Saturday, February 28, 2009

Books I have read in February

I was going to count how many cups of tea and pints of beer I had in February, like Diamond Geezer, but firstly, that would have been a bit derivative, and secondly, I lost count.

But I can, just about, keep track of my reading matter, and if I volunteer to share it with the world, that will help me to steer clear of the most egregious tripe when I'm in the library. This doesn't include work reading; only what might loosely be called pleasure, or more accurately, killing time. Most train journeys (an hour and a half each way to work, although I really should try to do more work on the train, especially as I now have my new toy); and on the sofa of an evening when my brain's too exhausted to read anything that actually requires thinking.

My usual strategy is to go into the paperback section of the local library, which is not large (hardbacks are not so convenient for lugging around) and select one volume from each section of shelf. Not quite randomly, because I'll put it back if it looks too awful; chick lit, magic realism or mediaeval monastery. This is supplemented by the odd book I buy at the station (if I've forgotten or finished the library book), find lying around, or, rarely, go out of my way to buy.

So, in February I read:

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The dangers of adultery, debt and arsenic in nineteenth century rural France. But mostly debt.

Journeys of the Swan by John Liley
A deliberate purchase, this, and will tell you more anon. Very good though.

Bread upon the Waters by David Blagrove
A re-read for reasons that may become apparent but probably won't.

The Portrait by Iain Pears
Painter takes his murderous revenge on critic, all in the second person. Not quite unreadable.

The Hours of the Night by Sue Gee
Surprisingly good sparsely told tale of various unrequited loves, spoiled by glib wrapping up on the final page.

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka
That difficult second novel. Frothy comedy of human trafficking and factory farming featuring a dog that thinks in English.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch
Slightly surreal but strangely engaging fifties period piece, with a really good dog.

Out of my Depth by Emily Barr
Disappointing. Maybe I got her mixed up with someone else.

Pause Between Acts by Mavis Cheek
Formulaic and superficial. But Simon Hoggart likes her, so I keep trying.

The Lucky Ones by Rachel Cusk
Minutiae of women's lives, but in a different league from the last two. Beautifully observed detail.

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse
Delightful. Though I suspect if you read the whole oeuvre from end to end it might become a trifle repetitive.

Buried by Mark Billingham
Police detective race against time sort of thing. I'm always on the lookout for new authors in this genre - this one's OK.

All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson
Newly out in paperback, the latest case for DCI Alan Banks. One of my favourite series. I'm still reading this one, but it's looking good.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Uxbridge Farewell

This was not a random selection, but an irresistible photo... There's me, sadly walking off into the sunset (the main subject of the picture, I like to think) ... and there's a man who appears to have mislaid his trousers.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Scenes from last summer X

And a final February random selection, in which we see Warrior and the Duck nearing their destination, on the penultimate day of the Grand Tour. So just what is that settlement in the distance?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Scenes from last summer IX: Dog Days

I must apologise. I have - so far - managed to post every day in February, but only at the cost of posting some extremely boring photos. The trouble is, there just isn't much happening in February. Things start happening soon; Jim is off in a couple of weeks to make the final preparations for the Easter Excursion, and then the Easter Excursion (or incursion, I suppose, if you happen to be reading this in Cambridge) will occur, closely followed by the June Jaunt and then the August Outing, which will no doubt provide reams of fascinating copy. March will also bring at least one new book review, and there is the possibility - I put it no higher than that - of me getting a ride on a Big Woolwich... so watch this space.

In the meantime, here is a picture of the front end of Canis Major, as featured in the Advent Calendar, which is (and here I duly reference AMModels) the back end of the GU butty Canis, but I don't know whether that constitutes the front end of Canis Major, and is therefore in the picture, or not. My admittedly untrained eye plumps for not, but I stand to be corrected. It is not, of course, in itself boring.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Scenes from last summer VIII

Gosh - nearly forgot to post today. So here, at the eleventh hour, is the rather swoopy Parexcel building in Uxbridge. I'd love to know more about its history...

Monday, February 23, 2009

The temptations of the Nene

Following our posh lunch yesterday with relatives various, and tea and buns and presents in Wootton Bassett, we dashed back down the M4 in order to meet Craig, whose hectic schedule meant it was either last night or next month, to discuss our cunning plan for June jaunts.

Having long promised to show him what counts as a good time in Newhaven, we took him down the road to our local, the Prince of Wales, which was as heaving as I've ever seen it, with about seven people in total present. And there, over pints of Harveys, we beguiled him with photos of the Nene, displayed on my nifty little baby computer.

Well, the idea was well and truly sold, and the deal was done, and Craig and Jim will be navigating Warrior from Peterborough to Northampton over the weekend of June 20th. I will then take over (a handover in the Malt Shovel sounds like good practice) and the idea is that we then proceed to Braunston and find a convenient but non-obstructive spot for the following weekend's f&f in order to facilitate all night frolicking and non-stop fun.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Another birthday

This time it's my Auntie Doreen, who's 90 today. Any minute now we're off to Swindon to help her celebrate it. My sister has just sent me this lovely photo, circa 1920, of my grandparents (the grandfather that I never met, who was a Great Western boilermaker (though that's not what I imagined one would look like), and the scary Grandma, from Jersey, whom he collected, not speaking a word of English, on a GWR outing, and who lived to be ninety nine) and my father, Leslie, and Doreen. A second sister, Ina, was to arrive a few years later.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Happy Bazday

And here's the birthday boy about fourteen years ago - one of my all time favourite photos of him. It takes a lot to look that mean and moody whilst wearing fluorescent green wellingtons and holding a slice of bread.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Snow fun (ouch)

Tomorrow is Baz's birthday when I will, in time honoured fashion, post a cute picture of his younger self. For today though, a completely non-embarrassing and mature photo taken a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cold comfort

Browsing through G2 on arriving home this evening, my eye was caught by an article about people giving up their fridges in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Oooh, I thought, no fridge. Just like me on Andante. I wonder if there are any hints I might have benefited from.

Well, what a swizz. These people who have oh-so-greenly unplugged their fridges still, it transpires, have a 'small freezer' in their basement. Plus a 'cool box' upstairs. And this is still treated as an enormous deal. This despite the fact that within living memory, most people didn't have fridges (surely in fact, the electric fridge was invented within living memory). I mean, Jim isn't that ancient, but he remembers his family getting their first, second hand, General Electric model. People had larders, and meat safes. Hmm, and daily deliveries from the milkman and the butcher's boy.

Admittedly, I had a fridge on Andante - one of those little brown gas ones - but it didn't work. We took it all the way to Sowerby Bridge (we got as far as Brighouse by boat, but then had to turn round and come back and go by car. No, we had to buy bolts, turn round and come back and go by car) to get it decoked or whatever it needed, and oh the excitement when we finally (with much lying on the floor squinting into its little mirror) got it to light. Cautiously, I put the CO detector in close - possibly, with hindsight, too close - proximity to its workings, and watched and waited. Unbelievably, it seemed to be working. A few hours later I was wondrously poking at the thin film of ice that was forming on the top of the ice cube tray, when off went the alarm. And that was the end of that little experiment. Subsequently, Jim bought a 12v fridge - a full size one - on ebay, which was wired in just before I sold the boat.

So, all the time I lived on Andante, in short, I was fridgeless. When it was very hot, I would buy a bag of ice in Sainsburys, and put it in a tin tray on the top shelf. But mostly I just kept stuff in the gap under the foredeck, sitting on top of the pig iron ballast, where it was a bit wobbly, but always cool. This in fact was the original beer cupboard, and never bettered.

Here are my top tips for living without a fridge:
1. Don't eat meat
2. Don't eat fish. Unless it's tinned.
3. Eat up everything you've cooked so that you don't have any leftovers (the main reason, I think, that I left Huddersfield a stone and a half heavier than I arrived. But it might have been the pie and peas).
4. Take your milk to work with you every day and let it chill out in their fridge (cheat! cheat!) Or you could buy fresh every day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Oh look, here's fun

For weeks now Jim has been driving me mad (yes, even more than usual) by reading out bits from CWF and from emails from Moominpapa, and worse, far worse, trying to EXPLAIN to me about matters electrical, and this is something I neither want nor need to know. The fact that I have a total mental block against understanding it doesn't help either. But will he stop trying to tell me?

Yes, yes, I know it's important to know the basics. And I thought I did. I know how to wire a plug and I know what fuses are for and how domestic earths work, and I know not to stick my fingers in sockets and throw electric fires in the bath and all that sort of thing. But bloody hell, it's a whole different ball game on boats. In my naivety, I'd have thought that 12v DC would have to be simpler than 240v AC, but how wrong can you be?

But I suspect that no one else really knows either. Otherwise they wouldn't constantly be arguing about it, would they? It's a matter of as deep division as the Creed. It's what we philosophers call an essentially contested concept.* There are, I would go so far as to hazard, no objective truths (short of don't stick your fingers in the socket).

So these objects are for something. Just don't ask me what.

*Don't bother looking it up. This is not, strictly speaking, true.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scenes from last summer VII

A wall, somewhere in Northampton.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Scenes from last summer VI

Having been reassured that my random number selection is sufficiently random for these purposes. I bring you once again the Warrior Duck somewhere between Pitstone and Soulbury locks, in the rain that was to hamper their onward progress considerably.

This is of course a singularly inapropriate selection for today which actually, briefly, here at least, felt like the first day of spring, and made me SO wish I was on a boat.

But doesn't Warrior's fore end look nice.

How random?

Moominpapa suggests that my method of randomly selecting a number between one and four hundred, as I have been doing for recent photos from last summer, may not be all that random. He may be right, although I think it will be random enough for these purposes, where it isn't being used very often, and it's completely independent of the photos themselves. It's a pack of cards, so the randomness largely depends upon how well it's been shuffled and reshuffled and where it's cut.

I need to create a three digit figure, between 1 and 400.

So for the first digit, let hearts = zero, clubs = 1, diamonds = 2 and spades = 3

For the second and third digits, let 1 = 1 and so on, with 10 = zero and discounting picture cards.

This doesn't however give an equal chance to each number between 1 and 400; unless one had three packs or reshuffled the whole pack between each selection, it would militate against the last two digits being the same, and the latter two selections might also be influenced by the first if that were not a picture card.

So it may not, technically, be completely random. But it serves my purpose; it rules out the possibility of me exerting any preference, whether consciously or not, and above all, it saves me actually having to make a choice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Scenes from last summer V

Pick any random number between one and four hundred. The fifth time I do it, and I pick a photo I've already used. So I picked another one. I can't see the names, but I guess it must be Cedar, with Cyprus inside. Cyprus is another of those rather charming misspellings; it should be Cypress, as in the tree, but got named after the country instead. Of these four Erewash boats (built by Yarwoods?) I also saw Ash when I was in Birmingham.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scenes from last summer IV

Septembr 15th, Warrior and the Duck emerge from Titchmarsh Lock on the Nene.

Something funny's been happening with the blog today - when I access it from the address bar, whether on the main pc or the laptop, the sidebar comes up but it's blank where the posts should be - but when I access it via a link or through the archive, it's fine. Has anyone else noticed or experienced this?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fear and loathing

I warn you now, not only does this have nothing to do with boats, it isn't even mildly amusing. But it's something that's bothered me for quite a while, and I was reminded of it by this story in the paper this morning.

It's the misuse of the suffix 'phobia' that bothers me. It started with homophobia, and now we have Islamophobia; more new formations will no doubt follow if they haven't already.

But the thing is, a phobia is a fear. An unreasonable fear, but a fear nonetheless. And we usually feel sympathy for people who are afraid of something, no matter how foolish or misplaced we judge their fear to be.

These new 'phobias' do not actually refer to fears at all, but to hatreds. Fear and loathing may well be closely related, but they are not the same thing. We can sympathise with someone who is afraid of, say, horses, but not someone who wants to go out and hurt them, or wipe them off the face of the earth.

Take women. There are two clearly different words to describe fear of women - gynaephobia, and hatred of women - misogyny. So it is possible; there is a prefix available that denotes (unreasonable) hatred. We need to be able to make this distinction in other areas as well. The lazy use of the term 'phobia' by journalists who can't construct a new term with a more appropriate 'mis' prefix robs us of a valuable sublety in our language, and brackets together those who fear and those who hate. It's not the same thing, and we shouldn't allow the lazy use of language to blur the distinction.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Easter excursion

Emails have been winging prolifically between Jim and Moominpapa planning our joint Easter Expedition. We are going to go to Cambridge with Warrior and Melaleuca in convoy, possibly stopping off along the way (or the way back) to explore minor waterways and expensive eateries.

I shall be enjoying my annual jaunt to the Political Studies Association - in Manchester this year - until April 9th, so it looks as if we shall travel up to Bill Fen on Friday early morning, throw our things and provisions onto the boat and depart post haste to make eight hour journey to Salters Lode by nightfall, in order to go through on the 10.30a.m. tide on Easter Saturday.

Then we will wend our way at a more leisurely pace up the Ouse and onto the Cam, hopefully meeting up with people along the way, and spend a couple of days in Cambridge checking that the nice pubs are still there before returning within a week or so.

Prior to that, Jim has to pay another maintenance visit, to make sure that all is finished and prepared for which I suppose is the start of the season, as we're planning some early summer boating too this year. So I expect the plans will be fine tuned/altered/ completely rewritten before we actually go - but if you think we might be passing you, do say.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And for my next target

Yes, I meant it.

Mind you, ever since I read Joan Bakewell on what a boon wheelie suitcases are for the elderly, enabling them to get out and about in ways previously not possible, I would not ban them outright (unlike umbrellas, which surely could be brought under existing legislation covering offensive weapons).

Actually, I'm a liberal; I don't want to ban anything outright. I think some kind of licencing scheme might be the answer. Old people could have a free licence, but it would act as a deterrent to those who don't really need them.

Why has there been such a proliferation in recent years? It must be something to do with the development of miniature wheel technology - or else a blinding brainwave that no one had thought of before, but I suspect the former - that has caused so many to be available, in so many different sizes.

But why have they caught on so successfully, to the extent that even the smallest case now it seems is not complete without wobbly wheels and a flimsy pull-out handle. Have we all suddenly become weeds, unable to lift luggage that we managed perfectly well ten years ago? Were there serried ranks of friendly uniformed porters at every rail and tube station right up until the moment that these things first appeared on the market, at which point they all became redundant? Or is it just that people now take far more stuff with them wherever they go just because, thanks to the advent of little nylon wheels, they can?

Only, of course, as soon as they come to a staircase, they can't. They become as helpless as Daleks. You see them plaintively standing at the bottom, anchored to their case like a ball and chain, pondering the cruel trick that promised them that they could take the entire contents of their wardrobe and six pairs of shoes on that weekend break. Similarly when (as not infrequently happens) the wheels fall off or the handle breaks, and they're stuck with lugging it around in the old fashioned way for the rest of their trip. These days, even abandoning it isn't an option.

More seriously, presumably TfL have given some consideration to what happens to all the cases, large and small, should the tube need to be evacuated - say if there were a fire. Can you imagine how they would impede people's exit as great heaps of them built up at the bottom of the stairs?

No. Take a tip from me - never travel with more than you can comfortably carry. Even if that does include a roll of black and white check vinyl.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Another gratuitous attack

Time to offend another large section of the population with a completely uncalled for, prejudiced rant.

Umbrellas. Um-bloody-brellas. At the first drop of drizzle, out they come, quadrupling the amount of pavement space each person takes up, and imperilling the eyeballs of those sensible enough to eschew this idiocy.

Why do you need a bloody umbrella? It's only a drop of water. How do you manage to have a shower, for heaven's sake, if you're scared of getting wet? If it really bothers you then get a coat. And a hat. Have you any idea how daft you look carrying your own personal little roof around with you? Particularly if it's one of those cheap crap folding ones and you spend more time shaking it and trying to turn it the right way round than actually sheltering under it.

More to the point, have you any idea how selfish and thoughtless you are being? Just because everybody else is doing it, doesn't make it OK you know. It's not just the eyes. When you're carrying the thing on the tube, do you realise that you're jabbing the point of it into the thigh of the person behind you? When you leave it on the office floor, open, to dry, can you not see that it's in everyone else's way, dripping? And when you are at an outdoor spectacle, does it not occur to you that you are obscuring the very view that the people behind you have every much right as you to see? Amazingly, utterly amazingly, this really does not seem to occur to people. Ask them to put the umbrella down and they look at you as if you're the stupid one, and say, but it's raining. Bloody go indoors if you don't like it, and let us hardier souls enjoy whatever it is we have come to see unimpeded.

Umbrellas are the ultimate manifestation of selfish individualism on an everyday level. I'm-all-right-Jack under my little shelter; sod the inconvenience to everyone else.

Tomorrow: wheeled suitcases.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Scenes from last summer III

Yes, this was random, I swear. Gemini (which I have never seen), on September 3rd, somewhere between Pitstone and Tring, as my dating/placing system seems to be fairly reliable.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A proposition for Craig

The year before last we toyed with the idea of taking Warrior to Braunston (the occasion, not just the place), to have a base for the weekend and thus be able to enjoy it to the full. We didn't, in the end, because we went to Atherstone for the RN rally and just generally didn't get our act together, but it is re-emerging as part of a plan for this year (yep, it's that time of year again, when plans start to emerge, all unpredictable, like the green shoots of spring).

The original tentative plan was based around going to the IWA festival at Radcliffe-on-Soar. The problem with that - other than the fact that once you've been to one or three the novelty wears off a bit, unlike other events I could mention - is that it's at the wrong end of August. Flexible though my time is, I do need to be back at work in September. But the thought of going there put the idea of crossing the Wash into our heads. It had already been in Jim's for quite some time, and I allowed it a small corner in mine on the proviso that we will actually have a pilot on our boat, steering it, won't we... And it spares me one navigation of the Nene. Having done that, but not gone to the IWA, we hoped to explore some northern canals we've not yet traversed: a circuit of the Leeds Liverpool and the Rochdale, perhaps, and a detour to Sheffield on the way.

But now there is a better plan, and it involves propositioning the ever keen Craig (who with Vicky came with us from Little Venice to Limehouse last year and were fantastic). It goes something like this. Jim brings Warrior solo from Bill Fen to Stanground, then picks Craig up at Peterborough. Craig - not me - enjoys the delights of three days on the Nene (and Craig, if you're reading this, I hasten to add that everyone except me thinks the Nene is absolutely wonderful. I have just taken agin it for no good reason, honest). I join the party at Northampton for a handover in the Malt Shovel. Craig may, if work calls, depart at this point, and I get to do the Rothersthorpe flight which I like a lot (mainly because it's at the end of the Nene), and we then proceed to Braunston where hopefully we can plot up somewhere that's not in the way of anyone big and important. The bugger with Braunston of course is that unlike Peterborough and Northampton, it's not well served by trains. Apparently one can do things with buses - if anyone knows what, with detailed instructions, I should be most grateful to be informed.

After that we will have a month or so before the summer holiday proper begins, and hopefully will be able to leave the boat somewhere even if that does mean coming south a bit and/or moving it once or twice. Then we can head north again - and, eventually perhaps, return via the Wash at the end of the year's travels.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Now and then...

I know I'm always banging on about things changing, and usually for the worse... And even if the change is for the better, I still have a bit of a problem with it. It's a bit hard to explain, but I suspect it's all of a piece with my inability to remember which direction I was walking in when I emerge from a shop, or to have any conception of how a linear route relates to a map - I can manage with one or the other, but it was a revelation to me that some people can effortlessly combine the two. The problem is that once something is changed, I simply cannot remember how it used to be. Just very recently it's dawned on me that some people have very visual memories, and others - e.g, me - don't. Most of my memories tend to be stored as human Word files, rather than jpegs. And of course the thing with the workings of the human mind is that it takes a long time before you realise that not everyone is the same as you.

Anyway, when I got back from Birmingham last week I showed Jim my nice Gas Street Basin photos, and last night, he recognised the very same scene on his second reading of September 1974's Waterways World (25p). The scene clearly isn't exactly the same - the buildings are different and I think the photo must have been taken from a different vantage point (but I can't be entirely sure, which is symptomatic of my affliction) but the amazing thing is that the boats could be the same. Some of them probably are.

Sincere apologies to WW for nicking the picture, but I do hope they won't mind.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Toilet travails, lavatorial larks and macerator madness

It's not only boaters who have trouble with their macerators. A certain senior offspring who lives not a million miles away (it would not quite be in good taste to refer to him here as number one son, although that is indeed his name) is dependent on one in his cottage. And it is not, ahem, macerating, although it is pumping fine.

I was apprised of this earlier when he turned up on the doorstep asking if he could borrow my prized Snap-On screwdriver to dismantle the unit. This seemed to me like a Very Bad Idea on a number of fronts, especially if it was going to involve my Snap-On, so I declined, and said he should wait til Jim got back. Provided they haven't actually broken it, it's still under guarantee, so we thought it best to ring up the proper man to come and look at it, but in the meantime we dug out the instruction book and troubleshooting guide, and have diagnosed the problem as a clogged air distributor, or disseminator, or something. I suggested hitting it with a hammer, but my technical expertise was not valued.

Meanwhile of course, life goes on. What a shame, I said, that we don't have a spare porta-potti at home that we could lend them. For we possess two (one belonging to Warrior and one to Helyn) but the bottom half of both is kept on Warrior (a back up and a spare back up). But then Jim remembered that when he last returned from Bill Fen he brought a bottom half with him, on account of the elsan point being frozen. Of course. So we had the bottom half. But could we find the spare top half? Picking our way through our outbuilding which, despite copious Freecycling and downsizing seems to be some kind of bottomless knick knack pit (from which they emerge, rather than one into which they disappear; just thought I ought to make that clear) by the light of a very feeble torch, it was definitely not where I remembered it. Son in question was then sent to clamber, in the dark and the wind and the damp, into Helyn on her trailer on the drive, and search there. The first time he emerged, he said there was only another bottom in there - impossible, I said, and gave him another leg-up. This time he turned it over and lo and behold it was the top so we now had the pair.

They have been duly clipped together and handed over, with instructions and directions as to where to find the manhole cover. Now all we, sorry, they, need is some blue...

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Scenes from last summer II

According to the photo, this was September 8th, which, as it is clearly not the Rothersthorpe flight, would put it between Blisworth and there. It's just one of those completely anonymous, pretty pictures that you see on greetings cards and jigsaw puzzles, and think, now why did they chose that one? In my case of course, the answer is I chose it through my random number generator, which consists of a pack of cards and a set of instructions for generating any number between one and four hundred, for this purpose, but can be easily adapted. I might even share it with you, as long as you promise not to say I'm odd.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Scenes from last summer

Last night I was looking through Jims photos from last summer. You may recall that I had to decamp at Uxbridge, as paid employment called, but Jim continued with Luck Duck up the Grand Union to Northampton and thence through to Ramsey, with a few stops along the way to wait for the weather, meaning that in all this part of the journey alone took three weeks.

There are four hundred photos from this, and in some of them the sun is shining! So I thought it would be a nice antidote to pick a few random selections from this album over the remainder of the winter (oh, and I've got nothing else to write about of course).

Now obviously looking at this one, my first thought is 'what's the next boat along but one?' and as there are so many photos I only have to click back along the sequence to see that it is in fact Elstree.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Platform one and three quarters

Whenever I visit Tarporley, or the Museum, or, for that matter, my friend Dean, I always make sure to make use of the footpath along Platform One at Kings Cross. It's actually a lot more pleasant, and I guess it must be quicker, than walking around the outside, but above all it is a Matter Of Principle. Because, I hear from a range of sources, although I couldn't find anything on the web, plans are afoot to extinguish said right of way as part of the development of Kings Cross and the surrounding areas. There were, I believe, people counting how many people used the route, as if that would have a bearing, although I suspect (and so does an Islington councillor I met at some event last year) that it's a forlorn hope. It is quite heavily used, despite the powers that be clearly discouraging it (by making the exit path very narrow and invisible for a start) but I hold out no hope that the great god regeneration will fail to see it off in the end. Which is a shame.

There is a certain glamour and romance about Kings Cross that you don't find at other stations. When the mist rolls into that great shed you can almost imagine that it's smoke and steam wafting about. St Pancras, lovely as it is, is too new and clean to convey this atmosphere, and Euston - well, the less said the better.

I have a soft spot of course for Kings Cross because of my weekly commute to Huddersfield over a period of eighteen months. London may be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and wherever you go - including the concourse at Kings Cross - you are surrounded by people speaking hundreds of different languages; dressed in myriad different styles, and of all hues of skin and hair. But the really exotic thing, the promise of romance and adventure, is in the big fat red faced GNER guard, who greets you in a broad Yorkshire accent. It's that that tells you that this is the gateway to new and strange places.

Monday, February 02, 2009

A poem

Jim found this; it's the product list of the Liver Grease, Oil and Chemical Company, founded in 1809. I hope they won't mind me reproducing it for its sheer evocative poetry. It reminds me a bit of this poem.

Aluminium Solar Reflecting Bitumen Roofing Paint
Anti-Scuffing Compound & Grease
Bitumen Paint BS 3416 - Solid Bitumens
Beechwood Tar & Pitch
Barbados Tar
Burgundy Pitch
Black Lead Powder
Black Annealed Wire
Creosotes: Types 1, 2, and 3
Caulking pitches (black and white; hard and brittle to soft) + Oakum
Concrete Mould Oil
Chalk Lump
Caustic Soda
Cotton Waste (white and coloured)
Colza Oil
Cardium Compound equivalent
Carbolineum BS 144 (1990)
Caulking Irons made to order
Cork Dust
French Chalk as powder or sticks
Disinfectant Fluids (black, white and pine)
Distillate Degreasants
Export products Empty Tins / Drums.
Fish Oil
Flux Oil
Greasy (gland) Packing
High Temperature Silicone Grease
Iron Cement
Jointing Compounds: white graphite, petrol & oil resisting for pipes.
Linseed Oils (raw, boiled)
Low Cost Oil and Grease from time to time
Lead Powders (red, yellow, white)
Lap Compound
Lime (quick, slaked)
Lime Wash Constituents
Lysol (disinfectant)
Molybdenum Disulphide Powder, blended in grease, wax or oil
Oakum (Swedish)
Coal Tar - a thin tar.
Colza - a burning oil for hurricane lamps
Shutter - for concrete.
Drying - for paint making.
Fish - for decks & ropes.
Paint - for surface coatings.
Storm - for hotter burning, and also pouring onto troubled waters.
Pine Tar - industrial perfume, and also for hoof oil.
Soap Oil.
Pitches: Petroleum, Vegetable, Mineral, Coal, Caulking, Burgundy
Quick Lime
Roofing Tar & Bitumens
Rosins (gum and wood)
Stockholm Tar
Sodium Hypochlorite
Spun Yarn
Solvents (numerous)
Soap Oil
Storm Oil
Slushing Oil
Tarred Marlin
Turpentine (substitutes or genuine)
Tall Oils
Wood Preservatives (brown)
Wood Tar
Waxes (bees and petroleum)
White Lead Paste (or in Tallow)
White Spirit
White Petroleum Jelly

Sunday, February 01, 2009


This was my third or possibly even fourth visit to Birmingham, but the first time I managed to venture beyond hotel and conference centre. With a free afternoon I took full advantage to explore on foot where I have never yet ventured by water.

My first purchase on arrival was an A-Z (it is my intention to build a complete library of these) and with the help of this, a lot of brow-furrowing, and the helpful pedestrian fingerposts (which I am convinced are designed to funnel you to your destination via the shops, a bit like the signs that tell you you can only get to the end of the pier by going through the amusement arcade, even though this is clearly a lie) I eventually found some canal, and by dint of following some more signs on the towpath, arrived at Gas Street Basin. This was smaller and less glitzy that I had anticipated, which was far from being a disappointment; quite the reverse in fact.

In all my waterside perambulations I believe I saw only one other boat moving, and that was a BW tug and mud hopper (is that the right term? A boat full of mud anyway). Not a single pleasure boat was underway, and the visitor moorings were all empty.

I took a bracing stroll down the Farmers Bridge flight, and even now it is possible to see why this route was so hated by boatmen; even without the chemical outfalls, evil smelling sludge, dead dogs and factories it was dank and forbidding. So I loved it of course.

Making my way back through the city centre, I found England's second city rather disappointing. Although there are some very fine buildings, there are many more appalling ones, and there seems no sense of cohesiveness. Grand pieces of public art - including a Gormley sculpture and many lesser pieces - seem to have been dropped randomly about the place; as did the buildings themselves. The pedestrianisation of the city centre leaves it, as is so often the case, feeling sterile and artificial, and enormous shopping centres abound and dominate. There is still a great deal of dereliction, interspersed, again apparently randomly, with shiney regeneration. There was none of that sense of grandeur that you feel in, say, Manchester.

There was, however, a splendid memorial to Joseph Chamberlain, reminding us that this was the epicentre of Victorian civic pride, the municipal powerhouse driving the development of English local government and its mission to improve the lives, physically, educationally and spiritually, of the inhabitants of England's great industrial cities. Sadly, like its physical, architectural, manifestations, that mission is now but a shadow of its former self.