Friday, 30 December 2011


It was good to have a bit of boat time in a quiet spot, albeit for a short spell before Christmas and a trip over to Wales to see family. Then it was back to move Blackbird along a bit. No ice down this neck of the country. It feels so mild this winter! The cabbages are coming along nicely and I like looking at them on the roof, until I saw a boat with brussel sprouts on their roof and now I have sprout envy!
I've been thinking about where to explore next. I think I'd like to wander along the Kennet and Avon. I've been along the Bristol and Bath bit in a friend's boat but it will be a bit of an adventure to go out on the Thames at Brentford and approach it from this end.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Boat blues

I'm having boat blues. It's not because I'm on my boat and feeling down, but because I've been off it too long. It's been a mix of staying in a house, staying at my live-in work and being in France and I say a mix because that's been a roller-coaster of happy and stressful emotions. Now all I long for is to be alone on my lovely boat, moving on, being outside, being peaceful. I want to hear birds, see fields and woods and water. There's something very therapeutic about living on a narrowboat. It's a small, safe place and just the right size to enjoy organising and keeping tidy.
As sson as I'm home again, I'm going to pull up those pins and move away to an empty space and go walking. I'll come back cold and tired and make a fire in the stove and start some soup cooking on top, maybe play my accordian, read by candle-light.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


Boating is great. Boating in November is particularly great. The kids are back at school (poor loves), the Shinies are tucked away in marinas, the ice hasn't crept in yet and I have the canals to my selfish self - ah, bliss!
And it's warm! I wouldn't be human if I didn't enjoy the surprising warmth and the not-having-to-chop-wood-every-day-yet side of climate chaos, but it is all a bit worrying. Here's some out of focus blackberries and their flowers!

Of course, these early signs of global warming are nowt compared to the climate havoc already suffered in other countries but it's still sad to see flowers that will never fruit, eggs that can't be hatched, new buds that will soon be frost blasted. And here I am, burning diesel and moaning about the consequences - in fact, the families and Shinies are kinder to the environment than I am. Hey ho.

The empty canals meant I could take my time and dawdle at locks and admire the autumn colours.

A cyclist passed me with his little dog running alongside. He later came back past me, this time with the dog having a piggy-back in an ingenious bag on the cyclist's back! As they rode over a bridge I was passing under, they kindly stopped to let me take this photo. Sorry it's not clearer but the evening light was going and I had to focus on not widening the bridge.
When the man stopped, his dog looked down at the boat then leaned forwards to lick the back of his human's neck as though to say "ok, it's a boat, now get pedalling".

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Moles and holes

I have new front doors and needed to make a ventilation hole in the wood so I can light my stove safely. I used an old-fashioned hand-drill to make lots of holes so it looks like it was done with a machine-gun! You can see the one area I was able to reach with the coping saw. It was wobbly and hard work but also fun and satisfying to get it done. Once the section was taken out, I put a proper brass ventilation grill over both sides so you'd never guess the incompetent job underneath - unless you blog about it of course!

My second job of the day was to plant up some kale and cabbage plants but I needed soil for the planters and all is stony on this stretch of towpath. But overhearing some walkers talking about the 'eyesore' molehills on the playing field, I headed over there with my wheelbarrow and found the best soil for planters. It's topsoil, all finely sifted through mole claws! I hope gardeners will recognise how useful moles can be and stop treating them like pests.


So, two protestors were tasered at close quarters at Dale Farm. Police fired from the other side of a fence so were not in fear of their lives, the only justification for using these guns. I knew there had been some deaths in relation to tasers but hadn't realised how lethal they are. Since 2001, there have been 507 deaths in the U.S, while in the U.K, there were 3 deaths within 8 days in August this year. Usingpotentially lethal tasers to simply facilitate an eviction looks like police state tactics to me.

Friday, 30 September 2011

paraffin stove

Finally got around to posting photos of my little paraffin burner, bought at a car-boot sale for £8.
Sarah from nb Chertsey blogged in August about one she has. After careful examination, I see mine is called Beatrice too!

In the dark it looks like the furnace of Hell

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Light & shade

Sad things: the death of friend and wonderful Calais activist, Marie-Noelle Gues.
Photographer, journalist, teacher, mother.
Here's a Youtube clip of what she was fighting for.

And of course, it's the sadnesses that highlight the joys of normal day-to-day living.
Here's a few of the lovely things that have happened recently:
Towersey folk festival - I loved it! Some great music, camping, morris dancing, a spectacular lantern procession, Indian circus, surreal hand-bell ringing, copious amounts of cider and falafel.
I failed to take any photos except of these fine flag performers. It doesn't sound anything special but the slow swoosh and crack of the material was absolutely mesmerising.

A birthday treat (one of many :-) - a river trip from Richmond to Westminster and back.
Fantastic weather, had a silly grin on my face thoughout.

Another treat - a puppet show on the Puppet Barge at Richmond! (This photo is from their website). Two of my favourite things, puppets and boats, brought together in one lovely package.

A surprise cake by the river! Sunshine, cider, my love - it was perfect. Of course I had to get mucky didn't I :-)

Went scrumping again in the disused orchard I came across last year and made lots of chutney. I like chutney, jam and cordial days, followed closely by scrubbing-fruit-stains-off-every-surface days :-)

We went to see Beirut at Brixton Academy. Just fantastic. (Photo is from their website)

And then there was this morning...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

We Travellers

Dale Farm has been in the news a lot recently, so most people will know it’s a traveller site in Essex, where an eviction is looming. Some of the reporting about the site has been misleading, such as the plans to ‘return the site to greenbelt’. Travellers set up home there ten years ago, on a disused scrapyard, not the lush green fields ‘greenbelt’ suggests. The travellers own the land they are living on. They also own a couple of proper ‘greenbelt’ fields next door, where they graze their horses.
Another piece of misinformation is that the 90 families living there have been offered other places to live. They haven’t. The old people there say they can’t bear to be constantly moving on with the endless police hassle they’ve faced all their lives but found a refuge from, by getting together to buy the land.
They are a people in transition. Many of the men and women aged around 60+ grew up in horse-drawn vehicles, moving where there was seasonal work, horse fairs, good grazing etc. Most of this site’s owners came from Ireland to find work. Now all the common land is owned by someone, everywhere is fenced round. It’s a battle to even keep some footpaths across land open! Wherever the travellers stopped, they received abuse and harassment by people in houses, the police called every time, they got moved on constantly. Some residents don’t read or write because they couldn’t go to school. In a documentary recently, I found it really moving to hear how one grandmother had been taught to read by the children as they were now able to go to school by staying in one place.
The seasonal work is now on the continent for many of the young men of the community. They can do this when they know their womenfolk are living together not needing to constantly move on. Three generations live in community in a way we all used to do. The grandparents are closely involved in the upbringing of the grandchildren, with aunts, uncles and cousins close by.
Many of the residents at Dale Farm are Catholic, with statues of Mary in carefully tended shrines on each plot. The immaculately kept caravans put my boat to shame. The children ‘play out’ all day in the school holidays, older ones looking after and bossing around the younger ones, climbing, digging, building rubble dens etc without much adult interference, but clean themselves up sharpish when they go home! If you need anything, you will instantly be offered it by 5 people at once! It’s very hard to say no, thank you! I mention all this because it seems so reminiscent of village life, say one or two hundred years ago.
I don’t mean to romanticise a pretty tough way of life but I hate that they are to be cleared away like rubbish. I hate that their way of life is seen as invalid because it isn’t the same as that of most house-dwellers. What’s so great about buying a house you have to spend all your life working to pay for, filling it with stuff you’ll throw away in a year or two. What’s so wonderful about living alienated from your family and not ever speaking to your neighbours. This isn’t just about gypsy/Roma/ travellers. After all, those of us who live aboard are also living outside accepted norms too. Some of us travel around alone, others group together in communities and try to live much like the caravan travellers. Some people make use of empty buildings, squatting them for a while, injecting crumbling buildings with new life, often creating community social spaces.
The intolerance of difference isn’t anything new but the current drive to iron out society so that we are all part of the same shoddy system is worrying I think. Squatting was popular after the war when returning soldiers had no-where to live when their homes had been bombed. People made use of what they could find and that was accepted. Now the government is trying to make it illegal, at a time when buying a home is impossible for so many. The money spent on evicting people who it will cost lots of money rehousing, seems a mad expense.
Government money is propping up the eviction of Dale Farm. An estimated 18 million pounds has been earmarked for the eviction, including £6million from the Home Office. What a stupid waste of money. What a pointless uprooting of a settled and close community. What a worrying example of State-financed intolerance and racial prejudice. It's something happening more and more in other European countries with France and Italy recently clearing gypsy camps, forcibly fingerprinting gyspies. A few weeks ago, a site was cleared in Paris, the residents made to board a train, adults and children seperated and under police escort, taken out of the city. The parallels with the trnsportation of jews and gypsies under the Vichy government have rightly caused an outcry. We do things more subtly over here. We crush dissent and difference through long drawn-out legal battles and with various 'consultations' and justifications, but the result is the same.
Don’t wait for them to come for the boaters. If you can, support the Dale Farm travellers in their fight to resist the eviction. There’s a march (details here: or just to find out more about it, here’s the website:

Monday, 22 August 2011

My kitchen window

I've been off my boat a fair bit recently and coming home is always such a pleasure. Even after five years, I still get a surge of happiness stepping down into the boat, seeing the colours, the wood, the inside shape of a boat. Another pleasure is standing at the kitchen window which makes doing boring things like washing up, much more fun :-)
I have my faithful Tyrannosaurus Rex, guarding the basil, while papier mache birds I once made for christmas tree decorations but which turned out to be far too beaky and fierce-looking for that, battle it out over the parsley and mint. There are also two mushrooms turned from apple wood, which Simon bought me at a green fair. I guess the chances of seeing a caterpillar sitting smoking a hookah on there one day are small, with so many predators..

I'm making elderberry cordial at the moment. It's very easy and makes a great hot drink in winter (add boiling water) or can be taken neat by the spoonful in case of sore throats and coughs. Gather ripe elderberries, strip them off the tree with a fork and it does the least damage, I think. Put in a big pan and add half their volume of water. Simmer and stir for 20 minutes, cool and squeeze out the juice through muslin or a jelly bag. For every 500ml of juice, add 250g muscovado sugar, a stick of cinnamon, some cloves and slices of lemon. Simmer for 20 minutes, strain off and pour into sterilised bottles. A lovely taste of summer in the winter months.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New pot

Look - I have a new pot! Well, an old one but new to me :-) This one is enamel on steel and so much lighter than my cast-iron enamel saucepans and frying pan.
I love old enameled cookware, even though it's impractical in some ways. The handle gets burning hot, the cast-iron ones are very heavy to lift and things don't stay hot in the steel ones for long BUT they're so pretty and the shapes are sometimes funny and the colours bizarre. They never seem to stack with other things so have to have their own personal space in the cupboard - completely impractical on a boat - lovely!

Monday, 11 July 2011

No justice

This won't make any headlines and most people will neither know nor care about it, but today saw a shameful landmark in the justice system. The Immigration Advisory Service has closed all its offices today and gone into administration, leaving around 24,000 cases (that's people) in limbo with no legal representation. People whose claim for asylum is due to be heard will have no voice, no way of putting their cases, no access to one of the most basic of human rights - the right to ask for asylum. If they were due to be represented at all, it's because their case-workers saw they each had real grounds for seeking asylum.
You can't claim asylum from outside the country. You can't enter the country without a visa. You won't get granted a visa if you come from any country that is a) very poor b) war-torn c) has famine/drought d) is in any conflict with the UK. Only the wealthy or the influential get in that way. So much for Britain having a fine reputation for granting asylum to those in need. So people risk everything to find ways into the country and then ask for asylum. They can then be treated as 'illegal' and then have to struggle endlessly against a culture of disbelief where they are treated like the worst sort of criminals. Their one hope has been to get legal advice, translators to be able to tell their story, to have their moment in court to counter the disbelief, the hatred from tabloid newspapers, the on-going racist stories about asylum scroungers etc. There's no longer legal aid for asylum cases so law-firms won't take them on. And now the Immigration Advisory Service has been forced into administration, most people will be deported, regardless of their background or story, which will never be heard.
Michael Howard wrote in 2003 "Britain has a proud tradition of providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution." I'd laugh if it wasn't such a bloody great lie. I was reading accounts of the prejudice and media hysteria whipped up in 1939 about jewish immigrants seeking asylum in the UK. The hostility they faced has been airbrushed out over time, to present a rosy collective memory of Our Generous Hospitality.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Gimp My Ride

I used Gimp to do a quick view of how my boat may look if I have the cabin cut back. (The water reflects its shape today.)

And then I might paint it a blue-grey colour, sometrhing like this:

I could paint some blackbirds in flight along the cabin sides too.

I've been doodling on bits of paper to work out how the inside layout would alter but that will have to be another post, another day.
Wow it's hot today! I had a lovely, lesiurely boat trip from Rickmansworth to Watford and was glad there weren't queues of boats behind me as it was too hot to rush through the locks. My washing dried very quickly :-)

Thursday, 23 June 2011


This entry is born of the frustration of not being able to comment directly on Rose of Arden's blog and say how brilliant their post about bats is! Have a look HERE.
I find bats fascinating and didn't know ordinary people could get bat detectors (although Mags and Mike may be extraordinary, I don't know!). They've put links to hear the different sounds bats make. I never know what kind of bats are zooming around my head late at night but I like the fact that they live so secretly from humans. I also like them because they remind me of hot summer nights in France. We walked back to the boat, late on the evening of the solstice and had them swooping overhead - lovely,
Here's my own little bat, imaginatively named "Batty".

Friday, 17 June 2011


Banardos does some fantastic work to protect children in the UK. I worked for them in a very humble position myself, years ago. Which is why I’m particularly upset to see their involvement in running the newly opening detention centre for families and children at Pease Pottage. They will be working in conjunction with G4S (Group 4 security) who are currently facing possible corporate manslaughter charges after the death of Jimmy Mubenga during a forced removal on a flight to Angola. In 2010 alone, there were 700 complaints made against G4S, including assault and racism.
The last government announced the closure of the Yarl’s Wood detention centre (mainly women and children), saying it was inhumane and investigations showed that even short spells in detention prisons were deeply traumatic for children. Incidences of weight-loss, depression, bed-wetting, traumatised behaviour, nightmares and self-harming were common. Kids taken from school, from their homes in front of neighbours and friends, very often from the only homes they've known, to be bundled off to a prison without time to pack toys, clothes, say goodbyes.. The Children's Commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green said in his report that detention was harmful to children and should be stopped. After the 'End Child Detention Now' campaign, started by ordinary people and backed by more famous people with a bit of clout, the last government finally agreed to shut down Yarl's Wood in May this year.
But now we have a new government and with it, a re-branded imprisonment of children. The name is now 'Pre-departure Accommodation Centre' but it's the same disgraceful locking up of kids. There was an initial reistance among a few mp's but the involvement of Banardos has given it the veneer of care and compassion needed to get it through the planning process.
As one protestor says, 'Barnardo's endorsement has given this sham a fig leaf of legitimacy with the councillors who granted it planning permission expressing that they are reassured by Barnardo’s involvement.'
In fact, the former chief executive of Banardos, Martin Narey, slammed the imprisonment of asylum-seeking families as “unnecessary” and “shameful”. Out with the old and in with the new, it seems. If all decent children's charities refused to get involved in this shameful set-up, the centre couldn't open.

If anyone cares about this and doesn't want to see Banardos sully its fine reputation, they can send an e-mail messga eon their feedback form here.

“I am so scared of the Home Office. It is hard times for me and my mum. She would rather kill herself than go back." A child who was in detention.

Friday, 10 June 2011

I have peas!

Happiness is small round green things in pods.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


I know this may be a bit unusual but I've been thinking for some time about shortening my boat. Well, what I really mean is shortening the cabin length, to give me a bigger hold. The boat is 52ft long and has a very small cratch area of about 3 or 4ft long floor space. I don't particularly want a bigger boat but I long for more outside space. I guess there's all the countryside and towpath to be had, but I want to lug it all with me. And sit out in it. And grow veg and small trees in it. And make things that I can't make indoors.
I'm wondering if it would be cheaper to get Blackbird altered rather than sell up and buy something a bit different and I'll have to start by getting some quotes from boatyards. I think I'd prefer to keep my boat as I'm very attached to it.
So, it would mean losing my large sitting-room so you'd come straight into the kitchen area from the front entry. Then the room that is currently a spare bedroom/work space would become my sofa area. So I'd probably make the kitchen/new sitting-room an open plan space, partly divided, with the stove moved up to this area.
I'd lose a lot of bookshelf storage but gain maybe another 13 ft of hold. Would it be worth it? I'll have to measure up properly, do some proper sketches, get the boatyards to come up with some figures and decide if it is!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Two birds

I'm on the outskirts of London and very much enjoying being able to dip into city life when I want and retreat to quiet countryside. How lucky to be able to do that.
On Tuesday, two birds caught my eye, reminding me of the way I'm living at the moment.
This female Mandarin duck flew up onto the bow as I was sitting out with my morning coffee....

Later in the day, I came across this giant Heron in Hackney:

I was reading that the Mandarin is originally a native of western Russia, China and Japan but has settled here successfully and that the Heron, which used to nest in elm trees, just adapted when so many elms died and moved to oaks instead. Survival so often seems to be about adapting, migrating, moving on.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


I was looking at the Granny Buttons blog and noticed a site called 'Blackbird' listed in the sidebar. I wondered if it was a broken link to the old blog I'd started a few years ago and deleted when I got fed up with it. The link took me to an unfamilar page in salmon pink and blue, entitled 'Carrieblackbird'. It looked so much like a personally chosen site, I assumed it was another Carrie with a boat called Blackbird - what a coincidence! The writing was from 2008 so I didn't immediately recognise my own words.
There are no recent postings and I vaguely began to remember Mr Denny writing something about having a copy of my postings, even though I'd chosen to delete them. Quote: "Carrie, please note that a blog is permanent even if you delete it. On my computer I've still got all 60 posts you made since I first discovered you on 10th November." I remember thinking at the time 'so what!'
I may be wrong, but it does look as though he, or someone else has made a blog, selected the format and colour scheme and filled it with my past blog entries as though I had made it.
If this is the case, I'm very annoyed. I chose to delete my own writings. At least my link to the Granny Buttons blog actually leads to his site and not some stoopid pink concoction, masquerading as his choice.

ADDITION: I've since spoken to Andrew Denny and it's clearly not some dastardly deed of his but that of some spammer in Russia. Aplogies Andrew.

lovely May

I've had some happy days on my boat recently, moored up in a little private paradise of trees, waist-high nettles and brambles ;-) Lovely. The fine weather made it especially gorgeous with everything leafy and green. (My internet connection's too slow to let me upload a photo, I'll try and remember to do it later.)
Reading Lucky Duck's blog I was led to Belle's blog where a boater is experimenting with foraging and cooking from the hedgerows. There, I was amazed by the recipe for Dandelion marmalade which I must have a go at making. I've made a dandelion oil before, for salads and also a dandelion remedy for aching muscles (thouh I've never been sure whether it wasn't just the rubbing in that helped ;-)and once tried some flower heads in a salad (more pretty than tasty!)but reckon the marmalade will be good.
It's a good time to be making stuff when everything is young-leaved and fresh-tasting. I missed out on finding any St George's mushrooms this year (not enough rain maybe?) but am determined to be a little more adventurous with mushrooms this autumn. Apart from the giant puffball I found along the Shropshire union canal one year and a couple of field mushrooms, I haven't dared try anything, even though I have a couple of good books to guide me. When I lived in France, everyone went Cep gathering and you could take anything you weren't sure of to the pharmacy to get it identified!
I've hardly done any hedgerow foraging myself yet this year. Instead, I've been lucky enough to have been given fruit and also taken advantage of throwaway supermarket gluts to make:
Rhubarb and ginger jam
Date and rhubarb chutney
Chilli tomato chutney
Fig and caramelised onion jam
Pickled peppers
Pickled garlic mushrooms

As for my little rooftop garden, apart from plenty of perpetual spinach (which is very easy to grow and comes again all summer, some peas that may or may not produce enough for a meal ;-), and some reluctant-to-flower strawberries, I haven't made the big effort I intended to this spring. Never mind, I AM glad I got around to planting some flowers because it's great to see the bees busy foraging, although as Simon commented, it may cause some confusion back at the hive, when the dance of map instructions leads them to a recently vacated mooring!

(Yes! - Got a better signal to post my photo)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Roses & castles

There's loads of stuff written about the 'roses and castles' painting of narrowboats for anyone interested in the tradition. I recently found an old copy of 'The Water Gipsies' by A.P Herbert, written in 1930, which gives a romantic account of the decoration of a working boat and butty. He mentions 3 designs: roses, castles and hearts, saying that they represented beauty, worldly honour and love, rsepectively.
He suggested that the castles on different boats often bore some ressemblance to actual castles or stately homes in England, which doesn't seem to be the case today, judging from the ones I've seen, which tend to look more like the castle that little fairy flies up from at the start of Disney films!

On Canal Junction Tony Lewery explains that there was a much richer variety of designs than just the 'roses and castles' to which we've reduced canal art - "There certainly are roses of a sort in profusion, but there are also daisy-cum-marigold shaped flowers, dahlia/ chrysanthemums, pansy/primroses and other strange floral >hybrids invented by the brush of the painter working at speed. Castles or big country houses predominate in the picture panels, but there are also churches, cottages, lighthouses and portraits of dogs, horses and the sailor's head from Players cigarette advertisements"
As well as having similarities with folk art across Europe and beyond, I think much of the style and content is inspired by what people with little money or literacy had to hand - playing cards, printed cloth, cheap Victorian patterns on things like these tea-trays.

It's funny that some people who are quite vocal about preserving the 'tradition of roses and castles' may actually be strangling that tradition by reducing it to an extremely narrow set of 'rules' whereby the castles all look the same and there is a set list of ingredients to make up the whole. Courses teaching this may be helping stultify this art form that I reckon was once much more quirky, fresh, individual and inventive.
We can see this happening in another art form - graffiti. There's wonderful self-expression, often influenced by popular culture, comics, TV, (the playing cards and tea-trays of the past) but when you try to confine it, teach it, preserve it, it gets reduced to a set style with boring results.

I do like seeing traditional canal art on boats and it's wonderful to preserve it but if we really want to keep canal art alive, we should maybe try to include our own intersts and influences as our boater predecessors did. I like seeing how some boaters have portraits of their dogs or canal wildlife on their doors and others go mad and paint their whole boats with wonderfully imaginative designs. A couple I met a year ago are a good example. He had painted a lovely card for his partner and she liked it so much, they painted the whole of their boat with that design! It even has some flowers and hearts too I think, that should keep the purists happy :-)

Saturday, 7 May 2011

London Boaters

During the Little Venice weekend, we wandered over to the Regents canal to take part in a London Boaters towpath event. The main aim was to draw attention to BW proposals to clear the River Lee of what it sees as undesirable boaters, though anyone attending the weekend event, would immediately see that these boaters are it's greatest human asset.

We arrived too late to see the forming of the word 'Home' with boats - must have been a funny palava to watch! Here's a photo by Sasha Andrews, posted on the London Boaters website:

They are also on Facebook.

What we did get to see was a fine circus act on the roof of a big boat (why didn't I take my camera?! doh!), including a mime act, a beautifully poetic trapeze performance on ropes accompanied by singing and lovely live music - the accordian playing was a bonus for me ;-) General friendliness, welcoming chat, a sense of inclusion, the table with tea and cakes, the child uni-cyclist, the warmth of the sunshine, smiling passers-by, an open-hearted community.
After 5 years of travelling around various canals and meeting all kinds of people, I know that this warm sense of solidarity and sharing is usually only found among boating communities that stick together. It doesn't mean you have to live in each other's pockets but are there for mutual support and sharing good things. We boaters that travel singly and over a wider stretch of the country can look in vain for such neighbourliness. The best we achieve is a friendly politeness towards other boaters, and an eager anticipation of meeting up briefly with friends afloat.

Another important aspect of the London Boater community is that of environmental awareness. They are a part of LILO (Low Impact Life On board) and encourage sustainable living afloat through example. BW claims to be implementing a rigorous policy of environmental care of the waterways, which is just incompatible with forcing boats to continually travel - this is something they are simply refusing to recognise. In other words, they are ticking the 'environmental awareness' box they are forced to do by law, while not really giving a damn about the consequences of their policies. For all my efforts to live a low-impact life, I burn diesel every time I travel and my carbon footprint must be huge in comparison to those of boating communities who move over a smaller area.

Finally, I'm thinking about the Jericho boaters. That wonderful little haven in Oxford that had its heart ripped out when the community was broken up and the boatyard cleared. I used that emotive term 'ripped out', because that's what it was like - people clinging in tears to their boats as they were craned out the water. And for what? That place is a dreary, soul-less blot on the landscape now, high-fenced and barb-wired.

I've been sorry to read how some boat bloggers are not content to simply disagree with the London Boaters stance, but seek to actively stir up opposition. I suspect such people would never themselves be useful members of any such community and make few friends and many enemies in their own chosen lifestyles. I leave them to their lonely misanthropy and urge on the London Boaters with a great cheer!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

our iranian friends

There are six iranian men on day 21 of a hunger-strike in London. They were arrested, detained and tortured in Iran, for taking part in anti-regime protests. There are photos in the Iranian press proving their links to opposition groups - the very people this government is encouraging to fight for freedom in Iran. One man has deep slash scars on his back from torture.
Their case was dealt with in the usual arbitrary way by the Home Office (you really wouldn't believe just how arbitrary, dismissive and hastliy cases are 'dealt with' until you talk to human rights and immigration lawyers!) with vital supporting evidence not even translated in court.
In a final bid to appeal against the Home Office decision to deport them, they have sewn their mouths closed and are refusing food. (More info..)

The online petition is here: PETITION

The BBC has just put a video report on their website: Iran asylum seekers

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Down & out

Gawd! I swear I will write something uplifting soon, but I just have to let off more steam first! It seems, from reading a few bloater blogs, that BW have been pretty busy recently, clamping down on unlicenced boats and removing them from the waterways. The jubilation of some boaters over this just baffles me! Maybe I'm being dim but I don't get it.
One person talked about hoping BW could sell a little boat (a fairly valueless one by the look of it) to recoup some money - as though that means we would all get lower licence fees as a result! As I pointed out, all that would happen is that the guy whose boat was siezed will probably now need to be housed in B&B accomodation (social housing being so scarce) at huge expense to tax-payers. Housing benefit and homeless accomodation apparently costs us £12 billion/year. Or he will be sleeping rough.
Another boat blogger actually helped BW impound a 'dosser boat' as they called it (from the delightful comfort of their new shiny boat). The guy living on the impounded boat was, apparently, drunk.
I've met a number of alcoholics living on boats. Some cling on to something resembling a stable life while they have their boat homes. Somewhere to live privately, a small pride of ownership, of being 'A Boater'. Take that away and you have a vulnerable drunk sleeping in a doorway and with all pride gone.
A couple of posts back, I was banging on about the hidden homeless and see how this can be the direct result of our witch-hunt of the 'dosser boater'.
Why should we do BW's work for them? We play into their hands when they try to get us to inform on unlicenced boats or overstayers. (That's how you get a country to support oppressive regimes - set the people on each other, drive out anyone dissenting.)
We could be a powerful, self-regulating community if only we acted in solidarity with each other. Solidarity and inclusivity. A strong inclusive community could support those not coping well with life (that can come to all of us at some point), help them move about enough to not be a nuisance to other boaters (fuck BW rules, I'm talking about our own co-existence here), offer support and advice on organising money for licnce and repairs, help out with maintenance etc.
It's when you treat someone like a pariah that I think they become isolated and stop caring what anyone thinks of them.
Too many people have come onto the canals from a life of priviledge and then spend all their time moaning about and waging war on those without the advantages of the opportunities that education and a loving family brings.
Personally, I would hate to see the day come when there are only identikit shiny tubes on the waterways owned by wealthy retired people. I love seeing families afloat, non-white boaters, young couples, craft of all strange and ingenious fabrication and interesting people with vastly different life-stories.

Sometimes I think this is why I have a blog - so I don't endlessly rant in the street :-)
I'm really looking forwards to the Little Venice cavalcade at the weekend. All the boats together looking lovely and festive. Good company, hopefully cider and sunshine!

Sunday, 17 April 2011


Just wanted to mark the death of a very special man, 'Vik' - Vittorio Arrigoni, who was murdered in Gaza on Thursday. He was the partner of my friend who, like Vik, has given so much of her life over to supporting the Palestinian people. Everyone says what a beautiful, selfless person he was.
Indymedia link

Monday, 11 April 2011

'Proper boaters'

Whenever I hear complaint about people afloat who aren't 'proper boaters', I get mad! Canal boaters come in all forms, have all kinds of craft, have all different reasons for being there, moor up along towpaths or in marinas and have different ways of moving about or staying put. Get over it! We all shuffle along a man-made ditch - we are none of us 'proper boaters', if that phrase means anything at all.
It's just a way of excluding people, making yourself seem more important than them, pulling some weird sort of rank, or belittling the efforts of those new to the waterways.
One of the most interesting boaters I've met has been afloat for nearly forty years (a fact you only learn after a few days acquaintance) and is quiet, gentle, tolerant and helpful. To my mind, he puts those boastful self-publicists to shame.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Hidden homeless

It's difficult to find out how many people in the UK are homeless and that's one useful piece of information the census won't reveal of course. The government statistics estimate about 99,500 households were newly homeless in 2007 but the trouble is that only 'official' homeless people are counted in government statistics, i.e those who make a declaration and are eligable to apply for accommodation.
The charity 'Crisis' talks about an estimated 400,000 'hidden homeless' who haven't been allocated housing. It's probably pretty well known now that many of these are youngsters who feel unable to stay on in abusive households, people who come out of institutions, hospitals, foster homes, casualties of relationship breakdowns, home repossessions, mental health problems, drug and alcohol dependencies, etc. And there are also people who simply choose to live in freedom outside without the traps and trappings of modern life.
Why am I talking about this now? It's because I was out walking the other afternoon and came across no less than six separate shelters (some tents, others made from palettes, branches and tarps). Each discretely tucked away among trees and bushes. It made me realise that there must be thousands of people living like this all across the country. For people who aren't there by choice, I feel very sad. But I'm also glad that those looking to live differently can still build themselves a shelter and survive.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Out with the Herbies

We've had a couple of fun days out with Kath and Neil from nb Herbie. First we accompanied Herbie down the Hanwell flight with nb Tortoise breasted up for the locks. It must be a bit tricky driving something like a widebeam but from one side only but Neil did a fine job bringing them into locks, not helped by a frequently fouled prop - there was loads of rubbish floating in the canal!

A few days later, Simon and I went along for the ride when Herbie braved the Thames. I was a bit anxious about it but the river was calm, wide and wonderfully interesting. The sun made it all the more enjoyable. We were spoilt with two types of vegan cake: Kath's famous banana cake (which I have never quite managed to copy to the same high standard) and Marilyn's yummy fuity cake with just a hint of rum.
After a good vegan lunch at Kingston I'm afraid I forgot my manners and, in the style of Oliver Twist, asked rather pointedly for more of Kath and Marilyn's cake!
I may not be asked back :-)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Some you win, some you lose

My bike got nicked :-( It was a folding bike and had done me proud for my 5 years afloat. That'll teach me to use only D-locks in future, as even thick bendy wire locks get cut through like licorice by boltcroppers.
But as I was trudging home again, I spotted some pine legs protruding from the canal. My first thought was of firewood, but when I pulled, up came a kicthen sheving unit! It was half-covered with a bin-bag so I guess it had been put out for rubbish and someone had chucked it in the canal. It had castors and a tiled worktop which unfortunately didn't fit the space I had mentally allocated it, but I hacked it about a bit and am very happy with my find!

The tiled top has become a useful part of my workdesk so I can splash paint and water about as much as I usually do, but with less guilt :-)

I'm moored in a busy industrial area at the moment with a lot of towpath walkers. There was a knock on the boat at 4 this morning and I was very slow to get up and look. I could see a man sitting a few yards away but not looking anxious to contact me in particular and he'd only tried knocking once. I went through that thought process of wondering if he needed anything, was homeless, or was checking out if my boat was empty before breaking in.. I dressed and stuck my head out to ask what he wanted and he said there'd been a car broken into in the nearby car-park and was it mine cos he knew who'd done it. "I've knocked at all the other boats too" he said. Bet they were equally pleased! But I was shamed because he'd been motivated by a kind impulse and not the needy or negative ones I'd assumed.

Monday, 28 February 2011

From the library

I usually join the library wherever I stay for a few days, and was recently chatting to another boating friend about our large collection of library cards from around the country! As well as computer use, you can take out a book from one library and return it to a 'sister' library further along the canal.
I'm writing this in Paddington library because I don't have much laptop power (forgot to charge up on solar and now it's raining) and I also want to print out some pages. Today, I've brought my own laptop along to plug in and use in warmth, light and comfort. What else do I use the library for? Reading the paper, reading expensive canal magazines that won't get binned after one read, checking out the local events I could go along to or getting info about doctor's surgeries, bus timetables. I have, on rare occasions, borrowed CDs or DVDs and often bought second-hand library books.
Looking around me, I see mums and dads with kids just starting to read or looking at the pictures while parents grab a chance to choose books or check e-mails in peace. No need to keep a watch-out for traffic here. A free place to take the children when school or nursery is shut. I was in here last week and they were running free health-checks in one corner of the library, offering blood-pressure checks, etc and dietary advice. I've seen story-book readings for groups of pre-school kids in some libraries, computer classes for retired people in others, coffee-shops in a couple.
I've listened in to a computer lesson given to an excluded pupil by a teacher or key-worker.
Today, I see older people, having a sit down with the paper, one frail lady with her shopping looks like she's just come in to sit down because there's no-where else you can sit out of the rain, without spending money.
There are students here, I think, judging from the books and files open around their computers. People at the study tables, writing furiously in what may be the only quiet place they have. There's a man with the jobs paper open, pen and notebook beside him. There are people reading the arabic newspapers, others talking very quietly in a language I don't understand.
I remember blogging a while ago about trying to get back from Rugby to my boat on a bus-free day. I found the library open and was able to photocopy part of an ordnance survey map that helped me find my way home across footpaths and disused railway.

I think of all this, knowing that the government aims to close one fifth of the libraries in the country. I found this site that shows a map of the libraries under threat of closure. I see from one comment underneath that 9 out of the 11 libraries on the Isle of Wight are to close!
There have been protests that get very little media coverage, perhaps because they tend to be quiet protests like read-ins and because the people most affected by the closures are disenfranchised and feel powerless. Many library users are tired single parents, retired people, people with disabilities whose day-centres have closed, job-seekers, asylum-seekers, homeless people and travellers like myself. I don't suppose the wealthy have much use for libraries as they order books online and don't need the social, free aspect of a library. If it's raining outside, you can sit in the car or a cafe/restaurant or go to the cinema etc.

My daughter, studying part-time for an MA, has the use of the Bodleian library in Oxford. That elitist establishment will never close. The one she passed in a run-down, impoverished street in Deptford recently, had already shut.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Toy story

I've brought Blackbird into London, exchanging tall trees for high buildings. It's exciting exploring! One of my first outings was to the Museum of Childhood (pic from their website) where I particularly wanted to look out for puppets and early mechanical toys, being slightly dotty about carved painted wood. I also love simple tin forms, cardboard figures etc - things that aren't plastic I guess.
It reminds me that there is a lovely museum of childhood to be found in Edinburgh too - smaller and in a higgledy-piggledy warren of rooms over 2 or 3 floors. This museum is in a big open building and the noise can be deafening!

Here are some things that caught my eye..
The most basic design for a moving toy, I love its simplicity.

Isn't this great. You press down on the tail and the little bellows make it chirp. There's also plenty of nostalgia here - spot the Snoopy toy behind?

These puppets are called Pebble puppets as they have a pebble inside for weight, perhaps it's so the limbs can move freely from the weighted main body.

These little 'spirit boats' or putt-putt boats sent me scurrying to find out how they're made. I'd seen some at a fair once and always thought I'd love to try to make one. Here's an interesting site showing different options.

The candles are lit, the heat turns the windmill at the top, which in turn, rotates the tiers below.

Not a great photo, sorry, but this toy has a figure that dances on the end of a wire. It's a sand-driven device, whereby you turn the box upside down, sand goes to fill the 'shute' at the top and as can be seen in the photo below, it turns a wheel, that flicks the wire. Ingenious and no batteries needed ;-)

There's also a wonderful display of doll's houses I never had (oh the world of the miniature!). There are the toys and games my brothers and I played together, like the 'Merit' chemistry set that filled us with excited awe and which I'm now amazed we were let loose with. And there are the toys that my own children played with when small, which bring floods of happy memories as well as memories of hoovering up vital pieces of lego, puzzle and dolly's shoe. Oh well!
Probably a combination of seeing all the toys, chatting about childrens' books with the Herbies, some cider and a discussion about Flash Gordon & Ming the Merciless, but last night I dreamed of flying in a silver tin spaceship with red stars.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

what lies beneath..

I had a lovely few days away, visiting friends of Simon and exploring part of the Grantham canal. Simon's blogged about that, and he had a camera, so I won't! But what struck me most was the quiet emptiness of the canal, almost entirely boatless and, in the long stretch away from houses and people, free of rubbish. I like the bustle of boaty places and canalside communities, but the crap that comes with large concentrations of people is an awful blight. I don't think it has to be this way. People can live together without wrecking the environment, if we stop buying plastic and packaging everything.
I shouldn't rant so much, I know, but I'm on the Slough arm at the moment and saddened by the amount of dumped rubbish that's in and around the canal. I had a quick clear-up just around my boat and filled a (plastic) bin-bag easily.
Just off the towpath, a nest of colourful wires:

The lakes where anglers hang out (you can maybe spot the tent just over the fence), and useful dumping ditch behind them:

Oh well, there was probably nothing good on anyway...

In the canal itself, there's a fascinating underworld of tyres and containers. It's quite beautiful in it's way! And doesn't this motorbike look romantic in its murky home, although I don't think it would have done my boat's hull any good if I'd tried to moor here.

It's a shame because there's nowt wrong with the canal itself (though i know the summer reeds are a big problem). There are lots of trees and undergrowth and walks around lakes. It needs a lot of people to care enough and give time to cleaning it up, putting pressure on the anglers, getting bins built, etc. The problem is that most of us, including me, are either just passing through or feel no connection or 'ownership' of the canal.