Saturday, May 31, 2008


At long last today we played host to Carl and Sean, our next door neighbours from home. We'd nearly got all the brass finished by the time they arrived. They were delighted with the Bill Fen CL, and we were impressed with their new caravan.

Of course, we went out for a boat trip. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we thought we'd better make the most of it and set off straight away, making and eating sandwiches on the way. We went out onto the Nene Old Course and past Floods Ferry, where Carl and Sean came with the caravan once. All were agreed that it's not what it was, and Carl in particular took a dim view of the addition of static caravans. Then we turned round and came back past the marina and on into Ramsey to introduce them to the delights of the Rainbow before returning to Bill Fen. On the way back Carl got me into Bad Ways, and we were both sitting on the foredeck trailing our feet in the water. It was lovely. So nice to feel the sun on my back at last.

It's just getting dark now, after a beautiful delicate pink sunset, as I write this; Jim is asleep, and I'm sitting in the back cabin with the doors open, listening to the plaintive, demanding calls of the peacocks. Earlier we saw a kingfisher, not just the usual fleeting glance, but over and over as he flew and settled, looking just like one in a picture book, and flew and settled again, always just a little ahead of us. And there was a hawk, hovering low and completely stationary as we went past, again, the closest I've ever seen one.

Carl and Sean are hooked, of course.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ready for inspection

Carl and Sean arrive tomorrow. Their house is spotless. Their cats are impeccably trained. And sleek. When Carl feeds our cats while we're away, Jim always makes sure to wash the kitchen floor first. Carl has a very damning way of describing people as 'a stranger to bleach.'

Ever since we first got Helyn, Carl has followed our boating progress with great interest. He is the only other person I know personally who has not only watched all of Narrow Boat, but also Locks and Quays (which I've never seen). A lot of honour is at stake here. This is why we had to come up a day early in order to get all the brass done and the whole boat shipshape. It has taken me all day to do the back cabin, but I have polished everything. I have washed don all the walls and scrubbed the floor. I have blacked the stove. And coiled the rope. I've also removed the blue velvet-upholstered fitted cushions, and am now sitting on the bare grained side bed. It looks so much better, I don't know why I didn't think of it before. The cushions required for the bed all (just) fit in the bed cupboard, so I think it can stay this way. It's so much more practical, as well as looking brighter and less cluttered. The side bed is used far more as shelves than seating anyway.

Really, we should have a visit from Carl and Sean every spring - it's such a great incentive for getting ready for the summer.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The river at Lewes

We went into Lewes last night. Ostensibly, we were going to check out the Snowdrop, our formerly absolute favourite pub, now under new management having gone downhill and being closed for a while.

We didn't need to go in though; the sign outside saying 'DJ tonite'; the tracksuited clientele getting out of their souped up Astras outside, and the range of shiny new lager taps glimpsed through the window were sufficient to prevent us wasting our time and energy (and hope. Farewell Snowdrop; you were a lovely pub, but to everything its season. I wonder what's happened to the bust of Plato, latterly covered in glitter, which used to grace the window.)

However, my main reason for driving into Lewes, rather than patronising the Prince of Wales, our genuinely local local down the road, was that I wanted to get a closer look at this narrowboat moored on the Ouse near the pub, which previously I had only seen from the train. Walking a little way back along the main road Baz and I were able to find a path down the riverbank, from where we could just about see the boat. More exciting was to recognise the scene from that picture I mentioned a while back of a sailing barge in the early sixties. We were standing at almost exactly the same spot as from where that picture was taken. The gasometer has disappeared from the background, but much else remains the same, and the narrowboat is, I think, tied up to the same wharf as the barge was. How they get on and off other than at high tide is a bit of a mystery, but I must say I do envy them a bit. They're almost in the heart of Lewes, secluded from the road and pretty much the only boat on the river.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Magic smoke

Moominpapa, I'm sure he will not mind me saying, is a very very clever person. He programmes big computers and he understands eckeltricity. He explained to Jim that electrical devices (and possibly some other sorts) work because of magic smoke. All is well as long as the magic smoke is contained within the device. But sometimes there is a bang or a phut and you can see the magic smoke escape. Then the thing doesn't work any more. That's the kind of electricity I understand.

I bought a 12v car charger for my beloved phone. I tried it on the boat, and it didn't work. Oh dear, I thought, obviously duff, shouldn't have bought a cheap one. Although it was proper Nokia I bought it cheap on the internet, deriving some unjustified comfort from the fact that the supplier was based in Eastbourne, i.e. local, despite the fact that I kept no record of their address or contact details. So when I was in Maplins last week, I bought another one; a universal one this time that will charge everyone's phones. This time we tested it in the car first and it was fine. Got to the boat, plugged it in, went phut and the magic smoke escaped - saw it happen that time. That had me worried of course, that there was something wrong with our 12v system (although the vacuum cleaner worked fine, at least as fine as you'd expect a 12v one to work, and so did a little LED light we have).

So I asked Moominpapa. He said, maybe the polarity is the wrong way round. That immediately made sense, because for all these things we've been using an adapter, from our three-pin sockets to a car-type one, and of course the three pin plug was wired the wrong way round. MP demonstrated this by poking it with Jim's multimeter, and I then put it right. Next time I visit Maplins I will buy a third 12v charger and hope for the best.

Jim, who has missed his vocation as a careers adviser, is determined that Moominpapa should retire from crunching the human genome and become a boat electrician.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Shiny shiny stripey stripey

Warrior is all shiny. Out it sailed from the paint dock on Saturday morning... I stayed behind to pull the dock back in to the bank - you have to swing it out to get a boat in - and walked back along the bank, alongside warrior. The boat looked fantastic, and I had such a brilliant view, from above, at the top of the steep bank ... without the bloody camera. We trundled over to the pumpout, where I did get a picture, but nothing like the view from the bank. Then we went off for a little run, up the Nene Old Course as far as the junction with Whittlesey Dyke. For those unfamiliar with the terrain, it's not like a canal where you can just hop on and off; the banks are high and steep (and private); it's pretty hard to stop anywhere, so no photo-opportunities here either.

It has not all been quite plain sailing. Wandering around the boat for about the sixteenth time in the paint dock on Friday, cooing admiringly, I suddenly let out a little squawk. 'What is it?' cried Jim. 'Nothing, nothing', I said desperately, but he wasn't fooled. I had to break the news that where there was a one-inch gap between the two panel-framing vertical stripes, there should in fact have been a four-inch gap. There was much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the weekend but I think the final upshot is that if there is time, it will be redone. It's an absolute bastard, but it'll be the right thing for the long term. That painting's going to be there a long time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Paint progress

I'm back in Ramsey and I've bought the horrible weather with me, contrary to what the forecast for here promised. Still, no matter that it's freezing and pouring with rain, because Jim has done an amazing job over the last ten days with the painting. I really can't believe the time and effort that's gone into the three extra undercoats and the three topcoats, including stripes that had to be masked separately with every coat; the handrail, the hatches various, the elephant's toenails at the front and loads of other bits, in this paint dock which must have been like a greenhouse in last week's heat. So naturally I was very impressed when I turned up last night.

Work continues; even as I write Jim is giving a second coat to the roof hatches. These are red; I'm not 100% sure about the red myself (shades of the saga of the injectors); it has turned out to be a particularly virulent vermilion which is great for the handrail but perhaps best in small doses, but he likes it and as he's done all the work, who am I to argue. I am certainly more sawyed by the argument that he likes it than by the other one he's proffered, which is that we've got a whole tin of red paint and need to use it somehow...

This morning I helped mask up the fore end with some special bendy tape I bought on the offchance. We are going to have the name on there (sorry Dave); technically we need it for the Thames and it'll be nice to have it done properly. I think it should look nice too. I'm not quite sure what the objection was; whether it was a matter of aesthetics or convention, but I can't really see a problem on either front.

Anyway, having done that I was ceremonially handed a tin of blacking and an old brush and reminded of my vocation. All very well but this was the final inch and a half of two year old blacking, with the consistency of black treacle - until I got it slapped onto the boat, when it suddenly developed the ability to run quite fantastically. Still, I know my place, and didnt rest until the entire contents of the tin (at least, those that still moved about) were transferred to the hull. I have a feeling that were this boat's steel to mysteriously be vapourised by some kind of alien deathray (hmm, apart from the baseplate) it would continue to be perfectly serviceable as a boat made entirely from paint and blacking.

Tomorrow we vacate the paint dock - which has actually worked very well. Then at last I'll be able to see Warrior properly, from a distance, in all its new glory. And be able to light the fire.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

What's happening then?

It's not that there's nothing happening; it's just that I'm not there, my presence having been required elsewhere last week (and this). A lot is happening, in terms of painting, but communication links between here and Ramsey (well, between Ramsey and anywhere, to be honest) are not excellent; however, the latest update is that Jim finished three coats of undercoat yesterday and this morning started preparing for the topcoat. All the undercoat is black, which was thus relatively simple, but the top coats are black and grey, so that will be rather more complex. It's a bit too hot really for doing it, and I imagine that the paint dock is like a tomato house. He started painting yesterday at five in the morning.

I'm kicking myself for bringing the digital camera home and not leaving it with him. It was because the batteries had run out, but of course he could have got some there. It's a little bit of a walk to the shops but Moominpapa has been lending Jim his car!

We decided that it wasn't worth my going back up to visit this weekend, but I will go on Thursday, and then we'll both come back tomorrow week. Then at the end of the month, Carl and Sean are bringing their caravan to the Bill Fen CL, so we'll be back up there then, hopefully to take them on a little boat trip. They've been listening to us going on about the boats for so long, it's about time they actually got to see it in the flesh. It would be nice to think we might even get the signwriting done by then, but I'm not sure how and when John will be able to fit us in for that.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Twenty Questions

Don't you love those questionnaire things that celebrities (or worthies, depending upon your publication of choice) answer in the Saturday and Sunday papers? Don't you always go through them answering the questions yourself? Or is that just me?

Well, as he reported on his own blog, Granny Buttons' Andrew is the respondent to this month's Canal Boat Twenty Questions. Naturally miffed at not being asked myself (I didn't get a column either, grr), I swore that I would answer the self same questions here, and would like to suggest that other boat bloggers do likewise.

One little thing though, just to make it more interesting (and less arduous, and with less risk of copyright infringement), I thought I would just put my answers here, and not reproduce the questions. So you can either read it in conjunction with your well thumbed copy of Canal Boat, or, if you like an element of mystery, you can guess at what the questions might have been. You may even find it amusing to mix up the questions and answers randomly. I recall this was something I used to find unconscionably funny as a child. The answer 'Wiping it with bread' can still reduce me to helpless laughter. So here goes:

1. The Huddersfield. Stunning views and seventy-four lovely locks.
2. The Nene. Pretty views and thirty-something horrid locks.
3. Someone calm and quiet who doesn't shout.
4. Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris. Random library choice.
5. Dawn.
6. Daily Mail readers.
7. Now. But second choice, the thirties. For the boats, obviously, but also the silk underwear.
8. I'm afraid I haven't, yet.
9. Barrister.
10. Have more money but be much poorer.
11. Generally superior to a random cross section of society.
12. Beer. Of course. Mind you, I had a bath once, and that was nice.
13. Bloody minded boaters.
14. Are you lost?
15. Portholes.
16. Pump out (but it won't fit in my Walkman)
17. Canals. Rivers are pretty, but canals are canals.
18. On a boat.
19. Too early to say.
20. The ability to steer.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Suddenly, it's summer

Suddenly, it's still light at 9pm (granted, BST); not only that, but I'm out in the garden in a sleeveless vest, feeling only slightly chilly, hanging out the last of the woolly socks and tights for the year. It's been a long time coming, but surely, at last, summer has arrived.

Baz and I drove back from Ramsey this afternoon, leaving Jim up there, brave and carless, to make a start on the painting. It now looks as if the paint dock won't be vacated until Wednesday, but it'll still be worth it. Kevin and Vicky are in there at the moment with Star, which is looking lovely. They painted it themselves, and Black Boat John (for that is the name by which everyone calls him) has done the signwriting, and we're very impressed with it. We'd seen a lot of his work around the place, obviously, but most of it was in a style we didn't really like - too fancy, or novelty-ish. But Star's signwriting is very plain, exactly how we want ours, and it's fantastic; not too perfect; just right. So it looks as if we will be getting him to do Warrior.

After looking at lots (and lots and lots) of boats we have decided to go for just two framed panels on the cabinside - rather than two written ones and two smaller empty ones, or some other combination. After waving Jim off to the Rainbow this morning to stock up with food for his sojourn, Baz and I equipped ourselves with tape measure, pencil and 2" masking tape to see how it might look. Imagine the tape line in black, on a dark grey background, with cream and black signwriting and a red handrail...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I can not believe this...

We have had a lovely day. We went off happily this morning to the RN open day, there to meet Steve who is returning our pistons, liners and con rods. It was a bit disappointing to discover that Compo wasn't there but apparently he has been getting his knees done too. But it was nice to meet up again with Brian and Allister and David of RN, and drink some rather nice bottle conditioned specially brewed RN beer. There was a barbecue too, at first just inside the works, until it got a bit smokey. The works was looking pristine and Brian's speech made it sound as if there are exciting hings happening there. For a start they are in the process of producing an engine which isn't destined for a boat, but for a domestic combined heat and power unit, that will run on almost any sort of oil. I do think it's still a bit optimisic though, to think that we'll all be able to run our boats on chip fat and waste engine oil, because once the raw suff has run out, I think we'll be at the end of the queue for the substitutes.

Then Steve followed us back to Bill Fen and finally saw and heard the engine in action, and stayed and chatted for a while, then Kevin and Vicky came over, and then Simon and Anne (the Moomins), and then Steve went home and we went over to Melaleuca to look at Simon's engine and couldn't drag Jim away. Then finally we came back to Warrior, sat down with a cup of tea, and I said, did we get our bits back off Steve before he went then?

Did we buggery.

Now how the hell did we manage to forget that, the entire point of the exercise? It kind of puts forgeting oner liner in the shade.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Brasso Boy

And it's raining, although it was sunny when we arrived. Quiet sounds of cheering have reached us over the course of the afternoon, from the boules tournament, and Sebastian has been over and reported that there is a marquee, with beer (and, Jim adds, cider, which Baz is quite partial to) and a large barbecue waiting to be fired up. Slightly worryingly, this was before the heavens opened so I'm not sure what the barbecue situation is now. Also, we forgot to bring Baz's sleeping bag or quilt, but he assures us that he will be all right with two blankets.

As Steve is coming to look at the engine tomorrow, the first job was to clean and polish the engine room, and the engine itself. I bravely led the way, and polished about two things, before generously allowing Baz to take over. He has done all the brass and copper and Jim is now in there doing the engine, I think. I have to do the blog now because Brasso Boy needs the laptop on so that he can charge his ipod.

Friday, May 02, 2008


Well, tomorrow we're off, for Bill Fen fun, RN open day and painting. We won't be going in the new car:

because I've just spent an hour banging my head on the keyboard failing to insure it.
Instead, we will be taking the old car:

To ensure my stress levels don't drop too low, the local evangelical church, two doors down, is hosting a discotheque, just to let us know that summer has finally arrived, and I'm knackered from shifting tons and tons of stuff/crap/heirlooms about.

I am self-medicating with chocolate.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


I don't really do proud or ashamed to be British - for a start, Britishness is an artificial, political construct that it's hard to feel any affinity with (Englishness, on the other hand, with its cultural and linguistic hinterland, I'm quite fond of).

But last night I saw something that I did feel ashamed to be associated with, no matter how tenouously:That's a fifty per cent increase, overnight, on an already outrageous charge for facilities that are mediocre at best. But it gets worse. To compound the obscenity a hundredfold, there was this:

Now, when CCTV was first introduced, you might have been one of those people who thought it was a good idea; that it would catch major criminals, rescue kidnapped children, deter rapists, and all in all make your world a safer place. On the other hand, you might have been a sceptic from the start, concerned about the civil liberties implications of the growing surveillance society.

But either way, did you ever, in your wildest dreams or your worst nightmares, foresee the day when the technology would be deployed to terrify little old ladies into paying six bob to have a wee?

And it was sad and frustrating to see people practically queuing up to fed their notes into the change machine, and their change into the insatiable maw of the turnstile. Is there no human need so basic that a profit can't be turned from it? Will I have the nerve to continue sneaking in without paying (as an act of political defiance, of course, not meanness)? Well, I'm pretty sure there are no new CCTV cameras, and I never got caught before - and it would make an interesting test case (micturition martyrs, anyone?).

What everyone ought to do - male and female, young and old - is just stop outside the turnstiles and piss on the bloody concourse.

But we won't of course.
Because we're British.