Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Charity shops and unfeasibly large quantities of firewood.

No, I have not just purchased a worm-eaten 1930's set of dining table and eight chairs from Emmaus.

Although the thought is not implausible..........

(Such things have been known to occur...)

I don't follow loads of blogs.

(I simply don't have time to give all the marvellous blogs out there the attention they deserve: I have a wife and two cats to make a fuss of and cater for as well, you know....)

The ones I do follow are either people I have met or people I feel I know quite well by dint of the quality of their writing ( Jaq Biggs this means you....!).

The Lucky Ducks, James and Amy, and Jaq and Les, on nb Valerie, who I do follow, have recently blogged about two subjects very close to my heart:

Charity shop finds. (James and Amy)

Logs (Jaq and Les)

I love The Duck's blog.

Not only are the two of them among the nicest people you could wish to meet on the waterways, but also, they have done a tremendous job in seeking to build up an amicable relationship between rowers and boaters on the Cam, and fought the corner hard for both user-groups in the face of The Cam Conservancy's treatment of both as cash cows to be milked until dry and dead.

I love charity shops.

There are few things in life that give me greater pleasure than a real bargain, especially if it's perceived as unwanted and is given a new lease of life and purpose by the purchaser.

(Jungian analysts make of the above what you will......)

So there can be sermons in stones, and joy in a well-made pair of second-hand shoes.

(Although I think the gritting lorries will be out in Hell before you see the likes of The Cam Conservancy's River Foreman attired with such economy......)

I will have to shamelessly plagiarise Amy and start to list a few of my favourite charity shop finds too.

So, to Jaq and Les.

If you haven't yet read their story in the 'So this is Love' blog by Jaq, then can you please get on with it?

It is a gem.

Their most recent post on the nb Valerie blog was all about chopping wood.

This is a favourite pastime aboard Pippin.....

Yes, this weekend just gone, I lured my chum Mark from his lair with the promise of a day of back-breaking work punctuated by a sausages and bubble-and-squeak lunch, lots of tea and a series of large gin-and-tonics finale......

Miraculously, he fell for it!


Mark is a Royal Engineer.

He, therefore, knows a lot of stuff about the sort of thing that boaters need to know....

Like how to operate a chainsaw without incurring a life-changing injury.....

We Pippins acquired one of these heathen, dangerous, body-part-spitting devices some months ago.

It has sat in the shed, largely ignored, but doubtless contemplating it's own evil agenda, since.

Frankly, the thing gave me the Screaming Ab-Dabs........

But now, thanks to Mark, the beast has been tamed!!

But not before a trip to Pecks in Ely relieved me of £150 quid in return for some serious PPE.

Thus armoured, Mark gave me a full course of instruction on how to start, operate and most importantly, stop the damned thing in safety.

We then went to town on two tonnes of logs from Ant and Tina's place which had been living an otherwise quiet, unobjectionable but unfeasibly large existence in the back of Pippin's 'Stealth Woodpile'.

Then we proceeded to bash the living daylights out of the resulting logs with felling axe, splitting maul, sledge-hammer and steel wedges.

Oooh! It was fun!

And t'was only after the tools were packed away, all the clearing up was done, (saw-dust duly bagged and saved for a colleague's pet rabbit - well, waste not, want not-!!), and all was safely gathered in that the gin was tonic'd and the lager was poured.

Only a fool mixes alcohol and chainsaws, and in this case, it would be a fool and his gizzard going separate ways........

So lots more logs, and more to come!

Hurrah for the first harbinger of Spring!!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Towpath Talk........

I followed the link from Jaq and Les's blog to 'Towpath Talk' to read about their story. (For the link see their post "It came from the depths" on the 'Boats and Cruising "Valerie"' blog)

It was a shock to see my own name up, along with Amy Duck, as the same article (about boat bloggers) concerned itself also with the recent upheavals on the Cam......


Think of something pithy and entertaining!!!!

. . . . . . Er....

Okay, enough of that.

You're just going to have to put up with the usual load of old wibble.

It's been a long week at The Hole Making Shop and I am banjaxed.

We spent last weekend down in London working on Jackie's flat.

(No, we haven't made any progress, never mind finish it: I steamed an awful lot of wallpaper off the walls, removed a ghastly picture rail and made lots of holes in the plaster in the process. I also discovered a boarded-up 1930's air vent, which was responsible for a large area of blown plaster on the back wall.... Tony Snr, our spread, plumber, tiler and general all-round good guy, has been informed. We await the quote.....)

I then pulled four days straight in The Hole Making Shop, where we continue to break records.

79 units extracted from 38 holes on Monday alone!

(You will hopefully have no idea what I'm talking about - The Holemaker's Code would be irrepairably breached if I were to blog about it 'en clair', - but suffice to say, this is Rock and Roll!!)

Small wonder I'm knackered!

Anyway, enough of that: Having read Towpath Talk, you may well have tuned in for entertaining pith regarding The Cam Conservancy......

Sorry to disappoint, but there's not much new to add.

And no, as for any gags regarding The Conservancy and pith, well, I'm simply not going to go there.

Mother reads this.

Tomorrow, I shall be mostly chopping wood.

I feel it's important to rest after a period of extreme exertion, and a change is, they say, as good as.......

Actually, a boater chum of mine who frequents The Hole Making Shop recently expressed an interest in buying a cubic metre of Pippin Best Chopped and Split from us, so tomorrow will be spent sorting that out.

Jackie's back from London tomorrow night so I shall also be engaged in boat cleaning, tidying, wood, water and fuel replenishment and 'lovely supper' preparation.

Hardly got my work cut out at all, have I?

I may have a lie-in until, ooh, lets see, 6.00a.m..............!

Monday, 20 February 2012

One from the archives....

Les and Jaq on nb Valerie are the inspiration for this one. They blog so well about canal history. I thought I'd get in on the act by relating this River Cam snippet from today's Cambridge News 'Nostalgia' page....

'The Days of Ditton Docks'

From The News, 1937

"Sir- I remember Ditton Docks 70 years ago, then long disused and out of repair. There was a more pretentious one further down - Horningsea pier we used to call it - and I was told in pre-railway days this had been extensively used. My father would speak of the times, before the present locks were installed when barges were kept waiting sometimes for weeks for the river to rise sufficiently for them to come up. They carried coal and corn to Mill Lane and sand to Walnut Tree Lane (now Avenue). - A Cox"

So not only is this one in the eye for the members of The We-Were-Here-First-So-All-You-Narrowboats-Can-Sod-Off Rowing Club, but also shows the impact the railways had on river-based trade as well as that of the canals.

I don't know the exact location of Horningsea pier, but it could possibly have been on the site of the current 48 hour moorings at Clayhithe, adjacent to the bridge carrying the road from Waterbeach to Horningsea and Fen Ditton.

As for the remains of Ditton Docks, well, there is some evidence of a stone landing stage a hundred yards or so upstream of the sharp corner just after the Plough Pub, though whether this is actually it or the remains of a later construction, I'm afraid I don't know.

Next time I'm up that way, I'll take some pictures of it and stick them on the blog, as thanks to The Cam Consevancy's rapacious new scale of charges for visiting boats, a photo is about as close as all but the utterly spendthrift boater is going to get to seeing it for themselves........

Thursday, 9 February 2012


On January 29th, a man's body was recovered from the Cam near Jesus Green lock. His name was Marek Zajechowski.

Yesterday, a woman's body was removed from the water near Ditton Fields. She has not been identified at this time.

Saddest of all for me was the discovery, the night before last, of a man cold and dead in the doorway of a Cambridge church.

I knew him.

He was a resident at the Emmaus community in Landbeach where I help out a bit sometimes.

What had happened, gone wrong for him, and how he came to die this way I don't yet know.

It should not have happened.

It happened anyway.

I know that in hard times, our hearts can harden with them, but this is my plea:

If you see someone begging, don't walk by.

You don't have to give them money- it's too easily misused- but get them something to eat instead, a sandwich say, or a take-away coffee, just to help keep the cold out.

If you can, give what you can to the likes of Emmaus, The Salvation Army or Shelter.

We are all of us only two or three pay cheques away from homelessness.

And homelessness kills.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Ice Station Donkey

There's a global downturn on, okay?

We couldn't afford the Zebra, but they're only donkeys with a fab paint job, aren't they?

And I drank enough at the wedding on Friday to kill a donkey and I may have made an ass of myself........

No change there then.

But by golly, was I feeling rough on Saturday morning.......

Still, as the old Soho saying goes, if you can't do the time, don't do the crime, so I hauled myself out of my pit at 09.00 to help our neighbour, Rhoda, take nb Malus into Cambridge to pump out.

She kindly proffered black coffee which I drank, toast which I ignored and patience which I appreciated.

Despite feeling like a barrow-load of warmed-up pig-poo, I actually rather enjoyed the trip.

Malus is Rhoda's new boat, and is due to be blacked this summer. So when we hit sheet ice upstream of the A14 bridge, the order was given to maintain course and increase to ramming speed.

Ice-breaking is great fun, and I think more pictures were taken of us on that trip than in the previous year.

The ice was much less evident in Cambridge itself, and judicious speed adjustment meant there was no risk of harming the blacking on the boats moored there.

So we did the necessary, turned about and returned to The Parish, by which time I was beginning to resemble a human life form, even if the inside of my head still felt three times too large for the skull containing it.

Now, normal people would have quit there wouldn't they, not so much 'while they're ahead' as 'making a passably good fist of drawing level'....



My beloved had booked us tickets to attend a concert of music and readings at The Cambridge Corn Exchange. Although I still felt dreadful, I owed it to her to attend for not abandoning me, more than somewhat taken in wine, somewhere between Kensington and Kings Cross the previous evening.

I took another handful of painkillers and went wearily to my fate.

Actually, you know, it really wasn't too bad.

We had The City of London Sinfonia doing the music and Hugh Bonneville doing the readings.

Jackie really likes Hugh Bonneville.

I should find this worrying, I suppose, but I reckon if she'd wanted to marry an award winning, internationally famous actor, then she would have done.

Instead she married me.

So I take the view that these cultural outings are improving, worthy, and probably designed to stop me getting complacent.

Which is all fair enough I suppose.

Another thing in HuBo's favour, of course, is that he isn't Colin-bloody-Firth!!

Now that would get right up my nose.......

Anyway, the readings were from Scott of the Antarctic's diary, movingly brought to life by Mr Bonneville.

The music was less successful. It was technically excellent in every way. The guest tenor did a remarkable job with a very demanding piece which, for all of that, was terribly hard on the ear. So hard, in fact, I found myself wishing Scott had taken the composer along with him.........

The evening ended on a much less atonal and thusly far happier note with a mostly instrumental piece (a worrisome soprano did keep interpolating on an extended 'ah', but I think someone eventually paid her to sing in another street as she left the platform before it concluded) which accompanied slides taken from Ponting's famous photographs of the expedition.

When we went outside, there was a full blizzard in progress.

I've never been much of a one for exploiting the pathetic fallacy, but it did seem apt.

Poor Scott.

All that bloody way to get pipped at the post, and then the march back........

I didn't realise he got to within eleven miles of the safety of One-Ton Depot.

So close!

But in those conditions it might just as well have been the moon.

Their remains were found eight months later........

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Wedding Bells.....

That got your attention, didn't it?!

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that Jeremy (the Electrickery Wizard of the title) is getting married!

He and fiance Bev are tying the knot on 14th April, and they have very kindly invited Jackie and me along.

So congratulations to them both!!!

And thanks, too, for asking us........

'Tis clearly the season for these things, as we are off to London tomorrow to see our friends Annie and Rik get spliced.

These two are old mates of mine from time-back-way-back when I lived in Soho.

I think they've been an item since about 1995, but as I observed on hearing of their engagement, it is very important not to rush into these things..........

I'm really looking forward to it, though must be careful not to over-do the celebratory drinks, as I've been off it for a while and am hardly 'match fit'.

(To put this into context, most of my old Soho mates knock down the equivalent of a week's recommended units on a daily basis........ It was fun while it lasted, but I'm no longer in that league.)

I must, of course, put abstention to one side for the sake of conviviality.

And if I find out any of you are running a book on all this going horribly wrong, then I shall be quite cross!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Wizardry behind Electrickery......

It's official!

Electricity, and the way it works, has, as I had long suspected, absolutely nothing to do with physics.

Dismiss from your minds, therefore, all notion of electrons, sine waves, volts, watts, amperes and all that stuff which makes the head hurt.

No, instead accept the simple and eternal truth:

It's all done by magic!

You may remember a few posts back my describing our friend Jeremy as The Electrickery Wizard of choice round these parts.

In doing so, I had no idea how close to the truth I actually was......

Today he was back on the mooring at our neighbour Jude's boat. The inverter was not working at all.

(I presume this means it was leaving all the electricity the right way up....)

Anyway, they popped over to Pippin to borrow our interweb so Jeremy could get the manufacturer's number.

Over a herbal tea (all wizards drink this apparently), he let me in to what had hitherto been The Big Secret.

Electricity does indeed work by magic.

The magic is in the blue smoke.

All electrical components, be they wires, plugs, switches, circuit boards, fuses, diodes, valves, capacitors, resistors, rheostats, inverters or whatever it is all contain a certain amount of British Standard blue smoke. (Look for the Kite Mark......)

If this blue smoke ever escapes into the atmosphere, then the magic escapes too.

This means the whatever it is won't work any more.

I had no idea it was really all so simple!

Jeremy rang the inverter's makers to ask certain arcane questions regarding a Mending Spell.

(Apparently this was a possibility because none of the magic blue smoke had leaked out.)

The Head Wizard at customer services thought 'it might be the switch' and a case of 'dirty contacts'.

I was most concerned to hear this: after all, if people on the assembly line are going to frequent lap-dancing clubs then they should jolly well wash their hands thoroughly before starting work.

It would save no end of trouble.

But never mind that. The Head Wizard turned out to be exactly right!

Jeremy cast some runes (or whatever it is that you do with a Phillips screwdriver) and Jude's inverter was turning electricity the wrong way up once more in no time!

Hurrah for Jeremy!! Electrickery Wizard par excellence!!