A weekend in Scotty McScotland with frozen eyeballs and the Bro.

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Galloway Astronomy Centre – taking advantage of the lack of light-pollution. Head for Scotland and turn sharp left off the M6, keep going until you can’t go any farther.

There are still no border patrols, no passport required to enter Scotty McScotland from England (and vice versa). There are the usual heads on pikestaffs, the common or garden snipers and some chaps in skirts strangling cats of course, but all change no change as regards travel.

Our target for the weekend was the Galloway Astronomy Centre for a spot of peering through some large telescopes at whatever celestial bodies might be seen, if any, in the deep, dark, depths of the scrag-end of November. We were lucky – we got clear skies. I froze as I had never frozen before, standing out in the open for hours, but I also got to see some nebulums (or is the plural nebulee or nebulaa?), some binary stars, got to identify all for my very self Betelgeuse, saw Uranus (yes, yes, I know) and was treated to the sight of the great sweep of an arm of the Milky Bar Kid Way. There was more than that, of course, but for a significant portion of the telescope-time my eyeballs were frozen solid, so I wasn’t concentrating. The gentleman running the show, a.k.a. one half of the owner/management team, had to keep defrosting the reflector mirror and eyepieces with a hairdryer…

No photographs of the celestial bodies of course, I was too busy looking to even try to take any – and I’d also only packed the compact camera, leaving the SLRs at home. However, during the daytime we explored some of the mag-ruddy-nificent scenery to be had in the Galloway area, and photographs of that there are aplenty, herewith, below.

The drive from here to there was reasonably civilised. We stopped for comestibles and ales at Tebay Services in Cumbria, just about the only decent “motorway service station” on planet Earth. Sadly, as well as running the services this bunch also run a massive animal-slaughtering operation boasting a “nose to tail” approach to “butchery”. Bastards.

By the time we turned off the M6 and headed west dusk was approaching, and the little local roads just seemed to go on without end. Just when we despaired of ever arriving we sped past a sign announcing “Galloway Astronomy Centre” and yours truly had to brake and perform a “turn in the road using forward and reverse gears” as they say. Didn’t matter much – this was the road in question…

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One delight of the journey was passing a place that has the most delicious home-grown expletive for a name – Ecclefechan. Ecclefechan is, apparently, known as the birth-place of Thomas Carlyle and Archibald Arnott – yes, that one, Napoleon’s doctor on St Helena. Oh yes – and for cakes and whisky. Note please, that there is no “e” in whisky, unless you are genuinely and exclusively Irish.

Ecclefechan. Say it as though you mean it. ECCLEFECHAN.

A drive around the pointy bit of Dumfries and Galloway on saturday provided some great scenery, with Portpatrick winning the Most Scenic Town of the Anthropocene Era Award. Bits of the coastal road afforded great views of something we first identified as Avalon and then as Atlantis but then settled on the Isle of Man as being more likely at that time of year.

I’ll let you just waddle through the photos on your own. That’s pretty much what we did.

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Stranraer, not one of Scotty McScotland’s prettiest towns.

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Yonder Isle of Man, some fifty miles distant…

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The sun sets, denting the sea as it goes.

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These chaps were going out to check their hamster-pots, or something, in the local inlets and bays.

Well, the weekend was done, and great fun it was too. The Cardinal was asleep at his mooring when I got back, and responded well to everything being switched on, lit and generally put into operational mode to warm up again.

Since the weekend the last of the woodwork has been completed, and I have spent a happy couple of days breathing “Phume of yacht varnish”, since it’s too cold to varnish anything outdoors. It’s all groovy, baby.

I have to say that the astronomical flavour to the weekend has left me with a hankering for a telescope with which to ogle the Moon…

Many thanks to the folks of Galloway Astronomy Centre for making us so welcome and for indulging a couple of less-than-wholly-knowledgeable chaps in exploring the universe.

Chin-chin.

A hoar frost. Is it cold, living on a narrowboat? On the roof; yes. Inside; no.

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Hoar frost on the lifebelt this morning…

No, and yes. Yes, and no. Sometimes, but mostly not.

In the general run of things, it’s warm – very warm indeed. There is, however, a clearly-drawn line separating “heated” from “non-heated” and “heated” from “outdoors”. Poke a nose into an unheated area and it’s cold. Go outside and you’d better be damned certain to close those doors quickly – a relatively small volume (57′ by 6′ 10″ by 6′ 6″) of snuggly can exchange itself with the same volume of “chuffin’ Nora, I’ve gone blue” in a very short order indeed.

Last evening was the first time this autumn that temperatures here in Cheshire were predicted to drop gently below zero, and they did. I heard the “wheeeee… plonk… thud” as the Celsius machine fell off its perch and landed at an opening salvo of four below.

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…and ordinary frost on the stern mooring ropes.

When I donned my striped flanelette sleeping shirt, hat and customary bouquet-garlique to climb the wooden staircase to Bedfordshire it was a nicely controlled 20°C in the main cabin and 15°C in my sleeping quarters. Twice in the night I awoke to tend to matters informal, so twice I took the opportunity to bung on a few lumps of the old coal.

How much coal did I use in the evening and overnight? Two-thirds of a regular bucket of smokeless briquettes and two minor log endings (as a treat when the stove looked about to fall asleep). That’s the most I’ve used so far this year. I somewhat unscientifically estimate that there are some four or five two-thirds-of-a-bucketful in a sack of coal, and a sack of coal costs about twelve quid from the marina’s chandlery. More scientific assesments will follow.

In the coming weeks a system will be in place to pipe warmed air from the stove area and fan it into the bathroom and into my cabin, thus upsetting the warm/not-so-warm status quo and evening out the gradient in the boat. The switch is in place, the wiring in place, all that is needed to to physically heft the necessary pipework.

Was my nose cold this morning? Nope. Was the fire still in? Absolutely, and very healthy it was too, waking itself fully to eat one of the aforesaid log ends and some more briquettes.

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A wide circle of “no frost” can be seen around my roof ventilators, the frost here kept at bay by a slumbering Hutson.

I don’t think that my solar panels will be going anywhere very quickly today though, under a neat little layer of ice crystals…

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The sheep in the field next the marina, however, are following their strict regime of perambulations. I do wonder whether they are puzzled by their breakfast arriving covered in frost, or whether it’s all part and parcel of ruminant life. Ooh, Marjorie – grass, my favourite food of all!

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So what’s it like to wake up on a narrowboat, what’s it like for me to wake up on my narrowboat? Well, sort of magical, even in a marina. The boat dips and rises ever so slightly (in response to other boats moving) and the ropes creak a little. From my fleapit I can see the various LEDs of my machinery, all eagerly waiting for the day. My clothes are all hanging within arm’s reach and my “monster claw” slippers are right where my feet will land when I roll out of bed.

The first task (as far as I know at the moment, I will doubtless learn other routines) is to shamble to the pointed end of the boat and tickle and cajole the overnight fire into something more enthusiastic. Then I shamble two-thirds of the way back to the blunted end and stick the kettle on the gas, select Machu Picchu or Kilimanjaro for the cafetière and decide between porridge or toast & marmalade. Once that is set in motion I journey the remaining ten feet to the electrical control panels, flick any necessary switches on or off, check the state of the battery bank charge (the Light Brigade, but they also run things other than lights), and mayhap crank up the sonic oscillators twelve more points. Running the evening laptop, lights and overnight refrigerator usually takes between 5% and 15% of capacity, depending upon whether I’ve also charged up torch/CD-player batteries et al and whether I’ve watched a DVD or boiled a (being lazy) electric kettle.

Once coffee has been enbrewinated I hook up the laptop to the interwebnets and check if there’s still an outside world, somewhere out there, and – these days – whether the Cold War III has been officially declared yet or not. Once the coffee has been delivered and eleventy-billion micrograms of caffeine are circulating in my system, that’s it, my day has been begun. Time to consult the jobs list.

A boat moored (long term) four or five down the pontoon is sending up his customary thick, black, oily smoke signals. Greek and Roman gods alone knows what he burns in there, but I have consulted my Mohican Smoke Signals For Beginners, and he seems to be saying “Cough, cough cough, cough cough cough…”

I can hear others, the rich boaters, running their engines for heat. This is a strange habit and, in technical terms, it is predicated upon burning diesel in a very expensive reciprocating engine designed for propulsion, hoping that the inefficiencies and waste heat will warm up the 200kg of iron, then warm the 30-40litres of coolant, and then possibly warm up the radiators. I say “rich boaters” because running an engine thus clocks up the hours and eats away into the £servicing£ schedule of aforesaid engine.

Other boats, like mine, are sending ripples of hot gases through the flue, punctuated by the thin, grey, Gauloises-esque fume of a sacrificial log or two. The heron is nowhere to be seen this morning. I can only assume that he’s booked himself into a nearby Travelodge or B&B or something. Ditto the ducks and tardy geese, although I don’t think they have the means for hotel accommodation, and are probably huddled in a bus shelter somewhere, or are presuming upon the hospitality of the local Sally Bash.

I cooked on my stove the day afore yesterday, and surprisingly easy and quick it was too. I think I’ll be doing that again today. A pot-luck vegetable stew, with freshly-baked bread to dunk.

I know how to live.

As I type this “Red Squirrel” is coming back into the marina, obviously been out for a couple of days’ explorations. Other boats, myself included, flounder about like learner-drivers trying to park articulated HGVs. This guy appears, spins it, slots it in place and ties up his ropes. I think he’s done it once or twice before. It’s impressive.

One day, I want to be able to moor like a Red Squirrel.

Chin-chin, chaps.

IGH (Admiral, retired).

What began in mist wriggled through conduit and ended in light during the night.

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The night-time fog had receded to mist by the time Hutson dragged himself from his pit. The marina’s pontoon lights added an industrial glow to the smoke from the stove as it coughed and spluttered into life.

Autumn is most definitely upon us. Last night was foggy and chilled (while I was toasty under my 99 TOG quilt). One of the neighbours was up too, as you can see from the glow from their bow doors over the water.

A strollette to clear away the cobwebs was interrupted by a very heavy train, with two tractor units labouring to pull it along, one fore, one aft. When they’re not ferrying passengers about the lines are amazingly busy moving nuclear waste and, in this case, tanks of something that must be more dense than first sight would suggest. The puzzle is that both the nuclear waste trains and this tanker strain equally whether up or down the line – whatever it is, it’s moved in both directions.

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Spot the train along the embankment.

The sun did its best though at burning away the damp air.

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So much so that by the time I returned from my perambulations, some colour was beginning to return to the natural world. Autumnal colours…

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This is one tree – with all of those colours

Even the canal was beginning to wake up.

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Albeit with the walking (brain-)dead.

Heading back to the marina the sun was really beginning to win the battle.

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It doesn’t get much more flat calm than this.

The slave… er, the Bro then turned up, and work commenced on finishing off the electrics. All of that hidden re-wiring with new feeds to each individual light, vent and switch are now paying dividends as we work from bow to stern, chucking wiring into consuit laying in the cable tray, and connecting up the power. All twisted wires connections and duct tape gone, just properly crimped connections – each labelled individually – remain.

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Separate feeds to each area, with separate circuit-breakers.

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What remains on this part of the task is now the final section down by the DC panel and Mains/Solar cupboard.

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Final cable work to be done and the cable-tray put back up.

The heart of the machine, where I can step out of bed and immediately crank up the sonic oscillatrix twelve more points with nought but a languid digit, where I can plug the laptop into a couple of USB sockets and interrogate separate solar and battery systems for domestic power and engine power. Ticketty boing boing boing or what? The glass suction lifter thing has arrived, so the clear polycarbonate panel over the heavy stuff (which we want on display, since it looks so good) is now in place. All of my little flashing status LEDs remain visible. Ventilation fans to go in next so that the whole thing keeps its cool, whatever.

As we work so things installed much earlier begin to come alive. For example, the forward navigation lights and tunnel light are now powered and hooked up to their switches…

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‘Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night;
God said “Let Newton be” and all was light.’

Today, we let quite a lot of Newton be all by ourselves, no deity involved.

Oh yes, and somewhere along the way, it seems to have got dark again… in spite of Mr Newton’s best efforts.

Mind you, it’s not difficult to tell which narrowboat here has a big new tunnel light…

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New LED tunnel light, which I must now adjust to point up and to the right…

I am now thinking about returning to my pit. Sustenance, in the form of a mongrel colcannon, has been devoured, the washing up done and the blinds pulled and doors locked on the outside world. The Cardinal has been given a rare treat – a feed for his batteries from the onshore mains – but soon I’ll scoot down to the blunt end and take him offline. There’s full sunshine predicted for tomorrow, so the solar panels can take the load.

More jobs to be finished tomorrow. Mayhap hooking up the horn, decklights, anchor light and rear navigation light, mayhap not yet. We’re getting there.

I’ve said it to him in person often enough, but I need to say it publicly too – an enormous thank you to the Bro, for being so gobsmackingly generous with his time and expertise. Both the Cardinal and I appreciate it immensely. Thank you.

Right, time today methinks to arise from my gluteus, flick those switches to “off” and crawl into my pit.

Here endeth the Admiral’s log for today.

Chin-chin.

😉

The Society for the Movement of “Up” to a More Convenient Location – S.M.U.M.C.L.

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Cable tray partly in place – virtually all of the 12V wiring is carried along here, the 230V “mains” is on t’other side o’boat. Yup, the tray is staying exposed and on view like that – and to add a touch more of “Red Dwarf” it will soon have some ventilation pipes hanging off it too. The images below are yonder Cardinal Wolsey himself, and a view of the pounding of the French ship ‘Redoubtable’ at Trafalgar (although too late to save Nelson). White blanking plate between is where there used to be a dangly-dangly brass wall-light thingy, the real and main purpose of which seemed to be to collect dead flies.

Yonder human frame is emphatically not adapted well to working overhead. Drilling, stripping wires, tinning wires, crimping terminals onto wires (and testing them), screwing up wotsit connection blocks and connecting wires with fiddly wee screws – when conducted in the “up” dimension of time and space – wreak havoc on necks, backs and arms.

I therefore propose that we form a society with the express aim and intention of having “up” removed from its current, highly inconvenient location, and placed somewhere where it’s not quite so creak & groan-inducing to use, such as at desk height or roughly 30″ – 33″ from the average set of human toes.

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All “overhead” work might then be more conveniently carried out with arms hanging down instead of raised above the shoulder, and with head in the more natural “drooping” position. Furthermore, my varifocal spectacles (close work to bottom of lens, long-distance to top) might then actually have a ruddy chance of being useful, and I might look less like an elderly bog-eyed frog trying to use a screwdriver in a pea-soup fog.

This week the Bro and I have, on occasion, when there has been demonstrably fewer than one spectator in sight, lumbered onto the roof the the Cardinal and performed “The Happy Dance”. This is because all of the thinking, planning and physical work hitherto undertaken is now paying dividends (and dividends a damned sight more generous than any National Savings Account). The last of the electrics is going in…

We’ve thrown out pipeworkery, we’ve heaved out woodwork, and now we’re ditching the last of the Duct Tape. Below, the old versus the new:

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Earlier “electrickery merchants” seemed to have thought that twisting wires together and then taping over them was kosher industry standard and practise.

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Many, many splendid examples of the electrical trade. These really ought to go to some museum for display. I recommend Madam Tussauds, in the “horror” department.

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A small measure of the new… new wire, labelled at either end (and sometimes in the middle too, if a long run) and hooked up in terminal blocks ready to run back and forth in conduit in the new cable-tray. Most splendid indeed. All immortalised in diagrams in the new Owner’s Manual too. The only downside to this is that it’s overhead, which is up, hence S.M.U.M.C.L.

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Wiring further down towards the blunt end and still in progress, temporarily labelled with tape and ready for being cut to length, proper labelling and connecting.

S.M.U.M.C.L. would, when our aims have been achieved, also take the pressure off words such as “ooh” and “aargh” and “yikes” and “gadzooks”. Phrases currently under ridiculous demand, such as “chuffin’ Nora, my back’s gone again” and “no – I can’t feel my hands at all now, the blood must be somewhere else” would be much more freely available in moments of more genuine need. For the good of the human species we simply cannot continue to undertake overhead work in the “up” position, it simpy must be moved.

Interspersed with trips to the wilds of the marina to find vertebrae that have pinged out and shot off to pastures untrodden, some of the good good goodies have been finalised (using wiring put in many moons ago at the start of this venture).

There are now two of these LP Gas detector beasties live, one at the lowest point (as the Cardinal usually rests) and t’other in the galley near the cooker. Either of these will turn off the gas in the gas locker all by themselves, if triggered.

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Yes, yes, yes – wiring yet to be neatly p-clipped away! Sensor itslef is way down below…

There is now a big, red switch near the galley that will also, if whacked in a panic, turn off the gas bottles (and probably throw a cover over the budgie’s cage too).

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Gas on – gas off. Gas on – gas off. Gas on – gas off…

One very neat feature added is a couple of extra switches right next to the light switch by my bed in the cabin. These are “protected” switches in that to work them requires that the little red secondary switch is tickled first, so they can’t be operated accidentally. One is an extra switch to the deck floodlights (that went in earlier in the work) and the other is an extra switch for my 120db horn… Should I find myself in the middle of nowhere and the boat being attacked by badgers during the night all I need do is to reach out a languid arm and flick a couple of switches to both illuminate and mightily disturb the peace. No need to get dressed first, find the ignition key, or even go outside. Hopefully this son et lumière show will keep badgers, burglars and zombies distracted while I load the blunderbuss with grape, don a pair of exceptionally frilly knickers and adjust the strap on my pickelhaube.

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Yikes – duct tape! No worries though, it’s just holding the new wiring back until it is covered by the wood trim on its way to the cable tray up above (see aims of S.M.U.N.M.C.L. for problems with “above”). One horn, one outside floodlights.

Numb fingers, shoulders, elbows, wrists and brains aside, the week has not been without its more mundane tribulations. Polycarbonates ordered from a certain “specialist” plastics firm early last month have been arriving – arriving damaged, cut with axes instead of saws, with holes drilled in the wrong places and with no holes drilled at all. “Useless twonks” is a phrase that keeps springing to mind. One of the sheets ordered (and the one in the photo below is sans holes ordered – useless twonkery abounding) is to be the access panel to the heavy electrics cupboard (and to protect it from t’weather, should t’hatch be open). Because it has none of the endrillinations required it is shown with some canvas webbing wot I did use to lift it in and out to try it in place. When the plastics twonks get their act together, it will just be a plain see-through panel.

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Please to ignore the purple canvas webbing, this is that which will what be not there when finished properly. Row of coloured switches shown are: engine isolation; inverter on/off; bilge pump; engine-bay ventilation fan; cabin ventilation (mentioned below) and, finally, electrical cupboard ventilation fans over-ride.

The see-through panel keeps the inverter, isolation transformer, various fuseboxes and the solar controllers – and their various flashing LEDs – on view, while still protected. This used to be covered by a couple of dodgy doors with the poor circuit-breaker panel languishing on one of them under some sort of “photo frame” arrangement in a desperate attempt to keep it out of any and all rain.

All of the switchworkery and battery displays have been moved one step further inside, away from the steps and away from the great outdoors.

The exposed metal cable-tray is a deliberate feature, running the full length of the boat – and I loves it. It will, for even more Red Dwarfery effect, soon enough have some plastic and crinkly pipework dangling from it – forced ventilation to take warm air from around the stove area and to throw it into the shower room and the sleeping cabin. The shower room doubles as a clothes-drying area, so it will have warm air blown in at floor level and the vent in the ceiling to extract the various scents of my laundered boxer shorts (these scents being lemon, lavender, meadow-flowers and curry-breath).

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Oh yes – and I took five minutes out to stick up the third smoke/CO alarm! If all three (and a fourth is planned…) were to go off simultaneously then I suspect that the decibels alone would remove all human life from the Cardinal’s interior.

I also took advantage of the flat calm the other day to move the Cardinal about face at his mooring, thus giving me easier access (as in access with a pontoon under my boots) to scrub the rest of the roof and to tart up some of the battle-scars on the gunwales (in my free time). The pointy end is now moored where the more blunt end used to be, and – fortunately, a testament to Northwich Boat Builders’ skill and the quality of the hull – the blunt end moored where the pointy end used to be moored. It’s all very confusin’, I know. In landlubber terms, a three-point turn was performed. Alright, a four point turn was performed; there’s not a lot of room in the marina for this sort of floating tomfoolery.

Moving the Cardinal thus was also an act of calculated cruelty performed upon my fellow marina inmates, in that they all thought – they all hoped – that we were departing for pastures new. Oh, their little crest-fallen faces when I reversed the Cardinal back into his mooring and re-tied our strings. The marina went from full of folk running about with boxes of paper party-hats and crates of beer and fireworks to full of folk sitting on rocks, weeping.

We aim to please.

Which reminds me, I must clean the bathroom. We should aim there too, please.

Chin-chin for the mo’.

S.M.U.M.C.L. membership forms are available from the front desk, or by post from The Department for Time, Space & The Idiotic Placement of Important Dimensions, P.O. Box 3.142ish or more, SWIA 1AA.

IGH on behalf of Cardinal Upgradements & Improvements Limited.

Wibble.

A mascot on the mental brink after a spell in the washing machine…

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It was for his own good. He needed a bath. He had six minutes in the twin-tub, six on rinse and six minutes in the spinner. Now all he does is tremble, mutter about “bad hair forever” and stare at me with those accusing eyes. You’d think that I’d tried to drown him or something.

Anyway.

Progress abounding on the Cardinal.

Flooring is going down. Insulation first, a layer of foil and then some nice oak which is what I gots me at a very goodly bargain price. Of course, nowt is square or parallel on a narrowboat, so each piece must be cut to a slightly different length and shape.

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It feels great underfoot, and looks a treat.

The shower-room is all but finished (still the soft, sensuous, black rubber flooring to go down sometime, ooh, er, missus). A flick of the light-switch now turns on the red night-vision LEDs, a second flick changes them to bright white. The shower itself now bathes in a neon blue glow, which makes taking a shower just that little bit “Star Trek”.

The red night-vision gizmo means that I really, really don’t have to be fully awake to visit the necessary offices during the night – luxury, eh?

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I was going to take a selfie while I was in the shower to show you the lighting effect, but then I realised that you’d all end up looking as though you’d just spent six minutes in the washing machine… so I didn’t. Be grateful.

The washing machine’s home is now finished and trimmed. It stows out of the way in the galley, with an extra worktop as a bonus.

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Just awaits the velvet restraining rope to the front so that it doesn’t move out of place as we cross the Atlantic or something.

All of the earlier work that is now unseen, the wiring, the changes to the layout, all feel as though they are coming together, and the end is in sight.

It’s either that, or there’s a train heading towards me in the tunnel.

Galley gets more attention next, with cupboard doors being removed and re-trimmed so that the shelves are open-plan basket cases (wibble moo fribble de-clomp, Nanny…) and mayhap a change to the main worktop surface. Ancient refrigerator will be leaving me for pastures new, to be replaced by two separate 12v coolboxes.

The gaps where the mush-er-oom vents used to be in the roof are being plugged with the “Breezy” beasties, with two-speed fans and the facility to close them off altogether if necessary…

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Panels are going up over the … traditional… carvings that currently adorn the various stem, stern and side doors.

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The furniture on these is being simplified, with better bolts, better locks and “medieval” style locking bars that just drop into place. Simples is the way to go, methinks – it suits my brain.

Duh-huh, uhuh.

Aside from that, it’s been a relaxing week. Today, by way of cont-er-ast, has been an unseasonally summerish festival of waking up when I felt like it, coffee, toast – and of emptying “Thunderbird Two”, filling the Cardinal’s water tank, a couple of hours of laundry and some writing of this blog post. Domesticus abounding. Later I may iron a shirt or six, and arrange my boxer-shorts into colour order with a sub-order of gusset-itchiness. I’ll tackle rolling the socks tomorrow (that’s a job I find best on Sundays, when I know that lots of religious folk are probably praying). Socks are dangerous things.

Right now though the ripples on the water are slapping at the Cardinal’s bow, the sun is shining and I am contemplating (vegan) cherry pie and (vegan) custard for tiffin, just as a restorative, to keep my vitaminous levels and suchlike up. One mustn’t allow one’s various sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic humours to drop, must one?

Certainly not during the season of frists and frellow mootfulness…

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All suggestions as to how to calm the mascot down and bring him back from the verge gratefully received.

A stiff brandy, perhaps?

Chin-chin.