Wednesday 21 December 2022

a two stage weekend

First stage was Saturday night, two minutes down the road from home at The Pilot. A brilliant night as usual, not sure if there was less room on the dancefloor or on the stage as Nikki's brother Jim joined us for the night on keyboard and my young nephew Josh joined us for a few songs on guitar, effectively lowering the average age of the band by a few decades or so.

Second stage was forty-five minutes down the road at Cleve Rugby Club in Bristol, where joined them for their Christmas Party on Sunday afternoon. It also marked the second World Cup game I got to watch, as it coincided with the final between Argentina and France. I'd previously watched the England USA game as it had coincided with a previous gig. I'm no expert on these things, but I think the Argentina France game was the better.

The weather Sunday was filthy. The temperature had risen, but had brought with it heavy wind and thick, sleeting rain. It put a lot of water on the roads, and driving home after the gig Sunday evening, our guitarist Matt lost control of his car and totalled it against the central reservation of the motorway. Despite the heavy traffic, he didn't hit anybody else and nobody else hit him, so whilst his car is an absolute mess he was miraculously unhurt.

If I get nothing else for Christmas, I'll take that and be thankful.

Friday 16 December 2022

great game

Needless to say, the dogs are still loving the snow. Me, not so much, because the car's been in the garage all week (petrol does not belong in a diesel tank, but that's another story, it turned out to be a bad weekend, vehicularly speaking) and I'm discovering how treacherous pavements can be when they're turned into toboggan runs.

A friend of mine who lives somewhere in Wisconsin in the USA recently referred to something she called "snow duty". I think that involves basically shovelling the snow off your drive and the pavement outside your house so that the walkways are clear. We don't get snow often enough over here for that to be a thing, so we just let it pack down and freeze and then it's every man, woman or child for themselves.

Talking of children. Lottie is going through a "phase". She's a bright dog, knows all the basic commands now and one or two tricks. Her "stay" and her "recall" is supurb. In the classroom.

Out of the classroom she's a bit of a rebel who just wants to have fun. So if she picks something up, and she is something of a compulsive kleptomaniac, whether she's allowed to have it or not, she won't come anywhere near you. She thinks it's a great game. 

If you let her off the lead in the park, even if you have her ball as enticement, she won't come anywhere near you. Her recall remains good; she sees another dog and goes charging over to greet them, call her name and she screeches to a halt, turns around and comes straight back to you. To within about ten feet. Then hovers, teasingly out of reach, laughing at me.

Which is fine, unless you want to take the ball back to throw it again, which is silly because she loves to chase and retrieve. Or you want to put her back on the lead because you've been throwing the ball in the park for the last hour and now your fingers have turned to ice and you want to go home. Again, she thinks it's a great game.

So for now, whenever she's off lead, she's going to be attached to the longline of shame; a thin, 10m long leash that's designed to be dragged behind the dog, not held. So if I tell her to stay, she'll damn well stay because I'll be stood on it.

They are not without their perils. A friend of mine was silly enough to hold the end of one recently (I see this a lot when out and about) and her dog, similar size and weight to Lottie, bolted off after something and the snatch broke two of her fingers.

They also have a habit of running rings around you, and a couple of loops are enough to pull you off your feet if they get it right.

It's a great game. But then everything is, to a big puppy.

Thursday 15 December 2022


I love weather. I would very much like the ice to clear now, but even so, I appreciate the novelty.

I have an early afternoon gig this coming Sunday, so wouldn't be able to race anyway, but looking at the temperatures above, I'm not sure the ice would've cleared by then anyhow. The lake does look kind of pretty on the webcam at the moment, though.

On the bright side, the outlook does appear to warm back up in time for Christmas, so hopefully we're still on for a Boxing Day race, even if the proverbial "White Christmas" is no longer still on the cards.

Tuesday 13 December 2022


So the last couple of months have been about dinghies, dogs and music. Not necessarily in that order. But I was sat here looking through the photos of the last few weeks, wondering why I hadn't posted anything to this journal since October, and it struck me that it might be because all those photos follow a very repetitive theme.

They mainly involve a certain dog and the occasional appearance of a guitar or two.

November was a five gig month, which therefore kind of dominated my weekends. The first was Whitehall Rugby Club's annual fireworks night, which was, as ever, loud and spectacular. The gig that followed the fireworks was pretty good too. 

Our usual drummer, Bean, was somewhat over committed elsewhere most of the month, so the majority of the gigs were with a sub, the exceptionally talented Leah. I met Leah at an open mic night in Cheltenham a year or two ago. I can't remember the exact conversation that led to my asking if she'd be interested in playing with us some time, but it was clearly one of my more inspired moments.

So the gigs have been fun, but by definition, having the weekends so full of other commitments have meant that I've not had a chance to get out with Dad and Calstar at all. I'm feeling increasingly frustrated about this; Sunday's are typically free, so I did have plenty of sailing, racing the Albacore around the cans with Amanda on the lake at South Cerney. But I'm missing our little yacht and the wilds of the Bristol Channel. To coin a phrase, and I don't know who to attribute it to, a ship may be safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are built for.

There doesn't seem to be enough time to do everything, although I fully accept that this is self-inflicted, and only within my gift to correct. I have ambitions that next year will be better, and even started out with the intention of limiting the number of gigs I'll accept, but that hasn't been going so well and the gigs have kept rolling in. Even more so now we've got such a talented (and available) sub for the band's too frequently unavailable regular drummer.

And it's very hard to say no. You're only as good as your last gig (true of life, not just band) and there is always the perpetual worry that at some point they might just stop (again, true of life).

Nik and I had our fourth Covid jab on a Saturday morning at the end of November. I remember the first one wiped me out, but the second and third didn't touch me, so I wasn't expecting much of a problem. Nik was fine, but mine floored me again. A sleepless, feverish night with a racing pulse followed by exhaustion and a very rough, achy Sunday morning. So much so, that I messaged Amanda early to cancel our planned sailing.

Which is doubly annoying now, as we're mid way through December and between other commitments I haven't had a free Sunday since to get back down to the lake. Hopefully, we'll make the Boxing Day race together.

Dad and I did manage to sneak down to Portishead at the beginning of December to check on Calstar. The tides were favourable, but a blustery north easterly of 20 knots plus dissuaded us from sailing. But the boat is all safe and secure, and we took the opportunity to take Lottie down with us to introduce her to Calstar. 

She was completely unfazed by the idea of being afloat. Getting up and down through the companionway is a bit of a challenge for her, but she took to it well enough; for a German Shepherd, she's quite a petite, nimble thing. We might treat her to a trip over to Cardiff in the new year, if we get a nice, calm patch of weather.

She has grown considerably over the last few months. I'm guessing she's got to be close to eight months old now? She's beautifully behaved and I reckon pretty well trained, but does have something of an independent streak, that she generally shows to my disadvantage.

It snowed this weekend. Quite unexpectedly. And it has been cold over the few days since, so whilst they've now gritted and cleared the roads, the pavements have compacted down to ice. The dogs loved the snow, and the park where I walk them was full of kids enjoying it on Sunday afternoon. It's always something of a novelty here, as we don't necessarily get enough of it to actually settle every year.

The novelty wears off though. Sunday afternoon, whilst the snow was still fresh, I was giving my daughter a lift home. Stopped at the bottom of an icy slope, waiting to drive on to the roundabout, and the car approaching from behind skidded into the back of us.

Only a glancing blow and a cracked tail-light, though I've yet to have it confirmed there was no further damage to the rear bumper. And, most importantly, nobody was hurt. Frustrating, but it could have been so much worse, and my car is still drivable.

Dealing with insurance companies as a customer is not something I do very often. Having sat on the phone for four hours on Monday morning having my brain melted by inane holding music, it is something I'd like to do a lot less.

So of further plans, we have two gigs this coming weekend, Saturday and Sunday, and then Christmas, where I think the family is coming over to ours. Then the Boxing Day race at South Cerney and a Boxing Day supper at my in-laws. We actually have a gig in Bristol for New Year's Eve.

The first New Year's Eve gig we've done in the last ten years or more, I think. Our regular drummer, Bean, was predictably unavailable, but an old friend of ours is standing in for him. Danny was actually the band's second ever drummer, way back in the mists of the early 90's. It's an absolute delight to be playing with him again after the best part of thirty years.

The photos accompanying are mostly of the pup. I seem to have taken very few of boats or sailing over the last few weeks. I need to remedy that.

Thursday 27 October 2022

birthday season

Supper in Bristol earlier this evening with the kids. Well, most of them. Tasha's partner (wait, husband now, still feels funny to think that) couldn't make it. It's Sam's birthday tomorrow, was Ben's birthday last week. It was a good meal, and lovely to have the kids all together with us in one place for a change.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Freefall: Rich & Suzie

A friend of mine from the sailing club at South Cerney got married this weekend and asked us to play at his evening reception. The venue was West Oxfordshire Sailing Club, which I've not had the pleasure of visiting before. The band set up beneath an awning on the veranda of the clubhouse. It being October now, this was almost certainly our last outdoor gig of the year.

We were very lucky with the weather. There was a heavy shower as we arrived, so we delayed unloading the kit and setting up, but once it passed, the rest of the evening stayed dry. Insofar as the elements were concerned, anyway. The guests most certainly did not.

The groom is, obviously, a dinghy sailor. A very good one at that. He races an OK class dinghy at South Cerney and, to be honest, beats me more often than I beat him. The bride however, is not. Despite this, on Saturday she consented to be sailed down the lake by her new husband from the marquee where they held the blessing to the clubhouse that was the venue for the reception.

I have to say I was impressed. It was a blustery day on Saturday with gusts up into the 20's and, whilst it wasn't cold, it wasn't exactly warm.

It was a terrific party though, and a beautiful setting for it.


A portrait of me on a Friday afternoon. Actually, it's a picture of Lottie who accompanied me to the office on Friday, but it captures the essence of how I typically feel on a Friday afternoon.

They say owners often resemble their dogs. Or is it dogs their owners, I forget? Actually, there are times when I'm not sure if I own them or they me. I don't really care, just as long as they do as they're told.

Wednesday 12 October 2022

when life gives you lemons

Once upon a time a jiff lemon was easy to find and now it's patently not putting it with the tea seems obvious to me but no, baking goods, bottom shelf obviously so she tells me

Tuesday 11 October 2022

ball dog

Jack's going to be 10 in December, which I think is 70 in "dog years", although to be fair, I don't think the calculation is that linear in reality. Sure, he's a little slower these days, but he's still really just a big kid at heart.

On which note, he has a few more weeks of taking his heart pills twice a day then it'll be back to the vet's for another check-up. 

I'm pretty certain there will be no change though. The key will be whether or not he's lost any more weight; it was a 5kg drop since his last visit that made Tania, his vet, particularly vigilant when checking him over and so led to her spotting the arrhythmia. 

But he doesn't look skinny to me, and he's still fit, well and happy in himself. If it is just a heart murmur, previously undiagnosed as I suspect, then he's not the only one in the family with one, and mine's never really slowed me down either. Or rather, it hasn't yet.

Had a conversation with the veterinary nurse when we collected him back from the surgery last week after they'd run their tests. There's always uncertainty when you not only don't know what the problem is, but whether or not there is actually a problem. Just because you don't find something doesn't mean there's not something there. I guess it's the nature of these tests that they only ever deliver bad news, if they deliver anything at all.

So I asked what we should do about his exercise over the next few weeks. After all, Jack's main joy and passion is chasing a ball around the park with me.

Julie's known our family and our dogs for many, many years, and her advice was very succinct and to the point. Let him carry on doing what he loves.

So that's what we do.

Monday 10 October 2022

Albacore: Frostbite

Amanda and I finally got to race the Albacore again. Sunday was the start of South Cerney's winter Frostbite series.

Arrived at the lake to find a flat calm. The morning wasn't cold, but my friend Gary found ice in the bottom of his RS300 when he took the cover off his boat to rig. Fitting, given the name of the series, but more a sign of things to come, I think.

I rigged the Albacore alone as Amanda was running late, she'd messaged me to say she'd been delayed "sorting a bread disaster out"; I was intrigued but didn't dare enquire any further. By the time Amanda arrived, the breeze was filling in.

Things had turned quite lively by the time we launched. The Albacore is a steady boat in a blow, and can manage some pretty heavy conditions when manned by a well practiced crew. We were somewhat out of practice, so she was a bit a of a handful to begin with.

photo: tim hampton

Despite that, we managed a good start in the first race and managed a creditable 4th place out of the 19 boats that made the start. By the end of the race however, conditions had gotten quite blustery, so 3 of the 19 retired before finishing (and another was disqualified as being to early over the line at the start)

Things were looking as promising for the second race, another reasonable start and a good beat saw as the third boat to round the windward. Then our lack or practice bit hard. As we bore away, we were slow settling the boat onto the reach down to the first gybe mark; a vicious gust came barrelling through, and catching us with everything set wrong, the little boat broached and capsized.

photo: tim hampton

We've only capsized the Albacore a couple of times, and again the lack of practice told as we struggled with the recovery. It was slow, and when an Albacore comes back up, she comes up swamped, and getting that water back out again is also slow.

The fleet sailed on by. We got the boat back up with nothing damaged except our pride and the loss of the burgee from the masthead to the mud on the lake floor. The rest of the fleet were half a lap ahead by this point. Over the course of the next hour we caught up with the back markers, but, aside from a couple of retirements, once our time was adjusted for our handicap, finished comprehensively last.

But at one point during that second race, screaming down a reach we maxed out at 11 knots, so I can't pretend it wasn't fun.

beach dog

On Saturday, Nik and I took Lottie to the seaside for the first time. It being the Bristol Channel, the sea had run away, but that left a lot of flat sand for her to run about on.

Despite the profusion of caravan parks and holiday camps on the other side of the dunes that back Brean Sands, this late in the season the beach was still relatively quiet. We arrived mid afternoon and parked at the top of the beach in a row with a handful of other cars. The tide was far out but on its way back in, the sky was blue and the sun still held some warmth.

There was a cool breeze blowing in off the channel, and over to our left we could see a handful of kite buggies (I never knew that was a thing!) racing over the flat sands, so we walked in the other direction, out towards the rocky cliffs of the headland.

I like this beach. There's lots of room at low water, and you can see out over the channel to Cardiff on the Welsh shore, with the two Holms between. We used to bring the dogs here a lot. I used to stand on this shore and look out towards Steep Holm and Flat Holm beyond and dream about about sailing past those islands. And I've done that any number of times since; the thrill never gets old.

Brean is just over an hour down the motorway from home, but we've not been back down here for years. We're only allowed to take dogs on the sands out of season, so I guess it was an easy habit to fall out of.

In other news, none of Jack's tests came back with anything to explain his arrhythmia. Which is kind of good news, although it doesn't rule out anything the admittedly limited resources of our local veterinary surgery might not have been able to spot at this stage. 

We had the option of referring him on to the veterinary college in Bristol for more tests, but he seems perfectly fine in himself, so we didn't want to put him through the stress of sending him away to a strange place overnight.

So he's on meds for a few weeks, after which we'll take him back for a check-up to see if things have improved and decide then on any further action to take, if any at this point.