How this blog began: Boat, garden, party venue and writer's retreat.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

What A Year To Be In Wivenhoe

A problem...

...Sometimes during 2013 I didn't know whether I was coming or going. As always, I was constantly trying to squeeze too many things into too little time. I've learned my lesson, and next year things will be different.

I say that every year, but this time I mean it.

And I say that every year too, but this time I really mean it.

I thank you, my lucky stars, for giving me such a fine problem to deal with.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Morning In Wivenhoe

A beautiful Christmas morning in Wivenhoe. I had to have a drive of my old Fiat, named Alphonso The Second.

I stopped outside my Boat For My Potplants. I didn't have long as I had to get back to do the sprouts.

But I did make a vow to myself to spend more time next year on the boat. The poor old thing has unfortunately been a little neglected during 2013, especially during the second half of the year.

However, I have a date earmarked with my fab brother-in-law Martin to take Los Amigos out on the river.

I hope I can muster up the nerve. With him at my side, I'm sure I will be able.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Cracked Windscreen

Before we drove away with our new acquisition, Ian noticed the crack across the corner of the windscreen. The vendor wasn't having any of it when I tried to get her to drop some pounds off the price. Muggins me still went for it.

Back in Wivenhoe, I called up Andy from Colchester Motorglass. Andy is a top chap who had previously helped me out with the rubber seals around the Boat For My Potplants.

I liked his attitude back then, and I liked it even more now. It was 'yes', 'it can be done' and 'it shouldn't be a problem'. Musical words to my ears.

Luckily the screen is flat glass, so it was simply a matter of him taking measurements, making templates of the corners and waiting for him to turn up with the new screen. I think he secretly liked the challenge. So much more interesting than replacing windscreens for Ford Fiestas all day long.

A couple of hours later, and Tallulah The T-Reg Motorhome was sporting a shiny new front window. Excellent.

Now Churchill the nodding dog would be able to sit on the dashboard in comfort.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

But What On Earth Is It?

I'm not an expert in the world of motorhomes - or campervans if you'd prefer (I don't know what the difference is either), and in fact not being an expert is an understatement of the highest order.

In fact I know nothing. Zilch. Rien. Pas.

All I had an inkling about was that I wanted a Hymer. I'd seen more modern examples here and there, out an about. They looked so, er, I'm not sure. I liked their quirky shape, allowing for the double bed to be stored above the driver and passenger seats, and then lowered when required, so that a mere step up is all that's needed for a good night's kip.

No ladders to climb. No hurt feet. No claustrophobia.

But Hymers don't come cheap. Unless of course it's 35 years old and has a number of things wrong with it (as we later discovered).

And it's based on that bastion of British engineering from yesteryear, the faithful old Bedford CF van, which in it's day was Vauxhall Opel's answer to the wildly superior Ford Transit.

So here we have what's called a Bedford Blitz Hymer, on a 2.3 ltr petrol engine'd Bedford CF chassis.

I had to keep telling myself - "It's a classic". And I'm sure it is. Time will tell.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Deed's Done

The price was agreed, and the date was arranged to collect the van from darkest, deepest South London. Our friends Ian and Sue kindly agreed to come with us. In fact they took us in their car, and Sue would drive their car back while Ian would drive the camper back - that is if we went ahead and bought the old gal.

Ian knows a thing or two about motors, and I was very grateful for his offer to check things over before we parted with the spondoolics.

We met the mechanic man, and Ian asked appropriate questions about things mechanical. His pre-arranged secret signal (a shifty thumbs-up) meant that I then spent the following twenty minutes arranging insurance. I later discovered that that premium rate number cost me over fifteen bloody quid!

But that didn't matter at the time, 'cos we were now the proud owners of a 'T'-reg campervan, with all mod cons included. Whether the mod cons worked, we'd sort out later.

For now the only task in hand was to get her home.

"Yes, We'll Have It"

So, after looking around the interior and taking a few pictures, I went back home and decided that we would say 'yes'. The old Hymer would need to be MOT'd, and I guessed that any major problems would be shown up at that stage.

It was a slightly bizarre situation.

The man who had owned the van for the last 28 years had recently passed away, and it was his widow who was now selling it. However, not being internet-savvy, she enlisted the help of of a friend to advertise the van. But it was yet another man with whom I ended up being given the number to call, and to subsequently visit. He was the mechanic who knew the van and had arranged the MOT.

He called me to say that although it had passed the test, there was an oil leak, and that it would cost a few hundred pounds to fix.

So I thought it would be reasonable to ring up and negotiate the sale price with the lady to take this into account.

Unfortunately she wasn't having any of it. 'Don't you know what a good price you're getting this for?' I was being told off for asking such a ridiculous question.

That was my next error - I didn't put the phone down.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

It Seemed Like a Good Idea

It did seem a good idea at the time. I answered an ad, and ventured south of the Thames to a strange place called Streatham.

The campervan sounded interesting. It was a Hymer which is what we (I) wanted, so that the bed would drop down over the front seats.

It had been owned by a family for the past 28 years, had been taken to Germany many times, and for the past few years had been stored in a garage.

I was expecting it to be out on the road when I went to view, but it wasn't.

Inside the campervan, inside the garage, it was cold and dark, but I was already beginning to fall in love.

I took several pictures with a flash. It wasn't until I got home and loaded them up that that my heart went truly all of a flutter.

That was my first mistake - letting my heart rule my head.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Nod To My Dog

'Aah, YES', says Churchill. 'I love my Tallulah'
Well, dear blog-readers. I'm taking a slight deviation away from my Boat For My Potplants for a while. It's the winter evenings, you see. I can't get too enthusiastic about sitting on the boat while it's drizzling outside.

So, in the meantime, let me tell you about Tallulah, our 'T'-reg 1987 Hymer Bedford Blitz motorhome (or should I say 'campervan'? - it sounds a bit cooler, eh?).

Why did we get a campervan? It seemed like a great idea at the time - and I'm sure it will be.

Whilst Los Amigos (the boat) was fundamentally MY project,  Tallulah is a passion shared between The Lovely Jane, (aka 'Erindoors - but now often 'Eroutdoors).

Whereas my boaty goal is to sail to Brightlingsea and back, thus overcoming my nautical fears, our campervanny goal is to attend a music festival next year.

After extensive research with a bottle of the red stuff, we've settled on Latitude, in Southwold, Suffolk.

Actually, the extensive research is a bit of a fib. We don't know where or when Latitude is.  But it sounds like fun, all the same.

And Tallulah does need some attention. It's a bit scary to drive. I can't find the gears.

Never mind.

It'll be a great home for our nodding dog, Churchill.

Aah, Yes!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Which One's First?

OMG! What have we done? Gone and got a campervan, that's what.

But 'Erindoors won't drive it - and I don't know how to.

I'm sure First Gear is here somewhere. It's only a matter of finding it.

What could be easier?

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

High Tide

High Tide today along the quay

Floats my boat

Lots of work

Keeps me afloat

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Two Little Boys

Steve, Daniel, James, Karen,
All the hard work done on board the Boat For My Potplants was worth it when my sister Karen, her husband Steve, and their two little boys Daniel and James came to visit us in Wivenhoe.

Of course the day wouldn't have been complete without a visit to the boat.

James Watson
Daniel Watson
It was agreed that the boys would come and stay with their Uncle Neil and Aunty Jane some time next year, giving their parents a chance for a well-earned rest away by themselves.

I don't know whether Daniel and James are excited by the prospect, but I know for sure that I am.

We can eat sweets, make a camp fire, go on the canoe, sleep on the boat, have a bike ride, visit the beach, MAYBE even take the boat out, and, and, and...anything and everything.

Either they'll grow up, or I'll grow younger.


Monday, 28 October 2013


We were warned about the storm. Yesterday I took some precautionary measures and hoped for the best. I had dug in the kedging anchor and checked the lines. And I had moved the planters away from the deck sides.

This morning, from the comfort of our flat I wondered what all the fuss was about.

That was until I ventured out. 'I'm just popping down to the boat to check it's okay', I said to Jane. 'Be careful', she said. 'It's only a bit of wind, I said jokingly.

Well, what a fool I was. As I walked along the quay I was literally nearly blown off balance by a gust as strong as anything I'd ever encountered.

I noticed Pete The Roof coming off his boat. He'd slept on it last night just to keep an eye on it. Luckily no problems, but the gusts were now getting stronger as I approached my Boat For My Potplants. As I got closer I could see a couple of the canopy fastenings had broken free. I knew I'd have to walk the plank, climb aboard and close the catches before a gust got underneath and ripped the whole thing off.

As I balanced on the gunnels (I think that's what you call the side bits), I suddenly felt vulnerable to the elements, and decided to get off as quickly as I could before I got blown off.

The next high tide will be this evening. I certainly hope the gusts will have died down by then. 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Baton Down

Today's the day that it's been predicted that we're in for a bit of a stormy time, with strong winds coming our way across south east England.

It's also been the day that my two nephews, Daniel and James, came to visit us in Wivenhoe, along with their parents Karen (my sister) and her husband Steve.

What a nice time was had walking to the beach and having stone-throwing contests with the boys.

Then it was back to the Boat For My Potplants to make sure the canopy was fastened and the lines were secured before the bad weather broke. I noticed my kedging anchor could have done with being sunk deeper in the mud - so off I went with spade in hand.

I very nearly got stuck in the glutinous gunge, but fortunately my brainy nephew shouted instructions to me from the boat telling me how to ease myself out of the quagmire by angling my heels upwards before trying to lift my feet.

He was right. It worked. And I was free to live another day.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Circle Is Unbroken

Well, it all began in the OEG. That's the Old English Gentleman to you and me - a great pub in Saffron Walden, Essex, England. That's where I was having a pint with my old friend Mark (ex-Radio Luxembourg and Capital Gold dj) Wesley, and I came up with the great idea to create the World's Smallest Pirate Radio Station on board my Boat For My Potplants.

The circle is unbroken.

This week we met up again, and I admitted my fear of taking the boat out on the river, and how I'd like to overcome it.

I also mentioned how I'd like to sit in the corner of a studio belonging to a proper dj, and watch and learn.

Thanks to Mark, two of those dreams may come true..

...Firstly he kindly offered to take my boat out with me. Being an experienced nautical maestro (he had to go out to sea a few times during his pirate dj years), he knows a thing or two about boats.

...Secondly he kindly invited me to a Capital Gold dj reunion coming up shortly in London.

Yes, yes, yes...pleeeeeeease, Mark.

But based on his performances at some of my previous shindigs, I'm not too sure if it's a good idea.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Go Go Go

It's amazing what a difference a good sleep can make.

Today, despite the rain, I'm full of beans and ready to get on with my latest riverside project.

A while ago, and in partnership with our great Wivenhoe friends Rob and Sion, we purchased a Pelican 3-man canoe - but since then we've been using our garage to store it.

This means that Alphonso The Second (my beloved old 1968 Fiat 124 AC Sport Coupe) has been languishing outside in the elements.

Today is the day for ACTION. It's time for Alphonso The Second to come in from the cold.

So, I have designed a special canoe rack. All I need to do is make it.

It's Sunday morning and B&Q opens in a few minutes. I'm off to get the timber.

It's all go, go, go around here


Saturday, 19 October 2013


Normally I'm up with the lark and ready to do whatever's in store for me.

But today I was up before the larks, waking at around 3 in the morning and not going back to sleep.

So all the plans for today's jobs have gone out the window. Tiredness prevails.

I went down to the Boat For My Potplants to get some inspiration, but for once all I could see was a workload that I had no energy for.

The canopy needs cleaning. The mud from when Jerry fell in needs cleaning. The hull needs cleaning. The step needs repairing. The kitchen needs tidying.

Even the thought of the boat 'extension' that I've got my eye on didn't inspire me - especially when I realised my plan had a major flaw in it. I realised that I can't tie it to the flat end of the big boat because there's a bloomin' motor in the way!

All I could do was look and ponder. And when I finished pondering I went home.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Quay Man Mike - top chap
As the latest video (on the right of this page) shows, I have a special hiding place for the Lambrini, no less.

But I don't think the bottle will ever actually be opened.

Now I have a decision to make that will solve the question of how to get out on the open river more easily.

The answer, my friends, will be blowing in the winds, in the form of a DINGHY - attached to the rear of my Boat For My Potplants.

And I can pay for it from the 'writer's fee' I got from the Motor Boats Monthly feature, thus ploughing the money back into the project.
Inflatable or solid

But do I get an inflatable, or a more solid variety?

I still have the old 2hp motor that came with my boat, and as it was serviced and checked over by Quay Man Mike, it should be fine. Shouldn't it?

I saw Mike last night at a party and mentioned this latest wheeze to him.

But for some reason he had a fit when I asked him if there would be somewhere on a dinghy for some more potplants.

Come on Mike - get in the spirit, ol' chap!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Here's Why...

Today the tide was okay, the weather was okay, but no one was around to come with me. At least I turned the motor on - and it started first go. I left it purring sweetly for fifteen minutes while I gazed out at the calm water and the other boats passing by.

...Here's why I don't really want to take my Boat For My Potplants out on the river...

(There! I've said it. I admit it. I'm a cowardy custard. I didn't want to face up to my demons, but my shrink said it would help me if I did. Only kiddin' about the shrink, but the rest is true)

Reason 1: The river is tidal, and the spring tides are only high enough for long enough occasionally

Reason 2: I need at least one other person with me, and most people are busy with their own lives

Reason 3: Going out and coming back into my tight space, against the tide and wind isn't easy

Reason 4: I'm often away at work when the tide is actually high enough

Reason 5: I do NOT want to hit my neighbour's boat

Reason 6: What if the motor cuts out like it has done previously?

Reason 7: Undoing and redoing the lines is a right old pullava

Reason 8: I'm lazy (very slightly)

Reason 9: I'm lacking confidence (very much)

Reason 10: I am a Cowardy Custard

BUT - I have come up with a solution to help me get out on that lovely, beckoning river...

My brainwave hit me between the eyes, and I can't wait to put it into practice. All will be revealed soon.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Mud, Mud, (Not) Glorious Mud...

'Bye Darling. Don't wait up for me', I said to Jane, as I was on my way out to meet Jerry on the boat at seven o'clock this evening. She was 'Erindoors, as I was preparing to become 'Imoutdoors - and go off to discuss how to develop my mad regular radio programme idea that could be broadcast from the boat every Friday evening. Or any evening they'll have me, to be frank.

Jerry is Top Dog at Wunnerful Wadio Wivenhoe and it is he who helped me to put on The World's Smallest Pirate Radio Station last year. Oh what fun that was.

We had an appointment to work out what equipment I will need so that I can invite local musicians and friends to take part in my "Riverside Sessions" on the back of the boat. It will be great, but I really need Jerry's input to help me pull this off - 'cos (like normal) I don't really know what I'm doing.

I got there a few minutes earlier than Jerry, and got the canopy open, the lights on and the whisky in the jars. Soon I heard his footsteps climbing onto the fore-deck. Listen to me being all boat-speak.

'Ey, Ey, Cap'n', he called out. I leaned out to welcome him aboard.

Then one second he was there, clasping his own bottle of whisky. The next he wasn't - as he slipped and fell into the deepest of mud. And not a drop of alcohol had yet passed our lips.

But he held on to, and saved, the bottle. Well done Sir.

The evening was aborted, and I drove Jerry home. On my way back I reflected on an old idea I had to build a wide walk-way side-deck.

Maybe it's time to re-draw the plans.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

How I Get Music On My Boat (even more cont'd)

In the third of this mini-series, I promised to explain what speakers I use to get 'Some Music For My Boat', so here we go then.

We plug in the old Grundig amp, and connect it to two separate sets of speakers, switched on the amp with the buttons marked 'Speaker 1', and Speaker 2'.

The cabin pair (Speaker 1) is really cool, in my humble opinion. They are Grundig 'Audiorama' spheres, from the '70's, and are omni-directional, meaning that you get a different sound depending on how they are hung, because the sphere contains four separate drive units, each facing a different direction. The boat has brilliant natural acoustic properties from all the wood and cushions, and it's possible to crank up the volume to Number 11 without distortion. Excellent.

And now to the rear cabin.

My mate Mike gave me a pair of Cambridge Audio bookshelf speakers, which I originally had up on the bit behind the windscreen. But then I discovered they fitted perfectly in the voids at the back. Great! Except that whenever someone came on board and sat on the rear deck, their bums muffled the sound.

Recently I had a Eureka moment of inspiration, remembering an old Bose Acoustimas system that my sister Emma gave me and I'd been keeping in the garage for a rainy day. The rest of her system didn't work, but I thought I'd try connecting the Boses to the Cambridges, giving me separate bass down below and treble up above.

I put the Boses up behind the windscreen, and Hey Presto, what a result! Thanks Mike. Thanks Emma.

So there we have it. How to get music on a boat in three easy parts.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

How I Get Music On My Boat (cont'd)

The Regulator irons out the peaks and troughs
As promised, here's more of the set-up used for providing a half-decent sounding hifi system on board the Boat For My Potplants.

Some of you avid sailers out there may baulk at my enthusiasm in this department and cry out "But why don't you take the bloody boat out on the river?". Well, it's a good point, well made, and I will answer my critics all in good time.

Meanwhile, back to the hifi...

The Leisure Battery stores the energy
After the solar panel has collected all that free energy from the sun, it has to transfer it to useable mains power. But as the day becomes night, and there are clouds blocking the sunlight, there are peaks and troughs of energy, so the power has to run through a REGULATOR to make the supply more constant, before it is put into the LEISURE BATTERY.

From the leisure battery, the cable sends the electricity into the cabin and into the INVERTER situated under one of the seats. The inverter turns the 12v supply into 220V, so as to give normal mains power, and any three-point mains plug can be connected, such as my old hifi amplifier.

The Inverter turns 12v into 220v mains power
My hifi amplifier is a 1970's Grundig - a relic from my distant past. But it works well, gives a great sound - and didn't cost anything. And what's brilliant about it is that it has connections and selector switches for TWO pairs of speakers. Oh, what joy.

My old Grundig hifi amp - still going strong since the '70's
So tomorrow, dear blog-readers, our lesson continues with details of the speakers AND the music sources.

Gosh, I've always wanted to be a teacher, and now I am one.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

How I Get Music For My Boat

Apologies, dear blog readers, for my recent absence from these 'ere world wide web pages.

I'm back after a lovely holiday - but then I had a bout of the Ryanair lurgie that put me right out of action. I was so incapacitated that it was several days before I could muster up the energy to take a wander down to the quay and check that the Boat For My Potplants was still there.

It was. As I climbed aboard and looked around, I had a quiet moment to myself reflecting on my good fortune to have such a lovely old thing. And I'm not talking about 'Erindoors, either.

I fought a tiny tear from forming in the corner of my eye, and quickly pulled myself together. Then I remembered one of the questions I am constantly asked...what set-up do I have for the boat's music system - and how does it work?

Well, I will share, so that other like-minded musos who have a boat, or a caravan or motorhome can follow suit. If you are like me, you can't be without your music for too long - and after all, my boat was always intended as a bit of a hifi getaway.

None of this 'turn it down' mullarkey for me! No sirree. More like 'turn it up' if you please. And I didn't want any tinney old sound. No - it had to be the best sound I could get - and afford.

So here it is...

It all starts with the solar panel on top of the deck. The rest will follow in tomorrow's blog.

Bet you can't wait, eh?

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A Little Peace And Quiet. Not Likely

The weather was unbelievable. I had finished a sweaty and hard day at the office (well, up the ladder), and the sun was still shining at six. There was probably another hour or so to catch some rays down on the back of the boat.

So off I trotted, with my book and a couple of cans of Guinness. I walked the plank, opened up the canopy, sat down and turned the pages. Aah, peace, quiet.

For about ten seconds.

Along the quay came our lovely friend Trish with her two delightful grandchildren, Lilly and Louis. Of course it would have been rude not to invite them aboard.

I closed my book up and said goodbye to the tranquility that had been eluding me all day.

The children loved jumping down the hatch, wearing and sharing my special Cap'n's Hat and Shark's Hat, running amok, and generally having a great time doing what children do


Did I mind having the interruption?

Not in the slightest. That's what having a Boat For My Potplants in Wivenhoe is all about.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Riverside Sessions

Last night was sublime. At 7 o'clock I met up with two chaps on the Boat For My Potplants; Jerry and David. It was the kind of thing that only happens in Wivenhoe.

Jerry is the man with whom I did The World's Smallest Pirate Radio shows last summer, and now a firm friend.

David had put a note on The Wivenhoe Forum asking for some help with his boat, which Jerry answered, and then discovered that David is the author of a most amazing book.

The Rock Atlas is all about the places associated with music-related topics throughout the UK and Ireland. Where an album sleeve was photographed; where a group's last gig was; that sort of thing.

If you like music, you'll love it. It's on sale at The Wivenhoe Bookshop and of course that big company beginning with A.

So, imagine the scene last night...three blokes sitting on the back of the boat, talking music, watching the sun set and the birds catching their supper, and the best bit; taking it in turns to play our favourite songs on our iPods through the boat's hifi - quite loud - until around midnight. A little wine was also had, I vaguely recall.

We recorded it for future broadcast on Radio Wivenhoe, and it could be the start of something big. Top musicians, wanting to promote their latest project, will surely be clambering over themselves to experience what money can't buy. The concept of The Riverside Sessions has been born.

'Who's calling? Paul who? Sorry Mr McCartney, we're busy that night, we have a Mr Springsteen coming over. But I daresay we could squeeze you in'.

It's nice to dream, eh?

By the way, thanks to David, I heard last night the most beautiful Beatles cover. To check it out, go back to the top of my blog and click on the record. See what you think...