Friday, January 05, 2018

On the twelfth day of Christmas...

Blimey! Didn't that go quickly? So all of those beautiful decorations have to come down tomorrow. And only two of the four sets of lights stopped working this year! LEDs are definitely the type to have.

We went out for a stroll on Boxing Day. The weather looked promising. It was in fact promising to rain, but we went anyway. Jess and Eddie were both at work, so four of us drove out to nearby Verulamium Park. It was lovely, even under a gloomy sky, and loads of people were out enjoying it with us.

Expecting rain as we were (which started as promised just as we were heading back towards the car), I didn't take a camera, so these photos were taken on the same day back in 2014, when we'd had rather better weather.







And, since games were in the Christmas atmosphere, there were more of those later in the day, and more Christmas dinner and tea left-overs enjoyed, washed down with bottom-of-bottle wines and forgotten-and-left-in-a-corner ales.

Michelle went home on Wednesday, and we tried to settle into a life that wasn't quite so indolent. We did have a very long to-do list, after all. To do, or not to do? That was the question.

One job did keep surfacing in our thoughts, though. Our box-room (originally a bedroom and dubbed "The Snug") had for some years housed Eddie's vinyl record collection. But this collection had grown, and so also had the number of other things that had started to accumulate amongst them. Eddie could no longer access all of them. Something had to be done.

Fortuitously, there was another problem involving rooms which we were able to merge in with the box-room issue. I think I've mentioned Steve's portable recording studio (home-built sound-damping panels that link together to form a booth, and his home-built mega-computer for recording and mixing - plus numerous microphones, cables and attendant paraphernalia) which has been difficult to store. Plus, Jess has a large collection of musical instruments, many of which had ended up with Eddie's vinyls. The solution...

...a music room!

Our front room has been the least-used room ever since we moved out of the house and onto Kantara. When we're back, it's only used by us to watch TV. And even then we have to clear the sofas of ukuleles, whistles, a tiple and a flute, left there after a Said the Maiden rehearsal. The obvious thing to do, then, was to move all of Jess' instruments into this room (plus two guitars of mine, Steve's bass guitar, and the electric piano that was already there). We brought down a lovely old leather-topped writing desk from Grace's office/study/studio, where it was surplus to requirement, and Steve set up his recording kit on that. He arranged the sound-absorbing panels around the wall, Nome and Ed took one of the pair of sofas to replace their dead one, shelves were cleared to house the smallest instruments and job done! Said the Maiden and their engineer/producer can now rehearse and record comfortably, without having to move things around. One sofa, the TV and the hi-fi remain for Grace and me. It was a very pleasing outcome for everyone concerned.


Only one related job remained...

The box-room has in it two, 2-drawer filing cabinets for Grace and me to use. They were very full, and the fullness was largely attributable to many years of out-dated paperwork. You know the kind of thing. Bank statements, pay slips, insurance documents, mortgage stuff, and all of them dating back beyond ten years. It had to go. It didn't take long to sort it out, but shredding it required us to buy a new shredder - we'd killed one several years ago - and several hours of my feeding the papers into the shredder (though, in fairness, some of that time was periodical breaks of 30 minutes for shredder rest after it had cut out from overheating!) I took four large bin-bags of shreddies shreddings to the recycling centre this morning.

What next? Oh, yes, the decorations! Tomorrow! 😒




Thursday, January 04, 2018

On the first day of Christmas...

Doesn't Christmas pass quickly? Always? Over a week has gone now, and there's still mince pies to be eaten, and we've not quite finished the stock from the turkey - Grace makes some superb soups from meat and bone stock. But don't the decorations look sad now? Not tatty and worn out, but almost out of place. Some folk near us have thrown their Christmas tree out! Ours will stay though, and all the rest of the decorations, until twelfth night, as per tradition. No drummers drumming, however.

Christmas was great. Friend Michelle arrived early in the afternoon of Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning we all seven went to church before enjoying a fine feast together, Grace and Naomi our chefs in residence. We waited between courses to allow our stomachs to find room for the several desserts that were almost ready, and only then did we pull the crackers.

Now these were not ordinary crackers. Ohhh no! These were Robin Reed Symphony Crackers. They had hats (that fit!), as normal, and awful jokes that make you laugh anyway. But they had something else rather different.
It's a set of eight whistles, each tuned to one note of an octave, with sheet music and a baton for the conductor. A number gets stuck to the end of each whistle, and everyone takes one. There were only seven of us, so Jess had two. The printed music isn't in standard notation, but rather a string of numbers from 1 to 8. The conductor has the job of pointing to each whistler as and when their number comes in the sequence. You're not actually doing this, and you're probably not rather tipsy either, so it may not sound like much fun to you, but it was funny. Very funny. The comic effect of the whole shambolic affair was further enhanced by the fact that some of the whistles were... well, not to put too fine a point on it - a bit out of tune. And it just may be that the person who committed the sixteen tunes into sequences of numbers wasn't actually entirely sure of all of the tunes, resulting in the canniest of the "musicians" anticipating their moments, but getting it wrong because the score disagreed with them. It was hilarious. Jess made a short video of it, and I'll post that as soon as I've deemed it fit for public consumption. If I can.

Desserts over and washing-up in the dishwasher, we all sat around the Christmas tree and opened gifts. No gold, frankincense or myrrh (though I'm told that the last two have numerous uses as essential oils, so I wouldn't have been surprised to see them amongst the presents), but everyone was delighted with it all.

Christmas Day isn't complete without silly games, and we played several. And they don't get sillier than Spoons.
"Spoons, also known as Pig or Tongue, is a fast-paced game of matching and occasional bluffing. It is played with an ordinary pack of playing cards and several ordinary kitchen spoons or other objects.
Spoons is played in multiple rounds, and each player's objective is to grab a spoon. No spoon may be grabbed until one player has collected a four of a kind, but once the first player to get a four of a kind has grabbed a spoon, all players may immediately reach out to attempt to grab a spoon. No player may grab more than one spoon at a time. As in the game musical chairs, there is always one fewer spoon than there are players, so one player will always be left without a spoon. Depending on the variety of game being played, that player either loses the game and is eliminated, or continues playing but loses a point. When two players are left and one person gets four of a kind, it doesn't matter who gets the spoon. At that point, whoever gets it the fastest wins." (Wikipedia)
So it's easy to play, even when you're full of dinner and fuelled by post-present excitement and alcohol, and it's very addictive. We call the game Spoons, but we use cotton-wool balls. Imagine the damage that can be done by seven people lunging at the table and making a grab for something as hard and effortlessly propellable as a spoon! Six of them!

Numbers were swelled in the early evening by the arrival of six of Eddie's family, games continued, chins were wagged and a large tea was demolished.

Then bed. We were zonked! It hadn't been a white Christmas as weather forecasters had suggested might happen (some weeks ago!), but it had been a really good day. Thank God for Christmas!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

It's that time of the year again!

Our days have been seriously boring since my last post
 (which always makes me think of this!)

We left Kantara two weeks ago, winterised against the very cold weather she endured throughout the several days that followed. In fact, the cold was so severe (minus 14 celsius was recorded on the marina, apparently) we did our normal neurotic thing of going back to her the following week, just to make sure we'd done the job properly, and that she hadn't sprung a frozen leak in some pipe-filled corner we'd overlooked. All was well, and the lowest temperature recorded on our max/min thermometer was minus point 8.

Since then, it's been fairly unhurried Christmas preparation for us; cards written and posted, decorations up, tree, a bit of shopping, Nothing exciting. But we're looking forward to the day. It'll be all six of us for dinner, plus Michelle, and several of Eddie's family will probably join us in the evening. I've bought the very best Christmas crackers ever, but I can't reveal any details until after they've been enjoyed at dinner that day, lest any of the family read this before then. But these crackers will be a lot of fun!

We anticipate being here at the house until the beginning of February. Before then, we intend to plan some serious cruising for 2018. This year, we just about managed four weeks of it. Those of you who read the blog regularly will know why. Planning's something that Grace doesn't like to do, but we'll have some trips mapped out roughly before February, and then we can choose which to do, singly or severally, as the year progresses. We're hopeful! One thing that we have in mind is to re-do the rings we did on holidays years ago. Cheshire, Stourport, Four Counties, but this time taking them rather more slowly. (How good it is, not to have that deadline, that morning when you have to be back at the hire company's base!) We shall see.

Until we're back on Kantara, the blog will be probably be pretty much static, so Grace and I wish you all now a very Happy Christmas, and an equally pleasing 2018.


Monday, December 04, 2017

The end of the tour

From Whitby we drove across to Sheffield. It was a lovely, largely cross-country drive under a favourable sky, though our entry into the city was grim at best. The shabbiness in places was quite depressing, and I felt somehow wrong when we made our way out of those areas into cobbled, leafy streets lined with elegant Victorian houses. Our hotel was very grand for a 3-star one, and made even more so when our room was upgraded to an executive suite at no extra cost. (We were puzzled by the presence of two double beds.)

From the hotel, we drove down into the city again, to The Greystones pub and, behind it,  "The Backroom", the music venue.



Here, the Maidens performed to a full house. the audience enthusiastic and very appreciative. The venue has hosted many famous acts, and Judie Tzuke - one of my all-time favourites - is scheduled to play there in February. Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, too - folky friends of StM. It's a lovely place.

Just a few days later, we were in Westcliff-on-Sea for another Said the Maiden gig. We took Jess as far as Chelmsford, home of BBC Essex where she joined Hannah and Kathy to be interviewed and to play songs from their new album, "Here's a Health". 


Grace and I drove on, and listened to their radio spot sitting in a car-park in Southend. We went there in particular hoping to find somewhere to eat, but were much disappointed. And it was late November, so Southend didn't really have anything else to offer, either, apart from a gloomy view of a receding tide in the Thames estuary.


We drove on, found a decent-looking restaurant, but couldn't for the life of us find anywhere to park, drove on, found a lovely-looking pub, but found that it wasn't serving food, drove on again and found a Marston's pub that fulfilled all of our search criteria. We ate gratefully. But when we'd finished, we had a problem.

It was about 4 o'clock. We had thought that the doors would be open at the "Hoy at anchor" folk club at 7:00, but now we were told that it would be 7:30, and this added an hour to our "what to do in and around Southend for more than three hours" problem. We knew that parking might be a problem near the gig, so we drove to Westcliff and found the venue, parking almost right outside. Now what? Sit in the car for hours? See the sights of Westcliff? (almost non-existent, I'm told) Sleep? 

We opted for a pub, but since I was going to be driving later, we only allowed ourselves one pint. And how long can you make one pint last? Not long. Back to the car.

Shortly after that, however, the Maidens arrived, later than they'd expected because of a coil failure in Hannah's car, but their arrival got us into the venue, which was warm and comfortable and sold decent tea and coffee. We were happy to wait. Michelle arrived not long afterwards, having had a near-death experience courtesy of an overtaking, oncoming car that forced her off the road. She needed some music to take her mind off it!

The evening was excellent, of course. It was Jess' birthday, and there was cake for all, a huge rendition of "Happy birthday to you", and a lot of fun was had by all.


The final gig of the "Here's a Health" tour was at Uxbridge Folk Club. The place was packed, the support band, "Threaded" were superb. Steve was with us again. Like us, he'd been at the Maidens' album launch gig in Camden, and was interested to see the subtle ways in which their performances had changed over the weeks. And they had!

(Note the guest appearance of Her Majesty on the right!)


StM were as great as always. I was amazed that they weren't all exhausted from the tour - the driving, performing, doing their day-jobs sometimes between performances. If there was any exhaustion, they didn't show it, and the audience loved them.

The final bow of the tour!
Now they're back to normal, whatever normal is for them! And we're back on Kantara. In the next couple of days we'll be preparing her for a winter without us, and we'll be back in St Albans for Christmas and January. While we're there, we'll be outlining our plans for 2018 -  cruising alone (together!), and with friends, and with family; day trips for other friends, and zinc coating on the hull. It's a lot to hope for. This has been a very strange year, and our boating has been greatly curtailed for several reasons, but we're optimistic for the future!

Watch this space!


Sunday, November 26, 2017

We do like to be beside the seaside...

Nestled behind our hotel, and accessed from the narrow street that passed our room on its way down to a bigger road that led down further to join two other hilly roads that tumbled down to the harbour (get the picture?) was Rusty Shears Tea Room.




Serving excellent food at sensible prices, the shop attracts a steady stream of customers for breakfast, lunchtime snacks and afternoon teas, despite its rather out-of-the-way location. We had lunch there on the Sunday, and breakfast on two other days. It's very charming, and we wish it were close to us in Yelvertoft!

The abbey ruins and the more recent church stand atop the cliffs overlooking the harbour. They're reached by steep, winding, narrow cobbled streets, then 199 steps. Stopping for a breather on the way up, we turned around to see a car make the mistake of turning left onto the very steep ramp (it couldn't be called a road, for no wheeled vehicle would be able to ascend it, nor descend safely) alongside the steps. The driver thought better of it straight away!
The ramp!
Views from the steps

The 12th century Church of St Mary is one of the strangest churches we've seen.



There are pews on a balcony on three of the walls, which isn't unusual in a church of this small size, but all of the pews downstairs are in boxes, installed in the 18th century, many of them owned, at least originally, by particular families. A number of others are reserved for the use of anyone else. Some of them are inscribed "For strangers only". It would be difficult for many of the congregants to see the vicar in his pulpit, such is the height of the boxes and the angle of the pews inside them. Note the primitive stove in the photo. I doubt that it would do much to alleviate the chill in the old building on a winter's day!





The pulpit itself is something of an oddity. It is built with three tiers, though I couldn't discover why there are three.



Most unusually, there are "trumpets" on the back of it, which connect to a tube through which the hard-of-hearing wife of one of the vicars could listen to the service as she sat in the middle tier. So who was ensconced in the bottom tier?



Bram Stoker used St Mary's Church graveyard as the setting for a scene in his novel, "Dracula". In fact, much of the tourist industry of Whitby does its best to profit from the town's involvement in that famous book.


We didn't have time to visit the abbey; the afternoon was wearing thin, and we wanted to have enough time to spend to justify our (exorbitant, we thought) entrance fee.

Grace has recently read the book "Secrets" by Freya North, and the story is set in the town of Saltburn, not far from where we were staying, so we paid it a visit, just out of interest. It's not a seaside town like Whitby, but rather a town by the sea. No cafes, shops or candyfloss stalls. No sea-side promenade, no pier. Just a small funicular railway down the cliff. A dozen or so surfers attempting to ride waves that lacked the energy to give them the lift. We thought them daft, but had to admire their determination. We took no photos. There was nothing worthy. Saltburn was dull and boring, but Grace had at least enjoyed the book!

On Wednesday, we went to Scarborough. There are two beaches, one to the north of a promontory into the sea, and the other to the south. The north beach is wide, with clean, firm sand, but clearly not the popular beach for holiday-makers. Rows of Victorian Hotels stand patiently along the top of the cliff. The only thing that suggests that people do spend time here is the row of beach-huts.








Scarborough South Beach, however, was much more as I'd imagined Scarborough would be. Dry sand whipped across the surface towards the sea. The sea was choppy, and the wind was strong enough to stop you in your stride; one of those winds that makes you lean into it as you try to stand still, then lets you fall over when it stops. The sea front had no surprises, in fact, it has all of the things that the North Beach lacks, though many of the shops and amusement arcades were closed. I was disappointed not to find an eatery called "Scarborough Fare". On the roads leading down to the front many shops were closed right down and boarded up. The one old church is derelict. The harbour, however, seemed to be busier than Whitby's.










On our way back to Whitby, we took a detour via a single width road that wound its way down very steeply towards Robin Hood Bay. We thought Robin Hood came from Sherwood in Nottinghamshire. Perhaps this is where he had his holidays! We arrived almost at sea level at the start of a muddy track that purported to be a navigable route for cars. I didn't trust it. I turned the car around* and crawled back to the main road to continue our journey. The moors were windy and wonderful in the fading light and the layered hues of autumn. A windy wonderland.

(* I automatically typed "winded" here!)

Thinking that Ravenscar would be a scar, a geographical feature that risse above the surrounding land to afford a fabulous view across the sea and the moors, we followed the signs and took another detour. We were wrong. It's simply a village, with a public toilet that has a sign "Welcome to the Ravenscar Toilet" outside it, and a donation box to accept the monetary gifts of those who have been appropriately relieved. We drove on.

>>>===<<<



Please note that another update to "Hints and tips..." has been added to the Addendum Blog.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Going where the cold wind blows *

We arrived in Yorkshire in good weather, and the sea spread out far and wide below us to our right as we descended the long and winding road that leads into Whitby. The town is very short of spare space, being a somewhat scrunched-together sort of place, and the hotel has no car park. Instead, there's a Pay-and-Display nearby, charging £8 for 24 hours. 6 hours is the next shortest option, rubbish for overnight stays! Fortunately, we found out at the hotel reception that we could buy there a £1 ticket that allowed us to park on certain neighbouring streets for 48 hours. Something of an improvement!

Pretty much all of the streets in this quaint old town slope down to the sea, sometimes very steeply, with many, more level narrow streets connecting them on the way down. Our hotel, The Resolution (one of Captain James Cook's ships in the mid 18th century), was built on one such hill, and our room, although it was part of a cellar conversion one floor below the "ground floor" reception, was actually at street level further down the hill on the opposite side of the building. If you see what I mean!



The cellar conversion was well done, but it wasn't the warmest of rooms, because the big old radiator on one wall wasn't working, and there was only an electric convector to do its work. The spacious, elegant bathroom was cold enough to keep milk fresh. Our bed was warm, but could easily have been mistaken for a billiard table had it not been for the total absence of green baize. But it was a good place to stay, and very convenient for the town and the harbour.



We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find somewhere where we could eat later, but everywhere that looked right for us was very busy, and they weren't taking evening bookings. We ate at the hotel, and weren't displeased.

Sunday was photo day, and we wandered down to the town and harbour. It was jam-packed with visitors, and the narrow, cobbled streets of tiny shops were heaving with people. It was really sunny and bright, and so very cold, but this didn't stop people coming out in throngs.

Whitby is very photogenic.











  







There was a man on the pier, a local, who came down every day, he said, to feed the birds. Not just any birds, but turnstones, recently arrived from Canada and Greenland. We'd never seen one before, and now there was a crowd of around a dozen just a metre or so away from us!




With a few hours to spare, we drove out across the North York moors, where the wind was so strong we hardly dared get out of the car to explore or take photos.

We spent Monday looking at Whitby's dozens of fascinating eclectic shops. There were far, far fewer people now, and we could actually get inside the shops with ease. This small town has many jewellers, and jet features heavily in all of them.


Jet's a stone that's been mined locally for centuries, though cheaper, inferior-quality stone (much of it actually fake) is being imported these days, too. We chatted for some time with a man who crafts jet jewellery in a tiny shop near the abbey ruins, and he was very knowledgeable, and fascinating to speak with.

In the course of our conversation, we told him about Said the Maiden, how they had been scheduled to perform at Whitby's Pavilion Theatre. He told us about MusicPort, who organize musical events throughout the year, and an annual Music Festival. They also have a shop just across the road from our hotel, so we dropped in later to chat with the couple who own it. They told us all about the festival, we told them all about the Maidens, and they were very keen to hear them, with a view to recommending them to the festival organizer. Back at the hotel, I emailed them web links to six videos of the trio, and they are now waiting hopefully for an invitation to play at the festival next October.
Whitby is the traditional seaside resort with rock and toffee cinder and nut brittle and all kinds of other tooth-rotting sweets The beach is huge when the tide is out, but with a wind that could cut you in two, and driven clouds of sand quite capable of depilating any man's five o'clock shadow. There is a promenade with numerous establishments determined to make you part with money for little return. There are buckets and spades and kites, quirky shops with antiques and eclectic clothing and tawdry, tacky gifts. There's fish and chips galore. And restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars and all other manner of eatery fill the remaining spaces. Ancient churches stand resolutely grim and grimy opposite each other, even next to each other. The pervading smell is of cooked food and fishy, oily sea air. The surround-sound is mewling, screeching gulls against the music that thumps continuously out of pubs and amusement arcades.

I love Whitby!



* The title is an (originally unconscious) reference to the song "The Pines" (or "Where did you sleep last night") made famous by Leadbelly, Nirvana - and now, Said the Maiden! (click to view and enjoy)