Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A chance meeting and a retreat treat

I never got round to doing the prop shaft this weekend because I got distracted.  First by gathering sloes from my secret location just down the canal from Crick.  This year we now have enough for two and a half bottles each of Sloe Gin and Sloe Rum.  Not all for us I hasten to add.  Some will end up as Christmas presents. 

On the way back from gathering sloes I passed Paul of Piston Broke on the towpath outside the marina. He was putting some finishing touches on his amazing solar panel array which can be pointed accurately at the sun in both horizontal and vertical planes.  I stopped for quite a while and got all the lowdown from him. Some might think it over engineered but it’ll sure do the job.  Best of all I liked his shadow gauge which using a “needle” and  half a Coke can allows the panels to be exactly set at 90 degrees to the vertical angle of the sun’s rays.  As to the rotating turntable, complete with copper slip rings to allow complete 360 degree rotation without tangling the cables, it’s a work of art.  I see they have put some pictures on their blog now although they don’t show the close up detail.  As of Sunday, Piston Broke now resides nearly opposite us in Crick marina for the winter.

Now positively my final report on our musical weekend. Friday evening saw us over at Launde Abbey for the dulcimer club weekend.  The Abbey has had a refit about a year ago and is now a superb place to stay, or to drop in for tea.  If you are that way inclined they also have “retreat weekends” where you can just sit and be quiet. Out in the sticks near Oakham, it is in a beautiful setting in great walking countryside.  Should you ever be in that area, I recommend a visit.  They also operate as a hotel, so you could use it as a base for a short break. 

The other nutters and I made a lot of noise and chatted, played music and laughed into the early hours.  A couple of blog readers suggested I showsome of photos, so I remembered my camera.  So far so good.  Then I discovered I had left the SD card in the slot in the telly on the boat because we were using it to show some photos to Rick and Marilyn.  Luckily the camera has a bit of memory to take a very few of pictures without the card, so here is what I got to give you a flavour.

First some mountain dulcimers I bravely resisted buying

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A couple of members exchanging a tune ( a lot of this goes on)

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A somewhat blurred Mat Fox (tutor) amidst about 30 hammered dulcimer students.  Mat is an amazing guy who is musical director of Kinetica a very successful carnival group in London.  He is also a good egg and makes me laugh.

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The other tutor, our Chattanooga friend the astonishing (there is no other word for it) and charismatic Butch Ross demonstrates a tune while the sheep graze in the pastures outside.  Apparently he showed some pictures of Launde on his facebook page and his American friends reckoned he was either at Downton Abbey or at Hogwarts.

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Butch Ross can't do anything right.

He plays the mountain dulcimer.
He plays it standing up like a guitar.
He holds it upside and strung backwards.
And Butch Ross plays rock n roll on it.
Despite all this wrongness, somehow it all sounds just right.”

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An apology and a little Something for the Weekend

First an apology.  I have just discovered a number of old comments from you dear readers that I had not previously seen, and some of them are worthy of an airing.  It’s all because I tend not to use the Blogger editor, so I don’t see any  comments that Blogger regards (goodness knows why) as needing moderating.
Anyway, here are a couple of interesting bits I never saw until today.

First, from back in August on the subject of the strangely shaped boat seen here

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We have the answer!!  From Ray T, who says ”I spoke to the owner a while ago.  It is a South Sea Islands outrigger, minus mast and out riggers. Built for the previous owner at Warwickshire Fly Boat.”  Well I never.  Now we know.  Thanks Ray.

Then regarding my gripe about the kink in Braunston tunnel in September, Peter Lee writes

 “Give those old navigators and engineers a break! Just imagine building a tunnel yourself with a pickaxe, shovel and horse and cart to do it with! Oh, and maybe a bit of black powder and a rope or two. They not only started at both ends - they sank what are now the ventilation shafts and dug between them simultaneously. This meant a fancy bit of surveying to work out how deep each shaft needed to be - and then they had to work out exactly which direction to dig. Easy these days - but not when the only tools were plumb-bobs and such. It's a wonder they managed to get any sort of tunnel at all... Makes you appreciate the skill (or maybe luck) of those tunnellers who got things more or less straight”
OK Peter, it’s a fair cop.

Thanks also to others whose comments I might have missed.

Those only interested in boats, look away now.

Sue, who in addition to giving financial support to half the vets in the South of England is also an Indigo Dreamer grumbled at me today for writing about dulcimers then showing a grotty old photo of a bit of engine.  She wants a picture of musical instruments.  Now Rock n Roll carol has asked too. OK just this once.  These are the ones I have to get into the car for this weekend.

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Starting from the back, my £12 mountain dulcimer, Kath’s hammer dulcimer made by Roger Frood (no longer making)  from Somerset, an octave mandolin by Paul Hathway from London, a 10 string cittern (lush) which I persuaded Robin Greenwood from Dorset to make about 30 years ago, a guitar (I knew you knew that) made by the great great  Stefan Sobell from Northumberland (at this point you are required to face north and genuflect), and then my sweet little Scottish smallpipes (with their bellows) made by Richard and Anita Evans from Cumbria.    The exception is the  mountain dulcimer which I bodged up from a plywood kit sometime in the 1970s.  I suppose this lot represents about half of the instruments we have, but when in their cases, plus a couple of stands, its a car full.  They all need to be got in tune, that’s 79 strings to get right, plus the pipes, which as everyone knows, are never in tune.

Q. “How long does it take to get a hammer dulcimer in tune?”
A. “Nobody knows”

Bagpipe statistics: ” bagpipers spend 60% of their time trying to tune their pipes and the other 40% playing out of tune”

Well that’s quite enough of that.  This is a boating blog. I might take a picture or two of the nutters playing at Launde, otherwise you'll probably  be relieved to know we're back to writing about canals and  boats.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Retreating and coupling

This weekend we’re off to a monastic retreat with 40 lunatics, well, dulcimer players = same thing. Kath plays a hammer dulcimer and we belong to the Nonsuch Dulcimer Club and this is their annual weekend bash. As to the retreat, it’s the remote and rather lovely Launde Abbey in Leicestershire which on other weekends offers silence and meditation. Quite why they put up with 40 amateur musicians drinking alcohol and making loud music deep into the night I can’t imagine. It must come as quite a shock to their system.

We turn up mainly to meet old friends and if there is a good tutor that year. It’s a crazy society really. They cater for two totally unrelated instruments which both happen to be called dulcimers. The hammered one which Kath plays and looks a bit like a giant egg slicer which you belt with sticks, and the Appalachian or mountain type which I occasionally mess about on and has frets and strings but is played across your lap . Mine cost me £12 so you can tell it’s a good ‘un. This time, I’ll be learning new tricks with the fab Butch Ross from Chattanooga Tennessee. I like Butch because he breaks all the rules and he once bought me a bottle of very nice bourbon. Mostly though I’ll be sneaking off to comfy sofas in secret corners and playing other instruments with pals while no one is looking.

Launde is not too far from Crick so we’ll be staying overnight on the boat on the way up and on the way back to break the journey. While we’re on the boat I’m going to see if the prop can be moved forward a bit (see my post for 14 October). It ought to be a simple matter of slackening the four bolts like the one I have arrowed below, and sliding the shaft deeper into the coupling.

That is assuming a) that the shaft isn’t already as deep in as it will go, and b) that the bolts play ball and slacken off without major surgery. Years of boaty DiY have taught me to assume nothing.

On Friday morning we also have a man coming round to discuss ideas for a new shower arrangement in Herbie’s bathroom. So quite a busy weekend really and there’s more I could tell you about but that can wait. (He said enigmatically).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

By hook or by crook

Here’ a picture of us coming out of Pigeon’s lock on the South Oxford, a lovely spot.  Kath is doing her stuff with the windlass this time. See the boat down the canal? I couldn’t see if it was pulling out, so I sent Kath down to find out.

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No-one was aboard. It had broken from its moorings and blocking the canal so now we see Kath trying to pull it back to the bank.

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The mooring stakes had pulled out, no doubt by the boat being passed at too great a speed by someone.  But it seems odd that the boat should have been tied to stakes in the first place as there is a lovely Armco barrier edge to tie to.  Anyway Kath tied her up by dropping the stakes through the Armco steel piling and tying the ropes round top and bottom of the stakes.  The bank was clearly too soft to hold stakes well.  When we came back a few days later we noticed that the owner had used a belt and braces technique of pins in the ground and in the Armco.

When we first got our boat, we soon cottoned on to the fact that securing onto Armco (if there is any) was the thing to do and we went out and bought some of those safety pin /trombone slide type clips.  They don’t cost any more than a mooring stake and you don’t need a hammer to bash them in and white plastic bags to wrap around the top to warn walkers and joggers of the trip hazard.  (Rick made us some nice tennis balls that fitted over stake tops, but they keep getting stolen by dogs.) Then we discovered that the clips can fall out if the rope gets slack or the boat slides about as others pass.  So we bought some mooring chains.  You know, the short chains with a ring at each end.  Also cheap, these can’t come off the Armco or the ropes.  They’re really good, but I get my knees all muddy kneeling down to drop the chain through the piling and reaching underneath to pull the end back up.

Then this year, cruising with Adam on Briar Rose, he introduced us to the other sort of Armco fixing.

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Adam swears by them.  They’re obviously quicker to use than chains, and probably don’t require kneeling on wet grass, but I can’t quite see why they don’t wriggle themselves out if the rope gets slack, but apparently they don’t.  I think I might get a pair.  Has anyone ever had them drop out?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Carnauba waxes compared

Interesting stuff carnauba wax.  According to Wikipedia, it is sometimes known as the Queen of Waxes and used in lipstick, paper coatings, the manufacture of phonographic cylinders, and of course polish.  I started using it because Phil Speight told me to and as I regard Phil as some kind of demi god when it comes to paint and all that, I dutifully obeyed. 

Lots of people get a super wax finish on their boat with products like Mer, which is all very well until you have to touch up the paint or have a repaint.  Then you could have trouble because these products rely on silicone and coach paint won’t stick to even the tiniest bit of silicone.

Carnauba is silicone free, so I started out using Phil’s Craftmaster  carnauba wax polish on Herbie. 

To start with, I couldn’t get on with it, and ended up with a streaky finish.  Then I watched people at Braunston using it to polish their boats and asked them how they did it.  Apply it with a circular motion was the advice.  So I did, but I reckon I was rubbing too hard.  I might even have been damaging the surface of the paint.  Finally I am getting the hang of it.  Circular motion with a fairly light touch to ensure coverage and then buff off.  I think also that it works better after a few applications and you have built up a bit of a layer of the stuff.

After a quick wash and a 20 minute polish (one side) I can now get Herbie to look like this.

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That was done at Thrupp this autumn, and it used the last of my bottle of wax.  I needed to do the other side of the boat, so I was on the lookout for more polish.  The Craftmaster stuff isn’t sold everywhere, so at Aynho I bought another product which I had seen demonstrated at the Crick show.  Bullet polish.

This is a spray of diluted Carnauba wax and comes in a spray bottle with two microfibre cloths for applying and buffing, and costs roughly the same as a bottle of the Craftmaster wax.  Both cost in the region of £18+.

The wax in the Bullet polish is pretty dilute.  Having washed the boat I applied the spray liberally and using the supplied cloths began buffing.  I have to tell you I was very disappointed.  It clearly does put on a very thin film of wax  but nowhere near as much as the Craftmaster stuff.  Not enough to polish out the water marks from washing even.  I suspect it might be alright for touching up detailing on your car, but I can’t recommend it for a boat I’m afraid.  When we came back through Braunston, I popped into Wharf House and got a bottle of Craftmaster, which I will now stick to.

Interestingly the Wikipedia entry mentioned that carnauba wax dulls with time rather than coming off, which might explain why it’s so easy to revive once you have a base coat of it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Old boys toys

I see that a recent boater’s survey shows that the average narrowboat owner is over 55 years old.  No surprise in that. I suppose that in these days of youth culture it’s nice to be a part of a group nearer to our own age.  Other interests have a similar demographic. The other day we went with Rick and Marilyn to a model engineering exhibition.  Even just walking from the car park with other attendees, we could see clearly who this show was aimed at.  Older men.  I think it would be fair to say that 99% of the punters got in at senior citizen rates. (Me too).

Inside, the place was heaving with gentlemen of mature years jostling around stalls selling lathe cutting tools and brass bar and all that.  Of course there were lots of models to see.  At least half were model railway engines.  Not little Hornby jobbies but real 6ft long steam engines.  Proper working replicas.  One can only imagine the time and expense these models take up. You could just imagine the homes of their builders.  The wife indoors practically a widow, while he lives in the shed/ workshop cutting, turning, milling  and welding.  In the evening he will sit on the sofa, or in bed, poring over catalogues of castings.  I imagine many of the wives like it that way.  It gets the old man from under her feet.

What was disappointing was that in the whole show I only saw two narrowboat models, both far far below the standard of the railway models.  The largest one was a poor copy of a cruiser stern Nb, constructed I imagine from a cursory glance at a few photos.  Narrow boat models generally don’t look right anyway as they tend to include the whole hull, which we never see in real life unless the boat is out of the water.  The only narrowboat model I ever saw that was up to the standard of the railway engine models was the one shown at the Braunston rally the last two years.

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At Banbury Canal Day recently, there were no model boats either.  Stationary engines, yes. Model steam engines too, like this rather wonderful replica of a Fowler ploughing engine

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and a German toy from the mid part of the last century.

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How brilliant is that ?!  Not just the engine but a proper working replica boiler and feed pump.  Apparently it generates 1/25 of a horsepower.  I want one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No shocking announcement today!

Today, we have decided not to make an announcement that would have sent shock waves through the blogosphere.  Yesterday, we went to look at another boat (don’t tell Herbie), but after inspection decided that it wasn’t for us.  This despite having a Gardner engine, a sexy low slung profile with a nice sheeted in fore end and lots of extras and being in reasonable condition at a reasonable price.  I’m sure someone else will love it.

It’s not that we’re actively seeking a new boat, but we just keep an eye out for what is around in case our dream boat should appear at a price we could afford.  This time the boat was very good on paper, but lacked the aaah factor that we need to make the wrench from our beloved Herbie.  Rick and Marilyn came with us as the boat was near to them, and they sent to details to their daughter Vicky, whose little daughter Kathryn said  “Why do they want another boat when they have a perfectly good one already.  And anyway this other one is too long to turn round!”  Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings . . .

While we were at the brokers we took the opportunity to get an assessment of what Herbie might be worth.  If we ever do get another boat, the price we get for Herbie will be a big factor in what we can afford. I really didn’t have much of an idea as it is six and a half years since we bought her.  So we went through a general description of the boat and what goodies it has, and I hope I gave a fair idea of the condition.  The estimate was only an estimate because the broker didn’t actually inspect the boat, but the price they indicated was at the top end of what I had been hoping, so I was happy.  Nevertheless, allow a bit for the buyer to knock you down and take off more than a couple of grand for broker’s fees and it doesn’t sound so good.

It does no harm sometimes to look at another boat.  Usually with us, it reminds us how much we like Herbie.  For now we’ll keep on progressing our ideas to make Herbie even nicer, starting with the previously blogged about shower revamp.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Herbie in the nude - narrowboat genealogy

While we were at Calcutt having a new camshaft and all that, I took the opportunity to find out a bit more about Herbie’s origins, for she is a Calcutt boat – sort of.

In the documentation manual that comes with the boat she is described as a Clipper i.e one of Calcutt’s standard budget boats.  I have never been able to reconcile this because Herbie is a semi trad, and Clippers all have cruiser sterns.  So in the office I asked if they could look up the original records.  Chris, the owner of  the firm  denied ever doing a semi trad Clipper.  Eventually, we traced it through the name of the original purchaser whose name was in my documentation.  Well it turns out that despite the handbook calling it a Clipper, it ain’t.  It was built bespoke for the original owners with a Clipper style reverse layout, but with a lot of changes.

I knew that the shell was built by Andicraft (which is normal for a Clipper).  I hope Andicraft won’t mind me borrowing a photo from their web site of one of their shells.  Believe you me, that looks just like Herbie in the nude.

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Pat Buckle who has fitted out most of the Clippers did not fit out Herbie, because he told me so when I met him once.  He’s never done a semi trad for Calcutt either. So we don’t really know who fitted her out.  Apparently Calcutt have used a number of other boat fitters from time to time.

I also asked what the original owners had paid, and the answer deepens the mystery still more, because Chris said it was the basic Clipper price.  Now that can’t be right because Herbie has a lot of extras that would have bumped up the price by quite a few thousand smackers.  Examples are the Eberspacher central heating, the 240 volt electrics and a charger and an inverter, the Morco gas water heater , the 240v generator originally on the engine.  In fact I have documentation to show that the second owners paid a fair bit  more than the price of a new Clipper when Herbie was 18 months old. So my guess is that either Calcutt didn’t record all the extras, or the owners had a lot of stuff retro fitted elsewhere.  On top of that of course Herbie has had a lot of extra joinery done by Roy, her second owner.

On top of that of course, we’ve made quite a few changes ourselves.

So it seems that Herbie is truly a one off- evolving over time.   I like that idea.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Props and Rudders and erudition

I never knew my readers were such an erudite lot.  Thanks to comments from Brian & Diana, Adam, Simon, and Carol, my knowledge on the sunken boats, the mini Sea Otter and the wheelbarrow boat has taken leaps forward.  See the comments and follow the links for yourself if you are curious. And thanks to our recent cruise, these are now all people that we have met face to face, so I can confirm that they are not only knowledgeable but also a fine looking lot.

Meanwhile I have not been idle in improving my own erudition, for I have been reading up on propellers and rudders.  Now that Herbie’s engine is running smoothly again it leaves me free to notice that the tiller is wobbling more than I would like.  You know the feeling you get when the prop picks up a bit of weed.  I keep getting that and when I check the prop, it’s clear.

It could be that the prop has been damaged or bent by hitting an underwater obstruction, although groping around down the weed hatch I can’t see or feel anything obvious.  It could also be that the prop is not in it’s ideal position fore and aft.  Our recent engine remounting may have shifted it a bit, although not much I would have thought.

Here’s what I have found out from reading up. 

1. Quite a small amount of prop damage can throw it off balance. At cruising speed our prop is rotating at about 700 rpm, so dynamic balance is important.  There may have been a time in my engineering days when I might have calculated the off balance forces. One suggested remedy (from Oakie if I recall correctly) is to replicate any obvious dings on one blade by grinding a similar ding in the other two.  Of course if a blade is bent, then unbending it accurately might be quite a skilled job.  You can send props away for redressing and rebalancing.

2. The free length of shaft between the stern bearing and the prop should be about 1.5 times the diameter of the shaft.  So for us that would be 2.25 inches.  Space forward of the prop (as well as the hydrodynamic shape of the swim and the evenness of the uxter plate above) affects the amount of cavitation you get.  We do certainly get the gravelly noise associated with cavitation at some speeds and conditions, although I understand that’s not unusual.

3.  The distance between the prop and the rudder is also important.  I reckon Herbie has less than two inches clearance here, which might be a bit too close, apparently some folk have a lot more gap.  Too close and the vortex behind the prop can throw the rudder about.

4. The proportion of the rudder blade forward of the pivot should be around 25% of its full width, mainly for steering purposes, especially in reverse.  When the tiller is fully pushed over, and observer standing  a few feet behind the boat should not be able to see the propeller.  Don’t try this in the water!  This can also affect how heavy or light the tiller feels.  Herbie’s tiller is comfortably light.

Of course, being such an erudite lot, you probably knew all that, but I didn’t.

In December when Herbie comes out for blacking, I mean to check all these points.  All I have to go on at present is what I can find out through the weed hatch and two not especially helpful  pictures I took when we were last out of the water.  The rudder dimensions look about right but I fancy the prop might have room to back away from the rudder a bit.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Been out on your Long Boat lately?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who regularly gets asked the above question.  Maybe it’s the horns sticking out of my hat, or all the raping and pillaging I do, but people seem to think that Herbie is a Viking ship. 

Actually, at 50ft, Herbie is shorter than the average narrowboat. An extra 7 or 8 feet would come in handy.  However, I digress. 

This week I saw what must surely be the shortest real narrowboat.  You might have seen it too if you have been cruising between Braunston and Wigram’s turn. Of course you can get very short boats of this sort and that, but this to my mind is a proper narrowboat.

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A proper narrowboat cabin with typical gunwales, tiller steering, a stove chimney, black on the bottom and painted at the top. It’s the real McCoy. It doesn’t look above twelve feet long.  maybe fourteen at a push. Not a Long Boat then.  Actually, looking at it now I reckon it’s a Sea Otter, which would mean it’s aluminium so it would be a good light trail boat.

Just across the canal is another boat of interest.  Wooden hull covered in mud, it has obviously been sunk at some point.  You can see where the water line was.



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What intrigues me is that it is very close to the spot where the boat shown below lay sunken all last year.

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At first I wondered if they were the same boat, but on close inspection obviously not.  Can anyone enlighten us?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The joys of Autumn cruising

I’m so glad we did our cruise over the last few weeks rather than earlier as we had planned.  It’s a great time to be out. There’s something about the autumn light on a fine day that lifts the spirits.  Yesterday we did our final day’s cruise from Napton to Crick in near perfect conditions.  Since we started out nearly a month ago the colours have mellowed while the low sunlight has intensified and the open countryside looked as good as it ever could.

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Add to that, the general reduction in boat traffic and the greater availability of mooring space and you have a recipe for an ideal time to cruise. If you should be hiring a boat it would be  a fair bit cheaper too. The hire bases we passed had plenty of boats waiting for customers.  I bet there would be deals to be done.

I wish there was a good use for hawthorn berries, we could have picked a ton of them.  The hedgerows are a blaze of red at the moment. We did make some hawthorn berry wine many years ago, but as far as I remember it was undrinkable. Mind you, a lot of our home made wine was pretty grim in those days.   There are lots of crab apples again this year, so we could easily make a few jars of crab apple jelly I suppose.

What we really wanted to find though was sloes, and there seemed to be a dearth of them on the Oxford canal.

Now I’m back home sorting through the photos and wishing I had taken more, especially of the Leicester Arm up to Crick yesterday, which was looking magnificent. 

We nearly didn’t make it back to Crick.  Only by special pleading did we get the lockie at Watford staircase to let us through as it was closing time just as we arrived.  Then to end a perfect day I backed us into our mooring slot in text book fashion, which tells you of course that no one was watching.  I wish I could say the same about this morning when we took Herbie across to the diesel pump for a refill.  The customary Crick marina private breeze had returned and my return to our slot would best be described as inelegant.  Of course, we had an audience that time.

We saw some interesting boats yesterday but I’ll save those for a later post.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Anyone else for tea?

We’ve been having a great time.

Despite all the banners around the town, I’m not sure what I expected of Banbury Canal Day.  A dozen or perhaps twenty boats with their bunting hanging out, maybe an IWA stall and a bouncy castle, and a couple of hundred gongoozlers at best.

Well I’m here to tell you that I was wrong.  Well I was right enough about the boats, but as for the rest, I had clearly underestimated the good folk of Banbury.  For a start this event is unexpectedly big.  A craft market, a large French and Italian food market, in fact stalls all over the place. Live music of a surprisingly good standard in a couple of places thanks to the organisation of our old folky friend Derek Droscher. (Who else could persuade Barbara Dickson to sing at their local folk festival?), and as for the punters, there were millions of them.  OK, I exaggerate, but there were many thousands.  The place was teeming all day.  I wasn’t the only one who was a bit gobsmacked. Well done Banbury, we’ll be back for sure. 

A couple of pictures:

This boat had a wheel at the front underneath, and holes at the back for wheelbarrow handles.  Now there’s clever.  BTW I thought Eric Sykes was dead!

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Canoodlers too -

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If you really must run a generator on your stern, then why not get a proper one like this -

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I want one!

We also learned the secret of what happens to the Napton Buffalos (See a few posts back).  They end up as burgers!  What an ignominious fate for such impressive creatures.  Quite tasty though according to Kath.  I dined on yummy curry goat from the stall next door.   If you take my advice, never miss a chance to eat curry goat (unless you’re a vegetarian).

The best bit for us, being moored at the epicentre of the event, was the chance to play host to blogging friends.  Much tea was drunk and lardy cake eaten aboard Herbie as we nattered to Maffi (& Molly), Bones (& Boots), and Oakie (Ray)(without a dog).  In the food market we also made our first face to face encounter with the alarmingly tall but reassuringly friendly Captain Ahab (Andy) and his remarkable serial food forager wife Helen who was doing a roaring trade at their Wild Side stall selling jams and chutneys made from fruits plucked from the towpath hedgerows, (although I wonder which canal supplied the dates in the delicious rhubarb date and ginger chutney we enjoyed with our cheese sandwiches for lunch today – Suez I suppose).  I stole one of Andy’s donuts, but mollified him with a free canalometer.  I’m not sure who came off best.

Today we resumed our journey back towards base.  Suffice it to say it was wet wet wet.  I seems every time we pass through Fenny Compton it pees with rain.  Never mind, tomorrow night we’re going to the Folly at Napton.  That’s good no matter how bad the weather is.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The key to Queen Adelaide’s Girdle

Our second day at the Oxford museums was good.  This time the Natural History and the Pitt Rivers. Although physically linked together by a single doorway, they could hardly be more different.  First the Natural History, like a glass cathedral.  I wonder if it was influenced by the Crystal Palace?  Whatever, it’s a joy to behold with its wonderful capitals at the head of the slender steel columns.
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Lovely light for taking pictures of the geological samples like this lump of Iron Pyrites
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or this piece of quartz over a thousand million years old.
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Passing through to the Pitt Rivers comes as a bit of a wow moment.  A bit like entering a gloomy Alladin’s cave.
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Don’t ask me what is in there.  Something of everything, all grouped into little collections based on themes like  devices for making fire, or ways of treating dead enemies. We loved the eccentricity of it and the lovely little handwritten labels on the exhibits.  How about this?:
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Now we’re back in the sticks, having spent a pleasant if somewhat bacchanalian evening with Maffi at Thrupp, (in the sense that we got through rather too much wine) and then yesterday up to Aynho, threading the boat through the tiny little lock bridges you get in these parts.
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Moored right behind us this morning is the newly repaired Bones. The boat, not the person, although she is around too and we all plan to have a meal in the pub tonight.  We’re hanging around in Aynho so as to time our arrival in Banbury tomorrow for the Canal Day at the weekend.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Gibraltar, Jericho, Bohemia and The Messiah.

Not often you can fit all those things into a blog post, but today I can.
A few days ago we were in Gibraltar, and now it seems that we are moored in Jericho!  My, how Herbie gets around.  Since being here we have been learning a lot about the middle east, because we spent most of yesterday in the Ashmolean musem. Looking at some of the stuff in there it reminds us how late in the day the Western world achieved “civilisation” compared with the middle east.  Some of the artefacts there, 5000 or more years old, show an amazing grasp of technology and craftsmanship.
In a more modern area I stood inches from The Messiah, a famous Stradivarius violin – presumably worth a large fortune.  The funny thing about violins in particular is that their quality isn’t really all that apparent to the casual observer.  A Strad looks much the same as an instrument worth 100 times less. Violins don’t normally have fancy decoration, it’s all about the craftsmanship and the wood.
According to an elderly gentleman I met on the towpath, we are moored opposite what used to be al large steel foundry. Maybe it was there because it had access to the canal.  Now it’s a posh residential apartment complex. I suspect the canal, now cleaned up, is also an attraction for the residents of the apartments and contributes to their high rental value. The Oxford tourist blurb described Jericho as the Bohemian part of the city. I dare say many will regret the passing of the industry and the gentrification of the area.  I leave it to you to decide.
You could look at the old craftsmanship in the museums and at the loss of industry and think that we are losing our skills.  I don’t think so.  In many ways we are returning to an older era when the craftsman works for himself rather than big companies.  You don’t have to look very far these days to find craft potters, musical instrument makers, jewellery makers, craft brewers, boat fitters and sign writers and so on. None of them are getting rich though.
Back in Jericho, just up the road, we found the Victoria pub which turns out to be a real gem. Victorian decor, an upstairs gallery and low lighting, it has a great ambience (or ambulance as we usually say).  Probably the comfiest pub we have visited this year.  We sat for hours reading the Sunday papers provided on the bar. A bit difficult as our table was lit by candle light!
For our final day in Oxford today, we are going to do some more museum-ing at the Pitt Rivers and the  Natural History.  We shall be in danger of being erudite one of these days.