Saturday, 22 July 2017

Cooking with gas

I cooked the first meal in the new house today, and what a delight it was to be cooking with gas again. With turnips in the veg box again I decided to make a lentil shepherds pie with a turnip topping. Never having done this before, I had no idea how it would turn out. The last lot of turnips went into a turnip and lentil stew, which was ok... but any further ideas about what to do with turnips (no, not that Baldrick) would be most welcome. They still feel to me like the sort of thing only slightly desperate people would eat.
So anyway, I boiled some green lentils, and was able to adjust the heat precisely so they didn't boil over, which was a great novelty after five years of a primitive electric hotplate. Then I gently fried some onions and carrots, then simmered them in a little water until the carrots were just done, when I added some stock powder, Hendersons Relish and finally some Bisto mixed with cold water, brfore stirring in the drained lentils. That's the filling. For the topping I peeled, chopped, and boiled the turnips, then mashed them with some leftover soft cheese with onion and garlic, spread them over the filling, and topped with grated cheese. It turned out quite nice, by which I mean it didn't taste discernably of turnip at all. I am also loving my deep china sink:

Friday, 21 July 2017

Cabinet of curiosities

The flat that I shall shortly be leaving is one of six, in a large Victorian house that has been in the same family since the 1940s. A few years ago, in the basement, I came across a mahogany cabinet, with a mirrored back and glass fronted sides and doors. It was in poor condition, but I fell in love with it (I do love a bevelled mirror, especially if it's surrounded by mahohogany). So I asked the landlord if I could have it in my (nominally furnished) flat. He readily agreed, and I believe it had belonged to his mother.

So I gave it a good clean and recovered the shelves, which were dressed with faded and worn green velvet, and set it up in my living room, to display my nice glass and small collection of curiosities (and not so curious things - and not the rivet collection, that's different).
Here are just a few of them.
A souvenir of Vienna, brought home by my parents in the early 1960s. This lived in their cabinet when I was a child, and was one of the things I was allowed to get out only when ill. I was fascinated by it.
It may well have been on the same trip that they bought Wolfgang the polar bear in Salzberg. Handling him was another rare and treasured priviledge.
This was my father's lighter, which lived on the table next to his chair (my mother likewise had a table by her chair, but a pocket rather than a table lighter). He smoked Woodbines, heavily; she Players No 6. He started smoking in the army, when he was told, on being promoted, that he should grow a moustache and take up smoking in order to look sufficiently mature for his new rank.
Finally something else which tickled my fancy as a child - and as a rare treat I was permitted to use this glass, which was also my father's. I don't know what drink it's intended to measure, but it has gradations up the side which are labelled in increasing order of size: Ladies, Gentlemen, then a small pig, and finally a large pig at the top.

Fortunately these treasures will not be rendered homeless when I laeve the flat, as I have done a deal with my lovely landlord to buy the cabinet, so it will shortly grace the front parlour of my new house.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Paper chase

This morning's task was sorting out the pile of paperwork that has been accumulating while I've been preoccupied with the house, filing it, and dealing with numerous changes of address. Then I moseyed over to the house and met Jim and Ricky taking a stroll in the park.

Jim asked me, did you measure the height before you ordered that new toilet?
Me: Yes, most definitely.
Jim: Did you measure it with the top on the cistern?
Me: Yes... why, is it fouling the window sill?
Jim: Yes.
Me: I took the measurements from the website. I was so careful because I knew it would be a close thing... Oh, hang on, that was before we raised the floor.....

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

It'll come out in the wash

I've started packing up at the flat and as of yesterday it was in a state of chaos - packed bags of clothes, boxed of books and collapsed empty cardboard boxes everywhere - when I got a text from the letting agents saying was it OK for them to come and take some new pictures of it today. I said yes - as long as it was the afternoon - and spent the morning giving the place a long overdue tidy and a superficial clean (I can't be bothered doing that properly until I do the final big clean now). I must say I do feel much better with it tidy again, but it was achieved by the simple expedient of shoving everything into the tiny utility room. Which meant that I couldn't get to the washing machine.

Never mind, there is a spanking new shiny washing machine freshly installed in the house, and one thing I have really missed these past five years is hanging washing on a proper outside line. I'd also found a hank of washing line (bought years ago to repair the garden chair, aka the crap (sic) bed, but that's another story), so once young Will from the agency had done his snapping I loaded up my rucksack with a load of washing, the line, a tub of Persil and a bag of pegs, and set off for the house.

First I had to work out all the potential settings on the machine, so that I could decide on the one which will be the only one I ever use (not quite true, I do do woollies specially), and they were a trifle too electronic for my taste. Having decided that, I loaded it up, switched it on... and nothing happened.  It is plumbed in, isn't it, I mused? But if it is, where is the hiss and rush of water? We'd both assumed that the plumber had plumbed it in along with completing the rest of the kitchen plumbing, but quickly realised that this was based on a rather flimsy foundation - i.e. that he'd pushed it back into place.  So Jim discovered that it is possible, just, to pull out and manoeuvre behind the machine in the very narrow corridor of kitchen, confirmed that it had not in fact been plumbed in, and rectified the situation.

So then off it went. We were sitting out in the garden enjoying a cup of tea when it first started to empty, and watched the suds well up through and overflow the drain and run along the side of the kitchen... ok, we thought, there's yet another possible cause of the damp, and Jim put his drain rods on the list of things to bring up from Sussex. He tried sticking his arm down (try stopping him) but couldn't reach anything.

Nonetheless, the machine finished its cycle with a very satisfactory 1600 spin, and I did get to hang the washing on the line - probably just in time for a thunderstorm.

Monday, 17 July 2017

First bit of gardening

A workmate came to see the house today, and brought me a lavender plant.
Which I have planted at the top of the steps, opposite the rosemary bush.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Kitchen continues...

I kno0w this is rather dull, and I'm sorry I'm not boating - but if nothing else, this will be a record for me to look back on. The kitchen is coming along very nicely - in fact, the tiling is the last major job outstanding, and then there will be the shelves to fit. This is what it looked like this afternoon.

I have a new oven, hob and washing machine, but the firdge and freezer are from my mother's. The units are from Travis Perkins' Benchmarx range, and the worktops and sink from Worktop Express in Chesterfield. The worktops are iroko, which I really liked on Warrior. It feels very grown up having solid wood worktops. I'll try to remember to fcus in on some details tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back at the flat, I am sorting and packing. Yesterday it was clothes - and I have already transferred all my hanging clothes to the house's built in wardrobes. Today I did books and have filled five of my smaller boxes - but that's without my canal books collection. I do tend to be quite unsentimental about books, and it's a very rare novel I'll keep once having read it. I've got quite a big pile to be divided between Oxfam and the Alvecote book swap, and a couple of bags of clothes went to Oxfam yesterday, so I'm taking the opportunity for a bit of a clear out as I pack. Tomorrow... paperwork. Plus I need to go and pay for the bedroom carpet - once that's fitted, that will be the first room finished (apart from picture rail), and buy some tiles for the bathroom. Possibly a new piece of vinyl for the floor too - a design rethink means getting rid of a fitted cupboard, meaning the original piece won't be big enough for the new floor area. It's an exciting development though, all inspired by a fortuitous find at Braunston.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Working in the West Midlands

I'm back in the West Midlands but for once I'm not boating. I've spent the last two days at a conference at the University of Warwick, which as most people know, is not in Warwick, nor really anywhere in the immediate vicinity. It's not really in Coventry either, but rather on the outskirts of Kenilworth. I guess Universities didn't have to worry about what the Competition and Markets Authority checking to see whether they were mis-selling themselves back in the sixties. I have to say though that they laid on the best conference I think the Foundation Year Network (for that is us) have ever had - and we rose to the occasion it's some really good papers and presentations. It's always good too to catch up with other people from across the country who are labouring away in that much overlooked and oft misunderstood corner of HE. It was quite exhausting though as well.

Then tomorrow - this is exciting - I've been invited to act as the external 'expert' on the panel validating a new Foundation Year at a university in Birmingham. I've been booked into a lovely hotel, where I've just had a lovely dinner in a lovely old fashioned hotel restaurant, and they're sending a taxi for me in the morning. I must be careful not to let it go to my head.

When I get back to Sheffield I've got two weeks off work which will be consumed by extensive house-work.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Kitchens compared

I've found a photo of Bakewell's kitchen.
I reckon it's almost exactly the same width as my new one, although not quite as long.
Bakewell was a brilliant boat - and still is, last I saw, now a well loved home for Paul and Mandy at Wheaton Aston.

Monday, 10 July 2017

In the shade

I have been giving some thought to lighting in my new house. Over the years - many years ago, in fact - we collected at various jumble sales three lovely thirties glass bowl shades. One is a fabulous orange with white blotches - that will go in the dining room. There's a more subtle peachy-orange one, for my bedroom, and a pale green one, which will go well in the study. For the kitchen I am working on tracking down a pair of suitable industrial style enamelled metal pendants. And for the front room, I have this beauty:
21 inches in diameter, and getting in the way ever since I bought it in Oxfam about nine months ago. Jim is digging around under the bedroom floor to attach a hook to the joist for it, before the carpet goes in.

In other news, The Yorkshire Tile Company did not disappoint, and I have ordered my tiles for the kitchen. They continue the quasi-industrial, quasi-Victorian vibe which will be augmented with some seventies artefacts (not least my dish draining rack, which is a story in its own right). I've been getting tiling ideas for the bathroom too, which is a bit worrying, as I had thought I'd be content with the boring white trade tiles - which can, it transpires, be matched. But I've always been a complete sucker for tiles.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Kitchen capers

Lots of things in the house are nearing completion, but all currently still works in progress. Here's a taste of progress so far on the kitchen:
As it was when I first viewed the house

At the beginning of June

It's a small galley style kitchen, what they call here 'offshot', and as such rather desirable, apparently. It's an extension to the original house, with a mono pitched roof. A further extension beyond the kitchen houses a lobby with the back door, and beyond that, the downstairs toilet. The kitchen is ten feet long and 6'3 wide - dimensions I have some experience of (although I can't find a photo of Bakewell's kitchen right now with which to illustrate it).

The somewhat overbearing presence of the boiler has been removed to the downstairs loo, and I have gone for fewer, less mega-tall wall cupboards - the remainder of the wall space will be open shelves. I've got a gas hob (again for the first time since Bakewell), and a white china sink with integral drainer, when they send the right one on Tuesday.

Tomorrow we are off to Sheffield's largest tile emporium to see if I can improve in any way upon the tiles I fell in love with a few weeks ago in a little local shop. Gorgeous, but small (and thus apparently harder to lay successfully on a less than perfectly even surface) and rather expensive, and £60 a metre. Jim is hoping I will choose something larger... I'm wondering if I might find something cheaper. We also need to try to match the bathroom tiles - super-boring 8x10 slightly undulating white, no doubt the ubiquitous trade tile a decade ago but Jim hasn't had any success so far.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Sinking feeling

No, not the boat! (Well, not as far as I know). For the first time in three weeks we've got a weekend to spend on the house, so while Jim was working on the bathroom, I carried on attempting to make some kind of impression on the garden. Tucked away in the corner was what appeared to be a laege stone slab, but on pulling it away from the wall and scraping out the mud, it turned out to be this:
I feel a water feature coming on.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Bad Karma

When Body Shop stopped selling their Sandalwood perfume oil (why??? oh why???) many years ago, I shopped around for a replacement and settled on Lush's Karma range. I'd  buy the eau de cologne and the 'bubble bars', which render the water a satisfyingly hippyish purple, and one sitting on a saucer in the bottom of the wardrobe, waiting its turn to be dissolved, made excellent pot pourri.

There was always a hitch though - the spectacularly over-attentive staff in the shop. You can never just browse in there - not only does someone immediately leap out to assist you, they want to have a chat as well. I found it a very oppressive experience. So I took to ordering online - where I could get a bigger, better value bottle of perfume too. The trouble with that is that you have to compile a password worthy of Fort Knox, just to buy some smellies. Last time - when I was about to spend £83 (!!) - it appeared I'd forgotten it. I couldn't check out without logging in, of course, and by the time I'd set a new one, I'd been locked out for too many unsuccessful attempts with the old one (they didn't bother telling me that before I set the new one). It may not seem much, but it was enough to bring me to my senses - eighty plus quid on some smelly water and a few lumps of epsom salts and purple dye - and to end my relationship with Lush (yes, I know they're kind to animals, but they're pretty precious about that too).

So I'm now looking round for a new smell - or hopefully an old one; I'll be going back to sandalwood if I can find a nice one.

I keep meaning to blog about the house but I keep forgetting to take pictures.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Fabulous photos

Between Facebook and CanalWorld, there probably aren't many of you who haven't already seen these fabulous pictures taken on the GU by a French photographer in 1944 - but if nothing else, it'll save me losing the link.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Feeding the crew

We like to keep cooking simple on Chertsey, but also reasonably nutritious. I like to stock up before we leave so that we don't have to find shops - or stop to use them - en route. When we do, it's a bit of a bonus. Not having a fridge, paradoxically, makes this simpler. Also, we can decide on an impulse to go to the pub without worrying about those pork chops we really meant to cook tonight. The Origo is a brilliant stove, but I don't want to be boiling pasta or rice (or even potatoes) with the concomitant condensation.

So what I stock up on before leaving is tins of pulses (butter beans, kidney beans, chick peas, borlotti beans, haricot beans, lentils, cannelini beans, etc.); jars of cooking sauces - Loyd Grosman are favourite (this is the least healthy part), and sachets of that pre-cooked 'microwave' rice. I also take whatever vegetables I have lying around the house (and sometimes some tinned veg too).

Then every evening, I start with whatever veg needs using up, pick a sauce and a pulse to complement it, stick it all in a pan and put it on a low heat til the veg is cooked (I tend not to use things like carrots, that need a lot of cooking, much - but mushrooms, cabbage (don't knock chickpea and cabbage korma until you've tried it!), tomatoes, all sorts of greens, peppers (I fry them a bit first), courgettes, fresh beans all work well.) Sometimes I'll add extra ingredients like olives, or maybe tuna. Then when it's cooked, I'll pick a suitable sachet of rice and empty it onto the top for the last couple of minutes. The resultant meal may end up sprinkled with grated cheese. It's possible to achieve quite a lot of variety in this way, and the only fresh food we ever need to buy is the vegetables - and at a pinch, they can be left out (at risk of scurvy, of course).

I do miss having fresh milk in my tea, but putting up with soya milk seems a small price to pay for not having to worry about where the next pint's coming from. Talking of which, the serving suggestion for all the abovementioned recipes always includes a bottle of beer.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


I have never really got to grips with spreadsheets. It seemed to me that they got used - at work - all too often when a simple table would have served instead. Over the past few years I've used them more and more, and learned how to do simple things with them, on a strictly need-to-know basis.

A few months ago, however, I realised that these new found (and hard won) skills could be pressed into the service of boating - and greated the Great Chertsey Victualling Spreadsheet. Basically, I input the number of days we're going away for, and the inventory of what's already on board, and it creates a shopping list.up to the nearest whole number - rounding down is no use when I need to know how many packs to buy. Is this truly impossible in Excel?
A refinement which no one has yet been able to tell me how to make (I've been suggested some workarounds) is to get the final shopping list column to always round

I started with estimates of how much we use of each item daily, which can be adjusted with more experience. Meals can be planned in this way because of the cunning way we eat whilst boating - which I will spin out into another post.

Monday, 3 July 2017

In chains

I had a lovely piling chain once. It came with Andante. It was stainless, and the rings were welded onto the chain, not attached with shackles. We managed to leave it behind on the Trent and Mersey, and I was quite upset at the time.

We bought some more, lengths of chain with a ring shackled to each end. To use them, you have to wriggle one of the rings behing the Armco, fish it out of the water, and pass it through the other ring, then pass the rope through the smaller ring. It's ok - and a lot better than a nappy pin - but the annoying bit is the shackle which, being at right angles to the ring, always manages to get caught on the way out. Anyway, we managed to donate one of these to Grendon dock, so I had the opportunity to pursue an experiment - I'd already tried this with a bit of chain and a carabiner shackle that were lying around, and it seemed to work, so we invested a little over eight pounds at Tradline to come up with these:
All you do is dangle the chain down the back of the Armco, catch it, and attach it to its other end. So that's easier. Then the rope goes through the big loop of chain:
Easier again. The only way it might fall a little short is that I found it (on the basis of one attempt) that it wasn't quite so easy to pull the rope back through. It might also bother some people that it can easily be undone without untying the rope - an occasional concern, I suppose (although I've found that when people want to untie you, they usually manage to do just that - and it isn't an immediately obvious thing to do), but also, possibly, an advantage (as I nearly had to put to the test when Jim disappeared before untying the rope from the fore end t-stud, which I can often barely reach).

And a great deal more secure than a nappy pin.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Long round trip for a short weekend

I've just totted up that over the past two and a bit weeks, we've driven 810 miles in order to enjoy the weekend at Braunston - and it would have been further if Jim hadn't been starting from Sheffield. That's for what is basically - Sheffield-Braunston - a ninety mile journey. First we brought two cars to Braunston, then returned in one of them to Alvecote* (Braunston-Alvecote = 45 miles). Then we brought the boat to Braunston, and took the car back to Sheffield. The following weekend we drove from Sheffield for the Braunston weekend, then back on Sunday. Then on Friday, back to Braunston, fetch the boat back to Alvecote, pick up the car there, drive to Braunston, then take both cars back to Sheffield.

We probably won't be back on the boat now until the end of August, when the plan is to visit the Ashby at last, before returning for the Alvecote Bank Holiday do - house permitting!

*Not counting going back for Jim's wallet.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Books I read in June

Very few, it turns out, what with the house, and a bit of boating.

Kate Morrall When the Floods Came (old local library)
Unconvincing dystopian future in which children are at a premium and parents have annoying nicknames.

Reginald Hill The Roar of the Butterflies (new local library)
Hill's lightweight offering, PI Joe Sixsmith. Inoffensive, slightly more interesting than not reading at all.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Coming back from Braunston

We left Sheffield at half past three and took here hours to get the hundred or so miles to Braunston. We hadn't intended to set off tonight, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, so we untied at ten to seven. The evening was overcast but pleasant, until black clouds started looming and the heavens opened on Jim whilst I was cooking the dinner. It quickly passed and we are now tied up just short of the top of Hillmorton. The two and a half hours we've got under our belt equates to the time it will take to do the Alvecote-Braunston-Sheffield car shuffle on Sunday (when the traffic should be a lot lighter).

As we left Braunston I was hailed by Jaq on Valerie - too late to stop and talk, which was very frustrating. I hope we'll get to catch up one day soon.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The exclusive PD2 club

When I first bought Chertsey, I remember someone telling me that about twenty boats had Petter PD2 engines. I'm not sure now whether that was in some sense right, has be overtaken by time and events, or most likely, was always an overestimate. Racking my brains at Braunston, I could think of only five: Chertsey, of course, plus Cassopaeia, Alton, Aldgate and Darley. Lancing did have one, but has recently been changed - in many, more obvious, ways as well as the engine.

So I did what anyone would do, and posted the question on CanalWorld in the hope that the walking encyclopaedia that is Pete Harrison would be unable to resist responding. And it transpires that while there are perhaps a dozen or so boats around with PD2s, only eight of these are ones that had the engines fitted by British Waterways in the late fifties and early sixties (the ones I'd missed were Comet, Stratford and Greenock - Comet I should have remembered because I have seen it, when we went to see Ian Kemp and his legendary stock of PD2 spares to replace a missing bit of tinware).

So, I went on to ask, how many boats did BW fit these engines in in the first place - and the answer surprised me: sixty eight. Far more than I had expected. These seem to have been the boats that passed into BW's Southern carrying fleet - those in the North were more likely to get air cooled Listers.

So out of 68 (possibly in fact more), eight remain. I love my PD2 despite its numerous leaks and recent tendency to smoke, and am very proud to be part of such an exclusive - but with such good provenance - club.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Long suited in long dogs

Ricky was a hit with everyone at Braunston of course, and started many conversations. A surprising number of these were with other people with long dogs various. There must have been at least a dozen of them. To start with, there was Enceladus' Buzz and Bertie, and Monarch's Rosie; at least four different whippets - with one on whom Ricky had a fabulous run around the Dog Field, two or three more retired racing greyhounds; a fair few lurchers including the local Bramble, HarryDaughter's Ziggy and a lovely little Bedlington/whippet called Sid... I wish I had thought to photograph them all. But it only struck me towards the end of Sunday, so here is a photo of Grace, with whom Ricky was quite taken.
Apologies to those I have almost certainly missed out.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Accidentally photographing celebrities

I didn't mean to watch the grand opening parade; I was just strolling down for some patchwork trousers. But having got caught up in the crowd I had to snap the guests of honour for the person I know is their biggest fan... Here you are Sandra!

And for everyone else, here's Richard Parry, genuinely looking like he's enjoying it.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Party night!

Saturday night was party night in Chertsey's inimitable style. The gramophone was hauled onto the deck and out came the latest platters.
Da Boyz
On an impulse, I texted Captain Pete to let him know that a new consignment of 78s had arrrived and he strolled down with an old friend who was visiting for the weekend. You must think we're mad, Jim said to the friend. No, he said, nodding at Pete. I'm used to it. They mentioned that they were hungry and I realised that I had committed the immense social solecism of inviting people to a party without food. Undaunted, I raided the stores beneath the water tank and rustled up a variety of sandwiches - cheese and tomato, cheese and pickle, and cheese. Also, we had rather a lot of walnuts, which made excellent nibbles. One thing we weren't short of was beer, and presently Enceladus Sarah arrived bearing some contrastingly posh snacks, many of which gave us the opportunity to argue about the pronunciation of chorizo (it's Spanish, not Italian!). The party was well under way, and many other guests dropped by in passing, Strangely, none of them stayed very long...

We had a brief live music interlude and melodeon workshop, in which I attempted to remember how to play Hard Working Boater on a borrowed melodeon which turned out to lack a vital note (a B, if you were wondering) and didn't manage very well (I reassured myself by getting it right first time when I got home, on my familiar instrument). Then the disco really got going, and the dog blanket volume control was removed from the front of the gramophone (as all our neighbours had removed themselves...)

During the workshop Jim and Andy disappeared into the hold to work on the database Andy has set up of all the records in the Shellac Massive's repertoire. It then transpired that Pete also had a collection of 78s (some 400) and a database too. You couldn't make it up could you. So they compared databases and discussed the intricacies of serial numbers and dating. In this fashion we partied on until well after ten.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Adding to the album

At Braunston I was able to add two boats I've not seen/photographed before to the album - both, I think, with relatively new owners.
The first was Belfast, which has just been bought by one of the co-owners of Fulbourne. It had previously been a community boat taking parties of children on trips, since the 1970s - how brillaint to have a cabin conversion with such provenance.
The other was Carnaby, which was one of BW's last disposals. The new owners have smartened it up but not fundamentally changed its very unusual configuration. I have it in my head that Carnaby or Cantley, or possibly both, were adapted for carrying reels of fibre optic cable for laying on the towpath.

Looking through the Sticker Album, I am horrified to see that I don't have a photo of Purton - they've been at practically every gathering I can recall and we've been on a quiz team with them twice! Halsall is another one I have seen on numerous occasions, in two different guises, but if I've taken a photo I've not managed to keep it.

I also have some pictures of boats looking rather different from my previous ones - Paddington, which has changed colour, and Lancing, which is almost unrecogniseable.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Massive hit

The highlight of today for Chertsey was the inaugural gig of the Shellac Massive, utilising a number of records Andy had brought along representing a wide range of genres, from the Savoy Orpheans to Kurt Weill. Part way through the evening messengers from Typhoon arrived bearing Halfie's gift of some brass screws and - with brilliant timing - a 78! Thank you Hallie.

We had food and beer and guests, and a melodeon interlude from Flamingo. I highly recommend the Shellac Massive to help your thirties themed party go with an appropriate swing. (Is that glowing enough boys?)

Friday, 23 June 2017

Braunston 2017

Arrived 4.30. Purchased patchwork trousers and brass items. Ate tea. Went to beer tent. Talked to lots of people. Excellent. Now retiring to the distant strains of the Irish Rover. In an uncertain world, it's nice to know that some things don't change.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A convenient view from the stern end

It might not be the most scenic view from the stern end, but it was certainly convenient. When Laurence brough Chertsey back from Grendon, rather than manoeuvre the new blacking backwards along the concrete slipway, he backed her onto a pontoon instead. I could get used to this.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


The passenger pigeon is, sadly, extinct, but we had a pigeon passenger on Sunday, who hitched a ride for quite some way.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The new black

So, after seven years, Chertsey has finally been blacked again (mind you, I reckon it was four times that long before the last time). This time we didn't do it ourselves, but had it done in the dry dock at Grendon - and I'm very pleased with the result.
As a compromise between the Comastic we used last time (and on every previous boat) and the most basic product, we decided to try SML Ballistic Black which was gaining popularity among the boaters at Alvecote. Laurence said it was the first time they'd put it on an old boat, and he was so impressed he then used it on his josher, Lynx. It goes on thickly and takes quite a long time to cure, but looks very good. They certainly did a nice neat job.
The same goes for the tunnel bands - I think they look so much better and more 'right' now.

Finally, I asked Laurence if they could repack the stern gland - this never got done properly when I first had Chertsey. Again this seems to be a very good job - and what impressed me most of all was that you wouldn't have known anyone had been in the cabin - when I came back it was exactly as I had left it, despite the fact that everything would have had to be moved off the floor. That shows a kind of respect for the customer and for the boat which really stands out.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Mad dogs

As Ricky apparently has no sense of climatalogical self-preservation, and no intrinsic insulation, being his owner (factotum?) carries tremendous responsibilities around preventing him getting too cold (Has he got his jumper? Does he need a blanket? Is that the right coat?) or too hot, which is an even more frightening prospect.

Because he does not have the sense to seek out the shade, and in any case would not countenance it if it meant letting one of us out of his sight (must be why they call them sight hounds), and because he is black, and has neither fur nor fat, weather like last weekend's is a bit of a challenge.

But we rise to it. First there was the wet tea towel, with which he could be draped. But it didn't always stay in place, and sometimes left large areas exposed. Whilst wetting his tea towel on Saturday, I decided to look in the rag bag for something more suitable, and found a rather fetching old scarf of mine. Being thin cotton, it's lighter to wear, drapes over more of him, and stays in place better.
Compromise my dignity? Absolutely not!
However, the weekend required more than just constant evaporative cooling, so I unleashed my secret weapon - a £10 Wilko's children's beach shelter, designed to protect todays delicate little flowers from the evils of UV. After a bit of a struggle we worked out how to assemble it, and found a way, just, of fitting it onto the back end deck. I wasn't sure it would work, but it was a a great success.
Yes, I am very cool
With his bed inside it wasn't hard to persuade Ricky to go in, and it was noticeably cooler inside - the canvas has some kind of reflective quality. You might think that a fixed unidirectional sunshade might give only sporadic protection on the North Oxford - well, I did - but when the sun was at its highest and hottest the overhang at the top kept most of the interior in shade, and even when it was lower and seemed to be shining straight inside, there was still some shade. It also had the unforeseen advantage of shielding most of the sheep en route from his gaze, thus saving him a lot of barking energy.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Polishing as we go

We didn't leave Alvecote until gone ten so although we've overshot Hawkesbury by a bit, it's not very much. I persuaded Jim that it would be better on the boat in the promised heat of tomorrow afternoon than in the car. The weather has certainly been fabulous today. As we don't have the luxury of time to spare after we arrive in Braunston, we've been polishing as we went along today. Jim tackled the chimney - always the worst job - and did the two pontoonside portholes before we left. The remaining porthole I did in six separate mini-sessions, as we went up Atherstone.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Ready for the off

In a very small way. I'm writing this whilst waiting for my dinner at the Barlow. Tomorrow morning we'll set off in the newly blacked and very smart looking Chertsey for Braunston. It won't be the dawn to dusk run I've dreamt of this time as I've got to hang around until nine to pay for the blacking. I know Jim wants to break the back of the journey tomorrow so we might not stop at the Greyhound :-(

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The price of simplicity

I could have bought a boiler with digital controls for a very reasonable price. But I paid an extra £300 to get one that could have this timer fitted.
On the plus side, the only really simple electric oven I could find (no fan, no timer, no digital controls) was a really cheap one. So swings and roundabouts.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

That last of the licences

When we went back to Chertsey for the first time since the long winter's absence, I had the usual ceremony to perform of replacing the licence 'discs'. Ever snce we first had Bakewell and brought the renewal dates into line, Chertsey's licence has fallen due in December. This year though I didn't have two full size, full colour licence plates to insert into the holders, just a measly corner of monochrome A4. Up until then I had just inserted each year's licence in front of the previous one, but this year I abstracted all the old ones, which will be kept as souvenirs forever. We shall not see their like again. These are all the licences since I first licenced Chertsey - and prior to that she hadn't been licenced since the early eighties. It was a bit of a palaver to get her old registration number re-issued, but I persevered until I found a nice soul at BW who was willing and able to sort it out. You will note that I have had two BW licences, and so far, four (five counting the current one) CRT ones. The first two show Chertsey's home mooring as being on the Trent and Mersey, and the next four the Shropshire Union. The current one has the Coventry. What, though, is the number in the bottom lect hand corner? They are sequential, and though at first glance they appear to change annually, this isn't actually true of 2014-15. Are they simply sequential numbers of all licences issued? The differences between that seem a bit high for that - it would suggest for example that 56,312 licences were issued in 2015 and 78,833 in 2016 - far more than the total number of boats on CRT's waterways. I feel I ought to know, but I'm mystified. Can anyone enlighten me?

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Not quite the Holy Grail

But close. I have found a National Milk tin. Unlike the one in the antique shop in Salts Mill, this one wasn't sixteen pounds. It was seven, in the local 'vintage' charity shop where I bought some other tins and a teapot a couple of months ago. I must confess I was heavily tempted by another teapot this time but I resisted. So far.
So why the search for a National Milk tin? (Especially as I already have a perfectly nice Ambrosia one, which is of exactly the same dimensions.) Only that it's the National tin that was 'traditionally' deployed as an extension to the stove chimney. I'm sure other brands would have also been pressed into service, but maybe they were less ubiquitous. The instructions for making it up are quite terrifying, involving as they do adding quantities of sugar - but hearteningly this rather ancient tin reads 'Breast feed your baby if possible...'  Having a little browse, like you do, I discover that National Dried Milk was not in fact withdrawn until 1976. A report in 1974 suggesting that it might not be all that good for babies was seized upon by the press and, it would appear, the manufacturers of proprietary baby milk brands to promote their products as superior. But questions were asked in Parliament about what the withdrawal would mean for poorer families who were dependent on it given that National Milk, in 1976, cost 20p for 20oz, while proprietary brands were up to 85p for 16oz (I got that from online Hansard).

If looking for other ways to stunt your children's growth, you could always take up smoking. My father used to smoke Woodbines, but they weren't available from the duty free - at least not the places we went, i.e. Guernsey, so post holiday twice a year he'd work his way through 400 (or whatever the allowance was - it didn't seem to last long) Senior Service. Likewise, he was a dedicated Bells drinker, but would make do with duty free Teachers.
So I got a Senior Service tin too.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Getting to grips with the garden

My new house has a lovely garden; in fact it was one of the things that decide me. Unlike most gardens in the area, it is completely private and enclosed. Down south, where I'm used to, Victorian terraced houses tend to have a back alley (twitten) that goes along behind the bottom of the gardens. This would allow access for the collection of 'night soil' from the privies at the bottom of the garden as required by the 1875 Public Health Act. The Building Act of 1878 required local authorities to introduce byelaws setting standards for the construction of new homes, including ceiling heights, the fact that houses had to have front and rear access (no more 'back-to-backs'), and the means of access for the night soil men.

The Local Government Board produced model byelaws which many local authorities adopted, but many also adapted them.

In much of Northern England, including many areas of Sheffield, a different system of rear access was established. Here, rather than an alley behind the gardens, access to the rear of a 'byelaw terrace' often runs directly behind the house, effectively across the garden(s) which would originally have been a shared yard for four houses. Every four houses, as required by the byelaw here, there is a 'jennel' which gives access to the back. If your house is over the jennel, you have the advantage of a bigger upstairs room, but your next door neighbour's rear access is across your garden. Many gardens to this day are not divided but are still shared between two or even four houses. And I have seen some cases of where they have been divided, but with each house retaining access to its own privy, resulting in some quite odd shaped plots. This was more efficient for the builders in one way as it meant that the yards could share a rear wall with the street behind.

However, my house - lucky me - is part of a terrace with jennels every two houses, meaning that no one need cross anyone else's yard. What's more, previous occupants have erected a very good six foor high fence on the jennel side, with a gate to each house - and on the other side is an equally high brick and stone wall. A perfect Ricky-proof garden, in other words. Furthermore, it is just the right size and quite nicely laid out, with a herb garden by the back door, a nice acer tree, and a few other established plants.
On the downside, it has been neglected for a very long time, and the lawn has pretty much overgrown everything, with big patches of dock (though no nettles), and buttercups. And today I have met a new horticultural foe: couch grass. Whilst being mercifully free of convolvulus, japanese knotweed, and triffids, my new garden is thoroughly infested with couch grass. This is something I hadn't really encountered before, but I think I have a protracted war of attrition on my hands. Never mind though, it could be worse.

Today I started clearing a tiny corner and discovered that there are brick-bordered beds all around the garden - well, one side at least. So I followed them round, uncovering the bricks and weeding the beds as I went. What to do with the (ex) lawn is a question deferred for another day.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

From floorless to flawless

Not quite finished - the bits either side of the chimney breast still to do - but the dining room floor is looking magnificent.
I'm really glad I chose the Douglas fir with its lovely reddish colour and really intense grain patterns, and Jim has made a fantastic job of laying it. Now we need to get it covered up before a brace of plumbers arrives at eight a.m. tomorrow!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Braunston bound

Work on the house means that some boating plans for this year have had to be shelved, or at least postponed - but the Braunston show is one thing I shan't miss. I've been, one way or another, every year since 2006, and took Chertsey every year from 2010 - 2015. We couldn't get Chertsey there last year, although I still managed to get myself there to spend the weekend as Mike's guest on Banstead. Now Chertsey lives at Alvecote though, it's a weekend trip to Braunston, so there's no excuse.

Unfortunately, I can't get any time off work around the weekend of the rally, so it will be a case of one weekend (that being next weekend) to get the boat there, one weekend there, and another weekend to bring it back, and lots of driving.

I shall make up for this year's lack of boating by hatching ever more adventurous plans for next year.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Fifth floor

The wood for the dining room floor arrived yesterday.
It is reclaimed Douglas fir, around 200 years old, sawn from old roof beams.
The planks are not perfect - which is part of their charm - but they're 9" wide and have a gorgeous colour and beautiful grain.
The planks are mostly 12' long so can span the room without joins.

I am very pleased with it. Laying the dining rooom floor will be the main job tomorrow, using traditional cut nails.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

For the first time in my life

I became eligible to vote in the summer of 1983, just after the notorious 'longest suicide note in history' Labour manifesto and the ensuing defeat which arguably led ultimately to 'New' Labour and contributed to the death of left wing politics in Britain.
Today, for the first time in my life, I will be voting Labour.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A great source of inspiration

I've just rediscovered this brilliant source of ideas for planning and decorating my new house. I'm particularly keen to find inspiration for the bathroom, but this might just be it.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Monday, 5 June 2017

Paint it.... cream

Over £600 worth of paint and associated paraphernalia there. I've merrily been spending money on this that and the other, but that took be aback a bit.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

All fired up

The lounge and the dining room in my new house both have fireplaces, of a sort. The dining room has an alcove, all neatly plastered and painted, while the lounge had a horrible modern fake coal gas fire set into the wall.

To go in these two spaces, I have a cast iron fireplace and a Lily stove. Long time readers will recall that Warrior has a Lily stove, and it was the hardest thing (for me) to leave behind. I thought that if I could get hold of another brown Lily like Warrior's it would look lovely in my dining room, while the fireplace could be fitted - non-working - in the lounge. And I did find one; it even came off a boat. I bought it on Ebay, on impulse, while on the phone to Jim, because the price was so good. There was only one hitch - when Jim eventually got it home it turned out to be not brown at all.
But a kind of aubergine, or not to put too fine a point on it, purple. It is however so lovely and in such excellent condition (Warrior's needed a lot of repair work) - it even has its clamshell dust tray, which Warrior's had lost before we bought it - that there was no question of not keeping it.
It threw my furnishing plans into disarray though. The dining room is going to be basically cream and brown, while the lounge would have a lot of red and would be the main repository for my more bohemian and hippish tendencies, mahogany and mirrors. Colour-wise, the stove would fit a lot better in the lounge, but I thought the fireplace, complete with fender and mantelpiece, might be a bit big for the dining room.

I have spent the last couple of weeks pondering this, and today I have finally made up my mind. Two things led me to decide that the stove will indeed go in the front room. Firstly, it looks as if there is a liner in the chimney which might meant that it would be possible to plumb the stove in, for an occasional smokeless fire (once I have consulted all the rules about what you can and can't do in smokeless zones); secondly, Jim took the Kango
to the built up hearth this afternoon and revealed a perfectly Lily-shaped space.
It also unearthed, battered and broken, a few Victorian tiles that must have been set into the original hearth.
They sat in that recessed bit in the left of the photo above.