Thursday 30 December 2010

Parties and Packing

We have had a fabulous Christmas. On the day we were at Frankie and Harry’s lovely new home in Hoddesden with Janice & Paul, Frankie’s other parents. On Christmas morning, one of the presents under the tree for Frankie was an engagement ring! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We walked/slid/skated to The Rye House on the Lea & Stort Navigation for a celebratory drink with Harry’s family, (and a quick narrowboat fix for us, it’ll be a long time before we see another one!) then Dave and Paul did a cheffing double act in the kitchen and we all sat down to a perfect Beef Wellington with all the trimmings.

On Boxing Day we drove up to Stamford where Bourne Borderers were performing. If we thought we would only be spectating we were very much mistaken. Mikey turned up with all our kit and despite not having practiced for months we threw ourselves in with gusto. Ann-Marie slipped effortlessly into her role and remembered what to do, Dave demonstrated how senility and time don't improve something he wasn’t that good at to begin with. Thank you BB for your indulgence and your boundless hospitality. After that we went to Andrew & Karen's for the night and Ken had a go at knocking the tree down in their drive. Some more members of BB came over and joined us for a very entertaining evening in their company. Andrew & Karen have a beautiful house and two beautiful children, thank you Emily for lending us your bedroom. We’re looking forward to returning the compliment and having them stay on the boat. On Monday morning we were sad to leave.

We set off east towards Glen & Steve’s, making a quick detour to Gedney to catch up with our friend Keith, and John & Jenny, our neighbours when we lived there. We nearly went to see Pete & Michelle who bought our old house but something stopped us; maybe when we’ve got a boat and somewhere we can call home again we’ll be able to. We don’t regret leaving and we really do want to go back and see all their animals and what they’ve done to the place, but at the moment it’s a bit too soon.

Glen & Steve had the “Welcome” banner out again when we pulled in, we feel very honoured at the amount of people who seem genuinely excited to see us, especially when we’re just as excited to see them. After a very enjoyable evening and another comfy night, we were treated to one of Steve’s Full English Breakfasts before heading off towards Anne’s house in Chesterfield. We’re there for three days emptying the van and packing for New Zealand.

When we sold the house, all the stuff that we thought might be useful to have on a boat went into Anne’s cellar. Since then she’s moved house and all our stuff is now in a walk-in wardrobe. We want to leave the van as empty as possible so there’s now a load more in there as well. Although it was all the stuff we couldn't bear to be without, we've forgotten what 90% of it is. We know that it won't all fit on the boat, but if we've been without it and not missed it for this long, thinning it out shouldn't be much of a problem.


The van really needs a new engine battery, it's a bit of a lottery turning the key if it’s been left for more than a night, but as long as we can plug into a mains socket most nights it can wait until we get back.

One question that keeps coming up is "Have you found a boat yet?" The answer is still no. We're trying very hard not to look; we can't buy anything yet, so finding the boat of our dreams now would not be a good thing. However if this is still for sale when we get back it's going on the list

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Welcome Home

Our first taste of England after 3 months was a bit of a let-down to be honest. After a rather dreary drive from Dover in the drizzle we arrived at Karen’s with hardly a glimpse of the snow that everyone’s been making such a fuss about. We’ve seen newsreels with reporters standing knee deep beside abandoned cars, but to us it looked like any wet winter Thursday. Once we got to Mytchett it all got a lot better; Ann-Marie’s Mum and Dad came over for the evening and we had proper fish & chips. It’s good to be back.

We started our tour of friends and relations on Friday. First stop Portsmouth for two nights with Fran & Sean. Rather than carting a load of stuff into people’s houses, we’re parking the van outside their houses and sleeping in it. The snugness of our little home was proved on Friday night; we woke up to find that it wasn’t a conspiracy after all; a good four inches had come down overnight and we were as warm as toast.
After a snowball fight and with Harry and Phoebe we built a snowman (and a snow rabbit) then spent the rest of the morning clearing the drive.
It was Harry’s birthday party on Sunday and as they live on a bit of a hill we weren’t sure if everyone would be able to get there but in the end the house was full. We’d got the van out and over the brow earlier on just to make sure we wouldn’t be stuck, so getting back to Karen’s was a piece of cake. On Monday we went for a walk with Karen, Lauren and Ben into the woods behind their house and spent a happy half hour engaged in the sport of uncontrolled plummeting down a steep hill commonly referred to a sledging.
We know all this talk of snowballs and shovelling is old hat to our reader who’s been through a lot worse, but it’s very exciting for us. Of course there are reports of closed airports and we’re supposed to be flying on the 4th, but that’s ages away and at the moment we’re busy having a Wonderful Christmas Time. We’re off to Fleet this afternoon, Whitchurch tomorrow, then Frankie & Harry’s new house for Christmas which we’re very excited about.

Merry Christmas Reader, we hope you’ve enjoyed our ramblings. Thank you for coming along with us. We’ve had a fantastic time and we’re very much looking forward to more adventures Down Under. Flying times to New Zealand are a bit scary; Heathrow to San Francisco – 11 ½ hours, 5 hours wait, San Francisco to Auckland - 13 ½ hours, 2 hours wait, Auckland to Christchurch – 2 hours. We get a 39 hour Tuesday and because we cross the date line we don’t get a Wednesday at all. It does your head in. We’ve found that denial is quite effective.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Driving our home for Christmas.

It’s Ann-Marie’s Birthday, we’re sitting at the front of the ferry and we can’t see out of the window for the spray that’s being thrown all over it.
Ken did us proud and blasted his way up through France, the only hiccup being one of his windscreen wipers getting a case of brewer’s droop on the last leg towards Calais. On the driver’s side. In the rain. In the dark. On a dual carriageway.

We’ve not heard a weather forecast for 3 or 4 days, but we’re quite prepared for it to be horrible. We’re staying at Karen’s near Basingstoke tonight so as long as the southern motorways are clear enough we should be OK.

We’ll put some statistics together when we get a chance. You know, lists of things.

Monday 13 December 2010

Heading for the Channel

We've said goodbye to what has been our most permanent residence since we sold our house. Over the last six months we’ve spent 3 ½ weeks in this spot in southern France.
On Saturday morning our mates got back from the UK with tales of house-high snow piles and pack ice on the roads. It sounds hideous; we can't wait to get back. On Monday afternoon we put all our clutter back in Ken (The van has finally got a name; Kenwood - as in Chef. We think he looks like one.) and after hugs, tears and promises of boating holidays next year, we set off, all-be-it slowly towards Calais.

This trip has been amazing in ways that we could never have dreamed of, but we miss England.

Since we left work and set off on this adventure every new day has given us chance to wonder at the diversity of what we’ve found around us. We’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity and we don’t regret a single minute of any of it. It has been a journey of extremes; from the joy of seeing dozens of beautiful dolphins leaping out of the water in Gibraltar to the despair of finding a hole in the radiator and all the coolant gone. We’ve leant on the wind on top of mountains, skinny-dipped in natural steaming pools, been too hot, too cold and soaking wet, but above all we’ve had FUN!

In January we’re off again to the other side of the world, 5 weeks in New Zealand followed by 6 weeks in Australia, if this trip round three countries in Europe has been such an adventure, imagine how brilliant that’s going to be! There will never be enough adjectives.

Before that we have two weeks in the UK visiting as many friends and family that we can fit in. We’re having Christmas day with Frankie and Harry in their new flat, we can’t wait. They inherited our Christmas decorations when we sold the house; that’s going to be a bit weird.

For now though we’ve got 3 days travelling left before we stop being foreigners.

Of course we’ve now got lists again; a present list, a Christmas card list, lists of things to pack for Aus & NZ, lists of things to do before we fly.…..becoming listless is taking a while.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Deep and Crisp and Even.

At the beginning of December, Britain was hit by winter weather conditions so severe that the whole country ground to a halt. Temperatures as low as -21deg were recorded, along with several feet of snow cutting off whole communities and stranding millions of people. Thousands of abandoned cars, closed airports and cancelled trains and buses wreaked havoc among the travelling public.

We were dog-sitting at our friends house while they went to visit their children; they didn’t get back for six days.

It was Hell.

Last Sunday we all went in Jacqui & Al’s green and white 2CV Dolly over the department border to Gers and the village of St Clair. There was a Christmas market and the Citroen 2CV Club from that area were holding their Christmas meeting as well. The turnout was very impressive, dozens of cars and a big hall with lots of new and second-hand spare parts.
The market was good as well, there were lots of festive stalls and we managed to find a couple of Christmas presents.
In the freakiest of coincidences, when we parked up in line with all the other 2CVs, out of the yellow one next to us stepped a man we’ve known for years. Steve Hill is a life-long Citroen enthusiast and guru. He was one of the founder members of 2CVGB and we've known him ever since we joined the club. We knew he lived in the south of France somewhere and it wasn’t all that surprising that he should be at a meeting, but it was very strange to find him parked right next to us! We hadn’t seen him for ages but of course, being British, we all just said “Oh, hi there.” as if it was the most normal thing in the world, while all around us the French were greeting friends that they see every week with hugs and kisses!

God bless the British reserve.

Friday 3 December 2010

Time Out,

We've been watching Sky news and thanking our lucky stars we aren't living in our van in England. You guys have had it rough! We hope our reader is coping and managing to get where you need to be. We’re thinking of you. It was Dave's birthday yesterday, he got a new pen-knife. The UK got 3' of snow. We got back at Jacqui & Al's place in France without anything going bang or grinding to a halt; in the past two days Dave and Al have had the van’s gearbox out and back in, they’ve taken the clutch to bits, greased the mechanism and re-assembled it, they’ve taken a drive-shaft to bits and fitted a new gaiter, they’ve tightened the alternator belt and put a fresh dose of antifreeze in the radiator . The water tanks are all drained so they don’t freeze, Ann-Marie’s written all our Christmas cards and sorted our clothes into piles for taking and leaving and we’re getting ready to head back to Calais. We’ve got everything crossed that the weather in England will improve in the next couple of weeks so that when we get back we’ll be able to get round to see all the people we’ve promised to see.

Jacqui & Al have got flights booked to Gatwick in a couple of days, we’re supposed to be looking after the animals for them for a week, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to go or not yet.

Anyway, there won’t be much to report for a week or two so it’ll be a bit quiet on here. Rest assured though, as soon as anything happens you’ll be the first to know.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...