Saturday, September 30, 2006

If you can read this, it works!

It's a chilly autumn Saturday morning (Jim's birthday, in fact) and I am writing this with the laptop sitting on Warrior's cabin slide, two gorgeous joshers and a beautiful tug to my right, with the birds singing and the occasional hum of traffic off the A5 ... shivering slightly, but then it is nearly October. It still doesn't get much better than this. And clearly, the T-Mobile datacard is working fine; in fact it's very impressive.

Andante's cabin was blasted yesterday - more thoughts on that when I get home - but it poured with rain before we could get the primer on so that is still to do once it warms up today, which hopefully it will (even though it is nearly October ...) At least we finished blacking the hull on Thursday. The steel was in very good condition, and with the paint off you can really see how well made a boat it is.

Jim has just got back from shopping in Brewood so time to go in for a warming cup of tea!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More stove musings

If you were one of those who envied us our French stove (July 30th), then take a look at Stovefinders. These splendid people not only find, restore and sell all manner of gorgeous stoves, they have been really helpful and interested with regard to ours (a Deville 'Lily'), and they supply all the peripheral bits like gaskets, flue adapters, window mica and heatproof vermiculite sheeting (because you can't get round firebricks any more).

The big crack in our stove did weld up - but as it cooled, not unexpectedly, lots of hairline cracks appeared. We are still not sure how it will stand up to being used (will it fall to pieces?) but I think we are going to give it a go. The Stovefinder people say that cracks there (in the lower part of the firebox) are not a problem with regard to leaking smoke. Where this is a problem is when the top is damaged - and the top of ours is in good nick. Anyway, we will line it with the vermiculite stuff and seal any cracks with heatproof silicone, so the only worry is really its structural integrity. Apparently we needn't have had it welded; we could have screwed a steel plate across the gap instead. Live and learn.

We came across Stovefinders whilst just generally browsing for stoves, thinking we might need a new replacement. There are so many different designs of wood and solid fuel stove available, in many different sizes - these, for example - that I marvel at the ubiquity of the Morso Squirrel - one of the plainest, most basic looking designs on the market, and not cheap either.

Monday, September 25, 2006


Leafing through Waterways World this morning I noticed that following one company's explicit marketing of an 'apartment boat' at Beale Park, at least two advertisers have picked up the term and incorporated it into their adverts. This suggests the beginning of a trend, the possible consequences of which we might ponder.

Of course using a boat as a pied-a-terre (a l'eau?)* is nothing new, and I would be on shaky ground if I got on my high horse about it as that's exactly what I was doing with Andante in Huddersfield. But at least to think of it for oneself required a modicum of imagination and a passing knowledge of the existence of boats; now it seems, what with estate agents selling boats as well, it's being forced down the throats of people to whom it might never otherwise have occurred; people with even less interest in boats and waterways than the production line shiny boat brigade. People who don't even think they're interested.

One consequence I will guess at - an even closer, inflationary, correlation between boat and property prices. Another, more difficult to pin down: an increase in the number of boats that never leave their moorings, mostly desirable city centre ones. Let's hope that these 'apartment boats' will be corralled into the glitzy new marinas leaving moorings actually on the waterways to boats that move occasionally.

I am always aware, when I rant about anything, that I am a total parvenue on the waterways scene; that I frequently don't know what I'm talking about, and that I am in no position to pontificate to people who have been involved for thirty years and more, who have served their time and maybe even played a part in saving and restoring the waterways and boats that I love so much, back when it was difficult and a fight, and that I have it easy compared to them. I also really envy them; I wish I could have been there then.

*If you know how to do grave accents in HTML then I take my hat off to you. I had to get Lockboy in to sort out the links list - but look! It now works!

Sunday, September 24, 2006


In 1988, when Number One Son was two and a half and Lockboy was nearly two years off being born, we bought a little ginger kitten, and called him William. Other cats, and other pets (hamsters, rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, fish and, briefly, snails) came and went, but William stuck with us - and me in particular - through all the ups and downs of contemporary family life. When I saw this tapestry design that looked exactly like him, I had to buy it. This would have been in late 2002/early 2003. Knowing there wasn't room on my lap, William - now an old cat - would lay beside me, stretched out against my leg, as I stitched. In the heatwave of June 2003, William suddenly started going downhill fast, and died, essentially of old age, within a couple of weeks. This was particularly hard on Lockboy, who had never known life without this amiable, lazy cat.

This was at the time when we were first seriously thinking about buying a narrowboat, and we declared that our boat, when we got it, would be named 'Sweet William' in his memory. I had some reservations about changing a boat's name, but if we had bought one called, say, Foxy Lady, I would not have hesitated. Warrior however is a different matter. We have met the builder, who built it for himself, and named it after HMS Warrior. His current boat is named after her sister ship HMS Revenge. What's more, the name really seems to suit the boat. So we won't be changing it after all. But what we will do is have the tapestry - which I finally finished yesterday, after about four years - framed, and it will have pride of place in Warrior's saloon.

There is a small postscript to William's story. Shortly after he died, leaving us with just one cat (Emily) the local paper ran a story saying that the local cat rescue centre was having to close for lack of funds, and desperately needed to home all its remaining cats. I rang up and said we could take two, perhaps three ... The woman who ran the centre was overjoyed - she had, she said, three cats - three generations of the same family - who were so devoted to each other that she couldn't bear to part them; could we take them? Of course we said yes. And now have a trio of cats who hate each other and are not conceivably related. And the following week the rescue centre was reprieved by a large donation. We now actually have five cats, having added a stray who has a nice line in killing pigeons. But there will never be another William.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blog 'n' Boat

Life is full of new experiences. This afternoon I went into a T-Mobile shop. I signed a contract with a mobile phone company.

I've signed up for Web 'n' Walk Professional which hopefully means that I will be able to Blog 'n' Boat, and Boat 'n' Work. Lockboy has installed the necessary on the laptop, and given me a demonstration of how to use it. Tomorrow I will practise.

Next weekend we are going up to Stretton; I think Andante is being craned out and gritblasted on Tuesday, but it's hard to be sure as my main form of communication with Keith is text message, and there's only so much detail you can manage. In any case, Jim has arranged to see a man about a teapot, and there are plenty of little jobs to do on both Andante and Warrior. So if I post next weekend, you'll know it works. If I don't, it most likely doesn't - I know mobile reception is pretty dodgy there. Or else I've forgotten how to do it.

It might turn out to be twelve months of wasted expenditure at £19.97 a month, but I've a feeling that now we've got it we'll find lots of uses for it, many of them not related to the boat.

By the way, if you sign up for 12 months online the datacard is £58, but if you sign up in one of their shops it's only forty.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Models not thin enough shock!

I was dusting the other day and found myself fiddling about rearranging these Wade narrowboats. The smaller one Jim bought years ago, before we were anywhere near having a real one, at a jumble sale for 50p. The others came later, for eleven and fifteen pounds respectively.

The bigger ones, which must be butties or horseboats, have much bigger steerers; I usually arrange them so that they're having a friendly chat as they pass each other. The smaller boat, which is called Heron and owned by one John Wilson, is also, judging by the rudder, not a motor boat. This one appears to be in the water, whilst the others have so much freeboard they look like they're sitting on dry land. To be proportionate with their beam, these boats would need to be 15" long rather than the eight inches they actually are. But they're still lovely little things - and they are meant to be a 'pin dish' and 'posy vases', not scale models.

Not so this Hornby model narrowboat, intended to add realism to 00 guage railway layouts. While its proportions are no doubt perfectly to scale, much else about it is decidedly odd. It's described as a 'butty boat' while its tiller strongly suggests a motor; its cabin/engine room looks rather long, and its cloths look to be all ruched up in a way I've never seen on any real boat - more like a curtain-sided lorry. This is a shame; I don't think Hornby would try to get away with such a slapdash rendition of a locomotive or even the most insignificant bit of rolling stock.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A bigger menace than blue-green algae ...

I got out, exhausted and disillusioned, of politics and community activity about eight years ago (although I still teach and write about it), but now something has happened to drag me back in.

The night before last I went to an inaugural meeting for a local group of NO2ID, the non-partisan campaign against the government's plan to introduce identity cards and, far more sinister, a national identity database that will hold at least fifty different pieces of information about each and every one of us, accessible by all government departments, much of the rest of the public sector and probably, ultimately, private businesses too. (And that's just those with legitimate access. It is inevitable that the register will be misused and the information held get into unauthorised hands.) It will be the responsibility of each of us as individuals to ensure that the information held on us is correct - with a £1,000 fine if it isn't - but we won't have the ability to amend it.

What's this got to do with boats? Well, it has already been noted (I think by the Residential Boat Owners' Association) that the requirement to register a permanent address at which you live (i.e. not just for mail) is going to present problems for continuous cruisers. But it goes beyond that - you will be required to inform the government if you are going to be away from your registered address for any period of more than three months, and tell them where they can find you. So there goes that long cruise.

If you care about your privacy; if you believe that your rights aren't just given to you as a favour by the government but are something bigger than that that should protect you from the state; if you don't want to live in a country where you daren't leave home without your pass card, then please go to NO2ID and support the campaign in whatever way you can.

And if you think that ID cards might be a good idea, that they could help fight crime and terrorism, and that 'if you've got nothing to hide then you've got nothing to fear', then please go to NO2ID and find out the real facts.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Narrow Boat TV marathon

Lockboy helps move Dover at Stretton Wharf - not on the telly.

Three years ago come Christmas, we got rid of our TV. We'd gradually arrived at the conclusion that it was providing more irritation than entertainment, and when the licence was due for renewal we decided to take the plunge and see how we got on without it. To be honest, it was easy; we haven't missed it at all, and can count on the fingers of one hand the programmes we regret missing.

So we'd never seen the Sky series Narrow Boat, in which former Grand Union boat Dover is restored/converted (we've never seen Waterworld either, or even Rosie and Jim) . Quite a few of the people we've met through Warrior were involved in the programme, particularly Keith, but also Ian and the Russell Newbery mob, and both Lockboy (see above) and Jim have at various times been on the other end of Dover's ropes, so it seemed a bit of a shame.

But even when we had a telly, we didn't have Sky - but our next door neighbours do, and just before they left on their holidays this morning they insisted that we take advantage of this afternoon's screening of all ten episodes, back-to-back. I wasn't planning to sit down and watch all five hours of it, on a lovely sunny afternoon, but I'm afraid that's exactly what Jim and I did, and we were joined by Lockboy when he came back from orchestra.

And it was very enjoyable. I was expecting horrible choppy editing and nasty music and lots of repetition, but it wasn't too bad at all. We enjoyed finding fault with all the things we would have done differently, and shouting 'those cloths are going to fade dreadfully you know'. Parts of it were very interesting and there was a fair amount of nice boat footage. On the downside, it was rather bitty and the overall rationale was unconvincing - if you want a glitzy hi-tech holiday home, then why start with a 1937 boat? If you like it that much, why has Dover been up for sale (increasingly desperately) ever since you finished filming? - and some bits were boring, but that's probably just a matter of where your interest lies.

Apparently a new series is currently being made, in which the presenter travels around in Dover, being filmed from a helicopter, and interviewing waterways-related people; on the basis of the first series, I'm looking forward to seeing it. Will just have to wait for the neighbours to go away again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Standedge Tunnel Experience

No, not this Standedge Tunnel Experience, but our very own experience of the 'longest, highest and deepest' canal tunnel in Britain, when we went through on August 16th in Andante.

Someone asked me 'was it worth it?' - to which the answer has to be yes, as it costs nothing (if you are a long term licence holder), and it's got to be worth the time and trouble if it means you end up where you want to be. It is, of course, an experience not to be missed: the preparation, the excitement, the sense of achievement, the awe and wonder at the building of it, and even greater awe and wonder at its restoration.

The tunnel itself? It's a very long tunnel, and you go through it very, very slowly. (Three and a quarter miles in two and a half hours.) You can note that some sections are brick lined, some sprayed with concrete, and some (the best bits) bare, red, stone. You can see the drill marks where the blasting powder was inserted, and count off the leggers' plates on the roof to see how far you've gone and how far you still have to go. You can (upon donning a hard hat) sit outside at either end of the passenger module, which is a better way of seeing things when the windows get steamed up.

Because it is such a feat of engineering and restoration, and so many people are going to so much trouble to get you through, you feel as if you ought to find every single yard of it fascinating, and it can't help but fail to live up to that. Much of it is not fascinating, just tunnel. Number One Son has always had a low boredom threshold, and he was catatonic by the time we emerged.

And because you're never alone, and to a degree isolated in the passenger module, it's harder (at least it was for me) to really feel the excitement, awe and magic; I felt that much more in the Harecastle Tunnel, where, when steering your own boat and especially if leading, as we were, your relationship with the tunnel is much more direct, and your ability to see it as it was is much greater.

None of this is to say though that the Standedge Tunnel is not worth navigating; it is, it is, it is. The effort that's gone and continues to go into it should be rewarded with use and appreciation. If it's not used, the temptation will surely be, come the next round of budget cuts, to abandon it again. It is interesting, notwithstanding everything I said before. I would do it again, given the chance. And it is, of course, an integral part of navigating the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which is most definitely, in my humble opinion, worth doing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

London Canal Museum

Last Friday I walked over to the London Canal Museum - thought I'd better check it out before I get too busy. Well, it was certainly nice and peaceful (one other visitor). There aren't many things you can do for three quid in central London, so I'm not going to knock it ... let's just say you wouldn't need to set aside a whole afternoon to see it all.

Being the narrow minded obsessive that I am, I skipped all the stuff about ice cream, but I did take the opportunity to try out a butty stern for size, and there were some interesting photos in the upstairs room. But the best bit really is that you can go out the back doors onto Battlebridge Basin and just sit peacefully out there in the sun, looking at real live boats ... Dover was there on Friday; it was like meeting an old friend.

The other good thing is that the museum has quite an extensive selection of books, and I'd go back again just to browse in that. One of my main reasons for going was to see if I could get a book of London canal/waterways walks, and in that I wasn't successful - I've ordered this one from Amazon instead, and if you have any other recommendations, do let me know.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Why British Waterways are wonderful

Heroic BW employee Ben gets us through lock 27E on the Huddersfield narrow

Of course, there are lots of ways in which they are not; we've all come up against their obduracy and inexplicable decisions at some point - but (to me at least) it is amazing that they exist at all. British Leyland; British Road Services; British Rail; almost every other nationalised body you could think of - dead and gone. Sold off; sometimes successfully (BT); sometimes resulting in chaos (BR). But British Waterways carries on, almost unnoticed, like the platoon that doesn't realise the war's been over for years, or the Soviet clerk who turns up to work every day and gets paid, but no one knows he's there. Surely if the government realised BW existed, they'd have privatised it by now? Think of the property portfolio! I know BW are going down this road themselves, by being more 'enterprising' and trying to become less dependent on direct government funding, but (whether we approve or not) that can be seen as a defensive move in a strategy to protect their position.

The wonderfulness of British Waterways was brought home to me by our Huddersfield Narrow trip; the first time we'd had much continuous contact with BW staff 'on the ground'. Not only were they unfailingly helpful and cheerful and friendly, there were so many of them! Getting us, and the others, up to the summit and through the tunnel is a very labour intensive process. The cost of maintaining the tunnel and providing and maintaining all the tugs and passenger modules must exceed the revenue they bring in by a factor of thousands - and keeping the tunnel navigable is clearly not necessary to any water supply function. Yet still they do it; still the taxpayer pays for it. Because it's there, and it's their function - albeit maybe a vestigial one - to do it.

In an age when everything has a price and the idea of getting something for nothing is held up as being self-evidently abhorrent, that's why I think British Waterways are great.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lovely little narrowboat for sale

All good things must come to an end, and two narrowboats is a bit of an indulgence, so, very very sadly, we are looking for new owners for Andante. She is a lovely boat in every way - comfortable to live on, nifty and reliable to cruise in, and lovely to look at, with the sort of lines and detail very rarely seen on a small boat.

Some of Andante's vital statistics:
Length: 31'4"
Beam: 6'10" (was actually measured at slightly less at the Standedge Tunnel, so no danger of being oversize)
Draught: Recorded as 27"

Built in 1986 by R&D - well regarded builders - Andante has recessed panels and portholes to the engine room, and large windows elsewhere.

From the trad stern, with hardwood seat rails, you enter the engine room which is neat and tidy and, most importantly, dry. The engine is a 2-cylinder Kubota, which is very reliable and sounds good. There is a new start battery plus two 110 amp-hour leisure batteries, a landline (supplying a 240v socket in the engine room) and a 350 watt inverter. There is also a large and efficient calorifier, providing for all your hot water needs while cruising.

From the engine room you enter the separate bedroom which has a fixed double bed with storage under, plus cupboards and shelves, and a hardwood parquet floor. After that comes the toilet/shower on the left, and more storage opposite, and a very efficient solid fuel stove for heating. The toilet is pump out with a remote tank. Next is the kitchen, with Flavel four burner cooker, sink and solid wood worktop with full size Lec 12-volt fridge below on one side, and cupboards and Welsh dresser style shelves the other. There is a brand new Morco instant water heater which supplies the sink and basin/shower. Finally, inside, comes the dinette - two comfortable seats with a variety of table options, which converts into a second double bed. Andante is panelled throughout in pine T&G complemented by hardwood doors and shelving, and enhanced with lots of brasswork and traditional painting.

Out through the front doors into a well proportioned self draining well deck with cratch board and removeable cover, bench seats and storage space. The water tank underneath is very big. The gas locker right in the fore end is dry and spacious, taking two 13kg cylinders easily.

More photos of the inside here, and of her exterior among these.

If you think you might be interested in buying Andante, or know someone who might be, or would like more information, do please leave a comment.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Aftermath (II)

I've got a new job. That's why I'm no longer living on a boat in Huddersfield. The new job is in London, and I have a shiny new season ticket (£3,544, thank you very much) and a daily rather than weekly commute. The positive aspects to this are many - first the job: it's permanent, after years of temporary contracts, and it's at a respected, even prestigious, university. Secondly, I get to go home and eat dinner with Jim and Lockboy every night.

But what I didn't think about until yesterday evening was this: I will now go for weeks, maybe even months, at a time without setting foot on a boat. And I will really, really miss it.

Even though I knew that last week was Andante's farewell journey, I was so focussed on the trip (and the new job) that I hadn't really thought much beyond that. For the past eighteen months I've not spent more than a week away from one boat or another, and that never struck me, at the time, as strange.

I suppose that in the time I lived on Andante in Huddersfield I could have decided that it wasn't the life for me after all, but that hasn't happened. Instead, over that period I've become hopelessly hooked; on boat life, on the waterways, on the history, but above all, on boats themselves. The visceral excitement when you feel the engine start up and you know you're going somewhere. The feel of a rope taughtening in your hands, knowing that there's ten, fifteen tons of steel on the other end. The shape of a working boat. The sound of a Bolinder. The smell of a hot engine.

I think I'd better go and lie down for a bit.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Five days now, we've been back, and I've just finished the washing and got my nails clean. I've sorted out the photos and got them onto CD and have spent all day today uploading a (large) selection to the Webshots site. The plant survived, by the way - in fact I think it liked the rain - and is now safely at home with us. The threatened blue-green algae was long gone by the time we arrived. My steering has improved immensely and I have learned how to tie a proper boatman's hitch, at long last (in both cases).

I've come home having picked up a few interesting habits. I've found myself grinning and waving at total strangers, and only realised that that was an odd thing to do when they either completely ignored me, or shuffled away. But wouldn't it be nice if we were that friendly all the time? Perhaps we should slow down when driving past parked cars too, which is another thing I've found myself nearly doing.

Enjoy the photos!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Up the pub

Strictly chronological cruising (b)logs can perhaps get a bit boring, so I'm going for a more thematic approach in writing up this trip. Today: where we spent our evenings. Which, as it turned out, was more often than not in a pub - sometimes two. It wasn't our intention to eat out most nights, but as things turned out I think we probably did. And we were on the whole incredibly lucky in the establishments we found, given that we were guided only by a pair of not terribly up to date Nicholsons.

Our last evening in Huddersfield (Saturday 12th August) was spent in the company of Geraldine and Trevor from Annabel - fellow moorers at Aspley Basin. We started off in the Albert (to give it its full inexplicable title, the Albert Buffet Hotel). Contrary to what I was previously led to believe, the application earlier in the year to have this splendid Victorian building (photo above) listed was unsuccessful, which is quite worrying, although the new landlord seems to be committed to preserving the interior and getting lots of interesting beers in. We followed this with dinner at the Shabab Indian restaurant, where the food was pretty good and the setting was lovely.

We set off on Sunday morning and got as far as Slaithwaite - five miles, 22 locks. Normally boats going through the Standedge Tunnel in this direction go up as far as lock 32E on their own, with BW unlocking the ten locks above that and seeing boats through. Because of the shortage of water this week, however, we had to wait to be taken up from lock 25E, just above Slaithwaite. Monday night was spent on the towpath between locks 24 and 25E. Both Sunday and Monday evenings were spent in the Wharfeside Inn - unprepossessing from the outside, but owned by Skipton's Copper Dragon Brewery, and incredibly friendly with excellent beer. On the Monday we also ate there, and the food was fine, if not great.

Tuesday evening was spent, as long planned, in the Tunnel End Inn at Marsden, while Andante was moored at the mouth of the tunnel. This pub fully lived up to its promise and reputation for good food and beer, and could not have been more friendly and welcoming. We had two really good meals on this trip, and this was one of them. Normally food - all home cooked - is only served Thursday to Saturday, but if you're going through the tunnel and ring in advance Bev and Gary are delighted to dish something up. (I've tried to stop this sounding like a restaurant review in the local paper, but I'm afraid it just can't be helped.)

I have no record of our having gone anywhere on Wednesday evening, when we moored on the towpath between locks 10 and 11W. Thursday evening, when we moored in Portland Basin Marina, was spent in a launderette in Dukinfield. We arrived just as the owner was locking up and he very kindly let us in so that we could spend two hours watching our smalls revolve and emerge triumphant with dry clothes (not to stay that way for long). Is there any more reliable timewarp than a launderette?

On Friday we had our other really good meal, at the Ring 'o' Bells at the top of the Marple flight. Again the beer was good and the service was very friendly. On Saturday we had our only bad experience, at the Fool's Nook by the swing bridge at Royal Oak. It had been a horrible wet day and we were probably at our lowest ebb. The place was well written up in Nicholsons, but the reality bore no resemblance at all. It was full of smart casual people - god knows where they had all come from, as it was in the middle of nowhere, but it was most definitely not a boaters' pub. We asked about food, were looked up and down, and after a brief consultation between the staff were informed that they were fully booked. So we finished our extra-cold Bass and went back to Andante, where we lit the stove, put Born to Run on the CD player, cooked some spaghetti, and congratulated ourselves on a lucky escape.

Sunday was a two-pub evening, at Hardings Wood Junction. The Blue Bell, which we were moored right by, is feted for its beer but doesn't serve food, so we went first to the Red Bull for dinner, which was very nice. Somehow we got chatting to a splendid couple called Clive and Christine who were liveaboards in the 1970s, and they followed us on to the Blue Bell afterwards. The Blue Bell had lots of character and atmosphere to go with the beer, and I don't actually remember a great deal about the rest of the evening ...

At the Star at Stone, where we went on Monday night, the food was adequate, if uninspiring and relatively expensive, but we had a great evening with Tony and Sheila, with whose 27' narrowboat Owl Andante had shared locks during the day. Tuesday evening found us in Penkridge, on the visitor moorings above lock 38. We wondered around and looked at four different pubs, but none of them looked inviting. The only one serving food was rather posh and looked a bit weak on the beer front. One we didn't look at was the Cross Keys, as a pleasant young man sitting drinking Special Brew by the lock told us it was a bit rough, although we've since been told by others that it isn't, so maybe we missed a treat there.

And the next day, we arrived at our destination, with just one more pub to visit - the Bridge at Brewood. This seems to be the hostelry favoured by regulars at the yard, although when we asked for recomendations we got sent off to various other places: the Hartley Arms at Wheaton Aston (nice if a bit restauranty), and the Vaughan Arms at Lapley (so bad it was good in a horror story sort of way). The Bridge was great, with freshly cooked food at very reasonable prices, and, to Jim's delight, Jennings' Dark Mild. So, sorry chaps, your secret's out. The Bridge is our new local.

Anyway, this was the best pub crawl I've ever been on.