... 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 June 2017

Coming back from Braunston

We left Sheffield at half past three and took here hours to get the hundred or so miles to Braunston. We hadn't intended to set off tonight, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, so we untied at ten to seven. The evening was overcast but pleasant, until black clouds started looming and the heavens opened on Jim whilst I was cooking the dinner. It quickly passed and we are now tied up just short of the top of Hillmorton. The two and a half hours we've got under our belt equates to the time it will take to do the Alvecote-Braunston-Sheffield car shuffle on Sunday (when the traffic should be a lot lighter).

As we left Braunston I was hailed by Jaq on Valerie - too late to stop and talk, which was very frustrating. I hope we'll get to catch up one day soon.

Thursday 29 June 2017

The exclusive PD2 club

When I first bought Chertsey, I remember someone telling me that about twenty boats had Petter PD2 engines. I'm not sure now whether that was in some sense right, has be overtaken by time and events, or most likely, was always an overestimate. Racking my brains at Braunston, I could think of only five: Chertsey, of course, plus Cassopaeia, Alton, Aldgate and Darley. Lancing did have one, but has recently been changed - in many, more obvious, ways as well as the engine.

So I did what anyone would do, and posted the question on CanalWorld in the hope that the walking encyclopaedia that is Pete Harrison would be unable to resist responding. And it transpires that while there are perhaps a dozen or so boats around with PD2s, only eight of these are ones that had the engines fitted by British Waterways in the late fifties and early sixties (the ones I'd missed were Comet, Stratford and Greenock - Comet I should have remembered because I have seen it, when we went to see Ian Kemp and his legendary stock of PD2 spares to replace a missing bit of tinware).

So, I went on to ask, how many boats did BW fit these engines in in the first place - and the answer surprised me: sixty eight. Far more than I had expected. These seem to have been the boats that passed into BW's Southern carrying fleet - those in the North were more likely to get air cooled Listers.

So out of 68 (possibly in fact more), eight remain. I love my PD2 despite its numerous leaks and recent tendency to smoke, and am very proud to be part of such an exclusive - but with such good provenance - club.

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Long suited in long dogs

Ricky was a hit with everyone at Braunston of course, and started many conversations. A surprising number of these were with other people with long dogs various. There must have been at least a dozen of them. To start with, there was Enceladus' Buzz and Bertie, and Monarch's Rosie; at least four different whippets - with one on whom Ricky had a fabulous run around the Dog Field, two or three more retired racing greyhounds; a fair few lurchers including the local Bramble, HarryDaughter's Ziggy and a lovely little Bedlington/whippet called Sid... I wish I had thought to photograph them all. But it only struck me towards the end of Sunday, so here is a photo of Grace, with whom Ricky was quite taken.
Apologies to those I have almost certainly missed out.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

Accidentally photographing celebrities

I didn't mean to watch the grand opening parade; I was just strolling down for some patchwork trousers. But having got caught up in the crowd I had to snap the guests of honour for the person I know is their biggest fan... Here you are Sandra!

And for everyone else, here's Richard Parry, genuinely looking like he's enjoying it.

Monday 26 June 2017

Party night!

Saturday night was party night in Chertsey's inimitable style. The gramophone was hauled onto the deck and out came the latest platters.
Da Boyz
On an impulse, I texted Captain Pete to let him know that a new consignment of 78s had arrrived and he strolled down with an old friend who was visiting for the weekend. You must think we're mad, Jim said to the friend. No, he said, nodding at Pete. I'm used to it. They mentioned that they were hungry and I realised that I had committed the immense social solecism of inviting people to a party without food. Undaunted, I raided the stores beneath the water tank and rustled up a variety of sandwiches - cheese and tomato, cheese and pickle, and cheese. Also, we had rather a lot of walnuts, which made excellent nibbles. One thing we weren't short of was beer, and presently Enceladus Sarah arrived bearing some contrastingly posh snacks, many of which gave us the opportunity to argue about the pronunciation of chorizo (it's Spanish, not Italian!). The party was well under way, and many other guests dropped by in passing, Strangely, none of them stayed very long...

We had a brief live music interlude and melodeon workshop, in which I attempted to remember how to play Hard Working Boater on a borrowed melodeon which turned out to lack a vital note (a B, if you were wondering) and didn't manage very well (I reassured myself by getting it right first time when I got home, on my familiar instrument). Then the disco really got going, and the dog blanket volume control was removed from the front of the gramophone (as all our neighbours had removed themselves...)

During the workshop Jim and Andy disappeared into the hold to work on the database Andy has set up of all the records in the Shellac Massive's repertoire. It then transpired that Pete also had a collection of 78s (some 400) and a database too. You couldn't make it up could you. So they compared databases and discussed the intricacies of serial numbers and dating. In this fashion we partied on until well after ten.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Adding to the album

At Braunston I was able to add two boats I've not seen/photographed before to the album - both, I think, with relatively new owners.
The first was Belfast, which has just been bought by one of the co-owners of Fulbourne. It had previously been a community boat taking parties of children on trips, since the 1970s - how brillaint to have a cabin conversion with such provenance.
The other was Carnaby, which was one of BW's last disposals. The new owners have smartened it up but not fundamentally changed its very unusual configuration. I have it in my head that Carnaby or Cantley, or possibly both, were adapted for carrying reels of fibre optic cable for laying on the towpath.

Looking through the Sticker Album, I am horrified to see that I don't have a photo of Purton - they've been at practically every gathering I can recall and we've been on a quiz team with them twice! Halsall is another one I have seen on numerous occasions, in two different guises, but if I've taken a photo I've not managed to keep it.

I also have some pictures of boats looking rather different from my previous ones - Paddington, which has changed colour, and Lancing, which is almost unrecogniseable.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Massive hit

The highlight of today for Chertsey was the inaugural gig of the Shellac Massive, utilising a number of records Andy had brought along representing a wide range of genres, from the Savoy Orpheans to Kurt Weill. Part way through the evening messengers from Typhoon arrived bearing Halfie's gift of some brass screws and - with brilliant timing - a 78! Thank you Hallie.

We had food and beer and guests, and a melodeon interlude from Flamingo. I highly recommend the Shellac Massive to help your thirties themed party go with an appropriate swing. (Is that glowing enough boys?)

Friday 23 June 2017

Braunston 2017

Arrived 4.30. Purchased patchwork trousers and brass items. Ate tea. Went to beer tent. Talked to lots of people. Excellent. Now retiring to the distant strains of the Irish Rover. In an uncertain world, it's nice to know that some things don't change.

Thursday 22 June 2017

A convenient view from the stern end

It might not be the most scenic view from the stern end, but it was certainly convenient. When Laurence brough Chertsey back from Grendon, rather than manoeuvre the new blacking backwards along the concrete slipway, he backed her onto a pontoon instead. I could get used to this.

Wednesday 21 June 2017


The passenger pigeon is, sadly, extinct, but we had a pigeon passenger on Sunday, who hitched a ride for quite some way.

Tuesday 20 June 2017

The new black

So, after seven years, Chertsey has finally been blacked again (mind you, I reckon it was four times that long before the last time). This time we didn't do it ourselves, but had it done in the dry dock at Grendon - and I'm very pleased with the result.
As a compromise between the Comastic we used last time (and on every previous boat) and the most basic product, we decided to try SML Ballistic Black which was gaining popularity among the boaters at Alvecote. Laurence said it was the first time they'd put it on an old boat, and he was so impressed he then used it on his josher, Lynx. It goes on thickly and takes quite a long time to cure, but looks very good. They certainly did a nice neat job.
The same goes for the tunnel bands - I think they look so much better and more 'right' now.

Finally, I asked Laurence if they could repack the stern gland - this never got done properly when I first had Chertsey. Again this seems to be a very good job - and what impressed me most of all was that you wouldn't have known anyone had been in the cabin - when I came back it was exactly as I had left it, despite the fact that everything would have had to be moved off the floor. That shows a kind of respect for the customer and for the boat which really stands out.

Monday 19 June 2017

Mad dogs

As Ricky apparently has no sense of climatalogical self-preservation, and no intrinsic insulation, being his owner (factotum?) carries tremendous responsibilities around preventing him getting too cold (Has he got his jumper? Does he need a blanket? Is that the right coat?) or too hot, which is an even more frightening prospect.

Because he does not have the sense to seek out the shade, and in any case would not countenance it if it meant letting one of us out of his sight (must be why they call them sight hounds), and because he is black, and has neither fur nor fat, weather like last weekend's is a bit of a challenge.

But we rise to it. First there was the wet tea towel, with which he could be draped. But it didn't always stay in place, and sometimes left large areas exposed. Whilst wetting his tea towel on Saturday, I decided to look in the rag bag for something more suitable, and found a rather fetching old scarf of mine. Being thin cotton, it's lighter to wear, drapes over more of him, and stays in place better.
Compromise my dignity? Absolutely not!
However, the weekend required more than just constant evaporative cooling, so I unleashed my secret weapon - a £10 Wilko's children's beach shelter, designed to protect todays delicate little flowers from the evils of UV. After a bit of a struggle we worked out how to assemble it, and found a way, just, of fitting it onto the back end deck. I wasn't sure it would work, but it was a a great success.
Yes, I am very cool
With his bed inside it wasn't hard to persuade Ricky to go in, and it was noticeably cooler inside - the canvas has some kind of reflective quality. You might think that a fixed unidirectional sunshade might give only sporadic protection on the North Oxford - well, I did - but when the sun was at its highest and hottest the overhang at the top kept most of the interior in shade, and even when it was lower and seemed to be shining straight inside, there was still some shade. It also had the unforeseen advantage of shielding most of the sheep en route from his gaze, thus saving him a lot of barking energy.

Saturday 17 June 2017

Polishing as we go

We didn't leave Alvecote until gone ten so although we've overshot Hawkesbury by a bit, it's not very much. I persuaded Jim that it would be better on the boat in the promised heat of tomorrow afternoon than in the car. The weather has certainly been fabulous today. As we don't have the luxury of time to spare after we arrive in Braunston, we've been polishing as we went along today. Jim tackled the chimney - always the worst job - and did the two pontoonside portholes before we left. The remaining porthole I did in six separate mini-sessions, as we went up Atherstone.

Friday 16 June 2017

Ready for the off

In a very small way. I'm writing this whilst waiting for my dinner at the Barlow. Tomorrow morning we'll set off in the newly blacked and very smart looking Chertsey for Braunston. It won't be the dawn to dusk run I've dreamt of this time as I've got to hang around until nine to pay for the blacking. I know Jim wants to break the back of the journey tomorrow so we might not stop at the Greyhound :-(

Thursday 15 June 2017

The price of simplicity

I could have bought a boiler with digital controls for a very reasonable price. But I paid an extra £300 to get one that could have this timer fitted.
On the plus side, the only really simple electric oven I could find (no fan, no timer, no digital controls) was a really cheap one. So swings and roundabouts.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

That last of the licences

When we went back to Chertsey for the first time since the long winter's absence, I had the usual ceremony to perform of replacing the licence 'discs'. Ever snce we first had Bakewell and brought the renewal dates into line, Chertsey's licence has fallen due in December. This year though I didn't have two full size, full colour licence plates to insert into the holders, just a measly corner of monochrome A4. Up until then I had just inserted each year's licence in front of the previous one, but this year I abstracted all the old ones, which will be kept as souvenirs forever. We shall not see their like again. These are all the licences since I first licenced Chertsey - and prior to that she hadn't been licenced since the early eighties. It was a bit of a palaver to get her old registration number re-issued, but I persevered until I found a nice soul at BW who was willing and able to sort it out. You will note that I have had two BW licences, and so far, four (five counting the current one) CRT ones. The first two show Chertsey's home mooring as being on the Trent and Mersey, and the next four the Shropshire Union. The current one has the Coventry. What, though, is the number in the bottom lect hand corner? They are sequential, and though at first glance they appear to change annually, this isn't actually true of 2014-15. Are they simply sequential numbers of all licences issued? The differences between that seem a bit high for that - it would suggest for example that 56,312 licences were issued in 2015 and 78,833 in 2016 - far more than the total number of boats on CRT's waterways. I feel I ought to know, but I'm mystified. Can anyone enlighten me?

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Not quite the Holy Grail

But close. I have found a National Milk tin. Unlike the one in the antique shop in Salts Mill, this one wasn't sixteen pounds. It was seven, in the local 'vintage' charity shop where I bought some other tins and a teapot a couple of months ago. I must confess I was heavily tempted by another teapot this time but I resisted. So far.
So why the search for a National Milk tin? (Especially as I already have a perfectly nice Ambrosia one, which is of exactly the same dimensions.) Only that it's the National tin that was 'traditionally' deployed as an extension to the stove chimney. I'm sure other brands would have also been pressed into service, but maybe they were less ubiquitous. The instructions for making it up are quite terrifying, involving as they do adding quantities of sugar - but hearteningly this rather ancient tin reads 'Breast feed your baby if possible...'  Having a little browse, like you do, I discover that National Dried Milk was not in fact withdrawn until 1976. A report in 1974 suggesting that it might not be all that good for babies was seized upon by the press and, it would appear, the manufacturers of proprietary baby milk brands to promote their products as superior. But questions were asked in Parliament about what the withdrawal would mean for poorer families who were dependent on it given that National Milk, in 1976, cost 20p for 20oz, while proprietary brands were up to 85p for 16oz (I got that from online Hansard).

If looking for other ways to stunt your children's growth, you could always take up smoking. My father used to smoke Woodbines, but they weren't available from the duty free - at least not the places we went, i.e. Guernsey, so post holiday twice a year he'd work his way through 400 (or whatever the allowance was - it didn't seem to last long) Senior Service. Likewise, he was a dedicated Bells drinker, but would make do with duty free Teachers.
So I got a Senior Service tin too.

Monday 12 June 2017

Getting to grips with the garden

My new house has a lovely garden; in fact it was one of the things that decide me. Unlike most gardens in the area, it is completely private and enclosed. Down south, where I'm used to, Victorian terraced houses tend to have a back alley (twitten) that goes along behind the bottom of the gardens. This would allow access for the collection of 'night soil' from the privies at the bottom of the garden as required by the 1875 Public Health Act. The Building Act of 1878 required local authorities to introduce byelaws setting standards for the construction of new homes, including ceiling heights, the fact that houses had to have front and rear access (no more 'back-to-backs'), and the means of access for the night soil men.

The Local Government Board produced model byelaws which many local authorities adopted, but many also adapted them.

In much of Northern England, including many areas of Sheffield, a different system of rear access was established. Here, rather than an alley behind the gardens, access to the rear of a 'byelaw terrace' often runs directly behind the house, effectively across the garden(s) which would originally have been a shared yard for four houses. Every four houses, as required by the byelaw here, there is a 'jennel' which gives access to the back. If your house is over the jennel, you have the advantage of a bigger upstairs room, but your next door neighbour's rear access is across your garden. Many gardens to this day are not divided but are still shared between two or even four houses. And I have seen some cases of where they have been divided, but with each house retaining access to its own privy, resulting in some quite odd shaped plots. This was more efficient for the builders in one way as it meant that the yards could share a rear wall with the street behind.

However, my house - lucky me - is part of a terrace with jennels every two houses, meaning that no one need cross anyone else's yard. What's more, previous occupants have erected a very good six foor high fence on the jennel side, with a gate to each house - and on the other side is an equally high brick and stone wall. A perfect Ricky-proof garden, in other words. Furthermore, it is just the right size and quite nicely laid out, with a herb garden by the back door, a nice acer tree, and a few other established plants.
On the downside, it has been neglected for a very long time, and the lawn has pretty much overgrown everything, with big patches of dock (though no nettles), and buttercups. And today I have met a new horticultural foe: couch grass. Whilst being mercifully free of convolvulus, japanese knotweed, and triffids, my new garden is thoroughly infested with couch grass. This is something I hadn't really encountered before, but I think I have a protracted war of attrition on my hands. Never mind though, it could be worse.

Today I started clearing a tiny corner and discovered that there are brick-bordered beds all around the garden - well, one side at least. So I followed them round, uncovering the bricks and weeding the beds as I went. What to do with the (ex) lawn is a question deferred for another day.

Sunday 11 June 2017

From floorless to flawless

Not quite finished - the bits either side of the chimney breast still to do - but the dining room floor is looking magnificent.
I'm really glad I chose the Douglas fir with its lovely reddish colour and really intense grain patterns, and Jim has made a fantastic job of laying it. Now we need to get it covered up before a brace of plumbers arrives at eight a.m. tomorrow!

Saturday 10 June 2017

Braunston bound

Work on the house means that some boating plans for this year have had to be shelved, or at least postponed - but the Braunston show is one thing I shan't miss. I've been, one way or another, every year since 2006, and took Chertsey every year from 2010 - 2015. We couldn't get Chertsey there last year, although I still managed to get myself there to spend the weekend as Mike's guest on Banstead. Now Chertsey lives at Alvecote though, it's a weekend trip to Braunston, so there's no excuse.

Unfortunately, I can't get any time off work around the weekend of the rally, so it will be a case of one weekend (that being next weekend) to get the boat there, one weekend there, and another weekend to bring it back, and lots of driving.

I shall make up for this year's lack of boating by hatching ever more adventurous plans for next year.

Friday 9 June 2017

Fifth floor

The wood for the dining room floor arrived yesterday.
It is reclaimed Douglas fir, around 200 years old, sawn from old roof beams.
The planks are not perfect - which is part of their charm - but they're 9" wide and have a gorgeous colour and beautiful grain.
The planks are mostly 12' long so can span the room without joins.

I am very pleased with it. Laying the dining rooom floor will be the main job tomorrow, using traditional cut nails.

Thursday 8 June 2017

For the first time in my life

I became eligible to vote in the summer of 1983, just after the notorious 'longest suicide note in history' Labour manifesto and the ensuing defeat which arguably led ultimately to 'New' Labour and contributed to the death of left wing politics in Britain.
Today, for the first time in my life, I will be voting Labour.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

A great source of inspiration

I've just rediscovered this brilliant source of ideas for planning and decorating my new house. I'm particularly keen to find inspiration for the bathroom, but this might just be it.

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Monday 5 June 2017

Paint it.... cream

Over £600 worth of paint and associated paraphernalia there. I've merrily been spending money on this that and the other, but that took be aback a bit.

Sunday 4 June 2017

All fired up

The lounge and the dining room in my new house both have fireplaces, of a sort. The dining room has an alcove, all neatly plastered and painted, while the lounge had a horrible modern fake coal gas fire set into the wall.

To go in these two spaces, I have a cast iron fireplace and a Lily stove. Long time readers will recall that Warrior has a Lily stove, and it was the hardest thing (for me) to leave behind. I thought that if I could get hold of another brown Lily like Warrior's it would look lovely in my dining room, while the fireplace could be fitted - non-working - in the lounge. And I did find one; it even came off a boat. I bought it on Ebay, on impulse, while on the phone to Jim, because the price was so good. There was only one hitch - when Jim eventually got it home it turned out to be not brown at all.
But a kind of aubergine, or not to put too fine a point on it, purple. It is however so lovely and in such excellent condition (Warrior's needed a lot of repair work) - it even has its clamshell dust tray, which Warrior's had lost before we bought it - that there was no question of not keeping it.
It threw my furnishing plans into disarray though. The dining room is going to be basically cream and brown, while the lounge would have a lot of red and would be the main repository for my more bohemian and hippish tendencies, mahogany and mirrors. Colour-wise, the stove would fit a lot better in the lounge, but I thought the fireplace, complete with fender and mantelpiece, might be a bit big for the dining room.

I have spent the last couple of weeks pondering this, and today I have finally made up my mind. Two things led me to decide that the stove will indeed go in the front room. Firstly, it looks as if there is a liner in the chimney which might meant that it would be possible to plumb the stove in, for an occasional smokeless fire (once I have consulted all the rules about what you can and can't do in smokeless zones); secondly, Jim took the Kango
to the built up hearth this afternoon and revealed a perfectly Lily-shaped space.
It also unearthed, battered and broken, a few Victorian tiles that must have been set into the original hearth.
They sat in that recessed bit in the left of the photo above.

Saturday 3 June 2017

Going underground

One of the things I am most excited about in my new house is that it has a cellar! How fairy tale is that?

When I first looked at it, it had been half-heartedly lined in black polythene, because its dampness had apparently caused concerns to earlier potential buyers. It looked as if it had been set up for dismembering a body. In fact I was told by the agent that the lounge flooorboards and joists above it had been rotten and replaced, but although some of the joists have been, the boards are clearly very old and the awful laminate on top was undisturbed, so I don't see how this could have been the case. Ironically of course the lounge floor is very sound, while the floor in the dining room was (in Jim's phrase) as rotten at a pear, and some.
It struck me that if your house is at the bottom of a hill, fairly near a big park, and built on clay, a cfompletely dry cellar is a bit of an unrealistic ambition. Trapping moisture in the walls behind polythene didn't seem very healthy at all. I am a great believer in that cure all, for wounds and buildings alike, of letting the air get to it.
So yesterday Jim stripped out the polythene, and took up layers of wet carpet from the floor; dug our mounds of wet bricks from the corner, enlarged the ventilation hole between the lounge and dining room under floor areas (the cellar is under the lounge, while the dining room floor is raised about a foot above the earth). With the airbricks at back and front of the house cleared a nice draught can blow through.

It will never be somewhere for storing rare manuscripts, but I think it will be ideal for beer.

Friday 2 June 2017

Kitchen capers

This is what my kitchen looked like when I first viewed the house:
and this is what it looks like now:
Today I have been to the mysterious Crystal Peaks (well, I think it was Mossborough really; it certainly wasn't very crystalline) to look at kitchen units and to Chesterfield to look at worktops and sinks. I've looked at tiles in Walkley and cookers online. I've ordered a hob from Amazon and identified an oven in Currys. A new boiler will be coming along with a plumber in the next week or so, and will not be installed in the kitchen. It's all very exciting.

Thursday 1 June 2017

Books I read in May

A thin month, this, what with the excitement of the house and all. But I read: 

Julia Crouch Her Husband's Lover (local library)
Yet another female psychopath story, albeit well written and with a nice - if not wholly unexpected - twist.

Beryl Bainbridge The Bottle Factory Outing (Amazon)
Seventies period piece, mildly diverting.

Tana French The Trespasser (Smiths, St Pancras)
I really rate Tana French and I think this is her best yet. On the face of it, a Dublin police murder mystery. But also an exquisite study of trust, mistrust and paranoia; of relationships lost, found, made, destroyed and thrown away. One of the most real protagonists I have ever read relates a first person, present tense narrative that is so dense and intense that I found myself having to put it down to take a breath. The speech patterns and dialogue are so natural; the prose perfectly balanced, the single viewpoint so intense, the feelings so raw and real - and all done so effortlessly that as a reader you are never aware of the author's presence. A fabulous example of ars est celare artem. An extraordinary book.

Catherine O'Flynn What Was Lost (from my shelves; originally from a charity shop)
Reread after recomemnding it to someone else to see if it was as brilliant as I remembered. Maybe not quite, but I'd forgotten how neatly it all ties up.  And that it's a sort of ghost story, but if you really don't want to suspend disbelief, you can get round that.

Louise Doughty Black Water (Smiths, St Pancras)
Gripping, Graham Greene-esque tale of a man involved in all sorts of nastiness in Indonesia. Slightly disappointingly ambiguous ending but I guess that's how it was meant to feel.

Clare Mackintosh I See You (Tescos)
Another psychopath lurking in plain sight, a bit too clever and not entirely unpredictable.

Maggie O'Farrell This Must Be The Place (Tescos)
Well written as always, but the way this odd-family saga skipped about made it hard for me to really engage with most of the characters - and the cipher at the middle of it never quite rang true.

Ann Cleeves The Moth Catcher (local library)
Traditional detective mystery with the ending somewhat pulled out of a hat.

Mark Edwards The Magpies (local library)
Nothing sparkling, competently written but grubbily gripping tale of a young couple persecuted by their neighbours.

Books I really tried to read in May

Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces