... 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 31 August 2018

I clearly never learn

One of the beauties of having had a blog for over twelve years (since April 2006, new readers!) is that every now and then it reminds me that a feeling, or opinion or experience that I thought was new was in fact just me repeating myself. One such example is my feelings about the Alvecote gathering which I wrote about a couple of days ago. Randomly clicking through old entries, like you do, I came across this from 2013 - in which I express pretty much exactly the same views. Yet until I reread it, I had pretty much forgotton having even felt it, let alone said it.

Then I looked at the previous post, in which Nick on Aldgate and Mick on Cassiopeia had visited to take down details of the nifty little device that Chertsey's PD2 has to throw the decompression lever at the right moment when you're in the process of hand starting the engine.
Apparently only Chertsey has this, but other PD2 owners envy it.  Five years ago the asked about it, and I said yes, of course they could draw/photograph/borrow it...  and last week they were still asking about it...

Thursday 30 August 2018

A £100 ball of string

Ah, but not just any old ball of string. Two hundred and twenty metres of 10mm synthetic cotton rope. The long winter evenings will just fly by.

I set out to look for 10mm Hempex, which Chertsey's current top strings are made of. After nearly seven years, they're still going strong, and we've just reclothed the boat with them again. The fact that they're green and grimy is my fault, for never having attempted to wash them. The hooks, however, have shed their galvanising, and all gone rusty. Of course I could remove the hooks, wash the strings in a pillowcase, and attach new hooks - but then what would I do for a winter project?

Also, Chertsey needs sidecloth strings. The 'temporary' blue polypropylene which has been in use since 2012 is finally giving up the ghost, shedding blue fibres everywhere. I'd hoped originally to splice these direct onto the sidecloths, but I fear that would be impractical, especially at the speed I splice.

Anyway, I found Hempex eventually, but then I found this, and I thought that - at least when it's new - it would look even better. Especially if I give the cloths a proper scrub too.

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Why do I do it?

I found myself wondering, on Monday afternoon, why I go to Alvecote year after year. Now, there's nothing wrong with the Alvecote do, if you like that sort of thing. What it does, it does really well. But I don't like that sort of thing. I never have.

OK, I like catching up with people. I like showing off the boat. I like sitting around in the sun. I can do all that at Braunston.

I don't like crowds. I don't like raucousness. And above all I DO NOT LIKE SIXTIES HITS* BLASTING OUT OF LOUDSPEAKERS ACROSS THE SITE ALL AFTERNOON. OK, it's not quite Guantanamo or North Korea (but enough to bring both of those to mind), but it's certainly close to my worst Butlins nightmare. The music may be too loud at Braunston, but at least you can get away from it. Alvecote is so intense, co concentrated; so confined. Braunston is spread out along the towpath, plus there's a bigger site to wander around.

By Monday afternoon, I had definitely had enough, and was mightily relieved when it finally stopped. But it was a good weekend on the whole. It's good to be able to chat over breakfast with different people every day, if less good trying to chat over the music in the evening. The gin bar, which I'd been looking forward to, was disappointing this year - there seemed a lot less enthusiasm and panache behind it. In fact there was no one behind it when I tried to get served and I was driven out by the volume of the music to seek beer downstairs. There was a decent variety of beer still, so that was ok.

There were lots of people and boats there this year who hadn't been before, including many of what I think of as the 'old guard' - or perhaps less rudely, pioneers, including Swan, Bath and Aquarius (which won the award for best turned out boat, which was good, to see it go to a Grand Union). Most people certainly did seem to enjoy themselves, but I suppose the proof will be in how many of them come again next year. It's a bit different for us, as we're there already - although on Monday afternoon I was seriously considering staying away next year, I'm sure I'll have forgotten by then.

We did not participate in the parade - the ever-popular amusing commentary is another thing that repels me somewhat - but did our best to provide entertainment by clothing the boat up on Monday. It was good to be able to do it without time pressure (other than that presented by the weather forecast). Chertsey is now de-Erewashed, with deckboard, mast and stands up. We'd toyed with running with them down long term, as there's still quite a lot of headroom inside, but it is harder to keep the cloths weatherproof that way. Getting the heavy black cloths on again was lent added urgency by the fact that the lightweight translucents had not only blown up in places, but have developed a lot of holes, mainly from rubbing on the top planks. We put them on in rather a hurry in the srping, you might recall, and forgot (or neglected) the tippet - that narrow strip that goes along the top plank and protects the cloths from wearing under the strings.

This is us on Sunday, when it rained all day.
I was glad then of the natural light afforded by the translucents at any rate. It is now of course very dark inside (we have one small area of window tpwards the back), but hopefully watertight.

*And I do, on the whole, quite like sixties hits.

Monday 20 August 2018

A lost village and a rediscovered town

It's said that distance lends enchantment, and it's certainly true that since leaving Newhaven as a resident, and returning as a visitor, I see and appreciate aspects of the town I never did before. Having a dog (or two) certainly helps as well.

When I lived in Newhaven, my day to day focus was on the run down town centre (now in fact so run down that it's gradually being converted to residential, while the shopping is largely out of town - although following the demise of the one supermarket left in the town centre, two new convenience stores have sprung up); the dirty ring road and the general air of neglect.

But as a visitor - and dog walker - I now see places I didn't realise existed in twenty-five years of living there, like the sandy east beach revealed at low tide.
And while I had occasionally visited Tidemills. and walked the seafront between Newhaven and Bishopstone, repeated forays start to really develop the sense of place and history.

A tide mill was established here in around 1760. The course of the river Ouse had recently been altered, leaving a creek running parallel to the coastline which formed a ready made mill pond. It filled with each tide, and then the water was released in a controlled way to power the mill. Later, in the nineteenth century, an additional pond was dug, which increased the capacity of the mill and the length of time it could operate on each tide. Flour was taken to London by sea. The C19 mill owners built a village for their workers, which had a population of around seventy. The mill closed in 1893, following storm damage, and was demolished in 1910. People continued to live in the village, however, until 1940, despite the cottages having been condemned as unfit for human habitation in the thirties. In 1940 the village was evacuated and the remaining buildings demolished so that they couldn't provide cover for an invasion.

The Sussex Archaeology Society have been digging and recording the site since 2006.
The best history of the village that I have been able to find online is this one. Click through sections 1 - 6.

In the 1920s, Chailey Heritage 'craft hospital' established an outpost at Tidemills, so that their charges - disabled children - could benefit from the sun, sea and sea air. The concrete foundations of their buildings can also be seen - with the 'new' millpond in the background.
And there is an amazing landscape of maritime flora as well.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Ricky has a new friend

For a while, we've thought it would be nice for Ricky to have another dog to run around with (and hopefully to settle down with as well...).  We're now complete, besotted, converts to sighthounds, so Jim started looking into various lurcher rescues.

And, to cut (appropriately) to the chase, here is Geoffrey.

Geoffrey is a galgo, originally rescued in Spain, and rehomed through Lozza's Lurcher Rescue in Hertfordshire.

There was a big hole in my knowledge where galgos should have been, which I have rapidly made up for - how could we not have heard of them? What I have learnt so for is this - galgos are an ancient breed of hunting dog, originally Celtic and introduced into Spain from France (hence the name, meaning that they're from Gaul). Over the centuries the British greyhound has diverged as its been bred for different purposes and kinds of racing. Looking at Geoffrey, he does have the look about him of something a Medici would have had on a lead, or an Spanish noble in a Velasquez painting.

Indeed, galgos were originally the hunting dogs of the nobility. but not so these days. Like many animals in Spain, they are not treated well, to say the least. They are used for hunting and competitive coursing, bred in vast numbers and all but the best racers abandoned - and even those chosen for competetion kept hungry, cruelly punished if they don't perform well, and abandoned or killed when their coursing career is over at two or three years old. This article from the National Geographic gives a  relatively unsensationalised and unsentimental account.

Geoffrey was very nervous at first but is already settling down. He's very gentle and placid, even a little timid, and Ricky is certainly top dog. Geoffrey isn't even interested in getting on the sofa (yet) and you can see from the state of his elbows that he's been used to lying on a concrete floor. But he does seem to feel able to relax...
He likes going for walks and walks well on the lead. He's very friendly to other dogs, and to most people; just a bit wary of men, and he doesn't like sudden noises. We're hoping that Ricky's example will help Geoffrey to become more chilled.

Galgos differ from greygounds in a number of ways (this is a bit like the Woolwich/Northwich thing). They have much greater stamina for a start, and this is reflected in a different kind and distribution of their muscles. They're a bit stockier, and their hips are higher than their shoulders, and their heads proportionately a bit smaller looking than a greyhound's, giving them that old fashioned painting look. And they have very long thin tails.

Ricky is, at our best estimate, a 'racing whippet' - half whippet, half greyhound. Geoffrey is considerably bigger than him, although still not as big, I don't think, as a big greyhound. We'll have to wait until he meets Buzz to check that out.

Early days yet, but Geoffrey is already starting to feel like part of the family - let's hope he feels that way too.

Friday 10 August 2018

Harland and Wolff

Apologies for the lack of a witty title. Diamond Geezer set me off this morning. He's visiting points across London, travelling from east to west, along the line of latitude 51.5 degrees north. This is the line of latitude that Greenwich is on, and he doesn't see why its line of longitude (albeit that that's zero) should get all the attention.

Now, I've always had trouble pinning down just where the Woolwich shipyard was, but I reckoned it must be somewhere roughly near that line. And it was while searching online for its co-ordinates (unsuccessfully) I came across a website I hadn't previously seen, dedicated to Harland and Wolff.

It's a bit thin on the Woolwich operation, which does in the scheme of things seem to have been rather small beer - from what I can tell, although they did refurbishments, no massive ships were built here, but largely barges, lighters and of course narrow boats.  The yard was in operation from 1924 - 1972. One interesting suggestion that the site makes is that there are now probably more Harland and Wolff built boats on the English canal system than anywhere else.

The site isn't fantastically written, and its coverage of narrow boats is quite superficial, but the few pictures make it well worth a look. There is a list of boats (although it doesn't distinguish between motors and butties) but the dates on it (assuming they are delivery dates) don't tie up with those provided by Faulkner - for example, it shows Chertsey's birthday as 25th February 1937, whereas I've previously had it as 29th January.

Now, if I could just find those co-ordinates, I could finally track the place down and make a pilgrimage...

Monday 6 August 2018

And then off to the seaside

This is a bit of a post for Starcross Jim. It has rail routes, refunds, and Herefordshire.

A few weeks ago I agreed to go to Swansea to act an an 'external expert' for the validation of a new Foundation Year. Then as the time got nearer, and I contemplated the five hour train journey and hotel stay, I wished I hadn't.

But then last week I went, and I was glad I did.

I spent most of the journey there immersed in the validation paperwork, coming up with what turned out to be sensible questions about it, and realised that I really am, well, a bit of an expert on the programme design and quality assurance side of Foundation Years (and learning more all the time).

And I discovered something - and discovered something about the National Rail website in the process. I discovered that I didn't have to go via Brimingham and/or Bristol. I discovered that I could go via Stockport. Not only does this avoid New Street station (a boon if ever there was one) but it's cheaper. When I was up and down to my mother's place in Newport, the National Rail website never told me that this route existed, even though the train stops at Newport. It only offered the trains that terminated at Cardiff (where my via Stockport train also stopped).
I've just checked, and it still doesn't show the Milford Haven train that I caught. OK, it takes a bit longer, meandering through Shropshire and Herefordshire, but as I say it's cheaper, and you don't have to worry about whether the races are on at Cheltenham (I've somehow managed to go that way on Gold Cup day twice. Horrendous).

So I had a pleasant journey there and discovered that the University had booked me into a hotel in Mumbles. I used to hate staying in hotels - the strangeness of it - but a very strange thing completely changed my feelings about it. It was Bill Bryson, in one of his travel books, writing that whenever he arrived in a hotel, the first thing he did was run a bath and empty all the individual bottles/sachets etc into it, on the basis that they're all the same. And although I didn't do that (there wasn't a bath, for a start, but I brought the little bottles home), that thought has completely changed the way I view staying in a hotel.

Anyway it was a nice room (although the shower was very feeble - say what you like about south west (or more west now) Sheffield, but, excellent water pressure - and before dinner I went for a brisk stroll along the prom one way, and after dinner I went the other. In between I had an excellent meal and even a glass of wine, which I have yet to learn whether Swansea will pay for.

The next day, after an excellent breakfast (I have also solved the problem of what to do with a hotel buffet breakfast - I make myself a toast bacon sandwich) I was whisked away by taxi to the University - to a building that was surprisingly run down compared to the majority of places I've been to lately in England which are seemingly always in the throes of building and refurbishment. Anyway, I quite liked the grubby paint and worn lino. I then met a splendid young chap called Phil, who is 'passionate about curriculum and assessment design' so we were bound to get on. We bonded over the unsung virtues of QA processes. Then I got to ask my intelligent questions, we had a coffee and a chat about the class politics of Foundation Years, and then it was another cab to the station and a smooth journey back, marred only by the fact that I didn't have a book and my iPad battery had run out.

And talking of trains - as we were - I received a full refund last week from North Western Trains (or whatever the shoddily rebadged London Midland fleet are now called. What happened? I loved London Midland) for my 65 minute delayed train from Rugby to Sheffield via Tamworth. However, they couldn't do it entirely gracefully - I got a shirty email saying that they would grudgingly pay out this time despite the fact that I hadn't defaced my ticket in the photo of it that I sent them. What do they think I'm going to do with a ticket that's only valid on the day of issue anyway? But maybe I shouldn't moan too much as I've just noticed that they've refunded the cost of the entire return ticket even though I made the return journey without a hitch. Or at least they say they have - I haven't checked the bank statement yet.

Friday 3 August 2018

Both ends but not the middle

There are plenty of canals where I've been to one end but not the other. There are some I haven't been to at all. There are a lot where I've been to both ends and all points between. There may even be one where I've been in the middle but not to either end (although I can't think of one off hand).

But I don't think there's another one where I've seen both ends but not the middle. To be fair, in this case the middle doesn't exist.

Having been moored on one end of the Cromford Canal, at Langley Mill, at the end of May, last week I visited the other end at - surprise! - Cromford, this being just a twenty minute stroll away from our awayday destination of Matlock Bath.

I can report that it is indeed a canal.
And a pretty one to boot.
Sadly I didn't get to see much of it as we had to rish back for our lunch dinner, having spent rather too long at Cromford's other major attraction.
This was Cromford Mill, immortalised in O Level history as the home of Richard Arkwright's water frame - in the late eighteenth century a significant advance in spinning technology which ushered in the age of the large scale factory... but now the home of a range of artisan and antiques shops which captured my attention now just as Hargreaves, Arkwright and Kay did in my schooldays.

And here I bought my own little piece of history
in readiness for when I actually get a nice, wooden, front door, as well as a really nice worn old horse brass for the boat.