Monday, 31 January 2011

It pays to have a Long Tail

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Keywords and Long Tails
Or: why are some post more poplar than others? 
January 2011

These dank days of mid winter offer few opportunities for time afloat and with Belle still recuperating, there is little scope for indulging in my usual wintertime canal fix courtesy of the abandoned routes of the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN).

But I am not alone in my frustration. I see that my fellow bloggers are busy casting around for material and Easter with it's warmer weather is still a long, long way away. Halfie has been scrutinising his blog statistics and working out which words in his titles attracted the most hits, even if many of the visits last for a mere zero seconds! I see that Jim of Starcross suggests a possible title of "Sex-change soap-star in mercy dash to royal corgi " which should bring in visitors by the truckload. An interesting thought.

All this electronic introspection got me thinking and digging into the science, or should I call it the black art, of Search Engine Optimisation.  Well, one has to do something to pass the time on long dark evenings!

An inspection of the Captain Ahab stats reveals my Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film review from 1st December 2010 as enduring popular, as is my much older post on Painting Narrowboats. So, a well searched title can create a big hitting post but perhaps the most surprising discovery is that the bulk of visitors lie in the Long Tail. Captain, I hear you cry, what in the name of all that is holy is a long tail?

Well, a bit of research has informed me that the long tail is the length of the list of words and combinations of words which have attracted hits when ranked in order popularity. In my case there seems to be strength in depth, with Captain Ahab attracting a steady stream of searchers regardless of how often I do new posts. It's sort of like having a steady demand for my back catalogue.

A bit more research into the landing pages suggest that the "reference library" effect is driven by the photography on which my blog is based. You see, whilst much of my waterways based writing has appeals to a very narrow audience, the rise of the Google image search function is the source of much traffic. I don't mind this, I love photography and if my images give pleasure to others that's fine with me. Perhaps the greatest buzz is when local Canal Societies contact me asking permission to lift them for publication in their own magazines or websites.

So maybe  it's not so much the regularity of posting which influences the hits, but more the variety of grouped keywords spread across the whole blog which delivers sustained popularity.

So allowing for all of the above, how many people do I thing follow the blog on a regular basis? Well, my best guess is no more than 50, but it's quality not quality which counts when it comes to friends. You know who you are!

So there you have it. A frank admission that Captain Ahab is endowed with a particularly impressive and well photographed Long Tail......... ; - )

Sunday, 30 January 2011

We won, we won, we won!

Jeff is on his way to Bournemouth
30th Jan 2011

After 18 months of agitating, trauma and ultimately litigation, Jeff has been awarded a place at the college of his choice in Bournemouth. Sound the church bells and put up the bunting, the world is good in Chateau Ahab today.




Jeff has been persistently ignored by our Local Authority since Sept 2009, who steadfastly refused to acknowledge their legal obligation to provide him with an education no matter how much we hassled and chased them. In the end we had to take the mater to a High Court Judge just to get them to acknowledge their responsibility and even then they did the bare minimum to grant us our legal right of appeal - which look a further six month. They never had any intention of making provision for him and it seems that they figured that if they ignored the problem long enough Jeff would get older, and the problem would just go away. 

I have to say that I can't speak lowly enough of Birmingham Council. The public outcry against them is utterly justified and the shambles which passes for a the public service in the UK's second city is deplorable. It's time to scrap the whole crumbling edifice and start again.

But enough of my rant against our Local Authority, today is a truly great day. After 18 months and God knows how many £10's of thousands of pounds sanity prevailed at Jeff's Educational Tribunal and he is embarking on the next chapter of his life. That smile hasn't left his face all day!

This is truly good news for Jeff but it does leave me without my ever available crew member for those "dodgy" trips which Belle is not so keen on. Hey ho - he will be back in the holidays.

But of course Jeff's departure offers a whole world of opportunity for Belle and myself. For the first time in 16 years we will have term times for ourselves, and that means the luxury of leisurely boating trips with just the two of us. Heaven!

Tussles and arguments remain between us and the Local Authority but the big hurdle has been crossed. Thanks to all of you that offers concern and support. Its been a tough couple of years but the end is in sight. Phew!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

127 Hours - film review

127 Hours
Film review
January 2011

Jeff and I seem to be into something of a run of films where the bulk of the action takes place in one location. First there was the lift in Devil, then the coffin in Buried and now its a bloke trapped in a canyon by a boulder.

127 Hours

I have been told that there are only about a dozen basic stories in the whole world, and each book / film reworks one of then in a new context. If so, what theme does 127 Hours follow? Answer: the common man faces a natural adversity and triumphs.

The plot line is simplicity itself really. A devil may care twenty something with a passion  for canyoning in Utah is introduced tearing across the desert on his mountain bike and then leaping down ravines with reckless abandon. All this comes to a shuddering halt when he slips down a big fissure and dislodges a boulder with proceeds to fall and trap his arm.

From the outset you know that this is a true story "about a bloke who cuts his own arm off", so how can they possibly make an absorbing film where the only character spends 90% of the time on his own with just a boulder for company?

I admit that I was sceptical but I shouldn't have been. You see, this film was directed by Danny Boyle who excels in turning unusual topics into compelling viewing. Think Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, 28 Days Later and Slumdog Millionaire, to name but a few. The bloke is a cinematic genius who's ability to tell a tale pulls which draws an audience rather than overpaid Hollywood stars.

The four days spent attached to the boulder are a clever mix of third party footage, "self shot" video and delirium induced flashbacks which fleshes out the character. In the end, with food and water gone, he resorts to the drastic option of a self amputation, all in glorious technicolour. One moment he is in a semi conscious dream scene with Dido singing at her ethereal best and the next it's jarring acid rock as he plunges a blunt knife into his own arm ending with crescendo achieved as he cuts through his main nerves. I don't know if it's all anatomically correct, but its certainly gripping stuff. Even worse was when he had to break each bone in his arm, an action which had the audience groaning and clutching at their own appendages!

In true "real life" style, the hero escapes and survives to tell the tale, but only by the skin of his teeth. What's more, he emerges a better man and the film concludes with a single message to the audience :

If you go into the wilderness alone, at least leave a note saying where you are going.


Its a surprise winner in the Ahab chart - well worth a look if you are not too squeamish.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

What's a hammerfor?

Captian Ahab takes a dip
January 2011

There's an old joke that goes "what's a hamerfor? - for banging in nails with of course!".

My pinhead hammer got me into a world of trouble at the weekend. I had been busy finishing the fitting of the new cooker in Wand'ring Bark and had packed up my tools ready to leave. They were all in my big toolbox which I hauled out of the well deck but as I tugged it under the cratch cover by favourite pinhead hammer spun into the canal next to the bows of the boat.

That's where I should have left it but the water was quite shallow and I could see it sitting on the bottom with the hickory handle floating straight up by the base plate. H'mm I thought, I could reach down and get that.

I stripped off all my upper clothes and laid down on the jetty and reached down through a thin layer of ice into the gin clear water below. The depth was deceptive but I was so close to the handle. I shifted my position and reached down again - just reaching it this time with the tips of my rapidly numbing fingers. Having got it I lifted it to my mouth and swung myself back up again, or at least that is what I intended to do. But instead of my torso rising my legs went up into the sky and my head went down into the ice. I hovered there, see sawing up and down but all the time slipping oh so slowly off the jetty.

Time to panic. One minute I was fine and the next I was sliding head first into an ice filled marina - help! This hanging in the balance experience felt like ages, but it was probably only a few seconds. One thing was sure - the £6 hammer wasn't worth it so I opened my mouth and let it drop back into the water. Whilst one arm was on the jetty the other was unsupported and there was only the smooth bows of the boat on the other. I scrabbled vainly for a grip on the rubbing strakes but to no avail. Finally, with my torso gaining a downward momentum I grabbed the little projection which supports the bow fender and levered myself up just before my icy fingers lost their grip.

In the event I emerged with nothing worse than a cold arm, scratched fingers and bruised ribs - and a certain loss of personal pride. So all is well that ends well.

But it made me think about how difficult situations rush up on us when we least expect them. How we can unwittingly place ourselves at risk when a moments prior reflection would have told us to step back. It reminded me of a retired lady on the Thames who was preparing to enter the water near a reservoir inflow to save her dog. Luckily, we came along and hauled it out with a boat hook from the safety of the stern cockpit, thus saving the day and quite probably the lady's life.



One minute we are fine and the next we are at real risk of death. It makes you think how fragile our grasp on life really is. More on that subject in a few days when I review the film 127 Hours.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Next Three Days - film review

The Next Three Days 
Film Review
January 2011

An unusual and compelling thriller starring Russell Crowe.



At its core its an "common man thrown into uncommon circumstances" film.

Russell Crowe is a teacher, husband and father whose wife is falsely imprisoned for murdering her boss. His wife doesn't fare well in prison, becoming suicidal when all hope of an appeal is lost. Its at this point he realises drastic action is needed - to break his wife out of a high security prison and then escape into obscurity for ever.

So how does a school teacher go about this task? How would you? I won't spoil the story by explaining what happened but there are many twists and turns and it's not always clear if its all a grand plan or if he is winging it and making it up as he goes along.

The film is as believable as it is gripping, dragging you into an intricate plot with special effects kept to a minimum. Possibly the funniest line is a discussion between policemen who, having discovered that he is driving a Prius ask "what sort of criminal mastermind drives a Prius? One with a social conscience I suppose!"

In the end good triumphs over evil and the guy gets the gal, which is just the way it should be.

This is a surprise find and well worth a watch. 



Sunday, 23 January 2011

Nostalgic for British Waterways?

How long till we look back with fondness on "the BW years"
January 2011

Its funny how time changes things.

For all the 40 years I have been associated with the canals BW have played the part of the villain, disliked, resented and vilified. Not many boaters chose to paint their historic craft in BW colours. 

But now that is all set to change. BW is making way for the new charitable body and they are casting around for a new name. This change will take effect from 2012 and by a strange stroke of coincidence it was created by in 1962, and British Waterways therefore existed for exactly half a century. How long before a book is written called " The BW Years - a nostalgic retrospective".

50 years is a long time by any standard - representing about 20% of the total span of time since thecanals were first dug. I wonder how BW will be remembered? Hero or villain? To be fair to BW they have had guardianship of the  system during its most vulnerable period, entering at is lowest ebb when commercial carrying was on its knees and leisure boating was hardly out of its nappies. 

What a difference five decades make. In 1962 is was all about the decline of carrying and now its all about leisure and amenity, both on the canal and along its fringes. The idea of closures is met with an emphatic "over my dead body" response, and talk is now of wider stakeholders, including walkers, cyclists and fishermen. Sure they have made mistakes and could have done more, but at least they are leaving the system in better heart then when they first acquired it.

Do you know what? - I am missing them already!

So they want a new name for the next fifty years. My money is on The Waterways Trust, who  had better brace themselves for a torrent of vitriol which will migrate from one governing body to another as surely as night follows day.

Friday, 21 January 2011

British Canals - book review

British Canals
by Charles Hadfield

There are some books, like the Bible, that you know that you really should make an effort to read, and British Canals is one of them.



This is the master volume of a series published by David and Charles and within its 300 pages it covers the canals right from their inception, through their climb to prosperity and back down through their decline to the creation of the British Waterways Board in 1962. 

The book was first published back in 1950 but the copy I bought from Barter Books is Edition Three, published in 1970. Its therefore fair to say that the historical account ends almost exactly where my own association with the inland waterways of Britain starts, so its a neat fit.

Whilst the history of the canals construction is interesting, it is information I am very familiar with. What was new to me was the analysis of the period from the mid 1800's to the 1940's, charting the interaction with the railways and the ultimate demise of commercial carrying. I hadn't appreciated how much trade remained on the waterways in the form of local traffic after the long haul trade has ceased.

We are all familiar with the shape of today's system, and aware of the bits which have been lost. But until I read this book I had little appreciation of the routes which could so easily have been built, given a slightly different set of circumstances. 

For nearly a hundred years great minds and committees pondered how to revitalise the canal network, making the 18th century transport network relevant to the needs of the 20th century. Questions of competition with railways raged and the possible benefits of canal improvements discussed. In the end even the smartest brains couldn't find an economic benefit to developing the canals and so the book charts the decline into dereliction. To my mind the real miracle is the fact that so much of the network survived at all.

The book is focused completely on the commercial aspect of the canals and I had to conclude that scope for a system entirely devoted to leisure wasn't even on the horizon. There was certainly no mention of the amenity value of the towpaths on which today's canals rely so heavily.

This is no light read, and has been on my reading pile for the last four months as I have dipped in and out from time to time. Its a book packed with fact and figures and if you only ever buy one canal reference book this is the one to buy.


ISBN 7153 4863 9.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Something's cooking aboard Wand'ring Bark

Fitting the new cooker
19th January 2011

I started fitting the new cooker, bought from Moore 2 Life, way back in November. I stated by stripping out the old Vanette hob and oven and opening up the cavity ready to receive the new, bigger cooker.

Whilst the old one works well enough, Belle has been complaining about the diminutive size of the old oven for years, and been angling for something better. The trouble is that new boat cookers are really expensive and we never seem to have the money to spare. We were therefore delighted to acquire a used Stoves cooker - it just needed fitting.

The course of carpentry never runs smoothly and whilst I crafted a suitable sized recess for it to sit in, Belle's accident and the ice caused a total cessation of work. It just lay there for two months and I have only now started to get it fitted in. Reverse engineering something into a existing kitchen is always problematic and this is no exception. 

The cavity floor had to be altered twice, an electrical supply laid on, the work top cut out, and a new fascia added to fit the front. In and out it went, at times looking like Eeyore putting a burst balloon into his useful pot (you need to know your AA Milne to get that!).

Finally it is in and very nice it looks too, but right now its as much use as a chocolate tea pot. It needs connecting to the gas supply and I cant do that myself. The old cooker used two small pipes and this needs one large one. Time to call in the experts I think!

I may be something of a Handy Andy but I do know when to let someone else take over.

Monday, 17 January 2011

How to see into a woman's head

Guaranteed insight into the head of the fairer sex
17th Jan 2011

Isn't every man's  dream? To be able to see into the head of women?

Women are strange and mysterious creatures and what goes on in the innermost reaches of their heads is a mystery to us mortal men. Well I happen to have stumbled across a way of peering into this zone, to boldly go where no man has gone before....

Let me show you:


X ray of Belle's face


This is the inside of Belle's head. It's spooky to think we have lived and loved  together for nearly 25 years and this is the first glimpse I have had at what lies behind a pretty face.


Actually they are the X rays taken immediately after her accident and you can see how the bottom of her right eye socket (from her perspective) had been shattered. All very gory stuff and maybe there are some things its better never to see at all.


Getting up Belle's nose


My apologies for the quality of the images. They were provided on disc and this is a digital photo of the laptop screen. And yes, she has got a lot of fillings!


Thanks for all your concern. After two lots of reconstructive all the "bony" repairs are deemed to be good and now we have to wait for a further month to see how things are when the swelling has gone down. At the moment she has double vision and blurryness in the damaged eye, but its too soon to tell what the final outcome will be.



Saturday, 15 January 2011

An accumulation of problems

An accumulation of problems
15th Jan 2011

Belle's injury has meant a bit less time pottering around on the boat and some of those winter jobs are getting left undone.

Take the accumulator. It has been weeping all year and was probably damaged in last year's frosts, but the wet floor was attributed to the water hose which sat on top of it. Finally, by leaving the hose outside in the well deck I realised that the fault lay with the accumulator, with water seeping out from the central seam.

The situation worsened during the big freeze and a new one was ordered from the internet - exactly the same model for £20. I had hoped that as the fittings were the same that I could simple unscrew the old unit and screw the new one on in it's place. Simples!

Why is nothing ever that easy! The old threaded joints wouldn't sit tight and both dripped. Because the old hose has been jubilee clipped on for 10 years the pipes were welded to the joints so had to be cut off - shortening the water pipe available. All this then meant re-siting the water pump to get shorten the gap and allow the abridged pipes to reach.

We took the old accumulator apart out of interest and it was horrible. 
1. There was no pressure so it was serving no purpose. The lack of pressure may have been causing the leak so I will test the pressure annually in future. 
2. The insides were full of the most horrible slime- and this leads straight to the taps. It's all very well having special water hosing but it's no good if the accumulator is a breeding ground for every slime loving bacteria known to man. 

I put it all together and guess what both joints still dripped when under pressure. I hate plastic threaded fittings! So there was no option but to dismantle the whole thing and take it home and see what I could do on the bench. Of course, I forgot to open the taps first and was soaked by an exploding accumulator full of pressurised icy water! Oh how Jeff laughed....

Just as I was about to give up Jeff piped up with an idea. Cannibalise some of the old fittings, add some insulation tape to the thread on place of pfte tape, tighten it all up in the cabin and if successful, ram the ends of the pipes on in situ.  The lad is a genius, it all tightened up ok and when re assembled it held water when under pressure.

Well, if it works leave well alone - that's what I say - so hopefully that is "job done".

Note to self - add checking accumulator pressure to autumn service schedule.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Chellaston Walk - Swarkestone (again)

Chellaston Walk - Swarkestone (again)
January 2011

After Barrow upon Trent the circular walk hugs the north bank, following open fields and offering great views over the unnavigable River Trent.



 Swarkestone Bridge - River Trent

The Trent was carrying a lot of fresh but because the river is so shallow the water flows very fast, with its gurgles and slurps clearly audible from the bank. Its hard to imagine longboats making their way up as far as Burton, but apparently they did. Its quite amazing that there was resistance to the construction of the Trent and Mersey - its an unpromising stretch of water for a navigation.

Fast flowing River Trent

A mile or so downstream you come to Swarkestone Road bridge, carrying the A514 to Stanton  by Bridge. This point marks the end of the river section and time to cross over into Church Lane complete with a row of £ half million houses, each with its own river view. 



This lane leads round to yet another St James church, less ornate than Barrow upon Trent, an old estate church for Swarkestone Hall, built in 1630 and destroyed in 1746, before the construction of the canal. The church graveyard contained two sad memorials, one to a 20 year old girl called Ethel Osborne who died along with two of her friends in the River Derwent over a hundred years ago. Her memorial includes a stunning statue.



A sadder grave lay alongside Ethel - Holly. This was a simple wooden cross which remembered a baby girl who was "born asleep" in October 2010. Somehow this simple marker had a profound effect on Both Tilly and myself and we left the churchyard quietly and with respect for the loss experienced by Holly's family. Such a tragedy to see a life lost before it even began. 

The Pavilion, Swarkestone

Swarkestone Hall may be gone, but The Pavilion in its grounds lives on. This was built as a pavilion for a bowling green, restored by the Landmark Trust and used by the Rolling Stones as a photo shoot for Beggars Banquet album cover. But if you really like this stunning building you can occupy it for yourself - its rented out as holiday accommodation.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Chellaston walk - Barrow upon Trent

Chellaston Walk
Barrow upon Trent
January 2011

Barrow upon Trent represents a high point on this walk and beg about half way round was a suitable place to pause for a chilly lunch.



Its a lively little village complete with a pub, a modern school and a church. The village itself dates back to the Domesday Book and there are plenty of old buildings to look at.






Yesterdays post showed The Row which sits at the centre of the village, close to the old school which was built in 1843 and still bears the crumbling school coat of arms above its doors.



Lodge House is an interesting whitewashed building, sitting at the main cross roads, a short distance from the old Methodist Chapel, now a private dwelling sitting on arches to lift it above the flood plain.



St Wilfreds parish church sits towards the river and its wall offered a seat for our picnic. It wasn't long before we got cold so we grabbed a few quick photos before setting off down the cul de sac, past Manor Court, a small complex of flats built for retired Methodist ministers. I can think of worse places to spend my retirement.



Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Chellaston Walk - Trent and Mersey

Chellaston Walk 
Trent and Mersey section
January 2010

We left the walk at Swarkestone Lock, staring at thick ice which even after a week of thawing was still three or four inches thick.

Iced in boats at Swarkestone

The surface of the water is unblemished by cracks so its clear that no boats have passed along the canal since the cold arrived nearly two months ago. Beneath the ice all the sediment has settled and the canal is now gin clear, giving an unimpeded view of thee the debris which litters the bed.

Impassable Trent and Mersey

The walk continues up the towpath for about a mile and a half, only leaving the Trent and Mersey at the third bridge near Sinfin. Here you cross over the railway line giving fine views of the cooling towers of the mothballed Willington power station. 

Willington cooling towers

Then you carry on down a lane till you get to a couple of steel gates with a stile to the left which gives access to an indistinct path over meadowland. Hold fast to the right of the fields and you find yourself approaching Barrow upon Trent, a pretty little South Derbyshire village with a cluster of Parish Council owned cottages at its heart called either The Row or The Pinfold. This used to be a fenced area to hold cattle.

The Row, or The Pinfold - Barrow upon Trent

Monday, 10 January 2011

Chellaston circular walk - Swarkestone

Chellaston Circular Walk
Swarkestone
January 2010

As  I said yesterday, in these ice bound times one has to take ones waterways fix wherever you can.

I was out and about with Tilly at the weekend and with the temperature hovering at a benign plus two we decided to take a walk, followed by cinema, followed by a meal out. The question was where? Having explored the Cromford Canal followed by the Nottingham Canal I have been itching to have a look at the Derby Canal and the associated Nutbrook Canal. The trouble is that the line fro Swarkestone looks a little dull and I don't want to bore Tilly too much.



My on line research brought me to the Discover Derby website and its pages on the Chellaston Walk. This is a 4.5 mile walk which takes in the southern end of the Derby Canal, then west along the Trent and Mersey for a mile or so before crossing over to Barrow upon Trent and then following the river path to the A514 road bridge and finally back to Chellaston.


Line of the Derby Canal

This proved to be a very varied walk, full of interest and rarely out of sight of a waterway past or present. Its one to savour so I will take a few days to roll out my account of this waterway based path.

Swarkstone moorings

The start is next to Chellaston School, down a path and out to an estate at the far end, diagonally crossing a meadow as you approach the busy A50. Here you cross a stream on a wooden bridge before passing under the A50 in an oversize culvert, presumably built to accommodate a reconstructed Derby Canal using a step down lock.

Swarkestone Lock

The line of the empty Derby Canal between Swarkestone Lock and the A50 appears in perfect condition - just needing a bit of weeding and a drop of water. The towpath has been developed into a cycleway and having seen its great condition it is clear that the best way to explore the full length is on two wheels. After a few hundred metres you come to a classic canal bridge which contains an earth bund followed by water and the boats of the Swarkestone Boat Club - the ice bound Trent and Mersey. 

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Sherborne Wharf, Birmingham

Sherborne Wharf
Birmingham
9th Jan 2011

If I can't go boating because of the ice, at least I can go and get an indirect watery fix by taking a wander around Sherborne Wharf. 



Sherborne Wharf and Gas St Basin are all within a 15 minute walk from my office, and with the weather warming up a bit I thought I would go and take a look. Whilst all the canals outside the city centre are still covered by a thick layer of ice, the warmth of the built up area has speeded up the thaw, returning the cut to its usual liquid form. This has left the moored boats gently bobbing on their moorings.

 nb's Caxton and Matilda Rose

As I making way past the northern end of the Sherborne loop I realised I was passing nb Caxton, which has been iced in for about six weeks. Whilst the boat seemed to be deserted I knocked on the roof and was delighted to discover that Joe was home - who promptly invited me in for a mug of tea and a good old natter. 

All in all a wander round the city centre waterfront plus 30 minutes with a fellow blogger was an excellent antidote to my waterways blues. Who knows, maybe the thaw will continue and we can all get moving again in the next few weeks.  

Joe - thanks for your hospitality.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Saul Adam - book review

Saul Adam
by John Poole

Saul Adam, a delightful period book published in 1973 but set in the 1840's.




The book follows Adam Black from Saul in his water borne travels from a base in Gloucester. Normally this was aboard nb Venus, which ventured to the upper Thames via the Cotswold Canal to the east and up to the Midlands via the Worcester Birmingham and Staffs and Worcester Canals. At other times he crewed Severn Trows down the turbulent Severn to Newport and Bristol.

But this is by no means an exclusively boat book. The waterways serve as a communication thread which links the book together, facilitating the gentle romance between Adam and Ellen, his bride to be, a farmers daughter in the village of Bisley. Whilst the book is a treasure trove of boating information it also covers great swathes of information about rural life in the mid 1800's.

This worth reflecting on where John Poole was coming from then he wrote this book. By profession he was an engineer and by the looks of it, an avid local historian with an interest in the area around Brinscombe Port where he lived. It would appear that he accumulated a huge body of historically accurate information which was loosely linked into a storyline. This looseness is best illustrated when Ellen set off to seek approval from the bridesmaid's father, a tiler. The book veers into a four page explanation about the construction of the local tithe barns, and again when a local farmer ran from the law to hide in a water mill. Several pages were used to explain how a mill works and, interestingly, that when a millstone is dressed the grooves radiate out following the direction of the sun. Unnecessary to the plot, but fascinating.

If you are hungry for plot the book may leave you cold but if you are looking for an insight into how life was lived 150 years ago, it's asides are a veritable treasure trove.

This book was lent to me by Chris of nb Nebulae, who is aware of my interest in old boating books. Chris, thanks - this one was a real gem.


ISBN 9501544 5 8

Friday, 7 January 2011

At Risk - Book Reviews

At Risk
By Patricia Cornwell

Win Garano, a Massachusetts forensic investigator is called back to base by a ballsy and politically ambitious boss to spearhead her latest high profile DNA based crime initiative, At Risk.



She thinks she has found a suitable 20 year old cold case to profile the technology and sets Win in the trail. Of course, things take a strange twist the the apparent manipulator becomes the manipulee, what was clear becomes opaque and all certainty is lost.

It's a while since I last read Cornwell and this 20p purchase from my hairdresser's charity basket offered an opportunity to reacquaint myself with an old friend, author the the much loved Kay Scarpetta series. It's a short book at just over 200 pages and within the first 20 I was hooked into an easy read story. The plot trotted along, engaging without being taxing, reaching a very satisfactory climax with a decent twist in the tail.

You get what you expect with Patricia Cornwell. She may not offer high literature but she is a consistently good storyteller, which is no bad thing for a crime writer who seeks to entertain rather than educate.

Good book, but no classic. As it says on the dust jacket "forget the pretenders. Cornwell reigns."

ISBN 978-0-7515-3871-7

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Associate - book review

The Associate
by John Grisham

Its not long ago I reviewed another John Grisham book, The Broker, and I gave it a really hard time. So you may be surprised to see me reviewing another of his books, I must be a glutton for punishment!



Belle bought The Associate as part of a three for the price of two deal and quietly added it to my pile of potential reading matter. After my disappointment with The Neon Rain last month I felt drawn to the synopsis on the flyleaf - and I'm so glad I was. The book is great, terrific, a real page turner, Grisham at his very best.

Maybe the plot of a young Associate in one of America's largest law firms is a journey back to old familiar territory covered in the likes of The Client and The Pelican Brief, but that's ok if the tale is strong - and it is.

Take one of the brightest graduates of Yale with a shadow in his past, who is blackmailed into industrial espionage on a grand scale and you have a compelling book. The tale zips along, clear and uncomplicated, with the key character in what seems to be a no win situation. But we all know that good wins over evil and he will escape the clutches of the bad guys, but how?

The alarming thing is that no solution is on the horizon as the end of the book approaches, and one gets increasingly concerned that the pages will run out before the story runs its course. 

This book doesn't end with a big showdown or a huge chase, in fact it almost ends with a whimper, with the baddies fading away in the harsh light of justice. But that's fine - at the time I thought "what an anti climax" but then as I reflected on it, the subtlety of the solution was iimpressive and all the ends were neatly tied up. An unusual end which is very credible and believable.

All in all an exceptional book which held my attention and I had a thirst to read on. I finished it in a single week which is something of a record whilst not on holiday.

And my Ahab rating - a well justified 9/10

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Skidby Mill

Skidby Mill
5 January 2010

Our sub zero wanderings in Hull also took us to Skidby Mill, another favourite structure near Belle's parents home.



The mill was closed but there was nothing to stop us going into the grounds to take a look. This old windmill has been restored to working order, complete with new sails, arms and wooden walkway. They even grind corn here which makes great wholemeal bread.




Perhaps the most evocative thing about the mill workings is the machinery and the smell of the corn,  identical to the sounds and smells of my fathers old grain mill.



Skidby Mill stands tall and proud on its hill near Beverley, a fantastic landmark and a great restoration project.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Humber Bridge

Humber Bridge
January 2011

We spent our Christmas in Hull, with Belle trying hard to get over her operation.

Humber Bridge from Hessle foreshore

The temperature never even flickered near zero on the east coast, so we took a stroll along the Hessle foreshore in a bracing minus three with the wind sweeping in over a frigid Humber Estuary. This is a favourite spot, with the mighty Humber bridge reaching out over the swirling waters to the low hills of North Lincolnshire a misty mile and a bit away to the south. There is something quite humbling about these mega structures.


                                                    Humber Bridge - with telephoto lens

This was also an excellent opopportunity to give the new telephoto lens a workout. The results delighted me, with the misty shots of the far tower brought within my range for the first time.


Humber Bridge - north tower

There were no boats on the move, but who would venture out on a day when icebergs were sliding past on an ebb tide?