... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Tuesday 30 March 2021


 When I planned my March retrospective, it was with a view to actually winding up the blog at the end of the month, fifteen years after I first began blogging. There were a number of reasons for this, which I won't go into (now, at least), but once again I've found that I just can't kill it off.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that I want to carry on with this blog, exactly as it has been since 2010.

I have never joined Facebook, and never will. I have never 'used' Twitter, although I have over the years had three accounts, initially for posting updates to the blog before mobile blogging (or even smartphones) were a thing. When I started looking for them last week, I realised that my latest one, started in 2017 and with a grand total of three posts, was @rivetcounter - say what you like, I cannot believe that that name hadn't gone years previously; you may recall that I was similarly astounded when I set up the Rivetcounter blog in 2016. I resurrected that Twitter account because no one blogs any more and there were a few people whose Twittering I've been keeping an eye on, and it seemed easier to follow them (and oh my god, Tim Dunn off the telly has just responded to a comment I made!)

I first heard of Twitter when Granny Buttons posted about his discovery of it in 2007. Back then it seemed, quaintly, like a good way for groups of friends to keep in touch, rather than the behemoth of news, celebrity, misdirection and scandal that it has become.

The thing is, now I'm trying to use it 'properly' I still don't like Twitter. I control this blog, but Twitter, to a far greater extent, controls me - what I see and how I see it. And goodness knows what its creepy little algorithms are doing with my data. The attraction of it, though, (although this is also a danger) is the lower expectations it engenders. Quick photo, few words, post done. None of this sitting down in front of the computer after a long day of ... er ... sitting down in front of the computer, which, as you might have noticed, frequently militates against posting anything at all. But that ease and quickness poses another risk as well, as many have discovered (rightly or wrongly) to their cost; that of posting something without thinking it through sufficiently, which I know would be a danger for me.

And it is an utter time sink. I'm following a grand total of three people now, but I'm already capable of getting lost in it and fifteen minutes or half an hour has gone by. Plus there's the thing we all know about of checking it every time you think of it to see if there's anything new. But, it's where people are now. It's where amateur broadcasting is done. Look at my blogroll - no one on it (nor me) has posted for at least a fortnight. None of the other old boat blogs has posted for a year and more. No one has commented on any of this month's posts (and I'm sorry if they weren't sufficiently interesting).

Yet I don't think I can stop blogging, even as sometimes I've thought I didn't want to continue either.

One thing I have been considering, as I expand the range of things I write about - and my own range of interests - is to transfer operations to Rivetcounter - not least because it feels like such a waste of a great name not to use it. For one thing, I'm thinking of - in various ways - getting a bit more into railways: something I've always liked, and have family connections with, but have been a bit daunted at the thought of getting sucked into. Maybe now is the time.

So I will keep blogging, sporadically, for a while longer (ask me again after twenty years) but maybe this is the time to have a refresh and a new approach.

What do you think?

Sunday 14 March 2021

2010 - Where did we find the time?

In the first half of 2010, restoration work continued on Chertsey, while we found time at Easter to visit Cambridge again on Warrior, this time hosted by Amy and James, who took us pub-crawling, charity-shopping and punting, so that was pretty much a dream holiday. 

Chertsey was relaunched in June, just in time to head to Braunston

This was certainly one of the high spots of the year, as so many people were so interested in the baot, and the sense of achievement was massive. 

After Braunston though we didn't head straight for our new (and short-lived) mooring at Kings Bromley Wharf, but instead went by way of  the Great Trent Thrash,

visiting Newark again, among other semi-familiar haunts, and leaving the river just as the bearings on the cooling fan collapsed, spending a surreal few days at the bottom of someone's garden in Shardlow going backwards and forwards to Long Eaton where, fortuitously, Trent Valley Bearings plied their trade.

Braunston and the Trent was followed by a misty September trip with Blossom and his Bolinder to the Black Country gathering at Windmill End,

where I won what is still my favourite tea mug in the raffle, and we went to - awed indrawing of breath - Ma Pardoe's.
That's the ceiling, for anyone who doesn't know the place.

As if that weren't enough, we set off in late November

to a new mooring, but in the end didn't make it beyond Great Haywood, the aqueduct on the S&W being impassable.
Once again, I cannot believe how we packed so much into one year - or in the case of Chertsey's travels, six months - while holding down a supposedly full time job.

Thursday 11 March 2021

2009: 2 - Enter Chertsey

2009 was of course the momentous year in which I heard about (June), purchased (July) and took possession of (September) Chertsey. Here's a collection of photos from my first sight of her, at Dimmingsdale,  and here is the story in pictures of the marvellous day we collected her. And here, in the last ever post on the Warrior blog, is the story of how it all came to pass, coming up to eleven and a half years ago.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

2009: 1 - Warrior on the Trent

It is extraordinary that in 2006 we did a trans-Pennine trip; in 2007 we went to Cambridge; in 2008 London, and in 2009 we went down the Soar

to the Trent, reached the head of navigation of both the Erewash
and Chesterfield
Canals, and went up the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation
as far as Doncaster
before having to turn back for reasons of time, or I might have set foot in Sheffield three years earlier than I eventually did.

I discovered the delights of Newark

and confirmed that getting out of Keadby Lock
is easier than getting in.

I am so glad that we took grasped the opportunity to make those mammoth trips while I had a job that allowed me to.

Monday 8 March 2021

2008/9: Playing with the big boys

I've had to cross the year with this set of memories, as the amazing opportunities that led to them came thick and fast. In October I signed up as a volunteer with the Camden Canals and Narrowboat Association, which eventually led to my qualifying as a community boat 'skipper' and taking Tarporley out with its first ever all-female crew (yup, in 2009. And when we got some crap on the prop, apparently that was the reason). In between signing up with Tarporley and my first steer of her, though, I had my first brief go at steering a full length boat courtesy of meeting Warbler on the small-scale but newly reinstated 2008 Jam 'Ole Run. Those were indeed the days when I could loiter all afternoon around Berkhamsted before going into work for the evening.
My work with Tarporley - I was marketing manager as well as a steerer - led me to meeting fellow committee member (the late, great) Bob Wakeley, who owned Chiswick. Incredibly generous with his time and with his boat, he invited me, a steerer of very little experience, to join his crew for a trip from Aylesbury to Paddington.
It was this trip, under the tuition of James Bill (then of Archimedes and Ara) that did more than anything to set me on the path to becoming a semi-competent steerer. At one point as we were coming down the Aylesbury locks, I realised that I was the only person on the boat. I have a photo of that on my wall, and am looking at it as I write. Chiswick, then, was the first Big Woolwich I ever steered - and it's notable that in all my accounts of steering these big boats for the first time - even the heavily converted Tarporley - that I remark on how intuitive and responsive they are to steer.
Another Tarporley volunteer who started at the same time as me - and was part of that all-female team - was Penny, who in her other life was a wine manager for Waitrose, and introduced us to the delights of Blossom Hill rose, which you can see us enjoying here on Chiswick at the Little Venice Cavalcade.

Sunday 7 March 2021

2008: London calling

The thing that strikes me, looking back on those years with Warrior, is the amount of time I was able to take off work, and hence the ambitious and lengthy trips we could take. The end of July 2008 saw me packing up work and preparing for a solid month's cruising. These days I find it hard to find more than a week when I'm not needed for one thing or another. I thoroughly love the job I have now, but in terms of workload, for those five years at Birkbeck, I really didn't know I was born.
So the start of August 2008 saw us set off from Bill Fen, via the Nene, to London, where we tied up in Little Venice, shared a lock with Tarporley (a boat that I was soon to come to know very well), went all the way up the Lee to Hertford (turned round and came straight back); tied up in Limehouse Basin and went to the Grapes where I had the best whitebait ever, went to Cropredy for Fairport Convention (yes, of course I still have the t-shirt), boated on the Thames with Lucky Duck; rescued Lucky Duck, went all the way up to Lechlade and down to Brentford, and quite possibly not all in that order. We also met up with Swindon relatives in Lechlade, braved a lot of hailstorms, seriously bashed the engine pipe (why, hello Osney Bridge), were offered succour and claret by Bones at Abingdon, where we had a barbecue in the rain, and introduced our future crew member Dr Duct to the delights of GU locks. Oh yes, and gave real ale tips to one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement.
As if that weren't enough, after I reluctantly jumped ship at Uxbridge on August 31st, Jim continued shepherding the Ducks ever further east, including being stranded at Northampton for two weeks waiting for the Nene to subside, and many further adventures without me.

I think I must have had a lot more energy in those days, as well as a less demanding job, and fewer dogs.

Thursday 4 March 2021

2007: 1 - 'Not as wet as Wakefield': IWA National, St Ives

We took Warrior to the IWA National Festival in St Ives in 2007. I think it was only our second ever National - the first being the one at Beale Park in 2003 that kicked the whole thing off. I don't have to hand any photos of Warrior there on the Great Ouse, but I am fond of this one of her shining her searchlight into the trees.

Other high spots of this trip included taking Warrior back to her birthplace at Bill Fen, and having a splendid time in Cambridge, where we were invited to tie up to another tug at Jesus Lock just as we'd resigned ourselves to giving up and turning back - and whose owner then took us on an amazing Cambridge pub crawl.
Craig on Pyxis, you are one of those boaters who will never be forgotten! We were to return to Cambridge in 2010, by which time Warrior was moored at Bill Fen.

Apparently it was at St Ives that I first learned to splice - and I say 'first' advisedly, as I have forgotten and learned many more times since.

The most memorable thing, though, was how muddy it was. The Wergies were revelling (if not quite rolling) in it whilst gleefully telling everyone that it wasn't 'as bad as Wakefield' thus demonstrating that not only were they tough, they had alse been doing this for more than fifteen years.

I volunteered to hand out programmes at the entrance, and fielded a lot of complaints about said mud. I only did it to get the T-shirt - which I still have, of course. Then they lowered the river level to try to do something about it, so the boat tipped over - we had a nice inside mooring so that people could look at the newly flash engine, but because Warrior has hatches only on one side, ended up having to face the wrong way.

St Ives was also the first time I saw Fulbourne, which was tied up behind us, and became - with its multiply varnished and aged austerity livery - my ideal of what a GU boat should look like.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

2006: 2 - Andante's big adventure

I bought Andante early in 2005, from Mike - who gave me my first ever narrow boat steering lesson. It was February when we viewed the boat in Newbury, and so cold that the surveyor couldn't test the gas system because it was frozen.

Andante was to be my Huddersfield pied-a-cut, but because of closures on the Thames that year (to Mike's great disappointment) she had to make the journey there by lorry. Thus, following the end of my Huddersfield contract, and the purchase of Warrior, when the time came for Andante to leave Huddersfield this was my first and only opportunity for a proper trip on her (we'd previously made a brief foray which terminated at Brighouse, en route to Sowerby Bridge). 

More significantly, despite having been boating for a few years and having just purchased our third boat, this was our first experience of canal boating. So where better to start than the Huddersfield Narrow, with its 74 locks in 19 miles. Looking back, I think that perhaps at the time we didn't appreciate just quite what a momentous trip this was. We haven't crossed the Pennines by boat since, nor boated so far north.

We went through Standedge Tunnel, which we're unlikely ever to do again.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

2006: 1 - Restoring Warrior

For anyone who hasn't ventured into the Warrior blog, this was where I started. Blogging, that is, not boating. Warrior was in fact my/our third boat in a three year whirlwind romance with the waterways, beginning with Helyn (22' fibreglass cruiser) in 2004, complemented by Andante (32' R&D) when I needed somewhere to live in Huddersfield, and culminating in 2005 with Warrior when we knew we were in this boating lark for the long haul.

Warrior was purchased in autumn 2005, but it was spring 2006 before we were able to think of moving her from the mooring at Golden Nook near Chester. Warrior is a beautiful and very solidly built tug, whose main attraction was a 1937 three-cylinder, marine, National engine. That needed a very expensive rebuild.

The summer of 2006 was spent working on an engineless boat on the bank, shotblasting, blacking, blacking some more (I still have scars), painting in temporary Craftmaster raddle all over, and completely ripping out the interior and doing amazing things with pitch pine, quarter-sawn oak and French enamel stoves, whilst the engine sat in Daventry and kept Russell Newbery solvent for one more year.

The trip from Goldon Nook to Stretton was enlivened by meeting a great many old boats going the other way, en route to Ellesmere Port for Easter, whilst nominally in control of a boat firing on about one and a half cylinders and with a very temperamental reverse gear; we followed up with what, with hindsight, was possibly the most momentous event of 2006: we went to Braunston. And so the seeds were sown of the obsession that led to the purchase and subsequent eleven-year (and counting) ownership of Chertsey.

(Fast-forwarding five years, I reckon we must be nearing the tenth anniversary of Adrian and Linda purchasing Warrior - I always felt less bad about abandoning her for a Big Woolwich knowing that she went into such good hands.)

Monday 1 March 2021

Looking back

April 1st will mark the fifteenth anniversary of the day I started blogging, sitting in my office in the Ramsden Building at the University of Huddersfield (it was the one at the front with the stained glass alpaca window), before returning for the night to Andante, moored on the towpath at Aspley Basin. The impetus for starting the blog was the purchase of Warrior; the inspiration Granny Buttons, alongside the hundreds of other waterways bloggers who came and went over those early years. 

One of the best things about having kept the blog(s) - 2424 posts and counting - is being able to look back and be remind of things I would undoubtedly have otherwise forgotten, and relive my journeys, both literal and metaphorical, in the world of boats and boating.

March, therefore, will be a month of repeats, as I select a couple of key events from each year to look back on - to reminisce, and to reflect - taking me hopefully ever nearer the day I'm back on the boat, and the boat back on the cut.