Sunday, 26 December 2010

Here we are, iced in in Cheddington, Bucks.

We have had a wonderful Christmas with friends in London and a little 4 month old who seemed to enjoy his first Christmas.

There is wood to collect, water to fill up, and lots of work to be done over the next few weeks, but today and tomorrow we pause, rest, and give thanks for all we have.

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Walking, Driving, but not cruising - in a winter wonderland

It's still cold.

The snow has stopped falling, but the temperature here is still resolutely below 0c. That might not sound too cold for you folks in Canada, but here, 0c presents many real problems!

I remember at my Nanny's house, if it got too cold, the pipes would freeze. When they did, she would open up the cupboard in the bathroom through which the pipes travelling and often put an electric heater near by to try to gently warm them up. She lived in an old house, and of course, the pipes never froze in my parent's house - built in 1985.

Because most of the housing stock in England is Victorian (a shocking endictment of English house-building practices since the war - to think that houses, sewers, and general infrastructure built over 100 years ago is still relied on daily by the vast majority of the population), the housing stock has been adapted as new fangled things like electricity and indoor plumbing came into existence. I remember when I first moved here how surprised I was to see the pipes that brought water to the house I lived in and sewage from it were on the outside of the house, and entered through holes drilled in the external wall in bathrooms and kitchens. My first thought was "those must freeze in the winter" - but as English winters (at least in the South, and at least until recently) used to be just 6 months where the rain was colder than usual - the plumbing function perfectly well.

This recent cold snap, though, has tested (and broken!) some of England's most integral infrastructure.

Heathrow Airport, the world's busiest International Hub, has been closed, and now is reopened with very limited service after the recent snowfall - and by recent, I mean on Saturday. Imagine if 15 cm of snow meant that Lester Pearson Airport in Toronto was closed for a day, and experienced severe delays and cancellations for days afterwards - people would be up in arms!

Roads have been closed (though thankfully now many are functioning - if not well, the adequately) - and people have been advised to cancel Christmas travel plans if possible.

I have not escaped the recent cold weather chaos! Aside from having to try to travel through it, we also had our own version of "frozen pipes" this morning when we turned on the water to find that the water pump could not pump any water from our boat's holding tank.

At first, I thought "we've run out of water". We've been low for days, and unable to travel to a marina or "water point" (a standpipe where boats can fill up with water) due to the canal being frozen. So, I went in hunt of a water carrier - (the sort of think you use when camping) and after much searching, found a 25L "jerry can".

I took it to the nearest water point - which was frozen. After struggling to get my car out of the snow around the water point, I journeyed to the next one a few miles up the canal only to discover that rather than having a simple spout like most do, that would mean the water would come straight out of the "tap" and into my jerry can, the tap was located inside a metal box. My can wouldn't fit into this box, but thankfully the box had a drainage hole (presumably for excess water if someone leaves a tap dripping. With apologies to those who ask us not to waste water, I turned on the tap full blast and put my jerry can under the drainage hole to collect as much as I could.

I'm happy to report that water is flowing freely (albeit in less volume - as we are trying to conserve it now) on our boat.

The snow is lovely. The ice is beautiful - but the magic is starting to wear off. Give me an English winter anyday - and take this Canadian one back where it belongs.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Snow every day, please!

Before I begin, let me make it clear that I like to be warm. I don't enjoy seeing my breath when I wake up, having to gather wood every hour to keep the fire going, and scraping ice of my car's windscreen before I drive anywhere - but please, let it snow every day in England.

The snow brings out the best in the English. It makes them funny, helpful, and brings out the "make do" "Dunkirk" spirit of legend.

The English are a friendly lot, more or less, but not friendly like folks back home in Canada. The English will say "hello" and talk about the weather, and will make polite conversation (unlike some of their European neighbours) but in general are more subdued in their "friendliness" than Canadians.

This all changes, though, when you add a few inches of snow - hell, a few centimetres of snow - to their environs. All of a sudden, perfect strangers and giving you advice on the best road to take to the nearest village, pushing your car when you struggle to go up a hill, and generally "mucking in".

Today, I decided to make the 5 mile trip to the nearest town with a supermarket. It had been snowing heavily -by both Canadian and English standards - for an hour or so, but having learned to drive in a country where a foot of snow wouldn't stop me getting where I wanted to go, I headed off to pick up what we needed for the weekend.

Passing through Marsworth, near where we are moored, I found on the bridge, people directing traffic - gesturing when to pass over the one laned bridge, and when to wait for a car coming the other way. A few miles further, where a lorry had gotten stuck on the bridge, people were out of their cars trying to push it to get it started again.

To a Canadian reading this, you might think "what's the big deal about going over a bridge?" but most of the bridges where I am now were built hundreds of years ago and designed to deal with horses and walkers - not cars. They rise at a sharp gradient - and being single laned and rising sharply, when you approach them, you can't see if someone is coming the other way and will run into you as you pass over the crest of the bridge.

As the bridge into the town was blocked by the lorry, I turned around and decided to go back to the boat for a cup of tea before setting off to the town on a different route. When I got back to Marsworth, I found the impromtu traffic directors had "upped their game" and had found a piece of carpet, which they laid across the road to give cars extra traction when trying to get over the bridge. These were the same people who would barely say hello to you, let alone have a conversation with you, on a day when it was sunny and fine -but here they were, showing you where to stop on the carpet, and then, when you started off, giving your car an extra push.

I'm lucky to know, more or less, how to drive in snow - but was almost tempted to feign ignorance simply because random strangers were so keen to help me.

I know it disrupts travel, causes delays, and makes my boat a helluvalot colder- but for all the goodwill on display today - I'd love it to keep snowing straight on through until June.

Friday, 17 December 2010

All pumped out and nowhere to go

Like most other boats over the past few weeks, we've been iced in. Last year we crashed through our fair share of ice, and were determined to avoid it if at all possible. We've been in Marsworth for a few weeks waiting for the ice to melt, and by yesterday afternoon, it was! We made a dash for the marina to pump out our waste tank (goodbye one months worth of poop!) and moored up. We have to work all day today (Friday) which means that as the weather deteriorates - again - we will most likely find ourselves iced in a few miles from where we've spent the past few weeks - but at least now we will be able to use the loo without worrying too much about the waste tank.

Now, for some water. Please, PLEASE may we not be iced in when we get home - or please, may the water fairy fill our tank tonight!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Never Apologise, never explain

Oh! So I've been gone for a while. I see that my last post was in February.

Why has this been the case? Where to start!

Needless to say, getting used to living on a narrowboat took rather more time than I thought. In those days in February, and onwards until May, once I had finished cleaning, working, gathering wood, and moving the boat - well, there was neither the time (nor, most likely the battery power) for such luxuries as updating the blog.

The last 10 months in a nutshell included the sad death of First Mate Oliver the cat, an unwelcome Cancer diagnosis, a very welcome Cancer "all clear", some new batteries (hence why I have a fully charged laptop to update the blog) and travels up through Stoke Bruerne, Braunston, Oxford, Rugby, Coventry.

Where are we now? In Marsworth, of course - and, as we always seem to be when I am in Marsworth, we are iced in.

I'm hoping that my local paper back in Canada will put a link to this blog on their webpage - and so will certainly be keeping this blog up to date. I hope to include some more of our tales on the boat - and also my ramblings on the state of this wonderful, maddening, enchanting, frustrating, and beautiful country.