Monday, 30 April 2012

The Wettest Drought

since records began...

The Cam this morning. However, we are still officially in drought, they say. Rain in the Spring get used up very quickly by thirsty plants and less of it goes into the reservoirs.


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Saturday, 28 April 2012

Underneath the Arches - Answer

Well, there was a fairly strong consensus that the building I posted yesterday was St Pancras Hotel. However, Adam was right to stand by his conviction, and Kevin who posted on Facebook was also correct. It is indeed the Natural History Museum, that great cathedral of science deigned by Waterhouse in 1864. 

The photo was taken underneath the vast Romanesque (semi-circular) arches of the main entrance.
Photo: Wikicommons
I can see why many of you though it was St Pancras, it does have a few Romanesque arches along the wings, but its main entrance has a pointed arch and is not as deep. Its bricks are also more red than the NHM.

Photo: TM

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Friday, 27 April 2012

Underneath the Arches

This is one of my favourite buildings in London.

Do you know which one it is?

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Monday, 23 April 2012

BCN Challenge 2012

Last year, James and I competed in the BCN Challenge with a bunch of other crazy boaters, attempting to navigate around as much of Birmingham's 100 miles of waterways as possible in 24 hours (30 hours in total with a 6 hour rest stop). It was brilliant fun, despite the 3am start on the Sunday morning and ever since, we've been keen to do it again this year -on the 2nd and 3rd June. Last year, we hired the Large Northwich Yeoford, which was very successful - it sleeps 12 in fairly basic but comfortable accommodation and it is a lovely old boat. We hope to hire it again this year, and are looking for crew - at least 9 more needed! It cost about £50 each for the boat hire, and we all clubbed together for food, making it not only a great weekend of boating, but a fairly cheap adventure too. Anyone keen, do get in touch!

Photo - T Lewis

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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Food For Free

I had been reading the blogs of No Problem, Yarwood and Matilda Rose, who have come across swathes of wild garlic on their travels, reminding me that it was the season for it. I have been keeping my eyes open and while I have not yet found 'true' wild garlic (also known as Ramsons) because apparently Cambridge soil is too dry, I have come across a lot of allium triquetrum - Three Cornered Garlic or wild leek. A garden escapee, it's not quite as strong and sweeter than Ramsons, so I've read. 

Last night I picked a bunch in the grounds of Jesus college and made a soup with it, using the same recipe as the spinach and gorgonzola soup I made recently, substituting spinach for the wild leek. I added the greens too early, so they weren't as flavoursome as they could have been - I read subsequently that they keep their flavour better if you add them right at the end! Instead of gorgonzola I used a tasty Roquefort this time, which worked well.


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Monday, 16 April 2012

Storage Space

This week we took possession of our rented Council garage, just a few minutes walk from the river on St Matthew's Street. There are several reasons we decided to take this on. 

1) We need more storage space for fuel. We would like to be able to burn wood instead of coal whenever possible, but without somewhere to store it (our roof is no use as we have a big solar panel and we are not allowed to use the riverbank) this isn't possible.

2) If we sell the Duck and buy another boat this year we may struggle with logistics unless we can safely store all our non-valuables temporarily, and live out of suitcases for a short time while between boats.

3) We might even have a car to put in it one day! 

4) It's cheap - £10/week - and we only have to give a week's notice if we don't feel we want to keep it.

I went to check it out today and found that the previous occupant had 'kindly' left us some cardboard boxes... as well as some rubbish (nothing nasty, just plastic) and a fire extinguisher. It has no electricity and just a small vent, but it is quite big and dry. (My company use one in the same block  as an archive and have had no dampness issues).

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Saturday, 14 April 2012

A Fine Pair

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I went boating with the Fullers- Roger, Teresa, and their son Joe- aboard Ibex (Josher motor, built 1926, and now with a Lister HR2) and Ilford (Built 1912, composite Braithwaite and Kirk butty for FMC). Both are currently loaded, though not too deeply- the motor drawing just about three feet at the back (half as deep again as Lucky Duck) and the butty down to about 20" along the length.

We had seen them at Droitwich the previous weekend, and Teresa mentioned that the three of them would be taking the pair back to Stone- but that they could do with some crew...

So I arranged to hop on a train on Wednesday morning, and met them at Penkridge- Amy unfortunately attending a conference for her EngD in Norwich, so she missed the fun. I met up with them and, having been loaned a Cooke windlass, got straight to work locking hte motor and butty through.

The locks, being single, had to be done twice. In order to save bow-hauling (pulling the butty around by hand, which is time-consuming and hard work) and to work the boats efficently, the Fullers use a long line and running blocks. A rope, about 200' long, is attached with a loop onto the towing dolly of the motor. It is then led back through a pully on the mast of the butty (visible above, with the diamond pattern) and then back to a (removable) T-stud on the cabin top of the butty, where the butty steerer can pull in or pay out line to alter the length of the tow.

Genuine Josher bow

The method makes lock-working quicker than otherwise, and a system is in place to move the boats around. By using the old boating techniques, it's possible to move boats around with the minimum of effort and the maximum efficiency- very important if you're doing it as a job day in, day out.

When going uphill, the motor (which is too deep to stop at lock landings) is put into the throat of the bottom gates, having unhooked the tow line, and the butty steerer takes the butty to the side and straps it slowly to a stop on the bollards on the lock landing stage- or something else handy, if the bollards aren't there! The motor either waits for the lock to be emptied, or- ideally- goes straight into the set lock- so I did a fair bit of jogging ahead to get things ready! The motor is put in gear and kept pushed against the top-gate, and as it's going up, the butty steerer brings up the tow-rope and threads it around the bridge handrails, paddle posts, and bollards that have grown up in recent years, often in just the wrong place! The tow-rope is put into the mitre- the gap between the bottom gates- and the motor is taken out of the lock, with the tow-rope, and pulls the butty into the lock and against the cill and top-gates whilst the paddles are opened.

Complicated to describe, but, in essence, it's all about using the momentum of the boats to carry out tasks- such as strapping top-gates closed when going down-hill, by taking a thick line off the boat and using the boat's momentum to pull the gate closed and slow and stop the boat- and also by using the engine of the motor, via the towline, wherever possible to move the butty- doing as little pulling and hauling as possible.

I stayed in the forecabin of Ilford- which was very snug and cosy, with the warmth from a stove- and the next day had a go at steering both the butty and the motor on the more lock-free pounds.

Steering Ilford

The butty was quite interesting to handle. Because there's no reverse, and a fair bit of momentum, you have to anticipate what the steerer of the motor- and other boats!- are going to do well in advance. It also steers around the middle of the boat, whereas a normal narrowboat steers around a point that's much closer to the stern. This means that the back swings out much more than a normal narrowboat on corners- something to watch out for- and that on tight corners, the pull on the mast from the motor can (hopefully) pull the bows around at just the right moment. It also needs the ellum (rudder) put on much earlier to get it to turn in time.

Steering the motor was completely different. As a deeply loaded boat in a shallow-ish narrow canal, you're accutely aware of where the deepest water- the channel- is. In the heyday of narrowboat carrying, the channel was in a clearly defined position, around the outside of bends, and kept scoured out by loaded working boats. Nowadays, shallower drafted shorter boats are less constrained, and as a result the deepest water isn't always where you need to put the back end of the motor boat as most people cut corners or perhaps moor on the outside of the corners. The boat is very affected by the shallowness of the water. If you're not in the channel, the stern will get sucked towards shallower water, and you have to really fight with the tiller to get it back towards the middle; similarly, it's often easy to over-correct, and suck the stern around in the other direction, leading to zig-zagging down the canal. But, when you're in the channel, the boat will almost steer itself around corners if it's positioned correctly- a very spooky feeling! It also means that, when passing other boats, you have to stay near the middle of the canal in the channel- if I go over too far to the right, the stern will get sucked into the shallower water and swing the bows around the the left- and end up hitting the other boat with 25 tons of loaded Josher motor.... You've also got to be very careful not to snatch the tow-rope, so you're juggling the speed of the engine after bridgeholes so as not to jerk the butty around.

Overall, it was great fun- albeit quite hard work- and really good to learn some new boating skills.

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Friday, 13 April 2012


I spent the last couple of days in Norwich, at the University of East Anglia a for a conference on Climate Change. It was very interesting and I made contact with several people doing similar research work to my own. I stayed the night with my friend who lives in the city and we had a lovely evening - she cooked a very tasty South African bobotie for dinner, and we tried some 'Gnorfolk Lavender' chocolate from Gnaw - surprisingly nice! Later we went to see the new Hunger Games film. She also showed me around some pretty bits of the city I'd not seen before.

Meanwhile, James was away too - he spent a couple of days boating on our friends' pair of historic 'Josher' narrow boats, Ibex and Ilford. He has promised to write about his adventures soon!


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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Going Postal

The parcel arrived today, speedy service!
This is the highly appropriate stamp I was given at the post office yesterday, when I went to post a moving-in present to our friends Matt and Rebekah, fellow YWBS members and historic boat enthusiasts, who have just moved in to their new house. I think it is the London Waterbus Company's Grand Union boat Perseus on the Regent's Canal in London. The stamp is part of a new A-Z of Britain series, from the Angel of the North to this one, of London Zoo.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Droitwich HNBC Gathering: Old Boats and New Friends

We had a wonderful Easter, at the Historic Narrow Boat Club's gathering on the newly restored Droitwich Canal. We were very kindly accommodated by Sarah and Jim in the hold of Chertsey, under the new cloths, and had a lovely dinner of range top stew with them on the Saturday night. Their cat, Willow, has taken very well to boat life and was the centre of attention as he sat proudly on his boat.

As well as catching up with our historic boat friends, we enjoyed meeting some new people too - as the newest HNBC committee member, I tried to introduce myself or be introduced to the rest of the committee, who are a great bunch. Much tea, beer (and an extremely tasty by high alcohol content cider) was drunk and there was a lot of very geeky boat chat about things like fleet lists and motor/butty pairings! We also bought a few books about historic boats to add to our collection, including one lovely children's book about canal cats. In the absence of facilities for meeting at the basin in Droitwich, we were accommodated by the Working Men's Club just around the corner, which turned out to be a good location, and we had to become temporary members for the weekend! 

On the Sunday, there was a Tat Auction - lots of boaty bits and pieces, along with a few joke items, with all the proceeds going to canal restoration projects. We somewhat accidentally came home with a piece of waterways history - the last piece of clunch to be carried by working boat (specifically the HNBC chairman's Warbler, when he went there a few years ago) from Reach quarry in Cambridgeshire. James bid 10p with the promise of taking it back! It then travelled home in my handbag.

All in all a great weekend, thanks everyone! Tim Lewis took some fantastic pictures, really worth a look!

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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Instagram Week in Pictures

The highly addictive photo-editing and sharing iPhone app Instagram has finally been released for Android users like me. I'm enjoying experimenting with it and you may find a few more of these square, post-processed pictures adorning the blog! If you are an Instagram user, you can find me on there by searching for nbluckyduck.

A few moments from last week
We hope you are all having a wonderful Easter!

Portrait of a Lyra
Cambridge Satchel envy in Ark
Heston Blumenthal's Early Grey Hot Cross buns
Cambridge in the Spring

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Saturday, 7 April 2012

Have a Splice Day

James and I have been practising splicing, making eye splices in the ends of rope. For non boaty people, eye-splicing a rope means creating a loop by weaving the individual strands of  a rope back into itself.

There's a good animation of how to do it here,and we wrapped the three strands in different coloured tape to make it easier to see the pattern:

This is James's finished splice

Coincidentally, my dad has also been doing some splicing, for a friend. Here's his eye-spliced loop, looking very neat!

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Friday, 6 April 2012

My Favourite Finds v.19

In the Riverside Antiques warehouse, I found something I'd wanted for a while: a Tala enamel dry measure. You can still buy them new - they cost about £8. This vintage one was £5, and although some of the writing is faded it's still entirely usable, and has marks for some nice old-fashioned dry goods like groats and sago. A nice addition to my slowly growing collection of enamelware for my hypothetical old boat, although I think I will need to somehow go over the faded lettering.

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Thursday, 5 April 2012

Off Grid Making: Spinach and Gorgonzola Soup

While James was coxing the IV to Ely and back at the weekend, I had a productive day at home. First, I resealed the shower room floor, which is a wet room. It's nice and spacious for a narrowboat shower, but the sealant around the edges of the lino needed some attention so I stripped out the old sealant around the floor under the cupboard and resealed it. Just under the door, the lino had come away so I used little nails to pin it back into place. When I was done, I pottered about, tidying up and cleaning. For lunch I went over to the Radmore Farm shop and bought some nice bread and a massive bag of locally grown baby leaf spinach to have with bacon and tomatoes in a sandwich. I like it in sandwiches but there was no way I was going to eat my way through that huge bag before it went off so I decided to make it into a soup. I had some creme fraiche to use up as well, so I went for a tried and tested 'greens and blue cheese' soup, using some Gorgonzola from the Co-op. It was really tasty and James enjoyed it too, when he got back from Ely.

Olive oil
1 large onion
2 potatoes
500g bag of baby leaf spinach
vegetable stock (I use Marigold's Swiss Bouillon Powder)
200g tub of creme fraiche
100g gorgonzola/other strong blue cheese

Fry the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the spinach, put the lid on and cook on a low heat for a few minutes until it's all wilted and reduced. Add peeled, chopped potatoes and pour in enough vegetable stock to cover everything. Bring to boil and simmer until potatoes are soft - 20 mins or so. Blend (my little hand blender off the 125w inverter was quite capable of this!) then add the creme fraiche and chopped blue cheese. Heat until they are nicely melted and blended in.

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Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

There and Back Again: To Ely by Train and Boat

On Saturday, we visited the chandlery in Ely and enjoyed a day out there. Visiting the antiques warehouse, we daydreamed about what we would buy for our next boat - in particular there is a beautiful brass bilge pump which has been for sale in their tools section for getting on for four years. In the chandlery we picked up some paint to touch up the roof of the Duck. Peacock's, the delightful tearoom by the river, was completely full so we headed into town instead, to Topping's bookshop. At Topping's they serve free tea to customers, and we spent an enjoyable few hours there. It's an extraordinarily well stocked bookshop - they focus on the breadth rather than depth of their stock, and not only that but the staff are so friendly and appear to really enjoy working there - the atmosphere is just lovely. But alas, their section on narrowboats didn't have anything about historic boats so we weren't tempted to buy anything to add to our collection.

Sunday saw James returning to Ely - coxing a IV who rowed the 51.6 km to Ely and back. Will has written about their adventure over on the Chesterton blog.

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