Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Homeward Bound

The poor Egyptian project manager’s head was spinning after an intense three days of briefings from me.  I suspect he started out thinking the project would be interesting but then suddenly realised how much he didn’t know about both project management and cultural change management. My guess is I’ll be requested to provide ongoing support.

When talking to one of my closer Saudi colleagues I mentioned I’d read the ban on women driving vehicles in Saudi Arabia might soon be lifted.  He informed me that if this occurred he would forbid his wife and daughter to drive.  My initial thought was “Backward MCP” and then I realised I was being very judgemental and probably prejudice.  As I was thinking this he explained the ban was for their own safety.  More prejudice thoughts on my part about a perceived inability of women to drive a vehicle.  He then went on to explain his wife or daughter could be attacked by ultra cultural zealots if they were seen driving a vehicle in Saudi Arabia.  He then mentioned his wife drives when they visit Syria and Dubai.  I felt suitably chastened for my biased thoughts.

I should also mention the hand made pens we purchased from James & Deb (nb Lois-Jane) as gifts were very well received by my Saudi colleagues.  It proved to be an excellent choice.  Thanks James & Debbie.

My Saudi host had very kindly arranged for me to vacate my room at the Holiday Inn at the later time of 9pm. This gave me somewhere to have a shower and change before departing for the airport and 1.00am flight to Heathrow.

I discovered the Holiday Inn is adjacent to the main retail computer area (bazaar) in downtown Riyadh.

Just in case you don’t know what Holiday Inn looks like in Arabic

With time to spare before my departure I decided to go for a local walk.  The computer area is a rabbit warren of small stalls, mostly staffed by Indians or Pakistanis.  I needed to wait for prayers to finish before the stalls re-opened.  I’d failed to remember the country stops three times a day during working hours.  And Riyadh must have the highest density of mosques of any city.  Behind the bazaar was a medium size mosque with illuminated green towers.  Whilst the stock In the stalls was new (ie, unused) it was mostly older than the models you can purchase in the west (ie, new, old stock).  It was also the same price as the UK.  .

It’s very hard to go more than one block without passing a mosque.

The journey to the airport was long and circular.  The direct route isn’t necessarily the quickest as Riyadh’s roads can be quite congested.  We ended up going south and then east before turning north to reach the airport which is located on the northern fringe of the city.  At the airport before you reach the check-in counter all the bags go through a security Xray machine manned by a Saudi . The machine doesn’t have much value because I’ve yet observed the machine operator looking at the display.  Usually he is gossiping with a colleague or talking on the phone.  It was obviously my unlucky day because on receiving my boarding card I realised I’d been allocated one of the worst seats on the aircraft.  Middle seat, in the middle row, towards the rear.  However there were very few people in the departure lounge and I reasoned that because it was New Year’s Eve the aircraft had only a few passengers.  WRONG AGAIN!  When I boarded the aircraft there was an announcement advising it was a full load.  My luck got even worse when I reached my seat to find myself squashed between two huge Saudis.  Both of them overflowed their seats oozing into my space.  Then the Saudi seated immediately in front of me kept reclining his seat into my face despite requests from the crew not to do it.  Consequentially I didn’t manage to get any sleep on the flight.  It’s now 3.30pm and I haven’t slept since 3.00am yesterday.  I’ll go out like a light tonight!

I thought I’d try getting through UK Immigration by using the British and EU passport holders queue.  The aliens queue being comprised of Saudis who were being processed very slowly.  On handing over my NZ passport and UK Indefinite Leave to Remain ID Card I was informed I needed to queue with the other aliens.  They take your money and allow you to permanently stay; but it doesn’t mean you’re British! Smile

The 6.00am London underground train was almost empty and the carriage didn’t fill during the journey to Kings Cross/St Pancreas Station.  Then I realised it was New Years Eve and all the lemmings were on holiday.  A brisk walk to Euston Station.  First time I’d been outside since arriving at Heathrow and it was very crisp with frost and ice about.  A major change from the temperature in Riyadh.  No doubt the Saudi’s on the flight were suffering!  I arrived at Euston Station three hours early for my train (10.03am departure).  Because I’d purchased an advanced cheap off-peak ticket I either had to wait the 3 hours or purchase a new, and more expensive ticket.  Being a miserable git I elected to wait.  It was cold!  I arrived back at Waiouru around 11.00am to find her sitting in a frozen canal.  Jan couldn’t wait to tell me I know when to leave her to cope solo with the bad weather.

Apparently a number of boats had passed smashing their way through the ice.  All but one had done it at speed and Jan now has concerns about the condition of our blacking on the port side.  The one boat that passed slowly had a two man crew with one of the crew in the bow breaking the ice into small pieces using the boat pole whilst the other steered.

As the boat got closer Jan recognised both the boat and the steerer.

Ray on the stern of Winton’s Folly

Hopefully it’s not a case of breaking the ice all the way to Stone!

After lunch I walked to the Aldi at Central Park for a few essential supplies.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Interesting Meal

Last night I was taken for a traditional Saudi meal by two local colleagues.  The restaurant decor was very interesting with walls made of a mixture of mud and date palm.  The ceiling consisted of rough shaped small tree trunks with thinner branches overlayed diagonally.  Then a further layer of mud brick was applied. 

Saudi’s eat sitting crossed legged on the floor or reclining on their sides.  Food is communally eaten from plates placed on the floor.  Everyone eats with their right hand.  The left being used for personal ablutions. 

In one corner of the restaurant was a small unlit oven with the gaming board in front surrounded by low timber stools.  The stools actually looked if they were saddles for camels.

My colleagues wanted me to have the full experience and had booked a private room for the meal.  It was large enough to hold 30-40 people, however there were only the three of us.

Maher & Azoz

I’m too damned old and stiff to sit cross legged or kneel and had to recline.  The meal consisted of three different rice dishes, goat, mutton and camel along with some dips and that traditional Egyptian dish which looks and tastes like purée lawn clippings.  Saudi’s are extremely polite and hospitable.  Throughout the meal Azoz kept breaking up the meat with his fingers and placing the best pieces in front of me to eat.  The eye of the sheep was particularly delicious.  OK, I made that part up!  We had a long and pleasant meal and to my surprise I didn’t fall asleep during it from the jetlag.

After the Saudi restaurant they took me to a Syrian restaurant for dessert.  There was no room in my stomach but they insisted I try two of the desserts.  I’m now officially BUFF.  The Big Ugly Fat Fella.

Somehow I need to work out a way of declining these invitations before the food kills me! <burp>

Sunday, 28 December 2014

As Usual

This morning I dragged my body from the bed after four hours of broken sleep.  It was 3.am UK time and I was due to start work in two hours.  Hotel breakfasts tend to be the same the world over, although this one had more middle-eastern cooked food.  I treated myself to some beef bacon and scrambled egg washed down with two glasses of orange juice. 

As usual my local contact didn’t arrive on time which resulted in me sitting in the hotel lobby for an additional two hours.  A small voice in the back of my head kept telling me “why are your surprised” and “this is an additional two hours of sleep you could have had!”  He eventually arrived and we commenced the briefing.  It was obvious that, despite my request he had read few of the papers I’d emailed over several weeks prior.  He hadn’t even looked at the project plan and had no idea how to use Microsoft Project.  However he was all smiles and politeness.  I gently explained there was insufficient time for me to train him in the use of the software and we moved on.

By midday the worms in my stomach had turned to large vocal serpents and I was sure everyone in the hotel lobby could hear my stomach grumbling.  I invited my Egyptian colleague to join me for lunch, to which he politely declined.  Local culture requires you decline on first invitation.  I also suspect he was worried about the cost.  On pressing him and mentioning I would pay, he accepted my invitation.  We were the only two having lunch in the hotel and after looking at the bill I can understand his reluctance.  Fortunately my Saudi associates are paying.

After lunch I requested he take me to the workshop location so I could view the construction progress that had been made in the last 12 months.

Looking south

Looking north

As you can see, the major achievement over the last 12 months has been to use the site as a dumping ground.  Nothing positive has been achieved.  But then I’m not surprised. 

The Saudi’s have started constructing their new Riyadh metro underground rail system.  Much of the route requires the alignment to follow the main arterial roads through the city.  Wherever possible they are using the open trench method rather than the more expensive tunnelling option.

The main roads are five (six lanes can squeeze in by Saudi drivers) wide in each direction and they are almost always choked with traffic.

A quiet spot

The metro has reduced this to two lanes where construction is taking place.  I can understand the logic behind the construction of the metro, but the authorities are going to have a huge cultural problem trying to get the Saudi’s out of their vehicles and onto a train.  Even if the train is much quicker.  Besides, I can’t see them being prepared to walk to the nearest station.

Obviously the safe driving campaign is having an impact because there were only two accidents on the way back to the hotel.  The second occurred when the vehicle in front of us wandered out of its lane at 100km/h and the passenger side front wheel ran up the concrete barrier beside the road.  There was a shower of plastic and glass as I watched the car stagger along the road half airborne with only the driver side wheels on the road.  It was either going to roll onto its roof in front of us or fall back onto all four wheels.   Fortunately for us the latter occurred.  A case of another Saudi using his mobile phone whilst driving!  God was with him (and us) this time.

On the Move

After expressing some concern about the planned travel arrangements to Heathrow in the last post I was grateful for the suggested alternatives by blog readers.  In the end I did what Paul (nb Waterway Routes) suggested.  I must confess I hadn’t thought of going north to head south.  No, not a circumnavigation of the world, just a 40 minute train journey to Birmingham.  There I would change to a Cross Country train for Reading.  At Reading there is an Air-Rail bus service direct to Heathrow Terminal 5.  I departed Waiouru at 6.00am briskly walking to Rugby railway station where I purchased the fare to Reading.  The walk had been sufficiently fast that I was able to catch the earlier train.  Sufficient to say the journey was uneventful. and I arrived at Heathrow with ample time.  Thanks for the advice Paul!

I’d done the online checking the previous night and only had one small cabin bag, so it was just a case of waiting for the departure gate to be displayed on the screen.  The flight was scheduled to depart at 1.20pm and the board didn’t show the gate number until 12.10.  I’m not much of a fan of Terminal 5. I find it takes quite some time to get from the departure lounge to many of the gates.  Suffice to say I caught the terminal underground rail to the departure area only to find yet another security screening area.  There were two machines but the staff were only using one.  No shortage of staff and there was a long queue.  It was also moving very slowly as the bulk of the people in the queue were ethnically indian and appeared to have an enormous amount of cabin baggage.

There were only two people behind me in the queue.  One was a rather young lady who started to get very concerned about the delay.  She had a flight to New York to catch and time was passing.  It turned out she was from Saudi Arabia and had only recently completed her phD in Human Services.  I asked if she was returning to Saudi Arabia to work and was informed sadly no.  There are few employment opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia.  This seems an enormous waste of talent.  The Kingdom pays for their entire education but then the culture prevents them from using the knowledge.  She was hoping to find work in Europe and I suspect will be part of the Saudi brain drain.

Eventually I passed through security to see the flight information flashing the gate was about to close.  I think I was the second to last person onto the aircraft.  Who flies to Riyadh the day after Boxing Day?  No one of course!  I hadn’t seen anyone board the aircraft (a 747) and anticipated plenty of room.  What a shock to find it almost full!  Where had all these bloody people come from?  Eventually I worked out they majority were expats who had taken a few days off at Christmas to see family and friends.  This didn’t bode well for the arrival in Riyadh.  I would be in a very long queue.

The irony of my late arrival at the aircraft was we were delayed for 40 minutes because another passenger hadn’t made the gate in time and they had to remove his bag from the hold.  As a consequence the flight missed its departure slot.

There isn’t much to say about the BA flight.  Last time Jan and I flew with BA it was up the pointy end where I’d used all my frequent flyer points to go First Class.  Jan liked the experience of being pampered.  It’s a different story back in coach cattle class where BA stands for Bloody Awful.  The cabin staff almost appeared to be on holiday and the food was nothing to write about.  I either read the eReader or watched a video on the tablet.  These days I find looking at a good quality 10” tablet screen much easier than the pokie little screen in the back of the chair in front.  The aircraft managed to make up some of the lost time and we arrived into Riyadh at 10.45pm local.

My concerns about the queues at immigration were correct.  Very long……  Unfortunately a flight from the indian sub continent had arrived ahead of us and there was a long line of migrant workers with their cardboard boxes waiting to be processed.  Two courteous Saudi officials then started to whittle down the queue by removing all the ladies, sending them to the front.  They might wear black, but they get preferential treatment.  Next the families were picked out.  Finally one Saudi asked for anyone was entering Saudi Arabia who had a previous business visa that was less than 12 months old. That was me!  So I got to jump the queue.  By the time the Saudi officials had finished the indian workers were at the back of the queue.  Get used to it fellas.  That’s the way it works here!  Actually I felt rather guilty about the whole affair until I realised the Saudi government must have introduced a new computerised immigration system immediately prior to my arrival in 2013.  They already had all my biometric information in their database.  I just needed my visa to be checked and my fingerprints to be re-scanned. 

Clearing Customs was a breeze.  I was the only passenger that had no hold luggage to collect.  The baggage carousels hadn’t even started to move by the time I reached the Customs xRay machines.  I threw my bags into the machine and watched the Saudi operator chatting to his mate rather than look at the screen.  So much for the detailed inspection looking for “inappropriate” items.

A car and driver were waiting and I was whisked off into downtown Riyadh.  Would I be taken back to the “Hotel for Suites” to be met by sleep little Ali the Egyptian porter in his grubby white trousers and shirt with faded burgundy waistcoat.  No, we appeared to be going west, eventually stopping at The Holiday Inn.  What bliss!  Except there’s now only 4 hours before I start work!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Administration

It has been a day for getting organised.  Jan did some spring cleaning (I know……. very early for spring) and I went for a walk to do a few small tasks which included carrying 12 one litre containers of long life milk back to Waiouru.

Tomorrow I have to be at Heathrow by noon and that is proving to be slightly problematic.  I hadn’t fully appreciated how the holiday rail maintenance stoppages would impact on the journey from Rugby.  The earliest train is at 6.59am and involves four changes; including a section by bus; to reach Euston St Station.  I then have to walk to Kings Cross Station and catch the Tube to Heathrow.  Timing is tight.  After looking at the iconic map of the London Underground I’m wondering whether it would be possible to modify the journey from Watford Junction onwards by getting off the train two stops after Watford Junction and catching the Tube to Paddington Station on the Metropolitan Line.  I could then take the Airport Express to Heathrow.  This saves about 40 minutes.  Unfortunately I don’t know if the above rail train from Watford Junction to Euston Station stops at stations en-route.  I may just have to “wing it” tomorrow.

Today I finally sorted the last of the Android upgrade on the old Samsung Galaxy S i9000.  There were two outstanding tasks.  The first was to make an image backup of the phone software and the second was to get the pc to recognise the phone as a usb device in order for me to transfer files to the phone from the pc using a usb cable.

Backing up the phone proved to be reasonably simple.  However fixing the usb connection took some time.  Eventually I found some instructions on a website involving changing the setting in the phone and then upgrading the usb drivers on the pc.  The phone is now performing as well as the latest Samsung version.  Well so it should!  It is using the latest version of Android (4.4.4) and all the “bloatware” has been eliminated.  Interestingly, the pc recognises it as a Nexus phone rather than Samsung.

Yesterday evening we received a message from my sister in Perth, Western Australia advising my mother had being released from hospital and was spending a few nights with her.  I telephoned my sister’s home phone via Skype this morning to have a brief conversation with mum only to get my sister.  We chatted for about 10 minutes when she said to me

“Well I have to go now.  I’m at the head of the queue and I need to buy the tickets!”   

“What…”  says me “Where are you?”

“We’re at the cinema and I’m buying the tickets”

<expletive deleted>”I though I’d called your home number……. This call will be costing a fortune…..Goodbye! <click>

This afternoon we received a message advising her home phone number has call forwarding to her mobile and assured me we would only pay for the landline portion of the call.  Hope she is right!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas

It’s been a quiet day for us.  Jan hasn’t left the boat and I was only out for 30 minutes to repair the water hose and apply a 3rd coat of varnish to the timber liners on the starboard side hatch doors.

Anne (nb Oakfield) mentioned on her Christmas Day post that there were interesting smells coming from Waiouru as she walked past.  Jan hasn’t done any baking today so either Anne was mistaken or perhaps it was when I was using the smallest room on the boat and Jan cried out “Oh my God, Tom!”  Sadly my plumbing is showing signs of age……

Maffi snuck into Brownsover after dark last night and moored opposite.  He came over for a cuppa and Christmas cake in the afternoon. 

Jan baked something special for dinner.  We had our Friday home made fish and chips a day early.  Washed it down with hot mulled wine and chocolate & mint slices.  One year we had tomato sandwiches and another year it was a BBQ in the park.  However the Christmas lunch Jan will never forget (or let me forget) was the year we were driving back from Sydney to Adelaide (1400km).  Lunch time arrived and Jan asked about something to eat.  We were in the middle of no where.  Eventually we reached a small town where we found the sole shop closed.  Lunch that day was jam on stale bread, without butter.  As you will realise I’m not much of a one for Christmas dinners.  At least we don’t have to worry about weight loss afterwards!

Merry Christmas to our readers.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Second Life

This morning it was a case of getting to the supermarket before the maddening crowd could appear.  Jan glanced out the porthole during the restocking of the pantry and noticed a very familiar boat had quietly moored on the opposite bank.  A boat very familiar to Elly & Mick.

Parisien Star

After lunch I took a second walk to Aldi for a final few items (cereals, chocolate, margarine and stolen).  I thought stolen was something you did when you walked off with something that didn’t belong to you.  Apparently it’s also a sweet German pastry.  I’ve been fooled by this before.  When courting Jan I visited her parents one Christmas and her mother offered me a mince pie.  Kiwis and Aussies love mince pies.  Imagine my surprise when on my first bite I discovered it was full of raisins and other “stuff”.  Apparently my face was a treat.  FMIL hasn’t been able to fool me since!

I’ve been fooling around doing some serious modification on the old Samsung Galaxy smart phone.  Time has moved on and Samsung ceased upgrading the phone software.  They claim the phone was no longer able to cope with the newer software versions.  There is probably some truth in this statement.  But only because Samsung had filled the phone with ‘bloatware’.  All those programs you never use!  Moreover, why would they want to continue to provide free upgrades for an old phone when they would much prefer you purchased a new one that can run the newer software.

Today I removed the entire Samsung software off the phone and replaced it with the latest stripped down operating system.  The one that Samsung said wouldn’t work.  I was able to do this because all of the Samsung bloatware was excluded.  The phone works (see following photo)

Actually it appears to be on steroids.  The old phone has never worked better.  The new operating system (Android kitkat 4.4.4) is blistering fast.  The process wasn’t plain sailing and I did go down a few blind alleys.  At one point I though I’d ‘bricked’ it (bricking is where you’ve destroyed the phone operating system and it can’t be recovered.  All it’s good for is a brick!)  The old phone now has a second life!

We’re having a special Christmas Dinner tomorrow (my lips are sealed).

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A circuit

Exercise time again and an opportunity to see more of the countryside.  Well, actually most of it was very familiar.  The route took me from Newbold to Rugby and then to  Aldi at Central Park via the old Central Railway perway.  A diversion was required in order to get back to Waiouru.

‘A’ is our mooring at Newbold.  ‘B’ is the railway crossing. ‘C’ where I flew from Rugby to Brownsover.  OK.  I turned the gps off during this portion, hence the straight line.  ‘D’ is  Aldi.  The green and purple lines are the planned route and the red is the actual route.

I couldn’t find the public footpath from Newbold to Rugby and eventually walked an unofficial parallel route before connecting with the public footpath where is goes under the A4071.  This part of the route looked rather run down.

The route turned parallel to the railway and at one point I became concerned there was no access across the tracks.  However the map was accurate and hidden behind a large shrub I found a tunnel.

I then discovered instead of one tunnel, there were two.  Both rather neglected.  They pass under the active tracks and between them was a disused alignment.

The path joined a dead end lane on the far side of the tunnels.  This lane had a line of vehicles parked on one side.  They also had an abandoned look with many of the tyres only having air at the top.  The remainder of the walk to Rugby and Central Park has been covered in previous posts so I’ll skip to the return from Aldi.  I’d also walked this route last year.  You might imagine my surprise when I walked across the busy A426to find this…

There were no roads or buildings during my previous walk!  Some major earthworks have been going on and instead of a reasonably firm footpath there were acres of soft wet soil (ie, mud).

The choice was to either walk back and around the long way or chance it and attempt a crossing.  I chanced it! Smile

Thick gluteus mud.  The type that likes sticking to itself and eventually you walk with what feels like a bag of cement on each foot.  It probably would have been easier and quicker to go back and take the longer route.  It’s not the worst mud I’ve waded through.  That honour goes to the red stuff in Fiji. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Special Gifts

I have been looking for some special gifts to give to three former colleagues and then I remembered an earlier conversation I had with James (nb Lois-Jane).  He had mentioned they were planning to start a hand-made pen business in 2015. 

A hand made pen seemed an excellent gift and so I left a comment on their blog enquiring whether James had already made some for stock.  I was in luck.  He actually had a reasonable range of pens and Debbie pointed me to another blog where they could be viewed.  Click on the “Available Pens” tab at the top of the blog below the banner to see the range.

After browsing through the range I selected and ordered three pens.  My colleagues in The Land of Sand love timber, probably because there isn’t much of it in their country.  I therefore decided to select three pens made from different timbers.  Debbie had them sent to Rugby Post Office using the Post Restante service and I collected them today. 

They look very good and are certainly unique.  Who can claim they have a hand made pen?

Thanks James and Debbie.  Best of luck with the venture!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Use for the phone

Not so grumpy now….. Probably because the TV is off.  I unsuccessfully attempted to phone dear old mum this morning.  She is having a cheap holiday and I couldn’t get an internet signal from the boat to make my weekly call on Skype. 

The main phone on the boat (Samsung Galaxy S1) is only 4+years old (yes, I know you young-uns think it’s ancient) and I resent the fact that despite running 24/7 for its life the damned thing is slacking on the job.  It’s tethered which provides us with a local wireless network in the boat.  It’s also our communications lifeline.  Now I know you will have realised I didn’t pay the Australian retail price when purchasing it.  Hell I’m not paying A$600 for a phone!  It was a parallel “grey” import.  Nevertheless, I do expect it to last.  Of course I’m a belt and braces guy, so whilst I was in ‘The Land of Sand’ last year I seized the opportunity to buy a second phone.  This time it was a cheap Samsung Galaxy S4 LTE (the 4G model).  The problem was on my return to Albion the darned thing couldn’t find a signal much of the time.  I ‘cracked’, ‘hacked’ and ‘rooted’ it and managed to change the operating system to the UK version, but it would still only work in a major city.  Part of me wants to blame Vodafone, however I suspect there is a problem with the phone.

Anyway, I buy Samsung phones rather than those from Pear Apricot Peach Apple because the operating system (Android) is easier to work with and; more importantly; underneath the phone’s back cover there is a socket which enables us to connect it to an external aerial.

As we were having a lazy day and the internet wasn’t working, I decided to experiment by replacing the old Samsung S1 with the “broken” new S4.  I plugged the S4 into the external aerial and hallelujah the S4 connected to the network; even more importantly; gave a higher speed connection than the old S1.

You can see in the above photo there are three bars on the signal strength and we have an “H” indicating a higher speed internet connection.  The next photo shows the connections on the reverse of the phone.

The Galaxy S4 has two aerial sockets.  It’s important that only the ‘A’ socket is used.  I don’t want to leave the phone like this.  It will fill with dust!  What I need to do is drill a hole in the back cover that aligns with the socket.  My technique was to cut a very small piece of window sealing tape left over from sealing the portholes to the exterior of the cabin walls.  This is why you must never throw anything away as it might just be useful one day Smile 

After carefully placing the small square of rubber over the socket I removed the paper covering the adhesive on the exposed face.  The back cover was then clipped onto the phone.  Next it was carefully removed ensuring the little rubber square had adhered to the inside of the case.

Then I drilled a hole through the centre of the rubber square; removed the rubber; and replaced the cover on the phone.

End result is the Samsung S4 that couldn’t connect to the mobile phone network now has a connection via the external aerial and is providing us with good internet coverage.  The old Samsung S1 is now my walking phone and has a SIM card with no internet coverage.  Win – win!

Oh, dear old mum is actually in hospital where she is being pampered by the nurses and flirting furiously with the doctors.  Apparently the bed is comfortable, food delicious and the the company pleasant!  I’ve told her that’s great news and she can return her Christmas holiday funds to my inheritance account.

We had another delicious Sunday lunch at the Barely Mow, Newbold.  Much better than The Boathouse at Braunston.  By mutual agreement we decided this would be our Christmas lunch.  Much cheaper than eating out on the 25th and not so crowded.

I’d better start planning a walk for tomorrow.

Christmas

Christmas this year is starting to get very depressing.  I’m trying to avoid watching the TV.  So many depressing Ad’s about people in Africa, Asia and the UK who need my credit card details.  Then there are the donkeys, cats and dogs.   I’m suffering from charity overload.  The cynic in me is now convinced many of these charities are more businesses. 

Now I read about the eight children killed in Cairns, Queensland.  Their bodies were found by an older sibling when he returned to the family home.  The mother is in hospital where police want to question her.  They aren’t looking for anyone else.  The media hint at the involvement of illicit drugs.  Police had to tell the children’s five fathers.   What… FIVE fathers!  Looks like this woman was running the equivalent of a puppy factory!  I guess funded by social welfare benefits.

Joe Hockey, the Australian Treasurer has told the media that government revenue from income tax is below forecast and the nation will have to tighten it’s belt.  Joe, it doesn’t take that much common sense to work out that if you deny people a salary cost of living increase then you shouldn’t expect an increase in collected income tax.

I can see that as the years pass I’m becoming a grumpy old curmudgeon.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Small Jobs

It seems today was “small jobs” day.  I returned to Waiouru jumping and bounding into the air after my £5 for retiree haircut and set to work on the interior and exterior chrome.  We chose chrome over brass after a first career involving polishing brass and picking up other peoples butts.  Now I find the chrome gets tarnished.  Fortunately it only needs cleaning once annually.  Whilst doing that I noticed the heads of securing screws on one of the safety compliance plates had started to rust.  They were removed and cleaned with emery paper before re-installation.  The remote on the weather station had stopped working.  Jan replaced the batteries on the remote in the cratch but it wouldn’t communicate with the main station in the saloon.  The instructions have long gone (chinese weather station) and there’s no brand name on the weather station.  I searched Google Images and found a similar looking station and then googled for some instructions.  These instructions stated the ‘CF’ button had to be pressed and held for two seconds.  Voila….  That fixed the problem!  I’ve now downloaded the instructions in case we have the same problem in two years time.  I can see the paintwork in the cratch is very damp and needs to be cleaned and dried.  Perhaps if I rest it will go away.

I dug down through yesterday’s clothes (today’s rags) in the port stern locker to check the water levels in the Hurricane header tank and the reservoir for the domestic battery automatic watering system.  The former was OK, but the latter required topping up. 

The Refleks stove probably needed a clean so I removed the cylindrical mesh grill and squeezed my hand and wrist all the way down to the base with a damp paper towel.  This then collected all the carbon and a small amount of ash which is the residue from the fire lighters.  The only problem cleaning the stove is the sharp edges on the cylindrical baffles always cut my hand and I rotate it to clean the bowl.  Once it was reassembled and running I tossed in a Rubboy cleaning tablet which appears to remove all the carbon from the top of the burning chamber and the flue.  Fortunately the stove only needs to be cleaned every 5-8 weeks.  So pleased we don’t have a solid fuel stove.

Meanwhile Jan has been shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic the last of the funds in the bank in an effort to defer starvation.  I needed Jan to give me an advance on my monthly pocket money to pay for the haircut.  She wanted to know what I’d done with the last  £20 note.  It’s so long ago that I can’t remember….. but I’m sure it must have been used to buy something critical.

Just over a fortnight ago we cruised through ice on the surface of the canal.  I hadn’t intended to break through ice because it can take the blacking off the steel hull at the water line. 

Unlike the boat in the photo, we appear to have avoided any damage to our two pack epoxy blacking.

Three boats have passed today.  One was very familiar.  It’s been from A to B to C and was on it’s way back to A.  Not a cruising pattern that suits me.  I’d get very bored!  I’m looking forward to the New Year, when we can be on our way.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Big Day

A double hit today.  My birthday and our 43rd wedding anniversary.  There probably isn’t a morning where I don’t wake and pinch myself to remind myself how lucky Jan is to have me!  <ducks off to the bunker for 20 minutes to avoid the worst of the incoming fire>

I took Jan into town for a celebratory lunch. MacDonalds of course.  Their ammonia washed Big Mac’s are delicious.

We were going to eat at the “spoons” but neither of us liked anything on the menu.

My brother sent a birthday email this morning mentioning all the advantages of being my age.

  • Kidnappers aren't interested in you.
  • In a hostage situation, you're likely to be released first.
  • People who call you at 9pm ask if they woke you up.
  • No one expects you to run anywhere.
  • Things you buy now won't wear out.
  • You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.
  • You can live without sex, but not your glasses.
  • Your eyesight can't get much worse
  • Your supply of brain cells is down to a manageable size.
  • You sing along with elevator music (if you can hear it)
  • You can have an interesting conversation all by yourself
  • Your joints are a better forecaster than the meteorologists at the national weather service

So kind!

I’d tell you more about today’s activities but it’s after 6pm and I feel like a nap.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Itchy Feet

It was time to go!  Mooring for any length of time gives us itchy feet and this is starting to become a very familiar portion of the canal network. Hopefully we will be able to commence cruising onto new waters very early next year.  Meantime, we headed back north to top up the pantry.

After filling the water tank and disposing of the rubbish we cruised out of Braunston on tick-over passing Maffi & Molly.  We might just see him next year.  As we passed Muleless Della appeared at the side hatch with camera.  There was just enough time for me to comb my hair and lick my eyebrows.  Jan hid!  Gary wanted to know the height of our diesel stove (a conversation from the previous day).  I told him it was 20 inches and he immediately grinned.  Theirs is 23 inches and I’d claimed both stoves were the same height.  Obviously I was wrong erred in my judgement!

It was warmer than yesterday, although the sun didn’t put in much of an appearance.  The canal is quieter at this time of the year and we must have passed less than half adozen boats going in the opposite direction including Zulu towing the butty as usual.  We last saw them leaving Braunston as we headed towards Calcutt.

Around bridge 82 Jan noticed some of the local dog walkers have been placing Christmas decorations in the towpath trees and hedgerows.  All those coloured plastic bags.  It’s only at this time of the year when the foliage has gone that you get the full colourful effect.

Another thing you get to see at this time of the year are the empty bird nests high in the trees.

We weren’t travelling fast and Jan decided there was sufficient time to make a cake before we reached Hillmorton Locks.  She had found a recipe for a custard cake (custard powder instead of eggs) Shortly thereafter delicious smells started to waft out the back doors.

On reaching the top of the flight we noticed Oakfield moored just above.  No sign of curtains twitching so Keith was probably embracing the keyboard.  As Jan was setting the lock a lady walker appeared in the distance.  It was Ann who had been out for a walk.  She kindly assisted us down the lock whilst simultaneously managing to hold a conversation with Jan.  Females can multi-task!

The gates on the middle pair of locks don’t appear to be leaking as badly compared to our last transit several weeks ago.  Perhaps CRT have adjusted them?

We slowly continued on to the quiet golf course moorings; where there was only one boat; and decided to stop.  The batteries were at 100% and the sky was starting to look ominous.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Short Walk

Yesterday evening Jan opened the side hatch an took a photo of the pub on the far side of the canal.

An icy mist was already starting to form above the water!

I’d gone to the shelter of the pram cover to polish my walking boots when a voice from outside called a greeting.  On opening the back flap I found Gary standing beside their boat Muleless which had miraculously appeared overnight and moored behind us!

Della then appeared at their cratch so an invitation to join us for morning tea on Waiouru was extended and accepted.   A series of interesting conversations then followed. 

Jan had baked cheese topped bread rolls for lunch.  Nothing like fresh bread with tomato filling!  After lunch we went for a short walk to the bottom lock where Jan checked out the small shop whilst I took a few photos.  We passed the following boat on the way to the lock.

Maffi was moored behind us yesterday but Jan saw him silently slip past us on his way to the water point.  He had to pass silently because the Milly M is waiting on a replacement gearbox.  Apparently Maffi was doing his Venetian gondola act propelling Milly M with his boat pole.

On our arrival back at Waiouru we were invited to afternoon tea on Muleless.  Della has a machine for making delicious coffee and we were invited to sample the end product.  I’m not a coffee drinker but willingly accepted a hot chocolate.

Jan was rather struck on the idea of owning one of these machines.  She has decided there’s not enough space for it on Waiouru but it will go on the list of things to buy for life after narrowboating.

Monday, 15 December 2014

There’s a hole in the bucket dear Liza… A hole!

These are the winter days to enjoy.  Slightly crisp, no wind, with blue skies and sunshine.  Ideal for doing a few outdoor chores.  The cratch cover and towpath side of the boat had a scrub which appears to have removed the small patch of green mould from the cratch cover.

My walking boots were desperately in need of a scrub after Saturday’s wanderings around Watford Gap.  They are now drying under the stern pram cover in eager anticipation of a date with the nugget.

Jan sorted through the vegie bin and compiled a shopping list of replacement items whilst I decided to finally do something about the Hurricane fuel tank gauge.  It’s secured to the instrument panel with double sided adhesive tape and the top portion of the tape has lost it’s adhesiveness.  Every so often I’ve pushed it back into place but today I decided on something more permanent.  I thought I’d document the process with photographs only to subsequently discover the computer wouldn’t recognise the memory card.  That led me to attempt the alternative process of linking the memory card to the computer with the usb cable.  That didn’t work either.  OK, check out the camera. Nope….. the camera didn’t recognise the memory card.  So the problem is the memory card.  Attempted to recover the photos on the card.  Failure!  By now I’d realised I was getting into a downward spiral, hence the blog title.  Time to cut my losses and bin the card.  Fortunately youngest son had given me one he no longer required.  It appears I’m the hoarder and our children are the wealthy ones!

Of course I’d now lost all the photos so I went back to the instrument panel and took a another photo of the finished product.

My repair method was to find the almost empty tube of Sikaflex adhesive left over from the fitting of the glass splashbacks in the galley.  I then hunted through the long term storage to find an old small screw driver (did I mention I’m a hoarder).  By forcing the shaft of the screw driver into the sealed nozzle of the tube and through the set adhesive I was able to reach the last of the semi-liquid adhesive.  This was then smeared onto the back of the gauge using the tip of the screw driver before pressing the gauge back into position and securing it with masking tape.  I’m glad I hadn’t disposed of the screw driver and last of the adhesive otherwise it might have been an expensive or messy job.

Jan has mentioned the Hurricane is considerably quieter since the 1000 hour service.  However she can now hear a ticking sound.  It’s the heater fuel pump.  Fortunately I’m slightly (perhaps more than slightly) deaf and can’t hear anything!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Watford Gap and more

A clear but crisp start to the day.  The ground was frozen with ice on top of the towpath puddles.  Obviously good walking conditions.  Those muddy fields should be firm under foot.  The plan was to follow the towpath to the east of Braunston and record three public footpaths that are not on the OSM.

There was a mile marker beside the towpath just above Braunston Top Lock.

It was actually set back quite a distance and I wouldn’t have seen it except the cold weather has killed off the surrounding vegetation.  I guess most summer boaters wouldn’t see it.  There’s also a plaque on the western end of the Braunston Tunnel Portal.

The route took me over the top of the tunnel.  It doesn’t have a towpath. This is a path I’ve previously walked when going to Daventry.  It’s not hard to see the tunnel alignment as there are ventilation towers along the route.

I walked north into Welton Village (very quiet) and out the other side heading NE across the fields.  The path made a sharp right turn at a caravan storage park.

That got me thinking….. There was a caravan storage area near Watford Locks.  That noise in the background was the traffic on the A5 and M1 motorway.  Having recorded the data I retraced my steps to Welton and then headed north on the second footpath. Off to my left there appeared to be a walled manor with a gatehouse.

Zoom photo

At the far end of the footpath I could see the caravan storage park in the distance along with traffic on the M1 and then glimpses of a Virgin train.  I’d completed a large semi circle. 

The caravan storage park with railway and M1 behind

The third footpath took me back towards the large manor house.  It became apparent that the gate house wasn’t a gate house and looked rather dilapidated.

Then I realised the high fence in front of the “gate house” was a tennis court!  There wasn’t a road in front of the wall.  I’d arrived at the rear of the property.

It all looked rather run down.  The footpath went down the side of the brick boundary fence but at the stile there was sufficient height to see over the wall and take a photo.

A disused look about the place.

As I reached the front of the manor I realised it had its own graveyard.  Then I saw the church.  It’s probably not a manor and looks more like a church property in the village of Ashby St Ledgers.  On the far side of the village was an ornate gateway and abandoned driveway.

But Google has proved me completely wrong.  It is a manor.  Actually this is the manor where the major part of the gunpowder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was planned.  The owner, Robert Catesby was killed and the property confiscated to the crown.  It has passed through many hands and eventually Queen Elizabeth II purchased the estate, but not the manor house.  This continued to pass through yet more owners until purchased in 1998 by Ivor Guest, 3rd Viscount Wimborne who has reportedly stated it would cost approximately £10m to renovate.

<more information here>

The route back to Waiouru took me in an almost straight line across the fields from Ashby St Ledgers to Braunston.  There was quite a good view of Warwickshire from the last ridge.

Braunston church spire to the left.

If now seen Braunston from all four points of the compass.