... 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.

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Proxy peregrine pets

I don't know why my employer advertises this webcam on the staff homepage if they want us to do any work.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

A walk in the park

On Sunday I went out with the Ramblers for a second time. This was a slightly unusual walk as it was a 'hen' walk for one of the walkers who is marrying a fellow walker next month, and it culminated in a tea party in Baslow village hall - very kind of Heather to have a total stranger along.

I entered into the spirit by wearing something pink, as requested, but didn't go as far as some who were kitted out with flowers, feather boas and glittery hats (but thankfully no illuminated plastic penis headwear, as I saw once on a train to, where else,  Brighton). It was a serious walk for all that, nearly ten miles with some reasonable hills. The route was described as Baslow - Chatsworth Park - Carlton Lees - Rowley - Manners Wood - New Piece Wood - Baslow, for those of you to whom that means something (I just had to go and look it up again as I have no memory for places at all). Quite a bit of it was within the Chatsworth estate and we saw two sorts of deer as well as plenty of lambs. And bluebells.

The weather was much better than forecast. The only trouble with these serious walkers is that there's barely time to stop and take any photos, and you have to remind yourself to take notice of the view.

Monday 28 April 2014

Musical interlude

If this works, that is.

Kath and Neil (nb Herbie) on hammer dulcimer and mandolin respectively accompanied by Chertsey on PD2.

Sunday 27 April 2014


After the tat auction, the highlight of the Foxton weekend had to be the Sunday night quiz. In order to avoid entering a competition there was no chance of winning, Jim volunteered for bar duty, while I - with the more modest ambition of Not Coming Last - put together a crack team of (former and sort-of) engineers and seasoned boaters who had just the slight disadvantage of not being steeped in history.

These biennial quizzes, viciously compiled by Peter of Stanton, focus on recognising obscure places and knowing obscure facts, and, this time, on being able to do big sums. Well, that should have given us an advantage at any rate! The interval question asked how many lockfuls of water were lost to evaporation in a day on a typical pound of the Oxford canal. Dimensions and evaporation rates were provided and the boys set about with their slide rules to calculate the total volume lost. This took quite a long time and they came up with different answers, none of which were very helpful as we had no idea of the official capacity of 'a lockful'. Meanwhile I, while completely fazed by the sums, suggested a much simpler process of calculation which would yield a depth in a lock rather than a cubic capacity. This turned out to be 1.5m which it seemed a ptty fair bet was half a lock (it was fortunately multiple choice) and so the answer proved.

Moments of glory for me were recognising Drakeholes tunnel (Adrian and Linda will be pleased) and identifying the head of navigation of the Chesterfield, though I couldn't for the life of me recall the name of the (Norwood) tunnel. Less glorious (also in the 'terminal' round) was when I recognised a photo of Sheffield Basin, aka Victoria Quays, which was part of the question, and bounced up and down in my chair going I know this one! I know this one! And one of my fellow team members said 'it's Leeds...' so confidently that I went 'oh all right then' and wrote down Leeds. It was Sheffield of course. However, this didn't make any difference to the final rankings.

My ambition had been not to come last. After the first round, this was indeed our position, but we climbed steadily (and then dropped back a bit) to finish third from bottom, with a score of 67 out of 120. To salvage even more pride I roughly calculated that this was not just a pass, but a 2:2. Hooray for The Bewildebeests!

Saturday 26 April 2014


I bought some demerara sugar a while ago in my local Spar. They only had one brand: Silver Spoon. I was sceptical at the time, but I didn't have my glasses, and I wanted to tick every item off my list, so I bought it.

This morning I put on my glasses and read the whole packet; the recipe for crunchy gingerbread men and all. Nowhere does it say 'produce of'. I thought every food product had to state where it originated from? I looked twice but it still didn't. My fears were pretty much confirmed.

In short, this is not (what I would consider) genuine demerara; i.e. raw cane sugar, but coloured and flavoured white sugar. I know this because Silver Spoon proudly proclaim on their website that theirs is 'the only sugar grown in Britain'. And that means it's not cane, because sugar cane doesn't grow in cold soggy Britain, but beet sugar, and it also means that it's heavily refined, whatever it may look like, because otherwise it would taste of beet.

Now, I know that no sugar is actually good for you, and to me that means that if I am going to use it, I want it to be worth it. I want the best stuff, with real flavour, not an artificial substitute. And then I started reading about the sugar refining process, and I was even more certain.

While genuine unrefined cane sugar has undergone very little processing, white sugar emerges from a process involving phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide (yes I know there's phosphoric acid in Coke, that's why it dissolves your teeth and kills germs). The process requires a lot of heat too. It then has to have molasses or even just caramel colouring added back to make brown or 'demerara' sugar.

I have a slightly more than passing interest in this subject, because my late Uncle Woodie worked on a sugar plantation in Jamaica; I think his family owned it. He only talked to us about it once, but it was fascinating. He told us how the cane was cut with a machete; the thick hard stem was cut at an angle and you had to know what you were doing. One worker stood in the wrong place and the cut section slid down and its edge sliced his foot off (I/he may be exaggerating slightly with the 'off' but who knows).

And of course there is a tenuous waterways connection. One of the last four remeining sugar refineries in Britain, producing beet sugar to be sold as Silver Spoon, is located in my favourite waterways town, and locals often wonder at my choice, citing the smell that emerges from it. I can only say that so far, I haven't been at the right time of year, or with the wind in the right direction to experience it.

Expand your knowledge today with interesting Wikipedia articles on sugar cane and sugar refining.

Friday 25 April 2014


Many people who know me are surprised to discover that I am a big fan of snooker. I started watching Pot Black as a child, and the course of my life might have been quite different had I spent more time revising for my A Levels and less watching the 1983 World Championship. Back in those days my favourite player was the exciting young Steve Davis. I'm not sure when (or how, really) he acquired a reputation for being boring; when he first arrived on the scene he was a breath of fresh air, the first of a new generation, and brought a combination of potting and tactical skills that possibly hadn't previously been seen in one player.

Given that I have so little time for most sport, what is it that makes snooker different? It took me a while to work it out, but I think the answer is very simple. With most games, as a spectator, you can only appreciate the action in retrospect. As soon as it happens, it's over. Snooker however gives the audience the delights of anticipation, thinking alongside the player in a way that just isn't possible with faster moving sports, nor in games like golf where you can't see an overview of the field of play.

Over the twelve or so years I didn't have a TV, my snooker viewing went into abeyance, so now I'm hooked again I really notice the cahnges that have taken place. None of them really seem to be for the better - although I suppose that overall one should be pleased that it has changed relatively recently.

The first is the players, who seem, to a far greater extent than previously, to be a series of unprepossessing clones. Sometimes it's difficult to take an interest in the outcome of a match because both players are as bland as each other. It doesn't help that they are also nearly all so young. I have transferred my allegiance to Ronnie O'Sullivan, one of the few of today's players who was on the scene when I last watched, because both his age and his character make him stand out - and his game is a joy to watchmof course.

Secondly, sponsorship. Snooker has always been heavily sponsored - Benson and Hedges, Embassy - but 'waistcoat' sponsorship is a new one on me. The shocking thing is how tacky it is - crude badges clumsily attached like a child's 25 metre swimming badge sewn to his trunks. Given that the players' entire waistcoats appear to be provided by the sponsors (surely that many people couldn't spontaneously choose the same shade of pink satin lining voluntarily), I'm surprised that the sponsors' names and messages aren't directly embroidered on. This has clearly served to take another chunk of individuality out of the game - Doug Mountjoy's ruffles and Kirk Stevens' white suit would find no place in today's game, and that's a shame. I was however pleased to note that in the UK Championships (but sadly not the World) they had resurrected the wearing of ordinary ties for the afternoon sessions and reserving evening dress for the evening, as is right and proper, and helps add to the sense of occasion.

Thirdly, the appearance of female referees is, on the face of it, a very welcome development (female players would be even better but I fear the days that might have been possible have passed). However. The female referees are not at all like the male referees. They are not elderly, greying, or paunchy. They are glamourous, coiffed and heavily made up. This does not seem much of a blow for equality, to be honest, and it is hard to rebut the charge that in their current form, they are distracting. This is not because they are female, but it only applies to the females. And that's a shame too.

Finally, in some ways the biggest change, and the one I find hardest to understand and indeed to countenance. The application of the 'miss rule'. It used to be that if a player was snookered, and failed to hit the ball he needed to, he was penalised by giving away points. His opponent could put him in to play again, if they felt this would be to their advantage, and if a snooker was gained as a result of a foul, the oppenent would be given a free ball. Very, very, rarely the referee would declare a miss if he felt that in his professional judgement the player had not made a real effort or had missed deliberately. In such a case, the balls are replaced as they were before the miss and the fouling player has to take the shot again. I think I saw this about four times in all the years I was watching. Now however, a miss seems to be declared literally every time a player misses, even when it's clear they've made a real effort to play the shot millimetre perfect. The crime now seems to be not deliberately missing, but not taking a sufficient risk with regard to subsequent positioning. The balls can be replaced and the shot retaken half a dozen times, giving points away to the opponent every time. This seriously interrupts the flow of the game, and undermines the unstated but central tenet of tha game, that of playing the balls where they lie, and taking them, good or bad, as you find them. It also seems to me to be a dangerous move, in that it is tacitly accusing players of trying to cheat, to obtain an unfair advantage by not playing to the best of their ability. Snooker is a game that prides itself on gentlemanly behaviour - one of the commentators said last night that, along with golf, it is the only sport in which players will routinely declare a foul against themselves, even if the referee hasn't seen it. Treating players as potential cheats can only undermine that.

Anyway, I'm off to go and put BBC2 on. All I can say is that it's a good thing that there was no Red Button when I was seventeen.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Beautiful morning

Just in case you thought I was going to do nothing but moan...

Location:Kings Lock

Sunday 13 April 2014

This river is not endearing itself to me

Back on my bugbear, the River Soar. For once a nice day, apart from the wind; dry and with plenty of sun. A few things still managed to go wrong though, but we still managed to make it to Mountsorrel, where Jim and I have never stopped before. The first two pubs we tried didn't do food on Sunday evenings, so we ended up at the Quarrymaster. Formerly the Railway, this was clearly a new venture - the owners having been been there since November. Things didn't start well, as the Bombardier was clearly and severely off, but it was replaced without a murmur with Bass which was fine. The revelation though was the food, which was all excellent. We met the chef, who was not long out of a local college, where he had won prizes. So that made a very nice ending to a somewhat trying day.


Saturday 12 April 2014

Rudder buggered

Yesterday evening, at Fradley, out travelling companions wondered idly whether we had ever unshipped Chertsey's rudder, and if so, how hard it was to get back in. No, I said. No idea; it's never happened. Must have forgotten to touch wood because you can guess what happened today...
No, it wasn't on a lock cill; it was as I was pulling in to drop Jim off at the innocuous and unassuming looking Branston lock, I just very gently reversed onto a rock about three feet out from the sheet piling, and knew immediately what had happened, despite never having experienced it before.

We struggled with it for a bit and managed to get it sitting (as we realised later) on the skeg but not in the cup. It didn't feel right but we struggled on, until it fell off again, catching Jim's hand in the process, as the tiller bar dropped a couple of inches, against the sharp corner of the rear door hasp (important job: grind that sharp corner off).

So we limped on very slowly until we got to Shobnall Fields in Burton, and having fortified Jim with lunch and a cup of tea and a great deal of sticking plaster (and TCP and a rubber glove), resumed trying to resite the rudder in its proper place. The only way really to do it, in the water, is by trial and error, Jim lifting the tiller with his shoulder. Every time we thought it was there though, a few trial sweeps led to it dropping out again. Eventually it was Iain who, employing the same method, either by luck or experience achieved success.

So on we have gone, ending up eventually just beyond Swarkestone lock, where we have not been to a pub but have enjoyed a lovely meal with Clair and Iain on Plover.

The starter motor is performing excellently, and today we have tested it on starting the engine when it's hot, which it has achieved without a murmur.


Friday 11 April 2014

A pleasant surprise at the Mucky Duck

A lovely day's boating has brought us to Fradley, where we were lucky enough to secure a mooring right by the pub. I have blogged before about my less than impresssive experiences of this iconic canalside pub, so I'm very pleased to be able to report that tonight it was very good - a good range of beer, not served in hot wet glasses this time, and some very nice food too.

Location:Fradley Junction

Thursday 10 April 2014

Well, it worked for the Welsh Development Agency

We have made it to Penkridge without incident, hooray. Along the way I have amused myself by memorising the names of the locks by setting them to the tune of Cwm Rhondda.

I know it worked for the Welsh Development Agency because thirty years later I can still remember: Dunlop, G-Plan, Revlon, Berlei; British Airways, Hotpoint, Kraft. Kellogs, Esso, Hoover, Sony; Metal Box, Ferranti, Ford. I wonder how many of them are still made in Wales?


We have lift off

Amazingly, wonderfully, the new started motor started the engine first press of the button - letting us know just how knacked the old one had been. And in the end the dreaded job took less than three hours. So it's still dinner in Penkridge tonight....


Progress report

After much swearing, hacking of knuckles and wielding of hacksaw, the old starter motor is off...

... and the new one in place.

Now it needs to be done up and connected and then we will have the moment of truth that will make or break this Easter trip...


Last minute hitch

Well here we are, all ready to set off...

And the starter motor decides it's finally going to give up the ghost.

This starter motor has been problematic for a while, insofar as it wouldn't engage when the engine was hot, unless hit with a sledgehammer kept in the engine room for the purpose.

So, we had been preparing to replace it. We had a spare, which we got completely rebuilt last summer by the nice man in Hednesford, and it was just a matter of getting round to fitting it. However, it appeared that in order to undo one of its bolts, it would be necessary to lift the engine. Thus the job kept getting put off.

This morning however, the old one finally decided to stop turning over with anything like enough power to get the engine running - despite trying it with two newly charged and one brand new battery. Jim is now, as I write (and I have to keep breaking off to fetch him tools) seeing if, by cutting the straps on the electrical conduit, which are fixed under the engine mounting bolts, he can get to the recalcitrant nut without having to undo these.

If this can be done, and if the new starter motor works, we will still hopefully catch up with Plover in time to leave tomorrow morning. If not, then disaster - because I have the bar rota.

You may ask why we don't hand start it. Well, firstly because we haven't put the hand start chain back on since fixing the high pressure fuel pump cam, and secondly, because the reason there wasn't any point in doing that is that only one person has ever succeeded in hand starting it, and we can't take Mike Askin everywhere with us.

The latest cry from the engine room indicates that while the nut has been undone (on the right hand end in the photo) there isn't room for the starter motor to clear its studs because one of the engine mounts (on the left) is in the way. The trouble is, these engine set ups were never designed to be worked on in situ; for any major work they would be lifted out and swapped.

Such are the delights of ancient boat ownership, and the perils of procrastination.


Wednesday 9 April 2014

Post about nothing very much

Basically, we're ready to set off tomorrow, nice and early, to catch up with Plover in Penkridge and thence make our way to Foxton in convoy. Of the three possible routes we are taking the one that was initially bottom of our list - via the Soar. It is the obvious way to go, the shortest and quickest route, and it hasn't rained for quite a while now has it... Anyway, we will be travelling up river so it won't be as exciting as our first experience of that waterway on Warrior was.

The glamping boat has survived the winter well and is proving most commodious. Last weekend we put in one of the window cloths so now have natural light to the bathroom (well, it does have a bath even if it's not actually a room. Although it is in the sense of being the space between two stands, or possibly a few knees) and the living/kitchen area.

Most of the brass is polished, and there is a modest floral arrangement of willow and blackthorn on the cabintop.

Easter here we come!

Sunday 6 April 2014

Late entry in the battle of the stoves leaves the field standing

I'm just back from a weekend spent preparing Chertsey to set off to Foxton next week, and the most exciting thing I have to report on is Jim's new purchase - a two burner Origo stove. He's been quite keen on getting one for a while; they are all the rage with the lumpy water mob, apparently, and Alan Fincher was waxing lyrical about his, which he showed us at Braunston last year. I of course was dubious but I am happy to admit that I am completely won over.

The Origo is fuelled with alcohol, giving a hot, virtually soot free flame. It is as easy to light as gas - just turn the knob and poke a long lighter down into the burner. When the kettle boils, turning the knob back puts it out. The flame is adjustable - not quite as finely as gas, but it goes low enough to cook a squash curry without catching it. It boils a kettle pretty quickly, comparing favourably with the Primus and certainly faster than the Beatrice, although possibly not as fast as gas. You sometimes get some condensation from the flame if the kettle's cold, but it does no harm.

The unit is compact and stable, as it is designed to be used at sea. The alcohol is held in a kind of wadding so it is completely spill-proof, making it very safe. The only downside I can think of is the cost - they are expensive to buy, ours having been on offer on Amazon at £135 - and to run. Jim bought a case of 12 x 1 litre bottles of fuel for around £36 and we got through one of them in the time I was there, cooking one dinner and making lots of tea. But for the convenience, cleanness, speed and lack of worry about safety, I think it's worth every penny, and we will probably find cheaper sources of fuel. The alcohol is uses isn't meths, by the way, and compared to meths hardly smells at all.

One Beatrice is being kept in case we run out of alcohol; we have just stocked up on paraffin for the Tilley lamps so there is still a frisson of danger to keep life interesting. Particularly the danger of banging your head on one. The Primus (which was actually a Monitor, bought unused, boxed and dated 1953) appears however to have sprung a leak. I haven't investigated in any detail, but the bottom of its windproof biscuit tin was swimming in oil - so it's lucky we didn't need it. I have three other old pressurised paraffin stoves, including a genuine Primus, so I shall keep one for display, but I don't think I would really mind if I never had to light one again. On the other hand though, I'm glad that it's a skill I've mastered. But it's mod cons all the way now!