Wednesday 29 November 2017

New Business Support ...

The other day, I mentioned (well I think I did) I was going to attend a New Enterprise Startup workshop/seminar today.

Well, I have and despite my initial scepticism, have come away with several hints and tips AND assurance that support and guidance offered, will genuinely be useful.

I'll back track a bit - in case this isn't making any sense.

You'll recall just before my first hand operation, my boss gave me 3 months notice of intended redundancy...during this time, rather than be "off sick" post operatively, I was on gardening leave.

There was a slight delay in my second operation, which meant I was still signed off  sick for about 4 weeks AFTER the end of my notice period.  During this time, rather than dip TOO heavily into my redundancy payout (which wasn't great - just the legal minimum he HAD to pay) I put in my first ever claim for gin money Employment and Support Allowance.  I was paid this for the grand total of 4 weeks and rather than going BACK to the doc and laying it on thick (which apparently most people on ESA do) I phoned them (the DWP) and said I felt fit enough to be thinking about future employment...oddly enough, I've had MORE in tax refunds than ESA paid ... I suppose that will continue until the end of the financial year.

AS you'll know if you've been here for a while, it was always outr intention to save up a couple of years of mortgage payments before jacking in our jobs anyway...  with this in mind, a couple of weeks ago I went to the job centre to see what help is available for folk (like us) setting up new business ventures.

Now over the years, I've seen TV programs of how awful these places are... how awful the staff are and how awful "fellow job-seeekers" are.

MAYBE I got lucky, but that couldn't be further from the truth here...  my appointed job coach, whilst a fair bit younger than me, is actually a proper decent sort of bloke - upbeat and very positive about our planned narrow boat hotel.  I DID still however have to attend a CV workshop to kick-start my JSA claim BEFORE I could go to today's Start-up session.  Having jumped through the appropriate hoops - meeting another decent chap (at what felt like a youth club) and completing a reasonable CV (another first in 28 years of full-time   employment) that was uploaded to the system and I'm now an official job seeker.

Oddly enough, as my specialist areas are Vintage Fairground restorations or Narrowboat Hoteliers, there are'nt many jobs for me to go for ;-)

ANYWAY - this morning I went to Dewsbury for the aforementioned start-up /link up session.  Despite being early (and thus locked out of the building for half an hour) it turned out to be a very positive experience... the session being run by the most enthusiastic and up-beat mentor you could ever want.  She had a genuine interest and passion in helping people get on their way.  Obviously in some regards, her hands are tied but all the people there (7 out of 10 booked turned up) can be assured of her help.

Future workshops will include Marketing, cash flow, business plans and general support.  I can also get free First Aid at work training, Free Food safety/hygiene  certification and even Free Allergens awareness courses.

The only downside is there isn't any business start-up capital grants available other than 26 weeks "pocket money" to help things along when you begin trading proper... Perhaps I'll try a bit of crowd-funding to see if we can get a cash injection for April onwards - either that or sell a kidney ... if you know anyone who needs one (and has the means) send them our way ... we've 1 each going spare I'm sure!

Until next time...

Monday 27 November 2017

A (not so) secret Crush...

Ok - I confess...  despite being on the other bus, I've always had a bit of a crush on Nigella Lawson... did you know she's nearly 60? - NOT looking bad at all for a lady of that generation .

Why am I  telling you this? - well, as a rule we try NOT to watch TV cookery/baking programs...  primarily because the "faux" tension that's put in these days gets on my nerves is mildly irritating and also because we end up starving hungry and wanting to eat something at at time of day that isn't conducive to shedding the flab we've both put on this summer.

THAT said, Nigella is the exception to the rule - especially after a few glasses of wine.  I LOVE the way she takes the mickey and sexes up the food as she cooks... I doubt for 1 second it's serious but she cleary has a laugh doing it and at the same time, "cheats" as often as possible with pre-packed stuff.

Well, the other week when flicking through the hundreds of channels - all showing rubbish, I stumbled across her poaching an egg!

Now I realise to many folk this is an easy task but I've NEVER for the life of me been able to do it without ending up with a pan full of swirling mess of egg white.    I can now confidently say I'm a master thanks to Ms Lawson...  who knew how easy it COULD be?

ALL you do, is take a cold egg (which is a pain cause they don't live in the fridge but 10 mins in the freezer whilst I get the fire stoked up on a morning is enough to chill them) crack it into a tea strainer/little sieve and once the runny, watering white bits have gone you then decant it into recently boiled water and leave it to cook - without putting the heat back on.  Remove from the water with a straining spoon and its ready to eat.  NO mess, a nice runny yolk in a cooked white casing.  Perfect!

OK so I got a bit carried away with the grated cheese but trust me - under there are 2 perfect poached eggs.

WHILST  (while?) I'm waffling on about my culinary prowess, I've been continuing with experimental bread making...  my 2 latest successes being a red onion and rosemary foccacia and a sun dried tomato and parmesan loaf - inspired by a packet of ready made bread mix I took a photoo of in Asda the other week, they turned out rather good ... especially the latter, remaining moist for days.

Having the fire on to proof them is very handy and  whilst in the summer I was using the bread-maker to mix, knead, proof (prove?) and cook them, now the solar is not doing so much, I've resorted to letting it knead and then cooking in the oven on gas.

Nigella eat your heart out!

In future though I Will  take a leaf out of HER book and stock the cupboard with a few ready mixes - not cause I'm lazy but by the time I'd bought a jar of sun-dried tomatoes and the parmesan, it'd cost about 3 quid - verses a packet mix of only 80p.  Still, you live and learn.

In boaty 'business news' I'm attending a New Enterprise all sorts of mentoring, support and training free gratis... well I say free, having worked full time for 28 years I feel sure I've paid enough tax to cover it 100 times over but it's nice to be getting something back for a change.  

I'll fill you in properly on it later in the week - meanwhile, I need to get back to working on the website and come up with some proper 'booking terms' etc. for when we begin in April.

Until next time...

Tuesday 21 November 2017

A Birthday boat trip...on a budget!


It was Andy's birthday on Friday (38) - and as planned, we took a weekend trip to Leeds on the boat with our friends Sally and Lee.  Well I say Sally AND Lee - he couldn't get Friday afternoon off work so took the train to Leeds and met us there on Saturday afternoon.

We got VERY lucky with the weather with glorious sunshine but bitingly cold.  I had warned them to bring warm clothing (for the chugging) but once the wine came out, the dropping temperatures didn't really matter.

It was a good opportunity for us to practice having a couple of people on board for a few days... to see how we'll all cope in a small space.  I'm pleased to report (at least from OUR point of view) it was quite easy... and would have been easier still if I'd been a bit more organised tidying out the back cabin en suite before we set off.

Leeds from Wakefield takes about 7 hours if you're not rushing... which means about 8.5 litres of diesel (according to the engine  manufacturers official consumption figures...) THAT means, at 64.9p a litres (red diesel) a rough cost of  £11.03 for travel, hot water and power generation for 4 people for a weekend.

Given we didn't eat out either - I also took the opportunity to try out a few veggie meals (Sal's not a meat eater) it meant for a very cheap weekend away.  OK so a few gallons  we had a couple of drinks here and there but never the less, it's a lovely way to spend time with friends.

We over-nighted again in Woodlesfood and continued into Leeds on Saturday morning... we were even escorted by a kingfisher for a few hundred yards - if you have VERY good eyes (or a good imagination) you might be able to pick him out perched on a scaffold pole!

It's typical that none of us had a decent camera with us other than our mobile phones...  we are going to HAVE to get a good one with a good optical zoom.  Phones are fine for snapping away but it would have been lovely to get a "proper" photo of the kingfisher.

When Lee arrived on Saturday afternoon we sat at the back of the boat people watching and having a few drinks before I set to and did my Nigella bit in the kitchen...  substituting Leeks with Spring onions and sweet potatoes - the local Tescos NOT selling Leeks.  Once we'd eaten our tea, we headed off out for a couple of pints - unfortunately, it had escaped our notice it was Saturday night and the pubs don't seem to encourage conversation over drinks... either that or they assume that "young" people use sign language to communicate.  We took our battered ear-drums back to the boat quite early on and played cards/watched telly until the sandman did his thing.

The return journey on Sunday began in glorious sunshine again... blooming cold and when we stopped at Leeds service point on the river to fill the water tank I nearly slipped in on some ice.  That was a funny sight - apparently!  BEFORE that, I'd already gotten a bit of a soaking in lock 1 on the Leeds & Liverpool canal where it leaves the Aire .  I have a feeling I'd read these locks are to be replaced in January - long overdue by the looks of things...

Once off the river and back on to safer cruising ground, Lee was keen to have a go at the tiller... well, I'm not sure if that was because he felt safer on the canal again OR the Desperado's he was supping gave him the courage.

EITHER way, he took to it like a natural - certainly steering a much straighter course than either Andy or I tend to.

We lunched as we chugged (another vegetarian triumph I might add) and arrived back at Stanley Ferry just before dusk...  No time to get cleaned up though as tea in the pub was calling and having been treated by them to food and a little more libation, we said our goodbyes and were back on the boat in time for bed.  A lovely relaxed weekend which we'll try and do again soon.

Sadly for them, Monday morning saw them going off to work whilst Andy and I were able to luxuriate in a warm fire and More of Nigella's poached eggs!... MORE on those to follow!

Until Next time...

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Cash back on old batteries...

I forgot to mention yesterday - having phoned a local scrapper to see if it was worth taking the old batteries in to him rather than going down the tip, apparently he pays 50p a kilo for batteries at present...

SO I dropped in all 4 (the old one had been in the engine bay as ballast since it 'boiled')... and came away with 65 quid - well I say came away with, he took a photo of my debit card and promised to credit my account the same afternoon - he's probably shopping away using android or apple pay on my account as I type!

Until next time...

Tuesday 14 November 2017

New batteries fitted...

It can't be a week since I was here? - surely not!

oh well - calenders don't lie I suppose.  Trouble is, these days my memory is not what is was so sitting down to write a catch up is going to be quite tricky.

LAST week (Wednesday I think it was) I got a call from Sheila next door, to say 4 heavy parcels had arrived for me.   As it happens I was on route to the tip with a drum of used oil so once I'd gotten rid of that, I detoured via "home" before coming back to the boat.

It WAS a bit of a struggle lifting the ruddy things, but I managed it and brought them to the boat.  

After lots of research I'd settled on traditional lead acid "combined leisure /starter batteries from a chap on Ebay -

In an ideal world, I'd have bought GTP, TROJANS or LITHIUM... the latter of which are RIDICULOUSLY expensive.  FINANCIAL Reality bites though and I figured given we'd ruined a set in a little over 12 months, we could just as easily ruin an expensive set as a cheap one - ergo, £339.36 for 4 x 130ah batteries (inc delivery) was a (just about) tolerable expense.

I had to wait until Andy wasn't working on Thursday morning to remove the old ones - them being bigger and heavier than their replacements, so, as the fire was running, I thought I'd bake some bread... yes I know this is not related to batteries but the outcome was quite good so I thought I'd share with you.

SO - back to the batteries... I crawled into the engine hole and undid all the terminals, AFTER I'd disconnected the solar panels and Andy helped me to lift them out of their positions and on to the back of the boat.  

Rather annoyingly, in the process I thought I'd lost one of the terminal clamps so had to break off and go to Halfords for a replacement.... which turned into a bit of a nightmare as despite them having one, (I bought 2 just in case) - when I came to fit it, the "post" turned out to be too big for the connecting wires... ergo a slight bodge different way to connect them had to be found.

It's hard to see, but  I had to find an m6 long bolt to attach the cable to - this required rutting through old Mick's box of bits and bobs AND (when he didn't have one) scrounging one of Mark on the boat behind Mick...  It wasn't until I got to the final group of wires, I FOUND the missing  battery terminal clamp where I'd used it earlier to keep the bundle of cabling tidy.

Yes - I DID undo the bodge and re-instate the original wiring.

Once all back together, I had to reset the smart-gauge to tell it the new bank size and type of battery...  That in itself is a bit of a faff cause you need 2 people to do it really...  luckily, Andy was still in amenable mood!

Finally, I re-configured the combi-charger with the new battery bank size and type also in preparation for a full charge.

All this had taken 2 hours (probably and hour and a half LONGER than it would have, had I not mislaid the connector.  The plan then WAS to get the generator out and charge fully... HOWEVER, as the sun was shining, I decided it would be a nice day to go for a chug.  I went towards Woodnock lock and did 2 locks single-handed before my return to the mooring.

As I came over the aqueduct, my phone went beep and it was my friend Sally who was in the pub... well it'd have been rude not to moor up outside and nip in for a quick one.... which turned into a couple and subsequent message to Andy to advise him I'd moved the boat to outside the pub for the night (by this time he'd gone to work) where he later joined us for a convivial evening - DURING which, a plan was hatched for a boat trip to Leeds this coming Friday for his birthday where Sally and her fiancĂŠe Lee will join us and pretend to be customers...  Luckily they both drink like fish  appreciate the odd drink so will be easy company.  NOW of course, we just need it not to rain and send the river into flood.

Oh - before I forget... SO far, the batteries are doing well...  they get to 100% with about an hours am charge, solar top up and half hour boost at tea-time each day - only dropping 10% from dusk till dawn and that's even with the webasto coming on for 2-3 hours on a morning.  LONG may it continue.

Until next time...

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Re-homing the cats...

After 5 months of trying (through word of mouth and extended circles) to find new homes for the cats, we've finally resorted to the cats protection  people.

Sox would I'm sure manage ok when we're moving around next year... poor old George however continues to hate it ... MORE so since he got stuck up that tree last week.  At the moment, the poor fella won't LEAVE the boat at all - despite hating it.... stuck between a rock and proverbial hard place.

Today, they've appeared on the "home to home" section of the website  here.  .

SOMEWHERE during our chat, they must have gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick - re. our reasons for moving onto a boat.  To quote "Dad's fallen on hard times and moved us on to a narrowboat"...  I suppose that might make someone take pity on them - ironically, we have offered to keep paying their medical insurance, provide the new owners with a years worth of Frontline (flea/tick stuff) and Drontil (worming stuff) that we'd already bought  AND pay the adoption fee to the charity, transfer the "chip data" and transfer the vaccinations for life policy to go with them

It seems "real" now they are officially listed as unwanted... and to be truthful, it doesn't feel very good to be trying to find them new homes....Despite that, we do know it IS the right thing for George.  Hey ho.  I'm sure they'll brighten up some cat loving/lonely person's life.

BOATY wise, today I'd hoped to get some scratches touched up but the weather is against us - instead, I've been to the tip to dispose of some waste oil and collected 4 new batteries I'd ordered for the boat - they were delivered to the default pay-pal address and intercepted by one of the neighbours ... she called me whilst I was at the tip and I detoured via the bungalow to pick them up on the return journey.

IF we'd had enough money, we'd have bought either GTP'S or TROJANS ... as it stands, given we need to get through the next few months on my redundancy money, I resorted to lead/acid 130ah "leisure" ones... hopefully, now I've gotten better at looking after them AND if we don't abuse them (like we did the first set) they'll do a couple of years...

Tomorrow morning, before Andy goes to work, I'll wedge myself in the engine bay and remove the old and replace them - using Andy as "Braun"...  I called into a scrap-yard today to enquire if it was worth me bringing the old ones in and was told they pay 50p a kg.... given they weigh in at 30kg each, what's 60 quid cash to buy coal with...  every little helps and there was me - about to take the to the tip!

Until next time...

Saturday 4 November 2017

Painting the Gas Locker....

This 'living on a boat' malarkey is one exciting thing after another😉...  I'd been putting off doing the gas locker for ages now - ever since I finally got around to doing the rear lockers, I've had a nagging prick to my conscience that it needed doing.

The sun was out for a short while this week so I twisted my own arm and set to doing it.

I'd forgotten how heavy those lumps of old train track were - having put them up front to alter the trim of the boat long before I had my hands operated on.  To be frank, it was a real a struggle to get them out...more so, because when out looking for the cat the other day, I slipped down a bank and landed on my left wrist/hand which is STILL giving me jip.

Having cleared everything out, the true extent of the water entry became apparent...

The holes each side that are there to allow any escaping gas to go overboard rather than into the boat, have been getting regularly submerged now that everything is on board ... and more so than ever when the poo tank  black water tank is over the half full mark.   Luckily, as I'd recently emptied afore mentioned tank AND we were low on water, it was a good time to do it.

Despite the sun being out, it wasn't tropical so after "waiting" for it to dry out naturally, I gave up and borrowed a hair-dryer to speed up the process.

I got a wire brush and spent a long while scrubbing it down,  it out and finally hoovering it.

Once it was nice and clean I applied fertan to the rusty bits - leaving it to dry, before applying the 1st of 3 coats of yellow Hammerite.... why yellow again? - it was cheaper than any other colour in Halfords for some reason...  

Reaching the very front of the bow was a pig - I could have done with being a contortionist ...  Anyway, it's done now and I took the opportunity NOT to put back all the steel ballast I'd removed - opting instead just to place a couple of lumps to port to off-set the toilet tank as it fills...  

LEAVING the ballast out has brought the escape holes clear of the waterline again - thus removing one job from the list when we go for blacking in the spring.... I had been planning to drill new holes higher up, weld up the original ones and make some kind of false floor to lift the gas bottles up.  This is no longer necessary and even in the event of full water AND toilet tanks, there's still a good 50kg of ballast that could be removed if necessary....Time will tell on that one.

I've also put a couple of padded mats (exercise type) under the gas bottles and train track so as to reduce the risk of scratching paint off again and encouraging rust to form.    

WRITING of rust - if the weather is amenable this week, I'll really need to sand down some scratches/scrapes on the outside of the boat and sort them out with rust killer and paint .... it's amazing how quickly it can begin to look shabby.  The roof ALSO needs another coat on top of the non-slip stuff I applied the other week... before those jobs cane be done though, the whole boatt could do with a proper wash down... which I may do at the water with the hose pipes rather than rig up the submersible pump and hose-pipe like we did on our last attempt.

Until next time...

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Missing Cat and Halloween Hijinks...

It's been a busy few days since I was last here - BUSY but not terribly productive I'll grant you.

You'll remember at the weekend, we had our first taste of proper cold weather this year...  Saturday, whilst starting off cloudy and dull, turned into a cold evening...SUNDAY even colder and what was I doing for most of it? - Wandering around in the dark with a torch shouting for George (the silver tabby cat).

He's quite a timid chap (for his size) and never stays away from the boat for more than a couple of hours... even then, I'm sure he's in the undergrowth "watching us"... The trouble was, on Sunday, because the sun was out, MORE people than usual were walking their dogs off leads down the towpath... about 2pm, Sox (the black cat) came bounding in to the back of the boat, accompanied by the noise of a couple of  Spaniels barking and scrabbling around....  I thought no more of it and carried on reading my book.  A few hours later, I called George but there was no sign of him.  As it got dark I got a torch and began looking for him.  Now OK, he's a cat and we're TRYING to find him a new home - away from boats but given I'm a big softie when it comes to animals, I wanted to find him...  to make sure he wasn't injured somewhere.

As I was wandering around in the dark, I came across a group of thugs  young lads carrying air-rifles and of course with no sign of George still, was imagining all sorts...

I wandered around for an hour or so before going back in to get warm.
By about half seven, it was already down to 2.3 degrees outside.  George does not like the cold so I went back out again and extended my search area....  by about half 9 I'd had enough so gave in and went back to the fire.  Every few mins I opened the wide hatch and called him- hoping to hear a meow.... Nothing.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon, when after several more "searches" did we hear a feeble "meow" coming from about 50ft away...  it appeared to be coming from a heavily over-grown area, thick with bramble thorns... SO, armed with loppers and shears we began cutting through the scrub trying to locate the source of the noise.  Of course, we were NOT helped listening for him due to a chap using an angle grinder on the boat moored opposite.   Every so often we'd hear a faint "meow" but it was proving very difficult to isolate exactly where it was coming from...  by now, both of us were prickled and cut to buggery from the thorns.  After about half an hour of hacking (and swearing) there was a lull in the grinding and finally George had the sense to make himself heard again... 

It's hard to make out from the photo but he was well and truly wedged up a hawthorn tree, with bramble thorns embedded in his fur trapping him - not far from where the dogs had been when Sox came running back the previous day.  Poor chap had obviously scrambled up there in a hurry to avoid said canines and had been unable to free himself.

The annoying thing being that if he'd had the sense to make  a noise in reply to my calling, he could have spent a night in front of the fire - rather than wedged up a tree  through a harsh frost.    Getting him down  required ME (13 stone of clumsy ginger) climbing up the tree and untangling him.   I half expected him to wriggle and make it difficult but he just laid there whilst I freed him as carefully as I could bless him... a few hours later after a good feed and warm, he made himself comfortable
They're not usually allowed in there but given his ordeal, I made an exception.

Soft or what?

WHILST I'd been out in the dark looking for him, I invariably bumped into a few boaters - a couple of whom, mentioned they were having a bit of a Halloween soiree if we'd like to come along... nothing big, just a few other boaters, food and drink etc.  Now as most people know, I'm not good in a big crowd of people but in the spirit (no pun intended) of the invitation, accepted on behalf of us both and last night, when Andy got in from work, we wandered to their boat, complete with a fair amount of drinks AND some toffee-apples I'd made earlier in the day...they weren't my most successful toffee - I don't think I got it hot enough because the gas ran out about 10 mins into the boil and rather than changing the bottle I thought I'd get away with it...

The observant among (amongst?) you will note I couldn't find any lolly sticks in Sainsbugs so I improvised with bamboo skewers...  planing to warn folk about the "sharp" bits...  irrelevant as it turned out because the toffee whilst set, remained SO sticky that the first bite glued your teeth together anyway lol. - The smelled nice on the fire though!

It was a very sociable evening and the hosts had spookied their boat up for the event and made us feel very welcome - us being the "new kids in town"...

I think it's fair to say by the last photo I took at about half 2, Andy had enjoyed the wine, home-made cider and gin...   an hour later, it was time to head home.

THIS morning we're both a little fragile but it was an enjoyable evening and good to get to know our neighbours a bit better - folk have lead such interesting lives compared to us...  it's a good community to be a part of... and because folk make an active CHOICE to become part of it, the sense of belonging comes naturally.

Until Next time...