Friday, March 30, 2007

New photos

Oh yes. Another new tranche of photos has been uploaded before we set off again. Craning, shotblasting, priming, grinding and painting from here; and the latest shots of the engine from here onwards.

There's an awful lot of photos up there now - way beyond the nominal 240 limit for the free account. I would be happy to upgrade to the paid version; it's only $2 a month, but the logistics of actually paying for it are beyond me. With the free version I get stats showing me how many views there have been of the first three albums (if you pay you get them for all of them), and I'm always amazed at how high these are. Most popular by far is the Braunston one. Please do leave comments on the pics if you feel so moved - it's very easy!

These online albums are by far the most organised collection I have of Warrior (or for that matter, any other) photos, and I shudder to think what would happen if they suddenly disappeared.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bump 'n' grind

Oh god, sorry, couldn't resist.

Grinding because Jim is not happy with the finishing of the welds on much of Warrior. Apart from looking a bit, well, clumsy, in places like here and around the gunwales it will make it much harder to get a neat paint finish. So he's grinding them down. I fear this may prove to be a never-ending task, but I have to admit it does look better, although I didn't really mind the previous rather rough and ready look. But what do I know about welding? Apart from the fact that it terrifies me, bugger all.

And bump because - well, look at our new fenders. Made by Joe Hollingshead, and another lovely surprise (not a present, though, unfortunately, I suspect) when we turned up on Friday. I mean, we had agreed to have them the last time we were there, but hadn't expected anthing so soon. We have now brought them home so that we can soak them in creosote (or, sadly, creosote substitute) without risk to canal life, and if we do this regularly, Joe tells us, they should last ten years.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Painting the roof

We came home today, because rain was forecast for the next couple of days. Still managed to get a second coat of raddle red onto the roof and dry before we left though (which wasn't, in the event, until late afternoon). Warrior was looking absolutely lovely in red oxide, with the portholes all polished - and we've had to leave it looking like a scruffy old wreck again as we have to cover the roof with a selection of tarpaulins and plastic sheets held on with various bits of disgusting string and scrap metal, and an old tyre, because the roof isn't watertight. Having cleaned all the old sealant out of the panel where the engine will go in, it isn't worth redoing it now until the engine is actually back in.

Still, no photo of it looking disreputable. Instead, here is Jim painting the roof this morning.

And here's a funny thought: from lunchtime on Saturday until teatime today (Wednesday) I didn't set foot outside the boatyard, and in fact strayed barely a few yards in either direction from the bank. And yet I didn't feel at all deprived or constrained; indeed, I didn't even think about it until we left.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Another busy day

Another killer title. Not. I've actually been mostly doing work-type work today, finally getting on with a book review that's been driving me mad for weeks (I think the fresh air helped). It has been a lovely, sunny day, the first real hint of what's (hopefully) to come, and I sat out on the foredeck looking down* the Shroppie towards the aqueduct.

Yes, as promised, we were back in the water first thing, on the outside so all the lucky people on the towpath opposite can get a good look. I put some finishing touches to the engine this morning, hence another photo of it (hopefully) while Jim did the roof, stripping out the bits that the grit didn't reach, filling some small areas of pitting, and getting some more primer on. I polished the brass protruberances. And finally got my bit of lace pinned up in the table cupboard.

Despite - or perhaps because of - the early start, the day flew by, and felt very productive.

*I think.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A new career beckons

Should I ever tire of academia, I think I might have a future as a contortionist - and I've never thought that before. But I've never before painted a fully assembled engine on a high sided trailer before, and I've surprised myself with my abilities. The first coat is finished, all over. Everyone who's seen it says they like the 'dirty lime green' that we were warned off. The engine enamel isn't the easiest paint to put on, but it covers really well (I am in fact in the process of disputing the necessity of a second coat) and dries nice and shiny.

Warrior is looking like a completely different boat since the repaint. Today Jim finished the tunnel bands and touching up the blacking, but it was too windy to try to start on the temporary raddle red topcoats: wind means flying grit, dust and other debris and we want to give it a fighting chance. Thankfully though it stayed dry. It was also, apparently, cold, but thanks to Messrs Damart I remained blissfully unaware of this. As someone who has been made miserable by the cold all my life, the discovery of clothes that actually, really , keep you warm
has been a revelation.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Today's progress

Nothing witty or exciting today (huh! is there ever?) but steady progress involving paint. We went to see Phil at Craftmaster this morning for advice and paint, and came away with quite a lot of both. For the temporary paint job we will have another couple of coats of primer followed by two coats of Craftmaster Raddle Red. That will see us through two months or two years (hopefully only the former will be required). Jim is busy getting the cabin sides done as much as possible before the boat goes back in the water on Monday - first thing, we have been sternly warned. The roof can be done once in.

For my part, I have been entrusted with painting the engine. It is a very slow process as the thing is now fully assembled, so there are lots of fiddly bits, bits that are difficult to get at, and bits that must be avoided. I have done some of it with a half inch brush, and a surprising amount with a small artist's brush, which I have now, unfortunately, broken, by wiping it too roughly on a rag. The revolting green paint looks lovely. The engine will need two coats; I doubt if I'm half way through the first one yet.

We're off to the pub now. Cheers!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Waiting nervously ...

Ian left the RN works at Daventry, with Warrior's engine on a trailer, an hour and a half ago, struggling through the Friday night traffic on the A5. We are sitting - or in my case standing - on the boat awaiting his arrival. It is very nailbiting stuff. The container is ready to receive it, and Jim has built a ramp to help get it in, but we're still not sure quite how that is going to be achieved. And it's just starting to get dark.

It has actually been an exciting day since this time yesterday, when we heard, quite unexpectedly, that Warrior had been craned out and the cabin shotblasted. We had planned to do this, but were expecting to talk about it this week. Still, it makes a very nice change to have things done sooner than you expect them. Warrior looks like a different boat now in red oxide effect primer. The first coat was sprayed on and we will add a couple more - Jim has already made a start. This will definitely be a vast improvement when we go to the RN rally, and we like it so much we are having second thoughts about our plans to paint the cabin dark grey. I always quite fancied red oxide anyway ...

I'll try to get a photo up tomorrow along with the latest news. Thanks to our elevated position (out of the water) I am actually writing this indoors today, at the kitchen counter with the side hatch open, but a sheet of perspex in it, so am relatively warm. Which is nice.

Stop press - he's just arrived!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How to win friends and influence people*

Take 6 oz self raising flour, 2 oz caster sugar and 4 oz butter, and whizz them up in a Magimix or similar. Press into the bottom of a swiss roll tin and bake as 180c/gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes.

In a big heavy pan, put 4 oz butter, 4 oz caster sugar, 2 tablespoons of golden syrup and a tin of condensed milk. Gently heat until all melted/dissolved and mixed, then boil for 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Pour and spread over the biscuit base. Leave to cool for a bit.

Melt two big bars of milk chocolate and spread over the top of the caramel. Leave to cool at room temperature. When cool, cut into portions, but leave in the tin. Then put it in the fridge. When cold, remove from tin.

Distribute freely to engineers etc.

*I live in hope.

Boxing clever

Here are the new seat boxes - so far. They're still to have some lovely moulding put around the fronts and the end that will show. The lids extend over the back to make a good deep seat, and we've deliberately not made them too high (13") so they should be more comfortable than the usual high, shallow dinette seats. The boxes can be used for storage of things that won't be needed very often, as to get in them will necessitate taking all the cushions off (not that that's much of a job, would probably take all of ten seconds), then the lids will just lift up and hopefully slide over the back. If not, then they can be lifted out of the front.

The box tops are 28" square (made to fit the cushions we already had) and pulled apart with a board between them they should make an adequate bunk for a thin person, should one be required. But the primary purpose is to provide comfortable, attractive seating. By the stove. For me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The best laid plans

I am a great believer in having plans, even when one just knows that they're going to come to naught. At least if you have a plan, you know what you are deviating from, and by how much you've been knocked off course by events.

I have been working today on our plans for this summer. I have made a Planner, which runs to thirteen pages of tables, taking us from next week through to the end of August, with sections for each member of the family plus the boat. From this we can see at a glance when Baz has AS exams at the same time as the RN Rally, for example, and that Aaron is in Florida when we need him for the Wolverhampton Flight. I have also made a list of various optional activities with the implications of their co-dependent variables. From this I have deduced certain conclusions (all pending approval by Jim) pertaining to this summer's activities.

The RN Rally and the IWA Festival are fixed, booked up, paid for, and definite (definite targets, at least). We have beaten a dignified retreat from the idea of getting the painting and signwriting finished before leaving for the RN Rally; what we will probably do now is have Warrior shotblasted, primed and looking halfway decent for that (because at the moment the paint is just embarassingly awful). Then at least it will look like a work in progress rather than a very badly painted boat. My hope is that we can then come back and do the painting and signwriting in the two months between the Rally and leaving for the Festival; the alternative is to do it in the autumn or even next year.

There is also the possibility that we might not come back from Cambridgeshire, at least for a while. Warrior was built by John Shotbolt at Ramsey (for himself), and we are certainly intending to pay him a visit while we're in the area (another reason to have Warrior looking its best) and he did once say that there would always be a space for Warrior at his marina ... certainly it would be a nice spot to be for winter visits, and we could always drop in to Floods Ferry too (where we used to keep Helyn) - maybe even take part in the annual dominoes competition again. All of this, of course, is highly flexible, but it was a worthwhile effort just to get all the options and permutations sorted out in my head.

On the other hand, I am also very taken with Sir John Harvey Jones' view that:
Planning is an unnatural process, and the nicest thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise, rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Just a simple little job

Words to strike fear into any builder's heart. Because they never are simple or little, these jobs. Would you believe it would take half a day to change two light switches, for example? Warrior had these switches, which are horrible:

We found these in B&Q, and thought they were much nicer - quite expensive, at around eleven pounds apiece, but worth it aesthetically.

Just a simple matter of swapping them over then. Undo two screws, swap over two or three wires, do up two screws, and Bob's your uncle, and, as Jim is wont to say, Fanny's your Aunt Mary.

Oh no it isn't. One the old switches, the switch and the wiring is all contained in a small box about half an inch deep, half an inch wide, and an inch and a half high. Although these are domestic switches, they weren't mounted on a box, but screwed straight to the t&g boarding, with a small hole drilled out behind for said box and wiring. No problem. The new switches, we discovered, don't have a little, deep, box on the back. They have a bloody great shallow one, extending to within half an inch or less of the edge of the front plate. Only a few millimetres deep, but necessitating hacking a much larger hole in the boarding. This boarding is ash (we think) very hard, and 3/4 " thick. What's more, the hole has to be shaped to leave lugs into which to put the screws. It took hours of chiselling and drilling.

Worth it though.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

For rooftop blogging, it has to be a trad

Your intrepid blogger, last night

Trad, semi-trad or cruiser stern narrowboat? The question that divides the nation. As the primary purpose of a blog is to give any halfwit with an internet connection an unfettered and unmediated outlet for their worthless opinions, I shall now utilise that to the hilt.

For me, lover of tradition that I am, I has to be a trad every time. All the usual reasons ... dry engine, useful space, best chance of a good looking boat, warm legs, people can't come and talk to you when you're steering (oh yes that is a good point. On a short boat of course they can still shout criticisms of your steering from the front, so best get a longer one. Or a noisier engine). Plus, if the extent of your technical equipment, coupled with the mobile reception where you happen to be, means that undertaking blogging activities entails typing with the laptop on the roof of the boat, then this can also be done whilst keeping your legs warm, assuming you have a back cabin with a stove ...

Now, a cruiser stern, I can see the attraction if you like that sort of thing (i.e. being sociable in the open air whilst steering a boat - because let's face it, if you only want to be sociable after you've tied up, a space at the front is just as good). It doesn't make for a pretty boat, but it's honest.

Some of my best friends have semi-trads. Well, OK, one. And I'm sorry, but I still have to say this. I have read many (actually, no, a few. Maybe one) arguments in favour of them, and they are all utterly spurious. Semi trad rear ends: waste of space, worst of both worlds. What is the point of them?

Ooh, how dogmatic. How prejudiced. Normal reasonable diffidence will be resumed tomorrow.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

What we did today

Jim put a new base and a shelf in the table cupboard.

I swept up all the sawdust, then gave the inside if the table cupboard a coat of cream paint - a vast improvement on the previous deep pink. Another coat tomorrow should finish the job.

Jim broke the glass of the oil lamp in the cabin.

We went to Midland Chandlers and bought some sealing string for the stove, some paint for the back of it, some glue to stick the string in with, and a new glass for the lamp.

We discovered that the new glass was the wrong size.

We wrestled with the fridge door. Jim was very keen to rehang it on the opposite side since rearranging the kitchen. Unfortunately somewhere down the line we'd lost the top hinge. Next door neighbour to the rescue - his job is to drive the lorry that collects all the old fridges that people have thrown out to bring them to the one (?) site in the country licenced to remove the CFCs, and he collected a selection for us. We found the right one, but it was a real battle to get the door fitted correctly. To make matters harder (if ultimately neater) the fridge is a very tight fit in its cabinet, which meant that ...

Jim fitted a vent in the worktop above the fridge.

Jim went back to Penkridge to exchange the new lamp glass for one the right size.

On fetching it from the car, he dropped it on the ground and it broke.

I cleaned and polished the French stove, following its internal repairs.

Jim put up the new tiles he 'made' to fill the gap behind the stove. They look fine and I don't think you'd notice them unless you were looking.

I cleaned the tiles, tidied up and swept the floor.

It was still light when I started writing this now, and now it's dark. But I was very impressed that I managed to upload a photo yesterday with the T-Mobile card, given the reception here. Won't push my luck tonight though.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Self contained apartment, suit engine...

Well, here we are again. The engine's not arriving until next week, but its accomodation arrived today - very bijou, I'm sure you'll agree. This is where we'll be painting our pride and joy. The idea is that it will stay on the trailer on which it arrives and be wheeled in, then it can be wheeled out again when it's time for it finally to go back into Warrior. Forgive short post, but it's geting quite chilly out here on the roof.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More launches than Harland and Woolf

Seem to be launching everything but the boat this week. Fresh (or rather, not so fresh) from last night's event (see below) I'm writing this now because I'll be out at another launch event tonight (it's a funny concept, when you think about it, isn't it. The way most of these things work it's rather like launching a boat when it's already been in the water for the best part of six months). Tonight we are launching this, in Stratford (atte Bowe, not upon Avon). Love the colour scheme!

The engine's date with destiny will not (to no one's great surprise) be this weekend. The new casting has been found: it was not actually lost, but no one thought to look for it in an enormous crate which was presumed to contain something else entirely. But there it was. It's being (or possibly been) machined this week. However, transport won't be available to take it up to Warrior until the weekend after next, and nor, possibly, will somewhere to paint it. We're going anyway this weekend, though, to have another attempt at meeting an electrician; a new one this time. We might also get started on the new seats, if the ply has arrived by tomorrow.

What time do you call this?

My resolution to post every day has clearly fallen by the wayside. I fear I was out enjoying myself last night. I was at the launch of this, here. And while everybody else was putting away the cheap red wine and classy canapes and relentlessly networking, I was out on the ninth floor balcony looking up and down the river and out across the city as the sun went down and the lights came on.

This is the view I was looking at.

I'm very, very, lucky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Up the Ouse to Lewes

On Saturday we visited Lewes, the County Town of East Sussex, seven miles north of and up the Ouse from Newhaven. It's not a rare occurence, as Baz was at school and is now at college there, but it's always a treat. Lewes has to be my favourite town, and I'd live there like a shot if I could afford to. Which few people can. It's trendier than Shoreditch and has more Hampstead Liberals than NW3. You can see people get on the train at Victoria and just know by the way they're dressed that they're going to get off at Lewes. Here is part of the High Street on a normal Saturday morning - not even the week of the Farmers' Market:

Lewes is of course famous for its atavistic and terrifying bonfire celebrations, which I have to admit I've been too cowardly ever to attend. But every November 6th a number of Baz's classmates would turn up with perforated eardrums, missing eyebrows, scorched hair and various interesting holes in their clothes (and occasionally in themselves). Also of late the town has hit the news because of a spate of fairly systematic vigilante action (possibly not unconnected to a more intimate than usual knowledge of explosives) against the town's parking meters.

This part of town was very badly hit in the floods of 2000; the Harveys shop in the background of the photo above (white with tiled gable) was inundated to a height of seven or eight feet; many shops have plaques marking the height of the floodwater, usually above the tops of the doors. Hence the new red brick wall around Lewes's most important building (!) the aptly named Bridge Wharf Brewery. That's where the wharf was, when the river was still navigable (and it was navigable from the sea as far as Lewes until a few decades ago). The top photo is the view from the other side of the Cliffe Bridge (from which burning barrels of tar are thrown on Bonfire Night), looking downriver.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tiles and tribulations

I like that title! It just came into my head as I typed the word 'tiles'. The tribulation is that we were three tiles short for behind Warrior's saloon stove. This was because the tiles were originally bought for Andante's smaller hearth, and when we decided to deploy them on Warrior instead we thought we wouldn't have to cover the bit right behind the stove, but we were wrong; as the French stove's flue comes out of the back rather than the top it will have to sit further forward, making the whole space behind it visible. The shop where the tiles were bought (must have been a good year ago) has changed hands and they can't help us ... But Jim had a brainwave. Using his china-repairing skills and equipment, he has spray painted some plain tiles to a hopefully similar colour and effect. Sufficiently similar, at least, to stop them immediately catching the eye. As they are right down at floor level, they shouldn't be subjected to too much heat.

Other tribulations encountered today include the cherry ply ordered for making the new seats not actually having been ordered after all, and the new casting for the gearbox apparently having got lost in the post. Well, that news enlivened a dull day somewhat, anyway.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Farewell, ugly chair!

The larger and more egregiously ugly of the two black chairs that came with Warrior has now been removed, and brought home, where it graces (looms over) Baz's study. The saloon looks so much better without it; it's almost like a different boat. The removal of one of those horrid objects is the compromise that we arrived at, and to be fair, on its own the remaining chair - smaller, neater, better quality - doesn't look so bad. It's actually also more comfortable. That will now be Jim's chair, as I was the one agitating to get rid of at least one of them. Now, I would have been quite happy to spend the rest of my evenings sitting in the back cabin, feet up by the stove ... but apparently it is considered unsociable to sit at opposite ends of the boat, so we have a Plan.

The first Plan was to make a built-in seat at the rear end of the saloon, up against the kitchen divider and opposite the stove. But the new Plan is even better. It involves two boxes that (and this is the cunning part) look built in, but actually are free standing. So if we don't like them we can take them out again. Also they can be slid apart and a board laid across the gap to make a bed, should we ever find ourselves in the position of having two willing helpers on board at once. They haven't actually been made yet, as we are still awaiting the delivery of the cherry (to match the ceiling)-veneered ply. Then they'll be finished off with ash trim to match the rest of the saloon and kitchen. In our cavernous shed we had a set of sofa cushions, which we were using on Helyn. We've reappropriated them, to save on upholstory, and will make the boxes to fit (28" square tops, but obviously smaller at the base). Today I dipped into my vast stock of old curtains and made some new covers for the big feather cushions which are also nicked back off Helyn. (Helyn, by the way, is our first boat, a 22' GRP cruiser, currently sitting on our drive). The golden yellow nicely matches the fireplace tiles, and the crimson velvet (which I absolutely love) is reflected in the borders of the door panels. So I still get to sit with my feet up by the stove, in great comfort and luxury. And golly, I deserve it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reading Canal Boat

No, not a mystery craft on the K&A. That should be Canal Boat as in the magazine, but I can't do italics in the title. And reading as in reading, not as in Reading. Apparently there's a longstanding (positively bewhiskered, I should think) joke at the University of Reading about the visiting academic who asked when they were going to get around to writing (arithmetic, presumably, being left to some more specialist institution). I was at the University of Reading last April attending the annual conference of the Political Studies Association, which is the non-boat-related highlight of my year. This year I shall be doing likewise in Bath. Not really moving it around the country much, is it, from one end of the K&A to the other.

Anyway, back to reading Canal Boat: the first issue to be delivered to our door since we took out a subscription, the inducement to do so having moved on from a 'wine kit' to a free Nicholson's guide of one's choice. With our free Thames and Southern Waterways guide we now have the complete set, except for Scotland. We've also subscribed to Waterways World for which the motivation was a fairly substantial cost saving and two (count them ladies and gentlemen) WW guides (SU and GU were the choice this time). Jim actually prefers these to the Nicholsons, whose layout he finds maddeningly counter-intuitive. It doesn't bother me, being as I am in the fortunate position of having no intuitions whatsoever when it comes to map-reading and direction-finding.

Poor old Canals and Rivers may now fall by the wayside, as without our regular order the local newsagent probably won't stock it. But it is, sadly, a publication of truly dismal quality. I suspect I might still be unable to resist if I see it in Smiths at Victoria though. We have, roughly, those three canal mags; last time I was in Smiths I counted no fewer than fifteen catering to those with an interest in railways. It's amazing how many whole other worlds there are out there, each with their own arcana and devotees*, with a tantalising glimpse into them only a mouse-click away. e.g.

Anyway, there was lots of good reading in Canal Boat, including an account of how to get from Ellesmere to Atherstone avoiding the Wolverhampton Flight and the BCN - we of course will be doing part of that route very soon but will be positively embracing the Wolverhampton Flight and the BCN. There was a fascinating article about replacing lock gates (no, really), good letters and Q&As. But what really grabbed me was a four-page piece on the Sussex Ouse, full of things I didn't know about my local river, which made me feel very guilty for casually dismissing the Kent and East Sussex WRG a few days ago. So guilty in fact that I shall no doubt shortly be sending them money too, along with the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust.

*There is a much better word that I want to use here but I can't think what it is at the moment. I think it begins with e. I will edit it in once I remember what it is.

Baz has just told me that the word I wanted was esoteric. Indeed, that was the word I was thinking of, but it won't actually do for here, so I shall leave things as they stand.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Local liveaboard

Back to Newhaven now. This is the Rhoda B, and I think there are still people living on her; I know there used to be because the boat featured as an address on the electoral register, back in the days when I needed to know about such things. Never canvassed them though, which is a bit of a shame. That's also how I discovered the name; you wouldn't know otherwise (and I only hope I have remembered it right). Rhoda B has been sitting here in the estuary, on the ring road, for at least twenty years, which is as long as I've been here; could be a lot longer for all I know. Needless to say, she hasn't been out of the water in all that time, and hasn't moved, other than up and down on the tide.

We've all got so used to the boat being there that I guess we don't really notice any more that it really is rather odd. It only struck me when I went round to the other side of the channel onto Denton Island to photograph her, and noticed the backdrop of the main shopping thoroughfare (such as it is). There are lots of other boats around Newhaven, of course, including a number that are lived on, mainly around Denton Island, but most of them are around the far side of the island, away from the town and in private marinas, whereas Rhoda B is moored right up against the pavement. Well, good luck to her and all who ... live ... in her; and what a super little town this is.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Not paying out enough in subs

Having decided not to cough up for the Working Boats Project I obviously needed some other waterways-related cause to shell out twenty-plus quid on, so I've finally got around to joining the IWA. With all due apologies to the Kent and East Sussex Waterways Recovery Group (cos they do fantastic food at the festival) I've sent off the application from my work address, so if there's any getting stuck in to be done, it'll be in London. In fact my main motivation for joining was that I really want to learn more about London's waterways and it seemed a good way to meet people who can assist me in that aim. I'm so spatially challenged that I really can't relate maps and books and pictures to reality; I need to see first hand for myself. And the reason I want to find out, with some degree of urgency, is that the bloody Olympics are going to change things, irreversibly - for better or for worse remains to be seen, but I won't be putting any money on better.

I have already persuaded Jim that next year (i.e. 2008) we should bring Warrior to London and nose about. Provided we can find temporary moorings along the way (and I imagine that might be difficult) we could spend ages mooching about and going home between times. That would also give us the opportunity to 'do' what for me is the big one - the main section of the Grand Union - in one fell swoop, which is how I really want to do it, not in odd little bits of other journeys. I don't know, haven't even started this year's cruising yet, and already getting all excited about next year.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A date with destiny ...

Oh, posting this is so tempting fate ... but I can't resist. On Monday, Jim rang RN and was told that they expect the engine to be ready to leave their works by Friday week ... albeit the new casting for the gearbox hasn't arrived yet, they are sure that it will not only have arrived, but will have been machined to fit the crankshaft in time to be put on Ian's trailer and hauled to Stretton the weekend after next ... and Keith assures us that there will be a cosy corner in some container where we will be able to paint it ... so now all I have to do is get onto Phil and order some more paint. Can it really be true?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What's this then?

I seem to have posted every day now for over a week, so now feel honour bound to keep it up. Not really having any news today, I thought I might just post a pretty picture, but then I found these. This is the boat I mentioned in a post ages ago - too long ago to go trawling through the archive to find a link - in which I was wondering about its provenance, and, indeed, its construction. I did in fact write a rather rambling post about it late one night after returning from the Birkbeck bar, but - and this is the only time I have done this - immediately deleted it for fear of displaying too much ignorance. But there's no getting away from it; if you want to learn, you have to take that risk sometime. So, what can I tell from looking at this boat? Am I right in thinking that it's wooden? Does that automatically mean it's old? Does that in turn mean that it's been shortened? And what else can I tell from its construction, its shape?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Book review: Bread upon the Waters

I've finally got around to re-reading David Blagrove's Bread upon the Waters, and I have to say that I enjoyed it as much the second time as the first - which was, admittedly, only at Christmas. First published in 1984, it describes the author's experiences of working for Willow Wren in the early 1960s. It's partly the fact that the period he's describing is almost (not quite!) within my lifetime that makes the book appealing; another positive factor for me is the way it focuses on the boats, the companies and the business of carrying, rather than the history or geography of the canals themselves, and makes them tangible and immediate.

It is a very human book, written from a young man's perspective. Although frequently frustrated by the political and commercial decisions which he saw as killing off canal carrying (many of which resonate today), and not blind to the squalor and debasement which he occasionally witnessed, Blagrove does not seem to be jaded like Rolt, who sometimes seems to despise humanity. Blagrove clearly loves it, in all its varieties. Perhaps as a result, his descriptions of people are one of the real strengths of the book. He even manages to render dialect convincingly, without it being embarassing to read as such attempts often are. Particularly satisfying is his portrait of Leslie Morton, whom he recognises as an exceptional character and sets down, warts and all, for posterity.

It's interesting to compare the reception Blagrave gets from the longstanding boatmen and women - complete acceptance, in the main - with that described by Susan Woolfitt and Kit Gayford. Was this a question of gender, or of the changes in the commercial environment over the years that separate their experiences? There are some lovely unintended continuities between Idle Women and Bread upon the Waters; for example, in decsribing the rush to get orders at Braunston (p. 73) Blagrave says 'A third [person], perhaps Bill Whitlock or Maurice Peasland, would rocket crazily on a bike along the towpath...' Maurice Peasland, presumably, being the same 'small boy' whom Woolfitt attempted to teach to write his name some twenty years previously.

As Rolt ends Narrow Boat with the harsh winter that sounded the death knell for canal transport, Blagrove concludes Bread upon the Waters with another, that of 1963, which was to prove the final nail in its coffin. The description of the conditions is vivid, and the sense of despair palpable.

If I had to find fault with this book, it would only be a couple of minor niggles. Firstly the title, which, apart from containing the word 'water' bears no relation to the book's content; secondly, while Blagrove's writing style is very effective at conveying youthful enthusiasm, the punctuation occasionally leaves something to be desired. Both of these faults are actually far more marked in his second book, The Quiet Waters By, in which he describes his brief career as a lock keeper on the (markedly unquiet) Thames. I may return to that book at a later date, as it does feature canal flashbacks, and a genuinely tearjerking account of the death of Joe and Rose Skinner's mule.

Those however are excedingly minor and petty niggles. Bread upon the Waters is funny, sad, informative and fascinating. As a bonus it has two appendices; one listing all the boats in the Willow Wren fleet and where they came from - sheer joy to my inner anorak (for example, I learnt that Dunstable, which I believe has now been sold, was for part of its career Willow Wren's Swan). The second appendix is a comprehensive glossary of 'canal terms', which reads like poetry and can, in extremis, provide the basis for an amusing quiz.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Beer. No, not boats. Sorry.

The Spar shop in Brewood (and I suppose Spar shops in general, but this is the only one I ever visit) has a fantastic selection of bottled beers for such a small shop. It doesn't have so much in the way of, say, dinners, but it clearly has its priorities right. Most mornings when we're up at Stretton with Warrior Jim goes over to Brewood to get one of their two copies of the Guardian. And last week, in Spar, he found the holy grail: Directors in bottles. Courage Directors (with all due apologies to Harveys) is probably my absolute favourite beer, and has never, as far as I'm aware, previously been available in bottles - only cans, which I wouldn't touch with a ... um ... long shaft.

Since Courage was taken over by Scottish and Newcastle it was getting harder to find Directors on draft too, but I understand that S&N have now hived the brand off to be brewed by Charles Wells, so perhaps its appearance in bottles is down to that. It certainly lived up to expectations on Saturday night, so provided it's available down here too (I see no reason why not, though I haven't checked yet) life is now just that little bit better.

Of course, in local pubs it will still, always, be Harveys - they don't sell their best bitter in bottles though. And for any local readers, don't forget to keep boycotting the Lewes Arms. And for those further afield - you can do your bit by boycotting Greene King!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Back cabin reflections

Last weekend I spent a lot of time in Warrior's quasi-traditional back cabin, because Jim was oiling the floor throughout the rest of the boat. I lit the stove, sat with my feet stretched out in front of it, looking through the open hatches at the other boats and the sun shining/rain falling on the canal ... I even laid in stocks and made tea on the stove. I could quite happily have sat there all day. What am I saying; I did quite happily sit there all day.

Part of me is slightly uncomfortable with the idea of (re)creating a 'traditional' 'boatman's cabin' on a modern boat; is it fakery; is it in some way patronising (sort of like Marie Antoinette's farm)? But I can't help loving it for itself, on its own terms. I love the ingenuity of the design - the reason it hasn't changed over centuries is because it can't be bettered. Add another couple of feet for a toilet and shower and you have a unit capable of accomodating at least one person in a space half the size of a small room. I love the painting, not because it's 'traditional', but because it's lovely to look at (which in turn is probably why it became traditional in the first place). OK, I admit that I have added a few unnecessary touches to make it more traditional looking: the floor, the curtain, the photo; I have no real consistent excuse for that other than that they're interesting and decorative. And the rug, which was a challenge to make and is a thing of beauty in itself. So I admit I'm not averse to a bit of fakery if the effect is pleasing - maybe it would be worse deliberately to set out to subvert the conventions. But I do draw the line at ribbon plates, which as I've mentioned before, for some reason I just don't like.

Anyway, we made a few minor improvements this time; replaced all the galvanised rabbit hutch catches with nice brass ones, and fitted this lovely yellow cut glass knob, which I've had for years, to the table cupboard. Naturally, in the course of attaching it it broke, but thanks to Super-Araldite, I hardly think you'd know ...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Cuts bite Working Boats Project

Warrior has an encounter with the Working Boats Project last year

I'm not quite sure how we came to sign up for the Working Boats Project - I think maybe we picked up a leaflet at Ellesmere Port. Speaking for myself, the motivation was purely selfish - without sufficient experience to offer any meaningful assistance, I was hoping that we would be able to watch and learn and, maybe, one far off day, I might get to steer a butty ... In the event, our involvement has been minimal to zero. This may in part be because we haven't pushed ourselves forward to get involved, but we also got the impression that they're (understandably) mainly interested in people who can already do useful things.

The first sign of the budget cuts biting was the redundancy (following regional amalgamations) of the BW employee who co-ordinated the Project's volunteers; now we have each received a letter saying that 'In light of the current financial situation .... it has been decided to reintroduce a modest annual subscription fee of £20 per person or £30 per couple per financial year.' This is kind of sad - as our involvement has been so minimal there's no way we're going to pay up. If I were going to donate that sort of money to waterways causes, it wouldn't be ones that BW is so closely involved in. I'm a great supporter of BW's existence, but right now I'm not going to trust them with any more of my cash than I have to; I am also a great supporter of their right to be publicly funded and voluntary donations undermine that.

I would however like to take issue with the suggestion that £20 (or £30 for two) is a 'modest' subscription. It's bigger than the sub I pay to any other waterways related organisation. And a small suggestion of how they could economise: there really wasn't any need to send the three members of this household separate copies of every letter and newsletter.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Teapot part three

Just a quick one tonight, on that handy standby the Measham teapot which I bought for £1.50 in a charity shop and which Jim is repairing. Having roughly moulded the new spout and and lid knob from Milliput, last night he fined the shape down with sandpaper, followed by finer wet-and-dry (used dry). Having got the shape as near as possible right, it's time to move onto the finish. This was an experiment, as it was going to be difficult to get the dark brown colour to cover the pale gray Milliput. So he mixed the pigment (Liberon earth pigment in burnt umber) with Araldite, which is used anyway to smooth off the shaping. It seems to have worked really well. The colour is perfect and the finish looks almost exactly like the original glaze. It still isn't finished however as it's not smooth enough, but the colour is there now as a base for the final coats. The difficulty with something like Measham is to avoid making it too good.

As it's quite a small pot - but still a nice one - and not perfect, this is the one I think we will keep on Warrior. I have measured up for a shelf in the table cupboard, and hope to get that fitted and the inside of the cupboard painted on our next visit. It's currently painted in a deep pink. I know it's not traditional to have graining inside the cupboard, but I thought it might be a good place to practice on.

And here's a reminder of what the teapot looked like when I bought it: