Wednesday 18 April 2018

South Oxford Canal. Cropredy to Aynho Wharf.

South Oxford Canal. Cropredy to Aynho Wharf.

Water, in it’s various forms, continued to play an important role in our movements as we slowly made our way south towards the River Thames.
While we were at Cropredy it snowed... after we'd completed a jigsaw...
...Dave planned how to make a box and tilting system for the new panel while Ann-Marie continued with the Great Spring Clear-Out, reducing what was stashed in our hobby drawers and cupboards by a third. When we sold our house and bought a boat we sold/freecycled/gave away loads of stuff; a whole house-full in fact, and the feeling of freedom that that gave us was incredible. Each spring since then we have tried to de-clutter some of the unnecessary stuff that has somehow found its way aboard, and we still get the same light, airy feeling from doing it.

After the snow we had a beautiful sunny day so we went for a walk along the towpath to Banbury and back...
...which proved to be a bit muddy and a bit far, necessitating a stop in a café for a spot of people watching.
Back at the boat, Dave took advantage of the break in the weather and got started on the new solar box. The idea with this one is to make it a slot together design, so that when we have to reduce our air draught it’s an easy thing to do. Like the first one, the panel also needs to tilt four ways to catch the winter sun so, as the hasp and staple idea has proved to be simple and robust, he’s doing that again. Unfortunately Screwfix’s cheapest hasps (which we used last time) have been reduced in size and strength, to the point that they’re not a patch on the originals and, although they might be ok for locking a small box with nothing of any value inside it, really weren’t up to supporting and securing a big solar panel. So, there are eight bigger, meatier (and cheaper!) ones on order online and a mark II version is in the pipeline.

While Dave was busy out on the bank Ann-Marie went for a walk round Cropredy village.

Although we moored in pretty much the same spot last time we were here, we didn’t really explore much, and it was really good to find out what a delight Cropredy is. Most people know it for the music festival, and we’d thought it was just the green and a pub plus a few houses, but there is quite a bit more to it, with some lovely little gennels to walk through and some interesting old houses as well.
When Ann-Marie got back she found a very sad Dave standing by the boat. While constructing the new box, he’d managed to drop his battery drill in the canal. Being made mostly of aluminium the sea-searcher magnet had failed to find it, as had numerous attempts with a hastily constructed fishing net. (Which he made by sacrificing the crayfish net, and then lost that as well.) So, a Good Day and a not so Good Day.
The ironic part is that only a couple of weeks previously the charger for said drill had started playing up so we’d claimed on the three year guarantee and there was a new battery and charger for it sitting at Karen’s house. Mind you, a dunk in the cut and a pound of canal silt in the gubbins would have killed it even if we had got it out. Time for a new battery drill. The joys of living by the water never cease.

January proved to be a rather expensive month. Try as we might we couldn’t seem to stop haemorrhaging cash. First there was the drill, then the genny packed up again and this time, despite Dave’s best efforts, refused to go again. However there was a silver lining to this particular cloud. Ever since our lovely, quiet, efficient Honda generator was stolen in Wigan we’ve been trying to make do with inferior substitutes and failing. But justifying £850 for a new Honda has just been too big a pill to swallow. So when Dave finally admitted defeat and went on-line to find another inferior substitute, he was surprised and delighted (if not a little suspicious) to come across a barely used Honda, nearby for £380. An exchange of messages put our minds at rest; it came with the instruction manual, the spare-parts/tools pack and a waterproof cover in a storage bag. Not the sort of package that would accompany a stolen one, and the chap had bought it for his caravan, then found that most sites won’t allow them and got a solar panel instead. In the end we bartered it down to £340. So once again, we’ve got a lovely, quiet, efficient Honda to charge our batteries when the sun don’t shine. And this time a big fat security chain and an equally big fat alarmed padlock ALWAYS attach it to either the boat or the Armco or a solid mooring ring.
Before leaving Cropredy, we did a relatively smooth and uneventful reverse back to the water tap (which, naturally, attracted no spectators whatsoever) then had a pleasant day boating to Banbury with a short stop on the way for one of Dave’s pre-wombled firewood stashes. There have been thin pickings on the south Oxford so far, there will be woodless days before long.
The first thing we did upon arriving in Banbury was to go to Wilko and buy a mouse trap. We don’t know how long we’d had our little stow-away, but he’d recently started making nests in the well-deck lockers and eating our bird seed and peanuts. We could have tried to encourage him to move out by removing the food source but that might have easily resulted in him moving inside the boat in search of an alternative. The mouse trap was unbelievably efficient. Within half an hour our boat occupancy was reduced from three to two. As a kind of tribute we had ratatouille for dinner.

On a noticeboard in Southam a few weeks earlier we’d noticed a flier for a panto. The Grange Player’s were staging Treasure Island & The Little Mermaid at the weekend and we went along on the Saturday. It turned out that between the local sweet shop and the internet they’d sold far to many tickets, so before the performance began, in an effort to free up some seats, they asked if anyone would take a refund and a free ticket for the Sunday show. We had nothing better to do so we volunteered. When we came back on Sunday the hall was half empty so we got better seats...
and because we’d given up our tickets the day before we got a free cup of tea in the interval. Like all Am-Dram productions it was a delicious mix of the brilliant and the confusing, with a constant steam of inaudible, corny jokes, and of course it was bottom-numbingly long, but the pirates were handing out chocolate coins when we turned up and we, along with the rest of the reduced but equally enthusiastic audience got to shout “OH NO IT DOESN’T!” and “HE’S BEHIND YOU!” at every opportunity, whether it was appropriate or not.

When we moved from Banbury we didn’t move far. On one of our walks down the towpath Dave had noticed a promising looking bit of woodland near Nadkey Bridge so we stopped there for three nights while he re filled the log box with most of a fallen Ash tree.

When we’d picked up our post from Karen’s the week before, as well as the better hasps mentioned before, it had included a little £20 ammeter from China that Dave had found out about from the 12 volt group, so while rain stopped firewood chopping, he wired it up to the batteries. It’s a 2 part meter, the main bit is a 300amp shunt which fits between the negative post on the leisure batteries and all the other negative connections. In other words, any current going in or out of the batteries, has to pass through it and be measured. The other part is a display unit that can be either connected to the shunt via a USB lead or, (and this is the best bit) connected via Bluetooth up to 15 feet away. And if that’s not far enough there’s a boost antenna available to increase the range up to about 50 feet. That means you can keep an eye on the batteries from the comfort of the settee. The display shows voltage, amps, watts, and crucially, amp hours in or out since the last reset. Unlike the big expensive “clever*” battery monitors that are usually found in narrowboat engine ‘oles and cost about ten times as much, it doesn’t have brain, it simply tells you how much electricity is either flowing into or out of your batteries.

With the log box topped up, we moved down to Twyford Wharf for a week where we found a lovely walk over the water meadow to King’s Sutton...

...fitted the new hasps and staples to the new solar box and made an under-panel cover for it.

While we had easy access to the car we went over to see Martin and Yvonne for a couple of days. We had a lovely time with them including a fabulous walk along the Orwell estuary.

We also had a trip down to Mum & Dads and went with them to see The Greatest Showman, which we all thought was brilliant. Ann-Marie now can’t stop singing the songs.

From Twyford Wharf we went to Nell Bridge with a couple of stops along the way. Firstly for one of our usual woodpile collections...
and then another stop to “rescue” a pair of bicycles. We’d noticed them in the canal when we’d been out walking so rather than just leave them to hinder navigation we did our bit and dragged them out.
They were both fairly knackered, but as one of them had an alloy frame we had thought it might be possible to resurrect at least that one, but on closer inspection they were both beyond repair, so we left them by the skip at Aynho. They’d gone the next morning so hopefully someone else had got some use out of them.
Because the forecast was for sub zero temperatures and we didn’t want to get frozen in without filling up with water, we changed our plans and moved the next morning from Nell Bridge to Aynho Wharf where the next tap was.
Legend had a very calm fortnight at Ayhno. We however, were zooming around all over the place. Firstly we went off to Bristol for a night with Anne, who’d decorated and illuminated the big lounge window in her new flat to take part in the Arnos Vale Window Wanderland.

In the evening, along with Anne and Ben, we walked round the cold streets admiring all the other windows before going back to the flat for dinner.

In the morning we left Bristol, had a quick stop at the boat to swap clothes and light the fire before heading off to the other side of the country to Bourne in Lincolnshire to join Bob & Mandy at Bourne Borderer’s annual ceildh. We had a fantastic night with loads of enthusiastic dancing then back to Mandy’s mum’s house for the night.

Next day we were off again, this time to the 40th birthday party of the 2cvGB club at Leamington Spa. We were among the first to arrive and it was fabulous to see all our old mates turning up in convoy after convoy of the funny little French car that brought us together over 20 years ago.
In the afternoon there was a lot of catching up to be done and a lot of birthday cake to be eaten.
On Tuesday we went for a frozen walk up to Aynho, over the fields to Souldern and back along a slippery towpath... 

just in time to get the kettle on before Anne dropped in on her way home.

And our travels continued the next morning. We drained the water pipes and left Legend surrounded by ice to spend a couple of days with Laura and Alison on Wenlock Edge.
We had only meant to stay for two nights, but after the first night we had to make a decision to either go and risk being caught out by the snow on the way home, or stay until it was all over. The vote was unanimous; we stayed. As soon as it was too late to change our minds the outside temperature dropped to -7°C and their water-pipes froze... until we dug our way out of their drive three days later we spent our time under siege conditions, melting snow for washing and flushing toilets, and drinking wine instead of depleting their remaining water supplies.

Two days later, with their drive cleared of deep snow, it was easy to back out to the main road. Once we were out of Much Wenlock we had a clear run home, although at several places on the way there was evidence of drifts, abandoned vehicles and other recent problems that lead us to believe we’d made the right decision to wait it out. It was lovely to get back to our primitive little off-grid life on board Legend with it’s warm bed and hot and cold running water.

After that Ann-Marie had a day working in Nottingham followed by a girly day out with Diane in Northampton. Then, when all the excitement was over and the ice had all gone, and once CRT had fixed the leaky tap, it was time to pull the pins, fill up the water tank and move on to Allens Lock.

While all this flying around the country had been going on we’d been waiting for a phone call or a message from Frankie to tell us that Thibault, our second grandson had arrived. She’d gone past her due date, and the day she’d been told she’d be induced was fast approaching, so we’d been careful to ensure we had a charged phone to hand 24/7. How anyone coped with an itinerant boat life before mobile phones is beyond us. The answer is that they probably didn’t. Twenty years ago living on a boat was a much bigger step away from society than it is for most people today. We’re sure it would be impossible to live the free, rootless life that we do and still be able to have the vibrant social network that we’ve got without all the 21st century technology that we surround ourselves with. 

*”Clever” monitors are notoriously quite thick when it comes to deciding when a battery is fully charged. They try (and fail) to estimate how much power is left in your bank, which can either lead to  batteries being consistently undercharged resulting in them becoming sulphated with reduced capacity, or to owners running engines or generators for far too long and wasting fuel. However, knowing how big the bank is, and knowing how much and how quickly power is going into it, is all the information you need to decide when to turn the generator or engine off, or indeed when you can use excess solar power to save gas by boiling an electric kettle or making the dinner in a slow cooker.

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