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When we meet up with Sarah

When I first bought Cribbit, we started a 'ship's log' . At first this was a [fairly] straight forward account of what we were doing although the emphasis seemed to be on what went wrong, how many times I fell in, Sj got stung by a wasp [or wasps] or Tw discovered his inner pigeon. These sorts of events became traditional at our meetings and then Sj started coming at Easter before the wasp season and I gave up falling in and Tw became Dr.

When we meet up now, we try to do a brief account and take a standard photograph of the pair, based on the one taken on our first Cribbit trip together. At the end of it Sj writes the 'official' log. This is normally finished just before she leaves the US for her next visit. Sj logs are therefore always one year behind but its nice to read them just before she arrives as a reminder of what we did the last time she was with us.

Prelude Summer 2012

We did things slightly differently this year in that sj flew into Amsterdam to meet up with Ivo and then the two of them went on an overland trip to Trondheim in Norway. They went to Tronheim as this was the only place that sj would have been able to get a flight to when she got stuck in Iceland when the errupting volcano grounded flights. Ever since not going there she had wondered what it was like, now she knows. Actually, she liked it very much.

Rosemary, Thomas and I met them in Amsterdam before they set off. There is an account of our stay in Amsterdam in theBlog of 2012.

The ship's log starts with her arrival at Heathrow from Amsterdam.

Ship's log Summer 2012

 Tuesday, July 17 2012

Quite amused to notice the large Olympic Ring crop circles as we flew into London - how obliging of the local extraterrestrial population to create something so thematic.

Heathrow Airport well and truly buzzing due to the Olympics. There were greeters standing by to welcome the athletes off their flights as well as a check-in desk just prior to immigration -- designed no doubt to make sure each athlete had all of their official documents and visas in order before they arrived at the border.

For once the EU arrivals line was longer than the international one but with her new British passport, SJ quite content to wait. No need however as it was one of those fancy new electronic passports (kept in an RFID shielded wallet, of course) so directed to go through the unmanned immigration line. Passport, machine scanned and a short wait while the computer compared the passport picture to her face (necessary to first remove one's glasses).

It had been a very small flight from Amsterdam, so luggage claimed in record time. Had brought a mini-cheese wheel from the town of Gouda (in the Netherlands) for RA (after first confirming that you were allowed to bring dairy products in from another EU country). However, as this was a restricted item (but not in this case prohibited) directed to the red custom lanes.

The red channel led to a small unoccupied room with a sign directing you to pick up the red phone to speak with a customs agent. Finding the phone in question took longer than the ensuing conversation and SJ quickly given the OK to proceed through (probably just as well they didn't know about her smelly shoes).

As CJ was leery of going anywhere near Heathrow during Olympics arrival season, he had directed SJ to head to the central bus station and take the bus to Thornhill Park and Ride just outside of Oxford. This all quite fine and dandy, except SJ had flown into terminal 4 so necessary to first hop on a bus to get to central station. Given explicit instructions (and even a printed piece of paper) detailing what bus to take, but no sooner was she aboard than it changed its destination heading to Hatton Cross rail station where it proceeded to terminate its route. As this was no longer on airport property some confusion as to what to do next but eventually located a bus going to the station (after first making half a dozen stops in the immediate neighborhood).

Arrived at the station with moments to spare before the next bus left and indeed made it there just as the driver closed the door. She just shook her head and pointed at the next bus over as she pulled away leaving SJ standing there. A good half an hour's wait until the next bus left.

CJ was waiting at the bus station so into the car and off to Catslide. RA was away at a conference so a fast dinner consisting of a toasted cheese sandwich then off to the monthly garden club meeting.

Arrived at the community hall to find it quite packed. (As SJ quite clearly the youngest person in attendance, it seems certain that gardening hasn't caught on with the younger generations.) Tonight's meeting involved a talk by a local expert and very impressed to see he'd brought his slide projector. The topic of the evening was 'the lost bernwood forest' which we were sitting right in the middle of.

Apparently these guest lectures vary widely in quality and this was a particularly good one. (SJ secretly disappointed by this for the lost comic value but CJ very quick to assure her that the bad ones weren't even redeemable on that account.)

A few interesting moments during the talk, most notably when our speaker talked about the medicinal properties of betony most known for its ability to cure 'elf sickness' which was quite a dreadful disease that turned people into stone. Best not tell TW or he'll be feeding it to all the garden gnomes.

Also quite pleased by the description of the large scale duck hunting operation that went on in the forest. Apparently when ducks see a fox, rather than run away they will swim towards it in an act of aggression. Knowing this behavior, a tunnel-like duck blind would be built out of netting at one end of a pond and a dog (of a breed that looked vaguely like a fox) trained to run along a path beside the tunnel. In this way the dog would lure the ducks into chasing him into the tunnel and when a suitable number had followed him far enough in, the net would be closed and the ducks shoved into barrels and shipped to London.

While not an activity one could partake in every day (as one must wait for the next group of ducks to arrive at the pond). On a good day up to 200 ducks could be captured in this manner. Assured that in some areas they dispensed with the dog and simply used a puppet on a stick. (Apparently this system is still set up on one of the local ponds and demonstrations are occasionally given (though these days they simply tag the birds and then let them go again). This might be interesting to witness.)

Time for tea when the presentation was over and very amusing to watch everyone fetch a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits. As tea drinking not on the list of approved activities hung up our chairs and headed off to the Chandos Arms where we were later joined by several of CJ's friends from the village (also garden club members).

Some good conversation then home to bed. SJ quite keen to hear what CJ will discuss when it gets to be his turn to give the lecture.

We should note that CJ is of the opinion that the word 'quite' gets used quite a bit too often in the log. While he has suggested the term 'fairly' as a replacement somehow it doesn't seem quite suitable for our purposes. Quite purposefully started this year's log with the word in his honor.

 Wednesday 18 July 2012

Raining when we woke up (as apparently it has done almost non-stop for the last 3 months). As there was nothing pressing we really needed (or wanted) to do, used this as an excellent excuse to get caught up. SJ (who had just spent 3 weeks roadtripping through Scandinavia) quite eager to do some laundry, and more importantly, to give her disgustingly smelly Doc Martin shoes a few hours in the tumble dryer.

CJ had a few things he wanted to add to his website and as SJ was desperately trying to finish her write up of her last few days in the Netherlands, this suited her just fine.

Some nibbly bits for lunch as well as some time spent watching the world's fattest pigeons scavenging for food. Amused to note that one end of the bird feeder had been bent down, no doubt under their tremendous weight. TW claims to no longer be afraid of pigeons, but has he seen these monsters? CJ quick to point out that they roll when they walk.

Into Thame in the early afternoon to do a few errands. This year's summer party with an 'underground' theme so SJ had spent the morning helping CJ design his costume. While he'd previously been thinking of going as 'Oxford Circus' (in a clown or circus master costume), she had convinced him that nothing but 'Mornington Crescent' would do. She'd even helped him figure out what his costume should look like. We were in need of a few charity shops. Apparently Cribbit was also in need of some new plates and bowls so told to keep a sharp lookout. The first shop had nothing much to recommend it. While they did have a set of plates, they were unsuitable for our purposes. Which is to say they were a lovely pink shade with orange peaches on them. Our faces said it clearly, not even we would purchase those.

A plate in honor of the Queen's diamond jubilee similarly rejected though it had clearly been handcrafted by someone with facial blindness. A truly horrendous likeness of the Queen though as we write about it now we realize we've missed a treasure. Clearly we're going to have to acquire it for special occasions (and/or guests). We might even need to buy a plate hanger. Eventually found a set of plates and bowls we approved of in the Oxfam shop. As they also had a ceramic saucepan acquired that too so that we could cook tomatoes despite SJ's metal allergy.

Stopped in at the co-op to acquire some food items and allow SJ an opportunity (as is traditional) to sneak all of her favorite British foods into the shopping basket. As CJ had recently acquired a new countertop appliance (an electric food grater) and RA had not yet seen it, needful to purchase a few bribes to ease its arrival. Flowers and meringues duly acquired. Back at Catslide we continued our previous activities and SJ's shoes given another turn (and then another, and another) in the dryer before being placed in the freezer in hopes that might improve the smell.

RA arrived home in the early evening and CJ set to making dinner. He'd chosen to make fried veggie balls for our evening repast, no doubt so he could use his new electric food grater. The results declared quite tasty, even if he still doesn't think he's gotten it quite right.

Meringue and fruits for dessert and as RA was keen to hear about SJ's recent adventures, the evening spent perusing (and downloading) photographs.

 Thursday, 19 July 2012

Roused early and off to Birmingham. A bit alarmed to discover that according to the GPS, TW's road doesn't actually exist.

Acquired the boy, abandoned the car, and headed into the city center by train. Soon discovered that in honor of the impending Olympics, the city council had arranged for a series of topiaries (featuring wicker men) to be placed around the city. Not only were there a good number of them, they had provided a handy map so that we could collect them all. They weren't exactly good topiaries, but we do enjoy a good scavenger hunt and TW had (perhaps unwisely) asked CJ and SJ to bring the hedge clippers, so useful to be surrounded by such inspirational examples!

Some of the topiaries proved elusive (had they been nicked?) but still managed a nice collection. Quickly determined that the thing to do was to imitate each athlete's pose, much to the confusion of AM when she joined us.


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Had lunch at San Carlo, a nice little Italian restaurant. No need to even look at the menu for TW and CJ. A fish bowl (a large pan of various different types of fish and seafood cooked in tomato sauce) for them!

In honor of the fact that the Jamaican team was staying in Birmingham prior to the Olympics, there was a Jamaican exhibit at the city art museum. Said exhibition (housed in gallery 29) proved somewhat difficult to locate and perhaps we ought not have bothered. 'This exhibition lacks exhibits', our final word on the matter. In the end it turned out not to be an exhibition on Jamaican culture so much as about Jamaican independence ('from what' asked TW and SJ) and the recollections of a handful of people about coming from Jamaica to England in the 1950s (actually at least one of the recollections was the thoughts of a modern day teenager about what it must have been like so they may have had trouble acquiring material.) As rather than tell the stories through a series of artifacts, they'd done it through a series of informational posters on the wall, none of us particularly impressed.


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Did spot a lovely niche on the way out of the museum however so the visit was at least partially redeemed!

Wandered around Birmingham for a while, visited the indoor market as CJ was disappointed we hadn't had pictures to illustrate our write up of last summer's visit. A bit awkward taking photos in there so opted for a few stealth images. Hopefully we managed to properly illustrate the widespread availability of chicken feet, tripe, and lamb's heads and snout. The market was just closing so CJ offered (and accepted) quite a deal on pork chops.


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cj remembering the tram that tried to do for him in Amsterdam


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CJ in want of some ginger beer so back to New Street to acquire some. Everyone opting for coffee or the patriotic hot chocolate. Very amused by the displays of patriotism brought on no doubt by Olympic fever.)


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patriotic hot chocolate

The green, black, and yellow of the Jamaican team stood out easily amongst all the red, white and blue and as we sat in the café, we watched what could only have been a subset of the Jamaican team (with more volunteer minders than athletes) walk by.

Said our goodbyes to AM then onto the train and back to the university. Pub crawled our way home (starting with the University staff bar) and each pub we visited more colorful than the last until at last we arrived at the bear and staff The Bear and Billet, which was so full of local character as to be well nigh unbearable. A funeral party seemed to be in full swing and quite reminiscent of Amsterdam with all the pot smoke.

We'd acquired various foodstuffs (bread, cheese, chocolate biscuits and beer) along the way home. Nobody in want of a large meal and getting late so toasted cheese sandwiches declared just the thing.

Honda and Vicki arrived home just as we were getting properly settled in the kitchen and we proceeded to alternately horrify and mystify them as we alternately discussed our plans for the bushes and played several animated rounds of Mornington Crescent. 'Oh Tom, you're not really going to play that station, that's an awful move.'

Honda steadfastly refusing to join in so we can only assume that despite his protestations to the contrary he doesn't actually know how to play. Not sure which we were more excited about, our backstabbing game of Mornington Crescent or our grand plans for TW's hedges.

 Friday, 20 July 2012

As we'd given her such a hard time about it the night before CJ had kindly let poor Vicki in on the secret to Mornington Crescent. She seemed to grasp the basic rules quite quickly but did voice her one confusion. 'But how can you tell if something is a good move?'

How indeed?

TW off to work and SJ still asleep so CJ headed out to the back garden to mow the lawn (6 times) and cut back the hedges (finding 2 bicycles and a boat in the process).

SJ emerged just as it was time to cut the front hedge so stared at our blank canvas and discussed what we should do. While a nice sea serpent seemed like the easiest option, TW had recently become a bit obsessed with gnomes. (Not only does he run a website to document wild gnomes, he has a small herd in his house and has taken to making his own as evidenced by the gnome frame (a homemade table with several holes in the top through which a number of silicon gnome molds (called snouts) can be hung and (once filled with gnome batter/cement), left to dry). As this frame had been hand painted and featured its own gnomic mascot (on a swing) clear to see that this was one of TW's prized possessions.)


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Quite simple to find a reference gnome and with that in hand, CJ set to with the hedge trimmers. Unfortunately he and SJ had completely different ideas of what it was they were trying to make so not really recognizable as anything by the time they were done.


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Quite simple to find a reference gnome


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Early afternoon by this time, and past time we headed off to meet up with TW at the Gun Barrels (alas no more) so declared it a blank gnome-shaped canvas and headed off.

Very pleased to be handed a free parking ticket (with a UKP 2-drink coupon still attached) when we arrived. TW had managed to take care of everything pressing that morning so all set to skive off work for the rest of the afternoon. Accompanied him back to the lab (so we could tour his new facility) when we were done eating, then back to the house.

As not only had we come by car, we'd left it parked at the pub, he (and his bike) beat us home by a fair margin. Just as well, as it gave him time to temper his disappointment over the state of the hedges. Where were the gnomes? Where was the detailed masterpiece he'd been promised?

He still had a few work-related things (e-mails) he needed to finish but once he was done we trouped outside as a whole family to survey the damage. Clearly this is what happens when you let a crazy blind man loose with a chainsaw.

Made a few edits in hopes that would make it more recognizable but without too much success.

SJ of the opinion that while it was too late for the gnome, we could still manage a feasible sea monster. While TW not entirely convinced, he eventually relented and she set to with gusto! (His approval given more because Honda, who had just returned home, seemed to think it was a bunny rabbit, rather than because he was holding out any great hope for improvement.)

Apparently maniac-like behavior with chainsaw like objects runs in the family and before long SJ had roughed out the head and body of the serpent. We'd cut the hedges down quite significantly by this time so starting to encounter thick logs in the middle of it so TW sent to fetch the saw so that the dragon's body could be more suitably shaped. Use of an actual chainsaw would have improved things immensely (or possibly leveled the whole thing).


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While CJ, unwilling to let her carve out holes in the bottom of the hedge, all (particularly SJ) pleased with the final product.


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All six of us particularly pleased with the end product


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It was after all her first topiary.

TW of the opinion that it could be improved with a few accessories (in addition to beer, gin and garlic) the local store provided eyeballs and orange flame.


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Plan for the evening called for CJ to make Babi Ketjap for a whole slew of people so set up shop in the kitchen. Vicki made a carafe of 'Lime and pickle' (lime juice, gin, and soda water) and when it was pronounced flavorless, doubled the lime and gin. Honda made garlic bread, and SJ proceeded to get steadily drunk as evidenced by the increasing number of cucumber slices she threw on the floor.

Dinner was excellent but by the time it was over SJ had drunk herself under the table, literally, and was cuddling with her chair.


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She looked up a few times. 'Tom, why is everyone wearing hats?' This particularly confusing as she, who was meant to be the one wearing a hat, wasn't.


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'Tom, why is everyone wearing hats?'

Took herself upstairs and crawled into bed at some point and the party continued late into the night without her. Everyone else's entertainment consisted of taking the piss out of SJ and watching the movies from this year's May Day feast (an event that involves important pagan rights of spring such as maypole dancing, 'singalong wikka man' - singing along to the Wicker Man movie, and unsuccessful attempts to convince the women to leap naked through the fire. All this culminates in the spectacular conflagration of the Wicker Man.)

 Saturday, 21 July 2012

Amused to note that the entire household trekked out to admire the topiary twice while SJ was getting dressed. Even better a random stranger came over to tell TW just how much he liked it, mindbogglingly, he appeared to be serious.

'Have your neighbors been round to complain yet?', was SJ's first question of the morning (perhaps she's not feeling as secure in her artistic genius as one would assume from the otherwise smug look on her face.)

Spent a little bit of time raking in the back garden, CJ breaking Vicki's tea cup (who was far more upset about the loss of her morning tea than about the mug). As Honda and Vicki had no doubt had enough of the three of us, said our goodbyes and headed off to Catslide, stopping in Droitwich along the way to see how much improved the place was (thanks to the new fully restored canal) from 14 years ago when last we visited.

And it had improved: they had a Waitrose!

Parked the car and wandered through the town park, SJ enamored by the succession of swing bridges that latticed the park and daydreamed about just how many people she could inconvenience should we ever get to bring Cribbit here.


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Amused to see that one of the bridges went right over the lock. A big sign advised boaters to 'open bridge before entering lock' and we could very well imagine what would happen if you didn't. As there was a weir just to the side of the lock, we could also see Jason being so dead pleased with himself for not going over the weir that he completely misses the danger of the bridge and fills the lock with Cribbit under it. Best not let him know this section of the canal exists.

Getting on towards lunch time so off to investigate the pub on the far side of the park.The Gardener's Arms A quick perusal of the menu determined that they were completely unsuitable this despite the plaque on the wall declaring them the home of the 'Droitwich sausage MMXII'. Isn't it a little too soon to declare the importance/prestige of your sausage if you've only been making it for a few months?


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The Droitwich sausage

CJ seemed to remember that there was another pub on the Birmingham and Worcester canal right where it meets up with the Droitwich canal, The Eagle and Sun, and as this was a section we were quite keen to explore, into the car and off to the pub, CJ first inquiring as to whether SJ might like to walk down the main street and admire the half-timbered houses. 'No need', she assured him, 'I had a chance to admire the one across from TW's house.'

This new pub turned out to be run by the same folks who ran the one we'd rejected. (But not for long) Clearly we were going to have to try the The Droitwich sausage.

TW was wearing the 'out of beer - life is crap' shirt that SJ had brought him from America and this soon turned out to be quite portentious as this particular pub was just about out of beer, lacking everything we asked for. 'Why didn't they just tell us what they did have', asked CJ once he'd finally acquired a pint of the only thing they had left.

Made ourselves comfortable at a picnic table overlooking the canal as we waited for our food and amused ourselves watching 3 men at the next table attempting to fix the flat tire on their bike without any tools. Quite amusing to watch them trying to hide the fact that they were using a butter knife as a tyre iron each time the wait staff wandered by. TW eventually lending them a set of proper bike repair tools but by then they'd messed it up so badly there was no hope for them.

Despite the beer deficiencies, pub was attempting to be quite posh and we were issued wooden placemats prior to the arrival of our meals. Not sure why they bothered as the picnic table was a good sight cleaner than the mats were.

Droitwich sausages didn't nearly live up to the hype. TW described it as a 'bland and dried out sausage served in a stale bun'. This didn't stop us from inadvertently encouraging them however. 'How long have you been making these sausages?' inquired CJ. 'About a year.'

Off to explore the top section of the Droitwich canal when we were done eating. The swans that had bitten CJ's ass still in the same spot waiting to attack the unwary. A few wild gnomes, some not in the best of condition, lined the towpath as we approached the first lock. Very impressed by all the work that had been done to restore the canal which, when we'd last seen it, was a soggy ditch filled with shopping carts and brambles. The locks here were deep so easy to see why this one would have taken so long to restore. There was a new marina on one side of the cut and SJ very pleased with the gates for its car park which were two lock gates. Very upset when in closer inspection they proved not to be the moveable bit. They'd missed an opportunity there.


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They'd missed an opportunity there

Continuing down the cut we watched someone work through a staircase lock then waited with bated breath as they headed into the very low tunnel that runs under the motorway. There was a gauge on the final lock before the tunnel indicating when the water level was too high to proceed. There had been a similar one in the park in Droitwich. When we'd seen the first we assumed it was due to currents from the adjoining river but looking at it now we realized it was simply indicating when the water level was too high to allow boats to pass through the tunnel (as the locks on both sides dumped their water into the tunnel section). Though some dispute as we discuss this now.


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they headed into the very low tunnel that runs under the motorway

The towpath featured a series of posts with questions (and answers) for the passerby. Quite (by which we mean 'not') impressed with these, particularly the one that said 'Listen carefully. What do you hear?' (Cars passing by on the road) and the one that asked 'Where do you think this canal goes?'


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'Listen carefully. What do you hear?'

Our curiosity assuaged we continued onto Catslide. As we passed quite near the Stratford canal we stopped just once at the choccy cake farm and (as we're adults now and thus have more refined taste) acquired a coffee walnut cake (which turned out to be dreadful, not up to their old standards at all.) No matter, we'd also acquired several bottles of both ginger and root beer and those went down well on a hot summer day. A nice hot stirfry for dinner and then an evening spent watching Bergman's 'The 7th Seal'.

 Sunday, 22 July 2012

SJ up early for once, 'please Daddy, can we go to the car boot sale?' 'Yes, alright, if you can wake the boy'. As it seemed likely there would be a very different sort of crap than the type of crap one encounters at car boot sales near him, TW well onboard with this plan so into the car and off we went. Alas the car boot sale (for which we'd seen signs the day before) proved elusive. No matter, not only was the Borstall duck decoy we'd heard so much about well sign posted, it was open. Paid our entry fee at the bat infested hut that served as a museum and information center and were given a laminated map of the park. Unfortunately the decoyman (and his dog) wasn't there today so a self-guided tour rather than a demonstration. No matter, there weren't any ducks anyway.

As ducks apparently prefer to swim into the wind, decoy ponds would typically be built with entrapment nets leading off them in several directions so that the decoyman could best cater to the ducks' preferences.

This particular pond seemed to have 3 branches leading off of it and the netting had been restored on two of those arms

These nets started out quite tall and wide and gradually narrowed to an end section (little larger than a duck) that could be removed with the captured fowl inside.


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Along the side of the tunnel were a series of screens such that the decoy dog (typically a Dutch breed called a kooiker hondje which were vaguely foxlike in appearance and typically had white tipped tails that the ducks found irresistible) could weave in and out to entice the ducks further and further down the tunnel. These apparently effective on SJ as well as she and her camera were quite willing to follow CJ and TW the length of the the tunnel though TW was the one who eventually ended up in the net!


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The map we had been given (undoubtably the only one they had) detailed a nature walk around the pond, so we followed it, dutifully learning about the trees and flowers it highlighted though we had to slop through rather a lot of mud to do so.


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SJ amused to note that all the bridges on the southern end of the property had been built by the army during 'International Year of the Disabled', as this was 1980, the bridges were showing their age; perhaps it's nearly time to have a second Year of the Disabled.

New visitors were arriving just as we finished our circuit of the pond, excellent timing, had we taken any longer they wouldn't have had a map to give them.

A quick stop at the allotment to dig potatoes, pick some beans, and photograph the local gnomes then back to Catslide to eat lunch and await our company. It was beautiful out so set up shop in the garden, TW fiddling with his bike, SJ journaling and CJ using his historic tomes (and then the Internet) to research bettany (which was one of the plants we'd seen on our walk around the pond) Apparently elf disease was an old-fashioned term for a stroke and some confusion as to how we were to administer the betony.


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A quick stop at the allotment

Ann, Jim and Elizabeth showed up in the late afternoon and we proceeded to spend the evening in the garden.

A Bar-b-que dinner, CJ attempting to use a chimney over the fire to draw the smoke away, alas it wasn't drawing properly, clearly this called for a taller chimney (which he had). A range of BBQed items, so a little bit of everything to share round (venison steak, salmon, monkfish and the last of the porkchops) as well as olives, potato salad, green salad, coconut stirfry and homemade Ginger Beer. A Lemon Merangue Pie the Shirleys had brought as well as the rest of the coffee walnut cake for dessert.


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Homemade Ginger Beer

TW off the train station by bike just before it started to get dark. He made very good time (average 31.8 kph) but just missed the fast train, ending up instead on the last train of the evening, a particularly slow one that seemed to stop at every station between Thame and Birmingham.

 Monday, 23 July 2012

Ann and Jim had stayed over the night before so up early to see them off. CJ headed off to do some digging in the allotment and as she was still quite sleepy SJ curled up and took a nap on the couch.

RA was gone by the time she awoke and so too was her cell phone which she'd left on the table. Had it been tidied away? CJ returned home and when some searching failed to produce it, called RA to inquire. 'I think I know what that's about', RA commented to her companion as she shut off her phone without answering.

Weather quite lovely and neither with any particular desire to do anything so made ourselves comfortable in the garden (under the shade of a handy bush) and discussed the natural shapes of the hedges around us and how nice a few of them might look with the simple application of our topiary skills. RA extremely adamant that there were to be no topiaries in her garden - imagine not wanting to encourage our artistic genius! Especially with such experts on hand.

A fish risotto for dinner followed by the very tasty Gouda cheese that SJ had brought from the Netherlands, and an almost clear (and certainly tasteless) sherry that RA had won as a door prize.


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Gouda cheese that SJ had brought from the Netherlands

 Tuesday, 24 July 2012

SJ roused early, this time by the clock, so CJ must be serious. Into Thame to do some shopping. Bought 2 folding directors chairs for the boat at Cargo as CJ of the opinion that the camping ones he had there just weren't suitable and then we perused the actual market. A lemon drizzle cake from the local women's group, a ton of fruit, and some flowers for RA. SJ of the opinion that we should buy her one of the nice pointy topiaries that the flower seller had on offer but CJ of the opinion she might not appreciate it properly.

Discussion over the last few days had determined that we'd been foolish not to buy the horrendous plate commemorating the Queen's diamond jubilee and we now had grand plans for it, particularly looking forward to serving TW dinner on it sight unseen so we could enjoy his look of disgust screams of delight when he ate down far enough to see it. Alas, we'd missed it, in the time we'd been gone, someone had bought it. 'They always go quickly' said the woman in the shop. 'But it was dreadful!' our muttered reply.

Bread and a sausage roll from the bakery and then a run through the co-op to acquire basic provisions for the boat.

CJ off to the allotment to harvest a few things once we got home, SJ taking advantage of the time he was gone to pack up something for the boat.

A quick lunch (mostly so we could help RA finish the Gouda cheese - the other option being to swap it for the inferior stuff we'd bought in Thame). Then into the car and off to the boat. Both still enamored with the idea of the topiaries we'd seen in Thame that morning. While RA might not want one, their nice pointy shape ideal for carving into a gnome for TW. If only we'd thought to inquire as to how much they were. Very, very tempting, so set ourselves an upper limit and nipped into Thame on our way out of town. Not worth parking, so SJ jumped out of the car to make inquiries. £50 for the pair, and while £25 for one was right at the top of our financial range, it was a moot point as he was quite unwilling to sell them as anything but a pair. SJ all for sending CJ back to try to buy 'just one as a replacement in the garden' just to drive home to the seller the error of his ways.

Somehow David and Philip and then David and Anne got Cribbs to Hemel Hemstead and we were moored just below the footbridge by the Apsley Sainsbury's. Cribbs not quite where either of us expected it to be, this no doubt due to the marker that they'd left pointing to the completely wrong section of the cut.

All's well when we arrived but the domestic battery at 8V and soon to drop to zero volts on load, replacing it clearly a job for tomorrow. No matter we wouldn't be there for long as the plan for the evening called for a visit to the Harry Potter Studios only 10 lock miles away but going by car.

Prior to breaking down the sets at the soundstages where the Harry Potter movies were filmed, Warner Brothers had opened them to the public. CJ very surprised to find you had to book months ahead of time and while we'd cleverly remembered to bring our booking number, we'd forgotten any information as to how to get to the studios. Quick call to TW who provided an address and we were off, arriving just at the appointed time. While a 6 PM tour had originally seemed quite late, some hope that it might allow us to avoid a few of the screaming children.

While SJ a clear Harry Potter obsessive, CJ who had neither read the books nor watched the films a bit leery but did do a theBlog entry of his own after the visit.

The place was packed when we arrived and time entry led to them letting us in in groups of about 200 at a time. Lots to look at while we waited, most notably Harry's closet under the stairs - CJ keen to point out both the electrical box and the lovely hallway carpet.


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Harry's closet under the stairs


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CJ keen to point out both the electrical box and the lovely hallway carpet

Led eventually into a large room where we were given a rundown of what we were about to see, and then into a theater where we were given a more formal introduction, this one by the actors that played Harry, Ron, and Hermione who were filmed standing right in front of the doors to the great hall, when they'd finished their introduction they turned and slipped into the hall and a moment later the screen before us began to rise and we found ourselves standing right in front of those same doors. Even expecting that sort of showman's trick it was still thrilling to suddenly find ourselves standing right there. Our tour guide pulled open the doors and we all poured inside. As this particular set had been expected to see a lot of use, real stone paving tiles had been used for the floor.


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In order to make room for hordes of tourists, only two of the house tables were set up but pleased to see they were fully set with boar-headed jugs of pumpkin juice at regular intervals. Along the front of the hall, in addition to the house points were a series of mannequins dressed in the costumes of the various Hogwarts professors. CJ surprised to find they'd bothered to build a great hall of their own as he'd assumed they'd filmed on location in one of the halls that the room was modeled on.


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We were on our own after this so wandered slowly around. CJ initially more interested in the backside of the sets than the sets themselves and SJ understandably captivated by everything.


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There were examples of wigs and costumes as well as set decorations (such as a table from the Yule ball or food from a feast) and large set pieces (amused to note that the gates of Hogwarts featured the same wild boar statues as the gates to CJ's local scrap yard).


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CJ suitably impressed by the use of forced perspective for the upstairs hallway of the Leaky Cauldron as well as the giant toast racks. Both keen to tell TW about the gnome racing trophy. Perhaps he might want to consider getting involved with this particular sport?


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gnome racing trophy


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CJ had included the digital guide in SJ's admission and this turned out to be an audio tour app with bonus video and still images. The tour was narrated by the actor who played Draco Malfoy and through him we learned all sorts of interesting tidbits such as the fact that the beds in the Gryffindor boys dormitory had been built to size for 11 year old boys, as a result if you pay attention you can see that the boys don't quite fit in them in later films.


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Soon apparent that the level of detail in each set was incredible and while SJ had been to the traveling Harry Potter exhibition in Boston, that had nothing on this.

One by one we explored the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore's office, the potions classroom, and the Burrow.


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Amused by the dossiers on the different animal stars, a different Crookshanks for every scene. One that excelled at chasing Scabbers and another that just wanted to be carried around all day.

Apparently owls aren't the smartest of animals and the trainers complained that they could teach a raven in 3 weeks what it would take an owl 3 months to accomplish.

Both impressed to learn that a number of things we had assumed were CGI were in fact mechanical. Items such as the door to the Chamber of Secrets, Alsator Moody's trunk, Lupin's self-packing trunk, as well as several background details in the Burrow (self-washing dishes, knitting, self-chopping vegetables, and ironing).


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There was a display and explanation of green screen special effects and they even invited you to don a school robe and ride a broomstick. As they then proceeded to sell you images of your ride at exorbitant fees, it should come as no surprise that we skipped that particular attraction.

CJ suitably horrified by the overwhelming pinkness of Umbridge's office at the Ministry of Magic but the audio guide went on at great length about the kitten film shoot where 20-30 kittens were brought in, dressed up, and filmed all in the course of a single day.

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Some poor intern had apparently also visited every charity shop in London buying plates.

By this time even CJ was starting to get impressed. The Magic is Might statue (featuring downtrodden muggles being crushed under a block of stone) floored him, so too did the display of miscellaneous graphic items (such as newspapers, letters, cereal boxes, etc.). So much work for something that might only get a split second of screen time. Interesting to discover that all appearances to the contrary walls inside the Ministry of Magic were not made out of ceramic tiles but rather MDF (medium density fiberboard) with an impressive paint job.


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Headed outside to explore the back lot and came face to face with the Knight Bus which had been custom built from the bodies of several traditional double decker buses. In order for it to tolerate the added height of the 3rd level, several tons of extra weight were added to the base and a custom route (that avoided low bridges) was plotted through London.


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The Knight Bus

Just in front of the Knight Bus was Sirius' motorcycle and the Weasley's Ford Anglia. Behind it was Privet Drive (Aunt Petunia would not have approved of all the people who kept knocking on the door and peekding in the windows) and beside that the Potter's house from Godric Hollow. The bridge to nowhere stood in the center of the lot, and giant chess figures lined the edges.


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Paused for refreshment, butterbeer (cream soda with a butterscotch flavored whipped cream) for SJ and real beer for CJ.

Continuing on we learned about the creature shop, first the prosthetics for goblins (or gnomes) and then about the robotic animals. Neat to see that things like the Monster Book of Monsters and the mandrake plants were actually radio controlled and astounded to learn that Aragog and Buckbeak weren't CGI (apparently Buckbeak caused some difficulties with a delegation of visiting Japanese dignitaries as you bow when you approach a hippogriff at which point the hippogriff bows back which is protocol you must respond to. Apparently this went on for a good 5 or 10 minutes.)


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We'd started our tour at 6 PM and it was getting late by now so the crowd was really starting to thin out. Thus it was that we rounded the next corner and found ourselves standing alone in Diagon Alley. SJ stopped dead in shock, this wasn't just bits and pieces, a storefront here and a storefront there, this was the whole thing circa The Deathly Hallows laid out before us. Gringott's stood at one end and at the other Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes shone like a beacon. In between we passed Ollivander's, Flourish and Blott's, Fortesians, Scribbulous the Apothecary, Quality Quidditch Supplies, and Elyop's Owl Emporium. SJ paused to gape at everything and even CJ was impressed, albeit a tad confused by some of the items they were selling. SJ made her way up and down the street several times before she would consent to move on. This made it real in a way nothing else had.


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Turning the corner we found ourselves encountering a slew of artistic renderings and cardboard models. There was a great informational display done up as a drafting board onto which video and still images were projected and the models were tiny and incredibly detailed.


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'Do you know what's around this corner?' one of the employees asked SJ as she marveled over the white card models. 'Not a clue' she replied to which the employee smiled enigmatically and promised it would be an excellent surprise.

And it was!

Rounding the next corner we came face to face with a scale model of Hogwarts, it was easily 20 feet wide, 30 feet tall, and as we stood there day changed slowly to night and back again allowing the lights in the windows to shine brightly and then wink out. This was the model they used to film all of the overview photos of the castle and its ground and it was incredible. Unfortunately, SJ had taken hundreds of photos over the course of the last few hours and her camera was well and truly starting to die by this time.


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SJ stood and stared for a long time, struck up a conversation with an employee. 'Am I the very last person?' 'Yes, you are'.

Made it down the ramp to the bottom eventually where CJ was in conversation with one of the managers. Chatted for a while as SJ looked her fill, but eventually with 10 minutes to spare before the place closed, it was time to go. There was a line of employees standing at the exit and as we left we received a round of applause. Unfortunately SJ's camera chose that moment to die completely so we missed a fabulous photographic moment.

We passed through a room filled floor to ceiling with wand boxes and found ourselves in the gift shop. Perused the merchandise and picked up the souvenir guide that CJ had prepurchased, but otherwise made it out of there without great financial trauma.

Just after 10 PM, only a few cars left in the parking lot as we made our way out. We'd been immersed in the world of Harry Potter for 4 sold hours.

Headed back towards the boat, stopping briefly to acquire fish and chips en route (we only just made it in time).

Only just enough juice in the domestic battery to allow for a single LED ring so ate our chips in relative darkness. We'd cleverly made up the beds when we'd arrived so off to bed when we were done.

 Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Roused early and headed up a lock where we proceeded to use all the facilities at Apsley locks. Water tank took an age to fill.

Picked up a nice Polish family at lock 64 (this because the two children raced along the tow path after the boat when we passed them) and they left us at lock 65 - even further from home and the playground that had been promised to the children. Mum's English very good considering they had only been here for 5 weeks.


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Picked up a nice Polish family at lock 64

Moored for lunch, quite an experience with SJ as this is not usual but it was hot and jumping to and from the boat and working lock gates was really hurting her ankle. Found a nice shady spot just above Fishery lock and Hemel Hemstead Station.

Stopped at the marina to buy a new battery. CJ very upset to learn that the dead one was only 2 years old. Swapped it out and left the old one at the marina. We will have light tonight. Switched the fridge on to celebrate. SJ dead pleased to get her annual opportunity to inconvenience people at the swing bridge though a couple of cars and a man on a motor chair snuck through while she was struggling with the BW key!


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while she was struggling with the BW key!

TW joined us at Bottom Side lock 57 after an interesting train journey. Not only had it been too packed to allow him to bring his bike (or to sit down), someone had also apparently stolen the overhead electrified power line so none of the electric trains were running. One wonders how anyone could possibly manage to steal such a thing what with it being both electrified and far overhead but judging by the signs posted on a few of the railway bridges, this is getting to be a common crime. Minutes to steal, weeks to replace.

Moored in Berkhamstead and headed into town to find a store so we could acquire the necessary ingredients for stir fry. Asked the way of a random bloke who inquired as to whether we wanted Tesco or Waitrose. Told him we didn't really mind and informed that 'they are right next to each other, BUT Waitrose has cakes!' Not sure why we looked like the kind of people who would want a cake and as he then proceeded to do his best to engage us in conversation, decided we were probably the first people to have spoken to him this year.

Food bought we were ready for a beer and what should we find in the middle of Berkhamstead non-shop filled high street but a Wetherspoons. Decent beer at £1.99 a pint though we had to suffer the air head drunken women at the next table for our pains.

Hot(ish) stir fry 'with peas' for dinner as SJ's ankle was slightly swollen and frozen peas an excellent ice pack, even if a few of them did end up a little 'squished'. Strawberries for dessert.

17+ lock miles: 13 locks, 5 miles.


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Strawberries for dessert

 Thursday, 26 July 2012

How did we fail to notice the canal's proximity to the train tracks? Not a restful night's sleep by any stretch of the imagination, the local high speed trains particularly terrifying as they rushed by with a great clatter only a few feet from our beds. TW claims that it was the incessant laughter (at his expense) from the crew each time a train went by that kept him awake rather than the trains themselves.

Left Berkhamstead and a steady rise to Tring summit. CJ doing most of the locks and SJ at the helm. How many years have we had this boat? And only now (because of her ankle as she would otherwise never turn down the opportunity to work a lock) has she learned how to adjust the throttle so she can helm through a lock.

Picked up more random gongoozlers, this time a man with 2 small children and just generally had a nice day working locks on the cut. Not quite as hot as it was yesterday but SJ adamantly hiding from the sun under a umbrella parasol much to the amusement of passerby. 'Everyone likes my parasol', declared SJ brightly. 'That's not a parasol, that's an umbrella', TW's only reply.


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Picked up more random gongoozlers


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'That's not a parasol, that's an umbrella'

Saw a grey parakeet on the tow path, it had a green tail and a Mohawk topknot. It almost let CJ pick it up but flew off with a screech at the last moment. Sent CJ ahead to prep a lock and very disappointed to to arrive and find that rather than working, he was chatting with a woman, hang on a second, I know he's gained some weight but he doesn't have breasts, that's not him, that is a woman. Same hat and shirt so an easy mistake.


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Actually doing as he had been told, preparing the lock


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Moored for lunch

Moored for lunch again! Then CJ left the boat in the charge of TW and SJ and went back for the car from Tring Station. This feels familiar, have we been here before, only once, or twice, or maybe 3 times. Moored above the pub not far from where we were last year at Bulbourne Junction at the top of the Tring flight. As we were due to meet Rob for the evening only just 3 PM when we moored, SJ not impressed, doesn't the rest of the crew realize that the whole purpose of canal boating is moving along. Strangely they seem to think it's for exploring canalside pubs.


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Hard to decide which would be more work, setting up our own BBQ on the bank or walking things back and forth to the BBQ area just down the cut. In the end CJ moved the boat backwards a few hundred yards while TW walked to the station to meet Rob. CJ had purchased a great load of BBQ items so a very tasty dinner. Rob and TW off to the pub when it was done. TW assures us that the painting we so derided last year was still there and even worse than we remember.

13 lock miles: 7 locks, 6 miles.

 Friday, 27 July 2012

Apparently we'd traded in the sounds of the trains for the sounds of planes as we'd been moored most certainly right on the approach path to Heathrow. Still, a better night's sleep.

CJ mooved the car to Marsworth on the Aylesbury Arm while TW and SJ moved down the Wendover Arm, picking him up at Bridge 2. Moored the boat at the end of the waterway and an interesting mosey along the canal and the remaining unrestored but as far as the road bridge. Some progress made since last year but still a long way to go before Cribbs can be there.


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still a long way to go before Cribbs can be there

One of the cost saving measures implemented by the new government the liquidation of British Waterways equipment and outsourcing of maintenance. As such British Waterways no longer exists and in its place is the Canals and River Trust. SJ horrified by the new logo.

As we were already moored and it's the stopping that SJ hates, had lunch BEFORE we started off. CJ quite determined that the roof needed washing so as we worked our way back up the Wendover Arm he set to work. As he frequently needed SJ to kneel in the stern to refill a basin of water this provided good entertainment as at one point we went past a low hanging tree which delivered sudsy canal water down her back and into her hair. TW only wishes he'd done it on purpose. It had been so hot we'd removed the top bits of glass from all the windows so SJ begged CJ to be cautious as he washed things down. As he didn't quite see the need quite a lot of sudsy canal water ended up inside the boat and SJ's bunk, duvet, and pillows well and truly soaked. Some little-old-man-ishness got everything hung up to dry but one hopes Ivo won't mind a soggy bed.


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CJ quite determined that the roof needed washing


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Ivo won't mind a soggy bed

Down the Marsworth locks picking up a companion (Helicon II) along the way. Two sensibly aged blokes in a borrowed narrowboat normally based in Northampton. The owners had Olympic tickets and one of the borrowers, a house in Ruislip so a match made in heaven. The owners apparently lived 6 months of the year on the narrowboat in Northampton and the other 6 months in Brisbane, Australia in a campervan.

Wished them 'bon voyage' at Marsworth Junction and turned into the staircase lock that is the start of the Aylesbury Arm. CJ making use of all the disposal facilities, this meant a bit of a rush so got back with the empty bog and then, with the boat moving forward into the bottomlock, deposited 6 (at least) plastic bags of rubbish at equal intervals along the length of the lockside. Picked them all up quickly and ran with them to the skips. Back in time to find that the bloke who had been having a peaceful time painting the jolly boating scene was helping with the bottomgate. 'Ah, you want to get rid of us' says CJ 'no, you are making it too untidy for my panting', the reply.

SJ with a slightly different take on the matter, which is to say that TW had opened the sluices on the bottomgate and then run off to prep the next lock. As these were the first narrow locks we'd seen in years, he'd quite forgotten how fast they drain, so it was empty before he made it to the next set and as there was a boat coming down behind us, SJ forced to abandon the boat and climb the (slimy) ladder to open the first gate, as quite a ways around to open the second, the painter had kindly offered his assistance.

Locks wonderfully easy and quick to operate so we did a good few before we stopped as we wanted to leave some for Ivo the next day. Now moored just beyond bridge 6 and lock 9 (Gudgeon Lock) with our bow in the bushes and our stern sticking out. It's been a long time since we've needed the gangplank - it's great to be back on the narrows.

An interesting day of boating (half day according to SJ who thinks the lock slaves should work until they drop), we finished at 15:30.

Wendover Arm 2 miles and a walk to Drayton Beauchamps bridge, then the Marsworth 7 and 1 mile. Then 9 narrow locks and 1 mile on the Aylesbury Arm.

20 lock miles: 16 locks, 4 miles

Potato bake for dinner then drove down to Heathrow (T4) to pick up Ivo who had flown in from the Netherlands. As CJ has a severe case of Olympic aversion we had planned on picking him up in Actontown which might have been easier from the M1 but a glance at the map showed Heathrow to be much more accessible from the A41 which was nearer for us as we had moved west.

CJ's irrational fear completely unjustified as not an Olympian or restricted road in sight. We suppose only the weightlifters and shotputters use the cargo runway at terminal 4. Probably they were at the opening ceremony anyway. Mercifully not seen by us. Picked him up from the departures area so the only Olympians we would have seen anyway would be those heading home in disgrace. Parked the car in Wilstone Village and saw a topiary of an athlete carrying the Olympic flame fashioned from the ivy growing up the wall of the house (suspect this may not have been a properly licensed use of the Olympic torch).


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topiary

A few jars in the Halfmoon, a nice little pub then a walk to the boat in the dark - an adventure that featured a fairly long trek through a wheat field. This accompanied by a chorus of 'corn rigs and barley rigs, and corn rigs are bonnie, I'll not forget that happy night among the rigs with Annie!'. One wonders what Ivo made of it but no doubt there will be more to come!


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At the Halfmoon the canal guide said that the doorway was a little wonkey, well maybe only on the way out

 Saturday, 28 July 2012

A very pleasant night's sleep. Not a plane, train, or automobile to be heard anywhere. SJ dragged Ivo off to show him the path from the night before and we got moving as soon as the tea and coffee was finished.


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SJ dragged Ivo off to show him the path

Continued on down the cut, bringing Ivo up to speed on first lockworking and then steering as we went. He discovered the throttle for himself quite accidentally when he put his foot on it, so soon he was helming through the locks with no help from the rest of us. Apparently he was a natural.

Some trouble at the 3rd lock from bottom where we encountered a lock gate that did not want to close, CJ pushing quite hard and trying any number of things to get it to go and when it finally did it went hard, landing him on his ass on the ground.


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Moored the boat in the basin in Aylesburg and headed off to explore the city. As everyone always so impressed by the food selection and Marks and Spenser's CJ went there, alas quickly evident that while they may have excellent prepackaged meals for people who didn't cook, they're rather lacking in raw ingredients, so put everything back and went somewhere more reasonable. Meanwhile SJ, TW, and Ivo explored the charity shops. Alas while Aylesbury has a ton of them, no treasures revealed themselves and all we found was 20 or 30 copies of the Carpenter's Greatest Hits.

Purchased ice cream bars for the walk back to the boat and got under way again immediately. Alas not soon enough as just as we were casting off another boat (Liberty) set out in front of us. Curses, now the locks would be set against us all the entire way. All was not lost however as another boat joined the queue behind us. We might be 2nd but they were 3rd! As the Liberty's crew was clearly inexperienced, it was looking like it would be a long afternoon but fortunately whether to buy provisions or spare themselves the humiliation, they pulled over after the first lock. All the locks were in our favor now so an easy rise, though TW did nearly fall in while crossing a bottom gate, perhaps he might want to consider a little less beer in the future. Amused by the sight of a fisherperson napping by the side of the canal. He didn't stir at all as we approached or even as we passed, not even when the boat snagged his hook and bent his rod as if he'd caught a big one. It wasn't until after we were passed that we noticed the half-empty vodka bottle at his feet.


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CJ off to make dinner while the rest of us worked the boat back up the cut until eventually we arrived right back where we'd started that morning. All that work and all we'd managed to do was turn around.


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As dinner was just about ready and we'd all slept well there the night before moored up for the evening, TW cleverly using the gangplank not as a walkway but to mark the very edge of where it was safe to stand on the bank. Ivo, clearly already a canal enthusiast, in agreement with SJ that it was sad to stop and the thing to do would be to keep moving, sunrise to sunset. 'You'll never get her up at dawn' said CJ.

SJ had somehow forgotten that Ivo doesn't like cheese, or at least forgotten that Lasagne contains cheese, however he actually (and fortunately) enjoyed it. Where normally CJ would have used tin tomatoes to make the sauce, in order to work around SJ's metal allergy we were using boxed tomatoes. Pineapple for dessert then CJ and TW off to the pub leaving SJ and Ivo to catch up (and play Ticket To Ride). Ivo opted for a shower and SJ encouraged him, not because he stank, but because everyone should try showering in such tight confines at least once in their life.

A boat went through, heading up somewhere around 10 PM. It was Liberty, her inexperienced crew not having the smarts to stop now that it was dark, banging and crashing all over, some wonder none of them fell into a lock and drowned.

CJ and TW returned from the pub somewhere around 11 PM and they could be heard caterwauling about corn rigs and barley rigs from miles away.

No sooner were they back on board than another boat emerged from the gloom. What is it with people and night boating? As this lot appeared to be fairly intoxicated probably a good thing that they tied up soon after they passed us, though they could hardly have chosen a less accessible section of the bank. Suppose it's just as well they stopped as we wouldn't want them to drown but they were a loud group and not content to stay on their boat they crossed the bridge and proceeded to laugh and yell from a spot just opposite us. Irritating.

 Sunday, 29 July 2012

CJ and TW had fallen asleep soon after arriving but SJ's stomach was acting up, apparently boxed tomatoes vs. tinned ones merely delays her reactions and before long she was feeling horrifically sick.

Past midnight by this time but dragged Ivo out of bed and off into the night to pace the tow path for a while. (He volunteered.) Distracted from her misery by a drunken member of the other boat's crew climbing aboard Cribbit and looking around in confusion.

'Um, I think you're on the wrong boat' said SJ helpfully. 'Oh, sorry, is there another boat around here somewhere?' 'Yes, just a little further down the tow path.'

He returned a few minutes later, wobbling very unsteadily and headed back across the bridge and into the field directly opposite Cribbs. Apparently they intended to stay up drinking a bit longer.

Why couldn't' they do it on their own boat and leave us in peace?

Her stomach dealt with SJ and Ivo headed back inside and crawled into bed. CJ and TW snoring happily away but alas she and Ivo had left it too late. At 1 AM on the dot our neighboring boaters turned on the music and it was loud. As it was also directly across the cut from us, there was no escape from it and we lay there laughing and waiting patiently for it to end. When it was still going strong at 2 AM and 3 AM, realized that this wasn't a simple party but rather we'd managed to moor right across from a rave. While there wasn't a light to be seen, the music was loud and the generators powering it clearly capable of lasting the night. Alternately laughed at the ridiculousness of the whole thing and contemplated marching over there with a mooring peg and bashing the speakers in. Can you call the police for this sort of thing?

CJ and TW still miraculously managing to sleep through it, though TW did stir enough to occasionally offer an opinion on what was either a very good or a completely rubbish song. 'Can we move the boat when it gets light enough to see?', asked SJ. Alas unlike New England, at 4:30 AM it doesn't get light so SJ forced to lay abed a bit longer plotting the demise of everyone involved.

CJ got up to pee around 6:30 AM and as the rave was still going strong, SJ seized the opportunity to rouse the crew. A pot of coffee for TW and CJ and a pot of tea for Ivo and we were off.

SJ and Ivo sent ahead to prep the first lock while TW and CJ started the engine and cast off, CJ very nearly falling in. While still amazingly loud, what a difference putting a single lock between us and the rave made, apparently we had moored in the single worst spot on the entire cut.

'Did you enjoy going to the rave?' we asked Ivo. 'Isn't it more accurate to ask if I enjoyed the rave coming to us?' his reply.

SJ secretly would have been content mooring again one lock up and going back to sleep but the crew had had their coffee so nothing for it but to continue.

The next lock up proved problematic. 'Something's missing', Ivo said, and indeed it was, the next pound up had been drained of water. While CJ and TW had obviously seen this before, neither SJ nor Ivo had and they just stood and stared and wondered if they were seeing things.


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'Something's missing'


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Is it unfair to say we suspect our raving neighbors of draining the pound? After all, they were the last boat to come through.

Left the boat in the lock and we all headed up the tow path on foot. Had just opened the top and bottom gates of the next lock (to siphon off a little bit of the water to fill the empty pound) when we were approached by an angry fisherman. His name was Neil, and we couldn't do this! The fish were still there, they were hiding in the deeper pools and if we drained off the next pound or took the boat through with such little water, we'd cause a fish kill.

He angrily informed us that he'd taken down our boat registration number and would be reporting us to British Waterways. Seriously? It wasn't even 7 AM, we'd been kept awake all night by the rave and were just now fleeing it. SJ was still in her pajamas and he was yelling at us.

Apparently this was the real reason we don't get up early, let someone else deal with this shit. While CJ had dealt with this many times before (apparently it's not unusual on the narrow canals) we dutifully called British Waterways who, at that hour of the morning, were not picking up their phone.

CJ sent SJ and Ivo off to keep walking up the canal with instructions to top up the section we'd just stolen water from and drain a bit of water from each pound into the one below. Did this for a while, ranging quite far ahead such that we'd sent quite a lot of water downstream without ever emptying a pound by more than a brick or two.

Headed back down to the boat every so often to drain the water even further and watch with amusement as TW guided the boat through the shallow pound. As bad as the rave had been, thank goodness we hadn't moored in that pound overnight.

CJ eventually got through to BW who were very pleased to hear how we'd handled things and sent a man out to inspect the pound for damage (in case it was a leak rather than negligent boater) and send even more water downstream.

Passed our friend Neil who had set up camp fishing in a pound a few locks up and TW cheerfully called out to assure him that we'd been in touch with the Canal and River Trust. So annoyed with us was he that he cast wildly as soon as we passed, tangling his line in the bushes on the far side of the canal.

Breakfast on the move once we regained the wide canals then CJ off to move the car while the rest of us continued down. Despite the fact that SJ made Ivo a pot of tea at 6:30 AM, with all the excitement (and need to move water) he hadn't gotten to drink any of it - no matter. Not only did he get some now, he'd also gotten to partake in the very Dutch tradition of water management.


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Breakfast on the move once we regained the wide canals

Another swing bridge for SJ, although not one that allowed her to inconvenience anyone - this no doubt the only reason she let Ivo help. Despite temptations to close it on the boat that was following us down, resisted, after all we needed to make friends with them as soon enough we'd be locking down together.


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Another swing bridge for SJ

Or not, rounded the next corner and beheld a terrifying sight, a crowd of about 30 geriatrics were about to lock down a tiny 20 foot canal boat. TW who was helming raced ahead and just made it in as they closed the gate, while Ivo and SJ continued on foot.

It was an interesting experience locking down with them, 4 people for every lock task but nobody particularly talkative. As they obviously had a 2nd 20 foot boat exactly like the first tied up waiting at the bottom of the lock, clearly nobody had thought to inform them that you could lock down more than one boat at a time. Could have easily gotten 4 or 5 boats their size in together. They were slow exiting the lock as well and TW took advantage of it racing ahead in hopes we might avoid having to lock down with them again. Success! Rounded the next bend just as a single boat was entering the lock and happily joined them, we'd escaped!

The boat in question was called 'Rambling Ruby' and as the owner was single handing, she was every bit as glad to see us as we were to see her.

CJ rejoined us around Cheddington and we continued down. SJ finally got her way and for the first time all week we had lunch underway. The usual collection of veg, salami, and cheese (including more of the tasty, tasty Gouda that Ivo had brought with him from the Netherlands).


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With Rambling Ruby


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CJ quick to point out the cheese boat to TW and SJ keen to show Ivo her 'don't run with fish' sigh. TW amused to note that the one he'd stolen for SJ had been replaced. Only just noon but our canal boating adventures were about to come to an end. Moored the boat just south of Leighton Buzzard in the exact same spot we'd left her last year and packed up our things. Ivo even more upset about this than SJ, he was quite determined that we should continue boating forever.


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cheese


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Packing up

A quick pint at the Grove Lock pub then into the car and off to Catslide. Only a 45 min drive but that just enough time to exhaust those of us who hadn't yet been to sleep. TW and CJ were OK, but Ivo and SJ fairly well wrecked by the time we arrived at Catslide, and nothing more pressing on their minds than a nap and a shower, not necessarily in that order. A few hours of sleep just the thing and both ready to go when they rejoined the rest of the crew a few hours later.

Off to Long Crendon for a curry (as Ivo had never before had Indian food). SJ introduced the rest of the crew to a fabulous new game. 'Ivo, Ivo, what do pigs say?'Ivo, Ivo, what do pigs say?' 'Knor, knor.' 'No they don't! Ivo, ivo, what do roosters say?' 'Kukeleku' 'No!'

CJ of the opinion that this will make a fabulous game for the Catslide summer party as in addition to the usual collection of Brits they will also have a German, a Norwegian, and a Greek in attendance.

Home to bed when dinner was over.

 Monday, 30 July 2012

Into Thame first thing to do some shopping. TW keen to show SJ and Ivo the pet shop, this because the upstairs was apparently a computer store though there was no signage to indicate this until you were inside. As none of us actually in need of any computer supplies, it was a short visit, just long enough for CJ to discover and be appalled by the display of doggie ice cream.

Wandered into a few charity shops but nobody really had anything good so SJ (and Ivo) sent to Waitrose to do her usual holiday chocolate shopping and CJ and TW to the co-op to buy food for the week.

Met up when we were done and off to the James Figg for lunch. SJ had been hoping for a ploughman's but the only such thing on offer was a sandwich which was deemed unsuitable. So a pub pie for both her and Ivo.

Back to the house to pick up RS, then as there were 5 of us, into Oxford by car. Nobody would call it a tour but we did wander around the city for a bit before making our way to the punt rentals.

CJ adamant that he wasn't going to do any actual punting so TW first up. He got us going in vaguely the right direction but he was dreadful, no matter, everyone was and on a warm summer's day Oxford just teeming with tourists all of whom were trying their hands at punting. Not a competent punter anywhere on the river.


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Ivo was up next and while he looked very worried about the whole thing he did a passably decent job. Not steering us into the bushes any more than TW did. This is not to say he didn't steer us into the bushes, he did! Quite spectacularly on one occasion, but as TW was just as bad, it seems hardly worth noting.


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SJ took a very quick turn and then CJ showed us how it was done. While we noticed that he couldn't quite restrain himself from touching the bridge, he didn't use it to correct his course this time and as such didn't end up falling in. Pity.


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Now that he'd seen how it was done, TW took over the steerage for the final stretch delivering us back to the dock exactly on time and with no further mishap. Amused to note the sign detailing the fines for returning the boat in anything other than pristine condition. £5 if you swamped it!

CJ ran off to move the car and the rest of us headed off to a tea shop for our reward. Well, not much of a reward for TW and CJ (who had beer and an espresso respectively) but everyone else had tea and scones. Not content with just her own pot, RA helped herself to Ivo's as well!

Off to the car and back to Catslide (with a stop at the allotment) when every drop of tea was gone. A quick glance at the train times revealed that TW would not be joining us for dinner. Just time to download his photos then back into the car and off to the train station. While our original roadside fatality sign had been removed, we'd identified another, so a quick stop to photograph (adopt) it. This of course just made the difference and TW just missed the train so a 20 min wait for the next one.

Said our goodbyes and left him standing on the platform. Fish and chips for dinner but not a proper chippy to be found anywhere in town so headed to the usual place in Long Crendon. SJ and Ivo put in charge of procuring the fish. 'What are wet fish, and why would I want to buy them?' asked Ivo. And then we headed back to Catslide to eat them. As this was his first proper fish and chips, Ivo forced to eat with the complimentary wooden fork. Very, very tasty, though quickly apparent that Ivo was not a fan of mushy peas.

Fiddled around transferring photos when dinner was over, and CJ and RA to bed soon after while SJ headed off to spend the next few hours packing and repacking her bags in an effort to come in under the weight limit.

 Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Up at 6 AM, into the car, and off to Heathrow soon after. Conveniently, both SJ and Ivo had flights out of terminal 4 so this time when we pulled up at the departures drop off, we were actually departing.

Both had checked in online and Ivo with no need to check a bag so just SJ's bag that needed to be taken care of. 'Have you loaned out your cell phone or had it fixed?' the newest preflight security question.

SJ's bag a little bit overweight. 'Oh, sorry, I can take some things out' said SJ in feigned surprise. 'It's OK this time but next time be more careful about how much you bring.' 'OK, I will.'

Through security with relative ease and as SJ's flight departed first, hung out by her gate until it was time to go. No first class this time, right back into cattle where she belongs. While nowhere near as nicely presented and real plates and silverware nowhere in sight, food surprisingly tasty. Alas she'd left her camera in her backpack in the overhead bin so no comparison photos. An uneventful flight which arrived half an hour early. Immigration, baggage claim, and customs similarly easy and SJ on the bus heading home by the time her flight was scheduled to land!