Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Whales and squirrels

I had a really good Christmas and hope anyone reading this was as lucky as me.
In the run-up, things were all a bit snowed under, with wood cutting and de-icing inside the boat windows and lugging shopping a long way to the boat. I'm alongside woodland so made various concoctions for birds, having had a read in my bird book what they might like: cooked rice, sunflower seeds, peanuts, soaked raisins, left-over porridge and just about every suspect 'nearly empty' pasket from the back of my cupboards. It made good balls of food to lodge in tree stumps, then I got to watch the magpies, blackbirds and robins all afternoon instead of wrapping presents. Then this cheeky little fella trundled along, scoffing everything it could grab from the birds.

Anyway, after that, I went and spent a wonderful few days in London, seeing friends and my dearest loved-ones. Aahhh... the warmth, the comfort :-D
Never far from water-related themes, I was happy to see this decorated topiary whale, one of two in the same street!

Back on the boat now, I seem to have a pipe problem :-( A leaking shower-head, even though the water-pump is turned off. Oh well, always something to sort out on a boat!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Red sky, shepherd's pie.

Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning! Though in this case, it was the start of a lovely day of boating, crisp sunshine on the snow, beautiful dark trees against the white.
The following evening I managed to get lost in a blizzard, making my way back through Cassiobury park to the canal from Watford. It sounds ridiculous, but it's such a big park and the paths led off in different directions, all looking the same. It felt a bit of an adventure getting back to the boat at last!

I liked this little fellow, standing guard on one narrowboat. But best of all was this fine snowman. I could hear the children on board the boat nearby and wondered if the family would be spending Christmas day afloat. I bet that's a fine memory to tell their own children one day.

I loved Kath and Neil's (nb Herbie) musical Christmas card. Do have a look/listen if you haven't already done so.

Happy christmas, fellow boaters and landlubbers alike xx

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

International Animal Rights Day

That was the 10th December, when people group together to remember or campaign for, the millions of non-human animals who suffer at our hands. From abused 'pets', farmed animals and wild creatures hunted for sport, to those held for vivisection in laboratories across the world.
The Oxford campaign, SPEAK, continues its fight to protect the animals being tortured in the Oxford University primate lab. Its website explains the bad science behind animal testing.

An article from The Guardian:
Writing for Animal Aid, the UK's largest animal rights group, Marius Maxwell, a neurosurgeon at a specialist spine centre in the US, said the minority of Oxford animal researchers were "tirelessly promoting their claimed achievements before the media".
He said: "Many of my Oxford colleagues in world-class scientific laboratories, and in the humanities, are privately aghast at the ability of a small group of media-savvy vivisectionists to hold the debate hostage and thereby besmirch the international reputation of their university."

The fact that no-one is allowed to see what goes on in these places, shows that the practices are unacceptable to decent, right-minded human beings. Cameras are being resisted in abbatoirs, all access is denied to the public in battery farms etc. Only thanks to undercover activists has the truth come out, but this too is suppressed by mainsteam media. I include these couple of images, knowing full well I have selected the least offensive and disturbing:

As I write this, I'm thinking too of all the courageous people who are currently serving long jail sentences for trying to protect sentient creatures from this cruelty. Away from their families, as Christmas approaches, they have my respect, support and solidarity.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Slow locking!

It took me over two hours to get through two close-together locks this morning! I needed water and knowing things are going to get cold again, thought I'd better try and move today. The first hour was spent breaking up the couple of hundred yards of ice up to the first lock, losing splintering bits of my long boat pole in the process. I managed to get one gate open but got wedged in as the boat was forced to take the lock at an angle. Had to free up the second gate in the end. The same for coming out the lock, having to open both gates because of the quantity of ice behind each open gate. Hard work, but fun too!
Then it was on to the water point which was frozen. It was next to the BW office at Apsley so I went to ask if anyone minded me defrosting the pipes with boiling water. I called upstairs where I eventually made myself heard over the male shouting and laughter going on up there. Calling "Hi, anyone there?" (stupid question, I know), I wasn't too happy to hear some bloke shout down "No, but we've ordered a stripper". So I just set to, to have a go at the tap myself but two BW guys then appeared and at first just looked and said 'yeah, it's frozen, sorry'. I insisted a bit and then they went and boiled water for me (which I was happy to do myself) and defrosted the tap - wonderful! I was grateful, although my licence does cover the use of water points and some basic assistance with keeping them functioning would seem to be a reasonable expectation if BW people happen to be on the spot.
They went back inside and I could see several guys watching me breaking the ice with my boat pole to be able to get through the next lock (no mooring places available where I was). Embarrassingly, it took me ages, when I just wanted to make a dignified exit. I see the sexism wasn't consistent enough to actually offer help to the 'little lady'! Or maybe I just frightened the hell out of them with my big boat pole and vigorous smashing of ice - ha!
Aaaanyway, I'm still in the same town but in an ice-free stretch, with lovely hot-water for my shower. Mmmmm...

Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas lights

Inspired by Jo and Keith on nb Hadar, I put up my meagre christmas decorations. It doesn't amount to much (birds 'n lights!) but it cheers up the boat on a cold December evening.

I'm stuck above a lock whose gates are wedged firmly shut with ice and the locals must be sick of the sight of me by now, so it'll give them something pretty to look at :-)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Fire & ice

The first icing on the canal cake for me this winter, though I expect they've already had plenty up at New Mills, where I moored last winter. The sun's up now and everything looks frosty lovely. The swans gathering around the boat for scraps, sounded like they'd brought armoured reinforcements as they crunched their way towards me.
I've cut up plenty of that salvaged wood though I'd urge anyone thinking of buying a 'value' bow-saw to opt for the pricier version if they can! I have a good 'Stanley' bow-saw but often can't find the 21" blades for it. I made a disastrous attempt to sharpen the old blade, the slightly off-set teeth (to avoid getting the blade wedged in the wood) got flattened and it's very hard work with it now. So, I tried and failed to find a new blade and ended up buying a B&Q value bow-saw for about £7, with 24" blades that can be found everywhere. Trouble is the handgrip is designed to give you blisters, even when you wear gloves!
When I collected the wood, I forgot to say I was warned against some pieces because the builders said it was tanninised and would give off toxic fumes. I took their advice, although I don't know if it going into landfill is much better as the toxins will surely leach into rivers/water supplies eventually. That reminds me, Tony from nb Universe wrote an interesting post on burning pallets. I suppose a lot depends on just how desperate you get when the ice sets in.
I'm moored at Apsley now and Simon and I went for a cup of tea and a chat with Frances and Alan from nb Lazydays Always good to meet friendly interesting folk on the cut. Warms you up like a glowing stove :-)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Berko & Hemel

Sounds like a firm of solicitors but that's what I heard boaters refer to Berkhamsted and Hemel Hempstead and I see there is actually a cafe called 'Berko's' there. Plenty of big locks with heavy gates, a manageable electric swing bridge at Winkwell (i usually dread them) and a very old, cosy pub on the canal called the Three Horseshoes. Found a big pile of sawdust for my compost loo, the owner happy for me to take two barrowfuls away. Full of wood, diesel, gas, water and sawdust, I feel ready to face the winter now ;-)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Take as much as you want...

..said the nice guys at the building site. ;-)

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Days out, days in.

Today was a blustery day with leaves gusting around everywhere. If I'd stayed inside, I'd have battened down the hatches, lit the stove and done quiet, hibernating things. But there are going to be stoppages soon so I needed to get off the Ayelesbury arm (too tempting to stay hidden among the rushes for months on end!) and I ended up doing 19 locks today, before the light went. I just got to the Wendover arm before it got a bit too dodgy to be walking over lock gates without being able to see where the gate ended and the water began.
There were so many leaves in the locks that I had a job getting the boat to move forwards out the locks! They bubble up around the boat like leaf soup.

I liked this plaque at the foot of a young oak tree on the marsworth flight.

Yesterday, in contrast, I came back from days out in Brighton and London to snuggle under duvets, with my hot water-bottles and my latest find - a big old kettle, on the stove.

I'm so pleased with it. And only £3 at a car-boot sale. It was originally £5 and I managed to haggle. I never haggle! But I don't feel bad because I bought it from someone who looked like they had plenty of money. Ok, I recognise that I have some guilty feelings to think about here: I always get annoyed when I hear about people holidaying in India or Namibia or somewhere and boasting about beating some poor bugger down on a sale, when it's a matter of peanuts for the buyer.
When I offered £3 to the seller of the kettle, she said "yes ok, you look like someone who will use it" I suppose this means I didn't look like someone with a posh cottage (ie three labourers homes knocked through) who would stick it on a dresser to look olde worlde. She was right, I think it will be in very regular use!

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Leaving Aylesbury

I've left Aylesbury basin after 2 weeks of having town and station right on my doorstep. No problems apart from mysteriously finding a large stone in my fireplace that I can only think can have come down the chimney!
It was only when I left the basin yesterday that I had my first encounter with bridge-kids. I saw two teenies, one of which lowered himself down onto the parapet as though to jump on my boat roof as I approached. So I stopped the boat and hovered, thinking they'd just get bored, counting on them having the well-publicised short attention span an' all. They stuck it out for 5 minutes (I'll give them that), before nipping into someone's back garden to collect stones. I was furious and if I could have got into the side and tied up, I'd have gone hareing up the towpath to give em an ear-bashing. I mostly feared for my solar panels! Luckily, for us all, they chucked their stones (very badly, rubbish aim, not even close!) and took off.
It made me think about the cop I'd been moaning about in my last post - would I have summoned him to my rescue? NO! Unless it's an physical attack on someone else, I honestly wouldn't bother.. I realise this attitude does make solo boating feel more precarious. A refusal to recognise the State as responsible for me and my safety means I have to accept the responsibility for keeping safe, defending myself etc. Solo boating can be a vulnerable way of living, even without crime - accidents do happen, don't they. But I guess we just hope bad things won't happen. And after all, that's the first bad bridge encounter I've had in 4 1/2 years ;-)

Now I'm out in the sticks again and have seen plenty of basin folk going past on their boats, heading out of town. Coincidence? Well, it's half-term, Halloween and I can hear a lot of fireworks going off in the direction of Aylesbury!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Happiness is...

..a wheelbarrow full of logs :-)
I think the last time I posted a photo of my lovely wheelbarrow was when I mentioned trying to wheel my dog about, but that he kept jumping out. He didn't seem to mind much cos he'd jump back in again! Now of course, I don't have my dear Milou companion anymore. But there's something very uplifting and cheering about chopping logs with an axe! Especially on such a crisp sunshiney day.

A big willow branch had come down by a lock and BW had cut it into sections.
I managed a barrow and a half of logs before a cloud came along in the form of a copper. Even though I was off the towpath, on the other side of a lock where the only access was across the lock gates and in a large clearing with no passers-by, he just had to cross those gates to come and interrogate me. Did I have permission, what was my name, where was I from? I knew I didn't have to tell him a thing unless he was going to arrest me for summat, so I didn't and just cleared off, my winter fuel gathering session over for the day. I wonder if other liveabords get any hassle while foraging?
Yesterday was a day of sun and heavy rain - that's usually when I go out without my coat ;-) I saw these cormorants in spooky pose on a dead tree.

Further up, I had seen this bridge being carefully repaired with new brickwork when I came through with Blackbird. I was thinking at the time what a skill that was to follow the curve of old bridges like that, so I was upset when I saw what I thought was vandalism, with all the new brickwork pushed down and onto the towpath. Most of the ones on the towpath were broken.

(isn't the light in this photo great! Got a soaking shortly after :-)
But I was wrong. I talked to a BW guy who explained the bridge had heritage status and the new bricks didn't match properly but that they had found some old ones that would look better. I guess this must be the ones he meant here, in a BW workboat nearby.
I'm not sure whether to be exasperated by the waste and lack of forward planning or be happy at the efforts made to preserve the character of our old bridges. As I'm trying to err on the side of positivity, I'll go with being happy :-D

Thursday, 14 October 2010


I had several goes at mooring up here, but couldn't get my boat in as it was so shallow and muddy. The next day, I walked back along this bit of towpath and found a willow had come crashing down on the same spot!

Much more welcome was the discovery of a huge overgrown and neglected orchard at Cheddington. I've never seen so many apples, the branches bowed down with them all. All different kinds too! I asked at the nearby church and was told that the orchard had been bought by a retired man who, finding the supermarkets weren't interested (don't know if it was the need for perfection or if the costs of harvesting made it non-viable), was letting it all go wild. Such a shame, although I guess it's a wonderful source of food for insects and birds.
The person I spoke to told me how the womenfolk of the village used to be employed in apple-picking there each year but now they just went in and collected what they wanted for themselves. I brought a few home myself to wrap in newspaper and see if I can keep some over winter.

I'm on the very peaceful Aylesbury arm now, enjoying the narrow locks and rural setting. There was a long section of reedy narrowness I enjoyed very much - quite exciting moving through that rustling corridor.

Now however, the grim reaper has been up and down, cutting them back, which I suppose is more practical but less fun.

Blackbird out in the sticks. Very little in the way of passing traffic here :-)

One exciting thing: at last I have a toaster! It's brilliant!

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Freedom of movement

I’m back on board Blackbird after some gallivanting and it is lovely to be in my dear home. I’m so privileged to have a home and to be free to wander to and from it, travelling abroad where and when I want to. But as with most privileges, we often don’t value what we have and, more importantly, don’t realise that the majority of the world’s inhabitants don’t have that basic freedom of movement.
Since the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp in Calais in 2002, migrating people are still living a precarious life, camping in the squats and sand-dunes along the French coast. Every day, they are harassed and often beaten by the police, neither allowed to stay there, nor allowed to cross the border. It’s the UK Border Agency that pay for this policing.
This harsh policing is reflected along the European borders, that don’t hamper our own movement, but keep ‘Them’ out. We know who ‘They’ are – people from the other side of an invisible and arbitrary line, drawn on the world by a bunch of so-called leaders I certainly didn’t vote for. Turns out that the line stops where the predominantly non-white populations begin.
Money and commodities flow freely of course. Cheap migrant labour can visit for a short while only. Meanwhile, we ‘explore’ and exploit the world freely, taking from it what we want. We use the equivalent of slavery to get our stuff as cheaply as possible from poor countries and when those people unionise at huge personal risk (death squads and ‘disappearances’), we drop them in favour of an even cheaper supply. Our ‘needs’ cause wars over oil, minerals, drugs, cheap food. Yet when someone tries to escape their situation for a better life, they are hunted down, imprisoned and sent back. Instead of fighting for equality across the world, we pursue a policy of greater acquisition and increasing exclusion. Our wealth increases and the walls get higher.

I know this is just another rant against the racist and unjust border controls that are surreptitiously tightening all the time, excluding more and more people. But I don’t know if people think much about the individuals concerned. When we remember those who died in the second world war, for example, I don’t think of the vast numbers (around 60 million I believe) but of the individuals and their own stories of suffering and that of their families. What it might have been like for that single person buried now in this little churchyard. There are about 60 million refugees and displaced people in the world today, who would rather be peacefully at home, like me. And every single one of them has a personal story of a family, loves, hopes and fears.
I think of them, individually, and take some small comfort in knowing that sooner or later, all walls must fall.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Carnaby for sale!

Looks like BW are selling their old workboat Carnaby by auction. Says it's a 1937 motor works boat. Looked it up on the GUCC site and it's listed as: CARNABY; No 134, Large Woolwich motor boat, built 1937, Regd at Coventry No 542, Owned by BW as a maintenance boat (2000) and based at Marsworth. Shortened tug format. Looks like it was once a lot bigger!
I wonder if it would be too mad to try and buy it.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Lucky me

A couple of days ago, I went to see my two kids (both in their 20's) in Oxford. My daughter's been there a few years now but my son's only just arrived after working abroad. By chance, his new job is in Oxford! As we parted at the end of the day, I looked back at them walking together up the street, chatting and laughing, good friends that they are. My heart nearly burst with love.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Adventures in miniature

I've had some lovely days out and about over the last couple of weeks, even though the boat has barely moved. In leighton Buzzard, Simon and I went on the steam train which was good fun. I liked the way a man had to run out with a flag whenever we crossed over roads. Not all the car drivers felt like waving back at a bunch of idiots, leaning out of miniature carriages eating ice-lollies - ha! The little engine is beautiful (pic from Wikipedia)

We went to play pool in the Wheatsheaf pub in town where there's a gorgeous wreck of a piano, guarded over by a seargeant-major-type bust who kept his upper lip stiff, even when Simon was playing. I see the website shows the carving too.
I went for a little camping break, just me, my bike and a tent. It felt really good cycling along the towpath, not having to worry about cars and going too slowly to worry anyone else. First day, I went as far as Stoke Bruerne, stopping for lunch at Camphill cafe - a vegetarian cafe advertised on the canal at Milton Keynes. The plain sign doesn't do it justice as it's a great little place, with theatre and cottage garden adjoined and very popular locally, judging by the numbers turning up for lunch! After that, I stopped for coffee at narrowboat Hadar where the ever-hospitable Jo and Keith kept me in cosseted comfort while the rain lashed down outside. It was interesting to see how tactful and accommodating they have been towards other coal traders and respectful of other's 'pitches', not at all how most businesses are run on a cut-throat mentality.
After that, I pressed on to Blisworth tunnel and pitched my tent before heading to the Boat Inn where I'd read the local Morris side came on Wednesays. I wasn't disappointed - they turned up for a drink and I wheedled my way into going along to their practice session, which involved walking from the pub with our pints to the village hall. They are the Rose and Castle morris group and a friendly bunch I hope to meet again. In fact I see they are performing at the Bromyard Folk Festival on Sept 10th - 12th which looks tempting.
The next day, I cycled on up to Crick, passing the dreamboat Carnaby and getting quite lost above the tunnel (no signs!). Then I was into beautiful Northamptonshire rolling countryside where my breaks failed. Hey-ho! Another two nights camping in fields and, even though I did manage to get new break-blocks, I took the easy way out by getting a train home to the boat.
I've been making blackberry jam and elderberry cordial and got chatting to Mike and Jenny on historic narrowboat 'Ajax' who have explained where I can find lots of plums. Hmmm... sounds like I need to plan another little bike adventure :-)

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

on fishing

I consider fishing to be a cruel torture of sentient creatures but recognise that there are some situations whereby humans need to eat fish to survive. So I was happy to come across a piece of graffiti that expressed my own feelings on the subject...

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Lusting after boats

Here's a couple of pics of Carnaby, a work boat I would like to have as my next boat home - sigh.

And here's what I'd like to do with all that hold...


Simon made us this fine pie with apples from his own garden. With vegan custard too, which I don't think I've ever had before.
Beautiful to look at and delicious to eat :-)

Thursday, 22 July 2010


It was a real pleasure to finally get to meet Ali and Richard, whose blog Smudgers is such a lovely read. Their littl'uns are great fun and Eleanor makes very good pizza!
Back at Braunston, I saw Tony from nb Universe again, which was very nice, especially as he brought me freshly foraged horseradish. It packs quite a punch and there's a lot of it, so I will try to find lots of ways of preserving it and using it in food. Thanks too Tony, for posting a picture of that delightful BW boat I'd spotted at Norton Junction. Now I'm back there, I went to take a few photos myself. You never know, BW may want to get rid at some point!
Well, the sky is an incredible yellow grey, the rain coming down in silvery sheets - quite spectacular. Unfortunately, I dismantled a section of my rainwater harvesting system and it's all running happily into the canal instead of my tank. Never mind, I expect there's plenty more where that came from ;-)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010


I'm having a wander over to Warwick at the moment, having stopped up in Braunston for a couple of days, where I got to meet up with Tony from nb Universe. A really nice encounter which I hope we can repeat on our various travels. That's the lovely thing about boating - you can go off exploring and see people you like further along the water road.
I'd been away last weekend, arriving back at Rugby by train on Sunday, but then found no bus service to Braunston and my boat. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day, so I went to the library and photocopied a bit of the ordnance survey map (apparently you are allowed to photocopy only one A4 page of an OS map, but my hand slipped and I pressed A3 instead, which fortunately covered the whole area I needed ;-) I found a disused railway to follow. To begin with, it was a public footpath and easy to walk, but then that part ended and thick brambles and face-high nettles followed. I was too stubborn to turn back so threaded my way through at a snail's pace. Took ages but it felt like being an explorer and I emerged, not too stung and scratched at this bridge over a motorway where someone had written a poem..

'A branch shorn of leaves. A raven perching on it. This autumn evening'

Back on the towpath, I couldn't believe this bridge was still in the same state since I last saw it - must have been in 2007?

Before leaving Braunston, I managed to gather plenty of lime blossom - the last I think, before the flowers turn to fuits. It smells wonderful drying on the boat!

Now I'm at Long Itchington on the GU Warwick section or whatever it's called, having shared plenty of locks with the same pleasant couple on nb Silkwood. Always useful to share the work with people who work well as a team and are nice to chat to. I couldn't resist pausing to take a photo of this boat I really liked the look of,

though I'm kicking myself for not having a camera to hand at Norton junction for a seriously gorgeous old work boat moored there. I'll be sure to get a good photo when I next go past!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Tunnels & staircases

The Foxton locks were so much easier than I'd anticipated! All those arrow shapes on the map look a bit daunting but I didn't realise they are narrow locks and the friendly lock-keeper tells you what to do (red paddles first, followed by white) and they are easy. I was also able to cut the engine and just pull the boat into each lock, which was a peaceful ascent. I did the same coming down the Watford staircase locks today and it makes me feel just a tiny bit less guilty about my diesel burning :-(

The weather was still gorgeous and with roses draping themselves over anything that stood still, it all looked like a picture postcard. I saw this mangle - just the thing for my clothes washing, though I'd need a butty to fit it in.

Loads of people at the pub on the Foxton junction and spilling out of the tea-shop. I did the tourist thing and looked in at the canal museum and bought a lolly before heading out into an emptier and more beautiful landscape at the foot of the Laughton hills. Lovely.
One thing that did make me angry though, was passing a canalside residence (I'd say a house except that several families could have lived there), complete with smart new stables, garages, huge 4X4, horse-boxes, etc and seeing a sign on a tree saying 'No mooring in front of the property'. Well, I gave my opinion as loud as I could but think I just scared the horses..
I got tempted to explore the Welford arm - it just looked so green and secluded and it is! I think it's only a couple of miles, with one little lock at the end but I'd recommend a visit. Welford has a 'pocket garden' conservation area, turning a roadside bit of land into something special. I loved this carved fox :-)

This boat name and location made me smile.

Then on to Crick, its amazing thatched houses, scarecrow celebration (shame I will miss it - if I stood still, I might have won a prize) and scary tunnel. I'm getting better at these as it's my third over the last couple of weeks and I have the Braunston one coming up, but I must admit, my heart is in my throat every time I plunge into that dark dome!

Friday, 2 July 2010


Just some photos of things I saw over the last couple of weeks..

The fields of wheat look great right now, slowly turning golden. I saw lots of rabbits snuffling away in there as I walked past. Later, foxes too! Foxton is certainly well-named ;-)

A moment later, this boat was almost engulfed in curious cattle, licking the cabin sides.

I watched house martins swooping in to feed their young at a lock-cottage (was out boating with the Herbies) but not one bird would come near when I had a camera in my hand of course! I think their nests are just amazing, like cob houses.

Braunston boat festival - very hot, lots of people, socialising and some great boats.

My own personal boat lust... all that hold, that basic chunky simplicity, yum.

Smeeton Westbury - a village worth wandering across the fields for. At its centre is a big dip, filled with the loveliest allotments although the scarecrow is armed and dangerous.