Monthly Archives: April 2015

Spring in England: The Sap is Up

Having overstayed somewhat in Jericho, but needing to be back in Oxford so someone could catch a train to rescue the car from Cropredy, then head for home to pick up post, parcels etc., a quick overnight trip up The Thames seemed in order. The journey up through Port Meadows to Eynsham in bright sunshine was quite delightful, with hundreds of Greylag Geese lining the banks, a cormorant perched precariously and ominously on a blasted oak, and a  bunch of (common?) terns whizzing past. The river itself was full of strange and vaguely unpleasant looking black and brown stuff floating past; sometimes huge floating islands of it. Given the number of geese around and the mess they make on the ground we had a horrible feeling it might be related to them, but a lock-keeper (yes they still exist, sometimes) assured us it was some kind of debris coming up from the river bed: probably last year’s leaf litter or something.

While negotiating a tight hairpin bend just above Duke’s Lock, Fran remarked that in the copse on the inside of the bend she could see a bloke’s bare bum pumping up and down in some energetic al-fresco bonking: clearly spring has arrived! Too busy trying to get round the bend without hitting the outside bank I missed the rutting, but did wonder if you can get some kind of automatic porn filter for a boat, to avoid any further possible distraction as spring progresses.

Moored at Eynsham LockMoored up at Eynsham Lock

Decent moorings on The Thames aren’t easy to find, so we were pleased when the Eynsham Lock keeper said we could moor just below the lock for the night, with the promise of a pump-out and fresh water the next morning.

At the lock was a blackboard with the message “England does Spring the best” with which it is hard to disagree, and may well have been aimed at the couple downstream, but the impact was somewhat lessened by being next to another blackboard saying “Pump-out Out of Order”.  The latter proved to be to our advantage, as being only partially broken, it needed “testing” the next morning so we had use of the facility for free: what a nice lock keeper!

After seeing to the boat’s needs (it’s always nice seeing the water gauge reading Full and the waste gauge reading Empty), a trip to Eynsham in search of beer, lunch and provisions provided a pleasant interlude before returning downriver to Oxford. The toll bridge only charged 5p for a car and 20p for a double-decker bus: the Severn Crossing take note! The first ducklings of the trip were duly spotted, but there didn’t seem to be any repeat of the other shenanigans even though eyes were kept firmly peeled…

Never as for whom the bell tolls...First ducklings of the seasonCottage in EynshamEynsham Square

Apres La Deluge-Matters Scatalogical

[Those of a delicate disposition look away now].

When you spend a certain amount of time on narrowboats, you soon begin to understand why one of the most common topics of discussion between boaters are the merits or otherwise of the various on-board methods human waste disposal.

As per Toulouse, her sister boat, Song & Dance has two toilets (of different types). The bathroom one is piped to a large holding tank via something politely known as a macerator, which – when working properly – grinds everything exceeding small while pumping it away out of sight,  smell and mind. And when it doesn’t work, anything less liquid than water can cause it to block. Clearly, when fixing the flooding toilet in the bathroom, something had been disturbed, because no sooner had we started using it again in anger, it filled up and didn’t empty.

A “conversation” with an engineer reluctant to hot-foot it all the way from Stoke-on-Trent to Oxford, and our reluctance to don huge rubber gauntlets and strip the system down – we were trying to leave Oxford, not go on a self taught toilet dismantling course – led to a somewhat alarming suggestion that reversing the electricity connections and running the pump would almost certainly resolve the matter. Instant reaction was that we’d promptly turn the bathroom into something resembling the streets of Paris last November, but hey… nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Fortunately, on pulling the toilet away from the wall, it was immediately clear that when previously  replaced after the leak, the large rubber waste pipe had got twisted and crushed, thus preventing it fulfilling its proper role. A swift go at a jubilee clip to twist and realign things, and we were back in business so to speak. Really needs a new waste pipe: let’s hope that the bodge repair lasts long enough.

Meanwhile, the Captain has his own facilities – a litter tray. When we’re moored up he always has access to the Big Wide World and is encouraged to go off into the hedgerows to do his business, while regarding the litter tray as an emergency backup for those moorings where he really isn’t happy to go out for whatever reason. Regrettably, cats also sometimes eat grass to make themselves sick – usually after a major bout of fur cleaning – a rather less predictable exercise.

Fran coaxed Sir out onto the towpath in the evening as the passers-by had largely disappeared, and both came back in a couple of minutes later. “He’s done his business…”, said Fran, “… he’s peed, poohed and puked”, and with that pure alliterative poetry, it was clearly time to leave Oxford. Fast.

Jackstraws Morris at Oxford Folk Festival

The place was awash with morris dancers all weekend (mutter, mutter), so apparently some pictures must be posted. Managed to restrict things just to Jackstraws – many of the other sides seen were – errr – less than inspiring, if more exotically costumed and made-up.

Morris Dancing forbiddenAll up.

Just before dancing, some stray from a Civil War society angrily read a proclamation forbidding morris dancing in Oxford on a Sunday: the impact was lessened by his dentures coming loose in the excitement. Jackstraws were worth watching, as always.

Broad Street, OxfordShepherd's Hey

Shirley and Kris get airborne in Oxford CastleOh No. Not the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance again...

Hellfire and Brimstone… Oxford Style

While eating our tea on the Friday before having a foray into town to see if we could find some music (it being the opening evening of Oxford Folk Festival), we were puzzled by a police heli hovering over the town centre for the best part of an hour. Once we walked into town it soon became clear: the iconic Randolph Hotel had been seriously on fire and a chunk of the town centre become a no-go area. To make things worse, there was so much smoke that several other establishments with air conditioning (including – deep irony – The Old Fire Station, Folk Festival HQ and venue) had inhaled enough to set their fire alarms off as well. They all had to be evacuated too and checked out by the Fire Brigade chappies. A cacophony of fire alarms… Still, we managed to get into a nice concert in the Wesleyan church so all was not lost.

Saturday lunchtime saw a concert in the splendidly – nay, almost excessively – ornate St Barnabas Church (would never have guessed it was an Anglican church) . Billed as The Rheingans Sisters plus John Spiers and “a very special guest, the former were musically splendid, with their Scandewegian harmonies ringing in acoustically alive church, although sitting down at floor level to play in front of large audience in unraked seating was a visual error. Only those in the front row could see anything: six rows back all we could see was  the occasional bow tip or banjo machine head waving round over a sea of heads. (Gives new meaning to “mysterious ways” I suppose).

And given that Bellowhead were in town on Saturday night, guessing the identity of the “very special guest” was hardly  going to be taxing. Despite not having played as a duo for over year, they were expectedly splendid. Seeing an entire large church audience cheering The Rochdale Coconut Dance to the rafters and energetically careening around the aisles to Sloe Benga was memorable, even if slightly bizarre given the very high-church surroundings. Concert of the year so far…

The Gospel according to St. SqueezyNo surprise there then..The Gospel according to Spiers and Boden

Here We Go Leaky Loo, Here We Go…

As we headed on down into Oxford Town, we noticed that the bathroom floor was oozing water, with very similar symptoms to a toilet leak we suffered on our first week’s proving cruise last year. Fortunately it looked like clean water…

Graham (the energetic man of all trades leaping around in Splashdown in Longport) was dispatched Oxford-wards at OMG o’clock, arrived at breakfast time and soon fixed the problem before heading off to some other problem in Derby. Gets around that chap!

We’d moored just 20 yards across the water from the very splendid and ornate St Barnabas Church in Jericho, one of the venues for the Oxford Folk Festival weekend, where there would apparently be nasty outbreaks of morris dancing, including some from SWMBO. A quick foray into town showed that while the morris sides were as usual slow to appear, a splendid Cossack Dance Troupe from Perm (twinned with Oxford) had got ahead of the game and were entertaining bemused shoppers a day early.

Yarmarka Dance Team from PermYarmarkaNice Cossack bootsFran changes sides...

Fran was very taken, got roped into their version of Bonny Green, and was contemplating joining them but thought it was perhaps a bit far to go for practices on a  Monday evening. Mind you, the lead singer was a bit fearsome, and the twirly skirts competition intense, so perhaps it was for the best…

YarmarkaCompetition for the Twirly Skirt prize is intense.

A Really Really Sunshiny Day

Having moored up at a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable spot in the general area between Kirtlington and Tackley in an overcast and howling crosswind, the forecast sunny day arrived in spades, and what a delight. So nice that we just got out the deckchairs and went nowhere. Gave half the boat a bit of spit and polish, read a book, chatted with the occasional towpath user, drank beer…

On a nice warm day in Spring, a quiet part of the cut is hard to beat. The trees are just starting to tinge green with the leaf buds, while the hawthorn blossom frosts the hedgerows.

A very Bright Sunshiney Day

Over breakfast we watched a muntjac deer wander slowly and completely unconcerned down the copse the other side of the cut, beyond which some frisky foals could be just seen prancing around. (There are loads of muntjac near home, but they’re very shy and  largely nocturnal, so the occasional glimpse in the headlights or keeping well hidden in the undergrowth is about all we’ve seen). All the LBJs were flitting around and singing their hearts out; there was never a moment when there wasn’t a buzzard or red kite circling overhead, and sometimes both. Loads of honking from unseen pheasants, and a pair of mallards wandering around house hunting. Even the occasional poor perisher in a light twin struggling with single engine approaches into Oxford Airport didn’t really detract from the peace.

And then to finish off in style, as dusk turned to dark there was a splendidly visible fly past of the International Space Station, with loads of bats flitting around, and the pheasants still calling like mad. A wonderfully surreal end to a really Bright Sunshiny Day.

More Old Friends

Just approaching the obligatory stop for lunchtime bacon sandwiches at The Pig Place, we met Ian and the aforementioned Cuckoo’s Nest returning to Cropredy from an Easter week cruise. A quick wave  and “how are you” is about the only conversation possible before parting company at a combined speed of 5 knots. At least you don’t notice the Doppler effect!

The Pig Place is also wall-to-wall with whippets racing around, so Biggles remained firmly asleep out of sight while the crew satisfied their non-vegetarian tendencies. Mind you, Fran had to be forcibly restrained from stealing and smuggling on board one of the the delightful three-week-old whippet pups.

With the already strong wind picking up even more, manoeuvring the boat was becoming more and more challenging, and at Aynho Bridge we had our first serious mishap… not sure who won, Song & Dance or the bridge, but let’s just say we took some souvenirs with us.

The intention of getting to Somerton Deep Lock for the night was abandoned for somewhere more sheltered!