Five Go Off on a Canal Boat

May 4, 2014 at 8:35 am | Posted in Anne, Eating and Drinking, Travel | 1 Comment
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photoHello there, and I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely May bank holiday weather. It was a little bit wetter last week when I and four chums (yes, there really were Five of us!) went on a canal boat holiday along the Kennet & Avon canal. Although the Famous Five never went on a boating holiday (they do use boats as frequent means of transport though, especially to get to Kirrin Island) it was a very FFS holiday. I suppose the closest point of comparison would be  Five Go Off in a Caravan –  living in a small and compact space and enjoying a VERY slow pace of travel.

We had three nights and four days on the boat, and I felt very much like Anne when we arrived at Bathampton (just outside of Bath) and were shown over the boat, the ‘Dorothy Beryl’, by Richard, her owner. In Five Go Off in Caravan, the Five are inspired by a passing traveling circus to hire two caravans to take them away for the summer holidays. When the little caravans arrive, one red, one green, Anne and the rest of the Kirrins sequel in delight as they explore their temporary homes:

‘”Bunks along one side – is that where we sleep? How gorgeous!”

“Look at this little sink – we can really wash up! And golly, water comes out of these taps!”

[…] “It’s like a proper house inside.Doesn’t it seem nice and big? […]

The children spent hours examining their caravans and finding out all the secrets. They certainly well-fitted, spotlessly clean, and very roomy.’

Our boat was full of secrets and extremely well equipped. The dining table and seats turned into a double bed, the sitting room area revealed another bed (all bedding stowed underneath) and there were all sorts of cupboards hidden everywhere containing everything we needed. There was even a shower, toilet and little fridge – and a wood burning stove which came in very handy for us to warm up and dry our wet clothes (there was plenty of rain).

CANAL ARTLike the Five’s caravans, out boat was fairly modern rather than old-fashioned and traditional. Before the caravans arrive, Anne asks if they will be gypsy caravans, on high wheels, but Julian shakes his head “No, they’re modern, Mother says, streamlined and all that.” I’d been secretly hoping our boat would be old and traditionally painted in classic canal boat style, but she was instead a neat blue with her name painted in bright yellow on her side. We did have a small stool by the stove that was traditionally decorated though. Canal boat art is beautiful, with roses and castles the traditional means of decoration. This example is from the Chester Canal Boat Trust.

If you live in London (as I do), you can also visit the Canal Museum by King’s Cross to see examples of canal art, find out more about the history of London’s canals and even step on board a real boat (and also play inside a recreation of one). Excitingly, the Canal Museum also doubles up as a museum for the history of ice cream (I have previously blogged on this, I think).

When my boss found out I was going on a boating holiday, he recommended a book called Maiden’s Trip, by Emma Smith. It’s about women taking on boatmen’s work during the war and hauling cargoes along the Grand Union Canal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get hold of it before I went, but I was inspired by the blurb on the Bloomsbury website to cook kedgeree for dinner on the first night. We actually ate very well on board. Richard provided delicious breakfast food for us, all sourced locally – creamy milk (with actual lumps of cream floating in it), local bread, eggs, bacon and a pot of homemade marmalade.  photoI brought some tinned evaporated milk for my breakfast coffee (Louis brought an aeropress – I don’t think the Five had one of those). This is our lunch on the first day – cheese and cucumber sandwiches. We were delayed in eating these due to an unfortunate bump we accidentally gave some resident boaters – slightly scary men with large dogs who were not best pleased and actually boarded our boat to give us a piece of their mind. Oops.

This incident did get me imagining a Famous Five-type adventure on a canal boat, with the mystery kickstarted by a similar sort of incident (the Five think the men nasty sorts, moor just around the corner for the night and then witness strange goings on, which could be smuggling by boat, or perhaps a kidnap victim being stashed on board). However, in actuality, the only other eventful thing that happened that day was getting grounded on an aquaduct with an extreme right angle and nearly leaving Louis behind on the bank.

We also had the pleasure of working locks and swing bridges. Because the pace of travel on a canal boat is very slow (you have to go slowly for various reasons, not least because you don’t want to violently disturb all of the moored boats), having locks and bridges adds a LOT of excitement to the journey. The captain/skipper has to steer the boat close enough to the bank for you to hop off and run ahead to open the bridge, or get the lock working (two people are best for the latter). As the boat barely travels at walking pace, if there are a couple of bridges or locks coming up it’s not worthwhile getting back on board so you get a good walk as well as a work out using the windlass (lock key) to work the winding mechanism that lets water in and out. This can actually be quite physically taxing.

photoWe worked about 7 locks on the second day which took us almost up to the bottom of Caen (pronounced ‘Cane’) Hill lock flight. This is a group of 29 locks, with 16 of them being placed in very close succession to take your boat up, or down, Caen Hill near Devizes. The guides say to allow around 4 hours to work the flight, but as as we only had 4 days, we didn’t have the time or inclination to do this (we would have just had to come back down again right away, and it would have taken a whole day). Richard told us about a time he was travelling with a relative who was a marine – he got some of his colleagues to help and they managed the locks in a record time of 1 and a half hours.

We contented ourselves with taking  a nice walk up the flight, watching people working its gates and wondering if any of them would get attacked by the nesting swans. You can see films of last year’s swans and cygnets here, on the Canal and Rivers Trust website (I think this year’s must be there too, but can’t find on the website). There were also plenty of ducks and ducklings on the canals at this time of year, and we saw a number of herons plus the usual coots and

By the time we returned to Bathampton on Tuesday evening, we all felt like experienced boaters. I’m dying to go again. Because the boats travel slowly, it’s a great way to see the countryside and also relax (if there are a few of you, there’s plenty of opportunity to work (steer, handle ropes, do the locks etc) but you rarely need 5 people so lots of time to read, write, sleep on the roof of the boat and so on. As I live by the Regent’s Canal in London, and cycle the towpath every morning, it’s given me a different perspective of the boats I pass every day. I’m actually quite jealous. There’s something very satisfying about the rhythms of life on the water. And one other curious thing – it took me a day or two to stop having a sensation of gently rocking when I got back on land.



A Blyton lunch

January 18, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Eating and Drinking, George, Julian, Timmy | 2 Comments
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My friend and work colleague Wendy pointed out this enjoyable feature on lunchbox sandwiches in the Guardian yesterday with the  instruction “scroll down”.

Ha ha! I was very pleased to see ‘The Enid Blyton’ given its full due as a valid lunch option. Sandwiches with sides of radishes and hard boiled eggs are excellent lunchtime fare, my only quibble would be to suggest that for a more aesthetically pleasing, and authentically Blytonian, experience you should wrap your dipping salt up in a little screw of paper rather than use tupperware. The sandwiches that the authors of this article and The Little Book of Lunch suggest are watercress – very tasty and classy  – but Enid has a wonderful knack for making the humble sandwich sound like the most appetising thing ever, even when it includes such retro delights as Spam. So here are a few more canonical suggestions:

‘”Cucumber dipped in vinegar! Spam and lettuce! Egg! Sardine! Oooh, Mr Luffy, your sandwiches are much nicer than ours,” said Anne, beginning on two together, one cucumber and the other Spam and lettuce” (Five Go Off to Camp, sandwich-maker: Mrs Luffy).

‘”Aunt Fanny cut dozens and dozens of sandwiches,” said Anne. “She said if we kept them in this tin they wouldn’t go stale, and would last a day or two till we went back. I’m hungry. Shall we have some now?”

They sat out in the sun, munching the ham sandwiches. Anne had brought tomatoes too, and they took a bite at a sandwich and then a bite at a tomato.’ (Five on a Secret Trail, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny, with improvisation by Anne).

Potted meat (devoured ravenously and even two at a time by a malnourished Uncle Quentin) (Five on Kirrin Island Again, sandwich-maker: Aunt Fanny).

‘They had a magnificent lunch about half-past twelve. Really, Mrs Johnson had surpassed herself! Egg and sardine sandwiches, tomato and lettuce, ham – there seemed no end to them!’ (Five Go to Mystery Moor, sandwich-maker: Mrs Johnson, of Johnson’s Riding School).

‘”I made [Timmy’s] sandwiches myself.” [said George]. And so she had! She had bought sausagemeat at the butchers and had actually made Timmy twelve sandwiches with it, all neatly cut and packed. (Five Get Into Trouble, sandwich-maker: George).

Perhaps the best sandwich-making and eating in the Famous Five books comes in Five on a Hike Together. The process of making the cheese, pork, ham and egg sandwiches (4 different types – not all together!) is stretched across no less than five pages (the children do ask for eight sandwiches each so it takes a while) and then there are seven pages of expectation and build up before the children finally sit down in the heather on Fallaway Hill in the late autumn sun to munch their sandwiches while gazing across the lonely moor.

‘At last the sandwiches were finished and the old woman appeared again. She had packed them up neatly in four parcels of grease-proof paper, and had pencilled on each what they were. Julian read what she had written and winked at the others.

“My word – we’re in for a grand time!” he said.’

(Five on a Hike Together, sandwich-maker: un-named ‘shop woman’ aka ‘old woman’ aka ‘Ma’)

Twelfth Night typewriting

January 5, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Geffrye MuseumI’ve just got back from a lovely and heart-warming way to celebrate Twelfth Night – the Geffrye Museum’s annual ‘Farewell to Christmas‘ celebration. They usually have a traditional burning of the holly and the ivy outside the museum, but unfortunately that was cancelled this year due to the blustery weather. But we did have Christmas cake, mulled wine and carols, with a fantastic brass band (the French horn player looked very red in the face). It felt like a good way to end the festive season as now it’s nearly time to return to the working world.

Since typewritergetting home I’ve been distracting myself for a little while by typing up some recipes I’ve promised to share with a work colleague (a selection of Dan Lepard’s tasty bread and cake recipes). It’s always nice to have an opportunity to get my typewriter out, but it is rather noisy and makes the kitchen table vibrate. I’ve been half expecting my next-door neighbour to come round to complain. It reminded of Enid, the BBC TV film with Helena Bonham Carter as Blyton – in which she merrily types away next to her open window, disturbing the peace of all around her. A return to the computer seemed sensible. So, to sign off, here’s a picture of the ever productive and hard-working real Enid Blyton to get us all (well, definitely me) in the mood for going back to work.


Christmas Countdown 7 (or 0)

December 22, 2013 at 10:14 am | Posted in Fashion, George | Leave a comment
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The Famous Five Christmas present countdown challenge is over! So, last but definitely not least, George. As we know, George would rather be a boy and likes to dress like one. She’s also a keen sailor so what could be better than this cosy pair of boys pyjamas, with a sailing boat motif and/or a stylish boy’s sailors sweater from Petit Bateau? pyjamas   PB jumper

Happy Christmas everyone! Se you in 2014 x

Christmas Countdown 6

December 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A Christmas gift for Julian, the boy who loves maps, planning journeys and navigating: On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does, by Simon Garfield (author of the excellent book on typography, Just My Type).


And if Julian’s been especially good this year, he could have an additional present in the form of a donation to Sustrans, the charitable organisation that supports the creation of National Cycle Routes. Sustrans are currently doing a cute Christmas gift scheme where, for £30, you can sponsor a mile of a cycle route. So Julian (or whoever) would get their name published on the online map listing sponsors, and would also receive a thank you pack, sponsorship certificate and special reflective bike sticker. And most importantly, when the Famous Five set off on a cycling adventure in the spring, they’ll have safer routes to ride along (well, safe apart from the baddies they’ll inevitably encounter).

Christmas Countdown 4 (and 5)

December 20, 2013 at 8:06 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ooops. I went to the panto (Puss in Boots) last night and got home too late to post. So two suggestions today.

For everyone’s favourite gourmet and gourmand, Dick: A Neal’s Yard Cheese Box. A fine box of cheeses from the British Isles can be a one-off gift, or be delivered to their lucky recipient monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly.


For scientist Uncle Quentin, who spends much time working in his study, a LED spiral helix standing lamp from the Science Museum.


Christmas Countdown 3

December 18, 2013 at 11:42 pm | Posted in Anne | Leave a comment
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Whew! Just made my (self-imposed) deadline…

For Anne:

A Paint Your Own Postcards set, plus paint box from the National Gallery Shop.

Paint your own postcardsIn a pre-mobile phone era, when the Five go off on adventures they have to send postcards back home to let their parents/aunt & uncle know all is well. Anne has, on occasion, expressed a desire to become an artist, so this Paint Your Own Postcards kitswill encourage her to produce works of art with a purpose, inspired by the glorious landscapes the Five encounter on their travels. It contains 20 sheets of thick paper with pre-printed address lines and a stamp square on the reverse.

As an added bonus, while online or visiting the National Gallery shop, you could also pick up this rather stylish anchor rubber stamp that might be a nice stocking filler for Alf the Fisherboy.

anchor stamp

Christmas Countdown 2

December 17, 2013 at 8:34 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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For Aunt Fanny –  the gift that keeps on giving: A baking class at the Bertinet Cookery School in Bath. I visited the Bertinet Bakery when in Bath over the summer and sampled a range of delicious breads and pastries. If the Five clubbed together to send Aunt Fanny on one of these courses – either the 3 day bread making course or the one day French pastry class, they’ll be amply rewarded over the holidays when Aunt Fanny can pack them off on gourmet picnics. Sometimes it really is better to give than receive.


Famous Five Christmas Countdown…

December 16, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I’m unnervingly on top of my Christmas shopping this year so I thought I would set myself a separate gift challenge. For the next week I will post one present suggestion every day for each member of the Famous Five, plus Aunt Fanny and (argh, difficult to buy for) Uncle Quentin. I’ve got no idea what to get them yet, so I now have a familiar and reassuring sense of Christmas anxiety.

First up – Timmy the Dog!

I’ve actually got two suggestions for Timmy:


1) Faux meat toy. I saw this on Norwich market when I was last there a few weeks ago. I took a picture of it as I thought it would be PERFECT for Timmy. Various baddies try to poison Timmy with dodgy meat throughout the series, much to George’s distress. This faux meat provides a handy distraction, plus hours of entertainment as it squeaks. A bargain at £3.


2) Sausage variety pack. In case Timmy is really peeved by the fake meat, some good butchers’ sausages will cheer him up and restore harmony in the Kirrin home. These are from The Ginger Pig in Victoria Park. I love the green wooden meat cleaver decoration.

My local butchers, Brian Roberts, on Roman Road, East London also does homemade sausages including their house special, the Bethnal Green Banger. As we know, the rest of the Five are partial to sausages (see my previous post on the topic here) so do make sure your meaty gift gets to its intended recipient.

Ginger Beer is here again

October 19, 2013 at 1:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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photoHappy Autumn everyone! I’ve been super busy on other projects, mostly film-related for work and pleasure, but had to take a little time out to share this – spotted (and tasted) today at London Fields schoolyard market. Yes, it is a ginger beer wagon.

The Ginger Beer Engine travels around with barrels of delicious home-brewed beverages (ginger beer, dandelion & burdock and lemonade) that are dispensed via a series of exciting-looking pipes and taps. The kind gentleman pouring said beverages generously offered up some samples and I’m pleased to report that the GB is excellent (and just the teeniest bit alcoholic, as all good ginger beer should be).

You can find out more by visiting the Ginger Beer Engine website here. Rather thrillingly, the Engine can be hired for private events. It may make an appearance at my next birthday party.

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