... 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.

Wednesday 31 March 2010


Just in case that progress on Chertsey was all getting a bit exciting, here's this month's entry from the reassuringly boring waterways calendar. Aah, that's better.

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Books I read in March

Ann Granger Shades of Murder
Another decently crafted village whodunnit. I could read the series.

Penelope Fitzgerald Offshore
Wonderfully economical and evocative, more a poem than a story.

Sarah Waters The Little Stranger
A wonderful treat which I've been saving since the paperback came out to immerse myself in it. I managed to resolve it in my own mind without recourse to belief in the supernatural, but there's no glib tidy explanation at the end - you have to decide for yourself.

Alastair Campbell All in the Mind
Disappointing, rather pedestrian and heavy handed; too many characters, none of them really fully formed. I'd like to see him try a political thriller though.

Reginald Hill Midnight Fugue
A bit far fetched, as I've come to expect, but pretty gripping and unexpectedly moving.

Stephen Booth Blood on the Tongue
Lots of Peak District atmosphere and a police team you could get to know and like. And a good strong plot. I'd read more of these.

Simon Kernick A Good Day to Die
A rather old fashioned sort of thriller (and none the worse for that) that started well, but became rather far fetched towards the denouement.

P.D. James The Private Patient
Cardboard cut-out characters, wooden dialogue, preposterous plot, with moralising and political polemicising thrown in randomly, and old fashioned in all the wrong ways - just why is P.D. James so highly rated?

John Harvey Lonely Hearts
And the first shall be last... Now this is more like it - instantly engaging, really human, characters; credible plot and an outcome you can care about. Wish there were more where this came from (there are ten, and now I've read them all). And at last I know where the bloodstain came from.

Monday 29 March 2010

I'd like a new one of those, please

Sadly though you can't just walk in and buy them off the shelf. But never fear, Compo is on the case, or if he isn't he soon will be.

As for the rest of the stern gear, it's all got to come apart and then we shall see. I took the greaser cap off to show Jim how it worked, and then wished I hadn't as it was well nigh impossible to get it back on. Plenty of grease in it though.

There have been mutterings about the prop... mutterings, accompanied by the sucking of teeth, along the lines of 'it looks a bit small'. We suspected it might have been the prop that went with the original National engine, which might theoretically be on the small side for the PD2 with its 2:1 (as we then thought) reduction. But then I posted about it on Canalworld and knowledgeable voices on there have said that it in fact has a 3:1 reduction, a three-wheel version that doesn't feature in the owner's manual, specified to enable BW to use the PD2 as a direct swap for the National without having to change the handedness of the prop. This is one of those situations where you start to realise how much you didn't know (even if you thought you did) and become rather hesitant to state anything categorically as I'm sure there is still a great deal more to come out about this. But I'm thinking... 3:1, with a maximum engine speed of 1500 rpm, seems a bit... well, I dunno... what do you think?

Sunday 28 March 2010

Midnight feast

Reading Blossom's post about Marmite the other day inspired me to add it to the shopping list the next time Jim went into Penkridge. And then it happened that I found myself awake in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and feeling slightly peckish.

Now, if I'd been at home, I wouldn't have done anything about it. I'd have lain there tossing and turning and worrying about the sleep I was losing... Because getting up might mean disturbing the rest of the household, and getting a snack would mean getting out of my nice warm bed, with the heating off, and going down to the cold, dark kitchen.

But on Chertsey it was nice and warm (slightly too warm, if truth be told) so I took a step across the rug to throw a couple of lumps of coal on the fire and put the kettle on, then went back to bed, from where I reached down to my left to get the bread and butter out of its nice cool spot under the side bed, then up to my right to get a plate and knife and the Marmite out of the table cupboard, and was soon enjoying a midnight feast of a Marmite sandwich and a cup of tea tucked up in bed, and finally finished the very tedious P.D. James book I'd been reading, before eventually retiring back to sleep at half past four. And when I awoke again at six to the birds singing and the light coming through the bulls eye, I didn't feel any the worse for my midnight sojourn.

(Jim, in case you were wondering how I managed this, was very generously billetted on another boat for the duration.)

Saturday 27 March 2010

Do I really want to restore this boat?

That's what I say I'm doing, if anyone asks. That's what I told the Historic Ships Register: under restoration. But since a brief conversation last week about how to approach the repairs to the counter, now I'm not so sure if 'restoration' is really what I'm about here.

2. (Attempt to) bring back to original state by rebuilding, repairing, repainting, emending, etc; make representation of supposed original state of (extinct animal, ruin, etc)
(Concise Oxford Dictionary, Seventh edition, 1982)

Now that is obviously what a lot of people have done, and are doing, with historic boats, and I'm very glad that they are, because the results are often stunning. But I'm no longer sure it's what I want to do with Chertsey.

What I said about the counter was this: I'd rather have an honest, possibly obvious, repair than make the whole thing look like new. I think I'm more interested in conservation, or preservation, than restoration.

Keep from harm, decay, or loss, esp. with view to later use

1. Keep safe (from harm, decay, etc); keep alive (name, memory etc)
2. Maintain (state of things); retain (quality, condition)

I want to preserve what Chertsey still carries of its past, not turn the clock back and turn it into a facsimile - an inevitably imperfect one - of the boat that came out of the Woolwich shipyard in 1937. I don't want to wipe out seventy four years of history; I want to respect it, even revel in it.

That means not adding anything egregiously modern, from electrical systems to plastic washing up bowls, but it also means not eschewing modern techniques and materials to repair and preserve it, while retaining its character. I want to preserve and extend the continuity of its history with a new chapter, not close the book and only look at the cover.

It means not ripping out something from 1970 to replace it with something from 1940 - because I am very fortunate in that little has been added since the seventies - and that was an important and distinctive decade in Chertsey's history that shouldn't be airbrushed out.

I want to keep it alive. Restore it to health; yes, that is the whole point. Restore its lost youth... I think perhaps not. Conserve its past as far as possible, enjoy its present, and assure its future... That's how I feel right now, anyway.

Friday 26 March 2010

So this is home

Having taken the mooring at Kings Bromley sight unseen, on the basis of a couple of photos, Blossom's recommendation, and an already forgotten cruise past last year, today for the first time we went and visited Chertsey's new home at Kings Bromley Wharf.

I like it a lot, although (no, be honest, because) it wouldn't be everybody's cup of tea. It's part of an industrial estate, and Chertsey's berth is adjacent to a fantastic old, currently unoccupied, building which one of the other moorers, Brian (who made us very welcome) tells me is a former armoury, hence the barred windows and frighteningly robust steel door. The photo shows our bit of bank; currently a bit untidy but a lovely cosy corner once cleared up and a nice sheltered spot for sitting in the afternoon sun (when we get some). There's a tap right nearby and electricity is available, although I don't think I will avail myself of it; my usage would be so low I'd resent paying the standing charge! Tracey (who's in charge) said it's also OK to have a mini shed there, though I pointed out that with 50' of hold I hoped I'd be sufficiently provisioned in that area.

To make things better still, there's a secure car parking compound, to which I now proudly bear a key, and the whole site is locked at night (for which I have another key). I start paying for it on April 1st, and hopefully will be moving Chertsey there in the summer.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Tanks a lot

What were we going to pull out of the bran tub today? How about a couple of fuel tanks - probably the toughest job yet, not helped by the fact that one of the tanks (although strangely not the other, despite them apparently being linked by a balancing pipe) was a good foot deep in diesel (probably about 1979 vintage).

Grand Union tanks are also rather iceberg-like. What you can see is a triangular box in each of the foreward corners of the engine room; what you can't see, until you take the floor up, is the foot deep coffin shaped tanks that extend back as far as the rear bulkhead. Now, these do come out. In fact, they must be intended to come out, and have come out, in the past as one of them is marked 'Chertsey'. But they do not come out with much room to spare.

First thing we had to do was close the cock on each tank and remove the balance pipe. Then we had to disconnect the breathers that go through the foreward bulkhead on each side. Now who forgot to bring the BSP spanners? OK, that accomplished with he trusty slip-jointed pliers (now there's a miracle of design). One further hitch was that at some point in the recent past, a vey nice, robust, external filler had been fitted. Normally, you'd fill your G.U. tanks via a hole in the top of the triangular bit, through the side hatches; for some reason this had been adapted to fill from the outside with a big solid pipe bolted onto the top of the right hand tank. To undo this we needed a 1/4" Whitworth spanner (remember this; it's significant) which we didn't have. After trying everything else in the box, Jim made one by grinding down a crappy old one and got the flange off. He then 'horsed' the tank from under the filler pipe, but it failed to clear it by about half an inch. At this point it was decided that I would be much better off reverting to the traditional method of oiling up, and the hefty pipe was ground off (outer trip hazard filler cap and surround to follow).
The first tank had already come out at this stage, despite my standing over affairs like Cassandra and asserting that it was impossible. First of all it had to be levelled, then rotated, then finally it could come out, its narrowest point just fitting neatly through the gap lest by the hatches. The second one, once freed of the filler pipe, was easier, being unexpectedly empty, so it wasn't sloshing about, and keeping it level wasn't so critical. There was surprisingly little old crap underneath, but one thing that was revealed when the tank was removed was... a 1/4" Whitworth spanner.

All in all then, another excellent day's work. Plus I put some potatoes in the oven at quarter to eight this morning and they were ready in time for lunch, and at suppertime I successfully fried some bacon.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Lifting the lid

Well, this morning we did it. Jim undid the bolts connecting the engine to the propshaft , and pausing to remove one last bolt in the roof that had been missed, we were ready to take the top off.

Next, the engine, having taken a while to find some shackles the right size to fit its lifting hooks, I turned around and there it was in mid air.

At this point I had to take my leave and go back to London for a meeting, leaving Jim to remove the gearbox, which made it too big to fit on the pallet. The gearbox, together with whatever other large bits of the spare engines we can fit on, will go on another pallet. We have to ring the pallet people tomorrow and coordinate collection from here with delivery once we get home.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Chopped nuts

Today we got all the remaining bolts out so that tomorrow we can (with the help of the crane) take the top off the engine room, like opening a giant tin of beans, and using an enormous spoon (or, OK, perhaps the crane) remove the contents. Thus the engine also has to be unbolted from its mountings, and its various connections disconnected. This also has been achieved, except that the exhaust hasn't been taken off yet and disconnecting the propshaft is a treat for tomorrow too. What I noticed on Sunday, when we went and looked at the replacement engine, is how bloody big it is; like an iceberg, when installed, most of it is hidden beneath the surface. We thought Warrior's was a beast, but the PD2, including the gearbox, is probably bigger (not as heavy though, phew.)

Most of the 130-odd fastenings holding the roof on - probably 90% - were surprisingly easy to undo. Jim stood on the outside with either a spanner or a large screwdriver, as appropriate, and I went for it on the inside with my trusty ratchet, in a shower of old paint, red lead and spiders. Mmm. Never has washing my hair been such a treat. Some though were a little recalcitrant and Jim had to grind a few heads off, and cut through a couple of nuts on the engine mounting. He was remarkably blase when this set light to many decades' worth of oil and old crap underneath the engine which smouldered away like an incipient volcano for many hours, without, thankfully, ever actually bursting into flames.

Monday 22 March 2010

Down to the nuts and bolts

Today has been a very productive day. It started very early, when Tom arrived to finish shotblasting the hull - just the back end to do, after rain stopped play on Friday. This revealed some old, not very well executed repairs that will need to be redone, and more seriously, blew a couple of (very small) holes in the counter, each round a rivet in the guard iron. The damage here has been caused by rust behind the guard iron,which would have started forming as a result of the dents which the counter wears with pride. So a section will have to be replaced and the guard iron cut out and re-riveted.

After that we had to get a first coat of blacking on before it rained, which we very nearly managed. Then we went off to visit Venables, the local timber merchants, to enquire about iroko for the gunnels. Yes, I have finally been persuaded against oak; not only does it apparently corrode the steel, rot and wear out, but it also doesn't stay straight. Now any or all of this may not be true, but it seems iroko is tried and tested and I haven't heard anyone say a bad ord about it. It's a shame not to have oak, but heart mustn't always rule head.

When we got back Dave was ring-welding some of the most worn rivets, to stop them pulling through the steel. We had some lunch, and then set about the main job of this trip - removing the (oh god Blossom, what shall I call it) top of the engine room so that the engine can come out. We'd been prepared for the worst with this, given that it hadn't been touched for decades, but with the exception of about half a dozen, all the bolts came out easily, and I got to use my new ratchet very effectively. Jim then also undid most of the bolts securing the engine and got some of the peripheral stuff out of the way. Then he took the floor plates out, as we will be removing the fuel tanks, for a good clean (apparently this is a suitable job for me), as well as the engine.

We considered that a good day's work and settled down for dinner cooked on the Epping - a new recipe, slow cooked spaghetti. Tastes indefinably different from the conventional fast cooked sort (i.e. a bit uncooked) but is undeniably soggy.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Off we go

In an hour or so we're leaving for Stretton, so in the (obviously terrible) event of me going quiet, you must conclude that the laptop has forgotten how to communicate with my phone. Hopefully though I'll be blogging tonight and there should be plenty to blog about!

Evening update
Well, it does seem to be working. Hooray! It's been a very rewarding day. We stopped off n the way to see (and hear) the 'new' engine - a rebuilt Petter McLaren PD2 which has done less that 200 hours since its rebuild, and has been extensively checked over and refurbished since, including being painted, so it looks like new - and strangely, painted nearly the same colour as Warrior's engine. So that's a definite purchase. Next we arrived at Stretton to see what work had been done, and though I've been receiving regular bulletins there were still a few (lovely) surprises in terms of the progress that has been made. Least significant in the staying afloat stakes, but most instantly gratifying, the Epping stove was not only installed, but lit, and the cabin was already so warm and welcoming. So the first thing I did was get my lovely brown enamel kettle out and make a cup of tea. Then I had a bit of a tidy up and put all my bits away, and made up the bed with a cover at last on the foam mattress and my indulgence, another new goose feather and down quilt. I had one on Andante, but Baz has appropriated it and refuses to give it back, so I had to get a new one. What luxury!

Serious stuff tomorrow.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Roses and ratchets

I was browsing in the charity shop last week (not unusual of course) and I saw these curtains, so I thought I had better snap them up for Chertsey, remembering the trouble I had finding suitable fabric for Warrior's. Somewhere, of course, I still have plenty left of the lovely big linen curtains I made Warrior's from, but can I find it? Of course not.

Interesting, isn't it, how the pattern of yellow and pink roses and little blue and yellow daisies crops up again here, the same as in Warrior's different fabric and very reminiscent of traditional canal painting.

And by way of contrast, I've got myself a nice new ratchet, thanks to Jim spotting it on Tooled Up.

Sixteen quid and next day delivery. Wonder if I'm going to get the chance to use it in the next few days?

Friday 19 March 2010

Toys for the girls too!

Blossom has been playing with a Mamod traction engine today, and that put it into my head that I could write about this model engine, which was given to my father when he finally retired from his post-retirement voluntary position at the British Engineerium Steam Museum (closed), where he used to do the books, take school parties round (German speakers a speciality) and stoke the boilers on high days and holidays.

I posted about this on CWF a while back, in a thread about cleaning copper and brass, as a dire warning about the dangers of using too abrasive cleaners (as per No. 1 husband). However, then engine itself generated much more interest than the state of its patina, with lively debate as to what it was a model of (conclusion: a generic loco) and whether it was built as a working model. Well - perhaps strangely - this last thought had never occurred to me, but I turned it upside down and had a poke about in its innards (the model, not the thought), and it looks as if it very likely was, although it would appear to have at least one vital part (the bottom of the firebox) missing. There are some more photos here if you would like to have a look for yourself. And Blossom, if you'd like a go at firing it up, I'm sure it could be arranged.

When I was little, I had a lovely train set. In fact, I still have it, and I will get it out soon, and write about it, and get it all ready for Eloise to play with when she's bigger. It had a wonderful station, that my father made; a yellow loco, two trucks (one red and one green) and a green tipping hopper thing that I suppose with hindsight must have been for the coal. It ran on red rails with I guess about a 2" guage, and had two things that you could set to either stop the engine (by flicking its switch off) or allow it to pass. It was extremely unrealistic but I derived enormous pleasure from it; in fact it must have been my favourite toy. I would have the station at one stop, and my model farm at the other, and the little plastic animals, the shepherd and the scarecrow (and a gorilla, if I was running short) would be the passengers.

Thursday 18 March 2010

More mentions

Thanks to Mike for bringing it to may attention last night - and caused me quite a headache negotiating Towpath Talk's very lively interactive web version, but if you can find your way to page 52 and the 'Wet Web' (mmm, lovely) feature, quite a lot of us get a mention. Mostly Mike, but also Dove and the Ducks, who get pictures too. And there we are for posterity, in the print version. I wonder which will last longer. Will the last paper copy crumble and rot before the last cached webpage expires, or the electricity runs out?

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Get 'em while they're young

Allow me to introduce Eloise, daughter of No. 1 Son and, ahem, first grandchild. I reckon that by the time Chertsey's finished, she should be just about ready to start crewing.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Mentioned in dispatches

I occasionally amuse myself by randomly trawling through Granny's (or now also Mike's) blogroll, or occasionally I get a tip off, and I see that Chertsey is getting mentioned a bit around the place (and that's not counting regular mutual commentors like Minnow).

For example, only yesterday Epiphany spotted Chertsey in the flesh, and confirmed that it was still where I left it, and then randomly blog-hopping just now I found a complimentary little mention from Pickles No. 2... I don't mind people using my photos as long as they're saying nice things. My view - and I don't know if its the most commonly held one - is that if you put photos on the internet, then they're fair game for others to link to, and even to copy - but if it was me, I would always say where I'd got it from, to avoid any possibility of it being thought that I was trying to pass it off as my own. That's the academic in me, I suppose - and besides, it's only good manners to give credit where its due (or of course to absolve oneself if it was a dreadful photo).

It is nice to know that so many people are reading the blog and taking an interest, so thank you all. Now, you never guessed that I have absolutely nothing to talk about today, did you? Better get back to tidying my filing cabinet.

Monday 15 March 2010

Sophisticated pallet

This weekend we're going back up to Stretton with the intention of removing Chertsey's engine.

Cue scary music.

This involves removing the engine room roof, which as far as I know is an event that hasn't taken place for forty years, and may well be the first test of my new sockets and spanners.

On the way we are stopping off to look at another, rebuilt, PD2 which is for sale and which I will very probably be buying (they're cheap compared to Nationals, I can tell you!). If that is as good as it sounds - and I'm sure it will be - then this is the plan (roughly).

Remove current, seized, engine (which is the one, as far as we know, installed by BW in 1960 - the engine number certainly matches the record I've been given) and take it home to be rebuilt at leisure. Do any (steel)work that needs to be done in and around the engine room, clean and paint it; maybe sort out electrics. Install 'new' rebuilt engine as temporary (but indefinite) measure. Finish everything else.

Now, to bring the engine home and tuck it up safely in Jim's workshop, he was going to borrow a flat bed truck from a friend, and have it craned straight onto the truck. But it turns out that the truck is experiencing problems with its electronic locking system (modern vehicles eh?) and that sounded like it might be trouble, so he looked around for alternatives and found this. So now it looks as if we will get ourselves a pallet, have the engine craned onto that in a suitable place for this mob to collect it, after we've left... then meet it at home where lots of big strong men will be waiting to transfer it onto a trolley and roll it into the workshop. Sounds almost too good to be true doesn't it, especially for £45.05. We can but see.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Cold charity

I do like a nice charity shop, and have had some lovely finds over the years (and sent a lot of stuff in their direction too), so when Dean and Roger came to tea yesterday, and I met them off the train, and they asked if there were any charity shops in Newhaven, I eagerly told them that there were three, and that I would gladly show them these highspots of the town. So off we went first to the PDSA shop, which is a bit dear by Newhaven standards, and smells rather peculiarly of some very strong air freshener, where they were delighted with some CDs and various other treasures, and I had to borrow a fiver off Dean to buy a new patchwork hippy dress, just like my old one, only predominantly blue rather than pink and less tatty (I said it was dear, didn't I).

Then we went to Sense, which is generally pretty good but has recently taken to stocking large pieces of furniture. Here I resisted a set of Woods Berol ware cups and saucers, and Dean and Roger resisted a Dartmouth fish vase but were delighted to find a video that they had been after for a while.

Then off to the final one, my favourite, Help the Aged, where only last week I was enjoying my regular chat with the manager amongst the well stocked shelves and racks, and... it was gone!

Not just closed, but empty and stripped out. Just like that, no notice, no warning. I can't believe that Sue the manager could have known last week or she surely would have said. That was quite a shock, and very disappointing too. So we had to make do with just two charity shops, and the appeal of Newhaven for charity shop tourists just declined a little more. Although we have been promised a new one, from Searchlight, a local charity, but who knows whether that will come to pass. It's a bad day indeed when even the charity shops pull out.

Still, a variety of cakes and some trifle soon restored our spirits.

Saturday 13 March 2010

One person's rubbish

Is another person's treasure. Sean-next-door popped round with this a couple of weeks ago, a 1979 edition of Rolt's Inland Waterways of England in perfect condition which he had found at a local tip. Thanks Sean! I must get round to reading it now.

Friday 12 March 2010

An interesting thread

Jim told me a while ago that he was going to make me up a special toolbox for Chertsey. Well, here it is. Actually, it turns out it's not really a special toolbox just for me (just as well given that I can't lift it), but is in fact all the AF spanners he has collected over the years, brought together in one place. Together with some very nice Snap-On ratchets and things that I've had my eye on for a while (just needed something to use them on).

Whilst it's very nice to be able to reel off words like Whitworth and BSW, and UNF and UNC, and snort at metric, and I had some idea of what it all referred to, I didn't really know what was what until I spent a happy hour browsing various spanner and thread (and British fastenings, how lovely) sites this morning, and now I'm pretty sure I could hold my own in most beginners to intermediate nut and bolt type conversations, and I bet I now know more than most girls, at the very least. It's nice knowing obscure things. Things like this have a language and a poetry all their own.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Beer for Bones

Yesterday, I didn't quite go to the North London CAMRA 'London Drinker' beer festival at a packed Camden Town Hall, as I had just spent lunchtime in the almost as well supplied Bree Louise, and I had to go to a meeting. Having been reminded by seeing a poster that the festival had just started, I did however contrive to get a glass and T-shirt. What I don't know yet is the rationale for this year's poster design (last year Tarporley was the festival's nominated charity and the posters, T-shirts etc featured a very un-Tarporley like narrowboat.)

However, with its combination of skellingtons and motorbikes, it is clearly a match made in heaven for Bones, and had I only but known what size, I'd have got her a T-shirt too. Sorry Bones.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Volunteers wanted to remove floating dead dogs

Perhaps this is what I missed by not going to the HNBOC meeting last weekend, at which a BW bigwig (might even have been the same one) was providing the entertainment with a talk on future spending and the involvement of the 'third sector', but never mind, I was able to read all about it in the Guardian yesterday.

Now I'm not going to get involved in discussions about whether this is the right - or only - way forward (probably not, but another time, maybe) but a couple of things leapt out of the article (shall I be cynical and say press release) at me.

The first was this:

Hales said: "Why does a taxpayer in Blackpool fund the Regent's canal in London?"

To which the answer surely is, have you not grasped the point of a national system of taxation, Tony? The point is cross-subsidy; in some areas services are expensive to provide (think of public transport in sparsely populated rural areas); in other areas economies of scale make services relatively cheap to provide. Some areas are rich and some areas are poor. If every area had to pay for its own amenities and services, inequalities would become even more entrenched than they already are. His example is in any case disingenuous; it is surely the super-wealthy residents of Maida Vale and the commuters of G.U. Metroland who have funded the Liverpool Link and the Lancashire, not the other way round.

This attitude sounds like the beginning of the end for British Waterways or a national waterways system by any name, and an argument for a break up into self-funding regions, which will, for all sorts of reasons, have vastly differing levels of income and of outgoings, and would in many cases find themselves in competition with each other. It also brings to mind shades of the post-British railway system (shudder). Will we see the return of stop locks and the Worcester Bar?

The second assertion that I would take issue with is this:

"And if I own a brand new flat in Birmingham, I'm not going to sit there and do nothing if the canal I overlook is full of floating dead dogs, or the tow paths are covered in dog shit, or the lock gates don't work, and the value of my property is going down. I'm going to get involved."

Has he ever visited an area where the streets are covered in dog shit and the street lamps don't work, and there may even be the odd dead dog, or cat, or pigeon or rat? And has he noticed the people getting involved? Because mostly, mostly they don't. If they're affluent and confident, they shout and complain until someone else (usually the local authority) does something about it; and if they're poor and depressed, they put up with it and don't see any possible alternative. And frankly, the eventual residents of all those new flats, bought-to-let-off-plan and now being repossessed or offloaded by desperate failed would-be property magnates, are likely to fall into the latter category. And I'm sure that most of them wouldn't even notice whether the lock gates worked or not, let alone care.

'Getting involved' is the New (and now somewhat tarnished) Labour mantra. It involves passing the responsibility for local problems onto the people who are suffering from them, but without giving them the power to do anything meaningful about it. The way to achieve things is by banding together, but you cannot do that effectively if everyone in an area is poor, poorly educated, and depressed. You have to spread that load more widely. At its best, at its (hardly ever reached) ideal, that is what the state does; that is what the state is for. In practice, it hardly ever works. The irony is, that in a small way, as a vestige of the glory days, that's what British Waterways, the forgotten nationalised industry fighting on without noticing that the war was over and the private sector had won, was doing.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Not so super

Reading Mike's account of having to be in the know to get reasonably priced rail tickets has touched upon a subject close to my own heart. I've always used the National Rail Enquiries website to find tickets and fares, but I am starting to find real inadequacies with it.

It has always been a drawback that you have to put in when you want to travel before it will show you the fares. There's no way of finding out when the cheapest fares are and then seeing if you can work around that. Although it shows them now, a few weeks ago the National Rail site didn't even acknowledge the existence of the Wrexham, Shropshire and Marylebone Railway (which I really must travel on one day). And I am certain it doesn't show all the available fares no matter what you do - I don't know what else I could try to get it to do that.

I am - or have been - a big fan of London Midland. For a start, I think of it as the canal railway; it runs out of Euston to all those places on the G.U. - Leighton Buzzard, Milton Keynes, Tring, Berkhamsted and so on, and then on into the Midlands through Rugby and Atherstone to Birmingham, and to Wolverhampton and Penkridge. It's the poor relation of the Virgin Pendolinos that whizz through these stations leaving a whirlwind in their wake and are the reason why you have to stand behind the yellow line. The trains however are new and nice and comfy, although the routes may be slow, and we boaters don't mind about slow, do we? Not when you can get a return to Birmingham for £17 with London Midland (two and a quarter hours), which would cost you £40.90 with Virgin (an hour and a half) That's only comparing walk up rather than advance fares - and again, having just checked that, the London Midland fares didn't come up on the National Rail search.

London Midland run the service to Lichfield Trent Valley, which is the nearest station to Chertsey's mooring at Kings Bromley Wharf, so I have been looking into this with some interest. That £17 fare is a Super Off Peak Return, with which you can come back up to a month after you've gone. Excellent value then, particularly if you are travelling at the weekend, because it's valid any time at weekends. The thing about Super Off Peaks, of course, is the restricted times within which you can use them. I often use a Southern one to travel from Newhaven to London, and the rules are clear: on weekdays you can't travel before ten, and you can't leave London between 1645 and 1915, which often suits my purposes just fine. (Although if I buy in advance, I can get an even cheaper ticket with the same restrictions which can be used on any Southern train, for as many journeys as you like, within those hours.)

So I thought I would find out what the rules were for the London Midland Super Off Peak ticket, to see how useful it would be to me. I looked on their website - so chance of extracting the information from the morass of lovely interactive green graphics there. So I emailed their enquiries address. And received this reply:

Thank you for your e-mail.

I am sorry but I am unable to give you with the information which you
require as we do not sell tickets in this department. In order that you may
receive a suitable reply to your enquiry, please contact National Rail
Enquiries on 08457 48 49 50 or

I trust I have clarified the situation. Thank you for taking the time to
contact us.

Yours sincerely,

Annette Smith
Customer Relations Supervisor

To which I replied in turn:

Dear Annette

This is very disappointing 'customer service'. I was merely asking for information that really should have been on the website, and isn't at all obscure. Would it not have been easier for YOU to contact your colleagues who know about ticketing, and pass the information on? That's what I would call the most basic customer service.

As I am enquiring about a particular, highly restricted, London Midland only ticket, I hardly think National Rail Enquiries will be able to provide me with information if the company itself can't.

I am very disappointed. Could you have another try, please, and find this information for me? Because if you can't, in your position, I really don't see how I can be expected to find it for myself.

I have received a standard holding reply again, so if anyone out there knows the answer, or how to find it, please do let me know.

Monday 8 March 2010


I've been sent a lot of photos of something that looks like the surface of the moon...
More here of Chertsey having its nether regions cleaned up for closer inspection.

NB - That hole didn't appear spontaneously, in case you were wopndering... It's one of many drilled to assess the plate thickness, which, you can see in the photos, varies between two and five and a half millimetres.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Cerot's island

I promised that I would look into the origins of the name of Chertsey, and the town itself. Ann pre-empted me a bit in the comments(!) but here is a slightly longer version. It is lifted from the Chertsey Museum website' page on Chertsey so here's where to look if you want more detail.

The settlement of Chertsey dates back to the founding of an abbey in 666. The name Chertsey (originally Cerotaesei) means the island of Cerot, and is it likely that Cerot was therefore the original owner of the land given by King Egbwert of Kent to Prince Erkenvald to build a monastery. At the time this was a slightly raised area of land in the middle of the Thames floodplain. We see similar names in the Fens - Ramsey, Whittlesey - with the 'sey' again denoting an island.

From the mid thirteenth century Chertsey was a thriving market town, and later, owing to its position between London and Windsor, became a successful coaching town, where from the sixteenth century horses would be changed and travellers patronise its many inns. From the eighteenth century it became the trendy place for Londoners to decamp to, a fashion led by the Whig politiocian Charles James Fox.

And as Minnow informed us the other week, Chertsey is one of the last towns in England to ring a nightly curfew bell. One day I'll go and have a look for myself. We've been through on Warrior - and indeed, we bought Helyn there - but have never seen the town apart from from the river.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Two more for the album

Whilst out with Tarporley last Saturday I managed to snap two more boats for the album: Bognor, in Battlebridge Basin, and Bilster, in Little Venice.

Friday 5 March 2010

Things are hotting up

Also last week, Keith craned the Epping stove into Chertsey, prior to fitting it. This, I have decided, is a prerequisite for any overnight stay on the boat. There are going to have to be a couple of modifications - the shelf on which the stove stands needs to be extended forward a bit, so it will be topped with a piece of steel plate, and we need some protection for the wood behind the stovepipe. More good news though - the stovepipe that was left behind on Chertsey aligns perfectly with the Epping and the chimney, so just needs a modification to allow it to fit onto the stove. They were clearly all made for each other.

And things are hotting up in more general terms too, now we have started the serious business of working on Chertsey, which I hope will continue fairly intensively until phase one - seaworthy, mobile and habitable - is complete. And would it be too much of a hostage of fortune to mention my ambitious, but theoretically possible, target date for all this? Well, maybe see you at Braunston....

Thursday 4 March 2010

Lacework and hair

But not where you want it.

On Tuesday selected parts of Chertsey's rear end were shotblasted to reveal the full state of affairs in all its glory. Well, I am sure we'd all be disappointed if there was nothing that needed to be done, so here we have something to keep us busy. I just rather liked this lacy effect; it is in fact an old repair to the chine angle which hadn't previously been discernable under all the rust.

I haven't actually been up to Stretton for weeks but Keith is being wonderful at keeping me supplied with a photographic record of what is happening (I was going to say progress, but it's rather early days for that yet). I will get round to uploading a selection to the album as soon as I can but I'm trying to be a bit committed to work at the moment and exercise some self discipline (Look! I haven't been on CWF for days!).

You can rest assured that there will be plenty to fill these pages for a few days yet.

Baz hair update
Well, the curious of the cut camp won - much I think to Baz's delight - and he had the dreadful deed done yesterday.

From this

To this

And everyone agrees that it is a triumph, very 'him' and we all still recognise him. He looks taller(!) and we will be spending a great deal less on conditioner. And AutismUK are some £325 better off. A hit all round and actually not nearly as sad as I thought it would be.

The subtitle above is a link to his website with details and more pictures.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

An interesting angle

This is the tricky bit. This is the bit of the bottom that really pretty desperately needs doing, and the bit that I'm finding hardest to comprehend what will have done to it, until I get some pictures drawn for me.

But anyway, this is the chine angle around the back end of the bottom of Chertsey, the area that hasn't been rebottomed. This is in a bad way, as you would expect after seventy years of being in the frontline of rubbing and scraping. When Chertsey first came out of the water, we noticed a slight weep here, probably on a rivet.

The amazing thing is that this part of the boat doesn't seen to have had any work done on it; it is all original. As I mentioned before, it's hard being the one who first has to tamper with that originality, but on the other hand it is wonderful that nothing has been done before, and that it has lasted this long, and of course it is, now after all those years, finally necessary in order to keep it afloat.

So I will tell you what we are going to do about it once I understand myself.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Bottomless pit

Well, people often say that a boat is a bottomless pit into which you pour money, when of course what we all really want is a pitless bottom. I prefer to see it as a hobby, and compare my capital expenditure against the revenue expenditure of, say, a golfer, oh, all right, someone whose hobby is going on expensive foreign holidays.

Anyway, back to the subject of my bottom, or rather, Chertsey's. I got a text from Keith last week saying that he wanted to cut holes out of Chertsey's bottom plate (you will recall that we have taken it out of the water....) in order to assess the thickness of what's left of the original plating, and also to let the rainwater drain out now it's on land. It seemed a very counter-intuitive thing to do, but of course I agreed and so he went ahead and cut out two holes, each the size of an old penny, one either side of the keelson towards the back end of the hold - first having removed the (replica) josher fuel tank that had been installed there (so if anyone needs one, you know who to ask... sorry it was a bit late for you Dove).
At some point (probably about 20 years ago) Chertsey was rebottomed from just foreward of here right to the very fore end in what we are now pretty sure is 12mm plate, and refooted at the same time, and though we haven't closely inspected it yet this seems to be solid and in good condition. Aft of this though it still has its original, 1930s quarter-inch plate, and it's this that was being looked at. One of the two discs cut out was ground down to the depth of its deepest pit - i.e. its thinnest point - and was measured at 3.9mm; the other came in at about 5mm. So, a loss of one or two millimetres over a period of seventy years - would make modern boat owners green with envy. It appeared to have been tarred or otherwise blacked on the bottom, and red leaded on the inside, which must have helped.
The time has come, however, when we need to do something about it, and that something - for reasons of both cost, and what I like to think of as archeological integrity - will be overplating. While there's life in this plating yet, the bottom does need immediate attention because of the state of the chines, of which more tomorrow.

Monday 1 March 2010

Clean round the bend

Saturday was my first outing really in charge of Tarporley. I've been out quite a few time since I 'qualified', sometimes nominally as 'skipper', but always with other 'qualified' and experienced people with me, to whom I would of course defer rather than having confidence in my own judgement.

It gradually began to dawn on me that this might not be the best idea. Many of these people - lovely as they are - have different ways of doing things, ways I might even consider to be, if not wrong, then not the best way. Certainly not the best way for me. I've been shown lots of different things by lots of different people, and there are some people's judgement I would trust, and whose instruction I would be prepared to take, far more than others - mainly on the basis of having seen them handling a boat, and also applying my common sense as to what are safe and unsafe practices (like where to stand when steering, for example). I would sooner learn from people who are handling working boats every day of their lives, than someone whose entire experience is as a volunteer on (mostly modern) community boats. But it tool me a while to work this out.

So on Saturday I was on my own - not literally, I had a good crew, and of course seven passengers - but in the sense that the buck stopped with me. I had the responsibility for whatever happened, but also the power to control it.

My biggest worry was getting round the turn by Cumberland Basin - a 90 degree blind bend coming out of a bridgehole. I had never successfully achieved it before, at the very least having to reverse and manoeuvre to get round. Whenever I had done it with anyone else, I had been told to wind the revs up (and on occasion had it done for me), and that that that was the only way of getting the steerage round the bend. The trouble with that, for me, is that I then find it a struggle to move the tiller, and I'm still moving forward faster than I'm turning. So this time I trusted my own judgement and took it really slowly, and got round beautifully. What a sense of achievement that was. And there were others - making a sharp turn (having got out of position) to make a perfect entry into a lock through one gate, holding the tiller out and having faith - or rather knowing, now that I am getting to know the boat - that it would get round in time. There was briefly that wonderful feeling of being at one with the boat.

Having the new, longer, tiller helped enormously too. It makes the difference, for me, between steering and not being able to steer. I took my duties seriously and arrived early enough not only to do all the engine checks and make sure the boat was clean and tidy, but to polish the brass too. And I was so glad I did when Andy, from Jason's Trip, popped up at Little Venice to say 'Glad to see the water can's in the right place for once'. There was one Waterbus out on Saturday, and Tarporley's brass was brighter than theirs!

I discovered towards the end of the trip that one of the crew was in fact very experienced and good at handling the boat. I think it's just as well that I didn't know at the start though, or I might have copped out and asked him to do the hard bits. And what I would have missed out on! The passengers were lovely too, and even gave me a little present, some lovely soaps from Camden Market, where we indulged them with an extra stop on the return journey. All the visitor moorings were full, but as one of the locks at Hampstead Road is currently out of use with the top gates chained open, we tied up in there for half an hour.

Even the heavy showers that interspersed the sunny spells had the decency to occur when we were in locks, giving me a chance to get my coat on!