it into our ash bin, a small dustbin with a lid, which we line with a plastic shopping bag.  This makes a bit of dust, which doesn’t please the ship’s first lady. If the tray has not cooled enough, the plastic shopping bag melts, which makes even more mess. The now empty ash tray is then returned to it’s place under the stove.

Emptying the ash bin
When about six ash trays have been emptied into the ash bin, it is fairly full, and the plastic shopping bag full of ash is tied and placed carefully into an empty coal bag. Hopefully the small holes common in plastic shopping bags do not line up with the holes often found in empty coal bags, otherwise there is more dust, which doesn’t please the ship’s first lady.

Dumping the ash
When the coal bag has several ash bags inside, it is time to take the entire bag over to the dustbins by the marina entrance.

Other related jobs
Apart from these regular jobs which come under the loose generic term “coal and ash management”, there are ancillary tasks, such as: kindling management (acquisition, storage and use), firelighter management (acquisition, storage and use), cleaning the glass, dust management (sweeping, collecting, disposal, vacuuming.

So what shall we do today?  Oh! It’s 5pm already!