... 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.

Thursday 21 October 2010

Other boating blogs are available

Of course you knew that. Naturally I have a few favourites and friends whose doings I like to follow, but rather than list them all here (and risk offending those I miss out; I do worry about such things) I avail myself of the service Mike kindly provides at Zulu Warrior. No matter that Zulu's doings haven't been updated for a while, Mike's comprehensive boaty blog roll automatically lists in order of updatedness (sometimes it takes a few minutes and/or a refresh, but it does). Thus I can just scroll down and see which of my faves and friends has updated since I last had a good session and click straight through. Occasionally my eye will be caught by someone else's arresting title and I'll take a glance at one I haven't read before. And sometimes my eye is struck by a title so un-arresting I just have to look. This one certainly delivers exactly what it promises!

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Seeing the sights of Sussex

A brief but intensive interlude last weekend, as Bill and Michelle (residents of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and owners of Shilling) visited southern England for the first time. Shilling's out of the water for a survey and to have some work done, so Bill and Michelle decided to leave the Midlands behind for a part of the country they'd not seen before - and we were to be their guides.

We met them at Lewes station on Friday, and showed them to the Dorset Arms, where they were to stay (it all proved very satisfactory, I'm pleased to report). We stopped there for a couple of pints of Harveys, and then some lunch... a precedent which was to set the pattern for the next few days. Then we left them to have a rest and find their feet before returning to take them to the John Harvey Tavern for the evening. This is the Harveys brewery tap, and Old was the order of the evening. The place was very busy, and the food really no more than adequate. Prior to leaving the Dorset we introduced them to the parochial pleasures of Toad in the Hole.

Saturday was devoted to the seeking out of white cliffs - Sussex's, apparently, because they are unprotected and constantly crumbling, are far whiter than Dover's. We set off in the car to Birling Gap, but Jim decided that Bill and Michelle should see a selection of feudal Sussex villages en route. One of these was Firle, and as we entered its main street we saw a sign at which the years fell away: 'Jumble Sale 2 pm'. Well, bu now it was 2.30, and any self-respecting jumbler would have been and gone, but this was still too good an opportunity to miss, to show Michelle another Great British Tradition (waning). She was delighted to acquire a new teapot for Shilling (indeed, for a shilling, well, 5p) with a brace of plates and cups thrown in for another 20p. I meanwhile got a mirror, a rug, a toffee tin bearing an Amsterdam canal scene, a quantity of rag for rug making, and some books. Ah well, old habits die hard.

Then it was off again to Birling Gap, where the old Birling Gap hotel has been taken over by the National Trust. We oohed and aahed at the white cliffs for a bit, and at the gardens still disappearing into the sea, before retiring inside for a pint of Beachy Head ale from a local micro-brewery whose name eludes me. Then onwards and upwards, to Beachy Head itself, to the very summit this time, which is actually well away from the cliff edge. It was sunny but windy and I tested out my US military parka for the first time (it was pronounced the genuine article by Bill, and a snip at £30) and found it most gratifyingly protective. While Michelle and I braved the elements, Bill and Jim retired to the car with an ice cream. Boys, eh.

Next, back to Newhaven, to play host at our house with a traditional offering of home made scones with jam and cream, with tea in cups and saucers, followed by fish and chips and... oh, is that more beer?

Up bright and early on Sunday, and a trip to the Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park. The first carriages we went in weren't all that old; though dating perhaps from the twenties they were still the stock I remember from my childhood; the worn upholstery so familiar, but the seats unexpectedly soft and springy. The lights (I'll post a picture another time as they're on the other camera) were, I'm sure, exactly like the ones I should have on Chertsey. For the return journey we went and sat in a newly restored 1951 carriage - the comfort of which puts modern trains to shame. At Horsted Keynes we stopped for a look around the beautifully nostalgic station, at the buffet, the enamel signs, and the other locos and carriages, some of which seemed to be being used for filming something.

Horsted Keynes (pronounced as in Maynard rather than Milton) used to be the end of the line when I was a child, but the railway now continues to Kingscote, where there is an ice cream kiosk, a field, and a second hand book stall where I bought a rather nice old wooden box; a bit damaged but not bad for two quid.

Then back again through the not very exciting Sussex countryside (although the waether and the autumn light did it proud) and to the inevitable pub; after a fair bit of research (Dr. Duct would have been proud of us; in fact I did suggest to Jim that we could skip all the internet nonsense and just ring Craig up and ask him) we settled on the Rose and Crown in Fletching. We had also considered the Griffin in Fletching (very expensive!) and the Blackboys Inn in Blackboys (love the name, but before anyone gets too excited, it dates from the time when the area was a centre for charcoal burning); we actually rang them up and it sounded as if selling us some dinner would be a bit too much trouble for them to contemplate. The Rose and Crown proved to be a good choice, serving a lovely Sunday roast (opportunity to explain the mystery of Yorkshire pudding and what it's doing in Sussex), with Harveys and London Pride and excellent service from nice friendly helpful people.

The weekend was over and I had to be back at work on Monday, but the fun wasn't quite over yet. Before getting on my train I joined Jim in Lewes to pick out some little gifts to remind Bill and Michell of their stay. Our port of call of course had to be the Harvey's shop - where else, for something light and easily packed (so no beer, sorry) - t-shirts, shopping bags and souvenir books. Then I went off to the station and Jim headed over to the Dorset, where he picked up our guests for a day touring Lewes itself. Among other things they made sure to take in the Lewes Arms, epicentre of the legendary Greene King boycott.

It must have been the busiest weekend I've had for a long while, but it was great fun, not only spending time with Michelle and Bill, but actually taking the trouble to look with new eyes at what's on the doorstep. Can't wait to do it again - after I've had a bit of a rest!

Thursday 14 October 2010

119 days...

One hundred and nineteen days and half a dozen phone calls since I paid for it, Chertsey's licence has finally arrived! Hooray, and thanks especially to Paul Burch for sorting it out and reissuing the old number. Say what you like about BW, but frustrating as this process has been, everyone I've dealt with has been so wonderfully pleasant and helpful that I haven't even felt like shouting once.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Should I worry?

Not all that many years ago, these:

started appearing around the house. And we all knew what that led to.


.... should I worry?

Friday 8 October 2010

Boating on the village green

You won't have been following the saga of Newhaven's West Beach, the only sandy beach along the coast for miles either way. The whole of the port of Newhaven, including the beach, used many moons ago to be owned by British Rail, who operated the Sealink ferries. The ferry operation alog with the port however was sold off to, first to Sea Containers, and is now owned by Newhaven Port and Properties which despite its name is a French owned company.

A couple of years ago a bit of concrete fell off the sea wall which encloses this lovely little beach. Obviously, NPP didn't want to fork out for the large scale repairs that the concrete wall clearly needs. But on the other hand, neither did they want to get sued if the next lump of it fell on a sunbather's head. So from their perspective the answer was obvious: close the beach and bar all access.

And thus for the last two summers the tide has gone in and out and washed away no sandcastles or writing in the sand; filled in no holes, nor even carried away any litter. You can stand above the beach and marvel at the pristine smooth sand that no one but the gulls can touch. But that might be about to change. Some enterprising soul had the idea of applying to have the West Beach designated as a village green. If this were successful - which would entail demonstrating that local people had used it for recreation for over twenty years - then access to it could not be barred, and, by implication, NPP would have to maintain it.

So a campaign was mounted, calling on people to dig out old photos to show how they'd used the beach over the preceding decades. The evidence was presented to a planning inspector, who makes a recommendation to the County Council, who have the power to make the designation. And it was reported today that the inspector has recommended that the West Beach should be accorded village green status, which is great news. It may not be a final victory however; not only do the County Council still have to give their approval, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if NPP were very slow to act. Fingers crossed however that next summer we'll be building sandcastles again.

Anyway, this gives me the chance to post one of the photos of my finest hour in the sand, back in July 2007 (and incidentally show how lovely the beach is).If you want to see the whole process from start to ignominious end, then look here.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Winding in the rain

Today we did finally make it up to check on Chertsey - albeit as briefly as you can get away with when it's a 400 mile round trip. We had waited in vain for the weather to improve, and given the heavy rain decided that we really had to go and make sure that the pump had been working and that all was otherwise well.

The visit didn't get off to the best start, with the discovery of a (very damp) BW ticket firmly attached to the boat... I shall regale you with my further Adventures in Licencing once I have spoken to the various BW bods involved tomorrow.

The hold also looked suspiciously wet, with water well over the floors in the back end and extending about half way along the boat. More than there should have been if the pump was working, but less than I'd have expected if it wasn't. The mystery was solved when Jim discovered that the hose had worked its way loose and found its way back into the hold, so the pump had, for a while, been recirculating the water. Amazingly though this hadn't significantly drained the battery, so things were looking up. My patent rainwater diverter (pictured below) also seemed to have done us proud and prevented the entire rainfall landing on the roof of the adjacent building ending up in the hold.
In order to charge the battery, in the end, we did have to wind. There were other disadvantages to facing the other way too, mainly that it wasn't possible to get directly onto the back of the boat. So we took the polythene sheeting off the engine room (it too had been very successful in keeping the rain out), fired up the engine, and reversed to the marina, winded in the entrance, and reversed back again. By the time we had achieved this we were pretty much soaked through.

Tying up on this moorning is quite fun, as one end of the boat is against the side of a building, with no means of stepping off; neither is there anything particularly prominent to catch hold of or lassoo. What it entails is me (in this case) standing on the front with the cabin shaft and using it to hook the (knotted blue) rope we've left neatly coiled in an elder which is growing out of the side of the building, and tying this round the t-stud. The other end of the rope is attached to a chain which is somehow attached to the wall. At the other end, it is possible to get off, but again we leave the rope attached to the bank because it's looped tightly behind what appears to be a bit of reinforcing steel holding up the wall. Still, we seem to have it down to a fine art now.

So Jim set up the charger, I dried everything that had got wet in the course of our short outing, and positioned a vital bucket under the bull's eye, which is still dripping, and no sooner was that done than we were off again... when what I really wanted to do was light the stove and give the old girl the TLC she deserves.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Don't call me...

.... And I won't call you either.

One of the nice things about being a grown up, I am belatedly discovering, is that it's all right not to eat things just because you don't like them (no one can make you any more), and it's possible to say 'actually, I prefer not to use the telephone.'

For maybe seventy years, the phone was a necessary evil. But now, thanks to email and the wonders of SMS, it simply isn't necessary any more. (I always say, and it is nothing less than the truth, that without the advent of email, I would not have the career I have now. I simply couldn't have made the contacts if I had had to phone people up.) Evil? Well, not literally. But certainly I always found it oppressive. I hated making calls (the idea that you were imposing into someone's life), and I hated receiving them - being expected to jump to it the instant someone, be they friend, stranger or salesman, wanted my attention. But it wasn't just this seething resentment. There is something very strange and unnatural about a phone conversation. It is a conversation, and yet not a conversation. The visual cues which contribute so much to communication are totally absent. Now, I know this is also true of written communication, but the thing is, we know that's not a conversation; we approach it differently and make allowances for its inadequacies. It also has compensating advantages. A phone conversation on the other hand, is merely an inadequate conversation, an emasculated, shadow of one.

People say that with emails etc there's a danger of firing off a reply before you've thought about it properly. And so there is, if you're careless. But on the phone you have no choice. You have to reply instantly, to fill the void of silence. Under that sort of pressure, how easy it is to say the wrong thing, or for it to come across differently from how you meant it, especially when there is no kind or amused look to soften the blow. And everyone must surely know how heartrendingly frustrating it is to have a row on the phone, how hollow and fruitless.

But, as I said, necessary no more. In fact we will look back on the era of long-distance aural communication as a brief anomoly between periods when the written word was the only way to communicate over long distances.* In the nineteenth century there were up to seven postal collections and deliveries per day - scarcely different from emails pinging back and forth.

The written note gives us time to think, to formulate our thoughts, moderate our reactions, and craft our communication. It's no substitute for a face to face conversation, but it doesn't pretend to be. But unlike the phone call, it's a useful complement to it.

Also, people worry that 'text speak' is killing the art of letter writing. But - execrable as it can be - it isn't; the telephone was the greatest threat to that. Email and even text may actually, in a small way, be reviving it. People had lost the art of writing elegant English long before early SMS required them to abbreviate everything; those who did have that facility certainly didn't lose it as soon as the Nokia was in their hand; they (we) are the ones who write 1000 character texts complete with correct punctuation.

And while that may not be a very elegant rounding off, I must leave it there, and go and have some dinner. Early start tomorrow - we really are going to go and check on Chertsey, but it's going to have to be a day trip.

*Stephen Fry, I think it was, pointed this out.

Friday 1 October 2010

Disconcerting picture of the day

Nothing to do with waterways really, except tangentially the river Usk... My sister lives in Newport, and so I therefore have very slightly more interest in the Ryder Cup than I would otherwise have had (i.e. zero, or even less if such a thing were mathematically possible). Golf is a sport(?) - well, a game at any rate - that I just do not get. Mark Twain wasn't far off in my book when he called it a good walk spoiled. It rivals even fishing for its proponents' capacity to spend vast sums of money on equipment they do very little with (yes, I know I spend vast sums of money on my hobby too, but at least I've got a bloody great boat to show for it). Anyway, that is neither here nor there; if you wish to walk round hitting a little ball with a stick and trying to get it into a hole (eighteen times), it's a free country and I will defend (albeit half heartedly and certainly not to the death) your right to do it (hmmm... apart from the environmental damage that golf courses do, of course).

But I digress. What's this all about? I thought at first this was going to be a piece about Virgin cabin staff. I'm used to seeing sports teams all dolled up in matching suits (well, most of them couldn't be trusted to dress themselves, could they) but these women's only connection with the team, and the only thing they have in common (well, apart from their faces, hair and teeth, obviously) is that they are the players' 'wives-and-girlfriends' (what we grown ups tend to call 'partners'). And yet not only has someone had the bright idea that they should sport a uniform, but a large number, if not all of them (please tell me there were some rebels) have acquiesced in it. Am I the only one who finds it a bit creepy?