Sunday, December 31, 2006

Farewell 2006

I suspect many bloggers are journalists or columnists manques; I certainly am, so in best newspaper tradition, here is my review of 2006 and the (mainly) boat-related highlights of my year. It is also nbWarrior's 100th post! Hooray!

January and February
Seems so long ago! Huddersfield. Cold. Dark. Andante's trusty Paloma succumbs to the cold and develops a water leak, so no hot running water. Morning routine: 6.00 listen to the news. Put on socks (which have been tucked up next to hot water bottle all night), warm trousers and fleece, over pyjamas. Then, and only then, get out of bed. Make sandwiches. Collect bag containing civilised clothes. Put on coat, hat and boots. Five minute walk along the towpath and across the canal to university building containing shower, kept spotless by marvellous woman called Irene, always immaculately dressed, coiffed and made up at 6.30 in the morning. Transform self from grubby crusty into respectable academic. Further five minute walk to my office in glorious Victorian gothic former technical college, as the sun comes up over its turrets. Have two cups of tea and a bowl of muesli. Start work.

Start thinking about moving Warrior to somewhere where the engine can be taken out. I send off my 127th job application. The previous 126 have yielded 16 interviews and two fixed term contracts, which is not a bad rate of return for academia.

I start blogging.

Andante gets broken into (not good) although as I am not there at the time, there's nothing on board to steal, and little gratuitous damage, it could be worse. Straight after repairing her window, we're on our way to Hargrave to bring Warrior down to Stretton. This is where it starts to get exciting. With little experience of canal work, no reverse gear, and a dodgy governor, we blunder our way down the Shroppie, leaving miraculously little carnage in our wake. Later, we drive up to Ellesmere Port to see the working boats we ploughed through on the way down. 127th job application yields 17th interview.

I somehow seem to stop blogging.

Warrior is out of the water, engineless, and with hull shotblasted. A big highlight I missed was the engine coming out. Nothing will keep me from seeing it go back in.

Worst eating out experience of the year: The Vaughan Arms at Lapley. Enormous pub, Saturday night; empty but for one rather odd family, who didn't stay long anyway. Quietly sinister barman; hopeless if endearing waitress (let's just say we weren't surprised when she told us it was her first day); football on the telly nicely complemented by the 80s pop blasting out of the speakers; lasagne with bits of packaging still in it, and a very old cat who, although commendably friendly, was rather too smelly to make good mealtime company.

Go to Crick, which is OK, then on to Barry Hawkins' open day, which is one of the true highlights of the year. Ian is there, and we meet the Redshaws, who are wonderful, and drink cans of Strongbow and eat all the veggie cheeseburgers. And Jim befriends a (quite possibly the) floating blacksmith, whose description of his response to customer criticism of his work - 'so I chucked it in the cut' - in the most glorious Black Country accent, should be recorded for posterity.

Seventeenth interview results in offer of permanant, London-based, job. To celebrate, Baz and I watch Curse of the Were-Rabbit on DVD.

Weather starts getting hot.

I start blogging again, and this time I keep it up (so far).

Get get back from Huddersfield one Friday, ready to start a week's leave, to learn that Jim has located a source of wood for Warrior's floor. In Leeds. So off we go; load the car up to the roof with our floorboards newly sawn from 200 year-old beams, and take the scenic route down to Stretton through the Pennines and the Peak District. It is very hot, the car barely has any brakes, and for some reason I have volunteered to drive.* It's fantastic.

Also, of course, Braunston, where my previous interest in working boats threatens to become an obsession.

*This is unusual, as I have garnered a reputation for myself as a Very Good Passenger, which means that I don't shreik too much. Jim on the other hand, although undeniably a good driver, is the World's Worst Passenger, and many's the journey that's ended with me swearing that I will NEVER drive him ANYWHERE, EVER again. This has happened many times on boats, too.

Blacking Warrior in the baking heat. The smell of Comastic. The mindlessness of Radio One (Monster, by The Automatic, according to my Young People's Music Advisor). The most abiding memories of last summer.

Moving Andante from Huddersfield down to Stretton means loads of excitement and new experiences. What stands out? The people we met, especially the ones we drank with: Clive and Christine in Kidsgrove and Tony and Sheila in Stone. The sun coming out as we crossed Tixall Wide. Number One Son Aaron coming boating for the first time and really taking to it. Harecastle Tunnel, which I found a lot more interesting than Standedge, to be honest. The rain. Visiting the National Engine Works. Finally getting some practice at steering (see above).

And being shown how to tie a boatman's hitch.

Starting new job. Nosing about bits of the Regents Canal for the first time.

Weirdest coincidences of the year - possibly of the decade: the amazing Pendorric saga unfolds. (Hopefully I'll be meeting up with Jacquie tonight to chew over that one).

Visiting Hampstead in Battlebridge Basin. Having watched work progress at Stretton over the summer, and having last left as the boat was being painted, but before it was signwritten, I rather cheekily invited myself over when Keith brought Hampstead down to London, to see the (almost) final result. A lovely morning on a beautiful boat, and the first time, I think, that I've set foot on a proper former working boat.
[oh, except for in a museum, she remembers a week later.]

Accept an offer on Andante (still too soon to count chickens, so will say no more at this stage).

Start to sort out Warrior's back cabin - now I no longer have a boat of my very own, I guess I'm carving out a bit of territory in the shared one. Make very pleasing rag rug, but efforts at crochet continue to fail dismally.

Funding cuts protest in Little Venice: having been in two minds about going, I was really glad I did. Met some more lovely and interesting people, and got signed up to the Historic Narrow Boat Owners' Club. More grist to the mill!

Finally taking delivery of Phil Speight can and handbowl ordered for Jim's Xmas present. Gorgeous. Handing them over on Christmas morning.

So, what does 2007 hold?
Well, hopefully:
The engine will be finished and reinstalled
Warrior will be painted and signwritten
We will go to the RN rally at Atherstone in June, and the IWA in St Ives in August ...

And as for me personally ... I will hopefully:
Learn to splice
Finally get to grips with crocheting
Become an all round better boatperson

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

This time last year ...

... we were on Warrior at Hargrave and it was very cold. We travelled up on Christmas day, after opening our presents but before lunch. We took all our edible presents with us - a selection of chocolates and cheesy biscuits - and cooked Christmas dinner when we got there. One of the things that pushed us into going was the prospect of a fantastic temporary ice rink which was promised at Chester. This in fact never materialised. However we did spend this day last year at Chester Zoo, and had a lovely time.

The following day, I think it was, that the canal froze. We couldn't have gone anywhere in the boat anyway as the engine still wasn't starting. Amazingly, Ian came up (over? down?) that week too and spent a day coaxing and diagnosing it. We are of course now well into its course of treatment and it is essentially the Six Million Dollar Engine, in that it has been rebuilt at great expense, but hopefully will now have superpowers.

We spent the latter part of the week coughing like miners, and, with hindsight, probably nearly dead, owing to the sorry (far sorrier than we knew) state of the Squirrel, but it didn't half throw out some heat. Ditto the cabin stove, and at least Baz kept his hatches open in there. We even had hot water coming out of the taps - ah, heady days. As long as you remembered to run some hot water over the bath before sitting on it.

We came back on New Year's day, in the lightest traffic I have ever seen. At times on the M6 Toll we couldn't see another car in either direction; very spooky. Naturally we made excellent time ... After we got back I felt that I'd missed out a bit on gazing at the Christmas tree and decided that we should stay at home this year - and do you know what? Yep. This year I miss being on the boat. So maybe a Christmas cruise next year - who knows where?

Technical note: when we got back from Stretton last time we discovered that the cat had knocked the router on the floor and finally broken it beyond repair. So all my posts since then have been done on the laptop via the T-Mobile gizmo. When I look at the photos, the resolution looks very poor. If it looks bad to you too, that may be the reason. Hopefully we will get sorted out with a new router soon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thank you Santa (and Phil Speight)

So Christmas Day is over for another year and I've spent Boxing Day in the traditional manner, tidying up and putting all our new goodies away. Boat related presents numbered as follows: for Baz, one model narrowboat kit in preparation for when he gets his 00 guage railway set up again (the poor boy's only been waiting ten years); for me, a part share in a book of Cruising Rings and Things (thank you Sophie); for Jim, four videos - a bit of a swiz really as we heve neither a video nor a TV, but they were selling them off cheap at the London Canal Museum (beacuse nobody has a video any more) and we will find some way around it. And also for Jim, these:

The best present I have ever bought. And a large part of it by accident. Around October time I thought it would be good to get a painted handbowl for Warrior. Then I thought it would be nice to make it a commemorative Christmas present. So I looked at the website of the Waterways Craft Guild and, not wishing to be presumptious, emailed a few painters whom I hadn't heard of. None replied. So, deciding there was no option but to be presumptious, I emailed Phil Speight. He replied straight away, very helpful, with prices. Then one of the others finally got round to replying - and was more expensive! So I placed my order with Phil and congratulated myself on a present well-chosen.
A few weeks ago I got an email to say my can was ready. Oh good, I replied, but don't you mean handbowl? Er, no; he'd done a can. And it was, he said, a particularly nice one, but not to worry, he'd paint the name out and finish it for someone else. I couldn't bear the thought of that, so I rather rashly (without even asking the price of the can) said that if he could still do a bowl by Xmas, I'd take both. And I'm so glad I did, because the handbowl is excellent, and exactly what Warrior needs; but the can is absolutely breathtaking. I've been dying to write about this, but of course I couldn't before because it was a surprise.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Best wishes for a splendid festive season and a happy and successful 2007 to all Warrior's loyal readers.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sold down the river

Ever the optimists that we are, we plan to take Warrior to the IWA National Festival at St Ives next year. Part of the motivation is to fit in a visit to the boat's builder, John Shotbolt, at Ramsey. Part of it is a desire to show off (so I hope we get a good inside mooring), and part of it is to have somewhere to aim for on our travels. Also, it will, hopefully, be nice to feel more immersed and involved in the festival.

Booking in the boat and three people for the duration of the festival cost, if I remember rightly, £63. The temporary Environment Agency licence that we need to navigate the Nene and the Great Ouse to get there costs £149. And that's with a special IWA deal. This is why, when we had Helyn on the Middle Level, we never quite got around to 'doing' the rivers, much as we would have liked to. (A fellow moorer at Floods Ferry made his plans for a Nene trip and bought his licence for the fortnight in question, only to find the navigation closed for flood control; no refund; no change of date; no nothing.) An annual EA licence is relatively reasonable, but the short term ones are outrageously dear (imho).

What really tickles me is the form that I've filled in to apply for it. It's something like a tenth generation photocopy, for a start, with the text all wavy and blurred. It wants to know everything about the boat, even when this is meaningless. For example, it lists a lot of facilities we might have on board, like fridge, cooker, central heating, 'other'. For each of them we have to tick a box to say whether they are gas, electric or 'other'. So, fridge: electric; cooker: gas; other: other. Well, I wish we did have an other other, but I couldn't think of anything they hadn't already covered, so I had to leave the other other box blank in the end.

Also, strangely for such an apparently old fashioned outfit, they demand to know your dimensions in metric, and metric only. Now, I have nothing in principle against the metric system. Indeed, where it's easier, I use it (but imperial weights CANNOT be bettered for cooking. Please note, Guardian and Observer recipe editors). In this case however, it caused me a seriously furrowed brow working it out. Having finally done so, of course I didn't think of making a note of it for next time I need to know.

So, a fair bit of money and effort has been wagered on this St Ives trip coming off; an act of faith, it was to start with. The logistical details of who's going to crew and how it's going to fit around work, and how we'll manage the shift changes are still largely a case of 'we'll sort that out nearer the time'. But if you worried about planning everything down to the finest detail before starting, you'd never do anything, would you?

Friday, December 22, 2006


Back to the saga of the cabin floor. The story so far: the floor had vinyl stuck to it, with a layer of wood-effect plastic tiles on top. I wanted either black and white checked vinyl (to imitate traditional lino) or plain red oxide or floor paint. This latter, apparently simplest, option was ruled out by the type of boarding used for Warrior's floors throughout: not ply, but that rather bitty composite stuff. I wasn't mad about using vinyl, partly because of its environmental impact and also because to be able to get the checks to run on the diagonal we'd need to buy about three times as much as we would actually use, as none of the patterns we could find (and we really did look) were printed diagonally. We had a piece of real lino (not checked, but a nicely old fashioned marbled pattern) that would have been good, but it turned out to be too small.

But, you will see from the photo, I have achieved the desired effect - and at minimal cost, so if it proves not to be durable not too much has been lost (about twelve quid and a day's effort). I stumbled upon the answer by chance in Homebase - they are tiles, a foot square (i.e. four squares each), thin plastic with a self-adhesive backing, at £2.49 for a pack of six (I think). The main reason I have doubts about their durability is the state of the floor they were layed on. I had hoped to remove only the top layer of wood effect tiles and lay the new ones on top of the old vinyl, but the two previous layers refused to part company with each other, and the whole lot had to be unstuck from the board, bringing bits of the board with it and leaving a not terribly flat surface. But I pressed ahead - perhaps foolhardily - because I wanted to get it done and see what it looked like. The adhesive seems to be very effective and the tiles have butted up to each other well, so I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Curtains (part two)

Next job: putting up the lovingly crafted curtains in Warrior's back cabin. You might recall that I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to fix the bed curtain and pelmet; I bought a selection of brass rods, various sized hooks, and eyelets, and in the end used nothing but the hooks. The right hand side of the pelmet is pinned to a wooden thing I don't know the name of (I know I can be a bit obsessive about getting the right names for things, but it's very difficult when you don't have anything to call something) and the rest is hung off very small (1/4" or so) brass hooks screwed into the ceiling. For the pelmet these are about six inches apart. I just hung it using the curtain tape that was already attached, straight onto the hooks. This seemed to work, so I abandoned the rods and attached the curtain in the same way. It was always going to be purely decorative, so it doesn't matter for practical purposes that it can't be pulled. The hooks for that are about four inches apart. It's pretty inauthentic, and utterly impractical, but it does look nice ...

The porthole curtain went up easily enough (must polish that rail) but the others, to cover the storage spaces at floor level, were more of a challenge; owing to some kind of measuring error on my part they won't fit within the spaces but will need to be hung above them. We can't really have a protruding rail. I was all set to pin them up, but I thought they will get dirty down there and need frequent washing. So I think it will be the dreaded velcro. Unless and until we make some doors or drawers for those spaces.

The photo, which you probably can't see, is a copy of a recently discovered bit of family history. My father never mentioned that his mother had a shop in Swindon - it was only last year that one of his sisters sent my sister this picture of the three of them standing outside it in the mid/late 20s. And it has my name over the door! (Said aunties have never quite come to terms with the fact that although legally married to him I don't actually share Jim's surname. This means we can have more interesting signwriting on Warrior.)

Shortest day today - so in theory it gets better from here, but it never feels like that in January and February. Given the choice I think I'd quite like to hibernate from Christmas to Easter.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Turning the tables

Well, its legs at any rate. Look at our lovely new saloon table, hand crafted, like the kitchen and the saloon cabinet, by Derek (of, I guess, Industry Narrowboats. About time I gave a plug to Keith and his merry gang) from the stock of English oak built up by his uncle over twenty years ago.

We were agonising for ages over what we were going to do for a table, assuming that it would be going on the port side between the chairs and opposite the stove; the breakthrough came just as we were leaving last time, when I realised that it might work better opposite the chairs, supported on top of the cabinet with its weight cantilevered off (against?) a batten attached to the wall, with detachable legs to share the weight and give it stability. A brief chat with Derek before we left, and on our return, as if by magic, the table had appeared.

As always, Derek's work has exceeded our wildest dreams. Rather than separate detachable legs (which I always suspected would be a bit fiddly) it has turned legs attached to a hinged section which folds back when the table top is stowed against the wall. A brass pin drops in to prevent the table top from sliding forward out of its retaining slot, which is rather more than a batten, being beautifully shaped and crafted to match the moulding on the cabinet.

Even with the rather unwieldy chairs, when the table is set up it doesn't prevent passage through the boat, although it is a good size: about 38" by 30" (I'm guessing the width and trying to remember the length!). Best of all, it looks like a 'real' table, not a 'boat' table. We've treated the top with a couple of coats (so far) of the Liberon tung oil which we bought for the iroko kitchen worktops, where it has done a terrific job of sealing the wood.

Talking of oil, we also bought some specialised Liberon stuff for the floor, although we haven't got our act together sufficiently to apply it yet. Sad as it will be to leave the little community at Stretton when we finally get our engine back, I yearn for the day when we have to worry about mud being trailed through the boat, rather than the ubiquitous fine grit which is the bane of my current floor-cleaning existence.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The writing on the ... er... cabinside

Just spent a very productive weekend up on Warrior. The first thing we did was meet signwriter Dave Moore, with a view to his signwriting Warrior next year. It won't be until late spring/early summer, but I thought we'd better plan ahead as we don't want to be held up at the final stage. We liked the cut of his jib - very conservative and traditional - and he's happy to do it, so if all goes to plan that will be the icing on the cake.

Jim and I have been debating the design, layout, lettering, colour scheme and content ever since we got the boat - probably earlier! The main points of contention were whether it should be ornate or austere; whether we should have our names on it; whether the boat's name should go in a panel, or tug-style along the side (or even, and I have been soundly put in my place over this, on the fore-end). Guided by Dave's advice we have settled (famous last words) on, respectively, relatively ornate within panels on the back cabin and engine room, with the rest of the cabinsides totally plain; no coach lining, nothing (except a red handrail); yes, we will have our names on it as if we were really in the tug business; boat name to go in a panel. We haven't talked about colours or lettering styles yet, although the panels will probably be black or very dark blue, on the Fergusson grey ground.

Very early days yet, but it was exciting to watch Dave roughly chalking out the layout to see how it would fit around Warrior's hatches etc. and to start thinking about the possibility that it will, one day, be finished ...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Plus ca change ...

This isn't a book review, but I've just finished reading David Blagrove's Bread Upon the Waters. Silly title, great book. Made me laugh (out loud) and cry (real tears), both while on the train. But what struck me, among other things, is how many of today's concerns are not new at all. I know I noted this with Narrow Boat too, but what about this for the binge drinking menace:

...a huge drinking emporium ... designed to pour alcohol into the maximum number of people in the shortest possible time. ... one after another the patrons left to vomit; sometimes in the lavatories, occasionally across the floor. From time to time arguments would lead to fisticuffs or outbursts of vile language and the bar staff threw the refilled glasses across the bar, serving new customers with indifferent contempt.

And having been walking around London in shirt sleeves today, it's easy to think that such mild weather in December is unprecedendented, but Blagrove 'tied up below the lock in balmy sunshine ... It was the shortest day of the year yet the weather was like early spring'. December 21st 1962. And we know what happened after that ...

We're off up to Warrior again this weekend. We seem to be going regularly about once a month. Can't justify going any more frequently; can't stay away any longer. This time Jim and Aaron (yes! Number One Son will see Warrior at last!) will be working in the engine room, building a cupboard for all the fuses and electrical things, lifting the floor, and moving ballast and batteries around, while I'll be putting my curtains up in the cabin and trying a new idea with the floor. We're also - planning ahead - meeting up with the signwriter whom we hope will be writing Warrior some time in late spring. And this leads me nicely back to Bread Upon the Waters, where Blagrave describes how a young Ron Hough went about his painting and signwriting, concluding that 'It was good to think that at least the pleasure craft renaissance would continue to make it worthwhile for Ron and others to practise the art.' So think of that little bit of optimism before you order those stick-on plastic letters ...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My little town

Today is an anniversary which is either amazing, or horrifying; I'm not sure which. As of today, I have been a resident of Newhaven, East Sussex, for a staggering twenty years. What a long time to stay in one place. Until I started a. looking for jobs all over the country, and b. got into boats, I'd scarcely left the south east of England, and my knowledge of the geography of the rest of the country was shamefully hazy. Born in South London, I was moved by my parents at the age of five into deepest commuterland, where I stayed until relative house prices and the desire for a bigger abode took me, my first husband, and a toddling Number One Son down to the south coast.

At first I didn't like it at all. We had a lovely house, but the town was small, and grubby, and above all - though I didn't give the fact enough weight at the time - strange to me. There's probably not many people would yearn for the bright lights of Haywards Heath, but I did. Until, one night, walking back from the railway station, I was stopped at the swing bridge which takes the A259 across the estuary of the Sussex Ouse, and had to wait for a ship to come through to unload its cargo of aggregate on the town's North Quay (pictured, as they say). It was an Arco ship, the Sand Swan, I still remember. And it was magical, the way it, sorry, she, came almost silently through, lit up in the dark, her crew going about their business on the decks, right into the heart of the town. And I thought that any town that could offer that couldn't be all bad.

Since then Newhaven has really grown on me. It's a fading industrial/ railway/ port town. The Dieppe ferry grimly clings on, but can't really compete with the much shorter Dover-Calais crossing and the Channel Tunnel, let alone the cheap flights from Gatwick. Aggregates are still unloaded, and scrap metal still taken away by sea, but when I first came there were also cargoes of fruit, vegetables, and particularly bananas, and a weekly column in the local paper saying what ships were in port and what their cargoes were; now no more.

A few more random facts about Newhaven. This town, with its population of 10,000, once boasted three railway stations. Newhaven Town, whence I left for London this morning, and Newhaven Harbour, for the ferry, are still operating. The third, Newhaven Marine, on its own branch line, served the boat train which ran from Victoria on the first leg of a journey which continued via Sealink and SNCF to Paris. The last one ran since I've lived here, but I can't remember quite when. The very idea of a boat train makes me come over all peculiar, as I picture the passengers in its heyday, dressed, in my minds eye, to a woman, in eau-de-nil chiffon and smoking cigarettes in long holders. The glamour!

Newhaven's comprehensive school was opened in 1968 in a blaze of radical optimism, with a uniform featuring the liberal use of orange bri-nylon, and a continental day (8 am - 2.15 pm). The former, to the relief of pupils, is long gone; the latter, to the chagrin of local shopkeepers, persists to this day. Its situation on the top of a cliff makes it a rather inhospitable place and the year before last much of it was destroyed in an arson attack. Neither of my children went there.

Newhaven has some lovely Victorian and Edwardian houses (I currently live in one of the former), and one of the few sandy beaches on the south coast (albeit the beach is privately owned and is currently closed and cordoned off because a lump of concrete fell off the sea wall last year and the owners are scared of being sued but too mean to fix it themselves). It has the river, along which there are nice walks.

Newhaven has not had the honour of having a Town Class boat named after it, although the next town along the coast to the east, Seaford, has. And you thought I'd gone off topic.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Book review: Narrow Boat

So I take on the prophet and the holy book: L.T.C. (Tom) Rolt's Narrow Boat, first published in 1944 and widely credited with setting off the inland waterways restoration movement. My copy is a 1946 Eyre and Spottiswoode/Readers' Union austerity edition, which somehow seems fitting. It was a Christmas present last year, and I first read it on Warrior up at Hargrave where we spent the week from Christmas to New Year. I really loved it then; I felt that Rolt was articulating much that was not only true when he wrote, but is even truer today, and articluating it eloquently to boot. I went on to read Landscape with Canals, the second part of his autobiography, and got a taste of his amateur philosophising, and began to like him rather less.

Reading Narrow Boat for a second time feels rather like the sort of situation where you meet someone who agrees with your view of the world, and you enjoy talking to them at first, but then they won't shut up. I was struck with how negative the tone of much of the book is, and how relentlessly Rolt harangues the reader. Even though I still sympathise with many (but by no means all) of his views, it's hard to take totally seriously someone who expostulates about 'the evil genius of the can-opener' and its role in undermining traditional - i.e. rural - English cooking (and yet, and yet, the TV dinner and the microwave, he is right really ...). But still you are reminded of a modern day equivalent, ranting spittle-flecked over his copy of the Daily Mail.

Rolt's extreme bucolic conservatism sometimes seems poised to tip over into something a little less savoury. His veneration of traditional rural life, and concomitant excoriation of the drift to the industrial towns, is a little too blood-and-soil for comfort. This is explicitly expressed in his contrasting of two markets: one features 'groups of gaitered farmers and their plump, bustling wives, filling the air with the murmur of their rich country dialect', there to buy 'great baskets of eggs and golden farm butter', while at the other, 'the wives of the men from the factories .... crowd round the Jew vendors of shoddy clothing and gawdy ornaments, clutching their string bags and shrilly admonishing their grubby children.' I don't think you need to be an expert in discourse analysis to get the message there.

There is a nasty streak of smug snobbery running through Rolt's commentary. While Susan Woolfitt is identifiably from a similar class background, and displays her own share of snobbery and class prejudice in Idle Women, she doesn't seem to despise people in the way Rolt does. He also seems to buy into the myth of the 'noble savage', the epitome of man's true nature before its corruption by civilisation, here represented above all by the boatman, in whom 'shines a bright natural intelligence whose great charm lies in the fact that it has not been acquired from Council schools and newspapers'.

So I wouldn't want to be sat next to Rolt at a dinner party; he's smug, snobbish, and arguably naive. But for all that, Narrow Boat is not a bad book; it is not only an important book, but a very readable one too, and it is a book that demands to be read. There are passages of poetic beauty, and of shivering prescience. There are lines that ring so true they could have been written yesterday (the transformation by breweries of the pub into 'a sordid drink-shop as characterless as their liquor', for example, or 'the new spirit of joyless sanctimony which was a product of commercialism').

Rolt's writing is at its most affecting when he isn't laying it on with a trowel, as when he describes the boatman who 'had but lately lost his wife, and now worked his boat with the help of his three small children, the eldest a girl of ten. There had been four, until one was drowned in Tyrley top lock'; or when, towards the end of the book, he describes the effects of the harsh winter of 1940 on the lives and livelihoods still dependent on the canals. Along with this, what makes poignant reading are the losses Rolt himself is unaware of; the things that he didn't know were going to disappear or change beyond recognition over the next sixty years, and so only mentions in passing.

The killer question is whether things have improved since Narrow Boat was written, or whether they have continued to deteriorate, not just on the canals, for Rolt casts his net more widely than that, but in society as a whole. In every age, surely, some things get worse, and some things get better, and people tend on the whole to notice and comment more upon the former. Rolt regrets the passing of so much, and seeks to cling to a past that he has, arguably, romanticised. While we can - indeed, must - learn from the past, and preserve and even recreate what is best from it, the one thing we cannot do is turn the clock back. Rather than wasting time and energy looking over our shoulder and crying after what we've lost, we should embrace the present, appreciate and enjoy what we have, and work to make the future - if we have one - better still.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

From red diesel to Greene King ...

This has not really got much to do with boats, but it was sparked off because I was re-reading Narrow Boat (the better to give you the dubious benefit of my opinion of the book in due course), and I noted this passage:

We ate a simple lunch of bread and cheese at the sign of "The Boat" by the canal side, a sign representing a narrow boat on the move which did the brewers concerned, a Leamington firm, much credit. In some quarters there is evidence such as this that the neglected art of the inn sign is being belatedly revived, some more enlightened brewers ... having accomplished much in recent years. Evidently it is dawning upon the brewers' commercial mind that the average countryman goes to the village inn because he is thirsty and because he wishes to gossip with his neighbours, and therefore that to advertise their beer in foot-high letters across the outside walls is not merely unsightly, but expensive and ineffectual.

And then I got home (I was reading the book on the train) and read Private Eye, in which there was this letter:

Greene King must be fast becoming the country's least favourite brewers. Down here in Kent, they have recently replaced traditional pictograph inn signs with just a large depiction of their logo in green on white; thus bring to country lanes the same bland uniformity that bedevils our town centres... [very Roltish, that last bit, I thought]

So, it appears, things come full circle. I have two personal reasons to dislike Greene King. Firstly, since they acquired the Lewes Arms, this fantastically old fashioned and atmospheric pub hidden away in the middle of Lewes (to no inconsiderable, but ultimately ineffectual, local outcry) has stopped selling Harveys (except sometimes, maybe, if they're very good, as a guest beer). It is hard to explain to someone who is not local how outrageous this is; Harveys, winners of CAMRA's Best Best Bitter accolade two years in a row have been brewing in Lewes since 1790, and the pub has been there as long. And Harveys really is very, very nice.

Secondly, the last time (hopefully ever) that I drank so much I was sick I was drinking Greene King Abbott (obviously this was before the Lewes Arms scandal). There is of course a story to this (excuse alert!) and it is a very long one, the key points being that I'd spent the day in Halifax, where I found a cast concrete griffon ridge tile that I decided would make the perfect birthday present for Jim ... I got back to Huddersfield on the train with it in a box, and on leaving the station it dawned on me that it was really very, very heavy ... then I had the luck to run into a chap who was nearly a total stranger, but whom I'd met the previous week in Primark, and he volunteered to carry it to my office for me. This, I think, turned out to be rather further then he thought. I insisted that I must buy him a drink for his trouble; he said he'd already arranged to meet some friends in The County, would I join them there ... so I, along with Pete-from-work, did. The County is quite a nice pub, marred only by a large plasma screen and a youthful clientele, but with a limited range of beers, of which I latched onto the Abbott as being the most Southern. I may have bought Graham (for that was the knight in shining armour's name) a pint; he certainly bought me a lot (four? five? and it's 5% and I'm only little and I hadn't had lunch, let alone dinner). But we did have a nice evening, and his friends were very interesting, and it wasn't until I got back to the boat that it really dawned on me that perhaps I shouldn't've.

But that was the last time I graced Greene King with my custom, and probably the last time I ever will, so in the light of subsequent events I suppose it all ended quite appropriately.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Red diesel: my two penn'orth

And so it has come to pass that the derogation for the use of red diesel in pleasure craft has been withdrawn, and there has been much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth ...

There's no denying that this is Bad News, and particularly irritating as it isn't going to make a blind bit of difference to anyone except boaters; one suspects it to be a bit of bureaucratic obsessive-compulsive tidying up rather than genuine playing field levelling or revenue raising (though I dare say the government won't say no to the extra dosh). Of course there is nothing to be done about it now; if it's hard to reverse a domestic government decision like the DEFRA cuts, then turning around the juggernaut that is the EU is impossible; what's more, there's little sign that the political will is there in the British government.

But is it really the end of the world as we know it? Isn't the cost of fuel actually a fairly small proportion of the cost of running a narrowboat (as opposed to a big yacht or a lairy Thames gin palace, and the thought of them paying more, frankly, warms the cockles of my heart). Or is there an argument to be made that this could be the last straw, coming as it does on top of above-inflation rises in the price of licences, moorings, and peripherals like electricity and pumpouts? And what would the last straw mean? People who have grimly hung on through everything else finally forced into hanging up their windlasses and selling their boats? And would this in turn lead to a drop in the price of second hand, and as a knock-on, new, boats? Conventional market wisdom says that it would, but I wonder whether market forces operate in a conventional way here. Some smokers give up each time there's a hike in tobacco duty. But do alcoholics give up drinking when the Chancellor sticks another 10p on a bottle of White Lightening? Do heroin addicts go cold turkey when the street price goes up? Will I stop boating? Will you?

One further thought: everyone is assuming that this means that excise duty will have to be levied on marine diesel at the same rate as on road diesel. But is this necessarily the case? When the EU forced the British government to impose VAT on domestic fuel a few years back, the minimum rate they stipulated was 5%, this being the minimum for the EU as a whole. The British government (because there was such an outcry) duly set the VAT rate for domestic fuel at 5% rather than the standard 17.5%. Now, I'm no expert on pan-EU excise duty rates, but I wouldn't mind betting that they're a lot lower than in Britain (they certainly are for drink, witness the phenomenon of the booze cruise). So does the ending of the derogation really mean we'll be forced by the EU to pay the same per litre as road users, or are the government just going to make it the same and conveniently let the EU take the blame? Do they have the leeway to levy a lower rate? Is there perhaps scope here for a(nother) campaign, aimed at Westminster, about just how this will be implemented?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Getting into hot water

Since I unblocked the chimney and got Warrior's back cabin stove working, the back boiler has been gurgling away very efficiently heating water which, unfortunately, we can't use, because we presently have no 12v to power the pump (and until just before we left last time the taps weren't connected up either). Our only current source of hot water is the good old kettle.

I recall a few years back one of those competitive exchanges of correspondence in the Guardian which culminated in a claim from a woman (I think maybe she'd been a Wren or something similar) that she and her colleagues, during the war, had managed to perform their daily ablutions with only a tin mug of hot water, starting with their teeth and finishing with their feet. I'm not quite in that league - I have to wash my hair! - but I can cope with three or four pints. And while they may be environmentally unsound, and, from the experience of a neighbour in Huddersfield, fatal to electric toilets (now there's a concept that fills me with unease), wet wipes are an undeniable boon in the absence of running water.

Still, not long now before it's running round Warrior's pipes and out of the taps again. It still has to be heated up though, and the calorifier - which is heated from the engine or the back boiler - isn't very large. One Baz-size shower and it's gone. Then I really miss Andante's Paloma. I'd love to have one on Warrior, but apart from the small fact that there's nowhere to put one, it's impossible to get one fitted anyway. It's not because of the Boat Safety Scheme, although everyone told us at first that it was. Although the BSS has a blanket edict against non-roomsealed appliances (except, grudgingly, cookers), there is, in the small print, an exception for instantaneous gas water heaters, because of their 'good safety record'. Hooray, we thought, on discovering this. But no go; only a CORGI registered installer can fit one, and they won't because they're forbidden by the CORGI regulations. So I can cook a four course Sunday lunch with my non-roomsealed, un-flued, oven, grill and four burner stove running for three hours, but I can't wash up afterwards with a flued burner running for a few minutes.

We waited with bated breath for the room sealed versions which came into the shops earlier this year, but their big stumbling block is that they need a constant 230v power supply. So forget it. We'll carry on with the solid fuel stove and the kettle on the gas cooker; neither dangerous, but neither safer than a Paloma. Good intentions; perverse consequences.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


I've just finished making a set of curtains for Warrior's back cabin. It took me a long time to find some suitable fabric (without going mad and buying new, like we did for the ones in the saloon). However, a few weeks back I found some old curtains in a charity shop that were perfect; nice heavy linen with an old fashioned floral design, featuring yellow and pink roses and little blue flowers too. I bought both the pairs that were there, and have loads of fabric left over that might make cushion covers (if that isn't floral overkill. Can you have overkill in a back cabin?). Because I bought them all I didn't have to mess about sewing curtain tape on - I just used all the existing tops.

I've made a bed curtain - just the one, and only really for show, and a pelmet to go right across the ceiling, and they're both trimmed with some old crocheted lace that came off a table cloth which I got at a jumble sale many many years ago. I only hope the pelmet fits; I had to work out from memory where to put the gaps for the engine controls to run through, and how big to make them. I think ideally there should be a wooden, er, thing, running across the roof to attach these to, but Warrior hasn't got one, and it would be very hard to fit one now. Plus it would brain anyone taller than me. I can actually stand up straight in the back cabin, which is some compensation for being a shortarse. So I'm looking at finding some way of attaching the pelmet directly to the ceiling, and having a short rail for the curtain, only going part way across.

I also made some little curtains: one for the porthole, and some to cover the storage spaces under the bed cupboard and under the side bed (well, bench really. You'd have to be very small to sleep on it). These I trimmed with some very nice, smaller, cotton lace which I bought in Huddersfield for this very purpose. I made them all using my rather splendid old sewing machine, which was bought at a (different) jumble sale for £2. The make is called 'Novum' - which I've never heard of - and it was made in Ireland. It has a lovely 50s/early 60s look about it and must be terribly trendy in line with the fashion for retro kitchen equipment. It also works really well, and - most importantly - is very simple, unlike modern machines.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Words and pictures

Housekeeping stuff. Recently I buggered up the comments function on the blog - I was trying to improve it, honest! - so that it wasn't possible to comment at all on the last few posts. And I know that so many people were just desperate to ... but it appears to be back now, hopefully in its new improved form. The main improvement hopefully being that comments are now open to anyone, not just people with a Blogger account - so if you're reading this and aren't signed in to Blogger, would you like to leave a comment just to check? Just one will do, no matter how asinine. I've also switched on the word verification thingy as I was starting to get a bit of spam in the comments; I know it's not foolproof - i.e. not person-proof - but we'll see how it goes. That's it for words.

Pictures. When Jim first started bringing Waterways World, Canal Boat etc. home I used to refer to it laughingly as 'boatporn'. Little did I know then what tame stuff these over-the-counter publications are compared to what's available on the web. For the delectation of those who haven't yet discovered it for themselves (hello Mum), here are some ... images ... which I have been enjoying lately. And here are some more (from the same site). Mmmm.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Isn't it cold?

Well, no, obviously it's not at the moment. In fact it's worryingly unseasonably mild. But 'Isn't it cold?' is the first question everybody asks when you say you live on a boat. To which the answer, of course, is 'Only if you let the fire go out.' The second question they ask is 'Doesn't it get damp?' To which the answer is 'Only if you let the fire go out.' Living on a boat full time it's a lot easier to keep it warm and dry than it is if you're a mere part-timer, like I was. It does take a bit of time to warm up.

I would arrive in Huddersfield Monday lunchtime, and go straight to work, getting back to Andante at around six in the evening. Assuming it's the depths of winter, I'd rake out the fire and empty the ash (I could put it in the bin as it would be stone cold by now), and lay and light a new one before taking my coat off. Once I was sure it was burning OK, I'd go off to Sainsbury's (just across the canal) to do my week's shopping. By the time I got back, it would be warm enough to take my coat off. Andante's stove was small, and not very pretty, but very efficient. After dinner I'd pull my folding chair up to the stove (the light was better there too) and sit and read and listen to the radio, singeing my slippers and on one occasion scorching my pyjamas. The fire usually managed to stay in all night, but I let it go out during the day, as I'd be out for a good eleven hours. So every evening the first job when I got back was to light it, but the boat didn't cool down to Monday levels in the course of one day.

There was only one winter evening I didn't light the stove. It was the night of West Ham's FA cup semi-final, and having spent the early part of the evening in the Albert, I went round a colleague's flat to watch the second half. By the time I got back to Andante, I was just ready to fall into bed. Big mistake. I have never been so cold for so long (I have been very cold for shorter periods of time, like when I was young and misguided enough to watch Sunday football on the South Downs), and I wasn't going to give up the - extremely relative - comfort of my duvet to get up and light it a fire in the middle of the night. I was also too tired/shivering/drunk to be trusted with matches anyway.

The moral of that story is, quite possibly, don't support West Ham. Or light the fire before you go to the pub.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Clubs and subs: the hidden cost of boating!

Well, I sent off my £12 yesterday, as promised, to become an associate member of the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club (the missing apostrophe is theirs, not mine). My/our membership of organisations various has certainly proliferated since we got into this waterways lark. Not that I've ever been averse to signing up for a cause: when I got my first bank account, the very first cheque I wrote was, proudly, my subscription to Amnesty International (as it was called then). I've been a member of Amnesty on and off ever since, and more recently Liberty, with various forays into other causes over the years (often at the behest of Jim and/or the children, and involving fluffy creatures with big appealing eyes). But never have I been a member/supporter/contributor to so many organisations simultaneously as I find (now all the subs are due) I am now.

There's HNBOC; then there's the Russell Newbury Register (discount on parts, plus The Rally), and the Shropshire Union Canal Society (well, you sort of feel obliged, don't you) ... they're all current. Then there's the Huddersfield Canal Society, which I had to renew just before we left Huddersfield in order to be eligible for a '74 Club' plaque on completing our navigation of the Huddersfield Narrow (or at least I thought I had to). There's the Residential Boat Owners Association (likewise lacking an apostrophe), which I think should now have lapsed, along with my semi-residential status. For two hopeful years, while we had Helyn on the Middle Level, we were members of the Great Ouse Boating Association, although we never actually made it as far as the river (weren't prepared to pay the licence more like), but perhaps we can still fly our pennant on the way to St Ives next year. Then there's the Working Boat Project; I'm not sure if that's a membership organisation, but they send us newsletters. One each, in fact. The one glaring omission is that as far as I can recall, I've never actually joined the IWA - but I do buy their Christmas cards ... And then there's the magazines which we can't resist every month (thinking of taking out subs there too following a slight altercation with our friendly local newsagent, but the free gifts aren't very appealing at present. I mean, do you want a 'wine kit'?). I'm not going to add it all up because I think I'd scare myself, but these are the expenses they never mention when you say you're thinking of getting a boat ...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Protest and survive?

I'm not sure how great a threat the current round of funding cuts is, but I'm prepared to believe those who say it's dire, particularly if it's allowed to set a precedent. I also have reservations about just how much difference popular protest can make, once a decision has been made by government. The usual rule of thumb for lobbyists is that once a decision is in the public domain, the opportunity to influence it is long past. But again, it certainly can't hurt to stand up and be counted in advance of future funding decisions. What's more, coming together to show our solidarity is good for us as a community, as well as for the cause we've come together to defend - that goes for any group of people.

Anyway, we like a nice protest, me and Jim, and this was a very nice one (I haven't actually done that many, but Jim's an old hand): no police, no hostility, lovely people to meet, and boats to look at. With our boat a few hundred miles away, we offered ourselves as footsoldiers in Little Venice (only sixty-odd miles away). I haven't yet read up on what happened in other parts of the country today, but I counted over twenty boats participating in 'our' blockade, with maybe ten additional people on foot. ITV turned up, as well as the Press Association and local radio, that I know of. The event was well organised, with plenty of boat banners, placards, leaflets and petition forms to go round. I held a placard and smiled sweetly, while Jim dusted off his old campaigning skills with the petition clipboard. We got a universally positive response from passers by, and a high level of interest and concern.

Among our fellow footsoldiers were Martin and Rosemary Jiggens, whose boat Denebola was (IIRC) trapped on the Aylesbury Arm - and as a result of our conversation with them, we're about to become associate members of the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club (you don't actually need to own a historic boat to be an associate member, although the conditions for full membership are reassuringly stringent).

The only slightly disheartening thing was that despite all the efforts of Save Our Waterways to stress the interests of all waterways users - anglers, cyclists, walkers, local residents - in the cause, as far as I could tell, the only people who actually turned up were boaters (even if some of us hadn't brought our boats).

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Warrior's engine: now in glorious Technicolor

We spent an hour at the RN works in Daventry on our way back on Monday night, chatting to Allister and Brian. They now seem to like our engine a lot ... in particular, Allister raves about the quality of the casting. They just don't make them like that any more, apparently. Progress is pretty much as Jim reported a few posts back - but now there are new pictures! Only nine of them, because the camera battery ran out, but enough to see that progress really is being made now, especially if you go back to the beginning of the album and look at how it was. And what a treat - they'd broken out the paint (which Ian collected from Craftmaster the other week), just to see what it would look like for us. Well, I still like it a lot.

We also collected some souvenirs from the rather large pile of bits destined to be thrown away, including all three cast iron pistons, plus con rods and liners, and various smaller bits out of the gearbox. Novelty paperweights all round!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Electrickery *

Back again! Yesterday we finally got the electrician over to Warrior and decided what we're going to do in that direction. Our needs are relatively modest - no flat screen TV, no microwave; just a bit of light, a water pump and, the ultimate luxury (after living through last summer without one), a fridge. Basically we'll be all 12v, but with a 240 socket and charger in the engine room. We also have a 1200w inverter, although no great plans for using it - just in case. The plan is to have one big start battery, and two x 220 amp hour leisure batteries; one dedicated to the fridge and one for everything else.

These will be charged via two 100 amp Niehoff alternators, chosen in preference to one big one primarily because we were told that the big ones are very noisy. We will probably also have a solar panel for maintenance charging - even the tiny one I had on Andante made a big difference, at least in the summer, so this seems like a good idea. We're probably going to go for a thin one which is stuck permanently to the roof; while I have some reservations about the aesthetics of this it seems to win out on convenience and security grounds.

The existing batteries were rather inaccessible under the floor under the bed cupboard in the back cabin. There wouldn't have been enough space here for the new set up anyway, so the new battery space will be under the floor in the engine room. This means taking up the existing floor and replacing it with one a few inches higher, but we were going to have a new floor in there anyway... it still won't be higher than the floors either end of the engine room, so it should look fine. It will certainly make the batteries much more accessible, and free up much needed storage space in the cabin. All the fuses, controls, guages etc. will be hidden away in a cabinet in the engine room.

So, it's all decided then ... famous last words. It all sounds good to me, anyway. It also brought home to us how quickly time is running away, if we're to get the engine in by Easter as we hope (making it a nice round year in all). Only a month until Christmas, then only three months - of winter temperatures and day length, until Easter. Then only another two until June and the RN rally - by which time we really want to have the painting finished too. The end of Monday came all too soon as well, as we had to dash off at four to fit in a visit to Daventry on the way home ...

*with apologies to Uncle Marvo

Friday, November 17, 2006

Boating beginnings

How did it all start? Like most great passions, almost imperceptibly. We - my mum, my sister Ali and I - had our first boating holiday in 1977. Like the two that followed, it was on the Norfolk Broads. There are no photos (at least, I don't have any) of that first trip, but I remember some things very clearly. The boat was called Si-Gi (we never were sure how to pronounce it), and we hired it through Blakes from Richardsons boatyard. It was a very small boat, and what I remember of it very closely resembles, in layout at least, a 24' Freeman ... I also have the idea in my head that it had a wooden hull, but surely not ...

We must have enjoyed it, because we were back the following year, with Hoseasons this time, and Sorrento, a typical plastic Broads boat of the time. Lots more space than Si-Gi, but I remember much less about it. I think that was the time we tried making Angel Delight (did I really used to eat that?) with a fork. It didn't work. The photo is of Ali, aged nine (I would have been thirteen). On each trip I bought a postcard map, and marked our stopping place each night with a pinhole.

Our third and final Broads holiday, in 1979, was on Regal Safari, a Safari 25 mk 3, which we hired from Hampton Boatyard on Oulton Broad (I know this because I wrote it all in the photo album). What I remember about this trip is a dove which alighted on the boat at Waveney, and stayed with us all day, at least - possibly longer. And we learnt to play Newmarket (a card game which I can no longer remember the rules of).

What did I like about it? Well, I did like the scenery (reeds, windmills, and boathouses, always intriguingly sinister for Famous Five/Secret Seven aficionados), and the birds and the bats, and the quiet deserted mooring spots. But more than that I liked the navigating, the naming of parts, and the slight air of adventurousness. And best of all, I liked jumping (naughty!) off with a rope in my hands; knowing how to tie it (well, better than some people anyway) and the fact that if I pulled it, A BLOODY GREAT BOAT (or so it seemed at the time) moved at my will. Unprecedented and exhiliarating power for a shy, spotty adolescent. Having always hated sport of all kinds, here at last was something physical that I could do.

And so the seeds were sown, to lie dormant for two decades before bursting forth a hundredfold with the discovery of boats that are actually beautiful to look at, with gorgeous engines; big, heavy boats, with loads more parts to name; the physicality of locks ... I could go on, but I think that's quite enough for now!

We're off up to Stretton again tomorrow, just for a short weekend this time - hopefully seeing an electrician for Warrior at last, and dropping into RN at Daventry on the way home for the latest on the engine and hopefully some more photos for your delectation.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Book review: Idle Women

With winter now upon us, I'm going to reread many of my boaty books, and hopefully get some new ones too ... and after I've (re)read them, I'm going to say what I think of them here. Pure self indulgence really (well, what else is blogging for?). I'm starting with Idle Women, Susan Woolfitt's account, first published in 1947, of her year as a 'trainee'; a member of the all-female crews instigated by the Ministry of War Transport in response to the perceived or anticipated (but, Woolfitt suggests, not actual) shortage of male labour on the waterways. I got the book last February and first read it in the most depressing depths of winter, huddled by Andante's stove under the only light I dared use. For the few days it lasted, it cheered me up immensely.

Despite being identifyably of a very particular time and class (amid the privations, unbelievably hard work, and bombings, her greatest horror is occasioned by the prospect of being on first-name terms with people she doesn't know very well), Woolfit is an immediately likeable writer. Her prose is clear, but friendly and informal; and she has an actor's ear for the dramatic telling of a story. Her story is at times amazing, and frequently amusing, but tails off somewhat towards the end of the book, as the novelty wears off and a main thread of the narrative - the learning process - is lost, it becomes more bitty with isolated anecdotes and diary entries, in place of the fluency of the earlier chapters.

This focus on the learning process, the training of complete novices into competent, even skilled, boatwomen, is possibly the best aspect of the book, because it is so instructive. We learn along with the author what the different parts and tools are called, and what they're for and how they're used; I cannot imagine a better introduction to the workings of a working boat. Not only is it comprehensive, but it is brought to life through Woolfit's experience, both of learning the skills, and then passing them on to others. The book also vividly evokes the working and living conditions of boat families at the time, conditions which shock and anger Woolfitt, and, one imagines, awake her from her previous bourgeois slumbers. Sixty years later it is impossible not to share her indignation that servicemen and women in desk jobs were entitled to extra rations, while whole families doing some of the hardest work imaginable weren't, and went hungry.

I was particularly delighted to read of the author and her colleagues spending 'a riotous evening at the "Prospect of Whitby", a very well known pub on the banks of the Thames', because at the time (indeed, from 1919 until 1950) this pub was owned, and probably also managed, by Jim's Auntie Ada, who inherited three pubs from her husband when he died in the flu epidemic. Others of his aunts were installed as managers in the other pubs.

Idle Women is still available, currently in print in M & M Baldwin's 'Working Waterways' series; I've seen it on sale in museums and chandlers. They also publish accounts by two other 'Idle Women', which I look forward to reading soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Piece of cake!

Yesterday was Number One Son's birthday; on Friday night I decided that I should make him a cake, like I used to do when the boys were small. And as he enjoyed our Huddersfield trip so much, I thought I would make him a narrowboat cake. Now when I say make, I don't mean literally from scratch. I like baking, and do a lot of it, but for carving into interesting shapes, I've found shop bought cake to be much easier. In this case I didn't have much time either, so I popped down to the local supermarket as soon as it opened at 8 am for three Macvities chocolate cakes (very nice and chocolatey they are too). I was going to buy white fondant icing and colour it as best I could, probably to pale blue, for the boat, but next to the boxes of white stuff were packs of coloured fondant, in red, green, yellow, and ... black. Black icing! Well, I wouldn't eat it, but the possibilities for my project were too promising to resist, so I bought two packs. I also got a packet of liquorice allsorts (myriad uses), some white chocolate buttons (portholes), a big box of icing sugar and some liquorice catherine wheels.

I began by trimming the tops of all the cakes flat, then I took two of then, the right way up (i.e. wider at the top), cut one end of each off straight and butted them up to each other. Then I trimmed the other ends into shape for the hull, rolled out the black icing, laid it over the top, and smoothed it down the sides. That shop bought fondant is very flexible and much less liable to crack than home made. For the fore end I cut out the excess icing (with scissors) leaving a margin of about a quarter of an inch either side, and and pressed the overlapping edges together. I was very pleased with the effect, although maybe I should have put in some rivets ...

Next I mixed a lot of runny glace (water) icing with coffee to give it an authentic canal colour, and flooded a shallow baking tray with it, then very carefully lifted the hull into it. Now I could start on the cabin, for which I used the red icing, in honour of Andante. This time I turned the cake upside down so the wider part was at the bottom, smoothed the icing over and tucked the edges underneath. The icing was stuck on with apricot jam - I do believe in doing things the traditional way!

Then the fun really started. The signwriting was done in glace icing ('Mole' is Aaron's nickname), and a line around the bottom of the cabin neatened up the join. The remainder of the icing in the piping bag was kept for use as glue. The hatches were just cut out of rolled out green fondant, and for the pattern on the slide I used a handy little cutter and very thinly rolled yellow fondant. The chimney is a liquorice allsort, and the cans (of which I'm very proud) are made of those multi layered allsorts (for the stripes) trimmed down to shape, with handles made from slivers of liquorice. Allsorts also served as the rear fenders; I toyed with a front one; there was a sweet just the right shape, but in the end I couldn't see how to fix it, and anyway, I didn't want to hide my handiwork, which by now was set off with some very effective strips of liquorice.

All of it is edible (if you include the black icing) except the shafts (bamboo skewers), ropes (string) and tiller (a drinking straw, the least satisfactory part. I really wanted to use one of those stripey candy canes but as well as being too fat, they were impossible to bend without snapping). Everything else is shaped out of fondant and stuck on.

I liked the finished product so much that Aaron is letting me keep it until tomorrow before taking it away and eating it!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Number One Son is 21 today!

What an amazing thought. This is the sort of thing that makes you look back on your life and think 'Where did all that time go?' on one hand, and 'How did I manage to fit so much in?' on the other. Twenty-one years ago. 1985. Jennifer Warnes was number one in the charts with 'The Power of Love', but I preferred the number 2, Feargal Sharkey's 'A Good Heart'. I'd scarcely started living; I had vague, inarticulate, but nonetheless frustrating, ideas about the sort of life I wanted, and, marvellously, over the years I've largely achieved it. That's something not everyone manages, and I feel very fortunate to have done so. Back then, boats didn't feature heavily in my vision of the future. As a teenager, I'd had holidays on the Broads, and loved it but I don't think I'd ever seen a narrowboat. Canals were things - usually rather sinister things - I read about in books (and I did read an awful lot of books. Still do. And a lot of awful books). But, once discovered, they fitted seamlessly into the ideal.

But enough about me - this is Aaron's day. And hasn't he grown up into a fine young chap? But then, he always was very sweet ... pause here to insert obligatory embarassing toddler photo. I dug all the old photos out to find one to post, and they proved a great hit when he came round earlier with his friends.

So Aaron, here's to a happy and successful adult life, and lots more boating. One of the biggest surprises - for all of us, I think - whan Aaron came to help us on the Huddersfield Narrow earlier in the year, was just how much he enjoyed it (apart from the Standedge Tunnel, of course). One day we will finally manage to co-ordinate things so that both the boys can come with us at once!


Friday, November 10, 2006

Music to our ears

As well as being Lockboy, Baz is a bit of a musician. He plays the cello and the double bass (the latter in the county youth orchestra), sings, and is learning the piano. As part of studying music at college (AS level) he also does composition. Whilst watching the video he took of the working boat gathering at Ellesmere Port last Easter, he was struck by the idea that the rhythm of a Bolinder would make a very interesting basis for a composition. It's hard to describe to someone who hasn't heard it, but what basically happens (in some circumstances at least) is that as the speed of the engine increases, it starts to miss beats, until the speed returns to the desired level. (This might not be strictly technically accurate, and certainly isn't the whole story, but we're talking Art here). The boat in that case was Stour, and the recording was quite good, but short.

Having failed to find any other recordings on the internet, Baz put the idea on the backburner until such time as we got the opportunity to record some more lovely Bolinder sounds for ourselves. We must have been tied up next to Rudd (temporary home to Rick who is helping out at the yard) for months before I suddenly slapped my forehead and put two and two together, and then only on hearing it come back one morning from a trip to the pub. Baz wasn't with us then, but Rick agreed in principle that he could record the engine at some mutually convenient time in the future.

And so it came to pass, that last time we went up there Rudd was due to be taken to Norbury Wharf for dry docking (couldn't be craned because of its wooden bottom). Not only did Baz get to make his recording, he got to go on an outing on a restored 1936 josher too. Rick was brilliant at explaining how the engine worked; we got to watch them start it (with a blowlamp; it takes a very long time), and heard all about the boat's history. We actually made two separate recordings: Baz took the video camera with him on the boat, to record the engine from close up, and he set up the laptop, using Audacity, for me to record from Andante. As far as I know a splendid time was had by all, although Baz spent almost the entire trip hunched in the cabin and the engine room (the video wasn't very exciting), emerging only to help at Wheaton Aston lock. I just stood and watched (and recorded) as they disappeared into the distance.

Then I went 'Oh God! How do I save this?'

Love the Willie Nelson hair! (Baz didn't though, but I persuaded him it was in the interests of safety, as well as seriously musicianly looks.)

It's hard work doing these multiple pictures. I hope you appreciate it!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pride of place

Just a quick post tonight, to show William, as promised, in pride of place in Warrior's saloon. The professional framing (in ash) was worth every penny of the £35 it cost. I don't think William would have cared much for boat life though - all too much effort!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Unpainting Andante

Before we could paint Andante properly, we had to get the old paint off. The gritblasting took care of most of it, and an orbital sander works well on the wooden doors. There are other metal bits however, including the rear deck and around the window frames. Most people seem to use a grinder around the windows, but this seemed a bit violent, and doesn't easily get into all the little corners. (And anyway, I have a bit of an aversion to anything that makes sparks, including sparklers. No bonfire night fun for me; I'm the one cowering in the corner going 'isn't that rather dangerous?') Or some people recommend a nail gun or scabbler for larger areas - very expensive.

But Jim found this rather nifty thing - nothing like I've ever seen before. It goes on an electric drill, used at relatively slow revs, and it works very well. It takes the paint off in little chunks - not flakes or powder, much easier to sweep up - and covers a larger area than it looks like it would, because of the way the rubber flexes. This is only the single version - they come in double and triple as well (and seven-fold, with its own machine, for the big boys). It's very controllable, gets into all the corners, and leaves nice clean metal. According to their website, it closely mimics the action of shotblasting. Theres another version, with little blades rather than points, for use on wood - we have got one but haven't tried it yet. I think they cost just over £20 each, and they're claimed to last a very long time - certainly ours shows no signs of wear at all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Painting Andante

Baz and Jim refit Andante's newly painted cratch board ...

Andante's Apollo Duck ad has been updated to say that the hull and superstructure have been newly shotblasted and painted, and the cabin awaits new livery ... this is true, and you can have any colour you like as long as it's red and green, because we've already bought the paint - Rylard's Pirate Red and Meadow Green - and painted the cratchboard (I clearly can't decide whether that's one word or two). We've stuck with the same paint as before because it's simpler, it suits the boat, and we already had some. Of course if someone did come along wanting to buy it and paint it a different colour ... no problem! But until they do, that's what we're doing.

Not much will happen now until the spring - unless an outside chance of getting under cover comes off - but she should be safely wrapped up for the winter now in two/three coats of MIO primer (which is also used industrially as a finish for exterior metalwork) and new blacking, which I tidied up while we were up there. We put the cratchboard back so we could put the cover on, to protect the wooden doors from the weather now they are being rubbed down.
And what did we find under the (rather casually applied) plain red paint, but some rather neat diamonds; it was the same with the rear slide; a club had been painted over in plain green. I think Andante would look nicer for having these paintwork features restored - perhaps with a panel of diamonds on the slide - and hopefully we will. Jim has already made a lovely job of the cratchboard and previously, the roof box.

I seem to have selected a Blogger template which only lets me put a picture at the top of the post - unless I'm missing something - otherwise I'd post one of the doors too. If anyone can tell me a way around this (other than changing the template) ...
I don't want to change the template because 1. Hardly anyone else seems to use it; 2. (possibly connected to 1) The background colour is, by chance, almost National engine green.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

News from our engine correspondent

Jim writes:
It is that time again - no not Christmas although that is coming up fast on the horizon- but my report on the progress ( or not) on Warrior's engine and gearbox.
It seems very much the way of things in the narrowboat game that those on whom you rely for technical assistance or maintenance services operate in a way far removed to the rest of the commercial world. They seem to operate on the Julian calendar and set their times by the some arcane and secretive oracle who transmits the information by thought transfer. Needless to say none of this relates to the realitites of anyone but themselves. Should you not understand their way of doing things and therefore believe that appointments will be kept and that work will be commenced at least within a year of the agreed date, it is all your fault especially when you have driven 250 miles across the country and you will then be punished with further delays or extra costs or both.
This is the way of things for the rest of the industry but not the men with beards (and moustaches) of the RN Diesel Engine Co, for despite appearances they have been quietly -too quietly for my taste-beavering away totally rebuilding our National despite their early reservations. Not only that but more excitingly still they have totally refurbished our 1:1 Bruntons gearbox which is apparently unique or at least no one at RN had seen one like it. The gearbox has been totally dismantled and checked and the gears were found to be in good order Phew and twice Phew!! no nancy hydraulic box for us thank you very much. When it was reassembled all the bearings were replaced - well it is likely that not much has been done to it since 1937. Astonishingly Allister Denyer the engineering genius at RN located new ones with next day delivery!! even more remarkable when you consider that none have been made since 1940. You can't even get that sort of service from a Ford main agent apparently.

Back to the engine - the new pistons, liners and con rods have all been modified, machined and fitted in the block and are awaiting the crank case with the new white metal bearings machined to the restored crank. Despite their earlier resistance to building up the engine the RN Engine Co are actually very keen to build up the whole of the short engine including setting all the timing. The heads are currently being totally refurbished and will be finished next week so it is likely that I will be able to install the engine over Christmas provided Ian is available - now there is another story

Sarah picks herself up off the floor and adds:
Yes, and Santa and all his little elves will help ... and the tooth fairy, for good measure.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The rug is finished!

The rag rug which I started a fortnight ago was finished last night - much faster progress than I'd anticipated, especially as I was only working on it for an hour or so each evening. I am very, very pleased with it. It's very dense and springy, almost more like a cushion than a rug; I think the tufting might be rather more dense than is usual. I remarked before on how much rag it required - the final tally of what it consumed is:
3 shirts
3 1/2 pairs of trousers
2 blouses
1 skirt
1 pillowcase
1 pair of pyjama bottoms
- a whole wardrobe, in effect!

There's cotton, wool and linen in there - I varied the width of the strips according to the thickness of the fabric. I avoided artificial fibres (didn't have any anyway), but successfully used both woven and jersey fabric.

Although we had originally planned just to paint the floor in the back cabin, this looks less likely now. Firstly it has vinyl stuck to it, which isn't going to come off smoothly, and secondly, the board underneath isn't ply, but that rather bitty stuff (Primaboard?), and it wouldn't look very good. So we thought we would try to get some black and white check vinyl to replicate the lino that was popular for back cabins. No luck - despite it being, I would have thought, a classic design, it seems there's no call for it these days. Anyway, we then had second thoughts about having vinyl - for a start, it's very environmentally unfriendly, unlike real lino. And we happened to have an offcut of the real thing, which is of course very trendy and expensive now, left over from a job Jim did in Brighton. It's not black and white, but it is a pretty traditional lino design, just sort of swirly (you can't really see it in the photo, but that's it under the rug). So we will probably use that, if it's big enough.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin. Warrior came complete with these two chairs. Lots of narrowboat owners seem to favour furniture of this ilk. I hate them. I hate them for the following reasons:

1. They are ugly
2. They take up a lot of space
3. They are heavy and difficult to move (especially the especially ugly rocking one)
4. They are ugly
5. They are completely out of keeping with everything else on the boat
6. Even though they are very expensive, they look as if they came out of the Viking catalogue
7. I wouldn't have them in the house, so why would I have them in the boat?
8. They are dark and gloomy and intrusive
9. They are so bloody spirit-sappingly, heartbreakingly UGLY!!!!!

But they have their good points:
1. They are comfortable

And therein lies the rub. Would you sacrifice comfort, at the end of a long hard day's boating, for aesthetics and mere convenience? Well, yes, I would, like a shot. But there are two of us involved here and Jim values his comfort very highly. So we are engaged in a search for a compromise: a seating arrangement that is both comfortable and attractive. So far, we have had little success ...

P.S. That photo was taken before I tidied up. It all looks much more respectable now.
P.P.S. Ignore the baby stove - we're putting the French one in after all. Hooray!!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy birthday, Leslie

My father would have been eighty-nine today, if he hadn't died in 1992. That's him in the middle, aged about seventeen, flanked by his sisters Doreen and Ina, and his parents. I'm often sad that I can't share our boating activities with him, as I'm sure he would have loved it.

It must be him I have to thank - either via genes or early upbringing - for my interest in industrial history and engines. His father - my grandfather, whom I never met - was a boilermaker on the Great Western Railway, who met my grandmother on a company trip to Jersey. He whisked her back to Swindon and married her despite her not speaking a word of English (and he, presumably, not being fluent in Jersey French).

Leslie wasn't on the whole what you'd call a very hands-on parent; being 48 when I was born, he was rather more old fashioned in his outlook than was even usual for the time. (He was quite self conscious about this, and my sister and I were adults before we found out how old he was. When asked, he would always reply 'as old as my little finger and a little bit older than my teeth'.) But I have very vivid memories of the times he would take me (just me! Because I was the biggest!) on the train to London to visit the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum or the V&A; there was such a sense of occasion about it.

Most of his career was spent in a desk job (all we knew was that he was a 'civil servant'), but when he retired he threw himself into the establishment of the British Engineerium, a steam museum housed in a former pumping station in Hove. Once it was up and running he worked there as a volunteer, doing the books, taking round school parties, and stoking the boilers, right up to the end of his life. It was a marvellous place, full of beautifully restored, and working, steam engines, and models, and other industrial (and some domestic) artefacts, and I absolutely loved it there.

Just as he would have loved Warrior, and everything that goes with it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

And heat

After tidying up the cabin I attacked the stove. This is a standard ‘boatman’s’ type stove with an oven, but not a commercially made one; it was made, presumably, by John Shotbolt himself. When we first spent time on Warrior last Christmas, it worked quite well. It even heated water, and a radiator (in the bathroom), very efficiently via its back boiler.

On every subsequent visit however, it has refused to draw, and frequently even to light. A good poke about established that the chimney was clear, and we were starting to think we might have to replace the stove, at not inconsiderable expense. But then it dawned on me that there is only a gap of about an inch between the bottom of the chimney and the inner lining of the oven, the chimney being on the opposite side to the firebox. Any crap falling down the chimney (and there was bound to have been plenty, given the locks we bashed on the way down from Hargrave and the craning in and out) would just sit on top of the oven lining at the bottom of the chimney, blocking it very effectively.

But how to get at it? The only removable plate in the stove top is the one on top of the firebox. This, as far as I can see, is the only access. So I got a small piece of wood, the maximum length that I could work in through the firebox, which when held in the tips of my fingers just reached under the chimney, and patiently scraped away, guiding the soot and rust flakes across the top of the oven and into the firebox, where they could fall through the grate into the ashpan. And after a couple of hours and a rather bruised and scraped right hand and wrist, I had an ashpan full of the stuff.

It was well worth the effort, though, because now it works better than ever, lighting easily and staying in very well, and with no smoke in the cabin (unlike before when poor Baz had to sleep with the doors open despite the canal being frozen). Some sort of wire handled brush, or failing that, a big bottle-brush, would make the job easier next time.