Monday, June 30, 2008


No trailing fenders

No bowthrusters

No ropes on tiller pins

No semi trads

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bated breath and bitten nails

Not exactly; I've never been a nail biter. I may be bating my breath, but as I have no idea what that actually means, I can't say for sure. What is certain is that I am in a state of somewhat nervous anticipation, for Warrior's signwriting has commenced today, and I am (quick Google) 157 miles away and unable to see it. Now, of course we agreed, long ago, what sort of scheme we wanted. And then changed it and agreed again, and again, and again. It went from very fancy with red and blue, to very plain in cream and black.

Jim went up to Ramsey on Wednesday to rub it down so that John could do a final topcoat, including moving that errant border three inches; that is now done. Right up to the last minute, Jim has been having new ideas. One, that 'Warrior' should be written in a fancier style than the rest, i.e. with serifs (thanks Tony Lewery!), and two, that there should be a vertical panel of diamonds at the end of the painted part of the cabin. Both of these I can see could work, but last minute changes always make me uncomfortable... I am desperately fighting my control freak tendencies.

I probably won't see it now before we go up at the end of July to set off on our hols. I'll have to start a countdown soon. But in the meantime, I have the most splendid treat to look forward to. Guess where I'm going tomorrow...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Slow progress

Now, I would not wish in any way to mock, or indeed to sit in judgement upon, those people whose idea of fun is doing a jigsaw puzzle. But. Oh my god, what is the point? It's the same with Airfix models. All that eyestrain, fiddling about, losing bits, cat knocking it off the table when it's nearly done... when you could get a much better result, and cheaper, buying a ready made Hawker Hurricane/boat picture/etc.

I can see the value and the satisfaction in creating something from scratch, a picture, whether a drawing or a photograph; or a model made from raw materials. But to spend so much time and effort reassembling something that has been created and disassembled for that very purpose strikes me at the very apogee of pointless activity.

So why the hell am I doing it then? Very reasonable question. I've started, so I have to finish it. I won't let it beat me. And that, I suspect, is how these things - which surely can't be inherently enjoyable - become grimly addictive. It's the competitive side of it. Who can have the most, the best, the most accurate model aeroplanes? Who can do that 5000 piece Mondrian jigsaw?

You will notice that I have done the interesting bits first. The foliage is going to be really trying. And I must confess to having had some help from Sebastian, especially with the patterns adjacent to the name, which were getting me very disorientated.

It might have looked like a bargain, at 89p in Help the Aged, but once I started peeling the labels off, I discovered that at some previous point, I might have purchased it in the PDSA shop for 49p. Missed it that time around. Might have been no bad thing if I had this time too. At least I wouldn't be cross eyed now.

Epilogue. When we were children and were given jigsaws by kindly but unimaginative relatives, we would complete them - I think my mother probably did most of the work - and then she would turn them over and number each piece sequentially before taking them apart again. Then we would do them again at a later date, which this time entailed just sifting through looking at the numbers and sorting the pieces into order. I hadn't thought about this for thirty years, but now suddenly realise how completely mad this was. Baz, on the other hand, as a child, would refuse even to look at the picture on the box when doing a puzzle, having got the idea from somewhere that this constituted cheating. I think it can safely be said that as a family, we just don't get jigsaws.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Out of context

Look what caught my eye in the charity shop window on my way home this afternoon.

They were shut, but I shall go back in the morning and buy it. I haven't done a jigsaw for ages. Or a jigsaw puzzle, come to that.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Trans-Pennine ramble

When I lived in Huddersfield, I occasionally used to visit Manchester, which entailed catching a First Trans-Pennine Express train. There's a clue in the name there, but I never spotted it until my last (possibly last ever) visit to Huddersfield, when I actually travelled up via Manchester (instead of the more usual Wakefield or Leeds). I didn't consciously choose to, it's just the way the tickets came.

Now, I did remember that there's a long tunnel on this route, just outside Huddersfield. I remember in particular because one time the lights failed and we traversed the whole thing in pitch darkness. But last time, I happened to be looking out of the window as we approached, and saw a strangely familiar sight: a BW sign saying 'Standedge Tunnel: Diggle Portal' (no Andrew, it didn't have a colon in it; that's just a device for showing it was on a different line). And a canal, of course. Well, what my fellow passengers thought of me loudly going 'D'oh' and slapping my forehead, I can't say... but of course we were in the railway tunnel which runs parallell to, and is at various points linked with, the canal tunnel.

All my previous train crossings, of course, had been before we made the trip by boat, which might account for my never having made the connection. Even by train, it seemed a long way. I looked out to see if I could see anything, but the train was too well lit inside (this time) and moving too fast. We emerged at Marsden, and there were the tugs and the visitor centre (with a rather ominous 'To Let' sign on it).

I believe that one of the reasons that you're still not allowed to take your own boat through Standedge is that Railtrack object, on the grounds that you could hop off half way through and nip through one of the adits for a little light sabotage. That would seem to me to be an awfully roundabout way of going about things, not to mention slow on the getaway front, but who am I to argue with the counter-terrorism expertise of Railtrack.

Shall I digress? These days, it's suicide bombers we're meant to be trashed about, no? (as J.G. Ballard says in one of his dystopian epics (I don't think I shall be reading the others), people are at their most dangerous when they have nothing left to believe in except god). So why are we still getting our knickers in a twist about unattended luggage? The whole point of being a suicide bomber is that you don't need to leave your bomb unattended. In fact it would defeat the object rather if you did. By the same token, there is no justification for getting rid of litter bins. People just leave their litter neatly stacked somewhere, we're used to seeing that, so that's where you could leave your bomb, if it was of the unattended type. The fact that we now have nowhere proper to put our litter, meaning that a whole generation of children has missed out on the Keep Britain Tidy message that made such an impression on me in the 1970s and now think it's OK to drop stuff where they stand, is the terrorists' first and greatest victory.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fender etiquette

Feeding incestuously of other bloggers' efforts again (but I started it, so that's OK), Granny has posted again about the Naval Warriors. He was particularly tickled by this extract from a comment left by one of the Navy personnel who hired one of the boats:

Tickles me, thinking back, how we used without any hint of embarrassment to keep to the naval way of doing things.

Fenders were brought inboard on leaving the wall - woe betide any helmsman caught proceeding down the cut with fenders out: the penalty being to buy the first round at the first 'up spirits' stop - 8 pints, probably cost something like GBP2:40 in total then.

Now, is it just the jargon that's considered arcane, or the actual practice of removing fenders when cruising? Because I've always considered that to be good practice, and rather looked down on people chugging along with their side fenders trailing in the water - or even dangling just shy of it. I assume it's side fenders we're referring to here; the sort of things that 'real' narrow boats, unless I'm very much mistaken, never had.

Warrior's fenders live in front and back lockers, and only come out when moored to a rough wall or noisy piling, or tied to another boat, or sometimes when sharing a lock with the sort of boat whose owners look like they might appreciate not getting too intimate with our blacking. At other times, I feel much happier with them out of the way of the risk of getting snagged in locks, collecting debris and generally looking untidy. I've always viewed cruising with side fenders down as a solecism on a par with hanging the rope on the tiller pin; the preserve, of course, of Daily Mail readers who own semi-trads with bowthrusters.

There. That'll find out who my friends are.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Book review: The Boat Girls

Yes, I know, not Isambard's Kingdom, at least not yet. Despite some interesting snippets (Eton College unsuccessfully tried to get an injunction to stop the Great Western stopping at Slough because they feared the boys would escape; coots only feed one of their young) the style was just so boring, I couldn't take it in large doses. Maybe I will return to it in snippets. In the meantime, I have collected Minnow on the Say, but haven't dared open it yet, for fear of disappointment.

My usual practice, on visiting the library, is to randomly select half a dozen books from the paperback fiction section, and see what I've got when I get home. That way I occasionally uncover something brilliant that I would never have looked at otherwise (J.G. Farrell's Troubles comes to mind), I usually get something sufficiently mindlessly engaging for the train, and sometimes of course, tomes that are completely unreadable (no matter how good the author (sorry Kate Mosse, Hilary Mantell, Joanne Harris; even Daphne DuMaurier), I simply cannot engage with anything set during the French Revolution).

And there on the shelf in front of me (not having been to the library for a while, the first couple of visits saw me accidentally only looking in the historical fiction section. I'm not too keen on the English Civil War as a backdrop either) was The Boat Girls by Margaret Mayhew. Sure enough, the story of three eighteen year old women from different backgrounds who go off to work on the boats in the war. Women-in-WW2 is clearly Margaret Mayhew's stock in trade, judging by her other half-dozen or so titles, whose covers were reproduced inside. Women and Americans, women and Dunkirk, women in the WRNS, women in the WAAF, and women on the IW.

Well, it wasn't at all bad. I could cavil and say that the characters were somewhat superficailly drawn and not very emothioally engaging, but I've seen a lot worse, and anyway, that's probably not what Mayhew's readership is after. It was a bit of a shame that they all had to be the same age - Shy Prue, tyrannised by her suburban father, who escapes a lifetime of drudgery as a bank clerk by ultimately escaping to Winnipeg with a lost-and-then-found-again airman (oh, sorry, spoiler); Privileged Frances, tyrannised by her upper class RAF officer brother (her father having not quite been himself since the first war), who escapes a lifetime of drudgery as chatelaine of a crumbling stately home by nearly running off with a boatman before realising that it just wouldn't work and settling for an upper class RAF officer friend of her brother's instead, and Ros, the down to earth gritty one, forged in a lifetime of theatrical lodgings, who rather improbably gives up the casting couch for Frances' brother (Vere, if you please) who is so smitten with her that he throws his tyrannical morality to the winds.

Mayhew acknowledges her debt to the work of Woolfitt, Cornish and Gayford, and indeed, it's very clear throughout the book that she's drawn heavily on them not only for background detail, but also for stories, events and even characters. The trainer, 'Pip' is indistinguishable from Gayford, right down to the bicycle, and Frances is recognisably based on Woolfitt. She does it very well though; accurate, rarely heavy handed, always readable and usually clearly comprehensible. The focus is on the boats and boating life for the largest part of the book and the atmosphere and imagery are perceptible if not quite palpable. Someone who came to this as a fan of Mayhew, or of the plucky home front heroine genre more broadly, would go away with a good idea of the Idle Women's experiences - well, as good as they'd get from Woolfit and Gayford, at any rate. And a coherent, undemanding and instantly forgettable story as a bonus.

What were the publishers thinking of when they approved the cover illustration though? All the books in the series feature a photo of a woman (looking fiery, pensive or determined as appropriate) in uniform or forties dress and hairdo, superimposed on a suitable background (airfield, battle at sea etc). This one has a rather modern looking woman, albeit in obligatory too-big shirt, corduroy breeches (both very clean) and big belt, with a hairdo like nothing I've ever seen (perhaps it was supposed to look unkempt and lousy?), foregrounded against a lock. With, clearly visible in the background, a modern leisure narrowboat, and some kind of Dutch barge. It seems a shame, when the author has clearly gone to some lengths to do her research and get the detail pretty much spot-on, that the publishers couldn't at least dig out a picture of some old boats, or even better an old picture. Hap'orth of tar, anyone?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why is no one called Isambard?

People give their children the strangest names - not just these days, they always have done. The births column of the Daily Telegraph is, I find, always good for a laugh (Mimi Magenta Poodle being a favourite that I recall).

But I have never, ever, come across someone - a real live present day person, that is* - called Isambard. My sister works in the Passport Office (boo hiss) and encounters beautiful and outlandish names on a daily basis, but she confirmed to me last week that even she has never met with an Isambard. I find this incredible. Not only is it a name with a noble and heroic history, is is also really a very nice name. It has a splendid ring to it. It is simultaneously both exotic and down to earth. It even offers the possibility of being shortened to Sam, should an adolescent Isambard wish for something a little more anonymous.

I'm reminded of this as I'm about to embark on a library book called Isambard's Kingdom: Travels in Brunel's England by Judy Jones. I've had it for a while and wondered if I would actually read it, but it looks like a readable and probably interesting travelogue, of a 500 mile walk 'from Paddington to Penzance to explore the legacy of his railway revolution'. I'm not a big rail freak, but my paternal grandfather (whom I never met) was a boilermaker on the Great Western, at Swindon, so I've always had a mild interest from that perspective. I think there's a bit of canal stuff in there too.

And before you ask why I didn't call one of my sons Isambard, if I think it's so great, the answer is that I didn't have the nerve twenty two and a half years ago.

*There is a character of that name in Mavis Cheek's Patrick Parker's Progress, named by a Brunel-obsessed father.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A motto for our times

I first saw this on a poster in the window of a bookshop in Lewes. I wanted one, but (skinflint that I am) baulked at paying £4.95 for it, which is what they were asking. And forever after I was kicking myself. Then shortly before Christmas I used the wonder of the internet to track down the original supplier, and this time I got three posters - one for at home, one for the office, and one as a present for Dean, our wonderful School Administrator. (£3.60 each, if I recall correctly).

The story is that an original poster was found in a box of books delivered to a second-hand bookshop. They were very taken with the slogan and reproduced it. Supposedly around half a million were printed during WW2, using a specially reassuring typeface, and were being kept in reserve to be rolled out in an absolute crisis - which never came, so they were eventually destroyed without ever being deployed.

And I thought how great it would be to have it on a T-shirt, because it's just the sort of thing I'm always saying to other people, but I sometimes need reminding of it myself too. So I searched around, but could only find very expensive versions, and I thought it was a bit mean, too, others piggy backing on the efforts of the people who found and reproduced the original. But when I had another look at the weekend, I discovered that Barter Books (for it is they) also now sell T-shirts, and mugs, emblazoned with this sound advice - and at half the price (£12.60 - still not cheap for a T-shirt, but worth it) of other suppliers. So if you want one, give them a ring on 01655 604888 - it's easier than using the website, and cheaper than their ebay shop, I'm sure the nice man won't mind me telling you - and they'll put one in the post the next day. Surely a must for every boater.

A rather uncanny thing happened a couple of weeks ago... we had a meeting at work at which it was announced that we are going to undergo a very big and far-reaching reorganisation, and we all left reeling a bit, and when I got back to my office, my poster had partially detached itself from the wall and was hanging by half its blu-tack. I can only imagine that this was in order to draw my attention to it and note its soothing words of wisdom.

My other favourite motto, by the way, attributed to Roosevelt, is 'Nothing matters very much, and very few things matter at all'.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Spotted again

In a roundabout way ... interesting how these blog thingies (as a caricature Prince Charles might say) link up. I was just browsing Granny Buttons, scrolled down his list to have a quick look at Bones, and she's posted that Caxton have posted about Warrior. With some lovely pictures taken at the IWA Festival last year (even if they have got me in).

So when there's no boating, and no painting, and even no boat-related reading being done, we can still all post about each other.

Caxton is one of only two other boat blogs I know that use this template (think theirs is the later version). The other one was Hagley, but it's now even more sadly neglected than when I wrote about it over a year ago (note Richard's comment there!) - so much so that Andrew has expelled it from Granny's blogroll. Come on Richard, some of us cared! Is Hagley still afloat?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Micro banter

I asked Sebastian yesterday if he would care to come up sometime and dabble in my HTML, to update the links list (sorely needs it... Pete?). He sighed heavily and said, 'Mum, I've shown you how to do it.' 'I know,' I replied with commendable honesty, 'But I wasn't listening, because I thought that I'd just get you to do it.' 'I'll charge', was his answer to that. So the list remains un-updated. I was thinking of adding a link to CanalWorld, my favourite forum. As they say, other forums are available, but as they're not as popular, there's less new stuff to amuse me when I log on every half hour or so.

Sometimes people off CanalWorld (although not, it seems, the History 'n' Heritage section) meet up in the real world and call it a banter. And sometimes a few of them meet up and call it a mini-banter. Today I met up with Black Ibis and FadetoScarlet (aka Amy and James) for a micro-banter, in a cafe by Old Street tube. Amy also has a blog, confusingly utilising the FadetoScarlet brand (great name). They're in the process of buying a boat to live on near Cambridge, and were running out of people to talk to about it, so I was happy to step in.

I'm not quite sure how our paths might cross this summer as we are mainly heading in the same direction, even though they're coming from Birmingham to Cambridge and we're going from Cambridge-ish, but hopefully I'll get the chance to have a look at Lucky Duck when we go back east, whenever that may be. It sounds like an interesting and ingenious boat - and no one knows who built it. I like a nice mystery.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Earth has not anything to show more fair?

I rang my sister up on Wednesday, just because I thought it really had been quite a long time since I last made the effort, and she mentioned that she was going to be in London today, and might be able to meet up if she wasn't too hung over. I'm not quite sure why, but she suggested we meet at Embankment Station, so we did, strolled across Hungerford Bridge to the South Bank for a spot of lunch, and then wandered up to Westminster Bridge.

It was funny to be in the thick of tourist London, and odder still to encounter the - ahem - street theatre that fills the space between the Festival Hall and the London Eye. Imagine meeting someone and in all innocence asking them what they do for a living... 'oh, me? I stand on a box dressed as a policeman in a tutu. But - and here's the really clever bit - I stand very still.' Or 'I dress up as a stone wizard and move about very slowly, terrifying small children.' Quite impressive actually, the stone wizard. But ... why?

And then we walked on to Victoria so that she could catch the coach back to Wales, but there's no waterway in that (although we did watch two coots try to drown a duck in St James's Park).

Imagining being on a narrow boat on this bit of the river is quite mindboggling. It's not so much the width or the depth or the currents and the tides - although they would no doubt scare the hell out of someone saner than me. No, it's the size and speed of the other boats. It's really strange to see boats going fast.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Minnow on the Say

When Philip came to the single rose
Over the water
The treasure was taken where nobody knows
None but my daughter

OK, I might not have remembered it exactly right, but it must be well over thirty years since I read Minnow on the Say. I was constantly reading as a child, so I must have read hundreds of books, but very few of them have stayed with me. This one has. I can see the scene in my imagination as clearly as if it were a memory, of the bridge with its stone-carved roses, and the boy in the canoe beneath. Of course, in my mind's eye, the Say takes the shape of the stream that I used to cross every day on the way to school, where sometimes, very daringly, I would scramble down to the water's edge.

I haven't re-read it yet, but I roughly recall the plot as lonely boy spends long summer holidays solving Elizabethan riddle to find long-hidden treasure. It's the atmosphere and the vividness of the imagery, rather than the plot, that made it so special. And maybe, with hindsight, the river setting.

What I didn't remember was that Minnow on the Say, first published in 1955, is by Philippa Pearce, author of that other haunting favourite, Tom's Midnight Garden. It was her first book, and it's still in print. I was tempted to buy a copy from Amazon, but I think first I will see if I can borrow it from the library, as I did all those years ago.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cock o' the walk

Went for a stroll round the Bill Fen site with Carl and Sean this morning, and saw parts of it that I'd not seen before.

And we saw one of the peacocks, in full display. Now, I've seen peacocks strutting their stuff before, but this was something else again. I didn't have the camera with me, but that's just as well, as a little photo taken through a wire mesh fence (he was visiting the hens) could not do this justice.

His tail must have been six feet across at ground level. Those distinctive 'eyes', one of which adorns the end of each tail feather, formed a perfectly spaced pattern of staggered circles across the surface of his tail. At the base of this, rising from his back, was the impression of scales, lapping over each other up to a height of about eight inches, of an indescribably beautiful green. In front of this, his neck and breast, in that unique, iridescent peacock blue. All his wing and body feathers were fluffed up too, rich brown, mottled and fluffy black. And he strutted around like this for ages, while the chickens pointedly ignored him, and the peahen rather irritably scuttled in front of him (could just imagine what she was thinking).

But then he did a most extraordinary thing - I apologise if the ways of peacocks are known to you of old, but I had never seen the like. He sort of shuddered and rattled the whole edifice, with an unworldly sound, maybe like the wind in the reeds but much louder; almost like gravel being poured onto a tin roof. It was mesmerising. Unlike the supremely indifferent chickens, I couldn't tear myself away.