Wednesday, December 31, 2008

And so farewell, 2008.

It's been nice knowing you, but the time has come, as it always does, and to leap joyously into 2009 (well, I'm planning to leap no further than into the bath before settling down in front of the fire, having come to the conclusion that New Year's parties are actually usually terribly depressing events). So, lets dust off the archives, and look back over the treasures that 2008 brought us.

Brought reading of old Waterways Worlds...

Brought fun and frolics at Stoke Bruerne in honour of CWF's Moley. I have now eschewed CWF - on the basis of a couple of trolls and a rather worrying joke - since December 19th. Not so much as a peek!

Found us revelling in the snow at Bill Fen, and in a CWF banter at Napton. Other glamourous places I visited for the first time included Uxbridge. And we also met Proper Job Steve and the Moomins for the first time.

In April we panelled the engine room roof and fitted a selection of doorknobs and latches throughout the boat, and I sallied forth to Hemel Hempsted to see Zulu Warrior.

Saw us at the RN Open Day, where we failed for a second time to make a full exchange of engine parts with Steve And the first Warrior-related news of any note, as the paintwork was finally begun.

Braunston! Braunston! Braunston! With Jim still at Warrior I drove Baz and me up there for the day. A highly successful and enjoyable outing, marred only slightly by someone inconsiderately hiding the M25 on the way home. Also, I manage to upset a record number of readers with a relatively innocuous post on the evils of trailing fenders, and Warrior's signwriting got done.

I first meet the Lucky Ducks, Amy and James, before they set out, full of hope and youthful optimism, on their epic journey. And then, finally, we set off on ours, with one of its two sunny days falling in July - little knowing how closely out fates would be intertwined.

The rainy season, which coincided neatly with our 'summer' trip. We did get to London in the end. High spots included the Cropredy Festival (a high spot of the entire year, that was), Little Venice and... er, Brentford Lock (well, that was one of my favourite bits), and travelling from Little Venice to Limehouse with Craig and Vicky (Jim has already got Craig lined up for some two-man boating next year). Less favourite bits were most of the Thames and in particular Osney (through no real fault of its own); Banbury (heartbreaking) and the bloody weather.

Most of which saw me with the house to myself, as Jim continued with the Ducks for another three weeks.

Notable for my return to the voluntary sector, dragged back by the prospect of getting my hands on Tarporley. So I had my first go, finally, at steering a Big Northwich, and as a bonus, when we met up with Warbler and Stanton Jam 'Oling, I got a go on a small one too.

A month of great blogging torpor, but also of wholesale graining.

In which we decided not to go boating for Christmas after all.

So all in all it was another action packed year, and looking back it's impressive how much we crammed in. Helyn still awaits out full attentions, and the Ouse trip is postponed for another year, but still very much in mind (mine, at any rate).

Next year's plans for Warrior tentatively include coming across the Wash and doing a northern tour, taking in Sheffield and Liverpool and a circuit of the Rochdale and the L&L. Despite the rain, it will be hard to top the experience of this year's London bound trip though.

Hope you all have a very happy 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

North v. South: A bitter divide

When we went out with the Moomins and the Ducks the other week, we came across John in the Jolly Sailor, uncustomarily drinking cider. It transpired that he was refusing to drink beer because they had lost the sparkler - for the uninitiated, that's the twiddly thing they screw on the beer tap to squeeze it out through a smaller gap and thus create the foam that constitutes the head that some people like...

Now that's the point. That some people like. I was quite surprised at how vociferously some of those present asserted that it was the only right way to do it. Come to a pub down here, and your beer will be served without a sparkler; straight out of the tap and into the glass. You'll get a glass filled to the top with beer and not with froth. And down here, that is the right way to do it. It's the way I like it, and not only because it's what I'm used to.

There's probably an element of horses for courses; many southern beers (particularly the ones I like best) certainly seem to look and taste - and feel - better without the life squeezed out of them, while more typical traditional northern ones (and that's definitely not including many of those being produced by new breweries) - have a very different character to start with. They found the sparkler in the Jolly Sailor. I was drinking Bombardier, and I'm sure it didn't benefit from the frothing treatment. But if I had been drinking the Black Sheep, it might well have suited it.

So I accept that it is a matter of taste, and of tradition, and maybe of different approaches suiting different beers. But I will not accept - as I have heard claimed on more than one occasion - that in all cases it is wrong to deliver beer without a sparkler. And above all, I will not accept that beer served without a head is 'flat'. On the contrary. Every one of the little bubbles making up that layer of foam on the top is one less bubble in the beer. Call me southern if you like, but I prefer my bubbles in the beer where the brewing process put them, not forced out to sit on the surface. That's what gives the beer its tingle; that little extra thirst quenching quality. A million miles away from the artificial fizz of carbonated lager; just beer that's naturally, healthily, alive.

Perhaps the idea that a creamy head is a good thing arose because a during the brewing process the development of a froth on the top is a sign of a healthy fermentation. But when beer is drawn from the bottom of the barrel, that should stay on the top, surely, not be delivered into the glass. Taps remote from barrels and connected by yards of pipework are a relatively recent phenomenon, and I wonder whether the sparkler was invented to recreate that symbol of a good brew artificially. Perhaps even more likely in the dread days of the sixties and seventies when real decent beer was hard to find - the sparkler was maybe a way of conferring that sense of quality upon an inferior product.

Whatever the reasons, I will continue to maintain that beer forced through a sparkler is not necessarily better, and is often worse. Landlords shouldn't force their prejudices onto us, but should do what's right for the customer, and above all, what's right for the beer. Easier said than done with the (welcome) proliferation of new beers, and guest beers being sold far from their traditional homes. When I'm up north I'll happily do as the northerners do, and enjoy the new experience. I will always be delighted to take the advice and recommendation of a knowledgeable landlord or bar person. But if I'm after the comforting familiarity of a beer I know and love, far from home, I will continue to ask for the sparkler to be taken off and the glass filled to the top. Only not when John's watching.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Get a grip

Our scenic new mooring spot is actually an older one, part of the original marina. And it has a wooden pontoon. Which is the most slippery thing I have ever tried to walk on, and that includes an ice rink. Imagine the most slippery surface you can, and then pour some oil on it. It still isn't as slippery as our pontoon. Fortunately, Jim had some expanding mesh, which he has already used to good effect on some wooden steps in the garden, and has applied this to the pontoon. It's even grippier than chicken wire, having rather sharp edges. So it's just as well we're not likely to fall over on it now, as it's a bit like a giant cheese grater.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tending the stove

It occurred to me the other week in just how many ways having a solid fuel stove is like having a small child. You have to feed them - not too little and not too much - and clean up after them, and constantly check that they're still alive. They require all manner of accoutrements and paraphernalia which gradually take over the entire house (boat). They make an incredible amount of mess. And you still wouldn't want to be without them.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A sense of proportion

It's a sure sign that times are hard on the high street when Christian outreach centres start to outnumber charity shops. OK, we haven't quite got to that point yet here in Newhaven, but there is one fairly new and pretty large one. I'm sure they're doing an important and much needed job, and I'm particularly impressed with the effort that they've put into their window display - a lovely, and extensive, model winter street scene. A kind of fantasy high street of a bygone age, with traditional shops, red phone boxes, and, joy of joys, a canal and narrowboat! Here, in deepest Sussex, where such things are all but unheard of.

So it was a trifle churlish, I thought, of Baz to point out that not all the models were to precisely the same scale, and in particular that the carrots in the greengrocer's window were roughly the same size as the men further up the street, and you could probably fit a dozen red phone boxes into an Austin A6 (or similar). For me, that doesn't detract one little bit from its charm. If more people spent their time creating model street scenes, this world would be a better place.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Card index

So, the evidence of the late festivities has been tidied away, and I have turned the roast potato fat into nutritious blue tit seed cake, and there are, presumably, no more cards to come in, and I have been moved to compile an inventory of the thirty five or so that our household has received.

Nearly all the ones I sent this year were IWA. I like them because they're nice pictures, on good solid cardboard, with no hint of religion or other supernatural beings (e.g. Father Christmas, hedgehogs wearing bobble hats), but are usually nicely wintry and old fashioned. I always order the surprise packs of whatever they didn't sell last year (the thrill!) and am left this year with a set that are resolutely narrow boat free, featuring some sort of sailing barge, that I've been slightly loath to distribute (although I have received one).

The other excellent thing about the IWA cards is that they are produced not only in Britain, but in East Sussex, by Judges of Hastings (the postcard people); a fact that I was not slow to point out to my friend David, Liberal Democrat ('think global, act local') leader on East Sussex County Council, when he sent us one, shock horror, printed in China.

I always keep our old cards, which after a while get recycled, with the help of pinking shears, into traditional gift tags, and have envelopes full now going back ten years, and it is possible to discern some changing trends. For example, over half of the ones received this year were for charities in some shape or form, and quality is generally higher - thicker card and better printing. There are more without any traditional Christmas - or even winter - content too.

So for the record, here is this year's inventory:
Non-charity various: 17
Generic/multiple charity: 5
Specific charities:
Cancer Research: 2
Oxfam: 3
Cats' Protection League: 1
Kennet and Avon Canal Trust: 1 (also by Judges of Hastings)
IWA: 1
Amnesty: 1
Marie Curie Cancer Care: 1
Foot and Mouth Painting Artists: 3

Now, that's a bit of a rum one. I remember they always used to send out packs of cards, unsolicited, with a request for payment if you wanted to use them. Of course I was thrown into a tizz; I didn't want to pay, and I resented them sending them and putting pressre on me, so I never sent them back. But it would have been too awful to use them without paying, so they languished year after year at the bottom of the Christmas box, doing no good to anyone, but making me feel guilty and resentful whenever I saw them. I stopped being sent them a while back, so maybe they have a different system now. But whenever I receive one, I have the nagging thought, did the sender actually pay for this...? This year's haul of three is a record, I think.

And we got one from the local fire brigade, reminding us not to burn the house down this Christmas, which was a nice thought.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Christmas!

A very cheerful festive season to one and all.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

24: They looked up and saw a star

At least, Jim did, whilst shepherding the Lucky Ducks eastwards last summer. A part of a star, at any rate.

Whoopee! Six hundred posts. Well I remember hitting the 500 mark, not so long ago, at Shipton-on-Cherwell. What with the opinion pieces, I aim to hit a thousand by the end of 2009.


I was chatting to my sister last week about the way we use the internet. She tends to post photos of her friends and parties and things, and then doesn't like the idea of other people looking at what are essentially personal things. I see it quite differently. For me, this is a form of publishing; cheap and accessible, and if it is to a very small audience, well at least they (you!) are interested enough to seek it out, and if you like it you'll come back, maybe.

So far it's largely been a country diary sort of publication, mildly interesting things that I have been doing. But of course what I really want to write are opinion columns. In fact, I've long had that ambition, way before the blogosphere made it possible.

So here is today's opinion - in response to numerous assertions in the Guardian over the course of the last week.

Am I really alone in thinking, why oh why oh why etc etc ... does everyone (OK everyone at the Graun, cos that's all I read) think that Jeff Buckley's version of Hallejulah is vastly superior to everyone else's, including Leonard Cohen himself? Now, I have only heard those two versions (of the 180 that are apparently out there, if my journal of choice is to be believed, which on past form it probably isn't), so I thought I'd better go and have another listen to the Buckley version. What I heard was an anodyne arrangement, sung by a guy with a rather weedy voice, with barely a trace of passion or pain or even of expression, that went on rather. While Cohen's rendition didn't quite make it into my LC all time top ten, it has a splendid rawness and an immediacy that belies the fact (again, IMJOCITBBWOPFIPI) that it was five years in the writing.

Of course it's a matter of taste, but I was surprised that so many people seem to prefer what sounds to me like a rather sanitised, well-modulated interpretation.

Or was it just a case of one person at the Guardian saying that last week, and all the others following in their footsteps?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

23: O the rising of the Sun

This is going right back to the summer of 2006, when I came up to London for a meeting prior to actually starting the job, and afterwards (for the first and last time) walked from Russell Square to Camden Lock. I think it was the first time I'd ever been there. Little did I know that two and a half years on, those three locks (and St Pancras) would have the honour, thanks to Tarporley, of being the ones I've gone through most often.

No prizes for solving the cryptic caption but you can show off if you like.

Monday, December 22, 2008

22: From country far

I've carelessly squandered all the ship lines, and it surprised me that I couldn't find anything closer than this. It could be a Christmas card scene, couldn't it; the exotic lands from which the wise men set out; the ships in which they travelled; even, if you wanted, the star they were following.

The stained glass window of a Georgian house in Bloomsbury, surely showing the same influences, whatever they were, as the more familiar narrow boat castles.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

21: Swans a-swimming

Not seven of them, and really two swans a-scrounging. Or a-scowling, a-snapping, a-snorting, a-snaffling, a-salivating, a-sneaking, a-seeking, a-scaring and a-scavenging.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

19: stumped again

I photographed this new boat at Huddersfield last June... no way was it a cheap boat, but there it sat, gently rusting through its primer. I wonder whether work has proceeded on it in the meantime, or whether it's now even rustier and sorry looking.

Christmassy captions welcome.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

18: Hard as iron

At last! A selection from Braunston last summer. Only a week to go now until Christmas day; just six more randomly selected pictures. Hope they're good ones.

And, a whole week since I last looked at the Canalworld forums. I know you're never cured, but I think I might be in recovery.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

17: Pray whither sailed those ships all three?

I see I've used this picture before, but never mind. In fact, if you compare it with a similar shot some twenty years later here, it appears that few of the ships have sailed. In particular, of course, the Rhoda B. Tatty even than, tatty still. But still defiantly afloat.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

16: And his shelter...

... was a perfectly serviceable, newly refurbished floating paint dock on Ramsey High Lode.

National heroine

Now I may have gone to a funny school (on paper it was a bog standard comprehensive) because I recall the favourite TV programme among my classmates over a couple of years (my O Level years, in fact) being Last of the Summer Wine. I have never been able to abide that programme. I watched a whole episode once, and the effort of trying to glean some amusement from it has scarred me for life. To this day I cannot hear the words 'gentle comedy' without reaching for the off button. But my classmates clearly found it utterly rollicking. Do you remember that bit, they'd ask each other, rolling on the floor and clutching their sides, where Compo got in the pram and... and they would shriek and fall about in merriment as the tears rolled down their faces. And I'd be thinking, can we do some Chaucer now please?

All this is apropos of nothing, but I was reminded of it by the obituary of Kathy Staff in yesterday's Guardian (wrinkled stockings. No wonder they were wetting themselves), where I learned not only that her name was originally Minnie Higginbottom (now how could you even attempt to improve on that?) but that '[h]er first job was with the National Gas & Oil Engine Company at Ashton-under-Lyne ... which created an amateur acting group that she joined.' Sadly a bit too late to have had any involvement with our engine, however.

Monday, December 15, 2008

15: And this shall be the sign

Warrior in the process of being signwritten, early this summer.

14: All is bright

I'm not sure what the occasion was, but here we are with the brass all done.

I remember! It was the visit of Carl and Sean. Of course.

13: Among the leaves so green

The carp pond (or should I say one of the carp ponds; this is the one in the Certificated Location) at Bill Fen, when the leaves were still green.

Plumbing the depths

What marvellous goodwill and festive karma is flowing around our little boating circle at the moment. On Saturday, as arranged, we welcomed Simon and Ann Moomin and Amy and James Duck (noms de bateau both) onto Warrior for lovely (even though I say it myself) mulled wine and mince pies, including some made by a junior Moomin, and handed over to the Ducks the generator and charger that Jim had arranged to sell them, and I mentioned - well, you have to keep the conversation going, don't you - our recently failed slime box (aka sump pump) and Moomin exclaimed, we've got one of those on Melaleuca, unused, the previous owners must have bought it and never fitted it... you can have it if you like, in exchange for that diesel filter that you're going to give me when you find it (it was behind the weed hatch, James)... and Jim also gave Simon some Dremel tools which apparently occasioned great happiness, so everyone was full of festive cheer, as we went off to the Jolly Sailor, and then on to the Railway, but ended with fish and chips chez Moomin rather than Chilli Hut curry. Jim dropped me off at Warrior - in its new space, note - to pick up the brown sauce, and of course, in the dark, I couldn't orientate myself sufficiently to locate Melaleuca (which hadn't moved) without some degree of consternation. I git there just before they sent out the search party.

Saturday dawned bright and fair so was obviously the day for rooting about under the sink to remove a small plastic box full to the brim with stinky grey sludge. Or it would have been if Jim hadn't left his jacket with the car keys (and thus access to all his tools) in the pocket on Melaleuca. Fortunately Simon was coming back anyway, and this was thus the occasion for another cup of tea and a chat about open source programming, before getting stuck in under the sink.
A simple job, no? Swapping one slime box for another... but of course, it would be too much to expect them to be the same size. The new one is actually superior in every way, being bigger and deeper and having a filter and a better float switch, but that half inch bigger was the bugger, when the bottom of the cupboard doesn't come out and the floor beneath it, through which the box must sit, is three quarters of an inch thick. So there was a little grunting and swearing, but thanks to Jim having brought his battery jigsaw, it was achieved, and it works absolutely fantastically. Who needs a new Whale Gulper then? Not us, thanks to Moominpapa.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sump pump slump

Well, we've come back to Warrior for the weekend - my first time up here in months - so the chances of uploading a photo are minimal; this the advent calendar, sadly, must wait until Monday. Thanks to Mike for his title suggestion for Clent the red-nosed tar boat.

The main reason for coming was for me to catch up with what's been going on, and in particular to see the graining - very impressive, and I really like the effect in the bathroom. Secondarily, Moominpapa has arranged for the Lucky Ducks to come over to Bill Fen in the afternoon, when we shall ply them with mince pies and mulled wine before going over to the Jolly Sailor to meet up with John and Lyn, and then to sample the delights of the Railway and possibly the Chilli Hut.

So in preparation for this social whirl, I forewent washing this morning, instead waiting until we had run the engine for a while to warm up both the bathroom and the water, in order to do it properly. And what bliss it was. Until the water suddently stopped coming out of the taps and the lights went off. Fortunately I was very nearly rinsed and still had some nearly clean water in the handy standby bucket, so was able to complete my ablutions before proceeding to the engine room to apply my logical mind to identifying which offending piece of electrical equipment had tripped the circuit breaker. It turned out to be the sump pump, that empties the bath and the bathroom basin, but not, thank goodness, the kitchen sink. I've often thought it's madness to have all your waste reliant on one little float switch, although some people do.

Anyway, Jim set to and dismantled the slimebox, and concluded that this time the pump really has had it. Ideally we think we would like to replace it with a Whale gulper, as they seem to be both much more robust and not to necessitate keeping a box of grey sludge and hair in the cupboard under the sink. So the next step will be a feasability study into this, and in the meantime we are back to washing in the kitchen sink. Oh happy days.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Another Newhaven, late eighties, scene - there's random for you. One of the old fishing stages on the West Quay, obviously still in heavy use. Behind me as I took this would have been waste ground, scattered with more nets, fish and ice boxes and paraphernalia, where now are the delightful 'West Quay Lawns', or possibly a desirable waterside apartment.

Again, the Christmas Caption Challenge is open to all comers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

11: Red nosed*

I fear I have set myself an impossible task, in setting the precedent so far of having a Christmassy quote for each picture on the Warrior advent calendar.

This one defeats me, so I am opening it up as a competition. What line (or carefully cropped selection of words) from a well (or lesser) known Christmas carol, song or poem could entitle this stirring sight? The occasion was the birthday party of CanalWorld's Moley, back in February; the location Stoke Bruerne, and the boat, I was subsequently informed by my dining companion Carlt (that's short for Carl T., by the way) is the tarboat Clent.

Tomorrow we, wisely or not, will be heading east.

*Title courtesy of Mike. Simply inspired - I wish there were a prize.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

10: Merry gentlemen

Now this was at Christmas, last year, as we set, off full of hope and good cheer, on our ill-fated voyage up Holme Fen.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

9: Snow had fallen

At last! A suitably Christmassy picture! Taken, naturally, last Easter.

Monday, December 08, 2008

8: The holly and the ivy

I'm not entirely sure there's any holly here, but there is ivy, and one lonely poppy. Appropriately, November last year, on the way to the Rainbow at Ramsey.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

7: Deep and crisp and even

Can you guess what this furrowed snowdrift actually is? At the risk of sounding indelicate, it's the inside of Helyn's bottom. When the day comes to finally sell her, we'll have photos to show how thick and tough and clean it is down there.

Progress on getting Helyn ready to sell has been held up by frustrations over the steering. We had to replace the cable, and it seems that you can now only get them with a maximum 9" throw, whereas our engine is set up for eleven. It has caused much furrowing of my brow, and I refuse to believe that it isn't overcome-able.

6: Happy dawn

Bill Fen, one morning in late September 2007.

You know how sometimes you forget to open your advent calendar and get to open two the next day? Well, it's just the same with this one. I was off with Tarporley again yesterday. That's the third taster day I've been on now. This one went without a hitch, and the weather was beautiful.

Friday, December 05, 2008

5: All I want for Christmas

This is one of the few duff pictures from a super set of the North Quay. But random I promised, and random you will get. This does however show the parlous state of the wooden wharf structure. I've a feeling it might have undergone some repairs subsequently; this was a good couple of years ago.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

4: Not a creature was stirring

Stretton Aqueduct in the distance, in the rain, April 2007. Must have been a rare shower, because this must have been the time we had Warrior on the towpath to do the painting, when it was first done all in raddle, and I recall the weather being fairly consistently warm and dry as we painted and rubbed and filled and rubbed and painted and oh god filled and rubbed again. So probably very glad of the rest at this point.

By the way, I never said they'd be good photos, did I.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

3: O Little Town

This is one of the photos I took of Newhaven in the late eighties. This is clearly looking downriver from the swing bridge at high(ish) tide. The basic scene looks pretty much unchanged today, but there are loads of differences in the detail. The most obvious - and most trivial - is the absence of the giant rubber shag (sorry, cormorant scuplture made from recycled tyres) in the middle.

On the right, the West Quay, the most notable difference is the absence of building, and the unimpeded view of the cliffs - this was before even the first phase of the West Quay development took place in the early nineties. There's now flats nearly all the way down. Here, there are fishing boats in the foreground; most are now concentrated further down the river, and there are fewer in total. New landing stages have been built in the last ten years or so, and some of these have already been decommissioned.

To the left of the picture, on the East Quay, is Big George the crane. I have no idea why it was called this. That's been gone maybe ten years or so. I think that in front of the ferry you can see other ships which would have been in the process of being unloaded. A lot of fruit and vegetables still came into Newhaven then, handled particularly by a firm called Fishers, and Fyffes had a banana ripening warehouse on the East Quay. That too has all come to an end.

How still we see thee lie indeed.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

2: I saw three ships...

Well, I might have done on this trip to the beach in July 2007, when I constructed my masterpiece, five foot long, scale model sand narrow boat. Perhaps my proudest ever sand-based moment.

The days of frolicking in the sand at Newhaven's West Beach are now, sadly, behind us all. Like so much else in the area it is Out of Bounds to the general populace, thanks to the litigation-shy Newhaven Port and Properties who are glad to have an excuse, in the form of a slightly crumbly concrete sea wall, to keep the great unwashed off their asset.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Further advent-ures

In order to be sure of posting every day between now and Christmas, may I proudly present ... the nbWarrior Advent Calendar. Just as when you open the little door on your advent calendar each day, you don't know what will be behind it (only I do, because I've had the same advent calendar since I was four, and you probably do because it's chocolate, but...) Well, in that spirit, every day I will randomly select a photo from the collection on this computer. It's a bit of an eclectic collection, because all the holiday photos are on the laptop, which keeps being borrowed by one son or another. There are thirteen folders of photos on here, one of which I will select on the draw of a card. Then within that, I will blindly hover my mouse and see what it alights upon.

Today we have 'Uxbridge 055', taken back in the spring in the course of my mission to purchase some injectors, via the Metropolitan Line.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

If that's Belfast...

Here's a thing. Every week I look at the photo competition in the Guardian Weekend magazine to see whether the theme is one on which I might have anything to enter, and a fortnight ago, for the first time, it was: 'graffiti'. So I sent in the photo that I took on August 27th, somewhere between Clapton and Little Venice, so very definitely in London, of my favourite graffiti as featured here.

Now, I knew I hadn't won, as they'd have been in touch, so I was surprised to see that very same view featured amongst the winners today. I would show you, but they don't put the pics on their website, and I thought it might be a bit naughty to scan it. At first I thought that someone might have ripped off my photo, but no, it's not the same picture. As well as being a smaller part of the scene, it's taken from a different angle - more head on - and earlier in the year; the ivy hasn't grown so high as in mine. It is, however, without a shadow of a doubt, the same piece of graffiti, the same location.

Leaving aside the fact that my photo is, in my humble opinion, better (the winning one cuts out all the interesting trompe l'oieul that the graffiti artist has achieved with the white-painted brickwork), what really irks me is the accompanying caption, supplied by the photographer, and that I will quote (fair usage, I think): 'Among all the political slogans and sectarian murals prominent in Belfast, I loved the juxtaposition of this equally heartfelt statement.' Now that very definitely and deliberately implies that the photo was taken in Belfast, and that, I think, would contribute to its significance.

Yet I cannot be the only person who has seen this very 'mural' on either the G.U. or the River Lee (in fact, I'm sure someone will tell me which). Unless someone has painted exactly the same thing, on exactly the same blue-painted wall, in exactly the same alignment with the brickwork, with the same concrete and the same ivy below it, then that picture was not taken in Belfast but in London. What's more, the people at the Guardian presumably had my entry in front of them as well, clearly saying that it was in London, so one can only assume that they either didn't notice or didn't care. As always, the idea that it's Belfast makes for a better 'story', and the fact that a few readers out of hundreds of thousands might notice that this is actually inaccurate, matters far less.

Interestingly, in the 'meet a reader' column in the main paper today features my friend Donna, and they've spelt her name wrong.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Postcards from Ireland

My sister has been to Dublin and - as she always tries to do, wherever she goes - has sent me some canal-related photos. I know nothing about the Grand Canal, other than what I have read here, but - as I have never visited Ireland at all yet - perhaps one day I shall see it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New view

This is what we will see now when we look out of the front of Warrior.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Light fantastic

Fast running out of light puns. It was a (nice) surprise to learn that Jim had done this job. Way way back we (he?) bought a pair of lovely solid brass bulkhead lights with satisfyingly thick chunky glass at some show or other. One of them was fitted in the engine room last year, and I thought it would look nice, as well as be useful, to fit the other one above the table cupboard (where one might more usually have a mirror?). The only light on the back cabin before was on the side wall towards the engine room end, and pretty useless at illuminating the end where you would most likely be sitting (although very handy for reading in bed, of course).

This second light is not perfect; it has at some point suffered a severe bash which has dented the brass cage on the front and broken the glass. But it's still lovely enough to use and enjoy, especially since we bought up a vast stock of bulbs when we finally found them, at 50p each, in the Ramsey motor factors.

The photo, as you can see, shows only the hole cut in readiness. There aren't any decent ones of the light in situ. But I'm sure you can imagine it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Something to report

At last, there is news and photos. Many photos, which Jim brought back with him yesterday. He has finished the back cabin, and completed the graining in the bathroom; fixed the gear lever, and looked long and hard at the back boiler. He has used nearly sixty quid's worth of varnish alone - and that's not even at Craftmaster prices. All the dark bits, basically, are new. Everything without roses on has been redone. Some of these areas were previously done in that rather crude yellow graining, but all the framing - it seems so long ago now - had been painted over in a horrible royal blue. The initial plan was just to redo those bits but it sort of growed.

The photos provide just a tantalising glimpse of what has been achieved, and I have insisted that we go up again in a couple of weeks so that I can see it in the flesh. Then of course we will be going for Christmas too. Jim has heard a rumour from Moominpapa that Salters Lode may re-open ahead of schedule around December 18th, so Christmas in Cambridge might just be on the cards again. Or New Year, which would be even better.

Other exciting things to report are that Warrior has a new berth at Bill Fen with a more, in estate agent speak, open aspect (although I never minded looking out at Axe, even if it is somewhat unrecognisable from the side with its pearlescent purple cabin and upvc double glazing), handier for the pumpout and with closer car parking. For anyone that remembers, it's pretty near where our temporary spot was when we first arrived there. With the new mooring have come new neighbours who, from all accounts, are jolly nice.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


It's Saturday evening, and I only switched the computer on five minutes ago. I haven't had the radio on, or played any music, all day. I went to the market and bought some fruit and veg, and exchanged a few words with no.1 son this morning, but apart from that the only soundtrack to my day has been the whirr of the fridge, the gentle popping of the fire in the kitchen stove, the ticking of the clocks and the distant cries of seagulls. My word, this keyboard is loud.

Jim is still up on the boat, and Baz is off on some kind of philosophy field trip; it appears that the environs of Windsor Great Park are highly conducive to beard stroking and logical thought. He did send me a text last night, saying 'rubbish reception'; I wasn't sure whether that referred to the phone signal or the wine and peanuts.

So I'm home alone and loving it. There is a vast gulf of difference between solitude and loneliness. Sometimes, other people's company can be the loneliest place of all. I have spent a weekend which has been both delightfully indolent, and at the same time unusually productive. I can get up, go to bed and eat when I need to. The quiet, the lack of distraction and the ability to develop an unbroken train of thought have been fantastic for thinking and writing. I realise with amazement just how much time and energy other people - even with the best intentions in the world - draw from our reserves.

Now, for many people, and the accepted wisdom, that's a reasonable trade-off. Lots of people like and even need much higher levels of company and interaction. But I suddenly realise, with a blinding flash of light after all these years, that I am not one of them. I recall how solitary I was as a child, and how as an adolescent I invariably enjoyed my own company, and that of a book (not necessarily a good one, by any means), to that of my peers.

As a child, and as an adolescent you can generally absent yourself from family life without attracting much comment, in a way that you simply can't as an adult. Even to want to do so temporarily is viewed as somewhat pathological.

Coincidentally, I've been reading lately about people seeking ever greater quiet, or living isolated lives, and I've had an idea. What I would like to do is go up to the boat, by myself; stock up with provisions, and then go off to some little-frequented Fen or drain, drop the mudweights, and just stay there, completely alone, for a week or so, or until the milk goes off. Just to be alone with the quiet, and my thoughts. And maybe a book or ten. In the nicer weather would be better, so that I could sit outside. Even the landscape, there, is unobtrusive. To be able to notice ever smaller things, the things lost in the white noise of everyday life. To get to know myself again, like an old friend I've been too busy to keep in touch with for the last twenty five years.

Well, it sounds feasible to me, sitting here now. I wonder if it still will when I am no longer alone.

Friday, November 14, 2008


OK, so I'm back, although I haven't been away. I haven't been particularly more busy than usual, and I haven't got fed up with it, so I don't really know why my posting has been so sluggish of late. I think you'd have to go right back to the beginning, to the post free May of 2006, to find such a poor posting record.

Admittedly, these are quiet months boating wise, but that hasn't stopped me before. I could have written a review of Water Gypsies by someone whose name I've already forgotten, which I just took back to the library today. I could pass on Jim's reports of graining and varnish fumes. I could tell you about my last outing on Tarporley, although the fact that I know a number of the committee read this might constrain me from my habitual bitchy style, and thus take all the fun out of it. Nonetheless, here is the bare factual version:

There were four of us. Three had never worked a lock before so I had to do them all. It poured with rain. I got to steer for a bit but I didn't get to control the speed. We were going quite fast trying to get back before dark. This made steering extra difficult and I hit a bridge and missed the bend at Cumberland Basin. The others all found this quite amusing. When we got back to Kings Place we had picked up something major on the prop (subsequently discovered). And the wind got up, blowing us away from the mooring and onto the towpath. There were no long ropes. Eventually, by dint of tying ropes together, running dripping and muddy through Kings Place, and with the help of the friend of one of the crew who fortuitously happened to be a tug-of-war competitor, we got tied up after an hour and a half. Did I mention that it rained constantly?

Now, given that I am meant to be marketing officer, can I say that?

Or I could just burble on about nothing in particular. It couldn't be more boring than a blank page.... could it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Where do you think you've been?

I can't believe it's more than a week since I last posted. Nothing earth shattering has happened, it's true, but I have waved Jim off to Bill Fen with a long list of jobs (a list compiled by him, not me, I hasten to add); I have been out on another Tarporley training session which was sort of eventful, and very wet, and last night I was officially appointed to their committee as marketing officer. The meeting was held at the Wenlock Arms, which is a highly regarded real ale pub, which demonstrates the right priorities. In an early flush of enthusaism on their part, I was bought a pint or two and a half by other committee members.... some of whom read this blog, it turns out.

Mmm. Must try harder.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

High tide, low bridge

I noticed yesterday that the tide was particularly high as I walked to the station, but it was still a surprise to see this this morning. I suppose it's quite unusual for a boat like this to want to come so far up the river as most would be based in the marina further down, but there are boatyards and moorings all around Denton Island, so I guess that was where they were heading. They seemed a little put out at not being able to get under the bridge, pacing the deck and talking into a mobile. Normally, I'd imagine, they would have got under without any problem. This was at 10 o'clock, and the bridge was due to open at 10.30, presumably for a ship to come in as I couldn't see one waiting to go out. Perhaps they sneaked through then.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Meet the new...

... Marketing Officer of the Camden Canals and Narrowboat Association. Yep, as of last Tuesday I am officially a committee member with responsibility for marketing Tarporley both in its primary function as a facility for community groups, and also to private hirers to subsidise this core work. On the plus side, I know, from my previous political life, a bit about dealing with the media, writing press releases and so on. I guess I can scrub up and glad hand with the best of them. And I do of course bring terrifying enthusiasm to the job. On the other hand, I shall be on a very steep learning curve when it comes to identifying and working with community groups in London. There's also the rest of the committee and the organisation to get to grips with, and I need to have a few ideas worked out to report to the committee at the next meeting on Tuesday week.

But it will all be worthwhile because this Saturday I get my mitts on Tarporley again, when they are running another training session. Once my CRB check comes through I shall be able to go as crew on hirings and start to tick the things I can do off a list, and when I've ticked them all off (I think this is how it works) I can take a test and get qualified under the auspices of the Community Boating Association. With this qualification you can only skipper a maximim of twelve passengers, but the alternative is the MCA professional qualification which would be over the top, and presumably far too expensive for an organisation like CCNA. And probably not nearly as much fun. I've been very pleasantly surprised so far by how laid back it all is - no lifejackets, for example, thank goodness.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The ruin of many a poor boy

This, apparently, is where it all began, even before I was born; the slow but inexorable process that turned me from a mild mannered mum whose idea of exercise was turning the pages of a book, into the windlass wielding, rivet-counting boat groupie you see before you today.

It's 1960. A ruddy looking but inwardly nervous fourteen year old boy has, because of his father's job, just moved house for the third time in as many years. This time he's many miles away from the corner of Sussex where he grew up, and far from his friends and his newly-married older sister. He has just started his third year at secondary school, in his third new school in as many years: a new-fangled comprehensive, the biggest school in the country. Coming from a small old fashioned grammar school (although he didn't like that either), that's a bit of a shock to the system.

Missing the open Sussex countryside where he grew up, he gravitates towards the canal. He's never seen one before, but he's immediately fascinated. He sits on the bench outside the pub, every day after school, and watches the boats go by. Does he ever speak to them? He can't remember, but he was probably too shy. This is his abiding memory of his time in Berkhamsted; he can't remember where it was he lived, but he can remember watching the boats from the bench outside the Rising Sun.

Then after a year, it's time to move again, back to Sussex. He's pleased to go, but there's one thing he will miss. Maybe he doesn't realise at the time quite how much those boats will haunt him. He might not think about them for years on end, but some time, maybe forty years later, he will not only remember, but he'll do something about realising this dream he's always harboured, to own a boat like that.

And by then of course, he'll be married to me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jam 'Ole fun

Canal transport was a long time a-dying. It might be possible to date the start of its decline to the hubristic expansion of the Grand Union fleet in the 1930s - itself a response to a changing landscape. By the time the war was over, and the major fleets had been nationalised (compulsorily in the case of G.U.; voluntarily for others like FMC) it was clear which way the wind was blowing.

By the sixties there were no more big fleets, just some hardy individuals and a few small companies operating on what we would now call a new business model, picking up mainly short term contracts wherever they could. One of, if not the, last of these contracts was for the delivery of coal from Atherstone to a jam factory at Bull's Bridge - the famous Jam 'Ole. The ending of this contract in 1970 is generally taken to mark the very end of commercial canal carrying in Britain, certainly by narrow boat.

And sometimes, some people with old boats like to get together and re-enact this last journey, trying to preserve the techniques that would have been used for the efficient, and above all, quick, passage of locks and the handling of pairs of boats. Sometimes in the past they have annoyed people, for example, by not slowing down for moored boats, shock horror. This I wanted to see.

But then last year the organiser announced that he wasn't going to organise it any more. One of the reasons was that the former boatmen and women who had previously participated were becoming too old. I was very sad to hear this. And then earlier this year I read in the Historic Narrowboat Owners Club newsletter that someone else had taken on the mantle of organising the event, and that it would take place this year.

And so it came to be. In fact, this year's Jam 'Ole Run has been very small and low key, with only about eight boats taking part and, sadly for me, no pairs. However, Tom (for that is his name) is hoping to have a much bigger one in 2010, for the 40th anniversary.

Undaunted, we set off yesterday to try to catch up with the boats in a convenient spot and watch and drool from the towpath. It was of course quite hard to get up to date information about how far they had got, but we were confident of catching them if we got to Berkhamsted at lunchtime. This we duly did, and began to walk up the towpath. After three quarters of an hour, almost magically, a lock gate opened in front of us and we saw this:

Warbler and Stanton. It turned out that we had in fact missed all the other boats, and these two were behind having been delayed by engine problems. But what a stroke of luck for us! Ros and Phil and Laura and Peter accepted offers of assistance from two total strangers, lent us their windlasses and let us ride on their boats all afternoon. Ros even let me steer Warbler for a bit and I think Jim got a go on Stanton. The weather (unlike the previous day) was perfect. The only other boats we saw moving, both coming the other way, were also old boats, which made it almost perfect: Bletchley and Argus, the coal boats; and Hesperus towing Bude.

We jumped ship at Apsley at six o'clock, because I had to be back in London. Ros and co thanked us for our assistance, but I have to say that the pleasure was entirely ours.

There are some more photos here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How long has that been like that?

When we visited Warrior the other week we discovered a second thing that needed repairing following our grand tour. In order to paint the back cabin ceiling (the dark graining being such a hit that we decided to redo the lot), Jim disconnected the gear linkage. At which point he discovered that where the vertical lever connects to the gearbox itself, the rod was actually broken, and had just been sitting in the casting. To be honest, we have no idea how long it had been broken, but it might account for why we felt there was a bit of play in it, and I wasn't always definitely sure whether or not it was in gear (e.g. reverse when trying to stop).

There is a cast connection on the gearbox which is a cup, into which the vertical rod fits. This in turn is linked to the horizontal rod that runs along the cabin ceiling and terminates in the handle which we push and pull. The vertical rod is made of brass, and is threaded at its lower end; it screwed into the casting. It's broken at the top the thread.

The threaded part is pretty near impossible to remove, so the most likely solution will be to splint it with a smaller rod on the inside. Hopefully this will make the gear change more positive and definite.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Then two come along at once...

I went to a reception last night. It was for the relaunch of the Raphael Samuel History Centre. I'm not a historian, and I'm not really sure why I went, except that I thought there might be decent grub (there wasn't, although the wine was about two grades above the usual paintstripper).

But as the various speakers introduced the centre and what it does, and the archive and what it covers - among other things, East End history - light bulbs started to come on in my head. My first thought was, maybe they have some canal-related stuff. My second, when they started talking about their work with 10-14 year-olds, trying to get them interested in history, was could this be my first marketing success for the Camden Canals and Narrowboat Association. After the speeches I made a beeline for the education person and pitched her the idea of taking their schoolkids on a historic boat through historic east London. My geography, hazy at the best of times, was already sufferering the effects of the wine, but I managed to throw in casual mentions of Hackney and Limehouse and she seemed to think it was a great idea.

Then I was looking at the display boards about the historian's life and another woman engaged me in conversation about who I was and why I was there, so I mentioned my interest in that side of things, and she said, oh, you must meet my mother, her partner has a share in an ex-working boat. It turned out that her mother was there too! So I had a lovely chat with her (as far as it was possible to chat given the dreadful acoustic in the room; I was quite hoarse by the end). The boat in question was Fulbourne, which has long been a favourite of mine; I like its unshininess. Anna seemed quite keen for me to come along as a bit of female company next time she was out with the boat, which is a rather exciting prospect, if it comes off.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In order to be let loose on the Brownies of Camden, I've had to apply for a CRB check. No, I never thought I'd see the day either. The things we do for love. So far it has turned out to be relatively painless - although, as far as I can see, not particularly criminal-proof. I am also not inspired with confidence by the experience of a colleague who in response to his application was sent the details of someone with the same first name and surname, but different middle name, date of birth and address, and a record as long as his arm.

Nonetheless, I have found one cause for complaint in the guidance notes:

[Section C, Item 20, 'Surname at birth (if different)']
'If you have entered "Mrs" or "Ms" in Section A, Item 1 [i.e. 'title', in main name and address section], please enter your surname at birth, even if it is the same as provided at Section A, Item 2 [i.e. 'surname', in main name and address section]

The reasoning is presumably that people with the title Mrs or Ms are likely to have at some point been married, and most women, unnaccountably, still change their name upon marrying. So these are people who are likely to have changed their name at some point in their life. But the form allows for that by the wording 'name at birth (if different)'; there is also a section that asks for any other names you might have had over the course of your life. You'd think it was all covered. Secondly, there are lots of other people who might have changed their names, for all sorts of reasons, but they're not required to do this.

I can only conclude that the rationale is this: married women are not the only people who might have changed their name, but they are they only ones who are likely to have forgotten that they were once called something different and thus need to be required to write it down anyway.

There may be another reason, to do with the technicalities of the recording of a person changing their name on marriage, but in that case, why not say 'if you are a woman who is or has been married'? Or better still, why not just ask everyone for their 'surname at birth' and scrap the 'if different'. Then they would get the information they wanted about everyone without making married women a special case.

Making it dependent on the title they've entered in Section 1 is hardly foolproof anyway; these titles don't carry strict definitions. Married or not, I was always Ms (when someone demanded a title to fill in their box), whereas I know a divorced woman who calls herself Miss.

I know it's trivial, but these little things are symptomatic of an attitude that still needs challenging.

As it does say 'if different' and I have not entered either 'Mrs' or 'Ms' in Section A, Item 1, I have rather cheekily left Section C, Item 20 blank. I shall stick to the letter of the law, if they want to write the law so badly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The other Warrior returns

It turns out that my friend Andante Mike is a bit of a dark horse - ever since April he's been blogging Zulu Warrior and I only found out this morning from Granny Buttons. If Andrew adds it to the boatroll, it can snatch from Zindagi the prized place at the bottom of the alphabetical list, a position once held by Warrior, before another six boats (and four non-boat sites with 'water' in their names) intervened.

Mike only links to two other blogs at the moment and one of then is this one! In another little twist, having arrived at his new mooring at Middlewich, he finds Andante - once owned by him, and then by me, which is how we met; sold by me to one Captain Haddock (not, ahem, his real name), who changed her name to Saxon and sold her again - moored two miles away.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Such things as dreams are made of

For most boat bloggers, the dream come true is when they finally get the boat of their own. To be honest, that wasn't something I ever got much time to dream about; it just sort of crept up on me. Certainly, I've whiled away many happy hours thinking about how I would alter a boat, or wondering what it would be like to own this one, or that one. Certainly I dream of living on a boat again (for real this time), but that - at least for now - really is more of an idle dream than a realisable ambition type one.

But one desire that has long burned within me was, suddenly and unexpectedly, fulfilled yesterday. I GOT TO STEER A TOWN CLASS BOAT! OK, it wasn't a Big Woolwich (yes, totally irrational preference, I know), but it was the very next best thing. (Oh, it wasn't unconverted either, but at least I still have something to look forward to.)

This is how it happened.

Last Monday, less than a week ago, my friend and colleague Clementina was telling me about going to the opening of Kings Place, the (actually rather nice) new development at Kings Cross, which backs onto the canal and Battlebridge Basin; in particular about the trips they were running on, and the possibility of hiring, the Camden Community Narrowboat. Oh yes, I said; Tarporley, and reeled off a few of its vital statistics. I later sent her the photos of Warrior and Tarporley in the lock together last August. But I didn't know you could hire it privately, so I had a quick Google to check their website.

Before I knew it, I was clicking on the 'volunteers' link, and five minutes later, emailing them. Usually, when you email a voluntary organisation to offer your services, you hear nothing for weeks, if at all. I initially offered to help with admin and paperwork; and maybe a bit of cleaning so that I could actually get to touch the boat. I'd kind of thought that steering would be reserved for a time-served elite. Well, I got a reply within the hour, saying firstly, that they were looking for someone to help with marketing, and would I be interested in that - now that was a stroke of luck for a start, because that's something I reckoned I could probably make quite a good fist of. He went on to say that they had been planning a 'hands-on' day for Saturday, but that it had been cancelled owing to gearbox problems.

But then on Friday, an email arrived saying that the gearbox was fixed and the 'training day' was now back on. Such was my excitement I could hardly sleep that night. I turned up at the appointed hour, and made my way through the very swish cafe/box office area of Kings Place (I suppose it's no wonder I feel kindly disposed towards it) and out through another set of doors onto the canalside, where Tarporley has returned to its permanent mooring after an absence of three years. If you look at the aerial photo on their website, this would be on the right hand side. And there it was, large as life and with Dave sitting in the well deck. It turned out that because of the earlier cancellation, only one of the other new volunteers was able to come, and as the second crew member called in sick at the last minute, there was only Dave, Kerryn and me. How enourously fortunate was that, from our point of view? To cap it all, the sun shone all day.

Our training trip took us from Battlebridge to Little Venice, taking in four locks and the Maida Hill tunnel. As Kerryn had very little previous boating experience and none of manual locks, I did the locks on the way out. When we got to Little Venice and were about to tie up in the Pool (in the privileged spot where it says 'No unauthorised mooring'), there was a brief crisis when Dave put it in reverse and the throttle stuck. This was eventually remedied with a sharp kick, but not before I'd seen my chance of steering flash before my eyes.

I got there in the end though, and I was in heaven. I had warned Dave that my steering was generally reckoned to be fairly abysmal, but the practice has obviously done me some good as at least I knew what to do. In fact, it was no more difficult, technically, and possibly even easier, than steering Warrior. Where it was harder was in simple terms of the physical force and strength required. At first Dave was handling the controls and I just the tiller, but I asked if I could have a go of the controls, and once he let me do that, and I could actually stand comfortably on the step instead of behind him, it was a bit easier. I liked the gear wheel a lot once I got the hang of hauling it round; the speedwheel was sort of familiar, but turns the opposite way to Warrior's, and there's a lot more play before it starts to take effect, and rather less after. But I was very pleased by how quickly I made the transition, and it didn't feel at all odd handling this great beast of a boat once I got myself comfortable.

Does life really get much better than steering a Big Northwich through Camden Lock on a sunny Saturday afternoon?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Do I really need a dishwasher?

It has been my wont, in the past, top be sniffy about people who require all mod cons on their boats. My venom has, however, been somewhat muted when it has come to the subject of dishwashers. Not because I would ever have one on a boat, but because I have long had, and sworn by, one at home, and it would be hypocritical to criticise someone who was living on a boat for having one in their home.

Now, however, I am not so sure. Since going off on Warrior in August, I seem to have developed a taste for washing up by hand. I can see many advantages. You don't need so many plates, mugs and glasses if you wash them up three at a time rather than waiting until the dishwasher is full. There is no doubt (and here I am recanting a long-asserted claim) that often, for a range of reasons, the dishwasher doesn't actually get things clean. And after a while it leaves watermarks on glasses. The very filthiest things have to be soaked and scrubbed anyway. As for the environmental impact - I have clung perilously to the argument that used in certain ways, a dishwasher can be more economical in terms of time and energy than hand washing. But the circumstances in which this is true are surely very limited. When you wash up by hand, you alsio have a sinkful of hot soapy water to wash down the worktop and wipe the table, so avoiding running the tap and using sprays. Lastly, I found I actually really didn't like the task of emptying the dishwasher and putting the stuff away. Too much at once. Whereas a few bits on the draining rack can be popped away while waiting for the kettle to boil, efficiently drained and without dribbles of cold rinsing water running down your arm. No filters to clean, no expensive salt/rinse aid/tablets to buy; another 600mm of space in the kitchen. Truly, I am a dishwasher apostate.

This would be the latest in a long line of kitchen appliances I have decided I can do without, mostly since taking up boating. First to go was the microwave, when I needed the counter space for an enamel breadbin purchased at my first IWA Festival. Not missed at all. Then the toaster, when it fused the house for the last time. If the grill's good enough to make toast on the boat, it's good enough at home. The TV (not a kitchen appliance, I know, at least not in my house) went four years ago when we concluded that the programmes weren't worth the price of the licence - it was an experiment, but it worked. The tumble drier wasn't replaced when it gave up the ghost - I always felt a bit guilty about that anyway.

Now we are also seriously wondering if we actually need a freezer. Our old fridge freezer is very scabby looking and no doubt highly inefficient, so we are keeping our eyes open for a newer second hand fridge. We were planning to get a separate freezer, but... all there is in there at the moment is half a packet of peas. Would we miss the ice cubes and ice cream in the summer? With a small supermarket five minutes' walk away, could we find a better use for the space and the electricity?

That then led me to think, what else might we do without? A cooker is, I think, pretty vital, and a washing maching would be hard to do without. Ditto a fridge - I didn't have one on Andante and it's the one thing I really did feel the lack of. Our electric kettle is over ten years old and still going strong (Rowenta, if you're interested). I'd like to think I'd have a stove top one when the time came to replace it, but it would probably cost at least six times as much. I bought an electric kettle for the office in Woolworths a while ago for less than a fiver. It's obscene, I know, but it's also a perfectly adequate kettle.

But there's one kitchen appliance I don't think I will ever give up, and it's one many might think would be low down the list of essentials. It's also the one thing where I would never accept an inferior imitation: my Magimix. My first one was bought for 50p at a jumble sale. When the lid (always the weak point) broke, I couldn't replace it because the model was obsolete. I was all set to fork out £200 for a new one, but then I found a second hand one in the local paper and got it for £85 - brand new and with all the peripherals. The thing with Magimixes, that makes them superior to other food processors, is that they not only have very powerful motors (that's why they're so heavy and so expensive) but also that they're direct drive: no gears to wear out. I use mine nearly every day, from making breakfast smoothies through teatime cakes, to chopping onions and pureeing soup. I could live without it, but I'm glad I don't have to. Yet.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


One of the many things in this month's Canal Boat that made me shout, or in this case, emit an agonised yelp. It should have been a helpful article about the BSS - but it's written to be shock horror sensationalist rather than useful, and in the sanctimonious tone that is my especial bugbear.

What the caption should have said, of course, is 'Old stove needs to be thoroughly overhauled and repaired before being refitted correctly at a safe distance from walls protected by heatproof board.' Then I would have just sighed contentedly.

That stove is lovely. The idea that it should be scrapped just because it's 'old' and 'loose fitting' is wicked. Maybe it does have other, irreparable faults - but they're not mentioned. Instead readers are told by implication that 'old' is by definition dangerous and only 'new' is safe - and the majority will believe it, or at least will take the easiest, least thought provoking, route to peace of mind.

Life is so depressing sometimes.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Monday, October 06, 2008

It's Mystery Photo time!

It was Jim's birthday last week. I bought him a magnet. My sister sent him this card, which bears the amusing caption Mind the swans! but no information as to its whereabouts. All I can say is that I don't think it's somewhere we've been; it doesn't look immediately familiar. Over to you.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


Through the good offices of CWF (I know, I really should get out more) I learn that my beloved Gazelle is based (very closely, it would appear) on a steam tunnel tug called Buffalo. Someone was so kind as to find me a photo of the original, clearly admiring itself in the mirror. And why not.

Friday, October 03, 2008

My favourite graffiti

On the Regent's Canal, August 2008

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mists and mellow etc

Taking a wander around the marina on my way to the shops on Saturday morning, I didn't take the camera with me. But I had my phone, which now I'm getting the hang of it, isn't at all bad in that respect. So lots of scenic autumnal pictures in store, if nothing more exciting happens. I'm rationing them to one a day as things are likely to be a bit slow at the moment.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Bird's eye view

We can't keep away. Jim only came back a week ago yesterday, but last weekend we were off to Ramsey again. On Friday we noticed a helicopter circling overhead but thought little of it - until Lyn told us that it had been hired by Mark to take aerial photos of the marina. There are a couple on their website but the best one is on the homepage here - just scroll down (and maybe across a bit). At the bottom out on the river (that's the High Lode) you can see the paint dock, looking rather better than when I photographed it as a rather tatty looking wooden frame. To find Warrior, go in the entrance to the marina, and turn right into the oblong basin. As you go in, that's Warrior second on your left, next to the short Springer. Beyond that basin is the caravan site, but the lovely CL is that round bit that sort of intrudes into the marina, with the carp pond surrounded by trees. It is a nice spot.

The first thing I did on arrival was to look at Jim's graining in the back cabin, and I am very pleased (and relieved) to be able to report that I like it a great deal, and we have decided that all the graining in the back cabin will now be redone in the darker shade, with the exception of the panels with the roses in. I didn't take any photos though, fool that I am. I think we might well also grain the bathroom, framing the roses in painted softwood moulding first. The elastoplast pink is rather wearing after a while, and also in places very tatty. There's no way we would paint over the roses, so whatever we decide to do we have to find some way to go around them. I think it would look rather nice grained, as it's another small space.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Long after the cost is forgotten

But is Gazelle worth £118,000; that is the question. But actually, it isn't, because to answer that question, first we need to know the answer to this one: what does 'worth' mean?

According to the market theory of value, it's pretty simple. Something is worth whatever someone else is prepared - and able - to pay for it. On that measure, and judging by the length of time it's been for sale, Gazelle probably isn't worth quite that much. On this measure, the value of an object is affected by a range of factors other than its intrinsic qualities: the state of the economy; the right person being around at the right time and having the money; the availability of credit, and what else is available at the time (competition). My guess would be that on this measure, with credit harder to get, people having less disposable income, and upwards of a thousand narrowboats being available to purchase, Gazelle's value is probably falling rapidly.

Yet how - except to the blindest classical economist - can this be the case, when its intrinsic qualities haven't altered one whit? How can the unwillingness of international banks to lend each other money affect the beauty and the workmanship of a boat sitting on the Oxford Canal? Market forces may be a great way of establishing the price of something, but some people would say that there's more than that to value.

There are alternative economic perspectives. I'm not enough of an economist to know them inside out, but they do throw up some interesting ways of looking at the question. When people think about buying a new boat, they are prepared to take into account the cost of the raw materials, and the cost of x hours' labour at £y per hour; they may also accept that there is a premium on this labour cost for the investment the builder has made in training and acquiring the necessary skills. People who think about it a bit more will also realise that there must be an element of covering overheads, and of investing in the facilities and equipment necessary to do the job.

This sets the price for a new boat; which in turn is the largest factor in establishing the price of second hand boats. But there isn't necessarily a direct relationship between the two. For example, the steel required to build a new boat today is vastly more expensive than it was five years ago. This usually serves to drive prices up at the middle and lower ends of the second hand market in relation to their original costs, but the nearer the top end of the market you get, the less the proportion of the cost is represented by the raw materials, and the more by the skill of the builder. It's relatively easy to price the cost of labour, and even the investment that has gone into developing that labour.

Far harder is to put a price on the rarity value of the skill (you might call it talent, or even artistry) of someone like Ian Kemp; there probably aren't many more than half a dozen people in the country who could have built that boat. But does that matter when 99.9% of potential buyers don't appreciate it; either can't see it or don't value it? (And the 0.1% can't afford it.)

In most markets it's considered a point of honour to pay as little you can get away with; to be constantly suspicious that you're being taken for a ride; to seek to shave pennies of every bill even when the marginal cost is insignificant. Which is rather sad.

If I had a hundred grand to spend on a boat, would I really buy this one? Actually, I would probably buy an old boat still, despite knowing in my heart that that would be a load of trouble. But I would be very sorely tempted. Certainly, if it was a choice between Gazelle and another second hand boat in that price range; no competition (assuming that the engine, which I believe is a Gardner, was OK). And between that and commissioning a new boat? Well, that money wouldn't get me near a new boat that good, so seeing as I'd be saying 'I want one exactly like that, please (only maybe a little bit shorter)', I think Gazelle would win all round on price, time and hassle. But sadly I didn't get a £100,000 Boat Token for my birthday, so it must remain academic.

I may be talking absolute rubbish of course - if there are any economists reading this I'd love to hear from you.