... 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 December 2013

Determined concerning having found a solution (8)

I have in the past been reluctant to make - or at least, to publicly announce - new year's resolutions. However, this year I find that some ideas have come to me at around the right time to embark hopefully upon certain causes of self improvement. Resolutions fall into two categories - positive action, and self-denial. I have one in the first category, one and a bit in the sceond, and a bit of each.

1. I will not buy any clothes in 2014. This will probably be the hardest to keep. It began as a pledge to stop browsing and impulsively buying in charity shops, but really, there can't be anything I'll need in the next twelve months that can't wait. I half expect this one to falter, but let's see how long it will last.

2. I will go vegan (diet wise, that is; I'm not chucking out perfectly good clothes and shoes, although of course I won't be buying any either) for January at least. To commit to a whole year might seem too big a step (although I have done it before, for eighteen months, and it was surprisingly easy). The hard part will come when we are boating and have to (!) eat in pubs.

3. In conjunction with 2, I will not drink beer in January (yes, I know most beer isn't vegan anyway, but that along with wine was the one exception I used to allow myself). The idea is that 2 and 3 combined will lead me to becoming svelte, although I don't know why as I managed previously to be the world's only fat vegan. I hesitate to admit to giving up beer, and this one is definitely only temporary, but I have had rather a lot lately. There's no teaching in January, and little socialising forecast, so that shouldn't be too hard.

4. I will read fewer trashy detective novels (mainly because I've run out of authors) and more grown up books with matt finish covers.

5. And - the big positive one - I am resolved that 2014 will be the year I get to grips with the cryptic crossword, and enjoy all its entertaining and brain-rejuvenating benefits. This has been directly inspired by Diamond Geezer's centenary crossword, but is an ambition I can trace back to sixth form, when one of the teachers started a crossword club, and promised to initiate us into the mysteries of the cryptic clue. I don't know why I stopped going after one week - perhaps it all just seemed too hard - but ever since then I've had an awareness that solving these clues is a skill that can be learnt, and that it's something I ought to be good at. So I had a go at the Guardian one yesterday. I got off to a heartening start by identifying and then solving all the anagrams, and surprised myself by completing more than half of it over the next twenty four hours. When I got the answers this morning, I could understand how most of them worked. I have also ordered a couple of books which I hope will be helpful. Today's Guardian one (set by Shed) seems a lot harder and I've not made any progress yet, so thanks to Rufus for getting me off to a good start.

I will provide progress reports of the success or failure of all these ventures.

Meanwhile, it only remains to wish you your heart's desire in 2014.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Return to Newhaven

Little has changed since I was last here. Tellingly, the nail bar has become a food bank. I suspect that this is an even worse sign, economically, than a charity shop becoming a church outreach centre. It has rained non stop (apart from the hail) since I arrived on Friday.

I have, as of the present moment, spent slightly more than half my life in Newhaven. I intend to remedy this as soon as possible by spending the best part of the rest of it somewhere else. It seems quite likely, however, that I will never again spend twenty five years living in one place.

It has taken me far too long to realise how much more there is to this country than the expensive, crowded, ironically dirty, smug south east.

Oh dear, that's not a very cheery note for Christmas is it... Of course it is lovely to be back in the company of Sons 1 & 2 and their partners and in the case of No. 1 Son, offspring, and at least all the time it's raining it's not cold, and my goodness, that counts for a great deal.

So a very happy yuletide to everyone.

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas tradition number 1: cheese and biscuits

Back in Newhaven for Christmas and chaotic as ever, although thankfully warmer than the last two years, as we settle beck into the garden shed and negotiate the return of cutlery (and flatware!) from Number 2 Son. Shopping as usual is unplanned and ad hoc, until the final making of a list today (milk, cheese, biscuits, pickled onions, food). I was going to have a sandwich for my tea but Jim couldn't get a breadcake, so I broke out the cheese and biscuits instead.

These may be considered a quotidien postprandial treat for many, but for me they are very much a Yuletide indulgence. Especially TUC crackers, for which I have long had an inordinate fondness. As a child, I wondered why Len Murray and his ilk warranted a particularly tasty and crumbly biscuit being produced in their honour (yes, I was that kind of child) and to this day I am a trifle mystified by their name. But never mind. They are still crumbly and indulgent and delicious and somehow greasy.

Cheese and biscuits entails firstly selecting the biscuits. You can butter them, but they have a frustrating tendency to shatter, especially in the winter, so I trust to gravity and balance to keep the topping in place. Next, cut up some cheese into nibble sized pieces, and finally cut some pickled onions - the spiciest you can get - into eighths. The purpose of all this advance preparation is that you can now retire to the sofa and assemble a tasty snack with your right hand whilst holding a book in your left. Each mouthful must consist of a piece of cheese, a portion of onion, and a bite of biscuit. It is this last component which can be unpredictable and thus introduces a slight ait of adventure. The trick is to finish the biscuits, cheese and onions all together with no remainders - and of course, without having counted them out beforehand. If there is cheese left, you need more biscuits, and possibly more onions. After the cheese is gone, you may find yourself left with an excess of onion pieces, requiring the adfition of ,ore cheese. In this way, a light teatime snack can go on for a very long time. Being an old hand, ended with a neat two bits each of cheese and onion, requiring just one further TUC biscuit to finish them off in two neat bites. Merry Christmas!

Saturday 14 December 2013

Wardrobe mistress

After... Goodness, it looks just like in the books.

It's no secret that I have a bit of a charity shop habit, and this manifests itself mainly in buying clothes. Wherever I am, I take at least a weekly stroll through the local philanthropic emporia, usually coming away with at least one impulse purchase, and frequently more. Despite rising prices and increasing charitable rapaciousness, most items cost only four or five pounds. For years I've convinced myself that I'm a thrifty shopper, spending less on my high class wardrobe than others do on their supermarket sweatshop one.

I'm starting to wonder, however, in the light of the sheer volume of my purchases, whether I'm deluding myself. It all adds up after all... not only in pennies but in the space it consumes. My flat came with two wardrobes, a modest pine one, and a massive classic G-Plan teak one. Of course they were both soon packed so tight that there was hardly any point in ironing anything, and deciding what to wear each day had me frozen like Buridan's ass to the power of seven.

Every six months or so I announce, to assembled groans, that I am going to 'sort out my wardrobe'. This generally entailed getting everything out, looking at it, and putting it back. So many things I'd not yet got round to wearing, but still, they deserved a chance, so back they went. Things I felt duty bound to keep, for sentimental reasons, or because they'd been expensive, even if I didn't really (whisper it) like them very much. A few bits would get recycled back to the charity shop, and more often or not, I'd miss them. I have on at least one occasion bought something back after wondering how I could have been so stupid as to get rid of it.

The internet is full of helpful women, mostly American, telling you how to master your wardrobe. They usually start with sorting everything out by season, and packing away your unseasonal clothes somewhere inaccessible. Well, I don't have anywhere inaccessible, and most of my clothes aren't seasonal. Thick jumpers and thermal vests maybe don't get much of an outing in June, but almost anything else, in the right combination with other things, can be worn all year round. Then they say, sort out all your co-ordinated work outfits. My what? They talk about sorting out things that need washing, or mending, or dry cleaning... Nothing would ever go back in my wardrobe if it needed washing or mending (it would sit in the mending basket for a year instead) and as for dry cleaning... Whatever the label says, if it won't wash, I don't want it, so I stick it in the machine on a woollen cycle and let it take its chances. I've not lost anything yet.

Clearly the conventional approach was not going to work for me - but neither was my old method. So I applied myself to devising a new, effective, system for becoming mistress of one's wardrobe, and I proudly introduce it to you.

I decided that each item would be given a rating from 1 - 5, and allocated a place to stack up the stuff for each category. They were:

1. I hate it. Throw it out (no matter how much it cost or who gave it to me)

2. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but admit it, it doesn't work. Doesn't suit me or is the wrong size, or something I never have the occasion to wear.

3. Boring but useful.

4. It's very useful or I like it - something I wear a lot.

5. I love it and will never part with it.

I took each item out of the wardrobe, had a good look at it, a good think, maybe tried it on, then allocated it to one of these piles. Once the wardrobe was empty I turned my attention to them. Everything rated 4 or 5 went straight back in. Everything rated 1 and very nearly everything rated 2 (one exception, a sparkly blouse that's a bit tight but looks good undone over a vest) got thrown out. I went through the 3's checking for things that duplicated each other. There weren't any, but I could have thrown them out if there had been. This was the hardest category; I had to be strict about things that 'might be useful one day' but hadn't actually been so far. They went. Mostly.

I ended up, after doing both wardrobes, with four bags full for recycling, and then went on to apply the same system to my shoes, which now fit into the available space again. That's a bag shoes at the front.

So, next time you need to have a good sort out, there's yet another new system to try. And my new year's resolution is to stop buying stuff except when I have identified in advance something that I actually need. It will be hard, thinking of the treasures I might be missing, but at least the clothes I've got will have room to breathe.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Bakewell and Birmingham

Ally, the owner of Birmingham, has sent me this photo of Bakewell and Birmingham paired together for Union Canal Carriers in 1979. It was taken by Lin Rose, in Gas Street Basin. Apparently Birmingham was usually paired with Balham, which was at this time assisting with repairs to Braunston tunnel.

I like the way it looks like one of the artful digital creations that Nick posts in his reflections series - but actually its the result of photographing an old Instamatic print with a phone camera.

Thank you very much Ally and Lin.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Market failure

Another bit of the brave new world has slipped away. Perhaps it is because I am a child of the sixties (literally; born slap bang in the middle) that I have a soft spot for the hopes and ambitions, the wild dreams even, that drove the decade - epitomised by its architecture - no matter how shoddy their (frequently literally) concrete realisation or how misguided they were later (made) to appear.

In 2003/4, as I drove each day to my first proper academic job at Portsmouth, I witnessed the dismantling of the Tricorn Centre (yes, I could find some photos, copy them, check out the copyright, write an appropriate caption, and upload them, but it would be so much easier if you just did a Google image search. But please do.), an Owen Luder brute with a giant marble run attached to it. It haunted my dreams; even though I had never been inside it in reality, my unconscious self desperately sought something in its decaying concrete labrynths.

Through my next job, in Huddersfield, I discovered Queensgate Market, which tapped into my strange attraction to the tatty and tawdry, and allowed me to travel in the amazing time machine of neglect that is the sixties market hall. I was immediately hooked on this northern delicacy; literally cheap and cheerful, a place where you could still buy broken biscuits, along with duck eggs, tripe, sink plungers and other glimpses of the fast-ebbing past.. Queensgate, which opened in 1970, has in fact fared better than most. Listed (against much local opposition) in 2004, it is genuinely unique architecturally, although this didn't stop the council proposing to partially demolish and significantly alter it in 2008.  It was the 20th Century Society's Building of the Month in February 2009, and won the Concrete Society's Certificate of Excellence for a mature structure in 2007 (I am SO glad that the Concrete Society exists, and that it has a Certificate of Excellence). It appears to be thriving with a glitzy website and even (heavens) click-and -collect - and was recently named Market Hall of the Year by the National Association of British Market Authorities (apparently there are 700 to choose from). It's probably been all done up inside since I was last there as well.

As we boated around the Midlands, I  made a point of trying to visit indoor markets where possible - often it wasn't, when they weren't open every day. But Wolverhampton got a look in, and of course Cannock. Particularly poignant was the half empty but oh-so-ambitiously named Agora in Wolverton, although as it was built in 1979 it falls outside the sixties dream, and indeed lacked the requisite pastel tiling.

But there was one market hall above all others that I wanted to see, ever since I read about it on the now sadly abandoned Nothing to See Here blog: the already long-doomed, and thus beautifully preserved through neglect, Castle Market in Sheffield. We never made it to Sheffield by boat, in the end, so my ambition was thwarted for a long time. By the time I did get to Sheffield, Castle Market was enjoying a (very) mini-renaissance, with the city council promoting its use; even though it was in its death throes, they were trying to keep it cheerful and on its feet until its successor was ready to take over. As a result, some of the old signage had already gone. It had the sense of somewhere that was waiting to die, but then they all do; that is part of their attraction. They are anachronisms, far more so than their lovingly restored Victorian predecessors (those that survived, of course, from the days when they themselves were the embarrassing old relics, quietly crumbling, smelling and dribbling in the corner). Huddersfield's Queensgate is unusual in having real architectural merit and interest; for the others the interest is historical, human, and not amenable to preservation orders. There was a wild, anonymous, request to have Castle Market listed in 2010, but it was, unsurprisingly, turned down.

And now Castle Market has gone; closed for the last time on Saturday. I didn't go along to photograph its last day, but others did. Its replacement - a curvy glass box as blandly typical of its time as Castle Market was of its own - is part of an attempt to regenerate the area which was itself in the sixties the retail centre of the city, while plans for the site of Castle Market include excavating and opening up more of the ancient Sheffield Castle remains over which it was built. If you had to get rid of an old building from the sixties, you probably couldn't have picked a better one. But it is, in so many ways, a loss all the same.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Enlightened view

Well, I looked at the view out of my window this morning and something interesting had happened:

New street lamps.

I knew that the council were installing new streetlamps. They flagged it up months ago, when they were resurfacing the road. Then last week there was a letter, telling us they were going to do it now. Then holes appeared in the pavement, and then the posts for the new streetlamps. Instead of being on the kerbside like the old ones, they're on the inside of the pavement, right up against the wall, which is good as it makes parking easier and frees up extra space.

But what a surprise to look out this morning and see the new lamp, in all its retro-Victoriana glory. The sort of thing you might expect in a twee new development, or a tourist hot spot, or a museum... But not in a little cul-de-sac side street off the A57. I wonder how well it will stand up to the weather compared to the previous ones.

For anyone who would like to look at more pictures of street lamps, there are plenty here.

Street lights are interesting to economists because they represent a non-excludable public good. It's impossible to limit the enjoyment of them to the people who paid for them. Once someone has paid, everyone benefits whether they've contributed or not. This means that in a classic free market, they are unlikely to be provided. Everyone will want everyone else to pay, and no one will want to fork out for something that others will enjoy for free, at their expense. So non-excludable public goods provide a good argument for taxation to provide services. You can make it a social contract argument - everyone would be happy to pay their share, as long as they could be sure that everyone else was also paying their share, so they would willingly agree to taxation in order to ensure that everyone pays, and everyone benefits.

Monday 18 November 2013

Folky fun and furry friend

A couple of weeks ago, Sebastian and Izzi finally came to visit me in Sheffield, and become the latest guests to test out my £40-from-Oxfam and extremely heavy and therefore obviously good sofa bed. They pronounced it very comfortable and I can vouch for the fact that it is very convenient.

The pretext for them coming at this particular juncture was to attend the Full English concert at Firth Hall (part of the University). The Full English project involves creating a searchable digital archive of a vast number of previously scattered English (and beyond) folk music manuscript collections, freely available on the web for anyone to access. Part funded by a heritage lottery grant, it was coordinated by University of Sheffield academic Fay Hield, who is also a singer (whose records I like a lot).

The Full English band comprised (let me see if I can remember) Fay Hield, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Seth Lakeman, Sam Sweeney,  Rob Halbron and Ben Nicholls. That's a lot of folk fame in one small hall. The music was great, and enhanced by brief descriptions of some of the collectors (Apparently Percy Grainger loved his mum so much that he took a bunch of birch twigs with him on his honeymoon so that he could beat himself for having diverted his affections elsewhere.) and video screens showing archive photos and facsimiles of the manuscripts. At one point some cine footage of Maud and Helen Karpeles wearing oversized gymslips along with a male collector whose name eludes me but who was universally acknowledged not to be a natural, demonstrating some traditional dances. With handkerchiefs. There must have been 200 people in Firth Hall, and not a single one of them dared laugh.

The following day I took Sebastian for a special treat. As a child he was a great collector of polar bears - cuddly ones, model ones, books, pictures, ornaments, sculptures - you name it, if it was a polar bear, he collected it. But I don't believe he'd ever seen a real one. So I took him to Weston Park Museum to see the famous Snowy. Well, a real live one might have been asking a bit much, but a real dead stuffed one's the next best thing, and a lot more amenable to posing for photos.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Today I...

Inspired by James Ward who likes boring things, and DG's uneventful day yesterday... Today I went to Wilkinsons and bought some wrapping paper, also some slightly trendy looking raffia ribbon (although obviously no longer trendy if you can get it in Wilkos).

I then came home and wrapped the presents that I already have or have already bought. Here is a very poor photo of the presents I have wrapped so far. It is a poor photo because this is an iPad 2, I left it too lated to do in daylight, and Blogpress makes it look even worse than it is. I must get Bloggsy, Herbie looks far better than this.

My gift tags are made of old Christmas cards cut up with pinking shears. Obviously, I could afford to buy the Wilkinsons' gift tags that match the paper, but this is a family tradition. Many years ago, possibly before I was even born, my mother noticed some similar tags on sale at a local fete (I must have been born and at school, otherwise why would she have been at such an event). She thought 'I'm not paying for them, I could do that' and so a tradition was born. I am in fact now the posessor of the family pinking shears and take great pleasure each year in seeing how many tags I can produce from each card. Usually the cards I cut up are from at least one, and up to many, years previously, as when we were a family we received far more cards than we ever needed tags (at least when you apply the tag: card ratio which I reckon averages around 3:1).

I haven't actually been out and deliberately bought any Christmas presents yet this year (no, I tell a lie, there is one very deliberately purchased one here, but other than that) these are all things I've picked up over the course of the year. I won't say who they're for as they might start trying to guess already.

I was thinking of buying a tree. Having been for years one of those austere 'tree doesn't go up any earlier than the day before Christmas eve if I can help it' types I thought a bit of extended festive spirit wouldn't go amiss this year. However, the artificial trees in Wilko's and in B&M bargains were all exceedingly cheap and nasty looking, so I didn't get one. I might get a real one, they smell nice, but they do make a mess. Maybe just some holly from the garden if no one will notice me taking it. Holly doesn't last very well though, even if you put it in water. I tried that in 2011.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Sunday 13 October 2013

View from my window

My idea for a Sunday feature... The view from my window wherever I am. Mostly of course it will be this one, tracking the changing seasons and maybe, if it goes on for long enough, the human environment too. Perhaps the Hallam Tower Hotel barely visible dirty white against the grey sky on the right, will disappear, or (perhaps less likely) become luxury flats. Or maybe the hotel across the road will fetch something like its asking price of £1.2 million and turn into falts, instead of sitting ghostlike as it does now, with the owners occupying just a few rooms on the ground floor.

And here is the Hallam Tower in its days of hope and glory, completed in time for the 1966 World Cup qualifiers that were held in Sheffield... Closed in 2004 and all set to become luxury flats, until (my local correspondent informs me) the discovery of asbestos (a surprise in a building of the mid sixties?) rendered insufficiently profitable. The building languished ever since, widely considered an eyesore (and with some justice; as stunning as the building could be, it will always stand in stark conflict to its environment) and few tears, it seems, would be shed were it to be demolished. Maybe next week it won't be raining and you'll be able to see it better.


Saturday 12 October 2013

What we missed

Having gone to Gravesend on HS1 from St Pancras, we returned on the normal train to Charing Cross, and then caught the Clipper down to Tower Pier, arriving at half past ten, about two minutes after Waverley, so we able to have a good look at what we missed out on.

Friday 11 October 2013

Adventure aborted

... owing to high winds at Gravesend. :-)
Will explain all tomorrow... Unless you can guess in the meantime. Should have gone to Southend....

Point of departure


First boat trip

First port of call...

On my way...


I'm off on a bit of an adventure today, weather permitting. I'm going to try and post updates as I go.

The really exciting bit isn't due to happen until this evening and involves a historic boat - but not a narrow one.

In the meantime I might get to go on another historic boat, which is narrow, and which I've never been on before although thousands have, and maybe even on a fast boat too, or perhaps a fast train instead....

Wednesday 2 October 2013

Is UHT milk getting nicer?

Or are my tastebuds deteriorating?

I used to detest the stuff; the smell made me heave; it absolutely ruined a cup of tea with its cooked milk taste. I refused to countenance it. But now I find I don't mind it at all; indeed, I can scarcely tell the difference. We use long life milk all the time now on Chertsey; it's so much easier to stock up on 500ml cartons before we leave  than to constantly wonder where we are going to get the next pint from, and if it will still be useable in the morning. The half litre packs are a handy size which we can get through in a day, so rarely have to throw any away even without a fridge.

It seems to me unlikely that the fundamental processing of UHT milk has altered - it must still depend on heating it to a high temperature and therefore cooking it. But maybe there is a difference in the make up of the milk that is treated? Perhaps it contains less of the proteins or sugars that are affected by the heat? I've always thought that the effect was less noticeable with skimmed than whole milk, but I am comparing like with like (in the form of semi-skimmed) here.

If it's not the milk itself, then that only leaves my tastebuds. I would be prepared to believe that they were getting old and losing their sophisticated discrimination, if not for the fact that Sebastian, who similarly used to find long life milk revolting, has noticed the same phenomenon.

Friday 27 September 2013

Travelling to the black country museum (a blog from Baz)

Good evening!

I'm currently sitting on the back end of Chertsey with my wonderful girlfriend IzzI sorrounded by working boats and looking at a rather impressive chimney. We, IzzI; mum; Jim; and me, are here for the Black Country Museum boat gathering. We have our costumes all ready for tomorrow and mum is cooking us lying around curry (curry made from what whatever's lying around... Chick pea korma with broccoli and cous cous) and I thought i would take you through our journey so far.

After a night of mod cons (read: running water) on Bakewell we set off early with the promise of bacon rolls for breakfast. Huzzah. We made good time on our way to the Wolverhampton 21 and happily munched on our rolls* and it wasn't long before we came across the first set of paddles. With Jim cycling on ahead to empty the locks and mum at the tiller IzzI and I worked the paddles and we completed the flight in two hours and six minutes. That was over the 1:45 that mum was aiming for but with two paddles out of comission, 1 paddle mishap (nobody injured!) and my refusal to run between gates, I don't think that's too terrible.

After the 21 I steered the rest of the way to the museum. I did bang the boat twice (sorry mum) but it weighs a few tons and is made of steel so I don't think I damaged it. I did do a couple of good turns and backed into the museum to make up for it. I'm a little bit proud. A bit of exploring, and a bit of a nap later, and I started this blog.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on tomorrow but I have my neckerchief ready.

Sleep well.


Recipe for boat bacon rolls. Feeds 4.

You will need:
1 frying pan
1 enamel tray
1 Beatrice stove
4 buttered rolls
14(?) bacon rashers
1 boat

1. Forget the frying pan
2. Start the boats engine and begin travelling
3. Balance enamel tray on Beatrice stove
4. Cook bacon on enamel tray
5. Allow engine to rattle tray off stove and deposit bacon under the floor
6. Find 13 rashers of bacon
7. Assume thats how many rashers you started with
8. Brush off the dirt
9. Cook bacon a bit more
10. Place on buttered rolls
11. Eat.

Monday 16 September 2013

Competitive streak

The shortlist has just been announced for the National Historic Ships photo competition. There are some fabulous photos as always (here) but I'm a little disappointed that my shot of Walton's launch hasn't made the cut in the 'traditional maritime skills in action' category, particularly as three of the five photos that have done feature caulking, rather than reflecting a variety of traditional techniques like the rather dramatic and rare art of side slipping.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

That house in Berkhamsted...

The subject of Halfies latest 'mystery location' reminds me. Our journey back from Watford began, in high hopes of getting back to Stretton within the week, with thirty one locks on what may well have been the hottest day of the year.

Inspiration struck as we ascended in Rising Sun lock, and I grabbed my tankard from its hook behind the stove, some cash from the ticket drawer, and clambered out to take my place at the bar. By the time the top gate was open I was back at the tiller and a fair way down a very welcome pint.

(And yes, I did offer to get Jim one, but he's very abstemious when on duty. I did keep him well watered.)

Thursday 5 September 2013


Once upon a time there was a new poster on CanalWorld. Her name was Phylis and she quickly became notorious for being opinionated, provocative and just generally annoying. Her biggest crime of course was to have a big shiny yogurt pot for a boat and not to be ashamed of it.

But I found that over the years, Phylis grew on me. Without wanting to sound patronising, she matured and mellowed - and I was won over by her enthusiasm and love for a boat that couldn't be more different from my passion. I like to think also that when Naughty-Cal encountered Chertsey patiently awaiting a spare part at Torksey, a mutual understanding and respect began to be forged. What's more, Rachel (for she is Phylis no more) writes a damn good blog. So I have at long last added it to the blogroll - great recipes and an insight into a very different kind of boating.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Cover girl

Oh dear. When I agreed to don quasi-historical fancy dress for the Erewash rally, I wasn't expecting to end up on the front cover of the HNBC magazine...

Monday 2 September 2013

Roll on...

I've added two more blogs to the blogroll - I think both of these interesting writers dropped off accidentally when they changed boats, and I was reminded by meeting Nev, ex-Waterlily and now on Percy, last week, and by passing Star - formerly owned by Kevin and Vicky who have been restoring Harry for the past couple of years - at Streethay. Seeing that Harry wasn't there, I thought, ooh, they must have finished it and gone off boating... I wonder if they have a new blog. So I looked around and found it, and it's very good.

Saturday 31 August 2013


I've just taken some really wonky pictures of Chertsey's transformed hold (well, the part I've done so far) before we put the topcloths on and it goes all dark in there.

Friday 30 August 2013

Chertsey the glamping boat

OED Online definition of 'glamping':
'a form of camping involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping'

That'll be us then! Since arriving back at Stretton we have been hard at work transforming Chertsey into what I now realise is Britain's first glamping narrow boat. Yesterday I took off all the cloths and Jim replaced the deckboard and hefted the mast into place, and the top planks and stands.

More photos tomorrow, as I didn't take any today. (By the way, recent photos have been taken on the proper camera and though they still come out tiny in Blogpress, will display properly if you click on them. Try it with yesterday's)

So now we have room to stand up. First purchase today was a pair of curtains from the Katherine House Hospice shop in Cannock - exactlybthe size I was looking for, fabulous quality, with a red and cream stripe and deep red linings. These have been hung with safety pins just behind the mast, separating off the forewardmost room of the hold as a bedroom for Baz 'n' Iz when they accompany us to the Black Country Museum at the end of September. It was only after the curtains were hung and I looked at them from the back end that I realised it looks for all the world like a Punch and Judy booth.

The next section ('back of the mast') will eventually house a bathroom of sorts, but is currently also home to Jim's tent. The section between the two stands will be the kitchen/living area, and today I cleared everything out of it so that Jim could paint the floor - in red oxide coloured floor paint, of course. Here we will have the kitchen table, cupboard, chairs, and a box/ bench (to house all the big spanners and other emergency equipment) which I have just agreed to purchase ex-Hampstead.

The back end will continue to be planked over, with fresh water tanks and coal storage underneath. This last section will only be clothed up when we leave the boat for any length of time. For the middle two sections we will eventually get some translucent sheets, for usen when boating for pleasure (rather than when being strictly 'historic' for display purposes), but as the last event of this year, the BCLM, requires strict historical adherence, we can leave that until next year.

Thursday 29 August 2013

The mantle of greatness

Once, as an adolescent, when we went on holiday to a rented cottage at Selsey, I packed a pair of oven gloves. It was an odd thing even to possess at the age of fourteen, let alone to take on holiday. But (I suppose being unaware at the time of the insulating prpoerties of tea towels) I thought that, if someone discovered that oven gloves were needed, it would be my moment of glory. And I wasn't even a boy scout. I can't recall whether my oven gloves were scorned or simply never called upon, but my moment finally arrived last Sunday.

Steve from Swallow approached, saying 'I've been told you're the person here who's most likely to be able to help.... ' I do hope so, I replied, what do you need? 'A mantle for a Tilley lamp... There's another illuminated parade tonight and we've taken the electric lights off...' (Steve, it turns out, is a big Tilley lamp fan).

Well, YESS!!!!!!! I have, in fact I have two, hooray. Steve goes away happy, David, the owner of Swallow is forebearing, and of course in my opinion this is easily the best illuminated boat in the parade.

Even if the woman behind me said 'Well, they could have put some fairy lights on as well'

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Who won then?

Spill the beans Alan and announce the Alvecote winners!

It sounds from Alan's comments as if I missed the best of the show yesterday - i.e. the Grand Unions en masse - but c'est la vie.

Tonight we have made it to the Fox and Anchor at Cross Green, previously known only as the pub where everyone in the beer garden is watching you cock up that tricky bend but is in fact one of these clone 'Heritage Inns' like the Mermaid at Wightwick where you can get reliably average food, so we did.

We started this morning with high hopes of getting back to Stretton by nightfall, but these were dashed when we found ourselves in a queue of seven boats at two separate locks (can't recall which, exactly; they thinned out and then bunched up again). It's all very well saying 'oooh, what's the hurry' (anyone over the age of fourteen who says 'chill' deserves a punch on the nose) and, I agree, if I were in a hurry, narrow boat would not be my chosen mode of transport. But there is a massive difference between boating (which I love, even at 2 mph), and sitting around watching idiots faffing about with unnecessary ropes (which I find somewhat frustrating). The Annoying Thing which has impressed itself on me today is people who won't even think of untying their boat and approaching the lock until the boat leaving it is safely in the next county.

Monday 26 August 2013

Escape from Alvecote

At eight o'clock this morning Chertsey and Renfrew both slipped quietly (well, it's all relative. We didn't open the starboard side engine room doors until we were well clear. Anyone who has heard the screech of their hinges will understand).

By leaving early we have missed the final day of fun and frolics, and the presentation of the prizes, so we will have to wait to be told who won the awards for best turned out boat, best winding, and best illuminated boat. However, I was all socialised out and it was time to get away for a little peace and recuperation. Alvecote is turning into a very good event, but it is a concentrated one, very intense. At dinner last night I was asked how I thought Alvecote and Braunston compare as gatherings. Many people say now that they prefer Alvecote. My own, strictly personal opinion, is that there are pros and cons to both. Braunston has such an important place in my heart that I hope I will never miss it; I have also now been to all three of the Alvecote events held so far (two of them by accident) so for the sake of completeness I will keep going there too.

Alvecote has many pluses where it scores over Braunston. Firstly, nowhere else offers such a magnificent showcase for the boats - around fifty of them all moored stern on, and staggered too, so every boat can be seen clearly and to good advantage. The moorings all have pontoons, making access to the boats easy, whereas at Braunston, with the boats tied up four abreast, but access and visibility are a lot harder.

At Alvecote there is an excellent pub, serving food (providing you book) and with really good beers for the weekend. There are good bands in the upstairs room, and they're not too loud, meaning you can enjoy a drink and a chat downstairs or outside, in stark contrast to Braunston's overamplified beer tent where conversation is impossible. On the other hand, in Braunston, there is a choice of four other pubs to go to, including the reliable Martsons chain pub the Boat House, and the newly splendid Nelson. You can get breakfast in the Samuel Barlow at Alvecote (again, you have to buy a ticket in advance), but I would hazard the suggestion that the boater's braekfast served by the Gongoozler's Rest at Braunston is better.

At Alvecote everything you festival wise need is on site, although if you want cash or groceries you have to go into Amington, which I imagine is quite a way without a car. This is both a pro and a con. It is very self contained, but that leads to the intensity I mentioned earlier. The are no quiet places to wander off to. It fells rather like I imagine a holiday camp does. Braunston on the other hand has the village within a short walk, with not only pubs but the now very good village shop and Post Office where you can get cash without paying the premium charged by the shop's machine.

Finally, the parades. Everyone is familiar with the Braunston parade, but the beauty of it is that it's so chaotic it's impossible not to mess it up, so cock ups (unless of dramatic proportions) tend to pass unremarked. The one bit of winding you have to do, at the Turn, is pretty easy, with plenty of space. At Alvecote you have to wind twice, once in the muddy winding hole at Amington, and once in the layby in front of the pub, lined with the trading boats, in front of an audience, with judges giving marks and a commentary by Norman Mitchell which, unlike his purely factual Braunston one, includes 'humorous' comments. I declined to subject myself to this rather cruel display - although I love the Braunston parade.

So on balance, although both gatherings are great, and I enjoy attending both, the only area in which Alvecote is, for me, clearly better, is the way the boats can be displayed (and I guess for some people, for whom it's more of a gathering than a show, this would be a disadvantage). The other real downside of Braunston for me is the ruination of the beer tent by excessively loud music; if only they would address that then they would possibly have the edge the as well.

What we mustn't forget, however, is that both events are privately organised by the respective marinas' owners, and it's entirely up to them what sort of show they put on. It's interesting that it's these two privately organised events which dominate the historic boat calendar, suggesting perhaps that it's easier for an individual than for a committee to organise a good show. Boats are voting with their rudders and supporting these events so they must be doing something right.

Anyway, tonight we have got as far as Tixall Wide where we are tied up next to a wasps' nest. And we did have a fabulous time at Alvecote, and certainly now intend to go again next year.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Devices and desires

We have had people popping in and out of the engine room this morning with micrometers, with a view to reproducing a nifty little device that apparently only we have:

I don't know what it's called but what it does is to drop the decompressor when you're handstarting it, so that you don't need to take a hand off the starting handle. The spiral thread means that it only happens once the engine has had a good few turns and is hopefully ready to fire. The spring would be attached to a bracket to make it work, but it's taken off for electric starting.

Saturday 24 August 2013


Yesterday Andy on Dove brought over the gorgeous titch pipe he has made for Chertsey. We didn't previously have one and missed it.

We have now had to ask Andrew whether he'll be able to make us a new standard engine pipe as well, the previous one having taken a serious hammering on the way here (can't remember exactly where; it was case of simply getting into completely the wrong position coming through a bridgehole. Didn't just mangle the cutter this time, but actually managed to split the pipe at the bottom of its seam. Unable to get it back into shape, Jim has sawn it off to make a sort of midi length one.

Friday 23 August 2013

It is still possible to find bargains in charity shops! On our way to Alvecote this morning we stopped off in Penkridge and visited the local charity shop, where I found a set of Edward VIII dessert dishes, one large and six small ones, a really unusual mug with Edward VIII's abdication on one side and George VI's coronation on the other, and a lovely Queen Elizabeth II mug - a fiver for the dishes and two quid each for the mugs, and most of them of course dating from 1937, the same year as Chertsey.

Plus I finally put up the lovely hooks that Jim bought on eBay for some ridiculously small amount like four pounds..

Lots of photos posted courtesy of the wifi in the Samuel Barlow.


Thursday 22 August 2013

Bakewell's bottom

Bakewell is currently out of the water for blacking - and our first inspection of her bottom, which I'm pleased to report is in good nick.

The current blacking is bitumen, and very sound, so as Bakewell isn't likely to be getting much rough treatment Jim spent all day yesterday pressure washing it and is putting some more coats of the same on it.

I just turned up in time to get a rare sighting of a butty's bottom. Tomorrow we are off to reunite with Chertsey at Alvecote.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Plucky podger lives to prod another day

Just before going to bed last night I had one of those 'it won't work but there's no harm in trying' ideas... and it did work!  I have retrofitted the broken rag rug tool with an external flexible tensioning device - i.e. I have wrapped a rubber band around it, and amazingly, it works; it provides enough force to hold the fabric strip and pull it through the hessian, and leaves a long enough point to poke through. Hooray for Heath Robinson!

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Rag rug interrupted by tool tragedy

There I was, happily getting on with a new little rag rug, pulling strips of old skirt and blouse through the hessian that Jim kindly fetched up for me at the weekend with my trusty old tool (they appear to have no other name; I tend to call it a podger though I know that strictly speaking it isn't, but it has the same effect)

When suddenly its little pointy jaws refused to bite on the cloth... Its spring has broken!

This is a tragedy*. The trusty tool has been with me for many years, since being purchased at a jumble sale, and has made many rugs. I have searched the internet already for a replacement, but they seem very few and far between (It would of course help if I knew what to call it other than 'tool') and fairly expensive, although no doubt worth it, but any recommendations of where to find one would be gratefully received.

*Not really.

Friday 9 August 2013

Picturing the impossible

Last weekend I went back to Newhaven for a belated brithday celebration with sons 1&2. On Friday night we went to the Hope down on the quay for a few pints of wonderful, distinctive and froth-free Harveys (it wasn't completely froth-free, being quite lively, but that's ok as it was naturally occurring rather than artificially induced froth). Nothing tastes quite like Harveys; or rather (see Pete Brown's beer blog's latest post), nothing has a flavour quite like Harveys; that sulphurous aroma when you first put your nose in the glass would, I'm sure, put me off if I didn't know how wonderful it tastes. Then on Saturday morning we trekked into Lewes for a bit of charity shopping (nice Monsoon black velvet evening jacket in the Red Cross shop but that was about all), and picked up some more supplies at the Harveys shop. Our birthday meal was a takeaway from The Viceroy (formerly the Last Viceroy, but known to us as Mr Ahmed's since many years ago he was a neighbour). We each chose one main and one side dish and laid them all out as a buffet, along with rice, poppadoms, naans and pickles, and amply demonstrated the fact thatbpeople eat morebif presented with a variety of stuff, by polishing the lot off, which we would never have done if we had each eaten what we had selected.

And then I got my presents! The good thing about your children getting older and richer is that you get better and better birthday presents from them.

Aaron got me a beautiful Victorian cut glass bowl

And Sebastian has got to know an artist and printmaker called Sarah Jones

One of her range of prints is of the Sussex Ouse at Lewes, with the Harveys brewery on the left. This picture is just as it appears on her website so I hope she won't mind me reproducing it rather than just linking to it:

But Baz thoughtnof a terrific refinement. He gave her some photos of Chertsey and she has superimposed Chertsey onto the river, calling the resulting print 'Chertsey visits Lewes' - an impossible journey, but what a fabulous one!

And what an amazing, beautiful and imaginative pair of presents.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Friends reunited

So we left Chertsey tied up alongside the Samuel Barlow car park at Alvecote, and went home...

Monday of last week I got a text from Izzie on Bath (which we last saw at Cowroast) saying that they were tying up next to Chertsey, and then this week, Jim got these photos from Adrian, of Warrior, now in its new colour scheme and signwritten, side by side with its old mate.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Adding to the library

On my recent return visit to Newhaven, I carted back all the canal related books that hadn't made it onto Bakewell. I don't have a massive waterways library, but it is growing steadily. Last week I added to it with these two from a collection being sold off by the BCN Society.

My sudden interest in the Grand Junction Canal (as opposed to the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company) may be explained over the coming months, but on the other hand, it may not.

Anyway, I have learnt a fascinating little fact already, which (with apologies to those of you who have known for years) is that part of what is now Braunston Marina used to be a reservoir into which the bottom lock emptied, to be pumped back to the top, thus avoiding losing the water to the Oxford Canal.