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.