Monday, November 23, 2009


One of the things I was jolly excited about on Saturday was the opportunity to purchase a copy of the brand new edition of The George and the Mary, Alan Faulkner's history of the Grand Union company - obviously a subject dear to my heart. I already had a copy of the 1973 edition, for which I paid a very reasonable £12 - I subsequently heard of them changing hands for a great deal more. But the new edition, we were promised, would have more pages; extra photos, and new information. So I hurried over to the HNBOC shop table and bought their penultimate remaining copy for the even more reasonable price of £4.99 (bet it'll be more than that in the shops).

Now, I have been told by a very reliable authority, that the motor boat in the photo on page 22, unloading at Cotton End, was Chertsey (and that the butty was Staverton). I don't know how you could possibly tell this from the photo - as printed - alone, as no name or number is legible, but the livery certainly doesn't rule it out. No names are given in the caption though.

So obviously the first thing I did was turn to page 22 to see if it was still there, and it was (although I have to say that the quality of the reproduction of the photos in the new edition is vastly inferior to the old one), and this time the caption named the boats - but as Chiswick and Staverton. While I'm quite prepared to believe that the motor boat in the picture is Chiswick and not Chertsey, I have more a problem with the caption in its entirety: 'The motor boat STAVERTON and its butty CHISWICK....'

However, finding this and leaping upon it with such alacrity did put me in mind of this.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tugs on the BCN

For that was the title of the very informative illustrated talk I attended yesterday at Braunston Village Hall, courtesy of HNBOC and a chap called Martin O'Keeffe. It was very informative. Very very informative. I'm afraid my attention may have started to wonder towards the end of the first two hours, but after a cup of tea I was ready for the final session.

I did learn some interesting stuff, some of which I might even retain, and there were lots of lovely photos. For example, there was a family firm of boatbuilders called George Hale and Sons at (I think - see, memory's going already) Oldbury, from the 1870s to the 1960s, so I quickly texted my sister, who is in the process of compiling a family tree, to see if they could possibly be related to us. Sadly she replied that all our ancestors, that she had traced, were either railway or agricultural workers, from Swindon and the area around Devizes. My paternal grandfather was actually called George Hale, but he - I'm very proud to report - was a boilermaker for the Great Western Railway.

Before the talk we met up with Dave and Izzie at the George in Kilsby to try out their lunch menu. The landlady and staff were very pleasant and friendly and the food was sound, but not outstanding. The 'traditional pub food menu' at £4.90 was very good value - I had faggots with mash and mushy peas. I would quibble at faggots being cooked dry and served with separate gravy, but they were tasty enough and the portion was a good size. The 'main' menu on the other hand, and the desserts, were pretty expensive.

Then after the meeting - at which many exciting things (well, it's all relative) happened which I shall relate separately, a few of us retired to the Plough in Braunston High Street, where we would have had a nice relaxing few pints before heading home had it not been for the fact that in order to celebrate the eighth anniversary of taking over the pub, the entire staff and regulars ware dressed in clown outfits (apart from the fortune teller) and karaoke was threatened, so we made our excuses and left.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekly round up

OK then, so much for 'I'm going to try to post every day in November'. It just gets worse and worse doesn't it. Truth to tell my heart sinks at the thought of trying to produce a post when nothing has been happening on the boating front, and there is nothing even boat related to report. There are plenty of things that I could comment on, but I don't seem to have the energy.

Still, there are a few things in the offing now. Tomorrow we are off to Braunston for a HNBOC meeting and illustrated talk on Tugs on the BCN - that I confess is not the primary attraction; rather it is the opportunity to meet and mix with other owners of ancient boats - other owners - for the first time since becoming one myself.

Next Saturday we are off to Bones's Banter in Thrupp, to which lots of other nice and interesting people who frequent CWF are also going.

Now you may wonder (although more likely not) why it is 'Bones's banter' and not simply 'Bones' banter'. Particularly as if it was someone called Jenkins, I would have written 'Jenkins' banter' and not 'Jenkins's etc.' The answer - and I love this as I do all similar arcanae - is that it is the rule of Oxford University Press. People whose names end in 's' get a possessive apostrophe and an additional 's' if their name has only one syllable, but just the apostrophe if they have more than one syllable.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Roses and Snowdrops

It's lucky I was forewarned by my quick glance at Beer in the Evening last night. It would have been a bit surreal to come home from the boat to canal free East Sussex* and find myself in a pub surrounded with roses and castles paintings and bedecked with various pieces of not very traditional but nonetheless painted tinware. Very incongruous indeed, round these parts, and quite possibly entirely based on a close study of Rosie and Jim, whose effigies also featured prominently (never having made a close study of this oeuvre myself, I cannot say for sure). The place still lacks horse brasses and sepia prints of horse drawn boats, but it's early days yet.

So it was weird, but nonetheless sort of gratifying to see the canal theme taken on board by a distinctly non-canal (albeit riverside) pub. Anyway, enough of the sniffiness. The Harveys was absolutely excellent, and they had not only Best, but Bonfire Boy (hopefully presaging a regular feature of Harveys' monthly seasonal beer) and Old, plus Dark Star Hophead; and the food was very impressive too. All the main meals were around the eight pound mark which while not cheap, is OK for most of them, and very good value for the rump steak.

The place doesn't have the character it used to (though I was pleased to see that the giant bust of Plato is still lurking in the garden) but hey, you can't go back. And it did seem busy - anyone who serves good local beer and decent food deserves to succeed, even if their decor is a bit naff.

*Except for the little bit of the Royal Military Canal right out on the Kent border.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Off to the Snowdrop

There used to be a fantastic pub in Lewes called the Snowdrop. We used to go there a lot. They did great veggie food, lovely beer, and a great ambiance, with an incredibly eclectic clientele in a very eccentric setting.

Then the landlords moved on and it went downhill for quite a few years, full of lager drinkers, which clearly didn't pay, as they had their electricity cut off and closed for a while.

However, they have reopened, and I have heard from two different people that it is great again, refurbished, and with a brilliant new chef and beer from not only Harveys but another local brewery too, Dark Star. So we decided to check it out tonight in honour of Number One Son's birthday. So far so exciting.

But then I looked it up on Beer in the Evening and it said:

The Snowdrop has just reopened after a major refurbishment. The interior is very well done in a ‘narrow boat’ style reflecting the building’s original use as a bargeman’s house.

So now I can't wait! I shall report back.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Keeping it in all night

Apparently, this is the sort of stove you could have on a butty. If you had a butty, that is, which would be a tad greedy. It's too big for a motor boat, but those extra few inches in a butty back cabin make it quite feasible, I'm told. If rather warm. I was surprised when I looked in the butty cabin they've got in the London Canal Museum; it had a cast iron edifice in it that was more like a built in range.

Anyway, this one's in my kitchen. It's not a built in one (oooh, how I would love one of those with all their mysterious doors and trivets and things to hang the kettle on; I drool over them in salvage yards), hence its name, the Bell Portable Removable Oven. Presumably it meant you would take it with you from house to house, as an upwardly mobile Edwardian. I don't reckon it would be any great shakes for cooking as the over barely gets hot, but it does make the kitchen nice and cosy.

And I have finally mastered the art of keeping it in all night. On the latest Warrior jaunt I kept the French stove in nearly all week, and got it ticking over really slowly by using the thing at the top as well as the one at the bottom (now, once and for all, which is the damper and which is the drawer?). But the Belle doesn't have a thing at the bottom, the most basic control for regulating the air through the burning fuel. It has a thing in the chimney, which seems to control whether it goes straight up the chimney (fast and hot) or around the oven (slower), but nothing at the bottom, just an open fronted firebox with a little door that keeps the heat in or lets it out. So to get it burning slowly for the night, you have to plan ahead and let the ash build up to block the airflow from underneath. Hopefully I'm getting the hang of it now, as I last lit it on Friday morning and it's still going (though I have cheated and put a bit of wood on each morning before giving it a good riddling, just to be on the safe side). I don't know how you'd cope with one on a boat though; there's always ash everywhere. But I love it.

(Oh my goodness! You can get new ones. I want one I want one I want one)

PS Look, I got a teapot! A bit bigger than required, admittedly, but who knows, there may come a day when There's a whole gang of people in urgent need of a constant supply of tea. And it was only a fiver, in the pet shop cum antique emporium where we got the can and I'm still kicking myself for not buying the milk churn.....

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Who do I shout at?

I am seething with righteous indignation, and bang-your-head-on-the-wall-with-the-stupidity-of-it-all frustration.

I had read about such things, but thought they must have been a one-off over-enthusiastic interpretation of company policy. But no, it seems it is company policy.

Bear with me while I get this off my chest.

I have just been to Somerfield for a little bit of top-up shopping, taking no. 2 son (19 3/4) with me to help carry stuff. I was delighted to spot that a rather nice red wine was still on offer, so I added a bottle to the basket in anticipation of my friend Donna coming round. So all the shopping was put through and neatly packed, when the checkout guy gets to the wine, and says - to me, mind, not son - has he got ID? No, I said, it's my shopping. Doesn't matter, he said. If anyone with you looks under 25 (and that's bloody stupid in itself) we can't serve you without ID.

So I did what any sensible person would have done, tipped my bags back out onto the counter and walked out. Wish he had had his ID, then I would have shown it and then tipped my bags back out onto the counter and walked out.

I've tried without success to track down the actual policy, but it seems to suggest that if you have anyone with you who is under eighteen, even a toddler, they won't serve you. Where does this mindblowingly stupid and pointless policy come from? The law hasn't changed; it's just companies wringing their hands and trying to look as if they're doing something about 'binge drinking'. So no. 2 son could go with his ID and buy 24 cans of cut price Stella, but I can't buy a bottle of half decent wine.

It is in fact perfectly legal for me to give a child over five alcohol in my own home, should I wish to, but the supermarket powers that be have decided that they know better than the law and will not allow the slightest possibility that this might happen. Of course, if I was buying alcohol on behalf of someone who was under age, they'd keep out of sight, wouldn't they? So the policy achieves nothing; it is completely and utterly just for show.

Once one supermarket adopts such a stupid policy, then surely they all will, because no one wants to look 'soft' on under age drinking. As an aside, I think this will only worsen the problem of public drunkenness among the marginally-over eighteens, who don't get the chance to learn to drink responsibly in the company of adults an an impressionable age.

So if I want to buy a bottle of wine, or a few bottles of beer, I have to go on my own, as if it were almost something shameful, and without a willing sprog to help carry the bags, make a special trip separate from the main shopping.

And worst of all - as I already said - this is not some change in the law; it is not the law at all (which in itself is pretty sensible). It is the supermarkets (ab)using their own immense market power to pre-empt the law; to regulate the behaviour of their customers; to set themselves up as being able to improve upon the law.

If they really cared about underage drinking or excessive drinking, they could just stop selling alcohol. But they won't do that all the time half price lager draws in the eighteen year olds and the piss heads. Instead they look as if they're doing something by stigmatising the purchase of a bottle of wine.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Reports from the Nene

I guess I should give an update on Jim's progress. He is currently still at Irthlingborough, having made it through Billing before the cutoff point which was yesterday, and has been able to afford to sit out the bad weather of the last couple of days. He's also between crew members, but I gather that PJ (that is Steve who had the National D3 that he was rebuilding until he found himself an ideal boat complete with engine) is joining him tomorrow via a complicated arrangement of car and boat movements in conjunction with some Canadians who do things with fruit flies in Moomin's basement. Well, I think I got that right.

Jim is whiling away some of the time tussling with the gearbox. Now, this I am having some trouble grasping, but it is something to do with various bits of play along the linkage finally having added up to too much so that it is now hard to maintain the necessary thrust to keep it in gear. Little niggles over time - the broken connection of the vertical rod into the shift bit; the replacement of a vital spring - have added up into a nuggle (as in many a mickle makes a muckle) and the upshot seems to be that it's hard to go forwards slowly or backwards at all. (See! I said it didn't bloody reverse and I was right). Jim was even on the phone to Allister at RN this morning (who put him onto the vital nature of this spring), so when I heard this I was starting to worry. However, I just spoke to Jim and he seems confident that he'll make it back to Bill Fen, albeit without going slowly. Basically, the gearbox seems to have reverted to what it was like when we first got Warrior - but at least we're better at steering now!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Witching hour

Saturday saw my long-awaited stint as a Tarporley witch. Hallowe'en is CCNA's biggest fundraiser of the year, running trips through Islington tunnel which we have previously hung with ghosts, ghouls and strange purple and green inflatable spiders (deflated). Small children come along dressed up for the occasion and we show them a good time. Or what passes for one when you're seven, i.e. lots of screaming and a fun size Curly Wurly.

Such an event is it, that as well as Tarporley, we bring in the Pirate Club's boat - currently Pride of Sandwell, and Angel. Having donned my witchy gear (I thought it was pretty good, although it relied on my natural witch like looks rather than any green face paint, yuck, plus I thought a hat might be somewhat impractical) I was not best pleased to be allocated to Pride of Sandwell. It is, after all, a semi-trad, even if it does have a wheelchair lift. On top of which it had been very enthusiastically kitted out with all the battery operated howling devices and singing skeletons I could ever wish to avoid. This was also not really the point to recall that I'd skimmed over the bit on the volunteer application form where it said 'must like children'.

Things improved after that. Having mutinied from Pride of Sandwell (someone with a much greener face had arrived and I gleefully handed over), the least I could do was volunteer to steer Tarporley on the next trip... overlooking the fact that by the time we set off it would be dark. This prospect filled me with some trepidation but it actually went without a hitch and was a brilliant experience. I even managed to wind rather beautifully, even if I do say so myself. Then I did a stint as Tarporley's witch in residence for some rather sweet children, and finished the evening with a sunny disposition once more.

Before heading home I visited the Canal Museum's bookshop and added John Thorpe's Windlass in my Belt to my collection, and a few multi-purpose greetings cards. The IWA do lovely Christmas cards, but why oh why won't they produce blank ones for birthdays, weddings etc. Who wouldn't want to receive a Deepest Sympathy card with a watercolour of an old narrow boat on it? Bound to make you feel better.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Nice clean bottom

Here at last is Warrior's bottom. It was a dodgy USB lead that was the problem I think, with getting the phone to talk to the computer.

Obviously, this is actually Warrior's bottom before it was cleaned and reblacked, but I somehow omitted to take any photos after. We got the blacking done surprisingly fast really, within a couple of days. It had the rest of the week to dry before we were craned back in a week ago today - with some degree of urgency, as Jim was anxious to be off in order to have the best possible chance of getting through Billing lock before the closure. As it turned out, we were waiting until lunchtime for Richard to arrive, but it all turned out for the best. He and Jim had a great run and good weather and Jim was through Billing yesterday morning with two days to spare. At some point Richard was relieved by Moominpapa, who has also now done his stint. As of lunchtime today Jim was at Irthlingborough having bidden farewell to Moomin and awaiting the arrival of PJ. So far it all seems to have gone like clockwork (touches wood).

Going to try to post every day this month. And then it'll be advent calendar time again! Where does the time go?