Saturday, 23 February 2013

Another cold, windy dull day - YUK!

Friday, 22 February 2013.

I drove into St Ives, about 15 miles to the west, and had a look around the market and in the antique centres and charity shops. Before I left, I picked up some grub from the very busy Waitrose and wondered why it is that whenever I want to buy a few provisions, everyone else decides to shuffle into the same shop to buy their daily bread, vimto and bio-yogurt?

I got back to Skylark for lunch to find the fire still warm from the night before so I tickled it back to life and settled down to a cheese bagette and coffee while I watched the news.

Three bungling terrorists have been convicted of planning 8 suicide attacks. I wondered if they thought how they would carry out the last 5 attacks.

Apparently, their planning was flawed by their inept communications. They had an email address something like terrorsts’r’us. com and they had Facebook and Twitter accounts bragging what they were planning to do. The Police picked up on this so had bugged their mobile phones, cars and flats so knew everything they were planning do.  Some people think their ineptness was just a cover for something much bigger going on. Who knows? Anyway, full marks to the Security Forces – keep up the good work.

With a couple hours of daylight left, I took a walk down the river and back. Still a bit cold and windy. No sign of the Barn Owl today - I guess he or she is somewhere else trying to put on weight ready to mate in the spring.
I then had a quiet evening in the boat watching TV. It was wall to wall adverts and trailers interrupted by occasional 10 minute segments about real life cops and robbers in Reading followed by Cops in Copters, a very young-looking Bergerac, comedy quiz shows for comedians to get seen on TV, people proving that most Britains have absolutely no tallent, cute animals doing the most amazing things like standing on their hind legs and news about inept bombers and pathetic politicians (or was it the other way round?).
I then turned into Mr Grumpy...
Am I the only person who has noticed there are more adverts than programmes on TV? And why are they so loud?
Why are there so many adverts for life insurance, equity release and funeral plans between 3.00 pm and 5.00pm?
Why are there so many adverts for face creams, anti-aging lotions and Femi-thingys between Graham Norton's segments?
Why do so many TV cameramen find it difficult to keep their cameras in focus?Do they think it's arty and are trying to impress the producers or are they just drunk?
Why are there so many repeats (especially on Dave)?
Why have those really interesting gardening and home decorating programmes with Alan Tithead been replaced with cooking competitions between lesser-known celebrities?
And why are my expectations of TV entertainment higher than the real thing?
I then turned into My Sleepy and shan't wake up until I have an answer.

Cold, windy and dull - yuk!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

While it’s been quite cold for a week, there have been no long periods of sub-zero temperatures; the days have been fairly warm and the nights bearable. But the last few days of this week are expected to be cold with a strong easterly wind coming from northern Europe. So, it’s a good time to make sure Skylark is tucked up warm.

I arrived at about 10.30 on Thursday, unpacked and made sure everything was OK. I then popped into Cambridge, taking another look around the Scott Polar Institute Museum. I am drawn to this tiny museum and quite moved by the artefacts and records. Scott’s diary details the last few days and hours of his men’s lives as they trudged back to their base camp and his final entry is particularly moving. They had failed to be first to reach the Pole and were plagued by poor planning and mishaps but, their final fate was determined by the atrocious weather, pinning them down just 11 miles from their base camp. Their bravery against all odds is still an example to all. When we complain about cold weather, we can only imagine what they put up with.

I returned the Skylark for a late lunch. In the afternoon, I put up the kitchen utensil rack (or whatever it is!). It had needed a bit of adjusting at a local forge to straighten the end brackets and while that was being done, the brass ends of the hooks were also adjusted to settle them down properly. Like the copper pipe I fitted a few weeks ago, I don’t think these will have a specific purpose but they look quite attractive.

This photo also shows one of the patio seat cushions we use to put in the portholes at night. This means they have fours uses - seat cushions, porthole curtains, heat insulator and soft object for throwing at anyone who misbehaves or is disobedient. 

I then had a quiet afternoon and evening relaxing in the snugness of my cabin.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Keeping an eye on things

Ely – Monday, 11 February 2013

I arrived at Lazy Otter at mid day. Skylark was fine, with no signs of suffering from the recent cold. I took onboard some supplies for a couple of days away and another bag of Phurnacite.

I headed downstream. The weather was dull and there was a bitterly cold wind in my face coming from the northeast. I was not surprised to find that I was the only person moving on the river. Ely was understandably quiet with little activity along the quayside – not even a hardy angler. I took up my usual mooring alongside the Maltings restaurant. I didn’t feel much like going into the town given the dull and dank weather so I just went into the nearby Sainsbury’s to top up my provisions.
Ely – Tuesday, 12 February 2013

It was quiet night. I woke up at about 7.00 am to the faint noises of the riverside waking up – a couple of ducks pecking at the weeds along my hull, people chatting as they walk to the railway station, a Council employee emptying the nearby bin and a rowing team taking a boat out for their early morning training session. Lying back in my dark cocoon, it was good to listen to the quiet murmurings of the riverside waking up.
I turned on the radio to find that the Pope resigned yesterday and North Korea has let off an atomic bomb – a slight overreaction, I thought. Unlike most jobs, I guess many of his followers thought being the ‘Pope’ was a job for life.

Horse meat is turning up in burgers, kebabs and lasagnes. After the problems we had last year with the proposed tax on pasties and pies, crisis meetings are now being held in Whitehall to make sure our pasties don't include hooves and horse hair.

Barclays has announced the sad news that its profit is down from £6bn in 2011 to £246m in 2012 so 3,700 members of staff have to be sacked. Fortunately, most of them are working overseas. To help share the pain, the new Chief Executive has agreed to waive his annual bonus. It’s good for leaders to be so thoughtful.
It’s also interesting to note that the new CE was in charge of Barclaycard when it was selling PPI to people who didn’t want it or even knew they were getting it. He said on the News last night that he agrees that everyone has to take responsibility for their wrongdoings but it didn’t stand in the way of him getting promoted to the top job recently. I wonder how he addressed that issue at his interview? 

Of more importance to me, the weather will continue to be cold but will brighten up on Wednesday and Thursday.
That’s enough of a roundup of what’s happening in the world. I got up at 8.00 am and, while I boiled the kettle for my first cup of coffee, I heard the rowers coming back. I guess they didn’t need me to tell them it’s freezing out there! I do admire their commitment though. It takes a certain kind of chap to turn out at 7.00am on a cold winter’s morning to sit in a cut-down plastic tube with a group of hairy-backed, rugby-playing, heavy-breathing lumps of muscle. I think I’d rather be the Cox in the ladies team.

At 10.30 I pushed off down the river to pick up some diesel from the marina on the Little Ouse. Heading into a nasty north wind was not nice but it only lasted a couple of hours. It would have been better if it had only lasted 20 minutes but then I don’t have one of those stream-lined cruisers. Skylark is a not very aerodynamic, is a tad heavy and, while the engine is powerful, the horsepower is more Suffolk Punch than Newmarket racehorse. Oh well, I got there and took my place in a queue of one behind NB Yarwood. After about 20 minutes, I pulled into the small jetty and Natalie and her hubby sold me 200 litres of their finest red diesel. And their price was not half bad (compared to other dealers in the vicinity).
After parting with the best part of 200 squid including a notional amount for duty, I pootled up the river a couple of hundred yards and turned on a wide corner, well, it was just wide enough for Skylark’s 60 ft. Had she been a few feet longer it would have been touch and go especially in the fast current.

Returning up the Ouse, I passed Little(to re)Port, resisting the temptation to pull over at the 48 hr moorings at the Swan on the River pub (nee Black Swan). The wind had died down but it was still cold and, as it was now 3.30 pm, I wanted to get back to Ely in daylight.
On the straight bit of the Ouse (one of many) near the Lark Junction, a team of rowers passed me heading south, all looking very determined and cold. As I neared Ely, they overtook me heading back to their base. They must have been going at least 12 miles an hour to my 6!

Passing the rail bridge at the south end of town, I pulled into the water point and did the necessary stuff. To take my mind off the various glugs and gurgles I thought I should congratulate the Council for pollarding the willows along here – it looks a lot better. They also seem to getting to grips with the over-stayers.
Returning to the riverside, I found a couple of camo-clad anglers were exactly where I would prefer to moor but, being a considerate boater, I slowly cut them up and went further down the quay.

I may pop into a local pub tonight to suss out their open mic evening. Tomorrow, I may pop into Cambridge. That’s enough planning. I’m getting hungry!
Ely again – Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Before I tell you what I did today, I must tell you about the open mic event last evening. I won’t name the pub because they were doing their best to drum up business and I wouldn’t want to discourage people who get up and sing. I know it takes guts to do this so 'good luck' to whoever gives it a go.

When I got there a young duo was singing some self-penned songs with a guitar. In the audience there were some family and friends who obviously thought they were wonderful. The duo treated us to an interesting selection of songs about searching for yourself, discovering someone you don't like much, finding young love, dealing with rejection, turning to drugs, developing clinical depression and experimenting with various forms of suicide. Just the sort of entertainment I needed on a cold winter’s night! All they need now is to match up the tune they are singing with the notes on the guitar and they might find a niche in the alternative music market.

They were followed by a couple of girls who were playing with the same guitar’ (if you know what I mean). They delighted us with a more adult selection of songs about useless men, challenging relationships, lost love, disappointing jobs, working in a circus, etc., etc. One of them has a free album of her songs on the internet. I’m afraid I didn’t have a pen handy to make a note of it.
As I still had a third of a pint left and I didn’t want to leave that, I stood through the next performance of songs from someone whose hobby is rock climbing. His material was more ‘folky’ and naturally focussed on difficult assents, rocky outcrops, hard cliffs and wet gullies. After about five minutes I hoped his next effort would be called, ‘I’m falling off a 400 foot cliff for you’.

As I supped my last mouthful, a new singer came on stage and he introduced his act. As he tuned his guitar, it went something like this, ‘Hi… I’m sorry… but I haven’t played the guitar for a while… my brother took my guitar to Uni… Sorry. Anyway… I’m going to sing my favourite song… by my favourite group… Smeghead (or something like that). I’m sorry if you don’t like it much… but it’s the only one I know… Sorry’. After that build up, I downed my last few mouthfuls. As I left by the side door, I thought I heard the plaintive wails of a persecuted soul - mine!
I woke up this morning at 7.00 to the faint noises of the crews getting ready for their early morning rowing practice. I crawled out of bed as they returned an hour later. They looked perished.

I decided to stay in Ely today as the temperature is still cold and the weather forecast predicts snow and later rain overnight. I plan to return home on Thursday as the rain is expected to clear by mid day. If I have time, I might go into Cambridge to see more of the Scott Polar Exhibition but that’s not important. I know the Polar Institute is under threat but I guess it will survive for a few more weeks or months. It will be a great shame if it closes.
Had lunch and then decided to head home today. There seemed little point hanging around so I up sticks and left. Temperatures and water levels all normal. Nice to see the Barn Owl flying over the river as I got back to LO. Got home about 4.00 pm.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Lazy days at Lazy Otter

Lazy Otter - 5 February 2013

Following the snow and its resultant flooding a couple of weeks ago, we had about a week of fair weather and mild temperatures. Now we’re back to below average temperatures and wintery showers so another good reason to have a few days on board. Do I really need a reason?

I arrived this morning, just before lunch and made sure Skylark was OK. I started the engine to give the batteries a boost, lit the fire and baled out a little water from the bilge under the calorifier. The pressure release valve is still dripping water; too much in my opinion. I’ll have it looked at again. Lunch was a pot of tuna/pasta courtesy of Tesco’s of Ely.

In the afternoon, I took a walk down the north side of the river to Stretham Pump and came back on the south side. As I got back to the boat, the darkening clouds started to offload a bit of snow – good timing. I called home and settled in to watch a some afternoon tv over a coffee.

Tomorrow, the plan is to go into Cambridge by mid morning and suss out the Scott Polar Expedition Museum. The great outflux (is that a word?) of traffic in the afternoon means I will leave no later than 3.30pm otherwise I will just add to the congestion.

Cambridge - 6 February 2013

There’s something about being on a boat that induces lethargy. Last night, I crawled into my very snug 1000g down sleeping bag at 10.30 and didn’t crawl out of it until 9.00 0’clock this morning. I must have looked like a Death’s Head Hawk Moth emerging from its chrysalis. My metamorphosis was aided by a very comfortable 6 degrees – almost spring-like. I had breakfast and a strong coffee, and then prepared for my trip into Cambridge. When I say ‘prepared’, what I really mean is I got dressed and left the boat.

I got into Cambridge at about 10.30 and went straight to the Scott Polar Institute.

What a great place to visit. It’s got a great deal of information and exhibits about life within the Arctic and Antarctic regions but also actual things belonging to the men who went with Scott on that last fateful trip. It’s quite moving to see the everyday bits and pieces used by the men who died; their compasses, clothes, tins of food, sewing kits, and most moving, their note books and letters home, many of which were the last ones they ever wrote.

Robert Falcon Scott was hailed as a great hero but he was also an unlikely leader. He almost didn’t get into the Navy because he was of tiny stature and prone to illness but he rose through the ranks to become one of the greatest leaders of the time. But how good was he? He clearly had what it took to mount an ambitious expedition to the South Pole, to encourage the patronage of wealthy benefactors and to lead a group of strong, like-minded men into a world of hardship and possible death but it’s interesting to compare him with Ernest Shackleton, one of his contemporaries.

Scott was a naval man through and through and his approach to planning the trip was well structured but a lot of his preparation was poorly informed. For instance, while he took dogs to pull his sledges, he also took ponies which were known to be poorly suited to an arctic environment. He even forgot to take worming tablets for the dogs; an oversight that caused significant problems for the teams. He also opted for the latest in Arctic vehicles; small tracked sledges powered by simple diesel engines. He was warned these would soon break down and, unlike a dead pony that could be fed to the dogs, machinery would just be a useless lump of metal. He persisted in his approach and paid for it later, dearly.

His unwavering determination may be explained by his upbringing and naval training. As a Naval Officer, he insisted on a strict discipline over his men and even required his subordinate Officers to maintain a rigid distance from the lower ranks as would happen in any naval vessel. Some of the civilian members of the team found his approach very difficult to live with.

Shackleton, on the other hand, was raised through the ranks of the merchant fleet and, as a result, had a much more flexible approach with his men, his planning and his overall management of the situations threy found themselves in. His foresight was arguably better than Scott’s and, when disaster threatened, it can also be argued that his leadership was better as a result. His ‘from the front’ form of leadership motivated his men and was probably the main reason why he was able to save his crew from what often appeared to be certain death on the ice flows.

One of his greatest assets, which would later be seen as a shortcoming, was his optimism. When the going was tough, his optimism motivated his men to keep going and give more but as the going got even tougher, his optimism began to wear thin with the men. In their diaries, his men often remarked that Shackleton appeared to lose his grip on reality. As time would tell, he managed to overcome the greatest of challenges. His optimism, however formed and presented, must have played a significant part in his achievements.

Scott, on the other hand, expected to reach the Pole and, while he had planned his return journey, he failed to plan sufficiently for disaster, unlike Shackleton. So, when disaster started to unroll, after finding that Amundsen had beaten them to the Pole, he and his crew were both demoralised and poorly prepared. His dogged determination to reach his base camp was regarded as a strength and he was hailed as a hero after news of his death reached England but, if you read the facts surrounding his attempt to escape the ice, you will see that he made poor decisions and mistakes that ultimately led to his death and the others who followed him.

Clearly they both acheived much more than I could ever achieve so, please don't take exception to my comments. But however you view them; their good points or their bad points, you can't help but feel awestruck by what they achieved.

But that doesn't alter my view, with the benefit of hindsight, if I had the choice of which man to follow, I would have hitched up with Shackleton.

I highly recommend a visit – it brought a lump to my throat!

On my way back to the Landy, I popped into the Fitzwilliam Museum for some more culture. What a grand place. And it's free!

It has a fantastic collection of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and things like that. Many of the pictures portrayed naked buxom women languishing on divans being pointed at by scantily dressed men and boys. I find this an odd subject and it wears a bit thin when you’ve seen a couple of hundred of them but it seemed to tickle the fancy of the rich and famous during the enlightenment. A lot of it was not exactly my ‘cup of tea’.  Or as an old friend of mine would say, ‘I wouldn't open the flaps of my wigwam to let that in’, but I don’t think he was talking about fine art at the time.

Anyway, I enjoyed seeing the fairly modern pictures by Monet and Rodin, and I would recommend a visit even if this type of high art doesn’t float your boat. You never know, you might find something that does.

The inside of the building is a work of art. I managed to get past the guards looking for people armed with cameras.

Leaving Cambridge at 3.00pm was good not only to miss the rush hour traffic but some pretty heavy clouds had started to roll in. By the time I got back to Skylark, it was raining in a very wintery sort of way. I teased the fire back to life and settled in for the rest of the day and night.

Not sure what I will do tomorrow. I’ll wait and see if I wake up first.

Ely in the sun - 7 February 2013

Emerging from my chrysalis at 8.00 am, I decided to pop into Ely. The weather was better than I expected; quite warm and sunny. In a way, if I’d known the weather was going to be so nice, I would have taken the boat rather than the Landy. Anyway, apart from a bit of window shopping, I did some ‘hunting and gathering’ in Tesco’s and headed back to Skylark for lunch.

The afternoon turned cloudy so I decided to do a few jobs on the boat including more work to seal the portholes. That done, and with still a couple of hours daylight left, I went for a walk down the river. Everything was quiet although I did see a Barn Owl flying off over the fields. It was a shame I hadn’t noticed it while it was sitting in the nearby tree but their light brown camouflaged plumage makes it difficult to see them until they take flight.

I spent a quiet evening on board with a half bottle of plonk and a plate full of very fine pasty and tangy rice. I watched Silent Witness (or ‘Scare me Sh!tless’ as Kay calls it) and turned back into my chrysalis when my batteries started to dim the lights. I plan to go home tomorrow.

Home – 8 February 2013

A cold morning but I’m still cosy inside Skylark. While I packed up my things, I listened to the weather forecast. A couple of quiet days are expected then some more of the cold stuff. I’ll keep my diary clear (ha ha) to enable me to pop back if I need or want to.