Saturday, June 30, 2007


Having a blog is a great incentive for getting out and doing things. If it weren't for my sense of solemn duty to you, dear reader, I probably would not have bothered to attend today's Newhaven Fish Festival. It would be an exaggeration to say that it was well worth the effort, but it was better than not going. There was a mini fairground, the French market that regularly comes across from Dieppe with incredibly expensive produce, a marquee full of local organisations, and the local police on a charm offensive. What there wasn't much of was fish - one stall in the marquee. However, there was also the West Quay itself to look at, with its array of boats and fishing paraphernalia.

Furthermore, it brought me yet another new experience: jellied eels. This is something I have long wanted to try. My mother's family, going back many generations, are from the East End (granted, my mother couldn't wait to put as much distance between it and her as she possibly could); I support West Ham football club; I have, in the company of my maternal grandparents, eaten cockles on Southend Pier. In short, I am quite attached to this little bit of my heritage, the more so now that I have recently been visiting various parts of East London for work purposes, and finding that I do like the feel of it (although any East End exile will tell you that it's not what it was; but then, what is?), and have looked curiously at a couple of pie/mash/eel emporia, but naturally lacked the courage to venture in. So I took the opportunity today, expecting them to be horrible, or at least an acquired taste, but guess what - they were quite nice. Just like rather salty soft white fish. With bones, of course. And jelly.

Thus emboldened, it'll be oysters next.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Flaming June!

It is indeed June the 29th, and this is the stove in my kitchen (the one that displaced the French one that is now on Warrior), lit. OK, it's not that cold, and it's not that wet, compared to other parts of the country, but it was miserable. I wouldn't normally be able to remember what the weather was this time last year, but because we were working on Warrior then that acts as a reminder, and it was very hot. Very, very hot, all through May, June and July. I remember sitting in my stuffy office in Huddersfield counting the days until we'd be leaving on Andante (that itself nearly a year ago now). And of course, as soon as I finished work and set off in early August, it rained and rained, for ten days of the eleven day trip.

So I am now living in hope that a rainy June presages a sunny August, or our planned trip to St Ives will be neither pleasant nor easy (and perhaps not even possible). We're firming up the timetable now. Passage booked across the tidal Ouse for August 16th at 1130; train tickets to Atherstone bought for August 3rd; return ticket from March for Baz on the 13th, as he has been invited to stay with a friend in France. So we plan to leave Atherstone on the 4th and hope to have some spare time either side of the 16th to revisit the Middle Level - including the all important trip to Warrior's birthplace at Ramsey - and to explore the Ouse, where we will meet up with my colleague Rosie, who lives near Cambridge and whose partner, delightfully, is called Jim, so how could we not invite them aboard?

Hopefully by then the rain will have abated, the Nene will be passable, and the aftermath of that train derailment at Ely will have been cleared away. We've received our IWA 'pack' and our mooring (inside! of six!! Hooray!!!), so all we need to do is get there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Patience is a virtue great

... and little girls should learn to wait, as my father used to be very fond of saying. (Other wise words of his included 'a princess always keeps her promises' and 'no one can make a fool of you without your permission'). And I think on the whole he was right, patience is a great virtue and nowhere was this virtue more beautifully demonstrated than at Braunston (oh yes, I'm spinning that out for all it's worth).
With a record number of working boats attending it was almost impossible to see the surface of the water for long stretches, and they had to make their way up and down, passing and turning, for the parades, sometimes waiting for ages to move, sometimes getting bumped and scraped, and yet I never saw anyone looking less than completely calm and cheerful. It was an object lesson in ... well, something.
Another little moralising tale of my father's concerned a friend of his who was entertaining a colleague from abroad, and the colleague professed astonishment at the activity of the British rush hour, and people's desperation to be somewhere else as quickly as possible. 'But what', he apparently asked, 'do they do with all the time they save?'
I suppose, recalling how I was elbowing my way onto the tube this very morning and cursing the minor delays on the Victoria Line, that it's a bit hypocritical to wax so lyrical about the virtue of patience, but on the other hand it makes it all the more special that there is a world in which it really still does seem to come naturally, and to count for something; a world in which we can be virtuous (not only patient, but kind, and helpful) without fear of losing our place in the queue or on the greasy pole.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Braunston: anorak required

And not just because it rained so much of the time. Over on Canalworld, Paul H provides, from memory, the following list of historic boats present at Braunston this year:

Adamant, Arcangel, Atlantic, Barrow*, Bream (stern end), Brighton, Buckden, Callisto, Camel, Clematis, Columbia (stern end)*, Corona, Cyprus, Darley,* Denebola, Dodona (bow end), Dover, Empress, Enterprise, Gambia, George, Gifford, Gorse*, Gosport, Grange (bow end)*, Grimsby, Hadley, Hyperion, James Loader, Jubilee, Kangaroo, Kildare, Laplander, Leo*, Madeley (bow end), Manchuria (bow end), Marquis, Mary, Minnow, Monarch, Nuneaton*, Nutfield, Olive, Pelican, President, Raymond, Renfrew*, Saltaire*, Scorpio, Sculptor, Skylark, Stamford, Star, Stour, Sweden, Tarporley, Thea (bow end), Tug No 2, Vesta, Vulcan, Warbler.

Someone else added Panther, and I was proud to be able to add (not only seen with my own eyes, but remembered too!) Rudd, Lupin, Lamprey, Plover, Dory, Badger, Cassiopaeia, Malus and Swallow.

The ones marked * are ones I don't remember seeing (and it seems that Leo maybe wasn't there but Paul was thinking of Malus) - the amazing thing is how many I do remember. That makes a total of 70 (69 if you discount Leo) out of the 74 that I heard tell were there.
Now, lets sort them by company, builder, class ...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Braunston bites again

I think the working boat rally at Braunston will always have a rather special place in my heart; a year ago I was someone who enjoyed boating, and was vaguely interested, with the academic's constant itch for learning new stuff, in boats and their history(ies) ... and then I went to Braunston, and came away knowing very little more, but with a passion to find out, and a wish never to be torn away from these beautiful, magnificent, dignified creations. No matter how well built a new boat is, or how lovely its lines, or how well it reproduces the appearance of an old one, it's not the same; it doesn't have the bearing, the venerability. I can admire it, even see its beauty, but it won't grab me viscerally like an old one, even - maybe especially - an old one that's been abused, neglected, converted.

I didn't mean to go off on such a flight of fancy, but clearly Braunston is my idea of heaven. We spent about six hours there today, and are going again tomorrow, so there was no rush to do anything. At one point (can't remember where Jim had disappeared to) I was just sitting reading, looking up when anything interesting went past ... what better place to be?

The beer and the beanburgers were both every bit as good as last year; the weather wasn't, quite - but then the weather last June was exceptional. And the boats, of course, were miles better, now I know that little bit more about (some of) them.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The stove works!

Apologies for the long absence - I just didn't feel there was anything much worth writing about. But now we're back on Warrior for the weekend - using Atherstone as a base for visiting Braunston - and as it was a trifle chilly, I had the idea of finally testing the French stove in the saloon. We had to borrow the chimney from the cabin (I can't for the life of me remember what happened to the other one); laid a little fire, lit it - and it worked! Very slight leakage of smoke around the door before it warmed up, but soon there was smoke coming out of the chimney, and it was drawing really well. Soon the pipe and the back were too hot to touch, but the outer enamel cover on the front and top never got more than warm - which I suppose is the purpose of it; it has lots of holes in it to allow the heat through by convection. I cannot say how pleased I am that it seems to work so well. It must be the first time in decades that it's had a fire lit in it, and it looked lovely through the new mica in the door. We left it at a very small fire, as we wanted to go out this evening; we met David and Joanne from Tyrley in the Market Tavern. Very nice pub, and once again I was struck by what a lovely town Atherstone is. Off to Braunston tomorrow - I can't wait.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Go with the grain

This is Jim's first attempt at graining. I was pretty impressed, especially considering it's not using the super proper stuff, but a Ronseal kit they were selling off cheap in B&Q. I haven't had a try yet, but I will - when no one's looking.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Helyn gets her bottom painted at last

Poor little Helyn, sitting unassumingly on our drive for the best part of two years while we lavished attention on glamorous and demanding Warrior; her turn has finally come. Helyn is the 22' GRP cruiser, built by Callumcraft in about 1970, in which we first took to the water.

We've owned her since 2003, and cruised with her on the Thames and the Wey before taking her over to the Fens (by road!) where we spent a couple of happy years at Floods Ferry. So until getting Andante, when I was working in Huddersfield, we hadn't actually been on the canals at all, but I hope we're starting to make up for that now. Certainly with hindsight we didn't give ourselves an easy start - the Wey in November; and for our first trip in Andante, the Calder and Hebble.

The idea, of course, is to get Helyn looking shipshape again and then sell her, which will be sad, but it'll be nice to think of someone else getting a start with her. So that's another project I can blog about when things are quiet on the Warrior front.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fishy business

It's nice to be home, but I'd rather be boating. Still, Braunston next weekend; that's something to look forward to - then look what a treat awaits the following week. Or possibly not.

I've never been a big fan of fish, either of keeping them in tanks (they usually die on me, or the cat gets them), catching them (pointless, and at the very least less than kind, if not actually downright cruel), or, indeed, eating them (bony, and they taste of fish). But of course, Newhaven is, still, up to a point, a fishing port, and it's right that this should be celebrated. I may have to go along just to see what form the festivities take.

The West Quay is quite sanitised now (it has lawns, for a start), compared with how it used to be (i.e. very fishy) when I first came to Newhaven. There's a lot of new housing been built down there, and the fishermen have been corralled into a single building and the landing stages gated off. I believe there's even a facility for tourists to watch the fishermen at work through a large window ...

My favouritely named fish related business is (or maybe was, I haven't checked whether it is extant) the Newhaven (Sussex) Fish and Flake Ice Society, which somehow always gets rendered (on the numerous occasions on which people discuss it) as the Fish Flake and Ice Society. Fish flakes - now, would you have them for breakfast or tea?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Our new stovepipe

Time to catch up with all those little bits of news and pictures (desperately trying to spin them out) that got bypassed in the excitement of cruising to Atherstone and the rally.

Remember the saga of the French enamel stove? Firstly, repairing the cracked casting, then rebuilding the firebricks inside, and replacing the mica in the door and the sealing rope. Then there was the problem of connecting it to the existing hole in the roof, whilst sitting it on the existing hearth, despite the fact that it's a completely different shape and size from the Squirrel that previously occupied the space. The hearth (which I didn't have the foresight to take a photo of) was made of steel with an upstand around it, and when we put the new floor down we shaped it around this.

However, the French stove has to sit further forward because of its flue being at the back, and we found a splendid fender in an equally splendid antique shop in Brewood which extends the hearth just enough - but to make it look nice, Keith had to cut away the side extension of the hearth (I hope you're paying attention), which he achieved with minimal collateral damage (other than the mysterious disappearance of some rather tasty wasabi peanuts), and Jim used the last two offcuts of the pitch pine flooring to fill the gap. You can see the join, but it's a neat one.

The stovepipe itself is also a testament to Keith's skill and artistry - here it is in its entirety before I painted it. Of course, we still don't know whether the stove will actually work; will it draw? Will it get hot? And it isn't really the weather for trying (and we haven't actually got it securely fixed down as per regulations yet either). So the story isn't quite over. But at least it looks nice.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

We survived the RN rally

It so reminded me of a conference (political, academic - take your pick). You turn up, collect your badge and programme (though you don't get a brass plaque from the Political Studies Association); decide which sessions/debates/workshops you want to go to; browse the stands, and end up in the bar. You meet lots of annoying people and some really interesting ones. You feel guilty for sitting about drinking tea and chatting when you really should be attending the debate on constitutional amendments/session on British political blogs/alternative fuels workshop. But in many ways the RN rally is better; you get to sleep on your own lovely boat rather than in some grotty room only vacated by an equally grotty student the previous day; you've paid your own way so are under no obligation to do anything in particular; you have lots of brass to polish (er...); the sun is shining and there's no air conditioning. I am very brown now, and will take great delight when people ask me at work tomorrow where I've been on my hols, in saying Coventry. Or possibly Nuneaton.

The National chapter convened in an exclusive little huddle around the bar last night and thoroughly enjoyed one another's company.

This morning we continued yesterday's activity of taking the governor to pieces and putting it back together again. After about the fourth time, with David from RN and Ian on the case, plus David from Tyrley's adjusting screw and Chris from Dove's drawings, and Allister's new springs, it is working much better, and we can tick over suitably slowly and smoothly.

And then it was time to leave, and return to the home we left nine days ago. So much has happened in that time that it feels like years rather than little more than a week. And all of it good. Just can't wait to get back to Warrior now and start to do some serious boating.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The National Owners' Club

There are two other boats here with Nationals, and I don't think it's my imagination that they are the nicest, most sensible people we've met here. We went to see Dove (the wooden Severner) yesterday morning and spent ages cooing over the engine (1935 DM2), engine room (not too glitzy), boat, historic 1960s conversion ... really nice people. And today we met David and Joanne from Tyrley who came to see our engine while Jim was struggling with the governer. We thought is was just a case of replacing the spring in it with a more suitable one but it turned out that the adjusting screw had been cut off short at some point for some reason. David was sure that he had one in his collection of bits at his home a few miles away and was more than happy for Jim to drive over with him to fetch it. We now have it and will see if it does the trick tomorrow - it looks as if it should. What splendid people these National owners are! I guess (and it really is a guess) that the reason more of them don't come to this rally is that they more likely have working boats and thus better things to do with their time than mixing it with the RN cliques.

Off to the bar now in one final push towards the objective of being sociable, then probably leaving for home tomorrow, owing to a Saga that ensued from my attempts to purchase a rail ticket to get to work on Monday. (In brief: Virgin Rail website, last Saturday (OK, after a couple of pints) select and buy ticket. Elect to pick it up at station - but no FastTicket machine at Nuneaton! OK, will have to have it posted to Barry Hawkins' yard; no problem, as Compo knows the address. But website won't allow you to input address, only postcode - for which it then produces completely the wrong address. All right then, have it sent to Compo and he can bring it when he comes - but it hadn't arrived by the time he left. OK, it's only a £10.50 ticket, but its lack means leaving a whole day early and having to ask someone else to move the boat up into the basin (backwards, as we turned around better to disply the engine to passers by) where we have arranged for it to stay until we go east in August).

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Atherstone, my kind of town

I went into the town yesterday and had a good look around, and it has a really good, old fashioned high street, with two butchers, three bakeries, banks, a post office and a variety of other shops, including a Viking office supplies outlet, a few beauty parlours, at least three of those cheap hardware sort of shops (very useful) and the lovely mobile phone shop in the photo. There's also a small Somerfield in the high street itself, and a Co-op 'superstore' (rather touchingly so named, I think) and an Aldi just about on the end, but hardly out-of-town. Oh yes, and three charity shops, including two for local hospices, which doesn't fill one with hope for the residents of the area, but netted Jim a great pair of new boots. And a farm shop and two off licences.

But the thing about it is, of course, that it's like stepping back in time to the days before superstores took over the country with their illusions of choice and cheapness. Whenever I'm in a new place (this goes back to when I was going to job interviews all over the country) I think 'could I live here?' in terms of 'could I enjoy shopping here?', and I think I could really enjoy shopping regularly in Atherstone. It's very unflashy and unglitzy, but seems genuine and, hopefully, sustainable - although I have to say it wasn't exactly heaving with customers. All that and the canal too.

Things have been picking up a bit here today with more people arriving; a great many with dogs various and one with a cat. People have started coming to look at the engine, including the RN top brass, who got stuck straight into it, and Warrior has had a few compliments, which has done much for my view of human nature. I am still deeply perturbed, however, by the fact that the man who is co-ordinating the moorings for the rally is called, not as you might imagine, the Moorings Co-ordinator, but The Harbourmaster. I don't know why they don't just get him a cap with some gold braid and call him the Commodore, frankly (although he is doing a great job, but we must be about as far from the nearest harbour as it is possible to get).

Tomorrow we have to sign up for the workshops, which I think I've rather lost enthusiasm for. Do I want to display my woeful (lack of) crocheting skills to the world in general? There is a session on 'Boat Electrics for Ladies' (why you need a really expensive inverter to run your hairdryer. No, really). As there is no equivalent session for blokes, Jim wants me to go along as a kind of fifth columnist and report back, but I don't think I can face it, so I've said he can borrow my dress if he likes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Atherstone, day two

Everyone's a bloody comedian here, it seems. I've been giving Warrior a good clean today (at a fairly leisurely pace) and doing the exterior brass, which of course is the cue for 'you've missed a bit'; 'if you make a good job of that you can come and do mine' (but you haven't bloody got any) ... no one, but no one, said 'that looks nice' or anything similar (although a party of, I think, Italian tourists did say that the boat was nice). Why do people think that 'use a bit more elbow grease love' is a witty conversational gambit? It's very disappointing, but that seems to be about the standard so far.

Still, on the plus side, Jubilee and Thea have gone by today and I managed to have a quick chat with both of their owners. Jubilee was quite heavily loaded and made a lovely sight, looking like a boat really should.

On Monday, Jim was complaining about the smoke from the engine going in his face (goes straight over the top of my head of course) so I said let's try the old trick of sticking a tin in the chimney. It's quite hard getting the bottom off a modern tin (with only a butterfly tin opener and a pair of dispensable scissors), but we managed it in the end, and, very gratifyingly, it does work. In a modern twist on tradition, it's an organic vegetable korma tin.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

And here we are

We started off at eight this morning, and arrived here at Atherstone at twenty to four. A fair few other boats are here already, mostly above the lock, which we are below. It was another good day's boating and it's a shame it's over. We had considered continuing on to Coventry, turning round and coming back (tomorrow) but it seems unlikely as there is still a lot to do to get Warrior looking its best and we still have the sterngear to sort out properly, although it's held up well so far.

I've been into the village to the Co-op, which is easy provided you turn left at the correct lock, and picked up some dinner ... and have been sitting out in the sun, thinking how very strange it is that we're here, given that two or three years ago we'd never seen Warrior, never heard of Compo, not been near Atherstone (or Stretton, or, indeed, that vast unknown hinterland, The Midlands) never given a thought to the RN rally ... how little things can change your life in unexpected and marvellous ways ...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Nothing exciting happened today

Which is as things should be, really, isn't it. No disasters, no narrow escapes. Saw a few nice old boats - but haven't seen any new ones to rival Warrior yet (in my totally unbiased opinion). We've had a couple of compliments on the engine - but more for the tunnel light, which I guess vindicates Jim's attachment to it (I initially thought it was a bit too big and flash, but have to admit it looks great now it's on).

We set off this morning at five to eight and tied up at twenty to six. We're on the Coventry now, somewhere past bridge 88. It's very nice and peaceful, most of the time, but having successfully avoided a road (having been lulled to sleep last night by the M6) we discover that we're right next to a railway line (look at the bloody map, woman). Never mind. We stopped just the once, in Rugeley, for provisions, where to my joy I discovered a branch of Wilkinsons and bought a broom and a mop so we can keep the boat looking respectable.

I've been doing a lot more steering today, and though it may not look very pretty I haven't hit anything (or, ahem, gone aground). I love the speedwheel control, compared to the Morse on Andante; it's a lot more subtle and falls very easily to hand. But I still get to do most of the locks - it's about the only exercise I get - and am getting back into the swing of it: sunburned, bruised, aching, exhausted - this is the life!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Yes! We did it!

We actually launched on the planned day. We left Stretton (Warrior's home, and, it sometimes felt like ours, since Easter 2006) at 9.50 this morning (after ceremonially relaunching by chucking a pint of rather cloudy Harveys dregs over the fore end) en route to Atherstone for the Russell Newbery rally this coming weekend. We've decided to curb our ambitions and eschew the BCN this time, and have so far retraced in reverse part of last year's trip in Andante.

Tonight we are tied up just below bridge 89 on the Staffs and Worcs, following a generally very successful day's travelling. The only hitch was getting stuck on the mud shortly after joining the S&W, just south of the M54. We were stuck solid, for the entire length of the boat, for the best part of an hour; one atempt to pull us off was entirely unsuccessful, but a second good Samaritan had a bigger engine (a Lister SR3) and a much better idea of what he was doing and we were finally off again. It brings it home to us how deep drafted Warrior is (about 2'6 Jim reckons); we had a few other scrapings of the bottom but didn't get stuck again. The engine behaved impeccably, and the stern gear is bearing up well.

It's great to be boating again.

Boaters' favourite topic


Toilets. Where would you be without them? Well, boaters would have nothing to talk about, for a start. Sorry to disappoint, but our outing to the pumpout at Wheaton Aston yesterday went without a hitch (you have to have been following the story). Engine ran beautifully, no queue at the lock, no one else around - and someone had even left an almost unused card in the machine. Nothing nasty happened and we now have fully functioning facilities once more. Add to that the fact that now we're running the engine there's hot water in the shower, and we are really living a life of luxury.

Today we bid a very fond farewell to Stretton Wharf, which will be quite sad - it's been an important part of our life for over a year and we've been very happy with all the work that's been done while we've been here, the last of which is the stovepipe, specially built to reconcile the French stove with the existing hearth and chimney. It's now fitted and it looks great.

Last night we had a little soiree to say goodbye and thanks to everyone who's contributed to making Warrior the boat it is now, but it couldn't compete with Friday night's events, despite a polypin of Harveys and copious quantities of cake. And lots of conversations about toilets, sadly.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

First the good news

L-1 (perhaps)

So, yesterday we had our first outing on Warrior in over thirteen months. It was a popular attraction; we were accompanied by Keith, Ian, Martin Fuller and Dave the welder, which all turned out for the good. The good news is that the engine was fine; sounds great, and the boat swims really well, although Jim's suspicion that the rudder needs attention was confirmed. I know everybody thinks their own boat's the best in the world, but with all the brass polished and the cans out Warrior did feel like a boat to be proud of. I'm so pleased we did the painting.

We went out towards Brewood and fortunately decided to go for a longer run as shortly afterwards the propshaft started to squeak rather alarmingly and issue forth smoke. The bearing (like quite a few other aspects of Warrior) is a sort of home made job, and was slightly out of alignment. Previously all the bolts on it had been loose but we tightened them up - which turned out to be a mistake. With them loose we were just about getting away with it. We addressed the immediate problem by throwing all the grease we had at it and pouring water over the bearing to cool it down (must get the bilge pump connected!), and loosening the bolts again (in fact had to knock one right off). We reckon we can get to Atherstone OK like that, and have another good look and think about it when we get there.

Naturally we ended up in the Bridge at about six o'clock ... and I suppose we got back to the yard at about midnight ... just getting in some practice for tonight's leaving party. Next trip - to Wheaton Aston for a pump out (cue doom laden music).

I'm writing this from the comfort of my back cabin, utilising the datacard aeriel I bought from Boaters Phone at Crick. It seems to work - although at £60 the kit was a bit more expensive than I had expected from browsing their website.