... 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 8 September 2015

Bit of politics....

Jeremy Corbyn. Politics just got a bit interesting again.  It never occurred to me to attempt a bit of £3 entryism and actually vote for him, but I find myself hoping that Corbyn will win the Labour leadership election on Saturday, and heartened by the thought that he could.  Here’s why – and why I don’t buy the Labour Party arguments against him.

Is Corbyn’s proposed economic policy cloud-cuckoo impracticable? Quite possibly. But it doesn’t matter, because despite the best efforts of Blair, the Labour leader still does not unilaterally make Labour Party policy. And should he ever become Prime Minister, the Prime Minister does not rule by diktat (despite the best efforts etc…) but is constrained first by the Cabinet, and then by Parliament.  Corbyn’s loudly stated commitment to democracy both within the party and beyond will make it harder for him to push through pet policies than any previous leader. So it’s good that he’s flagging up a few policies that have been out of fashion for decades – but they won’t become reality unless he can build a consensus for them. It’s interesting, incidentally, to note that the same opponents who say that a Corbyn government would be a disaster for the country are the same people who say that he’s unelectable. You can have one problem or the other, but not both.
Has Corbyn expressed verbal support for some frankly dodgy organisations? Possibly, depending on your political stance on the Middle East and your views on how people who perceive themselves as oppressed can legitimately fight for their cause. But if so, he’s in the very good company of all the UK governments who have and still happily support oppressive regimes and dictators. At least, as far as I’m aware, Corbyn hasn’t actually sold anyone any weapons.
Is a Labour Party led by Corbyn completely unelectable? I have no idea; no one knows what the mood of the country will be in May 2020. It is interesting though that those who claim so vociferously that Corbyn is unelectable are the same people who had no inkling that Labour would be wiped out in Scotland in 2015, and were so confident that he couldn’t win the party leadership that they nominated him despite supporting other candidates (and did so on the grounds that it would be good for the party to have a debate – well, doesn’t the country deserve the opportunity to have that debate as well?). So I don’t have much faith in their crystal balls.
Most senior Labour figures are still traumatised by what happened in 1983. This is what they constantly refer back to as evidence that a lefty Labour Party is unelectable. But it isn’t 1983 any more. By the time of the next election, thirty seven years will have passed since 1983. That’s two whole generations of voters who weren’t even born when a resurgent Thatcher defeated Michael Foot (and it could well be argued that, post-Falklands, she would have won even against a Blairite Labour Party).  However, it’s not just a question of whether a Corbyn-led Labour Party would or would not be electable.
The guiding purpose of the Conservative Party is to rule; it exists to win elections and exercise power to stop it falling into the hands of anyone else.  But wasn’t the Labour Party supposed to be about more than that? Wasn’t it meant to be a campaigning organisation? Surely this shouldn’t just be about winning the 2020 election. That’s nearly five years away, and during that time there’s a massively important job of work to be done.
It’s called opposition; holding the government to account; asking the awkward questions, shining a light into the corners of its decision-making. I’ve noted before that, in my view, the role of the Opposition in British politics is greatly underrated. Governments will always be governments; the delights of power and the constraints of office combine to make governments tend towards the conservative and the authoritarian whatever colour rosette they were elected under. But a good, strong and – dare I say it, principled – Opposition can act as a check on this tendency. This country has not had a decent Opposition since 1997.
A Labour Party led by Corbyn – principled, distinctive and fearless –  could be a revitalised Opposition, and that, in itself, is a noble aim and a thoroughly worthwhile achievement.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

See how they run

Terrier vs. Greyhound

Courtesy of the Captain of Princess Lucy

Tuesday 25 August 2015

What was in the van?

Halfie has shamed me into posting by mysteriously alluding to something his son Andy moved for me in his van last week...

Last year at Foxton, I think it was, Halfie mentioned that Andrew had a 'man with a van' business in Sheffield, and I filed that away in my memory in the knowledge that I was bound to need such a service one day. My Volvo 240 is brilliant, but being the saloon rather than the estate version its furniture moving potential is a bit limited. (For a couple of years when it was our only family car, it had the front passenger seat removed in order to fit Sebastian's double bass in.)

You may recall that the glamping boat interior of Chertsey's hold has a sort of fifties feel. We've been developing this further over the course of this year and have a number of plans (of which more, hopefully, later) - none of which involve anything permanently attached to the structure of the boat - to make it even more commodious for summer holiday cruising. We decided that we needed another kitchen cupboard/dresser - one with plenty of space for storing the tins and jars and packets that make up our provisions (the Origo has paid for itself many times over this year in the money we haven't spent eating in pubs) and hopefully provide a bit more preparation space.

One afternoon the week before last, I'd just popped out to the shops on a whim when outside the Oxfam shop I saw this:

I crossed straight over to enquire - it had only that minute been dropped off; ten minutes later it had been spirited away inside and upstairs and I might well never have seen it. It still took another day and a half to get a price for it, which I willingly paid even if it was a bit on the high side (Oxfam's like that). I then had a week to take it away. Jim had just left Sheffield, having only the previous week picked up a washstand for me from the same shop - so I Googled Andy, and the unit is now in my hall waiting for Jim to come up this weekend, whereupon we'll put it in his Volvo and take it to the boat.

I've been looking back over the blog and it is such a wonderful record of the work we've done on the boat, it really does seem a crime not to keep it up - even if I do spare you the details of widith ((c) Granny Buttons)

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Good intentions...

I really did mean to blog this trip. I even told everyone at work that they could read it if they wanted to know what I was doing on my holidays.

Then, when I tried to post, using Blogpress on the iPad, I constantly got a message along the lines of 'oh dear, you don't seem to have an internet connection.' No amount of swearing at it and shouting 'Yes I bloody well have, look, four bars and what do you think I've been reading for the past half your, not to mention sending emails', surprisingly, was able to convince it.

Then, as if that weren't enough, the iPad decided that it would not charge from any 12v source.  Tried a new connector, tried the car charger, nope.  Took it home and plugged it into its 240v charger, no problem.  It this a portent of worse problems to come - i.e. is it now on the verge of not charging at all? It has always previously charged happily, if slowly, from 12v.

So even when I rejoin the boat and go off again, it seems likely I won't be able to blog, unless I start doing it on the phone, which I suppose I might.

In the meantime, here is a picture of my Bugsworth Basin birthday mooring, in a rare sunny moment.

Monday 29 June 2015

Braunston blog

Let's see if I can remember how to do this...

Amazingly, this was my tenth consecutive year at Braunston - and even more incredibly, my sixth year there with Chertsey. Let's just check: 2006, 2007 - by car; 2008, 2009 - on Warrior; 2010, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 - on Chertsey. My goodness.

It was a lovely weekend, with the weather especially good on the Saturday. I don't know how many boats attended, but it didn't strike me as overly crowded this year. There was a good public turnout on the Saturday, although rain in the morning made Sunday quieter. We spent our time as usual, buying stuff, chatting, and drinking beer. Jim had found us a good spot on the towpath, in what has become a favourite place for us, especially now with Rocky, just beyond Butcher's Bridge. I have hardly taken any photos - and I know I haven't blogged about  our journey to Braunston, now the work we've done on Chertsey prior to it. I can't promise to keep it up now either... But watch this space and I'll do my best.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Rocky and Spot

Rocky made a new friend on Friday. Here he is with Spot. They began by having a marvellous time chasing about the yard. Ricky has quickly learnt not to try to run at top speed under boats, so Spot had the advantage there.

Spot's very favourite thing is to find and play with old grinding discs. I don't know what they must do to his teeth. That's what he's hidden under the cloth in the photo - the cloth that I was trying to get clean and dry. Rocky can't really see the attraction of this game.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

No pics of a pet at the Port

What a hopeless chronicler I am. I completely omitted to take a camera to Ellesmere Port when we visited on Saturday. My thinking was that I'd seen all the boats there before.... But of course, I'd never taken Rocky there before. The Ellesmere Port Boat Museum is an excellently dog-friendly place. They're allowed everywhere on the site, and in (as far as I could tell) all the buildings (probably not the recreated cottages though).

When we arrived at about ten o'clock, the car park was already overflowing, and we had to park on the road. It didn't seem crowded inside though. Having seen all the exhibits a number of times, the day was mostly about catching up with other boaters and comparing our plans for the summer. It was a dry day, if slightly chilly, and I think Rocky enjoyed his day out. He certainly got plenty of the attention and admiration that seems to fall on him wherever he goes.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Painting, tidying and starting to scrub...

I think I must have forgotten some of the things we did at the weekend, because once again we left with a feeling of achievement. Most noticeably, Jim primed and painted the new Rocky-proof partition - all in gloss red oxide to match the inside of the hull. Rocky observed operations and only got himself a few extra white hairs from the primer...

He has settled much better on the boat this visit. He gets on and off very confidently, and in and out of the hold. The stairs are the main project for next weekend, before the bags of coal wear out.

While Jim was painting, I tidied and scrubbed out the back cabin, and finally had a good sort out of all the odds and ends stored in various places, which can now be rationalised. I even managed to scrub the counter. Just the rest of the boat to do then. Last week's wind and rain indicated that the new translucent top cloth would need to be laced down with bungee cord, so that was the first job. I have been very remiss in taking photos though, for which, apologies. I will try to catch up next time.

We didn't need to go to the pub at all last weekend, cooking quite happily on the Origo. I was dubious about the Origo, but I am happy to admit I was wrong. Jim, conversely, was dubious about my purchase of a modern paraffin heater, but is likewise impressed with the outcome. Dinner on the boat is usually based around a tin of pulses (red beans, white beans, chick peas etc) and a tin or jar of curry or pasta sauce, simmered together with whatever fresh vegetables we've managed to find/got lying about and maybe topped with a bit of cheese, and served with cous cous or ready cooked rice (cooking rice from scratch, or pasta, makes too much steam and takes too long). Last weekend we enjoyed kidney beans in spicy puttanesca sauce with fresh tomatoes, mushrooms and olives, topped with crumbled lancashire cheese; chickpea madras with carrots and cabbage (much nicer than it sounds; the cabbage gives a lovely nutty flavour), and butterbeans with mushrooms in tomato and basil sauce.

We finished by clearing out most of the kitchen/sitting area in the hold, ready for the next tranche of improvements... watch this space.

Friday 27 March 2015

... and keeping Rocky on board

He might have qualms about descending four and a half feet, but with a bit of a run up he'd have no trouble in the opposite direction, so the first task of the weekend was to Rocky-proof the hold, creating a safe enclosed space, particularly so that he can't escape at night.

And here it is. With the exception of a batten screwed to the underside of the cross plank, none of the structure impinges on the historic fabric of the boat. I'm lucky to still have old, if not original (I have no idea how old but pretty certainly, pre-1970) cross planks but reckoned this counted as part of the natural evolution of the boat's history. The ply section at the top is just wedged in at the moment, but we have the wood to make a couple of additional uprights (those misnamed 45-degree supports for the top planks) to sandwich the ply against the stand. This means it is easily removable when we need to take down the deckboard and lower the cloths again (not in the next couple of years, I hope.) The ply, incidentally, was repurposed (how did we ever do without that word?) from the former toilet partition. Where the toilet goes in the new set up is still a matter of some debate and design consultation. The sides will be filled in more neatly when Jim has his jigsaw to hand. Eventually it will be painted.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Getting Rocky on board

Greyhounds aren't very good with stepladders, so we had to improvise...

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Summer clothing

As soon as I arrived at Chertsey, a good few hours before Jim and Rocky, I started to strip off the cloths. They were still in 'low down' mode, following last year's trip to the Stratford. I've long been seeking a way to get more light into the hold - glamping in the dark just isn't so much fun. The historic Union Canal Carriers window cloths that I bought at the Droitwich tat auction did a good job of letting light in, and keeping rain out, but because they were only a yard wide, using them necessitated shifting the other cloths about, and because they were deep, they were hard to use with the top planks in the lower position.

So last week I finally got around to buying a roll of translucent scaffold sheeting, having finally given up on salvaging any from a building site. It's two metres wide, making it pretty much perfect topcloth size, and reasonably heavy, at 170gsm. We simply unrolled it alongside the boat to get the right length and cut it off in a single section. It's held in place with the standard arrangement of strings, but if this proves insufficient, it has eyelet holes for bungee cord. The idea is to leave it like this for the summer, and then put the black cloths over the top in the winter or if we leave the boat for a while - or whenever we need to look properly historic.

The shaped cloth stays on at the front, and this dark area will be the bedroom.

Now we can clearly see what a lot of work there still is to do inside the hold!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The moon (and sun) under water

The Moon Under Water is, of course, George Orwell's ideal London pub, drawn lovingly in an Evening Standard article in 1946. Many of its qualities would still be considered desirable today - good beer, decent basic food, friendly barmaids, open fires and above all, the background quiet to hold a conversation. Some of the attributes he sought are far more common today - particularly a women and children-friendly atmosphere. Others are so long gone that I hadn't even heard of them - beer in china mugs, for example.

We have now become a class of second class citizen, banned from many a lounge bar and restaurant, and entered the new world of the dog-friendly pub. Until now, this hasn't been too much of a culture shock. We have been taken by Rocky and his previous family to the Red Lion at Litton in the Peak District, where log fires, good beer and excellent beer are found to be perfectly compatible with canine companionship. The only thing we have to remember is to bring his blanket, for those authentic flagstone floors. Back in Newhaven, the Hope offers well kept Harveys, decent food, log fires and again, a warm welcome to Rocky - as long as we let the landlady know before we come in so that Pip the resident Pyrenean mountain dog (and mountainous she most certainly is) can be shooed behind the bar. But oh dear, down on the boat it was another matter. I hope to hear differently, but between Brewood and Wheaton Aston, only the public bar of the Bridge was reputed to tolerate dogs - and as a result was full of them, along with a great many children (in the public bar? Call me old-fashioned...) and worst, a very large, very loud, TV. For various reasons, largely mouse-related, eating on the boat wasn't an easy option for the first couple of days, and anyway, we'd been working hard and deserved a treat.

But this wasn't meant to be about pubs. It was about this sun and moon together under the water...

I'm not quite sure how the effect has come about - the actual eclipsed sun is lost in the glare, but a secondary reflection appears next to it. It's the same in most of the photos I took.

Here are some other people looking at the eclipse...

We learned that while a welder's mask was an excellent way of safely viewing the eclipse of 1999, modern polarising ones don't work - the light's either not bright or not sudden enough to trigger their darkening. Produced an interesting green effect in the photos though. A cardboard pinhole camera and a colander were also utilised. There was very little cloud in the West Midlands (as noted also by Diamond Geezer).

Monday 23 March 2015

Back to the boat

Hooray! At last I have something to write about. I have just spent a weekend with Jim and Rocky working on Chertsey, and hope to get at least a week's worth of blog posts out of that.

Here is Rocky, supervising operations.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

The window seat and me

Train observations are obviously a great space filler, so here, in best social media tradition, are my favourite kinds of seats and the reason why. The train companies should love me; I want the least popular kind of seat - an airline style aisle seat, and I don't mind if I have my back to the engine and a Virgin-style windowless stretch of cabin side to boot. But I often don't get what my heart most desires, and someone else is probably losing out as a result.

At least when booking, you can specify an aisle seat. Now obviously, in an ideal world, one wants to undertake one's entire journey next to an empty seat. No jostling for elbow room on the armrest, no awkwardly asking if you can lower the armrest to put some semblance of a barrier between you and next door's flab/smelly anorak, and above all, no sniffing, coughing and spluttering of myriad viruses into your airspace. But if you have an aisle seat, at least you are not at risk of being trapped and compressed into the corner by some corpulent malodorous germ-ridden stranger. At least there is a possibility of escape, and you don't have to ask permission to go to the toilet.

When booking, you can specify a table seat. I never do. Unfortunately, you cannot specify a non-table seat. So at least half the time I find my seat involves me facing someone else, and getting my feet tangled with theirs, and either having to complain or silently seething about the hard shell wheelie suitcase they have put under the table. But with an airline seat, I can stick my feet under the one in front (whilst selfishly denying that pleasure to the person behind me by putting my bag under my seat). I have a little table, should I need one. And best of all, I don't have someone gawping at me for two hours.

Now, I know that as long as I'm on the right train, it doesn't really matter where I sit. But if I take a non-reserved seat, I'm potentially depriving someone else of it, because they won't sit in my, apparently reserved, one. I could offer to swap, but that involves too much human interaction, sometimes. Often, anyway, the whole carriage is reserved. (Can I just mention a really petty thing that annoys me? When people come down the carriage looking for C27A, and can only find C27. The A stands for Aisle and is otherwise meaningless. Why do the train companies insist on printing it on the ticket and confusing people?)

So, I don't feel sick with my back to the engine, I don't want to make conversation, and I don't want to look out of the window. All I ask is a decent light, and I'll have my nose in a book the whole way. That's what trains are for, and that's what books are for.

Monday 2 March 2015

An observation

An observation made, admittedly, when I regularly used a commuter train rather than one where most of the seats are reserved, but it came back to me today and is no doubt still true.

Many people will sit in a window seat and deposit their bags, coats etc on the aisle seat next to them.

I prefer an aisle seat, and make a point of not depositing my worldly goods on the seat next to me.

Once each pair of seats has been filled in this way, the next person to get on the train has to find a vacant seat. Nine times out of ten, they will ask me to move so that they can get into the empty seat next to me, rather than ask someone else to move their bags.

Is this because most people have such a desperate desire for a window seat? Or is it, as I suspect, because it's somehow easier to ask someone to get up so that you can sit on an obviously empty seat, than risk appearing critical by asking someone to move their bags?

Sunday 1 March 2015

Looking for Mr Wrigglesworth again another seven years on

I was just musing on some of my former teachers and thought I'd try Googling the one with the most unusual name, Mr (Alan) Wirgglesworth. About the third or fourth result was my 2008 post on the Hay Inclined Plane, of which I had just rediscovered a photo featuring his left arm. And on the post, there was a comment, from 'Alan', saying:

Hello Sarah, Alan Wrigglesworth (of one arm in the picture fame) here. Just found this on the internet. Be nice to hear from you.
Regards. Alan W.

Somehow I missed that comment at the time and the Google profile attached to it is no longer available. How I am kicking myself. So Alan Wrigglesworth, if you're still Googling yourself (or however else one finds out that one has been mentioned on an obscure boating blog) please have another go! Likewise, Phil Frier, Chris Collard, Mark Michael Mahoney and indeed many others who may have had the dubious pleasure of teaching me at one time or another.

I turned out OK...

Saturday 28 February 2015

Books I read in February

Ruth Rendell, No Man's Nightingale [crime]
I used to be a massive fan of Rendell - in the early eighties I had a complete set of her works to date - but she has been turning out rubbish for the last decade and more. This new Wexford story from 2014 is not as bad as some, but it still appears to have been written on autopilot. I used to like the way we only ever see the action from Wexford's point of view - it made the whodunnit puzzle more honest - but the flip side of this is that the other characters can, and in this case do, come across as one-dimensional. We never really feel involved with or invested in them. On top of this, Rendell, has taken in her later work to incorporating clunking political correctness, and constantly commenting on it. This is very annoying. (PD James does the same: two old ladies letting you know very loudly that they've noticed that the world has changed and they're fine with that, really; only you suspect that actually they're not).

Andrew Nugent Soul Murder [crime]
Short but engaging murder mystery, nicely written if a little self-consciously, at least at first, with some vivid characters, including a building.

Maggie Lett and Geoff Rowe Flood Waters [local history/historical fiction]
A fictionalised account of the Sheffield flood of 1864 which killed 240 people. Although it starts out looking amateurish (although one of the authors is a journalist), the account of the flood itself, caused by the failure of a dam, is gripping. The book however continues into a rather over-long Dikensian melodrama, before all is happily resolved in the end.

M.E. Thomas Confessions of a Sociopath [memoir]
Well written, interesting, very engaging (of course) and slightly frightening. Not just, or even mostly confessions, but an apologia and a plea for sociopaths' special qualities to be recognised and valued.

Peter Robinson Abattoir Blues [crime]
Robinson at least hasn't lost his touch yet - maybe not outstanding, but good, sound stuff.

Steven Dunne Deity [crime]
Good characters, well written, but a pretty outlandish plot spoilt it a bit.

Prue Leith  A Serving of Scandal [fiction]
Feeble, poorly written political scandal/romance, with food porn shoehorned in.

Stephen King On Writing [memoir/non-fiction]
A book of two halves - engaging memoir, setting out how he became a writer, followed by advice (albeit far from comprehensive) for (aspiring) writers drawn from his experience as a craftsman, rather than an artist.

Gill Hasson Brilliant Communication Skills [non-fiction/self help]
I would be really pissed off if I had paid money for this book.

Caroline Graham The Envy of the Stranger [fiction]
From the author of Midsomer Murders, apparently, which I have neither read not seen. Second rate (which is not to say terrible, just not very good) stalker thriller which doesn't, really.

Elly Griffiths The Crossing Places [crime]
In contrast, the characters here are immediately alive - fat Ruth the forensic archaeologist, Nelson the grumpy cop, and Cathbad the pseudo-druid. There's only so much variety you can get out of having an archaeologist in every story, but very enjoyable nonetheless. This is the first in the series, and set the scene for what I know is to come later.

Ian Rankin A Cool Head [crime]
A 'Quick Reads' novella, more like a short story than a novel in its construction. The characters were worthy of a longer work, but this never got the chance to draw you in.

Ross Raisin Waterline [fiction]
Undeniably well written account of a former Glasgow shipbuilder going to pieces after his wife's death. The representation of dialect is spot on - just right, not laboured or false (thankfully the person who started correcting it to standard English in my library book gave up after page one). Suitably depressing, but ultimately perhaps, a bit empty.

Anna Richards Small Gods [fiction]
A first novel, rolling in descriptive language but always teetering on the edge of incredibility. The characters were never quite real, too much described and not enough felt. I struggled to finish it despite the quality of the writing.

Ellis Peters A Morbid Taste for Bones [historic fiction/crime]
I don't normally care much for historical fiction but Brother Cadfael is wonderful escapism. Well crafted, easy reading. Pure entertainment.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Old photos of Sheffield

Sheffield Basin (aka Victoria Quays), June 1987
 From the J R James archive
Licenced under Creative Commons

A friend sent me a link to this Flickr account. It's the J R James archive at the University of Sheffield, and contains hundreds of photos taken in the course of studies of town and regional planning. There are lots of various new towns, as you would expect, and also many of Sheffield - most earlier than this one.

The downside though (to someone who's not a Flickr expert) is that the hundreds of photos appear to heve been uploaded fairly randomly, and aren't tagged, so you will have to devote many happy hours finding your favourites, whether they be of Park Hill or Cumbernauld.

 Still very much worth a look though.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

A bracing stroll

 I went for a walk on Sunday and found myself crossing a moor in a blizzard, horizontal snow blasting my face. It was great. Somehow it slipped my mind to take any photos actually during the snowstorm, but here are a couple taken from the top of Win Hill just before it started.

Monday 23 February 2015

No smoke...?

You know how drivers of certain cars are stigmatised; stereotyped on the basis of their choice of wheels? Sometimes there's more than a grain of truth in it. BMW drivers as flash and arrogant; Mini drivers as self consciously cute; Ford Focus drivers as sensible and unflashy. And Volvo 240 estate drivers, I thought, as solid, practical, nostalgic, Guardian-reading, muesli-munchers. The very last people who would pickle their children in second hand cigarette smoke.

Well, not according to NHS England's latest 'Smoke Free' campaign advert.

I can only assume that they didn't want to alienate viewers by using a car that anyone was actually likely to own - or perhaps, more hopefully, that they think anyone in their target audience (i.e. people who like to pickle their children in second hand smoke) was likely to own. And that even if every Volvo 240 Estate owner in the country was as outraged as me, the worst they could expect was a stiff letter in the Guardian.

Nonetheless, as a lifelong non-smoker (albeit not an evangelical one) I do feel that I have been very unfairly tarred with this particular dogend.

Sunday 22 February 2015

The bathroom project

I live in a nice flat on the top floor of a nice house in a nice part of Sheffield. The flat has many attractive features, including high ceilings, big double glazed windows, gas central heating (when I first viewed it in freezing December 2012, living at the time in a bedsit with a single small electric radiator, this was the reason I snapped it up), big rooms, new carpets and a very nice landlord. It also has some endearing eccentricities, the main one of which is that to get to my bathroom, I have to go out of my 'front door' onto the tiny landing, and in through another door at right angles to it, as the bathroom is separated from the rest of the flat by a substantial chimney breast. Can't go through it; got to go round it. The tiny landing is only shared with the one other flat on the top floor (they have their own, internal, bathroom) and so far this has never presented a problem.

On the positive side, this quirk means that the rent is considerably cheaper than it would otherwise be, and that I have an absolutely massive bathroom. While the bath and shower are fairly new and modern, the basin and loo - and the tiling over the basin - are probably fifty or so years old. The Twyfords pedestal basin is deep and solid, and the Dudley Slimline plastic cistern isn't pretty, but boy does it flush. I like it all a lot. There was no denying, however, that decoratively it was a little tired. At some point it had been papered with the woodchip wallpaper that doesn't quite hide all evils (and which always peels off when you want it to stay on, but is absolutely impossible to remove when you don't). The skirtings seemed to have been made of lots of leftover scraps, and the radiator - whilst wonderfully warm - was undeniably rusty.

So in a fit of looking for a project, before Christmas, I asked my landlord if it would be ok for me to decorate, stressing my credentials as having been fully trained by Jim. He agreed, and said that he would pay for the materials. So all I had to do was start. Well, I bought the paint, and various abrasives, and a few weeks later I started to rub down the radiator. Sadly, within ten minutes, I was heartily sick of it. Well, I thought, it's going to take a long time at this rate. So the next time Jim offered to help, I accepted with alacrity.

Jim came up for a long weekend - Rocky stayed with Baz in Eastbourne; we didn't think we'd appreciate his help - and we got started first thing Saturday morning, and by Monday afternoon everything was rubbed down, filled, rubbed down again, patched up, repaired, stuck down, primed, undercoated and painted. I don't think I've ever in twenty-whatever years worked so efficiently with him! We even had time to go out for fun with Adrian and Linda on Sunday afternoon while the gloss was drying.

My bathroom was lovely and big before, but now it's big and lovely.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Quiet addition to the blogroll...

No fanfare because she's actually rather shy, but Sebastian's wonderful girlfriend has started a blog...

Friday 20 February 2015

Large print computer

Last year, I decided to treat myself to a laptop. Not a new laptop you'll note; my very first laptop all of my very own. Partly on grounds of cost, mostly on grounds of portability, and slightly on the grounds that it's so very neat, I went for a small one. I believe it has an 11" screen. It certainly packs away very neatly and is light and easy to transport (although for boating the iPad still wins hands down because of its great battery life and low charging demands).

However, I had reckoned without my aging eyesight. Working on the laptop at my desk (ok, dining table) with external keyboard and mouse, I found myself peering at the screen, or zooming in so much that I was constantly scrolling from one side of the screen to the other. I hadn't really wanted to get a monitor, because the current set up is very easy to pack away out of sight (in an old Extramural Studies bookbox) when I've finished working. But when I saw one in Oxfam for £9.99, I couldn't resist. It's a really big one too. Turns out it's about ten years old, but I plugged it into the computer, switched everything on, and wihtout any further action from me, it worked. I was very pleased. And now I can write this without straining my eyes and see the whole document in all its glory in front of me. Meanwhile the laptop itself stays in the box (open when in use) and my table top is less cluttered.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Bought for the boat 3

Whilst having my weekly browse in Oxfam, this lace caught my eye.

Then I realised that it was attached to a rather lovely linen pillowcase, complete with tapes under the lase to keep the pillow in. Perfect for the back cabin!

Wednesday 18 February 2015

Bought for the boat 2

On the boat, largely because of the relative hassle of boiling the kettle (and with the Origo, it is only relative) we do tend to make tea in a pot. The Bernard Hales Memorial Teapot, as it is ceremonially known, as although Bernard is still very much alive, the teapot always reminds us of him. I bought it for 50p at the HNBC Droitwich tat auction (to which Bernard contributed it), and it came with two small frying pans thrown in. One of the best 50ps I've ever spent (and I've spent a few).

The teapot is aluminium, so it's great for sitting on the stove. However, in the summer, in the hold, there is no stove, so we needed a tea cosy. We also needed a pot holder, for handling hot pots without setting fire to the tea towel. So here, along with a napkin as a bonus, is the answer to all our Chertsey kitchen problems.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Mystery teapot

Last weekend, Jim came up, and Adrian and Linda took us for lunch at the Broadfield Arms on Abbeydale Road, with the opportunity to peruse its junk shops beforehand.

One of the things we found - very cheaply! - was this teapot. It's massive, made of stoneware, and printed with the words 'MRS STEVENSON . ECKINGTON . 1914'. It's got a band of blue painted around its middle, embellished with small black transfer prints, including a bunch of grapes, and bordered with a simple impressed pattern.

I was drawn to it because of its obvious parallels with Measham ware - a gift or souvenir teapot personalised for the recipient. But more mysterious, is that I am certain I have seen something like it before, but can't for the life of me remember where. I've tried searching online, but nothing similar has come up.

So, does anyone know what this is, where it was made, etc. I wondered if it might be a local speciality, as Eckington is in Derbyshire, not far from here, and on the Chesterfield Canal. There are no maker's marks at all on the pot.

Monday 16 February 2015

Bought for the boat... 1

One good way of filling space with lots of relatively short posts, is to tell you about things I've bought lately. I will try to limit these to things with a vaguely boating theme. Mostly.

Currently, I only have about two yards of canal-related books, and this included just three of the David and Charles guides - the North West, the West Midlands and the East Midlands. So I was jolly chuffed to find the Trent and Mersey, in excellent condition, in the Oxfam shop for a reasonable (for them) £4.99.

I may even read it, as I suspect I might be seeing a fair bit of the Trent and Mersey this year.

Sunday 15 February 2015

The grit of not having an oyster... and a glass of white wine for the lady

 I spent a most enjoyable afternoon this weekend with Mike on Lady A. It wasn't what I'd planned to do. Back in December, a small group of old Birkbeck cronies, some of whom had moved on to other places, met up for lunch, and we agreed that we'd enjoyed it so much that we'd do it again in February. A date was set, and I dutifully purchased my advance train ticket. Then a couple of days beforehand, one of our number asked, was it really happening, only he'd have to leave at two (I was due to arrive at St Pancras at 1.30), then another said 'My fault! I was supposed to be organising it. But I have so much work to do I'd rather not now.' So, that could have been a waste of £64.

Fortunately, however, I'd already been trying to sort out meeting up with Mike (Mike, some of you will recall, sold me my first narrow boat, the gorgeous little Andante - TEN years ago! He also gave me my first ever narrow boat steering lesson, and we've kept in touch ever since, as he has made the move from web designer to trip boat supremo, and I from darling 32' R&D to brutal 72' H&W). It had looked a bit tricky, but suddenly all was possible. He was leaving City Road at two, having dropped off his morning's party, so we could meet up practically as soon as I got to London. Once on the train, I realised that I only know the way to City Road basin by canal, and as there's no towpath through Islington tunnel, that's not very helpful. So we agreed that he'd pick me up once through the tunnel and that's what happened.

Pretty soon we were at St Pancras lock, and Mike correctly intuited that I couldn't wait to get my hands on a windlass. The Camden locks were all against us so I got a fair bit of gate heaving practice. A steady chilly drizzle fell throughout, but I was enjoying myself much more than I think I would have done in a nice warm restaurant.

On returning to Lady A's mooring in  Little Venice, we repaired to Zizzi in Paddington Basin for a quick tea before I had to head back to St Pancras. Something happened there that I haven't experienced for a long time. The waiter came for our orders, and to drink, I asked for a small Peroni, while Mike ordered a large glass of white wine. On bringing the drinks, the waiter had great trouble comprehending that the beer was for me and the wine for Mike. The irony, of course, was that the wine probably had twice as much alcohol in it!

I had to give myself a seriously good kicking though - ever since I stopped working in London, this is the first time that I have returned without remembering to bring my Oyster card. Just having one is a sort of badge of honour. But I'd left it behind this time and (not, thankfully, having a contactless debit card) had to queue up with the tourists (not that thick on the ground on a wet February evening in Paddington) for a single ticket. £4.80! That'll teach me.

Still, I made it back to St Pancras in plenty of time and found that my train was one of those relatively old ones I like (someone tell me what they're called and just how old they are). It was a slow one though (Market Harborough, Alfreton, etc), and delayed to boot, but I was delighted on arriving in Sheffield to catch the penultimate 51 bus of the night, from whose empty top deck I could observe the scantily clad revellers on West Street.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Calling up ghosts

CRT's new 'Guidance for boaters without a home mooring' is causing a few comments. It's interesting to note the new terminology here - these are what were previously referred to ac 'continuous cruisers', and the perceived problem being addressed here is those boaters who are nominally continuous cruisers, and are licenced accordingly, but who don't actually fulfil the requirement of making a progressive journey around the system - 'bridgehoppers', or 'continuous moorers' in the pejorative parlance often employed.

I'm not saying that I have any sympathy for people who break the rules that they've willingly signed up to, but I do seem to have less steam coming out of my ears about it than many people. For some, it's just the thought that others are 'getting something for nothing' that is most objectionable, when they are paying for a mooring. Of course, when you pay for a mooring, you do get something for your money over and above what a continuous cruiser (genuine or otherwise) enjoys: a secure, guaranteed place to leave your boat, often with useful facilities like electricity, water and toilet emptying to hand. Continuous moorers are often lumped together with non-licence payers, but this initiative is aimed explicitly at those who have paid for a licence - maybe just the 'wrong' sort. So they are still paying for the use of the waterways, and it could be argued that, in some areas at least, they are causing less inconvenience to other boaters by staying in one place than they would if constantly on the move.

The situation is reputed to be particularly bad on the Kennet and Avon, which, to my shame, I haven't yet boated to, and London. Certainly, when I visited London this week, there were many, many more moored boats through Camden and towards Kings Cross - but this was in places where there had previously not been any moorings. I thought it was an improvement to see boats there, even if they are not always the prettiest and best maintained - they are often among the most interesting. It is bringing life to what was previously quite a sterile stretch of waterway, with its impenetrable concrete banks. Yes, I know it can cause problems when visiting boats, continuously cruising or on holiday, can't find anywhere to tie up. I know it's out of season, but as Neil on Herbie has noted, and I observed myself, visitor spaces were available in Paddington Basin. Perhaps one part of an answer is to gradually increase the number of such patrolled and controlled visitor places, while leaving the towpath more anarchic.

What bothers me slightly about the very popular crackdown on 'continuous moorers' is the inequity of it. You are only required to be making a continuous, progressive, journey around the system if you do not have a home mooring - as the wording of the new policy makes clear. If you do have a home mooring, there is no requirement that you spend a minimum amount of time on it. Subject to not overstaying on limited stay mooring, or returning within the time limit if there is one, or staying more than a fortnight on one bit of towpath, you can bridgehop as much as you like. So, the same behaviour is subject to different rules and sanctions based purely upon whether you can afford to pay for a home mooring that you might in fact never use. That looks like one rule for the rich, to me. If you pay for a mooring, then you get all the advantages of that mooring, and that should be sufficient compensation for your outlay, without expecting more flexible rules as well.

I can see this leading to a big increase in 'ghost moorings' - a nominal mooring that's very cheap, on the understanding that it'll never be used and might not even exist, on a waterway well out of CRT's purview.  I've a feeling that CRT might have begun to address one issue by opening a whole new can of worms.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

On the bottom

The pictures of a dewatered Grand Union at Braunston in this post of Neil's give me the excuse to recycle another little snippet...

The next morning we awoke at an angle. When you’re on a boat, and wake up to find that you either can’t get out of, or can’t stay in, bed, that your breakfast orange won’t stay on the table, and you’re sure you’re not drunk enough for the floor to be at that angle, it can mean different things – none particularly good, but some distinctly worse than others. For example, it can mean that your bilges are filling up with water, or, if you are on a tidal river, that the tide’s gone out and you’re hanging by the ropes you tied too tight. But if you’re on a canal, it’s most likely the least worst – but nonetheless ‘oh my god what a way to start the day’ eventuality: somehow or other, the water in the canal has disappeared overnight and your boat has nestled gently on the bottom. Most canals are saucer-like in profile, rather than being square troughs, and next to the bank will slope inwards, at an angle which is really quite gentle, but nonetheless inconvenient for a floor.

This tends to happen when you are tied up in a short pound. A pound is the stretch of canal between locks; it can be as short as two boats, or miles long; it’s still a pound (the same thing on a river is a reach, although river locks serve an almost entirely different function). On later canals, like the Grand Union, locks tend to be built in flights: many in quick succession with short pound in between, sometimes just long enough for two boats to pass. The biggest flight on the Grand Union is Hatton, near Warwick, with 21 locks stretching visibly and intimidatingly to the heavens, raising the canal there by 148 feet. There are also smaller flights either side of the Braunston Tunnel – why keep going up over the hill if you get to a point where you can go through it – seven locks at Buckby on the south side, and six at Braunston on the other.

We were tied up in the Braunston flight, below (if I've got myself correctly orientated, which unfortunately Wikipedia can't tell me) Nelson lock. The pounds here are relatively long – there are flights where you can’t stop in a pound at all – and another couple of boats were in the same predicament. There is a sliding scale of preferred explanations when something like this happens, and of preferred putative culprits. The first is vandals. Every boater loves to be able to attribute their inconvenience to deliberate malevolence, because it provides the best opportunities for feeling superior and for embarking upon a disquisition on the inadequacies of the education and/or criminal justice system. It’s pretty easy to deliberately empty a pound, if that is really the best entertainment you can think of. You do however need a windlass for opening the paddles at both ends of the lock, which makes it a less likely option for impulsive fun. The next best target for blame is the hire boater. Granted they have acted not out of evil, but stupidity, but that’s nearly as good. Novice boaters do sometimes do daft things – although experienced boaters are not immune from daft moments – and all it would have taken to drain this pound was to have left the paddles up or the gates open at one end of the lock, as the gates at the other leaked so much. Which leads us to the third recipient of boaters’ ire: Waterways; British Waterways, now the Canal and River Trust. If all else fails, it’s their fault for not maintaining the infrastructure properly and letting the gates leak.