No 23. At last, after all this waiting……

We are finally under way.

We’ve sold the house and the car, put all of our possessions into storage and at last we can begin our year of making memories. After more than 12 months of planning, our odyssey has at last begun.

We arrived at the marina a week ago, having left our house in Cornwall for the final time with a car packed to the rafters of everything we thought we would need for the next year. Initially Rob’s reaction was disbelief that it would ever all fit, mumbling under his breath as we transported 10 wheelbarrow loads from the car, down a long gravel path to the berth on the marina, about as far from the car as it could be. We had reversed the boat in last time, so it was easier to plonk everything on the bed before going back for another load. It seemed like such a good idea at the time, but the pressure was then on to find homes for it all before bedtime. Several trips to B&Q and Dunelm provided solutions to such questions as: where can we store all the coats and how do we fit all of this into one cupboard? Over the door hooks answered the coat dilemma, now all nicely stored on the front of a seldom used cupboard in the bedroom. It has finally all fitted and we have not wasted a square inch of space.

Selling the car, visiting the grandchildren and flu jabs were all the that was needed before setting off and these were all achieved by Monday so we eagerly made our plans. Firstly, before setting off, Rob thought that the boat could do with a wash using the hose on the jetty. It was a lovely sunny day and seemed like such a good idea. I was sorting stuff out inside, when I suddenly heard a yell from outside. I went rushing out to find Rob bobbing about in the canal between us and the boat next to us. This time though the water was freezing.

He’d only gone and fallen in again!

The last dunking in the summer also happened while he was washing the boat. In future he will have to do it in a wetsuit. Or maybe, it’s just safer if I did it.

We also needed to get a new gangplank, the one that came with the boat has proved to be a bit too short this summer and also a tad wobbly and uneven and Rob does not need anything else that may cause him to fall in. B&Q, conveniently situated next to the marina, unfortunately didn’t have anything long enough but we did get one from a builders merchants, over a mile away. Without our car, not that it would have fitted in anyway, we had to carry it all the way back to the boat. We got some very strange looks and comments. It made Rob think of the old Eric Sykes film, The Plank. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look and stars just about every comic actor of the time, we had fun spotting them all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUbcaE44cSw

Taking our plank for a walk

So on Tuesday morning we finally set off. Usually a tricky manoeuvre to leave the marina, Rob did it flawlessly, made even more satisfying as we were being watched by Derek. Hopefully we may have gone up in his estimation as boathandlers after this – though I doubt it.

A bit grey as we started out but it soon cleared up. Thought these birds looked a bit spooky.

Our first destination was Woolhampton, about 5 1/2 miles, 7 locks & 4 swing bridges later. I’m now getting more confident in my boat handling and took the opportunity of doing things on my own now that the canals are quieter. Unlike in the summer, there are only a few boats on the move and not many moored along the cut. I took The Frog in and out of several locks. Some even had swing bridges shortly after so Rob sorted the lock and walked along the tow path to the bridge, leaving me alone and in charge of the boat. Walkie-talkies, a recent purchase, were so useful and very reassuring for me during those alone moments. Manouvering the boat to come alongside the path to pick Rob up after he’d closed the lock gate was a bit of a challenge and is much harder than he makes it look. He patiently waited while I figured out which way to turn the tiller and whether to go forwards or backwards. Rob’s usual manner is to be in charge and tell you what to do, even if you know already but for some reason he’s not like that when I’m driving the boat. He has been telling me that I can decide if I’m going the right speed or doing the right thing, making me think for myself makes perfect sense. A pleasant and welcome change!

To get to Woolhampton we had to go through Monkey Marsh lock, a very unusual turf lock. There are only 2 left on the network and they were the original design of locks back in the 1700’s. Unlike the usual type of lock that we see, the walls are not brick or even solid. Instead they constitute a wooden frame with soil and vegetation as the boundary. It’s a huge lock, 112′ long and takes ages to fill and empty.

Monkey Marsh Lock

We approached it and a man who had been sitting on the bench, got up and took a windlass out of his bag and promptly started winding up the paddles, getting it ready for us to enter. I got off the boat and started chatting to him, socially distanced of course. He told me his name was Chris and that he sat most days at the lock as he liked helping. He would often stay from 9 until 4 as long as the weather was not too awful. He was so helpful and so knowledgeable, it was he who told me the dimensions and all about the history of the lock. He gave me his permission to take his picture and to be included in my blog. When I asked if he had thought of becoming a C&RT volunteer he told me that he preferred to be freelance! Thank you so much for your help Chris.

Chris the “freelance” lock helper

Woolhampton has a lovely pub, The Rowbarge, where we had a nice socially distanced pub meal with my brother Rob and his lovely wife Sue, they live in nearby Reading. We were also joined by their friends and our boat movers Neil and Jackie. Readers of early blogs will know they undertook the huge task of taking The Frog from Northampton to Newbury last summer. They were keen to see the boat and all the improvements and to see how homely we had made it since their trip. It was really nice catching up with them.

Today, day 2 of our odyssey, was supposed to be rainy so we thought we’d stay put, though typically the forecast was wrong. Woke up to quite a nice day so we decided to move on and not waste good weather. On the stretch from Woolhampton to Theale, there are lots of electric bridges to encounter, some are right after a lock so doubling the work. Luckily though, we were joined by a lovely couple, Kathie and Geoff in their unusually named boat Coo…Ee Too, a clever play on QE2. They were so helpful and it really made life easier, particularly at Aldermaston where the road is particularly busy and having to close lock gates as well as set the slow moving bridge can be a bit intimidating with drivers glaring at you. They are also followers of our facebook page, so we were so pleased to meet them. They said it was ok to include them in our blog.

Kathie & Geoff – we meet the nicest people on the canal

After we left Kathie & Geoff at Aldermaston, we proceeded to Padworth swing bridge closely followed by Towney lock. Approaching the lock we noticed that the paddles had already been raised and there was a familiar face, Ken, who we had last met at Bathampton, near Bath where he called out to us from the towpath that he had been following our blog. He was originally from Bude, less than 20 miles from our former home in Cornwall. He had seen us coming and left his boat, hopped on his bike to help us at the lock. As we were entering I had the sudden realisation that I had left my trusty and favourite windlass at the last road bridge. Ken, immediately set off to ride back to the bridge to retrieve it. He brought it back to me a few minutes later and then told me to get back on the boat and that he would finish the lock for us. Such kindness.

My trusty windlass. Thanks Ken for reuniting us!

So, apart from Rob falling in, our start to the odyssey has been a success. Making great memories and meeting such wonderful people.

Couldn’t ask for more.

No. 22 – The Director’s Cut…

What is happening? No blog for ages then like buses, along come two at once. You cannot dictate when inspiration will strike – it hit Pip a few hours ago and I have been intending to put pen to paper (as it were) for sometime but packing up the house has got in the way! Pip’s earlier blog has prompted me to apply myself.

So, why ‘The Director’s Cut?’ This term is normally applied to a slightly amended version of a movie where the Director has chosen to leave scenes in that fell under the editor’s knife in the released edition. I re-watched the latest Vlog https://youtu.be/_gmYXazXeco a few days ago and was struck by: the fact we jumped from Bathampton to the Devizes Flight – with nothing mentioned in between – and at least two notable incidents passed without comment. So here goes….

I’ll start with a general observation about the K and A near Bath. In our second Vlog https://youtu.be/x_yd8v25WYw I stressed how beautiful the canal is and how lucky we are to be able to cruise it. There are, however, a few parts of the length which are anything but relaxing to cruise. For us, this time, it was the stretch from Bradford On Avon to Bath – and on the way back too. I am not a NIMBY and I absolutely understand the hypocrisy of using the canal and wishing others did not. However that is not what I am saying. Yes it is busy but it is HOW it is busy that makes the difference. Moored boats slow you down – rightly so as we all respect craft on the canalside – however poorly or inconsiderately moored boats are unnecessary and become more of a hazard than an inconvenience. I lost count of the number of occasions boats that were tied too loosely (possible loosened by boats going by too fast) that were ‘hovering’ in the middle of the canal, admittedly though these are not always the fault of the boater. Kayaks/rowing boats tied to the back of narrowboats on a single rope were allowed to drift out into the traffic, this is wholly preventable. Boats were moored on blind bends – causing a narrowing of the cut. This happened with one particular wide beam just outside of Bradford on Avon and the family were lunching in the cabin watching the pandemonium they were creating. I had to reverse twice to allow two boats coming in the other direction through, having already committed to the corner – and sounded my horn. These were ‘owners’ not hire boaters so this is not a bash at the inexperienced holidaymaker.

The Frog – waiting to descend Bradford On Avon Lock

At Bradford on Avon we were moored below the lock on the Avoncliff side and one lunchtime we were surprised at the number of boats lining up alongside us. I went outside and noticed a rental wide beam that had just come down the lock moored on lock landing pins outside the pub whilst drinks were being brought out to them. Meanwhile a rental holiday narrow boat was struggling near us to ‘hover’ in the middle of the canal whilst waiting for the lock. I asked the lady at the helm to throw me her centre line and held her in place until she could move into the lock. Once she was off, I assumed the wide beam would move – not so. They were ordering more drinks! I walked over and pointed out what lock moorings were actually for. They felt justified in staying as ‘someone in the pub’ said they would be alright. I find this hard to believe of a canal side pub and particularly one on such a busy stretch of the canal. They moved off eventually unrepentant. Unfortunately, our paths crossed again the next day as we timed our departure poorly and ended up behind them after the Avoncliff aqueduct. They crawled all the way to Bathampton – our mooring for that night.

So moan over – we jump to our return journey. We moored at Sydney Gardens in Bath and turned in front of the wharf and began the journey back. When we reached Avoncliff, Pip was feeling unwell so we decided to moor again for a couple of nights. The next afternoon we were sat reading in the cabin when we heard (and felt) an enormous bang. I went out to see a rental narrow boat half-way along our side with a very apologetic man stood in the well deck. It seems we were ‘rammed’ on the starboard bow as the ‘driver’ had just picked up the hire boat and had approached the aqueduct too quickly. He had panicked when a wide beam appeared around the bend in the opposite direction. We were all inexperienced once (and I still make major cock ups now – see below for proof!) so this is not really a moan. This will not be the last time we are hit by a boat (hired or otherwise) and I share it only out of interest. I can bemoan hire companies for not ‘training’ new boaters sufficiently but I am realistic enough to know it is not really feasible to predict every situation the boater will face on their holiday. Most important is that the safety message is received and understood ….

Talking of which. We jump now to Hungerford. Pip and I were eating breakfast above the lock and saw a hire boat passing. We were heading out soon so decided to ‘up pins’ and join them in the lock to save water. The hire boat was 70′ and it seems the helmsman today was possibly taking the tiller for the first time/or had little holiday experience. I pulled in alongside and Pip and one of their team went forward to open the paddles and start our descent. The other boater was chatting away to me about something. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was saying as I noticed he had drifted all the way back into the gate. I politely interrupted and suggested he pulled forward to avoid the cill. He put the boat in gear – but it didn’t move. He had already grounded and his bow was starting to tip forwards. I shouted to Pip to drop the paddles and grabbed my own windlass and climbed out of the lock. The paddles dropped just in time and I opened the top set to allow the boat to refloat. Disaster averted. Interesting on-line news this very week, showing a hire boat that had sank in a lock the Bristol side of Bath under almost identical circumstances. It does happen! https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/canal-boat-blocks-kennet-avon-4480402

This is not our boat but a hire boat that fell foul of not staying ahead of the cill marker

A boater’s work is never done and most of it has to be carried out when we moor for a few days. At Kintbury on the return trip I decided to polish under the gunwale – using blue dyed polish to match the paintwork. I had been for a walk – hence wearing running shorts. I have a new toy – a car polisher – that is quite heavy duty and rotates with alarming speed. That’s fine unless you forget the correct order in the polishing process: apply polish to pad, press pad against boat and then turn on. If you reverse the final two steps, polish flies everywhere and makes you look like your varicose veins have got a lot worse! There is also a shirt that will never be quite the same again! Hey ho!

My ‘polished’ legs at Kintbury!

Returning to the subject of safety, Pip had an unplanned (and much cheaper than normal) haircut recently when we discovered a safety issue with our gas oven. It has a tendency to go out when first lit – but the gas continues to flow. We did not realise this and Pip, after noticing that the light had one again gone out, opened the door not realising the oven was full of gas. She clicked the electric ignition and POOF (that significantly understates the explosion that followed) she was engulfed in a fireball that rocked the boat. Understandably, it frightened the life out of her and I am now the designated ‘re-lighter’ of the oven going forwards. The smell of singed hair lingered for some time. She has since visited her hairdresser so all is now right with the world!

Happily cruising past Newbury Wharf – unaware of the challenges to come!

Finally – and talking of cock-ups – we deliberately omitted a video clip of me turning the boat at Newbury in the last Vlog. Before leaving for home we wanted to pump out at the marina and fill up with diesel. This meant descending the Greenham lock and then turning in the winding hole going back up the lock and then turning again before Newbury Wharf. The lock descent was fine – you would not expect a problem after the scores of locks completed on our trip – but I misjudged the turn afterwards. Instead of using the open water area to the starboard side, I tried to turn too quickly and ended up with my stern ‘hedge trimming’ and forcing me away from the tiller. The bow meanwhile was trying to mount the towpath! Pip was filming up to this point (and is not deleting the footage – which worries me) but, on seeing the position I had managed to get into, she ran down the towpath and started pushing the front end around. I was sheepishly stood on the gunwale all this time! Eventually, I could get back to the stern and completed the manoeuvre. All this watched by both fellow boaters from our marina, waiting to come down the lock and a hire boat enjoying watching a boat-owner making a fool of himself! See I told you you should not point fingers! As an engineer at the marina where we bought The Frog wisely said to me at the time: ‘They (narrowboats) make fools of us all’! Never a truer word!

Well I sincerely hope the next time I write we are creating new tales from the cut and not just reminiscing in Cornwall. Thanks for reading. See you soon!

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No 21. A few of our favourite things…..

Have no fear, I am not about to start writing about raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, nor am I about to burst into song, for which Rob is particularly relieved. Whilst I am convinced that my enthusiasm when I am singing more than makes up for my lack of tune, Rob does not share this view. As we sit here waiting for the elusive e-mail to confirm exchange of contracts on our house sale, the delay is what is preventing us from returning to our beloved boat and the start of our year long odyssey, I am thinking about just what it is that we are missing. So, here is my list in no particular order:

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

From first thing in the morning, when we go outside to check the mooring lines before breakfast, until we close up the boat for the night, we are constantly outdoors. I know that our home in Cornwall is surrounded by lovely outdoor spaces and during lockdown we were so grateful to have some beautiful places to walk. But being at home, we have found that life just gets in the way of being outdoors all day. There always seem to be something to see to inside. The boat space is much smaller and keeping it clean takes no time at all. When we are travelling, we are obviously outside for the whole journey, but even when we are moored there doesn’t seem to be anything that gets in the way of being outdoors. Walking is one our great passions and it’s a great way to explore our ever changing landscapes.

MOTHER NATURE

We have concluded that travelling at no more than 3mph, but usually more like 1mph or less as the Kennet & Avon is so busy with moored boats, we notice so much more of our surroundings. We have delighted in watching swans and their cygnets swimming alongside us as we crawl along the canal, though meeting them on the tow path is a whole other matter as you will see in our recent vlog: https://youtu.be/x_yd8v25WYw

Waiting to be fed

We have watched a mother moorhen taking some food in her mouth and swimming to the bank, disappearing into the undergrowth, only to reappear after climbing the vegetation to her nest 3 feet above the canal level, presumably away from predators, and then carefully feeding her chicks.

Baby moorhen, a total fluffball

The ducks, although plentiful in places, are a joy to watch, particularly as word gets about that you’re feeding them. They fly in from far and wide, coming into land with a splash that does not reflect their skillful landing. Their constant quacking always makes me smile.

Word gets about that there is food to be had and they come from far and wide
Our grandchildren, Billy & Lyra, enjoying feeding a muscovy duck that lives under the bridge at Great Bedwyn

Herons are plentiful on the canals but we have never seen them more than one at a time. We have noticed that they tend to stand on the bank until the boat is level with them and then they spread their enormous wings and flap their way along, following the contour of the canal, landing a minute later. They wait until we draw level and repeat the whole manoeuvre again. Playing leap frog with a heron is a real joy and I am always left feeling a little sad when they stop playing and fly away.

Leap Frog anyone? Waiting patiently for us to get alongside before he takes off, only to land further up the canal.

I’m not so keen on spiders I have to say, though the sight of an intricately spun web with the morning dew sticking to it is a wonder of nature that I don’t get tired of. How do they know how to spin the perfect web?

Spiders web covered in morning dew. - Stock Photo - Dissolve

SUNSETS

Yes, I know we have sunsets in Cornwall, and they can be spectacular too, but watching them change minute by minute whilst sat on the tow-path or at the front our boat, whilst contemplating the next day ahead is real joy.

The colours of this sunset were much more vibrant than the photo reflects
And stunning through the porthole guarded by our Viking (we love all things Danish too)

PEOPLE

We have met some lovely people whilst out cruising the canals. It’s lovely to chat (at a safe distance now, of course) and to find out where people are heading and how long they’ve been out. Holidaymakers on hire boats are also keen to hear our story or to comment on our unusual boat name. As we all travel at roughly the same speed, you tend to see the same boats appearing along the canal and we are usually greeted with a cheery wave and a hello. Having an unusual name and not being a traditional colour really makes our boat distinct. Recently, whilst cruising through Bathampton, a very friendly chap waved at us from the bank and was pleased to tell us that he had just been reading one of our blogs. That really made my day. I now make a note of boat and owners name that we meet along the way, my memory is not good but I know that there’s every likelihood that our paths will cross at some point. Canal folk are also very knowledgeable, and usually are keen to share with you any problems up ahead, so key to a successful journey. We’ve learned so much from just passing the time of day with people we meet and this kind of interaction is something I’m keen to get back to.

BEING TOGETHER

I know it sounds corny, but Rob really is my best friend and soulmate (I’m sure our children are now reaching for the sick bucket), but it’s true. Being onboard a 7 foot wide boat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the foreseeable future is not a problem for us. Being at home, the tendency is to sit in front of the telly most evenings, but when we are on the boat, w spend evenings sitting on the tow-path, reflecting on our day. We play more games, I am currently ahead on our ongoing cribbage tournament, at 15-13, though Rob won’t be happy that I shared that! We do watch a bit of telly, but it’s usually a film on Netflix rather than just watching something because it is on. There always seems to be more quality time when we are on The Frog. Experiences are so much better when shared.

So, there you have it, some of my favourite things. We are optimistic that this week is the week when contracts are finally exchanged and we can then send our stuff into storage and eagerly head back to Newbury and start our year of adventures.

Thanks so much for reading and we hope it’s not too long before we have more adventures to write about.

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No 20 – There and back to see how far it is

It’s now 4 weeks since we left Newbury and in the last two weeks we have travelled down the infamous Devizes Flight – taking in the fabulous Caen Hill climb (grateful thanks to my sister Trish who helped with all 29 locks) and then slowly made our way to Bath.

Caen Hill Flight

On our way down the flight we met a small dingy that was waiting to enter our lock once we came out. The boat belonged to two young men who had been on an adventure. They told me that they had left Reading and taken the boat as far as Bristol, camping alongside the canal, before turning around and heading back. The whole trip lasting less than 10 days, that’s quite a feat. They were so nice and were happy for me take their picture.

Our route meandered through Bradford On Avon where we spent two lovely nights moored just below the lock. It’s such a picturesque little place, with the only lock right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle – surrounded by 3 pubs! The tow paths here were full of ‘gongoozlers’ (an affectionate term used by canal folk to describe people who watch the boats go by – more on that phenomena later) and we didn’t expect it to be that busy. We were really pleased to get a prime mooring just below the lock and right next to one of the 3 pubs. We recorded an episode of our Vlog From The Frog while moored in Bradford On Avon and during filming we experienced a few loud bangs, caused by boats passing us, usually too quickly, throwing us quite violently against the bank: dhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_yd8v25WYw&t=2s if you want to experience the chaos with us. We went for an exploratory walk around the pretty town and through the park which runs alongside the canal. In it we stumbled upon an amazingly well preserved medieval tithe barn.

Waiting to go in the lock at Bradford on Avon
As the name Bradford On Avon suggests, the River Avon runs parallel to the canal. Looking lovely in the sunshine
Tithe Barn in Bradford On Avon

It was then on to Bathampton for a one night stop – picking up my middle son Mark and his lovely partner Rene, for them to have two nights onboard with us. Immediately they boarded we completed the final 2 miles into Bathwick and moored just outside the beautiful Sydney Gardens, a great spot to base ourselves for a trip in to explore Bath. Mark had several holidays on canal boats as a child and teenager and we were amazed at how quickly he got back into being a master boat handler, a real natural. It was Rene’s first experience of a narrow boat and she coped with the cramped conditions very well. Sadly it poured with rain on the second of our days in Bath, when the interior of the boat seemed to shrink with the increase in moisture outside. It was such a relief to wake up on Sunday morning and see the sun appear once more. On Sunday we headed west briefly under Bath Tunnels 1 and 2 and turned at the Sydney Wharf winding hole and started our journey back heading east, dropping our visitors off to retrieve their car.

Apparently driving a boat is much like riding a bike, you never forget your skills

The house sale seems to be progressing so having turned around in Bath, we now have to make our way back to our home mooring in Newbury, leaving the Frog in safe hands while we go back to Cornwall to pack up our old life, ready to begin our new one. This means tackling the Caen Hill Flight once more!

Gongoozlers: It never ceases to amaze me how the general public are fascinated by watching boats go by – especially at locks. Our chests visibly puff out when someone says what a beautiful boat we have. We think she’s beautiful but it’s so nice to hear that others think so too. Our ‘thoughtful frog’ (who graces the roof near the bow – see below) was photographed at least 3 times yesterday when we moored up at the top of the Caen Flight – once by a man with the longest lens on a camera that I have ever seen (careful!). People love to stop and chat and seem genuinely interested in what life is like on the canals.

Our “thoughtful frog” gets lot of attention from passers by (he’s the green one at the front!)

When coming back up the flight yesterday, which we managed to do in just over 3 hours, we were joined most of the way up by a lovely family just out for the day to watch the boats. There were two little girls aged 4 & 7 and their older cousin who was 12, along with mum and granny. All three children watched from the sidelines for some time, the 7 year could hardly contain her excitement watching our frogs rising in the lock, jumping up and down and taking it all in. The 12 year old, who told me his name was Fletcher was very cool to start with until Rob engaged him in conversation while we were slowly filling the lock. He enjoyed the explanation of the pump at the base of the flight that takes 7 million gallons of water each night back to the top, ready for the locks to be used the next day. He asked intelligent questions and was clearly a very smart boy. When Rob asked him if he would like to help with swinging the lock gate open his smile lit up his face. The two girls were on my side of the lock so it only seemed right that they lend a hand too. They then followed us up the entire rest of the flight, loving it every time we asked if they could help.

We have now concluded that whenever there are gongoozlers around, we will always give them the opportunity to pitch in, particularly if there are children. We should never underestimate the impact it has; one father told me it had made his son’s day when I asked if he’d like to push a swing bridge for me. I benefit, as it’s one less bridge or lock gate to open that day and it gives someone a memory and an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary.

Before the Caen Hill Flight was put in, the canal stopped abruptly Devizes and continued again at the bottom at Foxhangers wharf. Goods that were being transported were unloaded off the barges onto a horse drawn tramway that ran from top to bottom and then loaded back onto another boat waiting at the bottom. The Caen Hill locks were finished in 1810 and this gave the boats a straight passage right through, albeit with a lot of work to get down, still very much easier than all that loading and unloading. The tow path has four of the very low tunnels that were the original tramway. Even someone of my short stature had to duck to get through. Lovely to see that this bit of history has been well preserved and that health and safety didn’t cause their demolition.

The original tramway went through here. Caution, very low!

We are acutely aware that so far we have only experienced the kinder half of the year, weatherwise, and have been asked several times how we will cope with winter onboard. The answer we give is that we clearly don’t know. Central heating and a wood burner will help but we are not sure how we will cope with cabin fever if the bad weather goes on and on. I have no doubt that we will have lots of that in the days to come. As our odyssey start was severely delayed and we now don’t anticipate getting going properly until September, stopping again in November seems a little soon, though we may feel a little different when we are confined to the boat for days on end. If times had been normal we would probably have taken the opportunity to go in search of some winter sun and looked for a last minute bargain, but we’ve definitely gone off that idea. The thought of being anywhere but here while this pandemic is still going on fills me with horror images of stressful travelling conditions, and cancelled flights, which is happening to those on holiday in Spain right now. Our two options for winter are: 1. stay on the network and brave it out, taking advantage of quieter waterways and more choice of moorings, or 2. find a winter mooring for 3 months and spend the time visiting family and friends. Christmas is already sorted thanks to an invitation from Trish (after I asked if we could come). Well, what are sisters for?

We have been so lucky to experience this lovely stretch of the Kennet & Avon canal, something that came about by chance, turning the delay of our house sale into a summer of glorious cruising.

Who says clouds don’t have silver linings?

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No 19 A Birthday Surprise

We’ve been out on the Kennet & Avon canal for almost 3 weeks and we’re loving it. We decided to use our time wisely while we wait for the house to sell and cruise on a part of the network that we were not planning on seeing on our year long expedition.

The Kennet & Avon canal was originally built in 3 sections which included 2 river sections, the Kennet from Reading to Newbury, and the Avon from Bath to Bristol. These were all canalised and joined up and opened eventually in 1810, so linking London and Bristol for trade. Each section is different, but equally beautiful and we are so pleased to have been able to see this.

Leaving Newbury we eagerly set off and spent 2 days covering a massive 5 miles, staying at Hamstead Lock on our first night. In Kintbury, we met up with my brother Robbie and his wife Sue, who had driven a few miles from Reading for an early birthday lunch with us. It was our first venture into a pub for over 4 months, and I have to say that it felt very strange. Firstly we all had to leave our contact details at the bar, part of the new track and trace system that alerts you if you have been in contact with anyone who has symptoms of Covid 19. Half of the tables in the already small pub were roped off, so allowing the required 2m distance, which meant that there were only 3 tables that were able to be occupied. For a pub that small, we did wonder how they will manage to stay afloat with all of their overheads and only one third of the capacity allowed. We had a super lunch though, and Sue even managed to persuade the lovely barmaid to donate one of their lovely gin glasses to me as it was something I had forgotten to pack for the boat.

Attempting to leave Kintbury within the allowable 48 hours for the mooring, Rob put the engine into gear, only to find that the engine quickly cut out. The same thing happened when he tried reverse and we deduced that we were going nowhere. A look under the weed hatch showed what the problem was, there was a large amount of something wrapped around the propeller and shaft. The weed hatch is small and in order to reach the propellor he had to crouch down and extend his arm fully to reach. Using a knife, he slowly hacked away. What he ended up with was a large pile of plastic mesh, the type that is used to line the canal banks in rural areas. The more he pulled off, the more that kept coming. After an hour, he finally declared that it was free and we could now set off. This was the first time the hatch was used in earnest – I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Weed hatch inspection
A tight squeeze
Just part of the huge pile of webbing that was stuck fast around the propellor

As a birthday treat, we had been offered the help of two extra crew members, Billy and Lyra our adorable grandchildren. The only catch was that we had to meet them half way from their home near Croydon. We found that we could moor at Hungerford and easily catch a train to Newbury, then a half hour walk back to pick up the car at the marina and an hours drive to meet them. Well worth the extra effort. Rob then dropped us off at the boat, returning the car to the marina and walking and reversing the trip to join us.

Happy to be back on the canal with Tronny & Grandad

Both children adore being onboard the Frog and were only too keen to keep their life jackets on, even wanting to wear them while eating their lunch inside. Billy has shown an interest in helping Grandad to steer the boat and now that he is 8 and a bit taller, he’s proving to be a natural. Both enjoy helping with the locks and hopefully making wonderful childhood memories that they will look back on when they’re older. It’s also nice for their mum and dad to have a weekend off.

Billy learning how to steer the Frog and Lyra doing what she does best, posing

The next day, with our extra crew members, was my birthday. We set off from Hungerford towards Froxfield and stopped for lunch. Imagine my surprise to see my lovely sister Trish, her husband Dave and her grown up children Will, Laura and her boyfriend James walking down the towpath. They had travelled from Wales and had cooked up the idea for a birthday surprise with Rob, even bringing birthday cake, a delicious home-made carrot cake. How wonderful. They cruised with us as far as Great Bedwyn and then Trish and I walked back along the tow path to pick up their car. Certainly a birthday to remember. A weekend with Billy and Lyra keeps us young, but also can be exhausting and we were glad to be met by their mum and dad and much younger sister Seren for a short cruise at the end of the weekend. Great Bedwyn is an incredibly picturesque village full of quaint thatched cottages. It was their mum’s first trip on a moving canal boat and she seemed to enjoy it almost as much as the children.

Chocolate box cottage in Great Bedwyn
The moorings were at the end of appropriately named Frog Lane in Great Bedwyn

We have the mammoth task of the Caen Hill Flight in a few days and Trish has offered to come back for a few days and help us out. A flight of 29 locks within 2 miles needs all the help we can get. Check back to our next chapter to see how it went.

We have now heard from our estate agent that the house sale is now back on and this time with a very short chain and we are hopeful that this will go the distance. We are still planning on heading as far as the beautiful city of Bath and then turn around and head back to the marina, arriving back about mid-August by which time we will be ready to pack up the house and start our gap year trip exploring the rest of the canal network.

I cannot properly put into words how lovely it is to be back on the canal. In fact, it is so relaxing out here that it is hard to believe that we’ve been through all of the trauma of the pandemic, until you catch a glimpse of someone wearing a facemask. Every day is an adventure, the scenery is sublime and the people you meet are friendly. Watching the canal go by at 2mph it’s very easy to lose yourself in your thoughts, I can feel myself relax and notice things in nature that normally just go whizzing by without a second glance. We’ve enjoyed playing tag with a heron that kept landing up ahead on the bank, only to take off as our bow approached and then to land again a bit further up.

He got bored with our game after a while and flew away to amuse some other boaters

Time to rest up now before we tackle “the flight”.

Thanks for reading.

Various ways to follow our adventures. We now have a vlog on YouTube. It can be found at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qN58a7Lw9rc&feature

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com>froginabucket

Twitter: @frogodyssey

No 18. Odyssey prequel?

Lockdown wasn’t all bad. We got loads of jobs done that we had not had time to do before: Rob painted the outside of the house, we worked in the garden most days, making the house as presentable as possible in the hopes of getting a sale once things returned to some sort of normality. But what we really wanted to do was to get back to the canals.

The agents once again started marketing the house in mid June and with some safety precautions, they were able to do viewings. We had an offer and after some negotiations, we agreed a sale with a nice couple who came with their 3 teenage boys. We started to organise the move and subsequent storage of all our belongings. As the boat was going to be our primary residence, we realised that even if restrictions were not lifted that the overnight stay thing would not apply to us and we could cruise to our hearts content. Happy days.

Until……. the buyers decided that they could not afford the mortgage payment after all and pulled out.

Having lived for many years in Canada and experienced house buying and selling, I have concluded that the English system is pants. People can agree a purchase and then withdraw anytime they feel like it with no consequence. So frustrating.

So the house is now back on the market and rather than sit around waiting for another buyer, we decided that we should decamp to the boat as soon as restrictions were lifted and that we would cruise from Newbury towards Bath, leaving the agents to it. Once we’ve sorted the house we still plan to head up north (said with a Yorkshire accent) and would not have had a chance to experience all of the K&A, so we look on this as an added bonus (putting a positive spin on things).

Finally July 4th came and with Boris’ permission, we were finally allowed to stay overnight.

We eagerly packed as much as we could fit in our car, sorted out someone to have Bimble, our ageing dog who HATES the boat (thanks Julie for coming to the rescue at the eleventh hour) and happily drove the 3 hours to be reunited with our beloved Frog.

When we last came up we had intended to be back in 2 weeks, not 4 months as it ended up being and so it was a bit of a mess. We had had some carpentry work done and everything was covered in dust and we had been meaning to sort out all of the storage compartments in the well deck. They were full of things from previous owners, bits of pipe, offcuts of wood, rusty tools, and all manner of treasures.

Before we could put any of our things away we set to, having a good sort out. Lots of stuff loaded into the wheelbarrow to be put into the rubbish, before it was picked over by Derek for anything vaguely useable. Having a good clear out can be very therapeutic and also freed up a huge amount of space. Once this was done, we unloaded the whole car load one wheelbarrow at a time and then spent the rest of the day finding places to put everything. All the while with Rob muttering under his breath that there was no way we were going to fit it all in and why did I need to bring THAT! Thank goodness for those lovely rooftop boxes, they hold far more than we ever imagined.

Over the last few months we have been adding to an ever growing bag of bits to take to the boat. It started with a rather fetching hat that Rob insisted on buying, for those days when the weather turns cold and he’s at the tiller, one with fur lined ear flaps that he assures me will be worth it, even though I think it looks ridiculous. We’ve picked up things along the way that we thought would be useful or look nice and then promptly forgot about.

Looking very proud of his purchase

Unpacking that bag was a bit like Christmas, discovering things we had totally forgotten about. Like the silver frog tiller pin that now proudly sits on the tiller, shining in the sunlight. Now if I can just find a hiding place for that hat!

Glinting in the sun

On our last visit before lockdown, we had brought up the router and aerial that we had bought in order to have wifi on our travels. Technology is now such a big part of all our lives and even those people that resent it admit that without a decent wifi signal, life can be a bit restrictive. We follow various youtube videos from other boaters, they are a great source of advice as well as a nice distraction. A quick search found one from Foxes Afloat talking about how they had things set up so we took their advice and got the same. Happy to say it was a great recommendation, it was so easy to set up. Canal folk are really helpful and love to share their experiences with others. I asked a quick question onto a facebook forum for canal lovers asking which network was the best for coverage in the low lying canals, some of which are very rural, and I got an overwhelming response. Almost everyone recommended Three as the best.

Even though we were itching to get underway, spending 2 days in the marina getting organised was worthwhile. I lost count how many trips I made to B&Q, Dunelm and Tesco for things that we needed. One thing we have learned is that you can sometimes go days between places that offer these kind of shops and it can be very frustrating to be miles away from something that you really can’t do without.

Finally we were ready. The engine started first time, the sun was shining and even with a stiff breeze, it was perfect.

Rob admitted that the first few minutes were a bit tense, his first time at the tiller for several months made him doubt his ability, but much like riding a bicycle, it all came flooding back to him.

Several locks later, we are happily moored up in the charming village of Kintbury on the Kennet & Avon, feeling very happy.

Although our year long odyssey cannot begin until the house sells, we are thinking of this as our prequel.

No 17. Frustration

When we made our plans to sell our house in Cornwall and to spend a year cruising the canals, we thought about things that could get in our way, such as the house not selling quickly, but never in our wildest dreams did we think a pandemic could completely spoil our dreams.

Our dream boat

For 12 weeks now we have stayed at home, leaving only for regular exercise and the weekly shop at Tesco, strictly following government guidelines. We felt it was the right thing to do and so did it willingly.

At the start of lockdown the Canal and Rivers Trust, the governing authority on the waterways put out a notice advising that the canals were not open, even those people who liveaboard were told that only essential journeys were to be undertaken for water or to pump out and other than that they were to stay put. The usual rule of having to move on from moorings after 14 days was relaxed.

Then at the end of May the CRT put out another notice that as of 1st June, all waterways would be open. Boating could resume, but only short journeys to start with and from end of May onwards, the 14 day rule for moorings was being reintroduced and continuous cruisers could once again continue on their way. Finally the navigations were declared fully open and longer journeys could be undertake.

We heaved a sigh of relief as this, combined with the government announcing that the housing market could resume, with some strict guidelines, gave us hope that at last our plans might proceed. Our boat is moored on the Kennet and Avon at Newbury and our latest idea was to spend some time cruising along the stretch towards Bath while we wait for the house to sell, allowing us to get home relatively easy if it turned out to be necessary. Our original plan was to head towards the midlands and not see this stretch, so seeing something that was not on our previous itinerary would be a bonus and help pass the time.

However, that plan has now also been put on hold – as the rules still dictate that we cannot stay overnight on our boat unless it is our main residence.

We can go and be in a long queue at Ikea, go into any shops we like as of Monday and even go to the zoo, but we cannot stay overnight on our own boat.

I have had it suggested that the government are putting us in the same category as second home owners and here’s why I think this is wrong. Second homes are usually concentrated in certain areas such as here in the South West, where the population swells during the summer and the infrastructure struggles to cope. There is only one hospital in Cornwall, with only 19 critical care beds and a further hospital in Plymouth, so I do get it. However, boats, by their very nature, move all over the canal network and are not concentrated in just one area. Our own GP surgery now offers online skype appointments, so if needed, we could access it from anywhere. We are usually very self sufficient, spending the majority of our time outdoors, which the government has said is the safest place to be. We bother no one. The CRT have said that they need boats to keep moving on the network, canals do not have strong currents normally and so need the boat traffic to keep the water from getting choked up with weeds. We are not talking about mixing households, we just want to keep socially isolating, but on our boat.

I wrote to the CRT to ask why they are still saying no overnight stays and they responded by saying that they have lobbied government to change this ruling as they want boats to return to the canals and asked that as many people as possible to write to their MP’s to try and get this changed. I dutifully fired off a letter, only to have a response telling me that as it concerns the Environment Agency that I should send my request to them. Their response was that they did not make the rules and that I should take it up with my MP. Why I was not more surprised at being given the run around I’m not sure. But, we are still no further ahead.

So, here we still sit in Cornwall. We have someone interested in our house, but she lives on the Isle Of Man, where the borders are closed until at least the end of June, despite the fact that there have been no new cases of Covid 19 for over 3 weeks. Our boat is a 3 hour drive away, so a day trip out on it just isn’t practical. And, the reasons for keeping us from our boat just don’t make sense.

Frustration

How Dealing with Frustration Leads To Positive Action | Everyday Power

frustration/frʌˈstreɪʃn/Learn to pronouncenoun

  1. 1.the feeling of being upset or annoyed as a result of being unable to change or achieve something.

No 16. Looking back

So, a month into our national lockdown, I have lots of time to blog and not a lot to blog about, or so I thought.

I have a daily facetime chat with our daughter Rachael, who lives in Southern USA with her husband and toddler, our grandson. We chat about everything and nothing, a lovely way to pass some time. Cullen and I have started a little sing song routine which we both enjoy, he loves is so much that he always finishes with “more”, as I struggle to think of new songs to sing, certainly brightens up my day.

Rachael and Chris gave up “normal” living some months ago and moved into a huge caravan, or RV as they refer to it, and live and work in Georgia’s state parks. She has some beautiful scenery on her doorstep and shares her daily life and adventures in her own blog: ramblingsofarambler.com. She writes really well (a biased opinion, so you should make your own mind up, but I’m sure you will agree). Having just read her latest blog, I complemented her on it and commented that as her’s is about her daily life, she always has something fresh to write about, whereas ours is about our new lifestyle choice which is well and truly stuck on “pause”.

She thought about it for a moment and then reminded me that we had many holidays on the canals when she was a child and there were many mishaps and hilarious things that we experienced and that I should write about those. So here you go Rachael, time to relive some memories…

Many years ago, when I was still married to their Dad Andrew, Ian, Mark & Rachael and I went on our very first narrowboat holiday. In 1993, the Navy had some kind of connection to a narrowboat called “Emma” and Navy employees were allowed to hire it from where it was moored in Napton Junction, very near to the town of Rugby. Emma was 70′ long and slept 8 in 3 different sleeping compartments and a dinette that converted into a bed in the saloon. We decided to bring our disobedient but lovable black Labrador, Worcester, along as well as my lovely mum, who was probably not much older than I am now. Ian was 7, Mark 5 and Rachael 3, yet, ironically, it was the dog that was the most trouble.

Emma, our first narrowboat experience

Worcester, like most labs was totally obsessed with the water and spent most of the week launching herself from the boat, with no warning to us, straight into the canal. She would swim madly behind us as we steamed along at about 2mph until she got tired. The canal banks are vertical with no incline for a dog to climb out easily and so we discovered that the only way to extract the dog was to pull her onto the boat from the water. Weighing almost 7 stone, this was no mean feat and required herculean strength. Once onboard, she would then shake, not once but several times which sent the children running for cover, not easy to achieve when the boat was less than 7 feet wide. We were then all treated to the unpleasant odour of wet dog, not great in an enclosed space and it continued until the next time that she decided to belly flop into the canal again.

“bloody dog!”

The first time was funny, the second, mildly amusing but the novelty definitely wore off after the first morning. After experiencing another episode of getting covered in canal water, Ian asked me “is Worcester a BLOODY dog today mummy?” Apparently my quiet muttering of “bloody dog” was not as quiet as I had thought.

Andrew, was definitely in charge on the boat, as a Naval Officer, it seemed like a natural choice. He spent the majority of the time at the stern, skillfully manoeuvering Emma in and out of the locks, while the children, Gaga (an affectionate name for Grandma) and I did the locks. They all loved helping out and being outdoors, I am glad they remember it as a lovely family holiday.

1993

Gaga decided that she would love to have a go at steering and so Andrew reluctantly handed over the controls, while keeping a close eye on her to correct any mistakes. She took to it with enthusiasm and enjoyed learning a new skill. She was shown how to steer, pulling the rudder in the opposite direction to where you want to go was a challenge at first and resulted in us doing a snake like trajectory down the canal. She was shown how to correct the steering when the bow was heading for the bank, by putting the engine into full power for just a short burst and steering to bring the bow around. She mastered part of the manoeuvre really quickly but always seemed to forget the last bit about pulling the throttle back. We hit the bank many times at speed, the boat withstanding this with ease but there was once where she hit a brick bridge with such force, that we were worried that she might have reduced it to a pile of rubble. Luckily it was able to take the bump with barely a dent in the brick. Andrew was less keen to let her have a go after that.

Gaga at the helm

With everyone lending a hand, we were able to complete the Warwickshire Ring in a week, even completing the Hatton Flight (21 locks) with 3 young children, a grandma and a delinquent dog. Not a bad effort.

Gaga, Rachael and Tiny Tears

Little did I know, that this would be the start of a love of canals and narrowboats and that almost 30 years later that my life would lead me back towards them.

Me in 1993
Bitten by the bug ( God I look young!)

Funny how life turns out, isn’t it?

No 15. Going Nowhere

So, all our plans are now on hold. We have taken the house off the market as we are all on lockdown. Nobody can view it and so no chance at all of a sale. Annoyingly though we did have a second viewing the day before we were all confined to home, but totally understand that now is not the time to be making big financial commitments.

The marina where the boat is currently moored is closed and as all non-essential travel is banned, we are adjusting to living without the prospect of going on the boat, not even on the distant horizon. I could argue that travelling to visit our beloved boat is essential for my mental health but I doubt that it would get me out of the fine now being imposed for people who flout the new ruling.

So, for now, we have to be content with watching canal boat vlogs on YouTube and dreaming about the day that we can start out big adventure. We are grateful that for now we have a safe and comfortable place to wait this out, we have all of our essentials and can stay in contact with our children and grandchildren via Facetime and the House Party app. Things could be a lot worse.

At least Rob can’t fall in for the time being!

Stay home and stay safe everyone and lets all hope that life returns to normal soon.

No.14: Up On The Roof

Newly installed on The Frog a Viking is “Keeping Guard” in one of the portholes – A lovely reminder of our Danish grandson Loki

One of the problems encountering continuous cruisers is that with no home mooring you cannot always find the facilities that are needed to keep the boat functioning. One wise piece of advice that we have heard is to never to pass a water point without stopping and topping up. We are lucky enough to have central heating on board which runs from the batteries which are charged whenever we are cruising. However, what happens when we moor up for a few days, batteries will quickly lose charge coping with hot water and all of the electrical applications that make daily life bearable? How would we charge our mobiles and I pads? One option is running the motor – which then acts as a generator, charging the batteries, However, we do not really want to have to do this unnecessarily: it’s a bit noisy, slightly smelly so could disturb fellow boaters. As it runs on diesel, we also think of our carbon footprint and only use when we have to.

So, with this in mind, we made a decision: we needed solar panels.

We did lots of research and lots of chatting to fellow boaters and there seem to be two basic types: rigid ones with a border, usually sitting on a bracket that enables the position to be pivoted; and flexible ones that are almost paper thin. If we went with the first kind, then they are permanently fixed to the roof, taking up a large area which could then not be used for anything else. So we opted for the flexible kind and decided to have them fixed to some rooftop storage boxes, so using the space for two purposes.

I found rooftop boxes for sale on Etsy, they were curved to follow the standard contour of a narrowboat roof but these were only supplied with a tarpaulin cover, kept in place with bungee cords. What we needed were ones that had 2 lids, one each side, hinged in the middle. I duly contacted the supplier and he agreed to make each of them to a specified size, 1200mm x 1200mm which would fit a solar panel of 556 mm x 1165 mm on each side and with the lids that we needed. 4 solar panels should give us the power that we needed to keep the batteries topped up while we are moored. Happy days.

Picture on Etsy and what we thought we would be ordering

Our trusty electrician at the marina ordered the panels and we were all set to have the boxes delivered and the panels installed in early March. That was until we were contacted in mid January by the manufacturer of the boxes to say that he had injured his back and would not be able to supply them and he had no idea how long he would be incapacitated for.

Panic!!

I have joined a buy and sell site for the Newbury area on Facebook and so I posted a request for any local carpenters who could create something similar, asking them to get in touch. Several people responded with recommendations, with the same two names cropping up. We arranged to meet both of them at the marina to discuss this and some other small carpentry jobs needed on the inside of the boat.

One man cycled 9 miles to come and talk to us and he seemed very keen to do the work. We did not pick him though as he did not produce the asked for quote when he promised and despite several attempts to reach him, he appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

The second carpenter, Gareth, seemed equally capable and actually provided the quotes when promised and so we got the box production under way.

This past weekend we made a trip up for the delivery of the boxes, which were eagerly anticipated and we were not disappointed. Such beautiful craftsmanship, made using marine plywood, adjustable rubber legs so that the roof would not be scratched, slatted inside to allow air to circulate and all finished off with white weatherproof paint. We are so pleased with the finished result.

One of the boxes before heaving up onto the roof

As the boxes each weigh in at 40kg each (88lbs for our North American followers), the job of getting them on to the top of the boat was a little tricky. The boat is moored alongside another boat, Annie, which is approx 3 feet away. No bank or jetty to stand on, just the gunwale and we know how tricky Rob finds balancing on this. Getting them to their resting point required some acrobatics and contortion-ism but luckily Gareth had brought along 2 strong helpers.

Underside of boxes are cleverly done with slats so allowing air to circulate.
In place awaiting solar panels.
Solar Panels fitted – All we need now is sunshine
Close up of one the Barden Sunpower 100W Panels

The Solar panels are each 100W in potential output – 400 watts in total. They are connected to the electrical system through the inverter. The electrician configured them so that their power will be used ahead of any battery with only the additional draw being taken from the batteries or shoreline, if attached. When the draw is less than the solar power generated, they will charge the batteries until full. The panels cost £160 each. Here is a link with more information on the panels in case you are interested:

Click to access Barden_SPR-E-Flex-100-Datasheet.pdf

Whilst all this was going on, Rob decided that as the level of the water tank was so low, now would be a good time to drain it and give the inside a clean. The tank is situated in the bow and is basically part of the hull with a wall to contain the water. After turning on the kitchen tap and draining the last of it, there appeared to be some brown sludge in the bottom. During the normal process of filling up the tank from the shore we use a hose pipe and lift the lid, however it is impossible to stop bits of leaves, insects etc from entering. The side of the tank was also rusting slightly in a couple of places. Thankfully this kind of stuff settles in the bottom of the tank and so is not normally a bother. To make safe drinking water we have a large Britta water dispenser that we keep inside and top up directly from a shore tap. The water from the bow tank is used for washing dishes and showering.

We could not think of an effective way of cleaning out the stuff that had settled in the bottom of the tank until Rob had the brainwave of using nappies. Highly absorbent and easy to use. So, off we went to Tesco to get a packet, settling on new born size after much debating, our theory was that although there were smaller, you got more in a packet.

Upon our return, Rob decided that the easiest way to get this job done was to take off his socks and shoes and to climb in to the tank.

A hilarious sight, I’m sure you agree!

Like the new ‘Masthead’?

Having seen the sludge that came out of the tank and the fact that Rob did not wash his feet prior to this had made us realise that we need a water purifier/ filter fitted under the sink. Whilst we will continue to use the Britta jug for drinking water, the filter will make the water at the kitchen sink much cleaner.

Feels like we are almost there – just the b@**£y house to sell now! Damned storms and now coronavirus making it much harder to achieve this.

Can we please have some normality?