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.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Greasing the swing bridge

Here is the man whose job it is to make sure that Newhaven Swing Bridge glides smoothly round.
And here is some background information about the bridge, from a splendid website that aims to catalogue all the moveable bridges in Britain.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Reassuringly expensive

The boat of my dreams, the one whose photos I swoon over, the unattainable object of my desire, is up for sale. There's a broker's ad in last month's Canal Boat (I'm still catching up), and I think I've seen it advertised before.

I've followed it up to the website - one feeble photo and no further details; I've emailed them (no reply - obvious tyre kicker/drooler); and got Jim (credible male voice) to phone (answerphone).

So I shall have to make up my own details.
Nine year old boat.
Looking a bit neglected; needs painting and fair amount of TLC.
No windows.

No engine details; no interior photos (so fear the worst).


Yep. One hundred and eighteen thousand pounds.
£1873 for each of its sixty-three, nine-year-old, feet.

And probably worth nearly every penny.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sad story

A reliable source on CWF reports a very sad happening.

I am not going to come over all sanctimonious and do the why oh why oh why bit. It doesn't need saying.

Instead, here are some photos taken by Jim three weeks ago at Winkwell or thereabouts.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The wanderer returns. And brings washing

It occurred to me on Saturday that the neighbours were probably thinking that I'd either sent Jim packing for good, or contrived to drown him somewhere, as he failed to reappear for so long after I did. But to confound them, he returned yesterday, after 52 days, 727 miles, 363 locks, and 266 running hours. Warrior performed without a hitch throughout, the only mechanical breakdown of the entire trip being a leak in one of the tiny oil feeder pipes.

Now, I have a slightly guilty secret. I really like doing washing. Or at least, I like sticking dirty stuff in the washing machine and taking it out when it's clean and hanging it out on the line. I find it a very satisfying sight. I like the smell of washing that's been dried outside and especially the smell of washing that's been rained on. A line of colour coordinated raiment flapping in the breeze brings joy to my heart. (Yeah, well, feminists do knitting now and everything.) So all these weeks I have been looking forward to Jim bringing home big heaps of filthy washing, which we piled up outside so as not to make the house untidy.
The cat found Jim's t-shirt quite irresistible.

He also brought back a further 400 photos, from which I shall shortly be making a selection. We tempted Aaron over last night with the promise of a celebratory beer, and he found himself sitting through a slideshow of the first 500 or so pictures of the trip.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Aww, coot.

Now, where's my pipe?

In which I display my crappy wildlife photography. This family of coots in Little Venice kept me amused all day. The houseboat opposite us had three tyre fenders, all of which were in use by the coots. In the central one, they had built a nest, to which they were still constantly adding twigs and any old rubbish they could find in the canal - to the point that they couldn't actually get into it any more. At one point we had Mrs Coot (I like to assume) adding yet another finishing touch to her already rather overdressed boudoir, while Mr Coot retired to his tyre shed and Teenage Coot contemplated setting up in his own minimalist pad in the third desirable property.

I think I'll put the big subwoofer over there...

What this needs is a nice artistic arrangement of twigs...

Lovely study of rust 'n' rivets too.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Light in the middle of the tunnel

Yes, OK, it's not great, but I was amazed it came out at all. Our light in Braunston Tunnel, oh so long ago back in early August and hopefully pointing downwards and to the right in the proper fashion. Where I was sitting behind the light, I recall, it was actually pitch black. I asked Baz to fetch the camera and groped for it in the dark, balancing it, I think on the milk churn which usually provides the seat for the searchlight operator.

I like tunnels. You can be alone with your thoughts in them; communication is all but impossible and it's a kind of sensory deprivation experience. But also, they can't have changed as much as everything else, so it's a link with the past too.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Teddington sunset

By the time I'd gone back for the camera, the sun had set just a bit too much. But never mind, sunset over all three Teddington locks.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My photos have come!

Remember the excitement of actually having to send off your film to be developed? Well, I still do occasionally. The Canon Powershot is an excellent compact digital camera, and the vast majority of pictures on here are taken with it. But it's not a lot of good in low light, for example, and I really haven't got the hang of doing anything with digital other than using it on full auto mode. I dragged the trusty old agricultural Praktica around with us throughout August, and got it out twice. The second time was to use the long zoom lens for some wildlife photography - the coots in Little Venice - not great, but better than nothing. The first time* was at Teddington, when it was too dark to use the Canon. The weir was illuminated, and it was a fantastic sight. These photos don't really do it justice, but I was quite pleased, given that it was a longish exposure (I didn't time it but it must have been 15 or 20 seconds) and I was just sitting the camera on the foredeck cants and holding my breath.
*This is clearly incorrect, as I have just found a photo taken in Braunston Tunnel, which definitely came before Teddington.

Warrior update - the final instalment
Day 49, Peterborough to Ramsey

Yes, that's right: Ramsey. Warrior is home at last, and Jim is eating chips from the Madeira Fish Bar with Moominpapa. The WarriorDuck is no more. In a surprise twist, some very kind passing workmen from the Middle Level Commissioners welded the Duck's tiller back on for them, and they have gone on their way, independently, across the Middle Level towards the Ouse, the Cam and home at Upware. Last heard from, via text from Amy, at about half past seven in March. We wish you well Duckies; it was a great experience.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Adventures of the Unlucky Ducks

I can add nothing to James and Amy's account of the events of the last few days. I suggested they could make a quick few quid by writing up their adventures in an article for Waterways World but I'm having second thoughts now. I think that given everything that's happened, their incredible stoicism, and the fantastic way they write it up, there's definitely a book in this. Go for it, young people!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Plaque attack

Tricky subject, plaques, and one which causes me great inner turmoil. On the one hand, they're as naff as all get out; on the other... well, I like them. They appeal to the obsessive cataloguer within me. I like their solid cast brassness. They give me something to collect.

In my defence I can only say that I don't display them on the hatches for the world to see - still less, like a boat I saw in London, with them categorised into sections with wonky brass-letter headings (canals, rivers, arms and flights) but discreetly on the corridor wall, like a faux-modest star putting their Oscar in the guest loo. So far I have amassed them only for waterways we have actually travelled, which includes arms, but not for locks, tunnels and other landmarks; I think they're covered. We have one for a Shroppie festival that Warrior went to without us; and, cheating slightly, we have Andante's Huddersfield trophies on Warrior - well, we did earn them. And one from the RN Rally last year and one from the IWA National. They are surely justified.

Possibly worst of all, most of our geographical ones haven't been purchased from darling little chandleries we've found along the way, but from the equally charming online Canal Shop. Go on, shoot me now. So thus it was that a rather heavy parcel arrived last weekend, containing the six plaques that I thought we'd earned on this last trip. The Northampton Arm, of course we'd covered before, but never got the T-shirt. The Oxford is justified now we've done the South as well as the North. I have not got one for the GU, and shall not, until I have covered every inch of the main line. But I did buy one for the Paddington Arm, to commemorate our wrong turn out of Little Venice which saw us make an unplanned traverse of its entire length. (What's this then? Dunno. Looks like Paddington Basin. Huh. Not Camden then); and one for the Regents Canal. The Thames one of course was thoroughly earned; the Lee and Stort... well, I owe it a Stort, but couldn't get one for just the Lee, and I thought we should mark having made it all the way to Hertford.

So having made my special pleading, I hope I'm forgiven. They are such lovely things to collect. Perhaps it was because I was never a Brownie, but I still covet the badges.

Warrior report
Day 46, Whiston Lock to Woodford Lock

Watch this space - the latest report is not yet in. Interim reports inform me that the Duck has suffered a further mechanical setback, and Irthlingborough Bridge has successfully been negotiated.

Later: Full report from the Duckies here

Saturday, September 13, 2008

On the move again

Day 45, Northampton to Whiston Lock

Yes indeed, touch wood, it has not yet rained, and although the official word had not come through from the EA that the Nene (in particular, Doddington Lock) was passable again, enough filtered through on the grapevine to persuade our doughty heroes that this was in fact the case, and they set off late this morning.

Northampton, I hear, is a bit of a hidden gem, or at least Not Nearly as Bad as Expected, with plenty of shops and nice buildings, and the mooring down by the new flats opposite the Carlsberg works, although visually uninspiring, was quiet and convenient. Best of all though was the Malt Shovel pub, which I persuaded Jim he should investigate after wiring him some funds. Thirteen handpumps, including Belgian fruit beer. So at least next time I brave the Nene - which will I imaging be in the opposite direction - I will have the thought of that to sustain me. Well, not the Belgian fruit beer, perhaps, but one of the other twelve.

I am looking forward to reading the Duckies' blog and seeing what they made of the Nene locks. Apparently (and this does ring a vague bell) it says in the book that narrowboats shouldn't share locks on the Nene because they're theoretically not wide enough - although in practice they clearly are, with a foot and a half to spare. When we first came up we were completely unaware of this stricture and merrily shared with all and sundry, to considerable mutual advantage and with no ill effects. So although the book gave James a bit of a turn yesterday, and I had to reassure Jim that yes, we really had shared before, many, many times, they've been going through together today. Well, would you really want to do all that twice (or rather, four times, as you have to do it twice anyway) unless you really really had to?

So we leave them happily in the middle of nowhere, wondering what I was doing with a spirit level when Jim rang... The thought of me doing things to the house in his absence makes him quite nervous.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Grainy photo

Day 44, still at Northampton

Clearly the reception is much better in Northampton, so I have been getting detailed reports. The rain threatened for today didn't materialise, but Doddington Lock is still reversed for the time being. However, if it still looks set fair tomorrow I think the plan is to proceed in that direction so as to be in pole position when it does re-open. Surprisingly (to me) only a couple of other boats are waiting along with Warrior and Lucky Duck. I hear that Northampton is actually rather a nice place, as well as being well provisioned with supermarkets, and today the combined crew took a pleasant perambulation in search of the water point.

Jim has been making constructive use of all this enforced spare time by graining the back cabin. Now, it was already grained, quite crudely, in a very yellow pine effect. Onto this the wonderful roses were painted. But the framing around the panels, whatever it was originally, had at some point been done over in a royal blue that didn't go with anything else and just looked pretty awful. So the idea was just to redo those parts, with darker, contrasting, graining. There has been a bit of an ongoing controversy about just which other bits - including some tatty and/or damaged panels - should also be redone, with me holding out for keeping them as they were and Jim wanting to redo them. Well, he's there doing it and I'm here, so I may have to concede gracefully on that point. I can see it might be quite addictive... well, I'll just do that little bit more... and that bit.. and... oops, I've done all of it.

Anyway, thanks to the wonders of mobile telephony, this afternoon I received from James a photo of the work in progress. It's looking pretty impressive. I think that must be Jim's head at the bottom. I wonder if he'll come back with a big white beard...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Meanwhile in Northampton...

... Nothing much is happening. I would have posted another random photo, but the laptop with all the pictures on it keeps mysteriously migrating upstairs to Baz's room.

But while the cat's away, the mouse is rearranging the study (sshh, Amy and James), and arranging to get milk delivered. So what if it's twice the price; it comes in reusable bottles.

And, I'm going to go to bed and leave the kitchen in a mess until the morning. So there.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I lied

Day 42, Northampton

Warrior and the Duckies were not actually still half way down Rothersthorpe last night; they had in fact got to Northampton, where they are still, waiting for the Nene to become passable. It has been dry today; and will be dry tomorrow. If this state of affairs were to continue but a little longer, then all would be well. But apparently it is forecast to tip down on Friday, according to Jim's newest friend Andy of the EA. Now, they could get as far as Doddington Lock, which is some ten miles towards their target, but if they were then stuck there, it is the middle of nowhere, whereas at Northampton there is - despite its being superficially unprepossessing - a Netto, cornucopia of cheap delights, Guardians and other trappings of civilisation. So until there is a greater degree of certainty vis-a-vis getting all the way to Peterborough, there they stay, in the baleful shadow of the Carlsberg factory (I won't dignify it with the title brewery).

Jim is still happy (this strikes me as an excellent domestic arrangement) and has been graining the back cabin.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Riveting stuff

Flashback number 1
In which I shamelessly extract a whole new load of posts from my holiday photos.
This is the railway bridge over the River Nene at Peterborough, over which I used to travel on my way to Huddersfield, back in those days. Built in 1850, it is the oldest surviving cast iron railway bridge in the country, and is listed. When you think about it, it's not the ideal construction technique for a railway bridge, being relatively vulnerable to vibration, which is why all the others have been superseded.

Warrior report
Day 41, still in the middle of the Rothersthorpe flight
Still waiting for the Nene to become passable.

Monday, September 08, 2008

In the wilderness

Day 40, Blisworth to Rothersthorpe Lock 7, Northampton Arm.

Forty days and forty nights. Wasn't that how long Noah's flood lasted? (I confess my point of reference is the children's song, not the primary source). The waters have begun to recede, but the Nene is still closed. Ever hopeful, our intrepid heroes edge closer to it nonetheless, bowhauling the diesel-starved Duck through the narrow locks. This would have made a great TV show.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Communications blackout

Days 37, 38 and 39: Soulbury Locks to Blisworth

Over that last couple of days, even I have been following WarriorDuck's progress on Lucky Duck's splendid blog, having been unable to maintain much in the way of telephone contact with Jim. After a very frustrating exchange of unanswered and cut off calls yesterday, it emerged today that this was due to a combination of the usual poor reception in Stoke Bruerne and the (possibly now also usual) five hour monsoon that prevented him leaving the boat.

Said deluge has also rendered the Nene impassable, but they are hanging on in Blisworth in the hope that matters will improve within a few days. The Blisworth Tunnel was negotiated without incident, the good ship WarriorDuck being transformed for the duration from a 54x14' catamaran into a 102' articulated narrowboat.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Short and sweet

Warrior Report
Day 36, Pitstone to Soulbury Three Locks

In the latest report from the front I learn that WarriorDuck has suffered the slight inconvenience of getting wedged in a narrow bit, and the disaster of running out of teabags. Sack the quartermaster, I say.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Roll credits

Boating has transformed a pair of shy (me), curmudgeonly (ahem) people into the very soul of sociability. I added up that we met up with twenty-one people (and a dog*) on our trip; that is not just met and chatted with in passing, but entertained, drank with and more. In approximate order of appearance they were:
Jane and Graham (Alnwick): Cropredy hosts to whom we are eternally grateful.
Amy and James (Lucky Duck): Indomitable young things.
Keith and Barnaby (Industry Narrowboats): In a surprise appearance at Cropredy.
Mike and Seth* (Zulu Warrior): Accordion inspiration.
Ali, Janice, David and Natalie (Newport and Swindon): Relatives various.
Bones and Maffi (Bones and Millie M): Who made it all alright (with claret) after Osney.
and Steve (Ocelot, formerly of National D3 fame): Who brought back the doorstops.
Vicky and Craig (Eastbourne): Demon lockers.
Megan and Dean (Birkbeck College): Guerrilla administrators.
Chris and Lise (Baldock): Elusive Uxbridge pimpernels.

Thank you all. It wouldn't have been anything like the fantastic experience it was without you.

Warrior report
Day 35: Tring to Pitstone
Latest news from the front is that the crew of the catamaran Warrior Duck has been augmented by Amy's mum, and they have made it to Pitstone where they have been carousing in a 'strange' pub.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Small world

Amazingly (to me at any rate) I've been in my job two years now, and today I met a new lecturer whom I'm to be 'mentoring' (not sure how much use I shall be, but I shall do my best). Her name's Kezia and I'd already been told that she lived on a boat, but I tried not to get too excited; probably in an estuary or something, I thought. But no, she lives on a narrowboat, moored on Lisson Wide, through where we passed only the other week. Not only that, but when she showed me a photo of her boat, Demetrius, I remembered having seen it. I thought I might even have taken a photo, but it turns out that I didn't. Then she went on to say that the first thing she was going to do, having got the new job, was to get the boat painted. The guy who's going to do it, she said, owns these boats - and showed me a photo of the butty we'd been tied up to in Little Venice, whose owner we'd chatted to at length. Now I know it's a small world, but that is rather extraordinary timing.

Warrior report
Day 34, Hemel Hempstead to Tring

Following another enjoyable day, Warrior and Lucky Duck are now at Tring, where they will meet Amy's mum tomorrow lunchtime and introduce her to the delights of the Marsworth flight.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Warrior update

Day 33, Uxbridge to Hemel Hempsted

Progress continues, albeit without me. I have just had the latest report in from the front. Warrior and Lucky Duck have progressed sixteen miles and twenty five locks (blimey!), breasted up with James steering and Amy and Jim locking. I think the breasting up is in the interests of efficient progress rather than of necessity (at least I hope). I gather also that they were getting instruction yesterday from Chris of Baldock in the art of using cross straps, but it involved splicing.

The trip in pubs

Eleven pubs - quite a shocking total really; an average of more than one every three days, and that's not even taking into account that we visited some of them more than once. Possibly even more than twice...

They were, in order of visiting:
The Bridge, Napton
Expensive food, and somewhat lacking in atmosphere, but very welcome at the time.
The Wharf Inn, Fenny Compton
Food better than might have been expected from exterior appearance, but a bit sterile.
The Brasenose Arms, Cropredy
Tatty, packed, chaotic - and fantastic.
Festival Bar, Cropredy
A festival bar. Sold beer efficiently in vast quantities. Most expensive beer of the trip.
The Red Lion, Cropredy
Talbot Inn, Eynsham
Best surprise of the trip. Unpromising from the outside, but great, good food, friendly staff, nice surroundings and Arkells beer straight from the barrel.
The Crown, Lechlade
Nice proper pub-type pub, with chinchillas and quiz
The Swan, Radcot
Disappointing. Indifferent food and very grudging service.
The Grapes, Limehouse
Great experience, packed, food surprisingly reasonable.
The Warwick Castle, Little Venice
Lovely pub a street away from the canal. Again, reasonably priced food, especially for London. On Wednesdays at any rate.
The Swan and Bottle, Uxbridge
Not bad for a chain pub.

All in all the pubs were a very positive experience. Nowhere was the beer any less than good, for starters. Some of the food was better than others, but none was truly dreadful.

Joint losers, the Red Lion - which we were told was the better of the two Cropredy pubs, but which when we visited was full of herberts in football shirts, whereas the Brasenose seemed much more of a 'festival' pub - and the Swan at Radcot, where they had petty rules about where they would and wouldn't serve food, and were generally rather unfriendly and indifferent.

Winner, in the end, all round on points, the Talbot at Eynsham.

Hon menshes to the Warwick Castle and the Grapes.