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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My new gadget/boy`s toy.

One of our solar panels the 240 watts is controlled by a Tracer 2215RN like the one pictured.
It doesn`t give a lot of info but just works away doing what it says on the tin-controlling the solar charge into the leisure batteries. Basically it tells you the panel is charging, the battery is not below a set voltage level and it has a temperature sensor. 

Panel voltage
It can be set to battery type being charged but all other functions are not really relevant to boats, they are timers for lighting or some other gadget you might want powered.
Now a useful extra is the remote MT5 meter that just plugs in. For perhaps almost two years I have just left the controller to do it`s thing but just recently while perusing E/Flea Bay I came across the MT5 priced at £16 ($25) from a Hong Kong supplier. The same thing here in the UK can be double the price. My thoughts and Jaq likes this Brit phrase."For 16 quid it`s worth a punt and if it all goes tits up it`s not the end of the world".

Battery voltage + amps from panels.
 The readings the remote displays are the volts the panels produce, the battery voltage, amps going into batteries and State Of Charge as a percentage although I have my doubts as to the accuracy of the latter. All other readings are not of little benefit to boaters.
Earlier today 13 amps were going in the batteries from the 240watts panel.

So all in all worth the punt. Jaq says if any more man toys are fitted by the back steps we might need side doors to exit the boat. I must point out that she soon found space for her new ceramic frying pan.
Both items can be purchased direct from Hong Kong at a discount on UK prices but you might have to pay import duties. Another thing to remember is the expense of returning faulty goods but my £16 punt was worth it and no duty was payable.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Made of Rubber, knock me down and I`ll bounce back

What a bummer eh!  Many, many thanks for all your comments--be they on this blog or via e mail.

Secondary bowel cancer of the Liver is fairly common it seems, not that anyone mentioned it when we first started on this medical merry go round which has been ongoing for a year.

Just two weeks and the stoma would have been reversed, then a few weeks recovery and winter on and around the Llangollen was the plan. Now we wait for an appointment that hopefully will be for surgery to remove the two, obviously cancerous but not confirmed, small lesions on the liver.

 It has been like climbing a ladder and every now and again cancellations and other medical problems cause me to slip down a rung or two.

Last Wednesday  was just another day of being at the top of the ladder just waiting to step into that finishing zone on October 8th. The pre-op check was complete and they just wanted a C.T. scan before the reversal.

I am told it`s perfectly operable but our worry is they will want to go the chemo route first. That will be a no from me and I will push for the surgical removal of what we have been told are two very small lesions. I believe I am actually in good enough physical shape to undergo this surgery because I did not have chemotherapy before.  This is my personal opinion.

Anyway Mr. C. just because two of your family moved on when you were evicted, you have not won. I will keep bouncing back and hopefully, as this time you have a very weak tenancy, two spots on an organ that will regenerate itself within 3 months, you will soon be history. Parts of sections 6 and 8 are occupied on a very short tenancy.

So with Joanne on the mend and under the care of  eldest daughter Nicole, we have moved into a more rural mooring than noisy Leighton Buzzard. It looks as though our stay will be longer at each mooring as we wait for the next phase of the health game. Why have they not got an app for surgery? Download, hold over body area, activate, and we can go cruising. Now I would queue outside the Apple store all night for an app like that.

 We do have some boating news. The bottom gates at Leighton lock would not shut but within 40 minutes C.R.T. turned up and found a piece of masonry wedged under the gate. I did try the usual tricks to clear it but to no avail.

A wide beam turned up while this was going on and the owner said he had cruised from Brentford and was heading for Barby Marina. I know as did he, the bad publicity the marina has had, but he is attracted by the £100 ($160) per month winter mooring. Turns out he spends winter abroad and the Barby fees save him a thousand or so pounds, making the journey worthwhile. Not sure of costs but imagine anything near London would be expensive.

I have a new toy/gadget just arrived from Hong Kong, so with time on my hands I will install it and report back.

It is strange sitting here in the peace and quiet, just the birdsong and an occasional boat passing. Jaq is doing some work online and answering e mails; shortly we will eat and then immerse ourselves in a book.

The calm before the storm now, and as I look through the windows across the canal my resolve strengthens four fold. I will not give up this life easily. Mr C., prepare to lose this fight.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life (and Death) is What Happens While We are Making Other Plans

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”  ~ C.S. Lewis

    My mother always said bad things come in threes. Some can rationalize this as superstition, nevertheless it has been a tremendously difficult week aboard the NB Valerie and three was the operative number. Late last Saturday a call from the States informed me that my brother-in-law was dying of liver cancer brought about from overexposure to de-icing fluid when he worked at Anchorage International Airport. Another call early Monday morning informed me he was gone.
   I've known my cousin Nick since I was four years old when I met him on the stairs of his mother's house in St. Paul. We, his blond Northern cousins, were in town for a visit. Our mother Florence and his mother Sally were sisters. My sister Susan was fourteen at the time and, as Nick and I sat watching on the stairs, Susan was modeling the new clothes bought for her earlier in the day. I truly do think it was at that very moment Nick fell in love with Susan. He was clearly mesmerized by her beauty as anyone who has known her over the years can relate. Even still at Sixty-something, the beauty of Susan's 1000 watt smile is still evident.
   Nick's best quality to me was his sense of humor. I've seldom known anyone who loved to laugh as much as Nicky. Laughter is one of the survival techniques that comes with being part of a larger multi-generational family with a dark thread of dysfunction and depression traveling through its core. True laughter is such a gift and Nick gave me plenty of really great funny memories. I can honestly say I've never laughed so hard or so deeply with anyone else I have with Nick and Susan.

Two memories stand out against all the rest...

   I flew back home in 1994 when my mom died. I stayed with Susan and Nick while I was here. I am generally known as the great cook in our family, and Susan and Nick generously turned their kitchen over to me while I was staying with them. While Susan is known for many things, gourmet cooking is not one of them. She hails from the Norwegian farm style of cooking taught to us by our mom, who learned to cook from her mother-in-law as a young girl of eighteen, in which salt and pepper are the only true spices ever relevant and white sauce goes with anything.
   I enjoy cooking and feeding those I love. Cooking for Susan and Nick was a joy that salved my aching heart over the loss of our mother. One morning after I had fixed a particularity spectacular, spicy Chinese dinner for all of us, I woke about five a.m. and could not get back to sleep. I quietly wandered up the stairs to the smell of coffee brewing. I found Nick sitting at the breakfast bar in the early morning dark, hunched over with his head in his hands. As I approached, Nick lifted his head, his brown eyes bleary with lack of sleep.

   "Are you all right?" I asked
   "Oh Jaq I had THE worst nightmare--it was truly awful,"Nick replied.
   "Well tell me about it while I pour us some coffee."
I sat down next to Nick and as we sat sipping our hot Java Nick continued:
   "It started out as a really great dream. I dreamt you were in the kitchen cooking Barbecue Ribs. Oh Jaq it was so real! I could smell those ribs--I got a spoon out of the drawer and tasted the sauce. It was incredible--spicy just the way I like it and just really good. You said the ribs needed to cook all night and we all went to bed. In the middle of the night I woke up and realized Susan was not in bed with me. I put on my robe and dashed upstairs. I was too late to stop her. Susan poured white sauce all over those ribs!!" In true Nick fashion he looked at me, I looked back at him and we started laughing hysterically, waking up the whole house.
   Later in the week after Mom's body had been cremated we asked for her ashes to be split three ways between us three daughters--Susan, me, and our sister Sharon. We priced the cost of urns and realized we could not afford one let alone three. As Susan, Nick and I sat puzzling over this situation Nick got that look of sudden inspiration mixed with a bit of mischief and said, "Leave it with me. I know what to do. I'll be back in a bit." Off he went down the stairs, intent on his mission, his head bobbing from side to side under his thick, dark, curly hair as he went out the door. 

   Nick came back several hours later with a large cardboard box in his arms. He set it on the breakfast bar and said, 
   "When Aunt Florence came back home to Alaska she was too ill with cancer to do much. She was feeling housebound one day so I suggested she come sit in a chair in the garage and watch while I sorted through all our junk and cleaned out some of those boxes. (Nick had inherited the Pack Rat gene which also runs through our family). I got Aunt Florence into a chair in the sunshine and covered her with a blanket, and we talked while I worked. I came across a box full of empty tins--Nabisco cracker tins, Oreo cookie tins and the like. I started to throw them away and Aunt Florence said, 'Nicky boy don't throw those out--they may still come in handy. Those are good tins.'"
   With a flourish Nick opened the cardboard box and pulled out three tins of similar size: Ritz crackers, Saltine crackers and Oreo cookies, and that is how I came to carry my mother's ashes home on the plane in a bright red Ritz cracker tin! We all burst into crazy laughter, and Nick said he could feel that our mom's spirit was laughing with us.
   When Nick laughed it didn't just come from his mouth. His laughter actually started in his big brown eyes which would crinkle up in the corners. It would spread to the rest of his face and pour from his chest and belly. Nick's body would literally heave with laughter and the joy that comes with it. The sound of his laughter was infectious and no one who heard him could fail to join in. This is how I choose to remember Nicky. I know
 that those who are remembered, live and Nick will live on in all the precious, funny memories I have of him.
   I spent last Monday morning quietly grieving, experiencing that strange sense of discontinuity resulting from the knowledge that someone we know and love is gone--forever--we will never again know them in this life; yet the sky is still blue, birds still sing, I am still alive, and life goes on.
   Later Monday morning we decided to find a lovely bit of countryside, so we cruised from Fenny Stratford to just above Stoke Hammond lock and set our pins on a lovely quiet bit of canal in the late afternoon sunshine. The hedge was bursting with blackberries, Les was happy, chilled out and feeling great. He went shirtless and sock-less in the heat of the day, sipping a cold lager. I have seldom seen my Best Beloved so relaxed.
   Then the phone rang and it changed everything. 
   It was the MacMillan Cancer nurse who was charged with informing us that some abnormalities on Les' recent CT scan two weeks ago required Les to meet with Mr. H--the colorectal surgeon--on Wednesday. She wasn't giving out much more information than that and Les lost it with her. She finally coughed up the basic fact that due to the findings of Les' Ct Scan the stoma surgery might-or might not occur, and left us both to sit in agony for thirty some hours. Little sleep was had by either of us that night or the next as we imagined the worse case scenario of metastasized cancer spread throughout his bowels. 
   The meeting Wednesday went quite well and we were pleasantly surprised. The scan turned up two very small lesions on Les' liver. Mr. H. said "You aren't going to die in the next two or three years that's for sure. They are very small and perfectly operable."
   We asked if it could possible be cancer and he replied that at this point no one knew but they were quite well aware of how Les felt about chemotherapy. Mr. H. has sent Les' scan results to a liver specialist at the Royal Free Hospital in London for immediate action. The liver surgery must occur soon, so the stoma surgery has been postponed for now. 
   The good news is the liver regenerates itself and at this stage it is felt Les' liver will do so just fine. We are waiting for the letter to arrive telling us when we meet with the liver specialist in London, as we change our winter plans once more and begin sussing out the best place to moor the boat which will be reasonable for me to access water and services, safe, quiet, and still be close enough for me to travel to the hospital in London.
   On a treatment note, I want folks to understand that while we planned for Les to undergo Gerson therapy--which is a medical therapy researched and developed by a medical doctor--he had not been able to do so because of the tumor in his rectum and the stoma. Coffee enemas are a major part of this medical therapy which heals the immune system so it can attack disease. We were hoping to begin after his stoma was reversed but this sudden turn of events has played put to our plan for now...
   After a very frank discussion between us I've told Les I will support him in whatever therapy he chooses to have. He in turn has said he will not have chemotherapy or further radiation treatments. We will permanently change our diets to mostly vegetarian, remove as much sugar from our lives as possible,  and begin taking the host of supplements I had him on just prior to his initial surgery last October but which we discontinued when he came home. I will continue researching and we will make use of any other reasonable treatments that don't destroy what is left of his immune system or leave him with devastating permanent side effects. This is Les' choice and I support it.
   Finally, our daughter-in-law Joanne is having gall bladder surgery today. We will visit her this weekend to administer some loving care, fingers crossed that all goes well and the law of threes is now satisfied for the time being... 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A lock flight of pubs

Long Buckby wharf and the Buckby flight of locks can easily be overlooked as we boaters tackle the locks. Perhaps having used the only pub, the New Inn, the night before and now making their way down the flight. Or perhaps arriving at the bottom lock and looking forward to getting to the New Inn at the top, either way focuses can be on just the locks and not what is/was around the flight.

Thinking about the flight now and having researched this post it is clear why not only myself but countless others passing through have not realised the past importance of this area and it`s history.
Over the last 200 plus years this one and three quarter miles of canal rising 63 feet through seven locks has, although not all at the same time, been home to seven pubs and a lot of industry.

 The only visible thing now to make people think are the remains of the Old Maltings by bridge 13 everything else has vanished or has been reincarnated as something else. What there is to see hides it`s past well.

1 is the New Inn next to the top lock.      
2 is the Gate Inn now a private house sitting on the original Old Watling street.       
3 is the Crown and Anchor.     
4 is The Boat (demolished)  
5 is The George.     
M is the Old Maltings

This map shows the area of the bottom two locks.The Spotted Cow pub is right next to the bottom lock. It had stabling for ten horses so the Smithy at the top end of the lock is no surprise.The Bannaventa pub, (right) built by the man who created Whilton Marina, was just on the left where the road crosses the canal more or less opposite the side ponds of the second lock. It closed in 1991 under the name "The Locks". From farmhouse to pub and now a carpet warehouse.
Lime kilns are shown right next to what is now a winding hole. Perhaps the kilns were the reason the winding hole (turning point) was here.

The 1851 census showed 164 individuals in 31 households around Long Buckby Wharf. Among these were toll clerks at the gauging lock, pictured right. It is lock 9  the one where the railway now crosses the canal, the building has long since been demolished. Others listed included lock keepers, coal merchants, Lime burner, beerhouse keeper (anchor brewery), Inn keepers. Wharfinger and a bone button maker. Anchor brewery is now a private residence reached by Brewhouse Lane which is shown as a dotted line on the map at the side of The Gate Inn.
In the 1880`s a Francis Montgomery was listed at the brewery as an artificial manure manufacturer, hopefully away from the beer. He then with two others started brewing but by 1885 he was on his own and listed as malster, spirit merchant and a brick & tile maker.

The New Inn at the top lock. It seems to have been built in two stages but i can find little about it other than it opening in the mid 1800`s.

The New Inn (extreme left) pictured in 1905. The hump backed bridge was replaced in 1958. The building over the bridge is standing where the car park and rubbish/elsan services are now.

The Gate Inn situated on Old Watling street which is the now A5. From the top lock road bridge just walk past the New Inn car park entrance and just across the road is a footpath into Old Watling street. The very last building - or first if using footpath- nearest to the New Inn was the site of the horse stables on the 3rd of the maps above.
In 1851 John and Elizabeth Thompson had 4 sons and 2 daughters. Two sons were boatmen, one was a boat boy and dad John was also a coal merchant.

From the towpath. These are the last buildings before the top lock to the right. You can see how easy boatmen had access to the pub or stables bearing in mind the newer buildings were not in place.

The Crown and Anchor is next to the gift shop just above lock 8. If you look at the top map you can see it was `L` shaped and this can be seen in the discoloured brickwork above the single window. The pub closed in the 1930`s.
The 1881 census shows George and Mary Watts as landlords. Twenty year old Emily Gates was a visiting dressmaker. The Watts had 3 sons two were listed as bricklayers and we can only speculate if they were employed in the brick works marked on the map just along the towpath.
Fifty years previous the listing showed a widow as Inn keeper and rope spinner. Sarah had three young children and three lodgers, 2 rope spinners and a boatman.
In 1891 the pub was listed as the Anchor but that might just be someone`s abbreviation. The pub also at sometime sold groceries.

This is bridge 13.  On this site stood The Boat pub, the pub has gone as has the arched bridge that once carried the Daventry  road across the canal but has since been re-named Three Bridges Road. The road crosses the canal, the M1 motorway and the railway. Long Buckby has a station in the village about one and a half miles from the canal. It is a branch from the mainline created in 1881 almost 50 years after the railway first came past the wharf. It`s claim to fame is Prince Charles and his sons alighted from a train here when traveling to Althorpe for Diana`s burial.

Pic from  Behind The Boat pub rope making took place.
In 1891 the Thresher family ran the pub and 21 year old son Matthew was listed as a boat conductor. I`ve heard of a bus conductor, any ideas of the boat version?

The George Inn. Mr Google enabled a better angle for comparison to the picture below. George lane to the left leads down to lock 8.

The George Inn around the 1950`s. George lane just in front of the van was where the Lime kilns were.The George started as a coaching Inn probably around 1790 and closed in the early 1960`s. Joseph Kingston and his wife in 1851 had three daughters and he farmed 20 acres. They also had three servants.

The old Maltings 2014. In the picture below the boat is just approaching this point. This wall was until recently taller but some of the brickwork now resides in the canal.

Pic from shows the Old Maltings in about 1910.

The Spotted Cow at the bottom lock.

There was stabling at the rear for ten horses. Lockeeper of almost 40 years Henry Grantham is standing in the doorway.

Without doubt this whole community came about because of the Grand Junction canal. Boatmen no matter where they moored had a pub nearby.
Woolcombing and weaving were a big source of employment in the Buckby parish with shoemaking taking over in the early 1830`s.

During this time the area of Long Buckby Wharf seemed to have it`s own industries with a transport system running right through them all so I guess the main wool and shoe industries were more in the village than the wharf. 

There was a shop, post office and mission church on Daventry road, bridge 13, and the village of Long Buckby was just one and a half miles from the bridge. 

Looking at the census information so many publicans had other forms of earning a living. 
The brickyard ended up owned by the Thompson family but if this was the family running the Gate Inn is not clear. The same name crops up in the running of the Lime kilns behind the George Inn.

Some links;
Whilton and Buckby Locks Assoc.
history club (woolcombing)
History club (around the bottom locks)
Long (photos)
British history online (Ordnance survey maps 1:10,560 - 1887)
Pub history (leads to census for individual pubs)

An after thought or P.S.
Looking at a Google satellite view of the brickworks it seems to me the patch of water has a very distinct shape. It appears purpose built as it widens to allow boats to be turned. I know there were pits here and these do show on the field but this one is to neat. It`s overgrown towards the canal bank but could this be where it was filled in when the brickworks ended.
There certainly was a brickworks with a basin at Stoke Breurne between locks 15-16. The towpath still today bridges the entrance. The site is now a wildlife reserve.
Perhaps the Buckby brickworks just filled in the basin entrance and it all got lost in history or perhaps it`s just me. Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Honor of Grafton and Waka Huia

"In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed." ~Kahlil Gibran

   As is typical of us, we are so excited by meeting up with friends--be they old ones we know and love or new ones we are just meeting for the first time--that we forget to snap some pics of everyone and their boat, hence we have nowt' but the signage from Dave and Marilyn McDonald's boat although we did remember to get a picture of some of the people!
Me, Marilyn and Dave. My first bonafide Kiwis!
   Marilyn began following our blog back in New Zealand where she and Dave run a B & B. After many emails flying back and forth over the last four months Waka Huia finally caught up with NB Valerie and we had two lovely days getting to know Marilyn and Dave. 
   Dinner the first night was a collective effort on board NB Valerie and the next evening we supped aboard Waka Huia. Lovely!! It is always a gift to meet like minded folks who appreciate many of the same things we do in life.
   Marilyn explained Waka Huia means "treasure box" and it is indeed just that; the two people aboard are for us, the treasure of new friends. Thanks again for a truly lovely time. We will definitely see you again on down the water road. 
   As the wheel of the year turns again, summer gives way to autumn. Moored near the bijou village Grafton Regis, we were falling all over ourselves to pluck the fat, juicy blackberries which hung in swags from every shrub along the towpath. we've plundered thirteen pounds of berries thus far. Given the cancer fighting ellagic acids in these berries, I am more than thrilled to ram the freezer with them.
   We walked up to the village during our brief stay of five days. Not much to see at first glance but a typical narrow English lane up hill to a lovely view out across the canal and adjacent fields; a stone farm house with a lovely garden, sheep in the fields, and a tall, square 12th century Anglo-Saxon church tower with the narrow arrow slits. Further on, the small village meanders along the hilltop with a few new homes built in a lovely butter-and-honey colored stone, more fields and one pub.
   As we stopped to read the local village information board we discovered Grafton Regis was the birth place of Elizabeth Woodville--a beautiful young widow with two small boys whose beauty caught the eye of King Edward IV; he of the House of York, whose emblem was the white rose.
   The Woodville family gave monies to the church for the repair and maintenance of the church tower which stood as a watch tower and defense along the Old Roman Watling road--the demarcation of the Danelaw which divided England nearly in half lengthwise with the Anglo-Saxons living to the West and the Danes settling into the Northeast of England.
   Married in secret at Grafton Manor, she was the first commoner ever to be crowned queen (consort). In addition to her two young sons by her first husband, Elizabeth and Edward had ten children together; five survived. Only their daughter also named Elizabeth outlived her parents.
   After Edward IV's death his son was declared king but never had a chance to be crowned; Henry's brother Richard imprisoned Elizabeth and Edward's two young sons in the tower whereupon they disappeared forever. Richard claimed the crown and declared himself king. His actions drove Elizabeth to side with the Red Rose of the House of Lancaster, marrying her daughter to Henry Tudor. 
   Henry went to war against Richard III, who lost his crown and his life at the Battle of Bosworth, where as King Henry VII, the Tudor line leading eventually Queen Elizabeth I was begun. 
   Elizabeth Woodville's grandson Henry VIII loved visiting the hamlet of Grafton and accorded it the royal honor of Regis. Henry spent late summer from August through October at Woodville Manor, enhancing the building and grounds, building a bowling lawn and hunting in the local woods. It was one of his favorite homes. His daughter Elizabeth I stayed there on three separate progresses. 
   It was here in 1529 Henry VIII met with Cardinal Wolsey one final time to be told the Catholic pope would never grant an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so Henry could marry Anne Boleyn.
   Sadly Grafton Manor was razed to the ground in the English Civil War in the mid 1600's. The house in existence today was rebuilt on the grounds in the 19th century and now serves as a rehabilitation home for individuals with brain trauma and Mental health issues. It has changed relatively little since the late seventeen to early eighteen hundreds with only a couple of new houses built along Church Lane in recent years, in the footprint of older buildings. Today Grafton Regis has a population swollen to nearly 100.
   And so as we walked the narrow lanes back toward the towpath and the 21st century my thoughts were never far from Henry. As we picked fat purple berries I could see the Norman church tower on the hill above the trees. It is said Henry would still recognize most of the village...
   As the morning mist rises from the meadow I feel his gaze cutting across the fields and I wonder if the great King ever stopped on his local travels to pluck a fat purple berry and sample its perfumed taste.
   Les says if you need directions to the village or the blackberries just ask one of the locals!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How do you fill your days?

Some good news today came with a phone call giving a surgery date. My final appearance on my NHS tour will be October 8th. My first knockout, anesthetically speaking, appearance was October 16th 2013 and my final tour date will once again be at Watford after which we will get back to....well you know what retired boaters do all day.

That brings up the question that`s been asked a few times "how do you fill your days"?
Most mornings over breakfast Jaq will go on line and check the news both sides of the pond. This takes us half way through the morning, we are not early risers as our day ends usually with conversation or a read at about 1am. Sometimes something in the news will generate some interesting conversation and this leads to our first coffee of the day. Cruising is not usually a daily thing and when it occurs a long day will be about 5 hours but is normally three. Mooring up for 3 days is not uncommon but neither is cruising three days running. Take it as it comes, no fixed plans just some idea of a destination.

Well a lunchtime walk to the village pub gives Jaq a chance to experience her first Ploughman`s lunch.

She has the roast beef and cheese with the standard crusty bread,salad and pickle, nice extra touch are the grapes. Jaq had heard of a ploughmans when back in the states and was keen to try it along with a pear cider.

Another time consumer is gathering wood. This time it`s Oak that once cut needs to be split and stacked on the roof.
Bananagrams is our latest game. The captain has beaten the Admiral 3 times so far.

These have to be picked
to produce this. It all takes time.

The sun sets on the bridge that will be the starting point of another two hours of my day. On this occasion our once a week newspaper that also includes Jaq`s favourite TV mag means a walk across several fields to a lane that leads into a small village some 2/3 miles away. Back in the days of living on land it would be a two minute walk with not so much as a glimpse of open spaces.

Then quite unexpectedly blog readers, Arthur and Jennifer on Nb Dabchick moor up for a cup of tea and home made fudge.
Then time is taken up seeking out and photographing places like this. It will be in a future blog. All I can say is it`s not what it was.

So the day takes many forms but nothing in anyway like a working life that so many of you experience daily. The only thing I can say to cheer you up each working day is that retirement is fun and I hope you all stay healthy to enjoy many years not working. I feel like i`ve been given an extension and savour every day with a wonderful partner.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Watford staircase locks, another first for Jaq

The Watford flight of 7 locks opened in 1814 and is on the Leicester arm of the Grand Union canal. It rises, or lowers, the canal 53 feet through 7 locks. These consist from the bottom of 2 single locks followed by a staircase of 4 finishing with a single lock.

 It is said a past lockeeper many years back painted the extra ground paddles Red with the standard paddles left White. The Red paddles are linked to side ponds so water can be taken from or given to the lock in use and not lost down the flight to the lower canal.

So important is it to operate the paddles correctly a little verse will help you;
"Red afore white and you'll be alright, white afore red and you'll wish you were dead!" 

The locks are in the control of a lockeeper and you must register your boat with him and not just operate the locks on your own. The staircase 4 is not the place to meet another boat coming in the opposite direction. 
During winter a few years back I remember operating the locks with friends Andy and Tina as a notice declared the locks un-supervised and to check no boats were using the flight before you moved off. 
The middle section is the four staircase locks. The white ended beams are the gates and out of sight at the top are another set. This means five sets of gates are used for four locks whereas in a normal lock formation those four locks would consist of eight gates. With the side ponds meaning less water pumping this is quite an economical way to climb a hill.             
Jaq has done the Banbury and Aylesbury arm staircases but this is her first staircase of four within a flight that uses side ponds. Next time I will let her do the paddles.

This panorama shows the side ponds alongside the locks. Until I raise the Red paddle the side pond remains calm.

With the Red paddle raised the water enters the side pond and is stored for when needed to fill the lock.

A Google satellite view of the side ponds. Originally this section was to be a deep cutting and a short tunnel but the purchase of some rather expensive land made life easier.

Jaq enters the last lock and so far it has taken 50 miutes to complete the flight. The boat just about visible on the right has been waiting an hour to start going up so our timing was purely by luck just right as we started the flight as soon as we arrived.

A piece of old 1950`s film HERE of commercial carrying. Just found it while doing this post. It is 39 minutes long so a link is best if you have limited internet.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Easy White Bread: Les and Jesse's Favorite!

"To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the making of bread." ~James A. Baldwin, American Author
   A few weeks back I posted a recipe from the New York Times for Artisan bread--a lovely round loaf with a crispy, crackling crust and chewy interior. This is the bread similar to three Cheese Bread, Asiago Bread and several other artisan loaves available at local stores and bakeries. It is my favorite bread. It is not a high riser as it has lower gluten structure and holes in the large crumb which give it the chewy texture I love--especially for toast, and crostini.
   Les however prefers basic white bread as does our daughter Jesseca back in the U.S. It is the type of bread I used to make when she was a little girl--great for sandwiches, high rising with a thin crust and a very tender crumb. I call it old reliable and you will too if you try it. 
   One word of warning to Brits and others who live in a humid climate--reduce the liquid!! I made this bread the first two times, following the recipe exactly and it came out fine. Both days it happens, were hot, sunny days. When I made it again it was a misty, overcast and very humid day. My dough was noticeably more wet and the bread did not rise as it should; instead it slumped over the side of the bread pan, developing big side handles. It still tasted fine but it didn't have that typical bread shape.
   Here's why: gluten strands make baked goods rise. Gluten doesn't form until flour becomes wet. Adding or withholding fluids from a bread recipe can encourage or deter gluten's development.
   When you want to maximize gluten, a moderate amount of water is ideal. But if it's tenderness you are after, adding or withholding water will affect the outcome--depending on the bread you want to make. 
    Once the gluten in a dough is fully hydrated, adding yet more water weakens the gluten strands. In artisan breads, excess water weakens the gluten network, resulting in a crumb that has large appealing holes and chewy texture rather than a uniform, soft crumb.
   I will be experimenting as well to develop a brown bread that is tender and rises high yet has that old time taste and the wholesome flavor of whole grains and molasses. Once I perfect it I will also post that recipe. 
Easy White Bread
3 cups of strong unbleached white bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons of salt
1 Tablespoon of instant dry yeast
2 cups of very hot tap water (90-110F)
** Bakers in humid countries reduce water to 1 3/4 cup of hot water. You can always add in another 1/4 cup later if your dough seems too dry
2 Tablespoons of butter
6" x 9.5" loaf pan
A real nice rise
  • Butter a large bowl. If it has a lid, butter it as well, or use a plastic shower cap to cover your bowl while your bread dough is rising.
  • In a large bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of flour, sugar, salt and dry yeast. Whisk together to mix the dry ingredients.
  • In a medium bowl or a large four cup measuring cup, pour in the hot water. Add 2 T. of butter. Stir gently until the butter melts completely. To this add the remaining 1 1/2 cup of flour. Mix it well. Once the flour is completely incorporated, pour the wet mix into the dry ingredients and stir well to thoroughly incorporate the dry mix with the liquid.
  • On a floured counter or board tip your dough out and knead it for 10 minutes. I keep a cup of flour sitting nearby and dip into it as necessary to keep the counter and my hands lightly floured as I knead.
  • After ten minutes, place your dough in the buttered bowl, cover and let rise someplace warm (mine sits on top of my refrigerator) for one hour. 
  • After one hour uncover your dough, punch down and tip it out on a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, about 1 minute. Shape into a loaf, cover, and let rest 15 minutes. 
  • Shape into a loaf and place in a loaf pan. Cover and let rise 45 minutes. 
  • Pre-heat oven to 425 F (gas mark 6). 
  • Bake for 30-35 minutes, turning half way through if your oven does not brown evenly. Remove from the pan to a cooling rack. Butter the top of the bread for an easy to slice loaf. Allow the bread to cool to warm before slicing. 
   Les and I always eat a slice of fresh baked bread while warm with butter. This is a grandmother tradition in my family. My Welsh grandmother Lilly George, baked bread and gave me a slice still warm with butter and a cup of tea; my mother did the same.
   I did it with my daughters when they were little and also with my American grandsons.
   Recently I did this with our British grandkids Kiera and Kiernan. Judging by their response--wide eyes rolled upward with delight, yummy sounds coming from their lips--it was something they loved and will always remember.
   It will be Teo, Batu, Lena-May, Nicole, Jack, and Jordan's turn soon! I think fresh baked warm bread with butter is a great tradition to pass on. As the Pillsbury Dough Boy says, "Nothin' says lovin' like something from the oven." I'm pretty sure he stole that line from his grandmother!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs