Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More retail therapy

I know it's shallow and girly and I should be out there getting oil under my fingernails, but one of the nice things about having a boat is playing house. As a child, I wanted to live in a gypsy caravan (all to my self, naturally) - but that was only because I'd never seen a narrow boat back cabin. As soon as I first saw one, I was smitten by its cosy efficiency; its defiant clutter, its sheer me-sizedness. So kitting out Chertsey's back cabin will be an adult sized, childish pleasure.

Now, I thought that the easiest thing in the world would be finding some suitable crockery. Odds and ends of mismatched china from the forties or fifties (because on Chertsey it is always 1956, I have decided, unless I later discover something - for example, about when the engine was put in - to make me revise this). I had vast collections of such china, thirties too, lovingly, madly, collected at jumble sales over the past twenty years, which would have been perfect, and only just got rid of it all. So, I thought, there must be loads of it about, waiting to be picked up for pennies.

So we set off to Lewes, to hit the junk shops/antiques emporia, and.... nothing. Just nothing. Older stuff; newer stuff; but nothing from those three decades - at least nothing with dinner plates and/or at a sensible price and very little at a stupid price. Eventually I found a really good set of Doulton 'Frost Pine' which I really rather liked, but Jim thought it was a bit too late. He researched it when we got home and it was in production from 1956 - 64, which does make it a bit late really, and also, with hindsight, it was rather too good and delicate for boating. What I really want is some good old thick institutional white china. I think I will end up buying new.

We also had no luck finding enamel teapots, tea/sugar/biscuit jars, brass handles, &c. We did however get a (new) enamel bucket.

And, unexpectedly, a couple of rather good prizes: a lovely bit of lace (I don't want too much, but a little bit can't hurt) and eight of those brass things for putting on the chimney chain. In the antiques place where we found them they were marked as 'horse brass spacers' - I must confess I had never really given a thought to their intended purpose, and nor had I ever seen any outside of a boating context. Anyway, just as we were leaving, I saw a set of four, very beaten and bashed about, marked at £20. As they were so battered, Jim offered a tenner for them, at which point the shopkeeper produced another four - the much nicer ones - marked at four quid each. So I was happy to take those at that price and we got the other four for £10 into the bargain so I am now very well provisioned with regard to my chimney chain. Given that they were selling for upwards of fifteen quid apiece at Braunston, I was pleased with the day's shopping, even if we still have nothing to eat off; at least there will be plenty to polish.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In the engine 'ole

OK, we know the engine's seized. But other than that, it really couldn't look better... Chertsey's engine room is notable for being clean and tidy and dry, and the engine, on the face of it looks likewise.

So here it is, a Petter PD2, as installed by British Waterways in the 1950s to replace the aging (all of 20 years!) Nationals in the former Grand Union boats. I know very little about these engines, but have pieced together that they quite quickly seem to have fallen out of favour, but that for the many of the boat lovers who formed their attachments in the sixties, they represent the quintessential sound of commercial narrow boats. It all looks very streamlined, and fifties-modern.

I have, very very briefly, steered a boat with a PD2 (Lancing), although not for long enough to form any opinion whatsoever of it. I seem to recall that it was loud, so that's good.

As far as we can tell from looking, Chertsey's engine is clean and well cared for, up to the point where it was sadly but inevitably neglected when the former owner became ill. Hopefully we have made a start towards freeing it up by pouring oil and diesel down the bores. If this is successful, we'll probably have it rebuilt (at vastly less expense, I understand, than doing a National...), and if not, there is another, already rebuilt PD2, that we should be able to buy. So either way it'll be good to stick with the Petter - after all, we've already got a National.

The gearbox is a Parsons, with a separate reduction box, which will be a new experience for me.

The electrics are neat and simple. There's no alternator, but there is a dynamo sitting on the floor...

You'll have seen from the back cabin photo that there's no door in the bulkhead between the engine room and the cabin. I'm sure having a door there has more pros than cons (and they must have started adding them fairly early, because although I haven't checked, I'm pretty sure there's a reference to one in Idle Women) but I'm not about to start chopping it about now. So I shall manage without through ventilation when it's stuffy, engine warmth when it's not, easy access to the toilet and the reassuring smell of diesel to get me off to sleep.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The best day's boating ever

Last Thursday will certainly take some beating. We set our alarm for five, me, Jim and Aaron (No. 1 Son), to be ready to leave at six thirty. The plan was to go with Keith on his large Woolwich Hampstead to Dimmingsdale, and tow Chertsey back to Stretton after loading up with the various engine parts and gear that came as part of the sale. We decided that we could do it in a day, provided there were no hitches.

So, it was about quarter to seven when we set off, and the sun was up as we crossed the aqueduct at Stretton, the stove providing plentiful atmospheric yellow smoke and some welcome warmth. I got my first opportunity to steer Hampstead and what a pleasure it was. By nine fifteen we were at Autherley Junction, and once through the stop lock, turned right onto a part of the Staffs and Worcs where I had never been before, making our way through the outskirts of Wolverhampton. Four locks and a couple more hours later, we arrived at Dimmingsdale (about 11.30) and turned into the arm. The first task was to pull Chertsey out onto the canal, to make it easier to load the various bits, which were nearer the canal bank than Chertsey's temporary mooring. This was done with Hampstead going backwards, tied T-stud to T-stud. Unfortunately I was on the bank and the camera was on the boat, so this was not recorded for posterity.

Then we got the boats pointing the same way and breasted them up just by the bridge while Jim, Aaron, Keith and Tony manfully loaded the spare engines etc onto the pallets we'd brought with us and some hastily arranged shuts. The mast, stands, cross planks, deck board and side pieces were carefully added, and we were ready to set off again, after a quick cup of tea. Back through Wolverhampton Aaron and Jim made bacon rolls while I just kept looking back behind Hampstead and marvelling at what I saw following us; this immense, dignified, graceful but imposing presence, which, when we slowed down, nudged up to us like a friendly dog. Could it really, really, be mine?

As we came to the locks, Aaron came into his own, despite having succumbed to a cold at some point in the previous couple of days. Pretty much a novice - his only previous boating experience had been helping us with Andante for a few days on the Huddersfield - he is a complete natural, and never happier than when he's got something to do. So at each lock we untied the cross straps (we'd not quite got round to splicing them properly, mainly because none of us could quite remember how to splice, but I really really will learn soon) and took Hampstead through, the Aaron pulled Chertsey as far as possible, getting up some momentum, and then got onto the cabin top and pushed the rest of the way in against the bridge. Then once Chertsey was through the cross straps were reattached to the waiting Hampstead and on we went to the next one. I must say the people behind us (I never caught the name of their boat) were wonderful and never expressed the slightest impatience at waiting for us to do this at each lock.

Anyway, it wasn't long before we were back at Autherley, and on the last, lockless, leg, and with me steering, going rather more slowly. I didn't relinquish the tiller, however, until it started to get dark; I was enjoying it so much. We finally crossed the aqueduct (aghast at the behaviour of the drivers on the A5 below) and tied up at half past seven, before retiring to Warrior for several very well deserved bottles of beer. The entire day had gone without a hitch; the weather was perfect; the stove was warm, everyone we met was nice. I steered a big Woolwich, towing another big Woolwich, through numerous bridges far narrower than any I've ever taken a big boat through before, with barely a touch at any of them. Now that might not be your idea of heaven, but it comes pretty damn close to being mine.

The whole story in pictures here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

First night

Sorry to have been a tease on Thursday. It was a long day, and I was too knackered to post but the briefest little note, and the signal here is very poor so I didn't dare try a photo. But it was wonderful, everything went without a hitch, and Chertsey is now safely at Stretton. I'll write up a full account of the day, with pictures, once I get home. The plan is to go home on Monday, as tomorrow we are going to go to the Black Country Museum, which we have so far not visited, and this is the weekend of the working boat gathering there, which seems an opportunity not to be missed. So I shall have lots to write about when I do get back to a decent internet connection.

But tonight, I am spending my first night on Chertsey. I have given the cabin a good clean (not too hard as Dave and Izzy had already done a fantastic job) and sort out, picking out the treasures (brass screws and, ahem, gun oil) from the chaff (e.g. a gallon paint tin FULL of rusty screws). Jim spent part of today scooping all the mud out of the hold - mostly made of rotten leaves, I think - so that now it can finally dry out completely. I know I'm telling all this in the wrong order; yesterday we arranged all the engine bits etc on pallets at the front end (the water runs to the back) and covered them up with a tarpaulin, having decidet this would probably work better than trying to cover the whole hold - although we have put the mast, cross planks and stands in and very handsome it looks. So the hold is now all clean and dry too. The engine room was never really anything but clean and dry - but that will have to be another story.

So, back to tonight, here I sit by the light of the Tilley lamp, which I successfully lit at the first attempt tonight, sitting on my new mattress, with a fitting home at last for my crocheted blanket and 50s bedspread. And today in the wonderful antique shop in Brewood we found another Tilley lamp, an older, all brass one, which we bought with confidence knowing that we will be able to get any necessary spares.

So, shortly I shall turn out the lamp, and tuck myself under my blankets, and bid you goodnight.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Today was...

The best day's boating. Ever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back on the move again

The holiday albums are briefly interrupted while something real actually happens.... Yesterday I met up with Mike who was steering Lapwing in Little Venice, and we went and had a drink and something to eat in the Warwick Castle. I was pleased to see that their recent 'facelift' (as they put it) is indeed an improvement and has done nothing to spoil the effect and the atmosphere in there. The menu seems to have got a little more adventurous, and a bit more expensive to go with it, but it was still very nice nonetheless.

And tonight, here we are, back again, at Stretton, for tomorrow - at six a.m. - we set off in Hampstead to collect Chertsey. No. 1 son, Aaron, has come with us, and earlier - after persuading him to assuage his boredom by walking into Brewood - we all went off for a little run in Warrior, to Wheaton Aston and back, so that Aaron can have boat lessons (not that he needs any in steering, grrr), in anticipation of the day when he will be holidaying en famille on the boat.

So, finger crossed that all goes smoothly tomorrow.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Holiday album 3: Soar

Here we are, the third instalment, featuring the not very greatly loved Soar Navigation, on August 7th and 8th. I think it wasn't enjoyed partly because of the tension inherent in navigating a river in flood. Looking back at the photos, there certainly seems to have been a lot of interest. I particularly fondly recall the episode when, as we approached an enormous structure spanning the waterway, Jim shouted to me on the front, 'Where's the channel?'. I indicated, round to the right - quite a sharp blind turn, as it happened. 'On the right hand side?', he tried to clarify, as we got closer and closer to the structure... then I twigged. 'No', I shouted back, 'That's not a bridge, that's the bloody weir!' No boom; no signs, and the first big weir of the Soar. That sort of tension.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Holiday album 2: Leicester Line

Hooray! I have managed to put the photos in the right order. Here is the second instalment of pics from the August trip, Watford Locks to Foxton Locks. If you think that's a lot, you should see the ones I left out. Took nearly a thousand in total. Madness.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Holiday album 1: Grand Union

I've just started uploading the holiday photos. This year I thought I'd divide them up roughly by waterway, so here, to start with, are the first three days, on the Grand Union main line from Cowroast to Norton Junction. I think Photobucket might have mixed up the order, somehow, unless I'm either very confused or we went through Blisworth Tunnel backwards, which I'm pretty sure we didn't. Possibly the former, then.

Anyway, here they are: the first leg.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


The new mantles which I ordered from Tilley International (the woman on the phone was ever so nice) arrived today, so after a bit of fiddling about we fitted a new one to our lamp, and when through the lighting procedure. I think we're getting the hang of it, because on the second attempt, it worked. I must say, it is rather impressive, giving a good bright white light - perfectly good for reading by, and sufficient to see all of the kitchen - and not a little heat, which might be welcome on a chilly evening.

Now, I wonder if they still make Primus stoves....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

It's official

I am now the official owner of Chertsey.

I met with one of the executors today, and was handed the bill of sale, along with a beautiful photo of the boat and its late owner back in 1973.

Taking the boat on does feel like a serious responsibility, and an honour as well as a privilege, and I hope I will do justice to it.

Not only that, but have a lot of fun, and do a great deal of learning, along the way.

As I realised the other day, the way I feel about this boat, it's not a possession; it's a relationship.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Here comes another one

I've left it too late to take a photo tonight, but this afternoon we took delivery of another Volvo 240 estate. A plain GL this time, no leather upholstery, no (gulp) electric windows, no sunroof, but 2.3 five speed manual, and only 23 years old. It belonged to a neighbour of a colleague of number one son, an elderly gent who wants to get something smaller, having owned, looked after and hardly used it for eons. It's blue and very clean for its age.

So we now have three 240s sitting on the drive: this one, the luxurious but automatic 1989 GLT estate, and my faithful Bluebird, the 2.0 saloon, which has hardly been used since I stopped working at Portsmouth. In 2004.

So, having looked at the prices they seem to be commanding (and Bluebird is a stunner; prior to me, she'd had one owner from new and full main agent service history) I have reluctantly decided that I might attempt to trade the old girl in for an Epping stove or part thereof.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Graphic designers and boats

You've probably heard about the Canal Music tour; weird electronic bloke + folky girl making interesting sounds from a stage on board the large Woolwich Chiswick. If not, you can read about it here. Naturally, I'm happy to promote it, because Bob is a really nice person and he let me steer Chiswick, and I hope that the tour is a great success. That's not why I'm writing about it though.

Look at that poster. The tour, which tries to tap into the history and mystery of the canal, travels the route of the Grand Union on a historic Grand Union boat. So what sort of boat do they put on the poster? Yep, your guess is as good as mine, but safe to say it's a pretty unremarkable, nondescript, modern leisure boat. Someone has had the brief to design this poster, and has just reached for 'canal boat' in the picture library. Obviously, I don't expect everyone involved in the music promotion business to be clued up on different types of boats, but hell, they could have asked someone who was. That they didn't can only be explained by either they didn't know there are different sorts of boat, or they didn't care. And yet they could have used a picture of Chiswick itself, had they cared enough.

Rather more amusingly, last weekend I saw one of those big picture hoardings round the Kings Cross redevelopment, a sort of photomontage showing what it will look like when it's finished, lovely new buildings, happy smiling people, and sailing majestically down the Regents Canal... a Canaltime boat. Now, not only must it a. be lost, or b. be on a very long holiday, but, with all respect to the fitness for purpose of the design of these boats, they are hardly the most picturesque on the cut. I'm not even thinking they should have used a historic one, but surely a nice brightly painted boat, perhaps with flowers and cans and stuff, would have added so much more to the scene. Can't help thinking it's just sheer laziness on the part of the designer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

More essential kit

Never let it be said that I don't have my priorities right. Once again we are getting into the swing of the enjoyable process of acquiring Stuff for a new project.

First stop this morning, the upholstery shop in Seaford, who made Warrior's splendid mattress, to purchase a piece of foam for a mattress for Chertsey's cross bed. After experimenting with laying on and then rolling up various grades of foam, I settled on the 3" thickness as giving the right balance between comfort and storability. Sadly though they then discovered they didn't have any in stock, but it should be in by next weekend. Slightly shockingly, also, it is going to cost £115, which is somewhat more than I expected, but no point in skimping on these things.

Then, in the process of tidying up/clearing out the glory hole known as the Old Forge, Jim discovered a Tilley lamp he'd bought many years at a jumble sale. Brand new, boxed and with all its accessories and instructions, but never yet used by us mainly because I was terrified of it. However, I am now much braver, so Jim went off (back to Seaford again) for paraffin and meths, and we fired it up. Not entirely successfully, because I think it was a bit too full, and also the mantle disintegrated while Jim was cleaning it. However, I was delighted to discover that they are still going strong and you can get replacement parts easily, and also that you can buy a new lamp like ours - for £110. Made me feel better about the mattress, somehow.

Finally, we got a kettle for Chertsey on ebay - an enormous enamel one. If only I had something to put it on.....

Friday, September 11, 2009


We have purchased the first new item of vital kit for Chertsey.

A pump.

Now we just need some hose and a battery.

Don't worry, it's only rainwater. That lot's been pumped out, but I expect there'll be some more by now.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Ow do, Blossom

Well, I know he reads this sometimes. There I was, working away on my book this morning (well, working up to it anyway) and of course I couldn't resist having a little peek at CWF to see what gems had been added overnight, and someone had put in a link to Blossom's reminiscences of his introduction to boating as a boy in the Black Country... so I had a little look, and I was still reading it when I had to leave for work two hours later. I shall read some more now, too.

Read it. It's brilliant.

Another hour later, having got to the end... Blossom, we need an update! Tell us about Minnow!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Up and down the City Road

Although we winded in the mouth of City Road Basin at the weekend, I'd not been into the basin itself until Saturday evening. It was Tarporley's temporary home during the Kings Place development, but that was just before my involvement began. On Sunday, we trooped over there to visit the farmers' market and find some lunch.

I don't know what the place used to look like, but it has clearly been the subject of some redevelopment and smartening up. The basin is managed by Islington Boat Club, who run activities like canoeing for young people, which is obviously a good thing to do, and they need, and are fortunate to have, a safe place to do it.

But all the same, what a shame that the basin looks so dead, so stagnant and sterile, bereft of boats and the life that they bring to the water. That the end of the basin, at least, looks as abandoned as any derelict waterway. Not at all what I was expecting, this modern desolation doesn't even have the consolation of historical interest.

Monday, September 07, 2009

In and out the Angel

Sorry I've been absent for a few days. I did fully plan to post over the weekend, but my 12v phone charger didn't work, and doing the old interweb thing is quite power-hungry.

I spent from Friday morning until Sunday evening on Tarporley. Friday and Saturday we were running short trips as part of Kinks Place's arts festival. The festival events (there were lots of free and cheap concerts) seemed to be very successful and well attended, and demand for the trips was higher than it's ever been - we had our first ever sell-out one. Each trip involved reversing into Battlebridge Basin, then heading east through Islington Tunnel, down City Road lock, wind in the basin, back up the lock and back to King's Place. We did five trips on Friday and six on Sunday and I went on every one - we took turns to steer. So on Saturday - when we went back to City Road after the trips ready for Sunday's Angel Festival - I went through Islington Tunnel thirteen times, and twenty four times over the course of the weekend.

Winding in City Road Basin sounds - and indeed looks, from a vantage point leaning on the lock beam - much easier than it is. The latest lesson I have learnt is that having lots of space does not necessarily make the task easier - it can make it harder, at least when there's a stiff breeze (as there always is, there, apparently). Let us just say that I made a reasonable fist of it on Friday, but found the process very frustrating on the Saturday. Obviously I managed it in the end, or I'd be there still, but it brought me near to despair. Not near enough to wish for a bowthruster, though.

Anyway, Sunday bought the fun and frolics of the Angel Festival, and I was up bright and early attaching my bunting, which I must say was very successful. The main purpose of Tarporley's presence there is to recruit volunteers, and to raise awareness - and a bit of cash - with a raffle. By all accounts this was a successful year on both counts, and a very enjoyable time was had by all, although I was exhausted by the end of it. We were also introduced to the sweetest little dog, who is called Growler. After a tug.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Reading books

I dashed out on our return from Warrior to get a copy of Canal Boat and see my review of Humphrey Household's The Thames and Severn Canal in print (p. 38). I hadn't bought one despite seeing it on sale many times in the course of the trip because I'd forgotten, until the very end, that we no longer have a subscription. Also waiting for me on my return was a new volume to review: a history of the Kennet and Avon Navigation. This is a somewhat snappier work, and I have just read it this evening. You will have to buy the mag of course to read my 150 words' worth of thoughts on it. It is rather good getting these books that I wouldn't otherwise read, but I would be even more delighted if one or two about boats and carrying, rather than navigations, came up soon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Boys will be boys

As our local super-foster-mum cheerily said after one of her charges burnt down the school.

On our travels I appear to have found evidence that both No. 1 and No. 2 sons woz 'ere. Viz:

On the Leicester Section, and:

on the Erewash