Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Would you like a leaflet?

I've just printed another little batch of  Chertsey information sheets. These started out as my A3 display 'boards' but I thought it would be nice to have something people could take away. It's also useful for quickly giving people information or contact details - or when asking for photos. And as it's been a while since I've posted any information about Chertsey and her history, I thought it wouldn't go amiss. The original has a photo, but you can just substitute the one from the blog masthead.



Chertsey was built for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company (GUCCCo) by Harland and Wolff at their North Woolwich shipyard, and delivered in January 1937 with the fleet number 130. This was part of the last big expansion of the Grand Union fleet, eighty-six pairs of boats, built between 1936-8, at Woolwich (motors and butties), Northwich (motors) and Rickmansworth (butties), with a deeper (4'9”) hold than their predecessors, and Chertsey is therefore a Large Woolwich motor boat. All the large motor boats were built of riveted steel (although Woolwiches originally had wooden cabins) and all 86 are still extant in some form. It is likely that the names for these boats were more or less randomly selected from a railway gazetteer, and they are sometimes referred to today as 'Town Class' boats.

Chertsey would have carried a variety of loads for GUCCCo, between London and Birmingham, the East Midlands, and also to Northampton and beyond onto the River Nene.  These would include coal from the Midlands to London, and imported raw materials such as timber, metals and grain which could be loaded directly from ships in the Regents Canal Dock (now Limehouse Basin). When waterways transport was nationalised in 1948 Chertsey passed into the British Waterways South Eastern Fleet, and continued carrying into the early 1960s.

Chertsey was sold into private ownership in 1962, and for a while was registered as a houseboat, although there is no evidence that she was ever converted. During this period, she attended a number of rallies, and apparently had an organ in the hold, which was played at gatherings. We would particularly like to fill in details of what Chertsey was doing 1962-69.

In 1969, Chertsey was purchased by Richard Barnett, who owned the boat until his death in 2009. Under his ownership, Chertsey undertook some short term carrying contracts, including being one of the last boats to bring coal (from Gopsall on the Ashby Canal) to John Dickinson's paper mill at Croxley on the Grand Union, in August 1970. From the 1980s however, Chertsey was more or less abandoned at Valencia Wharf, Oldbury, although Richard Barnett was never willing to sell her.

Chertsey's engine is an air cooled Petter PD2 as fitted by British Waterways in 1960 to replace the original raw water cooled National DM2. One battery charged through a dynamo (rather than a modern alternator) powers the electric start, and lighting in the back cabin. The cabin was rebuilt in the late 1970s in solid oak (reclaimed library shelves) on the original frames, and later skinned in steel by Les Allen. The engine room is original as far as we know, and its roof shows the scars of previous exhausts and the G.U. toilet vent.

Since purchasing Chertsey in 2009, the following works have been undertaken to restore and improve the boat:

·        Steelwork repairs to the hull (particularly the knees, chine angle and counter) and overplating to the back end/engine room baseplate by Keith Ball
·        New oak gunnels, front cants, handrails, other woodwork, top planks and cloths by Pete Boyce.
·        Paintwork by Martin O’Callaghan and signwriting by Dave Moore

Chertsey's unusual livery represents the brief transitional period between British Waterways taking ownership of the Grand Union fleet, and the development of their own distinctive yellow and blue colour scheme a year or so later.

Chertsey has now retired as a working boat, and is used purely for pleasure. The hold is not converted with any permanent structure, but camping arrangements under the cloths provide plenty of flexible space for summer boating, which has evolved over time. Most recently we have built a platform in the cratch to provide additional sleeping/storage space and easy access to the fore end, and begun ballasting with concrete blocks rather than coal.


I have a number of photographs of Chertsey at various stages of her history which can’t be publicly displayed for copyright or other reasons – please ask if you would like to see the album. And if you have taken any nice or interesting photos of Chertsey – either recently or in the past – it would be greatly appreciated if you could share them by emailing to  
[my email address] – please also get in touch if you would like to know more about Chertsey in particular or historic narrow boats more generally.
You can also follow my blog at www.chertsey130.blogspot.co.uk

Friday, 8 June 2018

Gone for a... oh, has that one been done?

Revisiting day 2 of the trip, which was the Sunday. I had to go back into work on the Monday, so we stopped as planned on the Shobnall Fields mooring in Burton. Strangely, we'd never stopped there overnight before, but it was ever so nice, and a short walk to the station.
There's no denying that despite still being a centre of the brewing industry, Burton has the run down air of a post-industrial town. Nowhere have I been that felt more like a company town. Whichever way you turned, it seemed you could see the brewery dominating the horizon. In the past I'm sure you would have smelt it as well, but perhaps the modern plant does away with that.

On the way back from the station on Monday evening I spotted a poignant ghost sign:

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Almost feels like home

Day 10: Foxton bottom to Watford top
Day 11: Watford top to Braunston

On Monday we were up early and waiting at the bottom of the Foxton locks at five to eight. As it turned out, there was no competition - there's been surprisingly little traffic over all this trip - but I suppose it's early in the season yet. We didn't start up the locks until 8:30, but were finished in the advertised 45 minutes and celebrated with an ice cream (me) and a bacon cob (Jim/Ricky) at the top. Sadly there is no photographic evidence of me tying up the boat with one hand whilst holding a large and precarious cornet in the other, but I assure you, my talents multiply by the day. It was a much cooler, overcast day, and we sailed serenely through the green green world to tie up at the top of Watford locks just after five.
Watford has an amazing book swap. I took about ten books over, and came back with as many, that I really wanted to read (rather than 'that'll do if I'm desperate'). After the lock keeper had gone for the night we pretended that their little cottage and garden was our very own, although Ricky had to be confined to the boat to stop him digging up their lawn.

In another 45 minutes (starting at 8:35) we were down Watford and on the last leg of the journey to Braunston. I was pleased to note that we beat CanalPlan's estimate - on default settings - by eleven minutes. We tied up by the ladder bridge, but were a bit perturbed that the mooring suspension for the show only starts a week in advance - I'd expected a fortnight, so thought we'd get away with plotting up there.

Pete came to the rescue though (again) and offered us the use of Renfrew's mooring, while he prepared Renfrew for the show. The offer was made over dinner at the Boat House - definitely my second choice Braunston pub, but the Nelson, it transpires, don't do food on Monday OR Tuesday :-(
The trouble with the Boat House is that it's not dog-friendly (you wouldn't think it would be hard, a place that size) so we had to sit outside. Despite the afternoon having warmed up, we anticipated the evening becoming chilly again, so Jim brought two jackets, which he put down on the bench beside him, and we brought Ricky's jumper (that he'd been wearing all morning) as well as his fleecy bed. Ricky decided that the bed alone wasn't wholly to his satisfaction, and that he could do better for himself:
Jim was so engrossed in conversation he didn't notice his garments being purloined and repurposed.

On the way to the Boat House last night, we met Kevin and Vicky, former Star- and then Harry- Man and Woman, who have a new boat. So this morning, after moving Chertsey down to the turn we went and had a cup of tea with them, before finally setting off in the car to Alvecote.

And so ended a fairly uneventfula nd very enjoyable holiday. The weather has been brilliant throughout, wioth lots of sun, and only the occasional rain - and never while we were boating. The do at Langley Mill was great; I actually enjoyed the Soar (and of course the Erewash, but that's not so newsworthy) and we had a lovely sociable time - all the better for boing unplanned - on arrival in Braunston too.

Back to work for me now, until the weekend of the show.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Pressing on

Day 8: Sileby Mill to Bush Lock
Day 9: Bush Lock to Foxton

Well, it's still been nice, but a fairly heavy couple of days. Two of the pounds today - shallow at the best of times - were down as much as eighteen inches. I'd done really well, creeping along the middle, until I got firmly stuck just short of Pyewell lock, trying to go in on the right to let a hire boat join us. In the end they had to help get us off, and went up before us.

Today has been wonderfully hot and sunny, almost since we set off at 7:30. When I washed my hair with the solar shower at about five, it was almost too hot.

But we pressed on, and made it to Foxton tonight as planned, so hopefully two more, slightly shorter, days should see us to Braunston.

And talking of hot water.... we're currently in the Foxton Locks (because we needed CHIPS! And very nice they were too) and like many establishments, there's a sign in the ladies saying 'caution: very hot water'. But this time they really mean it. The water coming out of the taps is scalding; you could not wash your hands in it. Which means they might as well not have it. Now, what I wondered is, rather than going down the cash and carry and buying 'caution: very hot water' notices, why don't they just turn the boiler down so that their customers can wash their hands in suitable hot water. Just a thought. Also, £4.10 a pint. Only place I've paid more than that is London. Or possibly Brighton. But - especially considering how busy they were - the food wasn't bad at all.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Hold the front page: enjoying the Soar!

Day 6: Langley Mill to Sheetstores
Day 7: Sheetstores to Sileby Mill

Today I had a nice day on the Soar. I did not get swept away by the current, not stuck on a bridge pier. We haven't got to Leicester yet. It has actually been rather lovely, and I have had a good upper body resistance workout (a.k.a. river steering) to boot. I'm getting a taste for shorter days now and was itching to tie up by four o'clock (we didn't leave until 8:40 this morning though) so ended up on the lock moorings at Sileby Mill which is lovely. There is a weir (over which water is rushing quite impressively), which is my favourite sound for getting to sleep to. Last night we were between two railway bridges, which was OK - I don't mind trains - and would have been very interesting I'm sure to anyone with a train passion. A weir is better though. Today has been yet another which started overcast but became sunny at lunchtime and really hot later - enlivened this evening by a sudden and very heavy downpour which occurred, of course, while Jim was taking Ricky for a little walk. On the whole so far the weather has been really great. I'll post retrospectively in more detail with pictures when I get back.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

A bit of a scrape

Day 5, Hallam Fields lock to Langley Mill

It all felt much harder work without Doug's assistance! An extra pair of hands really comes into its own when the locks are wide and other boats few and far between.

Still, we plodded on today (well, Jim and Ricky plodded while I boated) and we arrived at Langley Mill at about quarter past one. By the time we had winded and tied up next to Trout it was nearly quarter to three and the really rather cold morning had given way to blazing sunshine - so much so that we had to erect Ricky's sunshade (a Wilko's child's beach sun shelter fashioned around the folding picnic table) and drape him in wet cloths.

Of course I was prepared for the low bridges of the Erewash. Of course I was. I had the titch pipe on and had taken all the cans, flowers etc off the cabin top. The trouble was that at bridge 19 (Potters Lock) I was so concerned about getting the headlight through the middle of the arch that the cabin slewed a bit to the side by which time I was crouching down and not steering very effectively, and impressively scraped the paint kettle chimney cover, and more upsettingly, bent the tiller pin and, just grazing the corner of the cabin, snapped one of the old hooks that holds the doors open. Boo.

The legendary Indian restaurant here at Langley Mill is under new management since we were last here (OK, that was five years ago) and sadly they no longer offer the curries with strawberries etc in that Jim really likes. We had a takeaway from there and it was fine (not as good as Walkley's Rajput) if on the dear side. We ordered online, which was very simple and convenient. I've tried that a couple of times before but this was definitely the simplest and clearest.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Short and sweet

Day 4, Trent Lock (above) to Hallam Fields Lock (below)

Another short but sweet day's boating today, but for once we have more time than we need to get where we're going so have the luxury of taking it a bit easy.

This morning we were joined by Doug, fellow Foundation Year practitioner who works at Nottingham. He'd cycled down from his home in Ilkeston because a few weeks ago I'd gone over to Nottingham to talk about setting up a journal for the Foundation Year Network, and over a coffee had mentioned the boat and the fact that we were going up (and indeed back down) the Erewash, and he sounded interested, so I roped him in.

For someone who hadn't narrowboated before Doug was a natural, getting stuck straight into the locks (which was a real blessing as they are even heavier than I remember) and taking instinctively to steering too. Within about four hours we were almost back at Ilkeston, so we tied up for a pub lunch and decided to stay here until the morning - a good decision, as this afternoon has been really hot.

I know I like the Erewash but I tend to remember the mills and buildings and forget that much of it is quite rural, and we're in a very attractive setting tonight, next to woodland and wild flowers, and hopefully far enough out of Ilkeston not to be bothered by any people. The towpath here is most popular with cyclists, apparently quite a significant through route. Can't complain though as our newest crew member is one of them!

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Wind chill factor

Day 2, Fradley to Burton
Day 3, Burton to Trent Lock

Oops, a bit of catching up to do. Sunday saw us take a leisurely dawdle to Burton on Trent, where we tied up on Shobnall Fields - a lovely mooring which we've never used before, other than to re-seat the rudder which I'd unshipped reversing onto a lock landing (lesson learnt - well, nearly; did the exact same thing a couple of years later on the Avon).

On Monday I needed to be at work, so I got the train from Burton to Sheffield on Sunday night and returned Monday teatime. The journey went very smoothly, which was nice.

And so to this morning. We set off decent early, just after seven, and made reasonable time, coming onto the Erewash at half past three. After two days of magnificent sunshine, the cold wind this morning came as a bit of a shock. Rather than shedding layers as the day went on, I was adding them, until I was up to five, including fleece and padded shirt. After lunch though this gas started to warm up a bit. From Stenson we shared the wide locks with Fair Megan, whose crew were very experienced and made it a very efficient and enjoyable process - until it was Jim's turn to steer half way through the day, and I really struggled with the next two locks - so Jim took over again in the interests of efficiency. This meant that I was at the tiller to take the turn onto the Erewash though and I really went for it - big sweep, lots of revs, and came in and stopped perfectly - albeit with shaky knees. We've tied up as we promised ourselves on the visitor moorings just above the lock, and at last the towpath has changed sides so Jim can polish the other side of the cabin :-)

Tomorrow we will be joined by a fellow member of the Foundation Year Network who works at Nottingham and lives near the Erewash at Ilkeston, and who was unwise enough to express an interest in the boat. He'll cycle down to meet us in the morning and travel up at least some of the way with us.

One further thing to note - Ricky is getting better at this boating lark. He still barks sometimes when we're doing locks, but much less than he used to; he's a lot happier than he was staying on the boat while Jim works a lock, and he's a lot calmer about being on the back end while we're both at the stern. So that's good too.

We might get to Langley Mill tomorrow, or we might stop along the way.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Perfect weather

Day 1, Alvecote to Fradley

We started the day with the planned car shuffle, and have delivered Uxbridge Volvo to Braunston, returning Bluebird to Alvecote. Bluebird is a different car now, thanks to the new (actually not at all new) auto box which Jim bought me for Christmas.

We set off in Chertsey at 10.20, and tied up below Hunts lock at 17.45, having taken it nice and steady. The weather has been perfect, just hot enough, and glorious with hawthorn blossom and rhododendrons. We got stuck on the bottom once, very seriously, and had to beg a tow off after about half an hour struggling. But overall it has been a very pleasant day, and an excellent start to the holiday.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Hooray, hooray

It's been a long time coming, but finally, in the immortal words of Boney M, it's a holi-holiday.

Here I am at last, at ten thirty at night, sitting in Chertsey's back cabin, replete with a Barlow dinner, writing a photo-less BlogPress post. Tomorrow we'll be doing a car shuffle to Braunston and then setting off for Langley Mill.

As I drove down this afternoon, I stopped on the way for petrol at Morrisons on the A61, and who should pull in behind me than Adrian of Warrior. That has to be a good omen, I thought.

Sadly a number of friends that we were hoping to meet up with at Langley Mill, or even on the way there, have now decided not to come for various reasons, but others have been seen heading that way, and we can be sure that Bath and Dove will be there.

Well, it's been a long day, and I've made up the bed, and the holiday starts tomorrow...

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 :-)