How to get your motorboat to start

Some of you know I am a fan of boating and yachting, while to others, this will be a surprise. I’ve been on inland motorboats and seafaring yachts, and this article aims to cover how to start a boat with a motor, as well as a little overview of the rules of the waterways. Barges are a little different (I think; every time I’ve been on one, somebody else has sorted it out), but if you’re on a canal holiday in a barge, you should be shown how to work the engine.

1. Does it have a key-protected ignition? If so, put the key in and turn it.

2. Now find the engine. It’s usually a big, boxy thing at one end of the boat, or if it’s an inboard motor, they can be hidden behind a hatch or panel.

3. Find something that looks like a handle with a piece of string attached to it.

4. Pull it firmly. If you’re too gentle with it, it won’t start. If you pull it too hard, the string could snap. The engine might have a couple (or more) false starts before it catches; older engines or those which have stood idle for long periods of time have the most trouble with this. There’s a knack to pulling these so they catch more easily, which you will get the hang of with enough practice.

Rules of the British inland waterways:
At narrow passes in open water, canals or rivers, you should be on the right hand side when you’re passing another boat (the opposite side to where you drive a car, if you’re British). This is also true if you’re at sea and navigating a marina or other narrow area.
Approach bridges slowly, and ensure you have enough height and width for your boat, particularly if you’re not on a barge, as those are what the waterways are generally designed for and there’s some very, very low bridges.
The person closest to the bridge (or other obstacle) has right of way!
The speed limit on canals is 4mph. Any faster, and the wake (ripples) from your boat could cause problems for other water users.
To stop your boat, put the gear lever to the opposite of the direction you’re currently traveling: If you’re going forwards, put it into reverse, and vice versa.
Further information can be found from the Canal and River trust here.

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£250 car update: Recycled Home-Made Cupholders

I made these cup holders by recycling some cylindrical containers (they used to have Timmy’s Pro Fibre supplement in), which I painted gold:

Johnstone's metal paint gold car invoke delight and inspire

home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Home made cup holders part-way through being painted.
home made cup holders part way through being painted invoke delight and inspire
Waiting for them to dry.

Once they’re finished I’m going to drill holes in the plastic around the dashboard and screw them to it with small screws. No car should be without cupholders in this day and age, and mine has literally none!

Review: Dracula and Frankenstein: Penguin Clothbound Classics

I spotted these Penguin Clothbound classics on Amazon, and I decided to take a look at them.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

I’m a voracious reader. I always thought I would be the last person to embrace the new trend of eBooks. I still write some of my books on paper before I type them up, and I do all my planning on paper, too, and type that up. There’s something reassuringly solid about a nice book, with pages that can be turned. However, there’s distinct advantages to ebooks when you read in the quantity that I do. If you only have 1 chapter left, you don’t have the dilemma about whether to cram 2 books into your handbag for the day, or whether to risk having nothing to read at lunchtime. Physical books take up far too much room if you can’t afford a large house. Before I moved in with my husband, I moved around a lot, because I didn’t really have anywhere permanent to live, which meant that about once every three months, I would have to fill up a stacking crate or two with books, and carry them (I didn’t own a car) to a charity shop. I feel sad when I think of all the books I no longer have, books I liked, and would like to read again, because I simply didn’t have the space to keep them all. I still remember dragging those heavy boxes of books, my arms nearly falling off under the weight, to make sure they found a new home.

I had a very strict rule, though; if I couldn’t carry it, I couldn’t keep it. That was borne from being homeless and destitute a few too many times, because when you get somewhere to live after being homeless, especially if some charitable agency donates clothes or books to you, it’s easy to accumulate a lot of things again in a short space of time, but not necessarily the most useful or appropriate things. You feel bad about getting rid of them, though, and so I wouldn’t. Then, every time I ended up homeless again, usually because my mother hadn’t paid our rent, or she’d threatened to stab the landlord/lady who owned the place we were living in, or she’d been offensive or violent toward another resident in wherever we lived, we’d end up homeless again. And when there were so many objects, it was hard to know what to take when we had limited space and only very short amounts of time.

As an adult, then, I held fast to that rule, and because I had to move so frequently for work, I found it difficult to let the books go, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions when you haven’t quite found a place where you and things go together (shameless Breakfast at Tiffany’s reference… another book I no longer have).

Then, one day, about six and a half years ago, I found a place where I and things might go together, only my husband had already filled it all with his things and there wasn’t really any room for me and I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything. So about eighteen months later, when we had to move to a different city for teacher training, we upsized and rented an enormous house, many times the size of the one we have now. That house had about 4800 feet of floor space excluding the garages which the landlord retained. It had two kitchens, a laundry, servants’ quarters (we kept the bunny down there), and the sort of staircase with a huge sweep to it. We accumulated a lot of stuff but I was still reluctant to indiscriminately bring things into the house. I will never forget the time I came home from a long day and found that my husband had ordered eight enormous bookcases to turn one of the huge rooms of the house into a library for his 2000 books. To match, he added a handmade wooden dining table which seated twelve. I was initially apoplectic at all this unexpected furniture, but I got used to it.

This was when we had money, and prospects, and all sorts of other wonderful things (like a future). Those things have all been in extremely short supply for the last few years.

We moved to this (much smaller, but still fine for 2 people, at 600 feet square) house in late 2013 and because we were both working 14 hours a day, five days a week, we had to move overnight (we did it ourselves as we had no money for a removal van) and we literally just moved everything with no thought as to what to keep. I put in a lot of hard work clearing out our house over the last couple of years to declutter it of all the things we had accumulated when we lived in that proper house. One of my hardest tasks was to read the first three chapters of every single book in my husband’s 2000-book library to decide which ones were worth keeping. I pared it down by about 60% (and ended up reading most of the books we kept). The thing is, those 2000 books (now about 800) were all sci-fi and fantasy novels, of varying quality and noteworthiness, so we didn’t have copies of quite a few very common books, but we did have duplicates of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, amongst other things. Since my husband came with such an enormous library, I haven’t felt able to buy books for myself. Ebooks came to the rescue, on that score, and before I got Kindle for PC/iPhone, I missed so many new book releases because I felt bad for adding to the unmanageable collection of books we already had.

So with all that in mind, it feels a little bit ridiculous that I recently realized the value in having a nice set of decorative novels around the house. So when I learned about the Penguin Clothbound Classics, I was very taken by the design. I took a look through the list to see which books had been clothbound, and imagine my surprise when I found they’d picked Dracula and Frankenstein.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Frankenstein is a book that made a big impression on me when I first read it at fourteen (ditch the popular version retold a thousand times in film). It’s about a construct whose story reflects the otherness and isolation of trying to live in a world which often seems as though it’s made for a different type of person.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

What I really love about this version is it has anatomical drawings on the cover, of hearts, but they’re not pretty puffy hearts, they’re biology diagrams of hearts. I thought that was especially appropriate for the subject matter.

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a story I started reading on my Kindle for iPhone about a year ago. I love that you can get free ebooks of all the great classics, but the Kindle version of Dracula that I got was really badly formatted and I gave up after about 30 pages. I think some books are better suited to being in paper form, so I’ve bought this version. The cover is all black, and while the design is not as inspired as that on the Frankenstein, I still rather liked it:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula

Here’s the title page inside each book:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula bram stoker

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula mary shelley

Here’s a page at random from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, to show the text size and layout quality:

penguin clothbound classics review frankenstein and dracula mary shelley

I’m really looking forward to reading Dracula next!

I’ve got a bunch more of these on my mental wishlist, but at £11.99-£14.99 I could only let myself have 2 this time. Perhaps I’ll have the whole set before we emigrate, which is very likely to be August now, but probably not. There’s about 40 of them all told, which is £800-£1000, and there’s no way I can spend that much money on books!! I can’t talk about where we’re emigrating at the moment because it’s all working out, for the second time in my life something is actually working the way it ought to, and I don’t want to jinx it all, but I promise I’ll tell you all before we depart.

Here’s Dracula on Amazon.com. Apparently Frankenstein is out of print in the US but it’s here on Amazon.co.uk.

Review: Outlandish Scotland Journey Part 1 and 2

When I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager)*, I thought to myself, “I really want to go to those places and see those things.” I often wish it was easier to find stuff in Scotland but there’s so many things in Scotland that it can be hard to know where to look for anything specific! Anyway, that was before they made a TV show out of it, and now there’s even more Outlander locations in Scotland!

*Book 1 was retitled Cross-Stitch in the UK for some stupid reason, and they wonder why it was initially less popular over here; it’s still the same love story between Jamie and Claire.

Another rainbow in the West Highlands of Scotland on the way to Loch Ness.

The first guide, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 1, covers the Outlander sites between Edinburgh and Inverness, while the second, Outlandish Scotland Journey part 2, covers Inverness and a whole plethora of sites around the city. In both cases, the sites are marked on a map so you can see the route that goes between them all.

If that’s not enough, there are also very clear directions explaining how to get to each location, and the guides are very clear about what you will find in each place, with lots of details to help you make the most of your holiday. One thing I especially liked was the thistle icons that rated each location, and showed whether a location was worth visiting or not, so I could see at-a-glance how many sites to spend time visiting (nearly all of them… now I just need a reliable vehicle to travel in).

Another thing I liked was the author has found pictures of what the places look like, and put them alongside what the places looked like in the TV series, so you get an idea about how similar the places are in real life (for example, some buildings in Culross were painted for filming so in real life they’re a different colour).

One more thing that I liked about these guides is that they give you the disabled access information, so if you are traveling as a disabled person or if you’re taking someone who is disabled, you have a good sense of whether you can get into any specific place. I’ve talked before about why that’s important to include in travel guides as it can make or break some people’s trips.

It was also useful to know how much time to schedule for each aspect of the trip; for example, it tells you how much time each itinerary will take, depending on whether you want to do it faster or slower, so you have a good idea of how much time to budget.

Other things that you will find in these guide books include: Where to park, for sites where parking isn’t immediately obvious; whether any individual attraction is worth a visit or not (and an explanation and references showing why not, if it’s bad, so you can make an informed choice); how much they cost; and there are even lots of extras, such as places of interest that weren’t in the books/TV series but are still worth a visit while you’re in each area.

These Outlandish Scotland Journey ebook guides also really make use of being in an electronic format, by linking to additional useful information, which basically means it’s like someone went out and painstakingly researched your holiday for you, so all you have to do is follow the route and have a great time! Or, if, like me, you’re the sort of person who likes to go out and discover things, these guides have a lot of mileage in them as well; I would choose the most interesting locations, and see what turned up in the space between them while I was traveling (because Scotland has a LOT of space).

If you live in Scotland, you could do some of these locations as a series of day-trips at the weekend, rather than a long holiday, and it would certainly be a great way to spend your days off! If I still lived in Edinburgh, I would definitely do that.

These guides are useful for a wide range of readers, both locals and further afield, and my overall conclusion is that they are well worth a buy if you are going anywhere in Scotland this year or researching a future trip.

Find the Outlandish Scotland Journey guides on Amazon here: Part 1 and Part 2
Or find out more here: Outlandish Scotland Journey website

Which Easter Eggs are Vegan 2017?

For the third year running, I decided to go to all my local supermarkets and find out which Easter eggs are dairy free and vegan, so you don’t have to waste as much time tearing your hair out over ingredients. I did discuss the US options last year, and they don’t seem to have changed so you can find that post here.

Morrisons:

Most Improved 2017

The prize for Most Improved Vegan Easter Egg Collection 2017 has to go to Morrisons; they have really worked hard to develop a vegan Easter Egg range and you can find them amongst the normal eggs in the seasonal aisle (not in the Free From section) which I always prefer because then I don’t feel like a leper. If I had any money, I’d send Morrisons a trophy. They have 4 vegan eggs this year, including three from Moo Free; the “milk” chocolate one, the “bunnycomb” (honeycomb) one which has chunks of honeycomb in it, and the “orange” one which has chunks of orange-flavored confection in it, as well as the standard Kinnerton one. Full points for interesting and unique eggs this year:

A fantastic selection of Moo Free vegan milk free eggs from Morrissons.
A fantastic selection of Moo Free eggs from Morrissons.

morrisons moo free orange easter egg vegan

morrisons moo free chocolate vegan easter egg

morrisons moo free unnycomb honeycomb toffee vegan easter egg

morrisons kinnerton dairy free vegan easter egg

ASDA

ASDA have a nice set this year, there’s their Easter Egg with Choc Buttons for the kids, a nice looking one with orange discs for millennials, and a serious dark chocolate fancy egg for people who like a bit of luxury. Take a look:

ASDA free from dairy free egg vegan milk free chocolate

ASDA free from dairy free egg vegan milk free chocolate
This one has chocolate orange discs.

ASDA free from dairy free egg vegan milk free chocolate

Sainsbury’s:

Sainsbury’s had their usual lovely collection (and I’m pleased to tell you they also now do the most DELICIOUS dairy free Wensleydale cheese AND a vegan microwave lasagne). The highlights were  the white chocolate egg and the Choices egg (I love the caramel chocolates that come with that one), both of which I bought. There were others, too, but I can’t seem to find the photos to show you (really sorry; if I find them I will add them to this article):

sainsburys vegan easter egg white chocolate easter egg dairy free

sainsburys2

Tesco:

Tesco’s dairy free range has been a bit disappointing this year, and I noticed their Christmas range was lacklustre for milk-free as well; they seem to prefer to fill their free from range with gluten free stuff (and there’s a lot of stuff that they’re selling as “gluten free” when there’s a normal, cheaper version that doesn’t actually contain gluten). So their range was relegated to the mainstream eggs that didn’t have dairy in. Here’s the set I found (with ingredients as they’re not explicitly marked as vegan or dairy free):

Tesco ff green and blacks egg mint vegan

Tesco ff dairy free egg vegan dark chocolate

Lindt dark chocolate bunny dairy free vegan
Everyone’s favorite Lindt dark chocolate bunny is dairy free again this year. Thank you Lindt, I love these bunnies so much!!

The Hall of Shame:

And now, for the third year running, it makes me sad and a little angry to discuss those eggs that look vegan and dairy free, but aren’t, in Invoke Delight and Inspire’s traditional Easter Egg Hall of Shame:

Tesco not vegan dark chocolate bunny.
Not Vegan.

Lindt not vegan dark chocolate egg.

Green and Blacks not vegan dark chocolate egg.

And the prize for the least vegan friendly Easter chocolate, 2017, goes to Nestle, for THREE eggs that contain gratuitous milk. Again. Why do I suspect that someone in Nestle has a grudge against dairy-free chocolate? Now, Cadbury’s seem like they’ve been pretty vegan-unfriendly, but I will remind y’all that they own Green and Black’s, which has at least 1 dairy free egg, even if some of their others are not, so each year they make at least some effort in this department, whereas Nestle are stuck in 1982:

Nestle, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Again. And don’t bother to contact me if you’re just going to spout some spiel about needing butteroil in your After Eights or that “consumers tell you they like milk in their chocolate” because I’m a consumer and I don’t want milk in my chocolate, and given how popular this “Which Easter Eggs Are Vegan” series of articles has been, year on year, I know I’m not alone. BTW, readers, unbranded After Eights are dairy free and they taste great; most supermarkets sell them as “after dinner mints.”

I shouldn’t be surprised by Nestle, they have always been a bit regressive. After all, they did run that Yorkie “it’s not for girls”, and later, the “this one is for girls” (get in your freaking corner, girls, OMG, like what are you doing trying to eat chocolate?) advertising campaigns.

Has anyone spotted any other vegan Easter eggs in shops? Let me know in the comments!

Review: iPhone SE 16GB

So I decided that I’d review my iPhone, since I’ve had it for a few months now. First, let me start by saying, I’ve never owned any Apple product before in my life. I had no idea what to expect when I bought this phone, and I only went by whether it would do what I wanted it to.

I spent ages looking through phone reviews of Sony, Alcatel, Samsung Galaxy and some weird brands I’d never heard of. The thing was, they were all very, very expensive or the reviews implied they were incredibly crap BY DESIGN. Seriously? Who spends R&D money designing a phone to be awful? The iPhone SE was the only phone at the mid-range price point. I’m not really interested in paying £400 or £500 for a phone, and when some phones were selling at up to £900, they can fuck right off. I didn’t spend that much money on my LAPTOP and that was essential for working.

I bought the 16GB phone rather than the 64GB phone for one reason: Price. The 16GB was £289.99 second hand (unlocked) and the 64GB one was over £400.00 at the time (they’re probably a little cheaper now), so it didn’t make sense to spend so much extra money. If you’re the sort of person who likes to store films and music and whatnot on your phone, you might want to get the bigger phone. I upload my photos regularly and I don’t tend to download many apps, so the 16GB suits me because it’s realtime data (eg. mapping, Facebook and Snapchat and Kindle for iPhone) that I need my phone to handle. The iPhone SE does these things comfortably, without an overcomplicated interface or installation system. I had never used an Apple phone before, and I was amazed by how easy it was to get everything to work straight out of the box.

Another thing I like about this phone is that there are a lot of nice phone cases available for it. I currently have a Cinderella phone case with moving glitter inside that’s like having a snowglobe on the back of my phone. I also have one that has the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter. I really love that there is so much scope to customize my phone and make it look unique.

The camera is quite good; not as good as my DSLR, of course, but it gets some nice pictures when I just want snapshots of things. The front camera is only 2.1 Megapixel and I thought that would be awful compared to the 8MP camera on my old Huawei, but Apple have done a lot with a little and the camera is better than the 8MP one I used to have, and the colors on things come out much more accurately. The normal camera is 12MP and both cameras have produced decent shots.

I also liked the battery life. People complained about it, but given that I’m used to my old Huawei Ascend’s battery lasting less than a day on a full charge when I don’t even use the internet on it, I was pleasantly impressed that my iPhone lasts 2-3 days on a charge, even though I have Wi-Fi or Mobile Data switched on pretty much 24/7.

The thing that stood out the most though was the commonality of it. When I was choosing a new phone, I literally asked everyone I met about their phones. So many people were cursing the day they spent large amounts of money on their Android phones, but everyone with the iPhone SE was telling me how much they liked it, and showing me how it worked, and so on. Everyone with an iPhone SE was happy to spend the time talking to a complete stranger about how well their phone handled Pokemon Go or how many photos they’d stored on it. I liked that, because I figured that if anything went wrong with my new phone, there would be a hugely supportive and knowledgable community of iPhone users who were able to help me out.

In fact, every time I’ve not known how to do something on my phone, my friends with iPhone SEs have showed me how it works. Usually, it’s because I’m used to everything being over-complicated on my previous Android phone, and I haven’t found a single thing that was harder to do on an iPhone. It’s nice when one little aspect of life is a bit easier. I don’t like overcomplicating things; my brain does enough of that anyway.

So, after 5 months, I’m finally ready to recommend the iPhone SE. If, like me, you want to get a second hand phone, Amazon are selling a few reconditioned iPhone SEs in 16GB and 64GB like this one.

If you already have an iPhone SE, I highly recommend the Kindle for iPhone, because it lets you read all your ebooks on your phone (and if you don’t own a Kindle, I also recommend the Kindle for PC free app from Amazon to read ebooks for free).