Friday 19 October 2012

As you have never seen her…

Jo, my "niece-in-law" and mother to Lewis and Charis who so enjoyed their day on Erin Mae in June, is a potter. Even so, we could never have guessed what awaited us in the Royal Mail depot when we returned from Great Haywood last weekend.

<–––––––––––––––––––– 35 cm ––––––––––––––––––––>

Isn't that staggering! It's a delightfully affectionate representation. If it had been me, I think I would have been too bothered by scale and exact proportions, and ended up with something awful. Jo has captured the spirit of the boat and created something wonderful. We love it. Thanks, Jo.

Thursday 18 October 2012

The Heart of Things

For this ex-Londoner, most trips to the capital are a sore trial. For my best beloved, raised in Co Donegal, they are full of delight and excitement. Yesterday we had a special reason to go up – an exhibition of paintings by a former student of mine. But first we went to the Science Museum. That's the stuff of half-term memories from my childhood, with buttons to push and levers to pull and all sorts of exciting consequences. More than 50 years on, Stevenson's Rocket is still in pride of place, to remind us now of how quickly the economic viability of the canals was threatened by the railways. However, we found ourselves spending most time in the sections on the history of medicine and space travel. In both cases, it was intriguing to note that exhibits which must feel like ancient history to visiting schoolchildren had been part of our own experience.

The capsule from the Apollo 10 mission round the moon was there. I still remember sitting in Heathrow a few months later, listening to the moon landing happening. The second exhibit to strike us was a mock-up of a 1980 open-heart operation. My best beloved had been specially trained to scrub for these as theatre nurse when they first started doing them on children in Edinburgh.

From the museum, we caught the tube to the Monument. My mum used to talk about it, but I can't remember us visiting as a child. I only realised today that it is Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, with long inscriptions in Latin to describe both the fire and the reconstruction. It has recently been restored, and it's an extraordinary sight, soaring up into the sky between far more modern edifices.

So finally we walked from there to the Menier Gallery on Southwark Street for a private evening viewing of "The Heart of Things". It was a great joy to see Sarah Kelly-Paine again. Her website describes some of the inspiration she gets from her life in France, and it was fascinating to compare her current work with the painting that has hung on our lounge wall since she was a student of mine in the mid-90s.

(Pictures courtesy of Sarah's website)

Another wonderful day, well worth the penalty of getting home half an hour after midnight.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Birthday belt

A wonderful autumn day.

Bacon and eggs and mushrooms for breakfast, followed by coffee, and then lunch, at the Lockside Restaurant in Great Haywood. Must be my birthday again!

A saunter down the canal to capture some of the scenery.

But I just missed the Carling Black Label squirrel that scampered across the bridge rail!

Phone calls from the family, and a new belt, courtesy of my best beloved, cunningly crafted by Dave.

Did you notice it was upside down?

A happy, right-side-up day.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Second undercoat

Well, it stayed dry enough to get the second undercoat on the hatch patch. No picture – it looks just the same as on yesterday's post. Instead, a response to Mo's comment.

On Rich's recommendation we bought a Brush Mate from Amazon. You store your brushes in a plastic box with a vapour pad, and you don't have to clean them, until you want to use them for a different paint. It stores four brushes, so I reckon that's two different sizes for two paints – green undercoat and green overcoat for me. I don't yet know whether you could squeeze in another small brush for varnish. However, when the Brush Mate came through the post, we found that the vapour pad lasts about six months, so it seemed rather foolish to start using it just as we go home for the winter. White spirit it is! Plus some magic brush cleaner from B&Q. All in small glass bottles, to be disposed of – somehow.

Tomorrow looks wet, so the undercoat will have to survive and we'll see what Friday brings.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Primer and undercoat

The main thing, said Rich, was not to leave primer overnight once the evenings were getting damp. It allows the dew to get through to the steel, which is not a Good Thing. However, you can apparently paint over it earlier than it says on the tin, so the plan was to get primer and first undercoat on in one day.

According to Steve the marina manager, there was a coat of ice over everything at 7 this morning. I confess I didn't see it – nor much else until considerably later. By the time I'd breakfasted, the sun had warmed up everything sufficiently to tackle the primer, but it was still early enough to get an undercoat on in the afternoon.

It's amazing what questions arise as soon as you actually start doing the job. Things I hadn't thought to ask Rich during our session last week. Do you rub down the bit you treated with Rust Exit? Do you thin primer or not? How much stirring is enough? If the undercoat tin says you can thin it with CraftMaster's PPA, are you sure you can use white spirit? How do you get a small amount of undercoat out of its tin and into the baked beans can (previously emptied!) ready for adding some white spirit, without spilling it everywhere? One you've finished the job is it OK to put the surplus thinned paint back into its tin? How does a boater dispose of white spirit? When you come to do the next undercoat should you use new masking tape?

No doubt all this will become second nature. At the moment I'm more concerned about the second undercoat. Hopefully tomorrow's weather will be favourable.

Saturday 6 October 2012

Shugborough in the sun

On this fine, sunny day we explored the parts of the Shugborough estate that NT membership gets you a concession on. We'll come back and do the free bits another day.

Interesting it certainly was – not so much the follies, but the representation of a 19th century working estate, with labourers and servants in costume, and mindset to suit. A museum of how they actually did it in Times Past. Lots of Objects to delight and amaze.

The question for Shugborough visitors is whether to see Downton Abbey (ITV) or Servants: the true story of life below stairs (BBC2/Open University). Is this romantic or despicable? Or simply how it was? The world today got to be what it is by the specific route it followed. It's very easy, from a contemporary perspective, to criticise the abuses of power that now seem all too obvious. It is surely far harder to offer an accurate, lasting critique of your own times. And, after all, it was through the particular course we took, including the social inequalities, that the innovations came into being from which we now benefit and which we take for granted.

The word "traditional" appeared a lot today – it's on the packet of stoneground flour we brought home from the mill. But what does it conjure up – cosy, stable, wholesome, folk wisdom, things as they ought to be? Or stuck-in-the-mud, unwilling to flex or change, how we did it before we knew better? No one would want to be using the laundry methods we saw today. Not many would argue for the social stratification. So there's a tension here. We enjoyed a thoroughly enlightening talk with "Isaac" the miller, who taught us all sorts of stuff about how flour works, understanding that balances modern knowledge of nutrition.

Traditions often exist because no-one thought of doing it any different. But some are there simply because they are right.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Peanuts and pistachios

Comfort nibbles. Pre-prandial snacks. Roasted and salted – just enough to tempt you not to stop. Looking at them on the shelves in Sainsbury's, the peanuts are cheaper so, although you really prefer the pistachios, peanuts it is.

But things aren't always what they seem. The contents of that huge bag of dry-roasted peanuts are already shelled. There's no grace about eating them – tip out a large quantity and munch your way through them. And then some more. Pistachios, on the other hand, are designed to tease. The green kernel pokes invitingly through the tear in its wrapping. You extract and savour the succulent centre before turning to the next. This one reveals rather less of its inner goodness, and requires the dextrous use of a knife to prise it out of the casing. The result is just as tasty. Requires just a tiny sip of wine before continuing.

And there's another thing. Pistachio-eating produces a lot of shell, which (in my case) goes back into the bowl with the original handful. After consuming about half, finding the next nut becomes quite a search among the debris. But – and here is the amazing thing – the nuts take an awful long time to run out. It's a bit like the loaves and fishes, or the widow's jar of oil. Just when you think you've come to the end, there's another lurking beneath a half-husk. By the time you really have finished, you've eaten far fewer pistachios than if it had been peanuts, but the enjoyment has been prolonged and much greater. In the end, I reckon, pistachios are cheaper than peanuts, not by the kilo but by the month. Things aren't always what they seem. Good thing to remember during political party convention season.

It's amazing what you think about when you're not going out.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Not going out

What we had in mind was a quick painting lesson from Rich, followed by three weeks to gently traverse the Llangollen canal, as the sun shone gently through russet trees, with time to apply new skill and paint to the most needy cases of bodywork decay. The autumn has always been my favourite time of year, partly because of the start of the hockey season, and partly because of the symbolism of fruitfulness in dying.

What we got, of course, was day upon day of lashing wind and rain, delays while we acquired the necessary painting goodies, a complete lack anyway of conditions for painting, and a cold that sent me to bed and left the inside of my head feeling rather like a tacky rag (that's one of the aforementioned painting accessories). Looking at the forecast for the next week or so, we've just about given up on any idea of an autumn cruise.

What's been interesting is to see how we've survived staying put, not going out, not doing very much at all. It's somehow been easier than the times when we were stopped because there was some database work I had to do, but not much for my best beloved. More than a day of that was hard – this has been about OK. On a walk two days ago we came across a couple in the 35 foot NB Lilliput. He said it was a week-boat, because with a boat that size you need a marriage counsellor after 7 days, but there isn't room for one on board! All-in-all, so far, we've done pretty well.

Monday 1 October 2012


The new colour in Erin Mae's cheeks is a sight for sore eyes. Any other lady with this amount of glow might use some powder to ameliorate the effect, but we applied polish!

Restoring the slightly corroded paintwork under the leaky window was always going to leave a sharp contrast between old and new paint, and reds are worst of all. So we resorted to cutting back all the paint down both sides, and the result has been great. The enthusiasm for a good polish might even last. If only the scratched green bits didn't stand out so much now…

I spent a morning with Rich while he was applying black gloss, and discovered that once you start asking an expert to show you how to paint a boat, there's no end to the bits and pieces and products you suddenly find it necessary to acquire. Mr Amazon and associates are becoming increasingly aware of Great Haywood.

Lots of boaters don't value shine. Prefer a more matt approach. Some boats probably look better that way. But Erin Mae's looking a treat – apart from the scratched hatch, and the scrapes down the side, and  the creeping corrosion along the handrails, and the cruiser rail needing some more varnish, and…