A ride and back

Summer had truly arrived and the day could not be denied a cycle ride thus a purpose was devised as an excuse to treat the day. A dianthus, abundant in flower and scent, was placed with care in the bike bag, a small token for a gravely ill lady. But first a visit to the boat to collect a prayer magnet for her fridge.

The water flowed sloth slow past the boat which was lazily shifting in the mid day sun. Magpie arguments and robin trills gave backdrop to the gentle rustle of lime green leaves, barely out of their spring fresh furls.

Passing boats had made her restless and she had pulled at her mooring pins, loose in the drought parched towpath turf. I bent with club hammer tap to them further in, one by one. The natural sounds were cut through by the toign, toign, toign of hammer blows, echoing off the old school flint wall.

The job easily completed with little effort I straightened, or tried to, as all nature’s greens, blues and browns exploded like a mad kaleidoscope and sounds were muted as my back expressly desired that I refrain from standing straight. I could not, can not, understand what had brought on this stubbornness, this ingratitude for being taken for an afternoon ride. Although I remonstrated with it, it remained inflexible, it would not resume its normal service today.

Boat pinned back and fridge magnet retrieved I shuffled off, no not off this mortal coil, but off the towpath to the road. History has taught me and reminded many times that the bike is more forgiving of an injury that shank’s pony. However at times like this I do wish I had the saddle lower. First the hobble to get to the kerb, then the shuffle to get the feet in position, then the leg lift and stretch, will it go or will it just go off like one of those small elastic bands too small for the job in hand? Ah the relief to sit, pedal and enjoy easy movement again.

So off to Ricky by road, a climb in sun then past shady horse chestnut trees, just losing their spring blossom. A drop, a climb, then the swoop down, past the speed camera, trying to get it to picture me, alas three miles per hour too slow.

And so to meet and greet the boaters, to get tea and cake at the lock side cafe and chat in the shade along the towpath.

“Ahh” they think, “here comes a lean and fit cyclist”. Then I alight and shuffle like a penguin, both of us being creatures best suited to a different mode of travel. “Ohh” they then think, “see how bad cycling is for you”.

And so, purposes fulfilled, ride completed, that is why I sit here this evening, watching the sunset on one of the warmest days of the year so far, leaning against, a hot water bottle.

Oh happy days


As one tow path rambler put it, “ it’s a grand day for it”. A sunny ride down the path, stopping to chat to boaters sitting out with mugs of builder’s tea and a cheery “OK?”, “yeah, you?” when passing the boater with a can of lager in his hand. An almost idyllic day to go and finish off fixing the leak on my boat.
Rolling up at the boat there was immediately something amiss, or rather missing, the chimney had gone. Instead of the black and, admittedly dirty, brass flue there was just a sooty hole in the roof.
Now vandalism and petty theft is pretty annoying but when a fellow boater takes an important part of the boat it leaves a feeling of being betrayed and even violated.


As it was but is no more

It is not that I often have things stolen, and most of the time it has been small things that I can hardly remember. There was the old bike when at uni. My Welsh grand mother declared “well I hope he falls off under a bus!”. Not very forgiving I thought, and it might wreck my bike spoiling any chance of getting it back. Then there was my maroon coloured Conway Stuart fountain pen, nicked by someone in the third year of secondary school. I liked that pen, not that I hold grudges for long, but come on! And my PE kit, Mum was not very happy that I “lost” that, nor was I.
But nicking someone’s chimney on what is going to be a cold night is a bit rich. Perhaps the perpetrator could not afford a new one, so if I consider it a charitable, albeit involuntary, donation then it does not hurt so much. And it gives me chance to get a new one.
I put it out of my mind and fixed the leak. I ate diner and when darkness crept in decided that the boat was too cold and damp to stay so decided to ride home. It is quite peaceful to ride in the quiet and dark along the tow path following the small pool of light. The owls were calling to each other, now and then a sudden rustle told of birds or small mammals moving away from the path. The rush of water through the leaky locks showed as dull grey waterfalls down the gates. This all somewhat redressed the balance of the low point of finding the chimney gone.
Cycling in the dark, alongside a barely visible drop into deep cold water raises the senses. Of those senses the ability to feel the precise track of the bike, each bump and stone on the path, the sound of the tyre on the grit is so important yet familiar. When that suddenly feels like riding over deep raw pastry it only takes seconds to realise something else is not so good. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s two miles to home and yes the front tyre is flat. I had noticed this morning that the contractors had been out trimming the undergrowth. A thorn had gone through the side wall of the puncture resistant tyre.
Ahh well , worse things happen, a walk to a road to find better light, change the tube and pump it up and home again for a warm cuppa, and to order a new chimney. I think I will have chrome bands this time, save all that polishing, I might even lock it on.

Big drip

Soap operas and other serials rely on some version of the cliff hanger to get their viewers (East Enders, not a fan), readers (Dickens original publications, can be hard work) or listeners (The Archers, I only hear it because Radio Four happens to be on at the time, honest) to come back for the next instalment. That is not what I am up to with this little saga of water inside, as well as outside, of the boat. This is just an update on progress, hopefully the last you may say.
The potentially leaking window has been tackled. Vactan, the rust to iron converter, has been applied followed by red oxide primer and top coat Union blue. The paint now has to dry completely before the silicone sealant is, reluctantly, applied. The inside is gradually drying out and it has not been possible to see the source. So today I decide to carefully detach the wall panel nearest the window to confirm the source of the leak. Careful detachment is not how I could accurately describe the removal of the sheet of plywood that has been there for 35 years and built over by subsequent refits. Gentle persuasion, turned into assertive prising which ended up as aggressive ripping out. But at least I had the answer, the source of the water was not the window. There was very little dampness, which could probably be further decreased by changing the loose fitting one inch polystyrene sheet to two inch sheets that there was room for.
I had shifted the toilet to get the board out and back again so popped it on a vinyl sheet in case, for some obscure reason like me not tightening clips up, its plumbing dripped.
Finishing up I made some soup and was about to take a rest when I spotted water ousing from under the lower bunk. To be honest it was dark against the bare boards and looked like one of the scenes from a murder story where the victim’s blood is coming out of a packing case, for example Keeping Mum with Maggie Smith, do watch it if you get chance.
This time it must be the plumbing. Yes I hadn’t adequately re-tightened the supply. I switched off the valve, and got a wet hand. Ehh? The valve shouldn’t be wet, it was not leaking yesterday when I checked it. Turn – dry, turn – wet, turn – dry, wet, wet, dry. Oh I get it, an intermittent leak on the water supply that is there when you are not looking and is not there when you check it. So it has been slowly dripping for weeks, but when it was frosty and I isolated it, it got worse. It may even have been distorted by being frozen but did not want to own up to me that it was knackered.
Problem solved just pop a new valve in, dry the place up, and re-seal the window just in case.

Floored by the floor

Well the good news is that there is no visible water below the floor boards, in board that is. Thus the boat is not sinking, but where is the water coming from?
One technique that I was taught was to ask opposing questions such as: where is the water, where isn’t the water; when does the water appear, when does the water not appear; who is around when there is water, who isn’t around when there is water. So let me thy that.
The water was on the floor not the ceiling, it appeared when I wasn’t looking and can’t be seen if I don’t look, the water is there when I am and I haven’t got a clue if it is there when I am not, but I guess that it is. I don’t think that method has helped for this problem.

So I tried another technique, i.e. what had changed just before the problem occurred. Well it was OK six weeks ago and since then it has been frosty, rainy, windy, I had moved the boat and I accidentally left it unlocked for a few days. So it could have been a frozen pipe, rain driven in through a vent or leaky window frame. It could have been some strange form of vandalism where the only damage is several litres of water poured on the carpet. Nope that method didn’t help either.
What if I could see where the water was coming from? The problem is that when you have a big patch of water stretching to the side walls and that patch is under a vent and also the toilet plumbing it could have come from any of these directions, as long as they were down hill. I pressurised the water system, oh joy no leaks but no help either. I sat as it rained and looked for drips from the vents, no. I felt around the windows, no. Then I heard it, the unmistakable drip, drip of water. At last I was on to it, like a detective flowing the trail of clues. I stealthily followed the sound, hardly daring to breath. Near the window, no a bit further back, towards the back, near the door, somewhere just up the steps. I followed it, by now I was putting my head out of the door, this can’t be right. Somewhere over the side maybe. Pushing my head between the canvas canopy I looked along the side of the boat and saw the rain drip, dripping into the canal. Yes, a false trail again.
It’s no good, the source has eluded me this time. So tomorrow I am arming myself with a gun and intend to bung up every little channel and crack that I can see on the outside with silicone sealant. And if that doesn’t do it I may consider solving the problem by mooring the boat in a deep part of the canal and drilling a big hole to let the water out.

Ups and downs

I was looking at some ponies in a field on a very rainy and windy day. They just stood and bore the weather. Were they hoping that it would abate, were they thinking back to the sunny days just gone and looking forward to spring? Were they thinking anything or just reacting as a leaf reacts to the wind that blows it? I have no idea if animals have any concept of good days and bad, the ups and downs.
However I find it really makes a difference to try to balance the down days with the knowledge that all is relative to the good days, unless of course it is all very bad all of the time. I used to cycle in the fenlands, there were no hills to struggle up, but no glorious down hills to swoop carefree down. But even then there were head winds but turn around there were tail winds to push you back home.
I have never been a good hill climber on a bike therefore in Wales or the Lake district I frequently found myself wondering why or why was I struggling up another hill. The view from the top and the descent would briefly remind me, until I got to the bottom of the next incline.
So with the weather, day and night, summer and winter, rest and busyness there are natural balances, feasts and famines, the cycle of nature.
The rain this week needs to continue if we are not going to suffer a severe shortage for the canals, and everything else, in the south east this summer. So it has been quite pleasing to see it. On a dry day I spent some time along the tow path in my role as a Waterways chaplain, that is looking out to give what ever help we can offer. I finished by visiting the my boat for the first time in a couple of days. Taking my muddy bike shoes off on the rear deck I descended looking forward to getting warm and having lunch aboard. At the bottom of the steps inside my chilly feet immediately got colder on the mat. To be precise they got colder because they got wet. The mat was wet. The carpet tiles under the mat were wet. The floor boards under the tiles was wet. The the floor of the aft/stern/rear half of the boat was wet. Was it rain entering through a leaky window or driven in through a vent. Perhaps domestic water leaking after a frost? Maybe those old disused deck skin fittings letting water in, or a hole in the hull?
Oh well, lunch would have to wait and if it had been caused by a rainy day, at least there would probably be a dry day coming along when it could be fixed and dried out. I”ll change my socks first though.

January sun

Locking down towards the sun


Catkins, backlit, are draped as a pelmet above the path.

The brilliant white light of the sun’s reflection erupts from the dark pound waters which are cracked apart by parallel flashes of the ripples.

The winter brown of the woods is edged by the verdant green tow path edge and the sun fights a battle with the afternoon shadows made by the leafless trees.

Crunching footsteps of walkers are accompanied by the constant gush of whitened water leaking from the gates.

Against this background can be heard the first singing of a robin, staking his claim on the territory. And then the rattle of steel against steel, followed by familiar but unwelcome clanking as the paddles are raised. The gush is itself drowned by the torrent of white water, seemingly steaming and hissing in its haste to fill the lock. Once the lock has filled peace returns. The final eddies chase each other on the lock surface. The gates, with their darkened wet wood and bright white beam heave a sign of relief and begin to swing of their own volition.

And yes peace returns to this place where man has trod, not too heavy, on nature to bend it to his will. And oh that I could sing as that robin, not in conflict, but in thanks to all creation’s Creator.

Burning issue

Interior winter 2011_12

The topic of air quality is itself ‘in the air’. My boat like many others is fitted with a solid fuel burner which can burn wood or ‘smokeless fuel’. There are alternative ways to heat the interior, but which to choose.

Burning solid smokeless fuel releases CO2, sulphur and smoke particles. Burning dried wood, produced locally and in a sustainable manner does not add to CO2, but still adds to smoke pollution.

One could fit a diesel heater but that also emits CO2 but less smoke and I have no idea about the particle production.

One could fit a propane heater. That does not add to particles or smoke but propane is a fossil fuel and adds to CO2.

One also has to consider that the manufacture of a new heater adds to global warming.

There are two other options, one is don’t use the multi fuel stove, just switch the gas oven on and put up with the condensation, CO2 production and possible CO poisoning. The other is don’t use any form of heating, don an extra jumper,  feel cold, smug and miserable.

Do you remember Fagin’s song in the Oliver Twist musical .. “I am reviewing the situation”? The following is my version, though not a very close copy.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to heat my boat without the smoke

Coz Mr Gove says my stove

is bad and wood will have to go

so I can put in a gas burner

which burns a flame that is much cleaner

but uses up a fossil gas

which adds to all the carbon mass

and canals dry out for lack of rain ……

I think I’d better think it out again.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to heat my boat and still be green

By using local kiln dried wood

the carbon footprint can be good

but there is still a little smoke

on which the passers by may choke

instead of logs in my pile

should the trees be left a while

and leave the forests just the same? …..

I think I’d better think it out again.

I am reviewing the situation

On how to boat while being warm and green

If I don’t use a wood burn stove

I can then please Michael Gove.

If I just don another woolly

with all flesh covered fully.

But what about the frozen milk

and all the bugs to make me sick

and I’ll end up with aches and pain,

I think I’d better think it out again.