Confidence is good but overconfidence always sinks the ship

Well not quite always Mr Wilde. But it certainly doesn’t help the general health of the boat or the waterways.

There were certainly causes for confidence – Double Fracture and I had made it to day three of the excursion relatively unscathed.  Wednesday’s crew had previous lock experience (little did he know just how much more he was about to accrue).  And we had relatively little ground (water) to cover.

Richard’s previous boating adventures had come on the Canal du Midi.  As onboard toilets on French narrowboats deposit their contents directly into the canal, contact with the water was not recommended.  Rescue boats were called for any problems which might necessitate body parts being submerged.  So when one of the boat’s ropes got tangled around the propeller there was no messing about with the weed hatch for Richard lest he contract cholera* or some other water borne delight; an engineer in full frogman kit attended to cut the rope loose.  The closest the Erewash Canal could get to a helpful frogman was a shy frog, that seemed to live in one of the lock gates.  It was safe to say this was going to be a different experience to his French cruise.

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I had taken Richard’s story as an interesting tale about how continental canalboating differs to the English variety.  I should have taken it as a cautionary tale, for we were not far into the trip when the centre rope suddenly whipped itself taut, and the end of the line was nowhere to be seen.  Until I wriggled into the engine space to open the weed hatch.

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One extremely cold arm later, the rope was free and I was resolved to curb my newfound laissez-faire boating ways.  Or at the very least pay more attention to trailing ropes.

The day’s drama did not end there.  We reached Stenson lock, and discovered that one of the ratchets to open and close the paddles was stuck partially open.  (I have a sneaking suspicion that Double Fracture was the last boat to pass through this lock, and so I may not be blameless in its current predicament.  But let’s not dwell on that.)  No amount of jiggling seemed to loosen it, so we decided to try the lock anyway.


It all went well until the lock water was about 6 inches above the canal water.  And then it just stopped sinking.  (I believe this is something to do with us reaching the level of water pressure inside the lock that meant as much water was being pushed into the lock as was being pushed out.)  There was nothing for it but to fill the lock back up, reverse out and wait for help.

Two CRT chaps turned up not long after we had made a cup of tea (coincidence?), and with the aid of a large crowbar and a hammer, they released the ratchet from the holding mechanism.  (Which was what Richard had tried to do, but Double Fracture is woefully undersupplied with crowbars or crowbar substitutes.) Before long we were on our way once more.

It was probably then that it started raining.  Or it might have been at that point that I hit one of the low bridges and crushed the box the solar panel sits on.  (Remarkably, the solar panel is still working.)  It was almost certainly at this point that the crew started to wonder when the relaxing, sunny, breakage-free part of the day was going to start.  But at least there were nachos.  Really good nachos.  And really good nachos can go a long way towards saving a boat trip.

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The mooring site for the night was once again near The Gallows Inn.  This time I didn’t need to nod in a steely fashion towards the passing joggers, because there weren’t any.  My reputation must have spread.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Blame it on the boogie‘ by The Jacksons.

*Cholera may not be floating about the French canals.  It’s possible I’m being a bit dramatic.

No such thing as a free cheese toastie

Day Two

Gallows Inn Lock to Langley Mill

4.5 miles, 9 locks

Crew: Ben, Kirsty and Heather


This my first head of navigation plaque.  It signifies that Double Fracture made it all the way to Langley Mill – the end of the Erewash Canal.  As a former continuous cruiser, my boat is probably no stranger to completing routes, but this is our first as a partnership and so I like to think has a special place in her steel heart.
I say it was a partnership, but in reality it was much more than that.  More of a co-operative, team effort.  Day two’s crew may have hoped to spend the trip taking in the scenery whilst sipping on sparkling drinks, but the reality was a little more sweaty than that.  Without the biceps and core strength of Tuesday’s midwives, Double Fracture might still be sitting in a lock just north of Ilkeston.

I dispelled any idealistic dreams they may have had about the day early on, as the Gallows’ Inn lock was our first task of the morning.  No time for idle chitchat or shop talk – my three companions were raising paddles, pushing opening gates and pulling boats to the side of the lock before the hellos were finished.  Just as well they appeared to be natural-born lock operators.

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We did have time pressures, as one of the crew had work to go to in the evening, and another had a hot dinner date (this how rumours start.  Casual comments on low-circulation narrowboat blogs).  This meant that a leisurely lunch was off the cards as Langley Mill trains wait for no person.  So as we approached one lock, I decided that whilst the girls emptied out the lock and opened the gates, I would get on with making lunch and thus save precious time.

Over the course of the last day-and-a-half, my boat confidence had been slowly rising.  There had been the odd bump and scrape, but generally things had been smooth.  As a result, I had become a little cavalier with the knot tying and so with the approach to this lock, I threaded the rope through the mooring ring and wedged the loose end in the door hinge.  (Can you see where this might be headed?)  Toasted sandwiches were the order of the day, and so I got to slicing cheese and buttering bread.  I happened to glance out of the front door and noticed the landscape had changed somewhat.  Instead of green fields and water, it was a pair of wooden gates.  I dashed out to the back of the boat but too late.  Double Fracture crashed into the lock before I could throw her into reverse.

It sounded a bit like the canon fired in Mary Poppins, and I feared certain breakages with no household staff to hold onto the china and the grand piano.  (I had little concern for the lock or front of the boat. They are both probably robust.)  Whilst there was certainly more stuff on the floor than usual, the canalboat gods had remained on my side, and there were no smashes.   If only that luck had lasted.

The sandwiches and crisps had been eaten, and we moved onto squash and cake.  We had safely negotiated one of the several low Erewash canal bridges, and I had relaxed.  And completely ignored the low lying branches ahead.  The sunbathers all took cover and we made it out with a few minor scratches, but my lucky pint glass was not so fortunate (or well named).  A malicious branch swept it off the roof, onto the door and finally the floor.  It had served me well, and did not deserve to end in tiny fragments.

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But there was no time for mourning.  We had a train to catch, locks to bounce through and dead ends to avoid. After a tip from a friendly boater, I didn’t need to reverse 200m to the visitor mooring (which is not a scenario that ends well for Double Fracture or the dozens of boats she would have encountered on the way). Which meant we could get to the pub in time. Or to work.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Superstition‘ by Stevie Wonder.

Going on holiday and staying at home

The big day had arrived.  I was going to take the boat out of the marina for a whole week all by myself.  Well not quite all by myself.  Barely ever actually by myself.  But let’s not diminish the achievement with the details.

The grand plan was to go up the Erewash Canal to Langley Mill, where the canal ends, then to Nottingham and finally back home.  It’s unlikely anyone is ever going to write an epic poem about the trip, but it might be worthy of a haiku.  Or a moderately humorous limerick.  (Stay tuned for poetry developments.)  I had advertised on facebook for crew members, and a combination of willing volunteers and gentle-ish cajoling on my part meant I had company for every day of the trip.

Day One

Sawley Marina to Gallows Inn, Ilkeston

7.5 miles travelled, 8 locks completed

Crew: Sam and Keyleigh

It started off grey.  The cheap diesel pump was closed (and I refused to pay full price for the fuel).  As always, I underestimated how long it would take me to get to the rendezvous point with the crew.   But my creeping sense of ‘maybe-this-wasn’t-the-best idea’ (foreboding seemed like too strong word) was alleviated by the kindness of strangers.

I really don’t like doing Sawley Lock, single-handed or otherwise.  It’s an electric lock, so is not physically challenging to operate (which could not be said of many of the week’s locks).  But there is very little space to moor up once you are river-side and the prospect of trying makes me nervous.  However, as Double Fracture was sinking towards the Trent (in the acceptable lock way, not the unacceptable drowning of my home way) a man and his grandson appeared.  Did I mind if they did the rest of the lock so he could show his grandson the ropes?  I subdued my urge to kiss him with gratitude, and went for a nonchalant ‘Sure, if you want to.”  It was a lovely feeling to rev the engine out of the lock, knowing the clean up was being taken care of.

I met the day’s crew at Trent Lock, and the first of the week’s tutorials was given on lock operation.  (I don’t think content or delivery improved over time).   And then we were there – on a whole new canal.  Unchartered territory.  So I knew nothing about the low bridges that punctuated the canal, and the mapbook I was using did nothing to warn me.  You could argue that hazard perception is equally important in driving a narrowboat as it is in driving a car, and that I should have given the pregnant crew member more than a few metres notice that her head was about to be knocked off if she didn’t jump off the roof pretty quickly.  (The anecdote ends happily, with body and head still attached the other side of the bridge.)

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After a leisurely lunch and a couple more locks, I waved farewell to my crew (who had children or something to look after) and ventured forward for the only substantial single-handed part of my trip.  The canalboat gods were on my side – the sun came out and all four of the locks I took on that afternoon were already empty.  One of them even had the gate open so I could float straight in – it’s one of my favourite sights on the water.  (My absolute favourite sight on the water is the duck which had a feathery Elvis quiff.  My mission for the rest of the week is to spot other aquatic life that resembles popular musicians.)

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By far the prettiest building I passed was the old Springfield Mill – a former producer of Nottingham lace.  A dog-walker volunteered further information about it – it used to be owned by a bloke called Hooley, who once sacked his entire workforce on a whim.  His son Ernest was a financial fraudster.  It’s now expensive flats, and looks particularly lovely in the sunshine.

The dog walker kept pace with Double Fracture for a little while (he had to slow down to do so) and we only parted ways when a lock appeared on the horizon (then he really did have to be getting home).  As a continuous-cruising old hand, he did his best to impart his knowledge to me, an occasional-cruising novice.  I needed to be wary of the folks in Langley Mill – they were a judgemental lot who could get passive-aggressive if you looked at them wrong.  And he wouldn’t moor near Gallows Inn if he were me – very rough round there.  As I sipped my lime-and-strawberry cider, I was going to point out that I grew up in the mean streets of West Bridgford and could probably handle myself.   But I didn’t want to intimidate him with my tough background, so kept it to myself.

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I moored at the Gallows Inn that night as planned.  And nodded in a polite but steely way at the dozens of runners who passed by the boat that evening, just so they knew I was not to be trifled with.  I think they got the message.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Alcohol’ by Brad Paisley.

 

Five star service

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she needs to stop procrastinating and just get on with servicing a diesel engine. (I know there will be some sage nods as you read this, and maybe a few blushes from those of you, who, like me, have been putting it off for far too long.)  Enough was enough, and with a week’s trip out on the horizon, I could not really pretend that the engine was not really being used enough to warrant some attention.

I fished out the manual RCR gave me about engine maintenance.  It’s very wordy.  Quite technical.  Should any of you readers fall into the sweet spot of the Venn diagram below, I really would urge you to continue with physics and/or maths past the minimum age.  On reading the pertinent pages, I very much wish I hadn’t ditched A-level maths for no better reason than to annoy my maths teacher.

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Luckily for me, the operator’s maintenance manual is much easier to interpret, with an easy-to-follow maintenance schedule. (Though hitherto not actually followed.)  After every year or 250 hours of running the engine, there is a pleasing checklist of things to do.  (I love a list.  Not quite as much as a flowchart, but there’s lots of affection for a list nevertheless.)

  1. Change engine lubricating oil

The messiest of all the jobs.  And made harder by my idle fiddling about.  At some point between now and the last service, I had screwed off the top of the oil pump and then dropped it into the bilges.  Given there is no room to swing an emaciated mouse in the engine room, I was unsuccessful in trying to find the top, and as such unable to use the pump.  I spoke to the lovely people at Beta, who told me I couldn’t just buy a pump top, I had to buy a whole new pump.  And then screw it in.  They made it sound simple, but I was sceptical.  The ‘hole in the engine’ saga has made me wary of trying to put new parts on an old engine, and so I went for the suggestion made by the also-lovely people of Midland Chandlers and used a hand pump instead.

The manual said the sump capacity (a technical term I can now throw around casually) was about 7.5 litres, but I could only manage to get about 3.5 litres out of the engine.  I reasoned that even if I hadn’t managed to get it all out, some new oil was better than no new oil, and so I refilled it with new caramelly-looking oil (which promptly turned a dark-treacly colour).  And I promised myself I would get a better pump and change it again at the end of the season.  (I won’t.)  Item one – tick.

  1. Change lubricating oil filter

The oil filter is located in an awkward, un-seeable place in the engine, and so is awkward to unscrew at the best of times.  And it seems I was overzealous two years ago when I last changed it, as I could not get it to budge.  But I knew there was a tool I could get specifically designed for loosening stubborn filters, and was about to set off to get one, when my neighbour asked how the servicing was going.  I explained my problem, and he insisted on having a go – after all he was probably stronger than me. I know the offer came from a kind place, but I couldn’t help but feel smug when he struggled to first locate the filter and then failed to untwist it.   Correct tool acquired, and it was a painless removal with no spillage.  I’d even guessed the right filter to buy.  Item two- tick.

  1. Check air cleaner element

I had no idea if the air filter was dirty or not.  So I took it to the chandlery, and I was not surprised when they told me I may as well buy a new one.  Selling stuff is, after all, their business.  I put it to the side with the other filter purchases and started the checklist.  Prior to changing the oil, the manual recommends you run the engine for 10 minutes to heat the oil to make it less viscous and easier to pump out.  Which I did.  And then a few minutes later realised the new air filter was still in its box, the old air filter was in my bag and so there was nothing stopping dirty air getting into and clogging up the engine.  I swiftly stopped the engine and changed the order in which I approached the check list.  Item three – tick.

  1. Spray the key switch with WD40 to lubricate the barrel

I typed the above sentence and then scuttled to the engine room to do just that.  Item four- tick.

  1. Check that all the external nuts, bolts and fastenings are tight.  See table for torque values.

I don’t know what torque is really, or how you measure whether external nuts have the right amount.  A cursory glance over the engine confirmed that there appeared to be nuts and bolts in appropriate places.   Item five – tick.

  1. Check the ball joint nyloc nuts for tightness on both gearbox and speed control leavers.  Grease both fittings all over.

One of the things I like about the engine manual is that it comes with handy pictures of things.  One of the things I don’t like about the engine manual is that it comes with handy pictures of things I already recognise, but neglects to include pictures of things like ball joint nylocs and their nuts.  Nothing has been greased.  Item six – seems superfluous.

And that, my friends, is how you service an engine.  Or rather, how I service an engine.*

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Radio’ by Darius Rucker.

*I think this post probably needs to come with a massive disclaimer.  You know the sort.  Consider yourselves disclaimed.

 

No gym required

On the last boat trip, I had a battery problem.  Within half an hour of the engine being turned off, the battery light changed from a friendly green to an ominous amber.  Luckily, it was January and so the fridge could be switched off and food put in the cratch to stay cold.  But even with that big energy saver, I still only allowed myself one light on at a time – flat battery paranoia was rife.  On my return to the marina, mains electricity and a battery charger, I did some half-hearted research into how to test if your leisure batteries have had it.  The suggestions sounded confusing and time-consuming, so I decided to throw money at the problem and buy a bank of new batteries.

On opening the hatch to where the batteries are stored, I was greeted by a mass of wires.  At least six, maybe as many as eight.  “I am never going to remember how this all goes together,” I thought to myself.  Happily it is 2017 and the modern person does not need a good memory, but instead a smartphone with a camera.

Next step: actually getting the batteries out.  This meant I had the opportunity to use my excessive amount of spanners and thus continue to convince myself they were good value for money.  After I removed the first bolt, I remembered to turn off the batteries, lest I get a 330 volt reminder about electrical safety.  All was going well until I got to the last bolt.  It would not budge, even with some encouragement from liberal amounts of WD40.  I had been feeling empowered and independent-woman-y until this point.  I decided I might be better served by employing ‘hopeless female’ instead.*

It was a beautiful day outside – surely there would be plenty of strong-looking men around to come to my aid?  Not a soul.  I loitered hopefully around the laundry, but Friday afternoon does not appear to be a popular washing day.  So it was back to plan A – independent woman  who can unscrew stuff all by herself.

And in the end I did.  But my physical labours did not end there.  Batteries are very heavy.  Stupidly, forearm-breakingly heavy.  And I had three of them to lug out of the hatch, along the length of the boat, onto the jetty and into the trolley.  By this point I was back in full independent woman mode, resolved to forget the unnecessary helpless female episode, and pushed the trolley with purpose (and I hope a grimace, though in reality it may have been a lot closer to gurning) towards the marina shop to trade them in.

As if from nowhere, half a dozen people were now milling around outside, and each of them kindly advising me to put the batteries in the car and save myself the effort.  I smiled (grimaced/gurned) each time, more determined to show them that not only can this independent woman unscrew batteries, but she can transport them under her own steam.  I think my point was entirely lost on all of them.

Some time later,the new batteries were loaded on board and I consulted my substitute memory for how to wire them in.  The photos were not as clear as I might have hoped, but still a significant improvement of the blurry image I had in my head.  So I gave it a go.  However, I was not so confident in my battery installing abilities that I went ahead and turned them on straight away.  I went back to Plan B and took up neighbour-to-the-left’s offer to check it over.

Sadly for my independent woman ego, I had not quite done a flawless job.  One of the battery attachments wasn’t on properly and I’d missed a wire.  But when the moment of truth came – the big switch on – I did not get fried and the lights came back on.  Battery success.

Almost.  The friendly-green-sometimes-amber light that tells me how the batteries are getting on is part of the solar panel unit. That light did not come back on.  Maybe in a couple of months my biceps will have sufficiently recovered for me to investigate correctly reconnecting the solar panel.  Right now me and my arms need tea and biscuits.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Respect‘ by Aretha Franklin.

*I am a feminist but…..’hopeless female’ is one of my strongest problem-solving tactics when it comes to my boat.  It may turn out to be a less effective tactic for smashing the patriarchy.

The joy of tidying….and heating.

Anyone who has visited Double Fracture will have noticed that I have quite a lot of stuff.  It’s not quite a hoarder’s paradise, but you could surmise that I am not good at throwing things away.   Because of this a friend, let’s call her Bekky, recommeded I try the KonMari approach – tidying by category instead of my traditional approach of by room.  Her book promised not only would by home be tidier, but my life more successful.  Previous adherents to the method have subsequently increased sales, got divorced (but in a positive, life-affirming way) and re-established lapsed friendships.  I would be happy with a less cluttered boat.

First up was clothes.  I emptied my wardrobe and all my drawers onto my sofa.  KonMari advises you take each item in your hands – those that spark joy you keep, and those that don’t get thrown.  I didn’t always stick to this golden rule – I couldn’t claim my work uniforms make me light up exactly, but my manager would have something to say that would definitely not spark joy if they ended up in a bin liner.  Even with practical omissions, the bin bag filled up.

Books and DVDs followed.  I discovered six toothbrushes and three cooling sprays (I have never used one cooling spray) in the toiletries clean up.  Out of date food hit the skip, and a box of cake icing tools was generously (?) donated to a charity shop.  Once I got going, there was no stopping me.  Space is at a premium on the good ship, and I was no longer going to waste it with dehumidifying contraptions that seemed to make no difference to condensation. (It was a different story when I got to the photos.  You can’t expect me to change overnight.)

I haven’t yet discovered my true purpose in life, or found the love of my life through tidying.  But I have managed to shock my parents with empty kitchen worktops, and that is no easy task.  And tidying has brought me a sense of acheivement if not quite unfettered joy.

There was, however, unfettered joy at another recent boat event.  My diesel heater broke at the end of January and this was not fixed until the beginning of March.  (I got a professional in once I had established that my previous problem – an empty diesel tank – was not the cause in this case.)  My heater is loud, and I turn it off at night as the whirring keeps me awake.  However, after six weeks of a cold bedroom and no hot running water, that whirring was the sweetest sound I had heard in a long time.  (It’s up there with Nwton Faulker percussing on his guitar, and Forest scoring a last-minute equaliser in the East Midlands derby.)  The joy of heating definitely beats the joy of tidying.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Hole in a bottle‘ by Canaan Smith.

Footnote: My tidying might have been flawed.  I may have tidied my passport and credit card into a bin liner.  Maybe clutter is the way forward after all.

Mission Sawley or Bust

“You’ve got all the time in the world – no need to rush, just enjoy cruising the canal.” This is the sentiment espoused by many of my neighbours in praise of the narrowboat lifestyle. This has not generally been my experience – all the trips I have made have come with destination and time pressures, and my first proper solo trip was no different.

Mission Sawley or Bust began at 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon. Because I don’t always think these things through, I was returning from London in the morning, giving myself a two-and-half hour window till sunset. 150 minutes to cover 6 miles and get through 3 locks. And make time for toilet breaks. And cups of tea. But at least it was a gorgeous winter’s day, perfect for messing about on the river.

The first lock was Beeston. A gentle one to get started on – only about three foot up. There were people watching, which gave me a strange impulse to run between boat and lock. I never get the impulse to run (much to the annoyance of my touch rugby team) so I either wanted to get through the lock and out of spectating range as quick as possible, or I wanted to show off. Sail off to admiring murmurs of ‘my goodness did you see the way she leapt gazelle-like across the lock?’ Or something. I’ll leave you to decide what motivated the running.  (Hopefully the spectators were too busy with their admiring murmurs to notice the slight crash as I exited the lock. No crockery broke, so it really was a little one.)


Triumphant at Beeston lock, and with no one else on the river, I decided to do two things. Crank up the Double Fracture Disco for some celebratory dancing, and crank up the revs to try to make my sunset deadline. I think I may have broken the speed limit with the latter – my phone reckons I was doing 5 miles an hour – I would have been a blur to passers by if I hadn’t been going against the current.

The geese must have heard that the disco was heading their way, as they had assumed traditional school dance stances. The boy geese were one side of the bank, awkwardly milling around and all facing the girl geese. The girl geese were in more of a huddle the other side of the bank, with the occasional one glancing over at the boy geese. As I passed, the girl geese had decided to take action, and were swimming purposefully towards the boy geese. I like to think that with the ice broken, they would be partying past sunset.

Speaking of which, the sky was turning an ominous pinkish colour as I approached the 8 foot Cranfleet lock. My solo boating nemesis. This was either going to be feat of the day, or defeat of the day. I am sometimes a person who sees omens in seemingly innocuous things, and the fact the lock needed emptying before I could start appeared to be a bad one.

With no audience to impress, but an increasingly dusky sky, I scurried energetically around the lock as I drained it to the level of my boat. The gates were opened and I drove Double Fracture in. Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was lack of judgement, but I drove her in a little too fast and scrambled a little desperately up the ladder in the lock, managing not to drop the centreline rope as I then tried to heave the boat to a stop. Obviously I was not successful, and it took another bump to bring the craft to a standstill.

Nervously, I opened the sluice to start filling up the lock. I’d been advised to do this slowly to try to avoid the boat being battered around the lock by the force of the incoming water. However, even the smallest opening brought forth a torrent of water, and my feeble tugging on the rope was ineffective in stopping Double Fracture bouncing off the four walls of the lock. Preoccupied with trying to minimise the ricochet, it took me several minutes to realise that the water level wasn’t rising. The water was flowing in through the sluice, playing pinball with my boat, and then continuing out of the sluice I had forgotten to shut the other end. My schoolboy error corrected, the lock finally started to fill. 

At this point the whole episode became a lot easier, and not just because I was doing it right. The kindness of fellow boat owners was once again came to my aid, and one of the moorers nearby offered to close the lock after me when he realised I was on my own. That is an offer I will never turn down and I gratefully hopped on my boat and literally sailed off into the sunset.


Not quite yet home, I decided to call it a boating day. I couldn’t face doing the last lock, or trying to moor up in the dark without crashing into my neighbours. So I tied up a mile down the river outside the Trent Lock. Stopping at the pub seemed like a appropriate reward for my day’s efforts. At least it would have been if I hadn’t had to go to work.

Mission Sawley or Bust: the sequel will be a smoother run. I have learnt valuable lessons about lock operation, checking hours of sunlight and use of a flask for maintaining tea supplies. Next time will definitely be better. Probably.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Uptown Funk‘ by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars.