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.