... 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.

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?

Monday 5 September 2016

Unicorns (continued)

And I wept for the wild and dirty world
To which this beauty now was lost
And cursed the hungry mind of man
That feeds the future at such cost

Bill Caddick, 'Unicorns' (2002)

It does call to mind both Rolt and Blagrove, doesn't it.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Breasting up

First some gratuitous photos of two Grand Union boats going breasted up into a Grand Union lock.

This was Seabrook bottom lock, and clearly we were breasted up for the flight of three. Often we did this just because it made it easier to position the boats in the lock, rather than one coming in first and trying to stay against the side while the other one came in, but in this case I'd clearly also got off to do some work. This was July 29th, our first full day of travelling with Renfrew and I am amazed, going back and counting, to see that we did twenty-six locks that day. I know that's not necessarily a vast number, but the seventeen narrow ones we did on our final day with Renfrew felt like a lot more (especially to Jim, I suspect). But then, two boats and four people in a big lock is less work than one boat with two people in a small one, because you have a spare person, and company.

We did quite a lot of breasting up and singling out over the course of the trip. We took the boats up Marsworth together very successfully, with me setting ahead; we tried the same thing less successfully coming down Hanwell.  Once again the boats were tied together with Pete steering, Jim and Irene worked the locks, and I went ahead to get them ready. I was nearly at the bottom of the flight when I noticed there was a lot of water coming down. I wondered whether I should go and investigate but didn't want to be running backwards and forwards so finished my task and got the last lock ready before turning back.  It transpired that one of the gates hadn't opened completely and the boats had got stuck on the way out. An attempt to flush them out - which accounted for the water - had only succeeded in lifting them up to stick higher, tipped in towards each other. Somehow - involving Pete having a self taught crash course in Chertsey's controls - by dint of serious reversing of both boats they were pulled back into the lock, and I arrived just in time to see them starting to come out singly while Irene trudged off up the flight to replace the water in the pound above. So it wasn't all plain sailing, even on the GU.

We did a fair bit of breasting up on the Thames as well, on our way back. Often coming to a lock it would have been greedy to hog 144' of landing stage so we tended to tie up to each other, and then it was easiest to go into the lock together and only have one set of ropes to worry about. Here we are doing that at Chertsey (I don't think I took photos at any other Thames locks).
Although we parted company with Renfrew on arrival at Weybridge as they were booked up the Basingstoke on the Tuesday, and us not until the Friday, by a fortuitous quirk of organisational breakdown, we ended up tied next to them for the duration of the festival. Thus when we finally parted company over a week later it felt quite odd to be without our (non identical) twin.

Incidentally, having finished Bread Upon The Waters last night,  I have spent a lot of today reading The Quiet Waters By. At the same time, listening to June Tabor singing 'Unicorns' had me in unexpected tears - common themes of elegy and loss and yearning - which were not just for the loss of the distant (to me) past which I will never know; nor just that of the author of those books whose young self springs so vividly from the pages, but also for the much more recent past, which is no more capable of being recaptured than that of fifty years ago, for the end of the summer, and some of the best boating I have known.

Saturday 3 September 2016


Having sorted the photographs out, I moved on to cataloguing the rest of my accumulated Chertsey paraphernalia; a long overdue task.

I now have two lever arch files, each with its contents safely stored and ordered in plastic wallets - one is of Chertsey's history prior to my ownership, including copies (and originals where I have them) of all the photos, along with records of maintenance, work done and major purchases; the second is a record of trips made and events attended, including copies of the log and souvenirs like rally programmes and licences. I was quite surprised to be reminded of just how much boating we did in some previous years, especially as Chertsey was nowhere near as commodious then as she has since become.

Additionally, I still worry about Google not paying their electricity bill - or, it occurred to me suddenly the other morning, taking it into their little corporate heads to start charging for their services - so I investigated the possibilities of turning the blog into PDFs that I could keep and even print. I found BlogBooker which seems to do the job very well, and this helpful guide to using it. With the free version you can only do four years worth of blog every six months, but I'll take the chance on Google lasting that long. I've now got PDFs of 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. In the spring I'll do the rest. I would like to get round to printing them, but 2010 (albeit that was the year I blogged nearly every day) amounts to over 400 pages. I wonder how many words I've written over the years; a few books' worth, I've no doubt.

One thing I did notice in the process is that some of the photos on the blog have disappeared, and I suspect that these are the ones uploaded using Blogpress while it still worked. I can only guess that these were hosted somewhere different from the ones uploaded directly to Blogger, and that this has since ceased to exist or the links have been broken. It's frustrating, but thankfully only applies to a small minority of the photos.

Talking of books, at Alvecote I had another excellent and keenly priced selection from the Chesterfield Canal Society stall: David Bolton, Race Against Time; Vivian Bird, By Lock and Pound; Roger Squires, Canals Revived, David Owen, Water Rallies, and P.A.L. Vine's volumes on the waterwats of East and West Sussex, which Jim has taken back to East Sussex to peruse.

I have finished Race Against Time, which is a very readable account of the establishment and campaigns of the IWA - and its internal politics, horribly familiar to anyone who's been involved with a voluntary and/or campaigning organisation.

After that I was moved to re-read David Blagrove's Bread Upon The Waters for the third or fourth time. It really is very good; easily as eloquent and elegaic as Rolt, with a more likeable author, and also with funny bits, which Rolt certainly does not offer.