Monday, December 10, 2007

Thoughts of Home

And just where is our home? A good question! It has been getting a little confusing recently. Let us explain . . .

With all the coming and going to visit Shireen and 'the wee man', we have spent a few nights at Shireen and Frankie's maisonette in Stoke Newington. Val stayed there for rather longer, and was especially helpful to Shireen as she was getting used to being home with him and needing extra pairs of hands all the time. They are both really flourishing now, and he is feeding very well and putting on the weight!

Dave used the time on board to get the replacement diesel hob fitted and to do the re-piping of the fuel lines to it and the oven. All done, and at last we seem to have 'all systems go'. It seems a long time since all the appliances were working!

With Frankie home for a few days, Val came back to 'Zindagi' and we travelled up the River Lee again, getting as far as Stanstead Abbots.

Then back down to Dobb's Weir, where we arranged to meet our friends David and Gwenda. They had been afloat with us in 2005 (here's a picture of them in the icy March weather), but had not yet seen our new floating home. We didn't travel anywhere this time, but had a good chat on board and a hearty meal together at the 'Fish and Eels'.

Time to make preparations for a visit down to Devon again. Our tenant was due to move out at the end of November, and we needed to check through the bungalow before the next tenants moved in. With a family wedding in Sussex on 1st December, we needed to combine the two journeys.

Adam very kindly brought our car up to Shireen's on the Thursday (another chance to enjoy being an uncle!) and then we arrived on Friday morning, giving Dave time to finish off the installation of the shelves in their living room before we drove back to the boat in heavy rain. Loading the car on Saturday (fortunately NOT in the pouring rain) with all the stuff we needed for the wedding plus probably 2 weeks at Lapford, then down to Sussex. When we stopped at a service station to change into our tidy clothes, we found that Dave's trousers were missing – tidy jeans had to make do and no-one seemed to mind too much!

Sunday morning, and time to drive on down to Devon. A very strange feeling, to be leaving home to go home! What would it be like? How much work would we need to do, and would we have time to do it?

In the event, it has not been too traumatic. We are in Lapford still, 'camping' in Wilanson with minimum furniture. The heating had not been on at all, so it smelt musty as we came in, like a holiday bungalow that hasn't been properly aired, the fridge had 'died' and the drains were blocked! Quite a few crops growing in the field, some ready now and some preparing for Spring, and too many weeds to even start doing anything about!

With the lack of heating, some of the doors didn't fit, but most of them are now OK. We needed to sort out the drains immediately, but fortunately that was fairly quick and easy. We have also had to do a little maintenance on the central heating and some pointing on the chimney and boiler flue, and have been able to replace the front bumper on our old Peugeot 205, which was damaged during our visit to Devon in September.

As we have been around the village for a week now, various folk have asked, "Are you back now?", and we have said "Not really, just for a couple of weeks and then back to the boat."

It has been good to come back and remember that this WILL be home again sometime, but not yet! Our new tenants, Steve and Linda, have been over a couple of times and seem keen to get started. We would like more time with them to pass on lots more information but, as they have said, there is always the phone and e-mail!

Val visited the doctors' surgery to get some more postdated prescriptions and they wanted her to try a new blood pressure medication, so she will be back there on Wednesday to see how it has worked. All being well, we should be back up to the river Lee soon after that, maybe before the end of the week. No doubt we shall be meeting up with various members of the family over the next few weeks, probably in various places, before heading north again.

And 'the wee man'? No official name yet, but ideas are firming up! He is sure to have changed a lot since we last saw him. No apologies for all the baby pictures – there are sure to be more!

Monday, November 19, 2007

It's All Been Happening!

When we last wrote, we were visiting Shireen in London while Zindagi was stuck in Berkhamsted, waiting for a lockgate to be fixed. We got to know Berkhamsted quite well by the time we left on 7th November! When Dave cycled down to the broken lock to check progress on 30th October, British Waterways (BW) were at a nearby marina, in the process of loading a crane onto a floating pontoon to be taken to the lock to lift off the broken gate.

All looked very promising until BW discovered that the swing bridge between the marina and the lock was out of action! So that needed to be fixed first! No chance that they would be able to do that AND the lockgate by the original target date . . .

Meanwhile, we needed to meet up with our new prospective tenants, so we agreed to meet them 'halfway' at Reading. We had a useful and long chat with them and headed back via London to Berkhamsted. Well, Dave did, but Val stopped off in London to spend a couple of nights with Shireen.

BW had managed to get to the lock. They left the top 'balance beam' and took the gate away for repair, but the re-opening date was still a bit vague! Shireen's baby had still not arrived, so Val came back to Berkhamsted and we went on waiting. Lovely crisp mornings gave us some more autumnal scenes.

And then, at last, the lock gate was fixed and we could go! Here's the finished article, leaking a bit as BW were not able to fit it perfectly without draining that section of the canal right down. Never mind, it worked, so we (and all the others who had been waiting) were able to move. Compare the second photo with the picture of the broken gate last time!

On our way at last, BUT . . .
Had we told you that the washing machine and microwave problems were still not solved? The replacement machines did not work either! In the end, we contacted the manufacturers of the inverter, which turns 12 volt battery supply into 240 volt 'mains' and asked whether there could be any way that there was a problem there? A very quick e-mail reply suggested that we check some DIP switch settings on the back of it, as it could possibly be delivering 60 cycles per second AC instead of 50 c/s. Sure enough it was, so we switched it back to 50 and both the replacement washing machine and microwave started working.

How on earth had that tiny (and well-concealed) switch been moved across? We can only guess that we must have knocked it somehow. Anyway, all the electrics are now fine, and there is a bit of tape over the DIP switches to prevent any further problems!
So, on down towards London, through the remarkably scenic outskirts of Hemel Hempstead and Watford, always expecting to get a call from Frankie and Shireen . . .
. . . and then it came! On Monday 12th, Frankie phoned: please could Val come, as Shireen had started labour and he had to leave later that afternoon/evening. Good thing we were within the reach of London Transport! Val got on a train and arrived at the hospital before Frankie had to leave. He was able to stay until just after their little boy had been born, after quite a difficult labour for Shireen, but all safe and sound – hallelujah!

Dave then had some single-handed boating to do, bringing Zindagi on down into London. Different, but quite fun in its way, though of course going through locks is a bit slower!

When he got to Paddington, Dave was able to moor up in evactly the same place as back in the summer, so he just jumped on train and bus to Stoke Newington. Time to get some shelves up for Shireen and Frankie as well as to go and see our grandson! Adam came up for one night and made a valuable contribution to shelf-building as well as seeing his new nephew.

He doesn't have a name yet, as somehow the names they had thought of didn't seem to suit, plus he has been having some difficulty getting enough food, and so has been kept in the special care unit for a few days until he starts gaining weight properly. Hopefully both these issues will be resolved soon!

Jeremy has been with us since the early hours of Saturday morning, so we have had a bit of a family gathering. He may be around for a day or two more.

Meanwhile, we have moved from Paddington down to Limehouse Basin, coming through lovely autumn colours in Regents Park and views of Canary Wharf dominating the Regents Canal at Mile End. We shall probably start up the River Lee tomorrow.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Stuck again!

The heading says it all! We have been 'hurrying' (as much we can at 4 mph maximum) since we left Blisworth on Tuesday 23rd, trying to get to London as soon as possible. Been making some quite good progress, too. 72 'lock-miles' in 2½ days averages out to over 28 per day, which represents about 7 hours' cruising.
It can't really feel like a rush at that speed, and it has been interesting to see the Grand Union in different mood from when we came north in early August. The days and nights have been colder, and now the evenings are dark sooner, but many boaters we have met have commented how much they like the canals at this time of year. We agree!

As we climbed the Marsworth locks on Friday morning, we began hearing stories of a broken lock gate further south. Estimates varied as to how long it was going to take British Waterways (BW) to fix it. We heard 3 weeks to start with, then a BW man was quoted as having said one day! We plodded on our way, still trying to make good time but uncertain whether it was going to be a little pointless.

As we came into Berkhamsted, the rumours began to firm up; there were BW notices on the lock gates saying that the canal was closed due to damage at Lock 60. Nothing about how long it would take to fix, though! Apparently one boater had phoned BW and been told 8 days – rather better than 3 weeks!

Our map showed us that Lock 60 is rather out in the countryside and, though it would be nice to be there for a while, we thought it would be more practical to stop just in Berkhamsted, where we could do any necessary shopping and also get to a railway station. So we moored up and did the shopping, then Dave got out his folding bike and cycled down the towpath to check out the situation. Lock 60 is festooned with warning tape, and a closer look makes it obvious that the lock gate is completely unusable.

In the simple engineering of lock gates, the top of the 'heel post' (where it 'hinges' with the lock wall) is held back with a steel collar, well greased and adjusted with locknuts. You can see the collar in the picture, but unfortunately you can also see that the wood it is supposed to hold has rotted right through – one very heavy wooden lock gate hanging off its top hinge!

By this time, late on Friday afternoon, it was too late to phone BW for more information, and their website said the lock was 'closed until further notice'. So we decided to get on a train down to see Shireen for a day or two.

As I write this, then, Val has gone with Shireen to a routine antenatal appointment and I am sitting in the kitchen of their new maisonette in Stoke Newington! I have phoned BW, who say that the replacement lock gate should be fitted on Monday November 5th, so we may be able to travel on the 6th. We aim to head back to Berkhamsted on a train later today or tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Mobile Internet Connection

We have updated this page (August 2012) as things have changed a lot since we first wrote it back in October 2007!  We have kept the old information – if you want to read it, just move down the page.

After more than 4½ years with a Vodafone 'dongle', in October 2011 we changed to '3', as we discovered that our '3' phones often had a signal when we could find NOTHING AT ALL with the Vodafone dongle.  Result – we are very pleased, with the added bonus that we now have up to 15 GB per month, which is five times what we had before.  We signed up to a business deal, as Dave really needs a good connection for the tools business, updating the business website, emails and blog, on top of the normal personal emails and this blog.  '3' seem to do some pretty good personal deals, too, and the coverage seems excellent.

As an extra boost to the dongle's effectiveness, we usually have it on the end of a 5 metre USB extension lead, encased in a sealed plastic bag fixed to the wind turbine mast on the roof.  Probably not often really necessary, as it always works fine when we just stick it in the boat window for a quick connection.

Some time ago, Jeremy helped Dave set up a 'peer to peer' network, which means that anyone who brings their laptop on board can link to the internet through our connection – very useful!

When Val got her own computer in December 2011, of course it was easy for her to get online by just connecting to the network.  Our lovely high monthly allowance means that we don't need to worry about going over the limit, though it might be a problem if we used online TV a lot!

We still use the DUMeter, but it is now more reassuring that we are nowhere near our monthly limit, rather than warning us of going over it!

We have turned off ONSPEED (see below), as the '3' dongle seems to work better without it, and will not renew our subscription.  It was quite helpful at speeding up Vodafone, though!

*    *    *    *    *
Here's the old post from October 2007:-

One of the questions that comes up as we talk to people in our travels is: "How do you manage to do your blog and have e-mail while you are on the move?" Here are some simple explanations:–

First, of course, we need a computer! We have a Dell Inspiron 630m laptop, running Windows XP. Even when we got it in 2006, it was probably not the very latest bit of kit, but it is fine and has more capacity than our desktop which we left in Lapford.
Then we needed some form of mobile modem. Most laptops in recent years have a slot for a PC card, and these are available from several manufacturers. (Left is a picture of Vodafone's model.) Our laptop has a slot for the newer (and smaller) ExpressCard socket instead.

At that time, ExpressCards (see right) were not very easy to find so we had to look for an alternative.

In fact, the alternative proved more versatile than the PC Card or ExpressCard would have been . . . read on!

Any card modem (PC Card or ExpressCard) would need an external aerial to be sure of working inside a narrowboat. That's fine, and cards and aerials are available from various dealers. You can find more information from the very useful BoatersPhone website.
The alternative we found is called a USB Modem. This is a Card Modem that plugs into the USB port of any modern computer (desktop or laptop) and comes complete with two short USB leads. What about the need for an aerial? The USB Modem doesn't have any connection for one, but there is a much simpler solution – we have a long (5 metre) USB lead and started by simply putting the modem out of the window and on the roof of the boat (in a plastic box to protect it from the rain). Now we don't even bother to do that, but slot it in next to a window (inside). Either way, it works brilliantly!

We got ours from Vodafone's online business shop but other providers have also started offering their versions – look around!
Then we have a useful bit of software called ONSPEED. This speeds up our internet connection by compressing the data that we send and receive. By doing that, of course, we are also using less of our monthly allowance. That was more critical when we only had 250 MegaBytes per month. Now, with 3 GigaBytes, there is not much danger of going over the limit, but the extra speed is worthwhile. A very useful upgrade if you haven't got Broadband, and added speed if you have. Their website says: "Using a unique and patented compression technology, ONSPEED increases Dial-up speeds by up to 10 times; Broadband by up to 5 times and Mobile connections (via GPRS/3G) by up to 8 times." To find out more, click here and you will be able to check all the details. If you should decide to buy ONSPEED through this link, we will get our subscription extended as a 'thank you' from ONSPEED – so 'thank you' to you too!

Another bit of useful software is the DU Meter. This accurately logs our internet usage, which was especially useful when our usage was more limited.

Hope some of these ideas may be useful for you if you need mobile internet connection, on a boat or anywhere else!

Monday, October 22, 2007


For a little while, we have been thinking of trying to collect together some pictures of those who have visited us on our travels since March 2007, so here we go! We are trying to include everyone – those whom we saw for a day and those brave souls who joined us for a bit longer!

First of all, our three 'kids', who have put up with (and even encouraged) their crazy parents in this wonderfully hare-brained scheme of exploring the British rivers and canals! Adam and Shireen came with us on our first little 'trial run' in the boat, we met up with Jeremy near Leamington Spa, and they have each joined us for a few days from time to time: Adam on the River Wey near Guildford, Jeremy down the River Nene from Northampton and Shireen as we chugged through London (and a couple of days on the Nene). Here they are helping us to celebrate our 35th anniversary in July, at the White Bear in Rickmansworth.
David and Mary, our friends from Okehampton, were the first (non-family) to join us as guests / crew when we went up the Llangollen Canal in April. They (and Whisk the dog) quickly adapted to canal boating. We won't say anything about the 'falling in' score, except to say that Whisk won!
Our next on-board visitors were Calvin and Miriam from Pennymoor. Partly responsible for re-starting us into boating in 2004, these two are 'old hands', taking their trailable boat to 'detached' waterways that Zindagi will never reach, like the 'Mon and Brec' in Wales. Travelling with them down the southern section of the Oxford Canal in May was good fun, though they found out the hard way that the towpath is not often good enough for cycling!

In the month or so that we spent on the Thames, we only had a couple of visitors. Jenny came with us for a few days upstream from Marlow and then down to Maidenhead, where this picture was taken with Val and Jenny's sister.

Then, while were waiting to go up the River Wey, Neil and Jenny joined us for an afternoon 'spin' down the Thames from Shepperton to Taggs Island and back.

Once on the Wey, we had Adam with us for a few days and a little rush of visitors at the same time!
First Mike and Kerstin joined us at Guildford and brought Divakaran with them, an old friend from India. Somehow Mike avoided being photographed!

Then Terry (Val's brother) and Di also joined us for a meal in Guildford. Not enough time for any travelling afloat, but we did have time for a 'cuppa' on board together!
Brian (Di's brother) and Diane cycled along the towpath to meet us at the top of Deepcut locks on the Basingstoke Canal, and we enjoyed a couple of days with them, shopping and eating out . . .
More family visits as Shireen (complete with 'bump') joined us in London on our way out to the River Lee and Stort, and Peter (Dave's brother) and Joy came with us from Sheering Mill Lock to Bishop's Stortford and back – a good day's distraction from their busy lives!
Then, on the Lee, we met up with Jenny again, and Polly, another of Val's college friends who lives in Hertford.

Alan and Barbara were the only ones of our Romford friends who could make it over to the Lee while we were there. As a former Chief Engineer, Alan has been used to much larger vessels!

Back west of London, before we headed north on the Grand Union, just time to fit in a day with Paul (Val's nephew) and Caroline, Billy and Tom.

Just 'up the line', we met up with our Indian friends, Sam and Sumana, who were staying with Jeanette in Rickmansworth. Jeanette joined us for a few days' relaxing (?) boating after they left.

Jonny and Sue came with us for a week's trip from Norton Junction up to Leicester and back. In this picture, is Sue checking to see whether Jonny is steering straight?

Various visits from Adam, Jeremy and Shireen as we travelled through London in November, but we didn't take any photos. Our new grandson hadn't visited the boat yet, but he made his appearance before too long!
We had a very welcome visit from David and Gwenda at the end of November, when they nipped over from Romford to see us on the River Lee at Dobb's Weir. Again, we didn't take a photo then, but here's one of them on board our 'share' boat back in March 2005.

Our onboard family get-together in Berkhamsted on 27th December didn't feature turkey or Christmas pudding, but we did all enjoy a Chinese takeaway!

. . . and of course the star appearance of 2007 was our grandson Thor, who arrived on 12th November and has already visited us on board a couple of times – with Shireen, of course!

We expect to add to this page as we meet up with more friends in our travels. We look forward to seeing all these faces again, and some more fresh ones – yours, perhaps?

And, just in case you've forgotten what we look like, here's a picture of us that Shireen took back in July 2007.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Still waiting . . . not much longer !

We are still 'stuck' here in Blisworth, but we are glad that we chose to stop here and neither further on nor further back. There are obvious reasons:– Blisworth has a Post Office and general store, it is not so canal-tourist-conscious as nearby Stoke Bruerne and we thought it was probably a bit more accessible for the washing machine engineer!

Less obvious are the good bus connections to Northampton and Towcester, a very helpful boatyard and (best surprise of all) good fellowship at a lively Baptist chapel in the village.

Not expecting to be here so long, we had not reckoned on having to fill up with water and diesel, nor on needing to do another 'launderette wash', but all of these have proved possible at the boatyard – though the wash was more of a personal favour by the lady in charge – many thanks!

The bus took Dave into Northampton to replace our defunct microwave, and we used it again on Thursday to go to Towcester for a bit of supermarket shopping.

We visited the Baptist chapel here and were made very welcome, at both the Sunday morning meeting and the Tuesday night Bible study. Three different sets of people have offered us the use of their washing machine! As they have said (and we agree) 'we hope your washing machine is fixed soon, but we won't be too sorry if it isn't, so you will be with us a bit longer!' Even if we DO move on soon, we shall probably see them all before too long when we head north again.

In the meanwhile, going on waiting for the engineer, we have continued to enjoy this village, with its enormous canalside mill (now flats),

the Royal Oak pub (good Sunday lunch) and its characteristic ironstone and sandstone houses.

Any hope of getting to London by the 20th or so has obviously evaporated! If Shireen needs her urgently, Val could always hop on a train. Seems like we may be most useful AFTER the baby has been born, in any case. Shireen seems very relaxed about it!

GREAT NEWS! We have now been told that we will be getting a replacement washing machine delivered on Tuesday morning, so we hope to move on later that day or Wednesday, trying to cover the distance to London as fast as we can! As far as we can see, it is about 70 miles and 77 locks to 'Bull's Bridge' at Southall on the edge of London, then about another 13 miles (0 locks) in to Paddington Basin. 160 'lock-miles' – should take about 8 days or so, maybe less if we can chug along all day, every day!

In the last few days, the weather has changed and we have been glad of our little woodburning stove and the central heating system. It has been nice and snug in the boat but getting more wintry outside – just the opportunity to share with you some of the beauty of the canal on a misty autumn morning!
Sue of 'No Problem' has passed on a way to get the British Waterways map to work, so that is operational again. Thanks, Sue! See her blog as well!