Sunday, 29 July 2012

A great day out

It was shame that Jess, Rose and Emily couldn't make our day out but we spent a very pleasant few hours with Ben, Suzanne, Jack and James, and Matthew and Sally (quite a boat load).


Matt and  Ben both had a go at the helm and did a great job navigating the Ouse and Old West Rivers and the ladies enjoyed chatting in the sun at the pointed end but, for me, it was great to get together to catch up on things. It doesn't happen very often these days as everyone is so busy.

Anyway, it was a great day out and I hope we can do it again - soon.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

James the Second Grandson

Kay and I are baby sitting young James for a couple days so we are staying close to home.

During his sleeping periods, which are frequent and fairly long (a family trait I'm told), I have been experimenting with an old pressure gauge - let me explain. I picked up a 1960's brass pressure gauge for next to nothing and, at the same time, bought a quartz clock movement and a set of hands. The gauge looked a bit like this one. The face is the one behind it...

I downloaded a nice clockface off the internet, printed it at the right scale, put the whole thing back together and bingo, we now have a really great looking brass wallclock for the boat (to match the barometer).

I might have a go at doing a few more. You never know, it might turn into a cottage industry. Orders are now being taken!

Now, I must listen for James, he might wake up in the next hour or two.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Orford Ness

Last week, to fill the hours before the new netbook arrived, Kay and I went over to Orford Ness on the Suffolk Coast. It is a vast shingle spit owned by the National Trust. For the previous 100 years it was used for various highly secret experiments into radar, aerial bombing and even testing nuclear bomb detonators. These were tested to destruction to make sure they could cope with all the heat, cold, vibrations, etc that they may be subjected to during their trip to wherever they might have to go.

When the military closed the site, they 'surface cleansed' the site of unexploded ordnance and stripped out all the buildings. They didn't go below the surface and there are probably tons of uxb's still to be discovered.

Now, the Ness is a nature reserve and visitors are told to stay on the designated paths for obvious reasons and the buildings are usually out of bounds too. However on the day we visited, many of the buildings were open to show off a few bits of commissioned works of art (not my cup of tea) but it was fascinating to see inside the experimental labs, etc.

It's an amazing place and only a visit will do but I attach few photos to give you a flavour.

Spooky, or what?

The umbrella gets tested

Designed for both rain and shine, today it was subjected to the hottest day of 2012 so far. I was pleased with it but may have looked a little odd lurking under a large umbrella with two open flaps. A few people commented positively, others just looked and made no comment. Anyway, I was pleased. I don't particularly want to test it in the rain but I'm sure it will do just as well.

The other day, I found a poker stand. Apparently, when people had coal fires, some of them decided ity would be good to stand their pokers on a little metal stand. This one wi in the shape of a grinning cat - a really must have item. Just right for standing the pointed end of the brolly in...

The netbook also arrived. It's taking a few days to get used to the new operating processes and the smaller keyboard and screen but I'm sure it won't take too long.

Today, I spent a few hours on the boat, not only testing the brolly but taking it for a spin into Ely. This is to make sure the batteries are topped up and the herds of spiders are disturbed. My son Ben is back from Afghanistan for a couple of weeks and we are baby sitting grandson number 2 (James) for 2 days. Then, on Saturday, we are entertaining Ben and his whole family on Skylark. Fingers crossed that summer will last until then.

A fab photo of the River Great Ouse today...lots of people enjoying the hot weather, both on and off the water (well, there were a few more people than I'd seen before).

And another...

Monday, 16 July 2012

An expensive few days

My recent search for a new umbrella (to replace my lost one) was based on 3 main aims - it had to be large enough to protect me and my capacious rear hatch, really waterproof and robust enough to withstand driving wind and rain. I focussed on Ebay for ideas. It soon became obvious that a typical garden or patio umbrella would not be up to the job, being more suited to sunny situations. A hand held brolly would be too restrictive. So something else was needed.

It was not long before I hit on fishing umbrellas. These achieve all my aims and range from simple second hand ones for a few quid (usually collection only) to more expensive new ones from dealers.

I opted for a secondhand one (only used a couple of times) but one that would retail at the higher end of the market. It's green (colour is an important consideration), big and strong. The seller said it was for collection only but I got her to agree to send it.

It's called the 'Nash Peg One'. It has the added benefit of having two zipped flaps at the back for ventilation or to push your landing net or pole out of. As I don't have either of these things, I think the ventilation option will be useful and it might help to see through when the umbrella needs to be set at a low level. I'll report on this once I have set it up on the boat. If it fails to do what I want, I'll either sell it, use it in the garden or take up angling.

I'll try and paste a photo in. Here goes......

The laptop took a bit longer to sort out. Having had a computer for many years at work (my first one took up a whole room), I wondered if there might be other options now that my time is my own. My son Matt, the RAF's key communications expert, suggested I looked at Tablets and Notebooks.

The Apple iPad, appeared to be world leader in the tablet field and looked like a good yard stick but it was expensive and tended more towards social networking. I was not sure I could get on with the limited functionality of tablets, the touch keyboard and lack of USB points (do I sound like I know what I'm talking about yet?).

Matt suggested I look at notebooks (also called netbooks) as they fit somewhere between tablets and laptops. The Samsung NC110 stood out as a leading product, being well designed, sturdy, high spec. and much cheaper than you would think. The addition of a 2GB RAM thingey (£10) to replace the built in 1GB RAM seemed a good option as this would make it run much faster. I decided I could do with one of those. 

I feel another photo opportunity coming on...

NP-NC110 1 Front

To me, it looks like any other laptop but, if you look at the reviews on Youtube, you will see it's quite small - only about 10" wide. This makes it easy to transport in your handbag or in a large pocket. Apparently it has a bright 10" screen, traditional 'island' keys, about 10 hours of battery life between charges and lots of places to plug stuff into. I placed my order yesterday on Amazon (the cheapest supplier with free P&P) and am now sitting in eager anticipation.

BTW, my last phone at work was a Samsung G2 with an android screen (I think it was called). This was really good, not only as a mobile phone but it also had GPS (useful to find my way to the office and back home), a good camera, and lots of apps to help fill the hours during the day. I heard Samsung had either overtaken Blackberry or was on the point of doing it, so this must mean a lot in terms of what you get for your money.  

I experienced another expensive outing today. Kay and I popped into the county town of Ipswich (not yet a city I hear) to get her a new lilo for our planned camping holiday with the rellies next month. Her last lilo failed the 'What happens if I put it on this rough ground next to the tent to top up my sun tan' test.

So a visit to Millets left me £10 poorer but left Kay with a big smile on her face from ear to ear - easily pleased or what?

So, as I said, it's been an expensive few days.

One hundred hours service

We had a few days away last week with the intention of exploring the three Cambridgeshire Lodes (medieval for waterway). They are found just off the River Cam near the Five Miles from Anywhere pub and take you to Wicken Fen National Nature Reserve, and the small villages of Burwell and Reach.

As we left Lazy Otter, I had an immediate problem of blanket weed around the prop so this forced a stoppage. Ten minutes later, the same, and then again a few minutes later. If this was proving to be a problem on the Old West River then I guessed the narrower, shallower Lodes would be worse so, when we arrived at Popes Corner, we turned left and went down to Ely. The River Great Ouse was reasonably clear of the weed but we stayed well away from the edge and any floating rafts of weeds. I can't say if the weed problem is better or worse than previous years but I guess the problem is linked to the continued high run off of nutrient rich water from the fields. If you know different, please let me know.

Anyway, being in Ely made it easier for Mick to get to us for our first 100 hr service. He changed the oil and its filter, and the fuel filter, and tightened various nuts including the jubilee clips on the calorifier that appeared to be causing the leak in the stbd bilge. The service was very straight forward and didn't throw up any problems.

On Thursday, we invited my parents, brother and girlfriend for another trip up the river. The weather promised to be the best of the week and it actually came up trumps. We pootled up to the quiet Goba moorings about 3 miles south of Ely and had a very English picnic on the sun-drenched bank.

On our third morning in Ely, we received an official brown envelope from the East Cams District Council, delivered by air mail - well, to be honest, it was thrown through the air by the ECDC car park inspector from the riverside into our forward deck. The accuracy of her throw suggested she was very experienced at throwing things at offenders. Anyway, the letter formally advised us of the 48hr Byelaw and, because we had now overstayed our welcome (or words to that effect), we had to leave 'forthwith'. So, knowing when we were not wanted, we left, forthwith. We had planned to leave anyway but might have spent a few more hours and pounds in the town.

A personal view now: Coming from a local government background myself, I know it can be very frustrating for Council Officers when they find disreputable members of the public flagrantly disregarding local byelaws but when confronted by a couple of respectable, retired people trying to spend a few hours relaxing by the river in their narrowboat, it would have been nice if she had had the courtesy of speaking to us. I wouldn't have been awkward or difficult, in fact I would have been quite understanding and compliant. It could also be argued that, rather than developing her overhand reverse finger slingshot technique of delivering bad news, she might have found another way to get job satisfaction, ie talking to the punters! Perhaps more time should be spent swatting up on the Council's Customer Care Policy rather than its Byelaw Compliance Policy - staff and councillors might find there are more benefits for all concerned. End of personal view.

Our journey back to Lazy Otter was on the damp side, confirming my view that I needed to get a large umbrella to replace the one that floated off the other day.

If that was not bad enough (you have to realise, I don't have to deal with many problems now!), when I got home I found my laptop had developed a terminal problem with its screen, which meant, amongst other things, I could not download my photos. So, during the next few days I spent a significant amount of time researching both a new umbrella and a lap top.

My next post will explain how I got on. BFN.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A break in the rain

As there were only a couple of sports events on TV today - the British Grand Prix from Silverstone and the World Tennis Championships from Wimbledon - I thought I would pop over to see how Skylark was getting on.

My main worry was not knowing if the water levels had changed much during the recent rain storms and if the ropes had tightened or loosened up. The last thing I want is to find her hanging from her moorings or drifting towards her neighbours. As it happened, the bow and centre ropes were all tickety boo and everything else was just as we had left them last week.

My aim was to spend most of the day pottering in the engine room. I turned the engine on the boost the batteries but after about 30 minutes the engine over-heated so I topped up the coolant with a further 2 litres or so. This will be dealt with when Mike does the 100 hr service.

My first job was to fit the small wooden seat I'd fabricated to enable me to sit of the edge of the hatch as we're going along without creating two tram lines in my arse. Job done.

Once that was sorted out I turned to the new boat hook and found that the existing small barge pole was exactly the right diameter. Lucky or what? It was then just a simple task of cutting a groove with a saw and then trimming the end down to match the brass hook. 

Step one: measuring up and making the first cuts

Step two: forming the taper.

Step three: Ready to take the two screws.

 Step four: Finished!

Of course as it is now so much more than just a wooden barge pole, it will have to be kept inside the boat when it's not being used. It's far to nice to leave on the roof!

I thought propped up next to Sue and Chris's barometer looks the biz.

(I hope someone remembered to sweep up all the shavings)

I also fitted the brass bracket just inside the rear hatch...a perfect could have been made for the job.

So far so good but then something went a bit adrift - literally. To test the bracket, I put a fairly large umbrella into the round bit and it worked well but I thought it needed to be held in place with a twist of electrical cable tie to stop it from flying off in the wind so I looked for a piece in my tool box. No sooner had I started to rummage, I heard a loud plop and saw my umbrella floating off across the river. Oh dear I thought. 

So, it was not the end of the world, just go across the river and fetch it. When I got there, I found it had come to rest in an area of weeds slightly too far to reach so I beckoned a passing hire boat. As Dad steered the boat near the umbrella, Sonny Jim leaned over the gunwales and got within 3 inches of it but failed to get a grip before the boat went past it. Oh dear, that was close I thought. The umbrella continued to languish in the weeds like a half sunken barrage balloon. But all was not lost, Dad decided to have another go and as he reversed, the boat shot a load of white water under the umbrella and it sank more like a lead balloon. I could just see it lurking in the depths, well below the surface and far beyond anyone's grasp - so close and yet so far. 

Both Dad and Sonny Jim apologised for failing to get it but I said it didn't matter, they had done their best, that was all I could have expected. I thanked them for all their efforts and went back to the boat - umbrellaless.

Lunch took all of 10 minutes so I put my feet up and watched a bit of the prelims of the British Grand Prix. I then switched over and caught the prelims of the Men's tennis finals. Realising that this lack of activity was not going to get anything done in the boat, I got up and fixed a couple of hooks to the boat to hold my extending pole - the one I would normally use to recover things like floating umbrellas. I then fitted a coat hook in the loo and shower room. Busy afternoon!

I left at about 3.30 and got home to see Jose Federer and Murray Firth still slogging it out on centre court.

To end, I will add a shot of the step edge in the rear hatch. I know you're keen to see it.

It's even nicer close up!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Brass bling?

Since we got back home, it's rained most days and the forecast for the weekend is poor with strong storms arriving from the near continent. Up until now the south, north and west have been getting the worst of the weather; it's now our turn. This is not really curtailing our boating because we had planned to be at home this week catching up domestic things like visiting parents, dentists, opticians, hairdressers, banks, charity shops, car boot sales, etc.

It has also enabled me to browse the internet for things for the boat. I came across a nice brass boat hook with two hooks and a pointy tip. It's arrived and now only needs a pole. I'm hoping the shorter pole that is already on the boat will be the right diameter (38mm). If not, I will have to source another one.

There's something about brass that sits well with narrowboats. Of course tradition has most to do with it but there is no doubt that the material (its colour, durability and quality) is just right when set along side wood. Practical and attractive. It beats stainless steel and plastic hands down.

I've also found quite a few brass bits and bobs in local charity shops and cbs's - things like wall hooks, small rings, door knobs, etc. picked up for a few pence. I'm not intending to cover the boat with brass 'bling' but these bits will not only be useful to hang coats and maybe a fender or two on but will tie in with my 'traditional' objective.

I found the two brass plaques on Ebay (there are so many to choose from and some of the final prices are out of this world!). I think these came from a couple of Victorian sack barrows - maybe only a remote connection with narrowboats but will go with the traditional theme.

A couple of weeks ago, while in Ely, I found a dressmakers measuring yardstick - the sort of thing a shop owner would have screwed to the edge of their counter to measure cloth. I can remember them from the 60's when my mum used to buy ribbon and elastic to make repairs to various undergarments (hers, not mine I should add). I'm not sure if these shops have them now - it's probably all standardised, platicised and digitised by now. Anyway, it's marked out with quarter, half and three quarter markings and looks fantastic on the edge of the steering step in the rear hatch. Again, it not only has the function of protecting the edge of the step from wear and tear but it also looks good. It certainly beats carpet off-cuts or checker-plate. A photo may follow, if I remember.

I also found in Long Melford Antiques, a brass bracket standing by itself in a darkened corner without a price tag. Recognising that it might have potential, I asked if it was for sale. I was told it was but it was part of an old oil lamp ensemble costing 40 quid. thanks. But we could sell you just the bracket Sir. (desperate or what?). So a satisfactory price was negotiated and I walked away with a heavy bit of brass that may work as an umbrella bracket in the rear hatch area. This is something for me to work out when I'm next on the boat. If you have any other ideas what I could do with it, just say. See John's face turn red!

I have also invested in a set of taps to enable me to tap and screw things to the steel hull. I have gone for just one size - 4mm. This simplifies things considerably with only one size tap, one size drill bit (3.5mm) and a small selection of screws (M4x16mm brass countersunk screws and the same size in round-headed s/s posi-screws). The last thing I wanted was to have a large set of taps and screws that would hardly ever be used, if at all. If I find I need more variety later, I will buy some then. I have also bought two old tap wrenches off Ebay. One has a short 'bar' handle  and the other with a small 'T' handle to get into confined spaces. They need to be short so that I don't risk breaking the taps.

I'll practice on a few bits of gash metal before I focus on the real thing because I've not tapped a whole for a few years. In fact, the last time was probably while I was at school, some years ago, and that experience is now lost in the mists of time. I'm sure it can't be too difficult. 

Now you'll wonder why I have added a photo of my new set of taps. This is what you do when you've got a new camera, some new toys and you're retired - right!

While writing about brass bling, I'll mention the new finger plates on the front doors. The original handles were just plain cupboard door handles which meant, when closing the doors from inside, you tended to wipe your hands over the door before you found the handle and this risked leaving scratches or greasy finger prints - can't have that Mrs Bridges! So, I found two attractive Victorian door finger plates, fixed a couple of small brass door knobs to them and, hey presto, a practical and attractive addition to the boat.

We hope to return to the boat next week, weather and river levels permitting.