Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy birthday Herbie - big changes ahead

On Saturday, Herbie will be 8 years old according to the makers plate in the cratch. Old enough for some cosmetic surgery I reckon. The next 12 months should see her in new colours and with some new internal fittings like a folding table in the saloon.

She may get a new neighbour too because (shock horror) Saltysplash and Laura are selling Lady Elgar and moving on to a new wide beamer called Amy. See the story on their blog. I suspect that either they or us will have to move berths unless the canal is deemed wide enough to still fit us both alongside.

If you want a nice boat with a residential mooring I'd give Lady E a look. She's a lovely boat. I expect it will be on sale soon, presumably through Virginia Currer.

Friday, October 30, 2009

All change west of london

Boaters who haven't visited London from the Grand Union recently will see quite a few changes next time they do the trip.

First, on the once derelict piece of land just south of Cowley Peachey, the first batch of new flats are now inhabited and a new lot are under construction.

Then further down the GU, just north of the Nestle factory at Bull's Bridge, the huge apartment development is nearing completion.
I think this one must have cost a million quid in scaffolding alone. A lot of people don't like this type of building, but I reckon its not too bad a job.

Then just East of Alperton on the Paddington Arm, a new development is taking place. No completed buildings yet but a shiny new footbridge has been installed, even if you can't get on or off it yet.
Lastly, what was for a long time a big hole in the ground alongside the Harrow Road in Ladbroke Grove, then a load of scaffolding and barges
there is now this new building

which looks finished outside but is still empty within.
I'm looking forward at some time to revisiting the Regents Canal where some mega developments are planned around St Pancras and further east. Then of course there's the small matter of the Olympic site on the lower Lea. We shan't know ourselves!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In the east out west

Members or supporters of the BNP might like to skip this post - you'll only get upset. For this is the promised report of our recent day out in Southall. For the rest of us, this is a longer than usual post, stick with it if you ever fancy an unusual day out in an Asian community.

Bordered by canal on two sides (the Paddington Arm, and the Grand Union at Hanwell), Southall is home to a huge community of, predominantly, Punjabis. It has the largest Sikh temple outside of India. Together with our friends Phil and Janet, we planned a day to sample the sights and tastes of the town.

The first stop was the amazing outdoor food market. Wow, I've never seen such cheap prices for fruit, veg, and fresh fish. I reckon on average about a quarter of supermarket prices. How? Well firstly because Indian people have extended families and are not afraid to buy and cook in bulk. Some of the cooking pots on sale must have held ten gallons. I saw a lady buy a whole bucket full of sardines, and things like limes and lemons were selling in 5lb boxes for £2. Then they have the sensible attitude of accepting produce which is not regulation size, eg baby aubergines and short cucumbers and may have the odd blemish. Of course there were mountains of fresh chillies, ginger, garlic, and vegetables I didn't recognise. If you go there take a couple of carrier bags and fill them up for three or four quid.

The main street is full of Asian shops, clothes, jewellery, spices, sweets, music, and books. Some of the clothes are sensational, especially the beautifully elaborate wedding outfits for men and women. The embroidery and the fabrics are extravagant but still somehow tasteful. I especially liked the long straight embroidered coats for the men. No I'm not having one!

Strangely we saw very few restaurants. You probably have more Indian restaurants in your town. I guess Indians still like to cook and eat at home, although there were a lot of snack stalls selling sticky sweet things and a few samosas. We found a restaurant called Rita's where the food was mostly vegetarian, delicious and reasonably cheap. There were none, well hardly any, of the usual Indian restaurant dishes so we each took a guess and tried something different. A chickpea curry called chole featured in many of the dishes and I'll definitely try to cook it at home.

It happened to be the day of Diwali -the Indian festival of light, so all the locals were out buying fireworks and boxes of sweets for the celebrations that evening. We went to see the huge Gurdwara temple in Havelock Road, and the people were pouring in to get their traditional Diwali blessing.

An cheery elderly gent in a turban and a tweed jacket approached us and encouraged us to go in and have a look, so we did. Taking off our shoes and donning a headscarf from a basket in the vestibule we ventured into the huge inner space. Downstairs seemed to be given over to food, with people queuing at a canteen. The whole place is carpeted, probably nice carpet, but as it was totally covered in protective sheets we couldn't see it!

Upstairs was the main worship space under a huge glass dome. We hovered outside and a smiling lady encouraged us to go inside. "Just go inside, put your hands together and do a little bow, and sit and watch". We sat on the floor at the back watching the steady procession of people walking forward for their blessing, while song from a musician and a singer at the front provided the real atmosphere of the East. After a while we left, only then noticing that Phil and I had been sitting on the women's side of the hall! Anyway no one seemed put out, or maybe they were too polite to say so.

Lastly we thought we'd try an Indian pub, the Glassy Junction, claiming to be the first pub in Britain to accept rupees as currency. Inside, a pool table, TV showing Indian cricket, pictures of Indian luminaries and of course Cobra and Kingfisher lagers alongside the ubiquitous Guinness.

Returning to Herbie, moored at the Fox in Hanwell we spent the evening listening to the Diwali fireworks, although sadly, being behind the hill we couldn't see them.

As a day out from your boat, I can recommend it. As a memento Janet bought us a Diwali greetings card, which is a strong reminder that for all the religious and cultural differences demonstrated on the front of the card, when you look inside you find there is still something quaintly English.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cruising home with a sparkle

Back home now and lots to show you, including these pictures taken in the wonderful light yesterday afternoon. I especially liked the dancing reflections on this boat at Northolt.
This time of year is a good time for cruising. The trees look spectacular and when the sun shines, the light is low and dramatic.

Our final weekend in London was busy. The zoo with Peter, Jacob and Grace on Saturday, an all too short conversation with Sue and Richard aboard Nb Indigo Dream that evening, Camden market with Claire and the kids on Sunday morning before cruising back to the Black Horse at Greenford for the night.

Plenty more to show you once I get the photos sorted out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

We see THE Bridge in action

Cognicenti of Paddington will know what this is.
The famous roll up bridge, which we are moored right next to. For the first time, we were on hand today when they gave it its weekly test/ demo. Here we go

A simple set of hydraulic pistons curls it up like a caterpillar. Very elegant I think. It's more of an architectural showpiece than a necessary object, but people turn up at noon on Fridays to watch.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Culture vultures

What a cultured time we're having using Herbie as a cheap London hotel. Last weekend it was an immersion in Punjabi surroundings (I'll write it up soon, honest) and yesterday it was ancient Japan. We went to the Britsh Museum and looked at a special exhibit of Dogu, which are three or for thousand year old ceramic figures. Kath is likely to use them for inspiration in her embroidery work.
We also took the chance to see the Rosetta Stone which is much more finely inscribed than I had imagined. Then we popped in to see Lindow man, but he has gone to Manchester for a bit. Never mind, he is in the same room as all the wonderful treasure hordes dug up in various parts of the UK. What amazes me is how superbly preserved to old silver work is. It looks like new.

I like the BM, especially with its new atrium. From Paddington a number 7 bus takes you all the way there.

Last night I took this pic of the basin. Not bad I thought, if not up to Granny B standards.

I can receive emails, but we can't seem to send them a the moment, so if you read this Richard and Sue, we will be around a bit on Saturday and Sunday, but going out with the grand children during the day.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tight fit at Paddington

Moorings are geting tight here and there as people hunker down for the winter. Arriving in Paddington today we got the last spot, and we're told that this spot too will be given over to a proper paid winter mooring very soon. Not until we're finished with it we hope.

Anyway, as you can see, we're only a few yards from fellow blogger Sue on Indigo Dream although we haven't seen her in person yet.

Brentford, where we moored last week was the nearly full because of winter moorings. Apart from a couple of spaces, most visitors will have to moor under the awning of the old wharf shed.
It has been cleaned up a bit, and at night it is lit with a bright orange glow!

Now for the really tight fit. Paddington basin was visited by the fuel boats Ara and Archimedes and we needed gas and diesel, so they moored up close to us to do the job. This meant turning at right angles to the navigation line and backing into the jetty where Herbie rests. A&A are big boats and they had just an inch to spare at the front end. A good job no other boats were coming down the basin at that time.

I've more to tell you about our "Happy Diwali" trip to Southall last weekend but I'll save that for a later post.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Autumn gives the Slough arm a treat.

Just when you get fed up with the Slough Arm because of the weed and lack of dredging, it throws in a lovely trip and you forgive it all. We set of in the afternoon sun today and the old arm was looking gorgeous in the autumn colours and the clear water showing all the fish. The weed is now nearly all gone too. Now's the time to pop down there for a look. BW seems also to have cleared a new mooring area in the area of the aqueducts and it looks really nice.

Tonight we have reached Bull's Bridge where we will stay overnight, finish the unpacking, and lay in stores of food from the big Tescos alongside the canal.

Tomorrow we descend the Hanworth flight and hope to be joined by Simon (of Nb Tortoise fame) to give us a hand with the lock wheeling. I daresay we can arrange a suitable reward in the Fox at the foot of the locks!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

City break but life goes on

We really need a break. For the last week and a half we have been ministering to Claire, Jacob and Grace who have all been ill. Then this weekend we have been host to Peter on a break from Cambridge to see the kids. We don't get time to be ill or tired ourselves it seems.

Anyway Herbie to the rescue. The tides not being favourable we have abandoned plans to go up the Thames but have opted for a trip into London instead. First to Brentford and then to Paddington. This despite previous engagements - my monthly smallpipes session in Westminster and a visit from friends Phil and Janet next weekend - we can do it all from the boat.

So on Tuesday we set off towards Brentford, then the weekend with Phil and Janet at the wonderful Fox at Hanwell including a visit to sample the colours, aromas and tastes of Southall - the most Asian place this side of Bengal.

Travelling in to London we hope to get to see the new Moctezuma exhibition at the British Museum and then anything else we fancy. All from our very own hotel boat. Lovely. Believe me, we need it!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Not Slough Gin

Wouldn't it be nice if we could get pick sloes from along the Slough Arm. Then we could make Slough gin. Sadly, although there are a few, we haven't been able to find enough, so this year we resorted to picking a load of sloes near Rick and Marilyn's house last weekend. They have an abundance of them, but although the bushes were only a mile or so from the canal they weren't near enough for us to call it Grand Union gin either.

Anyway, after only a couple of days in the jar, the gin is already taking on its glorious colour as you can see here.

You can see the sugar hasn't dissolved yet, it generally takes a few weeks to dissappear entirely.

We've also made a jar of Sloe rum, which to my mind is even more delicious. One year we even blended some old sloe gin and sloe rum together and it was gorgeous - we called it Sloe Gum

Our recipe is

One bottle of gin or rum
One pint of sloes (put in the freezer overnight, then thaw and prick with a cocktail stick)
10 or 12 ounces of sugar depending how sweet you like it

put in a large jar somehwere handy and give it a kick or a shake now and again.

By Christmas it'll be ready to filter, bottle, and drink. We generally add a few drops of almond essence in each bottle. Take no notice of people who tell you it takes years to mature. Just like whisky in the bottle, it doesn't. Once the sloes have given up their juice and colour, that's it.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Picking up our new fender at Cosgrove.

I'm well pleased with Herbie's new bow fender which we picked up on Friday from Mick Betts at Cosgrove. At sixty five quid I reckon we got a bargain. As you can see it's very neatly made and it has a proper rope centre unlike some others.

Cosgrove is a very attractive rural area on the GU although quite close to Milton Keynes. Boaters remember it for three things - the junction with the now defunct Buckingham arm, the high aqueduct over the fledgling river Ouse, and this unusually ornate canal bridge.

Cosgrove lock is the only lock in an umpteen mile stretch between Fenny Stratford and Stoke Bruerne so the many boats that moor hereabouts have an easy life. There are some very tidy and atractive 48hr visitor moorings too.