Tuesday 31 December 2019

Theatre and New Year's Eve

The main feature of the visit by Alice and Jess was to go into Birmingham for the afternoon performance of The King and I at the New Alexandra Theatre, closer to New Street station.

We parked at Droitwich station and caught the 11:33 train into Birmingham - arrived on schedule. Jess had already proposed that we find a Pizza Express for lunch - there is one in the Bull Ring shopping centre. However, we walked up to New Street and along just to see if anything else took our fancy but by the time we reached the bull statue we were still targeting Pizza Express. We looked up its location on the centre plan but by the time we thought we should be there we arrived at a glass window from where we could see out destination only a few metres away.

Christine took advice from one of the security staff who assured her that by far the quickest way involved going outside, around the edge of the building and back in again, up to the top floor!

We were quickly seated, our orders taken and the popular dough ball starter arrived soon after. However, we then had a long wait before the main dishes arrived - black mark for something with 'express' in its name. Perhaps 40 minutes after ordering we were tucking in - the food was very tasty.

Next we had to find out way to the theatre. Amongst all the tall buildings our GPS struggled to find its place and we took a rather longer route than we should have, despite thinking that we were following the directions from a street plan outside New Street! (It turns our that we really should have gone back into the shopping complex over the station)

We were still in good time when we arrived and located our seats. The theatre was still filling up but by the time the show started few seats were empty. Looking around, it did look as if the show's appeal was less to the customary family seasonal outing and more to those  with nostalgia for when the musical was originally created! (LTRU)

Of course photography is banned during the show but, along most other people, we managed a sneak shot before the start so all you can get to see, dear reader, is the decorative curtain - the rest is up to your imagination!

It was show with strong production values - the publicity aid that the cast numbered over 50. This meant that the songs were sung by good singers and the dances featured really good dancers.

The story, set mid 19C, had much stronger, even at times quite dark, themes than we had recalled: the role of women and gender equality, slavery, empires and the impact of excessive kowtowing to those in power. The King was intent on modernising his country in order to fend off the unwanted attentions of predatory empires and large corporations. This was why he hired an English teacher to train his family and court ion Western ways so that they would not be though of as barbarians, just because their customs were different. The relationship between king and teacher was sometimes stormy, sometimes tender as both struggled with ways that were new to each of them. The end, when the king had died and was to be succeeded by his son, the Crown Prince, the story was ambiguous - had there been real change or was it, as so often happens, merely a veneer and power stayed where it always had been? As far as we can see from a limited internet search, the musical's book stuck reasonably closely to actual history but, of course, sometimes a bit sanitised for the original; 1950's American audience.

After the show had finished we walked back to the station - this time by a very much shorter route, helped by directions from a very pleasant and helpful member of the theatre staff. As a result we had half an hour to wait on platform 10b! There was a slight further delay as the (in)famous congestion at New Street meant that our driver had to wait for another train  to clear our path. Once on our way it ran smoothly and we arrived back at Droitwich just after 7 pm.

After several years the girls expected their traditional NYE schedule. We would have some food later than our usual dinner to be followed eventually by Jools Holland's Hootenanny welcome to the new year (even if it was recorded a month ago!)

A new feature this year was a musical Christmas Program which Alice and Jess had been rehearsing and they even produced a programme sheet for us to follow! We have been following Alice's violin playing for some years but were especially surprised by the strength of Jess's singing.

This year's lineup on Hootenanny maintained the quality that we had come to expect and time passed very quickly until the arrival fo the Scottish pipers and the singing of  Auld Lang Syne.

Time for bed!

Monday 30 December 2019

Windsor and Back

Not a lot to write about today: we drove to Windsor and back to collect Alice and Jess in time for our theatre visit in Birmingham tomorrow. The journey was just under two hours each way almost all motorway with the traffic relatively benign - plenty of cars but very few trucks.

It was close to sun down when we arrived at the marina - via a stop at Morrisons to stock up on party food to fill in the time between our return from Birmingham and midnight!

Mike started on the evening meal straight away as we planned a roast. Alas, around 5 Mike realised that something was awry - the gas bottle had run out and, although he then quickly turned over to the spare bottle, the meal will now be a little later than planned. Fortunately, no-one is complaining (yet!)

Sunday 29 December 2019

Church and Doors

On the first Sunday after Christmas, many parish groups take the opportunity (after all the efforts leading up to the main event) to combine all of their services into one. The Saltway Team (Drrotwich, Salwarpe, Hindlip and Martin Hussingtree) is no exception and all the congregations were gathering this year at Salwarpe. Although this tiny hamlet (no idea how it came to have such a substantial ancient church) is close to the edge of the town it feels somewhat remote and is at the end of a road with just the one entrance/exit.

As a result the church was almost full and parking was at a premium. We ended up having to go back to the village hall and then walking down the road, getting to the church just on time!

It was a reasonably conventional communion service with an interesting sermon, led by the vicar. We recognised most of the choir from St Peter's church where we have otherwise been.

We returned to the boat and before long it was time for lunch. Afterwards Mike started on the maintenance work which had been put off from yesterday. Two of the internal doors were sticking and hard to close, it at all. We removed a small amount from one door earlier in the year and were still reluctant to remove too much in case the wood shrinks in the future and leaves too much of a gap.

The task is not complicated but as always something turns difficult. In this case the screws which our builder had used are not a good fit with our screwdrivers and had probably been mechanically inserted. As a result it took rather longer than expected to remove the first door (between the front cabin and the walk through bathroom) Once that was done and the hinges removed from the door it was relatively easy to plane off a thin strip from the hinge side of the door (adjusting the outer edge is harder as it then means that the door handle and latch need corresponding adjustment. using the back edge means that only the insets for the hinges need re-cutting.

Once that door had been fixed back in place (and now closes) the second one was tackled, this time taking a little less time, especially as all the necessary tools were  now in place.

It was sunset before we had finished and cleared up - we did take the doors out onto the back to plane off so reducing the amount of shavings to brush up but did need to bring them back inside to do the chiselling to refit the hinges.

We were keen to get the doors working properly today as tomorrow we pick up two grand daughters from Windsor who are staying over for New Year's Eve.

Saturday 28 December 2019


We decided to take a day off from maintenance and use our National Trust membership card to visit Coombe, a few miles to the south of Worcester, about 25 minutes drive away.

There are three main facets to this property: the house - Croome Court, the large parkland estate surrounding the house, and the remains of RAF Defford.

The estate goes back many centuries but came to prominence in the mid 18th century when the 6th Earl of Coventry inherited the estate and set about turning the an existing house (it was at least the third on this site, previous ones being lost to devastating fires) into something much grander, along with an extensive  landscaped estate, featuring numerous 'eye catcher' structures, placed so that visitors or the family could sit and enjoy fine views of the county.

Two very inexperienced but creative people oversaw the work: Lancelot 'Capability' Brown and Robert Adam. G Vassalli was engaged by Brown to add large amounts of decorative plasterwork to most of the rooms. However, the Earl seemed to tire of he somewhat inept work of both of them and turned to Adam to finish off the remainder of the rooms.

The untimely death of a later Earl left the estate to a very young boy and the family found that the house was too large and expensive for them so the moved to a smaller property not far away just in 1948. In any event,. the house and  a large chunk of land had been requisitioned during the war, the land being used to create RAF Defford which was principally used to develop radar, especially airborne systems.

After the war the air base was gradually decommissioned and the house had a succession owners that did it few favours. The last private owner ran out of money and it was sold to a heritage trust who, in turn, leased it to the National Trust who, since 2009, having been managing it, together with much of the lands caped park which they acquired a few years earlier. The deal gives the NT the opportunity progressively to restore and enhance the property - it has already cost several million pounds!

When we reached the entrance to the estate we had to queue to enter the car park there were so many visitors. However, several very determined and helpful car park volunteers were packing cars into every nook and cranny so it did not take us too long. at least we did not have to prowl.

The few remaining buildings of RAF Defford are now used as the entrance and visitor centre, together with a small but well presented museum that records the radar development work. At one time over 3000 lived and worked on the site.

It is amazing to realise just how much development was done in such short periods of time - major new versions of the systems were introduced into service at least at yearly intervals. However, it seems that many were only just better than experimental prototypes and the task of RAF Defford was turn the scientific and engineering ideas into practical reality.

The airfield was also used for training new pilots - the high casualty rates in the early years meant that there was always a race to prepare new recruits ready to fly missions as soon as possible. Sadly, this meant that a very high proportion of those lost in flying accidents did so whilst still training, rather than in combat.

From the museum we walked down the long drive to the main house. By the time we arrived it was definitely lunch time and we went straight to the tea room in the basement former service area.

As we entered, we were given plastic protectors to put over our shoes - the wet and muddy conditions meant that most visitors arrived with a threat to the cleanliness of the interior! We also spotted that there was a house tour at 2 o'clock.

After lunch we returned to the entrance hall with its roaring log fire in time to join the tour. We had an excellent and very well informed enthusiastic guide who spent the next hour non-stop recounting the history of the estate and its owners as we toured the rooms of the ground floor.

Our guide was keen to point out how Brown and Vassilli used a rather indiscriminate use of many different styles, each set of columns came from a  different Greek period and the rococo plasterwork was at times quite ornate.

Before starting the main redevelopment, the Sixth Earl commissioned a painter Richard Wilson to produce an image of how he hoped the work would end up - the picture was entirely imaginative and it would be another 100 years before the view was as well developed and mature as shown.

A modern painter, Antony Bridge, has an exhibition in the house of his brightly coloured work and he was invited to replicate Wilson's picture but as it is now but in Bridge's own distinctive style.

The Long Gallery was designed by Adam and uses various tricks of perspective in the wooden floor and the plaster ceiling to create the impression of an even large space.

The Gallery has a large fireplace that was carved from some very fine marble - at £300  it was more expensive than the whole ceiling!

One of the 20C owners, the Hare Krishna Movement, made one of Vassilli's rooms even gaudier but, fortunately, the National Trust has now returned it to a slightly more subdued state.

After an hour and a quarter the tour came to an end and by now it was close to closing time so we allowed ourselves to leave the rest of the house for a future further visit! We did, however, walk around to the other facade of the house - perhaps even grander than the first approach.

One of the Sixth Earl's changes was to demolish a small hamlet that was too close to the house for his parkland plans and he also shifted the church from a similar position to a prominent site on a small hill near the entrance.

The church is no longer used for regular worship but is maintained by the Churches Preservation Trust. The walls inside are dominated by tablets to commemorate various generations of the Coventry family.

Evening gloom was fast approaching as we left the car park and it was almost completely dark when we returned to the boat.

Friday 27 December 2019

Mainly Maintenance

Andrew needed to return home today in time to collect his car which has been in for a repair over Christmas. However, we persuaded him to stay at least long enough to tackle the bilge pump repair.

A few days ago the pump entered a mode in which it switched on for one second every two or three seconds. Apart from being very annoying to occupants it would make a significant drain on the electricity. As a result, even though it would empty the bilge on manual, we were very keen to have it repaired before we leave the boat as it is surprising just how much water collects in the engine bay.

On line research suggested that this behaviour is not unknown but we could find no solution - a couple of suggestions were of no avail. However, we did know that the marina office stocked a replacement - it is a newer model and we had to check that it would readily fit and be appropriate.

Satisfied that this was a sensible and necessary step we shelled out for a new pump and set about installing it. It would have been a ten minute job were it not for the fact that out stock of connectors did not include the most convenient for the job and so we had to use an alternative. The existing pump had non-reusable connectors.

After almost an hour, Andrew finally succeeded in joining up the pump and we poured some water into the bilge before switching on for a test. We were somewhat relieved that it not only switched on and emptied the water but also switched off when complete! Another test confirmed it was OK.

Andrew left just before lunch having checked that his car would be ready for him and also making the necessary transfer arrangement between garage and car hire firm!

In the midst of the pump replacement, Christine announced that the extractor fan in the bathroom was not working. Mike set about checking - the power supply was fine but when switched on the fan turned for a couple of seconds and then stopped. It took a bit of effort to remove the fan from the ceiling, to check that the wiring was OK but also to find out what make and model it was. However, there was not much else that could be done right no, other than to put it all back together again.

Frustratingly, about three hours later Christine further reported that it was now running again! We will have to brace ourselves for it being yet another intermittent fault which ultimately will require a replacement but if we know what to get then it should be a bit easier.

We took a short trip into town for paper and milk but that's it for today . . (we hope)

Wednesday 25 December 2019

Christmas Dinner

The traditional (at least for us) Christmas Dinner finally came to the table just after 7.30 - roast turkey, gravy, two types of stuffing, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes and parsnips, steamed carrots, sprouts with lardons, sweet potato and swede mash, cauliflower with cheese sauce, bread sauce. Apart from the cranberry sauce, the rest were freshly prepared in our tiny galley - the main challenge is the oven which, as it is not a fan oven, has very different temperatures top and bottom. In addition, on days like this, it does not have enough space fro everything at once so the grill above doubles up as a warming space. We also, for some years now, have used turkey crowns and cooked them earlier in the day, cooled, then sliced before reheating at the last moment. This year we even pressed our multi fuel stove into action to keep a couple of dishes hot!

So, here is the finished product - food never looks  right in an 'ordinary' photo - most pictures in magazines use interesting techniques - sometimes with entirely different substances.

Our Christmas pudding came from one of our local bakeries at home - always well worth it - and accompanied by our own brandy sauce.

As you all know, even viewing suspect pictures is almost as much an offence as taking the photo in the  first place. So this is an important warning - only continue beyond this point of you are prepared for the consequences. . .

We all felt very sleepy - the television was hardly riveting. However, one of us managed to stay alert long enough to record some scandalous behaviour. The result is a challenge to any regulatory authority (and if the photo below is missing you will know that the censors have acted) In any case we have felt it appropriate to blur out the miscreants to reduce the chances of recognition but you are warned that any attempt to publish this image elsewhere will result in the strongest possible legal intervention - we consider that it potentially amounts to cruelty to defenceless adults. It has to be considered very fortunate that the photographer neglected to record sound as well.

Christmas Day

Of course, technically, the previous blog ran into Christmas Day but we will overlook that nicety and pretend that 8 am was soon enough to start the official celebrations! As it happened we both awoke in good time - hence we could do more to the Christmas Dinner - especially veg prep - in a laid back manner.

It was a brilliant day, cloudless and once the sun had been up for a while, the temperature was much milder.

Andrew arrived just before noon and after catching up on news we had a slight lunch before going out for a walk. We had planned to walk around the grounds of the nearby Hanbury Hall even though we knew the house would be closed today. However, when we arrived there (it is only a few minutes rive from the marina) the gates were firmly locked so we continued on the Hanbury Church,

Set on a distinct hill, the church has great views of the surrounding plain and across to the Malverns and the Cotswolds, both readily visible today.

Andrew had recently bought a mini drone (the sort that are just under the weight limit for registration) He gave us (and some other visitors in the churchyard) a demonstration, flying high above the roof of the church and taking in the surrounding countryside. Fortunately it has an autonomous 'return to base' functionality as it is easy to loose track of it ion a bright sunny sky.

The church has recently had a bequest that is enabling it to do some internal improvements. They now have refreshments on a self service basis and it seems that this is becoming popular with visitors.

Once we had finished at the church we attempted to walk across the fields on the public footpath to Hanbury Hall but even the fields that, at a distance, looked good enough for walking, soon revealed that just below the surface the ground is very waterlogged.

Andrew gave his drone another flight - almost losing it behind the trees but giving a chance for the autonomous functions to show their capability.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Christmas Eve

Not a very focused day- lots of bits and pieces. After the big shop the day before we checked as far as possible and there were only a few items that we could add to our already over-stiffed larders!

Some of the preparation for tomorrow's festive dinner was started, mainly the stuffings. We also continued investigation of the bilge pump. It does seem to be the level detection that is the issue as it will pump water out when switched on. The problem is that it it runs for a very short time (less than a second) every two seconds. On the internet there is some reference to this mode but almost nothing about how to fix it other than giving the pump a good clean to remove any oil. This design no longer uses a float device but a 'no moving parts' meter that determines whether it is pumping water when turned on. The mechanism only works with water and is calibrated for that so the presence of oil means that it has to shut down its auto function. Normally this activates for one second every two and a half minutes. Alas, none of the advice led to the restoration of normal service. A slightly simpler replacement is available at the marina office and if we decide to go down that route we will have to wait until Friday before they re-open.

We did go into town in the middle of the day, a shop at Waitrose as well as a visit to the Post Office to pay in a cheque (our bank no longer has a branch in Wadebridge).

Television - broadcast and streamed - helped while away the evening as we waited until it was time to drive across to St Peter's Church for the midnight Christ mas service at 11.30. The church was packed and it was clear that many, like us, we visitors, some back just for the festivity with family. Everyone was warmly welcome and every effort given to ensure that infrequent attenders knew what do and when.

Returning to the boat just before 1 o'clock we opened a bottle of mulled wine that was won in a raffle some time ago - we have been looking for a reason to use it! It helped us feel festive - it quickly warmed in the microwave - no doubt purists will quake at this tale! But it was well passed two befroe we finally nodded off!

Monday 23 December 2019

Back for Christmas

There is always a bit of apprehension when we return to the boat after a break back home in case something disastrous has happened (not an unrealistic fear after previous experiences!) We drove up from Cornwall yesterday, leaving after early church so that, even with a couple of breaks on the way, we turned into the marina entrance just after 1 o'clock.

As always we checkout all the systems, turning on everything that should be turned on. However, on this occasion, alarms were ringing even before we opened the main door as, checking the electric supply meter we found that it had run out! (Still not quite sure why as we thought we had left enough credit) However, once inside we quickly established that the solar panels had been doing a great job and the battery was reported as 98% charged! Christine quickly bought some more cards from the marina office and we added credit back to our hookup.

Apart from a not unanticipated leak of rain down the flue (it had shown signs of doing this on our last trip and this is one of the items high on our to-do list) the boat was in pretty good shape and soon warmed up.

We unloaded from the car, fulled with water, and stowed away what we had brought with us and breathed a sigh of relief! The evening was helped by having brought our meal with us which Mike cooked a few days before we left.

Today we rose in reasonable time as we needed to do a 'big shop' at Morrisons - this meant not having to bring quite as much in the car, leaving room for several nets of logs from our good quality local supplier.

We were out of kindling so an early task today we to chop up some of the wood brought from home, cut to the right length, left over from when we had our decking repaired a year or so ago.

We also were low on diesel so we cruised from one end of the marina to the other - alas someone nearer had just beaten us to it so we had to hover whilst they were filled up before we could pull alongside and do likewise! Getting back onto the mooring was a bit tricky as the wind had strengthened again - it was otherwise a very pleasant morning - and it took two attempts to judge the strength correctly. The wind was blowing side on when lined up to the mooring. It was necessary to approach at quite an angle so that when blow around it was aligned. It can be quite a surprise to discover just how quickly the boat turns on open water in a strong wind!

The supermarket was heaving and the aisles chock-a-block as customers tried to empty the shelves and the staff were just as quickly re-stocking them! The fruit and veg section had been laid out a little differently, we think in order to cram more stuff on the floor space!

By the time we made it back to the boat it was lunch time. After that, Christine made a batch of soup for later in the week whilst Mike prepared a stew for tonight.

We debated whether to return into town for a few items that we did not include in our raid on Morrisons but when Mike went to look for the boat key (so that Christine could bring in more solid fuel for the stove from the front deck) he found that it had broken off in the lock at the back! This happened to us last year as well. (We now know why it happens and will have to take precautions in future) It was by now almost four o'clock but as Mike extracted the lock barrel and also the broken key from it, Christine established that we would have to go to the northern edge of Worcester to get a replacement cut.

Timpsons is alongside a large Tesco and were extremely efficient. The chap had almost finished cutting two new keys by the time Mike had parked the car - it was very much a day for 'hunt the space' in supermarket car parks! Full marks to Timpsons.

There was still time to pop across to Halfords on the large Blackpole retail park for a replacement head torch - the previous one had finally opted to go on permanent strike after playing up the last few times it has been used.

Spoke too soon! Just after posting the above, the automatic bilge pump in the engine bay came on and stayed on. Checked the bilges and there was almost nothing to pump out so something not right. In the past we have had this happen when the pump sucks some leaves or other detritus through its coarse filter but we soon ruled that out even after removing a few leaves from around the inlet. After some considerable effort - not helped because the electric feed and outlet pipe were well restrained to the engine bearers! But then we could not work out how to remove the electric wires from the pump - surely it is not permanently wired in? At that point we were forced to draw stumps for the day - hopefully there will not be a sudden inrush of eater through the stern tube overnight! Perhaps we can find some information later in our box of manufacturer's instructions. The engine bay is so cramped that doing anything in there requires either a limbo dancer or a very small person - neither of which we aspire to!