... 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.

Friday 30 December 2016

Hints for Historic Boaters no. 453*

Choose a face flannel in a dark colour, preferably grey or black. A white one will only make you feel worried.
Even after washing it in Persil.

*not an actual number,

Thursday 29 December 2016

Off to the seaside

This morning we are setting off for Sussex to do the family Christmas stuff. I am of course taking the melodeon with me, to seek advice and guidance from some actual musicians. I can now play the melody of 'Hard Working Boater' all the way through, so I hope they will be suitably impressed.

I will not be taking my crochet, because I shall be coming back on the train, and, excitingly, the crochet is now at the stage of being joined together in ever larger squares. In fact, I have half a bedspread hung ober the back of the sofa already! I finished the seventy-second and last individual square on Christmas Day. But no photos now until it's finished!

Wednesday 28 December 2016

A new rivet for the collection

Well, I don't actually have a collection, but I could start one. In fact, I think this is my second (oh, apart from all the ones in Chertsey), so perhaps that does count as a collection now.
Damn, forgot the scale. The head is about 40mm diameter

Anyway, this one isn't from a boat. I found it whilst on a Boxing Day walk, and if, as I am pretty certain is the case, it fell directly from above onto the towpath, it is from the Wicker Viaduct (span 41), properly called the Sheffield Victoria Viaduct, and better known for the bulk of its construction, the Wicker Arches.

Constructed in 1848, the viaduct last carried passenger traffic in 1996 (and last carried mainline traffic, to the now defunct Victoria Station, in 1970) but still carries local freight. (info. source here)

Do you think I should report that rivets are dropping out of it?

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Hot dog

When we moved Chertsey at the beginning of December, we were worried about Ricky getting cold (in the summer we worry about him getting hot; he has neither fur not fat for insulation). Because he won't let us out of his sight, he can't just stay inside in the warm like a sensible dog.

So one of us has to sit on the back end with him and make sure he keeps his blanket on:

In the summer, it's a wet tea towel.

But after we got back to Alvecote last time, we met a very similar dog wearing a rather natty fleece jumper. I immediately enquired where he got it. The answer was Equafleece (the website is well worth a look, for all the canine garments you could possibly want to buy, and many you wouldn't.) I decided to get Ricky one for Christmas. As anything and everything is a surprise to Ricky, it needed to be a surprise to Jim as well. So I sent Sebastian a link to the detailed instructions on the website, and asked him to secretly measure the dog. Not too hard a task, you might think... It was only as I started to input the figures into the site's calculator that I noticed that according to him, Ricky's neck was bigger than his chest...

Eventually we must have got the right measurements, because here is Ricky in his new jumper:

He has been quite glad of it in the recent chilly wind.  Unlike a coat, he can lie down in it comfortably, so will be able to wear it night and day if we do more winter boating - and can even have a coat on top if it's really cold.

Monday 26 December 2016

Boxing Day

Hope everybody's having a splendid Christmas break. I think Jim and Ricky might be hoping for a bit of a break from my squeezing and squeaking...
Thank you for all your melodeon-related comments, questions and suggestions. In order...

Halfie... Can I play it? Well, it depends on what you mean by play. I have pleasantly surprised myself, not least by rediscovering that I can read music. Not necessarily quickly or fluently, but sufficiently to work things out, in conjunction with a button layout diagram from, and a tuner app to find the low B I didn't know I had. Last Tuesday, when I took delivery of it, I worked my way through the melody of 'Poor Old Horse' (which is only a couple of lines, and doesn't have a low B, at least in the version I was using). On Friday, just before Jim arrived, I found the B and then started work on 'Hard Working Boater'. I am currently three quarters of the way through the melody; I hope to have it all fairly solid by Friday when we are going to see Sebastian and Izzi, so that they can advise me about adding chords and/or basses. I did try to find a teacher, but the only local one I could get contact details for didn't answer my email. For now I think I'm fairly happy just familiarising myself with it and working out my own fingerings, although I will no doubt form some terrible habits.

So, Cath... Playgroup sounds good, and I look to be free that weekend - are you going?

Alan... It's a German made D/G Pokerwork. I bought it without seeing it in the flesh, let alone trying it (because what would have been the point when I have no experience and no idea what feels good to me; I just knew I wanted something reasonable quality that I wouldn't be ashamed to be seen with, and the sort of music I like to listen to), sort of on impulse, albeit an impulse that had been brewing for some time, and really fermenting since the summer. So far I like it a lot; can't resist keep picking it up for another little practice.

The final impusle came about because of Bluebird breaking down... Before setting off, I'd put together a collection of randomly selected CDs for the journey, but had only just got into the second one when Bluebird refused to start. The change car that I came back in (Uxbridge) doesn't have a CD player, but rather than put the CDs away when I came back, I left them out to work my way through the selection. Thus two weekends ago, coincidentally just before the Herbies posted this, I found myself rediscovering this track, which is my inspiration and my aspiration. (It's from the 2011 June Tabor album Ashore but is actually just Andy Cutting with Tim Harries on double bass).  At least should I ever get to the stage of attempting it, I have my double bass player already lined up.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas Box

I bought myself a Christmas present...

One that may be of particular interest to the Finchers and the Herbies...

Friday 23 December 2016

Elfin safety (and that of other Christmas workers)

I'm afraid that this is a repeat, from Warrior in 2009, but I just reread it and it still made me laugh, so whether or not you have seen it before, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks as before to John Sheridan.

The Rocking Song
Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir;
We will lend a coat of fur,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you,
We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

Fur is no longer appropriate wear for small infants, both due to risk of allergy to animal fur, and for ethical reasons. Therefore faux fur, a nice cellular blanket or perhaps micro-fleece material should be considered a suitable alternative.

Please note, only persons who have been subject to a Criminal Records Bureau check and have enhanced clearance will be permitted to rock baby Jesus. Persons must carry their CRB disclosure with them at all times and be prepared to provide three forms of identification before rocking commences.

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way

A risk assessment must be submitted before an open sleigh is considered safe for members of the public to travel on. The risk assessment must also consider whether it is appropriate to use only one horse for such a venture, particularly if passengers are of larger proportions. Please note, permission must be gained from landowners before entering their fields. To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not loud enough to be considered a noise nuisance.

While Shepherds Watched

While shepherds watched
Their flocks by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

The union of Shepherd's has complained that it breaches health and safety regulations to insist that shepherds watch their flocks without appropriate seating arrangements being provided, therefore benches, stools and orthopaedic chairs are now available. Shepherds have also requested that due to the inclement weather conditions at this time of year that they should watch their flocks via cctv cameras from centrally heated shepherd observation huts.
Please note, the angel of the lord is reminded that before shining his / her glory all around she / he must ascertain that all shepherds have been issued with glasses capable of filtering out the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and Glory.

Little Donkey

Little donkey, little donkey on the dusty road
Got to keep on plodding onwards with your precious load

The RSPCA have issued strict guidelines with regard to how heavy a load that a donkey of small stature is permitted to carry, also included in the guidelines is guidance regarding how often to feed the donkey and how many rest breaks are required over a four hour plodding period. Please note that due to the increased risk of pollution from the dusty road, Mary and Joseph are required to wear face masks to prevent inhalation of any airborne particles. The donkey has expressed his discomfort at being labelled 'little' and would prefer just to be simply referred to as Mr. Donkey. To comment upon his height or lack thereof may be considered an infringement of his equine* rights.

*I have pointed out to the relevant authorities that in fact Mr. Donkey is not eligible, as a donkey, to file a complaint under the equine rights policy, but should instead couch his claim in terms of asinine rights, which are clearly far more appropriate to his case.

We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Whilst the gift of gold is still considered acceptable - as it may be redeemed at a later date through such organisations as 'cash for gold' etc, gifts of frankincense and myrrh are not appropriate due to the potential risk of oils and fragrances causing allergic reactions. A suggested gift alternative would be to make a donation to a worthy cause in the recipients name or perhaps give a gift voucher.
We would not advise that the traversing kings rely on navigation by stars in order to reach their destinations and suggest the use of AA routefinder or satellite navigation, which will provide the quickest route and advice regarding fuel consumption. Please note as per the guidelines from the RSPCA for Mr Donkey, the camels carrying the three kings of Orient will require regular food and rest breaks. Facemasks for the three kings are also advisable due to the likelihood of dust from the camels hooves.

Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw him,
you would even say it glows.

You are advised that under the Equal Opportunities for All policy, it is inappropriate for persons to make comment with regard to the ruddiness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr R Reindeer from the Reindeer Games will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence. A full investigation will be implemented and sanctions - including suspension on full pay - will be considered whilst this investigation takes place.

Thursday 22 December 2016

A Sheffield scene

The fact that I went without posting for a while means that there are some nice photos sitting on my phone that I took with the intention of sharing, and then didn't get round to. This is partly exacerbated by the fact that the easiest way to get them from iPhone to computer seems to be to email them to myself, but every time I try to send an email from the phone, it sits in the outbox until I go into settings and turn the mail account off and then on again.

Anyway, here is a rather strikling photo of a bit of an old building on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, back on October 8th.

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Hours of daylight

Not many, today, of course - seven hours and twenty-nine minutes here in Sheffield. Amazingly, a full twenty-eight minutes more down on the Sussex coast. What I've given up to come here!

I know this because of this rather nifty site which not only tells you the times of sunrise and sunset, and the hours of daylight on any given day in any place you care to mention, but represents it in lovely graphic form as well. It even accommodates the clocks changing. You may just need to scroll up to the top to reset it from Ghent to your home town or place of interest.

What it tells me, scrolling down, is that in the run up to Braunston, there will be a daily sixteen and three quarter hours of daylight (and that's not counting the dawn and twilight). Enough time to get from Alvecote to Braunston. Non-stop. I want to.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

100 up?

Time once again for me to obsess about my blogging record. With just one post in November and two in October the blog was starting to look a bit moribund again - it was being mentioned by Diamond Geezer that spurred me on to make more of an effort. Even so, with only two posts last January, one in each of February and March, and none at all in May, it looked as if 2016 would turn out to be a lean year.  However, a flurry of posts about our fantastic summer trip in July and August, and then some more in August and September looking back, with photos, have unexpectedly brought the total up to ninety (counting this one) for the year so far. That's already ahead of both 2015 - which was truly pathetic, at forty four - and 2014 (79). It's not beyond the realms of possibility that I might just squeak into treble figures for the first time since 2013. Even if I don't find quite enough to say for that, at least we're on an upward trajectory again. Hooray - long may it last!

Monday 19 December 2016

On a small southern river

Newhaven is a sad, downtrodden little town, with many sad, downtrodden people (although not so many, nor so downtrodden, as Walsall).

But whenever I visit, I am reminded that it also has the beach, the cliffs, and the river, and these are things of beauty, in their small unassuming way. Last time I was down, I took some photos of the river in the early morning sun.
 The Grade II listed former marine workshops, long empty, are now a University Technical College. The building has won awards, but sadly the construction photo gallery no longer seems to be available. However, there are these on the photographer's website.

 In the middle of the photo above, you can just see the semi-famous cormorant sculpture. Originally I think this was made of recycled tyres, but a new, metal, one was installed in 2012. There's a video about it here. As I may have mentioned previously, when I was on the Town Council, we had the task of naming a new block of flats built on the quayside. Someone suggested Cormorant Quays, in honour of the large seabirds that could sometimes be seen there. Murmurs of approval, then the local naturalist spoke up: 'Those aren't actually cormorants; they're black shags.' So I suggested we name the new block Black Shag Buildings.  They are now called Christchurch Court. I don't know why.
And here, looking upriver, you can see the swing bridge. This one was built in 1974, and extensively refurbished in 2015. However, from what I hear from No. 1 Son it still seems to be having problems. The 1974 bridge replaced an earlier one which also carried the gas main to the East Side of the river - this had to be disconnected whenever the bridge was opened. There are some fabulous old pictures here of the bridge and the harbour.

Sunday 18 December 2016

None shall pass

I paid Chertsey's licence yesterday. It's been due in December ever since we bought Bakewell, and someone at CRT did some very clever calculations to bring the licensing dates of the two boats into alignment. January 1st is a handy time to have a new licence start should I ever feel the need to buy a Gold licence, which always run from January 1st. Although having - fabulously - done (ok, some of)  the Thames last year, that won't be for a while yet. The downside, of course, is laying one's hands on nine hundred quid in the run up to the festive season, when there are so many competing demands on one's bank account (of which more, perhaps, later).

That's not what I'm writing to complain about though. (Of course I'm complaining about something!). No, I had to set up my online account with CRT in order to be able to pay on a Saturday (i.e. before I forgot, with the associated risk of losing the prompt payment discount). This looked like a simple and user-friendly process, but this was an illusion that took me round in ever decreasing circles for a while, before I finally got to the point of setting a password. CRT demands that your password contain upper case letters, lower case letters, numbers and at least one 'special character'. Therefore none of my existing ones would do, meaning that I now have another (long, complicated) one to remember - or, of course, write down. An impressive level of security just to stop anyone else paying my licence for me.

The fun didn't end there. I needed to complete a new licensing form because of having changed moorings. It asked for my date of birth. This wasn't marked with the red 'mandatory field' asterisk, but the form still wouldn't let me proceed until I'd completed it. I lied, of course (I'm not being that free with my identifying information on the internet). Which means there's yet another thing to remember. Why do they want to know anyway?

Friday 16 December 2016

The fleet

For the last couple of weeks I've had a 'change car' as poor old Bluebird conked out en route to Sussex suffering from - we think - ignition module trouble. It was only after I Googled 'what does a ballast resistor do?' that I realised it had been showing the symptoms of being on the way out for weeks, had I but recognised them. As I not only had to get back to Sheffield, but the following week needed to do the car shuffle for getting Chertsey back to Alvecote, I came back in our newest acquisition. And I like it very much indeed.

On the way I set to recalling all the Volvos we've had since I fell in love with the first one on a local forecourt in 1999, and I came up with a total of eleven. They have always had names, which may seem daft, but of the current four, three are the same colour and two of those are the same model, so it does help.
The current fleet - from the foreground: Botterham, Sheffield, Bluebird, Uxbridge

I am a bit hazy on some of the technical details and specs, but Jim will no doubt be along to fill in the gaps. So here is the fleet list:

1. Trusty Volvo
Red, 240 saloon, 2.3 auto, C reg. £450 I think. 1999-c.2004. Scrapped; rotten underneath.

2. Rusty Volvo
Blue, 240 saloon, 2.3 manual. D-ish? Given to Jim by now long lost friends, one of whom drove it like a lunatic. 2000 ish; scrapped.

3. Thrusty Volvo
Silver, 960 estate. Turbo. Jersey registered, no idea what year. Also given by same people, who also drove it like a lunatic, with no water in it, for months. Eventually it succumbed.

Then there was also Crusty Volvo, which wasn't actually a Volvo at all, but a courtesy title for the 1974 Bedford CF Dormobile.

4. Snowball
White, 740 estate, H reg. One of the few we sold on. A bit too technically advanced for our liking.

5. Silver (aka The Flying Brick)
Silver, 240 estate, 2.3 manual. F reg, perhaps? Quite tatty looking but didn't half go. Sprung a water leak on the way to Stretton one time and ended up in Keith's scrap skip.

6. Bluebird
Blue, 240 saloon, 2.0 auto. F reg. 2005-present. Cost me £200. I miss the .3 though.

7. Fang
Dark grey, 240 estate. F reg. Ran this one for quite a while. Also ended up in Keith's skip I think; crankcase oil seal.

8. Tufty
Dark (non metallic) blue, 240 estate. A fairly basic model which we actually bought for its new headlights. Ran it for a bit but scrapped it when the heater stopped working.

9. Botterham
Blue, 740 Facelift estate, manual. H reg? 2012 - present

10. Sheffield
Red, 240 estate, 2.3 (I put manual but actually I think it's auto? Can't remember). K reg. 2014  - present

11. Uxbridge
Blue, 740 Facelift estate, auto. H reg. 2016 - present. And I might not give it back.

You'll see that we started with a series of rhyming names, then moved on to colour based ones. Tufty and Fang's names were derived from their registration numbers, and since the fortuitous find at Botterham, we've just called them after wherever they came from.

I hope I haven't made too many errors - there are bound to be some. I'm sure Jim and Halfie won't hesitate to correct them and fill in the gaps.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

With relish

More than a year before I moved to Sheffield, Adrian and Linda, via the medium of Linda's splendid meat and potato pie and mushy peas, introduced me to Henderson's Relish. Sadly Blogpress has eaten my accompanying photos, so the moment is no longer pictorially commemorated. Later, when I moved to Sheffield, they gave me a bottle as a welcome gift. It was a 2012 commemorative Jessica Ennis gold label bottle, and I haven't finished it yet - I'm an appreciative, rather than a prolific, user. I have however bought numerous bottles over the years and there are few people who know me who haven't had the spicy fluid pressed upon them at some time.

Until 2013, Henderson's Relish was still produced in a little factory in the centre of Sheffield - pretty much opposite my office. A little, rather run down looking factory; an old industrial building clinging on in the midst of the University's ever-expanding, ever-larger, estate and for years, refusing to sell to the University even as it surrounded them.

This changed after the death of the long-time managing director in 2013, and production was finally moved out to a modern plant, still in Sheffield, but no longer in the heart of the city. And, inevitably, the University acquired the site, with a commitment to keep and restore the building. For a while, we thought they might convert it to offices - I would so have loved to have that address! But no, it seems that they plan to make it into a pub.
borrowed from WhatPub, I thought they wouldn't mind
The University - perhaps unusually - already owns a pub, the originally titled University Arms. This is a bit ersatz inside, but serves a good selection of beer, and some rather workaday food, in a nice Victorian (at a guess; it might be later) red brick building. This now probably will be knocked down, which is a bit sad. Anyway, as the 'campus master plan' proceeds apace, I thought it would be wise to grab a couple of pictures of the Henderson's works, before they get all glitzed up into a drinking shop that I bet you money will be called 'Hendo's'

Monday 12 December 2016

Crocheting in the pub

An evening in the pub takes on a whole new purpose when you're historic boating in December - it's not for socialising, nor for getting drunk, but for for spanning the hours between dusk and bedtime with heat and light, and, if you're lucky, a comfy chair. The Greyhound thus established as my temporary living room, it seemed perfectly appropriate to to get out my crochet. This had the added advantage for me, if not for the landlord, of giving me something to do with my hands and thus drink less over the course of the evening than if I had just been chatting. I got two more squares finished in the Greyhound on Friday night, and a further two in the Barlow on the Saturday. We did also eat in both establishments. The Greyhound is usually good, but I can't recommend the gammon steak with melted brie and sweet chilli sauce - it was about as good as, in retrospect, it sounds, and left me feeling decidedly delicate the next day (and no, it wasn't the beer). The Cumberland pie in the Barlow, on the other hand, was divine. I had it on Saturday night, and Jim then had one for Sunday dinner, while I had the equally good roast beef, to set us up for our respective journeys home.

I have now completed fifty eight of the requisite seventy two squares, and soon will have to address the thorny question of how they are to be joined together.

Sunday 11 December 2016

Nice with no ice

The canal was frozen when I arrived at Braunston on Thursday morning; it froze again on Saturday night as we sat on the towpath at Alvecote. But inbetween, although chilly, there was no more ice. Even better, there was no wind, and no rain - so, for the time of year, pretty ideal boating conditions once again. This time I had Jim with me, as it didn't feel quite the right time to try tackling downhill locks single handed for the first time, and with Jim, of course, comes Ricky.

Jim could cope with the cold; I was more worried about his uninsulated companion. However, he managed fine, with a little help from whichever of us was dogsitting at the time.
He had his winter coat on underneath too

I went to Braunston first, lit the fire and (with Pete's help, sweet talking no longer working and my arms being slightly too short effectively to operate the start button and the decompressor silmultaneously; must do something about that) got the engine fired up. The plan had been to move the boat onto the towpath but we decided it would be easier to load luggage on Pete's mooring, moving across only to load man and dog. Once the fire was going and the cabin tidied, and Pete paid for his fabulous work, I drove over to Alvecote to meet Jim. It took longer than I'd expected - I don't know why, I've done it often enough - and we then had to wait a while for our lunch there. So it was later than I'd envisaged when we set off back to Braunston. Jim then got into an argument with the satnav that resulted in our travelling from Alvecote to Braunston via central Coventry, which was interesting. When we arrived, Ryan on Southern Cross was just about to tie up, and he came bearing cake, so we stopped for a cup of tea before finally departing. In one final communication breakdown, I winded the boat and got onto the Midland Chandler's mooring expecting Jim and Ricky to embark there, only to discover that they'd gone all the way round to the towpath, so a bit more reversing and wriggling was required before we finally set off with about an hour of daylight to spare.

There was still ice on the canal but it was already broken; by the morning it was almost entirely gone. On Friday we were at Hawkesbury by about three, and I made the executive decision to stop there and take advantage of the pub's light and heat for the hours between dusk and bedtime. This meant a bit more of a rush to get to Alvecote by Saturday night, but despite slow going through Atherstone we made it in time to stop on the towpath if not actually get into the marina. In fact this had always been my plan, as unloading the boat, clothing it up, and getting Ricky off would have been nigh on impossible once on the cheap and cheerful historic mooring behind the pub. As it turned out, there were four other boats there already, meaning Chertsey is once again adjacent to the slipway, but the boarding plank had by this stage metamorphosed back into a top plank, so the only way off was to climb across four joshers (Greyhound, Jaguar, Northolt and France, in case you were wondering. And not all facing the same way) Which I am getting quite good at, but Ricky isn't.

Saturday 10 December 2016

On the Turn

Before leaving Braunston, I took advantage of being on the offside bank to take a few pictures of an icy blue Braunston Turn.

I believe the scene is now subtly different...

Friday 9 December 2016

Stepping up

Last weekend (well, starting on Thursday) Jim and I met at Alvecote for lunch, and then, leaving one car there, set off in the other to Braunston to collect Chertsey from Pete Boyce's.

You may recall that my initial inspiration, as we descended the GU with Renfrew, was to ask Pete to make a new step, closely followed by the idea of refitting the table cupboard. I then thought it would be good to have a nice piece of matching wood for the lower step, and finally, when I showed Pete the cabin, he suggested  a bit of trim and a fiddle rail to finish off the space above the table cupboard, which I did want to keep open.
Well, he had done me proud, as always (i.e. as with the front cant and breastpiece, gunnels, handrails and top planks, and not forgetting the cloths which despite their not being made of wood, he designed and sourced).

Here is my new steering step in gorgeous oak:
Sadly now already betrodden with mud and smuts. Just click to enlarge it and see that lovely chamfer.

Here is the lower step:
which no longer wobbles, thanks to Pete extending the bracket on which it sits.

And here is the table cupboard's newly neatened surroundings.
One of next year's must-do jobs is to paint the back cabin properly and finally.

Many thanks to Pete - if you need any woodwork done, I can't recommend him too highly.

PS. These are all Pete's photos too; of course I forgot to take any before actually treading all over it.

Thursday 8 December 2016

Mentioned in dispatches

This blog has been mentioned on Diamond Geezer! - as, I think, the 27th most prolific source of traffic to his blog. Much of which of course might be me clicking through every day, and which might also be you clicking through to read his usually interesting and always well-written posts.

DG sets the standard - in terms of both quantity and quality - that I aspire to, and give up in despair at how far I fall short of it.

Ah well, let's have another try, eh?

Tuesday 1 November 2016

All by myself

I very briefly single-handed Chertsey a few years ago when Jim bought a Volvo at Botterham Lock on the S&W and drove it back to Stretton while I brought the boat. I did, however, have the back up of Adrian and Linda on Warrior, whom we were travelling with at the time, had I needed it. I did make a splendid turn into Autherley Junction, I recall, and there may even have been one or two people looking.

Nonetheless, it was with some excitement that I hatched a plan for a proper solo journey, back at the end of the summer trip. As we shared locks with Renfrew, I was suddenly inspired to ask Pete if he would make me a new steering step. When I got Chertsey, it had a nice solid wood step in, I think, elm, which extended as a shelf behind the stove. However, in the process of fitting the new Epping it was - ahem - damaged/adapted, and I was never happy with it after, so for the past five or six years I have been making do with a piece of rough wood with some lino stuck on the top. Then it occurred to me that I could get Pete to refit the table cupboard too, ooh, and maybe a new lower step (I don't have a coal box, just a plank between two brackets, which works well for me).

Pete made and fitted Chertsey's new front cant and breastpiece, gunnelshandrails and back end beamtop planks and cloths, and I have been extremely impressed with his work so once I'd had the idea there was no hesitating. I knew that if I was ever to start single-handing, there would be no better journey to begin with than Alvecote to Braunston: a familiar run, fourteen nice easy locks (yes, plus the stoplock) and all uphill, so I determined there and then to do it. This was back in early August, and the end of October, when Pete could fit it in, seemed an awfully long time away, and my biggest concern was that the weather would be cold and wet and, worst of all, windy. My second biggest concern was whether the engine would start for me, especially if it was cold.

I set off to Alvecote on Friday, arriving around lunchtime. First I lit the stove, then I set about clearing out the back cabin, taking down all the plates, lace, curtains and other fripperies, because at some point soon we are going to properly, finally, paint the back cabin. I also - after some thought - took down the cat containment partition.  I was in two minds beforehand as it made a handy bulkhead for hanging things on, and having the bed enclosed was quite nice, but it did make it difficult to impossible to slide around the table cupboard when it was open. Having taken it out I was pleased with the more open look.

On Saturday morning I got of to a slowish start, finally leaving at ten. I needn't have worried about the engine - I talked sweetly to it, attended to all its little needs, and it started FIRST TIME which hardly ever happens. The trouble is that having repeated this feat three times now, I will always have to talk to the engine before starting it (and thanking it afterwards, of course). I backed all the way across the marina (I had backed in following a brief trip the other week with some work friends, but ended up turning round and eventually going in front first after all) then headed out onto the Coventry Canal. I might as well say at this point (non-spoiler alert) that there were no disasters whatsoever on this trip. The weather was damp and mild and there was hardly anyone else around; conditions were pretty much perfect. Every time I went under a tree, the exhaust dislodged great clouds of leaves like confetti. The boat was soon covered with them. I made myself some sandwiches before I set off; I had the kettle within reach on the stove and teabags and milk to hand. It all felt pretty idyllic - I could not have imagined that even better was yet to come - but that's for another day.

It was about lunchtime when I arrived at the bottom of Atherstone locks (foolishly, I have left the comprehensive log on the boat). Of the fifteen locks on the trip, all but two were against me - one in the middle of Atherstone, where I met a single hander coming the other way, and one at Hillmorton. But it was no extra trouble really.  Everyone has their own technique for single handing locks, although with a big Woolwich you don't get many options. What I did was to go in slowly and out of gear and step off as I passed the appropriate point, taking the back end line with me. The rope is primarily because of the times the boat starts to drift back out of the lock, usually once I've got one of the gates shut. But having taken it I also used it to strap the boat in, meaning no bumps! The Atherstone locks are lovely and gentle, no banging about even when you open the paddles all at once, so that's what I did. The other thing to look out for here is the front fender going under the handrail, which it will do on nearly all of these locks, so I always stood by holding the fore end rope to hold it away. At Hillmorton, I noticed, the opposite happened and the boat drifted to the back of the locks as they filled. Where the locks are close enough together I'd open the top gate, then go and get the next one ready, then come back and shut it once in the next one up. I also had some success stopping with the stern end in the mouth of the lock and using the stern end line to make sure it didnt run away while I shut the gate. Which I was very good about doing.  So, I did eight locks on my own in this fashion, and then noticed that someone had caught up with me. But they had a boatload of Boy Scouts behind them, so they commandeered a couple to come and help me. This was actually quite welcome as the top two locks have quite a gap to step across to get off at the bottom. I was also able to practice being pleasant to people, and I gave them a big bag of popcorn which we'd bought in the summer and never quite felt like eating. In all it took me three hours and twenty minutes to do the Atherstone locks - probably about twice as long as with a crew - but I was very pleased that it had all gone so smoothly. I didn't carry on much further, and stopped for the night on the outskirts of Mancetter.

The next morning, Sunday, I left at eight - that's Greenwich Mean Time; back on Real Time, hooray!! The weather was similar to Saturday and I just kept chugging on, quite slowly on the shallow Cov. At some point the boat that was behind me at the locks caught me up, and I let them by - when you're on your own it's not always convenient having another boat right behind you as sometimes on a nice straight bit you want to slow right down and quickly nip into the back cabin to tend the fire or something. I got to Hawkesbury around lunchtime, made an average turn (touched the bank gently but didn't get tangled in the bridgehole, and bonus marks for there being a day boat moored in front of the pub). Passed the boat I'd let by, who had stopped for lunch, and just kept on going. With being back on Real Time the clock no longer lied about the fact that the light started fading around four. By the time I got to the swing bridge at Brinklow, Black Sheep had caught me up again, and we both stopped around four thirty, just before the cuttings start. I chatted with him for a while, and then it was really dark, so I went back, cooked some tea on the stove, ate, washed, and went to bed at seven! I fell asleep too, although I did wake up between midnight and three am, which was just as well for the stove.

I was up again at six thirty and ready to go again at eight. Monday morning was misty with the sun big and white behind the cloud - a truly beautiful morning. Again I hardly met anyone. By lunchtime the mist was clearing and by the time I got to Hillmorton the sun was so hot I stripped down to a single t-shirt. Hillmorton was a pleasure, with one boat coming the other way but other than that completely deserted. And so on I went, on the final stretch now and with a lot more water underneath the boat than on the Cov I could wind it up a bit. At one point I saw a big Woolwich coming the other way, and sure enough it was Aldgate. I'd hoped to catch Nick at Hillmorton, because I had some curtains to give him (arranged at the Alvecote do at the end of August). I swiftly dipped down into the cabin and retrieved the bag from the side bed. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to hand it to him, and made a split second decision to throw it into his hold instead, but did it left handed and a bit halfheartedly, so it bounced on the gunnel before falling... on the inside. And that was the nearest I came to a disaster all trip.

I am sorry there is only one photo of the whole trip

The sun beat down as I wound the last few miles to Braunston, and long strings of spider silk floated across the canal and trailed from the boat, which was covered in leaves, and it was all magical, and perfect. I got to Braunston Turn at ten to three and tied up next to Rat (so I can be the target for the hire boats coming out of the Turn for the next few weeks). Pete made me a cup of tea and showed me the work he's doing on Clent and James Loader, as well as some very large pieces of oak, then we went and talked about the work he's going to do on Chertsey. I had a final tidy up then we went and had a late lunch/early tea in the Boat House, and Pete then very kindly gave me a lift all the way back to Alvecote. I had a fantastic run back to Sheffield, and thus ended an utterly perfect boating weekend.

Saturday 8 October 2016

Resurrecting the Town Class Sticker Album

More recent readers may not know about the Town Class Sticker Album - my repository, begun more than six years ago, for collecting photos of all the GU 'Town Class' motor boats.

It fell into disuse for a long time because I somehow came to believe that I had forgotten the password for it. But it's on the same account as this blog! So I am a fool. Glancing down it, there are photos of boats that I haven't seen for years (so lucky I grabbed them when I did) and so many missing ones that I could so easily have added - Aber, Alton, Aldgate, Banstead, Birmingham, Letchworth, Nuneaton, Renfrew... all of which I've seen up close in the past year; some of which I do have photos of. Then there are others where I could add more recent photos.

What sent me back to it today was a most unexpected find - well, I certainly didn't expect to find a large Northwich on the Sheffield and Tinsley Canal, but coming back from doing the Five Weirs Walk this afternoon, there it was - Naburn. Cut down a bit, of course, and apparently still a BW CRT workboat.

I shall now gradually set about tracking down photos taken in the last few years and uploading them to the album, and then we'll have a better idea of how many I've still to see.

Monday 3 October 2016

Feeling detached

I finally got around to it! Having boated (in Warrior) all the way up the Chesterfield Canal from West Stockwith to Kiveton Park, and in Chertsey as far as Morse Lock, on Sunday we finally took a trip on the detached part of the canal, from Chesterfield itself.

It was a two hour trip - an hour out and an hour back - taking in three locks, on the Chesterfield Canal Trust's new trip boat John Varley II.

The section of the canal we travelled was largely rural, and to be honest, fairly devoid of any interest other than the fact of its restoration - but that is pretty amazing. It was very pleasant, particularly as we were two of only four passengers, the others being a very knowledgeable man and his grandson. Our numbers were equalled by those of the crew - a steerer,  a hostess and two lockpeople, one of whom was ninety. The volunteers seem to work incredibly hard, equivalent to a full time job in some cases.

My photos are rather disappointing - I put the longer lens on this time and a lot of them are a bit shaky. But here is a small taste.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Holiday cakes

It's a bit of a tradition in our office to bring back edible treats from one's holiday. This we have enjoyed, this year, salted liquorice from Denmark, 'wine biscuits' from Greece, chocolately Frenck biscuits and a variety of fudge and shortbread from those holidaying in the UK.

I, on the other hand, would normally bring back pork scratchings (not universally popular) or Staffordshire oatcakes which, with the best will in the world, unless expertly handled and filled with something greasy and tasty, bear too close a resemblance to damp cardboard to really be considered a treat. But at least the Black Country has regional delicacies. I was completely stumped as to what I could possibly supply that would be redolent of Woking.

A quick Google, spreading the net a little wider to encompass the whole of Surrey, however, provided inspiration, in the form of Maids of Honour, also known as Richmond Maids of Honour, reputedly enjoyed by Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn at Richmond Palace and Hampton Court. Well, we boated past Hampton Court, and here we are going under Richmond Bridge, 
Photo: Pete Boyce
so that is the treat I am taking in tomorrow to help keep people's strength up as the new cohort of students arrives.

There are lots of different recipes (and different stories) but I plumped for this one from Clarissa Dickson Wright, although I used shredless marmalade as I couldn't get quince jelly. The pastry is absolutely sublime - I shall be using it for my mince pies this year. Now all I have to do is get them to the office without crumbling.

Thursday 15 September 2016

Crochet progress

Having successfully managed something approximating to a square with one colour, chunky wool and a big hook, I went out and bought some DK in three different coulors, and settled down with a 4mm hook. So far I have made three tri-coloured squares, each neater - but also smaller - than the last. That's the first one at the top, the second on the left and the last on the right, but the perspective's a bit squiffy. If I can stop the increasing tension here, that will be perfect, as the last square is bang on 6". That means I will need 72 of them to make a blanked to cover the top of the crossbed (or go under the mattress). The current plan is to stick with just these two designs of square, and join them with cream, although that might alter.

So, crochet away!

Monday 12 September 2016

A weekend in Woking

Here are a few photos to give an impression of the Woking gathering

A long plank was vital...
Handrails optional..

Sunday 11 September 2016



After decades of failure and frustration, I can crochet.

With the invaluable help of How to Crochet: A Complete Guide for Absolute Beginners by Alison McNicol, the encouragement of Cath Fincher, and a great deal of brow-furrowing and trial and error.

My project this winter is a cross bed blanket. I feel I am now sufficiently competent that I can go and buy the wool.

Saturday 10 September 2016


And how.

One of the high spots of the rally weekend - certainly judging by the number of photographers present - was the loading of a considerable quantity (my memory for figures lets me down here as usual but it was somewhere between four and eight tons) of timber into Renfrew. And not the sort of timber you get in Travis Perkins; no this was entire oak trees, cut into 2, 3 and 4 inch thick planks.

Pete, seen here inspecting - or possibly simply appreciating - his purchases, is in the process of restoring, among other wooden narrow boats, Lucy. Lucy was the last boat built by Nursers at Braunston, for Barlows. Lucy was sold on to Blue Line in the 1960s and was paired with Renfrew, and they were on the 'Jam 'Ole' - generally recognised as being the very last regular long distance carrying contract, which ended in 1970. The wood will be seasoned for a couple of years before being used - but the goal is to have Lucy ready for the fiftieth Jam 'Ole anniversary.

Fittingly, the loading took place at the site of a former timber wharf, although the consignment arrived by lorry to what was now a towpathside playground. Very impressively, the hiab was operated via a wireless remote control unit worn over the driver's shoulder - you can just see it here - he's the (terribly young looking) chap on the right.
Pete had to do endless risk assessments etc. before the council would let him load there, hence the hard hats and hi-vis jackets. There was also miles of plastic tape keeping us at a safe distance. Meanwhile the hiab operator and his helpers didn't have to bother with any of that.

Andrew from the Narrow Boat Trust made this video of the operation:

While this was going on - which was on the Saturday morning - Sue from HNBC must have been doing her rounds of the boats at the rally site, because although there's an article with photos about the loading, Renfrew wasn't on the list of those boats present.

Once all the planks were in, Renfrew's crossplanks and chains were replaced, leading a passer by to ask, a few days later, how the timber had been got underneath them. He almost convinced himself that it had.

Friday 9 September 2016

The Patent Droitwich Funnel

Or, Jim's moment of glory.

Back in 2012, when HNBC had its Easter gathering at Droitwich, we (for Jim and I were both on the committee at the time) had to make a number of arrangements, including providing elsan emptying facilities. So a holding tank was ordered and set up. However, it was found that the hole in the top of the tank was rather small, and the top of the tank itself a bit high off the ground, to make the task of emptying one's receptacle easy or convenient - especially for those who favour the more traditional design of engine 'ole facility. Jim's contribution - welcomed by a grateful multitude - was to find a traffic cone and cut the top end off to make a giant funnel. A ladder was also procured, and while emptying the bog was still quite difficult, it was no longer as risky.

Imagine my delight, then, to see the the Patent Droitwich Funnel was once again being deployed at Woking.

The appalling photo quality is because I took it on my phone. From a safe distance.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Gauging interest

On Friday August 5th we finally progressed onto the Basingstoke Canal. In this photo, taken by Jim of the Narrow Boat Trust, you can see the gauge that was used to ensure that boats would be able to get over the delicate wooden cill of the bottom lock.

It's simple and ingenious - sunk beneath the surface of the water is a metal frame, constructed to the same depth as the cill. The white floats support its top level with the water surface. The boat goes over the gauge, and if it's too deep, it will pull the floats down below the surface. As far as I know, all the boats which came through got over it successfully - although the NBT might have had to offload some coal first.

Volunteers from the Basingstoke Canal Society, working in conjunction with the Basingstoke Canal Authority, organised things and helped us up the first lock. We then had another five locks to ascend, in partnership with another boat that we'd been paired up with. This would have been an easier task if not for the fact that the boats going up ahead of us were leaving the top gates open behind them. I was not impressed, but typically only moaned to third parties rather than the people actually responsible. I did hear one of them say later that they thought it would be OK because they thought the NBT were behind them!

To get to our festival mooring, first of all we had to go and wind. This proved interesting. The history of ownership of the Basingstoke Canal is to say the least interesting (as we discovered at a quite entertaining talk on the first evening) and there are parts of it where the BCA does not own the bank. This includes the winding hole. A housing estate has been built on the bank here and the developers have taken the gardens right up to the edge of the water, with residents' plant pots overhanging. In addition, the winding hole has not been very well designed, with the protective timber baulking at the wrong height.

Knowing nothing of this, we toodled up, and (fortunately) winded very slowly and gently, putting the stempost into the bank as usual, and managing for once to do it very gently. We noticed the residents watching us, and one of them was on the phone, but we thought nothing of it. Until, that it, we got back and tied up and found that the BCA had been phoning other boaters who had winded earlier, telling them that there had been complaints and that they had damaged the winding hole. This was roundly denied by all concerned. I also got a phone call, but I didn't answer it. There was an email waiting for me when I got home, but by then it had blown over. At the time though there was a lot of fuss, with the BCA wanting to give our details to the residents (we refused) and muttering about insurance claims and demanding apologies. I think they simply had never seen the winding hole used by a full length boat before.

The HNBC Chair, Phil, smoothed things over far more diplomatically than I would have done, and one upshot was that any boats using the winding hole in future had to deploy a man on the bank dangling a tyre on a rope to protect its delicate fabric from those nasty historic fore ends.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

This Wey Up

On the evening of Thursday August 6th, we decided that we had better set off and get a couple of locks under our belts as we needed to be on the Basingstoke at ten the next day.

So we had a pleasant couple of hours crusing up the river, then another half hour finding somewhere deep enough to tie up, ready for the final ascent in the morning.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Four navigation authorities in one day

I wonder how many routes make that possible - or even more. With planning and a longer day, we could probably have made it five on this trip.

On Monday August 1st, we left the bottom of Hanwell at eight o'clock. At twenty past nine we were on the visitor moorings at Brentford waiting for our passage through the lock. 
Jim and Pete took advantage of this to go off and empty the toilets, while I very nearly managed to lock myself in the facilities block.

At ten thirty we were through the gauging lock...

And at quarter to one we left CRT waters and were on the Port of London Authority tidal Thames.

Through Richmond bridge and over the weir
We arrived at Teddington around two,

and our hosts were then the Environment Agency.

We made it to Weybridge dead on half past five, 
in time for the last locking up onto the Wey, and tied up on National Trust water at six o'clock.

A few more hours would have taken us to the Basingstoke Canal and a fifth navigation authority, but for us that had to wait a few more days.

Can anyone suggest other trips taking in as many or more different navigation authorities in a space of, say, twelve hours?