Monday, 28 November 2011

Our Weekend

 Home made cinnamon whirls for breakfast, followed by a pootle down to the waterpoint. Realising that we had run out of loo blue prompted a trip to St Ives to Jones's Marina on the guided busway. After a walk to the marina, we settled in to have a cup of tea and do some work in a cafe in St Ives. 

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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Kitten Chaos

Over the weekend, we had the pleasure of visiting the Pippins for dinner, and got to meet the lastest addition to their crew, a little ginger and white kitten known as China. She is a high-energy ball of fluff, and Tom, her older shipmate, is just getting used to her. Alas we don't have any good pictures of her, but this latest Simon's cat cartoon reminded me of Tom (although he is not quite so long-suffering as Simon's cat, and will issue China a - claws sheathed - warning biff!)

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Mystery of the Missing Medlar

Perhaps you have not heard of medlars. I would not be surprised, as I had not until this time last year when I was visiting an organic farm for work, and they had a couple of medlar trees in their orchard. The farmer invited us to try one. I have never tasted anything like it. The flesh is a fragrant toffee apple flavoured paste, like eating a dessert that is conveniently growing on a tree. I took one home to ripen, and I still have the seeds, with the long term plan of finding somewhere  to plant it. 

The medlar is a native tree of Persia, and was brought over to this country by the Romans. Popular in the Victorian times, they have gone out of favour to the extent of being all but unknown these days. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the fruit must be 'bletted', a polite way of saying rotten, before they reach the perfect taste and consistency. But they dare hardy little trees, and do still survive in old gardens and orchards.

I set about finding out if Cambridge had any medlar trees, and the Cambridge fruit map came up trumps, pointing me to the most incongruous location: the middle of the humanities faculties campus. The Cambridge Spy wrote about this tree, describing how 'One winter's day, the Spy had snuck into the Sidgwick Site, and was busy scrabbling about in the frosty mud for these little rotten gems, when an elderly academic in tweeds walked past, twinkling, "So, you've discovered the secret of the medlar tree!" His own memory of the tree stretched back to 1960, and he took the opportunity to pass on his own Christmas Day breakfast recipe: roasted medlars with the tops sliced off, filled with cream and sprinkled with brown sugar.' However, when I arrived I found that the new Alison Richards Building was in construction, and the little tree was on the wrong side of the construction site hoardings. I resolved to come back later in the year.

Photo: The Cambridge Spy
This evening, I returned to check if the tree was accessible yet, only to discover that it was gone. In the location given on the map, there is a square hole in the paving slabs filled with earth, indicating that something is going to fill it. I went into the English faculty next door to find out who I should speak to about the building next door (as it is still a construction site) and the friendly chap on the desk said that he thought there were preservation orders on all the trees close to the site. However, I had a look online and found a document relating the the construction of the new building. Apparently, 'a medlar tree is proposed as a replacement for the one that will be removed'. So, the venerable old tree is no more, but perhaps next November, there will again be medlars on the Sidgwick Site. In the meantime, I have heard that there is a medlar in the Orchard, Grantchester, so will try to head out there this weekend in search of my medlar fix!

Site map showing the location of the tree

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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lyra's box

My mum sent me a box of goodies for my birthday, and Lyra has appropriated the box for her own devices! It is her favourite place to sit when it's warm in the cabin (when it's cooler, we are her favourite seat).

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Collect the Set

Shoshana Shadock - paper graffiti

(came across these dotted around Cambridge. 
There are probably more, do let me know if you see any others)

Gwydir Street

Mill Road

Newmarket Road/East Road/Elizabeth Way roundabout subway

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Monday, 14 November 2011

Loaded Working Boat

.... sort of!

We took delivery of our winter fuel last weekend- 10 bags of Taybrite, 10 bags of Supertherm. The coal merchant was able to get onto Midsummer Common with his flat-bed truck, and so we piled the bags onto our well-deck. 600kg of coal (we had some there already) really brought the bows down and put some front drain vents very near the water, so that's probably as loaded as we're ever going to get unless I get the bungs out again!

Inspired by John's Stealth Wood Pile, we now have our very own Secret Coal Bunker, in a strategic riverside location, where most of it will be stored. A newly-liveaboard friend, Other John, had ordered some coal from the same delivery, but there had been a mix-up and the right kind of smokeless hadn't arrived; so we chugged down the river, moored alongside, and made a coal delivery from the water; 5 bags of Taybrite, on loan. Then we headed back to the Secret Coal Bunker and put most of the rest away securely.

For a brief moment, the Duck was a working coal boat- albeit with a cargo that was pitifully small compared to a real one.....

Sunday, 13 November 2011


The Christmas Truce - Carol Ann Duffy

Christmas Eve in the trenches of France,
the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man's Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.

Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,
sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother's eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.

In a copse of trees behind the lines,
a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin
holding his winter ground
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.

Somebody kissed the gold of his ring;
a few lit pipes;
most, in their greatcoats, huddled,
waiting for sleep.
The liquid mud had hardened at last in the freeze.

But it was Christmas Eve; believe; belief
thrilled the night air,
where glittering rime on unburied sons
treasured their stiff hair.
The sharp, clean, midwinter smell held memory.

On watch, a rifleman scoured the terrain –
no sign of life,
no shadows, shots from snipers,
nowt to note or report.
The frozen, foreign fields were acres of pain.

Then flickering flames from the other side
danced in his eyes,
as Christmas Trees in their dozens shone,
candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.

Men who would drown in mud, be gassed, or shot,
or vaporised
by falling shells, or live to tell,
heard for the first time then –
Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht …

Cariad, the song was a sudden bridge
from man to man;
a gift to the heart from home,
or childhood, some place shared …
When it was done, the British soldiers cheered.

A Scotsman started to bawl The First Noel
and all joined in,
till the Germans stood, seeing
across the divide,
the sprawled, mute shapes of those who had died.

All night, along the Western Front, they sang,
the enemies –
carols, hymns, folk songs, anthems,
in German, English, French;
each battalion choired in its grim trench.

So Christmas dawned, wrapped in mist,
to open itself
and offer the day like a gift
for Harry, Hugo, Hermann, Henry, Heinz …
with whistles, waves, cheers, shouts, laughs.

Frohe Weinachten, Tommy! Merry Christmas, Fritz!
A young Berliner,
brandishing schnapps,
was the first from his ditch to climb.
A Shropshire lad ran at him like a rhyme.

Then it was up and over, every man,
to shake the hand
of a foe as a friend,
or slap his back like a brother would;
exchanging gifts of biscuits, tea, Maconochie's stew,

Tickler's jam … for cognac, sausages, cigars,
beer, sauerkraut;
or chase six hares, who jumped
from a cabbage-patch, or find a ball
and make of a battleground a football pitch.

I showed him a picture of my wife.
Ich zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner Frau.
Sie sei schön, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.

They buried the dead then, hacked spades
into hard earth
again and again, till a score of men
were at rest, identified, blessed.
Der Herr ist mein Hirt … my shepherd, I shall not want.

And all that marvellous, festive day and night,
they came and went,
the officers, the rank and file,
their fallen comrades side by side
beneath the makeshift crosses of midwinter graves …

… beneath the shivering, shy stars
and the pinned moon
and the yawn of History;
the high, bright bullets
which each man later only aimed at the sky.

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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Tow for the price of one

That's probably one of the worst puns I've ever used as a blog title!

On bonfire night, we'd breasted up with our friend and neighbour Mark on Suzie Q. As his engine (Lister SR2) is awaiting some parts after he and I had a go at curing the uneven revving and hunting, and the massive holes in the exhaust expansion box, we towed him along to Midsummer Common, breasted up alongside, so that we could watch the fireworks from the roof.

This is the first time we've towed anyone else, and so it was quite an experience. We're much more used to being towed ourselves! As Suzie Q is only a foot shorter than the Duck, we decided- for control of the two boats on the short trip along the common- to tow breasted up to the fireworks, but that made the handling interesting.

Although the Duck's engine was powerful enough to shift the two boats happily enough, stopping was more of a problem. As both boats are modern and shallow-drafted, the tendency when putting the Duck into astern to slow the two boats was to pull the combination around and slew it across the river, which was quite annoying. It needed very careful handling, but we successfully got the boats along, and then winded the two. Turning was trickier because of the boats slewing when reverse was applied, but we got around with inches to spare. In the same spot, I can just about get the Duck around in one go, in a U-turn, as the river's 60' wide at that point.

Once we'd watched the fireworks, we cruised back again, as we had to turn around onto the mooring. But we were having so much fun that we carried on past the wider point where we were going to stop and went as far as the Pike and Eel, quarter of an hour down the river, before turning.

On the way back, I decided to try something different. Towing breasted up was OK for short distances, but it wasn't very efficient, as there was a great deal of disturbed water. Our normal cruising speed down the river, past the moored boats, is 1,200 rpm or so (tickover is 800)- but to get a similar speed, the engine was having to work up to 1,800 or so. I decided to try towing on long cross straps for the way home, so that Suzie Q, as a butty, didn't have to be steered, and the longer cross-straps allowed a bit more thrust from our prop. Mark was a bit unsure at first, especially as tying the cross-straps involved untying from his engineless boat in the middle of the river, but it worked out very well. I brought the pair to a stop, untied the DUck, and brought it to the bows, where I put a loop over his T-stud, ran the rope past his stem post, to the opposite dolly on the Duck's stern, took a few turns, round the other dolly, and back to his t-stud to be tied on the other side of the stem-post.

The cross straps are a really ingenious design, often used by pairs of working boats when unloaded. The cross in the rope means that, if the butty drifts off to one side, the pull becomes diagonal and centres it again.

This made towing much easier- we could move at 1,400 rpm for the same speed, so more fuel-efficient!- and we headed back in fine style, with no need to steer the butty boat, even around a few corners. Steering was more of a challenge with two boats- I had to remember that the bow of the butty followed my stern, and then his stern would swing out as we came around, which made the corners an interesting challenge.

A bit like driving one of these, I suppose!

Mooring up was fun, too- we just slowed down in plenty of time and drifted into the gap.

Great fun to practice this technique, when it didn't matter, so that in future we can use it if we need to.

Things I learnt from doing this:

  • Modern, shallow draft boats with high-revving engines and smaller props will tend to pull around to one side, when reversing, as the stern of the motor boat is pulled around. A deeper working boat, with a larger prop and more torquey engine, is much less susceptible to this; when towing the Duck with Warrior, all those years ago, it was never that bad, because Warrior was so deep it resisted turning and liked to stop in a straighter line!
  • If winding when breasted up, make sure you have the butty on the opposite side to your turn- so if the butty is on the left of the motor, turn to the right, so that the slewing effect of reversing the motor's engine works in your favour, not against you as it did the first time I turned. It took ages, and I nearly got the long shaft down and punted them around.
  • If you can, tow on cross-straps, as it's much more efficient- but more of a boat-handling challenge, as you've effectively got a boat that's twice as long that bends in the middle!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

My Favourite Finds v17

Many years ago, I had a beautiful russet-coloured Guernsey jumper, which belonged to my grandma. But it was the 90s, and I was wearning whatever teenagers deemed to be in fashion then, which certainly didn't involve traditional knitwear! I think it was given to a charity shop eventually because when I wanted to find it a couple of years ago, I couldn't. For his Christmas present, the first year I was with James, I gave him proper Guernsey whoch I bought on ebay, and have long hankered after one of my own. But they are expensive new, and so I didn't bother. 

Until I found this one, in the childrens sections of a little antiques shop on Gwydir Street in Cambridge for £15. I couldn't resist it! I love the colour, the fit, and everything about it! Originally worn by fishermen, did you know that the different types of knitting have (supposedly) got symbolic meaning: the rib at the top of the sleeve represents a sailing ship’s rope ladder, the raised shoulder seam a rope and the garter stitch panel, waves breaking on the shore.


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Monday, 7 November 2011

Sudden Fiery Flowers


They rise like sudden fiery flowers
That burst upon the night,
Then fall to earth in burning showers
Of crimson, blue and white.

Like buds too wonderful to name,
Each miracle unfolds
And Catherine wheels begin to flame
Like whirling marigolds.

Rockets and Roman candles make
An orchard of the sky,
Where magic trees their petals shake
Upon each gazing eye.

  James Reeves.

We watched the Midsummer Common fireworks from the roof of the Duck, moored 4 abreast across the river. It was a great evening, especially seeing the fireworks reflected in the water!

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Friday, 4 November 2011

Pumpkin Risotto

I bought two pumpkins for carving and only ended up using one of them, so had a whole pumpkin to use up (even after this there's still half left!). So I decided to make pumpkin risotto last night, which turned out really quite tasty. I'd always thought risotto was really difficult to make, but was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward it was. 

  • 300g arborio rice
  • 1.3l stock (veg, chicken, whatever you fancy)
  • 500-600g pumpkin (I used about a quarter of a 30cm round one)
  • olive oil
  • parmesan cheese
  • black pepper
  • sage

Cut up pumpkin into slices, de-seed and roast (it took about 45 mins at Gas m.6 in my boat oven, so might be quicker in a standard one). While this is on the oven, prepare the rice. Bring the stock to boil and leave it simmering. In another pan (this has to be big enough to take the rice and the pumpkin eventually) heat some olive oil. Cook the rice in this for about 1 min stirring constantly, then ladle in one spoonful of stock. Stir until it's absorbed (you'll know because it becomes sticky), ladle in more stock, stir until it's absorbed... and keep going until the rice is fat and soft and lovely! I found 1.3l stock to 300g rice perfect. Now, if you have a blender, you can puree some of the pumpkin (once it's roasted, the skin will come off the flesh easily with a fork and be soft enough to puree), and chop up the rest into nice chunks. Mix the puree and chunks into the rice, along with a generous amount of cheese, and finely chopped sage. Sprinkle with more cheese and serve. Yum.

I still have over half a pumpkin left to use up! Any suggestions for favourite recipes?

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Thursday, 3 November 2011

My Favourite Finds v16

Another lovely autumn find. This one was a bit of a steal! As I think I've said before, I love prints. A beautiful print will have me buying things that need a bit of attention, or aren't quite the right size, and so when I spotted this one in Cancer Research I was very pleased to find that not only was it the exact right size, but a brand new Ben Sherman skirt. I couldn't see a price but it still had its tags on, and so I was expecting it to be reasonable expensive. I'd fallen for the pretty autumnal print, so I was going to buy it anyway, but I asked the lasy at the till and found that it was supposed to be on the bargain rail for £1! Turned out they'd been off-loaded with about 20 of these and wanted to get rid of them. I was happy to oblige!

BNWT Ben Sherman skirt, £1
Cancer Research, Burleigh St

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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Recycled Gadget Cases

My laptop and Kindle in their respective cases. A cheap alternative to the expensive specially made type, and they don't scream 'I'm an expensive gadget, please steal me!'. 

However, the laptop envelope is in need of replacement, after a month of daily use. The laptop's weight and size mean that it is unlikely to be overlooked anyway, so I'll probably buy a proper one. 

The Kindle envelope I'll be keeping however, as it is so light and discreet as to disguise it's value, as well as having kept it in good condition so far.

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