Thursday, 30 August 2012

August birthdays and days out

I've been told that my posts are too long and I should do shorter and maybe more frequent one's. Well, I'll try, but this one's got to be for most of August since it's now almost over.

August and into September is a busy time for birthdays for us, it starts off with Fiona, my daughter, on 15th (now 33, can you believe it, my daughter! Not possible surely), followed by Jenny, my youngest granddaughter (8) on 18th, Abbie, my eldest granddaughter on 22nd (14 - yes, 14!!), Steph, my niece on 26th, me on 27th, Charles, Jackie's nephew on 31st, Paul, my brother-in-law on 1st September and Caroline, Jackie's niece on 11th September.

For my family we had a BBQ on Sunday 19th and, mercifully, the sun shone and it was hot! Denise (my sister) and Paul came along with Fiona and Vince (not met Vince before, but he seemed a really nice guy), with Abbie, Becky and Jenny. We had a great afternoon/early evening ate lots of food, handed around lots of presents (it felt like Christmas) and, for those of us not driving, drank lots.The kids seemed to enjoy themselves, dashing in and out of the garden and over the play area just outside our back gate. We had a great time, but I realised too late that I hadn't taken any photos. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was sunny and we enjoyed it. I was just too busy cooking stuff on the BBQ (and I didn't burn anything!).

We had a couple of days to ourselves while Jackie did early shifts at work (up at 04:50!) and then, on Wednesday Pauline (Jackie's mum) and I drove down to Waddesden near Aylesbury (while Jackie did her final early shift) to collect Charles and Caroline for a few days. We met them in our usual layby rendezvous where Lucy (their mum), unloaded into our boot enough kit to seemingly last 3 weeks and off we went.

Our first stop was lunch at the Lickey Hills visitor centre, followed by an hours climbing (for them) over the boulder, specially created for kids next to the big play area and then a walk up to Beacon Hill, the highest point on the Lickey's and home to a small fort built to commemorate the gift of the hill by the Cadbury brothers to the people in 1909. Charles insisted he wanted to walk up despite my warning that it was a long way and uphill, but in the event it was a lot shorter than I remembered and they had no problems at all. In fact they thought that if that was my idea of a long walk, they'd be able to do anything I could do!
The 'long walk' up to Beacon Hill
On the fort after Jackie had joined us

On Thursday we decided to try something completely different; we hired a narrowboat for the day and went cruising on the Grand Union canal near Solihull. It was a 'day cruiser' only, didn't have any sleeping areas so was shorter than the normal one's seen, coming in at about 32 feet (around 10m), making it possible to do a U turn in most areas of the canal. It was diesel engine driven, had a tiller at the back for steering, an enclosed area in the centre with a kitchen, toilet and dining area and an open section at the front:
Our narrowboart

What fun it was (but also a bit scary at first). We collected it at Copt Heath Wharf, which is just by junction 5 of the M42 and had full instruction from the very friendly owner. He took us through all the controls, the 'rules of the canal' and went with us to turn it round so we could head off towards Knowle and the 5 canal locks situated there. we could have gone the other way towards Solihull, but going through locks sounded quite exciting. He even met us at the first lock to show us what to do.

My first hour or so was a bit nerve wracking while I navigated along at a slow speed to understand how it responded to steering. Before I'd fully got the hang of it we arrived at the locks and there was our host ready and waiting to show us what to do. The first lock was full, so ready for us to enter straight away, but steaming up behind us was another narrowboat, crewed by seasoned people. The lock was wide enough for us both, so in we went together (scary or what!). Pauline, Charles, Caroline and Jackie closed the gates behind us while the others opened the paddle at the other gate to empty our lock. The water level dropped quite quickly and I found myself at the bottom with huge walls either side. They opened the lock and we moved the two boats out side by side to the next lock, where the whole procedure was repeated in a very slick fashion. We won't have the benefit of their experience on the way back I thought, but lets worry about that later!
Caroline at the first lock
The lock gates open as we wait side-by-side - not much room is there!
We cruised on down in quite nice weather, stopping a few times and eventually found a nice spot for our picnic lunch that Pauline had prepared for us
Mr. Cool at The Helm!
Caroline and Jackie on Lookout duties at the sharp end

'Ron' was there, following us along
Watch this fella, they can break your arm you know!

Going back up through the locks was a bit more eventful as there was no-one to help us. Jackie decided to have a go at driving the boat (is that what you say, driving? It can't be sailing as there's no sails) and the 4 of us set about filling and emptying the locks with the paddles and opening the locks. Charles insisted he would open all the paddles, something that was incredibly hard to do, so I went to the other side to help Pauline and Caroline. I opened it OK, turning it clockwise a number of times until it was fully open, but I forgot the lesson of 'not letting go'. You're supposed to put a little 'C' washer chained to each paddle to lock it in the open position. If you don't, gravity takes over and the lever spins out of control as the paddle drops. I managed to grab it after a couple of revolutions, but got a small cut on my arm! Lesson learned!

The problem for Jackie on the boat, however, was that this was taking us a lot longer than before, meaning she had to hang about in the wide pool area between locks. That in itself shouldn't be a problem, until you realise that the water isn't still, gradually moving the boat and meaning small adjustments need to be made to keep position. Another lesson to learn is that the depth of water at the sides is very shallow due to silting. The boat drifted onto one of these and she was stuck! No problem, a barge pole was provided, so she got it and pushed the boat off. Unfortunately in her haste to regain control of the boat she didn't stow the pole properly and it fell in! I told her to leave it and I'd get it, so off she went into the lock. It wasn't quite that easy as it drifted around always staying about 3m from the edge. There's no way I'm going into the canal (again!), so I decided the best thing was to turn the boat around and return to collect it.

I got back on the boat, Jackie got off and she decided she was going in for it. I turned the boat round, went back into the lock, just in time to see her getting it out of the water. She didn't have to go in, it had drifted close enough for her to get it. I reversed back out of the lock, turned it round (again) and we continued with me at the helm.
Jackie navigating between locks
I could idly watch the four of them sweat it out opening and closing paddles and locks and noted that, at the end Charles was totally wasted! Its a hard life being a captain!

The rest of the journey was relaxing and enjoyable and we all had a go at being captain. Pauline's go was less than satisfactory as her 10 seconds at the helm saw us head straight into a tree with Charles and Jackie having to take evasive action at the tiller and hitting 'reverse'.
Caroline, Jackie, Pauline and Charles
Charles at the helm

Jackie in control
Caroline keeping sharp lookout (some of the time) - BRIDGE!!

I've put more pictures on Facebook if you'd like to take a look. You don't need to be a Facebook member, you can see them by following this link:

It was a great day and I can recommend it. Go to Copt Heath wharf (that's my bit of advertising done!)

On Friday, before taking them back, we went to Red Point climbing wall and both Charles and Caroline had a go at 'leading' and placing gear on the section devoted to it. Its called 'leading' but they are still on 'top ropes' for safety. Its intended to teach how to lead and place gear.

Charles showing us how its done
A 'hex' gear placement

On Sunday night, 26th, we went on one of our 'Sunday Tea Club' outings with Ian and Helen and Manu and Crystal. This time we were joined by Pete and Hilary and another couple, Charles and Julie. I don't think I've met them before, but Jackie knew Charles. We went to a Korean restaurant in Birmingham that we've been to with Manu and Crystal before. Its a bit like an indoor BBQ, cooking your own food (as much as you like) over a grill in the centre of the table. Great fun, great food and great company! It might be the last Sunday tea club outing this side of our trip - oh no!

Talking of that, our plans for our Antipode's trip are progressing very well. Our flights are booked, we've booked a hotel in Bangkok for 3 days and a hostel in Auckland for one week. In Thailand we are planning to see the 'bridge over the river Kwai' and then travel north to Chaing Mai where we've heard there's excellent climbing. We'll probably spend most of our time up there before heading to New Zealand. In Auckland we've booked into Ponsonby Backpackers Lodge for a week to get organised for buying a campervan. They have lots of experience there in campervan purchase and can tell us what and what not to do, so I hope its as easy to do as we think.

When we hit Australia next May 18th we're hoping to do some housesitting near Brisbane. We've joined a website called, where people advertise for people to look after their house and pets while they go on holiday or other trips. You can do this in virtually any country in the world, including the UK, so it might be something we do quite a bit of. We've been in touch with a couple near Brisbane who have two cats that need looking after while the go to Fiji for 3 weeks. Their house and cats sound fabulous, so we're hoping they will pick us to stay there while they go off to Fiji to do good things helping poor people on the island.

Its all getting very exciting and also a bit panicky as we've got a lot to do in the 8.5 weeks before we go. Our house is now up for rental and we've already shown some people round. We've done 3 car boot sales trying to get rid of stuff (I hate car boot sales!), but there's lots more to do. Pauline's loft is filling up as we put stuff up there and I've got to get over to Fiona's place in Kenilworth to prepare her garage for stuff we're going to store there. Its all go! Must get on.........

Monday, 6 August 2012

July to Olympic August

July has finished and August begun and Jackie and I have been watching the Olympics and 'Super Saturday'. What an amazing day that was, 6 gold's for Team GB! I've never been particularly inspired or wrapped up in the Olympics in the past (horror from some people no doubt, particularly from our friend Alex who heads up the sports training department at Birmingham University!), but I've now really got into it and realise what a fantastic achievement it is to even partake, let alone win a medal. What us mere mortals do by comparison is hardly worth a mention!

'Super Saturday' started off for me with a visit to the New Queen Elizabeth hospital for a routine ultrasound scan of my kidneys, as part of the programme of checks done every two years for the gene defect that runs in the family. That was all OK, it appears I have two kidneys and they looked OK so, with the previous other two checks, that's my full MOT done and I have a two year ticket!

All that excitement from the Olympics was tempered when we heard of the death of the mum of Manu, a friend of ours. Its a reminder that we're all here for only a short time, so we've got to use that time to the best of our abilities and live life to the full. We're thinking of you Manu.

Earlier in July I went with Jackie down to Lund Point, the BBC studios at the Olympic Park, to help her deliver some equipment. The studios are actually the top floor of an old block of flats, scheduled to be demolished shortly after the end of the games. The top (21st) floor certainly commands a good view over the stadium and its currently the backdrop for the BBC 10 'O' clock news. If you've seen the news during the Olympics you will recognise this view that I snapped through the window while I was there:
The Olympic Stadium from BBC Lund Point
 The last week in July produced a mini heatwave for a few days and it happened to coincide with Jackie's rest days between shifts, so we took the opportunity of going up to our friends Gareth and Emma's cottage near Buxton (for about the fourth time). It backs on to Harpur Hill quarry, so we had half a day 'bolt clipping' a number of routes on the limestone. I must have been feeling pretty relaxed as I managed to lead a 6b! Quite staggering really and, I suspect, a 'one off'. In the evening Jackie cooked a Paella, which we ate on the patio, with great views of the surrounding hills and sunset. It really is a great place to go.

The next day saw us climbing 'trad' at Hen Cloud, next to the Roaches. We did a few routes there, leading alternately and I really enjoyed 'Central Climb' a 4 pitch VS (4c), first climbed in 1909 and steeped in history. I was amused by the story I read in someones guidebook of an ascent many years ago by an experienced climber who got benighted on it. His climbing partner had a problem and couldn't follow. He spent so long trying to get up it that night fell and neither had a torch. They were eventually rescued by the leaders chauffeur, who became worried and went up to find them. We enjoyed it, but Jackie complained about the second pitch, as it was quite polished. Some are suggesting that pitch should now be re-graded 5a, so I say, well done Jackie! It was not easy to second.
Hen Cloud from the road. Central Climb is in the middle of the picture
After a good day's climbing we went for a beer (or two) at the Hoffman bar in Harpur Hill, scene of a previous visit with Ian and Helen some weeks before, where we all had a sing on the karaoke night and stayed there till 2:00am. Well, surprise, surprise, they remembered us! Better than being ignored though.
A beer outside the Hoffman after a good days climbing
On the way back home on Thursday we took a detour to Dovedale and had a walk along the river. We came upon Ilam Rock, a solitary pinnacle of limestone towering over the river. The arete on the face overlooking the river looks an amazing climb and Jackie was really tempted. She's definitely added it to her wish list. I thought it looked quite hard, but she thought she'd be able to do it. It looked very sustained to me once started, so you'd have to keep going to not run out of strength. We eventually identified it as a climb called 'Easter Island', with a grade of E1 5b. That's about two grades harder than we are currently leading on trad, although technically we should be able to do it. I don't know, we'd have to be feeling really good to give it a go. Here's a (not very good) picture of it (Easter Island going straight up the arete you can see) and another of Jackie giving it a closer look:

Jackie at the start of 'Easter Island'

Ilam Rock, Dovedale

Our arrangements for our year away in the Antipodes is progressing well and we have now booked our flights and insurance. We fly out from Heathrow on 29th October to Bangkok. We are in Thailand for 3 weeks, intending to travel round sightseeing and climbing, before heading to New Zealand, for a bit more sightseeing and climbing. We arrive in Auckland on 22nd November and will stay there for 6 months. Jackie's mum, Pauline is going to join us for a month and she's booked a flight out on 30th January, returning on 28th February. On 18th May we fly to Sydney for 3 months and intend travelling up the east coast of Australia through Brisbane, Cairns and possibly Darwin. We'll catch a flight to Melbourne (or Adelaide) so we can do the Great Ocean Road, before catching a flight from Melbourne to Singapore for 2 more months. We hope to go to Indonesia and/or Malaysia while there, but we haven't organised that far ahead yet. All we know is the flight back home must be within a year of going out, so we will be back home on 28th October 2013.

We've got lots to do at home before then, not least, getting our house ready to rent out. We've already had the agents round and its going on the rental market as we speak. We've got a little bit of decorating and some minor jobs to do, but the main job is to move all our furniture out and into storage, as we're told its better to rent unfurnished.

Fiona, my daughter has offered us her single garage in Kenilworth for storage, so we've got to get all that fixed up and arranged. Plenty to do....

Our biggest problem is what to do with our ultra soft pussy cat, Jasper (also known as Tiddles). He's 13 years old and really likes it as an only cat. Who can we get to look after him and take him on? Where's he going to go? We just don't know yet and its bothering both of us. Fiona has offered to have him, but she's got a cat and we're not sure if he'd like to share his life now with another cat! Maybe we'll have to introduce them and see if they get on.
Jasper, our soft pussy cat.