Sunday, 25 September 2016

Boat NoShow

Southampton Boat Show drew us to Drifter yesterday, on the pretext that we would watch the air display from the water. It was enough even to tempt Vicki, though we should have known better.
The display consisted merely of two Spitfires, which whilst diverting hardly constituted a show. But it was fun to cruise past the hordes and boats at Southampton, and especially to see the tall ships.
We put Martin in the child seat to start with, to stop him fidgeting.
But eventually he escaped. We zigzagged (I believe the term 'tack' to be overrated) down Southampton Water until the wind died, then moseyed back up again.

And that was that!

National Sloth Service

The problem with celebrating the wonders of the NHS at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony is that ever since we have been wondering why we lost the soft blue and white uniforms, Victorian bedsteads and cheery nurses.
I am beginning to wonder, too, whether other parts of the NHS are stuck in the nineteenth century. Or maybe even earlier: for wasn't it possible at some point to have handwritten notes delivered on the very day they were written?

Over a fortnight ago I had a hospital appointment, the outcome of which was that it was recommended I see a specialist. I was told to go back to my GP for a referral, though inexplicably told to wait two weeks before I did so.

So over two weeks later I toddled down to see my GP... to be told he had heard nothing and could therefore do nothing.

For it turns out that although you might see a medical professional who appears to be writing notes in manuscript and then on a computer, the resulting contact with your GP is made in the form of a physical letter. Printed. Enveloped. Stamped. Collected, ferried and sorted, then delivered if you are lucky to the surgery. Opened. Scanned. And eventually delivered digitally to your GP.

Leaving aside the wasted print, paper and postage costs, how can this ever be a 21st century contribution to slick medical care? What a waste of time, both mine and theirs.

Having already quizzed the medic in question over why he was asking me whether I had had relevant scans, X-rays and the like (it turns out they do not collect these results on an individual's records, so cannot readily pull up information that you would have thought vital to the diagnostic process) I left shaking my head in despair.

What is the point? Why have a national service unless it can communicate vital (sometimes literally) information quickly and efficiently? In this digital age, when even Tesco knows what I eat  and Facebook how I feel, why don't I have an NHS 'account' that holds all my details, available at the click of a mouse to those who need to know?

And you're surely not telling me that a multi-step paper and postman system is any more secure?

Do I sound like a curmudgeonly old bat? I don't want to do this, I really don't want to knock a system that was founded on the very best of principles and was the envy of the world  for innovation and egalitarianism. But from right here it looks very broken indeed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Sunny September

So far it has been a September of two halves.

The first two weeks were gloriously sunny, with temperatures around 10 degrees above average for the month, and reaching the highest temperature of the year to date (and hottest September day since 1911).

So it has come as a bit of a shock in the last few days to find an autumnal chill in the air of a morning, and darkness descending before dinner time.
Luckily Rosie chose a good weekend to pop back with Harry for a day sail, which they both seemed to enjoy, and gave Martin a great excuse to be back out on Drifter. He was able also to go out this weekend for a day with Ian, and we entertained Ian & Deborah, Sarah, Bill and Emily to dinner on Sunday, which was lovely.

Saturday was the big work event of the year for me, as it was the alumni reunion day. Fortunately the weather held, though we brought the Pimms Reception indoors due to a chilly wind. The event took loads of planning, especially as I didn't really know what I was doing, but it all seemed to come together on the day and I have had some nice thanks this week (and a whopper of a complaint).

The icing on the cake at this time of year is... for Max! He turned 21 on Sunday, our wee baby all growed up and mature and wonderful. He had partied with friends the night before so we spoiled him with a huge cooked breakfast, and went out together to watch Finding Dory then bring back a takeaway.
Vicki helped me bake a cake symbolizing rebellion against white oppression
...then conjured up macchiato
..and cake for the workmates
Rugby season is back, so Max is coming home regularly with bruised and sprained limbs but nothing more severe to date. However he has not fared so well with the car: coming home from a match on Saturday he was forced to stop on the hard shoulder of the M27, and waited from 5.20pm until 8.40pm for the RAC to come at all, at which point they merely dispatched a tow truck to bring him home. So bang went his and Vicki's transport for the week. 

Meanwhile I had a trip to the hospital in Andover which resulted in them telling me they couldn't find a pulse in my right arm in certain positions, so I am now off back to my GP at some point to see what they make of that. Choir has started again so my car sings carols to me on the way to work: not always welcome. And half term is coming up in just a couple of weeks, so I can break free from the tyranny of tights for a brief few days.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Goodbye Oxford

Victoria is home, after finishing her degree with a high 2:1 (a First in Spanish, 2:1 in Philosophy) and working in Magdalen Library hefting books until the expiry of her lease a couple of weekends ago.
We got back from our boat trip just in time for Martin to go and fetch her worldly belongings (including a large desk, but not her) from Great Clarendon Street. Vicki and her friends Lili and Troy followed later, enjoying some down time and even a trip to Corfe Castle (in Dorset?).

It has been lovely having Vicki back, she is a great cook and good company for Max, and a pleasure to have around. But she is not really 'here' of course: she has been off on holiday in Italy, off to meet Rosie in London, attend an interview and parties with friends, and now off camping with a friend.

And we have the pleasure of her graduation ceremony to look forward to at some point!

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Why aren't bicycles made for two?

Two sexes, that is.

Why are cycles a different shape for men and women? Individuals of either sex can be slight or heavy, strong or delicate, wear clothing not designed for a hurdle-like raising of the leg on mounting. 

And you're not telling me that in this age of graphene, any structural weaknesses of a lower crossbar cannot be corrected by ingenious design or materials.
Yesterday Rosie was at home so we decided to cycle down to Stockbridge for a pub lunch. Her bike had a chain problem so we used my 'little-old-lady' bike plus a men's off-roader, and the inconvenience of throwing one leg high over the saddle to reach the other side struck us both. Not to mention the inherent risks of a hard landing for delicate areas.

So why don't both men's and ladies bicycles sport an easy-come, easy-go, risk-averse low crossbar?

And whilst we are focused on daft design, can anyone tell me why the designers of ladies' knitwear have suddenly lost the plot?

I pull on a jumper when I am cold. I thought that was the whole point. So my rather standard requirements for a jumper are: warmth and comfort.

No scratchy materials, no waist-skimming designs that leave my belly exposed, no three-quarter length sleeves (I can pull my own sleeves up, thank you very much, but always have cold wrists and expect that a jumper will provide) and ABSOLUTELY NO unnecessary holes.

I 'get' that designers feel the need to innovate. But surely the apogee of design is the achievement of both aesthetic and practical perfection? And anyway, if I want hip design I can brave teen fashion stores or wherever it is that moneyed fashionistas shop. But this is middle-aged, middle-England M&S:
They even call this 'long sleeve jumper.' Maybe on a ten-year old, but to me that looks questionable at the waist, whilst my wrists would be turning purple. And their next 'long sleeve jumper' is still worse:
Perfect long sleeves, just my thing. But wait, it has HOLES at the shoulders. For Indian summer tanning? To sport a few come-hither goose-bumps? Perhaps a simple ploy to create a Christmas market for shoulder warmers?

As for jumpers with built-in collar and tails to look as though you are wearing another layer, let's not even go there. Enough middle-aged moaning for one day: time to zip up.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Island Hopping

It seems that we have fallen into a seasonal tradition of taking a two-week summer break aboard Drifter. Not necessarily what I would have chosen, and not necessarily something I would like taken for granted, but as it happens we once again had a super holiday.
Martin was keen to get away on Friday as the winds were set fair to cross the dreaded Channel. Not dreaded, I hasten to add, on account of anything other than a fear that if anything were to go wrong, I wouldn't be able to get us back to safety. As it turned out, Martin ended up doing virtually the whole trip alone whilst I kept my head down (and little else) below.

We zoomed along in perfect winds and sunshine out to The Needles, but the seas became quite roily as we turned the corner, making me very dizzy. I wasn't good for much after that, so Martin pretty much sailed us single-handed right through the night until we reached the Alderney coast around 5am next morning. Actually we wondered later whether I had a bit of food poisoning, as we had bought takeaway pizzas from Longparish's newly-re-opened pub the night before (Vicki was home for a couple of days) and I had had a headache and upset tummy all night, and felt poorly for the whole of the next day too.

Anyway, we arrived at Braye Harbour on a grey morning, grabbing a visitors' buoy behind the breakwater and tucked ourselves down for a couple of hours.
We awoke to find the Birdman of Braye competition going on from the inner Crabby Harbour wall. Finally we blew up the dinghy and went ashore on our first island of the trip. Despite being lukewarm the showers were refreshing, giving us the energy to walk up the steep road to the village centre where we found hot sunshine and cool beers.

We had intended to leave the following lunchtime, when tides were favourable for the next leg, but just as the hour drew nigh a thick fog descended. As it turned out it was no bad thing to be stuck on Alderney for another day: we enjoyed a quick tour of French and English lifeboats moored up as part of Alderney Week, took a long walk around the coast to the east where we found a frisbee to play with on the beach, eventually managed to clamber round to a fort on the next headland, and even saw a firework display across the harbour as night fell.
The next morning we walked across the island towards the airport, and bought fresh courgettes from a front doorstep as well as fruit and veg from the village shop, and a basil plant to accompany us on our voyage to the next island target.
Guernsey was about a five hour sail away in sunshine and force 5 winds, great fun and also provided the first mackerel of the trip. We sailed past a huge cruise ship anchored close to shore before reaching a waiting pontoon around 5pm at the entrance to Victoria Marina, a beautiful harbour overlooked by a smart main street hung with blooming baskets of flowers.
We spent the time drinking bubbly and cooking a delicious meal (including first fresh mackerel) as the tide rose to breach the sill.
The harbour master eventually peeled off the boats that had rafted to wait alongside us, and led us to a mooring around 10pm.
Next morning St Peter Port welcomed us with sunshine and hot showers. We spent a lovely day wandering the little streets of shops, buying a new jumper and shortie wetsuit for Martin and new cotton dress for me, and finding delicious food to cook in the M&S just across the street. We also tried to sort out Martin's phone, which had failed to charge and remained dead for the entire holiday.
Borrowing M's new sweatshirt
In the afternoon we took a long walk along the south shore to get to Fermain Bay: difficult as it was poorly signposted and we lost our map, but we found our way there eventually after many beautiful sea views over the clifftops.
Fermain turned out to be a stony beach down many steps, where Martin swam whilst I read (The Night Manager) before we recharged with muffin and mugs of tea at the beach cafe.
On the recommendation of our neighbour boat, we caught a bus back (for just £2 each), stopping just to buy more ice and catch a few Pokemon for my collection before G&Ts aboard and a delicious meal from the last of our home supplies.

The following day was Martin's birthday so for a treat we had breakfast at a French cafe in town, followed by a trip to the chandlery. By the time we returned the queue for showers had depleted, and it was time for coffee and presents.
Next it was a ferry trip to Herm so that Martin could check out the course through rocks. The island is small and we set of to walk around the northern end, stopping just short of Shell Beach for a bit of sunbathing on the white sand (and Martin swam)
followed eventually by a thirst-quenching beer and sandwich lunch across on the south side before catching the ferry back to St. Peter Port.
When the Harbour Master came to check our papers Martin had  enquired about good spots for a birthday dinner, with the result that later that evening we crossed the road to a restaurant called Red for a delicious celebration meal. And home was just a short waddle back to the boat.

Celebrations over, we left Guernsey next day once the tide was clear of the sill, and Martin navigated us through the rocky waters back towards Herm, where we anchored at Belvoir Bay on the southeast shore in gorgeous sunshine...though still not sufficiently hot for me to be tempted into the water. Martin, however, donned his new shortie and after a relaxing lunch popped over the side to do some bottom-scrubbing.
Mission accomplished we then set sail towards the distant outline of Guernsey. What can I tell you? More sea. More sun. More wrapped-up-to-the-nines against the breeze, suncream-slathered and sunglass-clad sailing whilst M'sieur loitered in his shorts and T-shirt.
I think it was on this leg that we actually saw a pod of dolphins! So unexpected, a real treat to see their agile shapes curling through the waves, bringing a smile and thrill to an otherwise empty sea.We arrived at our destination 5 hours or so later, mooring at another waiting pontoon (indeed, pushed along to the very tip to make way for following boats, which instead rafted alongside us, pah) until the seas rose above another sill. This time we were first off, and Martin had already scoped out the lie of the land, spotting a spot at the far end of the harbour, hard up against the wall.

St Helier is nowhere near as attractive as St Peter Port, especially at night when all you can see is the top end of tower blocks, and all you can hear is the carp and clamour of traffic along the major highways. I was awoken early in the morning by an alarm and remained rawly alert until another hot shower and a walk into town for provisions yielded a boat breakfast of Guernsey milk and fresh croissants topped with Guernsey butter. Jersey had a lot to make up.
Martin eating cooked breakfast aboard
It turned out Jersey's best was not in the town itself, where we wandered together for a while but buying nothing. By mid-morning we felt the need to get away from civilisation, so found the bus station and took the most convenient bus, which turned out to be going North to Rozel Bay.

We clambered over rocks to find a good spot to eat our sandwiches, then Martin swam back to the main beach where I met him for some lazy reading in the sun.
Feeling we ought to be more active we then set off along the coastal path to see if we could reach the next bay along and get a return bus from there. It turned out to be another trail with amazing views around every corner and in a rich palette of blue skies and sea, green growth and purple heathers.
It was tempting to strip off on the footpath, we saw barely anyone and it was so balmy, plus we already looked a little crazy, having donned floppy hats for the majority of the holiday to keep the sun off our faces (and in particular off my always-red nose). Instead we waited for cooling therapy until the cliff path dropped down into Bouley Bay, right at the door of a pub serving chilled Guiness just steps away from the bus stop. Perfect!
By the time we were back in St Helier it was time to head out for the Battle of the Flowers, for which we had bought standing tickets that morning. Crowds spread all along the closed main carriageway overlooking St Aubin's Bay for a moonlit parade of floats covered in real flowers and garlanded with lights. We bought sausages and local cider then clambered up a steep bank to get a good view and ended up chatting to a lovely lady sitting knitting as she waited for her husband to join her. They filled us in on how the floats were made, what to watch out for and generally were great company as we watched the procession go by against the backdrop of Elizabeth Castle across the bay.
The winner was an amazing rocking pirate ship covered in shades of white and grey flowers, with music, action and lights bringing it to life.
Festivities ended with an aerial firework performance by a pair of light aircraft trailing and firing sparkling fireworks, which were innovative and graceful, a dance in the sky. But it needed the following boom and burst of traditional fireworks to draw a proper finale to a fun evening.

The next morning we left as soon as the water was above the sill, but too early for tides down to the next island, so instead pootled round to the Eastern side of Jersey to Gorey Harbour. Having considered anchoring, we ended up finding a visitors' buoy not far from the harbour wall and took the dinghy ashore.
Walking around the pretty harbourside we passed under a big sign warning us of our gory fate... or perhaps that was 'Gorey Fete', for it transpired we had again landed in village celebrations. We found ice creams then established a base on the empty, soft sands and eventually even I was tempted into the water for a swim.
Later that evening we walked up the steep hillside to the Crab Shack, on recommendation from a local. Martin enjoyed his oysters but sadly my lobster left a lot to be desired, not least because it and the accompanying salad were served with a paper sheet of some kind betwixt them and the plate. Why, oh why? Try to cut or prod your food onto a fork and you end up with a mouthful of soggy, shredded paper. I did send a message to the chef, but it didn't spoil a lovely view, and the accompanying wine soothed and sorted.
Perhaps the wine was also responsible for us completely forgetting the tides? We returned to the jetty to find that even our dinghy, let alone the boat, was high and dry and there was no way to get back aboard without waddling through a significant amount of mud. So we took ourselves back to a harbourside restaurant and sat happily outside, warmed by a heater, as the tide crept back in. A party at Mont Orgueil Castle just above us provided a musical backdrop, and a firework display which had us running to the breakwater for the best view rounded off another perfect evening.

Sunday saw us sailing from Gorey to Iles Chausey, six hours or so more sunshine and breeze to reach a ridiculous-looking collection of rocks poking out of the sea. According to their tourist website
"Chausey, like the Mont St-Michel just to the south, experiences some of the largest tidal variations in the world. The statistics speak eloquently. The variation between high and low tide reaches up to 14 metres, roughly the height of a four-storey building. Even more amazingly, while only 65 hectares of land stand above the waters at high tide, 40 square kilometres are revealed by the lowest tides – that’s around 100 times more!"
It's a good thing Martin is both a careful sailor and knows his charts and Drifter well, or we might have run aground at any point. As it was, we sailed round barely seeing a soul then turned into a harbour where it turned out a huge regatta was going on, with ferries arriving and departing, bands playing and boat races taking place in and around the many boats on buoys. Great atmosphere and a great surprise! We hoisted our celebration bunting and settled down to enjoy lunch and a lazy afternoon.
As the evening drew on the crowds left, and we were asked to move off our buoy so went further upstream to raft with other boats on double buoys for the night.
The boat inside us wanted to be off at 8.30am so we left then for a day's sail almost due north along the French coast, again in beautiful sunshine and perfect winds. By late afternoon we were sipping G&Ts as we passed Portbail and recognised the dune-edged beaches we know so well.
Before we knew it we had found Carteret and the marina that we had explored about three years ago when owning a boat was just a pipe dream. Time for a  rapid shower and long, cool Stella, mmmm...
So it being our 29th wedding anniversary we decided to take ourselves out for a decent meal. We walked the length of Carteret checking out restaurants and cafes, but by the time we were hungry enough to eat they were all full and asking us to come back two hours later! Eventually we plumped for a place that had space, and it became clear precisely why when we tasted the food. Never mind, we still had a lovely evening and feel justified in taking ourselves out for a treat somewhere smart once we get home.

Next morning we had to wait for the tide to come in again over another sill, so having stopped in town for coffee, fresh croissants and food supplies we walked with a delicious picnic around the end of the marina and across the river at the top.
It was roasting hot so we stopped on the beach for a swim and read before paddling through the trails of water at the harbour entrance to reach the other side of Carteret and cooling ices, eventually completing the circle back to the boat just in time to leave as it rose past the sill.
By now it was looking as though some bad weather would be arriving by the end of the week, and we wanted to get home in time to pick Vicki up from Oxford as well as give ourselves time to clean up and recover. So Martin planned a stopover in Dielette, followed by an early morning departure to capture what benefit we could from the tides across the Channel.

Dielette was a short three-hour hop away in perfect conditions, though you do have to pass the enormous Flamanville Nuclear Power Plant on the coast before reaching the harbour. Yet again we arrived in perfect time for bubbly aboard, followed by moules-frites at the harbourside cafe: rustic yet perfect.
No-one was available to take our berthing fees so it was a cheap night all round, especially as Martin had left his wallet on the boat when we passed a tempting gaufres van.

The night was still and sunset beautiful, hard to believe that this tranquil setting was home to such a huge and controversial nuclear plant, though recent controversy over the new buildings has clearly resulted in investment of a peculiarly large sum of money in improving the road surface, providing smart new children's play structures and a broad, blue-lit, two-lane cycle path, all of which ends abruptly at the barriered gates to the plant.
So this was our last view of Normandy. We were up at 5.30am next morning to head north once more, and very soon lost sight of land. Fortunately this time we were both able to enjoy the sailing, though I did leave Martin to it for a while to read a book down below (there is a limit, for me, to the pleasure to be gained from endless sea).

At one stage we passed some fishing boats so Martin dropped the fishing line, but had caught four big mackerel within about ten minutes, so given that we could eat no more that was not an enduring source of entertainment. However, we had also brought a packet of bread mix, which Martin mixed and kneaded from time to time, producing a delicious tomato/herb loaf for lunch.
We finally rounded The Needles in good spirits, the wind dropping as we too dropped with relief into Yarmouth Marina in the early evening, indulging ourselves with more hot showers and a walk-ashore berth.

Thursday dawned sunny once again and we went ashore to explore Yarmouth's pretty village centre, including a visit to the chandlery, bakery and ice-provider. We bought a plastic coffee press as a birthday present for Drifter (who turned 28 on our wedding anniversary) so delighted in proper ground coffee at breakfast.

Martin was keen to see The Needles from the headland, which I thought too far away, but we set off anyway along the coastal path. It turns out we nearly made it, getting all the way to Alum Bay and with fantastic views back along the Solent as the landscape opened, but the bulk of the path went through woodland or rather more trashy bits of coast, so we weren't desperate to walk back the same way, choosing instead to get a bus back from Alum Bay to Yarmouth.
The colours of the heather and sea were wonderful, hard to do justice in a photograph but we were astonished by how beautiful it all looked.
So there was little to do next day but up sticks and go home. We had a day in hand so instead we headed over to Ocean Village Marina in Southampton for a free night, and took ourselves out for a meal at a quiet restaurant. They gave us a strange end berth with fingers on both sides, so we were well clear of other boats and Martin kindly let me manouevre a little to gain confidence.
Next morning it was drizzling so we delayed motoring across the river as we started tidying and packing up. But there was only so long we could delay the end of our holiday, and eventually we trundled the short distance back to Hythe and unpacked in the rain, chuffed that, thanks to Martin's careful planning, this was the first time we got wet in the entire fortnight.
Love those engine checks
And what did we learn from our trip? How to catch Pokemon, certainly: Max had set it up on my phone before we left, and it gave us a splendid excuse to wander foreign climes, trapping Weedle and Drowsey as we went (and inculcating a fearsome competitiveness which Martin continues to feed).
Hunting for pokemon at sea
Martin even found a real pokeball at the beach, but we never found out what it had caught.
We also discovered you can have too much fresh fish. Martin caught mackerel from our first day, cooking and presenting it beautifully for lunch, but though we ate plenty during the trip we resisted fishing on several occasions so as not to waste any fishy lives.
Most of all, we discovered we can have a lovely holiday in a small space, can cope with wearing ridiculous headwear and sporting red cheeks and noses, that the Channel Islands are a delight... and that I still have no burning desire for a boat holiday of any greater length.