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3. Feb, 2019

At the end of the last blog I told you the sad news that Bubbles, our beautiful ginger and white tom cat, was terminally ill and we didn’t know how long he had left with us.

On the morning of Tuesday 29th he passed peacefully away in front of the fire snuggled up in a box, what cat doesn’t love a box.

He has left a huge hole in our lives.

How did he get his name? I hear you ask. Well when we first got him as a very small kitten I thought he was a girl and called him Bubbles. 6 months later when I realised my mistake it was too late the name had stuck but it did get shortened to Bubs much of the time.

Strangely enough he was the cat we weren’t going to bring with us on the boat, but he turned out to be the one that loved the cruising, and visiting new places the most. And he loved people.

He came with us because he was impossible to re-home (I wouldn’t have let him go to just anyone). And why was he hard to place? because he was a nasty little bugger at the time and would scratch anyone without provocation. My sister named him El Diablo cat.

But after a less than perfect start to his new life on the boat he changed completely, and couldn’t get enough attention from his adoring public.

As we travelled he would find weird and wonderful places to sleep, on a number of occasions I thought he had managed to get off the boat before we set off because I couldn’t find him, then I would spot him behind the TV, or in the storage rack in the bathroom.

But once we stopped and moored up he really came into his own, he would jump off and go exploring. If we moored near other boats I would have to go and have a word with their crew, as Bubbles always wanted to visit and say hello. Most took it in good humour. If we ever lost him he would be found fast asleep on someone else boat, even if they had a dog on some occasions.

Gongoozlers walking the towpath would be greeted as if they were old friends, people sat on benches minding their own business would soon have a cat for company, and beware anyone having a picnic or BBQ, he would try and pinch their food, but everybody loved him he was so friendly.

But he never learnt to purr.

His happiest place at night was on the Captains lap, and in the morning he would jump on the bed for a fuss with me.

Visitors to the boat were welcomed warmly, and he would choose a lap and make himself comfy on whilst we chatted, but 9 times out of 10 he would return to the Captain after a time.

My happiest memories are the times he would be waiting to greet us after we had been to the pub. I would call his name as we approached the boat and then listen, and sure enough we would hear ‘ma ow ma ow ma ow’ as he trotted to meet us. We used to have wonderful conversations with him as we walked. This continued in the wharf and he would be there to greet me when I got home from work.

Also in the wharf he loved to visit our next door neighbour Jenny and spend part of the evening sleeping on her bed. I am happy to say he visited her a couple of days before he died, to say goodbye I believe.

So run free over the rainbow bridge Bubbles you will be missed by many people.

19. Jan, 2019

And oh my time has really flown since my last blog back in October. I must apologise for my tardiness in not keeping you updated.

Right where were we. Well at the end of the last blog we had just left Fradley Junction and the Swan heading back to our winter moorings in at Swan Lane. As many of you know I work during the winter and I had started to check out suitable jobs on line.

To get back to Swan Lane we travelled on the Coventry Canal through Fazely, and then up the Atherstone flight of locks. We like Atherstone, it has a couple of good pubs and a brilliant butchers called ‘Bates’, who make the best faggots in the world. Whilst moored in Atherstone we received news that Mark and Fern, who where joining us at Swan Lane, were heading our way. Mark would be single handing through the locks as Fern was at work, so being good neighbours we decided to wait and give him a hand.  It was nice to meet Mark and our help was much appreciated

After doing our good deed we continued on our way towards Coventry, stopping off at the Anchor at Hartshill for a pint. I am sorry to say I can’t really recommend this pub, as we found the landlord to be not the friendliest, and his 2 large poodles were given free roam of the pub and proceed to pee up the wall in the restaurant. It truly put us off, and from what we have heard it wasn’t the first time.

So back to Swan Lane and a welcome home drink in the Brickies with our fellow moorers. It was great to catch up with everyone.

So back to the job hunting and I had seen an advert for Amazon. Now after all the bad press they had garnered last year I was dubious to say the least, but when they announced a pay increase to £9.50 per hour (most jobs I do only pay minimum wage) I had to give it a go and arranged to go and register with the agency in Coventry on Friday afternoon. So we decided to spend a couple of nights in the basin before taking up full time residency in the Wharf.

First night, and after an enjoyable few pints in town, we settled in for the night and Bubbles decided  go off and explore, but he didn’t come back after the normal amount of time. We decided he had found a comfortable spot and would return in his own time. Lo and behold he did reappear sometime later, and around his neck was a paper collar. He had been catnapped by some well meaning people and taken to the nearest vets. The vet had examined him, and because it was obvious he was well looked after, advised the people to return him to where they had found him and release him to find his own way home. We rang the number on the collar and explained about him living on a boat, and how friendly he was, and they advised us to get him micro chipped in case it happen again.

I went to register on the Friday, well me and about 40 others, so of course it was chaos and it took an age and it would be dark soon, so I phoned the Captain and it was decided that he would take the boat back to Swan Lane on his own, and I would catch the bus when I was finished.

Then the big shock, and the main reason I haven’t written a blog until now. On being asked when I could start I said immediately, and that’s what happened, induction on the Saturday  and start on the Sunday (I was on the Sunday-Wednesday shift). The hours were 7.30am to 6pm so 10 and a half hours a day, so yes a 40hrs week. But then the mandatory overtime kicked in, meaning for 7 weeks I was working 50hrs per week, so as you can imagine I was exhausted the 2 days I was off, and of course in the run up to Christmas we go and visit family back in Ripley and Wigan. I had no time or energy for anything else.

I must say working for Amazon was a positive experience and they treated us very well, and the money was amazing, but the long hours were killers.

I was laid off after Christmas, I can’t say I was sorry as my back and feet had had enough.

It is lovely being back on the Wharf with all our friends, and we have had a number of trips to the pub, but the highlight was the Christmas party. Last year we had a Christmas curry organised by our illustrious leader Keith, so this year we thought it was our turn to organise something for our fellow moorers. So the Captain and I did a very nice buffet and quiz, we decorated the meeting room and got a Christmas tree and sorted out some festive tunes, we had a great night with everyone who came.

Christmas on the boat is a quiet affair for us, we had some wonderful presents from our family and friends, the Captain ended up with 6 bottles of rum and I got 4 bottle of different flavoured gin, should keep us going a while. Of course we had our usual couple of pints in the Brickies before our Christmas dinner, which this year consisted of Spiced Parsnip and Carrot soup followed by ham and beef and all the trimming and our usual pud of lemon meringue.

New Years eve was spent at my daughter Jess’s and Stuarts house and my son Adam and his wife Julie joined us to see 2019 in. We had a great time playing silly games and singing karaoke.

So a new year and a new job, back to UTL were I worked in 2018, but this time I am working in the call centre for Vodafone and I get to sit down all day YIPPEE.

The Captain has been volunteering with CRT cutting back the offside vegetation from our Wharf to Hawksbury Junction. It’s once a week, but it gets him out and he seems to be enjoying it. They have also sent him on a course on how to use a chainsaw. It’s a great way to give something back to the canals on which we live.

Now to some more sombre news, I have already mentioned Bubbles and his little trip to the vets. Well he had to go again just after Christmas, but the outcome was not what we wanted to hear. He had got very fat, but this turned out to be fluid in his little tummy, which was a symptom of something much more serious. The vet basically said it could be his heart, liver or a tumour, and whichever one it was, was at an advanced stage, and even if they did tests on him to pinpoint the problem there would be nothing they could do. So we have him at home and it is just a waiting game. He is eating and drinking but sleeping a lot, if it comes to the point that he is in any distress we will do the right thing and not let him suffer.

As you can imagine the news hit us very hard, but slowly we have come to terms with what’s going to happen.

And Sam, our old lady, well she just keeps going and going.

And on that sad note I will say bye for now.

14. Oct, 2018

We left Alrewas after a very enjoyable visit to the Arboretum and continued on our way to Stoke-on-Trent, home of the potteries.

Our reason for going to Festival Park in Stoke was to meet up with the Captains daughter Hannah, and little Stanley his latest grandson.

We had to pass through various towns and villages to get there, and of course us being us had to stop off and try the local hostelries.

We stopped off first at Rugeley, which is really handy for shopping as Tesco is right next to the canal, and there is a very nice Wetherspoons called the Plaza, which as the name suggests is an art deco cinema opened in 1934, and the refurbishment has been done to the highest standard, and has kept all the art deco features. The addition of old and new film posters harks back to its past too.

Then on to Stone, a very nice little town with a good selection of shops and pubs. Our favourite pub is the Swan, a proper real ale pub, we also tried the Poste of Stone (a Wetherspoons) which is ok, and the Star which is right on the canal and has a rather interesting history. The pub was fully licensed in 1819, although the building predates the canal by some 200 years. The building has in its time been a butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse. Stabling for boat horses was available up to the 1950s, and the business relied heavily on the canal for trade.

 We moored on the offside right next to a car park, and of course Bubbles had to get off and made himself known to people using it. He strutted his stuff, and bathed in the admiration of his subjects.

Whilst in Stone we heard there was a Food and Drink festival being held the following weekend, so the decision was taken to return and attend.

Then on to Barleston, and a favourite pub of ours The Plume of Feathers, owned by Neil Morrissey of Bob the Builder fame, he saved it from closing, and now it is a popular local serving very good food, if a little on the pricey side. It is said he likes popping in and helping in the kitchen from time to time, but we have never seen him. Oh and they have a good selection of real ales on which are very well kept.

We met Hannah at Festival Park and had a great afternoon catching up, and I got to meet Stanley for the first time, he is lovely.

Then we retraced our steps and got back to Stone on Thursday, already for going to the food festival on the Friday.

The festival was great, with a wonderful selection of artisan foods and drinks. I didn’t mention before, but the reason the Captain really wanted to go was because Titanic brewery had a bar there, along with a few other local breweries. But first we had to sample the food and oh boy what a choice, all sorts of cheeses of course, chutneys, jams, and all manner of chilli sauces and flavoured oils. I was in heaven. Chocolates, cakes, breads, wine, gins, the list is never ending. One stall which I must give special mention to sold Thai curry pastes, and had warm pots of each so you could try them. I bought a Chiangmai one, it has a slightly aniseed flavour and is quite hot and spicy (a bit like me).

We also picked up 5 different cheeses for Christmas (if they last that long) a limoncello flavoured one and another is horseradish.

We didn’t try any of the fast food stalls, but again there was a great selection.

So on to the beer, first Joules brewery and Slumbering Monk. Then on to Titanic and the Captain was in 7th heaven, he had eventually tracked down the Plum Porter Reserve (6.5%), and it was beautiful, with a deep plum flavour and very rich. They also had on Cherry Dark, Cappuccino stout and Chocolate and Vanilla stout. He was spoiled for choice, and to top it all he found out that the Royal Exchange in Stone is one of their pubs. After trying a couple he moved on to Weals Ales Brewery and Centwealial, a very nice milk stout.

On the Saturday there was a farmers market, but the weather wasn’t looking great so we stayed put until late afternoon, before venturing out to try the Royal Exchange, again we weren’t disappointed at all. We finished off a very enjoyable weekend in the Poste of Stone, were I got to indulge in my recently discovered enjoyment of flavoured gin.

After such a busy (or should that be boozy) couple of days we decided to moor in the middle of nowhere the next night, and this is where we had a visit from a cheeky little kingfisher, who decided our front ropes was the best place to eat his tea. We always love seeing these beautiful and extremely colourful birds. However even though they are bright neon blue and orange they are very difficult to spot. They dive from branch to branch at such a speed that all you catch is a fleeting view. We have seen a few on our travels, and the Captain has managed one clear picture in that time and, that’s all.

He didn’t get a picture on this occasion, we were sat with the front doors open watching the sun slowly setting when he spotted a bird flitting about the front of the boat, eventually it landed on the t-stud and he could see it was a kingfisher, me, I was engrossed in candy crush so missed its first appearance. He went to the back of the boat in time to see it sitting on the roof before it was gone again. Then he made his mistake and decided to nip to the loo on his way back. I was looking out of the front thinking our little cheeky friend had gone, when something dived across the front of the boat and then reappeared on the front ropes. The kingfisher was back, this time with a silver fish wriggling in its beak. It tossed the fish in its beak until it was in the right place to be swallowed whole and then it was gone, the fish and the bird. And this time it didn’t return. What an amazing sight.

We are now on our way back to Coventry for the winter. We stopped off at Rugeley again but only for shopping this time. Before setting off next day Bubbles ended up on the roof and was mistaken for a missing cat from the area, luckily the Captain saw the notice on facebook and was able to put them right, I hope they find their cat, Angel (a long haired ginger and white cat) soon.

Then on to Fradley junction were we turn on to the Coventry canal for the final part of our journey. We moored up just through the swing bridge and were soon joined by a couple of other boats. One a hire boat from Anglo Welsh, with 3 dogs on it which they let run free whilst mooring up. The reason I mention this, is that Bubbles when we stop, likes to have a quick look round his new domain but his exploration was cut short as one of the dogs spotted him and came to say hello, (being a bit polite here) I was concerned as the dog seemed very interested in something in the water between the boat and the bank,  I got off and shooed the dog away, and checked to make sure it wasn’t Bubbles, but of course he is more sure footed than that, and was sat in the cratch well out of the way of the dog.

We went off and tried the Swan, we had been very impressed last year and had had a very good meal there, but it didn’t have the same welcoming vibes as last year which was  shame, so after a couple of pints we headed back to the boat.

That’s all folks for now.

6. Oct, 2018

Yes folk it’s that time again, and our thought turn to our journey back to Swan Lane for the winter. And my thoughts turn to looking for a job boo hoo.

Our plans have changed once again, we are no longer going on the Caldon canal (have to save some where new for other years) and we are not paying our annual visit to Brum, so after a family get together in Stoke we will be heading back to Coventry.

Well how did we get to Stoke on Trent, it took us nearly 2 week because as you know we love to visit places on the way, and sample what the local pubs have to offer.

After leaving Trent lock we travelled a short distance on the River Trent before joining the Trent and Mersey canal at Shardlow.

The T&M, as the name suggests, was built to connect the River Trent in Derbyshire with the River Mersey in the north. Opened in 1777 it is 93.5 miles long, with 70 locks and 5 tunnels. Built by the famous James Brindley, the first sod was cut in 1766 by the one and only Josiah Wedgwood. Wedgwood needed a way to transport his pottery without it getting broken, and the terrible state of the roads at that time was not very conducive to his wishes. The canal was also used to transport coal from the coalfields of Cheshire.

One outstanding feature of the T&M is the Anderton boat lift at Middlewich which lifts boats 50ft from the River Weaver onto the T&M, and yes we have been on it

First port of call on the T&M was Shardlow, a small village but with a number of good pubs. We tried the Navigation first but not impressed, then off to the New Inn, we knew we would be happy here and we weren’t disappointed. The Captain noticed a meal deal that we couldn’t miss, 2 steaks and a bottle of wine for £26. It was a bit early, so after telling the barmaid we would be back we nipped across to the Malt Shovel. It was their Thai inspired night, must try that next time, we had our drink and we headed back to the New Inn and our tea. The customer service was very good, as the Captain had to return his steak as it was over cooked. It was quickly dealt with and we got a free peppercorn sauce to boot.

Willington next and the Dragon and Green Man. The Dragon always has Boot Brewery beers on, and the Captain was very happy to see their stout Tuffer’s Old was available.

Burton on Trent, the Captain had order his prescription to be picked up from here, but once again it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. He used the Boots on line ordering system as his surgery no longer has a telephone ordering service. But lo and behold he got a phone call from the surgery querying why he wanted to pick his tablets up in Burton. So once again he explained about living on a boat and not being in one place all the time. However, on this occasion the lady he spoke to was sooooo helpful, and he came off the phone with a big smile on his face. For although the surgery can’t order his prescription for him, they can and will change the address of the Boots he wishes to collect them from, and then all he will have to do is go on line and place the order. Fingers crossed it works next time.

Alrewas, however you pronounce it, and we met up with Adi and Tina at the lock, the Captain got chatting and said we would see them for a pint later in the William IV.  When we got there Maggie and Bill were there too and we had a very enjoyable time chatting, and putting the boating life to rights. We decided then to try one in the George and Dragon, it had had a recent refurbishment,  we were impressed with the decor, and even better they had Hobgoblin on for the Captain and I spotted a bottle of King Goblin in the chiller, mmmmmmm a lovely way to finish the day.

Next day we decided to visit the National Memorial Arboretum, which is about 2 miles by road from Alrewas, but as usual there is no public transport to get you there. After phoning a couple of local taxi firms, or should that be Highway Robbers Inc and being quoted £8 -12 one way we decided to walk. It was a lovely day and apart from having to cross the very busy A38 it was nice walk.

The National Memorial Arboretum is the UK's year-round centre of Remembrance; a spiritually uplifting place which honours the fallen, recognises service and sacrifice, and fosters pride in our country. It is a living and lasting memorial.

Planting began in 1997 on reclaimed gravel pits bordered by the River Trent and Tame, and some 30,000 trees have been planted since then. Covering 150 acres there are over 300 memorials dedicated not only to the armed forces but, police, fire and civilian groups who gave their lives in service of our country throughout various conflicts and hardship. It opened in 2001

The focal point is the wall which carries the name of every service man or women, to die in active service since World War II, and all round it are the memorials to the individual groups.

To pick out a few that I found most interesting is hard, but I think the one that surprised me the most was the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain Memorial, I have known true Showmen and their families, and was immensely proud to see them honoured in this way, and the gallopers horse is beautiful.

The most moving was the Shot at Dawn memorial, which remembered those executed during WWII. 309 men were executed after being court martialed for various capital offences including desertion, most did not have a proper trial, and many were minors who had lied about their age when joining up. Shell shock and PTSS were not understood at this time. In 2007 these men were awarded posthumous pardons.

The memorial portrays a young British soldier blindfolded, and tied to a stake, ready to be shot by a firing squad. The memorial was modelled on the likeness of 17-year-old Private Herbert Burden, who lied about his age to enlist in the armed forces, and was later shot for desertion.

It is surrounded by a semicircle of stakes, on each on is the name of one the soldiers executed in this fashion. On many it says ‘age unknown’, as these were the ones who lied when enlisting.

Then finally to a more recent memorial, the one dedicated to the Land Girls and the Lumber Jill’s. These women took on the roles as farmers and forestry workers when the men went off to fight. The memorial was dedicated in 2014, however I am sad to say, that it does not included any reference to the work done by the IWA ladies, who worked the canals and took the place of boaters who went off to war. These intrepid ladies learnt how to steer, do locks, and live in a small cramped space, many of them coming from well to do backgrounds. There are books written about, and by these ladies, and I would highly recommend the Alarum Theatres ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’ show.

https://alarumtheatre.co.uk/

After a very overpriced and not very nice hot chocolate in the cafe we walked back.

We stopped at the Co op for a couple of bits, and were greeted with the sight of a huge ginger and white cat sun bathing by the door. I thought at first it was Bubbles, but it looked like it had eaten him, it was that fat. It lay on its back all 4 paws in the air without a care in the world. People just walked round him, quite a sight.

Of course we had to try another in the George and Dragon to finish off a very enjoyable day.

And we are still on our way to Stoke

 

 

 

2. Oct, 2018

Is an understatement, so we are going nowhere. We have made it to Trent Lock after spending an extra week in Langley Mill basin, and it looks like we might be here a few days. Storm Ali is doing its worst, and as we tend to be fair-weather boaters we won’t be going far. Plus the Captain doesn’t think it’s safe to cruise the river Trent in this wind, and I agree with him.

So why did we stay in Langley Mill for another week? well 2 reasons,

1) We went and stayed with my daughter to talk about her wedding next year, and I must say how impressed I was with all the plans she and her fiancé have. My son and his wife came over and we all had tea together, which was lovely, followed by a quick game of Bastard Brag, proper family time. Next day we went into Mansfield and had tapas, and then we were chauffeured over to see my sons new house which is lovely.

2) We again tried to sort out the Captains Christmas present, his microlight flight over the Derbyshire dams, but once again the weather was against us, so we will have to try when we get back to Coventry.

We spent some time deciding where to cruise next, I would have liked to make it to Stratford upon Avon, but it would a bit of a push in the time we have left, so we are off up the Trent and Mersey to Stoke, and onto the Caldon canal which we haven’t done before. Then we will return to Coventry via Birmingham for the end of October.

As we haven’t moved very far in the last week or so there isn’t a great deal to tell, so I thought I would ramble on about more boaty and canal stuff than I usually do, pubs always seem to take front of stage in my blogs, I really don’t know why, nudge nudge wink wink.

So lets start with narrowboats, every narrowboat is different, the only thing they have a common is the width, and that can vary slightly, most are 6’10 which is the width of the single locks. You do get widebeams that go up to 14ft, but these are restricted by lock width and narrow bridge holes so tend to stick to wide canals.

Length, well how long is a piece of string, the longest boats tend to be 72ft, but these are restricted again due to the length of the locks, in the south and midlands they are long and can accommodate these boats, but in the north the locks are shorter. Avalon Two is 57ft and we can do 99% of the system, and that is why we decided on this length. Obviously the benefit of having a longer, wider boat, is more room, but it restricts were you can cruise. The big locks on the rivers which are HUGE and can take 6 or 7 boats at a time. I think we got 9 boats in the barge lock at Teddington on the tidal Thames when we went on our adventure with the St Pancras boating club in May, and there was room for more!!!

There are 3 types of back, a Trad or traditional, with this type there is really only enough room for the steerer to stand, and the engine is usually in the back of the boat, although there are also a lot that have a walkthrough engine room and make the distinctive Put Put Put sound as they cruise along.  Semi Trad, which has more room and is enclosed around the sides, but allows the steerer to have company whilst cruising along, and a cruiser stern, which is a big open space. The last 2 have the engines under the back floor. We have a semi trad.

Layout, a traditional layout has the living area and kitchen at the front of the boat, and the bed at the back, it is the way the working boats were laid out, with most of the front being for cargo, and the family crammed into the small space at the back, It’s really hard to imagine how they could live that way, but live they did, and for many years plying their trade on the cut.

A reverse layout it what it says, the reverse, with the bed at the front and the living area at the back, this is becoming more popular I think. And then some boats have a bed in the middle.

Owners , there are even more types of owner than boats, old, young, middle aged, single, couples, families. Live aboard full time, summer only, holidays, share boaters, never leave the marina types, happy, helpful, grumpy, and sometimes rude. Some boaters continuously cruise, only going to marinas or wharfs for diesel and gas, they live on the cut all through the year and don’t have a home mooring, these have to abide by the 1995 waterways act and move to a different place every 14days, and must be on a journey, rather than just hopping between two places on the canal. The interpretation of this law is difficult, and has caused more than a few arguments between boaters and the Canal and River Trust, or CRT as it’s known. I think we have the best of both worlds, continuously cruising in the summer, and living in our wharf in the winter.

Well, what can I say about CRT, they can be a bit like marmite, you love em or hate em. The frontline staff are in the main great, but the management come in for quite a bit of stick and don’t help themselves at times. The recent rebranding and new logo has come in for a lot of criticism. Boaters feel that the money spent on new signs, and other rebranding, could have been better used on maintaining the infrastructure of the canals for boats. This wasn’t helped when the press release at the launch made no mention of boats, and said that the canals are free for all to use, well that’s not true, we boaters pay a license fee to be on the water, so it’s definitely not free for us. To make matters worse the new leaflets and website had not one picture of a boat, and the website is lacking in boater information.

 I believe CRT are between a rock and a hard place, I want them to fix things that are broken on the system, and not spend money on changing signage that is perfectly fit for purpose, but is the wrong corporate colour and has the old logo, and I know that they need to find new funding stream to ensure that our 200yr old canal system remains open and usable, but I question the way they are going about it. I have boater friends that really believe CRT do not have boaters, or the canals best interests at heart. I sincerely hope this is not the case.

I hoped you enjoyed reading something a bit different from stories of pubs and beer, and will just fill you in on our trip down the Erewash. We managed to pair up with Nb Voila for the first 6 locks before stopping for the night at the Gallows. Although the next day was quite windy, the Captain decided we would set off for Trent lock and see how we got on. Well we made it and spied Voila moored, but no sign of its Captain and crew (sorry we didn’t get their names). We found a suitable space and moored up, it was a lot busier than last time we were there. The Captain chatted to the man on King Billy moored in front of us, whilst I decided we would go to the pub, (you knew there would be one somewhere in my blog). As we walked to the pub I spotted a very familiar boat, The Oak, and fishing on the back our good friend John, and his wife Janice was in the cabin below. I said hello and he was really surprised to see us, our paths haven’t crossed this year so it was great to catch up, and they came to the pub with us. Hope to see them sometime next year.

All we can do for now is wait for the weather to improve and we will be off on our adventures again