Thursday, May 31, 2018

The tale of a piece of wood

This little history does finish up with something about Herbie, so bear with me.

Many many years ago when I was young and slim I had a friend called Paul who was moving out of his flat.  In this flat was an old pedal organ which he had rescued from a skip when a church or chapel was being demolished in Henley-on-Thames.  Not having room for it in his next place, Paul was getting rid of the organ, So I bought it off him for £4 plus some other bartered object I now forget.

It was a fine old instrument, made by the Bell Organ Co of Canada. I can’t find a photo of it, but it looked very similar to this one which I saw for sale on the net at one time.


The carcass was of the finest solid oak, some of it an inch and a half thick! It had fine panels and quite a lot of intricate carving.  Complete with it's ornate cast iron rimmed Patent Mouseproof Pedals, it was a joy to behold –maybe not in a modern Habitat furnished house, but it was a fine thing in itself.  Inside the organ however was a somewhat different story and it appeared to have been made out of clothes pegs, lollipop sticks and coat hanger wire!  It did however have several rows of tuned brass reeds, most of which were intact.  The webbing that attached the big plywood bellows to the Patent Mouseproof Pedals needed replacing in order to make it play, so I set about fixing it.  Luckily, the majority of the carcass was held together by gert big dome headed screws, so it was easy to pull to bits.  Once inside, I recall a great deal of head scratching, because it looked to me as if the things was built back to front.  All the air valves were on the wrong side. A quick phone call to Paul solved the problem. “That’s because it’s an American Organ, not a harmonium.  Harmoniums blow, American Organs suck!”  Not a lot of people know that. Well you learn something every day.

Well I got the thing working after a fashion and spent many a happy hour getting most of the stops to work and fixing dodgy keys. Despite not being a pianist I managed to learn a tiny bit of Bach and a passable rendition of the folk song “The Lark in the Clear Air”. However, modern central heating took its toll and over the years the innards started to fall to bits as the glue dried out and lost its stick.  Had I not has a busy career and three kids and a wife to keep me occupied I might have restored it, but I didn’t.  The time came when It had to make room for proper furniture in our living room.  I took the whole thing to bits, removed the two hundred and odd brass reeds (I still have them in a box, can’t bear to part with them) and took the rest of the crumbing mechanical  innards and the keyboard to the tip.  But that oak was just too good to throw away, so I had a brainwave.  We needed a bench seat in our conservatory so reassembling the carcass in a different order, I made this.


There it stood for many years, while the organ stop drawers long the bottom gradually got broken off by wayward feet, until the day came when we decided to take it to bits and install something more comfortable, but still I couldn’t bear to throw away that lovely oak and much of it stands in my shed as I write.

So why am I telling you all this?   Well I’ve found a use for a small bit of it.  On Herbie’s rear deck seats we keep a box for windlasses, stakes, mooring chains and the like.  In spite of several coats of varnish the plywood box lid has delaminated, so we need a new one.  Now do you remember a couple of posts back that picture of the lovely old sailing boat? That’s what inspired me to make a new lid out of some of the old oak.  If that boat can last a hundred years under lots of coats of varnish, then my hundred year old oak can do the same, and look good into the bargain.  So here is my new hundred year old box lid, cut to size, rubbed down and given four coats of exterior varnish – and I managed to include some of that lovely edging.


The photo makes it look bigger than it is. I purposely left a couple of small dings in it to show its age, but what a lovely old bit of wood eh?  That’s a bit of history that is.


PS while I’m doing stuff like this, our conservatory is slowly falling down.  I seem to have an issue with priorities Smile

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Art and (not much) alcohol in Cambridge - and a ghost B&B

No boats or canals this time, but you could visit Cambridge by boat, so that’s my excuse.  We left the paint on Herbie’s roof drying and drove there.

Well I left you with that picture of steel bars in my last post, so let’s take a few steps back to reveal what it is.


Yes, dear old Anthony Gormley is at it again, this time in kettles yard n Cambridge.  Those people in the background are real by the way.  His theme in this exhibition is objects built on the three axes, X,Y and Z if you’re familiar with that kind of thing.  In another room is a glass cube about three feet across containing 10x10x10 LEDs all very neatly soldered on a 3d grid of what look like thin brass wire.  No doubt he got his assistant to do all the donkey work.  Anyway, when you get up close and peer in, the effect is one of staring into infinity.


Some modern art I don’t like. I recall getting a bit annoyed at one or two exhibits in Tate Modern, for example an exact replica of a domestic radiator, or a square of red paint, but Gormley I do like.

Kettles Yard also has The House, oh and what a house it is.  The “creator” Jim Eade converted it from three old cottages in the 1960s and set about making it a home full of lovely simple things, all set out with immaculate care and precision to delight the eye.  If you like pebbles and paintings of fishing boats and traditional English chairs, you’re in for a treat.  Best of all you are encouraged to sit in the chairs and take in the light and the atmosphere. I’m tempted to say that of all the many houses we have visited over the years, this is my favourite.  I would move in tomorrow.  It’s light and airy and cosy all at the same time.  And the house and the exhibition are both free to enter and come and go as often as you like.

Earlier we had to drop in to Nova, an upmarket coffee bar I suppose you would call it, to see another art exhibition, this time displaying the work of the Cambridge Urban Sketchers Group, of which our son Peter is a member.  Peter, although a scientist and computer geek is getting quite arty in his old age and works in all sorts of media.  In the exhibition was Peter’s needle felt picture of knitters in  Cambridge pub.  Not for sale as he has promised it to Kath.  The sketchers draw/ paint/ etc from life, in situ, picking a different venue for each monthly meeting.  I suppose Peter sat there with his wool and felting needles and bashed away. I don’t know if he finished it off at home, I forgot to ask.


Sorry about the reflected white line across the middle.

Then, on to our real reason for going to Cambridge, our annual sortie to the Cambridge Beer Festival.  You probably won’t believe me when I say that in a total of ten hours at the festival (over two days), I drank three and a half pints in total.  Seven halves to be exact, one cider, two perrys and four beers.  It’s all about quality rather than quantity although I did eat two monster curries and some pork scratchings.

Well while I’m indulging in a post not about Herbie or canals (sorry), I might as well tell you about one more thing.  B&B’s in Cambridge are frighteningly expensive, so we searched for a cheap alternative to our usual.  What Kath found was a B&B with no-one there.  Really.  You book in on line and they email you a key code for the door locks.  You let yourself in, the room, with en-suite bathroom, is clean and comfortable but basic.  In the morning you go downstairs to the silent kitchen where you help yourself to cereal, toast and jam/marmalade, eggs if you want them, tea, orange juice etc.  Then you wash up your dishes and that’s it.  Over the two days and nights we didn’t see a soul except for a fleeting glimpse of another guest as she went out the door.  It saved us £60. It worked for us although I did miss my B&B treat of a Full English .

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Breaking all the painting rules in an idyllic setting.

Yay, I’m back!  We’ve been boating without doing much boating, and boozing without much boozing.  I’d better explain.

Herbie’s roof underneath where the old roofbox lay, needed painting.  The box feet had wrought their terrible damage on the roof and patches of paint  had peeled off leaving scabby rust beneath.  I couldn’t put my shiny new box on top of that could I?  No way.

However, I’ve said before that the weather is never right for painting a boat and this time the problem was the warm sunshine.  After cruising down to Banbury to stock up at Morrisons with food to keep us going, we turned and headed back to this lovely spot below Slat Mill Lock and settled in for a the best part of three days.


I suppose that after the rain of the last two nights, a lot of that beautiful May blossom lies on the water like confetti, but we seemed to have hit it at its peak. The air was thick with the scent of it and I’ve never seen it so dense.


Lots of other wild flowers were out too including these Speedwell right next to the boat, again thicker than I had ever seen them.


Anyhow, I digress.  While the solar panels were busy knocking out lots of amps in the hot sun, I set to work with the electric sander powered from the inverter and soon had the rusty patches ready for a lick of Fertan rust converter, which on the already very warm roof set dry in about 20 seconds.  This didn’t augur well for the paint, but that was for the next day.  That evening we broke out the old barby and a nice bottle of plonk and watched the sun go down.


There was a huge hatch of insects on the water and clouds of millions of them swarmed over the canal.


Thankfully they didn’t seem to be of the biting sort, or if they were, they had their minds on other things.  It was Kath who first noticed that as they rose into the air they rapidly paired up, a larger one flying close behind and slightly below a smaller one.  They were all at it.  Then once the more skilled ones had manage to lock together they seemed to forget how to fly and spiralled back down towards the water. All very romantic.

Next morning I was up relatively early to get back to the roof before it got to hot.  After washing off the Fertan, out came the Isopon filler, which I have discovered is the best way to smooth out and level off the indentations where we have rubbed back to the metal. Some people express concern or disapproval about using filler, but Phil Speight says it’s OK so that’s more than good enough for me. If you’ve use Isopon, you’ll know that you have to work fast once you have mixed in the hardener.  Well this day fast wasn’t fast enough!  I had to work like flippin’ greased lightening, only mixing enough filler at a time to last three or four minutes before it set hard. I lost count of how many batches I did. You can normally sand down this filler after an hour, but I reckon fifteen minutes might have been enough.  Anyhow it sanded down to a lovely smooth finish, and after vacuuming the dust of the roof and giving it a wash with white spirit.  I was ready with the primer/undercoat.  The idea is not just to paint over the patches but the whole width of the roof for a section long enough to cover all the repairs. As well as the big spots under the boat feet, there were numerous small blemishes that had emerged over the eight years since that bit of the roof was painted. Mostly damage from poles, the gangplank and the like.

The aforementioned Mr Speight was now whispering in my ear that it was now far too hot for painting, and it was, so I pressed on and did it anyway because I’ll never get the flippin’ job done otherwise.  “Keep a wet edge” is the mantra.  Well with a roof that's too hot to kneel on (I suspect hot enough to fry an egg), I had to stand on the gunnel and paint as fast as I could.  Having broken one rule I now broke another.  On a roof you are supposed to lay off the paint with brush strokes across the roof.  Well from the gunnel I couldn’t reach that so I opted for a longitudinal approach, painting like a mad man with a nice four inch brush. Luckily the paint was very good stuff and went on thickly but flowed well. Whilst I was fast enough to stop the paint dragging, by the time I got to each subsequent pass the previous one was beginning to dry so a pleasing striped effect was beginning to emerge.  Never mind, it was only undercoat. Once half way across the roof I  had to brave the canal side gunnel to reach the other side, so not only was I splashing the paint on like a maniac, I was hanging on to the hand rail with the non brushing hand.  I would think any observers on passing boats found it all rather amusing.

By now I was getting paint all over my hands, so once finished I washed it all off with white spirit and now I smelled so much of the stuff I was scared to step into the sun for fear of spontaneously combusting!  I retired to the shade and did a couple of crosswords.  That evening another barby in this lovely spot.  Despite us using the sander and charging our plethora of phones, ipads, Dyson vacuum etc and running the fridge in the very hot weather, we ended the day with the batteries fuller than we started.  Solar rules OK.

I know a second undercoat should have been the job next day, but we had to get back to the marina and then shoot off to Cambridge (more of which in the next post). As this is only the roof under the rood box and I only had one day left so I opted to put on a top coat of raddle.  This I did after we arrived back at our berth in Cropredy.  The roof was warming fast so using a kneeling pad I climbed up and raddled away , this time using a proper transverse lay off.  I suppose the area I had to paint was about nine feet by six, and it took about half an hour.  Here and there the paint was grinning a tiny bit (undercoat showing through), but that’s what the next coat is for and you cant go back over drying paint.  No, really you can’t.  Anyhow it looks not too bad now.  Rather than put the new roof box in place we stowed it inside the boat before leaving for Cambridge (in the car of course). I’ll apply at least one more top coat next time I go back to Herbie.

If you plan to patch up a scabby boat roof, please do not follow my example. Take more time and choose cooler weather.  I only did it this way to get the job done in the time I had available.  No doubt it won’t last as long as it would have if painted in better conditions with more primer and undercoat.  It’s a risk I consciously took. Had this been the sides of the cabin, I would absolutely definitely never do it like this.  Roofs I regard as a bit more expendable and the finish required, especially in raddle which is matt(ish), is not so critical.  Nevertheless it looks OK, and with another coat or two and under the box, it’ll hold for a good while.

Here’s a little puzzle for next time.  Any idea what this steel structure is?


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Extremes of Norfolk.

I read somewhere that sailing is like long periods of boredom interspersed with short instances of abject terror.  Well i take the point. We’re just back from our annual Norfolk Broads sailing weekend and it was a bit like that. On Sunday, after dodging the stream of plastic cruisers as big as ocean liners crewed by hirers who had no idea how to anticipate the movement of a tacking sailing boat  and then several overloaded launches full of drunken oiks, we ground to a halt on Horning taking about an hour to do a couple of hundred yards in absolute flat calm.  (I have a soft spot for Horning, recalling one trip forty odd years ago when we overloaded a dinghy with inebriated comrades returning after a night in the Ferry Inn and sank it.  We all lived to tell the tale I’m happy to report.)

Next day the wind was 18mph gusting to 30 odd as we tore down the river Bure at a rate that would put jet skiers to shame.  Some thing of a white knuckle ride I can tell you.  The boat yard from which we had hired the boats did offer to come out and tow us back, such was the force of the wind, but we were made of sterner (or stupider depending the way you look at it) stuff.  Anyhow by some miracle we arrived back unscathed, which was just as well for the boats we had hired were much too beautiful to scratch or dent, or worse still, sink.

Here’s one of them.  Take a good look and guess how old it is.




Well it might have looked as good as new but it is 90 odd years old. The woodwork in these things is something to behold. No veneer in ‘ere.  I suppose it might be like Trigger’s broom that’s had 5 new heads and four new handles, but I’m pretty sure the hull and much of the other stuff was original.  Anyway, it was immaculately turned out and equipped and sailed very nicely.  Boats like this are called half deckers on the Broads and they were originally built for racing.  They’re 22 feet long so plenty big enough for four or even five people.

When it comes to skippering a sailing boat I am pretty slow in coming forward as my imagination of what might go wrong is a lot stronger than my ability at the helm, so a lot of the time I volunteer as ballast or if pressed, take over the jib sheets and do as I am told.  I know my place.

Overnight we (nine of us) stayed in a little complex of holiday cottages a short walk from the river Ant where we could keep the boats overnight and it was all very jolly as we are all old old friends going back well over forty years (except for the second generation who aren’t that old yet.) We wined and dined and had our annual quiz and a good time was had by all.

I like the Broads, but I’ll be happy enough to get back where boats don’t usually capsize.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018


What a good weekend for boating it was over the bank holiday.  Except It was a bit too hot perhaps, and our Peter (our intended crew / lock wheeler) had taken a fall and hurt his wrist, and Grants lock (the first below Banbury on our intended route) was shut for a repair and our car was not working. So we stayed at home where we had to keep Peter amused, and baby sit Grace for two nights when her Mum was working very late, and we had to look after Ronnie the dog and Biscuit the mouse.  The joys of family life eh?

It was a busted alternator on the car.  First the battery warning light kept coming on, then as I was driving it to the garage the instrument panel lit up like a Christmas tree, ABS warning, brake warning, power steering failure, the lot.  You don’t realise how much power steering helps until it stops working.  Still alternators do fail sometimes and it’s an easy fix, or it would be if the car designers had left room to get at it.  In the end the garage undid the engine mounts and jacked the engine up until there was space to get the alternator out.  It makes you eternally grateful for how simple and spacious most boat engine bays are.

The roof box is finished and ready to ship back out to Herbie.  Here you see the final touches, first the TV aerial pole mount, shown from underneath so you can see the little rectangular bracket that supports the end of the pole. 


Then Kath kindly modelled the box with it’s cover attached.  Note that the bungee chords stretch over the dark grey paint so they are less visible and don’t spoil the pattern.  Amazingly I did think of that before I started painting!  This time I threaded dowels along the edge seams to help hold the fabric out straight. That scruffy old board leaning on the wall is one of the box floor boards which are straight off the old box.  It is stiffened with battens on the side you can’t see here.  Note the pleasing yellow and brown patches on what we laughingly like to call our lawn.  It takes a lot of hard neglect to get an effect like that in the lushness of early spring.


This coming weekend is our annual Norfolk Broads sailing fiasco.  This time we have boats from a different boatyard so we’ll probably make even more of a hash of it than usual.  For the first time we will not have the drama of passing through Potter Heigham bridge which will be a relief at least. We’ll have to find some other way of getting in a fearful tangle and collapsing with exhaustion and blind panic as the tide sweeps us towards the miniscule hole in the ancient stone work.  No doubt opportunities will present themselves elsewhere.  There has been talk of going up the river Ant where the wind comes and goes at random strength and direction and the river is too narrow to do much tacking.  Masochists R Us.