... 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.

Tuesday 31 January 2012

It's official!

Alan has confirmed it here. There are 33 candidates for the four boater places on the C&RT council, which means that Nick, with his guess of 29 wins the Great Chertsey C&RT sweepstake. (I would just like to point out that I came a very close second, with 38, so not bad guesswork). Step forward Nick, whoever and claim your prize. Er, a ride in the parade at Braunston, perhaps? (if you have a day to spare and a strong bladder).

Alan makes an interesting point about the nominated candidates of the IWA etc (and to a lesser extent HNBOC) not declaring their allegiance in their statement. It might be too much to ask that they waste even a few of their precious 150 words on this, but does it mean that they will have an unfair advantage through picking up individual votes on their own merits on top of the block votes of the unthinking membership of the organisation backing them? No more so I wouldn't have thought than if they did declare their allegiance.

I agree with Alan that boaters' representatives should be representing ALL voters, at least between them even if each individual cannot embody all boaters' different needs. Hopefully once elected they will do so, just as an MP's duty is to represent all the people in their constituency, and not just the ones who voted for them. The IWA, RBOA, and HNBOC have promoted candidates, but these are organisations largely formed of boaters. Different boaters may find that their interests are in conflict with one anothers', but on the whole they have more in common than divides them.

On the other hand, people like anglers, for example, often have interest that are in direct conflict with those of boaters, and this frequently emerges in antipathy between the groups. Some anglers are also boaters though, and thus eligible to stand in the election, but could conceievably act as a Trojan horse for anti-boater interests. I'm not saying this has happened or will happen, but I would consider it a greater threat to boater representation than the election of organisation-backed boaters. However, there is a big downside to the current situation, and that is that the muscle of the IWA, however virtuous their candidates might be (and I haven't investigated them), will lead to really excellent candidates like Alan Fincher and Sue Cawson being overlooked, and that is a very great shame.

Monday 30 January 2012

Election fever

Polling opens next week in the C&RT elections, but so far, no list of candidates has been published, despite nominations closing on January 18th. Normally as members of an organisation electing its officers you wouldn't notice this; the first you would know about any of it would be when the ballot paper and the candidates' election statements dropped through your letterbox, and I would guess that these are probably beginning to wing their way to licence holders this week. Possibly they are still checking the bona fides of candidates' sponsors (not that that would be so hard).

But having a closer interest in this particular election, these things become more apparent. Is it a problem? How far in advance should lists of candidates be published? Does it raise issues for the fairness of the election? Already some candidates have been using their platforms as bloggers or contributors to CanalWorld to promote their cause, whilst others have the muscle of a big organisation behind them; however others, either low profile independents or those standing with the support of smaller groups will struggle to get their name known - surely if anything has the potential to compromise at least some concept of fairness, then it is this. But as I said back before Christmas, this is an inevitable outcome of free speech, and in the era of the internet, all but impossible to curb even if you wanted to. And indeed, why would you wish to stop communicators showing how well they can communicate; campaigners how well they can campaign. Yes, people with a higher profile will get more votes; the same goes for MPs - would Martin Bell have been elected if he had been Joe Bloggs in a grey suit rather than a white one? People with big organisations behind them will do better than independents - how many independent MPs are there? It's not fair, exactly, but it is democratic. Blame the voters if you like, for being too ready to be swayed by a familiar name or the endorsement of an organisation whose aims they vaguely understand and approve of. But don't blame the system; it's doing its best. Democracy, as Winston Churchill said, is the worst possible system with the exception of all the others that have been tried. Whether publishing a list of names on the Waterscape website a week sooner would make much difference to this is a somewhat debatable point.

Anyway, blogger Alan Fincher has produced a very smart PDF flyer which is here, so do have a look. For myself, I know that I shall be voting for Alan Fincher and Sue Cawson; people I know and respect very highly for their boating experience, communication skills and the values they hold regarding waterways priorities. As for any other preferences, I shall wait until those personal statements drop through the letterbox.

Until the list of candidates if officially published, there can be no winner of the great C&RT sweepstake. But I will say, it's looking good for Nick, so far...

Sunday 29 January 2012

More veg talk

I was going to say that there hasn't been any boat-related activity today, but that would be wrong, because Jim cleaned out the back cabin. Now that Chertsey's cloths are in place, a lot of the stuff that was being stored in the back cabin has been transferred to the hold. So tomorrow I will try and get some decent pictures of the interior.

But for now, more vegetables. For a while it looked as if we weren't going to find a substitute for Geoff 'n' Col, purveyors of fine vegetables at Newhaven market. Supermarket veg is expensive and often unripe; things like tomatoes and avocadoes that are bred and stored for a long shelf life seem never to ripen, and supermarkets dare not keep ripe fruit and veg for fear of it going past its best and losing them money. There is a 'fine food' shop in Brewood which carries a few vegetables, but only a few and again, they are expensive.

But never fear, for in the wondrous cornucopia that is Cannock, we finally found Jessicas Fresh Foods, a greengrocers more like a market stall (and a sandwich shop attached, which we have never tried but which comes highly recommended by Blossom and dawn). The loveliest oranges, five for a pound. Last week, limes at 5p each (full of juice too); ripe baby plum tomatoes the like of which you would never find in a supermarket; fennel at a third of the price in Brewood. Marvellous crisp and tasty apples, better even than any we had down south.

So I am going to share another dinner with you, as it was a great hit. The tomatoes in particular were wonderful, full of intense flavour. I took two bulbs of fennel and a red onion (peeled) and cut them into slivers, which were tossed in olive oil in a baking tin. I halved the baby plum tomatoes and laid them cut side up on an oiled baking tray (there were enough to cover the surface). The fennel and onion went on the top shelf and the tomatoes the next shelf down in the oven at mark 6, for about an hour and a quarter. Turn the fennel over from time to time but leave the tomatoes alone. When they're done (slightly browned for the fennel; looking dry for the tomatoes) cook some wholemeal pasta shapes. When they're done add a drained tin of canellini beans to warm through (this is the protein). Drain thoroughly then tip everything into the biggest tin/pot and mix it all together. That's it. Though some goats cheese is a nice addition to this sort of thing.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Chilli evening

Recipe corner again! No photo because we ate it (the chilli not the photo, which doesn't exist) instead but with the weather promising to get colder again (and nothing else to write about today) here is my recipe for vegan chilli. Which is splendid whatever your eating habits.

Fry a chopped onion and one red and one green pepper, also chopped, until soft. Add four crushed cloves of garlic, and fresh chillies, the amount of these depending on how big they are, how hot they are, and how hot you like your chilli. Stir in a tablespoon (yes, a tablespoon) each of paprika and ground cumin. Then add a tin of tomatoes and chop them roughly, and stir in a tin of rinsed kidney beans and a large squeeze of tomato puree. Simmer for a long time - at least an hour. Meanwhile, cook some rice, and peel and mash an avocado - it makes a brilliant topping for the chilli.

Friday 27 January 2012


Willow so enjoyed playing with my short splice, that by this morning it was reduced to six separate strands. So I tied some of them together to make him a new toy, which amused him for all of about two minutes.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Short and sweet

My very first attempt at a short splice - its success rather spoiled by Willow getting hold of it and unravelling it from the other end, but take my word for it, it was actually very good.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Looking like a proper boat at last

As Paul on Prince said. Made me wonder, when did Chertsey last have a full set of cloths on? My guess would be circa 1964.

Yes, at last today the rain stopped and the wind dropped for long enough for us to tackle the topcloths. In the end it was fairly straightforward, although terribly hard on the knees (mine). The positioning of the rings over the notches worked perfectly and hooking them from a kneeling position on the top planks was dead easy. Jim then slipped the hook in on the other side, balancing on the gunnel, braced against Bakewell, and helped pull it tight. I then improvised a tying up technique as best I could, based on a combination of instinct and half remembered examples from the Topcloth and Tippet video.

The cloths fit beautifully; there are four of them, each thirteen feet long, which allows for a foot overlap between them. The tippet however is in only three pieces, and the overlaps haven't lined up with the strings the way they have for the cloths, leaving an end or two flapping. The solution I think may be join the three tippet pieces together; traditionally I think it would have been in a single piece. For the time being I have joined the worst place with black gaffer tape. The tippet by the way is the narrow strip of cloth that goes on top along the top planks, to reduce wear on the cloths themselves.

Unlike traditional cloths, Chertsey's have eyelets in them. This will be useful for keeping the corners down (we went and bought a great deal of black elastic this afternoon) and may enable us to use them more flexibly. I decided to have them on a 'might as well/better safe than sorry' basis.

We hadn't quite made up enough strings, and it was interesting how we can now just nip in and make a couple up. I must say that the splicing had taken a lot less time and effort than I had anticipated. My eye splices have definitely improved with practice, and if you see Chertsey you can have fun working out which were earlier and which later efforts. My back splices too now are lovely although I do still need to refer to the diagram to get started. My next project is to attempt a short splice, whereby you join two lengths of rope together.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Brassed off

It is a well known fact that if you don't polish brass, it goes yellow, then dull, then tarnished. The easiest way to keep it looking good is to polish it every day; that way it only takes minutes.

The process of degradation is speeded up considerably by heat and by exposure to moisture. So the brass bands on the chimney really have a hard time of it. I had got Chertsey's back up to a decent standard, by cleaning them every day, or as nearly as I could. I didn't try to get them shiny in one go, but after a few days, it became easier each time to remove the new layer of tarnish and make some inroads into the underlying ones, and last week they were looking pretty good.

I noticed some interesting things in the process. The tarnishing was far worse on the starboard side of the chimney, away from the outside of the boat. Is this because this side gets warmer, owing to the very slight tilt of the chimney? Or is it because the prevailing winds deposit more damp on it? After a damp night, this side would have a thick, soft layer of tarnish whilst the other remained almost untouched.

Then other things intervened, and the chimney got neglected for a few, damp, days - to quite stunning effect. The fresh layer of tarnish is so thick, verdigris-like, that it is peeling off on its own. I'm not sure the scaled down versions of the photos I took this morning will truly convey the effect, but on the big screen they look like photos of an oil painting, the chimney bands impasto, marked with brush or even knife strokes. It almost seems a shame to clean it off.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Licence talk is really boring isn't it

There is probably something that is more boring to hear bloggers talking about than the process of licencing their boat, and that is hearing them talk about how they get online, and the problems they have with their dongle/software/internet provider. So I (rashly) promise I will never bore you with that (even though it is being 'interesting' at the moment), if you will bear with me for one last heartwarming licencing story, in which NOTHING GOES WRONG SHOCK HORROR!!!

Chertsey was licenced in June 2010, for the first time since 1983. You may recall it took quite a while to sort out, although this was mainly owing to my insistence on keeping its original five-digit index number. Bakewell's licence was due for renewal at the end of December. But here's the catch. A butty, with a nominated motor boat without which it never goes anywhere, gets a 50% discount, but only if both the motor's and the butty's licences run concurrently. I thought this was going to be a nightmare, and initially rang BW with a sinking heart. But no! The lovely Joelle worked out all the sums for me, and said that if I sent back Chertsey's old licence and applied for a refund, this would then be subtracted from the cost of the new licence and the butty licence, and a cheque for seven hundred and something pounds would sort me out til the end of next December. The sums included Bakewell's 50% butty discount, Chertsey's 10% historic discount (which Bakewell doesn't qualify for on account of being converted), and, somehow, the fact that Bakewell is registered as being under 70' long (well, I didn't want to confuse matters by arguing about it).

We picked the licences up at the post office the other day and are now not only legal but seen to be so. What's more, I now get two votes in the C&RT election! (If they ever get round to holding it.)

Saturday 21 January 2012

Cutting costs

I had my hair cut in Cannock last week. It cost me £9.50. The same wash, cut and blow dry in Lewes cost £35. The cut is every bit as good, and the conversation was better. Thanks, Dawn, Lauren and Sian!

Friday 20 January 2012

Stringing along

It's been far too wet today to actually try and fit Chertsey's topcloths, but we have completed a fair few of the strings that will, hopefully, hold them in place. Some of our splicing was still a bit hit and miss, and some of the results not the prettiest, but whatever people think, at least we will be able to say that we did them ourselves.

Each string is about eighteen and a half feet long, with a hook attached by an eye splice at one end, a free hook running on the string, and a back splice at the other end. This is just one possible way of doing things. Originally, it seems (at least from watching 'Topcloth and Tippet') that the strings were spliced directly onto the rings along one side of the boat, and once passed over the top planks, were threaded through the rings on the other side. This of course requires you to have a hand at gunnel level; not so easy if you're out from the bank. Also, It was hard to keep the strings clean and tidy when not in use. So boatmen developed the innovation of hooks on the end of the strings. In this way, the strings could be put away when not required, and, when clothing up, with a bit of practice, the ring could be hooked from the top plank. The idea of a second hook, to hook the ring rather than threading through it on the other side, was not something I had seen done before, but I had thought about it, so when Pete suggested it, I didn't have any trouble agreeing. As it happens, we didn't actually have to do the splicing with the hooks in place, as they are 'S' hooks, crimped in place afterwards with Jim's largest slip jointed pliers.

Because I still couldn't get the hang of the crown knot (until I looked it up here), I concentrated on the eye splices; Jim, conversely, couldn't do eye splices to his satisfaction, so an efficient division of labour emerged, and by lunchtime we had completed fifteen strings. We will need slightly shorter (and possibly ceremonial cotton) ones for the cratch, and a couple of longer ones in which to fashion a loop to carry the long shaft, although I've no idea yet how that's done. We're using 10mm Hempex which is OK to work with, although the ends have a tendency to go fluffy and it's bloody hard to cut. It looks really good when it's done though, and is strong.

Thursday 19 January 2012

On the side

Today at last Chertsey's cloths arrived, along with a set of top planks made by Pete Boyce, all delivered by him, and fitted with his help.

Firstly the sidecloths were unrolled along the gunnel. Chertsey's are in a single length along the whole of the boat, shaped at the front to accommodate the inward curve of the fore end. Some people have their sidecloths in two or three sections, so that separate areas can be rolled down, but we thought single ones would be fine for us. In the end we chose heavy duty pvc, as used for lorries' curtain sides, in preference to Regentex (expensive, and we've had mixed reports about its waterproof qualities), 'Top Gun' (looks good but very expensive) or traditional cotton canvas (leaks and rots). The pvc has a side which shows the weave of the reinforcing canvas, and I would have preferred this to be on the outside, but the cloths have been made with a less shiny, but textured outside surface. Never mind though, it only notices if you look really close up.

The sidecloths are attached to the gunnel with oak battens - screwed down in our case, although I think traditionally they would have been nailed (and would have been elm). The edge of the cloth slightly overlaps the inside edge of the gunnel, and the batten is flush with it. The outside top edge of the batten is chamfered to avoid excessive wear where the cloth is pulled over it.

Before pulling the sidecloths up into place, Jim attached the rings for the topcloth strings, positioning them over the notches in the gunnel he made last week. Then I attached lengths of (temporary, I hasten to add) blue string to the eyelets all along one side of the sidecloths.

Meanwhile, Pete and Jim were positioning the top planks, and cutting the foremost one to fit. We were delighted that the height of the stands, the back end beam, and (after a little adjustment) the mast meant the top planks ended up beautifully level. Thanks are also due to Adrian (now of Warrior) who measured the lengths for each plank - they were dead right (of course!).

Once the top planks were laid in place, 'uprights' were inserted between them and the gunnels, to provide support between the stands and extra rigidity. 'Upright' is a bit of a misnomer, as they actually fit at about forty five degrees. Chertsey came with four original uprights, each stamped with their position (P1, P2, S4 etc) and a Grand Union Fleet number. Maybe in the past these got swapped about, because we have one numbered 130 Chertsey), one 134 (Carnaby) and two 101 (Aber). We tried using these but only one fitted - amazingly, it was the one that was originally Chertsey's. Pete trimmed the Carnaby one to fit also, so we have two original GU uprights (the stands are marked with GU fleet numbers too), but the two 101s were not in good enough condition to use, so the remainder were made new.

Once all this was in place, the sidecloth strings were thrown over the planks, through the cloths then other side, back over and tied tightly, holding it all in place. We unrolled one of the topcloths for a look, but as we didn't have the strings made up for them yet, we rolled it up again. Tonight we are a hive of sore fingered splicing industry, as we get on with making them - this time properly, in 10mm hempex. So here's hoping the wind drops so we can have a go at fitting the topcloths tomorrow.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Slow cooker

Having bought a 56lb bag of potatoes (£4) from the splendid, local, Whitegates Farm Shop, we thought we'd better set about using them, seeing as we'd never had so many before. Very nice they looked too, with a good mix of sizes and just enough dirt to show they're real. And, seeing that I have been keeping Chertsey's Epping going 24 hours a day - sixteen days now since I lit it - to keep the cabin warm and dry (which has been very successful) it occurred to me that I could be utilising some of that heat for other ends too, so today I popped a couple of nice big potatoes in the oven, having first rubbed them with olive oil and sea salt (you can take the girl out of the south...) and scored a cross in the top (easier than pricking it to let the steam out, and makes it easier to cut open too). My thermomenter said the oven temperature was around 130 degrees C, and I left them in for about five hours. Although I'm sure they were cooked through well before that, it didn't do them any harm; indeed, it was one of the nicest baked potatoes I've had.

Slow cookers seem to be all the rage again at the moment so I shall have to see what else I can cook in mine (although 130 isn't actually all that slow, I know).

Tuesday 17 January 2012

And (very slightly) drunk with Hairy Neil

I'll say this, living on the boats is certainly improving our social life. Most of our friends, by quite a long way, are boaty people, and as such are far more more likely to drop by now than they ever were to be passing the south coast. Last night Hairy Neil, hero of Chertsey's homecoming from the Trent, dropped in en route from Aberystwith to Slough. He arrived at half past nine (pm), and it was absolutely freezing, so naturally we headed into Brewood and back to the Swan, a really excellent pub - the fact that it was packed out on a Monday night being testimony to this. I'm sure no one else got even slightly drunk, but two and a half pints of Directors followed by half a bottle of Old Empire on our return is certainly enough to make me quite mellow... Anyway, we had a lovely evening, chatting until nearly two o'clock. Neil then got to try out the guest room, aka Bakewell's back cabin, with an airbed on the crossbed, and a large collection of tools and toolboxes hurriedly stowed in every available space, and was up and gone again at six. In the course of his departure, Willow slipped out, and then came and found me on Chertsey, so we had a nice little lie in until it was light.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Getting spliced with Blossom

As promised, Blossom and Dawn came to visit today. We enjoyed tea and buns and catching up with plenty of chat; a tour of Bakewell and a look at Chertsey's paintwork... But at some point we also mentioned that we had once again found that the art of splicing had slipped our minds - despite our having been shown, and grasped it, twice, so Blossom patiently spent a great deal of time tutoring us in it again. I still haven't quite mastered the crown knot, but my actual splicing turned out neatly enough. Jim meanwhile appears to be moving onto advanced decorative ropework so we should soon be self sufficient in strings, droppers and various dangly bits. Just as long as we keep practising this time and don't forget for a third time.

Saturday 14 January 2012

On a cold and frosty morning

This is the way we play with our new camera...

Sadly have had to reduce the file size quite considerably to stand any chance of uploading them though.

Friday 13 January 2012

Top notch

Today in anticipation of Chertsey's cloths being fitted tomorrow, Jim made the notches in the gunnels, above which the rings for the topcloths sit. These notches seem to serve two puroposes; to make it possible to catch a ring with a hook whilst standing on the top plank, and (this is something I thought of myself) to thread the end of a string through one-handed. On some boats, the rings sit down inside larger scallops, but this seemed to me to be less useful, so rightly or wrongly, I've gone for a notch that, hopefully, the ring will sit flat above, stapled to the gunnel and flush with or just behind its edge.

Jim cut the notches with an angle grinder, amidst much smoke and smouldering oak. There are 28 of them. In total, there are going to be eighteen top strings, four at 13" intervals on the cratch, and the remainder at 3' intervals. This concurs with the drawing I have, which is admittedly for a butty, but apart from the longer hold I don't know why it would be different, which specifies 3' intervals and 15" on the cratch (we were a few inches short once we got to the front, hence Chertsey's being 13" here). It also fits what I have been told by other people (some have said that they can, and should, be even less - 28"). But the mysterious thing is that when you look at old photos of GU motor boats, they only seem to have 13 top strings aft of the cratch, suggesting a wider spacing. There are fewer notches than strings because those at the front, where the gunnels widen and curve in, are set further in and not on the edge.

We drove ourselves mad finishing before the light went (Jim had to go to Screwfix for a new grinder as his old one had broken ages ago), and finally, having got some bitumen on the cut wood, retired indoors to practice our splicing, only to get a message from Pete to say that he can't come tomorrow after all. So it will be Thursday now before Chertsey finally gets smartened up.

Thursday 12 January 2012

A night out in Brewood

For a relatively small place, Brewood has an enormous entry on Wikipedia. Someone is obviously very enthusiastic about the place - and not without good reason; it's very nice and clearly there are lots of interesting things to explore.

Last night we made a start, with a talk, hosted by the Civic Society, by (they put this very proudly on the poster) the local raconteur. well, he didn't sound very local - exceedingly plummy in fact - but he was indeed an excellent raconteur. The talk was about the Tudor housebuilding boom in the wake of the dissolution of the monasteries, not a subject I would have put top of my list of interests, but Richard Field's enthusiasm, especially for the architecture, was infectious and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The talk was preceded by a brief report on matters of interest to the Civic Society, particularly reports on recent planning applications, and followed by a preview of a charity fundraising 'safari supper'; a variation on the 'progressive dinner', and a good idea, in which groups of people eat their first course in one person's house and dessert in another, getting together beforehand for aperitifs and after for coffee and cake. The only odd thing was that tickets were for sale in pairs - are there no single people in Brewood, or are they simply not welcome at the safari supper?

Before descending on the Methodist Church (and it was packed out; the normal venue of the Jubilee Hall being unavailable because of heating problems) we dropped into the Swan for a pint of Directors. It's a very nice pub; five beers and open log fires. So much so that we popped in again afterwards, for another pint and an indulgent packet of pork scratchings, by which time it was deservedly busy. It was Wolverhampton CAMRA's pub of the year 2010, and their village pub of 2011.

Conversation (bemusingly) overheard on the next table:

'Where are your main markets then?'

'Walsall, mainly, then India, and the Far East.'

I like it here.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

With a name like that...

What other job could he do?

I think I have come across one of the best ever examples of a person with an appropriate name for their job.

You might be aware of the sudden closure of then Tring summit owing to water loss issues. I saw an email about this yesterday, with contact details for the person in the South East Business unit with responsibility for it. His name is Lee King.

Monday 9 January 2012

A bit of demystification

Following some of the recent comments about the use of the Single Transferable Vote system for the C&RT Council elections, I decided to go off and give myself a refresher course in order to try and demystify it and, hopefully, lay to rest a myth or two. I won't try and explain how it works, because there is a really good explanation on Wikipedia here, which, it has to be said, puts the Electoral Reform Society's website to shame.

The first myth that needs challenging is that under STV you only get one vote, whereas under FPTP (first past the post) you get as many votes as there are seats. In fact, under STV, you get to express as many preferences as you like, up to the total number of candidates. What's more, you can differentiate subtly between them, whereas under FPTP you have to pick four (if the C&RT elections were held on this basis) as if you liked them all equally, and reject all the others.

Under STV, it's true, your votes don't all count equally; your first preference carries more weight than your second preference, and so on down your list, but overall, that gives a result that more closely reflects the wishes of the electorate, and your own preferences too. And of course, under FPTP, it is perfectly possible that none of your votes will count at all, whereas under STV you can be certain that they all have weight.

Take an example in which there are ten candidates for four seats, and a total of 10,000 votes are cast. Under FPTP, you vote for Albert, Bill, Charlotte and Denise, but Gus, Henrietta, Ignatious and Jane are elected. Your four votes have all been completely wasted; you might as well not have bothered filling in the ballot paper. Furthermore, say Jane needed 800 votes to get elected (don't forget that under FPTP, especially if there is a large field of candidates, it is perfectly possible, indeed likely, that people will win a seat on the basis of a very small share of the vote), but she actually got 3000. That means that 2,200 of those votes were also wasted; they didn't count.

Under STV however, if you vote for a candidate who is eliminated because they have too few first preference votes to be elected, then your second preference vote will be counted, and so on. Likewise, if your first preference candidate is elected with votes to spare, your second preference will be counted and so on. The way in which surplus votes are redistributed varies, but with computerised counting systems it is now possible to redistribute surplus votes in proportion to the second (or subsequent) preferences expressed in all the votes counted, not just a random selection of ballot papers.

STV encourages positive voting, voting for the candidates you want to win; it makes negative and tactical voting not only difficult, but unnecessary. It militates against party (or other group) domination and is fairer to individual and independent candidates.

It is not a purely proportional system, although in a party based election, where constituencies are large enough, it will produce a reasonably proportional result, and certainly more so than FPTP, but that isn't its only, or even its primary advantage. It is its fairness between candidates, and the accuracy with which it reflects the electorate's wishes, that makes STV the best system for the C&RT Council elections.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Point of order Mr Chairman

Today we had a day out. We went to Tamworth for a HNBOC (that's the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club) committee meeting. It began at ten, with a pre-meeting to discuss media strategy and my role as press officer, with the meeting proper beginning at eleven and ending at half past five. There was a break for lunch though, and it was all very enjoyable and congenial.

One thing that was decided was that we should nominate Sue Cawson as an 'official' HNBOC candidate for the C&RT Council. This is another nomination I am more than happy to recommend. Many people outside historic boating circles will not have heard of Sue, but she has been boating solidly for decades and it is probably fair to say that no one has a better knowledge of the system and where there are problems and obstacles to navigation... Not only does she have first hand experience, but as HNBOC's navigation officer, she receives reports whenever there are issues affecting navigation, and would be another really strong and well informed voice for boaters.

So... we got back to the boats morebthan ten hours after leaving, and... both stoves were still going, Bakewell's Squirrel and Chertsey's Epping. We wondered why Willow wasn't going mad having been shut in all day, until I noticed that I'd left the bathroom window open, and the muddy pawprints on the basin and bath suggested thatbhe had in fact been coming and going at will all day.

Friday 6 January 2012

Bugger Blogger (and vote for Alan Fincher!)

Well, Blogpress actually. It ate my post again last night... Said it had posted successfully, showed me the post... but when I go to look at the blog again, it's not there, and not saved by Blogpress either.

Anyway, what I posted last night was my endorsement of Alan Fincher's candidacy for one of the four boater seats on the C&RT Council. I know other bloggers are standing, and yet other bloggers have endorsed them on the basis of their blogs, but I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't know Alan personally, which I do, and I believe that he would be an independent minded, strong voice with great attention to detail and dogged determination to the boater's cause, with years of boating experience spread over decades and a real commitment to listen to his constituency. Not that I expct anyone to act solely on the basis of my recommendation, so have a look at his blog here and see what you think.

I'll be giving Alan my first preference vote and wish him every success.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Welcome to Willow's wonderful world 2

The Bathroom

Willow doesn't himself have much interest in the bathroom, especially as 'it doesn't even have a proper toilet you can drink out of', but he recognises the importance of providing little luxuries when it comes to recruiting and retaining high quality staff. Housekeeper Sarah is delighted with the facilities. 'This is the first boat I've ever had where you could actually have a proper shower', she enthuses. 'It feels terribly decadent'. The water is heated by the back boiler on the Squirrel stove, via a simple convection system which also runs a heated pipe through the bathroom.

Jim, Willow's general factotum and personal grooming assistant, has made a few minor adjustments, today, for example, repairing the bath taps so that the cold tap can actually be used - a necessity now that the water is getting properly hot. He has also fitted some new towel rails - Willow understands that humans can never have too many of these, and anyway, they were in the bargain bin at B&Q - a new shower curtain rail, a rail to stop bottles slipping off the shelf, and another on the ceiling from which to suspend small items of washing. Willow licks his feet and looks on indulgently at this strange necessity.

Boat bathrooms are of course notoriously difficult to photograph, and these little snaps really don't do it justice.

Tuesday 3 January 2012

Terribly cosy

In the light of the somewhat extreme condensation in Chertsey's cabin, I decided that sleeping without the stove lit was not an option, no matter how mild the night - especially as mild nights are usually accompanied by damp, if not downright wet, weather. Yesterday started dry and bright, with a stiff breeze, so I got the mattress out on the cabin top, attached to various anchors at a number of points, to give it a good airing.

Meanwhile I got down to giving the cabin its first really good clean since Torksey, blacked the cold stove, washed down the paraffin-sooted walls, shook out the rugs, swept the floor, cleaned all the bowls, buckets and bins, and removed the supply of firelighting rags which were imbuing the place with rather too distinctive an odour of diesel and white spirit. Just the brass left to do. Then, yesterday afternoon I lit the stove, and have managed, so far, to keep it ticking over very slowly since. So slowly that the cabin did not get unpleasantly hot last night, but just warm and dry. Long may I manage to maintain this feat! The cabin is certainly a much more pleasant place to be now, day or night.

In a disgusting orgy of domesticity, I have spent today knitting - I started an Aran jumper for number 2 son just prior to Christmas 2010, aiming to have it finished for his birthday in February. After a number of setbacks and discouragements, culminating in unravelling it and starting again, having concluded that it was going to come out too small, I started again at the beginning of this winter. One and a bit sleeves are complete, and tonight I finished the back, so getting it to him for his birthday this year is looking a distinct possibility. Meanwhile Jim has been baking bread, now that we have a lovely little freezer to keep it in... No more medium sliced for us now!

Monday 2 January 2012

Is taking your own toilet roll as bad as buying your own drinks?

'She's the sort of person who buys her own drinks' - a withering put-down of someone who doesn't stand their round, because, basically, they think they'll be better off if they don't; they're not planning to stay long, or they're only drinking halves, so why should they buy drinks for eveyone else when they won't get the equivalent back in return? The reason they should, of course, is that it's what you do; it's central to English (British?) pub culture. It's an acknowledgement that, in this context, you are not just a self-interested individual but part of a larger community, even if that community is just you and a couple of mates. It recognises that this isn't a one-off occasion, but part of a continuum, in which unequal contributions can be evened out over time; again, part of something bigger than the individual and the moment. It's a homage to tradition; a rite by which we identify ourselves with a particular heritage. Buying your own drinks is a certain kind of meanness which passes itself off as the opposite but's more than that; it's a stand-offishness, a refusal to fully become part of the group.

So... there's a toilet here at the yard. Not a bad one, in fact, as these things go. Not as clean as it might be, of course, but spacious and most importantly, warm. Now, when there's a toilet on the bank, a boat dweller will use it at every opportunity, to avoid too frequent filling and consequent emptying of the on board facilities. As toilets around the system vary in the level of cleanliness and facilities they offer, I always carry with me a 'toilet bag' containing among other vital accoutrements, a toilet roll and a pack of Parazone (or equivalent) wipes. Paranoid I may be, but itnmakes me happy.

The loo here is used by the people working here and other moorers, when there are any. Sometimes there's a loo roll there and sometimes there isn't. When there is, it's impossible to know who's provided it. Because sometimes there isn't one, I always take my bag with me (well, it might need a clean anyway). So, when there is a roll there, should I use that one, or my own? If I use the one that's there, then I am honour bound at some stage to provide a replacement. But if I always use my own, then I don't have to worry about it. As I thought this through, I realised that there is a real parallel with the pub scenario. I could just look out for myself, and not owe anyone anything. Or I could be part of the wider community, using, and providing, the communal resources, without worrying too much about whether it's my turn, or if I'm providing more sheets than the next person. And I realised the answer it clear - next time I must leave the roll behind when I leave.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Eight hours

... of daylight in every twenty four at this time of year. Just knowing that makes it easier to deal with, husbanding each precious minute jealously, not being caught unawares by the encroaching dusk. It makes you think, what jobs need to be done in daylight, and which can be left until after dark. It makes you realise that you shouldn't try to achieve as much in a short winter's day as you might in a long summer's one.

Now, at least, the days are getting longer, minute by minute, day by day, although the most miserable doldrums of the winter are yet to come, unrelieved by the fiery festivities of November and December. It's a long, miserable slog to March now; things improving, but imperceptibly. T.S. Eliot thought that April, with its promise of new life and hope, was the cruellest month, but I love its promise of warmth and light; the first gentle touch of the warm sun on my back. Summer, Braunston, seems so far away at this time of year, the past a barely remembered dream; the future something we dare not imagine. Yet we know that it will come; not what form it will take, or what we will be doing; not even, these days, what the weather will be like. But as long as the earth keeps turning, and stays in its orbit, the days will get longer, and summer will come again.