I'm staying at my sister's place. She has her old set of Famous Five books lined up next to the loo.
I was more of a Secret Seven fan myself but I picked up Five Run Away Together for a quick stroll down memory lane.
George (the tomboy and don't you dare suggest anything else) has her own island, Kirrin Island, with a ruined castle and everything. They row out there to escape the tyranny of the family cook, staying for a week and rescuing the kidnapped daughter of a millionaire.
Note absence of life jackets. Also, although they pull the boat well up the beach 'because of the storms that can come up suddenly in the bay' they don't have any trouble with any pesky tides.
But apart from that, a much more realistic depiction of rowing than Titchmarsh's. Blyton doesn't use words like 'evanescent' either. And the illustrations by Eileen Soper are charming and evocative.
My jaunt on the Thames on Sunday was at the Skiff Club, the oldest skiffing club in the world (founded 1895). The club codified the sport, developing a standard design that is built in matched pairs or threes for fair racing. The club has twenty boats, mostly built in the last 20 years but including a pair of doubles dating from the early days of the club. They have been recently restored by Stanley and Thomas in Windsor and are things of great beauty. The wood positively glows. And I got to row one of them, M.C. Lamb, on her very first outing since she got back from the yard. What a privilege. It was a first for me too - racing skiffs do not have rowlocks or round thole pins but flat tholes with a string across to prevent the loom of the oar coming out.
This allows the rower to put the power on with confidence but it has the drawback that you can't easily bring the oar out in emergency. So the technique is to manoeuvre the boat with the blade sitting on top of the string and bring it under when you set off in earnest. It is a bit of a faff for the first time, involving taking the handle outside the tholes, taking care not to let go, bringing the handle in and twisting the blade to corkscrew the button under the string. You get the hang of it eventually.
Fran and Dave took me up to the Ye Olde Swanne pubbe in Thames Ditton, a three mile row mainly with the home park of Hampton Court Palace on the north bank. Then we came back. The sun shone. It was fantastic.
I pack a waterproof jacket in my bag whenever it looks like rain, and lately that has been ALL THE BLOODY TIME. But all the jackets I have had so far have had one or more irritating defects, the main one being letting water in within minutes of a shower starting but that is probably because I am a notorious cheapskate and will not pay more than about thirty sovs for any item of clothing.
My most recent one is pictured on the left. I went sculling in it the other day and it reminded me in no uncertain terms how appalling it is.
The front zip has a flap over it, held in place by velcro, which caught my thumb at the end of EVERY stroke. It really was getting to me by the end. The slight ripping noise as the velcro came apart didn't help.
The next annoyance is the hood. Hoods are a big nuisance when trying to look over your shoulder and this one is so loose it completely blinds you. It can be folded away into the collar but that makes the collar bulky and uncomfortable.
So today I went shopping and ended up in Mountain Warehouse where I found the jacket on the right.
The zip and the taped seams are waterproof (its says on the label) and there is no flap to catch thumbs. There is no hood. And it has a nice tail on the back so the person behind you is not regaled with any put-offing views when you lean forward to the catch.
You will have spotted the fact that it is actually a cycling jacket but I am prepared to overlook this (and the dayglo piping) for all its other advantages. And the fact that it was on sale at £29.99 (original price £69.99).
I always read the military obituaries in The Times. Sailors, soldiers and airmen are always so much more colourful than politicians or administrators.
Today, it was General Sir Peter Whiteley, a marine who had served in the war in various ships. In Tokyo Bay on the day of the Japanese surrender, he was awarded an RN watch-keeping certificate, something hardly ever given to a marine.
He then qualified as a naval fighter pilot, later transferring to helicopters and gaining his parachute wings. One of his colleagues speculated on his reasons for not learning to command a submarine in terms apparently too rude to print even in today's Thunderer. If anybody knows what it was, please post it in the comments section.
Sir Peter was an avid sailor, and when in Oslo as C-in-C Allied Forces Northern Europe he challenged King Olaf to a race - in Optimists, a boat I cannot even fit in let alone sail. Apparently he even let the King win.
Sadly there seems to be no picture online of this event, so the substitute at the top of the post is defective in that it is not King Olaf, not Sir Peter and not in Oslo. Sorry.
I'd never heard of the Mahurangi River until the other day and suddenly it is where the action is. The Mahurangi Regatta was last weekend and a fleet of Kiwi St Ayles Skiffs made an appearance as part of their raid to North Island.
New Zealand Coastal Rowing got a fleet together for a two-week tour, centred on the country's premier event for classic wooden yachts and power boats. Boat designer supreme John Welsford accompanied the raid in his liveaboard cabin cruiser, acting as 'baggage barge' as he put it.
More pictures Alan Houghton's excellent Waitematawoodys site and and Mahurangi Magazine.
From the perspective of a dismal windy, wet and dark northern winter, it looks brilliant.
One skiff was even sailed...
The Mahurangi River is on the northeastern tip of North Island, New Zealand. Like Chichester Harbour, it is infested with mudflats. So the local boat is a flat-bottomed punt with many features in common with my own Hampshire punt Snarleyow Too (see masthead).
The main difference is the flare of the sides, with the lowest plank bent vertically to form a pointed stern so the water can flow smoothly away without the turbulence that follows Snarly wherever she goes. Above is a neat V transom giving a very attractive shape to the boat.
The first Mahurangi punts were built of solid kauri so they must have weighed a ton, especially as lengths ranged from 16 to 18ft (Snarley is a mere 11ft). This is a modern copy in plywood built by Colin Brown of Whangateau Traditional Boats.
I really like it. It looks as though it would have all the advantages of shoal draft with none of the vulnerability of the Hampshire punt's vertical sides and low freeboard. Does anybody do any plans?
There's more on their history here.