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Pete and Pauline's 2021 Newsletter

This newsletter is going to be very different to last year, and probably much shorter than usual. It will be a very much less interesting year than last, thankfully, and at least we were able to get out on Corinna for quite a bit of the summer although there was very little other travel.

In fact, when I looked back over the year I found initially that it was much more difficult to find items which will interest our friends and I a resorted to looking through the pictures we took during the year. That took a while as I had not sorted and 'edited' them as I usually do when preparing our web pages and although the numbers were low compared to years where we travel to new places there were still over a thousand mostly still on our cameras and phones!

A day later as I return to writing the news letter the pictures are down to 300 in what I call our print files although they rarely get printed but form the basis for 'slide shows'. They showed a steady decrease in caution as the year progressed as we got progressively more vaccinated and confident compared to lockdown year. During the first few months we were mostly housebound whilst it was a time when we had rarely been in the UK since we retired. We are very fortunate in living by the Thames with ever varied views as the seasons progress and I found many pictures of the ever-changing views as the seasons turn. I showed some of the more dramatic ones last year. We saw the seasons we had been missing, we had floods keeping us from Corinna for weeks on end and saw snow. It was one of the first times at home for Pete's birthday since we have been married as we always try to be away for birthdays and anniversaries, and Pauline cooked a memorable meal. There was wine to make, things to repair, computer systems to upgrade and Pauline had started another OU course so we kept busy and our brains alive.

We were back to deliveries for all our essentials and Amazon Prime got a lot of use. But by February we were getting our first jabs and the second ones early enough to head away on Corinna at the start of May as usual. The Easter walking holiday, one of most important times to keep up with many of our friends, was unfortunately cancelled again but we are all booked ready for Easter 2022. The Easter walking group are keeping up a regular Friday afternoon Zoom meeting and the neighbours Coffee Mornings are back so we were/are keeping in touch. Our first adventure away from home was a visit to Thenford gardens, the home of Michael Heseltine and his wife Anne who we met. It was the longest trip in the car for a year and must have almost doubled our mileage since Covid came and required a new battery. Their estate is huge ~ 750 acres, and the gardens spacious - visitor numbers, never large, were restricted to about 100 so we rarely got close to others. We enjoyed it greatly and we returned again on Pauline's birthday holiday in September. Whilst many people return with knickknacks from holidays Michael and Anne collected sculptures from round the world, some huge like his head off a statue of Lenin which had been felled in some Russian province. He also has some definitive collections of plants including hundreds of varieties of snowdrops. It is only open once a month and we can not understand why more people do not go. The visit was provoked by a talk he gave over Zoom to the Oxford and Cambridge club. We both worked indirectly for him during his times in the Cabinet.

Freedom day was, or so we thought, May 6th when Pauline got her second jab and we then left on Corinna with an initial three months canal licence. Shortly afterwards she was contacted to say they had messed up at the vaccination center in Oxford and she needed a repeat as the dose was incorrect. She had a significant dose so we left it a while to get better long term protection. We were still being careful and we had enough provisions on board to last for several months if we needed to although coal was going to be marginal to get us to summer! It was the usual escape route from the Thames via Oxford and on to the South then North Oxford canals. It was not completely event free as the surveyor had noticed a rubber end cap on our heat exchanger was coming close to end of life and was weeping slightly and I had one ordered to collect and change as we passed Braunston at the junction of the South and North Oxford canals. After a week of travel we were less than an hour away from Midland Chandlers when I got a whiff of hot antifreeze and inspection showed the area under the engine was full of antifreeze. We called RCR, the equivalent of the AA but managed to nurse our way along with frequent toping up to Braunston. That was one known problem solved but the other, a damaged thermostat leading to over cooling and warm hot water would have to wait for Tony at Red Bull as the bolts were seized up and might need proper tools and re-tapping the housing. The engine is very tolerant and there were no other indications it was running cool. The engine is now 34 years old and has done far more hours than it was ever designed for, close to 12,000 now (equivalent to 500,000 miles in a car) , and we are considering replacing it over the next few years but at least the gearbox and most of the remainder of the running gear has now been replaced.

Otherwise it was an uneventful trip up to Red Bull basin where she was due for bottom blacking and a new thermostat and batteries for the system driving the inverter for the 240 volt Fridge. It was nice to have hot water back. We continued up the Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals to Bugsworth Basin, a favourite stop wreathed in history on a branch just short of Whaley Bridge. Two years ago we were walking round the town of Whaley Bridge a week before it was evacuated for fear of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam collapsing. The reservoir is the main water supply to the Peak Forest canal down to Marple where it splits to feed down to Manchester one way and the Macclesfield canal the other, overall a major setback for the northern canal network. The breach has been repaired but the sooner the Canal system is returned from being in the hands of a Charity to professional management the safer and better everyone will be. We had been intending to return a different route via Middlewich and Nantwich but that area had a surge in Covid and we content with a couple of side trips down the Ashby Canal and round to Tixall Wide and a leisurely trip back. We were feeling much more confident and risked our first visit to a pub in Cropredy which has these interesting pods in the garden.

We have had progressively shorter and shorter life out of our batteries. Current standard Lead Acid leisure batteries are now only rated for 70 cycles at half capacity so we have spent time looking for alternatives, including Lithium Batteries, adding solar power and a replacement (12v??) fridge and more efficient inverter. It is a long story which now has a series of web pages associated with it so I will not bore you with too much detail but the end result is that Pete has spent much of the remainder of the summer upgrading Corinna's electrical systems, with Solar, improved measurement and a new more efficient inverter as well as a new fridge which is still in the kitchen. He has now added computer managed monitoring and control based on a Raspberry Pi and dedicated tethered phone for connectivity and provision of Wifi round Corinna so we can run everything from anywhere in the world as easily as onboard, assuming we can ever leave the country again. We had several shorter trips on the Thames, up to Lechlade a couple of times, once for our anniversary, and several times down to Henley. These have shown we no longer need to run the engine purely for battery charging. It has been used for charging for less than an hour since the first solar was added and a lot more has been done since then.

We had a holiday round Pauline's birthday back at Edgehill where we had some good walks round the battlefields one round and through the edge of MOD Kineton - a huge site containing the largest ammunition depot in western Europe. The base stores more than 60% of the entire Ministry of Defence's munitions - an interesting juxtaposition with the earlier battles of the civil war in the area. We walked several sections of the Battlefield Trail in the area covering Edgecote, Cropredy Bridge and Edgehill. We stayed at the same Hook Norton pub as last year and the Hook Norton beer was as good as ever. Our room was in the same small turret accessed from outside and the dining room was not busy as most people chose to eat outside as the weather was good for September. The pub is perched at the top of the ridge below which the battle of Edgehill, one of the famous battles of the Civil war took place in 1642. We came back via Thenford for a second look in autumn and bought a signed copy of Michael and Anne's book from the tea room after talking to their son who did much of the photography. It is a massive work and we had to return to collect it on our way back to the car as it was too heavy to carry.

We took a leisurely trip up the Thames to Lechlade via Abingdon and back to Oxford where we spent a couple of days over the anniversary itself. We walked round our familiar haunts including Christchurch gardens where our wedding pictures were taken. We continued on through the Christchurch meadows getting a view of the new building at St Hilda's College in the distance. We decided to visit the Botanical Gardens which we had not visited for a while and spent a long time there as it was so interesting. Another garden marked for a revisit. Highlights were their giant water lilies and carnivorous plants, both in their hothouses.

On cars our old Rover has again passed the MOT, this year without even a new wiper blade but we have done more miles on Corinna (1000 miles so far) than the car. We do not want to go electric for a year or two until there is more infrastructure and development but will she last? We almost doubled our mileage with a trip to Wigan for the funeral of a very close friend with whom we have shared much of our longer boating trips. A very sad occasion although it gave a chance to catch up with others of our boating friends. We stayed with one of them who took us on a long walk round the area and down to the canal. We returned via Lichfield and its Cathedral; it is too far from home for a day trip and we had missed the fellowship of the Friends of the Cathedral. Hopefully 2022 will bring a return to normality and their social events.

We have finished harvesting the fruit and Pauline's vegetables and salads, something we could never do when away from home and have full freezers. The wine we started earlier is doing well and we have started another batch of Elderflower and Gooseberry with the frozen fruit from earlier years and Elderflowers picked and preserved as cordial during boating. Everything had been put on hold over the summer due to a plague of the little vinegar flies that now seem to be frozen into submission - even racking and bottling had been a challenge.

As I continue writing Omicron is upon us, Pete is boosted and Pauline had hers yesterday. We have delayed our cruise from January to December 2022 but we still chanced a visit to London for the Oxford and Cambridge Club Victorian Christmas dinner which we missed last year for almost the first time since joining. We were planning to stay for 3 nights but reduced that to two and did not use the Tube. The trains in on Thursday morning were fairly quiet and we had a pleasant hour walk across Hyde Park from Paddington to Pall Mall. In the afternoon we had a glass or two of Champagne with Catherine Best at her showroom in Mayfair which gave a chance to catch up with Paul and Catherine and their daughter. We know them from Guernsey. In the evening we had dinner in the club with friends met first on our Amazon cruise who we later found were Club members.

The following day we had a walk round early before the crowds came out to collect a shirt from Rohan in Covent Garden. The Christmas lights were good down Regent Street but disappointing in Piccadilly. We spent time in the MG car showroom in Piccadilly and in Fortnum and Mason opposite. It was then the formal Christmas dinner which was had less people than usual as many had cancelled so the spacing was much better than we had feared, both for the Champagne reception upstairs and dining in the Coffee Room which is normally crowded on long tables. The 'Players' were as good as ever but with much less singing along than usual. The traditional carol singing on the stairs was instead held in the Coffee Room but we left and sat outside under the tree as Pauline had not then had her booster. We heard just before the dinner that Omicron was estimated to be doubling in under three days in London and had reached a third of cases and her protection with the original Oxford vaccinations fades. The train home was very full so we will have to wait to see if we got away with the visit, but are certainly isolating from our friends and will be testing for the next week or so.

So life goes on, we still have the ever changing views of the river - the autumn colours against dark skies have been memorable - but it is far too cold for the balcony or barbecues!

Keep safe and have a very Merry Christmas and New Year

Pete and Pauline

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Content revised: 14th December, 2021