... 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.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Back on Bakewell

Squirrel lit, pillows airing by it, two hot water bottles in my back cabin bed, and just a little help from the double Beatrice stove to take the chill off before bed.

I've sat one of the stoveplates from the Guidwife on top in the hope of mininising soot deposits. Given that we only arrived about three o'clock this afternoon, the boat has really warmed up quickly (fortunately it's still pretty mild out). Tomorrow I'll go and light Chertsey's stove and give her cabin a bit of TLC.

Saturday 29 December 2012


I never usually read the travel section, but I picked it up this evening and found this article, which so annoyed me that I had to sign up and leave a comment.

I was pleased to note that I wasn't the only one.

Thursday 27 December 2012

It's a plan...

I'm writing this using the new Bluetooth iPad keyboard that Baz kindly gave me for Christmas. I am however hampered slightly by not having a tale to put it on, so there will probably be just as many typos as if I didn't have the benefit of it.

It is of course that time of year when one's thoughts turn to making next year's boating plans (subsequently, of course, to be amended or abandoned) but here is what we thought, work, crews etc willing, we might do.

Firstly, Ellesmere Port at Easter, a brief stroll up the Shroppie. Hell, we might even take the butty (although I have to say it's unlikely). Then bck to Stretton.

For the rest of the year, round trip, taking in Langley Mill, Braunston and Cropredy, and returning via Birmingham. This is apparently 263 miles and 269 locks. We wouldn't do it all at once, but would need to find/arrange strategic places to leave Chertsey along the way.

There's a gathering at Langley Mill ayt the end of May to celebrate the
fortieth anniversary of the Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association (as it now is). We've been up the Erewash on Warrior but never with Chertsey.

Then of course Braunston at the end of June is the one fixed point in the calendar - still not to be missed in my book even if attendance was a bit sparse last year. After that, but short step to Cropredy, to provide acccomodtion for Baz and Izzi as they attend the festival at the beginning of August - and then they join us as crew to tackle the Grand Union locks en route to Birmingham whence we proceed via Wolverhampton back to Stretton.

Baz 'n' Iz are up for it, so wwhat could posibly go wrong?

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Easing the squeeze

The Chesterfield Canal was never built for motor boats, or iron or steel boats, let alone Grand Union steel motor boats. (In fact, the Chesterfield Canal Trust are currently building a replica of an original Chesterfield Canal boat if you would like to see what one looked like - wooden, shallow drafted, and horsedrawn.) So perhaps it is a little greedy of us at HNBC to want to be able to take our monsters all the way up to the head of navigation at Kiveton Park.

On the other hand, when the canal was restored in the 1970s, the locks were meant to be rebuilt to the standard dimensions for modern leisure craft. There was no earthly reason why Stret Lock should have been rebuilt to a width of 6'10" rather than the standard 7' plus, causing problems for modern boats as well as historic ones (mostly in the case of modern boats, because of protruding baseplates).

It was to highlight this issue that HNBC organised a massed (well, there were about seven of us) attempt on Stret Lock in the summer of last year, to see who could and who couldn't get through. Chertsey couldn't even get through the one before (Morse), but there are very few of us who can get through Stret (Bath and Petrel being the only two that come to mind). I think we were all pleasantly surprised when BW (as was) agreed firstly to investigate, and then to take action to remedy this.

The action has consisted of removing an entire layer of bricks from one of the lock's side walls, anchoring the wall into the ground, and then rebuilding the inner wall, using the existing stone blocks (for reasons of both heritage and cost - nice when the two coincide!). This widens the lock by at least two inches, to a depth well below the bottom of any boat, even when the lock is empty.

On Sunday, CRT held an open day at Stret, to show off the work they'd done - and presumably, from the number of CRT chuggers in attendance, to attract people to come and visit the canal. I couldn't resist the chance to get right down inside the bottom of a dewatered lock, as well as seeing the work - which looked to be being done to an excellent standard. We were able to talk to the people who were doing it, and once again were struck by the commitment of the CRT workers on the ground (and in this case, below it).

Monday 26 November 2012


Goodness, why has it taken me so long to add Nick's Eileen blog to the old boat blogroll? Nick won the great 'how many candidates will stand for the boaters' places on the CRT Council' sweepstake back in January; I've met him, and heard about his ongoing project of a 1903 day boat, BCN no. 18686, aka Eileen; I knew he had a blog; I've even looked at it. You should too - it has some stunning photos.

Tomorrow: I travel seventy miles to look at a hole in the ground.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Biscuit review

At Sheffield station this morning, I had pressed upon me not one, but three, free samples of the much advertised Belvita 'breakfast biscuits', designed for people who don't have time to stuff a bit of toast in their mouth before leaving the house but prefer to cover themselves in crumbs on the train instead. Unwrapping a 59p packet of two took me back to my childhood - they were like nothing so much as the 'Limmits' meal substitute biscuits on which my mother vainly tried to lose weight in the 1970s. A sweet, digestive-y type biscuit sandwiching a 'creamy live yogurt filling' (yeah, right. 'yogurt powder 3%') with oooh, added minerals and stuff so it sounds like proper food and not just a biscuit.

According to the packet 'Belvita Breakfast Yogurt Crunch are truly exciting'. I'll just repeat that. A digestive biscuit with a sugary filling containing powdered yogurt is TRULY EXCITING.

What are they thinking when they write this stuff? Do they think people will buy it in the hope of a thrill? Are their lives really so dull and bounded by biscuits that they actually believe it? Is it the result of hyperbole inflation? What is left, other than ironic English understatement, to describe things that really might arouse a flicker of interest in a jaded populace?

Or maybe it is the idea of being someone so busy and important that they are above eating breakfast like ordinary mortals, but must instead snack on a 1970s diet biscuit (which apparently can be part of a balanced breakfast when accompanied by a latte and a banana... Just eat the sodding banana!) because they are so modern and zetgeist-surfing.

Anyway, as I got given a freebie, I thought I would review the 'truly exciting' Brevita Breakfast Yogurt Crunch Biscuit.

It was horrible.

Monday 12 November 2012

Boss eyed in the blogosphere

I have added Angry People in Local Newspapers to the blogroll, as I still find it quite amusing (even if some of the captions pall after a while). Finding absurdities, over-the-topperies, and sheer acts of people taking themselves too seriously in the local press has long been a source of entertainment for me on the long winter evenings. Few things will better the sub-editor in the Brighton Argus who saw fit to headline the story of a clearly mentally ill man self-harming to the extent that he got gangrene 'Man Kills Himself with Giant Novelty Pencil'. However, APILN, and its sister website Lib Dems Who Point* (and I have been one of those in my time) does collect together a treasure trove of pictures of people trying to look cross. Sometimes the story is worthy or serious comment (and the anger justified); more often however it's concocted almost entirely for two minutes of local fame (or infamy) before becoming chip wrapping.

Not having anything else to read last night, I spent a few hours following up some of the sites APILN links too. I was astounded to discover what goes on between the covers of Chat, Take a Break etc. and feel fully vindicated in never having handed over a penny for any of them or their ilk; I have also learnt (no, I honestly had no idea before) what extremely fat women look like with no clothes on. Or almost no clothes; modesty dictates that they wear some kind of bra for the photoshoot, but other undergarments are rendered redundant by obscuring cascades of flesh. (Although come to think of it, they probably have got something on down there, you just can't see it). Obesity, incest and clairvoyance (with a nice line in psychic animals) seem to be the staple of these housewives' favourites.

Then I looked at Speak Your Brains, basically a collection of comments on online news stories, before I realised that too much laughing at stupid people on the internet is not really good for the soul and I had to go and have a shower.

Whilst fiddling, I have also changed Sandbach to Badger, to reflect George's change of boat.

*Doesn't appear to be working at the time of writing, though it did the other day.

Sunday 11 November 2012

First frost

Well, the first I've photographed anyway.

Saturday 10 November 2012


Ever since being shown Blossom's splendid collection of pot hooks at Alvecote, Jim, unbeknownst to me, has been watching out for some on ebay. Today, after meeting a man from Wolverhampton in a pub car park, he came back with these.

They were supposed to be for Christmas but they were so marvellous he couldn't wait. There are five delicately worked ones in brass, and four chunkier copper ones. And - would you believe - he was the only bidder and got the lot for £10.50.

Now we need to find a rail to go over Bakewell's range, to make good use of all of them. Well done Jim!

Thursday 8 November 2012

Simple things...

I'm afraid I find this very amusing.
Angry People in Local Newspapers

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Diamond Geezer visits the BCN!

A non-boating blogger from London posts a piece that puts most of our efforts to shame. I have commented with a link to my post which in turn has a link to Captain Ahab's excellent articles from this time last year. Hoping that DG's having an extended stay in the West Midlands and that there's more to come!

Sunday 4 November 2012

Going the distance

Yesterday saw the bi-annual fun and frolics of an HNBC 'social' (I am not convinced that 'social' is a noun, but we will take it as an implicit abbreviation of 'social event'. Being on the committee, Both Jim (who is not Events and Awards Officer) and I were meant to be there at ten. We were a bit late however, as, for all its virtues, the free Navfree satnav app is a bit optimistic about journey times. We were also somewhat perplexed by the route it had chosen, until I investigated and discovered that it was still set to avoid motorways, and had been ever since we had the oil leak in the previous Volvo.

The afternoon's entertainment this year was provided by Tony Gregory, who had put together a really good show of photos from the 1940s and 50s, mainly of the BCN and the Wolverhampton locks. I finally learnt why lock twenty is the only one to have a single top gate - it was added twelve years after the original twenty locks were built, to save water, and the standard for the BCN had changed in the meantime. The secong half of the presentation included some compilations of cine film put together by Keith Christie. This was less successful as much of the film had not transferred very well to the digital medium, and it was largely reliant on Tony Gregory reading out Keith Christie's written commentary.

There was an excellent bonus though. Tony had brought along a number of items he had salvaged many years ago which were looking for good homes, and for a small donation to charity, they found them. The items in question are, I understood at the time (but see below), 1966 reprints* of 1886 Grand Junction distance tables. I only have a terribel iPad photo, but you can see they take the form of the tables you get in motoring atlases, whereby you can read off the distance from any one place to another. There are also smaller tables for each arm.

*Update - firstly to remove the awful iPad spelling, but more importantly to add what Tony Gregory has subsequently sent in an email: the tables were salvaged in 1966 - so could be any age. Maybe the original 1886 printing, even? Tony sent an account to be printed in the HNBC newsletter, so I am sure it will be all right to reproduce the relevant bit here:
'These had been in a wardrobe at the home of the late George & Olive Andrews since they collected them from Thomas Clayton (Oldbury) Ltd., when their canal carrying operations ceased in 1966.'

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Toilet talk

An occasional series on a subject close to all our hearts

I have noticed an interesting trend in the design and layout of public toilets lately. Examples have been spotted in public loos in Lewes (pronounced Lewis, in case anyone thought that was a lucky pun), and on two different trains.

The phenomenon to which I am referring is a toilet paper dispenser, set into the wall, either behind (Lewes) or adjacent to (trains, where there is a very narrow space) the toilet, almost at floor level meaning that you have to practically stick your head down the loo in order to help yourself to the kindly provided sheets of flimsy tissue (the lot I pulled out in the last train was all damp...).

Now you might say, well, surely it is positioned for easy access whilst sitting on the toilet, rather than advance supply.

To which I would reply, anyone that applied to would have to be a contortionist with extremely low standards of hygiene.

Tuesday 30 October 2012

A winter's day with Singapore

Apparently all last week while I was enjoying bright blue skies and crisp autumn sunshine highlighting the golden leaves in Sheffield, Jim, down in Newhaven, was being battered by heavy rain for the entire week. Friday morning, however, was noticeably colder, as I made my way south.

We'd decided that it would be nice to visit Singapore, Jim's Dunkirk Little Ship currently undergoing repairs at Walton on the Naze, and see how she's coming along. It was sunny when we left, but as we drove north and then east we encountered black skies and heavy rain. Jim was beginning to doubt the wisdom of proceeding, but as we reached Walton, we passed through the clouds and once again it was sunny and clear. And cold; god how perishingly, suddenly, cold. (Captain Ahab's post for today gives an idea of what the east coast was like at the weekend.)

Well, it was certainly bracing. At least Singapore is in a shed, out of the wind. At first glance, Singapore does not look very different from how she did eighteen months ago, but closer examination reveals that a lot of the wood is new

including new oak ribs

a new laminated breasthook, but it was too dark up in the forepeak to take a photo with the iPad, and of course I'd left the camera in Sheffield.

and ongoing caulking.

Funny looking grindings!

Monday 29 October 2012

Songs from the Shipyards

On Friday night, thanks to a wonderfully generous gesture from a friend, Sebastian and I saw the Unthanks perform 'Songs from the Shipyards' at the South Bank Centre. The show comprised a film, put together by Richard Fenwick from archive and newsreel footage from the 1940s through to the 80s, covering the boom and subsequent decline of shipbuilding on the Tyne, accompanied by the band singing their arrangements of mainly contemporaneous songs. And that's it, basically - and at little more than an hour, it was so brief that they were able to put on two performances each evening.

But it was one of the most moving and stirring sixty minutes entertainment I have ever had. Almost impossible to put into words, the power of the old film - men rivetting, welding, climbing gantries... warships being launched... ships in battle; ships being sunk... cruise ships being launched; massive oil tankers on the drawing board; being built, and dwarfing the terraced streets as they are launched... Thatcher (to boos and hisses from the audience); foreign competition, decline, closure and demolition of the yards' buildings and cranes. And this combined expertly with songs written by local people at the time, and later classics like Elvis Costello's 'Shipbuilding', along with arrangements of Rudyard Kipling's poem 'Big Steamers', which looks trite on the page but was given a heartrending air of naivete by Niopha Keegan's singing (better known as the Unthanks' violinist, she has a great voice which complements both Rachel and Becky Unthank's very different voices). The whole thing was fabulous. I was surprised that they didn't get a standing ovation for it (being in the front row, I was far too shy to start one!). Immediately afterwards, Sebastian booked tickets for him and Izzi to see it at Bexhill, one of the last remaining shows not to be sold out.

I am just hoping now that they will release the film with a recorded soundtrack, for cinemas, maybe even on DVD. If you get the chance, see it. If not, you can buy the CD of the songs, but beautiful as they are, the combination of music and image is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

Monday 22 October 2012

From steel box to steel city...

Thank you for bearing with me while I've been getting my feet under the table in the new job and making the transition to living in a city - for the first time in my life, I realise.

I'm going to try and get back into the swing of blogging now with a few musings on life in Sheffield... a place I already like a lot... Then when the novelty has faded, it will hopefully be back to the old mixture of boat-related ramblings and rants.

Friday 5 October 2012

Room for greater realism?

Last night I thought I would investigate BBC iPlayer (I'm not exactly what you would call an early adopter). I don't normally enjoy watching television - we haven't had one for about a decade now - but I was sure I would find something to look at on the iPad. I decided on Room at the Top - the much praised BBC 4 dramatisation of John Braine's angry young northern grittiness. Surprisingly, perhaps, I've not read the book, so didn't really know what to expect, other than the strong language and sex that the BBC kindly warned me about beforehand.

It wasn't that that shocked me however. Rather the scene that had me peturbed was the one in which a woman, in the 1950s, in Yorkshire, goes up to the bar of an old fashioned pub and orders a pint for herself as well as her male companion, and is served it without demur. In a London glass, what's more.

Someone who can remember, please tell me whether this would really have happened.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Numbers game

A chance moan in a text from a friend this morning led me to ten minutes of life-enhancing Wikipedia reading pleasure.  I had mentioned that I would like to ban the word 'unacceptable' as used by government spokespeople and their ilk; he countered with 24/7 and 0207, and I suggested 1-2-1 (as in students requesting an individual tutorial; they do, I'm afraid). I wasn't sure what he meant by 0207 so I Googled it and found this: UK telephone code misconceptions.

I suspect Starcross Jim will enjoy it.

I have one of those peculiar 011x numbers now.

It's 0114 for anyone who's interested and hadn't yet guessed.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Launching Lazarus

Remember Singapore? You could be forgiven if not, as things have been very quiet in relation to Jim's wooden sea boat. Things have not stood still, however; work has been progressing steadily at Frank Hall and Sons' boatyard at Walton on the Naze - it's just that for a change we haven't been directly involved. There is still plenty more to do and she probably won't be going back into the water until next year now, but we - and particularly Jim - are busy making plans for what happens then.

One thing we are going to need is a dinghy and an outboard for it, especially as Singapore is going to be kept on a swinging mooring. That's a buoy attached to a lump of concrete in the middle of the sea, to me, from which one requires a means of getting to and from land.

Well, as of last week, when Jim (with Bill and Michelle's help) collected an ebay purchase from Chepstow, we have the first of those requirements, a nine foot long Hyperlon inflatable dinghy.

It didn't have a name, as far as we know, so I decided it would be fitting to name it after one of Singapore's satellite islands. It turns out that there are masses of these - around sixty - but most have rather unmemorable names. Others turn out to be former leper colonies or the sites of spectacular petrochemical disasters. Lazarus Island, on the other hand, is apparently a peaceful holiday resort. It also seemed like a fitting name for a dinghy which will be deflated and stored away at the end of each season, only to be resurrected the next.

Of course, we had to try it out, and it was very successful, at least on the nice flat canal. Our rowing technique wouldn't stand up to Amy and James's scrutiny, but I managed to get us over the aqueduct and back. Not quite Tom Rolt crossing Pontcysyllte in a coracle, but a start.

Thanks to Iain for taking the photos.

Friday 14 September 2012

Shopping in Stourbridge

I've not yet been to Stourbridge by boat, although it is definitely on the itinerary for next time we go down the Staffie (according to John Thorpe, in the splendidly heartwarming Windlass in my Belt, this is traditionally known as the 'Stour Cut' though I confess I have never heard this name used, sadly). However, the Black Country Man Canal Shop at Stourbridge is our nearest Craftmaster stockist, and they are (he is) very helpful, so today was our second visit, to pick up some engine enamel and carnuba wax polish.

Having done that we thought we would explore the town, and in particular, of course, the charity shops.

Well, the town was rather nice, with an absolutely splendid Victorian town hall that put me in mind more than anything of St Pancras, all red brick turrets and pediments. But the charity shops! I've already forgotten what came from where, so suffice to say that I spent something in the region of £46 in total, and came home with at least eleven items, including a brand new Berghaus fleece jacket (£4), a Rohan fleece jacket, a lovely embroidered silk skirt, an ankle length black lightweight coat, a long black Monsoon skirt (just what I have been looking for) and a gorgeous red Pachamama South American hand knitted jumper. I think I can be certain that this is the best charity shopping expedition I have ever undertaken. And I can justify much of it on the grounds that I'll be wearing it for work!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Happy New Year!

As Neil of Herbie has pointed out, this, not January, truly marks the new year. A fresh start, new beginnings - not the sad post Christmas leftovers. I've always felt this way. Early mornings again after weeks of indolence; the tang of apples in the air, the harvest safely in. A new class, new friends (and enemies); a whole new set of projects and targets, an as yet unknown world of possibilities.

And guess what I'm doing to mark the new year? After nearly a year out, I've got a new job. On paper it's very similar to the old one (which is no doubt why I got it) but in a whole new setting - different setting, different institution, different people. I start tomorrow and I'm very excited.

Did I enjoy my gap year? Maybe not as much as I'd hoped. It has been lovely living on the boats, but what happened to the plans to just take off and go cruising? I suspect they were a victim of 'living next door to St Paul's syndrome' - when you can do something anytime you tend not to do it at all. We've made lots of short trips this year - more than ever before - including covering the whole of the S&W twice but I don't think we've been away longer than a fortnight. And as for the plans that kept us here - mainly featuring Bakewell's back cabin - they were thwarted by the weather.

So I am looking forward to a bit more structure and external routine; I think it suits me better on the whole. The routine will be similar to my days in Huddersfield, but in reverse. I have landed a job in a city with a canal that I can't take my boats onto, so I have rented a small flat to use during the working week, to return to the boats at weekends. The job is a 0.8 post so timetabling permitting, I am hoping the weekends will be long ones.

So you will forgive my somewhat intermittent posting, I am sure, now you know what has been occupying my mind. Once I get some semblance of order and discipline back into my existence, I am sure I will get back into the swing of it. And when I am no longer living and breathing the boats as part of everyday life, perhaps the interesting things about them - things that are interesting to other people, that is - will leap out again. I love them, and I'm so glad to have had this year living full time on them, but it has meant that it has become 'normal' and thus I find it harder to discern what would be interesting enough to others to blog about.

PS. It won't be hard to work out where I'm going. I'll just add that it's a Russell Group university - my first! And it's a couple of hours away by train.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Battening down the hatches

Not literally, I hasten to add. Almost the reverse, in fact. All summer I have been very worried about rain damaging the wooden panels of Chertsey's rear hatches. These have survived since the early seventies, when they were painted by Ian Kemp, largely because the boat was unused and shut up for much of that time. My fear was that rain would get behind the painted panels and cause them to warp; maybe ultimately to crack or even rot, and they would be damaged beyond repair.

Using the boat every day, to sleep in if nothing else, means that the tops of the doors are constantly exposed. Not only when we are boating, but in winter, with the stove burning, the slide has to be left open for ventilation. So  needed to find a way to seal the tops, the grain of the wood and especially the join between the door itself and the painted panel. We considered epoxy resin, which we will very probably be using on Bakewell's back cabin when we get round to doing it, but we've no experience of using it yet. A strip of brass across the top of the wood was another idea, but would mean cutting more of the wood away to make space for it. Either of these may yet come to pass. In the meantime however I have filled the gap around and behind the right hand panel (the left hand one isn't in as bad a state and doesn't have a gap. Yet) with Evo-Stick All Weather paintable silicone, and was so impressed with its manageability I have smeared a layer over the top as well. This stuff claims to stick to wet and oily surfaces as well as remaining waterproof and flexible for twenty years.

This has really, amazingly, been the first opportunity this year to do any jobs of this sort, with enough time for the wood to dry out beforehand and then for the sealants and paint to dry. Jim has kindly sanded the rest of the inside of the hatches too so that they can all be repainted and the panels revarnished - to which end we made a trip to Stourbridge this morning to get a tin of Craftmaster varnish.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Shenanegans at Alvecote

OK, I won't give it up then. It's just got a little boring lately, what with the restoration pretty much complete - there's only so many things to talk about and I would hate to be writing one of those boring blogs.

But I shall soldier on. Recently we've been to Stourport with Warrior (and Adrian and Linda) and more recently still, to the second historic boat gathering at Alvecote on the Coventry Canal (not my favourite waterway).

I have uploaded a few photos here (currently in reverse order but I'm working on that); more words to follow as and when I get my act together.

Monday 13 August 2012

Whose hose?

Now this is embarassing.

That lovely length of fire hose which now adorns Chertsey's cratch was a present. From someone. And I can't remember who.

I am so sorry to appear so ungrateful. I'm not, really - it's a fabulous bit of hose, and I really want to say thank you.

Please could the kind benefactor jog my memory, so that I may prostrate myself before them in an orgy of gratitude and remorse.


Friday 10 August 2012

Desk job

I was finding it a bit cramped working on a small table, plus I don't really get on with the laptop all that well, so having worked out that Bakewell is rather more spacious than we originally anticipated, when we went back to Newhaven the other week I fetched back my old (and it is old - 2005) desktop computer, monitor, keyboard etc.

All I needed was a desktop to put it on. A trip to Kelsall's for a length of worktop and a bit of batten soon sorted that out.

And now we have a dining table as well, so I can read and eat my muesli in comfort without spilling it all down me.

Thank goodness for Large Woolwich butties.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Single handed

Well, it has been a busy couple of weeks and I'm afraid I slipped right out of the habit of blogging there for a bit. After I finished the research work I was doing (at least pending further instructions), we went back to Newhaven for a week, and then almost immediately set off on a little trip along with Adrian and Linda on Warrior - to Stourport and back in five days.

The best bit was this. At Botterham locks, there was a very nice, clean looking Volvo 740 GLE estate, H reg, and when we went to Droitwich at Easter Jim got talking to its owner about our love of Volvos in general, and old ones in particular. When we went down last week, the guy had brought a new van and was looking to sell the Volvo. It so happened that on the way back from Newhaven, Fang the 1988 240 GLE had started to exhibit signs of terminal decline, to whit, masses of smoke emerging from underneath whenever we went over fifty. After escaping the M40 (thank you NavFree!) for a five hour journey through the countryside around Chipping Norton (grim looking place) and stopping near Blenheim Palace to open the tailgate, grab the cat before he got out, and extract the bottle of oil in there in an operation planned with military precision, we diagnosed the cause as the crankshaft oil seal. Not economic to repair in terms of either money of effort when so much else about poor Fang was in decline, so it awaits the metallic knacker's yard.

And we bought the one at Botterham locks. It seemed that this was not a place particularly well served by public transport, thinking of coming to collect it, so I suggested to Jim that he drive it back and I would bring back Chertsey ON MY OWN. I had been steering for nearly the whole trip (the S&W is a canal that really repays a lockwheeler on a bike and Jim was quite insistent that was his role), it had all gone very well, and it felt like the time was right. There were six locks (plus the stop lock at Autherley), all uphill, and the territory was as familiar as any, so I went for it.

Well, it was fantastic. The very best bit was the first three locks on Monday evening. Warrior had gone on ahead, it was gone teatime, and there was no one else around (except for a few fisherman, and they don't count, especially when on lock moorings). I could get on with things at my own pace, completely unobserved, and it went like clockwork. The hardest part was shutting the top gates afterwards, which I was tempted to leave, but the bottom gates of all of the locks were leaking so badly I didn't dare, especially as I was likely to be the last one through that night. Everything else was pretty easy, and it was a very rewarding feeling.

When I got to Cut End there was a little bit of a queue, and some confusion as usual, so I tied up and went to see. When it was my turn I (even though I say it myself) made a fantastic turn, using a fair bit of power to get in in one perfect sweep. That was another brilliant feeling (my three point turn in Stourport basin felt good too). The only thing that went wrong in my entire solo trip was right at the very, very end - getting ready to pull up alongside Bakewell I moved over to the left too early forgetting just how muddy it is here, and had to reverse off again for another go. But all in all it was an absolutely fabulous experience and I can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


Another one of those little finishing touches has finally been finished - a length of canvas fire hose to finish off round the deckboard, complete with brass ends.

The brass for these came from redundant bits of the small fended we bought to go round the French DeVille Lily stove on Warrior. Knew they would come in handy!

It is more usual to have a spring where we have elastic, but the elastic will do for now.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Not just me

I see that most of my favourite blogs aren't getting updated very often at the moment. My excuse is that I have actually had some work to do - real paid work which has taken up most of my time and nearly all of my energy. Hopefully the back of it is broken now, so maybe I can get back to writing more fun stuff. Currently back in Newhaven, sorting out house and car, seeing friends and doing heaps of washing. No. 2 Son has a concert in London on Sunday, after which we'll be returning to the boats.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Staying Inn for a Curry

After being here for seven months, we have finally got round to visiting the Curry Inn in Brewood. Many other boaters have recommended it (Armadillo went so far as to put up a laminated sign by the canal), and our takeaway was indeed very good, the prices reasonable and the service very friendly. I look forward to going back there to eat in when we next have guests.

We deserved a treat because we have had a busy day...

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Off the peg storage solutions

Something that takes a surprising amount of storage space is underwear, especially when you factor in socks. The ideal place for keeping it all is a drawer, or small chest thereof, but drawers are in short supply in a back cabin - I have just the knife/crumb drawer, and the big drawer under the bed, which isn't very accessible as I leave the bed made up when not travelling. My undies were in a box, taking up valuable cupboard space, but it occurred to me that there is a 'dead' space at the end of the bed, underneath the cupboard, where I could hang bags to keep my smalls in. 

I was thinking I would have to make the bags myself, but then came across these (rather large for their intended purpose) peg bags, at £1.65 each in Wilkinsons. Already equipped with a hanger, all they need is a single hook to be suspended from, and are an excellent size for storing all sorts of things in all sorts of places - nice cheery pattern too.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Resolutely tackling the 21 (and new bits of the BCN)

You know us, we'll always turn out to tackle the Wolverhampton locks, so when Dave Moore posted on CWF that he was looking for help, having injured his knee (though actually it was better by yesterday) I leapt in to volunteer our services.

This was not just to be a case of parking in Broad Street, doing the locks, and walking back to the car, however (just as well, as the lower end of Broad Street was sealed off following a stabbing at the nightclub in the former BW building there). No, this was to be a full day's boating, taking in parts of the BCN we'd not previously seen, notably a section of the Wyrley and Essington Canal.

We arranged to meet Dave at Sneyd (my whispered injunction to Jim prior to phoning Dave up to make arrangements was 'try and get him to say it first and then we'll know how to pronounce it'. It's Sneed, to save you similar worries) and quickly set off. The W&E - at least the bit we saw - was clean and green and not even very curly. There was some weed but not as bad as elsewhere. Most of it had a very rural appearance, until we stopped in Wednesfield to buy some provisions for lunch, where there was a biggish retail park.

Dave was very anxious that I write nice things about the BCN because in his view people tend to have an unfairly low opinion of, or are unnecessarily worried about it. He's been boating there since the sixties, and says he's never had any trouble or felt threatened. Well, he didn't need to worry about me, because I love what I've seen of the BCN and am very keen to explore more. We have had a couple of minor incidents around Wolverhampton (but then we've also had one in Stone) but I wouldn't let that put me off. The chances of something seriously bad happening are minuscule, and it's worth the occasional annoyance.

All the same, we met only one other boat on the W&E before joining the BCN Main Line at Horseley Fields Junction, although on coming to the locks there were a fair few more, in each direction. We didn't break any records but got a decent rhythm going, along with Dave's mate Keith, and did catch up with a boatload of Norwegians in front of us. After a few locks with us on their tail, they let us by, albeit with only two locks to go.

Even then the day wasn't over, as we continued to Compton, where Dave was stopping for the night, and retired to the Marston's pub there for dinner and beer and great conversation, eventually getting a taxi, courtesy of Dave (I owe you some change Dave) with a driver who was thankfully able to follow our garbled directions back to Sneyd, where we picked up the car, and, road Street still being closed, had another road tour of little-known outposts of the Black Country.

Now this would not be complete without saying a bit about Resolute, Dave's fabulous and justly well known boat - but of course I didn't take a camera, did I, so will have to describe it in words. It's a 60' tug, built by Graham Edgeson at Norton Canes, and a stunning looking boat, especially when it's coming towards you with its low swoopy fore end. What particularly impressed us were the handrails - beautifully designed to overlap the cabin sides slightly, and made, though you would never guess from looking, of wood, treated with resin before being painted - a lesson we are hoping to put into practice on Bakewell's back cabin. The paintwork and signwriting are of course gorgeous, and everything clean and gleaming... oh, and it's got a 1942 Kelvin J3.

So although Dave thanked us for our help, I'd like to say a big thank you to Dave for a great day's boating. And it didn't even rain until we were safely ensconced in the pub.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Mr Kipling's...

Couldn't resist.

But talking of food (which we weren't, really), Di Murrell has just won a food history writers' prize for this fabulous article about how working boaters ate.

Saturday 7 July 2012

One for Michelle

Instead of emailing Michelle to tell her about this, I thought I would blog it for the world instead!

Earlier in the 'summer' when we did actually have a few sunny days and Baz'n'Iz came up for the Big Butty Outing, we caught up with Bill and Michelle a few times. Not the least of these was the final day of our return from the Anchor when we had been caught in a very heavy shower and all got soaked at Wheaton Aston lock. We pressed on and arrived back at Stretton fairly late, Shilling following, and while we got dried and heaved a sigh of relief at completing our first successful butty outing, Michelle cooked us all supper, which was then brought over to be eaten on Bakewell. And what Michelle introduced us to was quesadillas. Very welcome, filling and comforting.

Now, Michelle and Bill have just left for home in North Carolina, and donated us the contents of their fridge before departing, meaning that there was a heap of flour tortillas sitting on the worktop, a jar of salsa, and a big hunk of mild cheddar. So I thought I would try to recreate this dish, and it was very successful.  So here is what I did (apologies to Michelle if I've taken too many liberties but they did turn out really well!):

Fried some chopped chilli and garlic in olive oil, then added a tin each of drained mixed beans and kidney beans. Stirred to mix then mashed roughly with a potato masher. Mixed in some leftover hummous that was hanging around (optional!)

Mashed an avocado similarly.

Grated the cheese.

Spread a tortilla with bean mixture to a depth of about 3/8", topped with salsa, avocado and a good sprinkling of cheese, then sandwiched with another tortilla.

Heated up a dry frying pan, put it in and pressed it down, cooked for a few minutes and turned over (easiest using a spatula underneath and my hand on top) until golden both sides and all the cheese melted.

Lovely messy eating!

Friday 6 July 2012

Eagle towing

Chris Mann, who took that fantastic photo of Willoughby mid-leap, has sent me a picture of Eagle towing its builder and his brother-in-law (whom I met; sadly I didn't get to meet Rob himself) in an inflatable canoe. They did this at Braunston too.

The most nerve wracking part of the parade was coming back into the arm with Eagle sitting on the outside of the bend. Miles away really and something would have had to have gone spectacularly wrong for Chertsey to end up anywhere near it, but still the thought made my blood run cold.

Thursday 5 July 2012

Where Eagles dare

When I posted rather plaintively on CWF a while ago on the subject of 'is anyone going to Braunston this year?', the reply that made me smile in anticipation was from robkg, saying: 'I am planning to take ... "Eagle" again this year.  She now has a Bolinder fitted plus the steerer actually steers.'

Eagle is the boat that makes the rest of us feel sane.

Seeing Eagle makes me happy. It is so fabulously good; so gloriously pointless, done, as everything should be but so little is, entirely for its own sake, raised to the highest degree.

Eagle is (the bit that I elided), as most of you probably know, a model. But what a model. A model with an Action Man whose gripping hand on the tiller does indeed appear to steer. Smoke emerges from stove chimney and exhaust, and the miniature Bolinder beats perfect time with the boat's movement. Not mentioned in the preview was that Action Man (I wonder what his name is) now also has a bike, handmade in every perfect detail, casually thrown on top of his cargo (what's in those sacks, I wonder).

I cannot say what joy Eagle brings me.

I have left the picture files big so you can click on them and appreciate the fantastic detail.

I'll edit and enlarge the Blue Line post tomorrow. Or soon, anyway.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Blue Line line-up

On Sunday morning we moved Chertsey back along the arm to facilitate a photo call for the Blue Line boats that were there: Nutfield and Raymond, in Blue Line colours, alng with Stanton and Renfrew, two other boats that worked for the company.

Somewhere I have picked up a bit of the history of the company, but I can't recall where to go back and check my facts, so forgive me if this is a bit vague. Blue Line was set up by Michael Streat (known as 'Mr Streaks' to the boatmen) and operated out of Braunston. It was Blue Line boats that were on the legendary 'Jam 'Ole Run' from Atherstone/Baddesley to the Kearley and Tonge works (which I think didn't actually make jam at the time? near Bulls Bridge - famously the last regular long distance commercial traffic, which ended in November 1970 (only three months after the far longer established Ashby Canal - Dickinsons mills coal traffic which Chertsey so briefly participated in).

I'm not sure either how many boats Blue Line ran, or whether they owned or leased them, but they also included the large Woolwich butty Belmont (now in a sorry state on the bank at a 'water park') and Lucy, a wooden Nursers built boat currently being restored by Pete Boyce - now also co-owner of Renfrew - at Braunston.

Anyway, i think they got their photo - while I got some much more interesting ones of them getting lined up for it!

(I'm going to post on CWF and ask for additional info and corrections on this)

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The last banana

One of the many things Jim and I disagree on is the correct stage of ripeness at which to eat a banana. I say it is when it is ripe enough not to take the enamel off your teeth, but before it starts emitting detectable ethanol (or whatever it is that bananas emit that makes then rest of the fruit go rotten) fumes. Jim on the other hand insists that a banana is not edible until its skin is at least 50% black.

This means that any bananas that aren't eaten within a couple of days are left for Jim. This one may have been left just a little too long... Or maybe it's like hanging a brace of pheasant(s?) - when one drops off, you eat the other one.

Monday 2 July 2012

Cabintop flowers

When Sebastian and Izzi visited they brought me a lovely present - a Harveys of Lewes jug for putting flowers on the cabintop. Derided by some as a soft southern habit, this is nonetheless a tradition (or not) that I rather like. I filled it up with flowers from the yard before we left, and most mornings picked one or two new specimens from where we were moored - never too many; never enough to notice they were missing (and none, strangely, in Birmingham). I didn't pick the foxglove; it was a victim of veg pledge strimming. It was quite frustrating boating past profuse displays of gorgeous flowers, only to find none where we tied up.

The longest lasting were a blue flower, looking somewhat like a thistle or a cornflower, but with different leaves from either (if you enlarge the photo you can see one on the right hand side), that  collected from the bottom of the drive - fifteen days later I brought one of them back again. The pink hogweed (carefully picked) did well too, as did, to my surprise, the campion. The biggest failure, not even lasting half a day, was elderflower. On the whole it taught me that whilst wild flowers may not last if you pick them and bring them indoors, outdoors most seem to do very well.

Sunday 1 July 2012

The cat formerly known as Willow

... would like it to be known that he has officially changed his name to Willoughby, as befits a dignified and masculine furry gentleman of his stature.

And to prove it, here is the absolutely fantastic photo taken at Braunston by Chris Mann (aka CWF's Chieftiff). Thanks very much to Chris for taking such a brilliant shot, sending me a copy, and allowing me to post it.

Saturday 30 June 2012

Scrubbing up

Braunston Bash 2012 Day 15
Wolverhampton Lock 17 to Stretton

Less than half a day really; an early start had us home by ten, with the rest of the day free for scrubbing out Chertsey's back cabin (god it was frowsty) and then scrubbing myself, because, guess what, the Social Event is tonight after all! It is Bill's (of Shilling) seventy fifth birthday and we are celebrating at the Hartley Arms. I shall wear my new two tone blue hippy dress with the silver block print which I bought at Braunston (have to get at least one new hippy garment per festival) and we have found him a super little present.

Friday 29 June 2012

I'll take the high road

What I didn't mention, is that last night we were joined on Sherbourne Wharf by David and Sue Daines on Cyprus, which was a nice surprise. They too are heading for the Shroppie and set off a few minute before us this morning. They took the Old Main Line ('more interesting') and we took the New - straight and boring but clear and mostly deep, and we flew along, seing very few other boats. We got to the top of the Wolverhampton locks at two this afternoon. Well, imagine our surprise when half an hour ago they waved to us from the seventeenth lock. They had got to the top of the flight at five o'clock, having battled horrendous weed along the Old Main Line. They've now tied up behind us. So things could have been worse. I have even been shamed into cleaning the stove, which was covered in rust spots and patches following yesterday's downpour.

Seventeen out of twenty one ain't bad

Braunston Bash 2012 Day 14
Birmingham to Wolverhampton Lock 17

The original plan was to stop in Wolverhampton tonight, and finish our journey with a full day's travelling tomorrow. But a Social Event is being organised which we cannot miss, and because the was a possibility that it would be tomorrow night, we decided to press on and get the Wolverhampton locks unr our belt before retiring.

It was windy and all the locks were against us. With no helpers I was having to wait while Jim filled each lock, constantly drifting out of position, and once finding some substantial rocks on the bottom, from which I only managed to remove myself by getting Jim to send some more water down into the pound. In stark contrast to our epic hour and three quarter ascent with Sickle and four crew, we took three and a half hours to descend the first seventeen, and decided to call it a day in the long pound between 17 and 16.

I was not in the best of tempers anyway, as whilst in the second lock I said to Jim that we'd be fine now if the Social Event were to be on Saturday, and he told me that he had been told that it was now definitely Sunday! If I'd known that, we'd be on that nice offside mooring in Wolverhampton tonight, eating a massive pizza (obviously we'd have had to swim to get it. Or moved the boat).

When I went to stop the engine I observed a third, possibly new (because if it had been leaking at that rate for long there'd be none left in the tank) diesel leak. We replaced the gaskets in the fuel pump, with Colin's help, at Braunston, and thought we'd fixed it. Then Jim found and fixed another one the day before yesterday, and has now, hopefully fixed the one I just found, at a joint at the fuel filter. Do you remember that installation in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall which was a massive tank of oil that you could walk across on bridges? That's our engine bilge, that is.

Thursday 28 June 2012

From Braunston to Birmingham

Braunston Bash 2012
Day 7 - Braunston
Day 8 - Braunston
Day 9 - Braunston
Day 10 - Braunston to Long Itchington
Day 11 - Long Itchington to Warwick
Day 12 - Warwick to Top of Lapworth
Day 13 - Top of Lapworth to Birmingham

Dear dear me. A whole week without an update, so obviously far too much to catch up with now, even though the night is young, Brum is buzzing, and I'm locked in the back cabin with a cat whose rather over enthusiastic exploration of the outside structural features of bridges means he can't really be let out on his own. Chieftiff on Canalworld posted an absolutely fantastic photo of said cat at Braunston, but it seems to have disappeared.

We agreed to leave Braunston with Herbie in order to share the joy of Hatton with them, which worked out well. Read all about it on Herbie's blog; Neil's account cannot be bettered. Having done Hatton and left the Herbies to a leisurely lunch, we proceeded up the Lapworth locks, thus covering 39 locks in the day. None today on the other hand, as we made our way into Birmingham.

The Braunston weekend was good, in the end, though it started a bit sad and grey. It did feel like a depleted event and the weather joined in in sympathy. Sunday was better though as the sun shone. The parade was over in an hour, for us at least, and while five hours might seem a bit excessive, one does feel like being short changed. What's more, there was no souvenir keyring! The last two years we have been presented with a cast brass commemorative key fob, which can be affixed to the wall as a small plaque. I have 2010 and 2011 displayed proudly in the cabin, but it seems there will be no 2012 to join them.

As always though the weekend was excellent socially, and we met many new people and got to know other acquaintances better. Highlights included a trip to the pub on Sickle on Saturday night, and another on Reginald on Sunday.

Friday 22 June 2012

Where the wild roses grow

Braunston Bash 2012
Day 3 - Wolseley Bridge - Huddlesford
Day 4 - Huddlesford - Alvecote
Day 5 - Alvecote - Hawkesbury
Day 6 - Hawkesbury - Braunston

It says a great deal for this trip that the most memorable thing has been marvelling at the wild flowers, especially the roses, growing in such glorious abundance. We've not been seriously aground once; the worst incident was getting stemmed up yesterday on a bend having been put off by a pair of plastic cruisers moored on the outside - not wanting to plough into them, losing the line of the channel, and ending up with the front of the boat stuck in mud on the inside of the bend. It should have been easy enough to reverse off, especially as I realised what was happening and went into reverse straight away. It took a while though, until I dared put a LOT of revs on, and then it pulled back off, and Jim shafted the front round to save it happening all over again. Lesson from that: don't be afraid to give it lots of welly. The most galling thing was that was we went by, a woman in one of the plastic boats leant out and waved - having stayed well hidden all the time we could have done with some help. I have been miss congeniality all this trip, even with the most egregious halfwits, but I'm afraid she got a Hard Stare.

People mooring on bends and too near bridgeholes is still the bane of my life. Although I'm getting better and better at working round it, it soes make life difficult. BW haven't helped by designating visitor moorings right up to bridgeholes - there was one very bad example which I made a mental note of, but I've lost the note...

As I get more experience I am starting to be able to think through and articulate some of the issues that arise with a big boat. For example, if a full length boat is passing you coming the other way, unless it's a long straight stretch, don't expect them to move over and carry on in a straight line parallell to you until you've passed eachother. Think instead in terms of passing the front and the back of the oncoming boat in two separate operations. If I am approaching you, you may well think I'm heading straignt for you. But I need to point my fore end towards you in order to be able to swing it out at the right moment. When I do, and a gap opens up at the front of the boat, move into it and keep moving! I need you out of the way of the fore end so that I can swing it in behind you and so swing the stern out of your way, and thus we get past each other without anyone getting stuck in the mud/on the rocks/in the bushes. So, please, when passing oncoming boats, keep going and don't be afraid to pass close. It is not necessary to be able to get a double decker bus between us. Six inches is plenty. Here endeth today's lesson. And of course it doesn't only apply to full length bpats; they're just the most extreme case. It applies to all the boats that are passing you too, and what you wish they would do in an ideal world.

Anyway, back to the travelogue. We stopped at Alvecote on Tuesday to meet up with No. 2 Son after his event in Tamworth, and were were also joined by Phil and Ros, whose boating on Warbler has been sadly curtailed by injury. This year marks the 40th anniversary of their ownership of Warbler, which is certainly cause for celebtation. We had a nice meal in the Samuel Barlow and were able to enjoy the football with the sound off.

The next day we decided to press on to Hawkesbury regardless of the cat's complaints. We were stuck behing a very slow couple going up Atherstone, whose response to any suggestion of more effective ways of working was 'but that's dangerous!'. Fortunately there was another couple between us to share the pain - Alison and Charlie on Pendragon, an immaculate Hancock and Lane boat that's been in the family since Alison's father bought it new in 1979. We got on so well with them that we spent the evening in the Greyhound with them, after an excellent meal. The food at the Greyhound has always been good in my experience, but this time it was even better. Most of the menu was on the dearish side but my 8oz rump steak at £9 was the bargain of the menu, coming with lovely chips, a grilled tomato and herb crusted mushrooms - and no pathetic little 'salad' getting in the way.

We weren't planning to push on all the way to Braunston yesterday but were going to stop a couple of hours short. However, the sun came out just as we came up Hillmorton, so we thought we'd go for it. With Fenny hot on our tail and a very speedy hire boat in front as pacemaker, we fairly flew along the last bit to arrive in Braunston in time for tea (well, late tea/early supper, or what I, with my southern lower middle class roots would have called dinner), followed by a lovely evening on Owl with Jim and Sue and family, making serious inroads into their wine cellar.

Today dawns damply, but who knows what the weekend will bring. We are currently tied up in the arm, adjacent to the marquee, in order to unload the shop. I don't know whether we'll be staying in the arm after we've done that. As a nice shiny GU boat we would probably be a good candidate, but I worry that it might be hard to get out for the parades.

Sunday 17 June 2012

A to B

Braunston Bash 2012
Day 1 - Stretton to Rodbaston
Day 2 - Rodbaston to Wolseley Bridge

Short days and rural tie-ups being among the concomitants of having a cat on board. A litter tray under the bed which is used just as you are dropping off, and a constant supply of fresh mice being others.

Cooking on the Epping... Yesterday I sliced up some leeks, carrots and celery, poured on some water, added a layer of sliced potatoes, a tin of stewed steak, and another layer of potatoes, stuck it on top of the stove for five hours, and presto, very acceptable hotpot. Best of all, it didn't catch and stick and burn onto the pot. I put this down to the layer of veg in the bottom - nothing too starchy or sticky. Today I started with an onion and a red pepper, added some rice (easy cook) along with the recommended amount of water, and topped it off with two tins of veggie chilli. Three and a half hours yielded a flavoursome and satisfyingly stodgy supper, with plenty left over for a cold lunch, and again, an easy to clean casserole. As I am working my way back through the table cupboard, tomorrow will be an experiment with ratatouille and green lentils.

Spotted a new boat for my collection today, looking fabulous - Aber. Not going to Braunston, sadly for the rest of us.

Friday 15 June 2012

Ready for the off

Spent the day getting ready to leave tomorrow for the Braunston Bash 2012. Packed the table cupboard and boot cupboard to bursting with provisions, topped up the diesel, stocked up on paraffin, lit the fire (ahem), and have attached and polished a great deal more brass nick nacks. From having been super austere, Chertsey would now make a josher owner shudder at its bling. Well, almost.

I have not packed the solar showers. Tomorrow I will get my sou'wester out.

We are going via the Coventry and North Oxford canals (35 locks) rather than through Birmingham (101 locks). this is our more familiar route, and it is partly because of this, partly the locks (I've nothing against locks, but I'm not a masochist), partly because I want to do the GU properly one day in one fell swoop, and now also because we are meeting No. 1 Son in Tamworth on Tuesday. Now he is the manager of a Kwik Fit branch, he gets invited to things like trying out winter tyres in the Snowdome.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Lacey day

I spent most of today crafting another job application, but I found time inbetween to wash and redeploy Chertsey's cabin lace:

As I have run out of nice easy escapist books to read (i.e. detective novels), I have been rereading the wartime women boaters' memoirs: Emma Smith's Maidens' Trip, Margaret Cornish's Troubled Waters, and Eily (Kit) Gayford's The Amateur Boatwomen. I've lent Idle Women to Izzi (and Baz) - along with Chris Deuchar's A Boater's Guide to Boating! I was quite surprised on returning to these how well they all read. Smith in particular is good at explaining how boats and boating worked, while Gayford seems to have incorporated some innacuracies. I'm now rereading A.P. Herbert's The Water Gipsies, which at least one of the Idle Women refers to. It's almost as if I'm reading a different book though, as I don't recall it having a great deal to say about canal boating, although maybe I am remembering wrongly.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

A day of deco and decor

Today started with a trip to Cannock. I picked up some lace to finish the new curtains, but the main point of the outing was to visit a pub (no, surely not). Ah, but not just any pub. When we were in Stourport, the manager of the wonderful Hollybush told us that Black Country Ales had just taken ove a pub in Cannock. We passed an empty pub every week on the way to Asda, but couldn't imagine that that one, a grim looking 1930s estate type pub in a rough looking area, could possibly be transformed into a nice real ale pub - but it was indeed the Crystal Fountain, which turns out to have a rather interesting history and a bit of a reputation to shake off... But far more importantly, has a Grade II listed Art Deco interior, so giving us two reasons for visiting (a third being to download a job application form onto the laptop). It was very impressive, masses of oak panelling and leather banquettes, original loos and sympathetic light fittings etc. The new manager, Tracy, was happy to make us some lunchtime cheese and onion cobs and was very friendly and pleasant. The beer as you would expect was excellent and a good variety was available. I do hope they can make a success of it, but it will be quite a turnaround! Sadly I don't have any photos, and searching for them on the web only threw up the aforementioned news stories. But very definitely worth a visit, and unmissable if you're a 1930s fan.

This afternoon I finished and hung the new bed curtains - all part of the softer, more cosy look. All the new curtains are in place now but as I took the shelves down to do the painting it is still rather untidy.

Monday 11 June 2012

Some kind of service is resumed

I have finally found a way - a very simple and obvious way - around the internet access problem. I went into the T-Mobile shop and bought a sim for the iPad. It works beautifully, better than the 3 one ever did, truth be told, inside the boat at any rate.

I am certain that the problem lies with 3's lack of capacity. They have by far the biggest share of the data market, but are the smallest network. They have no 2G network to fall back on, unlike the other providers - who are also doing deals to share their networks too. It's a shame, as 3 have provided a great service, simple to use, and at a very good price. They (I read a magazine article online but forget what it was, some mobile phone magazine) are desperate for the government to auction off the next tranche of capacity but the other companies are doing their best to delay it because they don't need extra capacity; they are currently using their 2G allowance for 3G (or something like that) and aftervthe auction they will have tompay for it at 3G rates. So it's notvreally 3's fault, and the manager of the shop in Cannock has been brilliant in trying to help us sort it out.

We tried a 3 mifi Adam, but it made only a ,marginal difference - it brought the laptop up to the speed of the iPad (presumably because of its better aerial) butnit was still too slow to use. It worked really well though inasmuch as the laptop and the iPad both connected to it with no problems and when we get back from Braunston I might look into a T-Mobile 'Pointer' which I understand is their version of mifi, but 3 have bagged the mifi name.

The other obstacle has been that because we run Ubuntu (Linux) on the laptop, only certain dongles are compatible with it, and all the ones that are are the ones 3 use locked. Hence the beauty of the wireless connection.

Other things I have been doing include starting to paint the inside of the back cabin. I wasn't happy with the austere green and cream in the end, it was austere to the point of chilliness. So I decided to introduce some red - the same crimson as is on the outside. Despite being warned that it would look like a Turkish brothel, I am pleased with the result so far. I think it's more 'Victorian railway carriage', and anyway, how many Turkish brothels have chintz curtains? I did ask Jim and Iain where their extensive knowledge of oriental pleasure parlours came from, and they just shuffled their feet and looked shifty.

I am also making all new curtains, having bought a nice pair of floral chintz ones a while ago. The pattern looks almost identical but the new fabric is actially much nicer, both in terms of its quality and the pattern - cleaner looking and less faded, and with added lilacs! Photos of those when they go up - I have made a pair of bed curtains too, to soften the look of the place further. It seems obvious that when you have a small space that it willmlook bigger if painted in a pale colour and kept uncluttered, but I am not so sure that you don't actually get more illusion of space from breaking it up into separate areas. So now I have a bright, even harsh, kitchen, a cosy lounge (sidebed) and a flowery bedroom (cross bed). Not sure yet how I'll approachbthe area round the range, although it is already improved since I painted the panel to the right of it shiny black instead of cold cream which always looked dirty.

Jim meanwhile has been working in Bakewell's foreward well deck, tanking the bilge with bitumen and making new false floors. This should prevent any morevtrophy rabbits being concealed under the water tanks.

Thursday 7 June 2012


Yes, I am still cross at my inability to get online with the laptop... Steps have been taken and money has been spent but so far has not borne fruit. I am coming to the view that the one thing we haven't yet tried - changing network - will prove to be what's required. Meanwhile we have a new dongle and aerial but can't test it out until we can get the dongle properly installed on the laptop...

So in the meantime, here is a photo of my lovely cross straps, made from the heavy ('hench' is apparently the latest young person term of approbation for this quality) cotton line we were lucky enough to pick up at the Droitwich tat auction. Spliced by me (grins proudly) and whipped by Jim to finish the ends off neatly. They worked very well although as you can see we had to lift the button fender, at least until they stretch a bit.

Tuesday 5 June 2012


You might wonder why I've not posted much lately, given that we've finally been boating, and I've got so many fabulous photos.

Largely it's because the 3 3G seems suddenly to have gone completely to pieces. I can just about browse blogs and get email on the iPad if I'm lucky, and very patient, but the laptop with its dongle has almost given up working altogether.

Both are on 3, which I've been very happy with up to now. It's not lightening fast, but then I wouldn't expect it to be here, but it's been reliable and most importantly, provides cheap and above all simple PAYG.

The irony is that suddenly both iPad and laptop are showing a far *stronger* signal than before the trouble started, a couple of weeks ago, but loading pages is agonisingly slow - as if the network is very overloaded. Yet when Jim took the laptop and dongle into the 3 shop in Cannock this morning, it worked fine there, despite showing a weaker signal. I wonder if anyone can shed any light on this. We've checked the extension wire and all the connections, but it makes no difference; it's exactly the same with the dongle plugged straight into the laptop on Bakewell's cabin top.

I know that 3 have been complaining that they are in danger of running out of capacity, and they don't have a 2G network to fall back on, but even if this were now becoming critical I can't see how to account for it working fine in the shop, with an apparently weaker signal, nor indeed going downhill so fast. I even thought it might have been the weather (high pressure - thicker air - harder for the signal to get through :-) ...) But for a whole fortnight?

Any insights or advice most welcome - just hope I'll be able to read them.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Busy with Bazzie and Izzi

As you will have gathered from his pirate broadcast, we had a visit last week from, ahem, Sebastian and Isobel. It was a wonderful week, during which we did indeed drag the butty up to the Anchor at High Offley, and back, visited the Black Country Museum and Ma Pardoe's, and generally had a fantastic time. Apart from the swift downpour that drenched us at Wheaton Aston lock on the way back, the weather was brilliant. The kiddiwinks took to boating like ducks to water. Baz already had some experience with Warrior but Izzi was a complete novice - and a complete natural. Not many people's first experience of narrow boating is on a big Woolwich with a butty on cross straps, but she was completely unfazed and threw herself into everything with great verve.

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Pirate broadcast

This is a pirate transmission; this is not Sarah Hale. This is in fact no. 2 son, relaxing on the foredeck of Bakewell the butty. Mum is currently rearranging the kitchen so that Willow can sit where he pleases and those who are not cooking or blogging are having a nap.

It's my first time on a cruise since the last time I hijacked mum's blog (moving NB Shilling) and the first time that IzzI has set foot on a boat. I'm getting back into the swing of things and she's taken to steering both motorboat and butty like the mandarin duck we spotted earlier takes to water.

Hang on! Did I say 'butty'? Oh yes! Those wandering the towpath between the mooring and the Anchor (the pub that Willow has set aside for a special treat for his staff, and that they've been waiting to visit for some time now) were treated to seeing Bakewell on cross straps. The butty tiller succumbed to an old injury and snapped in half but did not hamper proceedings. Indeed the shortened pole meant that Jim and Bill, who'd boarded the moving vessel, were able to have a chat without the danger of being smacked in the face. Nevertheless, handyman that Jim is, I doubt it will stay in two pieces for long.

We're moored up for the eve now, winding and heading home tomorrow. Dinner's about to be served so I will leave those of you kind enough to read these ramblings to your evening and maybe write to you again soon.

I would post a piccy of Iz steering like a natural, but I'm not so sure she'd appreciate it.

Location:High Offley

Friday 25 May 2012

Don't eat it!!

As well as the comments on my recent posts about the wild plants growing on the mooring, I have had a couple of emails, both of which identify my photo number 14 as neither watercress nor wild celery (so close yet so very far) but as Hemlock Water Dropwort*, which just happens to be the most poisonous native British plant.

So don't eat it; don't pick it; don't even touch it if you should see it.

I don't think I've seen any along the towpath, but it is growing in profusion around the winding hole. I will keep an eye on it and post photos as it progresses throughout the year.

*Thanks to Izzy for the link.

Monday 21 May 2012

The first day of summer

The first day of what I would call summer anyway - able to sit outside in shorts all day, come in with a warm glow, slightly browned, and be able to leave the windows and hatches open until 10 pm (well, BST at least).

I think we deserve a bit more of this :-)

Sunday 20 May 2012

Hunting for Nightingales

The best steak pie in the world comes fro 19gales of Bentley, near Atherstone. It was these, back in 2007, that knocked us off the veggie wagon.They used to have a farm shop at the top of Atherstone High Street, which we would visit religiously whenever we passed through, but it closed last year because of a massive rent rise. This seemed to us to be a minor tragedy; the end of an era. Sure, they would still be selling their wares at farmers' markets in Staffordshire and Warwickshire, but what good was that to us, down in Sussex... So we tried to put it out of our minds.

Yesterday, we went to Penkridge Market to get some bedlinen for the impending visit of No. 2 Son and his girlfriend (or Baz 'n' Iz as I shall call them... he doesn't read this anyway). There was a sign up saying that being the third Saturday of the month, it incorporated a 'Fine Foods and Craft Market'. Still didn't click. But while we were enjoying a cup of tea at the market cafe, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a familiar, distinctive, yellow, 19gales carrier bag. Suddenly it all came back to me. We chased the carrier of the bag and asked her where she'd got it... following her directions didn't help however. Then I spotted a man weighed down with pies - two bagfuls. Jim asked him and this time the directions led us to a corner of the food hangar decked out with goods bearing that familiar yellow label.

Oh joy. We came away with a large (ahem, family size) steak pie which we have just had for a very special Sunday dinner, and I can report that they are as good as ever. The third Sunday of each month promises to be a special day from now on.

Thursday 17 May 2012

And now for the leaves...

More mystery foliage coming up - I'm relying on you to tell me what these plants are (and the flowers in yesterday's post).

I'll not post photos of the leafy things I have identified, which include dock, (common?) thistle, stinging nettle and blackberry bramble. But what about these?




13. I've a suspicion this may be rose bay willow herb...


15. The sticky one.