Sunday, 31 May 2015

Not s'warm

After a night parked rather illegitimately, we needed to get away before anyone noticed or was inconvenienced. There was little further motivation for speed, since the weather was decidedly unpleasant and the forecast promised it might clear up around coffee time. We compromised, and were on our way by about 9.30. With full weather gear. We came down the lock whose hospitality we had abused, round the corner that is the southernmost post of the Trent and Mersey and headed up to Fradley, the junction with the Coventry Canal. At the first couple of Fradley's five locks some volunteers were just coming on shift – some useful additional help. Then it was through the lock where I split my head open on the hatch two years ago and on towards Alrewas.

Beyond Alrewas the River Trent and the canal join forces for a few hundred yards. We'd decided not to bother with life jackets for this section, as it's fairly benign. We weren't reckoning with a crazy boater speeding towards us round a corner and forcing us right over onto the weir. The problem is not so much the protective structure strung across the river just before the drop – it's all the debris that collects against it. We came with a hard thud against an enormous half-submerged tree trunk and for a while I thought I wasn't going to get free. The extraordinary thing is that these boaters weren't a party of gung-ho young hirers on a stag weekend. They were a fairly senior couple (by which I mean our sort of age) with their own boat. I haven't a clue what they were thinking of.

Well, we're still here to tell the tale and have moored up at a favourite spot on this stretch – Branston water park. That's further than CanalPlan thought we might get, but I've usually found their calculations a little conservative. As we were getting settled we were bombarded with noise from the park – it's normally a haven of rest and quiet. Investigation showed this:

Now since I was about a hundred yards away, or more, and under cloudy conditions, I reckon that's another success for my new camera. These radio-controlled racers make a noise out of all proportion to their size.

Neither buzzing, nor really a swarm, but yesterday and today we've been invaded by loads of insects who've decided that, cold or not, it's the end of May and they'd better get busy. They're innocuous, they don't bite and they don't make a noise, but in flight they remind us of the carpet moths we've been dealing with at home, and when they settle they look like mosquitos. So they are the recipients of several layers of prejudice and end up squashed, when we can catch them. I firmly believe they have no conscious objection to this, or I might think twice.

As I write this, the sky has finally cleared, but we've probably had enough fresh air for one day. It's a nice spot, and we're sitting down for a bit.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Under way

Our plans for the last 24 hours worked out pretty well, except for leaving Great Haywood rather later than planned this morning. We'd flown back from Oslo to Manchester, had a meal in a Brewer's Fayre  pub on the way south, and got back to Erin Mae in time to unpack our cases before bed. This morning we transferred to the car everything we thought redundant for the next few months, plugged in the car's solar panel and (eventually) disconnected, untied and move out on the first leg of our summer's journey. We need to get to Mercia Marina by Monday night.

The first stretch is familiar territory. Down Great Haywood lock by the café…

and then through Shugborough land. This gave me the opportunity to test out (again!) the amazing zoom on my new "travel" Lumix camera.

The clematis was making a good show over one of the canalside cottages…

and the signs at this one always make us smile – I've seen them on other people's blogs as well.

My best beloved informed me this was a pink hawthorne at Wolseley Bridge, so that was worth getting out the camera again and using the zoom as it receded behind us.

Then on through Rugeley, where we stopped to replenish the larder at Morrisons. By now we were well behind schedule, so lunch was a late sandwich as we travelled.

The CanalPlan website said we should stop for the night at Kings Bromley wharf, but where Nicholson's guide showed the wharf was a most unwelcoming piece of bank with a rocky shelf. So we carried on to the next lock and, the hour being late, decided that it would be OK to tie up in the section that is actually reserved for boats queuing for the lock. Naughty, I'm afraid, but there's hardly any traffic, and it's a long section, and we're aiming to be away first thing in the morning. I shall have to do a penance of some sort. Oh dear…

Thursday, 28 May 2015


Norwegians know how to do celebrations that have a light touch while avoiding that cynicism about anything serious into which we so often descend in the UK.

Last night was a case in point. It was the final part of Chris's PhD process – the candidate is expected to host a dinner for the panel, supervisors, colleagues, family and a few friends, so there were about 27 of us gathered. We were treated to some good food, but there were also a number of speeches spaced throughout the meal. Chris himself gave the first, thanking a number of people for the support he'd had.

Others who spoke were his professor, his other supervisor, the acting dean, the clinical director of the paediatric & adolescent medicine department, and the third of his examiners, who is one of the most respected and influential obstetricians in Norway, and who has had a major contribution in researching and tackling some big medical issues in parts of Africa. Even given that it was a time for saying nice things about people, their praise was fulsome. It left us with an immense sense of pride at what he is and what he has done in both the clinical and the research sides of his work, and in the positive relationships he has established within the hospital.

Mie, his wife, also spoke about the way in which he managed the family / work balance, and in particular of the impact that having their own second child born at 26 weeks had had. It's one thing to talk to parents as a paediatrician, and quite another to relate to them as someone who's been there himself.

So now it's all over, with a bit of time to de-stress. We fly back to Erin Mae tomorrow.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

PhD !

Another long session today – but he got there. Nº 2 son is now a PhD !

Today was similar to how a PhD viva might go in the UK except that, once again, it was a public event, with colleagues, family and friends present. In addition to the university representative, there were two visiting examiners who grilled him for about an hour each. The first one scared us all when, having started by complimenting Chris in general terms, immediately said there was something fundamentally wrong with the thesis. We all sat wondering what it would be. Chris was thinking "OK, bring it on." But then the examiner pointed out that nowhere in the thesis had Chris expressed his thanks to his wife, his parents and his in-laws! Who were all in the third row. That cleared the way for the examination proper.

Well, in the end they were very complimentary about a good, creative and original piece of work. Today's highlight for me was one of the professors noting that Chris was a "clinician scientist", which he regarded as a dying breed. It was a nice tribute to the mix of skills and concerns demonstrated both in the thesis and in the event.

One more event to go – there's a celebratory dinner tonight for colleagues, examiners and faculty, friends and family, to round off a wonderful couple of days.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


We flew from Manchester to Oslo last night, just as the sun was getting ready to say goodbye.

This was a visit with a purpose – son Nº 2 is completing a PhD and in Norway that's done a bit differently. In the UK you write 80,000 words and defend your thesis before three professors. In Norway, your 80,000 words includes some published papers. Then you have your "disputation", before your three "opponents". These translations into English make it sound quite adversarial, but it didn't feel like that at all.  The day before you defend your thesis, you give a 45 minute lecture on a topic chosen by your examiners, to demonstrate teaching skills. This is a public event, to which you invite friends and family. Your examiners sit in the front row and ask you questions afterwards about what you said. They (of course) are world experts in the topic they set – in this case "The relationship between respiratory infection in childhood and the development of asthma". Well, he is a paediatrician!

Now, on this occasion, the three professors had themselves each given a lecture (plus questions) beforehand, so it was a lengthy, but fascinating, afternoon. And Nº 2 son ensured he got to ask them a couple of questions! But only if he passed this stage could he come back on the morrow for the defence of his thesis – also a public event.

All went well. They liked his presentation, and we'll be back tomorrow. But, for me, one of the highlights of the trip has already occurred. It was when one of his supervisors, in the context of a question following the first lecture of the afternoon, credited his research as being behind a significant change in how the hospital deals with a particular issue. Now that does make for proud parents!

Sunday, 24 May 2015


Today we listened to a story which was both extraordinary and heart-warming. Jake and Adele had been married for a few years when they were told there was no way either of them could have children. Jake talked about the bad time that followed and how they got through it. Eventually they were tested again, and the surprised medics asked whether Jake had made any lifestyle changes. But they still thought Adele could not carry a baby to term and, indeed, two miscarriages followed. A third pregnancy took Adele to A&E on more than one occasion but, in the end, Phoebe was born. She herself had medical issues – a heart problem appears to have been healed (again, to the surprise of the medics), but she has a swallowing difficulty and lives, for the moment, with a tube in place through her nose.

It was at Wildwood church in Stafford that we met this family this morning. It was a special dedication service at which Jake and Adele were expressing their thanks for what they regard as their miracle baby, and committing themselves to the task of parenting, while the church also committed itself to carrying on supporting them all as Phoebe grows up. We’ve enjoyed meeting with this group of Christians for worship when we’ve been in the marina, but we hadn’t expected this particular event today. It reminded us of the traumas around the premature birth of our own miracle grandson Sam 10 years ago, and the joy of watching him grow through them over the years.

And, by coincidence, we’re off to Norway tomorrow for a few days and will see Sam, Elissa and Theo, not to mention their parents. More about that as the week progresses.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Round trip

It was great to have been back down south for our church's camping weekend. The weather was kind and the location was ideal. We'd only gone about half-a-mile to the campsite, but it really did feel as though we all gone away. The boards showed everyone what was going to happen.

The sun was still shining for the barbecue on the Saturday evening.

As it happens, this was the one weekend that Nº 3 son and his bride (well, it's not yet a year) were able to come and see us. So we had a good day with them and then went up to the BBQ where he caught up with, and she met for the first time, some old acquaintances.

After the BBQ it was "Bransgore's Got Talent" – an opportunity for Phil the church leader to do his ventriloquist act with Shirley his wife, rather than with Jiminy the puppet.

 Extra chairs were needed for the Sunday morning service.

A good time was had by all!

Monday we packed and came up to Erin Mae. I'd thought I would see whether I could re-wire the batteries myself, but the negative leads are looking more complex than I remembered, and I think I might need to get an expert to work on it. So instead of buying bits and bobs and making a start, we've been doing not-a-lot. We've got settled in ready for a summer's cruising, but next week we're flying to Norway for five days, so we've been in limbo. The weather hasn't even been kind enough to tempt us to go down to Tixall Wide to test the solar panel in the wild.

So this afternoon we went for a walk in the NT grounds above the canal at Great Haywood, on land that is part of the old Shugborough estate, but on the opposite side of the river, canal and railway from the house itself. We walked up the track down which the servants used to walk from their cottages, across some fields where sheep were grazing, and found our way down to the caves we'd heard about.

You wouldn't think there was anything like this above you as you cruise the canal but, truth to tell, there's not a lot to see. There was some landslip and the area had been cordoned off to stop you getting into difficulties. Even the graffiti was nothing extraordinary. So we found our way back out and looped back to the iron bridge over which the gentry would drive their carriages. On the way we passed a grove of lime trees.

An internet search indicated that they were sometimes used to provide areas of shade, and that was the only reason that came to mind why this circle should have been planted here.. This chappie, seemed to appreciate it, anyway.

Thursday, 14 May 2015


Jo Hedger was 2014 world tree-climbing champion. For the third time. And European champion.

Today she climbed our tree and artistically lopped bits off it. That's to say (according to the job sheet) "Robinia stem reduced and major deadwood removed".

Jo runs a tree-care company in the New Forest called Arbor-Venture. She was the natural person to turn to when our tree – we've always called it a Pseudacacia, but what do we know? – needed some inspection down below and a bit of a trim up top.

She had two male helpers, one slightly older, one rather younger, but they didn't get to the business end. That was her domain, and very much at home she seemed to be.

Their job seemed to be mostly to do with clearing away what she lopped off, and getting it into the shredder. Coming back from Erin Mae earlier than anticipated meant we got to watch this team in action, from the safety of house, as the rain got them thoroughly soaked. I was quite glad not to be boating this morning. We'll get back to Erin Mae after the weekend and get on with that battery wiring.

Thanks for the work, Jo. Nice to see you in action!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Battery wiring

I've had an interesting discussion with members of the CanalWorld forums about the wiring to Erin Mae's batteries. The basic question was why Chris Gibbons' SmartGauge website states so forcefully, but without explanation, that charging cables should always be connected to the same battery posts as the load.

It's a final comment on a page dedicated to explaining how to connect the load to four (or more) batteries so that they are balanced and age at an equal rate. His main concern is with the surprisingly shocking results you get when you connect +ve and –ve leads to the same end of a battery bank. He accepts that, for most situations, simply taking them from opposite ends of the bank gives a result which is tolerable. But then he shows how to wire them so that they are completely balanced.

He credits "smileypete" from the forums for this arrangement (and Pete was one of the contributors to the discussion I recently initiated). It shows the supply cables attached to the central batteries in the bank. The main feature is that each battery is connected to the load through one shorter and one longer cable.

Now I had noticed that, on Erin Mae, the cable to the 12 volt distribution panel is taken via an isolator switch from one end of the bank, while the lead to the inverter to give me my 240 volt circuit is taken via its own isolator switch from the other end of the bank. I had decided, on the basis of the SmartGauge page, that this was probably not a Good Thing. Deciding what to re-wire to where, however, involved thinking about where the charging cables were attached – and that produced my question for the CanalWorld forum. Why was Chris so emphatic about the charging leads going to the same battery posts as the load leads?

One of the difficulties that I could see was related to stretching the existing charging cables to the posts indicated on Chris's diagram. I was puzzling over this just before going to sleep on Saturday night, and suddenly realised I could rearrange the cables so that the leads went to the end batteries, not the central two. I leapt out of bed and sketched it on paper, and on Sunday afternoon drew it up on my computer.

With delight I went to post it on the forum thread, only to discover that Pete had got there about half an hour before me, and posted his original diagram.

You can see this is effectively the same as mine, so why Chris changed it for the SmartGauge website, I don't know.

My conclusions from the forum discussion are:
  1. I don't want to move the inverter cable, since it is also a charging cable and is attached to the same end of the bank as the leads from the alternator and solar systems. No one offered any real defence for Chris's assertion about charge and load going to the same posts, but if I'm going to move something, there seems little point in it being this cable.
  2. I intend to move the connection from the 12v circuit isolator switch to the opposite end of the battery bank, where the inverter and charger leads are attached. This will involve buying a longer cable to stretch the length of the battery box.
  3. I need to get to grips with the negative cables, of which there seem to be a good number, work out where they all go, and ensure they are all attached to the correct battery post at the opposite end of the bank from the charging and load leads.
  4. If I am still alive, not having perished from electrocution, conflagration, too much work or old age, it would be nice to adapt the intra-battery wiring to correspond to Pete's scheme. That should entail getting two longer leads, and ensuring that there is room for all the connections on the posts. 
We're off Erin Mae for a couple of weeks, or else I would illustrate this with a couple of photos. I just hope that, when we return following next weekend, the reality matches my memory and that I am able to engage in some simple but effective re-wiring without blowing us all to bits.

(This post was edited because of difficulties uploading the diagrams. Hope it appears OK on your device.)

Sunday, 10 May 2015

On the road

After an enjoyable meal with Halfie and Jan last Tuesday our immediate plans seemed to be fading. We'd hoped to be travelling to Mercia marina and back to fix some windows, but have had to postpone that until they could fit us in. We'd hoped to be getting started on the (to me) daunting task of seeing how to paint bits of Erin Mae's exterior, but the weather, both actual and forecast, has been so dire that this will have to wait. So on Wednesday we took the decision to drive home – we'd planned to be back on the south coast anyway for next weekend, when our church has a camping weekend away.

The upshot was that we drove south on Thursday, and found that our first roses are beginning to emerge – this one an Iceberg climber on the south-west wall of the house. In a few weeks there will be so many the foliage will be virtually hidden by the blooms.

Meanwhile I'd forgotten that we'd arranged with Autoglass to replace our windscreen, since we have a crack about 10 inches long down the left-hand side, probably from a stone flying up where they've been repairing a local road. I had to ring Autoglass and get them to come to our house instead of Great Haywood marina. That should be done tomorrow.

It certainly seems warmer and drier down here – confirmed by reading some of the blogs of those who are out boating further north. We'd like to be out and about, but there seems to be plenty to do while we're here, including raising more electrical questions on CanalWorld forums – this time about battery wiring.

Monday, 4 May 2015

The side less noticed

Erin Mae's right-hand side gets less attention than the left, when we're in the marina. Coming on to the jetty, we're approaching the left side, and that's the side that lies against the pontoon. The other side is normally just a few inches from the boat next door, and tends to be unseen and ignored.

So when the boat next door moved out last night, we decided it might be a good day for pulling Erin Mae across to the neighbouring pontoon and do a clean and polish job on the neglected side. Neat division of labour – my best beloved cleaned and I polished.

So far so good, until my best beloved noticed yet another window-related problem. We haven't noticed any water getting through to the inside of the window, but this clearly needs some attention. Looks like another one for the Mercia marina people to remove for examination in a few weeks time. An in the meantime I imagine it merits a good squidge of Rust Exit and a bit of primer. Have to phone a friend…

It's not only boats that have sides less noticed. It's been interesting to see Shaun Murphy reflecting on what the last 10 years of his life have taught him, as a person as well as a player. One of the things I've noticed about him is that, win or lose, he's always got more than a cursory word for his opponent. Not every sportsman does that, and many would regard it a a fatal weakness. But I don't agree – it's a trait I like. I'm sure that tonight, win or lose (for those who don't know, the snooker world championship final) he will spend a moment congratulating Stuart Bingham and expressing his appreciation for the contest.

I just wish that the local atmospherics hadn't chosen this moment to deny me the opportunity of watching it on BBC2.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Broadway and Bechstein, again

This afternoon we walked across to Shugborough. We've visited parts of it before and walked in the grounds, but never been in the house itself. It was a nice enough afternoon for the canal traffic to be stirring.

The confluence of the Rivers Saw and Trent showed a fair bit of water running – a happy sight for one who wants to get up the Caldon canal in a month's time.

The dog kept retrieving its ball from the river, and seemed to be enjoying the exercise.

You walk into the grounds across this old bridge – a sort of single track with passing places.

About wide enough for a pack-horse. They had to build a new bridge further downstream when the gentry wanted to use a carriage.

The original expansion of house and estate seems to have been financed from the proceeds of capturing a Spanish treasure ship worth about £130m in today's dosh. The original building was apparently suitable for a country gentleman but not for a titled family expected to play their part in society.

The house was home to the Lichfield family, with Patrick Lichfield (the Earl) living there until his early death last decade. While a lot of it is done out in conventional National Trust style with period furniture and so on, there is also a good deal relating specifically to Patrick Lichfield's work as a photographer, and some stunning exhibition areas. His relationship with camera maker Olympus was captured in this sculpture which appealed to my best beloved.

It's always my hope, when we visit such properties, to find a couple of pianos, and Shugborough did not disappoint. On the ground floor was this Broadwood fortepiano, though I couldn't see the date.

Upstairs was a Beckstein. Upon enquiry the lady guarding it said that people who said they could play were allowed to do so – she obviously reserved the right to stand judgment after they'd started. So I sat down and enjoyed myself at the keyboard for a while.

It had a softer touch than some of the Bechsteins I've encountered in other NT houses, and was a pleasure to play. My best beloved was going to take of photo of me doing so from across the room. This being the first time she'd used my new camera, I didn't make it sufficiently clear which button was the shutter release, and we ended up with a movie complete with sound! I decided that ought not to be released into the blogosphere.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Windows again

Following the winter we came back to Erin Mae to find a lot of wetness around the two windows in the bedroom – the windows seems to have been the weakest point of the Aqualine build. Two years ago the Aqua engineering people at Mercia marina sorted a different window that was leaking water all over some gains mains equipment, and did a great job. So we were hoping to get them to remove, fix and re-seal the two that are particularly problematic now.

I rang them to see whether we could take Erin Mae over and Justin, most apologetic, said they were now acting like a garage business and we had to book. So it's going to be the beginning of June before we can get them fixed – the trip will just fit with some other things happening around that time. In the meantime, I hope it doesn't rain too hard wherever we happen to be!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Sunshine on my shoulder…

The SmartGauge manual says that it will synchronise with the batteries automatically after a few charging cycles. You just have to let them discharge below 75% to get it started. So yesterday, after our return from taking Erin Mae across to the service wharf for a pump-out, I left the mains hook-up disconnected. In the evening we watched the snooker and used our computers. The Squirrel got the interior to a monstrous 25˚C, so the fridge must have been working its socks off. I went to sleep confident that the SmartGauge's initialisation would proceed as planned. I hadn't reckoned on the combined effect of new batteries and solar panel. By 8.30 the panel was already pumping juice into the batteries and the SmartGauge was telling me that they had not got below 75%. So I sighed and rejoiced in equal measure. This is exactly why I splashed out on the panel! I'll just let the SmartGauge sort itself out in whatever time it needs.

When I re-connected the mains supply I got some interesting data from the controller's meter. I'd assumed, from something said by Midsummer Energy, that the controller would simply shut off when there was another source of electricity. But the opposite happened, and it seemed the solar system was trumping the Victron charger/inverter. The meter showed a good charge voltage and current from the solar gear, while the Victron's lights showed it in float mode, even while we were running the washing machine. Well, so far it's all very satisfactory.

So in a happy glow we went for a walk this afternoon at the Wolseley Centre, one of our favourite local spots, run by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Unfortunately the sunshine, the effects of which I'd spent the morning analysing, largely disappeared after lunch. Still we had a good walk through the wetland conservation areas alongside the River Trent.

I took my new camera along, even though the cloud meant the colours were not as vibrant as they could have been. The telescopic function came into its own.

The geese were pairing off,

 accompanied by some early arrivals.

 Some cygnets are due to follow shortly, I fancy.

 An unexpected patch of what we think was azalea brightened up one shady section.

The Centre is well worth a visit, even though it's looking a bit bald in places at the moment – they seem to have been doing a lot of clearing. It's a very accessible example of how to bring traditional water management technology to interact successfully with contemporary conditions and needs.