Monday 31 October 2011

Meeting up with Mike and Mo

We've been talking to Mo since February via comments on this blog – she and Mike keep nb The Great Escape at Great Haywood, but we've never been at the marina at the same time. Today we finally got to drop in on them, and found a warm welcome over a cuppa. Good to meet you guys – look forward to jamming with Mike sometime.

Today also saw our shower back in action after the tiling repairs. Pity about the dinge in the shower tray from when one of the tiles slipped. A quick google led me to Milliput, invented for mending models but with a useful sideline in repairing household bits and pieces. First I'd heard of it, but Mike knew it. I can see that maintaining and using Erin Mae is going to a source of endless education!

Thursday 27 October 2011

One thing leads to another

A section of grout in Erin Mae's shower looked loose – not good news. Let's play safe and assume that tiles and grout on a narrowboat are subject to unusual stresses and need special attention. A quick google led me to Norcross 4-in-1. Never heard of Norcross, but the technical director has a narrowboat based at Aston, in which she'd used this grout herself. Where can you get it? Nowhere round us, it seemed, but the Staffordshire Tile & Stone Company had some, and they were at Milford, just down the road from Great Haywood. Nice bloke – doesn't normally serve retail, but he made an exception and we came away with a bag of the stuff.

The damaged section grew as I extracted it with a combination of a Wickes patent grout extractor, a paint scraper and an ancent Stanley knife. It was then I realised that two large tiles, 50 x 33 give or take a smidgen, were no longer quite as attached to the wall as they presumably had been. So off they came, and that led to a lot more energetic scraping of old adhesive from wooden partition and tile-back. Not to mention another trip into Stafford to locate some decent adhesive.

Then I sized up these tiles in the space on the wall, and realized they're a rather tight fit vertically. One or two of the mosaic-sized midgets below them seem to be bit too high. Do I try to remove one, and risk it's being part of an linked group? Do I try to file down the top edges and risk breaking one? Do I just ignore them? No, that's probably what led to the problem in the first place. Anyway, what's tile and what hardened grout?

Decisions! It all seems a bit more drastic than a house. Guarantee that, whatever I do, it will lead on to something else unexpected. Like, getting what I need in Stafford today, being parked in just the place and at just the time for this nice lady to turn her Mazda into the next space and scrape the paint on my driver's door!

Happy days. What a good life it is!

Friday 21 October 2011


The TV pictures of Libyans exulting in the death of Col Gaddafi stand in stark contrast, in my mind, with events 26 years ago in Brazil. There, too, a president had died, untimely, but inconsolable grief was the national mood.

Tancredo Neves had been associated, for many years, with the movement that stood out against the military regime, and which eventually led to the return to democracy. Although the campaign for direct elections for the presidency failed, the tide had changed, powerful people changed sides and Tancredo himself, amazingly, was elected president by the electoral college in January 1985. He seemed to embody the renewal of hope for Brazil. But on the eve of his inauguration in March he was taken seriously ill, was unable to take the oath of office, and died a month later. Some saw conspiracy, some saw simply wear and tear in the body of a man who had worked tirelessly for his vision and his principles.

Brazil was distraught. For days there was nothing on the television except gentle, sombre music and graphics. The weeping indicated just how much the nation’s hope had been invested in this one man who stood head and shoulders above the rest.

The irony was that the Vice-Presidential candidate, José Sarney, had until recently been associated with the ruling military group, before changing sides, and was one of the reasons that Tancredo was elected. However, in spite of suspicions about his real loyalties and motives, on taking over the presidency he followed on through much of the programme of national reforms that Tancredo had envisaged.

Living in Rio at the time, we shared the grief of Brazil. Today, from a distance, we understand the jubilation of the Libyans, though it seems misplaced to me to take such joy in such a sordid death, no matter what Gaddafi may have done. What stands out is the difference in legacy. Tancredo, though he never actually took office, started Brazil on the path that brought it to today. Gaddafi’s legacy, in the end, was to unite a people against him. I hope that, now he is gone, they will find something more solid on which to construct their future.

Thursday 6 October 2011


Yesterday, two men died who changed the way I did certain things. The first was Steve Jobs. In 1988 I needed to word-process in New Testament Greek, and the college was needing to move on from electric typewriters. The local IT firm said Macs were the only thing that could do the Greek, and they would also be the easiest computers for office staff to use. True. I found the Mac bringing together many things that interested me – patterns, logic, maths, graphics, electronics, music, in addition to its abilities with Greek fonts. Networking was a breeze. I became the de facto head of IT (small college!) and went on to develop all the database and other stuff, alongside my day job. Although Steve Jobs wasn't at Apple by this time, the Macs still bore the imprint of his vision of how a PC ought to work. When he returned and OS X came along, using them got increasingly interesting. No one asks any more why on earth we use Macs throughout the college.

The second person was Bert Jansch. I remember his gig at Birmingham uni (?1968) when I was learning to play fingerstyle folk guitar. The sounds and the effects were magic. It was his version of Davey Graham's "Angi" that I learned, along with other songs that matched the mood of the times. The folk blues collaborations with John Renbourn and others fired the musical imagination and made me and others look for new techniques to express what we wanted our music to say.

Steve Jobs made all the headlines. Bert Jansch got a mention on Radio 2. I'm grateful for both of them.

Monday 3 October 2011

In reverse

Gang of boys on their way to school, drinking cans of fizzy sugar and talking loudly. I said "Morning, lads" as I wound my windlass. Suddenly, they were all polite and respectful with "Good morning!" chorused in return. I wonder if they would be as proud of what they accomplished that day as I already was. We'd followed advice about where to moor overnight, and only on checking the guide later did we realise it would take us four hours to get to the next winding hole and back – we have to be in Great Haywood by Tuesday evening. So a plan was hatched – start early, reverse into the lock behind us and go down it backwards, reverse through a curved couple of hundred yards of cut, reverse through the bridge and between the moored boats to Penkridge winding hole, execute an exact x-point manoeuvre to end up facing the right way. Boats are not renowned for being steerable in reverse, but it was all accomplished perfectly, without so much as a single contact with the bridge or another boat. We were well chuffed! Thought we'd earned our breakfast.

That was when we found we'd committed one of the cardinal sins of boating, and run out of water. Pride dashed in an instant! No way were we reversing to the water point – where's the next one? Several hours. Not sure whether humility was banished or increased when we eventually found the reason for the lack of water – one of us had accidentally flicked the water pump switch when coming down the steps into the boat. Doh! Normal cuppa service resumed.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Single traders

Even on a Sunday evening, Penkridge does not seem a particularly peaceful place, bisected as it is by the A449, and with the M6 just off to one side. But it is called a village, and most of the shops are single traders – of national chains we noticed just a Co-op and three banks. Only the pubs were open as we strolled around, but we saw lots of fascinating emporia should we have time tomorrow – craft and knitting shops, a pottery outlet, a hardware shop advertising "Jampot covers are now in stock", and Jaspers the bakers which we know will have a queue of customers out of the door around lunch time. My best beloved comes on both sides from shop-keeping blood, in places where certain types of shop-keeper are "highly respected pillars of the community" (certainly true of her mum and dad).

On our way to Penkridge we encountered in quick succession five traditional narrowboat barges – long beasts with a small cabin for accommodation at the stern, and the rest given over to space for whatever is being carried. We had opportunity for only the briefest of conversations, but it seemed the first was still trading on the canals, operated by a single-hander, while the others certainly could have been. We don't really know whether these last were liveaboards, or simply people who love their boats but melt into the rest of society Monday to Friday. We got to thinking later that both the single trader in Penkridge and the person who makes his living on the cut share a particular sort of individuality – going their own way, distinct from how most people do things. So it was also nice, as we wandered back to the boat, to bump into a Christian group for young people in the church hall. Here were some others differently marked, finding something special to live out, to take joy in and to share.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Wind and Worcs

Warm it was, but breezy with it. With a start delayed by the England / Scotland rugby match and a visit to Great Haywood to collect a package from the Post Office, we filled up with diesel and set out for a four day cruise down the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, generally abbreviated to the Staffs and Worcs. Now "Staffs" is obvious, but how on earth do you say "Worcs"? Works? Wawks? Wuss? I can see  moment coming when, in conversation with another boater, I'll want to refer to this canal by its abbreviation. Does anyone know what the favoured pronunciation is?

Anyway, we got down from the marina to the junction, preparing to turn right under the bridge into the Staffs and Wuss, only to find an Anglo Welsh boat backing out – Anglo Welsh have a boatyard and hire centre right on the junction. They wanted to turn away from us and head off down the Trent & Mersey, but couldn't work out how to get their nose in the right direction and clear the other moored boats. The wind wasn't helping. It was about 20 minutes later that they found themselves facing the wrong way, on our side of the junction, and decided just to wave us past.

We got down to Tixall Wide – the furthest we'd been so far on the Staffs and Wawks – and decided to tie up for lunch in a space we were passing. I stopped in a hurry, and tried my own bit of reversing towards the bank. That was when the wind took over, and blew the front of the boat right across the cut. It didn't seem particularly strong, but a boat has a large side surface area and no keel. So it was our turn to block all traffic, while tug-of-war technique with the centre line and some help from some nearby boaters eventually got us out of everyone's way.

It's no wonder wind becomes a metaphor for fashionable ideas that power through a nation or group, exercising control for good or ill. For me, the point is to recognise it so as to make a proper judgment and not just be swept along with the debris. The old boaters used the wind to help them turn in the winding holes. Harnessing the wind for good – that's a skill worth having, wherever you may be on the Staffs and Works. All is quiet this evening at Bridge 96 by Wildwood.