Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Lying low

Finally, on Saturday, the weather was good enough to do a vital job on Chertsey.

When we go to Langley Mill, we'll be mooring above the lock, so we'll need to get under a very low bridge. So we needed to put Chertsey back into 'Erewash mode', as we last did for our visit in 2013, and again for the Stratford in 2014 (I ask myself why we bothered putting them back up inbetween).

Doing this involves untying all the top strings, removing the topcloths, untying the sidecloth strings, lifting the top planks down onto the cross planks, taking out the stands, laying down the mast, removing the deckboatd, and, in Chertsey's case, taking down the frame that supports the top plank over the back end. Then, putting the supports under the cross planks, the boxes on top, the top planks on top of the boxes, retying the sidecloths, cutting a new length of translucent sheet (and the best way we could think of doing this was by unrolling it along the top plank), putting the topcloth on at the front, and retying the top strings.

So, we needed a day with no rain, and no wind. Only Saturday fitted the bill. We had half hoped that if we could get it done quickly enough we could proceed on to the postponed HNBC AGM at 2pm, which was only 20 minutes away from Alvecote. In the end though we didn't - Chertsey was done by 2.30, but we were a bit knackered and decided to go back to Sheffield for a cup of tea instead.

Chertsey still needs a massive clean up before we go off to Langley Mill, and the interior is in a state of absolute chaos, as all the bits of superstructure that have been removed (and I forgot to mention the plywood partitions that keep Ricky in), including the false cratch-like framework from the back end, are in the hold, leaving very little room to move. We want to take them with us though, as we'll be going straight on to Braunston after Langley Mill (yes, the joys of the Soar), and I'm hoping to get everything back up while we're there. In 2014 we did the reverse with the splendid assistance of the extended Herbies.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Forgot my anniversary again!

April 1st 2006: my first blog post.

I've been blogging for over twelve years.

Weeks, even months have gone by without a post, but even in my most fallow year I managed 44 posts - and 297 in my most prolific.

That's a total of 2,068 posts so far. Not bad, all told.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

A Sheffield River on the Coventry Canal

The first thing to catch my eye when we arrived at Alvecote last weekend was what looked very much like a wooden Severner, presumably awaiting Ade's ministrations. It also looked slightly familiar. The licence number confirmed it as Don - which I had indeed been to see when it was on the market a couple of years ago - not on my own account, you understand, but with a friend - who decided that it probably was too much to take on, and very sensibly ended up buying a big Woolwich instead. I recall that Don was lovely inside though, lived on (as any boat like that surely has to be), cosy and dry with a big Aga and some inspiring touches. I had a lovely day out on the Gloucester and Sharpness as well, marred only by the fact that (for the first, but strangely not the last, time) I had accidentally chosen to travel via Cheltenham on Gold Cup day.

One other wooden Severner I have met is Dove - which I'm not sure is still around. And there was one that we went to look at, long, long ago which might have been Don again (I can't find a record of the visit). I've met Dane to say hello to in passing a few times.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Making a difference

I promised I would come back with further thoughts - and questions - about the strike.

Well, they are still a work in progress, but here's where I am so far.

Firstly, in response to the thoughtful comments that were left by people who felt that I should have supported the strike - if I may address you directly - you were all union men (I was going to say 'former union men' but I guess once a union man, always a union man.) It seemed to be a reflex reaction that I should have supported and participated in the strike - and it felt as if that was borne of an unthinking belief that all strike action should be supported, whatever the cause, and whatever the cost - so my first thought was to ask whether that was the case? Because if it is, and there's no quetion of considering any particular action on its merits, then that's the end of the argument there and then. It's a position I can understand, but I think you have to have grown up in that culture, or to have been forged in the fire of something like the 1984 Miners' Strike, to be able to hold such a position so unwaveringly, so unquestioningly - more like an article of faith than a political argument. I'm very wary of taking up a dogmatic position on any political issue, as I've not only seen the harm that can do in others' hands, but even in my own.

Since writing the original post, I've been able to find lots of explanations about the background to the strike, and lots of arguments - most in favour, but a few opposing.

Clearly one of the areas where I depart from the strikers is on the collateral damage, which was the focus of my original comments. There is always a trade off between the cost of action and the reward of success - not least for the strikers themselves. So my concerns about the damage to students were not absolute - the idea that no damage to students can ever be justified - but tacitly included the belief that the rewards would not be worth it.

And this is, I think, the fundamental root of my non-involvement: a profound scepticism about the possibility of it resulting in long term improvement. The unfettered, deified capitalist system will screw us all. Any victories won by industrial action in the past 100 years have been short lived, hollow and pyrrhic. And I hate to say that - and would love to hear of exceptions to the rule. I hate to say it, because through talking to strikers I have realised that for many of them - you - it is so, so important to be able to believe in the possibility of making a difference. Of course I understand that, and I feel it too. But the way I make a difference is to the lives of individual students. I simply don't believe that we can take on the system and win, no matter how great our collective solidarity. And maybe that fundamental difference in belief is what, in the end, it comes down to.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Ducking hell

I can hardly be disappointed at most of my favourite blogs not being updated very often when I can't even do my own, can I?

And in truth, it's that time of year, at last, when there should be something to write about. Last weekend we went to Alvecote to check on Chertsey for the first time in months.  Shed's been moved onto the far end of a long pontoon, which is great, because it means we have access all along one side. The cloths had blown about a little bit, and one string had come loose and was trailing in the water, but the translucents underneath were sound so no water had got in. The trouble is that the weather has been so awful. We're hoping for an improvement next weekend, so that we can completely redo the cloths. The plan is to take them all off (so it needs to be dry and not windy) then remove the deckboard and stands, lay the mast down, and drop the planks ready for our late May trip up the Erewash. We'll take the opportunity to replace the three year old translucent sheet, which is disintegrating where it's been exposed to UV, dropping pretty glittery flakes over everything. We'll deply the boxes Jim made to raise the planks in the middle to give a bit of a slope for the rain to run off (and enough headroom for me, at least, to stand up in the middle) - I'm hoping we can put the new translucents, folded, across the gap, to give us light inside. At my insistence, Jim is also cutting some wood to length to make 'dead men' to pick up the cross planks under the boxes - I just don't like the idea of all that weight and tension on the cross planks alone, especially as they're at least fifty years old and I want to keep them.

Other than that there's a lot of cleaning and routine maintenance to be done before - or looking ever more likely, during - the trip, and the bilge pump to replace.

Having been relieved to find that everything was OK after leaving the boat for months over the winter, Jim was horrified to find on his arrival yesterday that ducks had found their way inside - through a gap in the cloths at the front - crapped everywhere, and then, thankfully, found their way out again. So that was an extra job he would rather not have had.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Unexpected canal walk

Off with the boss again yesterday for another Foundation Year Network workshop and executive committee - this time at the University of Nottingham's Jubilee Campus. It was raining when we arrived and we had no idea where it was, so we got a cab there - but agreed to walk back if the rain stopped, Google showing it as a two mile walk.  We made a couple of false starts and wrong turns, but following the boss's instincts as much as Google's, we accomplished nearly the entire distance by towpath, emerging by Castle Lock within sight of the station, having had a very interesting, heartfelt but restrained, discussion about the strike along the way. (And no, I haven't forgotten...)

Sorry I omitted to take any photos - especialy as I've not been there since 2010's Great Trent Thrash. However, I did take one then...

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

I know how to enjoy myself

I went for a nice little walk on Saturday.
I visited one of my old stamping grounds, where I'd not been back for over ten years.
I walked six and a quarter wet and muddy miles and passed 21 locks, then got the train back to where I started.

When I travelled this canal by boat, it had only been re-opened five years previously.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

On some buses

Apologies to Jim (no, not you) again, this time for encroaching on his territory.

Every year on his birthday, Diamond Geezer takes the London bus corresponding to his age.  This year he is 53. This year, I also will be 53. I've long been aware that DG and I are of an age, but until I read his post this morning about yesterday's birthday, it didn't occur to me that I might do likewise, in Sheffield.

For the last couple of years, I've sort of done it, a bit, by accident. Until I moved last summer, I lived bang on the 51 route, and frequently rode a section of it. I lived pretty near the 52 as well, and would often take a 52 to just short of my destination if no 51 was forthcoming. I have never done either of these from end to end. I have been to one terminus of the 51, both walking, and the time the driver forgot to stop, but I have never been to Charnock at the other end.  I have walked past the starting point of the 52 (since moving) but I have never been to Woodhouse.

The first birthday I had in Sheffield was my 48th. A 48 and 49 bus seem rather elusive. I find mention of them in passing, but no official record seems to exist - perhaps others can help. The 50 goes to Chesterfield, so perhaps I could start with that one - it's not even a very long journey.  Then I could do the entirety of the 51, and even squeeze in the 52 while I'm still 52.

And then what a treat in July - the 53 promises an hour and a half excursion to Mansfield.

As the Big Days Out have somewhat stalled (Saltaire was a great start, but the process has been somewhat held up by the second random pick being Ladybank) perhaps I could manage some bus trips in the meantime.

And, ooh, Jim - I went on a new tram yesterday! In Nottingham. Not as nice as the Sheffield ones. They don't have conductors, but ticket machines and threatening notices, but it was certainly a very efficient way of getting from the station to the University.

Today I am shortly off for a day trip visiting old canal haunts...

On getting off the fence

Thank you to everyone who added thoughtful, careful and tactful comments to my last post - and that's everyone. I just wanted to say that I will respond, but perhaps when it's all over - or at least this first stage, which should end at the end of next week - when the dust has settled and I can get a bit more perspective. And I will respond because I do care what you - you union men - think; because there are important questions not only about individual conscience but about what trade unions are for, and how they can best achieve their aims. And these are questions that I want to ask, not that I presume to answer. So please bear with me while I write about some other things in the meantime.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Why I'm not striking

You may have noticed something on the news about a 'lecturers'' strike - it's actually not just lecturers, but researchers and all sorts of academic staff, working mainly in pre-1992 universities. They've been on strike from last Thursday to today, and then will be again from next Monday to Thursday, and all of the week after that. The strike is over proposed changes to our pension scheme, shifting it from being a defined benefit scheme, under which, crudely, you know what you're going to get, to a 'defined contribution' scheme, where (even more crudely) the final amount is at the mercy of the stock market. It's also about arguments over the valuation of the scheme, and the significance of its deficit. I don't fully understand it, and I've been trying really hard. But even if we accept, for the sake of argument, that this is a bad thing, I'm still not striking.

Every one of my colleagues who is on strike has an automated email reply with a link to the UCU website to say why they are on strike. They are all over Twitter saying why they are on strike. They have picket lines (9 am - 11 am) at which they will tell you why they are on strike. They have stalls in the Students' Union to say why they are on strike. But I have nowhere to say why I'm not on strike. And I want to say. I want to say it loud and proud. I'm not creeping, cowed, into work. I'm not ashamed of being a 'scab', covering for my striking colleagues. I am working proudly, wholeheartedly, and bloody hard. And I am not doing it because I am a right wing bastard. I'm not doing it because I want to destroy the trade union movement. I'm not doing it for the money or for popularity. I'm doing it because it is the right thing to do.

I am doing it because a defined benefit pension is a middle class, public sector, privilege that is not available to the majority of workers in this country, and I cannot in all conscience strike to defend my and my colleagues'  middle class privilege at the expense of my mostly working class students. My students are people from all sorts of backgrounds and histories who are trying to improve their lives and their prospects through getting a degree; because they're not from comfortable middle class backgrounds with the support for education and the cultural capital that brings, because they often didn't get the chance to do A Levels or stay on at school, we provide a Foundation Year so that they can hit the ground running and be the equal of their eighteen-year-old peers when they start their degree. It's something I'm immensely proud to be involved with, but which also carries great responsibility.

These students haven't just invested money in their education. Although older students, from working class backgrounds, are more likely to be put off by the idea of debt than conventional students, despite the fact that they may never have to repay it, for me this isn't even the biggest issue. Much more important is the fact that they have turned their lives upside down to come to university. They have given up jobs and replaced wages with maintenance loans; or they are working all hours at the same time as studying; they're seeing less of their children and putting their relationships under strain and even conflict. They are defying and overcoming the significant mental, emotional and physical health barriers that previously kept them out of education. In many cases they are putting their very sense of identity on the line.  They are doing this to grasp the opportunity of the sort of education that most of those on the picket lines took for granted.

The least I can do is to turn up to teach them. The least I can do is to do my very best to ensure that their investment of money and time and effort and self is not dismissed as being of less importance than the size of my pension.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Here comes the sun

Just briefly, I felt the sun warm on me as I stood outside the back door today. Last week, it was still light when I left work.
And one morning last week, I watched the sun rise on the way in.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

(Mantel) Piece de resistance

I think this is the highlight and the centrepiece of my new house:
 The dining room fireplace...
Fireplace from Newhaven tip (£10), cleaned and restored by Jim - but in excellent condition to start with, under its layers of white gloss paint. Brass skirt thingy from the marquee at Braunston. 'Teapot brown' oblong tiles from the V&A collection (£90 a metre!); Victorian decorative tiles bought on the works outing to Cleethorpes, 2015; oak shelf made by Pete Boyce (designed by me!); brackets by Yesterhome, all beautifully put together by Jim.

I love it to bits.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Promised me a river

One of the things I've got involved with because of my job is the Foundation Year Network (they're working on the website), and because I can't resist a committee, I got myself elected (unopposed, I think) to their executive last year. We meet at various institutions where the network has a presence, and yesterday this provided an opportunity for the boss (who currently chairs the executive) and me to take a trip Up That London, as it is obligatory here to call any journey to the capital. Our hosts were Kings College, and we were to meet in the River Room, which we were assured had a stunning view of the Thames.
Well, it probably did, before they put the scaffold up.

It was a lovely bright, dry (if cold) day in London, a welcome contrast to the slushy Sheffield I'd walked through to the station for the 0729 train. In the afternoon, the FYN held a workshop, in which I participated in the traditional fashion:
A good time was had by all, and I was particularly impressed by the college's monogrammed Wedgewood plates.

The boss being a fell runner, and me as you know a keenish walker, there was no question of us taking the tube for the scant mile and three quarters from St Pancras to the Strand. What with my walk down to the station in the morning, I clocked up over six miles over the course of the day. We left it a bit late getting away though and had to stride out fairly briskly, not helped by starting off in the wrong direction and someone putting a building site whereof Google knew not. Now, here's an interesting thing - we each had Google maps on our identical iPhones, set up for the same destination, and they were giving us different ETAs. Does Google/iPhone take account of your walking speed (as measured in the past) when estimating how long a journey will take?

Anyway, we beat Google's estimate(s) fairly comfortably, and had a most civilised return journey.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

And a ghost of one

This stopped me in my tracks yesterday morning, revealed behind the facsia of an abandoned shop.
I think I've worked out what it once said. Can you make it out?

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A good sign

Well, I liked it.

Friday, 5 January 2018

In brackets

My latest set of brackets arrived today.
These will hold up the mantelshelves in the front room and the dining room.

Like their plainer counterparts in the kitchen
(and bathroom), they're from Yesterhome, and cast in Birmingham. They're not cheap, but they are really nicely finished. Service is good too - easy to order on the website, postage at standard Royal Mail rates, and dispatched quickly. The ornate brackets were out of stock when I first looked, so I ticked the box saying 'email me when they're back in' without much hope, but just before Christmas I got the email to say ther were available again.

It tool me ages to track down some decent brackets, so if you're on the lookout, Yesterhome are definitely worth a try. They have all sorts of other tempting stuff as well...

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Through pit and loft

That building is of course Sheffield University's Arts Tower - and as well as seeing it from my study window and passing it on the way to the office, I forgot to mention that I've taught in its basement too. Rather churlishly, we tend not to like its windowless lecture theatres - especially as last semester they were too small for what we were trying to do.

Built in the sixties, and opened in 1966, the tower did, as the name suggests, originally house all the Arts departments. Sadly, they have outgrown it, and although Architecture and Landscape still have the privilege of occupying the upper floors (and I, once, have had the privilege of visiting them), the rest of the building is largely given over to offices now, with HR on the 5th and 6th floors being my most frequent destination (after the basement).

It's the tallest University building in England (Glasgow pips it to the British crown) and was until 2009 the tallest building in Sheffield. What it is most famous for, though, is this:

The Arts Tower Paternoster lift is reputedly the largest in the  world. It has 38 'cars' whcih can each take two people. Paternosters were popular in Europe from the early 20th century, but fell out of favour in the 1970s. In Britain, they were particularly popular in university buildings, but over the years there numbers have declined, largely, it seems, over safety concerns - which, to be honest, are understandable. Until last year there were three remaining in the UK, all in universities; now there are two - the University of Leicester have just closed theirs, and will replace it with a conventional lift, citing not safety but the impossibility of getting spare parts for it - something I guess will chime with historic boaters. Sheffield's however was completely refurbished - with added safety features - in 2009, and the university website assures readers that it will be in operation 'for many years to come'.

I confess I was quite trepidacious about using it at first, until - on that visit to Landscape - my boss said, 'I suppose it's a bit like getting on and off a boat' and I thought, I suppose it is, a bit, really - and have quite taken to it since. I was slightly disconcerted on when occasion when, after I had safely disembarked, the lift stopped, leaving my colleague in the next car coming up peeping up from below ground level. She did eventually clamber out - I'm not sure I would have dared in case it had started again.
Rather like the waterways system, it's a refreshing reminder that 'health and safety' hasn't actually gone mad (see 'most popular posts'), and we are still trusted to do slightly dangerous things (and very dangerous things, like driving cars). We even trust students to do it! So long may the Arts Tower Paternoster continue.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018


It may not be to everyone's taste, but as sixties buildings go, I think this is rather lovely. I can see it from my house, and I walk right past it on the way to work every day.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

En route

We broke our journey down to Newhaven with a short detour off the M1, to visit somewhere we usually only see at the height of summer.
It was all looking quite festive - they'd had quite a lot of snow, although the roads were clear by the time we got there.
I finally bought Pete and Irene (of Renfrew, and Rat, and James Loader, and Lucy...) the dinner I'd promised since they so enhanced our enjoyment - nay, survival - of the Thames in 2016. Enjoyable as that was, it was a bonus addition to the main purpose of the detour... to collect a piece of oak:
Pete's photo
Beautifully cut and finished by Pete from my very technical drawing:
Which was emailed to him in exactly the form you see it here.

No prizes for guessing where that's destined for (especially if you look at the photo file names :-)

Monday, 1 January 2018

Northern grit

When we set off for Sussex on Friday, it was snowing, and had been for some of the night. Big, wet flakes, settling on un-gritted roads. We took the roundabout, more contoury, less hilly, route out of Walkley and set off on our usual route via the A61. We crept along fine until we got to the other side of Woodseats but then the traffic started to back up. In the distance we could see a bus slewing, failing to get up the hill to (at?) Meadowhead. We sat, and sat, and debated whether to turn around and go another way, and then the queue of traffic moved a little, then stopped again. Then another couple of vehicles moved forwards, and then we could see what was happening.
Two men - as far as I know just local members of the public, with a bucket and shovel, were spreading grit from the bunker half way up the hill, walking back and forth with it, and making the difference that enabled the traffic - including the buses - get up the hill.
Now, that might happen in London, but I'm not so sure.