... 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.

Friday 30 April 2010


Dull as ever - a very impressive record so far.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Books I read in April

Val McDermid Fever of the Bone
McDermid's titles rarely bear much resemblance to the contents. This one was OK, imaginative plot, and sympathetic characters, but she's not the best writer around and the exposition is sometimes laboured. Tony inherits a narrowboat though!

Natasha Walter Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism
Thought I should read something improving for a change. Rather depressingly confirmed what I thought anyway - I belong to the most fortunate generation of women, and things are steadily getting worse again.

Ruth Rendell Portobello
Coasting on her reputation - unengaging characters, not very interesting plot, and not very credible premises.

Reginald Hill A Pinch of Snuff
1970s period piece now, in which you can render a household incommunicado by cutting the phone wire, and it's possible to destroy all the copies of a film. Readable as always.

Paul Adam Knife Edge
Formulaic but well written thriller, set in the murky world of Fenland migrant labour and supermarket exploitation. A bit didactic in places, but in a good cause.

Shirley Williams Climbing the Bookshelves: The Autobiography
Doesn't write as well as her mum. Boring with occasional unintentionally hilarious pomposity.

Peter Robinson The Price of Love
Short stories don't really work for me when it comes to crime. All plot and no character.

Mo Hayder Skin
Preposterous plot but strangely unputdownable.

Susan Hill The Pure in Heart
Pained artistic detective (where have we heard that before?). Doesn't quite convince. Think I may be getting a bit bored with the genre.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Delicious dinner

I must say (again) how wonderfully impressed I am with the Epping stove. One thing I certainly didn't expect was to be able to light it, and be cooking on the hotplate within half an hour. I've now successfully cooked sausages, as well as bacon - the one thing I haven't yet tried is a casserole.

Anyway, on the final evening of our last visit I collected together all the food we had left to use up and came up with this recipe, which turned out to be rather delicious.

a packet of bacon, chopped into small pieces
two red peppers, chopped
six tomatoes, cut into 8ths
tin of baked beans

Fry the bacon and peppers. When they're soft add the tomatoes and cook til they're soft too. Add the beans and heat through. Serve with buttered crusty bread.

You could do it with all sorts of other leftovers too, and some Worcester sauce or something in it would be nice too.

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Jaded pallet

I think I can report, for the possible benefit of others, that the experiment in palletised transport was not a resounding success.

For a start, as we know, they couldn't pick the engine up in the first place as the lorry was too big to get onto the site. OK, that wasn't their fault, but it is a consideration - and to their credit they came back for another go. To their discredit, however, they did this totally unannounced, neither notifying anyone at the yard that they were calling to collect, nor telling us to expect delivery.

This is the worst bit though. We made a point of telling them not to rely on their satnav to find our house. We learned from the people who came to collect Helyn that satnav directs you via a very narrow pinch point at the summit of a steep hill. Even I, when driving an ordinary car, find it easier to take a different route. So we rang them up and told them this; told them there was an alternative route and if need be to ring us for directions when they got near. We were assured that they wouldn't rely on satnav, oh no, they were far too clever than that.

So what did they do? Of course, they went up Church Hill, got to the top, found they couldn't go any further and had to back down the hill onto the ring road. As a result of this (possibly because they went up the kerb?) the engine fell over. It didn't fall off the pallet, to which we had secured it. The whole pallet, which they had supposedly secured, fell from some height. Result: quite badly dented tinware, a broken oil pipe and probably worst, a broken casting on the oil filler, badly damaged oil pressure gauge, and possibly a bent throttle rod. Thank Christ (well, Keith) that all the oil had been pumped out of the sump - on the other hand, perhaps they deserved it.

So, on the whole, not recommended.

Monday 26 April 2010


For those of you who haven't seen Warrior's, here is what will become Chertsey's tiller pin. It's one of a pair that we bought from Malcolm Braine at the Ellesmere Port boat jumble a few years ago, along with other treasures including four brass handrails (now towel rails etc), some step edging (nicely finishing Warrior's engine room side hatches) and some handy brass screw-in eyes.

A pair of what? Well, I don't know. Although it looks like the traditional poker handle, when finished as a tiller pin, it actually isn't, and it's quite a job to turn it into one. In fact it's in two or three pieces, on a threaded rod, held on with a nut at the end. The threaded rod has to be removed and replaced, ironically, with a piece from a poker. So any suggestions very welcome.

I dug this out of the bureau this morning, where it's been sitting for years waiting to be cleaned of decades of tarnish. Well, I can thoroughly recommend Viakal bathroom cleaner for such situations. A few sprays, a brief soak and a gentle rub with a non-stick pan scourer and the worst of the tarnish was gone and it was ready for the Brasso. With regular polishing over the coming years it should get better still. As Viakal is sold as a limescale remover I was pretty confident it would be acidic enough to do the trick. It certainly worked better than vinegar. I've never tried coca cola (for the phosphoric acid) as I never seem to have any to hand at the time, but I've heard that works too.

I tried Chertsey's tiller out for size the other week. Well, I know I like a long one, but this only left about a foot of hatch space for me to stand in. I could see why the step had been extended deeper into the cabin, but unfortunately this had to be cut back to fit the stove, so using the tiller as it is leaves me teetering on the edge. On the upside, it means that no one fatter than me could steer it at all. I may well have another step put on top of the existing one anyway, to give me a few extra inches height (Hampstead has one like this and I found it most agreeable) so maybe that could be extended back in again above the level of the oven door. Alternatively I could take a few inches off the tiller, but I do baulk at that. It's such a nice tiller too.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Not so idle

When I got my NCBA certificate last year, I think I was only the second female 'skipper' Tarporley had had, and the first hadn't been very heavily involved. Although two more have recently qualified, I believe that yesterday, me, Maryam and Mari constituted Tarporley's first ever all-female crew.

To be honest, at the time, it didn't feel as if much was riding on it, but as it turned out we had a relatively challenging day, and I think we acquitted ourselves pretty well. We had two separate trips - a single couple from Kings Place to Little Venice in the morning, then a birthday party of twelve (our maximum capacity) from Little Venice to City Road.

So we set off at ten sharp, and somehow managed to make such good time that we got to Little Venice with time to spare, so to give them value for money we had a quick run up to Paddington Basin and back. After dropping them off, we had lunch in the lovely Little Venice sun and while we were waiting for the next lot I did the brass... and still we waited, so I gave the birthday boy a ring... They were still in the pub, waiting for the last two guests. In the meantime Mike sauntered by en route to steering Prince Regent later in the afternoon, so we had a cup of tea. About an hour later they turned up - a lovely, good humoured bunch, but with a taste for loud music that left me somewhat frazzled by the end of the day. We set off and were still making good time - too good really, so I was quite pleased we had to turn all of the Camden locks, and we didn't rush to get them ready... Meanwhile a party was in full swing on board and a splendid time being had by all. Then after Camden, Maryam reported that she was sure there was something on the prop. Oooh, more excitement for out guests. So down the weedhatch went brave Maryam, and retrieved the usual collection of rag, plastic bags and elastic (where does all the elastic come from?) augmented with long branches of weeping willow. Then we were off again, much to the relief of the elderly resident whose flat we'd made our emergency stop under. Sadly at this point we'd left Mari behind on the bank, where she'd made an impromptu disembarkation in an attempt to push us out. She then had to find her way out of the gated community, over the bridge and catch us up on the towpath - duly accomplished. By now we were back on schedule so made all haste to City Road. The towpath here is closed around the lock, so we needed to find a way of dropping our merry band off beyond the closure - but although this is the lock mooring, it was nose to tail with moored boats. So I shouted through the fencing to ask if we could come alongside to disgorge our partygoers, and one bloke said we could come next to his boat. Coming out of the lock we did catch a Springer moored right on the end. The woman, who had previously been very pleasant, was not pleased. I was prepared to feel bad about it until she complained that it had been happening all day, at which point I just looked at her sadly and said, 'Well, you are on the lock mooring.' She didn't say anything after that - I must remember to speak quietly more often! Finally, the dreaded City Road winding, accomplished by Maryam using the unorthodox technique that I always fancied, of overshooting the basin (which we'd already done of course) and backing into it in a sort of reversing-round-a-corner manoeuvre, rather than the full revs u-turn favoured by some of the more macho skippers. And it worked!

By the time we got back to Kings Place it had been a ten hour day, but we all agreed that it had been a good one, and that we'd worked well and made a good team.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Being crushed to death can seriously damage your health

Now we know how the Environment Agency love to terrify us with their warning signs, at every lock (deep water!), pump out (danger of electrocution!) and so on; signs which BW (and this is surely something to their credit) seem to manage perfectly well without, despite their manually operated locks, with their exposed gear, offering far greater opportunities for self-maiming - but this was a new one on me.

At the Relief Channel Lock at Denver (you thought you'd heard that last of that, didn't you) the gates (sorry, doors) are all hydraulically operated, finger-on-the-button-til-your-arm-drops-off, jobs, but they also have beams for, I suppose, when the hydraulics (or the button) break. The bottom end of the lock is surrounded by fencing (presumably to prevent you from accidentally launching yourself into the Relief Channel), so if you somehow managed to insert yourself between the beam and the fence (and this would be quite a feat) while you or (more likely) a.n. other had their finger on the button, you might indeed end up a bit mangled. And (obviously) your head would fall off.

So the EA put up a splendid graphic sign (no doubt aimed at our fellow Europeans from the east of the continent who abound in the area - like the BW one that tells you not to run on the towpath with an unfeasibly large fish under your arm). So concerned are they that you should not get yourself crushed, they repeat the message twice. On the same sign. Now what's that about?

Meanwhile, at the other end of the lock, where they have (no doubt reluctantly) had to curb their fencing fetish in order that people can actually use the lock there is no sign warning of the (far more real) danger of being knocked into the water by a ghostly moving beam, and the yellow lines demarcating the danger area are already fast wearing away. They're missing a real scary sign opportunity there. Quick! Someone tell them!

Friday 23 April 2010

Last week in pictures

All the pictures you didn't get last week... Blacking on Saturday and Sunday...
Dodgy knees revealed
The hold as we've never seen it before
And all the stuff that came out of it...

Thursday 22 April 2010

First Blossom of spring!

Yesterday looked as it was going to be very unexciting, if industrious - very much a case of watching paint dry. We loaded all the engine bits onto the trailer, then settled down to painting, Jim in the hold, and me in the engine hole (and when you're in there without the floors it is very much a hole, believe me! Ladders are at a premium round Chertsey at the moment.) Only a small space but fiddly; it took the best part of the day. I also painted both sides of the cabin top which has been removed. Then Jim made a start on emptying the diesel tank that was nearly full - and fuller and we'd not have got the inspection hatch off without taking some out first, though I don't know how we'd have known until it was too late.

And anyway, we thought that was it, and were just relaxing with a very well-earned beer and sophisticated BLT rolls when who should come strolling across the site than Blossom and Dawn, caught up with us at last. We enjoyed a long chat, first outside, and then we retired to the warmth of Chertsey's cabin to continue our conversation. Hopefully it will be the first of many.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Red is the new black

Black is just so last week. Now there are five coats of comastic on Chertsey's hull, we have turned our attention to the inside - the engine room, and, yesterday, the hold. Having got it all cleaned out and removed the paint where it was flaky - a surprising amount of it was very sound, and got rid of a very small amount of rust... it's on with the red oxide. Only it's not really, it's zinc phosphate, cunningly dyed. What a transformation it is now, looking at the inside of the hold, completely empty, clean and freshly painted. As soon as the dew dries off, it's back to that task, and in the meantime, starting to load the trailer.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Weak at the knees

Not only does the camera refuse to talk to the computer, it has now gone awol. And there really aren't that many places to look in a back cabin.

Another very busy day yesterday. Andrew and Andrea from Dove came to visit, and to lend us the most magnificent trailer to take the spare engine bits home, having read about the Speedshift saga. Such kindness from almost-strangers is what makes it worth putting up with all the irritations of the internet - as I've said before, I've made many more friends than enemies this way, and at least the enemies are easy to ignore. We had a cup of tea and a lovely chat with them, and then Sparky - the previous owner of Minnow before Blossom (are you keeping up) turned up and we had a lovely chat with him too, and the various meetings finished with promises to meet again at Braunston.

Meanwhile, back in Chertsey's hold, the removal of the old paint, dead leaves, dried mud etc revealed that some of the knees require attention. Like the bottom, the foremost section has already been done, with new pieces let into the sides of the angled bit (it'd be so much easier with a picture, wouldn't it), and we now need to do the same to some/most of those towards the back end.

Monday 19 April 2010

All black

Apologies for the lack of photos... the computer is now talking to my phone, but seems to be having trouble communicating with the camera. Anyway, the last two days photos would largely have been of blackness, as we (well, nearly all me) finished the fourth coat of blacking, but before that I finally got round to giving the new Epping stove its first coat of polish. It came up a treat... and so did my hands, lovely and shiny and black.

We spent the afternoon sorting all the stuff out of the hold, salvaging the good bits of wood from the bottoms of the shuts (we'll need those as a pattern whatever we use ultimately). There were up to three spare engines - certainly three of a lot of things, most of which came out in bits. The 'diesel' in the 40 gallon drum was decanted into smaller, clear containers so we can see how it settles - about a third water, it looks like. Finally, on the end of the crane, out came two crankcases, two gauging weights and an old (possibly the old) rudder. So the engine room and the hold are now completely empty and today we start preparing for painting them. Oh joy.

But going back to the blacking for a moment... I'd rather been dreading the size of the task, having previously done Warrior, three quarters the size, and found it, well, a bit tedious after a while. But doing the bigger, old boat is far less of a chore. Mainly because it breaks down into neat sections, delineated by the knee rivets, so it's easy to see where you're up to and to see you've made progress, but also of course because it's a far more interesting surface to black than flat new steel. I've gained a far more intimate knowledge of Chertsey's dents and curves, scars and idiosyncrasies, than I would ever have had from merely looking. No doubt it's harder work though,on the rough surface, and working round and into the rivets, guard iron and repairs. But an unmissable experience.

Sunday 18 April 2010

Back in black

What a beautiful morning, this early and the sun streaming in burning away the mist that presages another lovely day. Yesterday was the first day it's been warm enough to work in a t-shirt; the first time in what seems like forever. So how did I spend this wonderful day? Yep, blacking of course, same as I will be today. Three quarters of one side, from the back, done yesterday, the rest to do today and then at least one more coat.

Meanwhile, Jim was clearing the engine room - every last bit of pipe, wooden engine bearers, everything, thrown outside to be sorted and stacked, followed by the removal of a few bucketfuls of rust flakes... Then on to the hold, out went all the shuts, the mast and stands and planks, leaving only... two engines in bits and a large drum of diesel. So a fun day in store today.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Getting shut

We're off again today and one of the first jobs will be to clear out Chertsey's hold. One of the things we sadly have no use for is what we believe to be a complete set of British Waterways issue plywood shuts from the 1950s. These were the modern alternative to planks in the bottom of the hold, both to raise the cargo above the level of any water in the hold, and to protect the bottom of the boat when unloading. Obviously the ideal would be to replace these like-for-like, but given the price of marine ply (and these are an inch thick) it would be unjustifiably expensive - and, to be honest, they're harder to handle than planks. They's also be a lot of work to make, as many are shaped to fit a specific part of the boat. So Chertsey will be reverting to old fashioned planks. But I thought I'd mention it, just in case there's anyone out there who's looking to make themselves a set and could use a pattern...

Friday 16 April 2010

In transit

You may have noticed that there has, so far, been no report of the engine's arrival in Newhaven.

We left it all set up on a pallet, ready to be collected by Speedshift, and then we went home, hoping to arrive before it did. Well, we certainly did. The lorry arrived to collect it, but - being bigger than we'd anticipated - couldn't get far enough into the yard to pick it up - and there was no-one around at the time to crane it nearer the entrance. So we thought we'd put that one down to experience, and arrange another means of getting the engine home.

In fact, on Wednesday morning, I was in the very process of nagging Jim to talk to the man over the road about borrowing his trailer, when I got a phone call saying, presumably I knew that the engine had just been collected.... er, no - it was entirely news to me! So Jim rand Speedshift, and they had indeed collected it, and it should arrive Thursday or Friday... so we waited, and by Friday evening still no sign of it (but with stories of chaos on the roads perhaps no surprise), so rang them again, and it is now supposed to be arriving on Monday or Tuesday - by which time we will be back at Stretton for another fun-filled week, and it will fall to Sebastian to welcome a ton of engine onto the drive.

So the verdict on Speedshift so far... good service, in that they made a second attempt to collect it and, hopefully, aren't going to charge twice, but a rather woeful lack of communication. Further judgement reserved until it actually arrives....

Thursday 15 April 2010

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Who greases the books?

I would have loved to have written that in Latin, but sadly a classical education eluded me. One of the sites/sights that Amy and James showed us was the magnificent Giles Gilbert Scott University Library. I absolutely loved this building, possibly even more than my own, contemporaneous but in some ways very different, one.

Outside is an example of the now-ubiquitous public art to be found in all new developments (the building itself dates from 1934, but there have been many subsequent extensions). Called Ex Libris, it is a row of columns of stacks of books, cast in bronze. Some are solid, but in some of the stacks, the books can all be rotated individually, leading to hours of fun as the more anarchic spin them randomly, and the tidy-minded come and straighten them up again.

Amy demonstrates...

But I wonder how many people go round them looking for the grease nipple? Oh, just me then. Because (pointless as they may be) they are so beautifully engineered, and rotate so smoothly, they must be being greased somehow. Ah well, ars est celare artem.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Get off of my land!

My first thought, on seeing this near March, was I wonder how he got it there? Then I thought, I wonder where you go to buy a rocket launcher, complete with rocket, and how much it costs.

It was only later it struck me that had it been adjacent to any other waterway I'd seen this, I would have done a double take and shrieked 'What the fuck is that?!!' - but on the Fens it occasions no more than a raised eyebrow.

Monday 12 April 2010

Home again, home again

... For now. Having spent Saturday night on the mooring at Well Creek, we set off early (well, quarter to nine, but that is BST), on a slow steady cruise back to Ramsey. It was mostly sunny, but there was (inevitably) a chilly wind as well. We stopped at March for shopping and lunch, and arrived back at Bill Fen around five - the longest day's cruising of this trip! And so that was the end of our holiday, really, but what a lovely little holiday it was, and all the better for the best bits, like the punting and the Devonshire Arms, being totally unplanned. Thanks again to Amy and James for making our stay in Cambridge so enjoyable. More little snapshots over the next few days...

Sunday 11 April 2010

Unexpected relief

In our ceaseless quest to bring you ever-less exciting waterways, may I present... the Denver Relief Channel. This runs parallel to the tidal Ouse and although primarily for flood control, is navigable for much of its length. We wouldn't have considered it (the navigation opened too recently to be on our map) only e got talking to someone while on the pumpout at Ely, like you do, and they said they'd been up there to Downham Market, and I thought, what a pity we didn't know that before, we could have left earlier and taken a detour.

But as it turned out, we reached Denver with nearly two hours to spare, so it was the decision of a moment to veer off to the right and through the Relief Channel Lock, which brought us out onto... yet another stretch of wide, windy featureless waterway. We didn't have time to go far, but got to Downham Market, tied up, I ran briefly into town for future reference (apparently there is a good pub at the railway station, which is certainly handy for the mooring). In the meantime another boat had come down behind us, so we had to turn the (incredibly slow; they all are) lock before coming back round to Denver in time for the four o'clock tide.

The lockkeeper warned us that there wasn't much water, and also, it being early in the season, they weren't quite sure where the mud was, so we would be guinea pigs for him, but if we got stuck it was OK, as the tide was rising and the water would soon lift us off. I'm not quite sure why he sent us out so soon, as we did get stuck, which wasn't so much of a problem at the Denver end - we were indeed soon off - but it was a bugger to get into Salters Lode, taking three attempts and probably only then working because the water had come up - and then the people behind us got stuck too.

Never mind, we were eventually back on the Middle Level, slow and shallow after yesterday's excitements, and tied up at our favourite handy spot at Well Creek. This mooring, provided by the Well Creek Trust, doesn't seem to have been maintained at all since it was built, which is a great shame as it is now in a very poor state and looks not long for this world. We tied up well back to leave room for our newly acquired friends on Sniffing General, and enjoyed reciprocal boat tours and later joined them to make a few dents on Warrior's so far untouched beer cupboard. Today, up early for the Long March back to Ramsey.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Speedy to Ely

We left Cambridge yesterday morning, with the Ducks along for the ride. Amy, being incredibly assiduous and self disciplined, spent almost the entire trip inside working, while James made the most of the opportunity to steer Warrior - and to check out what Moomin calls the Warrior Warp Drive with James's GPS... while simultaneously playing with the rev counter in the engine room. The speed limit for much of this stretch is 7mph/11kmh so we were looking forward to trying to break it :-).

Well, we almost managed, reaching a top speed of 10.7 km/h (6 2/3 mph), and cruising comfortably at around 10 (6 1/4 mph), but this is nothing compared to what Warrior used to be capable of, before Dark Deeds were done... Last summer, when Jim stopped for a pumpout, a chap leapt completely uninvited into the engine room and fiddled about with the governor. 'It was running a bit lumpy', he told Jim, 'But I've fixed it now'. It's just as well I wasn't there or I would have exploded but I think it was only later the full significance emerged, which is, in short, that Warrior's maximum revs are now limited to less than 800 (so we needn't have bothered with the new pistons after all then, huh). To think what might have been.

We had to be sure to arrive in Ely in plenty of time to revisit the Riverside Antique Centre and the pound shop. Sadly the pound shop really had sold that tin of primer, but the antique centre came up trumps. I finally got my sailor shirt (I got a blue serge one as it seemed better value and more practical; I think it's German. There must be a website where you can look these things up... something for anorak anoraks). We also got what we went back for - this:

On the label it says 'chimney hood' but to Jim when he spotted it it screamed 'big sheet of reasonably heavy gauge copper that you've been after for years'. So this will be cut up and flatened out to provide a big piece to go behind the stovepipe in Warrior's saloon and hopefully there will be enough left over to do the same for Chertsey's.

Whilst hanging about in the vestibule of the shop waiting for Jim, my eye was suddenly caught by this:
An attractive piece of horse brasswork.... or a chimney chain? Yes, it will be a shame to dismantle the original piece of equipment (whatever it is) but the stitching attaching the chan to the leather is already worn or rotted away (someone has tried to stick it down with silicone, which will be fun to remove) and couldn't be redone without dismantling the whole thing, and I like to think that re-using it like this is part of an honest and respectable tradition. (I await Blossom's verdict with trepidation...)

And finally, I went and fell in love again... this time with this wonderful, silk, eiderdown.

It is so light and fluffy, so beautiful, so redolent of another age. I imagine snuggling up under it, or, as it's only a single, wrapping it around me, on cold or sad evenings... it will be immensely comforting, as well as warm, and far easier to look after than a dog.

Friday 9 April 2010

Punting on the Cam

As it turned out, we didn't go back to Ely yesterday. We were so enamoured of Cambridge that we were happy to stay another day. This fitted in with our need(!) to go shopping in Ely again and the tides at Denver. We'll now be heading for Ely this morning, to arrive early afternoon, and then on to Denver for the four o'clock tide on Saturday. So I sent the Ducks a text yesterday morning saying that we were still here, if there was anything they wanted to do... and Amy replied 'James would like to go punting, if you're keen....'

Well, would you believe me if I said such a possibility hadn't crossed my mind, despite it being something I've always (of course) fancied doing. So we definitely didn't need asking twice. And best of all, not for us the exorbitant commercial punt hire of the tourists, but a quiet word with the Porter, the payment of a very modest fee, and the the keys for the Clare College punt (wittily named Clare Buoyant) were in James's hand. Having collected pole and a few cushions we made our way down to collect it from its own little lay by and were soon off. James (and I'm not just being flattering) is really skillful at punting and we were able to sit back and enjoy it just like in the pictures. We could certainly see why you wouldn't want to bring a narrowboat up here in the punting season - in places it was more like a dodgem rink - but everybody was good humoured and having enormous fun on this first properly sunny day of the year. For the first time yesterday I also suddenly noticed that all the trees had burst into blossom at last... It was all perfectly idyllic.

It didn't take long to get away from the crowds and we headed upriver first to Darwin College, where it was very quiet, before turning round, coming back through the crowds, and going down as far as Jesus Lock (just below which Warrior is moored) where we had an ice cream and our joy was complete. Can't thank Amy and James enough for being such wonderful hosts - we wouldn't have enjoyed our visit to Cambridge one tenth as much without them.

In the evening, the Ducks having gone off rowing, we retraced our steps to to Devonshire Arms for a few more pints - Nero was off this time but Jim enjoyed the Minotaur dark mild, and, it being rather quieter than last night, we chatted with the landlord and assorted local characters.

And in an hour or so, we will reluctantly leave Cambridge, but we will certainly be back.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Bridge of Sighs and size of bridge

What a super day we had yesterday. A late start saw us waking to drizzle (again) but undaunted we set off to meet Amy for a spot of charity shopping. We visited at least seven different charity shops, randing from the very chi-chi and expensive, to the wonderfully down to earth Salvation Army one. I succumbed to a new bag, with rather nice embroidery and a pair of what will be forever known as my Cambridge Pixie shoes, in lovely soft green leather and with the suspicion of a pointy toe. Very Cambridge.

We took a break half way through for lunch, and afterwards met up with James, who had been to Ely on a wild goose chase after a tin of Hammerite primer that Jim had seen in the pound shop but that wasn't there when he got there.. Sorry James.

Having done Commerce, the late afternoon was devoted to Culture and Amy and James took us on an unofficial tour of the University taking in the splendid University Library and some of the colleges, including their own (Clare and Selwyn), and St Johns, which we had a particular reason for needing to visit.

Where we are moored now, below Jesus Lock, is the normal limit of navigation, but the head of navigation is a little further upriver. Between April and September, powered craft aren't allowed beyond Jesus Lock because the river is thick with punts, but outside that season, it is possible, with permission, to take a boat through. The other problem is that there are some pretty low bridges (exceptionally pretty in fact), but James reckons that Warrior's low profile is perfectly suited to a trip along the Backs and up to the Mill Pond, so we went to have a look at the lowest bridge, the charmingly named St Johns Kitchen Bridge - which was best viewed from the Bridge of Sighs - a copy of Venice's famous landmark. Jim reckons it'll be fine!

Having been on our feet for the best part of the day - it was by now nearly seven, and we must have walked miles - we made our way back to the boats having agreed to meet up at eight at the Fort St George, before going on to Cambridge's newest and most wonderful (and that's against some stiff competition) real ale pub. So, a quick dinner of sardines on toast, get the fire going for later and to dry my boots, slip into a clean t-shirt and my new shoes, and off out again, to see not only J&A but also the legendary Big James and Emma from Kestrel, for a quick pint before pressing on again.

Another long walk brought us to the Devonshire Arms, recently reopened in an entirely new incarnation by new owners the (local) Milton Brewery. The bar staff were wonderfully knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the beers (and cider) they sold, and it was all fantastic - just what I like beer to be (northerners look away now) crisp and clear with no head at all, definitely not fizzy, but not flat either, but a sharp, cleansing liveliness; glass filled to the brim, and no trace of foam or scum clinging to the sides on the way down. I started with the hoppy, golden Icarus, which was lovely, and then tried the Pegasus champion best bitter - which was also great. Jim stuck to the Nero stout which even I - not a lover of dark beers - could tell was lovely (but I couldn't eat a whole one). We also tried to convert Amy with the lighter Tiki, which for a not-so-strong (3.8%) beer had masses of flavour. And finally we shared a half of the 8.8% Caligula, smooth and sweet and scarily drinkable, although fortunately for me not quite my cup of tea. I fought Jim for the finishing of it though, and won.

Amy falls amongst real ale drinkers

And then - last orders being at midnight - we finally made our way back through Cambridge's deserted midnight streets to the river, and bed, where we slept the sleep of the virtuous who have spent the day in wholesome exercise... and awoke this morning to bright sunshine and the prospect of a pleasant trip back to Ely later.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Shopping in Ely and arriving in Cambridge

Still doing this retrospectively... so much easier than worrying about getting back from the pub in time, though I can report that we made a triumphal entrance into Cambridge yesterday evening and are tied up to Melaleuca on the visotor moorings just below Jesus Lock. They'll be leaving today and heading for home but we have time to hang about and explore this lovely city with its unbelievable quotient of good pubs, and have been promised a tour round the colleges by James and a charity shopping trip with Amy. But that's all in the future.

Back to yesterday and Ely... The Moomins set off relatively early, along with the Ducks, leaving us to follow once we'd had a look round Ely. It is a really nice city with beautiful buildings and good shops. There is a super housewares shop, not cheap but the best stock I have ever seen anywhere where we had a happy browse and I bought a sieve. Then on to the pound shop - again another marvel of its type with a wide variety of bankrupt stock as well as all the usual plastic boxes and cheap mugs, both of which we stocked up on as well as some springs(!)as Jim is still seeking the perfect one for the gear lever. He has replaced the previous one which was a bit feeble, with one that is a bit too strong. I prefer it, as now when you put it in reverse it stays in reverse, but it's quite an effort to get it back into forward and there is always the exciting possibility of losing a finger in the process. Then, scarcely able to carry our bounty, we pushed on to Waitrose... ooh, to be rich and classy and shop here all the time... for chick peas and spinach (the need to eat something healhy hving kicked in). After that we had to come back to the boat to drop all this stuff off before heading off to the antique shop.

Now this was really good, but ot in the way I was envisaging. We didn't buy any antiques although I was sorely tempted by a big enamel cooking pot, and fascinated by an egg preserving copper, but on the top floor there's an army surplus stall, which was utterly brilliant. Not least because normally when browsing army surplus you're being supervised by an army surplus psychopath in full combat gear, and secondarily because by London/Brighton standards, it was amazingly cheap. I could have got the sailor's top I've always wanted for a fiver (and probably will when we go back, although it's not really practical) but then I tried on a 1940s vintage Swedish naval (did I even know there was such a thing?) jacket and it fitted perfectly. And it has nine pockets including two great big ones on the back and it was £10. So I had to have that. And exploring further, I finally discovered a replacement for the anorak I've been attempting to pension off for a while. This has done good service, having been bought when we first had Helyn, but I am now the proud and very warm and comfy owner of a brand new, US government issue (Jim reckons) extreme cold weather parka, and by golly it's lovely. And it's not even khaki.

The shopping done, we had lunch and finally set off at quarter to three... only to stop five minutes later when I noticed that the habitual drip of oil from a long-term leaky joint had become a visible drop and a puddle. An impressively quick and effective repair was made with self amalgamating tape (well it certainly impressed me) and we were on our way again. The Ouse was still intrinsically dull but the sun had finally come out to bestow upon it a superficial sparkle, and that makes all the difference, and anyway, we were soon on the Cam, which might look exactly the same but is more romantic.

And then we were coming to the outskirts of Cambridge and surely one of the last really anarchic moorings left in the country... about which Jim and I had a trenchant disagreement... and then into the city to see the Duck on Midsummer Common, and James on the bank, and rowers all over the river, and right on up to the lock, the normal limit of navigation, dinner of chickpea and spinach curry, then off with Amy and James to the Elm Tree for more super beer, but time only to sample the one pub, which is why we will have to stay for a few days.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Yesterday's news

Melaleuca (the Moominboat) approaching Denver Sluice

Here is yesterday's news in full. The Great Ouse from Denver Sluice to Ely is indeed very boring. It was also cold and windy, so I stayed inside.

We got the chance to see the shiny new, very expensive looking, lock gate at Salters Lode and all its impressive shiny hydraulic pipework. It was the replacement of this gate that ran over schedule last year. Though it's very shiny and stainless, it has loads of protuberances that it would be easy to get a front fender caught on... the lock is manned, so we must assume that the lockkeeper can prevent this occurring.

We got to Ely mid afternoon and were greeted by the Ducks who took us off for tea at Peacocks, 'Britain's Best Teashop'... or so they claimed. It was incredibly pretty, the Platonic ideal of teashop, but there was a sense that they were doing you a favour be allowing you to be there, and, far more unforgiveable, the tea was weak. Not Jim's - he ordered builder's tea - but my Assam and Amy's Cornish grown tea were both incredibly weak, in as much as they simply hadn't put enough tea in for the amount of water - and Assam, at least, in my view, is not a tea to be drunk weak. So minus points for that, but still a nice experience. Terribly nice, in fact.

As we left we saw the Moomins approaching, and they tied up to the Duck. Long discussions ensued about whether we would all go out to eat together, complicated by the fact that we thought that the pub that did food didn't do beer, and vice versa. In the end off we went first to the Cutter, where the food was reasonable and there was in fact beer - Woodefordes Wherry, Adnam's Broadside and Greene King IPA - albeit very cold. But we were still determined to sample the delights of the Prince Albert which Amy had very selflessly researched for us, despite not being a beer drinker herself. We took a rather roundabout route to find it, which was a great opportunity to see some lovely buildings, including the Cathedral, and when we did, it was empty, the landlord enjoying his dinner - turns out they did do food after all. By this stage we had been joined by Alex, a Canadian scientist Jim met on the Nene last year, and we enjoyed quite a lot of very nice beer, with the Ducks, us and Alex staying on to midnight closing time and beyond. A great night with good company.

Today's plans are to have a wander round Ely before seting off at more leisurely pace for Cambridge. The Ducks and the Moomins have already left, and hopefully we will see them tonight at Midsummer Common.

Monday 5 April 2010

greetings from Ely

Here's a first... I.m posting this from Amy's N96 in the Prince Albert in Ely... I'll do something proper tomorrow but at least this way I get a post done and don't have to dash back before midnight... got from Denver to Ely in two hours fifty five minutes to be greeted by the Ducks and then caught up by the Moomins.. and then joined by Alex. Ouse very boring....

Sunday 4 April 2010

OK, I admit it

After five years, the Middle Level does get a bit boring.

So today, here is the boring travelogue, condensed. Eleven a.m., leave March. 12.45, through Marmont Priory lock. Four thirty, arrive Salters Lode. Distinguishing features en route... some low bridges. Er, that's it. Tomorrow we leave the Middle Level through Salters Lode and enter the Great Ouse via Denver Sluice.

Interesting bits (well, it's all relative)... Jim getting the chance to try out the rev counter he borrowed from PJ. From which we establish that tickover is about 250 and a reasonable lick on relatively shallow water just short of 600. Tomorrow on the river we will see what a thrashing entails.

And I had better update on yesterday... when I went back to join the others in the Ship it was packed with people, I know not where they came from, but the women looked liked they'd stepped out of the pages of Viz (and I don't mean Modern Parents) and were on their way to a hot and happening nite spot. It was very noisy and we didn't stay long. Yes, I did have another pint then, but I must confess I didn't have a whole one in most of the other hostelries. I ordered a pint in the Griffin, but left most of it, there was none in the Red Lion and we didn't venture into the Oliver Cromwell... so it didn't quite add up to five, sorry Blossom.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Beware the pubs of March

Well here I am, sitting on Warrior, safely(?) tied up on March Town Quay. I came up by train (Peterborough must be the most unhelpful, information-free station anywhere, even when it isn't besieged by Newcastle fans) and arrive this afternoon, obviously bringing the sun with me, and a little while later we were joined by the splendid marvellous wonderful Moominclan (they said I was to write nice things about them).

Then in the spirit of scientific enquiry and purely for the public good, Jim and I set off to investigate the town's hostelries. Well. I know this is the Fens, and one must recalibrate one's Grim-ometer (TM) to avoid it constantly going off and draining the batteries, but still.

We began by looking for the Oliver Cromwell Hotel, well spoken of in the Good Beer Guide (2009). When we found it however, a modern low brick building with uPVC windows and those coloured lights in a tube around its menu, not even the promise (surely empty) of four real ales could entice us to cross the car park. So then we moved on to the Griffin Hotel, which had a nice interior with some fantastic oak carving. Here we had some bottom-of-the-barrel Bombardier and lapped up the atmosphere (large screen football and youths wearing their trousers fashionably below their buttocks (they stopped doing that in London years ago) but not the beer which smelt like the spirits of salts that Jim put down the bath plughole last week and we couldn't go in the bathroom for hours. Next, to the Red Lion, an Elgoods pub which looked unpretentious and quite rightly so, not actually having any cask beer at all, Elgoods or otherwise, but a distinct smell of damp and three pissheads, being the entire clientele, propping up the bar, and jeering as we left at our foolishness in coming into a pub seeking beer.

After that, The Acre seemed an improvement, having only one telly, and two sorts of Greene King beers. So we had a pint of IPA and looked at the menu, and were going to order some unambitious pub grub, but it was only six o'clock and the kitchen didn't open until seven, so we said we would go off and check out the Ship, right above our mooring, and then maybe come back.

At this point things looked up considerably. The Ship, which was previously a right dive, just reopened last Thursday after a complete refit (including of the clientele) and was really super, with three real ales and at last some local ones. They didn't do food yet (come back in eight weeks) so after a pint we set off to look for some chips, but were sidetracked by the Mamma Mia Italian (no, never!) restaurant right next door. They could fit us in provided we could eat up within an hour and a half, so we did and it was very good too with super service. Now the Moomins and Jim are back in the Ship while I do my blogging duty, but I'm off right now to join them. The lesson of this tale is that it pays to conduct extensive research.

Friday 2 April 2010

Another green engine

Now, this wasn't deliberate, honestly. It's not that we really, really like dirty lime green as an engine colour. We chose the colour for Warrior's engine on the basis of a throwaway remark from Tony Redshaw ('You don't want to paint it the original National colour, it's like a dirty lime green with a bit of black in it') and a visit to the former National works at Ashton-under-Lyne where we saw steel roof beams painted just such a colour, backed up by odd bits of paint found on dismantling the engine. No one else was ever exactly convinced of the rightness of this chromatic choice, but it was distinctive, not to say unique, and we liked it.

Well, owing to what must be a rather strange coincidence, it is unique no longer. And guess who has just bought the only other dirty lime green engine in existence? Yup. Me. (Thats a 'dirty-lime-green engine', by the way, not a 'dirty lime-green-engine'. The engine is a clean as you could ever wish to see.)

Way back when I first bought Chertsey, with its seized PD2, Jim discovered that there was a rebuilt PD2, which had done less than 200 hours since, available for sale. I hummed and hawed for quite a while, the ideal obviously being to rebuild the existing engine, which was the one fitted by BW in 1960. Then, while casually chatting about it one day the scales suddenly fell from my eyes and I realised that it was the obvious thing to do. The old engine would have to come out anyway, so why not replace it with this other one, which is very very nearly identical. It it officially a temporary measure, to get afloat and moving, but it is an indefinite sort of temporary. I won't, though, ever get rid of the former engine or separate it from the boat. A spare is always useful anyway, and after the experience with Warrior of dealing in National/RN prices it seemed an absolute snip.

So we arranged to go and see engine #2 and the seller moved it to his workshop in order to rig it up so that we could see it running; he then discovered that he wasn't 100% happy with it, so he stripped it all down, identified and fixed the problem; he then thought that some of the cowling could be improved upon, and having replaced that with parts from other engines, it all needed painting, so he painted it. And all within the original price.

So finally, on the way up to Stretton last weekend we stopped off to see it, and hear it run, and were mightily impressed, and made the final decision to go for it. I knew it had been painted of course, and was expecting to see it in grey, or at a pinch, duck-egg blue. But no, it was resplendent in shiny Warrior-style-National green (Jim's recollection is that this was matched to some of the replacement tinware). At least if we scrape it going in, we'll be able to touch it up.

And talking of Warrior, I'm off tomorrow to join Jim on board in March from where we will undertake our spring trip into Cambridge, so we'll have a bit more travelblog for a change.

Thursday 1 April 2010


If someone told you that in a tiny back cabin, where every inch of space was at a premium, boaters kept an empty drawer purely for the purpose of catching the crumbs after they'd had their tea, you'd think it had to be an April Fool, wouldn't you?

Yet the concept of the 'crumb drawer' lingers on to an extent that I cannot bring myself to say categorically that it couldn't have been like that; only that, given the sense and practicality of boatmen and women, and the care that went into the design of back cabins, I would need a great deal more convincing.

It almost sounds like one of those stories that started as a joke - so absurd that surely no one could take it seriously - and ended up as folklore, and only then as practice. Or perhaps it became known as the crumb drawer (it's also called a knife drawer, which sounds much more sensible) because of the habit of crumbs inadvertently ending up in it.

Still, what do I know. I keep toiletries in my monkey box, not Brasso and rags. They go in the boot cupboard and I keep my boots under the stove. I don't have knives or crumbs in my drawer (though I might keep knives in there once I've got some) but odds and ends of bits of brassware and screws, and batteries and string and stuff like that.

What I can say is that I find myself wiping the crumbs up most carefully before closing the table flap, as the last thing I want is crumbs in my crumb drawer.