Sunday, 31 January 2016

Galley comes together

Boat refit nears completion.
January 2016

I have been pressing on with the boat refit for the last three months, squeezing in hours whenever time permits. One of the big benefits of mooring in Aldridge is that the boat is only 5 minutes from home so no long commute to the canal and back again.



As usual with fitting out a boat, nothing fits first time. At almost every stage I build it, offer it up, dismantle, adjust and only then fit it in! Its a long slow process but finally the end is in sight.

The core of the kitchen is only two base units with everything else being built from them on a bespoke basis. Because we are a bit taller than average, the work surface is about 6cm higher that it used to be. This 6 cm is important not just for our comfort but also it allows us to use deeper sinks with just enough height difference to flow down to the skin fitting. Not satisfied with one sink we opted for two, using the second sink in lieu of a draining board. The problem with the use of a conventional sink is making the waste water pipe reduce to the 1 inch outlet pipe. My challenge was assisted by a gas fitter friend who offered an array of conversion fittings for both waste and fresh water. A happy evening was spent assembling the bits and the end result was miraculously leak free!



While I was planning the kitchen we decided to include a filter unit purchased at last year's Crick Boat Show. Hopefully this will eliminate the need to rely on bottled water.

The saloon has been reconfigured onto an L shaped settee under which a 35L freezer has been installed ready to offer a store for fruit. The challenge will be to power it even with it's modest 21 amp hour consumption per day. I have plans to extend the battery bank supplemented with solar panels, but that phase is still in the future, not that there is any need for it in the depths of winter.

Another feature of the saloon is the back of the cross seat. As well as a raked seat back it is made of oak work surface and lifts up to make a huge U shaped galley - just right for preserve making.



The floor has also had the make over treatment. with 18mm oak planks laid on top of the 18mm ply which was beneath the old lino. We decided to continue the oak floor all the way back through the shower room, and very nice it looks too.

The project is to be rounded off with new co-ordinated seat cushions and curtains which have been ordered from Elite Furnishings in Tamworth. Delivery is scheduled for three weeks which will bring the whole project together.

All this effort has been driven by a pressing need at home. As well as the boat refit we are having a large extension which will mean no kitchen on two weeks. But that's another story...

Thursday, 7 January 2016

A chip off the old block

My new pen
January 2016

Way back in June we attended the Middlewich FAB Festival along with several other floating traders which included James and Debbie on nb Lois Jane, perhaps better known as The Pen makers Boat.



They make all their pens aboard and if the weather is kind James sets up his lathe on the back deck and you can see him turning the pens ready for sale.

I was very taken with the pens and particularly liked the fact that a series of the pens had been made from wood salvaged from the recent repairs to Birchills, the last wooden day boat built by Ernest Thomas in 1953.

Each pen has its own page on the Pen Makers website explaining when it was made and where the wood came from - all very lovely and personal.

I was busy enthusing and Helen, never one to miss a gift opportunity swooped in and bought the pen I was drooling over for a Christmas present. 

On the 25th of December I opened my gifts and had completely forgotten about the pen - a delightful surprise.

Thanks Helen!


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The coast of Northumberland

The Coast of Northumberland
Jan 2016

We spent the New Year with Friends in Northumberland during which time it rained - a lot!

To be fair, it was clear for New Year and threw in an amazing view of the Northern Lights, but we were asleep and missed it all....

When we were awake we spent our time exploring the coast between Dunstanburgh and Tynemouth, mostly seeing the North Sea in a wild turmoil.

New Years day was calm, with peaceful views on the harbour at Amble as we enjoyed some excellent sea food at the Old Boathouse.




Amble harbour

Then the weather turned ugly and huge waves were surging unto the beach as Seahouses.


Seahouses beach 

To thaw out we sampled some crab soup with soda bread at Craster, washed down with a very acceptable pint of Black Sheep.




Duly fortified we ventured down onto the beach at Dunstanburgh where the wind howled and the spray mixed with the rain which made for a very uncomfortable walk. Helen was determined to see the castle which is one of her favourite spots,  but thankfully settled for a distant view and we soon beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of the car.



To round off our coastal experience we had breakfast at Tynemouth, a seaside town next to Whitley Bay (minus the Spanish City). The restaurant on the beach is open every day except Christmas and is based on a bakery and therefore serves notable bread and cakes. Outside the storm continued unabated but even this was not enough to deter the hardy natives.





As we sat in the warm, safe behind the double glazed windows, outside there were dog walkers, keep fit groups, football teams training, kayakers and even an insane swimmer! Me, I like to take my storms sitting down in the warm!


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Barter Books

Barter Books
Jan 2016

Barter Books of Alnwick may not be the largest second hand bookshop in the country, but it must be one of the most unusual.

When we visit Northumberland we usually find ourselves at Barter Books which is housed in the Alnwick's old station. What is more, the owner is a railway enthusiast so the bookshelves are groaning with train related publications.






By was of a contrast, the inland waterways is diminutive to say the least - usually less than 20 books! That said, these slim pickings always seem to contain a gem.




When we were last there we took a lot of old books with us to trade in (hence the name) and used about £18 to buy a promotional brochure produced by the engineers who built the Foxton Inclined Plane.



One of the two overhead model railways

This time I picked up a copy of a book examining the Nutbrook Canal, one the the lost lines in Derbyshire. Its a fascinating book and one which will no doubt inform another "lost canal" walk in the near future.


Barter Books in festive mood

The range of books carried by Barter is immense and its well worth a visit if you are in the area. If books are not your thing the old waiting rooms house an atmospheric coffee shop complete with a real coal fire.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Book of Strange New Things - book review

The Book of Strange New Things
by Michel Faber
December 2015

I am struggling to categorise this rather excellent book. On the face of it is sci fi with the main action taking place on a distant outpost called Oasis but in reality its a hauntingly evocative book about faith and love.



The tale is set in the near future with Peter, the central character, transported billions of miles to Oasis to serve as a missionary to the indigenous population. He leaves behind him Bea, his wife with whom he corresponds by "shoot" which is a basic form of word only e-mail.

The imagery offered by Faber is exquisite and whilst the plot is slow the description is compelling and its as hard not to engage with this strange new planet as it is to put the book down. All the way through you are wondering what its all about and what lies behind the motivation of the shadowy organisation who manages the operation.

But in some ways the story line isn't about life on Oasis, or the strange inhabitants who are so hungry to hear the Gospel of Jesus, or indeed why satisfying this desire is so crucial to the non believing human colonists. In fact the real story is about the love between Peter and Bea which is stretched to the limits as the world at home falls to bits and the limits of their written communications cause their relationship to start to crack. There are times when you can hardly bear to read another of their missives as as everything comes unglued.

I always find it hard to read / watch stories of relationships failing, and the limitations of their written communication remind me of the stresses of maintaining our own long distance relationship before we married all those years ago. 

Whilst one party is set in sci fi land,  the tensions between the two central characters is very down to earth and reflects the pressures which exist where one party is removed for long periods of time - the armed forces come to mind.

Don't be put off by the Sci Fi veneer - thats just geography which allows Faber to explore faith set in different contexts. 

This is a "thinking" book with depth and gravitas - intensely gripping and good fodder for the book group.