Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back in the back

First thing I did when we last went up to Warrior was to hang up the new handbowl and see how it looked in the cabin. Gorgeous, I think is the answer.

The cabin is really starting to look nice now. The floor is staying stuck down largely OK, but is showing a tendency to hang very tenaciously onto dirt; that I suppose is the downside of it having quite a good non-slip surface. The rug lives on the sidebed - heaven forbid that it should go on the floor; people aren't even allowed to sit on it! I can't remember where we (Jim) got the lamp, but it's rather good. We bought an Osram 'Dot-It' battery LED light as an experiment, and it was quite good, but when we went back to B&Q for some more they'd stopped selling them. Anyway, I've blu-tacked it inside the lamp to quite good effect.

Next little job is to replace all the latches that hold the cupboards shut. Unaccountably, where so much trouble has been taken elsewhere, these are all galvanised rabbit hutch catches. We've stocked up on brass ones to replace them with, and impulse-bought a smashing pair of brass hinges for the bed cupboard. This was in Dockerills, a brilliant old fashioned ironmongers in Brighton, which is also our source for fire cement, Brasso (I have no truck with newfangled products that are supposed to make brass polishing easier; it takes all the fun out of it) and many other requisites. Dockerills are famous for their shop cat, Ginger, who died a few years ago at the age of 24. I only knew him in his later years, when he slept on the counter in his own little bed, but he was a Brighton institution.

Finally, I put up the floor level curtains. Because I forgot to take them home, I had to sew all the velcro on by hand (oh well, I'm supposed to like doing things the old fashioned way). The stick on part of the velcro has been reinforced with a few felt nails, kindly donated by Jez, who got himself into such a state as I have never seen in the course of blacking his boat. I really dislike stick-on velcro and all it stands for, but there wasn't any real alternative here, and anyway, it is hopefully a temporary solution until we get some doors. Looks all right for now though.

By the way, anyone know what's happened to Mike's Globetrotter blog?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

That's spoilt someone's Tuesday

A spanner has been thrown into the works this afternoon. Not a very big one, hopefully, but frustrating, and for a while a bit worrying. Got a call this afternoon from Brian at RN. They'd decided - very presciently - that before going any further with reassembling the engine they should offer up the gearbox cone to the crankshaft. The reground gearbox cone, that is, the one that was reground specifically to match the reground crankshaft. The one we had to take to Wolverhampton because there was no one else that could weld them up and grind them to match.

And of course it didn't fit.

After much to-ing and fro-ing on the phone it turned out that it wasn't really anybody's fault; Custom Crankshafts had done what they were asked to do, but it had been done too far up the crankshaft, something they had no way of knowing at the time. The solution, which Brian has already put in train, is to get a new cone cast. This made me gulp somewhat, but apparently, using the old one as a pattern, this will only (!) cost about £300.

So we end the day with everybody relatively happy and all friends again, but I think some people had a few nasty moments with Jim on the other end of the phone ...

Technical moan. I've tried and failed to post a photo direct from the Webshots site, as I can't actually find my copy (the horrors of digital photography). If you want to know what the parts in question look like, it seems I can do no better than offer you a link.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

French stove - a happy ending in sight?

We have had a bit of a saga with our saloon stove. Initially Warrior had a Morso Squirrel, but this turned out to be beyond repair, burnt and rusted through at the back (despite looking shiny and new at the front).

Many years ago now, while browsing the antique shops of Lewes (something it appears we spend far too much time doing) I was arrested by the sight of a gorgeous enamelled French stove. I sat down beside it making small whimpering noises and refused to move until we'd bought it. It then sat in our kitchen for a few years, waiting for us to get round to plumbing it in, which we never did; basically it was just a big ornament.

It had all its internal parts, and as far as we could see at the time, all it needed was new mica for the windows. However, when we took a closer look with a view to installing it in Warrior it became clear that all was not well. There was a big crack in the cast iron back, and the firebricks, although all there, were badly broken. It really seemed as if it wouldn't be realistic or economic to repair it. But, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, at this point I started to whimper again, oh, couldn't we just try, couldn't we just see if someone could weld the back/supply new firebricks/make a chimney to fit its non-standard French outlet ...

Well, we did, and so far it seems to have been successful, although of course we won't know until we actually try to use it, after all the work has been done. The crack has been welded, and the rest of the casting has so far held together. Last week, Jim turned his attention to the firebricks. We sought advice - and parts - from Stovefinders, who were very helpful. They suggested that the firebricks, which were curved to fit the oval inside of the stove, be replaced with vermiculite sheeting. Apparently this is now used in modern stoves too. The sheet is about an inch thick and comes in foot squares. It's not hard to cut, but tends to be crumbly, and to get the right shape for our stove required a lot of mitring. In the end we gave up and went back to the original firebricks, sticking them together and building them up in situ using tubes of fire cement (Pyruma Flue Cement, and Geocel Fire Block Seal).

So those are the biggest jobs done. We have the mica sheet to replace the windows; Keith is working on making us a chimney pipe; we just still need to get the stringy stuff but that can't be hard as they use it in Squirrels. Because the flue comes out of the back rather than the top, the stove will have to sit further forward, meaning that I've needed to tile the whole of the walls behind it as it will all show. No problem, except I'm three tiles short - the lovely yellow tiles we've used were originally intended for Andante, and I'd assumed when I started using them on Warrior's larger hearth that we could leave the bit that didn't show untiled (it does already have steel sheeting and heatproof board behind, so the tiles are purely aesthetic). Naturally, the shop where we bought them has changed hands and no one knows who the supplier was ... Still, a minor niggle in the scheme of things, if the rest of it does all come together successfully. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Three cans in a row

We now have quite a nice collection of cans - something I do like very much. The largest one, on the left, is the famous Phil Speight accidental Christmas present; a very beneficial accident it turned out to be. The smallest one, on the right, was bought as a boatwarming present for Andante, from the Kennet and Avon Canal Society's shop in Newbury. It has a phone number on the bottom, but no name. The roses are very similar in style to Phil's, at least to my untutored eye.

The middle one is in many ways the most interesting. We found it a couple of years ago in a pet shop-cum-antique shop in Lewes, East Sussex - i.e. a long way from any canals - and paid £27 for it. Its roses are in a completely different style - one I have seen elsewhere but can't really place - any ideas? I also like its slightly more muted colours. The paint on it is a bit tatty, but all we've done is give it a couple of coats of varnish to preserve it as it is. The frustrating thing is that at the same time as we bought this can, we could also have bought a full size painted milk churn (really nice too, not at all rusty like ones I've seen subsequently at twice the price) for £48. And we didn't, because we weren't feeling particularly flush at the time, but it's one thing I do give myself the occasional kick over.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Engine excitement

But unfortunately I can't share it fully with you, at least not yet ... Last Friday we looked in on the engne at RN, and it's starting to look really good. It's now sitting in their spanking new clean room, like a patient with a compromised immune system, and I took lots of pictures of its shiny new white metal bearings. The exciting thing was that we were sent a new set of photos this morning by Brian at RN (he has really got them organised!), showing the next stages of reassembly. The frustrating thing is that I can't upload them to the blog - must be in the wrong format or something. I'll work on it, and at least try to get them - and the others - up into the album.

If I could post them, they would show the crankshaft laying in the crankcase, then with the block in place on top, and finally, the timing gears in place. Things really do seem to be coming together, touch wood ...

On another topic entirely, our next door neighbours, inveterate caravanners and fans of the Discovery Channel's canal-related output, are thinking about hiring a boat in March (the month of March that is, although they might try the Fens), so we've lent them some of our growing stock of glossy mags. Another little thought - everyone is very disparaging about the glossy 'comics', but they all read them, don't they? Although I can't read C&R without wanting to copy- edit it; it is appalling. But, ooh, the nice colour pictures.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Restoration, Recreation, Reproduction?

Oh, a disjointed ramble tonight. I've been interviewing would-be part-time Politics lecturers all day; I managed to drop a cup of hot chocolate that I was holding - just holding, not trying to do anything ambitious (e.g. drinking) with - all over me, my fellow interviewer and all our paperwork, my brain is crying out for respite, and yet still I determine to bring you my thoughts on a delicate, nay, controversial, issue. Instead of, as you might have preferred, Warrior's new cabin curtains.

A couple of days ago I stumbled into a fight, now happily resolved (it was all a misunderstanding), which opened up all the old issues about whether old wooden boats are ever really restored or whether, as the only bits that seem to endure are the non-wooden parts, we should really be talking about them as reproductions rather than restorations. And I think that the answer to that one is that I don't really care. A reproduction is better than nothing, and nothing is the only alternative, because for all its virtues, wood is inherently not a very durable material, at least not in close contact with water. I agree with the point that Andrew makes (see first link) that it would be nice to see old boats left old and unrestored, but that's not an option; after a while they simply won't be there any more.

Up at Stretton, a stalwart couple called Martin and Chris are 'restoring' Heather Bell (photo above, taken last Easter), which I think from memory was the last wooden working motor (narrow) boat ever built. This means all (perhaps not quite all, I should have paid more attention) new wood. It is an immense task, and their achievements even just in the time we've been there are awesome, and I wouldn't put my head above the parapet and say that it wasn't worthwhile; I think is most certainly is (mad, perhaps, but worthwhile). Anyway, how much of an unrestored boat is 'original', assuming that it was constantly repaired and maintained throughout its working life? Like the Roman's axe, which has had three new handles and four new blades over the years: is it still the same axe? (Perhaps that thread of continuity is the answer...). Martin also told me last week that it was a common practice to take wooden boats that had reached the end of their useful working life and burn them, reclaiming just the iron parts to be incorporated into a new boat. Presumably this wouldn't then be considered the same boat.

This dilemma is most acute when talking about wooden boats, but also applies to iron/steel/composite ones. Often it seems, beautiful restorations start life as little more than the sides of a hull, sometimes only one end or the other, sometimes not even clearly identifiable. But if that provides the inspiration to recreate a boat the lines and dignity of which we see so rarely, then that can't be bad.

Monday, January 22, 2007

With brass knobs on

Just got back from a very productive weekend on Warrior, and pausing only for a nice bath (well, after four days of doing the bare minimum required by polite society - remember, we still have no running water - the neglected bits in between deserve a soak and a scrub) and a bite to eat, here I am back at the blogface. Lots of photos and progress to report once I get them sorted out.

Last night I removed all the brass knobs from by the stove in Warrior's back cabin. I know it's 'traditional' to have a row of old doorknobs by the door, but I think that only applies when they're nice, preferably old, found objects - not to lacquered brassette mock-Georgian crap from B&Q. So I took them all off, and despite the plethora of screwholes, I think it looks better for it. I shall keep my eyes open for really nice replacements. One other 'traditional' thing I haven't got in the cabin is ribbon plates. I just don't like them. Sorry. In most other respects though it's a pretty standard pastiche, not just for the sake of it, but because those are the elements I do like.

I got to look at some really nice graining yesterday, and was subsequently struck by how comparatively rough and crude Warrior's is; still, it is Warrior's and that's good enough. What is annoying however is that some former owner decided that it would look nicer with all the framing - which I'm pretty sure was originally also grained - painted blue, and didn't even do it very neatly. Just as soon as we get something to play it on Jim will be studying his Tony Lewery video and getting his combs out.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is boating relaxing?

Just a little thought before we pop off (weather and M6 permitting) to Warrior tomorrow. Most people's first reaction, when I tell them about the boat, is that narrowboating must be very 'relaxing'. I mean primarily people who haven't (yet) done it themselves, but I also think I've heard boaters say, or be quoted as saying, it. Now, does this mean that I'm doing something wrong? Lying in the garden in the sun is relaxing. Lying in bed, possibly, if it's nice and warm and you don't have to get up. But boating, in my experience so far, has been, in various measure:
rewarding (very)
occasionally (dare I say) boring
uncomfortable (e.g. cold and wet)
but, above all, exhiliarating - the very opposite, I would have thought, of relaxing.

Perhaps people think it's relaxing because it looks so slow, but there's still always a lot of work going on under the surface, whether that be the constant physical work of steering, or the mental task of keeping alert for what's ahead. On top of that there's the more obvious physical effort involved in locking and other labour intensive activities. I'm not denying that you feel great at the end of a day of all this, and likely to sleep like a log, but it's still not what I'd call relaxing.

Maybe they're thinking of being the person in the brochure photos who appears to spend the entire time sunbathing on the roof (see 'lying in the sun' above). But even then I would have thought the prospect of low bridges might disrupt one's inner calm a bit. Possibly it's the proximity of water, and the beauty of the surroundings. But water can be treacherous, and beauty, surely, is something that grabs you by the heart?

Still, I'd rather feel inspired and exhiliarated than relaxed any day, and that's what I love boating for.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Andante is going home

Andante a long way from home ...

Apologies to anyone who asked about Andante and got ignored; what happened is that I accepted an offer on her months ago, but didn't like to say anything until it was all done and dusted for fear of putting a jinx on the whole thing. Well, the money's not quite in my hand yet, but the buyer's cheque has cleared, so it looks as if it's safe to talk about it ...

It is of course rather sad to part with Andante as it was very much my boat, and my home from home in Huddersfield - but the nice news is that she's going back to the Kennet and Avon, where, apart from cruising and my briefly kidnapping her to the frozen north, she's spent her whole life. She's not going to be lived on any more, so I see it as a sort of semi-retirement (at the grand old age of 20). I haven't met her new owners, but I hope they'll take good care of her. (I know I'm shamelessly anthropomorphising here, but bear with me, I got very fond of the old girl).

Our original plan had been to sell Andante ourselves, the same way we bought her, via Apollo Duck. When Jim suggested bringing her down to Stretton and getting Keith to do the selling, my initial reason for agreeing was for the sake of the trip. But with hindsight I can see that this was a very good idea; it would have been an absolute nightmare trying to deal with potential buyers with the boat 400 miles away. We would never have got the price we did if it hadn't been possible to get work done there and then (new shower tray and pump, new toilet, repairs to the rudder, and finally (no previous owners having been bothered) getting the oil pressure guage to work; not to mention the shotblasting and painting (apparently the buyers really liked the look of her in her grey undies, but as we'd already bought the green and red paint they are going to use it). You wouldn't get that sort of service from a standard brokerage, I know (and I don't suppose they'd light the stove before people came to view either), and I'd hesitate to place a boat in some of their hands, but I'm very happy that we made the right decision.

Brokers do get rather a bad press, often, I expect, deservedly; so do estate agents. But I have to say that my experiences of both have been very largely positive. When we bought our little GRP cruiser, Helyn, it was from Penton Hook on the Thames at Chertsey. We almost didn't go in, it looked so overwhelmingly upmarket. At £5,000 (we eventually paid four), she was the second cheapest boat there; some were 100 times the price. But Darren the salesman could not have taken more trouble with and for us if we had been buying one of those gin palaces. He took us out twice, gave us loads of advice both in person and over the phone, and even lent us a Thames map after we bought her. What's more, they were happy for us to keep her there for another six weeks as the mooring was paid for - which they needn't have told us.

And I've also known estate agents who were genuinely nice and caring, who, when No. 1 Husband (hmm, that has a good ring to it), very tiny Number One Son, and I were taking our first tentative steps onto the property ladder, gave us loads of patient advice and help, not to mention emotional as well as practical support when a purchase fell through. But I suspect that, in 1985, they were the last of the old school (still, hats off to Bradley and Vaughan, sadly no more, of Haywards Heath).

But back to the point: goodbye Andante; it was nice knowing you. Keep an eye out for her Mike, and say hello from me when you see her back on the K&A!

Monday, January 15, 2007

A National treasure?

Our booking confirmation for the RN rally has just arrived. Never mind that while I filled in the form, and I signed the cheque, the confirmation is addressed to Jim - bless their traditional little cotton socks (and woolly beards). The exciting thing is that we are (touch wood) going to spend a weekend of fun and frolics in the company of like minded engine enthusiasts, drinking beer and participating in various useful workshops. I have signed up for all the workshops except flower arranging (excuse me?), including, with some reservations, diesel engines for ladies. I have overcome my reservations about this using the same arguments as are made for single sex education for girls, i.e. that we will be freed from stereotyped expectations and thus better able to achieve our full potential without loads of blokes shouting out the answers and putting us off. We shall see. Also, I have signed up for crochet, which I think will be an even bigger challenge.

But here's the thing: it's the Russell Newbery rally, and our engine's a National. We National owners are a sort of subset of the RN Register (the owners' club), just, I suppose, as the National engine is a sort of subset of the RN. RN licenced their engine design to National in the early 1930s, so while at that time they were almost identical, over the years, as the two companies developed them in different ways, they diverged. By the mid/late thirties, when our engine (and I suspect most of the Nationals still in use) was built, there were already some significant differences. Nonetheless, the similarities and common background mean that RN engineering were the obvious choice to rebuild our - and quite a few other - National engines, hence its lengthy sojourn in Daventry.

But I still feel a bit left out. The RN Register produce all sorts of RN merchandise, but supposing a National owner were naff enough to want a window sticker, or a mug, or, heaven forbid, an item of clothing, featuring their beloved engine, then they'd be out of luck. I would guess that most (all except ours?) Nationals in canal boats today are fitted in historic boats, particularly the restored GU boats that originally would have had them, and that the owners of such boats are (quite rightly) above such things. But there's a little, shallow, part of me that wants to announce to the world, look, I might not have a Big Woolwich, but I do have a really rather impressive engine ... And, also, to fly the flag for National, to spread the word beyond the cognescenti that there was this enormous enterprise called the National Gas and Oil Engine Company of Ashton-under-Lyne, who powered most of the biggest carrying fleet on the British canals yet now seem to have a very low profile, partly because of being re-absorbed into RN.

By the way, if we ever acquire a small hairy dog to take boating, he will be called Natio, pronounced Gnasher, in their honour. This is unlikely to happen in the short term as we have an awful lot of cats who wouldn't appreciate canine company. But every now and then we see a likely looking terrier, and cry 'Look! There's a Gnasher!'

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Skinny model

In his Christmas stocking (what do you mean, nearly seventeen's too old?) Baz got a model narrowboat kit, purchased on Santa's behalf at the London Canal Museum. And here is the finished article (less rope. Haven't worked out how to attach the thread yet). I do think that for £3.99 it's a bit steep that he had to cut the balsa* to shape himself, but I suppose it's all part of the creative challenge. In his own refinement, he even cut away a few millimetres under the counter.

The pack says it's 1:72 scale, and at about a foot long that would seem to be right, so it should fit nicely on his 00 guage railway ... This railway layout started about twelve years ago, with a little Hornby starter set one Christmas when the boys were young. It quickly grew onto a 6' x 4' board, and we all had enormous fun setting it up (my speciality was the cardboard buildings kits) and even playing with it occasionally, but then, ten years ago this year, we moved to our present abode, and somehow never got round to setting it up again. The poor boy's been very patient, but has rather plaintively asked if it can be set up as his birthday present (for next month). How could we refuse?

And this time it will have a canal too (we were originally going to have a river but I suspect a canal might actually be easier). It really brings home how big the boats are when you look at the model next to a locomotive or a house of the same scale, in a way that is somehow less noticeable in real life (most likely because you don't see them in such close proximity).

NB Not 'balsa wood'. Any more than it's 'tuna fish'. There is no other sort of tuna; there is no other sort of balsa. Do I say our kitchen's built from oak wood? Do we eat haddock fish? I rest my case.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Newhaven Swing Bridge

Another Newhaven post (next Warrior visit is next weekend) but it does feature the river and, the bane of local motorists, the swing bridge. I went and watched it opening to allow a ship in this afternoon, and was surprised to note that the whole process took only six minutes from the traffic being stopped to when it was allowed through again. Sometimes it must take longer, as the traffic has been known to back right round the ringroad and up the Lewes and Brighton roads. It's nice to think that there's something which takes priority over road transport, albeit occasionally.

I have, thanks to my father, a souvenir brochure produced in 1974 when the present swing bridge was opened. It is, however, written in the style known locally as 'Newhaven Historical Society' (a half page feature written in the same style appears in the Sussex Express every week) and it is thus quite difficult to glean usable information from it. It has some lovely adverts though, including one for Thorn radiograms, which were apparently made (built?) in Newhaven at the time.

The 1974 bridge replaced a previous swing bridge which was opened in 1867. That in turn replaced a Georgian (the booklet gives no date) toll drawbridge, that appears to have opened in the middle like Tower Bridge. The 1867 bridge was opened using a capstan, operated by eight men. The town's gas main was carried across the bridge, and the supply was cut off whenever it was opened - and this was until 1974.

The current bridge is of course operated electrically, and the gas has been found a new route (presumably under the river along with the water main). It pivots round against the east bank, allowing ships through at high(ish) tide to access the North Quay. Today it was a ship called Torrent, unusually, London registered. No idea what it was loading/unloading, but it could have been loading scrap metal, or unloading stone or granite, or aggregates.

Not great conditions for taking photos, but at least it prompted me to start to experiment with the little digital camera a bit. The results aren't great, but I haven't had much practice yet.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pretty pictures and fancy photos

I like taking photos. I started when I was ten, with my mum's old Box Brownie (and it was old, even then. It wasn't all that long ago that I was ten.) The first photo I took was of a horse, on a shcool trip to a local farm. I only managed one on that occasion, as it was horribly cold, and Siobhan Winters and I had to be tucked up in a shed with blankets and an oil-filled radiator until our mums came to get us. The following summer I took the camera to the Norfolk Broads, and got the picture below, which I'm still rather pleased with (it won second prize in a school competition!). I don't know what length lens the Brownie had, but I think I got a lot closer to that swan than was altogether wise.

The first camera I bought was a second hand Instamatic - don't think I took a single decent picture with that, though the disposable flash cubes were rather fun, if slightly scary to a sensitive soul like I was. I got my first SLR when I was about fifteen; I think it was given to me by a gentleman friend of my mother's. It only had one lens, but that was 50mm, so basically WYSIWYG for the first time, and the whole thing was a revelation. I had great fun with that, and got a few tips and read a few books, and then, when I was seventeen, finally bought my first new camera, a Practika BX20. Cheap, because it was East German back when there was still a Berlin Wall, and old technology, but basically good quality; and I still think one of the best purchases I've ever made.

And then last July I got the Canon Powershot for my birthday. It's been great; I've got loads of good pictures that I wouldn't have got any other way, and I couldn't blog without it (well, I could, but it would be very dull. What do you mean, it's very dull anyway?). But it isn't a substitute: it meets an almost completely different need. One day, I suppose, I will have to get a digital SLR for the times I want to try and do arty-farty stuff; they're already getting more affordable, but all the time film's available, what's the hurry? There would be an enormous instruction book to read. I like the simplicity of my old, old technology. I'm happy to embrace new stuff, but strictly on a need-to-know basis.

Anyway, the point I'm getting to is that I've set up a new album for pictures taken for their own sake, including ones where I'm trying to be clever (and sometimes it nearly comes off), and ones that might be cliched, but what the hell, they're pretty. All but the first one were taken with the Practika, and none of them has been enhanced, cropped, Photoshopped, or otherwise fiddled about with in any way.

Monday, January 08, 2007

I think Warrior now has RSS...

Many months ago, when I was still at Huddersfield - actually, at the valedictory pie and peas blow-out - one of my colleagues told me how important it was for an aspiring young blogger to have an RSS feed. He even told me how to set it up, using Atom (which he said worked better with Blogger than RSS. Look, I don't understand any of this...). I tried, and gave up. Or so I thought.

Then on Christmas day (tragically) I was reading Granny Buttons' post about the importance of RSS, and, coincidentally, noticed that Warrior had dropped off his 'boatroll'. My second, and correct, thought was that it was because a new arrival had pushed Warrior to 51st position on a 50-long list, but my first was that it was a punishment for not having an RSS feed. This time I determined to do something about it. As a keen young chap (a contemporary of Baz's, but with headed notepaper and invoices) was coming to install our new router (courtesy of which this is now coming to you) I asked if he would sort it out. Easy, he said. Looked at the settings, and told me that it was already set up. I don't know how I did it, but obviously I did. Now, I still don't know anything about how it works (although I think I have grasped the gist of what it does) but I am given to understand that if you wish to avail yourself of this new convenience, you need this information:
Do let me know if you do. Or if you can't.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Under the engine room floor

As promised, the latest instalment of progress made on our last visit to Warrior: three weeks ago now, so must be due up there again soon! Under instructions from Paul the electrician, Jim is building a cupboard to house all the electrical switches and fuses neatly, and work was started on that. We have some nice doors that will be rigged up as sliding doors across the front - we can't have conventionally opening ones because the throttle control lever is too close in front of it. Then above the doors, which aren't the full height of the cupboard, will be a panel with nice brass vents in it, which were taken off Andante's rather pathetic fake pigeon box.

More excitingly, with the help of Aaron, we also took up the engine room floor - and good thing we did too, as it was very wet underneath. We're pretty sure that that's as the result of rainwater coming in through the holes where the panel in the roof (through which the engine goes in and out) is bolted on - since the engine came out it hasn't been properly sealed. We were always intending to lay a new floor in the engine room, albeit originally over the existing one, using narrow hardwood decking that we bought on spec a few years ago. The new plan entails removing the existing floor and building a new one a few inches higher (still using the hardwood) creating a large enough space underneath for our new, improved, battery bank. This will be more accessible, and allow for more/bigger batteries. Previously the start battery was in its own box behind the engine; we can now have a bigger one, hidden but still more accessible, and have more space to get around the engine. Similarly, the leisure batteries will be much easier to get at than they were under the floor beneath the bed cupboard, and we free up storage space in the cabin.

The main reason we bought Aaron with us was because we foresaw that there would be ballast under the floor that would need moving - there was, and it was wet. Warrior has very good ballast, and no one is quite sure what it is - wish we knew as we'd like to get some more. It's in bags of around 1 cwt each, measuring about 16 x 8 x 6 inches, and looks like very small discs (about 3mm diameter) of something like stainless steel. It's very heavy and quite easy to handle (provided you have a certain level of muscle). So this was all removed, then the space cleaned out and allowed to dry, before being painted with two coats of micacious iron oxide paint. The batteries will sit on rubber mats with a wooden framework to prevent them moving or falling over - not that there's much space to do either. Needless to say, the old floor was very strongly built and fixed, and had to be sawn through in two places and taken up in sections.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

If I had a Newhaven blog ...

I'm sorry, this still isn't about Warrior. I am saving my last remaining update from our last visit - the space under the engine room floor; bet you can't wait - for later. So in the meantime, a little bit more Newhaven test card (look, there is water in it).

When I wander around town I sometimes think I'd like to set up a Newhaven blog as a separate entity, but god knows I waste enough time on this one, so better not; I'll just hijack this one occasionally. A Newhaven blog would feature items like this:

Four shags in a row

Eat your heart out Granny Buttons. Although I suppose it's cheating if they've got perches. Years ago, when I was on the town council, the first phase of housing was completed on the West Quay, just inland from here, and we were asked for ideas for naming it. One member suggested Cormorant Quay, after the birds that frequent the area. We were all nodding and agreeing to this when the council's resident naturalist, David 'Badger' Harris, pointed out that the birds in question were not in fact cormorants, but black shags. My suggestion that the development be named Black Shag Buildings failed to garner much support and eventually it was called Christchurch Court. A missed opportunity, I've always felt.

Wish you were here?

It was such a beautiful morning, warm and sunny with blue skies and only the prettiest little white clouds, and I realised how fortunate I am to live by the sea. Before I'd ever actually been to the Midlands, I used to think of it as a sort of heart of darkness, close and airless; not because of the industry or the architecture, but just because it's so far from the edge. Now of course I know it's not really like that (well, Nottingham was, last July) and nowhere in skinny little England is that far from the sea, but I still thought I should make the most of what I've got on my doorstep.

So pausing only to grab my trusty little camera, I set off for the beach. I left around lunchtime, and by the time I'd got half way, come back for new batteries for the camera, had a cup of tea and set off again, the weather was starting to change. It wasn't really cold, but it got cloudier and more windy. I walked down the West Quay, where the fishing boats are based, and which wasn't built on at all when I first came here, but now has housing nearly all the way along (complete with predictable 'waterside living' sales pitches), down along the harbour (photo above) past the Fort, and round to the West Beach. This is one of the very few sandy beaches on the south coast, but is privately owned and, since a piece of concrete fell out of the sea wall onto the beach last year, has been out of bounds to the public. Then I went past the old harbour arm - again, you used to be able to walk right along this to the end, which was great with the spray flying over the wall, but that's too dangerous now too apparently - to the pebble beach, where a couple of hardy families were ... well, I don't know what they were doing, but they were there.

I only planned to take a few pictures to use on the blog, but I was quite pleased with them, so I've uploaded the photos here, so you can take a virtual walk along the West Quay and around the West Beach, as the weather changes.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

And farewell watermen and lightermen?

I've just read this story in the Guardian (the paper version, where it's accompanied by a super picture of a man holding an enormous rope) and it made me rather sad. You don't have to be an expert on the Thames to regret the passing of centuries of history and tradition. Or to be touched by the poetry of the very words watermen and lightermen, so redolent, perhaps, precisely because of the way they connect the present with the past.

But, apparently, no more. The five year apprenticeship which qualifies a man as a Thames waterman has been superseded by a national qualification taking only half the time and not specific to the Thames.

Most of the concerns expressed in the article are about the implications for safety, and this is a real, if obvious, issue. But even if there were no safety implications, the story still represents another example of the willing sacrifice of in-depth knowledge and expertise to efficiency and cost savings; the idea that once safety has been addressed, and a minimal service provided, anything else is an unwarranted extravagance. Such an attitude can be seen everywhere from (now unmanned) locks to shops; as 'jobs for life' have gone, so have lifetimes worth of knowledge and experience, freely given, to be replaced by an army of cheap and interchangeable jacks-of-all-trades who cannot answer the simplest query without referring to the staff handbook or instruction manual; a process explicitly endorsed by the government.

It matters not whether the culprit in this particular case be the EU or the British government; the whole thing is symptomatic of a culture which sentimentally venerates the past once it's safely out of the way, but fails to appreciate things at the moment they're slipping away, and to catch them as they fall. This isn't only a contemporary phenomenon, but perhaps an eternal and universal one; look, for example, how Rolt, like everyone else in the 1940s, excoriates and dismisses the Victoriana which now puts thousands on the price of a house.

The article closes with a quote from a current lighterman, referring to the traditions of the job, which will be my motto for the year: We know it doesn't matter in this day and age but it should matter.