... 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.

Saturday 31 December 2011

To market, to market

This morning we finally got around to visiting the much feted Penkridge market. It may not have been at its best or busiest this time of year, but was a trifle disappointing simply because we had been led to expect great things. Lots and lots of the sort of clothes you only see at markets; lots of work clothes and warm fleecy shirts, some hardware, one veg stall and a very big, very flash meat lorry. We decided that on the whole we would be better off carrying on getting our veg at Coopers in Brewood.

I lifted Chertsey's mattress up this morning to give it an airing and was somewhat horrified to discover just how wet it was underneath, where the foam mattress lays on the solid base of the bed flap. When Ed was here he explained how on Bakewell, he actually replaced the flap with a slatted section when using the bed regularly. I didn't want to start taking Chertsey apart like that, but it gave me an idea, so for today's project, Jim made three slatted sections that sit on top of the existing cross bed, designed and made to allow the maximum circulation of air underneath the mattress. All is now in place and tonight I will test it for comfort. The weather has been so mild that Chertsey's stove hasn't been lit for a few days, which probably didn't help the condensation situation.

Tonight, in anticipation of Chertsey's cloths finally being finished before too long, we watched 'Topcloth and Tippet', a DVD showing Atlas and Leo being clothed up, paying particular attention to the knots.

Many thanks for all the comments about the Paloma. For simplicity's sake, it will probably end up being a new Morco, but we will have a look at the Paloma man on ebay once we have a better internet connection.

Friday 30 December 2011

Social whirl

Today we had a visit from the Moomins, Simon and Ann, who moor at Bill Fen. We had mulled wine (a special version with port and ginger wine to eke out the red left over from Christmas dinner) and buns from Jaspers bakery in Penkridge, followed by lunch at the Bridge. This pub is under new management again, and appears to be a Marstons house now, which I don't recall it being before. Sadly the Old Empire wasn't on, but that might have been a bit much at lunch, so I had Cocker Hoop. Despite being a Marstons pub, it isn't one of their chain eateries, and there was a new chef just in post. The prices were very reasonable with many main courses under £6 and the most expensive, the rump steak, at £8.90. We all agreed that it was pretty good too.

Moomin also very kindly listened to our noisy Victron and diagnosed a likely cause, told us how to get the dongle to work (by getting a later version of Ubuntu), and even downloaded for us, via his phone, the plug in we needed to play DVDs, so we then spent a happy hour this evening watching a couple of episodes of Porridge. This really does seem to have stood the test of time; I couldn't believe it was made in 1974. I appreciated things about it that I hadn't noticed first time around, like the wonderful architecture (I must look up where it was filmed), and the fact that Godber (I always had a soft spot for him; I wonder how many people can remember what they were doing when they heard that Richard Beckinsale had died? I was in a science lesson) was from the Black Country.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Una Paloma blank blank blank

When Ed visited yesterday he brought with him a spare Paloma from his shed. Although it was tatty on the outside when we got the cover off its innards looked like new, and certainly in much better condition than the leaky one we've got, so it was with high hopes that Jim set about swapping them. No easy task of course, with both gas and water connections, and the flue to line up, and the whole thing mounted with very awkwardly placed screws. On top of that, the water connections were slightly different and had to be adapted. Still, after a couple of hours it was done, and with some trepidation Jim opened the isolating valve and I switched the water pump on... to find even more water pouring out than the old one, in exactly the same place. Bugger.

It'll have to be a new one then... Deja vue here; exactly the same happened with Andante. As Palomas are no longer made, pipes will have to be moved to fit a different model. On Andante we went for a Morco, but I never liked it; it never lit straight away when you turned the tap on, but after a brief delay, caught with a little whoomph outbof the hole in the front case. I never liked that for reason. On Tarporley they have a Vaillant; until I saw it I hadn't realised that this company, who make high quality domestic boilers (I've had one and was very impressed with it) also made LPG water heaters. But I've had no luck tracking down stockists - can anyone help me with that? I imagine that a Vaillant, if I can track one down, will, like its domestic counterpart, not be cheap, but could be worth paying extra for. Failing that it looks like a Morco or a Rinnai - does anyone have any recommendations?

Wednesday 28 December 2011

A visitor

Today we had our first visitor on Bakewell - the boat's previous owner, who came all this way to give us the paperwork and a spare Paloma to replace the leaky part. It's always weird going back to a boat you used to own, once someone else has taken it over, but I hope Ed felt that Bakewell was being well cared for. We were actually late for our appointment with him, as we spent too long in Midland Chandlers selecting a reading light and a new switch for the shower pump.

This afternoon we finally made the decision to throw out the very venerable gas fridge and replace it with a 240v one. I have nothing against gas fridges in principle but this particular one was very old and not in good condition. A new, decent, gas one would be rather expensive, and they do (I am told by Carl the caravanner) get through gas at a fair rate. Previously we have had 12v fridges, on Andante and on Warrior, and have been very happy with them; Andante's was bought second hand and Warrior's came with the boat. For Bakewell, the far greater cost of a 12v fridge just doesn't make sense; in the absence of an engine, the battery can only be charged through a 240v shoreline anyway, so our ability to use a 12v fridge when away from shore power would be so limited as not to be worth the extra cost; we might as well make use of the shore power directly when it's available, and do without (which we know from experience on Chertsey we can) when it isn't. So we have been down to Comet in Cannock and ordered a nice Lec fridge with a four star freezer compartment, for keeping Jim's wonderful hand made bread in, and we shall be collecting it on Monday.

Willow, by the way, has been going out and successfully coming back for a few days now, albeit only when we're around and only while it's light. The fresh air and exercise seems to have improved his appetite; inconveniently his taste for the outdoor life leads him to spend much of the night pacing about, waking Jim up, and pulling all the curtains and blinds about. Yesterday he encountered Charlie the whippet for the first time. Luckily his instinct wasn't to run, but he retreated to the gunnell (so he's already sussed what is his territory), stood his ground and hissed. Later he did make a run for it and scaled a weeping willow at warp speed, but he got himself down again without a problem, so that's another escape option open to him if need be.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Most overrated? P.D. James

Just why is Baronness Phyllis Dorothy James so highly regarded as an author of detective fiction? Her plotting is mediocre and her plots outlandish; her characters are ciphers who strain credulity and are completely unengaging, and her dialogue clunks with exposition, moralising and amateur philosophising, while her hobby horses gallop all over the page. In P.D. James world, in 2003, women wear woollen blouses, police officers discuss whether they think a couple are 'going to bed' (for someone who is so coy about sex, she mentions it frequently, mostly quite gratuitiously to the plot) and everyone has a gas fire.

Now I've got that off my chest, I'm going to see whether 'Death in Holy Orders' can possibly be as bad as 'The Murder Room'.

Monday 26 December 2011

Meek and mild

I realised this morning that yesterday was the first Christmas day since 1984 that I spent without an offspring or two in tow. They seemed to manage ok without me.

Meanwhile, I have Willow to worry about. He went for his first outing yesterday, stalking about very cautiously, and dashing back to the boat when startled, which must be a good sign.

Today he was more adventurous and stalked further afield, but still keeping us in sight.

He had his Christmas dinner yesterday, and seemed to enjoy it. We were able to open the table out in the back end (usually a sort of office) to have a proper sit down dinner.

And then he had a nap.

Today we set to work on Chertsey. The cloths are apparently finally in the process of being made, so we need to clear the hold out to provide access all the way along each side for fitting them. So, Jim having mended the bilge pump, he finished pumping out the hold, and then we tackled the tent, or shanty town, as it had become, where Jim (and latterly Paul) had been sleeping. For 20 quids' worth from B&M bargains it has done a good job, albeit shored up with further layers of heavy duty polythene. Then we dashed back in to listen to Brain of Britain and to be horrified and depressed at the declining standards of general knowledge exhibited.

Meek and mild of course has been the weather. I wonder what will become of the hard winter that was forecast earlier in the year.

Sunday 25 December 2011


From all aboard Chertsey and Bakewell

Saturday 24 December 2011

Winter raincoat and winter warmer

It would have been better to have done it on Thursday, before yesterday's downpour, but today Jim sheathed Bakewell's cabin in heavy duty grey polythene, to keep the rain out for the rest of the winter. It should still be well enough ventilated to enable it to dry out, especially as there is (whisper it) a radiator in there, discreetly tucked behind the stove, which while it never gets quite hot, being at the far end of the system, keeps a decent background warmth, and in any case, the back cabin is well ventilated to the rest of the boat.

The heating system on Bakewell is simple but extremely effective. A back boiler on the squirrel towards the front of the boat heats a pipe that runs its whole length, culminating in that radiator, and a calorifier, so we now have constant hot water too. It's all done by gravity/convection, so requires no electricity. I'm only afraid we might get used to this soft life.

Today we picked up our Christmas dinner - a local gamey meaty treat - from the very local Whitegates Farm Shop. This looks like a brilliant place - we have popped in before and hadvsome fantastic stuff. But it will remain an occasional treat. Tonight it's another veggie/vegan recipe; one of my favourites, and loosely inspired by the steak and mushroom pudding my mother used to make (I suspect my father refused to eat kidney), only without the boiling. Or the steak.

Sausage and mushroom suet crust pie:

Fry (in an casserole dish) one chopped onion, and add six or so sausages (I like Cauldron), cut into bite sized chunks. Fry these gently until they're browned. Then add some mushrooms; I used a 500g pack of chestnut ones, cut into similar sized chunks to the sausages. Continue frying until the mushrooms start to soften. Then make the gravy. The easiest way I find to do this is to add some boiling water to the pan, just enough to covet the contents and let it come to the boil. In a cup, mix up a crumbled Oxo cube (it's ok, even the beef ones don't actually have any animal in them) and a couple of teaspoons of Bisto with cold water, then add this to the pan and stir it quickly in, keeping stirring while it thickens and comes back to the boil. You can then let it simmer a bit while you make the pastry. Oh, and add a dask or two of Henderson's relish if you can get it (thanks Adrian and Linda!)
or Worcestershire sauce if you're not too precious about the odd anchovie.

For the pastry, mix 8oz self raising flour with 4oz veg suet and a big pinch of salt, then add enough cold water to bind it together. Roll it out and shape it to fit the dish, cut a steam hole in the middle and lay it on top of the filling. Bake at mark 5 for about 45 minutes until the top is golden, and serve with steamed greens.

Friday 23 December 2011

Welcome to my lovely home

Part 1: The Kitchen

In the first of a new series, Willow shows readers around his luxurious new floating home.

We have hardly had to do anything to the kitchen, says, Sarah, Willow's housekeeper. We have filled up the cupboards with Whiskas and Go-Cat (leaving room for a few chick peas), and have added toggles to stop the drawers flying open. In the longer term, we need to repair or replace the Paloma, which appears to have suffered frost damage while the boat was unoccupied, but the previous owner has a spare which he has promised us. We will also probably replace the fridge, which is rather ancient and unhygenic looking. Whilst we've nothing in principle against gas fridges, and on a boat without an engine they are probably a very good idea, we are considering 12v or even 240v, as I suspect that most of the time we are on the butty we will have access to shorepower; i.e. we will probably not be dragging it around on our travels. But we have the winter to consider that. None of this is of much interest to Willow, however.

The kitchen is bright and airy, with a two large windows, a houdini hatch, and a hardwood door leading into the cratch, which Willow soon hopes to be able to open for himself, as he has carefully observed that the top half opens independently. For the time being however, he prefers to observe his domain through the window.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Hot and cold

Another successful day (boring, boring) with the exception of trying to go to Penkridge market and discovering that it's held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; I don't know where we got the idea it was Thursdays. Funny place, Penkridge. Lots of hairdressers and not much soul, although there is a splendid bakery, Jaspers, where a vast array of wonderful and very reasonably priced cakes, buns and pastries (and chocolate coated flapjack) may be purchased. Other than that, I prefer Brewood.

Now it is my wont, come bedtime, to retire to Chertsey's back cabin, where, having previously lit the fire and set a kettle of water on the stove, I enjoy the ritual of washing in the handbowl, the cabin by now being marvellously warm. Last night though this proved a little too successful; the ambient temperature was so mild, and my fire so successful, that it was far too hot to go to sleep until well after midnight, and only then after lying with the doors open for a while. (Not that I am complaining about the mildness mind; far from it. And today was beautiful, and we finally got Chertsey's hold pumped out and the willow leaves swept off both boats).

Tonight I am trying a different tack. A mild night is forecast again, so I haven't lit the stove - instead I shall rely solely on Lionel the hot water bottle (in the form of a lion; rescued from a jumble sale floor for 10p and as loyal a bedmate as anyone could wish for). Of course the proof will come in the chill of the morning, but I will try and toughen up (I was once described by an old lady with whom I worked as a 'hot house flower' and I don't think it was meant as a compliment).

The whole of Bakewell is tidy now, and there are still some empty cupboards! Hooray! And as tonight's impromptu plant based dinner was such a success I couldn't resist photographing it, and here it is.

Spinach and chick pea curry:
Fry two sliced onions until soft, add two dessertspoons of curry paste (Madras in this case) and a bag of spinach, roughly chopped. Stir in a drained tin of chickpeas. Cook gently until spinach has gone all soggy. Stir in three quarters of a tub of left over hummous (optional). Serve with brown rice and a drizzle of tamarind sauce (Smethwick impulse purchase).

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Willow notices the outside world

Another very successful day today as we are really starting to get sorted out and settled in. The problem with the Victron was nothing to do with damp after all; it seems as if the unit was detecting a drop in the 240 voltage and trying to switch to the inverter, but because the battery was flat, this was setting off the alarm and resulting in the fluctuating voltage in the boat. Whether this was a genuine problem with the 240 supply (we were at the time plugged into our neighbour's rather Heath Robinson arrangement) or a fault with the unit, I don't know, because now the battery is charged it might be doing it every five minutes and we wouldn't notice. I thought there was something wrong with it again this afternoon, and was all set to panic, but it turned out that the bulb had gone in the lamp I was trying to switch on... Never forget to consider the simplest explanation!

This morning began with a visit to the wonderful Kelsalls, builders merchant and ironmongers extraordinaire, for various supplies, and then Jim finished building his bed, immediately creating masses of storage space underneath it, which meant that we could unpack even more bags. I also shipped a lot of my stuff across to Chertsey. Then we got some pictures up, and I set about the Christmas decorations, viz. a bunch of holly with some LED lights and some baubles on it. Very trendy even if I do say so myself.

(grainy iPad photo)

Willow, mainwhile, seems to have settled in straight away and got down to some serious sleeping. I don't know whether it's the trauma of the journey of just delight at having got the undivided attention of two humans, but he's a different cat; docile and affectionate... We're keeping him in pro tem, partly so that he gets used to it, but also so as to avoid a run-in with the whippet currently living next door. I'm not sure who would come off worse but suspect it might not be pretty. However, it was only a matter of time before he noticed that there is a world out there, so we are very assiduously keeping the doors shut for now.

Monday 19 December 2011

Farewell to Newhaven

I moved to Newhaven on December 13th 1986. It was to be twenty five years and six days before I left, at midday today. More than half my life spent in a dying town. When I moved there Newhaven had a thriving fishing fleet; a busy freight port; a number of major manufacturers, including the Parker Pen company; a sandy beach, and, in the town centre, two butchers, two greengrocers, a wet fish shop, and a marvellous rambling independent hardware shop/ironmongers. Not one of those still exists.

So, today was the day we finally packed up and left, pausing only to spend forty pounds on a new travelling basket for Willow, having got tne old one out and realised that he would barely squeeze into it, let alone have a reasonably comfortable journey. So it was off to the new out of town pet emporium to be fleeced for a couple of bits of moulded plastic and a metal grille... because he's worth it.

He complained a bit on the journey, but not much, and once we got onto Bakewell, immediately identified the armchair nearest the stove, settled down in it, and hasn't moved since.

As for us, well, it was dark when we arrived so our activities were somewhat limited. Jim began by dismantling the bunk beds in what is to be his room - a perfect 6'6 x 4' - discovering in the process that they had probably been assembled first and then had the room built round them. A screwdriver proved inadequate to the task and a saw had to be deployed, resulting in more firewood.

The other significant task was to plug in the 240v landline, whichnwe have never used before. We used the inverter last month when we were moving Bakewell, and the 240 circuit seems fine, but there seems to be some sort of problem with the landline/charger, which we suspect is down to damp, the electric cupboard being located against the wet back cabin bulkhead. So it's been an evening by torchlight, but both Bakewell and Chertsey's back cabin are now lovely and warm and things will hopefully soon all be dry and aired.

Tomorrow we go to Brewood, as locals this time rather than visitors, to set up a poste restante, and to find the vegetable shop that Futurest blogged about a few weeks ago. Then we will investigate the electrics, and unpack and sort stuff out. Once it's tidy, I might even get out a few Christmas decorations.

Sunday 18 December 2011

Looks like I get two votes!

Thanks to Alan Fincher for tracking down this rather obscure FAQ about the forthcoming C&RT Council elections on the Waterscape site.

Unlike some other bloggers, I was aware that the elections were being conducted by the Electoral Reform Society (it does say say so on the invitation to stand which was sent out a couple of weeks ago) and having participated in many elections organised by them in the past, I have no worries that the election will be fair and well organised.

I am also pleased to see that the election will be conducted by Single Transferable Vote. Back when I was a member of the Liberal Party and the Electoral Reform Society, I recall that our rallying cry was somewhat slow to catch on: What do we want? Single Transferable Vote in Multi Member Constituencies! When do we want it? Well, once the House of Commons has been reformed, constituency boundaries redrawn, and the voting punlic educated....

I am not as pleased as might be expected to see this:
'... For fairness and practicality, the election is on the basis of one vote per licence.' People who jointly own a boat should '... agree how your vote is used with your partner'

In the interests of practicality, maybe; it is hard to see how anything else could be done. But fairness? That airy statement about agreeing with your partnerbis far too glib - partners often disagree about many things, and this may call forth conflicting personal loyalties. And what about shared ownership boats, where there are not just two partners, but a dozen or more.

And this seems to confirm what I had wondered about - as the holder of two licences, it would appear that I (and indeed Alan Fincher!) get two votes. This of course would far more easily be overcome, by limiting any individual licence holder to one vote.

All this earnest discussion, of course, presupposes that the Council itself, and the four 'boaters' on it, will have a significant role. We probably might just as well argue about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Friday 16 December 2011

Vote vote vote!

So, returning to the subject of boaters' representatives on the C&RT Council, what would I, as a voter, be looking for in a potential representative?

Well, first off, they would need to be a boater - not just a boat owner or a licence holder, although those are the minimal conditions for standing - but a boater who gets out there and boats, over a wide and varied area, throughout the year, giving them a good overview of the practicalities of negotiating the system.

Second, ideally they would be doing this in a full length boat, and a reasonable deep drafted one too. Only then will they have a real understanding of the issues affecting the full range of boaters - moorings near bridgeholes, lack of dredging, falling water levels - for which full length, deep drafted boats (like what I have got) provide an early warning system for everyone.

Third, they should be canal boaters. I like rivers as much as the next person (well, as long as they're the Trent), but rivers, on the whole, look after themselves, or, where they do require intervention, it is generally obvious what form this should take. Canals and their infrastructure however are wholly man made and frequently require decisions to be made that have far reaching effects. My ideal representative will love canal boating because of its unique nature and will be committed to respecting and retaining its industrial history and heritage, rather than trying to turn it into a linear nature park.

Fourth - although really this is a sine qua non - they should be an effective political operator, with a good understanding of how organisations, funding bodies and government work, the skills to maximise their impact on behalf of boaters and the ability to punch above their weight.

Finally (for now) they should hold the view that the waterways of Britain are first and foremost there for navigation. In the case of canals, they exist first, second, third, fourth and ad infinitum, for navigation. Fishermen, walkers, dogs etc etc, are all welcome to piggy back on this, but never, ever at the cost of compromising that primary purpose to any degree. It falls to the boaters' representatives to defend this position, because no one else will.

So, what are you looking for in your reps? And don't forget to enter the 'guess the length of the ballot paper sweepstake'. I wouldn't mind some suggestions as to what a suitable prize might be either.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Election time!

The current hot topic in the boating blogosphere and the virtual Canalworld is the forthcoming election of four boater representatives to the Council of the new charity, the Canal & River Trust (very important, that ampersand, because other wise it would form the acronym CART, and that would never do).

Now the first thing to say, is no, I will not be standing; I think there will be plenty of worthy candidates without me plunging back into the murky and shark infested waters of electoral politics. My experience thereof though does lead me to wonder about a couple of points. The first is that with only ten proposers needed for a nomination, no deposit required, and approximately 30,000 people eligible to be candidates, the ballot paper is likely to be a very long one.

The second thought is slightly more complicated and intractable. In most elections, candidates are limited, in the interests of fairness, to a single manifesto statement (in this case, a very brief one of 150 strictly enforced and very precisely counted words). In internal elections in which I have participated (for example, party selection processes) any additional attempts to communicate with the electorate were deemed grounds for disqualification. In local and national elections, this is effectively imposed by very strict limits on candidates' spending - the exceeding of which can not only lead to disqualification, but a prison sentence.

Limiting candidates' communications with the electorate can be controversial - for example, in that internal party election I argued (unsuccessfully) that the ability to communicate effectively and garner votes was an important factor in selecting a candidate, and candidates for selection should be allowed to demonstrate this. But the counter arguments also carry weight: limiting everyone to the same number of words or the same level of spending means that no one should gain an unfair advantage from being able to afford to print more leaflets, or having friends in the press.

What happens to this principle however in the internet age? The prospective candidates whom I am already aware of are either high profile bloggers or prolific contributors to Canalworld, or both - that, by definition, is why I am aware of them - whereas there will be other candidates whose names I shall see for the first time on the ballot paper, and about whom I shall know no more than they can express in 150 words. Those I do already know, I happen to think highly of, and will very likely vote for. But does that mean that the other, lower profile, candidates have been unfairly disadvantaged?

Disadvantaged they will have been, without a doubt, by not having a pre-existing base of support and established platform to communicate their message; but is that unfair? Or might we say that someone who has already proven their ability at communicating with a large number of people, and who has been and will be in contact with a broad range of fellow boaters, is by virtue of this likely to be a better representative?

In the meantime, shall we have a sweepstake on how many candidates there will be for the four boater rep. positions? I'm going to pluck a figure out of thin air and go for thirty eight. Leave me your guess in the comments, I'll record them all, and the one nearest the actual figure gets a prize of some sort.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Still in limbo

Or Newhaven; there's not a lot of difference. Slipping precipitously down the charts too I see, no doubt as a direct result of nothing exciting happening. Suspect it might well be Sunday now before we make it up to the boats; we could be finished here before then, but I have to be in Brighton on Saturday night so there's not much point in going up and then coming back so soon, so it looks like another few nights on son's sofa. It does feel like being in limbo though; not anywhere, just between places; life on hold, justvwaiting for something to happen.

Saturday 10 December 2011

There and back again

In case you thought I'd disappeared, here is the post I should have written on Thursday. Yes, we did take the van up to Stretton, we unpacked it, and we came back - still a bit of work to do on the house but it's nearly sorted now.

We transferred everything we had brought onto Bakewell with the exception of two chairs, neither of which would go through the door, let alone down the side corridor, so they came home again, along with lots of empty boxes (although we didn't get them all unpacked by any means), three mattresses, three Ikea stools and a drop leaf table which came with the boat. The two-foot wide bunk beds will be dismantled, and their six by four foot room entirely filled with a bed, the base of which has in turn been removed from what is essentially the back end of the hold, leaving an open space which will be our study/office. All will become clearer when I finally get some photos taken.

Thank you toneveryone for your good wishes... I feel a bit of a con merchant for not actually having gone yet, but it will only be a few days now I promise...

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Tomorrow's the day!

When we shall at least be moving the van, loaded with stuff, up to the boats. The idea is then to come back, drop off the van, finish off whatever needs doing, and then finally return in the car, with anything we have forgotten, to Chertsey and Bakewell. And that will be it; the great shift, the leap into the unknown, made - as to what happens then, we shall have to wait and see.

Monday 5 December 2011

So when are you going?

It's a subject of not much interest to not very many people, but a few have been kind enough to ask, sadly rather than hopefully I'm sure. And it's getting to the stage where people have asked more than once... The answer, which isn't meant to sound rude or glib, is when we're ready. As soon as we're ready, that is, as we are already a fair bit behind the schedule I dreamed of back in the summer. Taking four or so weeks out to go to Retord didn't help, although it was well worth it. After all, I can turn out a kitchen cupboard any time, but how often do I get the chance to get stuck in Morse Lock?

We are getting there. We are definitely making progress and it won't be long now. The van is hired until next Friday, but... we can extend this one day at a time. We hired from Choice, by the way. They were not the cheapest of all, but they were the cheapest of the firms that had a usable website and someone helpful on the end of the phone, and they weren't the dearest by any means.

So, apologies to the Moomins and the Ducks who were hoping to visit next weekend, but I don't think we'll be quite ready to receive guests by then... Soon, though, soon...

Saturday 3 December 2011

So much stuff!

For months now, we have been living in chaos and uproar, and I don'tvreally know how (well, perhaps 'if' would be a better question) I've stayed sane. Over the years, thanks to a serious jumble sale/charity shop/flea market habit we have accumulated so much stuff you wouldn't believe. Individually each object is lovely (though some earlier finds have been superseded by lovelier versions of themselves), but cumulatively, the effect has gradually, imperceptibly, become somewhat overwhelming. I do find myself thinking wistfully of a simpler, sparser, existence. Lucky I'm going to be going to live on a boat then, even if it does boast about as much internal space as you can have and still be on a narrow boat.

The sensation of living in an antique emporium has been heightened in recent months by my feeble attempts to start sorting stuff out without having anywhere else to put it, the upshot being large piles of stuff on the floor and in the middle of every room, while I look helplessly at and try to decide what to do with it. I am fairly ruthless in shedding stuff; I have some treasured possessions which either have sentimental historical value, or which I just love for themselves, but in the very nature of being treasures, they are few and far between. Many lovely objects have come into my home, and into my life, over the years, but I see that as one stage of their journey; it feels wrong to hoard things for the sake of it when they could be giving pleasure to someone else. Time for me to move on, and them too.

So a large pile is forming for the Searchlight shop, should they ever get their act together and come and fetch it, otherwise it's first come first served for the big national charity shops. A car full, literally (and we're not talking a small car here either) of books will be winging its way to Oxfam in Brighton tomorrow. The children are fighting over the furniture (mainly when neither of them wants it), and a hired van is sitting on the drive... Today I finally started to move some stuff into it; stuff - including furniture - that we are taking to Bakewell, and suddenly, things seem to be falling into place.

Location:So much stuff!

Friday 2 December 2011

True colours

I was remarking the other day on the colour scheme Chertsey was wearing in August 1970, and how this differed from how she had subsequently been painted. What I was forgetting was staring me in the face everytime I walked down the stairs - the false cratch, of which this is part, was still green, yellow, red and white when I bought Chertsey - the only bit of the boat still to be painted like this, and the tattiest. So much so in fact that it wasn't restorable, hence its having been dismantled, and this section, along with the old and part rotten deckboard, being preserved indoors for posterity.

If you look closely (I've left the photo large so you can click on it and zoom in) at the yellow section, you can see Chertsey's Grand Union fleet number, 130, stamped into the wood.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Things I will miss about Newhaven no. 2

The station.

Or rather, not so much the station, although admittedly it has provided a pretty good service over the years in getting me away from Newhaven, but, again, it's a person I shall miss: Angela in the ticket office, who is always cheerful and friendly and helpful and patient, even when dozens of French students descend upon her each wanting to buy a ticket to London, individually.

The station building is nice too, with its napped flint walls and wooden canopy. Many, many is the train I've waited for here; 99% of the time on Platform 1, to take me to Lewes and thence to London, and the world, but yesterday I was on Platform 2, en route to Seaford, for a change.

I'm sure I shall be pasing through here a few more times in the future though, albeit with a return ticket to somewhere else in my pocket.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Willow: will he or won't he?

This is Willow. I'm typing this perched uncomfortably on the arm of the chair as he is curled up on the cushion and it would take a braver soul than me to try to move him.

We are trying to decide whether to take Willow to live on the boats with us. I have just checked and it would be OK with regard to the mooring, so now we really have to make a decision. Willow has form with boats. We found him, lonely and hungry, at Floods Ferry, gosh, it must be six years ago now. He happily came on board Helyn and settled down (leaving behind a good crop of fleas for us to discover next time). When we had to go home, and no one else showed any interest in looking out for him, we popped him on the car and took him home. With no basket or restraint, he sat on the back of the back seat and looked out of the window all the way. When we noticed him getting into any vehicle that left its doors open for more than a minute, we reckoned that he must have stowed away to Floods Ferry in someone's caravan, so could have been miles away from his home.

We already had three cats, thanks to a very persuasive (and slightly less than truthful) 'sales' woman at the local cat rescue centre; we still have those three, and they are going to move in with Sebastian. Willow is a very different creature though, and part of me thinks that he would take well to boat life. He would certainly enjoy the undivided attention of his humans, and curling up by the stove. He might also, however, enjoy catching small mammals, running away, and scratching the back cabin to shreds.

I would like to have him with us; I have a soft spot for his take-no-prisoners attitude. Unlike the female cats, he doesn't want to be liked and doesn't try to ingratiate himself. He's probably the most intelligent cat I've ever met (and I've known a few; when I was a child we had nine at one point - and I've hardly ever been without one either).

I know lots of cats do successfully live on boats, even while travelling - but also experienced second hand with Nick on Aldgate and Kat the problems they can cause by refusing to come home. Madcat I know thinks that he should stay at home and be one of the lads with Baz, but he's outnumbered by the girls, and four is a lot of cats in a small space - he's about as big as the rest of them put together.

So, I am still torn. I would like to have him with us, in an ideal world, but am concerned that it might just be a lot of trouble for all concerned. Any experiences and insights would be most welcome.

By the way, I ought to explain about his highly inappropriately soppy name. When we found him he was very thin and delicate looking, and wiothout wishing to pry too closely, we assumed that he was female. Even once we realised he was a he, he still seemed a gentle, delicate soul. It was only after getting home and eating non stop for a week that he revealed himself to be a bruiser of a tomcat in an admittedly handsome and graceful, but now far more muscular form. I did briefly try to change his name to the far more fitting 'Woolwich', but it refused to stick.

Monday 28 November 2011

On books

As you might imagine, we're doing a fair bit of downsizing at the moment and one of the things I did this morning was pack up another load of books for Oxfam. I was thinking of including the set of Children's Britannica encyclopaedias that my father bought for my sister and me in the 1970s. In the end though I couldn't do it. It was for sentimental reasons, but not the most immediately obvious ones. As I picked up a random volume, letnit fall open, and read an article about caterpillars, I realised that I wanted to be able to show this to my granddaughter; to show her how once upon a time information was found in books, rather than pulled via a computer from the ether... And then I thought, she'll have the last laugh when there's a power cut and she has homework about caterpillars to complete... I'm not a luddite, but I am a bit of a pessimist and I'm not convinced the internet will be around forever - all that electricity it needs - whereas books last for centuries with no maintenance and minimal care. I know what my money would be on for long term data storage.

I also packed away a basket full of sparkly scarves and pretty beads and bracelets, so that one day I can show her that you don't need a bubblegum pink Barbie dress and a plastic tiara to dress up as a princess.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Chertsey loading at Gopsall Wharf

photo: Richard Pearson
Following that picture I posted a couple of days ago of Chertsey unloading at Croxley Mill (and the comments I made at the end) Richard Pearson has sent another wonderful photo of Chertsey loading at Gopsall - no copyright issues here, it's one he took himself (that's more than likely Harry Arnold snapping away on the bridge) and he's very generously happy for me to post it.

I feel very lucky to have so many good photos of Chertsey at various stages of her life, and particularly from this exciting time. I think this is an absolutelt brilliant picture, in the thick of the action, and better than the longer distance shots taken from the bridge.

What I find interesting here (following on from my musings about the paint scheme in the unloading picture) is that judging by the stands, mast, back end beam and tiller, Chertsey seems to have been painted to match the other boats, belonging to Tony (I think) Jones. Could this have been done deliberately, bearing in mind that this is early in the days of Richard Barnett's ownership, and he later changed the colour scheme completely, or is it just a lucky coincidence of traditional colours?

(I've not reduced the photo so you can click on it to get a bigger version and home in on the marvellous detail)

Saturday 26 November 2011

Croxley Script, rewritten

One of my favourite words is palimpsest. A palimpsest is not just a blank sheet; it is a piece of writing material, usually vellum, from which the previous writing has been erased, the surface scraped off, so that it can be used again.

Thanks to Alan for pointing me towards this photo (on Geograph) of the site of Croxley Mill as it is today.

© Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

And here again, as it was in the early sixties
(thanks again to Diamond Geezer for this photo)

Not a trace of the original script remains.

Friday 25 November 2011

Croxley postscript

I got a lovely surprise today in the form of an email from Richard Pearson. He'd seen this post from last June, and was prompted to send me this photo, of Chertsey unloading (or preparing to unload) at Croxley Mill.

This would be in August 1970, the loading note showing that they'd loaded at Gopsall on the Ashby on the 18th, and had been checked off (presumably in arrival?) on the 24th. It was, I believe, on the 28th that the very last load arrived here from the Ashby.

In earlier times, there would have been a mechanical conveyor, known as a 'jigger', for unloading the coal, but by 1970 this had been replaced by the mobile grab shown in the photo. Gerald Box (p. 5)* describes how members of the Ashby Canal Association had to manufacture and adapt the unloading equipment themselves, unhampered by their lack of metalwork expertise, as part of proving the traffic was viable and thus securing the contract.

Interesting to note Chertsey's colour scheme at this time; most photos I have from the seventies show her in dark blue, red and black, which continued well into the eighties.

Another postscript: There is a set of photos taken by Harry Arnold of Chertsey et al loading at Gopsall, but I can't afford his prices and even if I could I wouldn't be allowed to post them on the internet, but you can see two of them on page 27 of the 2009/4 HNBOC newsletter, should you be able to lay your hands on one.

*Clinging on: The Moira Cut, Coal, and the Last Days of Carrying, Ambion Publishing, 2003

Thursday 24 November 2011

Things I will miss about Newhaven no. 1

Number one of what might, I fear, be destined to be rather a short list, is...

Geoff and Col (the two in the middle), purveyors of fine vegetables to the people of Newhaven every Thursday and Saturday.

Newhaven's street market, such as it is, was set up more than a decade ago now. At first it was quite busy, with a variety of stalls - hippy clothes, French foodstuffs, posh deli... Different stalls have come and gone over the years, but mostly gone. Not only can Newhaven's 11,000 population no longer sustain any shops to speak of, against the pincer movement of local supermarkets and the respective retail delights of Lewes to the north and Brighton to the west, but there was clearly no demand from the locals for anything more than cheap bags and fishing gear. Even these most basic and saddest of market staples tend only to be there on Saturdays, and not even always then.

But Geoff and Col, and their vegetables, collected from the wholesale market that morning, are there almost without fail. Good quality, cheap and seasonal, and you can always select your own produce too, unlike many market stalls. I go nearly every week and take inspriation for the week's meals from what's available. Today I came away with some bramleys (comforting apple crumble), celery, parsnips, mushrooms, onions (a nice winter vegetable stew, to be served with mashed...) swede, greens, sprouts... sweet potatoes (a creamy curry with coconut milk, perhaps), tiny little cooking tomatoes, too ripe to ever be sold in the supermarkets but perfect for a pasta sauce; a bag of mixed peppers and a tray of fresh chillies, again something I've never seen in a supermarket, not this many for £1.50, (for a chilli, served with...) two lovely ripe avocados. Plus bananas for Jim's porridge and a bag of potatoes... The basis of five meals, plus some chestnuts for fun, all for less than twenty quid.

Yes, there are other market stalls, and farm shops, selling more local, more exotic, more organic, (and more expensive) produce that we will come across on out travels, but this is one thing I will miss about Newhaven.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Primus inter pares

Here is my new collection of stoves, picked up from David Schweizer at Braunston on Saturday. To add to my 1956 Monitor, I now have a Primus No. 1, a Primus No. 54, and a Svea No. 106. The Svea is a bit of a mystery - calling itself the 'King of Stoves', it has writing on it which appears to be Arabic or something similar. Also, you will note, two windproof boxes - not official Primus ones, but carefully hand made from bulk biscuit tins, which happen to be the perfect size.

I'm told that two of the stoves are in working order, and one needs a little attention. First of all I shall try out the Monitor in one of the boxes - its main disadvantage being the difficulty of lighting it in the slightest draught. I believe that there may be good homes waiting for one or even two of the stoves if I decide that it would be too greedy to keep them all - but they are so beautiful!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

It really is made of wood

Of course I knew it (she) was really, Singapore that is, built of pitch pine on oak... but it's one thing knowing what's under the paint; quite another actually seeing it. I didn't actually see it in person, Jim went over to Walton on the Naze on his own, by train (have Senior Railcard, will travel - just wait til his bus pass arrives!) to see how things are progressing and decide on the next moves. No nasty surprises, that's the good thing, and all the bits of rot now exposed and the wet bits drying.

The (semi) wheelhouse has come off - this was a kind of bastard hybrid of wheelhouse and windscreen - a raised screen with a canvas cover over the whole cockpit. The canvas is still in very good condition so we are loath to change anything while that it still useable, buit it has to be said that while most of the screen/wheelhouse is beautifully made in good solid materials, at some time in the recent past the whole lot was raised, to accomodate a tall person, by inserting a new lower section of far inferior quality. So we need to decide long term whether to go for a fully fledged, solid wheelhouse, which certainly could look nice and would be useful in adverse weather, or revert to a simple screen, which would certainly look nice (and original), and would be useful in sunny weather.

Another job is to remove parts of the interior and the mahogany tongued and grooved lining to enable access to the new planks as they are fitted. We are also going to remove the vinyl head linings that have been recently fitted. Although these are well done (and I have seen some horribly botched ones on other boats we've looked at) they look out of place, and more importantly, are trapping moisture. The key thing with a wooden boat, we have learnt, is to maximise the circulation of fresh air - this is the biggest preventative against rot.

Jim had a very pleasant journey, he informs me, but I am slightly peturbed by the behaviour of the National Rail website. Asked for journeys between Newhaven and Walton, it claimed there were only two available a day - at eight thirty and one thirty, and the same coming back. but when I asked it for trains from Liverpool Street, it turned out that there is one an hour throughout the day in both directions. Given that there are two trains an hour from Newhaven to Victoria, and no problem getting across London, there were far more available trains than originally suggested. It's a good thing I was incredulous and double checked - but as far as I know, the National Rail site has always been accurate and complete before, so I am wondering what happened this time.

Monday 21 November 2011

Runner up!

I had my acceptance speech all written, suitably modest of course, thanking everyone who made it possible from Leslie Morton down... My designer frock and my Jimmy Choos all laid out (this isn't ringing true is it... You know as well as I do that I wouldn't know a Jimmy Choo if you hit me over the head with one), champagne on ice... Because we had been nominated for a Herbie award. Can you imagine the joy and surprise when I looked at Neil's blog lastvweek and saw that our epic parade at Braunston had been nominated in the category of 'Best day out on someone else's boat', along with two very different, but exciting, trips on the Thames. Now the cynical might of course wonder whether Neil and Kath actually had any more than three outings in total on other people's boats in 2011, but I prefer to believe that the final three were whittled down from a highly competitive longlist.

The Chertsey trip certainly offered a contrast to the ups and downs, speed and stunning scenery of the Thames. A not very good runner could have completed a marathon in the time it took us to move from Braunston Marina to Braunston Turn and back. The only excitement was wondering whether we would get back before the beer ran out in the beer tent. Oh, and the engine stalling just as we were turning into the marina, by which time we were all catatonic, including, clearly, the engine.

So I never really expected to hear Chertsey's name announced when Neil tore open the envelope. All I can say is, what an honour it was to be nominated for so prestigious award.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Boater gets a social life

Before I started boating, I never had much of what you might call a social life. I was shy and unadventurous, hating the thought of forcing my company on people, and in their turn, naturally, people didn't go out of their way to seek it.

But what a difference a boat makes, and a historic boat in particular. Immediately there are people all over the country who have a shared interest and shared experiences, and who don't (unlike the rest of the population) consider one slightly unhinged. Canalworld forum is a two-edged sword - I've wasted too much time getting involved in pointless arguments and getting cross because, in that lovely phrase, 'someone is wrong on the internet'. But that is more than outweighed by the friends I've made - some of whom I have met and some I still haven't yet, and might never do, but who have still been there for me. It's a great way for shy people to break the ice too and make the first move towards meeting new people.

Some of my CWF friends were at Braunston yesterday, and many more old boat acquaintances, as we convened for the bi-annual members' social meeting. The spring get together is preceded by the AGM, but the autumn one is just for fun, except for those of us on the committee, who had a committee meeting at ten! I sneaked out of that early though as I had arranged to meet David Schweizer for the handover of three Primus stoves, and two windproof boxes, which I had arranged to buy through the good offices of CWF. Whilst we were doing this, Alan Fincher turned up, and we all repaired to the Old Plough, where we met lots of other people including Dave and Izzie (Bath) and Annie and Colin who we met last year at Audlen and Ellesmere Port.

Now, I have to say something about the Old Plough. It's a perfectly OK pub with OK beer and OK food. As long as there are no more than about half a dozen customers, that is. Back in the spring, we waited so long (over an hour) for our lunch we were late getting back for the afternoon session. Sympathetically, we asked the landlady whether they hadn't been warned to expect extra people because of our meeting. Oh yes, she replied, very shortly, she'd been warned, but what did we expect her to do about it?

Yesterday, I was in the pub when they opened at 12. By the time I came to order lunch at about half past, maybe four other people had already placed orders - and even at this early stage I was told that there would be a delay. As it was still early, this didn't matter. Then, straight after me, they stopped taking orders for food at all, telling people they would have to wait half an hour before even being allowed to order, without any regard to how long people had been waiting. I had to wait about ten minutes before I could even place my order at the bar, as there was only one barmaid on duty (no sign of the landlady this time) and she was incredibly slow and inefficient. And at this stage the pub still wasn't even busy! Is it any wonder that for all its faults, the Boathouse, a Marstons chain pub, is the most popular with the Braunston crowds. The Nelson closes every winter for lack of trade while the Plough seem happy to turn trade away rather than get an extra member of staff in for a couple of hours to make the most of a guaranteed influx of customers. The AGM is being held in Napton next year, and the local pub will be forewarned - let's see if they can do any better.

Anyway, I got my OK lunch eventually, and fortunately Jim had escaped from the committee meeting just as I was ordering, so he got one too, after which we wended our way back to the village hall for the second part of Malcolm Braine's slide show, begun in March and curtailed owing to it being time to be turfed out of the hall. Some of the slides were fantastic, and Malcolm's reminisces were fascinating if occasionally tantalising... I could tell you a story about that.. I'll tell you about that later... And later never came. There were also bills and letters, one fascinating snippet being the cost of building a wooden joey boat (only slightly marred by my not noting the date): £175, of which £50 was the cost of the labour.

Part way through we had a break for cake and the strange grey-green liquid that is passed off as tea at HNBOC events. To be fair, although my first cup was undrinkable, I picked up another later which did actually look and taste like tea, and was much needed. Nonetheless, once I am on the committee proper I shall demand an investigation! I was tapped on the shoulder by Rex Wain, who handed me a CD of photos of Bakewell; Nick Hill then came and told me that he had a new photo of Chertsey on the Ashby coal traffic for me, and we talked to Pete Boyce about fitting the planks and cloths which he has respectively made and ordered for Chertsey.

I can see why people join gangs or religious sects. It is nice to have a group of people to which you can comfortably belong. I may have come to it late, but I'm enjoying having a social life.

Saturday 19 November 2011

And a morsel of Tarporley?

You could eat a real slice of this one... A rather splendid cake which was made for Tarporley's annual social gathering which we went to at the Pirate Castle last night. I went along to say hello to some the old gang (it was great to see Penny again, after her travels) which I have rather guiltily abandoned, and goodbye to others (Bob Wakely is greatly missed)

Friday 18 November 2011

A Flickr of interest

I came back from the boat moving odyssey to find a thread in full flood on Canalworld regarding old photos and obscure locations, which led to these two photos on Flickr.

It didn't take long to establish that these are indeed pictures of Chertsey in Birmingham - albeit both the place and date are not quite right. The place is nearer Old Turn than Gas Street, and apparently Chertsey was kept here for a while before being moved to Les Allen's yard at Oldbury where she remained until 2009. The date is not 1970s, but some time after 1980 - how could I tell this from the photo?

(CWF readers are, I'm afraid, ineligible to enter, as I have already given the answer away there.)

Thursday 17 November 2011

A slice of Bakewell's past

Here is some of what I know so far...

Bakewell was delivered to the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company on October 30th 1936, almost 76 years to the day before I bought her (I'm going to revert to saying 'her' rather than it because it's easier and does actually feel more natural). She was half of one of 24 pairs ordered from Harland and Wolff; the 'Big Woolwiches'. While there were 48 large Woolwich motor boats built (and 38 large Northwiches), all in steel, all but 24 of the 86 were destined to have wooden butties from Walkers of Rickmansworth; the 'Big Rickies' of which few remain. Of the 24 large Woolwich butties, 21 are still extant in some form; three having been scrapped by British Waterways in the late 1970s (one under a false name; the butty currently called Berkhamsted is widely believed to actually be Ayr)

Bakewell was intended to be paired with Bletchley (which is currently carrying coal on the GU paired with small Woolwich Argus). Bletchley's fleet number was 119, and Bakewell's original fleet number, following GUCCCo's convention at the time, was 119B. This was later changed to 224. Bakewell's earliest recorded pairing was with Tyseley (now home to the Mikron Theatre Company) in 1944. That wonderful book of photos, A Canal People, has two stunning photos of Bakewell, on page 111 and 118, looking newly painted in BW blue and yellow, complete with fleur-de-lys style embellishments.

Following nationalisation in 1948, Bakewell remained in the BW carrying fleet, and was in fact one of the very last boats carrying for BW - as part of one of three pairs 'on the Lime Juice', a short run bringing imported concentrate in barrels from Brentford to Roses factory at Boxmoor. This traffic continued under BW until the early seventies, when BW withdrew on the grounds that the boats were beyond economic repair, although it (along with some of the boats, but not Bakewell) was taken over by independent carriers who continued until 1980 (I think - I must check with Tam and Di!). There are some fantastic photos of Bakewell on the Lime Juice in 1967 in this month's Waterways World (and thank you to everyone who has brought this to my attention).

Alan Fincher took these photos of Bakewell in the summer of 1974, probably just after she finished the lime juice traffic and prior to being sold to UCC.

photo: Alan Fincher

That's Halsall in the background... (Madcat, you never did give me your email address!)photo: Alan Fincher

In August 1974 Bakewell was sold by BW to Union Canal Carriers of Braunston, to become a camping boat - it would be great to see some photos from this period. She remained with UCC until 1983, when she was sold to the first of many private owners, who converted her to a houseboat with a cabin for much of her length.

Not any old private owner though; one Rex Wain. Yep, I have a boat (probably the only boat) with a Rex Wain steel cabin, and still with the solid and meticulously executed lining of douglas fir T&G and elm that he put in (albeit painted over now). Much of his fit out was removed when the boat was rebottomed, but part of a kitchen dresser remains, in the living room. (This alone makes it so much better a boat than Bodmin; what a lucky escape we had there.) Another illustrious previous owner was the writer and waterways historian Euan Corrie. In contrast to Chertsey, Bakewell has been through a large number of owners since leaving carrying service, none keeping her for more than four years, until last owner before me, who had her for eight, had her rebottomed and extended the conversion with a new kitchen. I wonder whether this a natural fate of butties, and whether I will buck the trend.

Alan H. Faulkner The George and the Mary
Tim Wilkinson Hold on a Minute
Sonia Rolt A Canal People: The Photographs of Robert Longden
Waterways World, December 2011
and especial thanks to Pete Harrison and Alan Fincher.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Mostly plants

The short advice given by Michael Pollan is his various books (which I haven't read. Yet) is: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This is advice we have been trying to take to heart lately. Briefly, we were both long time vegetarians (me for fifteen odd years, Jim for more than 25) until a few years ago. I decided (or realised) that being a lacto-vegetarian - that is, not eating meat or fish, but eating dairy produce and eggs - was a cop out, at least from the animal welfare and environmental perspectives that were our primary motivation. There's more animal suffering and environmental damage in a conventionally produced omelette or pint of milk than in, say, a free range organic lamb chop. So I went vegan - that is, avoiding all animal products - and actually managed to keep it up for over a year despite being the only one in the household. It was getting the job in Huddersfield that did for me; cooking for one and sometimes needing to use convenience foods made it seem impossible at the time.

But eating humanely reared, organic meat didn't seem like the biggest crime either, when smug veggies were tucking into mass produced cheese, factory farmed milk and battery eggs. It was the discovery of the Nightingales Farm Shop in Atherstone (now sadly no longer there, although their produce is available at local farmers' markets) and their absolutely sublime locally reared steak pies that knocked Jim off the wagon - not only beautiful meat, but divine gravy and perfect pastry made these irresistible. The trouble with falling off any wagon is that you tend to land on a slippery slope... and before too long we were eating Fray Bentos pies. Obviously, this is not good. Nor even pleasant.

So, we decided to have another go. Not to be vegan; not, in fact, to 'be' anything rigid, but to try to eat mostly plants. The idea is for all the meals we cook at home to be plant based, but to allow ourselves some leeway when eating out or visiting others. Sometimes it used to be hard to think of something original or interesting to cook for dinner (tea for readers north of Watford), and we'd get involved in complex, expensive recipes. Now the aim is to base each day's dinner around fresh vegetables, pulses and grains - the last two between them containing all the amino acids required to provide protein as good as animal based. Hopefully this will be simpler, better for our health and our pocket, and doing what we can to promote animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Recent dinners have included:

Cauliflower and chick pea curry with brown rice

Lentil dahl with garlic and ginger (the only vegetables we had left on the boat one evening) and bread

Wholewheat spaghetti with a sauce of fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, canellini beans and white wine (all the stuff we found in the fridge when we got back from the boats)

Chilli (peppers, tomatoes, fresh chillis and kidney beans) with brown rice

Beetroot and lentil soup with horseradish, served with Jim's wonderful home made wholemeal bread

Winter vegetable stew with butter beans and dumplings, served with greens

Moussaka, made with fresh aubergines and green lentils in a rich tomato sauce, flavoured with cinnamon, and served with garlic bread

Leek and potato pie, with canellini beans, all in wholegrain mustard sauce under a shortcrust pastry lid.

The fact that I'm eating less, losing weight, and not feeling hungry but full of energy says to me that this is a healthy diet which is meeting all my nutritional needs - easily and cheaply too. The challenge will be in not reaching for the convenience food or the pub steak at the end of a hard day's boating.

I will try to post from time to time about how well we're managing to keep it up, and any new recipe ideas that emerge.

I started writing this ages ago, by the way, long before all the tired old arguments resurfaced again on CWF.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Dawn 'til dusk

We left Smethwick at seven on Sunday morning. Andrew and Andrea on Dove had already gone, of course, but we still beat the rush. The BCN on a misty morning makes for lovely atmospheric boating.

I learnt from a DVD about the BCN (from these people, but I can't find it on their list now) that the reason the motorway follows the canal like this, frequently not just crossing, but straddling it, is that this was the only land that was available when the motorway was built. It was salutary to be reminded that the red brick traditional arched bridges we went under were once in the countryside.

This of course was the day of the Wolverhampton 21, which I actually quite enjoyed. OK, I wasn't doing much of the bowhauling myself this time - I just gave Jim a carrot and a few sugarlumps - but I am still pretty sure that I would rather do Wolverhampton twice than Hatton once. I had also had the foresight to make some sandwiches in advance for lunch, so we neither had to stop, nor subsist on Mars bars/chips/thin air as on previous days. I can't recall how long it took us to get both boats down, but it was fairly respectable. Again most of the locks were against us, but not all, for a change, and Nick was a marvel, backsetting each lock as he worked the motor boat down, so it was ready for us when we arrived.

As we neared the bottom we met a quartet of (rather posh) students, who were doing a sponsored canoe trip. Some confusion ensued when they turned a lock that Nick had just made ready, but it was resolved amicably, and to make amends they decided to help us bowhauling the butty. Now picture an aeriel view of a lock with a single bottom gate... the recess in the side that the gate opens into. Now picture a canoeist walking backwards, without looking, along the edge of the lockside... and stepping straight back off the edge and into the lock - pursued by a very large butty with no brakes. Being in the gate recess would have saved him from being crushed of course, and as he was wearing his canoeing buoyancy jacket, and had three mates with him, he was quickly hauled out. By those of his mates who weren't busy taking photos anyway. When we left them he was rather folornly dismantling his mobile phone which had of course gone in with him. (Boating superstition no. 26: If you put your phone in your pocket, you will fall in.) They were hoping to get to Wolverhampton's Broad Street Basin for the night, as they had been promised safe storage there for the canoes. As this occurred at the second or third lock from the bottom, and at was already teatime, this seemed a trifle optimistic, but I didn't like to say. I suppose they could have made it easily if they walked, and carried the canoes.

We had had a wild dream of making it to Stretton that night, but it was not to be. It was still light when we went through the stop lock at Autherley and on to the Shropshire Union (home at last, we felt), but dusk was falling fast and we made it as far as Wolverhampton Boat Club where we tied up in the dark. A genuine dawn to dusk day's boating. Wonderful.

By the way, Captain Ahab had just come back from the BCN and has written some really fascinating posts about its geography and history. If you're reading this later, check out his archive for around this date.

Monday 14 November 2011

The delights of Smethwick

From the beer tent, I texted a friend from work: 'I am at a bonfire in Smethwick'. His reply was exactly as I had predicted: 'Where is Smethwick?'. Given that this was the same person who once asked me 'is Brighouse a real place, then', it wasn't a hard prediction to make. (Now, don't get me wrong, Dean is one of my absolutely favourite people, but he would be the first to admit to being a bit, well, southern.)

But how come I had heard of Smethwick? How had the place wormed its way into my consciousness? Was it from history lessons at school? (O level British Social and Economic History 1733-1935, and A level, for some reason reversed, British Economic and Social - perhaps it sounds harder that way round). Was it in the news when I was growing up, either through strikes, or industry closing down, or the notorious utterances of its erstwhile MP? One way or another, I had heard of Smethwick. But it wasn't until I looked up its Wikipedia entry that I realised just how massive a part it had played in the industrial revolution; just how many famous products had been manufactured there. And now? It's the saddest, deadest place - or at least certainly a contender for that title - that you could dread seeing.

We checked out the shops on Friday - a parade of mostly (possibly exclusively) Sikh owned cheap hardware shops, where we were able to meet all Bakewell's mop, broom and bucket type requirements - and if we had wanted cooking pots, why, I have never seen such a selection and at such low prices too. The shops all offered a wonderfully eclectic mix of Indian trinkets and cookware, British essentials and Christmas decorations. A splendly attired matriarch took us to task for selecting an inferior, flimsy bucket, and almost forced us to have a different model. I held firm though. I wanted a blue one. The anglicised second (or even third, maybe) generation directed us to a plumbers merchants (run by their nephew, it turned out) where we were able to buy what we needed to isolate the leaking Paloma, meaning that we could finally turn the water pump on and use the taps.

The following day we went into the town's shopping precinct - this was really sad; more shops shut than open, although there was a rather splendid and apparently thriving Punjabi music shop. There was a Tescos, tho, that provided another new experience. The first aisle, by the door, was dedicated to 'ethnic' foodstuffs. Indian first - massive bags of lentils and rice at a quarter the price of standard packs; 500g bags of spices - cumin, paprika - for £1.59 - the price of a 25g Schwartz jar; tins of unbranded chick peas at 29p... then West Indian - coconut milk for 78p a tin (really thick and creamy too); pepper sauces... then Polish... and maybe more. And the odd thing is, this branch of Tescos was still selling the Schwartz spices, and the little packs of lentils costing the same as the massive ones, in all the other aisles. And presumably people were buying them. We were like kids at Christmas and struggled back to Bakewell laden with tins and packets, which helped to even out the list a bit.

After shopping, we were visited by Madcat (as she is known on CWF) who joined us for a cup of tea, and then we strolled down to the New Main Line so that I could finally see and photograph Halsall. Now, at this stage I should be linking to the latest new entry in the Town Class Sticker Album, but disaster has struck! I have forgotten the password, or more likely the user name, and have a horrible feeling that it is linked to my old work email address which no longer exists. Hopefully it will come back to me, as I have photos of Alton and Aldgate to add, and probably others too. Anyway, Halsall was looking lovely and distinctive in a new green coat, and the cabin was so cosy, I am rethinking Chertsey's austerity look.
As we were half way there, we proceeded across the aqueduct to the beer tent and settled in for the evening. Beers were from the legendary Ma Pardoe's (aka the Old Swan at Netherton) and I must say tasted great from the barrel. I started with Bumblehole but although not extraordinarily strong it is what I call 'heady', volatile, like ESB say, and not my cup of tea, so I switched to Entire, and enjoyed that for the rest of the evening, whilst Jim stuck with Dark Swan mild.

The bonfire was lit at 7.30 and by the time we went outside was going well. We weren't bothered about getting close to the action, and watched the fireworks from the aqueduct. They were rather splendid, and while in the past I've tended to be a bit 'bah, humbug' about fireworks and the costs involved, this time I just gave myself up to the spectacle. The signs in the shops promoting Diwali remind us that there aren't many cultures that don't like a fiery celebration (or two) around this time of year, and it's not hard to see why it feels appropriate.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Looping the loop

Entering the Icknield Port Loop (unless Michelle tells me otherwise!)

Bakewell's journey: day 4 (because I didn't take any photos on day 3).

As well as towing Bakewell, Nick was also making a delivery, of some empty blue ballast drums. Thus we got to make a detour around the Icknield Port Loop, which certainly added to the interest of the trip.
Making the delivery

I really want to come back and explore the BCN over a longer period of time; it must be the most fascinating of Britain's waterways; the most tantalising and the most frustrating - all those lost wharves and arms and loops, and the ghosts and traces that remain. I can't say I fancy doing the BCN 24 hour challenge (we're SO slow! And I like my sleep too much), but I'd love to try to cover the ground over a week or a month.

More lovely BCN scenery

Saturday 12 November 2011

Tunnel vision

Bakewell's journey, day 2, in which we travelled from the top of Hatton to the Blue Bell Cider House at Hockley Heath.

On the whole, Jim and I took turns to steer the butty, and somehow it always seemed to be his turn when we got to a tunnel. By the last day I was insisting that I take a turn as a tunnel came up lest Nick think I was wimping out of them.

This one though gave me the opportunity of taking some nice moody photos.

By the way, do check out Paul's Chertsey photos again - I linked to them the other day but he keeps adding more!

Friday 11 November 2011

Bakewell's journey: day 1

The trouble with moving boats, leaping around, working locks etc - and having a decent camera, is that the camera tends not to get used. I can leap about and do locks with an old compact in my pocket, but not with four figures worth of SLR around my neck, so I have managed to take precious few action shots on recent trips.

However, on Tuesday morning, a couple on the towpath were taking photos and I thought, why not, it's my boat after all they're taking pictures of, and scribbled down my email address on a piece of paper, and as I dashed past, handed it to them and asked if they would mind emailing me a few of their photos. And they - or rather Sandra - did; seventeen pictures that put together show us leaving one lock, singling out along the pound, and starting to get ready to breast up for the next one. A marvellous record that we would otherwise not have; thank you Sandra. I think in future I shall keep some pre-written bits of paper in my pocket, to deploy whenever I see people taking photos!

Thursday 10 November 2011

Chertsey's odyssey, illustrated

Paul has uploaded some photos of his and Hairy Neil's journey with Chertsey here. In normal Photobucket fashion, they appear in reverse order.

Many thanks to Paul for the visual record of the adventure - and Neil tells me he filled in the log as well.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Normal service is resumed

For want of a plug, the ability to recharge the iPod was lost; for want of the iPod, the blog was lost...

We have completed our epic journey, and are now safely home. We includes me, Jim, Hairy Neil, Paul, Bakewell and Chertsey. The mad, impossible plan actually came off.

An enormous thank you to Hairy Neil and Paul for moving Chertsey, a stunning feat rendered only the more impressive by the fact that they managed to take in at least one (and up to five) selected real ale pub every night, and polish the brass to boot. Clearing (with Nev's help) Fradley with hours to spare before the stoppage began, they really got us out of a hole.

The itinerary went something like this...

Monday 31st - Jim and I arrive at Stockton and take possession of Bakewell. Jim cleans the porta potti. Nick arrives at the top of the locks with Aldgate.

Tuesday 1st - We stroll up to help Nick down the locks, and hitch Bakewell to Aldgate. We get a crash course in butty steering and breasting up while on the move to enter double locks. We realise that Bakewell is woefully undersupplied with ropes, and what we do have is green and slimey. Bakewell finishes the day at the top of Hatton with a very knackered crew.

Wednesday 2nd - Aldgate and Bakewell leave later than planned owing to having to rescue Kat from up a tree, but still manage to get to the other side of Lapworth to finish another exhausting day in the Blue Bell Cider House. Meanwhile Neil drives over to Torksey and sets Chertsey's timing, then takes her for a test run up to Saxilby and back, and then on to Dunham Bridge.

Thursday 3rd - No locks for us today, and we spend the night in Birmingham. Chertsey finally gets off the tidal Trent, although a malfunctioning lock means curtailing the day's journey at Fiskerton.

Friday 4th - A short run for us into Smethwick, where we tie up and go shopping. Chertsey on the other hand keeps going to Trent Lock, very nearly the end (or beginning) of the river, an epic day's travelling.

Saturday 5th - We visit Halsall and entertain Madcat, drink beer and watch fireworks. Neil and Paul on the other hand finish the night at Barton Turns, where they try five different pubs before deciding that the one at the marina might be the best bet after all.

Sunday 6th - our turn for an early(ish) start as we creep away from Smethwick at seven. It takes us around four hours to get both boats down the 21, and Jim starts answering to 'Dobbin' and demanding sugar lumps. We make it as far as Wolverhampton Boat Club before the light goes completely. This and Tuesday were our longest days, and around ten hours. Chertsey meanwhile makes it to Radford Bridge on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal - they have made it through Fradley before the locks close on Monday morning!

Monday 7th - We have another late start owing to the errant Kat, but with only a few miles to go, we are tied up at Stretton on our lovely new mooring well before lunch. Chertsey makes it to Brweood before the light fails, and after Jim has trained and taxi'd back to Stockton and collected the car, we drive over to join them for a few beers, and a have very expensive meal in the newly refurbished Lion Hotel (if Jim and I hadn't needed to eat we would have stayed in the Swan, where they had Directors).

Tuesday 8th - Not at seven a.m. as threatened (I wonder why they might have slept in....), thank goodness, but later in the morning, Chertsey joins Bakewell at Stretton. Tea and buns are enjoyed, Neil and Paul have a tour of the yard, then pack all their gear into Fang the Volvo for the drive back to Torksey, whereupon their luggage is transferred to Neils ex London cab, and we regain the A1 and head for home, where we arrive at nine o'clock.

And that, in brief, is the epic journey of three boats and five people, to safely get Chertsey and Bakewell to their mooring for the winter. Many many thanks to all concerned.

Photos to follow.