Sunday, May 31, 2009

Outdoor Type

I caught sight of myself this morning, on the train, on the way to Tarporley; in my stout boots and hi-tech walking shorts, with my brown legs and increasingly muscular arms, and I realised that after all these years of sitting palely and flabbily in the corner reading a book, completely against the odds, I have somehow metamorphosed into an Outdoor Type. Wonders will never cease.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dr Who?

I just noticed that there is a new contributor listed for this blog - hmmm, one 'Dr Duct'. You will be wondering what kind of company I keep. But never fear, it is none other but new crew member Craig. It is not his fault that he makes a living in the somewhat arcane field of duct cleaning. Next time you don't get Legionnaires' Disease, it's someone like Craig you have to thank.

So, the next step is to see whether this actually works.... so Craig, if you're reading this (and if you're not, I want to know why), how about tomorrow you introduce yourself... and a picture would be nice, got to test the upload function...

Well, they've gone and done it now

Thank you to Sarah and Jim, who've offered me, a newbie, the chance to sail the Nene from Peterborough-ish (don't need to know - the hospitable Jim has offered to drive) to Cotton End, Northampton 18-21 June.

What's more: I've been let loose on the Warrior blog! Surely they will rue the day.

Things I have learnt so far:

  1. Maps and planning are very important (even though most canals only allow travel in one of two directions, intersections are rare, and most of the water stays put)

  2. The Nene is said to be bereft of good toddling-distance pubs (I hope to prove this wrong, and will diligently heed all advice from readers)

  3. The ability of crew to make tea is apparently as well valued by freshwater skippers, as it is by their salty cousins

The photograph here was taken on a brilliant day's sail we had with Sarah and Jim from Regent's Park to Limehouse, last September. I'm afraid it's the sort of uninformative, pretentious twaddle you can expect from me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's in the post

The boating season must be truly upon us, for we have posted off the licence application this morning. Last year we had a month's worth of BW plus various carefully selected rivers for our meticulously planned journey. This year... six months, for a very vague 'mmmm, think we'll head north... Rochdale... hmm... Leeds Liverpool...' As we get more boating experience under our belts it seems less important to plan every move, more possible to just wait and see; to consider leaving the boat somewhere for a week or two, or going to work from various parts of the country.

First stop though, Braunston, where (or just prior to where) we will hopefully finally meet up with Bill and Michelle from North Carolina, who were thinking of buying Andante, which is how we first 'met', and who went on to buy a lovely sounding little boat called Shilling.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I've relapsed

I'm not quite sure how it happened. A while before Christmas I gave up Canal World Discussion Forums, exasperated by a few trolls and an off-colour joke (no surprise that someone made the joke, but I reported it and the mods did nothing about it). So I just gave it up, cold turkey. For a while it was gloriously liberating. Suddenly there were more hours in the day as I sat at my desk. Suddenly I was no longer deliberately allowing myself to be irritated by total strangers' attitudes to the European Union/earth bonding/bridge hopping.

And yet somehow it has sucked me back in. I can't recall what it was that first made me take that first, fatal, little peek again. And suddenly, over this bank holiday weekend, I'm in it up to my neck again, worse than ever I think. Posting and commenting here there and everywhere; getting cross and exasperated and in turn annoying others all over again.

But there is more to it than that. Over the last few days I have sent a total stranger a Leo McNeir book that I no longer wanted, asked and received advice about licencing (as well as my mental state), been complimented on pictures of the boat, and found as many friends as enemies. The online world and the discussions in the Virtual Pub are a strange world, inhabited by oddly-named characters who may or may not bear any resemblance to actual people (or elephants), but they are none the less real for that. Solid, human friends like Bones, Baldock (I think he's human) and Moominpapa were met for the first time in cyberspace and might not otherwise have been met at all.

And of course if you don't like it, you can walk away. But you'll be back.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Welcome aboard....

Last night we went to Eastbourne to see Vicky and Craig, the latter of whom is accompanying Jim on the first leg of our next trip, from Ramsey to Northampton, so I don't have to. And in order that neither I, nor you, dear reader, should miss out on the fascinating details of the journey, Craig - who has identified at least four previously unknown pubs en route - will be blogging it right here.

After dinner we went for a healthy constitutional along the promenade and I saw for the first time the gorgeous bandstand which is the centrepiece of what is effectively an amphitheatre filled with stripy chairs, where the denizens and citizens of Eastbourne regularly gather in traditional fashion to watch tribute bands. Actually, I really like Eastbourne, and I could hardly tear myself away from here. As a bonus, the sunset had turned the sea a most unearthly glimmering pink, with little turquoise waves.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tall tales

Back to the boring bits with a bump. As you may recall, Warrior's engine chimney has not been the same since its encounter with Osney Bridge last summer (moral: the time to take the chimney off is when you first think of it*).

In all the time we have had the boat, Warrior has never had a flash engine pipe. Initially it was a standard sort of chimney, but at some point cut in two and joined together with a cocoa tin. That took a few hammerings and I think eventually gave way at the join, so we only had half a chimney. Last summer we were running with the stove chimney over the top to give a bit more height, and as the stove chimney is a pretty solid bit of pipe, this was the source of our problems at Osney; unlike the old one with its cocoa tin fail-safe, or indeed a standard thin one, it acted as a lever and actually dented the roof. This isn't (we hope) visible, but it does leave the what's its name that the chimney fits over at a slight angle which is of course magnified if a pipe is put on it.

So, we need to overcome that, plus we want some sort of arrangement to stop that sort of thing happening again. On his new boat, John Shotbolt has quite a complex arrangement of a hinged chimney with a spring to return it to the upright and a wire so that this can all be done without letting go of the tiller. A bit OTT for us, plus since we fitted the engine room vent, running the wire would be very complex. But we have also seen, on Warbler and on Chiswick a simple hinged arrangement that can be lowered manually (but without the need to wrestle it off and worry about where to put it) and in an emergency will lower itself, albeit with a bit of a bang. I can't remember exactly what Warbler's was like, but Chiswick's was simply an intermediate section onto which a standard chimney fitted. They are produced by Tony Redshaw, and are quite expensive.

With all this in mind, Jim has gone down the quay to see Len the Welder who has some suitable pipe. The idea is to make a short lower section that will fit over, or possibly ultimately replace, the current what-do-you-call-it, and in doing so compensate for the angle. Attached to this will be a hinged tall section, with a lip inside to seal it and keep it stable. But - and this is my little refinement - the hinge will have a removable pin or bolt, so that if required the tall section can be replaced with a short one, rather than sitting a normal pipe on top of the hinged section. We even have some strips of brass we can decorate it with, if I could only remember where they were.

*Adapted from a sailing maxim found in a Libby Purvis novel, to give credit where it's due in case anyone recognises it, but applicable to a whole range of situations.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


With hindsight it would have been better to go by car, but we didn't, we went by train and sampled the delights of the outer reaches of the Metropolitan Railway - today they were running a vintage train, but not yesterday, when we went, and anyway, it was £20 a ticket, but as Jim says, they have to pay for its upkeep somehow.

I was pleasantly surprised to see what a turnout of old boats there was; we met up with Chiswick again, and Mike on Victoria, and saw many others. Stafford was there, the josher famously restored (if that's the right word for a full length cabin conversion) in Poland and currently up for sale for £150,000, and I have to say it didn't look all that impressive.

James does something fiendish to the engine

We were cheering Chiswick on in the first round of the tug of war, when John and Mary on Lincoln, a Hawkins boat with a RN DM3 running on waste oil, whom we met at the Uxbridge banter, invited us to contribute to their ballast in the next heat. From there we had an excellent view of proceedings. When that heat was over, Jim jumped ship to Victoria but I stayed to have a bottle of beer and enjoy the spectacle.

A couple of rounds later Chiswick was comprehensively overhauled by one of the Bantam tugs present, and followed that immediately by taking on another one - I think the second one was Wigan. Chiswick seemed to hold its own a lot better this time, but a select few were able to observe that it had in fact been tied to Callisto, which was tied to Victoria, which was tied to the bank... I'm pretty sure that the crew of Chiswick remained blissfully unaware of this favour.

After a few more rounds, and once Jim got back to the right side of the cut, it was definitely time for something to eat so we set off for the beer tent and food. The food was a bit of a diasppointment, lots of commercial outlets - where oh where were the KESCRG with their lovely veggy curry? But we had some Indian kebabs and followed them up with a couple of Cornish pasties (yes, well, it was tea time by now). There was also a very commercial funfair, and all this part was much busier and more crowded than the towpath. I was however able to indulge my compulsion to purchase hippy festival clothing, this time adding a pair of silk 'Afghan trousers' to my collection. Very fashionable this year, I'm given to understand. All the stars are lining up with great swathes of fabric hanging between their legs. Very practical though, silk, when boating. Screws up very small without creasing to be brought out for that one occasion when you need to look vaguely smart/clean/festive/female.

Then we strolled back up the towpath and following years of mutual blog-commenting finally met Jo and Keith on Hadar, who were lovely. We chatted for ages and I got shown over the boat, which is a masterpiece of simple design.

By then it was half past six and we decided to make a move for home. The uncharming ticket collector at Rickmansworth station insisted on relieving us of another £3.20 each on top of our All Zones Travelcard (you may wish to note for future reference that 'all zones' does not include zones 7 and 8), despite his charming colleague when we arrived assuring us that we would be 'very unlucky' if this were to occur.

Nonetheless, it was a lovely day, and I'm very glad that we went.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Today we went to the Rickmansworth Festival. These sorts of events have always been enjoyable, but it is miles more fun now that there are people we know to meet up with. We got to know some more new people today too, and I'll write more about it all tomorrow. In the meantime, here is Victoria and Lupin in the tug of war - the former being assisted by Jim, but I don't think his weight could make up for all Lupin's human ballast.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Throwing Bones to the dogs

Canal Boat have published a letter criticising one of their contributors - my attention was drawn to it by Granny Buttons this morning. My copy hasn't arrived yet, so this is based entirely on the section Andrew quotes, but it does raise wider issues.

For some reason (envy, it must be, mustn't it?), academics are seen to be fair game by anyone who can't string a sentence together but who comfort themselves with the thought that being able to wield a power tool somehow makes them superior. Actually, the reason might well be that in many cases a reputation for absentmindedness and utter, unbelievable, impracticality is, in some cases - I speak from personal experience - very well deserved. (Exhibit one: the historian who called in an electrician to change a plug. Exhibit two: the philosopher who came to work in odd shoes. Not socks; shoes. Exhibit three: the sociologist whose kitchen table was balanced precariously on its base for twenty years.)

Which is what makes the attack on Bones unfair. She is - and her column clearly shows this - actually very competent. Sure, she writes about what goes wrong along the way, but she always gets there in the end - and the things she attempts are more ambitious than many of her critics would dare try.

The column is primarily intended to be amusing - and there's nothing more amusing than things going wrong, so obviously this is the aspect that gets played up. But it fulfils a second function too - giving encouragement to people who might lack the confidence to try something new, by telling them that if things go wrong it's not the end of the world. It happens to everyone, and can be recovered from and learnt from.

So long live Bones I say. Academics of the world unite - you have nothing to lose but your glasses/coats/pens/bicycle ...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just looking...

Back in the days when we had Helyn and dreamed of owning a narrow boat we loved going to brokers and looking over boats - this wasn't just idle tyre kicking, but serious research, getting an idea of what was available, what we liked, and what constituted a sensible price (as I said to Jim just now, there are no stupid boats, only stupid prices. Obviously this is not strictly speaking true; there are a great many very stupid boats, but this was said entirely in the context of old boats). The experience stood us in good stead, I think, because both our narrow boat purchases turned out to be a good choice on the basis of a relatively quick examination.

Now, however, this innocent practice has escalated. We have begun window shopping old boats. There is an inexorable sense of inevitability about where this would lead - except for the (perhaps merciful) fact that Jim and I are unlikely to agree on either what sort of boat or what condition... Nonetheless we had a super day out yesterday visiting the Warwickshire Flyboat Company. I'd never been there before and it was lovely, and the owner was very pleasant and helpful even though we obviously weren't immediate buyers. Jim was primarily interested in having a look at Ian, and even got wooden boat guru Carl to come along as well, while I took the opportunity to have a good look at Bicester (what else?)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Where's my gold braid?

Well, well, in something of a turn up for the books, I have today gained the National Community Boats Association Certificate in Community Boat Management. This means that I am considered capable of taking charge of a boat and up to twelve passengers. As well as being somewhat bewildered that anyone would consider me capable of this, I am also rather proud. There is no doubt that my steering has improved, and my manoeuvring over the course of this training weekend did, I have to say, go without a hitch. And my boatman's hitch was the envy of all.

The theoretical element of the course was not too onerous, being based largely around boat knowledge and common sense. The real challenge was the route planning exercise: work out how you would do the Warwickshire Ring in a week, fitting in a visit to some stately home, shopping and getting water every day, and with a pumpout in the middle of the week... using only a 1983 copy of Nicholsons, which for a start doesn't even have a symbol for pumpout in the key. However, once we got the hang of it Richard and I made a fair stab at the task, although we did end up with a day in hand and a pretty tired crew.

The only fly in the ointment is that as far as CCNA are concerned, I am now a qualified 'skipper'. Sebastian has already promised to bring me a hat with gold braid from the shop where he works on Brighton seafront. I can only promise never to refer to myself as such. But a steerer I shall be very proud to be.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Welsh weekend II

Somewhat after the event, I return to my visit to Newport. On Sunday, I really wanted to go looking for the canal, but Ali had decided that first of all a visit to Abergavenny would be in order. I'm not 100% sure why; this may be the 21st century and all, but there still isn't a great deal of entertainment to be found in a small Welsh town on a Sunday.

So we came back, and then I said, we must go and find the canal now. But we had no idea where to start really, and we hadn't taken the map with us. We started off going completely the wrong way, heading for the area that was named in the photo of locks I'd seen in the pub. I knew it didn't feel right though; we were headed up hill and into the posh bit of town. So we turned around, and found ourselves watching a great bigh parade of scouts, sea cadets etc. What was this, we asked one of the marshalling policemen. St George's Day parade, it turned out to be. In Wales? How odd.

Anyway, Ali has a friend who lives in Canal Street. This I thought was an enormous clue, but, unfortunately, she could never remember how to get to her friend's house. Out past Wickes and by the dual carriageway, a guy in the pub had said, so we set off in that direction. And sure enough, there it was.

My first sight (since the school trip to Ironbridge in 1982) of a disused canal. Now, you can either follow the main line towards Cwmbran, or the Crumlin Branch, to a place called Fourteen Locks, which is apparently very pretty. According to this sign
we took the latter route, although it did not entail turning off; the other route forked off to the right under the road, where the canal ran in a concrete trough.

The first couple of locks, although dry, had new gates, which was rather intriguing. I know there are plans to restore the canal from where it is currently navigable to all the way down to Newport, where apparently it will join the Usk (I just read about this in the IWA magazine).
I guess there must be a reason for starting at the furthest end. As we progressed away from Newport the canal got more overgrown, and the locks more derelict.
However, none looked irretrievable. There were also some lovely relics that had somehow survived without being removed to a museum or scrapyard.

We never got as far as Fourteen Locks, as it had been a long day, I had a cold, and we were still carrying our shopping. But it was a lovely walk and I only wish we'd started it sooner and made a day of it.

Monday, May 04, 2009

London boating

Penny, ahem, pours the wine...

Yesterday Jim and I went to the Little Venice Cavalcade. I'd never been before so wasn't sure what to expect. Had we just gone to wander around, it wouldn't really have taken long. There weren't that many stalls, and although there were lots of boats, most of them weren't really for looking at - although they made a lovely show, all dressed in bunting and filling the pool with colour.

However, we had an absolutely splendid day, thanks once again to our friends on Chiswick. We arrived about noon, via Paddington, and decided to stroll up towards the basin first to see who was there - and lo and behold, practically the first boat I did see was Chiswick, in the process of being decorated in the theme of 'waterway wonders'.

I introduced Jim and we had a cup of tea while James dismantled the plumbing to find a piece of pipe from which to fly the bunting, and we were invited to join them for a trip to Camden and back at about two.

So we went off to see what else was around - one highlight was Dane with its Bolinder running way up at the far end of the Little Venice visitor moorings - and we had some lunch, and returned to find tied up next to Chiswick none other than Victoria. Now as you know, I love a big Woolwich... but a Royalty class... phew. Magnificent. Is all I can say. It's almost too much. So we got to have a chat with Mike, its (relatively) new owner and have a little clamber over it, then we set off in convoy between Victoria and Kestrel (the josher, not the Duckies' friends) to Camden where we all tied up right by the lock and went off for a very quick drink as James had to be back by five for the boat handling competition - preferably with the boat.

Bob and Rosie went off to find a coffee while the rest of us plunged into a Lloyds Bar hell hole, took aged to be served and then had five minutes to down our pints before heading back over the bridge to the boats (there could be a sporting event in this, sort of like orienteering but without the healthy stuff). We were just untying when we realised that we hadn't got Bob and Rosie. Gabriel went off to round them up, then they appeared and we had to call Gabriel back, and then we set off, having slipped out from inside Kestrel whose crew looked unlikely to return for some time.

On the way back I had a lovely view...

We now fancied another drink, so Penny opened a bottle of rose and sloshed out a couple of generous tin-mugfuls. The flavour was not greatly diminished by the diesel smuts collected along the way. We made it back to the pool in good time and plotted up ready for the competition. I leapt off to meet Dean from work, who I had suggested come down to experience the joy of boats, but everyone else stayed on board while Dean and I had an ice cream - me still clutching my mug of pink liquid - and watched from various vantage points as James completed the fiendish course.

There is a second round today so I don't know yet whether he won, but he has done in the past, so I would have put money on him had the opportunity presented itself, which it didn't.

After that we all went off and had dinner, and while the others prepared for the illuminated parade, Jim and I reluctantly decided to take ourselves home, the last train departing Victoria at the obscenely early hour of 2147. But what a lovely day out we'd had - thanks once again to everyone on Chiswick.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Adventures on Chiswick part III

Day 3, Abbots Langley to Uxbridge

Yes, I really was awake - albeit not up - at five. Eventually I got up and finished Hold on a Minute, then strolled into the village to a. identify where we were and b. get some Sunday papers. Jim always jokes when we go to some little village that there won't be any Guardians; this works both if the place is painfully trendy (they will have sold out) and if it is clearly Colonel Bufton Tufton country (they won't have ordered any in the first place). I always laughed at this (no harm in that, seeing as it was a joke...) but he'd have had the last laugh this morning in Abbots Langley. Is there an Observer, I asked. Should be, the shopkeeper said, oh, no, we've sold it.

This morning was notable for me being able to mildly upset two dog owners - not that I have anything against dog owners per se (some of my best friends etc) but the first of these was one of that breed of people who seem to think that deftly flicking a pile of shit into the canal constitutes clearing up after your dog - er, no. If we wanted the canal full of shit, we've plenty of our own; think of what we'd save on blue. But there's a reason that's not allowed any more, and you, dog owners, are no exception. If only I had been able to put it so eloquently at the time, but it was a bit early for coherent argument.

The second one was walking two big boisterous dogs along a narrow path towards me. I just stopped and stood still to allow him to steer them around me, and after he passed he said 'You're welcome' in a very sarky tone. I'm still wondering what I was supposed to have been grateful for. 'Oh, thank you so much for not forcing me off the path into the ankle deep mud and dog crap (to which you have no doubt been contributing this morning'; 'I am eternally grateful to you for restraining your slathering beasts from savaging me as an aperitif before breakfast'; 'I am truly honoured to have been permitted to use the footpath when you and your hell hounds clearly needed it more.' But once again, the apposite response arrived five minutes too late. Esprit de gangplank.

On the way back from the shop I met Bob and James on a similar mission, and then we all had breakfast and after a bit set off. It was lovely and sunny today, and seemed to go by very quickly. We all did bits of polishing and locks while James steered, and heading towards Uxbridge texted Baldock to see if they wanted to meet up. By the time we'd had dinner and washed up, primped and changed, and forgotten it was Sunday, there wasn't much time left for drinking, and I for one was pretty worn out anyway - although still exhilarated by the whole experience. So it was back for a relatively early night...

Day 4, Uxbridge to Cowley Lock (me)/Paddington Basin (everyone else)

... And, concomitantly, another early morning. More like six this time maybe, but I got up straight away and started polishing. It was just such a lovely morning already and it felt like the right thing to do. When the time came to leave (after I'd put in a bit of practice negotiating the top plank) James said that I should steer again for my last bit of the trip, which was marvellous. So it came to pass that all too soon we arrived at Cowley lock, and while we were waiting, Penny went and bought everyone ice creams, and I steered Chiswick into the lock, handed the tiller to James, collected my bag and coat (wonderfully redundant on this lovely final day), said my farewells and thanks - which I record here for posterity - and without a backward glance set off on the long trek back to Uxbridge. Yes, I know I could have just gone from there in the morning, but I wanted to do every single lock of the trip, and with the steering, and the sun and the ice cream it was well worth it.

I'll be back.