Sunday 27 February 2011


You have to feel sorry for Mum this weekend. Her main 'hobby' if you like is chatting to chums on the Guardian readers' chat forum "Guardian Unlimited" (GU). Over ten years or so she has got well into this, made some very firm friends many of which she has met in real life too.
They discuss serious stuff like politics as well as more superficial subjects like cooking, make up etc, and often also take off in flights of fancy imagining they are in a private club where they all can adopt bizarre personae and construct histories or comment on the decor and catering. They have been going so long now that some of them have got even friendlier and got married, had children or sometimes fallen ill and helped each other through bad times.
Big shock then on Saturday morning when Diamond (who's another ardent GU-er) phones Mum to say that the Guardian newspaper has decided to close the service, no longer support it, take down the site with no warning. They are distraught.... bereft! They Twitter and Facebook in protest but it is to no avail. They are cut adrift. What will they all do - how will the contact each other to decide what they are doing?
Luckily enough of them have each other's real email names and addresses (on GU they use secret 'handles' like CB radio names in the 80's) that they find another site which will have them (all be it the same, no-longer-supported software) and the word spreads. They battle their various ways in. It's like a survivors camp after a traumatic natural disaster, an earthquake or a flood, they all hug each other and chatter excitedly as they compare notes on how the disaster was for them, how they found out, how they battled through and found everyone again, and then how they are worried that person x or y has not appeared yet.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we head for Hastings again to look up Pud Lady. We must go via Canterbury, so we decide to go a bit different with the food and drink - instead of French fizz, Dad decides to try a sparkling wine in champagne style but made in Tenterden in Kent. Climate change is warming up England's SE and it is now getting more sensible to 'do' champagne in Kent and Sussex than in the original area of northern France around Riems and Epernay, but because the real thing has protected geographical status, they cannot call it 'champagne'.
As well as the fizz, Mum and Dad buy some of the meal deals now in M+S (we're doing 'posh' coz it's the Pud Lady and she's worth it!), a fish casserole but also a creamy, coconutty mild fish curry. This latter is a bit tongue in cheek. Pud Lady is 82 and had been married to Stamp Man for going on 55 years for all of which Stamp Man liked his good old English meat and 2 veg. Spaghetti Bolognese was about as 'foreign' as he'd go and Pud Lady always gave a slight impression that she'd love to go a bit more adventurous was she not reined in by Stamp Man. She has never, to Dad's knowledge, tried curry, chilli, anything too garlicky, bizarre cheeses (always Cheddar), sushi, Chinese or anything else 'beyond the pale'.
So Dad introduces the mild curry as only a small taster portion so that Pud Lady can at least try it and decide whether it's anywhere she wants to go exploring. "Curry?" says Pud Lady, raising her eyebrows in alarm but, fair play to her, she tries it, commenting on the hot after-flavour (only hot compared to what she is used to!) but eating it (and the real menu of fish casserole) and leaving her plate clean. Dessert is an apricot version of 'Tarte Tatin'. She looks quite pleased with herself as if she feels she has passed an important test, or a milestone. More importantly she finds some oxtail bones in the fridge from her meal yesterday with Dad's brother "T-fer" which she gives to us.
And of course, this is Hastings, where Pud Lady's wild and wooded garden gives access through badger holes under the fence to all the other gardens in the 'Crescent' (of roads) and Dad cocks a deaf 'un as I slide under and go off exploring the neighbouring territory.
Hope you're all having a great weekend

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Pink Ice

Reminder to Diamond. When you come round for a meal or a drink with Mum and Dad, and you sneak a bottle of pink Cava into the freezer for a quick chill to make it drink-able, you have to remember to take it out again.
Don't worry - it didn't all go to waste, some of it got used (thawed out, obviously) in the stock of a rather good belly pork recipe which Mum cooked for Dad a few days later, by which time we'd found the rather picturesque pile of soft pink crystals. We suppose the bottle survived because it was a good strong champagne style one.

Monday 14 February 2011

Red Belly

A quick picture of some of the boys down under the barge painting red anti-foul paint onto Cambria's belly. It's a bit of a confined space but the 65 tonnes of barge are well supported by the massive steel 'wedding cake tier supports' and huge baulks of timber. The barge's bottom is about 85 feet long and 23 feet wide, so takes some time to get a good coat on.
Meanwhile, Dad finishes his weekend cover and is happy to 'hand the operation back to the operators'. He's now off call and can ignore the works mobile. That might be the last time he ever does a weekend cover, what with Project Erroll an' all.
Both humans remembered that it was Valentine's Day and did the necessary with cards and so on. I don't get one, as nobody loves me. Dad is then intrigued to get one in the post, posted in Kent and purporting to be from (2 different hand writings) "Secret Admirer #1" and "Secret Admirer #2". He has his suspicions as the note mentions 'keelsons' which are the inner keel of a sailing barge. Hmmmm
We love a mystery (Wasn't me guv')

Saturday 12 February 2011

Sparrowhawk 1, Collared Dove 0

Well, the troops survived their funeral for the Stamp Man and looked after poor aul' Pud Lady in her difficult time. Everybody's coping OK down there.
Meanwhile, back up here it's all gone a bit manic as Dad's work starts to move the troops from the old site to the new, the second stage in a massive game of 1200-piece Solitaire which is concentrating everyone's minds at the moment. Dad is also back on the weekend cover this weekend so is up on the 04:15 alarm and heading in to work, back at 11-ish but straight down to the barge where painting is nearing completion. Only then can we have a goodly walk all around the back of, and through the allotments, where Dad wants to pull some leeks out of the soggy ground (all humans now mime the pulling finger out of cheek, plopping noise).
As we get home I sense there is something in the orchard-garden and chase down there, putting to flight our old chum the sparrow hawk, who has nailed a collared dove and beheaded it, but has only got as far as starting to pluck the body. We have extra white-ness in the snowdrop patch, provided by the small circle of dove feathers. The still-warm body goes onto the compost heap and is buried under leaves before a small white dog can show too much interest in it.
Mum and Diamond have been shopping and return here for snacks and a nice long reminiscence chat about June 2009 when Diamond was at death's door with her Leukemia. We can smile about it now, but it was not a good time.
Heh ho, all adds to life's rich pattern.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Back in the Water Soon

With the hull nearly complete and the crew well through the painting job on Sailing Barge Cambria, the talk is turning to the refloat date. Back in the water for the first time in 17 years! The plan at the moment is dependent upon high Spring Tides which are due to peak on or around the full moons of Feb 21st and March 21st. The Feb ones will be used to move Cambria and her lighter / drydock to a deeper part of the Creek, where the tides have naturally scoured out the mud.
There will then be a mad month of preparation to finish making her top-sides rain proof and removing the 3-year-long cocoon of polytunnel, prior to an attempt to float her out over the back lip of the drydock on 21st March. Everyone points out, though that these 'high tides' are notoriously unpredictable and depend heavily on what storm events are going on in the North Sea and sending extra water up the Swale and then up Faversham Creek. It's going to be a tense month for the team.
Meanwhile we've had a nice relaxing weekend and some good walks. With the barge-painting job almost finished, Dad can spend fewer hours down there in his overalls and more time with us. He has even taken us one walk via the allotments; this almost as part of psyching himself up to return up there after 3 months when he's been unable to turn a spade-full because it's either been soggy wet, snowy or frozen solid. Now though it's warning and drying and things are starting to move. In our own garden we have a fine show of snow drops now, plenty of daffs poking through the ground and some buds expanding on shrubs and trees.
On the social side we had a lovely dinner yesterday with Diamond, John and (unfortunately) Rags-the-ASBO who I still do not love like I have been told I should. I am a constant source of despair to Mum and Dad as I sit up high on easy chairs curling my lip at him as he ambles about in a restless but unconcerned manner. Dogs! they say. Who'd have them?
Tomorrow spare a thought for Mum and Dad (and the Pud Lady) as the troops head for Hastings and Stamp Man's funeral.
Look after yourselves