... 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 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.