Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Me Toby: Receiver of Licenses, Washer of Clothes, Putter-Upper of Washing Lines!

In other words, Wils is now adorned with shiny new purple license squares! Has it been a year already? Well, very nearly, it'll be one year since Jem and I moved onboard a week tomorrow.

Today, out of unequivocal necessity, is washday. The amount of clothes that can be strung over, near, around and past the stove is minimal, and so began the construction of a washing line! Using rope already onboard, a couple of pieces of driftwood and the old barge pole that I broke on the ice some weeks ago. Amazing what you can knock together! No nails, screws, glue - or any real protection from heavy winds... I think a couple of guy-ropes would be a good idea. It's a work in progress!




Needless to say, as soon as the clothes went up, the rain came down! It's still spitting a bit, even now... Of course it was sunny when I was pounding the living daylights out of the clothes with the posser, sunny when I rung them out, sunny when I built and put up the line - nevermind, eh?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

A Plumbing Adventure

Powering down to Fenny Stratford two days ago, I visited Halfords in Bletchley to get a new inner tube fitted to my bike and then I tried Wickes next door for a few plumbing supplies that I required for the upcoming plumbing adventure. Having an extremely limited stock in place and a distinct lack of customer service I decided in the end to go elsewhere... To Travis Perkins in fact, which was (as in Banbury) practically canal fronting! I think someone's twigged that boaters need building supplies on a regular basis! Maybe.

The plumbing adventure itself consisted of capping off two pipes, and then removing the sink from the bedroom and the tabletop into which it was set. A relatively simple job, even for someone whose plumbing experience is firmly established at absolute zero. It took the best part of a day (Friday) to get it done, and involved the following highlights: failing to secure one connection properly and having a classic comedy moment in which the jet of water sprays directly into one's face, and, even more hilarious-and-swear-inducingly; cutting the cold water pipe at the wrong point, effectively relieving the bathroom of its cold water supply. Oops.

But a few hours and another trip to TP later all was well again, pipes cut in the right place and one sink firmly cut off from the system.

Yesterday I had the far easier job of removing the sink and cutting the tabletop. I moved Wils from the 24hr moorings just above Fenny Lock (the one with the swingbridge INSIDE the lock) to our current location just south of Milton Keynes Marina first thing in the morning, then set to work in the afternoon. The journey from Fenny to Peartree Bridge was conducted exclusively in the rain, but no matter.

Along this stretch I came across the same television set that has been floating in the same stretch of canal for at least three months:


How does a TV float?! Is glass buoyant enough to keep it up, despite being the heaviest part of the set? Answers in a comment!

Last night, just before we lost the light altogether, I got a coat of primer on the newly exposed woodwork which I'm attacking with a paintbrush today. It's a cold morning again, but the stove stayed in overnight, just enough to keep me in the land of the living anyway.

I should have an old railway lantern waiting for me at the Royal Mail depot, which I am hoping to be able to fetch ASAP. I'm also trying to decide on the best place to mount it inside... The problem is that the canal runs along the east side of Milton Keynes, and the depot is right over on the west side of town. Good thing I got that inner tube replaced... Suppose I should get the brakes working again at some point...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Wilshamstead: Formerly White Stork & Towpath Tree Planting Photos!

Knowing that Wils is an ex-hireboat, today I scoured the net briefly to see if I could find any mention of her days as a hireboat - and here it is!

It's the only reference I could find and there can be no question, this is our Wils! Back then she was known as White Stork and was part of the Alvechurch fleet. The page is a record created by a Mr Nigel Bromley, it forms part of his personal website, he's a canal enthusiast amongst many other things it seems. He and his wife Cath were onboard White Stork in August 1996 - Nigel claims 38 seperate canal holidays/voyages, of which their time on Wils was number 22, which is a very relevant number for me - AND they now live right here in Milton Keynes, my hometown AND the place I'm currently moored! This is getting creepy...

Nigel claims an interest in canal restoration - so if he's active in this interest in this area there's a good chance he's a member of the BCS and has already received his recent copies of The Buckingham Navigator, on whose front cover is a tiny photo of me, kneeling next to the boat he once spent two weeks onboard!

Still with me?!

Nigel goes through an extremely comprehensive inventory of the boat, which proves that Wils has had little or no improvements/changes made since then! Until now, of course. Nigel even mentions that the BMC engine was "a bit noisy"! Right on, Nige!

He mentions that they hired the boat from Gayton Marina, which makes sense with the Alvechurch connection, but I've always wondered where White Stork was berthed before she went feral...

It's strange that Nigel mentions the clock/barometer combo device in his 'diary extracts', the very one that ended its existence yesterday!

In other news, it's noticeably warmer these days. In a boat which is necessarily so well ventilated for safety reasons, you become very aware of the ambient temperature at all times... Yesterday marked the first day I wore a t-shirt from morning to night! Epic times.

And now, a few photos from the recent tree planting with the BCS:







The lock is Hyde Lane Lock, near Deanshanger, between Buckingham and Milton Keynes, which is in the process of being lovingly restored by the BCS. There are only two locks on the Buckingham Arm, which is probably a blessing from a financial point of view!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

More Decorating, Sunny Days in Campbell Park and a Wintry Video at Blisworth Tunnel

Interior decoration is the current occupation here onboard the good ship, and I must enjoy something about it because as eight o'clock rolled around this morning, I found myself with a paintbrush in hand, finally redoing the paint on the front doors/windows which was beginning to look a little sore. Not satisifed with merely painting, I set about reattaching the wooden surrounds that frame the windows there, which we had to remove all those months ago when Martin Kedian fitted our stainless steel water tank. The pieces I could find are now reattached and the doors in the saloon are looking far better already.

How's this for a blue sky?!


Taken yesterday in Campbell Park, Central Milton Keynes, where, it turns out, many fine minutes may be had sans footwear and armed with a premium book.


Above: Wils (just visible!) at the extremely bright Campbell Park.

I found myself staring at the (broken and rusting) clock-and-barometer ensemble on the wall this morning too, and it's full hideousness was all too clear to me at that moment! So out with the tools again and down it came. In a short time the wooden backing board for said ensemble was transformed into a mount for the 12v socket at that end, I know it's disproportionately large for the size of the fitting, but I actually rather like it!


The next thing that end of the boat needs is a nifty solution to the problem of curtains... But I have a plan for that, more to follow soon.

I have to give a mention of the boat that's moored next to me:


The photo doesn't begin to do her justice, she's a beauty! Trad design but just modern enough, large portholes all the way along, I don't know exactly what it is about her, I just love it!

And, in closing, a short video of me emerging at the Stoke Bruerne end of Blisworth Tunnel earlier in the year, only because - because - ?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Planting Trees, Eliza Carthy and SUNSHINE!

Yesterday I could be found with the Buckingham Canal Society at the site where the canal walks through wildlife reserve territory between Buckingham and Milton Keynes, putting faces to names and planting trees! Altogether we planted 100 saplings of buckthorn, blackthorn, hawthorn, dogwood, and others whose names I can't remember, that in time will (re)form the towpath hedge after the canal leaves Deanshanger. Photos to follow shortly!

Long lines of trees that I've been driven/driving past in the car all my life now have a new significance, being of course the location of the old canal, particularly visible at the Deanshanger roundabout, no more than fifty metres along as you come off the roundabout onto the road towards Milton Keynes. Whether or not the newly restored one will follow this exact route again seems to be the latest hot topic of debate!

On the sensible side of life, I sorted out another year's worth of membership to River Canal Rescue, which, despite being unsatisfied with their service on more than occasion, seems to be the only option for someone single-handing without expert mechanical knowledge. I know some marinas offer breakdown service, but how likely is it that you're going to break down near them?! And in all honesty, they HAVE saved Wils on a couple of occasions, so no complaining, it's done for another year.

A few nights ago my ma and I went to see the Eliza Carthy Band at The Stables here in Milton Keynes, now I didn't know much of their stuff before we went, but it was an extraordinarily good performance, the eccentricity and chaotic arrangement of Tom Waits meets English folk music - small enough to be intimate but big enough for atmosphere, the band was super-tight, and so into it that it was infectious! Any band sporting a 'headbanging-stand-up-and-dance-everywhere-whilst-playing' cellist is okay in my book! Amazing piano, double bass, drums and harmonies too. They get the Wilshamstead seal of approval!


Here in Milton Keynes we've been blessed with three days of glorious sunshine, and the temptation to cruise today is overwhelming! Sitting in the cratch at sundown yesterday with a mug of Indian chai reading Walden made me realise what I like so much about living on the canal, it's the meditative, magnetic quality of the scene, few places I've been to have such a power to make you feel instantly sleepy... It's also the sky. Ice blue, crisp and bafflingly wide, and the water, which is essentially a second sky, it's trees glowing and firework birds! It's ropes and poles, rust and hatches, flames in the stove, animals EVERYWHERE, the smell of the coal, the feel of rugs, woollen clothing that you simply can't avoid in the winter, thorny hedges and sawn logs, materials with genuine textures, the natural encouragement to touch them, and a palpable invitation to activity! And to find just lying around me all the fuel I need to stay warm, some of the food I need. Not to mention the peace and quiet, the bustling activity at the summer locks - it's like I said a long time ago on here, spending time rather than spending money, not just to save money but rather more to actively embrace the time consuming jobs, collecting wood, lighting a fire, tying knots, weaving rugs, writing songs. It's most heavily a question of quality than a question of economics. I feel quite energized by the sun today! Can you tell?!

No, the weather is far too fine to be sat indoors typing this, meet me on the roof in ten!

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pop Pop Ponyo, Peter Payne's Pulsejets & Pianos: Past Predilection & Present Procrastination!

Still in Milton Keynes, where every wood hunting trip reveals an increasing amount of miniature greenery pushing its way sunwards, so spring can't be too far away... Final amendments for the spring issue of the Navigator are done and dusted, the issue will be available to view via the website of the Buckingham Canal Society in the near future.

It's been relatively warm in the days here when the sun is out, but the mornings can still bring a canal solid enough for ducks to walk across - just! - and more icy windows to wake up to...


When I haven't been painting walls and doors inside Wils, I've been looking into a number of cunning projects on the technological front... Recently seeing the fantastic Ponyo on the big screen got me scouting the internet for information on 'pop pop' engines, such as those featured in the film. Despite a wave of naysaying concerning their potential for use outside of retro toy manufacture, I eventually stumbled onto the work of Peter Payne, and his pulsejets in particular - in short the pulsejet (the technical name for a pop pop engine) is just about the simplest engine ever devised, and by way of the best introduction to their operation is such in toys - search youtube, there are loads of videos of them in use. Peter Payne worked at developing their use in full sized boats, though from what I've read so far his experiments took place in small rowing boats on the whole. It seems that once you scale up the engine, the physics that allowed the water present in the engine to act as piston, working fluid, exhaust propellant etc all in one broke down and the whole subject requires a lot more work. Even multiplying the number of small engines you have wouldn't take you far in a narrowboat weighing in at around ten tons. His work can be found here:

Peter Payne's Pulsejets

So the investigation into an alternative propellant for Wils goes on... I'm not happy continuing to use a diesel engine for a number of reasons, and I'm not satisfied to give up looking for an alternative just because they're unusual. On this topic I was reminded that narrowboats powered by electric motors save 25% on their BW license fees every year... And with the production/acquisition/creation of wood-fired generators and wind turbines within the grasp of amateur wizards and inventors - I can see a way of making this work! More on that as it develops...

The space I will gain from removing the sink and tabletop in the bedroom is begging me to install a piano in it, but I've not seen one quite small enough yet...

Happily it turns out that I didn't interrupt a live radio interview that Athina (chairman of the BCS) was giving on her narrowboat, Brown Trout, when they came past me at Campbell Park! I caught a glimpse of them going past and decided the wisest course of action was to tear down the boat, throw open the stern door and yell "Hello!" mid-interview! Oops. I think the reporter was a little baffled, probably writing me off as some kind of one-man Parks Trust/Waterways Cheer Squad. I'm just glad Athina recognised me!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Life on a Salvaged Car Ferry and MORE ICE!

What's with all the ICE?! We still have blazing sunshine from 'ere to there, and ice, ice, more ice on the canal! I'm getting a little sick of ice but as of this morning, it's back. It's not thick, but it's there. Grrrowwl.

Just a quick post this morning to mention the following because it's AMAZING!

American blogger and houseboat dweller Leslie posted recently about an architect who salvaged a car ferry and made a home of it! I'd LOVE to see more photos inside. Also, the rest of Leslie's blog is well worth a look.

I can hear something walking across the roof, I love it when that happens!

And there goes NB Autumn Glory, breaking up the ice. Gawd bless 'em!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Golden Dinosaurs!

Over a month since the last post! Arrrhhh, the shame!

It's been an extremely hectic "just over a month" too, until recently I was still under the impression that I was hemmed in by Winter Stoppages on all sides, but that appears to no longer be the case. So here I am, still in the vague vicinity of Milton Keynes, and starting to feel like one of the gang, I recognise nearly every boat that goes by! And on that note, there are noticably more boats moving on this part of the system now, brought out no doubt by the good weather in the last few days. Speaking of good weather, today marks a particularly auspicious moment in my career as a professional bilge rat, as it was the first time I've opened a window since about September! Epic times.

Jem has been to the boat on two seperate occasions for a total of nearly a fortnight, and we made excellent progress on the interior decoration we had planned. It's a work in progress, the list of jobs to do on Wils seems to get longer, not shorter! It was great to have her back onboard briefly.

The last few days have seen me feverishly throwing together the Spring Issue of the Buckingham Navigator for the Buckingham Canal Society, which I have been working on all day today while the sun shone outside... Nevermind.

I haven't quite been brave enough to let the stove die out for good yet... But, like I said to the lady at Milton Keynes Marina yesterday, I think that'll probably be the last few bags of coal I'll need this year. Although apparently I was about the tenth person to say so this week! To anyone considering using the services at Milton Keynes Marina, there's a nifty bit of manouvering to be done to get at the facilities! Plenty of room to do it in, but it's quite an interesting test of your 3-point turn abilities!Have fun!

Here is Wils against the backdrop of ubiquitous poplar trees that line the canal through most of the town, when we were moored at Campbell Park a fortnight ago:


And then moored around the corner, poplar trees still in evidence:


Yesterday I spent close to £800, which nearly brought on unfortunate medical repercussions, on coal, a pumpout, diesel, and another year's worth of insurance and licensing! Fortunately I only paid half what I paid last year for insurance, which is a blessing. I calculated my monthly outgoings for life onboard, trying to take every little thing into account, including license and a conservative guess at unexpected repairs, food, diesel, chocolate milk supplies, everything - which, for those interested, came to £325 a month by my reckoning, not bad methought, considering that's EVERYTHING I'm spending.

I've decided to stick with this boating lark until the coloured band on the BW license matches the paintwork, and then I'm off. Not really. Good old random decision making though, can't fault it, chaos might just be the best tool for deciding the big decisions in life in a chaotic world... I had a friend who travelled around Europe and based her next move on which way the stick pointed, or whether the coin landed heads or tails, I believe a pack of tarot cards sent her to North Africa in the end, but that's another story.

I plan to remain in the vague area of MK until the beginning of April when my old uni housemates from Lampeter are descending on Wils and I en masse! Ever tried to sleep 8 people on a 4 berth narrowboat?! We might have to! Luckily there are camping facilities along our planned route. It's going to be a mad Easter weekend... Oh, and it's amazing how you can live in one town for most of your life and never realise an enormous golden dinosaur lives just around the corner...


I discovered him today. His name is Philip.