Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Trying Out "Max" As A Proper Boat Dog.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)
Monday 18th to Wednesday 20th April

Joshers "The King" and "Lynx"
So after all the things that have largely kept that away from the boats so far this year, and having unexpectedly acquired a second dog, (see previous posting), we needed to find out how "Max" would cope with going boating.  "Max" has already spent brief time on board on the mooring, and coped well, although having arrived with us considerably overweight, he has occasionally struggled with the flight of 5 steps to climb out of "Flamingo's" cabin, and needed an extra shove from behind for the ascent - he has little trouble getting in, gravity playing its part in that operation!  (Because "Flamingo" is a deep hulled "Town" class working boat, it is over 4 feet to go down inside the cabin - far more than on a modern leisure boat).

"The King" (right) was originally a steamer.
We decided a trip down to Stoke Bruerne was in order - this would give us about 10 miles of lock-less cruising to see how he reacted to the moving boat, but would also take in the long Blisworth tunnel.  "Odin" has developed a bit of a fear of the tunnels, (blame the trip we did with him just in front of a 20 horsepower Bolinder!), and we wondered if "Max" might pick up on this.  Unlike Braunston tunnel, at Blisworth it is not really practical to walk dogs over the top, as most of the route at Blisworth follows a fairly busy road with no path, whereas Braunston is a track without vehicles, other than one quick road crossing.

Waiting for the second lock down the flight.
There were no problems at all for the run to the tunnel, and when we got there I steered, whilst Cath went in with the dogs, and played melodeon to avoid giving specific attention to either dog, whilst actually being with them actively doing something.  Considering "Odin's" insecurity about tunnel passages, both dogs were calmer than might be expected, although neither settled completely, I think.

On arrival at Stoke Bruerne "Max" got very excited - this was something new - getting on the boat at one interesting place, but now arriving somewhere new and at leat equally interesting.  He really seemed to be enjoying it, and, of course if "Max" was enjoying it, then so was "Odin"!

Navigation pub in the background
A walk down the lock flight quickly followed.  "Max" is already starting to behave like one would expect for a fairly fit dog over only about four and a half years of age, and there was positive bounce in him. He seems a "younger" dog than he did on arrival less than 2 moths ago. Over short distances he is much closer to being able to keep up with "Odin", although we rather feel that "Odin" is not going fully into "top gear" very often, to give "Max" a sporting chance!

Dogs at rest - Max (left) & Odin (right).
The "barn" area at the end of the Navigation pub allows dogs in, and we are finding it consistently better for food than the Boat, better meals, better value and better choice, (although their main vegetarian options have changed, and not necessarily what I would otherwise have chosen).  The beer was also very good, so although I would normally prefer to support a family owned pub over a "Pubco" one, the Navigation currently generally has the edge.

On the way back up
A secondary objective of this trip was that Cath was booked in for a "Partnership" related Canal and River Trust meeting on the Tuesday, and this was supposed to be at Stoke Bruerne, so we thought it a nice touch to arrive by boat.  However she learned after arrival that it was cancelled, leaving us with no other commitments beyond chilling out, and eventually getting back to our home mooring.

We had already decided that "Flamingo" would be taken at least part way down the locks to turn it, (not being possible at the head of the locks), and as we set off to do this on Tuesday, I was quite keen to push a bit further South, to, say, Cosgrove.  However I don't think either of us have fully appreciated just how exhausted recent events have left us, and in the end we sensibly decided to turn at the first available pound, after you have passed 4 locks down the flight.  Four down-hill locks, followed by a passage back up through them should easily establish how "Max" would behave.  In fact he didn't disappoint at all, and at each lock Cath tethered both dogs somewhere safe as we locked though.  Both were so comfortable with this, that on the passage back up, "Odin" was recognising the point he had waited at each lock on the way down, and asking for them to sit in the same place going back up!

Filling up with wsater.
A leisurely fill with water outside the Boat caused us the impromptu decision to have lunch there.  The one thing that can be relied upon is their baguettes filled with cheese and mushrooms, and they didn't disappoint!  (Why can't other places be quite so generous with their mushrooms - it is not as if  they are a major factor in the cost of producing such a meal, is it?).

We decided to spend another evening at Stoke Bruerne, and not set off home until the Wednesday.  We walked the dogs again, this time up over the tunnel mouth and across fields, before walking on leads back down the road to the bridge at the top lock.  "Max" is very good on a lead, whereas "Odin" still needs to be reminded he has to walk to heel.  We really should walk on pavements more often to drum the correct behaviour into "Odin".

I still can't quite believe how long it looks!
We made a lazy start back on the Wednesday.  As I entered the Southern end of Blisworth tunnel, a boat entered the Northern end about the same time.  The tunnel basically comprises three different sections of roughly similar lengths.  The southernmost third, and the northernmost third are the original bricked strucure, whereas the middle third is an all new pre-fabricated concrete bore of larger dimensions, when that part was completely rebuilt in the 1980s.  By any reasonable logic, if boats enter at both ends at the same time, they might be expected to pass in this middle section, and to not do so means one boat must be travelling twice as fast as the other, or even more.  I have no idea what the other boat was doing, but I passed the first two thirds of the tunnel, and was well into my final third before I eventually met it.  It's steerer suddenly pulled some move involving lots of reverse, and its bows swung across my path, as I was committed to passing.  I feared a loud bang, but somehow he recovered it, and we just "kissed"!  As he passed he said "sorry, I hit the wall" - but I was just relieved that the dogs had not been wound up by what might have been quite a big bang!  When we emerged Cath said both had been very calm, and she had been unaware that anything had gone on.

At least 5 former working boats in this picture
Later on, unexpectedly we passed our friends Simon and Ann moored up on their boat.  They had come up the Nene and Northampton Arm, which is why we had not seen them before.  After a bit of a struggle we moored up some distance from the side, and put out a plank.  "Max" decided he didn't need the plank, and just leapt for the bank anyway.  He may be overweight, but he is still up for trying quite a few athletic stunts!  After teas and a chat, we realised we needed to move on if we were not to be too late getting home.  Cath walked the dogs to the next bridge, but it was "Odin" rather than "Max" that was reluctant to get back on - "Max" got on with very little bother.

"Midlands and Coast" motor "Jubilee" in background.
It is always a bit of a struggle to reverse "Flamingo" into her home pontoon berth - there really isn't enough width across the cut to easily get between the boats that moor on either side.  Still, no strong winds today, and after a poor start, we got in easier than I at first expected.  All to do then was shut everything down, pack up, load the car, and head for home.

Yes, this boat really is based on a shipping container!
Has "Max" passed out as a boat dog?  Well it is hard to see how he could have done or behaved any better, so I think we would say it is all very positive so far.  Three days, two nights and eight locks of course is not a definitive test, but we think it is looking very positive indeed.  There is not a lot of space on the floor of our bedroom now though, and we have to be very careful what we are stepping on if we get out of bed in the night!

Simply add a basic hull, and front doors!

High House Wharf, Weedon to Stoke Bruerne & Return
Miles: 21.3, Locks: 8, Dogs: 2 (both at start and at finish!)

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

2016 To Date - Life Gets In The Way!

Normally we would expect to have published quite a bit of canal or boating related activities in a year before we get to mid-April, but the start of 2016 has seen us do little more than visit the boats occasionally to check that all is OK.  We did manage to stay aboard "Flamingo" on her home mooring a few weeks ago, but any trip out has until now eluded us.

I have been awaiting cataract surgery for many many months.  At the start of 2015 I had a major scare with what proved to be a detached retina in my right eye, and although Oxford's John Radcliffe Hospital seems to have done an excellent job on what was a pretty close run thing, I think, it is not unusual for a rapidly developing cataract to follow retinal surgery.  I was initially scheduled to have a cataract operation last May, but the JR decided that my retina still had fluid behind it, and that the cataracts could not be dealt with for 6 months at least.  This has had a fairly dramatic effect on both our lives, because although I was told I could continue to drive based solely on the vision in my other eye, I quickly decided that night time driving was not safe, and imposed a self ban on doing so - if you are used to driving at any time, it is hard to explain just how restrictive it is!  Fortunately driving in good lighting conditions has remained fine throughout.

After losing my first operation date to the junior doctors strike, (which, I stress, I fully support), I finally got dealt with in early February, and was given a clean bill of health in early March, but still needed to wait at least a further 6 weeks before I could be tested to get glasses that actually match the fixed focus eyes I now have.  I now have the test completed, but am awaiting the specs!

In the meantime I am waiting for an operation on the shoulder I managed to damage severely when I fell into the cut shortly after the original eyesight problem, but before getting the diagnosis of the detached retina.  The shoulder causes me considerable grief, often interrupting sleep, and the operation has been so long in being scheduled that the original pre-operative assessment I had already had done has been declared invalid, and has just had to be repeated. (Polite suggestion to NHS, if your resources are stretched - don't schedule a  pre-op assessment until a date for the operation has been allocated!).

However my health became a secondary concern back at the start of March.  We were on the boats for the visit already referred to, when we were made aware that the Police were attempting to locate Cath.  Shortly afterwards they did get hold of us, and we received the shock news that Cath's mother Ann had been discovered dead in her home by neighbours concerned that the curtains had remained drawn during the day.  The Police had no further details, but we knew that Cath's mum had both a dog and a cat, and we must get over to her house to find out what the situation was.  It took us some time to be able to leave the boats, (I was busy working on "Sickle"), and the trip from hell then ensued, as we encountered closed roads on a route not familiar to us, only to be sent on a long diversion by the sat nav that eventually bought us back to exactly the same closed roads.  It was getting very late by the time we finally arrived.

I can't over-stress how wonderful Cath's mum's neighbours have been, both at the time, and subsequently.  Yes, they realised something was up, because the curtains were still drawn, and having possesion of keys, had made their way in, and found Ann in the kitchen, obviously deceased for some time, but with nothing disturbed whatsover.  The coronor had attended, and her body removed.  Obviously we would need to take her dog "Max" away, but were not well placed to take the cat.  However a neighbour was happy to feed the cat on a regular basis, whilst we tried to re-home it.  We finally made it home, well frayed, whilst Cath started trying to work out how to let family an friends know.

A sudden death at home always requires an autopsy, and we soon learned that Ann had suffered a "bilateral pulmonary embolism".  At least this appears to generally be something so immediate and dramatic that the victim will have known very little about it - something we have been able to take at least some comfort from.  What has been so shocking is that we had seen her two weeks previously, and she had seemed generally in better health and more upbeat than for a while.  Cath's brother has actually visited the day immediately before her sudden death, and felt the same - we had planned to be there a week later for Mother's day.  We have had several family deaths in recent times, including Cath's father a year or so back, and Cath's step mother late last year, but I don't think any have had anything like the impact we are feeling from this one.

March inevitably was lost largely to organising the funeral, and to start to think about how we deal with a house and contents that is not particularly local to either us or to Cath's only UK based brother.

Finally into April but with me with an impending operation, we can at last start to think about spending some time on boats and boating, although we still have much to do elsewhere.

"Max" the dog has lived with us for a while previously when Cath's mum broke a wrist in a fall, so we knew roughly what to expect.  He and "Odin" get on very well, although "Max" has arrived with us with enough excess weight on that he finds it very hard to keep up with "Odin" - he is now on a strictly controlled diet to lose weight, but not too fast.  We are deeply impressed that he can remember house rules from last time, (no attempts to climb on furniture this time!), and just how hard he is trying to fit in.  He really is doing superbly.

However, never having been boating, how would "Max" adapt to that?  Well that has been a prime purpose of our visit to the boat, now we have finally made it back here.  Of which more in the next post.