Sunday, 7 June 2020

Standing orders

Sitting down is apparently really bad for you - that's the (second) latest thing, anyway. And I do a hell of a lot of it. I don't even have my two miles walk to the office and back now to salve my conscience and stretch my legs. I can stand at my desk,
but more often than not, I don't.

However, all is not lost. I seem to have established a tradition of making myself pancakes for Sunday brunch. And pancakes - unless you have someone else cooking them for you - have to be eaten standing up.

My galley-type kitchen (almost exactly the same dimensions as the one on Bakewell) is perfectly suited for this.

First, I prepare everything by laying out plate, caster sugar and lemon (the only thing I ever have on actual (as opposed to Scotch) pancakes) cup of tea, book and glasses on the counter opposite the hob.
 Then on the other side is the batter, oil, pan and spatula...
So it's a case of cook the first pancake, get it onto the plate, oil the pan, get the next one on, juice and sugar the one on the plate, glasses on (so they don't get sticky doing it later), roll it up and eat it while reading a paragraph and keeping an eye on the next one.

I work on the basis although this feels terribly decadent (especially as growing up, pancakes were most definitely a once-a-year treat), the egg and quarter pint of milk, two ounces of flour and a drop of oil actually probably compares quite favourably in terms of protein:carbohydrate:fat ratio to having the egg on toast (which would be horrible anyway). So that's all right then.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Desperate for a ...

... subject to post about, I thought of my most recent Oxfam purchase. 'Most recent' meaning, in this instance, on March 21st (the day I last got my hair cut and last handled cash).

But what a fabulous purchase it was:
In absolutely perfect condition, a ceramic holder for those boxes of interleaved toilet paper, which - hooray! - I see are still sold. On the front is embossed 'JEYES - THE HOUSE OF HYGIENE' and their address at 99 Regent Street.

But the best bit is that incorporated into the top of the holder is
an ashtray!

Clearly designed in the interests of employers for the efficient multi-tasking use of workers' break times.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Our lives are made from the things we pay attention to

I thought that was a lovely quote, and an important idea, when I read it in the Guardian last week. It was written in the context of walking in nature, and paying attention to birds, and peace, and beauty.

It's true, certainly to an extent, that we can focus on what we want to remember; what we want to form our experience, what we choose to be important to us. And those memories and those experiences are the essence of what we look back on when we look back upon our life (so far).

Ironic, then, that that was in the Guardian. Over the last week or two I was gradually dipping back into the media - in the form of the Guardian website. It felt, as the grip of 'lockdown' loosened slightly that there was a glimmer of normality appearing; non- (or only tangentially-) Covid stories in the place of the previous focus on the drama and horror of it. I began to lift my self-imposed isolation from the media.

And now I regret it. As the tide of horror has receded, its drama played out, it has been replaced, it seems, with an even more insidious current of judgementalism. Every agony column seems to be about someone 'breaking lockdown' and the agony aunts are no longer the non-judgemental figures we have come to expect, and everything seems to be turning into a witch hunt. There is probably no one in this country whom I dislike more than Dominic Cummings, but to see the way the Guardian - (channels 1985 Neil Kinnock) the Guardian - has hounded and surveilled him has done more than anything to bring me to the brink of despair. 

Now. I am not an epidemiologist, and I am perfectly prepared to err on the side of caution and to accept that the regulations - albeit appallingly drafted - are a necessary and proportionate response to the situation. However, the alacrity with which they are being policed and enforced, in the streets and supermarkets, and in the press and blog comments, by members the general public high on their own self-righteousness, is truly frightening.

Hopefully Covid-19 will be under control within months; how much longer will it take for the poison of self-righteousness, judgementalism, surveillance and suspicion to work its way out of our collective system? Please, everyone - and I'm sure my readers don't need asking this - please let the authorities - the police, the council, the health services - do their job of enforcement. Please save your energy to approach your fellow humans with kindness, not condemnation; sympathy not judgement.

Meanwhile, I once again withdraw from the media, because that is not what I want to pay attention to; that is not what I want my life to be made from, when I look back on this time.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Maybe he's just not very good at canals

I don't want to have a go at Stuart Maconie. I haven't listened to him on the radio for ages, but I'm sure he's very good, and his books  - especially Cider with Roadies and Pies and Prejudice are very funny. I like his style; his affectionate yet not uncritical take, and the details he homes in on.

His books present all manner of obscure and fascinating facts, and this is a big part of what makes them so enjoyable.

But sometimes those facts aren't. Sometimes inaccuracies slip in. I picked up on one such canal-related misrepresentation in Pies and Prejudice way back on the Warrior blog, when he neatly excised the Huddersfield Canal from Ashton to Diggle (and said some slightly careless things about its dimensions).

I'm now reading his Popular History of Britain on the Kindle - so OK, it only cost me £2.99, but equally, it can't be hard to correct errors. And here he doesn't just get a canal wrong; he invents one entirely from scratch. It's called the Airedale Canal, and it occupies the space in Saltaire more usually associated with the Leeds Liverpool. To add slapdash insult to inaccurate injury, he goes on to say - rather dismissively, I thought - that he has no idea why a licenced cafe (or now, according to its website, 'the most happening bar, restaurant and lounge' in Saltaire) would be called 'Don't Tell Titus'. Despite the fact that he has just written pages about Bourneville and its dry nature, he either doesn't know that the same very much applied to Saltaire, or he's not made the connection. That in itself isn't important, but - as I said back in 2007, it makes you doubt the accuracy or care applied to everything else. And it's slightly spoiled for me a book that I had very much been enjoying (and had in fact been about to recommend to a colleague who'll be teaching history next year). A slightly cavalier approach to the facts might be ok in a book poking gentle fun at northerners, but in one purporting to be a history it's a bit less excusable. I shall carry on reading though, because it is quite funny.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Holiday request

I finally decided last week that I would put in a leave request for August, just in case.

Going away in August isn't easy. Colleagues with children want to take their holidays then, in school holiday time. Clearing puts additional pressure on everyone involved in admissions. And for me, as Exams Officer, there's the August resit exam board to prepare for.

So I thought I had better make a good case. t'Boss is an archaeologist, with a keen interest in history (although I must own that he did glaze over a bit the time I started explaining the differences between Woolwiches and Northwiches) so my plan was to capture his interest with a vivid historical angle (having, of course, already checked with all my colleagues and made sure cover was in place for everything I need to do). With that aim, I compiled a supporting document that I am now shamelessly reproducing as a blog post.

Would this persuade you to let me go? I'll let you know what he says ...

Holiday request August 2020
This is my boat (on the left), loading coal at Gopsall Wharf on the Ashby Canal, on August 18th 1970.
Richard Pearson
This is the loading note, signed by the Transport Manager of Ashby Canal Transport, showing that they loaded 23 tons.
Ashby Canal Transport was set up as part of the ultimately successful effort to keep the Ashby Canal open. They didn't own any boats of their own, but subcontracted to a number of individuals and small companies, mostly enthusiasts who had bought boats in one of British Waterways' big disposals in the early 1960s when canal transport was ceasing to be commercially viable (the winter of 1963 was a final nail in its coffin, with boats being unable to move for three months).

This is Chertsey on the Grand Union, en route - the last time she was fully loaded.
Richard Pearson
The journey of 120 miles and 83 locks can be made in a week at a steady pace, putting in longish days (ten hours or so).

And this is Chertsey being unloaded on August 25th 1970, at Croxley Mill (where they made Croxley Script paper) on the Grand Union near Hemel Hempsted.
Richard Pearson
Already a far cry from the scene a decade or so earlier:
courtesy of Diamond Geezer
That traffic came to an end the following week, when Croxley Mill went over to getting their coal delivered by lorry. The very last regular long distance commercial narrow boat traffic (coal to a jam factory near Paddington) ended in November 1970.

Ever since I bought Chertsey over ten years ago, I have wanted to recreate her last commercial trip on its fiftieth anniversary. I began planning this last year, and teamed up with the owner of one of the other boats that was on that run and with the former traffic manager of Ashby Canal Transport (who signed that loading note), and our original plan was to involve as many as we could of the motor boats and butties that were there in 1970 in a commemorative trip, with the local history society organising events at the site of the mill, and possbily unveiling a commemorative plaque at the site of the wharf at Croxley - the mill is long demolished, and replaced by a housing estate, but a length of concrete banking remains.

Obviously, these plans have been thrown out of kilter somewhat, and I don't think we will be able - or even want - to organise a big event. But I don't want to completely write off the idea of making that run if possible (whilst allowing for the contingency of it not being). And obviously I do need to use some leave.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Gratuitous large pair

Last week I was trying to calculate for dg the dimensions of the box I've been living in, in my case since April 1st. (Gratifyingly, I think mine came out the smallest of all the comments.) I started by looking out of the window and counting the fence panels from the end of the garden to the house, then I recalled the rough size of the rooms from the estate agent's blurb, and I couldn't believe the numbers I was arriving at, numbers known not to be my strongest point.

So today I got out the tape measure and set about it systematically, and I was right, and it is still unbelievable.

From the railings at the front of my house to the end of my back garden is 72'4"; from one side of my garden to the other is 14'4", which is also the average width of my house.

So that's roughly the same footprint as a breasted pair; and you could fit my house and garden into a Grand Union lock. Which even now I've measured it is still unbelievable. Although admittedly it's a long time since I saw a Grand Union lock.

Friday, 15 May 2020


Yesterday was not a particularly remarkable day.

But it was - I discovered this morning - an eleven cups of tea day.

I discovered it this morning because every morning I empty the previous day's teabags into the compost bin. And I have, sadly, got into the habit of counting them as I do so.
Well, I'm off now for a cup of tea.