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.


We achieved quite a lot this weekend just past, thanks in large part to the fact that it didn’t pour with rain this time. Nonetheless, with Jim and Baz on rubbing and painting duties, I was mostly occupied in an indoor capacity.

The first thing I turned my attention to was Warrior’s back cabin. Over the last few visits this had become a repository for spare timber and odds and ends, to the extent that it wasn’t possible to get in through the rear doors. So I cleared all that out and tidied and cleaned up. Then we put up the new oil lamp, having found a glass for it at Midland Chandlers in Penkridge. It looks lovely, and we saw (in a different chandlers) a not-quite-so-nice new equivalent for £46. I’m very glad now that I spent the £12.50 on our one. We even tried lighting it, but I think maybe it had the wrong sort of wick, as it burnt down very quickly. The glass funnel got really hot though; what with the smoke as well it must have been no fun having to depend on oil for lighting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Greenwich polemic

We took Baz (the son formerly known as Lockboy) up to the boats with us last weekend, and he slept on Andante while Jim and I occupied Warrior. As teenage boys go, he isn't bad at all. But the amount of dirt he managed to trail onto that boat in the space of three days beggars belief. On top of which, Jim had been doing final little repairs and touching up. So I spent the best part of Sunday (when it was lovely and sunny, naturally) cleaning and tidying and polishing in case any prospective purchasers should materialise in our absence. And this took longer than I expected, somewhat to Jim's chagrin. We'd planned to leave at two, and in the event, it was nearer three by the time we got away. But when we got home, I realised that we should have put the clocks back the previous night, so we had left at two after all. I felt thoroughly vindicated.

Which is all by way of introducing a pet rant. I love it when the clocks go back. I dislike British Summer Time with something approaching a passion. I want to scream when people say it 'gives us an extra hour of daylight'. Apparently sane people who nonetheless genuinely seem to believe that such a thing is possible. (So livid am I that I have lost the ability to write in sentences).

British Summer Time is a con; a flim-flam to make us all get up earlier in the summer so that we don't stay up too late enjoying ourselves and fail to turn up for work the next day. (Seriously, that's how it started, for WW I munitions workers. I read that in a book review, although I'm afraid I can't remember what the book was.) Instead of setting our alarm an hour earlier (because that would be a bit obvious), we put the whole clock an hour fast. Same effect. My father used to do this, but only because his alarm clock was missing the knob to adjust the alarm hand, and he was too mean to buy a new one. The entire country then participates in the mass delusion that the evenings have suddenly got lighter. They haven't! You're just pretending that it's an hour later than it actually is, throughout the whole summer.

Some people argue that we should keep British Summer Time all year round, citing things like road accident statistics. It might well mean fewer accidents if people could get home from work before twilight for more of the year. It would be great not to have to clamber all over the house adjusting myriad timepieces twice a year. But the way to achieve this is to keep Greenwich Mean Time the whole year round, and adjust our working hours, once and for all (or possibly have different hours at different times of year). Greenwich Mean Time means something; it bears some resemblance to natural reality (e.g. the sun being directly overhead at noon). It would be honest, transparent and consistent. GMT is the default time system for the world (one of the few things I can get all chauvenistically misty-eyed about. Beer is another) yet some people would have us abandon it for no good reason.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dear Reader ...

Warning - contains introspection

When I first started this blogging lark, I'm not entirely sure what my motives were or whom I expected to be reading it. In part, it seemed like a good way of keeping a record of progress with Warrior, for my own benefit. And it would also be an easy way for me to update family and friends who might - or might not - be interested, rather than bombarding them with detailed emails about what we were doing last weekend that was so important we couldn't come and see them etc. The same reasoning was behind the setting up of the Webshots photo albums, only more so. (Now I bombard people with emails asking whether they've been reading the blog and looking at the photos - well, at least they're shorter.)

And then I found myself part - a marginal part perhaps, but part nonetheless - of an online community of narrowboat bloggers, thanks largely to Mike and Andy (if I may be so familiar). Which is nice. And so I chunter on, sharing my half formed thoughts and highly imperfect knowledge with, I fondly imagine, people who are by and large in a similar position: passionate about boats, desperate to learn (and, yes, to belong), but not necessarily very knowledgeable or competant or experienced (yet). By assuming that you, dear reader, are thus placed, I have been able to expose my ignorance and worse, my little learning (one of my father's favourite phrases was 'A little learning is a dangerous thing'. But why is it? Too late to ask that now; I'm obviously scarred for life by the thought).

But what if you're not? What if you're not my mum or my sister, or a former colleague, or a fellow newbie, but someone who really really knows about all this stuff I just play at? When I re-read some posts through those eyes, I cringe at my naivete and/or presumption. The thing is, I think that probably makes me pretty unusual in the world of blogs, which is all about shameless self confidence. If I want to play the game, which I do, I have to force myself to overcome that diffidence. If I get something wrong, please tell me. Ditto if I'm rambling incomprehensibly. Having issued that invitation, I can carry on with a clear(er) conscience ...

And from tomorrow, normal service will be resumed with lots of minute detail about what we have been doing over the weekend on Warrior and Andante.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Run ragged

When it comes to the feminine arts, I’m no slouch, really. I can cook, and sew (not so hot on making flowers grow); I can do tapestry and embroidery and dressmaking. I am quite possibly the youngest person in Britain who knows how to darn. I can knit – fairisle, cabling, pictures, frills, lacy bits – I can do the lot. But can I crochet? Despite my best efforts, that single hook defeats me. My attempts at cabin lace end up as so much tangled string.

So I have given up on that traditional art for the moment and turned my hand to another – I am making a rag rug for Warrior, and so far it seems to be coming along rather well. I’ve made woollen rugs before, and the other sort of rag ones, where you use a continuous strip of rag and pull loops through to the front, but with this one I’m largely playing it by ear. I know it’s really not the right sort of canvas, but I think the final effect should be all right.

The surprising thing is how much rag it uses – that’s nearly three whole large men’s shirts so far, cut into 3/4 x 2 inch strips, and I am about to raid Lockboy’s wardrobe. What I can’t work out is where they used to come by so much rag in the days of working boats. Until relatively recently people had far fewer clothes and less stuff in general, and were far less cavalier about throwing them out. Boat people, presumably, would have had even less than the average for the time. So what did they make their rugs out of?

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I've just bidden farewell to my sister Ali who has been staying with us over the weekend. One of the things she likes to do when here is to visit the local flea market. I walk past it every day, but don't often go in - it tends to be rather expensive. However, I was glad that we went in today, as I got a nice brass jug (£2) some horse brasses (£1 each) and best of all, a real old gimballed oil lamp which will be perfect for Warrior's back cabin. It doesn't show up very well in the picture - partly because it's polished up so well, which took quite a lot of effort, but it looks splendid now. I wish I'd thought to take a 'before' picture.

On Saturday we went to a jumble sale where I picked up some old shirts to start my latest project - a rag rug for Warrior. So far Ali and Jim have done all the tearing and cutting up of the rag, which I have been attaching to the canvas. It's strangely addictive and I can't wait to get back to it.

Ali came all the way from Wales to see us - what with the jumble sale, brass polishing and rag tearing, not to mention the slideshow of 160 Huddersfield-Stretton photos, I think we showed her a good time!

Friday, October 20, 2006

A bad photo, and a good excuse

Last Tuesday, I think it was, I decided that it was about time I went and had a look at Little Venice. The image conjured up by the name, so redolent and romantic, was not really lived up to by the reality; it was very quiet and, I thought, rather soulless, particularly walking up towards Paddington.

I experienced the traditional friendly welcome when I got the camera out in Paddington Basin – a besuited chap appeared from nowhere to say that this was private property and taking pictures wasn’t allowed. I took it anyway (but that’s my excuse for it being so shaky) and murmured sympathetically about how they must be very concerned about burglars casing all those expensive flats. ‘Oh no’, he said, confidentially, ‘It’s much worse than burglars. It’s terrorists. You just don’t know what they look like these days.’ I dare say that’s true (should I be flattered?), but I don’t suppose a dedicated terrorist is likely to be deterred by the inability to take a souvenir snapshot of his target before obliterating it.

As soon as the guy approached me I remembered reading about this happening; and I’ve since talked to people who have had it happen to them too. Just how many security suits are actually patrolling the place, and why? (Real terrorist targets get real police patrols, don’t they?)

Anyway, I saw this boat winding in the basin, and as I have lately been honing my ability to recognise a Grand Union boat* when I see one, and wanted to test it out, I engaged the owner in conversation as he moored. He turned out to be a man of few words.
Me: What is it?
Him: What?
Me: Your boat, what is it?
Him: It’s a boat.
Me: Do you know its history?
Him: It’s an old working boat.
[well, I wouldn’t have been asking if that much wasn’t fairly obvious, would I?]
Me (the killer question): What’s it called?
Him: Tadworth. 1937.
Me (to self); Yes!!!! [nods sagely]

*Large Woolwich, I was going to put, but just double checked and Tadworth is a Large Northwich. If there is a difference visible to the naked eye, then it's too advanced for me.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Decisions, decisions

Never too soon to start thinking about next year's cruising (especially as we won't be getting any done this year). An envelope has been sitting on my hall shelf for the past three weeks. It is addressed to the IWA Festival organisers and contains a booking form and a cheque. We thought it would be really great to go to the IWA by boat, especially as next year's venue, St Ives, is near where Warrior was built, and the trip could take in a visit to John Shotbolt (the builder), and to Floods Ferry, where we based Helyn, our first (plastic) boat very happily for a couple of years. It's a long way though - and there's one other trip we have to make next year.

In June, the Russell Newbery Register are holding their tenth annual rally at Atherstone. This we absolutely cannot miss, as by then we will (I brook no doubts) have a spanking shiny brand newly rebuilt unique 3 cylinder National in a gorgeous stunning refitted and beautifully painted boat. Oh yes we will.

Canalplan (what a site!) calculates the journey from Warrior's home mooring at Golden Nook (notorious linear mooring, but we like it) to Atherstone at six days; from Golden Nook to St. Ives, a fortnight. And then in both cases we have to get back again.

Oh what the hell! We can do it. And as an act of faith that Warrior will be finished, I think I'm going to nip out and post that envelope right now.

Friday, October 13, 2006

As I walked out one misty morning

I've mentioned a few times that there are no canals near where I live, but we do have a river, the Sussex Ouse, and I nipped out (five minutes' walk) this morning to take some pictures of the misty estuary. In the late 18th/early 19th century, the river was made navigable from here for 22 miles to the north, via 19 locks, but this was (a familiar tale) never commercially successful.

The navigation served only rural areas, and cargoes were mainly of chalk, lime, manure, aggregates and coal, with fifty one barges registered in 1801. The upper part of the navigation was effectively abandoned by the 1860s, although trade on the seven or so miles from the county town of Lewes to the sea continued into the 1950s, and today, in the estuary, aggregates and sometimes other bulk goods are still unloaded from ships to be transported onwards by road and rail.

I abstracted much of this information from the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust website (I know, it's disgraceful that I didn't already know it). What I do know, however, is that this is also the river where, in 1941, near Rodmell, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself, and the river that flooded Lewes in 1960 and 2000. There was a photograph, which I can't now find, in which it looked as if we did have a canal - but it was Lewes railway station, floodwater almost level with the platform edges.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A strange tale (in two parts)

A written account can't really convey the jaw-dropping, spine tingling, hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck way this actually felt at the time, but I have to pass it on anyway ...

Since Easter, Warrior has been at Stretton Wharf boatyard; we were sent there by the Russell Newbery people (and very nice it's been too, although it would be even nicer to have an engine). Keith, who owns the yard, first appeared on our radar in 2004 when we started seriously looking at narrowboats - he was the builder of the first boat we really fell in love with (but couldn't afford), Pendorric.

A couple of weeks ago, Jim and I were sitting in our kitchen, 200+ miles from Stretton, talking about Warrior, when our neighbour Sophie knocked on the door. Her friend Jacquie had been having a clearout, and wondered whether we could use a Nicholson's guide she was throwing out. As we stood and chatted I casually opened the book to have a look at the date, and saw the inscription 'Merry Xmas Margaret '89, Happy travelling in 1990, Keith ...' , and his wife and sons' names, making it obvious this was the same person we'd just been talking about. After we'd recovered from the shock, Sophie told us the little she knew, which was that Margaret was Jacquie's mother, and that she had been having a boat built, but sadly had died before it was completed.

Naturally, when we went up to Stretton a couple of weeks ago I wasted no time in telling Keith about this extraordinary coincidence. He recalled Margaret, and her daughters, because it was him who was building her boat.

And the boat was Pendorric.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another good cause

I must now confess to being an inveterate lurker on the uk.rec.waterways Google group. Discussions there about DEFRA's cuts to the budgets of British Waterways and the Environment Agency (which will affect the former much more harshly) have coalesced into a campaign, with a website bringing together a range of interested groups and individuals, and details of the background to the cuts (waterways paying for the incompetence of others) and their possible consequences (potentially dire). I (OK, Lockboy) have added the site to my links list.

One thing we are all urged to do is contact our MP, stressing the importance of the waterways not only to boaters (looks like special pleading) but to nature, conservation, recreation and, possibly most persuasively, regeneration. Despite living in a canal-free constituency, I will be writing to mine - laying into DEFRA is one of his many hobbies, so I'm sure he'll be up for it. If your MP is Labour, you probably have the chance to be even more effective, so do take it.

A lot of suggestions for a name for the campaign were thrown about before 'Save the Waterways' was settled upon. My favourite was the admittedly esoteric, but undeniably snappy, 'Cut Cut Cuts'.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Boat thoughts from an office ...

Check out that desktop wallpaper!

I've been in the new job a month now and it seems to be great. I am installed in a newly converted bijou Bloomsbury basement, and as I get to order nice new office furniture, this morning I measured it. My office is six foot four wide, so no wonder I feel so at home.

Monday, October 02, 2006


Andante naked in the rain ...

In which I venture into giving advice … (with all the usual caveats, of course)

In the end I had both Andante’s hull and cabin gritblasted, although not at the same time. From that experience, and from talking to the bloke that did it, I offer the following pearls of wisdom.

1. Having your hull gritblasted is probably on balance less trouble than scraping all the weed, crap, rust and old blacking off with a scraper and a wire brush.

2. It is of course more expensive – unless you could use the three days that it would take you doing it yourself to earn some money doing something else.

3. Stuff something (removable) up your sink waste outlets, and stick (with gaffer tape) the plug in at the other end. Otherwise you will get a sink full of grit at the very least, and if you have a u-bend, its contents will be sprayed up the walls.

The cabin is more trouble – but might also be of greater benefit if you want a really good start to repainting.

4. Grit will get in everywhere if you let it. Tape up all vents on both sides; tape round the inside of all opening windows and window drain holes. Tape round the doors after you leave. Don’t light the fire and sleep in the boat after doing this. Don’t forget the gaps at the top of the rear doors (voice of bitter experience and a gritty engine room).

5. Handy hint I thought of all by myself: remove the grilles from ceiling vents or they will just act as a receptacle for grit that will fall out over the next few months. Instead of taping or masking over the holes in the ceiling, tape small tubs underneath And seal round them. That way it won’t all fall on your head when you unmask it.

6. The main reason for masking the windows (on the outside) is to protect the glass. Start by running a line of gaffer tape all round the outer edge of each pane. Tape your heavy duty polythene to this or to the glass itself. Cover any gaps with more tape. Finish with a line of tape on the window frame. Don’t let this extend onto the paintwork – the whole point of the gritblasting is to get under the paint so it would lift the tape too. Make sure there are no loose edges, ditto.

7. If it’s cold or damp the tape won’t stick and you’ll be wasting your time. So try not to run out of tape at six pm with the nearest B&Q half an hour away.

8. If it’s cold and damp (see above) lighting the stove and ramping it up like a blast furnace helps. (Unless, presumably, you have exceptionally good insulation) As you have already taped up all the windows and vents, best leave the doors open while doing this. This also works following the heavy two minute downpour that will happen while you’re putting the primer on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yesterday's photo

Here's the photo I would have posted yesterday if the laptop's battery hadn't run out (yes, I forgot the charger). Warrior nearest the bank, then Rudd, Zulu and Minnow.