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:
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!|
|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|
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 Housesitters.com, 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.........