... 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 27 January 2011

Male member

Welcome to this post about my membership subscription renewal letter from the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club.

oh, bye....

On the whole I love the rather old fashioned approach and somewhat arcane language surrounding the conduct of the business of the Club, particularly in regard to membership issues. (The word 'shewn', I would hazard, is unlikely to be found in any other contemporary correspondence.)

However, I fear I had to draw the line at the phrase 'wife or partner's name (if applicable)' and have written to raise a wry eyebrow at this terminology. Sadly, I have written via the medium of electronic mail, when I would so much have preferred to have incsribed it with a trusty fountain pen upon best Croxley Script.

Afternoon update:
Action has been taken! I must therefore commend the membership secretary for his promptness in bringing this to the attention of the committee. It seems that the wording is to be amended to 'spouse or partner'. Apparently, when it was first introduced, it did just say 'partner' - a perfectly good term, you might think, for capturing the essence of all sorts of significant others, legally contracted or otherwise. But apparently someone on the committee objected to his wife being referred to as his partner. Just read that again. The woman in question did not herself object; it was the man that didn't like it. Well, let's just hope he's happy with spouse.

Sunday 23 January 2011

New top dog blog

Thanks to my unhealthy obsession with the UK Waterways Ranking site, I was able to observe a historic moment this afternoon - the toppling of Granny Buttons, doyen of waterways bloggers, from the top blog spot, handing his crown over to No Problem. Of course, it may have briefly happened previously and escaped my notice, but this will be the first chance for it to be noted on Halfie's weekly round-up. I wonder what the positions will be when he takes this week's snapshot. Maybe, like me, he was watching the screen, hitting 'refresh' and waiting for that moment...

My own experience suggests that regular - and frequent - updating is the key to keeping up a position in the rankings, and since landing a job in the (ha!) old media (i.e. printed on paper and trucked around the country to be sold, for money, in retail outlets, how quaint) this is something Granny, aka Andrew, has neglected somewhat. I hope he won't be abandoning it altogether though; it would be a sad loss indeed of not only an entertaining read but a piece of blogosphere heritage. I must admit No Problem hadn't been on my list of regular reads, although I knew about the information Sue and Vic compile about which marinas allow self declaration and which don't, and other stuff, so I had a peek today and it is certainly comprehensive, informative and friendly.

And now having noted this momentous shift of the blogosphere on its axis, I must get back to writing a lecture about Local Strategic Partnerships. And you wondered why I was staring at the ranking site for the past two hours.

Saturday 22 January 2011


Unfortunately, I forgot to put the map away again afterwards.

Friday 21 January 2011

Where to next?

Now Chertsey's home, where shall we go next? Well, the simple answer is Braunston, via Ellesmere Port. The latter for the working boat gathering (my first time there with a boat); the former, to have the oak gunnels made and fitted.

The detail, however, is something I had put to one side, mental geography not being my strong point. I can read and follow a map, as long as I've got it in front of me; I just can't bloody remember it.

So, the map is unfolded on the bed behind me, and I shall keep getting up to consult it as I write.

From Stretton to the Port, that's easy; even I can do that in my head. Straight up the Shroppie, past Warrior''s old mooring at Golden Nook and into terra (aqua?) nova. No Ship Canal or crossing the Mersey for us this time, but back down again to the Middlewich Branch - another new waterway for me, and it remains so as far as Harecastle, after which it's down to Fradley and more than likely retracing last year's route via the Coventry and Oxford. The plan is to stay at Braunston while the gunnels and the cloths are made, and remain there for the Big One at the end of June, and after that... well, that's definitely not decided yet.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Washing machine

It seems that a washing machine is a must-have for many boaters, so I am very pleased to have acquired one of my own - and for just £7.50 as well. Used in conjunction with the tin bath, it should make washing even heavier items a breeze.

Now all I need is a mangle.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Made it home

Up with the alarm at six again today, ready to make the fire up... to discover that unlike the previous night, it had gone out. Oh bugger. So I picked out the biggest lumps of unburnt coal, emptied the ash and set about lighting it afresh. No rag, so some kitchen paper , followed by sticks, doused in a generous measure from the mysterious can of flammable substances kept for the purpose - usually diesel, oil, and/or paraffin*, but in this case a healthy proportion of white spirit from the summer's little painting jobs, so, after throwing in a match, with a very satisfying woomph, off it went, and back in with the coal. On with the kettle and back into bed with me until 45 minutes later I could hear it boiling.

Next, get up, get dressed, call Jim; put the porridge on and make some tea. Even I am eating porridge now; I have always liked the idea in principle but have never really managed to get it down in practice, but when boating, all things are possible, and two days in a row now have got off to a healthy start, albeit augmented with copious quantities of brown sugar.

And so we were ready to leave at eight, and off we went again up the Staffs and Worcs. It was only actually once we were on the Shroppie, some time later, that we fully came to appreciate that it's not just bad luck; the S&W is a horrid canal; bendy, shallow and with vicious bridges. In the wind, of course, it's horrider still. We played stuck in the mud a couple of times, and stuck on some rocks or something once, I think, but not seriously; i.e. not requiring external assistance to be extricated, just much pushing, pulling, grunting and swearing, and in one very effective (though I hasten to assure you, very isolated, geographically speaking, case) howling in despair. Well, it worked. (As an aside, I wondered at the time, why is shouting and swearing considered a perfectly sane and acceptable response to a trying situation, while spontaneous howling is liable to get you marked down as a raving lunatic?)

Anyway, at a quarter to one we made the turn into Autherley (that made it sound easy, didn't it) and then we were on the lovely straight, mostly deep and very often wide Shroppie, where I actually got some speed up for the first time - but NOT while passing that hippy boat that floated free just as we passed, having apparently not been tied up at all, or at best to one (remaining) pin in soft mud. I was sure it was completely adrift, and said, should we stop in the bridgehole (all other moving boats had been left behind at Autherley) and go back and try to catch it, but Jim said it was still tied at the back. Then as it started following us, it was obvious that this wasn't the case, so being a good citizen, I was all set to tied up and walk back, when we saw someone emerge from its companion hippy boat and take the matter in hand. And I just know they'll blame me, sigh, even though nary another boat moved at all as we passed.

But that was quickly forgotten as soon we were passing the familiar landscape of Brewood, and then in the distance was the aqueduct, with a welcoming party of swans (possibly bouncers, actually), and drawn like eels to the Sargasso Sea, we were back at Stretton Wharf again, this time as Chertsey's home and not its hospital. It was a good feeling.
We tied temporarily next to Shilling (and another, longer boat as well), and had a cup of tea. The Volvo we'd left there six weeks previously (and at Kings Bromley for nine months before that) started first turn of the key, and after a final tidy up, we headed for home. Mission accomplished - and only seven weeks behind schedule.

*and no, not petrol, because I am not that stupid.

Saturday 15 January 2011


Good as our word, we were up early and off as soon as it was light - about quarter to eight. For three hours or so we had the canal to ourselves, then suddenly there were boats everywhere. Following us, and very kindly closing the top gates for me, was Mollie, whose crew had apparently been following the blog to decide when to make a break from Great Haywood Marina! All we going well, despite a bit of a breeze, until we got to Penkridge, where we started to hear rumours of a fallen tree, blocking the canal. With no idea where this was, we kept plugging on until we were waved down by Festina Lente, and there it was - an ivy covered arch low across the cut. It had landed, on the far side, on top of a boat, but didn't appear to have done any damage. After some effort, owing to the wind, we got Chertsey into the towpath and tied up.

A couple of boats behind, there was a man with a chainsaw... he set to, removing branches from below the arch, amid some fears that this might increase the weight on the boat opposite, or have some other unforeseen consequences, but he seemed to make a good job of it. He and his partner were able to get through, and the rest of us were preparing to - when two BW chaps arrived. We had just untied Chertsey at this point, and so went through the exact same rigmarole - pulling the front in with the long rope - of tying up again. The BW guys, armed with chainsaw and Tirfor (sp?) made pretty short work of it and we were all impressed by their efficiency.

So it was only an hour or so before we were on our way again, and we were hopeful of getting to Gailey tonight as planned. It wasn't to be however; Rodbaston Lock was unbelievably slow (thanks Festina Lente for leaving it empty for us), and we could scarcely get out into the wind; we managed one more and admitted defeat when we couldn't get off the bank after coming out of Boggs Lock; the wind had certainly got up and the light was going. Nice to know that our ten hour day used all the hours of daylight. So another early start tomorrow; 14 miles and just four locks to go, and hopefully the wind will blow itself out overnight.

Friday 14 January 2011

Breaking away!

Hooray! We have untied from Great Haywood and are on our way again. Following a completely uneventful - indeed, enjoyable - train journey, we arrived in Stafford at five to two, and chickening out of taking the bus, got a taxi to Great Haywood. I lit the stove while Jim set about pumping out the hold, and then I walked into the village for milk and bread and cheese. Wot no buns, said Jim on my return, but miraculously, I found some biscuits in the biscuit tin which were nearly as good as new, so we had them with our tea.

By half past three the engine was running and we were ready to set off, so we did. There's no ice at all now, and we got safely through Tixall Lock - although you can see why it needs repairing, water is gushing out between the bottom gates in a torrent. That's scheduled to close on Monday, so we've got through that hoop. Not long after the light began to fade, but we kept going as long as we could see and have tied up just beyond Milford Bridge, so near to the railway line that we can't just hear the trains, we can feel them too. Boating - makes you so hungry you could eat a Fray Bentos pie, so we did, enjoying this peculiar traditional delicacy with beans this time, and the obligatory bottle of beer of course.

There were little lambkins cavorting in the fields, and... Jim caught the frog that's been living in the hold for months. Heaven knows what it's been eating, but hopefully it will be happier on the damp towpath. We passed Debdale tied up on Tixall Wide, and I guess they'll be catching us up tomorrow... but maybe not; the alarm's set for an early start so hopefully we'll be 'getting 'em ahead'. Meanwhile I'm looking out at the stars and the water, and just feeling glad to be back.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Fantastic Fazeley

Following Adam's earlier comment, and my own doubts, I rang BW again this morning and Kate in the Fazeley office was as helpful as before. She told me that the lock works were finished at Shutts Hill, but because of problems with their pumps, they hadn't been able to rewater it. However, she rang up the man on the ground and rang us back, to say that it should be done by Friday evening. So fingers crossed, and lots of praise to the Fazeley office for their friendly and efficient service.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Cold feet

Only metaphorical ones, since I treated myself (as well as everyone else) to a pair of thermal socks as recommended by Starman for Christmas, but just thinking about how much could go wrong with this boat moving lark at the weekend. Not go wrong as in sink, but as in, not get to our destination and have to get back from the middle of nowhere...

We arrive on Friday afternoon, quite probably too late to set off before dark. I have to be at work in London on Monday evening. So we have two days to do what is theoretically a day and a half's trip. But there will no doubt still be some ice to slow us down. Our timing is dependent on the lock works all happening on schedule as promised. It seems likely that lots of boats might be trying to make a break for it, which could mean hold ups. The weather forecast is for rain, which is not favourite, but worst of all, it's forecast to be windy. We've tried to do this stretch in the wind before and it was not fun. In fact it was so much not fun that we gave up. So my biggest hope is that that bit of the forecast will turn out to be wrong.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Ever hopeful

Ever hopeful that the thaw will continue apace, and that the window in the stoppages will occur, we are making plans to move Chertsey next weekend. We have one trusty Volvo already in place at Stretton, to come home in, so don't really want to drive up there - and, we've just calculated, it would cost over £100 in petrol to get there and back. Eeek.

Anyway, we always planned to go by train - and even, if we're feeling very adventurous, bus - so I just settled down to investigate fares. At first sight it didn't look too good - the best price shown by the National Rail website was £75 for the two of us. Cheaper than driving but still a lot to risk on an advance ticket for something that might not come off.

A bit of shopping around later, and I'd got it down to £41.10; worth taking a risk on and a significant saving. That's £25.30 with Southern for an off-peak single for two with internet discount; £1.90 each to get from Victoria to Euston on the tube, and then - the real bargain the National Rail site keeps quiet - £12 for two from Euston to Stafford with London Midland. Slower than Virgin but oh-so-much cheaper. It's not quite as early in the day as we'd ideally like to go, but it will certainly do.

Now I just have to look up the buses from Stafford to Great Haywood again. It can be done!!

Friday 7 January 2011

Unseen pictures (by me, anyway)

Everyone else has probably found these long ago, but Jim just came across them on the HNBOC website - two photos of Chertsey at Oldbury in 2005, taken by Matt Beamish.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Window of possibility

All may not quite be lost. Yet. I rang British Waterways at Fazeley yesterday to ask whether the ice might have caused the stoppages to be postponed. The answer was that they started Shutts Hill on schedule, yesterday, but it is due to be finished by the 14th. They will then start work on Tixall Lock on the 17th, and finish that by the 28th. So... IF the ice melts, and IF the works happens according to this new schedule, then there could be a window of opportunity to get through over the weekend of the 15th/16th. For the time being I shall pin my hopes on that.