Saturday, 8 September 2012

fish dance

The upper part of the River Lea is beautifully clear. You can see right down into the underwater grasses.

And you can see loads of fish! A friend told me there are perch in the river so I looked them up and see that they are the stripy ones I catch sight of sometimes, but I wonder if the others might be gudgeon? These are little fishlets but the bigger ones were a browny/grey colour, silvery underneath.
They were darting around together but I noticed every so often, one would swim on the spot, head downwards, tail up to the surface. Then another would join it and maybe one or two others so you had a little group that looked like synchronised swimmers. Does anyone know why they do this?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

my beautiful mangle

It not only  squeezes all the water out of my washing but it folds away into a neat little yellow-topped table.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Welcome to Britain

So, the main Olympic games are over and an amazing spectacle it was too. It was good to see people celebrated for their hard work, incredible endurance and ability.
The efforts made to give a warm welcome to visitors were enormous, to the point where many people were inconvenienced. We were encouraged to accept a few temporary disturbances in the "spirit of generosity", as Coe called it. And of course, this language, along with a genuine wish to be welcoming, makes it difficult to complain. For some, the disruption was to travel, for some it meant missiles on their rooftop, for some it meant local common land being built on, and for others it meant eviction from their homes. Nevertheless, between them, the Olympics organising team, the media and the police did such a good job of squashing dissenting voices, that we ended up agreeing that anyone complaining was a party-pooper. We could ignore the 180 arrested critical mass cyclists, ignore the groups protesting about Olympic sponsors like Dow (linked to Bhopal disaster), G4S (human rights abuses), BP (one of the world's biggest polluters), Rio Tinto (poisonous mining), Atos (assessing and victimising disabled people) and Adidas (sweatshop production). Nothing could be allowed to spoil the party. And it WAS a fantastic party, but these ARE shit sponsors that should never have been invited and people's objections WERE valid and important.

So, the welcome was made. The wonderful volunteers made London a friendly place and when the athletes left, many commented on this. I for one would like to always have those helpful, cheerful people on hand at every tube and train station! Britain had welcomed in people from all over the world and as the official Olympics website says, 'showed the world what makes the UK such an exciting and diverse place to live'.
But some didn't leave. Having been shown what a great place it is to live, some athletes actually have the affront to want to live here! Several have disappeared, before the games and since, and as they have black and brown skin, they will soon become aware of the other side of our welcome to foreigners.
A study this year reported that black people are 30 times more likely to be stopped by police, than white people. In the run-up to the Olympics, there has been a huge upsurge in stops by Immigration Officers. According to the UK Border Agency's instructions, "an Immigration Officer (IO) may not stop an individual based upon their racial appearance and race and colour can never be the basis of the IO's 'reasonable suspicion' that someone has committed an immigration offence", yet having heard from several people stopped and questioned, there could have been no other reason for the intervention as they were walking down the street or shopping at the time!
So, I don't think the athletes (plus a 15 year old lad from Ethiopia who was a torch-bearer) will be free for very long. Their photos are online, the very media that celebrated them are also the media that lambast asylum-seekers and refugees daily. A large part of the population has long been conditioned to regard foreigners with suspicion and asylum-seekers as scroungers, criminals and potential terrorists.
I wish the absconders the very best of luck. They'll need it now the welcome's over.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Hot boat, hot dog.

Phew, how hot it is in London! The thermometer in the cratch was reading 38 degrees, though that's an enclosed space and it wasn't so hot in the rest of the boat. Nevertheless, it's been more comfortable to be off the boat, in the park that I'm moored alongside. I was reminded of being along a treeless stretch of the north Oxford canal a few years ago in the baking heat and of hanging wet sheets and towels at the doors to cool the air. It worked pretty well I recall, so I might try that tomorrow if it's as hot again. I had an excursion to Walthamstow market which is Europe's longest street market and bought a hat! On the way back, I came across a cyclist whose dog (attached to the bike by a great heavy chain, probably a bike lock) slumped onto a patch of grass in the shade and refused to move. The poor dog, a heavily built fellow, was panting like mad. Of course I had to interfere and tell the cyclist it was too hot to make a dog run. I feared being told to get lost (or words to that effect) but to be fair to the guy, he agreed a bit ruefully and was allowing the dog to rest all the time I could still see them though he didn't seem to have a drink for the poor animal.. I don't think people realise how quickly dogs get dehydrated in this heat, running, with extra weight and wearing fur coats!

Next week I'll be camping at the Earth First! Summer gathering so I hope the fine weather continues. Blackbird will be in the capable hands of my lovely daughter.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


 I have mice. I had thought it might be creatures living in my wood store on the roof, or hungry nocturnal visitors that just came to investigate my planters but no, it/they are in the roof space, chewing on polystyrene :-(
They seem to have come in via the mushroom vents.
I saw they'd been in one high-up cupboard that's against the ceiling. Unfortunately there was a gap in the wood and they scoffed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and linseed - trust me to live off mouse food! But they don't appear to have got into the main living-space, thank goodness. Anyway, I've sealed up that gap and stored everything edible in mouse-proof containers but am loathe to block off their escape route before they've left the boat.
So, I'm looking at humane mouse-traps on the internet at the moment, with a view to releasing them onto Walthamstow marshes. Not that humane as I've seen a kestrel nearby, intent on its prey.
There seem to be high-tech ones....

and low-tech ones..

 And being a cheapskate, I may have a go at how to Build your own mousetrap
One difficulty will be how to place a trap as I can't really get in that space between the ceiling and boat roof, though I guess I could suspend bottle traps below the mushroom vents if I remove the grills. It's a big faff, but I'd better get on with it because they keep me awake at night!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Thankful for rain

I finally got around to clearing all the wood on top of my rainwater harvesting roof and stacking it underneath, where it should have been. I couldn't find the funnel to channel the water  into the hosepipe so I used a She-pee or whatever it's called. Well it may as well be useful, I certainly couldn't manage its proper use! ("can you tell what it is yet?")

So now I have lots and lots of rainwater and am very glad of it because access to water in pretty limited on the Lea at the moment. The nearest water-point is in the Olympics exclusion zone, the next hearest is broken, awaiting repairs for a few weeks now, the third is several locks away so we are expected to call upon the coal boat to fill us up from their own storage tank. That's a lot of boats to cater for! So far, I'm ok as I'm only using my tank water for drinking and cooking and using rainwater to wash and wash up with. It all feels a bit basic but how glad I am that I did the rain-roof. And rainwater does make your hair feel soft!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

foraging and friends

The other day, I had a wander in Osterley park and was reminded by the gorgeous honey smell under the lime trees that it was time to gather the blossom that makes such a lovely tea. I set out today to find some but it rained and I remember reading that you shouldn't forage for flowers etc when it's wet as they can rot rather than dry out. Buit I did walk over the marshes to explore Walthamstow and came to the market just as it had finished. There was plenty to forage there! I picked 3 onions and 2 potatoes off the ground, 4 peaches in a dumped tray of many, all a bit squashed but delicious and 4 plants in pots, in a bin. They'll have their day in the sun on my boat.
I like to support markets and small shops but I also hate food going to waste.

Later, I met up with three boater friends and through them, several other boaters, all welcoming and friendly. One lovely guy is also a keen forager and showed me 'the secret tap', a source of water that may well prove to be invaluable on the Lea, where BW have so far failed to provide enough working taps for boaters needs.
Defintely time to dust off the rainwater harvesting roof!
I enjoyed my years of travelling around the waterways alone with my dog and may well go back to that way of life in the future, but for now, I need and welcome the company and solidarity of a boating community.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

dogs on the marshes

I saw a Canalworld Forum discussion about new regulations to keep dogs on leads along the towpath along the Regent's Canal, with threats of fines for non-compliance. You can see plenty of the notices on the Lea navigation, alongside the Hackney Marshes. The forum discussion seems to focus on the nuisance of dogs fouling the path (not sure how pooing on the end of a lead would be any different!), before drifting off into the nuisance caused by speeding cyclists.

I was wondering about the timing of these new restrictions. As many know, Leyton Marsh has been the subject of much protest recently, over the development of a basketball centre for the Olympics. The open land alongside the canal, where people and their dogs wander freely every day, has been dug up and built on, with heavy security keeping the community out. It's not the only shiny metal and concrete structure to have sprung up along that stretch of common land, close to the canal I see. Anyway, it seems that three dogs that walk that area had toxic poisoning within a few days of each other. Of course it may be completeley unrelated but about 3 weeks later, the notices restricting dogs went up all along that stretch of the canal.
I'm guessing that the marshes hold still water almost permanently and that disturbing the soil might release some of London's pollutants into surface, drinkable water.
Here's what a Guardian article said at the start of the year:
"The Environment Agency, which has worked with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), the London Development Agency and other partners on the site said it had helped the ODA decontaminate 2m tonnes of soil so it could be reused."
Another report says:
 "The main site for the 2012 bid, the Lower Lea Valley, is the largest area of derelict and contaminated land in the capital"
I'm just a bit sceptic about how efficiently you can decontaminate large areas of land without releasing chemicals and other pollutants into groundwater and air. We don't often see for ourselves the effect on wildlife, but I guess the health of our own dear dogs is very much noticed.
But hey, I'm just a conspiracy-theorist.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Poppies for Poppy

I'm on the river Lea now and starting to explore parts of my new stamping ground for the next two months. I took these photos of a gorgeous bank of poppies, using my phone. The quality isn't good but they truly were beautiful and it seemed appropriate to post them here in tribute to a much-loved greyhound called Poppy. Poppy was badly neglected and abused before being adopted by Sue and Richard ( nb Indigo Dream) and she must have thought she'd come to doggy heaven! They knew she probably wouldn't live long but as they wrote on their blog, "THIS LIFE MATTERED!" and they certainly made it a happy, secure and loving one.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Lock-in on the Lea

After much hesistation, I've decided to go up the Lea and Stort during the olympics. The exclusion zone, between Paddington Basin and Lee Bridge (or thereabouts) will be cleared on the 3rd July so I'll start heading off on Monday. I'm quite excited about it really because a) I haven't been there on my boat before and b) there are lots of lovely boaters who will also be hanging out there over the Summer. I've met a few here in London and shared enough chat and cider to know we will get on well in our 'lock-in' on the Lea :-)
It won't be very convenient for the bits of work I do off the boat, but I think that will be balanced by having good community around me when I am at home.
I'm also in a good work rhythm on the boat, greatly helped by having a proper work space and the warmer weather also helps. The back room is light and sunny for artwork with the back doors open and that bulkhead gone, it's brilliant. I need to think ahead to winter months and how to heat that space, but right now, I'm just enjoying it all.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Red Barrows

We went along to the Hanwell Carnival which claims to be London's oldest, starting in 1898. It was great to be at such a popular and well-attended event. I liked the unpretentious dog-show with prizes for 'dog looking most like owner' category. We actually persuaded a human and dog to take part, having privately decided each was just like his tall, furry companion. The man did win a prize which I was glad about as he was quite shy, but it turned out it wasn't actually his dog!
However, the highlight for me was The Red Barrows - formation wheelbarrowing of the finest expertise, including a wheel-past with red, white and blue smoke display. Beautifully done!

 Build up to a death-defying near collision that had the crowds holding their breath and cheering with relief.

A triumphant salute!

p.s Thanks to Simon for use of his photos.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Boats and bunting

Had a wander down to the Thames to watch the boat cavalcade. It was really good to see Indigo Dream among the fine craft. I waved like mad but being only a tiny dot along miles of waving people, doubt I was seen ;-) Richard and Sue posted all about it here as did Kath and Neil from nb Herbie. They seem to have had a fantastic though exhausting day.
Above are pictures I took on a wander around Brick Lane and near Tower Bridge. The street party was so lively. I was just a passer-through, like many others but I do love a community street party. Woudn't it be fun if people had them on other occasions, like the start of Spring or to welcome a new resident in a street? Well, I think it would anyway.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Police, camera, action!

Part of a film is being shot where I'm moored up in Hackney. It's a terrorist film! There's an old wharf with an alley-way and over-shadowing train bridge with suitably dodgy nooks and crannies down at the canal edge. There are some gas storage tanks, empty and beautifully skeletal which were lit up for filming last night while a helicopter hovered and swooped for an hour last night. Exciting, but a ridiculous waste of fuel. They could have simply filmed the frequent copper choppers that patrol this area in the run up to the Olympics.
I'm such a killjoy, I know! It is quite interesting to see the bustle of filming and have big lights alongside the boat. Wonder if Blackbird will be in the film? The working title is 'Closed' but that's as much as I know.
All very hush-hush, daahling :-)

Sunday, 6 May 2012


I was sorting out my roof planters and buried deep in one, were these two eggs! I think they are either coot or moorhen eggs. I remember being disturbed by scrabbling on the roof at night, a few months ago so I suppose this is what was happening. Wonder if it was a fox or a rat? I haven't yet explored the other plant pots yet, so there may be more!
It reminded me of when my Mum kept finding lots of hens' eggs in the flower-pots in her garden.

Went to Little Venice cavalcade yesterday, which was a good opportunity to meet up with the Herbies, whose company I enjoy very much.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

an oasis of calm

This is a small oasis amid rooftop chaos. The cabbages are a little stunted from lack of space and the kale has been snipped back as I only use a few sprigs at a time but I like my little patch of garden. Somehow, I'm hoping beetroot (a challenge!), peas and butternut squash will also make an appearance later in the year.
However, this is the only acceptable view of my roof right now.
Narrowboatworld readers would be shocked and appalled by the quantity of tat up there. There's a huge amount of wood under and on top of my rainwater-harvesting roof (which means I can't harvest rainwater, just when it's belting down). The wood mountain extends along the length of the boat, albeit in more flattened form to be able to use my middle rope. It's mostly bulkhead and bed, though there's also a lot of gathered pieces I keep meaning to cut up for firewood. Then there's a massive bag of sawdust. It's from a reclamation yard and is great for my compost loo but there's no-where to keep it except for the roof. Added to these are flower-pots, solar-panels, boat poles. The wheelbarrow doesn't officially count as roof tat, I reckon, as it's on the gas-locker. As another boater remarked at a water-point, it looks very lived-in :-)
A big clear-up is planned, honest!

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Here's how my former back bedroom looks now, looking more like the workshop I wanted. I re-used some of the bulkhead that divided the bedroom from the engine room to make a new engine cover. It still needs some sanding and tidying up but I do like using it as a seat with the back doors open and the sun's shining in.. The supporting structure for the workbench is made from rough but strong lengths found on the site of a demolished pub. I need to treat the bench surface to protect it from spills and organise all the stowed stuff underneath, properly. I'm really happy with the space though!
I used the drawers that had been under the bed in two rows to make a vertical stack, They open and close but the woodwork doesn't bear scrutiny :-)

Thursday, 22 March 2012


We had a smashing time, breaking up the bulkhead that separated the rear bedroom from the engine room, taking it in turns with the big hammer! It makes for a lovely open space but at the moment it's full of stacked wood and drawers and STUFF from cupboards and drawers that aren't there any more and I just can't bear to photograph it.

We went up to Cumbria for a few days and stayed with some of Simon's friends in a beautiful hilltop cottage with views across the fells. We explored the valley and village in very fine weather and heard a really good ceilidh band playing in a pub. Moving down to the Cumbrian coast, we also had a memorably lovely trip on a little steam-train that Simon may blog about at some point, knowing it so well :-)

I've come home to the chaos of my boat now and must just wade in and sort it.
I may be some time...

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


My original plan was to shorten the interior living space in favour of a larger well-deck garden and workshop space. I've decided to put that plan on hold for now as I'm not 100% sure it's the right thing to do and it's not something I could rectify once the cabin had been cut away!
Meanwhile, I really want the workshop space so have opted for a less radical change but one I still find exciting :-) What used to be my bedroom at the back of the boat, will be a sort of studio, with long workbench, storage space for tools etc and a small stove.
First, I dismantled the bed. Here it is, with the top and drawers removed. It was very solidly built and there's a certain amount of guilt in ripping apart someone's craftmanship. I'm saving the drawers though; they were a useless size for clothes but will be perfect for sketchbooks etc.

In the top left hand corner, there's the storage tank for the toilet, that goes through into the bathroom, the other side of the bulkhead. Luckily I had long since scrubbed it out (if only the memory of that day could be equally cleansed!) when I made my compost loo, so it hadn't been used in years. Now, the rest of the bed is cleared out and Simon managed to get the tank out for me (- thank you!) So now I have a wonderfully empty room to plan my workshop layout in.
The photo below shows the bulkhead that leads into the engine room. I'd already planned to shift the door from the left side side into the middle, to accommodate a stove in that left corner, but chatting to Simon, he suggested getting rid of the partition altogether to make a bigger room. I agree and think it would make it a lovely light space, especially with the back doors open.
Next job is taking out this partition to open into the engine room.

I like the word upheaval as it does what it says (up - heave - all!)

p.s If anyone is fitting out a boat and wants a free waste storage tank, you are welcome to it. It has a foot wide circular hole cut out of it but that can have a plate welded over it and it's on the top side.

Friday, 2 March 2012

L.I.L.O boaters' gathering

There's a Spring gathering of boaters coming up (like daffodils). It's on the Kennet and Avon, from the 13th to the 15th April. Why not come along!

Here's some info about it, from the LILO website.
(By the way LILO stands for Low Impact Life On board and is just a loose collection of boaters across the country, who try to live as sustainably as possible on their boats.)
I've been to a couple of LILO gatherings before and met some of the most interesting, friendly and supportive people! The skillshare workshops are all about the generous sharing of knowledge and experience, not about making money.
It's worth having a quick read of the LILO principles on the site's first page to check it's for you, but the more the merrier :-)

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

strange landscape

There's a spot along the Slough arm I love to moor at if I'm passing this way. It's at what must have been an old wharf, on the non-towpath side, nestling among bramble bushes, ash and elder trees and the few remains of some crumbling building. Once moored up, the only way to the towpath is across a couple of acres of strangely churned up ground, all little hills and valleys and through a small wood to a bridge.
The last time I stopped by, it was all green and lovely. There's a river running along one side.

Now of course, it's winter and bare but other, bigger changes have come. The land has been raked over and all the tufty trees pulled up as though preparing it to be flattened and built on or something
Survivors are these strange spiky teasel-like plants.

What's exposed is something we caught glimpses of before - that the land was once a huge rubbish dump, from pre-plastic days. The place is stuffed with old glass bottles; some are milk, lemonade, beer bottles, others are old medecine, scent and poison bottles.

There is also masses of broken china, earthenware dishes, storage jugs and teapots. And my favourite - rusting metal pots, pans and kettles

Whatever's coming for this patch of land, it probably doesn't bode well for the wildlife.
I was lucky enough to see a lovely muntjac deer snuffling among branches, just near the boat. I also saw rabbits and heard foxes and owls at night. There are badger sets in the bankside and squirrels leaping about in the woods. I suppose the kind of rubbish dumped here many years ago, wasn't so much the kind that leached chemicals and plastics into the land and rivers?
I imagine animals already have a precarious existence between the nearby motorway and local industries which seem to include a quarry, rubbish tip and incinerator. Everywhere, our wild creatures are being squeezed out. Wish I could buy the land and just leave it alone but then I'd be wanting to do that everywhere.
After all the grey winter pics, thought I'd include a cheery, colourful one to remind me that spring is almost here! Thanks to a dear boaty friend for her gift of daffodils :-)