Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bridge and toilet update

The town of Huddersfield, it seems, has not been greatly affected by my absence. The most striking thing when I got off the train and made my way down to the University was how little anything has changed since I was last there over a year ago. Even shops that looked to be on their last legs are still trading; empty buildings are still empty (I didn't look too closely for the dead pigeons behind the plate glass doors). There seems to be more scaffolding up - a sign of regeneration; money being spent on refurbishment? There is also one big difference, a new university building going up in what was previously a car park, which was still at the pretty artist's impression stage when I left.

But what, I hear you ask, about the Aspley Wharf toilet? What of the wooden footbridge? How fares Andante's old mooring spot? Well, your wait is at an end, and your patience will be rewarded, because I bring you news of all of these.

The mooring spot is still vacant...
The toilet, which was an anonymous, locked, door when I left, is now slightly more impenetrable (crowbar? jigsaw? I bet it's still in there somewhere). What are they going to do if the pipes spring a leak again? (tee hee serves them right).

The bridge, though, would appear to be a success story. It's certainly better than the one it replaced. It doesn't have sloping treads, or protruding bits of metal. It has inset lights. And although I didn't have a posse of fat children to test it with, it seems to be fairly stable - I note there is no longer a sign limiting its use to four people at any one time.

And as I sat in the lovely autumn sunshine,just to complete the scene, a Shire Cruisers boat came by...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Why, oh why...

A couple of questions I want to get off my chest ... but first, two boatyish ones to get the ball rolling.

Why, oh why...

1. Do people go to their boat for the weekend and then spend all the time sitting inside it watching sport on the TV?

2. Semi trads.

Now for the ones I really want to know:

3. Why, when you wash up a colander, do you turn it upside down to drain? (Go on, you do, don't you.)

4. Why do people (OK, women, all the ones I've seen) put their make up on on the train? Wouldn't it be easier just to get up ten minutes earlier? I find this truly inexplicable because it's such an intimate thing; surely the whole point of make up (not something with which I've been very well acquainted since about 1983) is to put on a face for the world to see, a point rather undermined by letting the world see you do it. It always looks such a struggle too, juggling compacts and mirrors and brushes out of your handbag - wouldn't it be so much easier at a nice, big, well lit dressing table; a piece of furniture that also has the inestimable advantage of not rocking about and going over points just as you're delicately outlining your lips, or whatever it is you do.

Also, I should think that applying mascara while on the tube is a guaranteed way of losing an eye sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 26, 2007

To the frozen North once more

The huskies are fed and raring to go, my thermals are packed, and my native* guides await. Yes, I am returning to Huddersfield, land of my boat-dwelling days, on the flimsy pretext of doing some research into local government (well, that bit's true actually, but would you admit to doing research into local government? I thought not. Much easier to say you're just going for the pies). Naturally there will be time to revisit old haunts (possibly licenced, and I don't mean boats) to conduct informal interviews with former colleagues, and to check out what's been happening at Aspley since I left. I'll be particularly interested to see how they've got on with the wooden footbridge over the mouth of the basin, whether any other brave soul has taken over Andante's place, and whether the towpath side toilet is still, disgracefully, unavailable.

Getting there at a reasonable hour to catch people before they leave work for the day entails getting up at about five o'clock - a prospect that I wasn't really relishing. Then I realised that here, at last, was an opportunity to make the evil that is British Summer Time work in my favour for once. For of course, I've been getting up at five a.m. for the last six months (the fact that the clock reads six is just part of the wicked plot). So if I continue to go to bed at nine and get up at five for a few days after the clocks go back, I should notice no ill effects whatsoever. I was very pleased with myself for working this out. Until I remembered that on Saturday night I am going to a party - to celebrate the clocks going back - and so will be up very, very late anyway.

*This is not strictly true, as my hosts, Pete and John, are in fact from Eastleigh and Barnet respectively. The only real Huddersfield native I know actually lives in Brighton.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Personal belongings

I travel by train a lot now. Rail travel has changed in many ways since my travels with my chimp. Firstly, you're no longer allowed to open the train doors for yourself. Secondly, they cram a lot more people in and people tend to be rather bad tempered. Thirdly - hey, it's not all bad! - if you are a small child, and fall over, you don't get up from the floor black with ground in fag ash, as I seem to recall often happened to me when I was one. And fourthly, the toilets are slightly more civilised. Teflon - what a brainwave. Many trains now have pumpout toilets in preference to the rail version of a sea toilet (see, boating reference), which has to be good for trackside wildlife but is not so good on the way home when the tank's full and they just lock the doors and pretend someone's been in there for an hour and a quarter. Also, I do not trust the ones with automatic doors with electronic locking. Oh no; I like a bolt you can see, thank you very much.

Fifthly, there are masses more announcements now; non-stop anouncements. Automated announcements that stop and start randomly. Sometimes these are useful - for example, being told which carriage you are in when you need to be in the front four is long overdue. Their usefulness however is predicated entirely on their being accurate, and you can never be quite sure that the person in charge has pressed the right button. The automated display telling you 'the next station is Gatwick Airport' even as you draw into Victoria does not inspire confidence. But all of this is a lead up to two points about announcements that I really want to mention.

The first is about recorded anouncements on stations, rather than on trains. I don't know what it's like in other parts of the country, but the practice on Southern (lets call it the LBSCR, it sounds much nicer) seems to be to get station staff to record the messages that are then broadcast over the next few months. I have visions of a new edict coming in (a recent favourite has been 'passengers are reminded that ordinary bicycles cannot be conveyed on Southern trains' between certain hours, but folding bicycles can be, 'provided they are fully folded.') and the managers asking each other, 'Who shall we get to read this one?' 'How about Stan? He's got the worst speech impediment...' 'True, but Bob has a lovely boring monotone..' And they really say 'conveyed'. Plus they keep alive the term 'alight from' long after it has passed from use everywhere else. In fact they have all sorts of tortuous formations. A bete noire of mine is 'calling at Lewes, where the train will then divide.' That 'then' is utterly redundant.

But finally, my favourite is an actual live - albeit obviously scripted announcement - made by the guard (or whatever they call them now. Train bloody Manager?): 'If you are leaving the train at this station please make sure you have all your personal belongings with you.' To which the only proper response is to adopt a slightly panicked expression, look around you increasingly frantically, and then cry desperately 'Oh no. I've left most of mine at home!'

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fame. And fortune!

When we were at St Ives we met a lovely couple called Alison and Roger, and we treated them to a slideshow of our engine pictures. It turned out that Alison writes for Canals and Rivers (yes, the one I'm so horrid about) and she said that one of the mags might be interested in the story of our engine, especially as we had so many pictures. In fact, she thought Waterways World would be the most likely candidate, because of their stronger historical slant. I promised that I'd look into it when I got around to it - it was an attractive idea, but I wasn't really keen on cold calling with it.

When we got to Bill Fen we noticed a particularly nice little tug that really stood out. I mentioned it to Lyn; oh yes, she said, that's Kevin's, you know, the editor of Canal Boat. Fate or what? We got chatting to Kevin and Vicky later though I didn't have the nerve to mention it then. However, when we got home I sent him a brief proposal, and he liked the idea. He said he was looking for a story with a personal touch, but which illustrated the unexpected expense and time that a project like our engine restoration entails. I drafted out about 2,000 words - light relief from academic writing - and emailed it off to Kevin. He made quite a few suggestions for amendments to get the 'feel' right, and we discussed it when we were next at Bill Fen. I rewrote it - and it was now 2,500 words - and sent it back. Kevin then edited it and sent it back to me for approval which I was very happy to give; his little touches and excisions had improved it a lot.

Then we had to sort out the photos. Kevin looked at the web albums and picked out some he liked the look of; I then was to send him high resolution versions. That was the theory anyway. What I realised after he'd chosen was that some of the pictures - like the one at the top of this post - weren't taken with the digital camera but were ones I'd had scanned when the film was processed, and they're not sufficiently high res. Oh dear - I felt like I'd conned him with my promise of fantastic photos. A way was found around it though; I sent him the 7x5 prints and they were able to scan them at sufficiently high quality.

So I now wait with great interest to see what the finished feature will look like. It's due to appear in the December issue, out on November 8th, so get your orders in now. For someone who's used to academic publishing, that's an amazingly fast turnaround time. I wrote a book review the July before last, when I was still in Huddersfield, emailed it off and thought no more of it - a few weeks ago I was sent a copyright form by the editor of the journal (which I think had better remain nameless) saying that they should get round to publishing it within the next three months or so.

Also, Canal Boat actually pays money, or so I've been told (of course I'd have done it for the glory anyway, but it's nice to be a professional writer). Someone asked me what you get for writing academic articles. I thought for a bit and said 'not sacked.' Although to be fair my very first published article* was in Political Quarterly, and they paid me £175, which was a nice surprise. It's never happened again since. Until now.

*'Professor Macmurray and Mr Blair: The Strange Case of the Communitarian Guru that Never Was', vol. 73, issue 2, April-June 2002. Since you asked.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Light show

Back to the laptop and the T-Mobile card. Sorry about yesterday's abortive attempts - if you saw even one picture, you did better than me. I'll come back to them later. In the meantime, some real (i.e. taken on film and printed on paper) photos have just come back and I was quite pleased with this one. It was the night of the illuminated parade at St Ives. We, of course, had most definitely not entered into the spirit of the event (the theme of which was 'Roundheads and Cavaliers' - illuminate that!). However, when the people behind us on Black Cat put out a load of nightlights, I was inspired to break out our entire stock of candles (viz. 2) and install them on the roof. Anyway, once all the illuminated boats had gone by - and I was moved, in spite of myself, by the spectacle - Jim started messing about with the tunnel light. So I started messing about with the big camera. No tripod of course - I'm a boater, not a bloody photographer - so I plonked it on top of the milk churn on the foredeck and issued strict instructions to Jim on no account to move from one side of the boat to the other. I think it worked as well as might be expected. I like the way you can see the shadow of the bulb holder/deflector.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More pretty pictures*

Quick and easy post tonight; no thinking or deft wordplay required (you wouldn't feel like it either if you'd spent the last two days writing a lecture about local government reform in the 1980s). Pretty pictures taken with the baby camera at Bill Fen on, I think, September 7th.

Port side neighbour through the kitchen porthole

*More to follow tomorrow, perhaps, as it appears that the router or the wires or the interwebs or something is still playing silly buggers.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Another engine tale...

Not ours, but that of another National. Another one of the blogs I look at quite often is that of Hadar, a replica Large Northwich built by Roger Fuller for Jo (hi Jo!) who often comments on here, and her husband Keith. It's an impressive blog, detailing the build, from the early stages right up to the launch - and beyond.

Hadar has a National DA2 engine, built, I think, in 1947, which Jo tells us about here. More recently though, since the launch, they've had some problems with it, culminating in the 'great engine strip down' - described in gruesome detail and with fantastic pictures.

I think I would be rather less than happy if I had purchased an engine which had been refurbished by one of the country's best known marine engineers and subsequently found silicone sealant in place of O-rings, among other things. Trouble is, words like 'refurbished' can mean so many different things to different people. Clearly (in this case at least) it doesn't mean completely stripped down, cleaned and inspected - but would you necessarily know that, if you were buying it?

Tales like this make me all the more glad that we went ahead and had Warrior's engine completely rebuilt, and not only that, but that it was done in such a way that we could monitor it at every stage.

I guess there may well be a lot more to Hadar's story than can be put on a blog, but thanks to Jo for telling the story so well, and best of luck with it from here on.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Running a temperature

Being the second in the rivetting series etc etc ...

On our last visit to Warrior we also changed the engine thermostat. The old one was a second hand one that Compo found in the back of his van - I'm not sure what was in it before the rebuild. Actually this was working fine, but the new one finally arrived from RN, so we thought we'd fit it. There was sone discussion, I remember, in the early stages of what sort of thermostat it should have and what its running temperature should be. Before we started any work on the engine it was running at 80+; I think (but might be remembering wrongly) that there wasn't a great deal of agreement at RN about what its ideal running temperature should be, with recommendations ranging from 60 max to over-eighty-is-fine.

Also I am not 100% sure what the thermostat actually governs; I think it is the temperature at which the cooling water switches from the calorifier to the skin tank. Anyway, the 'old' one was meant to be 60 degrees - and may well have been for all I know. But when we were beasting up the Nene/Ouse/Hundred Foot the engine was frequently running at eighty and nudging beyond that. In fact, so skilled did I get at reading it, this became the most reliable guide to the revs and/or speed we were going at. I got to be able to tell from walking past the engine whether it was running hot, when I would poke my head out and say, perhaps we might try slowing down a little bit... So, we changed the thermostat, but haven't had a run since so don't know if it will make any difference.

I suspect it might not. If it works as I think it does, then it's not the thermostat that's the problem (if problem it be). It's letting the water through to the skin tank OK. I know that because when we were really going for it the top of the skin tank was too hot to touch. Seems to me that the 'problem' is that this is an engine that was designed to be cooled by a constant supply of raw, cold, sea water. Our little skin tank just can't dissipate that heat fast enough. (And I did try not to put too much blacking on it.) But I hesitate to call it a problem. The problem is that sometimes we go too fast ...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Virtual friends

I don't believe I had an imaginary friend as a child. I had an imaginary chimp. OK, he only materialised on train journeys, and was due entirely to Southern Railway posters advertising Chessington Zoo. He always slid down the handrail (holding my hand) when we got back to Haywards Heath and disappeared at the bottom of the steps; forgotten by the time we got to the ticket collector and back to the real world. I can't recall that he even had a name. He was always waiting at the bottom of the steps next time though, ready for another trip. Oh dear, it's all coming back to me now. He had to have the seat by the window, and I'd sit next to him. Perhaps that's why I still like an aisle seat. Or perhaps that's just in case a chimp (or city equivalent) comes and sits next to me.

Virtual friends are not quite the same as imaginary ones, although it might be quite imaginary that they are one's friends. Most virtual friends really exist, although not necessarily in the form that one knows them. Some of mine are people I interact with on Canalworld (I have a number of virtual enemies there too. Most of them though are blissfully unaware that they have made of me an implacable foe by their sanctimonious attitudes and/or bad spelling).

Mainly though I'm thinking of other bloggers I find simpatico. First port of call is always Granny Buttons, mainly because he posts so often and interestingly that there's usually something new to read. Also, his was the first narrowboat blog I ever heard of, recommended to me by Mike of the splendid but sadly defunct (the blog, not the boat) Globetrotter. I don't have a long blogroll because I reckon a link to Granny's is enough. He lists over 65 - some of which are fairly or utterly inactive, but lots, I'm sure, are great, but I haven't read them. Two I do pop into fairly frequently are Cosmos and Mortimer Bones; I think I could be friends with them. Bones of course is a fellow academic (but one of those scary scientist types) and Jaytee of Cosmos appears to be something in the pedagogical line from what I can tell. Anyway, I like the cut of their jib(s).

The first blog I ever read regularly was Pharyngula; a strange choice for a sciencephobe, but I read it for the atheism. (British atheists - you don't know you're born till you read what it's like in the US). But the science blogging community has annual awards for science blogs, and there are others for political ones. Wouldn't it be nice to have some prizes for narrowboat blogs? For example, best writing, best picture, best new blog, best travelogue, best build/restoration blog ... We could call them 'Grannies' in honour of the doyen...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Campaign for Real Time

When I got up this morning it was still dark. This has been the case for at least the last week. There is little more dispiriting than arising before dawn. Nights drawing in means evenings by the fire, toasting crumpets, cosy in your little nest... something to look forward to in the chilly twilight. Dark mornings remind you that although the clock says six, it's really still only five, because we're still on bloody so-called British Summer Time for another three weeks.

Yep. For half the year I have been getting up at five o'bloody clock because some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to set the nation's clocks an hour fast to make sure that we don't take too much advantage of long summer evenings. Now, granted, the hours of darkness at midsummer are so short we might not notice - but it's not summer any more! By the time we get to put the clocks back to their rightful time, dawn will be a whole hour later anyway, so it'll still be dark when I get up.

I ranted about this last year, and I shall rant about it next year (that's what bloggers do, isn't it?). If we want to get up earlier in the summer (and my inkling is that we don't, really) then let's just get up earlier in the summer. If we want to get up earlier all year round (and clearly lots of people do, because there's always a general moan when the glorious day does come when we can put the clocks back), then lets just do that. We could work from 8 to 4 instead of 9 to 5; the BBC could have the Eight O'Clock News ... and OK, I could get up at five - but at least it would be honest.

I was really pleased to see last year that someone (one Andrew Craig) had done what I had been meaning to do for years and written a letter to the Guardian about this. So pleased in fact that I am going to quote his letter in full:

You accuse the government of 'imposing an extra hour of darkness on winter evenings' [i.e. by putting the clocks back] Both sides of the argument must understand that the government can't impose daylight or darkness; only the Earth can do that, by rotating. If we want to enjoy more daylight, why don't we simply do everything an hour earlier? We live on the Greenwich meridian, so let's use GMT all the time.

Well said that man. Oh dear, it's getting on for nine o'clock - I'd better get myself off to bed.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Proof if proof were needed

I stopped buying Canals and Rivers a while back; after Phil Speight stopped writing for it and the series about the Whitlocks ended. It just drove me mad with its dreadful writing and amateurish production. But mostly with its dreadful writing - verbless sentences, random apostrophes - and its apparently non-existent proofreading and copy-editing. *

So when, at St Ives, someone leapt out at me from the C&R stand offering me a free copy, I took it, but explained why I'd stopped buying it. It turned out that this person was the editor ... oops! Then another person emerged from the back of the tent, endorsed my apostrophical obsession, and asked me if I was a schoolteacher ... well, close, I conceded. He turned out to be Leo McNeir, author of waterways thrillers as sold by the IWA (I had to buy one of course after that, so not a bad move on his part. I'll tell you what it was like another time). He sort of agreed with me about C&R, as he admitted that he always proofread his wife's cookery columns to save them doing it, but excused it on the grounds that it was written by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. This may well be true, but I don't see why this means it has to be proofread by (boat) enthusiasts (as opposed to proofreading enthusiasts, of course) too when there are plenty of professionals out there at very reasonable rates... surely the editor of a national magazine should have a sufficient grasp of written English to do the task himself even if they can't afford to get anyone in?

Anyway, I politely kept this tirade to myself this time, and carried on licking my delicious mango frozen yogurt cone, and was persuaded by the urbane Leo McNeir to sign up to have a free copy of the next issue posted to me. It was waiting when we got home. And it had a great big typo ON THE FRONT COVER. I rest my case.

I've just looked at their website to see if there was an image of the cover in question that I could link to, but it doesn't seem to have been updated since last year - so here it is.

*This is a verbless non-sentence (well, this isn't (and nor is this) but the one marked* was). Oops; hoist by my own petard. Oh dear, so was that. But that wasn't. And nor was that. Or that. But that was .... This is what we philosophers call an infinite regress.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Nice place this (x2)

I have noticed that my posting is getting a bit sparse, and I'm very sorry - it's a busy time of year at work, that's my only excuse. I have a lot of photos and topics lined up to write about, but I've been too knackered to summon up my usual enthusiasm and sparkling wit. Don't waste any sympathy on me though, as things are going really well (stops to touch wood).

Anyway, another brief encomium to Bill Fen Marina where Warrior is parked for the winter (and officially for the foreseeable future). Not only is it pretty, and equipped with carp lakes, red squirrels, peacocks and bats, and trees bearing apples and various other edible fruits; everybody* is really friendly. And there are rambling roses.

Apropos of nothing (certainly nothing boat related), I had cause to go to Lewisham today, and had a brilliant lunch (well, it was more of a dinner really) at Maggie's, which is apparently legendary but I'd never heard of it. (Lewisham; why would I?) Best of all, (and for 70p) a never ending supply of tea poured from a big pot by roving teapersons into (has to be the best way to drink tea) a white Pyrex cup.

*Well, all right, obviously we haven't met everybody yet. But there is a very high friendliness quotient.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Changing the oil

The first of a series of rivetting accounts of Little Jobs We Have Done On Warrior Lately.

After 100 hours (which we clocked up on our St Ives trip) it was time for the engine's first oil change. Jim got the oil at a local motor factors for considerably less than chandlery prices.

The old oil had to be removed via the sump using this fantastically useful device, a Sealey Oil and Fluid pump.

It's very simple, and very efficient. We've used it for the bilges too (when it didn't have old oil in it) before the bilge pump was wired up. It sucks it all up through its pipe, and then you just pour it out of the top. I was a little wary of getting too closely involved though as when something similar was attempted on Andante I ended up liberally bespattered with the black stuff. However, I had to operate the pump this time while Jim held the pipe in position and all went without mishap. The old oil was tipped into a suitable container and we brought it home to dispose of it responsibly, boys and girls.

The marvellous old oil filter, the name of which I've forgotten, had to have its innards cleaned; apparently this used to be done in petrol but we wimped out and used white spirit. The filter traps particles of dirt and metal between the metal plates and turning the screw on the top encourages these towards its magnetic core. At least, we think that's how it works. (Jim says if he'd known I was going to ask he would have rung Compo and checked. So if you're reading this Ian...) In any case, it is a thing of beauty.

Then we put in two gallons of lovely new oil. That should last for the next 200 hours.