Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On the move again

Andante (aka Saxon) is for sale AGAIN! This time smartly painted and with a new engine of all things. Those rose-painted panels on the front doors were rescued from the rubbish in Huddersfield; it's nice to see they're still part of her. I wonder if my abysmal painting still features on the corridor cupboard.

Poor old girl, it seems that since Mike bought her from her first owners, no one has been faithful to her for long. But certainly Mike and I (I don't know about subsequent owners) were so besotted that we went on to buy bigger boats.

The price keeps going up too - now asking over 50% more than I paid in 2004 even though she's now crossed the twenty-year-old mark. Well, good luck to her, she's a lovely little boat.

Thanks to Michelle in Chapel Hill for alerting me to this!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Meanwhile back on the Grand Union

I dunno, you go for weeks without a decent thing to write about and then two (nay, possibly three) come along at once. Back to my weekend on Chiswick...

Day 2: Berkhamsted to Abbots Langley

So, I awoke before the assembled throng on Saturday morning, and volunteered to go to Waitrose. This I did, albeit a little redundantly, as later we all went again, this time with me absent mindedly armed with a windlass. Advised by Penny (for it is her calling) we purchased vast quantities of wine, plus a second consignment of Magnums (posh choc ices on a stick, that is, not of champagne), Esther's previous intrepid experiment having demonstrated that they kept very nicely thank you in the fridge's ice box, and James having missed out on one the previous night on account of it having been Bob's birthday.

At some point in the morning we set off, and at some point later I was invited by James to take the tiller. I cannot really do justice to the way this felt - it really was a dream come true; a perverse desire I've clung to for a few years now. In the meantime I've had goes on Northwiches large (Tarporley) and small (Warbler), and set foot on at least two other big Woolwiches, but this was the first time I'd got to steer one. Just as you chose your football team at an early age and then have to stick with it through thick and thin, even as you discover that there are others that are handsomer, faster, better, I'll always be in some deep corner of my heart a big Woolwich girl.

And it felt fantastic. I'm no natural steerer (I may have mentioned that?) but it felt as natural and instinctive as anything else I've steered; you know how some things just feel right. Its size and heaviness and solidity didn't make it harder; somehow it felt more instinctive rather than less. And I have to give credit to James who seems to be not only a born boatman but a natural teacher too, for his patience and encouragement; and I hope I've remembered the tips he passed on.

Then we stopped for lunch, washed down by some of Penny's wine, and I thought I had better quit while I was ahead, and found other things to do to while away the afternoon, involving scientific trials of different sorts of metal polish. Ah yes, I forgot to mention that we were joined this morning by John and Jane as well as the aforementioned Penny, so had a sizeable crew. We overtook the day's schedule and tied up we knew not where, only that it was somewhere short of Kings Langley - it was only on consulting parish notice board the next morning that I identified it as Abbots Langley.

Well, we enede up in a pub which I have to say is not the sort of establishment I normally frequent, although it didn't look too offputting from the outside. I think it was called the Dog and Partridge, and if not that, then something similar. It had no proper beer (but just about scraped by with bottled Bombardier), large television screens showing a constant succession of what to my untrained eye looked like porn models gyrating to what I presume must be the latest happening sounds (is this the current state of popular music, I ask myself), and, somewhat disturbingly, a golliwog hanging behind the bar. Now, I am not one to take offence on others' behalf at the mere existence of golliwogs, but I think hanging one behind your bar must be intended as some kind of statement, no? And I fear it can't be a particularly savoury one. Add to this a friendly but still rather intimidating young Staffie who begged for crisps with an impressive repertoire of tricks, and a pool table so tatty they didn't care what you did with it, and a liberal attitude to closing time, and you will see we had the ingredients for a fine old night.

So off to bed it was at one, and I awoke at five to the birds singing and the church bells chiming the hour, and I just lay there all cosy watching the sky lighten through the open slide and thinking how incredibly bloody lucky I was.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Welsh weekend

I will continue with my Chiswick adventures when I get home, but this weekend I'm in Newport, Gwent (OK Gwent doesn't officially exist any more, but you know where I mean) visiting my sister. Yesterday we went shopping and today I believe we are going to Abergavenny. When I originally planned the visit I looked into hiring a dayboat on the Mon&Brec, but it proved a combination of too expensive and inaccessible by public transport.
There is canal interest here, but I have yet to suss it out. I was discussing it in the pub last night with some of Ali's friends who said it can be found in the town, sorry, city, and followed for some way. I gather from them that part of it at least is in water and there are still extant locks. Any further information would be greatly appreciated - I have only been able (albeit with a brief search) to find stuff relating to Newport in Shropshire. There was an old photo of one lock in the pub - a sixteenth century establishment called the Olde Murenger. Apparently a murenger is the person who looks after the town walls.
The canal - and railway - are celebrated with a splendid mosaic cum bas relief on an underpass by the river Usk.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Home from home

Day one - Aylesbury to Berkhamsted

I arrived early to meet Chiswick on the towpath opposite Aylsebury Basin, despite having done my usual trick of wandering around for ages having missed the most obvious route. Just as I drew near, with perfect timing, a side hatch flew open. 'Hello', I said, 'I'm Sarah'. Thankfully James, for it was he, seemed to know who I was talking about and I was welcomed on board by Bob and Esther who were making bacon sandwiches for the assembled crew - today, the four of us plus Gabriel, a Tarporley stalwart. Not too soon after this we set off down the Aylsebury Arm, me and Gabriel lockwheeling. Staying ahead of the boat was not too onerous, at it was apparently very shallow. I would just like to put on record now that of the sixty two (or was it sixty three?) locks we went through, approximately three were in our favour, so I have had a good workout.

Anyway, I like doing locks, which is just as well as the weather was not too great on Friday, very damp, and the towpaths were seas of mud. Bob and I both managed to roll about in it a bit (separately) and I was quickly annointed with mud and grease in the proper fashion. So we proceeded throughout the morning, until at lunchtime Gabriel and I were ordered inside to take our sitting for lunch - potatoes baked and pies heated in the Epping stove. Two more locks passed while we ate, and then it was back to the fray.

I wasn't keeping records, but I think it was about half past seven and twenty nine locks later when we arrived at Berkhamsted and tied up outside Waitrose. After a good dinner cooked and served by Esther, we prepared to hit the town; i.e. I put my unmuddy trousers on, and having all changed into our gladrags, we rolled up our trouser legs clear of the mud and set off to find Berko's nightlife. Well, I wanted to go to the Rising Sun, of course, and eventually we did get there, having paused to examine briefly two other pubs on the way (The Boat and one whose name eludes me for the moment) which were heaving with young people - who'd've thought there were so many. The Rising Sun by contrast was just nicely busy and, wonderfully, was pretty much as it ought to be; cream painted T&G and anaglypta ceiling, looking like it hadn't changed in decades, except for the wire pig attached to the ceiling that is.

After a pint it was time to go back to Chiswick and inspect my quarters for the first time. I only subsequently realised the James had given up the back cabin for my convenience, but I'm afraid once I'd tried it I was ready to fight off all comers, I loved being in there so much. The stove was gently burning away in the corner (my wet boots tucked beneath it), the slide was open to regulate the heat, the cross bed was very comfy, the air lightly scented with diesel and, in short, it was absolute heaven.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Coming soon...

For the next few days I'm going to be too busy catching up at work to do justice to the weekend on Chiswick (because I really want to write it up properly). But in the meantime here's a little trailer...

Penny, a Tarporley volunteer who accompanied us for much of the trip, sent me a selection of her photos last night, including this one.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The wanderer returns

I don't know what my student must have thought this afternoon when he turned up to see his normally immaculately turned out supervisor clad in muddy trousers literally embellished with Brasso and black grease, a hippy shirt and black fingernails, and no doubt smelling of smoke at best... but he was far too polite to say anything.

Well, what a splendid weekend I've had; I can scarcely begin to describe how wonderful it was. A new experience, not only in boating on a working boat - which is in itself, in ways both obvious and indefinable, a very different experience - but also crewing with a group of people I didn't know very well (and in some cases had never met before) but with this common interest and commitment, and it was great how we fell into a rhythm of working together without anyone needing to give orders.

I will provide a blow by blow account over the next few days, in order to do justice to the whole thing - hopefully with enough cliffhangers to get my ratings up again - but I must start by saying an enormous thank you to Bob and Esther and James for making it all possible and for making it the fantastic experience that it was.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Extraordinary start

My boating life is dogged by jaw dropping coincidences. This is not the greatest of them (that would be hard to beat) but it's pretty good.

I get up this morning before five, quick shower, breakfast, cup of tea. Just as I'm about to leave I realise that I've nearly finished my detective novel and will have nothing to read on the train. A quick glance over my library books but nothing grabs me. Then I suddenly remember the final two 'Working Waterways' books I bought a couple of months back. I've read Maidens' Trip but that still leaves one. Was it or Anderton for Orders or Hold on a Minute? A quick glance down the contents page in the dark confirms that it's Tim Wilkinson's Hold on a Minute, so I stuff it in my bag and leave the house to catch my train from Newhaven at ten to six.

So I'm on the train to London, finish Careless in Red, and take out the boating book. Savouring every word, I read all the forewords, and it's at this point that my jaw first drops, but I carry on reading to be sure. The author and his wife, in 1948, take on a pair of boats from the DIWE, and the book is an account of their experiences trying to make a go of the life. And their boats are Chiswick and Bawtry. I swear I did not know this.

Tonight, if I am not too exhausted to keep my eyes open, I shall be in Chiswick's back cabin, reading about what that very boat was doing sixty years ago. Extraordinary.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grand Unioning

Can there be many more exciting emails to receive than this?

Chiswick trip:
Hi Sarah,
Are you still on line to join us on our London trip? ....
I have earmarked the boatman's cabin for your accommodation...
Day one - depart 10am Friday 17th from Aylesbury Basin to Berkhamsted - 12.23 miles, 29 locks.
Day two Saturday 18th - depart 10 am - Berkhamsted to Hemel Hempstead - 5.66 miles, 19 locks.
Day three Sunday 19th Hemel Hempstead to Uxbridge - depart 10 am - 15.4 miles, 23 locks.
Final day Monday 20th April - depart 10 am - Uxbridge to Paddington Basin - 19.30 miles, 1 lock

I will have to be up at five to get to Aylesbury by ten, adding that touch of authenticity. I don't know whether I'll be able to blog from Chiswick but I'll do my best. I am very excited...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bank holiday weather

Only to be expected of course. Having toiled for four days under the monochrome skies of East Anglia whilst the rest of the country basked in a heatwave (Sebastian, who now has a job selling candyfloss to the marauding hordes on Brighton seafront, sold £1300 worth of ice creams on Saturday), we drove home this afternoon in stifling heat, and it is now pouring with rain, because of course the first thing I did was do the washing and hang it out, wasn't it.

I just hope that next weekend is better...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Four corners

Yes, OK, it's upside down. I just uploaded it straight off my phone, and no, I'm not going to fiddle about with it now.

We set off last night to find John in the Jolly Sailor and enquire of him what the four points are that one must navigate in order to qualify for the Middle Level plaque - and now having successfully conquered Holme Fen, it appears that we have covered them all, so this morning we we went over to see Lyn and claim our trophy.

The Four points are Nordelph (we don't actually have a photo of ourselves there, but as it is on the way to Salters Lode there's little doubt we've been through, and very pretty it is too), Holme, Ramsey, and Stonea.

There is also a bar for Welches dam lock, but as that is closed at present and for the foreseeable future, it's as well that that's separate.

Meanwhile Jim has changed the impellor in the Jabsco water pump, just as a service thing.

Monday, April 13, 2009

And back again

Today, Peterborough to Floods Ferry and beyond, and back to Bill Fen.
And yes, it was just about as exciting as it sounds. The hint of blue that we saw in the sky this morning quickly resolved itself to grey, and I have to say, the fascination of experiencing this flat textureless landscape in monochrome was starting to pall. We had the bright idea of spending tonight at Floods Ferry, where we used to moor Helyn, so we set off in that direction.

When we got there we were very pleased to see that the willow tree we 'donated' (when it became too big for our tiny garden - another Woolworths purchase) was still going strong, but the caravan and lodges had multiplied considerably and the visitor moorings were packed, and we decided we didn't fancy it after all and that we would go on to March. And the sky got greyer and the air got colder and we thought what are we carrying on for - it's not as if we haven't been to March before - and quite the nicest place to be is Bill Fen anyway, so we turned around, and as we started on our way back, miracle of miracles, the sun actually came out, and what a difference it made. Seeing everything in warm colour again emphasised how dull it had all been before, and the warmth quickly drove away the oppressive chill that had dogged us since Friday. And all was right with the world again.

But we came back anyway, because what we really want to do is get our Middle Level plaque, a special one you can get for going to four obscure points of the waterway, of which Holme Fen is one, but we didn't know or have forgotten what the others are, so we thought we would ask Lyn. I had a look at the Bill Fen website to see if it was on there but couldn't find it - but they have linked to Warrior - what an honour! I had better be sure only to say nice things about the place then - although miserable old curmudgeon that I am, I really do only have nice things to say. And a peacock has just walked past - there.

Dead dog

Yesterday, Whittlesey to Dog in a Doublet, and back to Peterborough.

Jim thought he saw a coconut floating in the water. This might be a common sight in the Midlands or Leicester, but I didn't think Hindu funerals had made it out this far, and sure enough, on closer examination it turned out to be a dead hedgehog, which was a lovely start to the day.

We arrived at Stanground early for our passage at ten, and were locked through by the lovely Tina, third generation of her family to be lock keeper here, then bid farewell to the Moomins who were heading up the Nene out of Peterborough, whereas we planned to go down. First of all we had a splendid EA pumpout (rather guiltily, completely free this time as we are licenceless). This must be one of the best ones going, very efficient, and at the risk of anthropomorphising it, wonderfully enthusiastic. Say what you like about the merits of pumpout vs. cassette, there's something quite satisfying about a good pumpout. Oh, sorry, is that just me? (Also of course, and for me this is the clincher, it's not either/or; if you have a pumpout then you have both and thus are adapted to all emptying opportunities that might present themselves).

Moving on - as we did, under the solid white sky - we headed off down towards Dog in a Doublet. This lock onto the tidal Nene takes its name from the local pub, supposedly named thus when an eighteenth (? I'll look it up in a minute) century landlord's dog's hair fell out and he made it a natty little coat to keep it warm (or possibly to conceal its embarrassing skin complaint). It must have caught on, because I'm pretty sure there's more than one pub by that name in the country. Of course I wanted to visit this legendary inn, but was doomed to disappointment, as like so many, it was boarded up when we arrived.

The five mile stretch was not fatally boring - come on, we've done the Hundred Foot Drain - and wasn't even as straight as it looked on the map. For one mile just out of Peterborough there is no speed limit (moored here in the past we have been entertained by jetskiers, but not today), and for the rest it is 7mph so on the way back (Jim steering of course) we gave the engine a good workout and made the five miles in forty minutes.

Back in Peterborough we went for a wander around the city, and it was much nicer than I remembered it from a previous visit by road. The fact that it was Easter Sunday probably helped; the shops were shut and the place was almost deserted and it was so much easier to notice the many old and handsome buildings that line the streets. All this to a soundtrack of cathedral bells. Only one shop was open - a recruitment agency, advertising for 'English speaking packers and line workers... Register today, work tomorrow' which was not only open, but doing a roaring trade, with people queuing up inside and gathering in knots outside, and not speaking English.

Then we returned for another quiet evening around the fire. I finished reading Stuart Maconie's Adventures on the High Teas (not nearly as good as Pies and Prejudice, I didn't think), and we tested out the new bed, specially made for Craig, that occupies the whole of the back cabin, and pronounced it to be most acceptable, although I still prefer the basis cross bed, but I can afford to, being on the short side.

This morning, the sky might be described as 'white with a hint of blue', which augurs well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sky of white

Awoke this morning to s sky that was not grey, nor of course blue; it was not black, or that forbidding yellow that presages snow. It was white, colourless. Every bit of life and character leached from it. A good day then for attempting the trip to Dog in A Doublet, where the tidal River Nene begins, and proceeds north via Wisbech to some bleak outfall on the North Sea. We have never taken this right turn out of Stanground Lock before. Apparently the last two people to try it died of boredom. But on the map it only looks like about five miles, of dead straight cut, so surely we can bear it for that long. I always thought Dog in a Doublet held the promise of exoticism, although now I am prepared for disappointment. But I do remember that once before we came across it by road, at night, the giant guillotine gate looming black out of the mist, and it was quite a stirring sight, on the still black water.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No place like Holme

Day 2? Wherever it was to Holme, and Holme to Whittlesey

Yes, we did make it up Holme Fen this time. And discovered in the process that the point where we had to turn back last time (or rather not turn back but reverse out) was only about 150 yards from the end and the winding hole. Well, they call it a winding hole, but really it's more of a narrow channel round an island, and not at all spacious, but we managed it, and so did Melaleuca. Oh yes, and so did about a dozen stalwarts of Peterborough IWA who were having an Easter cruise up Holme Fen and most of whom were on their way out as we were on our way in and just getting to the narrow bit. In fact I was very pleased with the way I manoeuvred around most of them, until one very small boat appeared without looking from behind one that was waiting for us to pass, and threw it all into chaos.

Tonight we are in Whittlesey, and about to sample its nightlife. The town has an impressive number of pubs with some delightful names - The Hero of Aliwal, The Letter B - as well as a Black Bull, Falcon Hotel, a George (closed), a Boat Inn, and others which I can't remember. I liked the idea of The Hero of Aliwal - a local character called Harry Smith who played a decisive part in the Sikh Wars (according to Imray), but the pub itself was not very inviting (also, a food hygeine certificate granting the holder three stars out of a possible five is hardly a ringing endorsement, is it. If it were mine I don't think I would display it in the window quite so boldly). The Letter B may get a look in though.

Fen thoughts

As I sit here, shivering slightly in the damp grey chill, a football commentator on Radio 5 informs Jim that in Wigan, hundreds of fans are sitting shirtless in the blazing sun. But I wonder whether this isn't the best weather for this landscape. When the sun shines, it is inescapable; and the blue sky heavy and oppressive... No, I'm not convinced either.

But it is the best weather for really appreciating the strangeness of this place, muffled in its blanket of mist, silent and still. There is something very post-apocolyptic about the landscape. Buildings are roofless, wall-less; boarded, bricked up, cracked and collapsing, houses, pumping stations and mysterious shacks. Farmyards are junkyards of old machinery, giant wheels and the skeletons of family homes. Rumps and stumps of bridges and buildings and alien blackened trees emerge from the mist. It is as if everyone just got up and walked away. It has such a sense of being abandoned.

And yet the black fields have been ploughed and sown, and already glimmer with the pale green traces of the vegetables that come summer will be picked by an invisible army of migrant workers. But for human intervention, the land would not even be here. But it is a land living on borrowed time; and, unlike the rest of us, it knows it.

Dry everywhere else

I've just listened to the weather forecast on Radio 4. It said that it was grey and wet in eastern England (yep) but bright and sunny and promising a lovely day in the west. It said it is going to rain all day in the east. And tonight, it will rain in the east and will be dry everywhere else.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Blasted heath

Yes, I know it's the wrong side of the country and no doubt looks entirely different, but that was the first thing that came into my head upon seeing this scene. Where are we? Somewhere on the Nene Old Course, headed not towards Floods Ferry and March, but the other way, on our way to Holme Fen. Yep - intrepid or foolhardy, we have decided that this will be our first holiday adventure. Hopefully at this time of year there will not be so much weed. That's what we thought when we tried it one Christmas, but there was still a lot of dead weed hanging about then, and you may recall, we never made it as far as the winding hole at the end but had rather a long reverse out.

We've stopped here for the night as Moomin says it's the last nice-ish spot, and it was, of course, raining. It started just as we untied to leave Bill Fen, soft wet rain. I just spent three days in Manchester and it didn't rain once!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

You ain't going nowhere

Bah! It is as we feared. Salters Lode lock will not be re-opening in time for Easter, so sorry Cambridge, you'll have to manage without us.

This leaves us with two options (well, three if you include staying at home, but I'm dying to get back on the boat, even if this means...) Option 1: Go up the Nene. Jim just suggested that we could spend our week going up the Nene to Northampton and back. Why? I asked... So that we could go to the Malt Shovel. Well, yes, I am very much looking forward to visiting this pub with its massive selection of real ales and continental beers, and I do like a journey to have an objective, but the cost-benefit analysis on that particular proposal is not positive.

My preferred option is to spend the time exploring the bits of the Middle Level that we might otherwise not get round to. A new assault on Holme Fen, for example; a run up to Dog in a Doublet; up Bevills Leam as far as possible from each end (it has a pumping station in the middle); to Upwell to drink in the Globe as planned; and to Welches dam lock, which used to be passable (indeed, Warrior was built to the maximum length with which it was possible to pass it) but is no longer...

All I can say at present is, sorry Cambridge that we won't be visiting after all, and watch this space to find out where we will be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Found it!

Still, I suppose it wasn't really lost. But it was still nice to come across this on my way from the conference centre last night. As I was watching a small girl came up to me. My expertise must have showed, because she asked me 'Is that gate allowed to be open?' I said perhaps it wouldn't stay shut. Should she go and shut it, she wanted to know. I thought this was probably to be discouraged, as she really was quite small and was accompanied by an even smaller boy. Then they caught sight of three rather menacing looking Canada geese on the lockside, and with a cry of 'Duckies!' they were off in pursuit.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Helyn again

At last! Some free time combined with good weather means that work on Helyn has restarted. Today Jim finished relaying the floor after we'd had it up to inspect and clean underneath it.

And yesterday we got the new steering cable steering fitted.

Just a final scrub now, and some new varnish on the wooden handrails, and she'll be ready to go.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

A-bantering, Ubuntu-ing

It can't be often that someone decides on a whim to go to Uxbridge for the evening, especially when it involves a two and a half hour train and tube journey each way, but hey, that's the kind of mad people we boaters are. We had long known that there was going to be a CWF 'banter' (these get togethers seem to be becoming more frequent of late) and that Moomin and the Ducks and various other luminaries were going, but we'd decided to give it a miss and save our pennies for the forthcoming holiday. But then, like all the best decisions, we thought, oh what the hell, let's go after all. So there was a mad dash to catch the train, as we hadn't noticed that the start time had been moved from three to six o'clock.

No matter, we got there at about half past four and strolled up and down the towpath in the sun - yes, the SUN! - for a bit, then sat and had a quiet pint, and then the Cambridge contingent arrived, closely followed by about thirty other people in the end, some of whom we knew - it was particularly splendid to see Bones and Maffi again - and some we met for the first time. Not many had come by boat but there were a few tied up outside, including Derri's rather wonderful Carribean Broads cruiser, and a RN DM3 being run on waste oil of various sorts (we saw him pouring in old chip fat as well as the much blacker stuff) using RN's heating and filtering system.

Moomin was delighted to hear that I, being the last person in the household to hold out, have finally abandoned Windows for Linux. It wasn't that I liked Windows; rather, like I suspect about 99% of users, I was clinging desperately to the familiar no matter how awful it was - and mine, after four years, was pretty dreadful. So the other day, when it absolutely refused to connect to the internet, I finally got round to backing up all the photos to DVD and let Baz wipe the whole thing and install Ubuntu. So far I am very impressed. It's not just that it's quicker and cleaner, but it does - even to someone who's very used to Windows - seem more intuitive and simpler. The installation went without a hitch, and Firefox, for example, was ready to go without any further setting up.

I am still slightly wary of OpenOffice and its compatability with MS Office - I'm currently writing the PowerPoint presentation for my conference paper on Tuesday and having seen the changes it made translating into OpenOffice from my Windows machine at work, I'm a bit worried about what it's going to do when I try to transfer it back again in front of a room full of people. Also I miss the keyboard commands which don't seem to work - but maybe I just need to use different keys?

On the plus side however, it has an excellent version of Tetris, so I never need be gainfully employed again. And - see the photo at the top? I decided that I wanted to crop it a bit, something I would normally summon Baz to do, but I thought, this is all new to all of us, so I'll see what I can do, so I rooted around for a bit, and found something called Gimp, dragged the photo into it, messed around for a bit, and presto, I worked out how to do it. Hours of fun beckon.

Although having said that my desktop computer is once more refusing to communicate with the wider world, whilst all the wireless jobbies seem quite happy to. So perhaps it has its wires crossed.

Friday, April 03, 2009

This time next week

Jim has just pointed out that if things go to plan, this time next week we should be enjoying a few pints of Elgoods (Black Dog in Jim's case; me, I don't know yet) in the Globe in Upwell, en route to Salters Lode (which as of today still hasn't reopened, but we continue to live in hope).


In order to head off any criticism before it gets to me, I tend to announce up front (in circumstances where it is relevant, and sometimes when it isn't) that I am the world's worst steerer. At least, proportionate to the amount of practice, experience and effort I have put in; there might be small children who have never seen a boat (though they'd probably pick it up and overtake me within minutes) and creatures without opposable thumbs who find it as much of a challenge, but I can't be sure.

This, as you might imagine, is a source of much consternation to me. I love boats so much that it seems there should be a natural affinity between us, but no; it appears that this love is unrequited and its object responding only with a chilly civility. Fantasies of chugging nonchalantly along, coolly tweaking the throttle and adjusting the tiller are replaced in reality with a constant state of near panic and a horrible feeling of inadequacy.

Why this should be, I do not know. It might be partly just the way my brain's set up - learning to drive a car was a similarly dogged war of attrition between me and my inadequacy, marked by one (oh yes, there were many) instructor memorably saying (imagine this in a lazy Yorkshire drawl) 'I'd guess you're not very good at practical things... Academically you're probably quite average, but... not very good at practical things...' Naturally I was most offended at being accused of being academically quite average, but had to accept his verdict on the other front. I won that battle in the end though.

And I intend to get the better of this one as well. The thing is, I am quite good at practical things, provided they don't involve heavy lifting or power tools. What I am not so good at is doing them under pressure, whether that's the pressure of having someone breathing critically down my neck, or the pressure of being about to hit something hard with a big lump of metal. (Boating of course often provides both. Simultaneously.) It's in circumstances like that where I am still (very occasionally) wont to doubt my judgement as to which direction I should be moving the tiller, and, far more frequently, to forget entirely which way the throttle turns, or, in extremis, which way is reverse.

Nonetheless, I am not nearly so bad as I once was, so I am convinced that, even with diminishing returns, if I practise enough I will eventually reach a level of adequacy, even if I never attain the flair of which I once dreamed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I was out on Tarporley yesterday afternoon, and tied up just below St Pancras lock was an ugly-as-sin widebeam (internal decor in the style of a faux-country pub)... and anyway, as we went past it for the second time a classic irate bloke leapt out and started yelling at us for going too fast... I was a bit slow on the uptake (thought we were having a friendly conversation with a passing cyclist) but apparently his language was none too refined.

We weren't going too fast, of course. He was tied up appallingly for starters, and no matter how slowly we go in a beast like that we're going to move a lot of water. When we were at Cropredy with Warrior last summer many boats passed us, some of them no doubt going quite fast, but the only one that made us move significantly was Chiswick. It might have been speeding of course, I was too busy watching open mouthed and going 'ooh, I haven't seen that one before' (And hopefully the week after next I might be having a ride on it).

Back to yesterday... as we came back (it was a short trip) I became aware that the aggrieved widebeamer was following us on his bicycle, shouting very aggressively all the while. He didn't look the sort that you'd like to cross, really - large, shaven headed, and very very cross. And for the first time I could make out what he was yelling: 'You broke my ornaments'