... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 31 January 2010


Finally, as promised, before it is torn away and left fluttering on the breeze... the January photo from the utterly unbelievable Uninspiring Waterways Photos Calendar 2010. Truly it took a genius to compile a dozen photos of such dullness, featuring so little interest - even allowing that some of them have been used twice. It cannot have been an accident. Just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, a random selection of waterways photos would have thrown up at least one or two that were interesting or attractive. But the publishers of this little gem have gone to enormous lengths to weed out anything that might catch the attention or heaven forbid set the heart a-flutter. MRX Calendars, we salute you.

Saturday 30 January 2010

Chertsey station

It occurred to me the other day, walking across the wind tunnel concourse to Euston, that I'd never given a thought to Chertsey station, the transport hub that gave my boat its name. My second thought was that maybe it no longer existed; after all, I'd never heard it subconsciously in a list of suburban station announcements. My third thought was how many of the stations that gave their names to Grand Union boats still exist, and how many - if any - fell to Beeching's axe. That's still a question for the future, but I came home and looked on the National Rail website, telling it that I wanted to journey from London to Chertsey - and there it was, going out of Waterloo, which is why it has never impinged upon my consciousness.

So I had a look to see if I could find any pictures, and instead I found a Wikipedia article, written in a way that suggests, perhaps worryingly, perhaps hearteningly, that there is one for every station in the country. And my, what a handsome station Chertsey has. I'm so glad it's not a grim damp peeling box, at least not on the outside.

My fifth thought was to compile a list of all the boat-name stations that I've been to, or through, but I thought at that point that I should go and have a little lie down, perhaps.

Friday 29 January 2010

Happy birthday old thing

When Jim saw the Historic Ships Register certificate yesterday, the first thing he said was '1937? I thought it was built in 1936.'

Well, maybe it was, mostly. How long did it take to actually build one from start to finish? But the date I have for Chertsey's delivery to GUCCCo is January 29th 1937, so I have taken that to be the year the build was completed. And this then, if boats had birthdays which of course they don't, is Chertsey's seventy-third birthday.

This set me thinking - how were the boats actually 'delivered'? Did GUCCCo boatmen go and fetch them from Woolwich (and Northwich), or did the builders have the responsibility of bringing them to a GUCCCo depot? Were they delivered in batches - indeed, were they built in batches, and if so, how many at a time? - or singly? How were butties delivered or collected?

Thursday 28 January 2010


On the advice of Dave and Izzie, I finally got round last week to registering Chertsey on the National Historic Ships Register. I did it all online, send it off into the ether, and waited to hear back from them. Obviously they liked the sound of Chertsey because I received a certificate in the post today, along with a very swish annual report, notable for presenting the accounts in a way I was able to understand. There are quite a few narrow boats on the register - including Tarporley and Dave and Izzie's Bath. One interesting thing is that they give grants towards restoration - small but significant amounts - which may well be worth investigating. Jim does enjoy a nice grant application. Chertsey's details aren't up on the website yet, but I'll get another post out of it when they are.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

Someone else's pictures

Been saving this up for a night like this when I've not prepared a post and too tired to start thinking about it. A while ago Andrew of Dove posted this link on CWF - it's someone else again's wonderful old boat photos. I don't know who he is myself, but if he's posted them on the web then presumably he wants as many people as possible to look at them. To be honest, they are so wonderful I found it all rather overwhelming - an embarassment of riches - and haven't had a really good look yet myself.

The experts and anoraks at CWF have however given the matter their fullest attention and have issued a number of corrections to the captions and reminiscences, and a long thread has ensued.


Tuesday 26 January 2010

Chain reaction

I have been following Blossom's Minnow blog with enormous interest - it is quickly becoming a vast repository of information and memories and anecdotes that will surely be a treasured resource in years to come - not to mention right now.

I'm going to be cheeky and put in a request for Blossom to tell us about chimney chains... their purpose, origins and most importantly design and decoration. I have all these lovely brasses

and I want to know how to attach them to a chain - and what sort of chain it should be - for best effect.

Of course, I couldn't find a decent photo of a really good one (Plover has one, but it didn't show up properly in any of my photos), but any excuse for a picture of a cute dog.

I know the tale, of course, about chains being made from the brass fastenings salvaged from gas mask cases - and modern chains that you buy new with their flat links would seem to be based on this. But WWI or WWII gas mask cases? And in any case, what did they do before the relevant war? I'd have guessed that ordinary brass chain would have been used, but in that case, why does no one seem to use it today even on boats done up in earlier styles?

So much I don't know, but someone out there will have the answers.

Monday 25 January 2010

United we rivet

It's my sister's birthday today - very neatly timed to be exactly six months (yes, and three years) from mine, and that reminds me that I promised to send her some photos of the wonderful colour lithograph certificate presented to our grandfather by the United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders in 1924, in appreciation of the work he'd done for them since joining in 1915. This is the grandfather - our father's father - who was a boilermaker on the Great Western Railway at Swindon.

It's been very hard to get a decent photo though, without taking it out of the frame (which I am certainly not going to attempt!); whatever I do I don't seem to be able to avoid getting very visible reflections in the glass.

I wish I could show you the real thing; it is stunning. The whole thing in its lovely gilt frame must be about two and a half by three feet. The colours and the detailed illustrations of the Society's work (relief of widows, help in sickness and old age) are wonderful.

The United Society of Boilermakers and Iron and Steel Shipbuilders (itself formed from the amalgamation of earlier societies) existed for over a hundred years, from 1852 until 1963, when it joined with the Associated Blacksmiths', Forge and Smithy Workers' Society and the Ship Constructors' and Shipwrights' Association to become the Amalgamated Society of Boilermakers, Blacksmiths, Shipbuilders and Structural Workers. This in turn amalgamated in 1982 with the General and Municipal Workers' Union to form the GMB Union, which went on to become part of Unite. It doesn't have quite the same ring to it does it. I got the history from this website.

For many years the certificate was on display at the British Engineerium, the former pumping station in Hove that was turned into a steam museum in the late 1970s. My father worked there after he retired, doing the books, taking round school parties (German speakers a speciality) and stoking the boilers. When he died I inherited a signed agreement that he had loaned it to them, which, fortunately, I kept very safe. A few years ago we read in the local paper that the Engineerium was to close, and that all the exhibits were to be auctioned. We dashed over, me clutching my piece of paper, to find Bonhams already setting up for the auction. One of the founders of the museum was there and was very loath to part with the certificate, insisting that it had been a gift! I waved the loan agreement - which actually might have been signed by him in person - as we fought our way out carrying my treasured inheritance, which now hangs proudly in the front room. As a postscript, the auction was called off at the eleventh hour when a local property developer 'saviour' stepped in. It was claimed then that the Engineerium would re-open, but it's been watch this space ever since.

While we're on the subject of my relatives, my cousin Tina (aka Yvette; she always had two names which I think reflected parental disagreement over what to call her; for ages I thought I had an extra cousin somewhere) has just restored Nelson's easy chair.

Sunday 24 January 2010

Back in the back

Unbelievably, I haven't visited Chertsey since the end of October and although I know it's in good hands, I'm itching to get back and see it and touch it and smell it again. On the last morning before I left, on a bit of an impulse, I started repainting inside the back cabin. (Not so much of an impulse that I hadn't already rubbed it down and properly prepared it, of course....) Now we all know what back cabins are meant to look like - graining, roses and castles, lots of brass, lace, and every surface covered in ribbon plates. I was reminded of this the other day by Blossom's splendid post on how to hang plates for best effect. So I guess it's time to make a confession - they are the one bit of back cabin tradition that I really don't like, so my own tiny rebellion will be not to have any, shock horror.

The rest of it, I will have.... eventually. But not yet. Chertsey's back cabin, as it stands, is a little bit unconventional - not that you'd necessarily notice from the outside. Presumably, when Richard Barnett bought it in 1969, it would have had a BW issue plywood cabin. He built a new one - out of solid oak, shelves salvaged from Colne public library. I believe it was intended to be a stand-alone wooden cabin, but it must have leaked, because he went on to have it skinned in steel. Anyway, what we have inside is not softwood grained to look like oak, but oak itself, dark and varnished. Rather untraditional, but very much part of the boat's character. Within this, there is the traditional fit out, in various bits of softwood and hardwood, serviceable but by no means done to the highest standard. It was rather sad to note that at some point an ochre base coat had been applied, presumably for graining that never got done.

And won't do for a while. The thing is, at some point the cabin is going to have to be replaced, probably, when I am rich, with a replica Woolwich style cabin in steel. Until then I am going to glory in Chertsey's oddness, and not expend too much money or effort on internal decoration until such time as I can go the whole hog. Instead I am going to paint it austerely in cream, with dark green mouldings, and leave the oak varnished as it currently is. I shall also leave the old, worn and rather grubby graining of the side bed exactly as it is - maybe a light clean and a fresh coat of varnish to preserve it. Likewise on the back doors.
I shan't say no to a bit of brass though, as and when I can lay my hands on some, and some lace - I already have one nice piece, and now have great hopes of my mother, who seemed quite pleased to receive a pattern book, two hooks and a ball of white cotton thread.

The Epping stove is purchased, and waiting to be fitted and, in a wonderful display of priorities, I am fully kitted out with crockery (well, it seemed important at the time) although I forgot the cutlery. Soon, hopefully, work will start on the engine, and all that important stuff, but I must admit that also, I can't wait to get back and play house.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Found some more!

I made a quick raid on the laptop last night and tracked down photos of Aynho, Badsey, Bainton, Otley and Towcester, which I have added to the album, along with a lovely picture of Fulbourne at St Ives. There are still at least two missing - ironically two of the three I've steered - of which I have lots of snapshots but no real portrait.

And it's catching on - Adam of Debdale draws my attention to his collection (and reminds me that I must have Dover and Nuneaton somewhere too) and Jim of Starcross has posted some lovely seventies photos, including Bexhill, which has so far eluded me. It's a shame my self-imposed rules don't let me do swaps!

I wonder if anyone whose interests lie in those directions will start a collection of Stars, or Joshers (or subdivisions thereof), or boats by builder? Maybe it's not quite the done thing for the very purists, but you've got to admit it's fun.

Friday 22 January 2010


Last night I finally went to visit Kezia on her boat Demetrius, moored on Lisson Wide. When Kezia first started, and we were all in the same department, I was her mentor - chosen by the head of department on the basis that Kezia lived on a boat. Since then we have all been reorganised, and scattered to the four corners of Bloomsbury, and there are lots of nice people I no longer get to see as much as I'd like. So when I found myself sat next to Kezia at the Recruitment Working Party last week I lost no time in inviting myself over.

I love seeing other boats, especially when they're lived on. It's paradoxical, but although I can't help being very tidy (I blame my mother) I envy and love visiting people who, along with their boat/house, are more relaxed and laid back, whose places aren't all neatly aligned and sharp edges. Not that Demetrius was untidy, far from it, but it was lovely, warm and lived in, alive with books and velvets and rugs and a rather marvellous chaise longue.

Kezia cooked a lovely meal and the evening flew by so fast that suddenly I realised that I had to dash to get the last train home. We'd arrived via a rather long walk and a bus ride, so I was a bit worried, but in fact it turned out I was only ten minutes from Marylebone tube station and I got to Victoria with twenty minutes to spare. Kezia lent me a book I hadn't come across before - although it won the Booker prize in 1979: Offshore, by Penelope Fitzgerald, which appears to be about people living on houseboats on the tidal Thames. In return I have promised to lend her John Seymour's Voyage into England. Being an environmental geographer Kezia was already aware of his work on self sufficiency and sustainability, but not that he'd written a book about boating.

And, being the perfect well mannered boater that I am, I got through the whole evening without using the toilet.

Thursday 21 January 2010

New stickers

I've found and scanned a couple of prints and stuck them in: Fulbourne, and Barrow (which I didn't even know I had) from Braunston 2008.

I have also gone through the entire list and put square brackets round the names of the boats I haven't added yet, so you can see at a glance which are there and which aren't. So far I appear to have only about (it's surprisingly hard to count) 27 out of 86, although I know there are more I have photos of that I just haven't found yet, including Dover, Towcester, Hampstead, Tarporley, Thaxted, Badsey and Nuneaton. That still leaves over fifty still to spot though!

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Newhaven narrowboat

I've mentioned before seeing a narrowboat moored, somewhat inexplicably, on the Sussex Ouse at Lewes. I don't know if I ever mentioned the one at Newhaven, glimpsed occasionally, in the distance, from the road.

This morning, in a final attempt to get my brain cells to talk to each other so that they could finish an article I've been staring at for weeks, I took myself off for a long walk up the river from Robinson Road to Piddinghoe. And as I walked along by the creek between Robinson Road and Denton Island at low tide, there it was, sitting most incongruously in the estuarial mud. I'd love to know what story it has to tell of how it found its way here.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

There's more than one thing you can do with an old boat

You can collect it, you can restore it, you can live on it, you can play with it, you can pose about with it.... Or of course you can use it for what it was built for, and you can work it.

I am rather ashamed to admit that when compiling the 'Old Boat' blogroll I focussed very much on the former categories and completely overlooked at least one blog about a working coal boat - Alton, operating on the Peak Forest Canal. In an strange coincidence, I stumbled across their blog yesterday afternoon, doing a sort of random flit down Granny's blogroll, as I sometimes do, and then came home to find that Brian of Alton (and Shirley) had left a comment here ... and only then did the penny drop.

So the omission has been recitifed, and I'm off to see whether any of the other coal boats have their own blogs or websites.

As a postscript to this, when Jim read Brian's comments on Sunday's post, he recognised him as Curly Wyrley who made Warrior's side fenders back in 2005 - which I must say have done sterling service. We've lost a couple I think; one for certain in Doncaster last year - but as we had six to start with and only ever use two at a time (and only after tying up of course), they should last a while longer yet.

Monday 18 January 2010

Narrow squeak

Here's my wintry picture of the day. We had a grand day out yesterday, marred only by the fact that after we had reached our far flung destination, achieved our mission, and then repaired to a local hostelry for a much anticipated lunch... I discovered that I had left my purse at home. Not only did that mean no lunch; it also meant probably not enough petrol to get home.

We scrabbled around in the car (having naturally cleared it of excess coinage only the day before) and in our pockets and amassed the sum of £4.50. This probably genuinely made the difference between getting home and having to call out an ex-husband (the only person I could think of whose path we might cross at the point when the petrol ran out). But we got home - and even picked up a hitch hiker on the way, a very well spoken young man who was on his way back to Brighton from a climbing competition - did I know that such things existed? - in Crawley.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Boat spotting

I think that for someone lacking a y-chromosome, I have quite a male brain. This manifests itself not only in a greater ability to process rusty rivets than fluffy kittens, but also an insatiable need to categorise, catalogue and collect. I understand train spotters.

When we were kids, my sister used to go in for those sticker albums - she had one based on the Disney film The Rescuers. I was quite fascinated by this, although of course being three and a half years older I was above such childish things. I had never got into those things where you have to buy stuff, mainly because of a terror I had - dreadful in one so young - of being ripped off (which I lay entirely at the door of Richard Stilgoe), and also because just being able to go out and buy the things - even though you also had to swap them of course - seemed somehow like cheating. So I just carried on cataloguing my mug collection and setting up a prototype ID database for my dolls and teddies.

The concept however has never left me and I have now found an outlet. For years now I have been watching old boats and now I consciously register when I see one I've not seen before. It won't be long before I have to start making special trips to track down those boats that I know to exist but which have so far eluded me. I have become a boat spotter.

To keep the task manageable and within the limits of my fiercest obsession, I shall in the first instance limit myself to spotting large Grand Union motor boats. If we take this to mean the 'Town Class' of large Woolwiches and Northwiches, a quite cope-able with 86 were built, most if not all of which are still in existence in some form.

So, I have set up a separate blog on which to catalogue my spottings and stick my stickers. I have created a post for each boat, and I will stick in a picture of each as I collect it. The unbreakable rule is that it must have been seen and photographed by me. I already have quite a collection, of course, scattered around in various envelopes and hard drives and CDs - it will be interesting to discover, as I trawl methodically through them (!) just how many I've already spotted. When I spot a new one or post a new batch I'll post about it here too.

So far I've trawled through all the photos on this computer - that is those taken since April last year. So there is already something there to look at. Then I shall work my way through the CDs of photos from 2007 and 2008, then the prints from earlier that will need scanning...

Saturday 16 January 2010

Bargains galore!

Last week I sent off for some 'all occasion' cards from the IWA shop. At £4.95 for 25, and with little detail given, I was dubious as to what they'd turn out to be like. Well, they are excellent. Good solid card, blank inside, with a nice water colour view of Cassiobury Park Lock (albeit with modern boats in, but you can't have everything, and they are quite blurry) and best of all, a substantial 8 x 6 inches. Great birthday cards at under 20p each. Buy them while they last! They're on this page here, second item from the bottom.

What's more, while searching for 'cards' I came across this collection of waterways postcards 1900-1930, compiled by Hugh McKnight - a really substantial book, packed with gorgeous illustrations, and all for £2.99. Make a brilliant present to go with one of those cards.

Friday 15 January 2010

Chertsey on the Wey

And here, courtesy of Richard Pearson, is Chertsey on the River Wey in 1970, en route to or from the IWA Rally from which I have the plaque.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Chertsey: Oldbury to Dimmingsdale

And here are a couple of pictures of Chertsey being towed by Petrel from Oldbury to Dimmingsdale, where I first saw it.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Chertsey at Oldbury

So yesterday we pretty much left Chertsey languishing on its mooring at Oldbury (a place I have never yet been), where it spent many years, and this is what was in the hold before Dave and Izzy mounted their heroic clean-up operation prior to arranging the sale.

Tuesday 12 January 2010

Chertsey: The known knowns

At least as far as we know...

Here at last, as promised, is a bit of background information about Chertsey. Most of it comes from The George and the Mary, AMModels, and other published sources, but I am also greatly indebted to Pete Harrison for providing me with a wealth more detail, some of which might creep in here. Any errors are more than likely my own, and I would be grateful to anyone who points them out.

So, to start near the beginning, it's the early thirties and canal carrying, at least on the Grand Union, is in a mood of buoyant optimism, not to say hubris, leading to an enormous expansion of the Grand Union fleet between 1934 and 1938. There were a few exceptions, but the majority of the motor boats were built either by Yarwoods at Northwich, or by Harland and Wolff at Woolwich (while butties were built by these builders, plus also some wooden ones by Walker Bros of Rickmansworth). Hence Northwiches, Woolwiches and Rickies, large and small (and in the case of Northwiches, middle). The first phase, between 1934-6 were 'small' and were loosely named after heavenly bodies, hence have subsequently become known as the 'Star Class', of which there were 78 pairs. Then from 1936-37, orders were placed for a further 86 pairs, with a deeper (a whopping four foot nine and a half inches) hold. These 'large' boats were named, in essence, after railway stations, and became known as the 'Town Class'.

Chertsey is one of these last, a Town Class Large Woolwich motor boat.

It was built as part of an order placed with Harland and Wolff for 24 pairs in February 1936, and was delivered to GUCCCo on the January 29th 1937, and given the name Chertsey and the fleet number 130.

Canal carrying in many parts of the country had been in trouble for some time, and some canals were becoming abandoned and derelict even before the war, but the G.U. seemed to be bucking the trend. It couldn't last however; having survived the expansion of rail transport better than many other waterways, it was no match for the expansion of road transport after the war, coupled with the exceptionally hard winter of 1947. In fact, only about 120 pairs were ever in service at any one time, even in its heyday. By 1948, when the waterways were nationalised, the writing was on the wall. The GUCCCo fleet, being directly owned by the canal company, automatically went with the canal into national ownership; it is a sign of how hard things were getting that Fellows, Morton and Clayton, the other great fleet, which was independently owned, voluntarily sold out to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive the following year.

From this point on many boats were disposed of - sold to other operators, abandoned, sunk, converted to maintenance boats, transformed into parts of the British Waterways hire fleet, trip boats, or sold into private ownership. Chertsey however, remained in the British Waterways (as it became) carrying fleet until the early 1960s. It was finally sold by BW into private ownership some time between 1962 and 1964, and then appears to have been converted into a houseboat. This is the period about which we have least information, although Max Sinclair has posted photos of Chertsey at Stratford upon Avon in 1964 on CWF.

In 1969, Chertsey was purchased by Richard Barnett to become the first boat (and the only narrow boat) in what grew to be a fairly large and eclectic collection of working boats. It was clearly his intention to work it, and Chertsey must surely have been one of the earliest examples of a boat being deconverted as he restored it to a working state. I still know little about what Chertsey did under his ownership, but it included bringing coal from the Ashby Canal to the papermills on the G.U., and acting as a tug dredging on the Soar.

Chertsey with Richard Barnett - late 70s/early 80s?

By the early 2000s, Richard Barnett had become ill, and from this point - if not sooner - Chertsey was effectively abandoned. In early 2009, he died, and his executors began the daunting task of finding buyers for his boats - of which, of course, I was lucky enough to become one.

So that's a little outline of Chertsey's history, particularly regarding its ownership. There are boats that have had fewer owners over their lifetimes, but not many.

Monday 11 January 2010

Somewhere hotter

Finally, five years after the rest of the population, I have read Terry Darlington's Narrow Dog to Carcassonne. I'd kept meaning to get around to it, but it seemed too frivolous a book to buy, but last weekend, after plying me with lethal brandy cocktails, Craig (aka Dr Duct and some time Warrior crew member) insisted on lending me his copy. So over the last few cold dark evenings, I have found respite from the snow and ice sitting in front of the fire and reading about the baking Mediterranean sun.

Narrow Dog is a book that a lot of people clearly love, and quite a few hate. I quite liked it. I wouldn't like it if every book were written in Darlington's somewhat strained epigrammatic style, but mostly it works here. The biggest downside of the rather dry, throwaway approach is that it treats really dangerous and exciting events the same as mildly amusing or annoying ones. Very stiff upper lip and all that, but it makes for a lack of variety within the book - there's no change in tone - and sucks the excitement from episodes that clearly must have been terrifying. The style best suits the amusing parts of the book; the descriptions of people and their reactions to Jim, the titular whippet, and the (flawed) canine hero himself. I laughed out loud in only a couple of places, but on the whole it made a very pleasant and undemanding read for a cold winter's evening.

Sunday 10 January 2010

's no fun at all

I have said this before, but for any newcomers... you will never, in the summer, catch me complaining that it's too hot. Even if the summers get as extreme as the winters are threatening to, I may go and sit under a shady tree, but a negative word will not pass my lips.

Because I reserve all my complaining for the winter. I hate the cold. I don't like the rain or the wind much, or the fog, but if it's in a mildish context, then it'll do. But the cold, the cold is the ultimate enemy. It forces you shrunken and huddling into a corner, hunched and tense (whereas in the warm you unwind expansively), constricted by layer upon layer of clothing; it dries your skin and makes your eyes raw and your nose red and your face pinched; it narrows and narrows your horizons and traps you fearful of stepping away from the heat, out into the ice.

I am even getting fed up with not being able to go to work, although I am very fortunate in being able to work at home almost indefinitely - all I miss are the boring meetings - but it cuts you off from human contact too.

While this may make it easy for simple minded souls and the Daily Express to case doubt on global warming, the clue's in the name. Globally it's getting warmer, but not perhaps for us. It's getting warmer where it's already too damn hot, and wetter where it's already too wet, and warmer at the North Pole so the polar bears are going to starve, if they don't drown first. But it's getting colder here. That's our karma, I guess, for causing it all in the first place. 'We'll have the Gulf Stream back now, ta. You Brits never appreciated it anyway, always moaning about the bloody weather. Well see how you like it now!'.

And... if I have to be isolated, huddled in a tiny space by the fire, surrounded by ice, I wish that at least I could be doing it properly.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Cool pictures

I am very aware that this is supposed to be a blog about Chertsey, and I haven't actually written anything about Chertsey yet. I shall try to remedy that over the course of next week by posting a bit about what I know of the boat's history. In the mean time, here I sit on the south coast while Chertsey is 200 miles away on the Shroppie, waiting patiently.

I am also aware that although there is a link on the right labelled 'Chertsey photos', if you click it (as eight disappointed people, or possibly one very optimistic one, have) it leads to an empty album. There are Chertsey pics on Photobucket, but they're still in nbWarrior's albums.

However, I have now started to remedy that, because Keith has very kindly taken some photos of Chertsey for me, to show that it is still afloat, and huddled up to Hampstead for warmth.

Friday 8 January 2010

Thank you loyal readers

For making Chertsey130 no... whatever it says just to the right of this... in the canal website hit parade. It was a mere week ago that I switched production from nbWarrior, and hoped that the readers would follow. Well, it seems to have worked.

Chertsey passed Warrior in the chart on Tuesday afternoon, with nbWarrior at 27 and Chertsey130 at 26. This time last week, Chertsey was at 87 and Warrior somewhere in the twenties, I think. Today at midday, Chertsey was at 19 overall, and 9 in the blog charts - top ten in its first week, not bad at all.

Thanks to the fellow bloggers who have updated their blogrolls to include Chertsey - especially Granny Buttons, who did a nice little feature about it, so here is a screen grab of his screen grab of me... (we could go for an infinite regress here), and Mike, who has most kindly called it 'Blog of the Year 2010' (I think there may be an implied 'so far' in there). I particularly liked Andrew's suggestion that a 'chertsey' could be an item of traditional knitwear; I'd like one of those. On the other hand, it would more likely be something crocheted...

So far also, I have managed to post every day, which is a good start to the year. When I signed the new blog up to the ranking site, I was given the user number 131. If only I'd got there just one person sooner - how serendipitous would that have been!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Carte blanche

Now the Christmas cards are finally down, it's time to start thinking about buying next year's.

This year we received a disappointing three watery themed cards, including a personalised one from nb Lucky Duck, and only one IWA one featuring a wintry painting of an old boating scene.

I used up the last of my IWA ones this year, hence the need to buy some more from their online shop. In the past I've purchased the bargain bumper packs of cards that haven't sold very well, but I found that the last one contained rather too many scenes of wherries, flats, keels and the like, and just not enough narrow boats (I guess there was a reason for them being left over). So this year I have been a bit more selective, and chosen some older (and thus cheaper) designs. In fact, I've only bought one pack, because the link to the ones of the horse boat on the Regents Canal didn't work.

I have also ordered a rather mysterious pack of 25 'Greetings Cards', with a scene of Cassiobury Bridge, for £4.95. I say mysterious, because that seems cheap for so many, so I am wondering what the catch is. I have long bemoaned the fact that the IWA don't produce packs of blank, all-purpose, cards on the same basis as the Christmas cards. They do sell some packs of 'all occasion' cards, but they all feature modern photos - not what I'm really after. So it will be interesting to see what these ones I have bought turn out to be. Twenty-five is rather a lot - I don't have 25 friends, so people might get the same birthday card a few years in a row.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

The joshers are catching up

When I first started looking for working boat blogs (as opposed to websites) I could only find two: Oakley and Barnet, so naturally assumed that there was something about us modern, go-ahead, G.U. people that made us more natural bloggers (even if Oakley hasn't been updated for over a year). But I'd missed Dove (for which apologies), so I added that later.

And now, I was delighted to hear yesterday, spurred on by this gap in the market, Blossom has started blogging Minnow. He's a great writer (do have a look at the link to Blossom's Black Country if you haven't read it already) so I hope he'll find plenty to write about (even if like me it means resorting to rants about recycling and pictures of dollies' dresses).

I remember Minnow from when Sparky and Vicky had it and we were at Stretton. I painted Warrior's engine to the sound of Ron Withey playing (with?) its Bolinder. Warrior's engine room roof vent, which Sparky told us is colloquially known as a 'biscuit tin', is based on Minnow's.

And Blossom has on many occasions commented on my blog, generally gently picking me up on some error or misuse of terminology, for which I am very grateful. So I was delighted to meet him at last, at last year's Black Country gathering, and see Minnow there again, and look forward to doing so again. In the meantime though, I shall read the Minnow blog with relish.

Tuesday 5 January 2010


recyclable - perhaps

Here is my first rant of the new blog.

Today is recycling day in my street. Now of course like motherhood and apple pie, recycling is undoubtedly a Good Thing, isn't it? I remember how when I was on the council, when it first developed its recycling policy, how pleased we were with ourselves, providing a lead in saving the world.

So OK, recycling is a good thing, insofar as it's better than piling the stuff in landfill, or arguably - hot local topic this - incinerating it.

But frankly, it's not bloody good enough.

The government sets targets for recycling which local authorities have to meet, in some cases (although as far as I know not ours) by bullying and browbeating local residents, while almost completely ignoring the other two R's - reduce and re-use - which should come first. It is my contention that recycling is largely a flim-flam; a half-hearted sop to saving energy, resources and waste, and that the reason it is prioritised over the reduction and re-use of packaging can only be because of the power of the packaging industry.

Take the plastic bottles in my recycling bin. Some of them are from milk. We used to have milk delivered in reusable glass bottles. It cost a fortune but it was convenient and much less wasteful. However, the milk, sadly, kept getting stolen from the doorstep so we reluctantly went back to buying it from the supermarket where it comes in plastic bottles. These can be recycled, but to do so effectively requires very expensive equipment, and no small amount of energy. But why can we not have re-fillable plastic bottles (like we do with beer)? Or somewhere to get our own containers filled, which used to be the norm. Or why can we not buy it from the supermarket in returnable glass bottles the same as we can from the milkman?

What about all the shampoo and detergent bottles - not even any hygiene issues there - could easily just refill them. And indeed I could, if I was prepared to pay Body Shop prices for everyday use, and/or travel ten miles each way to the nearest shop that does Ecover refills (and that only washing up liquid, and more expensive than a new bottle). But no - there is clearly no political will to make manufacturers and retailers do this, so I have to wash the damn things up, store them for a fortnight, have them collected by one of a fleet of electric vans, to be sorted, baled, sold and shipped half way round the world to be turned into more plastic crap that nobody needs.

re-usable - spot the difference?

Look at the glass in the recycling bag in the top photo - quite a lot, given that we've just had Christmas. Now, in this separate bag are the Harveys bottles. When I next go into Lewes, I can take them back to the Harveys shop. There's a deposit of 8p on each bottle. They'll get washed and sterilised and used again. Now look at all the other beer bottles. Identical, but they've long since given up on returnable bottles. Who would bother, for 8p? Well, perhaps they would for 50p, or a pound. If the political will was there.

Or, if we can have doorstep collection for recycling, why not for re-using? Why not put that effort and energy into collecting, sorting and cleaning containers, and returning them to the manufacturers to be refilled? Leaving only the un-re-usable residue to be recycled.

Look at the plastic lemonade and cola bottles (in other people's boxes!). Look how much space they take up, even crushed, to store and transport. Remember when fizzy pop came in returnable glass bottles? Even I do, just about. I remember one of out teachers exhorting us to buy Corona for this very reason. (He was also a great advocate of wholefoods). Obviously we all thought he was a crank at the time, but Mr Roberts and your ilk, your time has come.

What will happen to the glass we send for recycling? Do you fondly imagine that it will be lovingly crafted into new bottles? Sadly that's very unlikely. Nearly all recycled glass is too contaminated with different types and colours to be of any use for making any but the crudest of new glass, and most of it ends up being crushed and used in roadbuilding. (But on the bright side, all that broken glass is called cullet, and isn't that a lovely word?)

Although the government tells local authorities they have to recycle, they seem to be allowed to pick and choose what they will recycle, and to do it only if there's a profit in it. I can illustrate this with an example that still makes me fume, even after I rang up the recycling officer and made her listen while I banged my head against the wall.

There are lots of different sorts of plastic. Something to do with polymers. Polystyrene can't be recycled, at least not cost-effectively, so no one collects it. It still has to be buried or burnt. Polypropylene on the other hand is highly recyclable and very desirable. Most yogurt pots are made of polystyrene. Some very trendy yogurt pots however are made of polypropylene. I was even told that they get incentives from the government to use this more recyclable material. So I carefully remove (and compost) the cardboard sleeve, and wash out the polypropylene pot, and put it in the recycling - and time after time they refuse to take it 'because it is a yogurt pot'. They don't give a damn what it's made of; if it's yogurt pot-shaped they don't want to know. So what the hell is the point of the government giving incentives to the company to use more expensive recyclable materials when no bugger will recycle them. And it's not a council decision apparently - it's the people to whom they sell the stuff. It's just easier for them to have a blanket ban on yogurt pots - get one in a bale and they won't buy it - forcing the local authority to do likewise.

So in short, if excessive, wasteful, non-reusable packaging is a problem, then why aren't the government actually doing something about it at source, instead of getting us to prettily rearrange the yogurt pots on the doorstep?

Monday 4 January 2010

Sheriff of Nottingham

illustrated with a random photo of Nottingham

Before Christmas I went to visit my friend Dean in his new house in Brighton, and we went to the local church fete (you do that if you're a Londoner newly moved to the provinces). We got there just as it was winding down and got lots of bargains. I won a bottle of wine on the tombola, and bought a very large jar of pickled red cabbage (let no one say I'm not good to Jim), and on the bookstall, reduced from a pound to fifty pence each, six books by John Harvey. I'd read other books of his as part of my random library trawl and really enjoyed them - well written atmospheric thrillers with good, sympathetic characters - but these were even better - six of the ten books in his series featuring Nottingham detective inspector Charlie Resnick; a great police character, a loner with a liking for jazz, cats and messy sandwiches. I read them (six in a row - what a wonderful indulgence) over Christmas, and have ordered the other four from the library.

I don't know Nottingham well - I've been there a few times, but mostly only to the University, which is out of town, and we went through by boat last year, but the sense of place in the books is very evocative and accurately represented. The canal and the river get a good few mentions (and we will forgive him one reference to seeing a 'longboat'), but I was particularly fascinated by this brief extract from the final book in the series, Last Rites:

Romanticising [about the old terraces at Notts County, this was], Resnick knew, and as dangerous as the efforts to dress up the past and sell it sanitised that drew tourists to the Lace Museum and Tales of Robin Hood and even the Galleries of Justice, where for a few pounds you could inspect the old police cells and the tunnel along which deported prisoners were shepherded into canal boats on the first part of their plague-ridden journey to the colonies.

I've had a look at the Galleries of Justice website, but it doesn't mention this particular aspect of their offering. Has anyone been, or know anything about this practice?

Sunday 3 January 2010

Crocheting, on the other hand...

Penny Bright and Amanda Jane model my mum's crochet skills

... I have completely given up on. I am going to send my cotton thread and my little hooks and my pattern books to my mother and see how she gets on.

Certainly, she did a marvellous job kitting out my dolls in their 1970s finery (yes, I admit it. I didn't spend all my time playing with my train set), so I'm very hopeful...

Saturday 2 January 2010

Resolution no. 1: Learn to splice


I was shown once, and did a nice little job, but I didn't practice enough to be able to do it again now.

However, Jim can still do it, it appears. This morning, with the aid of a book to remind him, he successfully put a new eye splice in one of Warrior's ropes that broke on the Nene.

The trouble is, a book isn't much use to me. I think I sort of understand how dyslexic people feel when faced with words and sentences. When I look at numbers, they simply fail to organise themselves into any meaningful pattern. And I have a similar experience with diagrams. I can look at the diagram, and I can look at the real thing, all day long, but they never seem to bear any greater relation to each other.

But I really must have another go and persevere this time, not least because Chertsey will need a full set of ropes, and it would be so much better to buy 100m or so and splice the ends ourselves. Not to mention when it comes to doing the strings, of course. I simply cannot have a boat like this and be unable to splice. It just won't do.

Friday 1 January 2010

This is where we came in

A year ago yesterday, I was alone in the house, taking down the Christmas decorations, because I was heartily sick of them, and thinking that something had to change. I didn't quite know what, or how much, but having a boat of my own was a big part of it.

So, mid afternoon, whilst staring at the mantelpiece, I thought, I know, I'll go and look on Apollo Duck and see if Battersea is still for sale. Not that I could have afforded it, mind, but just to inspire me with what might be possible. As it happened, Battersea wasn't listed, but Aber was (though not by name) and Bicester, and Hawkesbury (which I already knew about)... and Bristol.

I went to see Bristol, and to be honest, I did fall in love, although I knew from the start that it would be a big restoration project, with (given that it had had a full length cabin since 1980) a great many hidden unknowns. But it was a boat that had been, and could be, lived on; it was a home, and it was lovely, as were its owners who were incredibly hospitable, and patient, while I dithered. But its price was more than I could afford, and to be honest, given that I was looking for a serious restoration project, much more than I ought to have been prepared to pay. But I couldn't let the idea go.

I was still dithering when we went to Braunston in June, taking Warrior up to be our base for the rally. We got there a week in advance and secured a splendid mooring spot by the Admiral Nelson, and a day or two after we arrived, Jim spotted a josher coming through the locks. It was Petrel, and he went to chat with its owner. I don't know what I was doing to have missed this momentous encounter, probably cleaning the toilet or something. But anyway, miss it I did. It turned out that Petrel wasn't there for the rally, but was just passing through. What we didn't know was that it had recently towed Chertsey from Oldbury to Dimmingsdale; what we had forgotten was that there had recently been some speculation about this boat, and what would happen to it now that its owner, who had been ill for a number of years, had recently died. All of this was unknown to us when Jim mentioned that he knew someone who was desperate to get their hands on a big Woolwich. I don't know exactly what Petrel's owner said to that, only that he knew of one that might be for sale, so Jim gave him our number, and thought little more of it, as we got swept up with meeting MIchell and Bill from America, and getting a ride in the parade, as well as meeting up with lots of the people we were finally starting to get to know. I even stood next to one of Bristol's owners, and murmured that I was still interested, if the price could ever be right.

Then after the rally, Jim set off to take Warrior to Cowroast, where we had very generously been lent a mooring for the month, and I got into the car and drove home. And on the way home, liberated from anyone else's opinion, pessimism, cynicism or plain good sense, I decided what I would do. I would arrange to borrow some money; the amount that I could afford and was prepared to pay for Bristol. Once the loan was arranged, I'd make them a cash offer. If they said no, which I still thought was likely, then nothing lost; I just wouldn't go through with the loan. So I went ahead and arranged to mortgage myself to the eyeballs.

Then, one evening in early July, the phone rang, and by chance, I answered it. On the other end was a softly spoken man with a northern accent who introduced himself as Dave. He was arranging the sale of Chertsey on behalf of the executors, and had been told that I might be interested. I gleaned what information I could, and to be very fair, I have to say that Dave undersold the boat somewhat. He was arranging a viewing day for people who had expressed an interest, prior to advertising it. Of course I wanted to go, although at this stage I thought it would be for research purposes, and that it might help to persuade Jim that Bristol wasn't such a bad bet.

Well, I was very, very wrong. As soon as we got to Dimmingsdale it was clear that Chertsey was a very good boat indeed. Thanks to my foresight (!) in amassing vast quantities of debt, we were able to make an offer there and then. I was too nervous to do it myself, so I got Jim to do it. After a couple of nailbiting days (during which, providentially, we sold Helyn, thus giving us a cash deposit) Dave rang and told me that the offer had been accepted.

Thus, thanks to a combination of recklessness, bloody-mindedness and wild, wild chance, I got my big Woolwich, and a good one too.

A number of other things have to happen now before I can get hold the cash to begin the restoration, but hopefully the wheels are turning, and things will happen in 2010.... which is why, although I am not in any way abandoning Warrior the boat, this seemed like a good time to wind up nbWarrior the blog. Project blogs are far more interesting that cruising ones, and nbWarrior started out as exactly that, as we set about transforming a boat with potential into our perfect boat. Of course I'll still write about our Warrior cruises - we are thinking of the BCN for next summer, and a lot more besides, as I really, really mean, this time to try and post every day.

But I wanted to do Chertsey justice by starting a new blog, (on a new account, with a new photo upload allowance!) to chart the restoration in all its ups and downs, and to organise it properly with tags and things right from the start, and also to make it a bit more of a historic boat-centred blog.

So this, as we say ferewell to 2009, is the final post proper on nbWarrior - and the first post of the new blog, Chertsey130. Thanks for coming on the journey with me so far, and let's see where the future will take us.