Saturday, 29 January 2011

Teacher Training

As some of you will know, James has been pursuing a career in education for some years now, beginning with an IT support role in a secondary school which led to more actual teaching opportunities. He applied to Cambridge to study for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in History last year but was sadly unsuccessful. He had a bit of a rethink and decided to try primary teaching. He applied for a job at a local primary school and has been working there as a teaching assistant since September. It is clearly hard work, but he loves working with his class of 8-11 year olds. Last October he applied again to Cambridge but for a different course, working with younger children. It is a competitive course, and we were making plans for what we would do if he didn't get in, and had to move elsewhere to study. We decided that I'd keep the boat in Cambridge and he'd rent with fellow students for the year but come back for some weekends and school holidays. So when we were in the library, using the computers, and James got an email saying something had changed on the admissions tracking website, we both felt a surge of adrenaline. The decision had been made. He logged in, and to our delight, found the words 'Conditional offer'. I am so pleased for him! The Cambridge PGCE is one of the best in the country, and he can stay here on Lucky Duck with me.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Toast of the Town

We had a busy weekend (rowing mainly - what's new?) but also getting to know our neighbours Mary and Martin on nb Dragonfly. We spend a good couple of hours having tea, cookies and mince pies with them, discussed all things boaty and admired their lovely narrowboat. It is peacock blue on the outside and the interior is beautiful - all reclaimed wood and quarry tiles. James is going to go over and help with changing their Beta engine's fuel filter next weekend. We also promised to go cruising with them sometime soon to help them build their confidence (they are new boaters) by sharing the lock and heading out to the Bridge or somewhere.

Anyway, aside from all this, we noticed strange happenings on the bank, as several of the trees on the Common grew toast! At first we thought it a message from the Toast Marketing Board (afraid you'd have to be a Jasper Fforde reader - and if you're not you should be! - to get that one!) but it was in fact part of the save the trees campaign which has been highlighting the plight of several 'mis-shapen' trees on the Common which don't fit the grand tree plan and are to be cut down.

This is the little mis-shapen oak which has been the centre of the campaign

Lyra eyes up the toast!

Does it taste good? Lyra, as always, is unconvinced.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cam Clean Up 2011

2009 Cam Clean Up
The Cam Clean Up is a popular event for local residents, community groups and the residential boating community.
This year the event will take place on Saturday 26th March, 10:00am-1:00pm, culminating with a BBQ.
Follow links below to see information about previous Cleanups:
Every year Camboaters, 'Anglian Water's RiverCare' alongside Cambridge City Council and the Cam Conservancy organise the Cam Cleanup. We invite volunteers to take part in this excellent opportunity to give this much-loved river a helping hand, by participating in the river Cleanup. The Cam Cleanup is the perfect excuse to get out there and do something for the City, as well as expressing our environmental ethic and collective love of rivers and wildlife.
The 2009 Cleanup saw more than 200 volunteers collect over 400 bags of recyclable and general rubbish from the river and its banks. Hard working grapple teams recovered a whopping 100 bikes from the riverbed and three motorised scooters were retrieved from Stourbridge Common.
This year we would like your help to recruit volunteers, Team leaders and First Aiders. Please ask volunteers to email expressing whether they wish to be a volunteer, Team leader or whether they are a qualified First Aider.
Team Leaders and First Aiders will be required to attend a briefing event at the Council Chamber, Cambridge Guildhall on, March 17th at 6.00 PM.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Mug Shot

One of our favourite non-narrowboating blogs is Anna Railton's Something About Rowing..?. It's brilliantly funny, and illustrated with hilarious cartoons. Anna is a rower and astrophysicist living in Cambridge. In her own words she is "very susceptible to bouts of rage about anything from slow-walking pedestrians to yoga. Interests outside of rowing and maths include swearing at things and cooking large bowls of pasta."

Anyway, she recently had some mugs made with one of her cartoons on it, saying LIFE: Have a cup of tea and start again. It is such a great sentiment that we just had to get a couple! When something goes wrong with the boat (or life in general), that's what we always do. We sit down, put the kettle on and try to work out what to do next.

I emailed her and we met up in the boathouse while I was doing circuits last night to swap money for mugs. When I got home we had to try them out:

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Save Our Stump

There is an old tree stump near our mooring, quite large, but it has no branches and is frankly a bit ugly-looking. I'm ambivalent towards it personally, but since it came onto the City Council's list of trees to be felled, it has become a symbol of the save the trees cause. Activists have wrapped it in chicken wire and pinned emotive notices to it. I expect it will be felled none the less, as the Council has experts to advise them which trees are just a lost cause, and this one probably is. As I mentioned before and you can see from this photo, they are replacing the trees which are being removed.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Camboaters Response to Conservancy Fee Increase Consultation

The CamCon are proposing that the people registered with an EA license under the reciprocal agreement pay more next year, and have sent around a consultation letter.

To summarise the CamCon letter:

-changes only for those registered with the EA

-they have run out of money for 'major capital works'. Apparently can no longer defer these.

-the CamCon want to either levy an additional charge on boats registered with
the EA, or scrap the reciprocal agreement.

The three options we're being asked to comment on are:

1. Purchase an additional licence from the CamCon, set at 25% of annual rate.

2. Purchase an additional licence at a flat rate of 125 pounds, regardless of
vessel size

3. Scrap the reciprocal agreement entirely, charge everyone a CamCon fee in
addition to an EA yearly or visitor's licence.

Camboaters response is this:

Camboaters would like to express our views as a community group in response to the letter sent by the Cam Conservancy regarding registration fees. Roughly 50 interested persons, all of whom boaters on the Cam, met on Monday 10th January to discuss the implications of the letter and we came to a consensus which is outlined below.

Firstly, the letter does not amount to a full public consultation. Only three weeks were given for boaters to respond, and a sizeable proportion of those at the meeting had not received the letter at all. No mention of it was made on the Yahoo Boaters usergroup (which is well used and certainly known to the Cam Conservancy), clearly showing that not all avenues of communication with boaters were exploited. Furthermore, some boaters were concerned that the Conservancy had obtained their addresses from the Environment Agency, and wish to enquire as to the powers the Conservancy has to obtain private information from other organisations without consent.

More crucially, not enough information was provided in the letter; it left boaters confused as to why they were being asked to pay more. For example, very few boaters were aware that the reciprocal arrangement between the Cam Conservancy and the EA meant that only 33% reached the Conservancy. The letter did not detail which capital projects the Conservancy wishes to invest in, or fully detail the financial position of the Conservancy. No detailed figures regarding spending were included, only vague statements. Although some detail has subsequently been obtained by some of the community, the Conservancy has completely failed to formally disseminate all the information required by those affected to make an informed choice.

Many boaters also felt that the Conservancy had been exceedingly cavalier in their attitude towards the homes of some members of the community. The Conservancy should bear in mind that while council taxes and other land-based fees have only increased with inflation, boaters’ licence fees have increased 24% in recent years.

In addition, the boaters present at the meeting were unaware that the Conservancy had considered raising their income from other stakeholder and user groups. Instead, the Conservancy was felt to be victimising the owners of powered craft, expecting them to take the majority of the burden. The Conservancy earned itself a great deal of ill-feeling because of this failure to fully communicate.

Currently, we do not feel well informed enough to make comments on the letter. We need the Cam Conservancy’s finances to be made more readily available on the website, so that we can better understand the reasons why the Conservancy feels that it needs to increase revenue. If the money was going to be used to carry out vital dredging for example, boaters might be more amenable.

Many see the Cam Conservancy as an inefficient organisation, and would need to see full accounts in order to be convinced otherwise. For example, the Cam Conservancy appears not to have the economy of scale which the EA or the Middle Levels benefits from. Both the Environment Agency and Middle Level are able to employ only one member of staff (including administrative and office personnel) for every four miles of waterway that they administer; in comparison, the Conservancy appears over-staffed, and many boaters were surprised to hear that the Conservancy wished to employ a further member of staff, tempered to an extent by the Conservancy’s apparent willingness to consider using volunteers.

One way in which the Cam Conservancy could make additional revenue would be to make the Conservancy Licence plus one month on EA waters cheaper than purchasing an EA licence. Many would consider this as an option, especially if it were possible to have non reusable day tickets to use throughout the year. This would increase the Cam Conservancy’s revenue without the boaters having to pay more.

In conclusion, boaters need full disclosure of the Cam Conservancy’s financial status and its plans for future spending before they feel able to comment on the proposals. If it can be shown that more money is in fact needed, and that the Cam Conservancy is being run as efficiently as possible, Camboaters would like to see all river users being asked to pay more simultaneously, and all avenues of potential income investigated. When such additional consultations are drawn up, boaters would like to see them as well as have other user groups see any powered boat proposals. In effect, the consultation needs to be postponed in order for all the relevant information to be provided and to allow enough time for comment. Our proposal to lower the price of the Conservancy licence to make it more attractive to those who use the EA waters could be included in this.

We look forward to hearing from you, and would appreciate a prompt response given the short amount of time available before the decision-making meeting on the 16th February.

Regards, Camboaters

Friday, 14 January 2011

What comes down...

...Must go up!

This was how the river looked this morning! Lyra isn't impressed. Nothing to worry about though, we have flood poles, loose lines and watchful neighbours.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Kayak Chaos

On Sunday afternoon, we had just come back from rowing/coaching when the boat started to move in a strange way - so much that I fel a bit seasick! I looked out the window to see hoardes of kayakers paddling furiously past, and remembered that there was to be a race that afternoon. It was actually pretty impresive to see: they are very speedy, but they don't half make the boat rock about!

Friday, 7 January 2011

New saplings on the Common

We had been hearing about the tree planting and felling proposed for the Common for a while, and here it is. The felling of some diseased and misshapen trees has been the subject of some controversy. One tree (the only oak and due to be felled) was decorated like a Christmas tree to highlight its plight. It's good to see new trees, although it will make finding a sunny spot harder now there are fewer gaps.

In other news, a meeting to discuss the Cam Con's fee changes is scheduled for Monday at 7:30. More at I hope we can make some useful progress in deciding our course of action but it will be interesting certainly. Most important is to make sure facts are straight and the committee have been working hard on that.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Crème Fraiche Chocolate Tart

I was pleased with the way this turned out, given it was almost completely made up. Using crème fraiche rather than cream made it really light and gave it a nice taste as well as being lower in fat. I used what i had rather than weigh things out so use this as a guide if you want to make it. Also, I used a pretty small (9 inch) enamel dish so if you want a larger one, increase accordingly.

2 eggs
2 large tablespoons of low fat crème fraiche
about 50g butter
about 50g dark muscovado sugar
100g dark chocolate
ready-rolled pastry (puff or shortcrust would both work)

Grease a dish and line it with pastry. Bake blind for 10 minutes while you make the filling. (I used beans to weigh down silver foil to bake this blind). For the filling melt chocolate, sugar, and butter together in a bowl over boiling water, then add the eggs and creme fraiche. Pour into pastry case and cook for 30-40 minutes on a medium heat (Gas 4 for me) until the filling has solidified, and a fork inserted comes out clean.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy 2011!

Happy New Year all! We had a lovely evening seeing in the new year at a houseparty with good friends, food and drink!

Apologies for the dearth of posts recently- James and I have been doing a big sort out of our stuff since getting back from seeing family, resulting in not having had time to blog. But it's been good to assess what we have, what we need and what can be given to charity shops!

We got back to where we had left the boat over the holiday (the Parish) at about 10pm on the 29th, collected an angry Lyra from the cattery the next day, and then cruised back into town.

An unwelcome letter from the Cam Conservators greeted us- a fee increase proposal which would mean we would have to pay for an EA licence and a Cam Con one! Not on. Very inefficent and penalises those who actually leave the Cam and cruise. I am hoping to organise a meeting very soon to discuss how Camboaters deals with it.