... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Saturday 31 March 2012

An ill wind

Today was the final day of getting ready to go to Droitwich, so we thought we would wind Chertsey so as to be all set for the morning. We untied, and with Jim steering and me waiting on the bank, Chertsey whizzed backwards the few yards past the winding hole, winded, and started to reverse back alongside Bakewell. Not a chance. I should have known, really. The reason Bakewell isn't tight into the bank at the back is because Chertsey, on the outside, won't go any nearer. There is just enough depth for the back of a motor boat at the end of the mooring near the winding hole, but nothing like enough a boat length further along. It's only silt, and one of these days we might get around to shifting it, albeit temporarily, but things work fine as they are, if only we would remember. So I made a cup of tea while Jim took Chertsey back (forwards) to the winding hole and spun round again. We still needed to get Chertsey's back end nearer the end of the hosepipe to replenish one of the fresh water tanks and thereby correct a rather pronounced list that had developed, so this involved mooring on the outside of two other boats where it was deep enough, and then reversing back to where we started. Job done though. Everything, hopefully, loaded. Water, coal, potatoes, cat food...

We met another blogger today as Captain Ahab and Belle passed on, en route to the Llangollen. As they hovered alongside Chertsey whilst we had a chat, Willow showed his mettle as a boat cat by hopping onto the roof of Wand'ring Bark. Andy had to reverse back so that I could grab him. Let's hope he takes to travelling as well as he has taken to static boat life. I have made him a collection of collars - a circle of 10mm elastic with the boat name and my phone number written on in marker pen, and we have even bought him a harness in case he fancies coming into town with us. He's not bothered by the collar but seemed rather cowed by the harness. This is going to be interesting.

Friday 30 March 2012

Primed and ready to go

If you had been passing Stretton today you might have wondered what all the shouting and swearing and weeping and wailing was about... Nothing to worry about, ladies and gents, just me doing some painting - an activity I find uncommonly stressful. Having found some rather good black paint - Blackfriars C90, for metal and wood, heat resistant to 150 degrees C, and nice and shiny - I decided to smarten up the area around the stove. This had been painted in matt heatproof paint, but that was two years ago now and since then we've added some more fireboard, which was rather unsuccessfully painted cream (you can see it in the photo at the top of yesterday's post). Above that were Chertsey's plaques, but I have decided on a new position for them. All of it was very discoloured, mostly from soot from the Beatrice stove last year, and I decided that a coat of nice shiny black on the whole lot would look smarter, and provide a good background for any bits of brass that end up there. Well, it's nice enough paint to work with, and covers well, but what an awkward area to work in, especially with that edge to keep neat. And then a few hours later, just as it was nice and sticky, I went and leant the cuff of my cardigan against the edge, leaving a patch all rough and fluffy (although Jim successfully got the black mark out of the woolie, so not quite all was lost. Golly, I did shout though). All in all, although not perfect, it has probably been worth the agony. I think it does look better already.

The other thing I have used that paint for is to smarten up one of the tins that I bought from CanalWorld's David Schweizer for putting a Primus stove in. The Primus (pressurised vaporised paraffin) has many advantages over the Beatrice (paraffin via a big wick) - it is far more economical, more efficient and a lot less messy in terms of producing soot. On the downside, however, there is an arcane ritual to be performed to light it, and the slightest draught spoils the magic and leaves me (once again) swearing, sobbing and dying for a cup of tea. The tin, which is made from a bulk Peak Freans biscuit tin (they'd have been scooped out and sold by the pound in the shop) should overcome this by shielding the pre-heating meths flame from draughts. I've put a wooden base in the tin to raise the pot stand level with the top of the tin, so that the kettle can sit safely on it, whilst the lid can still fit on to keep it clean and tidy when not in use - and it fits neatly into a perfect storage spot too.

Oh yes, we're leaving for Droitwich on Sunday.

Thursday 29 March 2012

Step inside

Here is the finished step, and a nice tidy cabin.
Going to mess it up with a bit of painting now.

Wednesday 28 March 2012


Today we hung the washing out for the first time this year! I've been doing most of my stuff, with the exception of big heavy things like jeans, every week and hanging it in the bathroom to drip over the bath for a day, before transferring it to dry by the Squirrel - there is a hook in the ceiling for the multiple-peg-thing (aka the knickerhanger), and a coat hook behind the stove to hang things on hangers, or they can be draped over the hot water pipes. But today we had a proper line outdoors, because at last it is spring, and all my stuff was dry in time for Jim to wash some of his bits too, rather than taking them to the laundry in Shifnal (I don't care greatly for the laundry; they have to be told not to put fabric softener in with the towels, and it comes back smelling of Someone Else's washing powder, which I find disconcerting. There is a coin-op launderette near Dawn's hair salon in Cannock, which I might give a try when it comes to doing my jeans. But I've plenty of pairs to go yet.

I set out today to see if I could get some shorts, and was quite successful - one pair of Calvin Klein denim ones in Age UK, unbelievably, size 8 (they must be very generous), and some in Asda, boys age 11-12. Kids must be getting fatter. So that should ensure a cold snap for Easter.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Step up

When I got Chertsey, the footboard - the step that you stand on to steer - was made of a big piece of ash, which continued across to form a shelf next to the stove. Only at the time, there wasn't a stove. When the Epping was fitted, a slice of the shelf had to be cut away. The step was also cut back, although this turned out not to have been so necessary, especially once the brackets supporting the step, which would have fouled the oven door, were replaced by a piece of steel welded in place. The loss of three or four inches off the front of the footboard is noticeable; if I want to stand inside the hatches and use the long tiller bar that like, my toes dangle over the edge, which is tiring after a while. For a long time, I was on the lookout for a new step - a nice big chunky piece of oak or ash or elm which might even give an inch or so of extra height. But nothing of the sort materialised, so I turned my thoughts to a plan B. It was thinking about putting vinyl on the step that presented a possible solution - if any join was going to be covered up, we could let a new piece of wood into the missing bit of step (you can see the shape of it in the 'Check' post), and, as luck would have it, if we were to cut off the shelf part (which I wanted to remove anyway, and eventually replace with a steel shelf next to the stove), this would just fit the gap. Now obviously it was necessary to find a strong enough way of joining these two pieces, so that it would be able to take the strain of someone standing on the edge as they got in and out of the boat. Jim reckoned that five deeply countersunk six inck coach bolts, along with glue, and possibly a plate underneath, would do the trick. As it was Sunday by the time we got round to doing this, we went to B&Q for the bolts. Big mistake. For a start, they only had five inch ones, so the sinking holes had to be drilled deeper. Then despite Jim having drilled proper pilot holes, every bolt either bent or broke - one broke in two places. They were worse than useless, and caused a whole day to be wasted. Yesterday we did what we should have done in the first place, went to Kelsalls and got some six inch Timberdrive bolts. These cost about £14 for 25; the B&Q ones were £6.85 for ten - so cheaper as well as infinitely better.
The footboard yesterday afternoon - spot the join

Once the piece was let in, Jim filled the holes and also used filler to smooth the join, before sanding it all down. Now in fact the join barely shows, so we were having second thoughts about putting the vinyl on it after all. The current view though is that we will, as the join will probably show once it gets dirty, and the vinyl will be non slip and waterproof, as well as looking a bit like that old photo! The edge and underside of the footboard will be painted with red oxide, as I have done with the lower step (I don't have a proper traditional coal box step on Chertsey) and I have liberated a piece of old brass step edging from one of Bakewell's side hatches where it isn't really needed as it is no longer used as the main entrance to the boat. This will keep the front of the vinyl from being caught and should look nice as well as marking a tactile edge to the step.

As you can see, the step is not completely square; the slightly sloping side was the best way of making the most of the available wood.

Monday 26 March 2012

Chequered past

I probably shouldn't be reproducing this photo, but it is for educational purposes... It's from Michael E. Ware's Narrow Boats at Work (Moorland Publishing Co., 1980) and is no. 105 of over 200 wonderful photos. The book is of course long out of print, but copies seem to be available very cheaply - get your hands on one now!

Anyway, in response mainly to Amy's comment on my check vinyl, here is the photo, from the early 1940s, that inspired it - not so much my choice of check, but its extensive use! Obviously in the photo it would have been lino rather than vinyl, but it's true to the spirit of it.

I'm not sure I could cope with all those photos and plates though, although I do seem to be moving towards a more traditional style of back cabin decor.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Beer blogging

Thanks to an article in yesterday's Guardian, I was directed to Pete Brown's Beer Blog, and via that to the wonderful world of beer blogging. After a long evening's tireless research, I reckon Pete's is probably the best of the bunch (he is a proper journalist, after all; I had even heard of his books). It was very instructive though, especially to the levels of beer snobbery (and worse still, inverted beer snobbery) that exist out there. I'm adding Pete to Ye* Blogroll to remind me to read him regularly, and I hope you'll enjoy it too - lots and lots of links to follow up as well.

*Pronounced 'the' as I'm sure you know, 'Y' being the nearest a modern keyboard can get to the old English letter thorn which was pronounced th as in the, and not, um, as in thorn.

Saturday 24 March 2012


I decided that a piece of vinyl would be just the thing to make the sidebed look clean and tidy. (It's got tatty old graining, which i don't want to look at because it's tatty, grubby and dingy, but I don't want to paint over because it's old). Then I thought, a bit would be nice on the step too. And if the join could be covered up with vinyl, we could let a piece into the footboard, so my toes wouldn't be hanging over the edge. If there was any spare, it could go on the floor where Willow's food and litter tray will be when we're on the move (of which more anon). And another bit on the dark floow would brighten things up a bit. Any really spare bits could go in the bottom of the cupboards.

Now, of course the holy grail of back cabin lino is one with a small, diagonal black and white check. No chance. Everything is at least 6" squares, sometimes eight, and always on the straight. I did once get three small (about 5' x 3') pieces with a six inch diagonal check, albeit slightly marbled, at Barnsley market. I rolled them up, tied them with some scarves, and bought them home on the train. Two of them went into Warrior's back cabin, and the third is at the house. I toyed with going back to get it for about a second, but it wouldn't have been worth it.

We shopped around, all the big chains; no small squares, and up to ten days to have it delivered to the shop. Then I said, let's just try that little place in Penkridge - it's called Penkridge Flooring and is (the young man told me) an offshoot of Stafford Carpets. And lo, there was a nice black and white 4" check, and what's more, they could get in in the next day, so I went mad and ordered a 2 x 2 metre piece. Of which I have probably used just over half, so far, and am ready for a very surreal game of chess. But it really does look much brighter and by covering all the little cracks will make it easier to keep clean, and will keep dust and splashes out of the side bed too. It is - very unobtrusively - slit in places to allow it to be rolled back for access to vital bits, or removed in sections.

The rather extreme version of the modesty flap will be explained later.

Friday 23 March 2012

Fender fitting

Now we're finally getting on with all those little jobs we said we'd do before going boating this spring. One of them was finding a better way of fitting the front fender than trying to attach it to the T-stud, from where it was always slewing to one side or the other. It needs to be positioned so that it can be lifted easily too, and flipped up onto the fore end. So, we have used two of the cast brass screw-in eyes that we bought from Malcolm Braine at the Ellesmere Port boat jumble many years ago, screwed into the oak cants. There are now just two of these left, which I think will go on Chertsey's back doors. The others are on Warrior, holding up the washing line in the engine room, and holding the lovely French stove in position.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Interior decor

The other day I finally got round to putting the rest of my beer mat collection on display in the back cabin. OK, it's not much of a display as only I shall see it, but it brightens the place up (solid oak can be a bit coffin-like), and almost every one has a memory of a place or an occasion attached to it. Copper Dragon - from when we stopped at their (then) new pub in Slaithewaite, nearly six years ago now, and having left the bottom paddles open as instructed, came out to find the pound empty. Enville Ales - not sure where I got the mat, but it reminds me of 2010's Black Country gathering; Enville Ales in the beer tent, but when that got too noisy, it was off to Ma Pardoe's. Harveys and Dark Star to remind me of Sussex; Titanic from the Albert Hotel in Huddersfield, a gorgeous pub when I was there, all marble and mahogany. And Hale's Ales - bought back by my sister from Seattle.

I have two new ones to add - Bath Ales, from my trip to Oxford; an enjoyable day if not the most productive one. I saw the pub, The Grapes, at lunchtime, but thought it wisest not to go in before my interview (perhaps I should have done), but headed straight for it afterwards, for a couple of expensive (but nice) pints of Golden Hare and a disappointing sandwich (putting a slice of apple in a cheese and pickle sandwich and charging £4.50 for it does not make it a 'ploughmans'. Not even a ploughman's sandwich), and made the acquaintance of three rather amusing property developers from Ohio on a kind of grand tour.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

New phone trauma

I don't really like change, not unless it's a change I've chosen to make (like moving onto a boat, something like that) at any rate. Well, who does. New versions of familiar software, changes to Blogger, just makes me want to run away and hide.

Way back in 2007, I had to buy a new phone. I was persuaded to try a Nokia N95 8gb. Oh, how I loved it. So square, so black, so heavy. Such a lovely solid clunk when I slid out the keyboard. In no time I was texting away with one thumb, loving the T9 set up, easily changing words when necessary. Lovely display, 5mp camera, great video, slide the screen the other way and it had separate controls for the MP3 player. I am yet to be convinced that a better phone has ever been made.

But it's in its fifth year now, and starting to slow down. It keeps switching itself off. For some time, I have been coming to terms with the fact that I am going to have to replace it before it gives up the ghost altogether. I wandered round phone shops, picking up the merchandise, but nothing came near. Either it didn't have a numeric keypad, or not a good enough camera; or not enough memory. I didn't want much - just a texting machine with a few extras really - but it had to feel right.

Then No. 2 Son said that No. 1 Son had a new phone he thought I would like. I looked at it and I did like it. It didn't have everything I wanted - in particular, no numeric keypad, just a touchscreen one or a little slide out querty keyboard. But it had a good camera, and while the integral memory was tiny, it could take a micro SD card. Most of all though (shallowness alert!) it was shiny and black and heavy and it went clunk. It was a Sony Ericsson Xperia Pro Mini.

I rang up Vodafone, who have been badgering me to 'upgrade' since my beloved N95 was six months old, and gave them the glad tidings that at last I had found a phone I was reluctantly prepared to switch to. First they said they didn't have one, then that they did. Eagerly I awaited at the Post Office the next day to collect it, but when I opened the box, it was the wrong phone. There were bits of Xperia Pro Mini in the box, namely the backs, but they didn't fit the X10 in the box. I sent it back, having first had the obligatory argument with the call centre.

In the end, I have had to switch to Orange to get the phone I wanted, and that was only through Carphone Warehouse. Don't ask me how these things work; I'm not a young person. There is an upside to this, then, in that Orange seems to have much the best signal here. Fortunately they didn't seem to associate me with the person of the same name who had a big row with them about a dongle a few weeks ago. (Somehow I ended up being sent a bill for £1 as a result of that, complete with return envelope. Rather than argue about it again, I just sent them a cheque for £1). I could have bought one outright and carried on with my Vodafone contract, but it worked out a fair bit cheaper this way.

So, I am currently running two phones, as I try to get used to the Experia. It looks and feels lovely, but for a start, I don't like the jolly speech bubbly way it displays texts. I don't like the way it turns my (or others', I suppose, if there's anyone left still innocently using them; I was shocked to realise that that's probably how mine have been looking to others for ages) sweet little punctuation mark smileys into vulgar brightly coloured cartoon characters. I quite like the way the T9 works, but haven't yet worked out how to go back and change a word post hoc, and I definitely do not like the way it is very easy to accidentally send something before you've finished polishing it.

And now this is bothering me. My Vodafone contract requires a months notice. I'd be happy to give them a month's notice prior to stopping using the phone, so I rang them up and they said that they could do anything on the phone but that; I would have to put it in writing. I could do this in an email but would have to give them all my security details, or it wouldn't work, and the email form is only 900 characters long anyway. But they gave me the PAC code and said that I could transfer the number to the new phone and the service would (fairly obviously) be terminated immediately. But I would then end up paying for a month's service that I couldn't use, and even if it's only a tenner, that annoys me. If it happens to everyone, that's a lot of tenners they're getting to not pay tax on. Any ideas, anyone?

I just wish I didn't have to do this at all, but my N95 is too precious to use until it falls apart or stops working entirely.

Monday 19 March 2012

Oxonian interlude

Well, I don't know yet whether my trip to Oxford has borne fruit in terms of remunerative employment, but I had a lovely walk down the canal, and round the shops, and made the acquaintance of three charming American tourists in The Grapes, formerly a Greene King pub but as of very recently run by Bath Ales, where I had two very nice pints of Golden Hare and a disappointing ploughman's sandwich. I also acquired two more beer mats for my display, of which more later.

Here are some of the old boats in retirement as houseboats (I looked at their licences) right in the heart of Oxford.


And Ben (if I've got them the right way round)

The notorious new pontoon

And the remains of Castle Mill boatyard, behind Sextans.

I wonder if anyone ever uses the visitor moorings right at the end of the arm. It certainly didn't look like it.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Have you noticed...

That although you've probably bookmarked or clicked a link to '', you are now in fact reading ''. Unless you are in the States of course, in which case you still get the .com version. Or in any other country, where you will have got the relevant nationally-specific suffix. And if you use Blogger, the same thing will have happened to your blog. A different (though the same) version for every country in the world.

I must admit I hadn't noticed, until Diamond Geezer pointed it out. He explains why they've done it here. (And how to get round it if you need to)

It probably won't make any practical difference to any of us boaty bloggers, although it seems it will clog up search engines other than Google, who own Blogger of course.

It does get you thinking about the unsettling aspects of the web, and of depending on Google for so much, but there's no point complaining or wringing our hands about it. You can have your own domain under your own control if you're prepared to pay for it, but if not - as one of dg's commenters puts it - you just have to remember that if you're not paying for the product, then you are the product.

Saturday 17 March 2012

The power of a big brand

I did think of calling this post 'the obligatory opinion on the CRT elections', but what sort of press officer would I be if I couldn't think of a snappier come-on than that?

The dust is settling around the elections now, and opinions are being voiced all over the place. I just want to focus here on a few points which I think are in danger of being overlooked elsewhere.

Clearly, the result was not to the liking of many bloggers and CanalWorld contributors - understandably. We had our own favoured candidates - in many cases bloggers and CWF members were candidates. Levels of support for them seemed high. But in the end, the results were dominated by IWA candidates, just as many had feared.

In a system which is in no way party based, any distinction between 'independents' and other candidates is going to be, to some degree at least, artificial; even spurious, and this distinction has done much, I think, to engender a very confrontational attitude. I - with all my political experience and the cynicism borne of it - was amazed by the extent to which some people emphasised this false dichotomy, saying that they would not vote for a candidate who had been endorsed by an organisation (even one other than the IWA), even though they would have put exactly the same candidate at the top of their list otherwise. When standing costs nothing, and campaigning on the internet next to nothing (so they would not be beholden to the organisation), I do not see what difference they think such an endorsement could make to the candidate's ability to carry out their representative role.

You can't blame the IWA. You might think that they should not have made so brazen an attempt to dominate the proceedings, but wouldn't it have been even worse if they had done it covertly, by supporting nominally independent candidates? I don't think you can blame the IWA, either for wanting the maximum possible representation, or for taking the opportunity to get it. Like the result or not (and the elected Council Members are not bad people, and will probably not be bad representatives for boaters) those candidates were elected fair and square.

You can't blame the system. 'Some 'independent' candidates got very close to winning positions in this STV election, and may, with lessons learnt this time, win seats next time. Under First Past the Post (the system used for Parliamentary elections) none of them would have come close, and nor would they stand a chance in the future against a well managed concerted campaign. And - if these positions prove to have any clout - make no mistake, next time the campaigns will be bigger, more concerted, better managed. It is in the nature of elective democracies that parties will form, simply because they provide such an advantage to candidates in elections. No democracy anywhere has yet found a way of overcoming this - using STV is the closest we can get to weakening the grip of parties on the political process.

You can't blame the losing candidates. Many of them staged excellent campaigns, and many of them were very worthy of a seat on the CRT Council. It wasn't their fault that they weren't successful.

So who is to blame? In any democratic process that is fairly conducted, as I have no doubt, despite a few minor glitches, this one was, there is only one place to lay the blame for the outcome: on the voters. The one major, blindingly obvious, point which is being largely overlooked or ignored is this: the result reflects the choices of the majority of voters. Around 7,000 people voted. Most of them have never read a blog or heard of CanalWorld. The IWA, on the other hand, has 17,500 members.*

You can call the voters misguided, you can even say they were duped, but I think you would, largely, be wrong to do so. What they are, in common with most people, is risk averse. Most people would sooner go to Halfords or Kwik Fit than an independent back street garage; to Wetherspoons rather than an unknown street corner boozer; to Pizza Express rather than a steamy-windowed family restaurant. Not all of us, but most people. That's why chain pubs, chain restaurants, chain garages are so successful, despite everyone knowing that the quality is merely good at best, and comes at a price. It is good enough, and it is a safe, predictable choice. That is the power of the big brand over the unknown, maverick, but sometimes vastly superior independent player. The independent might be brilliant, but they might be dreadful. Your brakes might fail, you might get food poisoning, the beer might be off. If you wouldn't take the risk in your choice of garage, pub or restaurant, why would you in your choice of candidate?

Those of us who supported Alan, Sue, Andy et al, did so because we knew them; they were already familiar to us. But we cyber-savvies were only a small proportion of the electorate. The vast majority went for the big, safe brand name - and the biggest brand by a mile in this market is the IWA. And that is why they did well. Not because they cheated; not because there was anything wrong with the system; not because the other candidates failed, but because they were the choice of the majority of voters. And that's what democracy is all about, isn't it?

*at least it does according to Wikipedia. I find it a bit hard to believe myself - one for every two boats on the system?

Friday 16 March 2012

Walton en route

Yesterday afternoon we heard a boat coming in the distance, like you do... it's a josher... seems to be towing something... hang on, isn't that Martin off Kestrel (he who painted Chertsey)... Indeed it is... and Kestrel is towing... Walton, which we saw launched the other week (and got some rather good photos even if I say so myself, published in both Canal Boat and Waterways World).

They are off to Alvecote, where Walton is to have its engine (a Seffle) fitted, and to be painted in Mersey, Weaver colours.

I'm starting to go native by the way. I was chatting to one of the towpath hippies this morning, and as we went our separate ways, he said 'ta-ra', and without thinking, I said 'ta-ra' back.


Thursday 15 March 2012

Low level

No, not the reservoirs (this time) although I do feel for all those people trapped on the Fens by the de facto closure of the Northampton Arm (but look on the bright side, you won't have to do the Nene this year, and you can go and visit Cambridge before the Cam Commissioners put their prices up...). As for anyone who was hoping to visit the Middle Level... it'll wait, I promise you.

Anyway, my low level refers to Chertsey's cloths, now rearranged sans deckboard, initially because of a low bridge en route to Droitwich (but now we have finally looked at the map we have worked out that we won't be going that way), but also hopefully to offer less for the wind to get hold of. I kind of like to see a Big Woolwich or a Royalty clothed up like this anyway; it has a certain something about it. There is still nearly 6' headroom underneath, in the middle. Also, illogically, it feels much easier walking along the top planks - illogical because they're only about a foot lower at the back (and less than two feet at the front), and, without the uprights, the planks are more bouncy.

Lots of people when clothing up like this fold the topcloths in half. That won't work for Chertsey though; firstly we have a little more height than the milk crate minimum, and second, the side cloths are relatively short (I can't remember how or why I decided on that now), so half a topcloth won't cover the gap, while a whole one is too big. So we have had to tuck one edge under (or both, until I thought of doing just one), and have put a pleat, which you can just see, in the middle of the shaped front one..

Wednesday 14 March 2012

The Paloma lives!

Here's a bit of good news. We were resigned to going and buying a Morco on Friday to replace the leaky Paloma, which would have been a Bad Thing for at least three reasons- it would cost nigh on two hundred quid, all the fittings would be in the wrong place, and on my past experience, Morcos just aren't as good as the no-longer-available Paloma.

But someone else here has had a similar problem, and it was mended by Paul on Prince, so I dropped him a text and asked whether he thought it was worth taking a look - and low and behold, he fixed it! It wasn't the heat exchanger this time (as it had been on Andante); that might have been too much to overcome, but an inlet pipe at the top. So, we have a fully working Paloma, which with the summer coming is a luxury beyond measure and a real bonus.

Tuesday 13 March 2012


I am going to have a nice day out in Oxford on Monday. We have driven into Oxford once, and we couldn't escape, so I decided to go by train. Apparently since I was last in the jobs market, universities have stopped paying interview expenses, so I was on the lookout for the cheapest possible deal. If it meant a few extra hours to wander around the city of dreaming spires, so much the better.

Nothing is cheap in the world of rail travel though. The cheapest advance fare I could find from Penkridge to Oxford, via Birmingham New Street, was £47 - £23.50 each way. So I bit the bullet and went onto the Cross Country website to buy the tickets. I was offered the option of collecting them from a machine at the station, for free, or having them posted, for six pounds. Naturally I wanted to collect them at the station. But woe! Penkridge station does not sport a suitable machine, so that was a non-starter.

Then I thought, it's not much to get from Penkridge to Birmingham - I checked and it was £8.60 Anytime return - perhaps I should just book the advance tickets from Birmingham. So I went back and found the same trains - £15 each way. Result! Total cost £38.60 as opposed to £47.

But that's not the best bit. Travelling from Birmingham, I could get my tickets by post, £6, or to collect them from a machine would cost me a pound this time! There was a free option - an e-ticket, which is emailed and printed off. But how bizarre that this is available where it's not really needed, because there's a machine at the station, but not where it is needed, because there isn't.

(I expect there's a boring and sensible reason like London Midland (the Pengridge-Birmingham leg) can't deal with e-tickets or something). Still, I've paid a bit less and probably even made it cheaper than driving now, so I'm pleased. And I am looking forward to my day out, even if it isn't at someone else's expense.

Monday 12 March 2012

Vale, Valerie

This morning as I made my way to the village I noticed Valerie tied up on the towpath. I'd sort of registered that Les and Jaq were in the general vicinity and would have loved a chat, but the curtains were all drawn so I passed on by. On the way back, I thought, especially after a very long queue at the post office, they are bound to be about. But no, it seems I caught them on a bad day, because all was still. I would have left a note, but I didn't have a pen. Or any paper. So I did the next best thing and rushed back to leave a comment on their blog. I was pretty confident they'd be passing us anyway, given that that was the direction in which they were facing, and sure enough, only an hour or so later they did.

I waved frantically and we said a quick hello, and they were gone. But a few hours later there they were on the towpath, having picked up the message and walked back from Wheaton Aston to visit. More cups of tea and interesting conversation followed, and we have met yet more new boating friends. What I forgot to mention was that Valerie is my mother's name, and my middle name.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Feels like spring

There have been green shoots poking up out of the ground for a little while now; delicate blossom on the blackthorn for a week or so, and tthe buds on the weeping willow just behind the boats have burst into leaf.

But today was the first day when it has really felt like spring. Warm and dry enough to be outside all day, doing jobs, casually chatting, sharing cups of tea, in a way that just doesn't happen when you're tucked away inside away from the weather. All the good things about boating, in short.

And at last it feels as if we are getting ready to go boating; preparing for our trip to Droitwich for Easter. Ian and Clair on Plover are going too, and have been here getting Plover shipshape. Jim (in his shorts for the first time in 2012!) was painting and rearranging Chertsey's top planks. For the Droitwich trip, because of a low bridge and to minimise the effect of wind, we are taking down the deckboard (and the cratch if we had one), the mast and stands, and clothing the boat up with the top planks low down. It's still necessary to give them a bit of height so that rainwater can drain off easily. Milk crates have been found to be just about the right height for this, but not being able to lay our hands on four of those, Jim has made some wooden boxes which will sit on the cross planks and support the top planks so that we will still be able to walk on them. I had to go round to the towpath to see from a distance whether they were all level and straight. One more box remains to be made, to go at the back end.

Meanwhile, I spring cleaned Chertsey's cabin, and brought all the brasses out for a clean.

Saturday 10 March 2012

Here we go a-jumbling

It's been a long time since we went to a jumble sale. Down south, they've practically stopped having them. It's a downward spiral - less good stuff and more rubbish is collected, because people car boot or ebay their good stuff; so fewer people go, less money is raised, until it's just not worth it. Plus since the advent of landfill tax it now costs money to get rid of what's left over, and for the reasons above, more and more is left over.

So it was interesting to see that there are still lots of jumble sales being advertised in the Express and Star. Most of them are in totally unfamiliar places, where we wouldn't know where to park or be able to find the hall, and we haven't been all that adventurous yet. But today there was one in Penkridge, which we know our way around reasonably well (as long as it's near the bun shop, anyway), and what's more, was in aid of the Lichfield and Hatherton Canals Trust, which made it feel kind of familiar and friendly.

In the glory days I would come back from jumbles absolutely laden with stuff, clothes, soft furnishings, furniture, bric-a-brac... The front room floor would disappear under a sea of fabric, maybe twenty per cent of which was destined to be used or worn with any regularity, and Jim and I would compare our purchases (he never bought as much as me), and then I would hit the washing machine for a few hours.

Now, of course, that simply will not do. We no longer have a massive outbuilding to fill up with stuff that might come in handy one day (well, ok, there's Chertsey, but... no). So I had to try and be selective. In particular, I resisted some rather nice plates. Between us, in ascending order of usefulness, we came away with:
A Marks and Spencer blouse (too big)
An 'intelligent plug' which is meant to switch off things that are on standby unless the computer's switched on (didn't work with the laptop)
A box of wooden puzzles for amusing Sebastian (age 22) when he visits
A purple velvet 'chav top' (you know the sort of thing, like a hoodie without the hood. But hey! It's purple! And it's velvet!
An Indian print wraparound skirt with elephants on.
Five books.
A nice chunky little handmade mug for keeping things tidy in the bathroom.
And - the piece de resistance that made the whole trip worthwhile - an air bed! A double, old fashioned rubberised one, no leaks and not a trace of Wergie, which is exactly what Jim needed to replace the one that Willow has obviously put a claw through whilst secreting mice under the bed.

Tonight we are off to the nearby village of Bishops Wood to see (and hear) folk legends Ashley Hutchings and Ken Nicol. This is a rather odd, low key affair, sponsored by a very active local arts organisation, for which tickets had to be ordered by phone and collected from the house of the chair of the Village Hall Committee. Tickets cost £12.50, or £8 without the ploughman's supper. I am rather looking forward to it.

Friday 9 March 2012


When Alan and Cath visited the other week, Cath noticed that I had a bit of a soft spot for Hornsea pottery.

Spotting my one jar in the 'Tapestry' design, which I was using at the time to hold utensils, she asked whether I would like another couple of pieces to match it. I was delighted to say yes as this is currently my favourite design (although I love the very dated seventies brown and orange ones too).

At the HNBOC AGM last Saturday she handed me a box of pots, but it wasn't until I got home and unwrapped them that I realised that there were two mugs as well as a jam pot with its original spoon. I hadn't even know they'd made mugs, and these are now my favourite ones to use every day. My big jar is now used for holding teabags, and the jam pot has become my sugar bowl, whilst my Bronte design tea, coffee and sugar jars now hold different varieties of herbal teabag.

Thank you Cath and Alan!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Towpath toddle

Eloise, who visited on Monday/Tuesday, with her mum, dad (No. 1 Son) and uncle (No. 2 Son), enjoys a toddle down the towpath.

On the whole their mass visit went very well, and a good time was had by all. How do you fit five adults, one of whom is allergic to cats, a toddler and a cat, into a pair of narrow boats?

Well, Jim took the opportunity to test out his travelling accomodation with a new tent in Chertsey's hold, whilst I stopped in Chertsey's back cabin and No. 2 Son had Bakewell's back cabin, leaving the family of three to squeeze into Jim's four foot bed - Eloise did have a travelling cot, but no way was she going to settle on her own, plus there was the difficulty of isolating her from the cat. Apart from both Jim's and Sebastian's air beds going flat, this worked fairly well. I will post another time about the clever carpentry that separated cat from bed.

We had buns from Jaspers on their arrival, of course, and then went to the Bridge for dinner, followed by the regular Monday night quiz. TThis was a very well run affair and most enjoyable, although our team (the Bakewell Tarts, natch) did not trouble the winners' podium. Then on Tuesday morning we took breakfast at the Truckers Rest transport cafe on the A5 near Cannock (thanks to Paul for the recommendation) - absolutely excellent and set us all up for the day.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Finished at last!

Not quite in time for him to take it away with him, but today I finally completed the Aran jumper that I've been knitting for No. 2 Son over the past year and a half.
By the time the boys visited on Monday, the front, back and both sleeves were complete, and I quickly tacked together a shoulder so we could just check it was still going to fit. It wasn't until after they left yesterday though that I was able to knit the neckband (last night) and sew it all together, which I did today, along with the fiddly but vital task of sewing in all the loose ends. The finished item weighs over three and a quarter pounds - and tomorrow I shall put it in the post to him.

I bought the wool from Edge Fold Wools and Yarns. The one I chose was a natural undyed Aran. When I ran out Elaine went to a lot of trouble to find me a few more balls, and I would heartily recommend her for friendly service as well as super wool. I think it will be a while before I tackle anything this big again though - sometimes my arms and wrists really ached after a knitting session!

Tuesday 6 March 2012


Meeting people in real life is hard. I've often thought that it's easier - well, certainly more acceptable - to attempt to strike up a romantic relationship with a stranger (by 'asking them out') than to begin a friendship, at least since the days at infant school when it was OK to go up to someone and say 'will you be my friend?'

But canal cyberspace, whether in the form of forum of blogs, acts as a great big dating agency for all sorts of friendships/mateships/acquaintances.. A cahnce to suss out people's likes and dislikes and attitudes and form an opinion of whether you would like them if you met them - because despite the warnings we issue our kids, and the few high profile exceptions, my experience is that most people's online persona gives a pretty good idea of what they're like.

And if you're fellow bloggers or forumites with a defining shared interest, what could be more natural than dropping by in passing, helping one another out, having a drink. I've met so many friends that way - if I mention just a few I'm bound to leave some out, but they include Alan and Cath Fincher (Sickle and Chalice), Amy and James (Lucky Duck), Bones, Hairy Neil, Neil and Kath (Herbie)... and now Jim of Starcross.

Jim was someone I'd wanted to catch up with for a long time, purely on the basis of his blog, so we were delighted when he dropped in on Sunday, first for a cup of tea on Bakewell, and then later (after the Archers), for a few pints in the Swan. We had a lovely evening in great company and are really looking forward to catching up again some time.

Whilst on the subject, I've become rather tickled by the idea of staging a Black Country Romeo and Juliet. Just the balcony scene, really.

Rowmeo! Rowmeo! Wheer am yow Rowmeo!!

Oh yes, and reading about Jaq on nb Valerie's experience of being an American in the Midlands, I did wonder what our visiting transatlantic friends make of the delicacy on offer at the Bridge and other local eateries - Black Country Faggots... mmmm... (though I had some in the Bridge last night and they weren't that great, not a patch on the ones at the Nelson in Braunston the year before last).

Thursday 1 March 2012

Why I need my Magimix

So that I can turn this...

...into breakfast