A Sad Day 25th September 2009

2009-09-25 @ 08:17:38 by ashtonboatm

A sad day.

Thursday is normally my day for earning a crust by working in peoples gardens. At the moment I'm doing a lot for an elderly Austrian lady called Elsa who lives in Denton. I like Elsa, but I'm not so keen on the work as she wants all the trees and shrubs taking out of her garden. I'm finding good homes for as many as I can.

At about 11 AM I got a message from the shop to tell me that my friend John Taylor had died on Wednesday. John was about the same age as me and was taken by a sudden heart attack. As far as I know he'd not had any heart trouble before.

John was an excellent man. One of the most quietly helpful people around. I first met him when we were slipping "Forget me Not" for her rebuild in 1987. Things had gone wrong and everything had jammed up with the boat half out of the water. John just turned up, got stuck in and, with a combination of strength and practicality, helped us to get things moving again. Since then he's frequently done the same trick, turning up and helping out with just what's needed.

One day I was having a problem with teenagers who were causing havoc with an old car on the car park at Portland Basin. The police claimed to be powerless to do anything ( odd, if I had such an unroadworthy vehicle I'd be for the high jump). John turned up while the kids were away at Asda stocking up on cheap alcohol. We discussed the situation, scratched our heads, then exchanged mischievous grins as we both came up with the same solution. I found a length of line and we connected the troublesome car to Johns car, then we towed it, in the fading light of a late autumn evening, up to the police station. We pushed it into the compound at the back, next to a parked patrol car, then went to the front to hand it in as lost/stolen property. The police and civilians at the front desk were flummaxed. They had no paperwork for such an eventuality. Soon they were having quite a heated argument and treating me and John as suspects. After we had sat wondering what awaited us for 10 minutes or so they suddenly told us that we could go.

John will be sadly missed by a lot of people. He was one of the best.

On a lighter note. Later in the day I went to do some work in the wildlife friendly garden that I've created at the Ashton Chiropractic Centre. I was accused by a neighbour of polluting her garden! WITH FROGS!!!!

She's always hated the chiropractors and has been a thorn in their side ever since they started. She particularly dislikes my water feature made from old baths. We've had a big problem of vandalism . In the first year 4 of the 6 baths were smashed.

I was delighted to have frog spawn, then tadpoles and now frogs. She is obviously phobic about wildlife and is now claiming that her grandaughter won't visit her because she is scared of the frogs. Now, if I had a grandchild with frogophobia I would try to help them overcome it, but not this lady. She's demanding that I destroy the ponds to save her and her grandchild from the terrors of nature. As I won't co-operate she says she's going to take it further. That will be an interesting case for the environmental health department.

Southam Goes Backwards Again.

2009-09-23 @ 19:38:51 by ashtonboatma

"Southam" goes backwards again!

"Southam" is currently our only powered boat, even though she was originally a butty. This is because "Forget me Not" is awaiting the installation of her Bolinder. It may be a long wait!

Since Easter the reverse gear on "Southam"s gearbox has been out of bounds because the brake band was worn out. This made recycling trips towing both "Forget me Not" and "Lilith" quite interesting.

Ike and Lester, the engineering dept, dismantled the gearbox about 10 days ago and I had a nice train ride to Accrington to hand it over to a very strange company who were never there. In spite of being never there, they re-lined it and, after another nice train ride, I got it back and the engineering department re-assembled it yesterday. I gave it a try today. It's great to be able to go backwards and er, well, sort of, Stop, if you're going forwards.

There's a "Hazel" sponsors trip on Sunday so I hope it functions properly for that.

The Lost Knee

The Lost Knee.

Stuart was busy cleaning up, organising and labelling "Hazel"s wrought iron knees while I worked on the new sternpost. He started to look puzzled. We discussed shotblasting and rustproofing the knees, still in remarkably good order after 97 years. Obviously the number of knees was an important issue in pricing the work on them. There should have been 26, 13 for each side of the boat, but Stuart could only find 25. A search of the boatyard ensued. "I did hear a plop" said Stuart, "but it didn't sound big enough to be a knee". He started investigating the canal alongside the boat with a rake, but found only bits of stone. We went home with the missing knee on our minds.

Tuesday was a rare day as neither me or Stuart could be there. I had a meeting to go to and Stuart a funeral. On Wednesday the hunt for the missing knee resumed, Ryan entering into it with his usual enthusiasm. He progressed from using a rake to a grappling iron. After many fruitless throws the iron was thrown once more, but Ryan forgot to hold on to the piece of string.

There was now nothing for it but to get in the water and recover the grappling hook, whilst at the same time feeling about for the knee. We lit the gas heater in the main container and Ryan stripped off, emerging clad only in his blue overalls. He leaped with gusto into the water and began feeling around with his feet. He soon found the grappling iron, and a G clamp, which Stuart thought was probably what caused the plop that he heard, but still no sign of the knee.

Eventually the cold and frustration at finding only bits of stone drove Ryan out of the water to dry off in the container. I began to wonder how much our excellent blacksmith, Ed Sveikutis, would charge to manufacture a new one.

As going home time approached Stuart elected to have one last go at finding the knee. He got in the water, wearing red overalls, and worked outwards steadily from the previously searched areas near the bit of boat that the particular knee came from. He moved into increasingly unlikely waters until he reached nearly to the fore end of the boat, far from the source of the knee. He bent down, reached his arms into the water and triumphantly lifted the piece of curved iron out of the mud with a yell, before climbing out on to the bank with his prize.

How the knee got there we will never know, but at least we now have a full set again.

Most of our Boat is Missing

Most of our boat is missing.

Sunday October 2nd was scheduled as the recycling trip day, and was to be one of the rare days when no work would get done on rejuvenating "Hazel". I would be running the recycling trip and Stuart had arranged to go rock climbing with a friend. Normally at least one of us is working on the boat each day.

The recycling trip was excellent. Plenty of people turned up, including Eddy with a big pan of stew, and the residents of Droylsden were generous with their excess clothes and bric a brac. The weather, though threatening rain at times, stayed mostly dry and things went fairly smoothly.

Back at Stalybridge on Monday morning I did a double take when saw "Hazel". When I left on Saturday there was at least the top strake and knees still in place. Now, for most of the length of the boat there was simply the new bottom, with the 1951 conversion cabin propped up above it on sticks. All the bits in between were missing. Stuart explained that his climbing companion had been unable to come, so he thought he might as well go to work instead. Hows that for flexible working!

During the day Stuart and Ryan got on with cutting free the wrought iron knees from the old top strakes and lining planks, then carefully tagging them so that we will be able to put them back in the right order. I mostly worked on the new sternpost. When the van returned from it's shop duties I took one of the knees to a local shotblasting company to see if I could get a quote. The first person I spoke to was quite young but had an air of being in charge. He said they would only cost a couple of quid each to clean up. Pleased at this I said I'd bring the rest. An older man with his face apparently powder coated red approached. I suspect he was the young fellow's father. He sucked his teeth, shook his head and declared that there would be nothing left if they shot blasted the knee. I disagreed as I knew the old iron to be good under the rust. He then went off on a different tack, saying that rust like that was hard to shift. After much discussion of the qualities of ancient rust, he offered to give it a try. I left him the knee and returned to plane a little more off my stempost before leaving to prepare for the Monday evening recycling trip.

First of October 2011

First of October

October 1st, and already its hitting records for October temperatures. In the blazing sun plenty of volunteers turned up to work on Hazel. The work is still mostly stripping down. A frame has been built to support the conversion whilst the boat is removed from beneath it. After me and Stuart, Tom Kitching http://www.tomkitching.co.uk/ was the first to arrive and we had a good tidy up of the slip as it had become cluttered with old sideplanks. Ryan Hinds and Pete Nicholson http://www.assuredfinefurniture.co.uk/ arrived at about the same time. Me, Tom and Pete went off in the van towing the trailer to the Ashton Packet Boat Co http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/ashton/ac8a.htm to deliver a generator and collect a table saw.

Another van trip followed as there was a huge display cabinet in the back which the previous days driver had been unable to deliver. Me and Ryan had a pleasant ride out into the countryside over the Monks Road

enjoying spectacular views and lively conversation.

When we got back there was even less of Hazel left. I started taking information off the old sternpost ready to make a new one. Pete's wife, Frances, arrived and the worked together stripping down more sideplanking and recording bevels from the plank edges. Ryan sat and suffered in the sweltering October heat as he doesn't thrive in hot weather. By the end of the day, the conversion was free and Stuart had started removing the top strake and lining plank and ripping out iron knees.




Sorry it's been so long since I posted anything. Since last Spring things have been so incredibly busy that I haven't had time for blogging, which is a shame because I enjoy it. I'm hoping I can start again now as the job is going well and there are enough volunteers for me to be able to sneak off and do a bit of writing every now and then.

"The Job" is the restoration, reconstruction, rebuilding, rejuvenation of the historic 1914 built Runcorn narrow boat "Hazel". It's a job that i've been planning and plotting for ever since we got the boat back in 1988. When finished she will be used to provide holidays for people who are dealing with stress in all its many manifestations.

We got confirmation that we would get some funding for this project at the end of last year, but, having been here before with funding, didn't do anything irrevocable until the money was actually in the bank. This happened in May, so, in June we set off with "Southam" and "Lilith" on an epic trip to Lincoln to fetch two oak logs. 6 days there, a day to load and 6 days back, which is quite some going. http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Lincoln_Trip_June_2011/

With the timber stacked at Knowl St Heritage Boatyard in Stalybridge, the next job was to get the venerable boat out on to the bank. On 7th July she was towed up the 7 locks to Stalybridge and, the following day, winched up telegraph poles to lie like a beached whale on the slip. Over the next few days she was jacked up and levelled, then the work began in earnest.

It's now the end of September. A new bottom has been fitted, a new stempost has been made, both ends have been spiled, moulds made and as I write Stuart Hughes, my co-worker, and 3 volunteers are dismantling most of the old timber ready to start building the boat up again.

Containing my Anger

Containing my Anger.

It was 6PM on a Tuesday evening and I had had a long day cutting planks for "Hazel" with the chainmill http://www.care2.com/c2c/photos/view/186/483743566/Cutting_planks_for__quot_Hazel_quot_/Chris%20cutting%20greenheart%20with%20chainmill%203%2011%20picbri.JPG.html
In order to minimise disturbance to residents in the various flats I worked on this across on the towpath side, next to the junction with the Peak Forest Canal.

It had been a long day, made less comfortable by a vicious wind that whipped up the sawdust into a desert storm. As I inserted the resharpened saw into the groove for the final cut, an Anderton Marina hireboat emerged from the Peak Forest Canal and started to turn into the wind towards Manchester.

The lady of the boat, a solidly built cheerful scotswoman, walked by on the towpath with a big collie dog. We exchanged smiles and she carried on, then backtracked to ask about a safe mooring for the night. Her husband was now frantically backing up to avoid the boat hitting the newly repainted "Community Spirit" on the outside of the turn. The wind caught the flat cabin side like a sail and took the boat sideways.

I suggested that they back up and tie on the outside alongside the flats, the site of the prophet John Wroe's magnificent but long disapeared house. This was good advice from the point of view of having an undisturbed night, but would involve some manoevring that beginners would find challenging even on a still day.

As we spoke the boat reversed into the shallow water on the far side of the bridge and the rudder crunched into the stone copings. The bonny lady hurried over the bridge to help push it off and pass on my advice to her partner. He engaged forward gear and attempted to get the stern away from the bank, but an ominous underwater clattering indicated that the blade had picked up something that was battering the bottom of the counter as it rotated.

Its ability to manouvre further inhibited by rubbish on the prop, the boat moved slowly forwards, still in the grip of the wind. I could see that he wasn't going to get the boat to its destination without hitting one of our boats, but I wouldn't have minded if he simply scraped his bow along the side of "Southam". The sensible thing to do would have been to forget about engine power and use the shaft, which lay idle on the cabin roof, to get control of the errant fore end. I have always, however, found a great reluctance among trainee, and sometimes experienced, boaters to use the shaft.

The strategy employed to control the boat was a surprising one. As the bow headed into the arm where the boats awaiting restoration float in shallow water I expected to see a flush of sterngear from the still clattering prop. Instead the boat carried on until it impacted "Elton"s stern. She gave a lurch, then resigned herself to being used as a fulcrum as, still in forward gear, the man put his tiller over to lever the boat round. As soon as he backed up the wind caught the bow and he lost control again. He repeated the manouvre, but this time, the hireboat's bow having moved a few feet Eastwards, it was "Queen"s turn to suffer the indignity of a ramming.

I stood watching, open mouthed and dumbstruck. I knew that both boats were tough enough to withstand these blows, but I was amazed at the sheer disregard for other peoples craft.

The boat backed up again. The next boat in line for a blow from its bow was "Hazel", our most fragile boat. Somehow he managed to miss her, but, as anticipated, scraped his bow along the side of "Southam" instead. As his stern end approached the footbridge he threw a line up to his wife, who sensibly led the boat back to the overnight mooring that I had suggested.

I started the saw and quickly completed the last cut, by which time my anger had subsided a little. I shafted "Lilith" back across the basin to tie up abreast of "Southam", then went to dig out some leaflets from "Forget me Not"s cabin. I walked over to the moored hireboat and tapped on the roof. The woman emerged and reddened when she saw me. I sought to defuse her embarrasment with a smile, it wasn't her who had been steering, and handed her the leaflets. I said "Here's some information about the historic boats you just rammed". She was full of apologies, but she didn't call her husband out to face me. I diverted the conversation away from the incident as she was clearly uncomfortable, but it was her partner that I wanted to feel that discomfort. He had not once looked in my direction as he carried out his cavalier careering around the basin.

I went off to get some food. Early in the morning the boat left to work down the locks to Manchester. I wonder what sort of night the arrogant man had. It would be no surprise to me if the ghost of Jack Monk ( "Queen" was his first motor boat and remained his favourite) had visited him in the night and given him terrifying dreams of boatmans justice.

What is it about Wigan 1

What is it about Wigan

Darkness was rapidly gathering as we tied the boats up and many people were eager to head home. Others went looking for shops. John, who had left the previous night, arrived in the van to give lifts home, while others headed for the railway station.
I was getting concerned about the depletion of battery power on my ‘phone, so, when we had eaten and those who weren’t staying had departed, I suggested a visit to a pub so that I could plug my charger in. Fiona and Carlos elected to stay and guard the boats, so Garry, Bex and I went looking for a suitable watering hole. We headed towards the town centre through a deserted wilderness of dual carriageways and light industrial premises. We went under the main railway bridge and found a row of shuttered shops leading uphill on an empty street. Among the terraced shops was a small old fashioned urban pub. Inside, a silver haired slightly unkempt gentleman was sitting on a bar stool and conversing with the shaven headed manager behind the bar. There seemed to be no other customers. We ordered our drinks and I asked about charging my ‘phone. The manager pointed out a plug socket and I connected my device to the mains.
There was a billiard table in an adjoining room and Garry was keen to play. I was reluctant to lose sight of my ‘phone, but with so few people in the building and being in sight of the manager I thought it would be safe.
Bex had disappeared to indulge her feminine obsession with washing and preening, so I had to do my best to provide Garry some opposition. My skills with a billiard cue are only slightly surpassed by my skill at knitting, so the outcome of the games was a foregone conclusion. I did manage to avoid any balls landing on the floor, but actually getting any into the pockets was something that largely eluded me.
After a couple of games a glowing Bex re-appeared to provide Garry with more of a challenge on the billiard table. I sat and watched and enjoyed the beer and the lighthearted conversation. The silver haired man left and, for a while, we were the only customers.
After a few games our glasses were empty and Bex went to the bar. There was some commotion around the bar and then a tall, hard edged but dishevelled man with tattoos and a shaven head entered the room and sat next to me. He tried to strike up a conversation about boxing. He would have been better employed trying to discuss the mathematical equations underpinning string theory. I have never had any interest in sport in general, but I reserve a particular disdain for a sport in which the object is to cause brain damage to your opponent . The man, who had clearly drunk deep earlier in the evening, kept telling me that I knew various people associated with boxing. I insisted that I had never heard of any of them.
I sensed that the friendly atmosphere could quickly turn through 180 degrees, so I refrained from the sarcasm that always tempts me in such situations. I mentioned that I lived in the next town to Ricky Hatton. This impressed him so much that he hugged me. I was not too perturbed by this, an excess of alcohol often makes men unusually affectionate, however, as he started to nudge closer to me and sing along with the love songs that were playing from wall speakers, I began to get uneasy.
Bex returned with beer, then went back to the bar, I think to complete a conversation she had started with the manager.
I lifted my glass to drink and Garry did the same with his. The over friendly boxer followed suit. “Isn’t that Bex’s pint asked Garry”. “I’m not sure “ I replied. “It’s Mine” asserted the boxing man, vehemently. I looked at the table and counted the pint pots- one, two. I knew one was mine, and Garry’s was alone on the other side of the room, so it looked very much as though the other one would belong to Bex. I began to think that our friend was angling for a physical encounter, either violent or of a more intimate nature. Of the first possibility, I had no intention of spending a night in either casualty or the cells. Of the latter, well, it doesn’t bear thinking about. So far, Garry and I had followed a policy of appeasement, but I knew that the man would keep pushing this to provoke one of us into challenging him.
Bex returned and sat down. She lifted her pint to her lips. Garry pointed out that she was not the first person to drink from the glass. Bex put her beer down with a loud expression of disgust and asserted strongly her rights of ownership. The man limply claimed it to be his and told Bex that she was a lesbian. Rather than deny the assertion, Bex stood up and launched into a tirade against the man, claiming to be more extreme in her affections than even the ancient inhabitants of that sun blessed isle but that didn’t give him the right to drink from her glass. The brave boxer visibly withered as she pointed out what a hypocrite he was, as he was obviously gay. The manager came in as Bex continued her verbal assault, using every colloquialism and euphemism for same sex liaisons that I’ve ever heard. “Mind what you say”, said the manager, “because I am gay”.
Bex explained what had happened , and the manager, quietly but firmly, ejected the boxer, who now looked greatly subdued. The force of Bex’s wit laden tongue lashing had a more sobering effect on him than any number of left hooks. The manager agreed to replace Bex’s polluted pint. I suddenly remembered my ’phone and rushed into the bar to check on it. I let out a cry of “me ‘phone’s gone”, but the manager allayed my brief panic by producing the missing item from behind the bar. He had moved it as soon as our pugilistic friend entered the establishment.
There followed an interesting conversation about the difficult economics of the licensed trade. The manager was a caretaker manager , employed by the brewery to keep pubs ticking over between tenants. This, it seems to me, is a much more sensible arrangement than the periodic boarding up and refurbishment syndrome that seems to afflict so many pubs.
Drink drunk and pockets empty, we left the friendly manager to contemplate his empty bar and ambled back through the mean streets of Wigan under the pitiless glare of streetlights. Back at the boats, I carefully examined the water level. It looked disconcertingly as though it had dropped about an inch whilst we were absent. There was little I could do at such a late hour, so I climbed into Lilith’s forecabin , dropped the bed flap and climbed into my sleeping bag.

My Fascist Foot

My Fascist Foot

On St Georges day me and some friends went to a Ceilidh in an Irish Club. The music was supplied by the excellent Cutback Ceilidh Band. We all had an excellent time and I danced with great energy and enthusiasm. Next morning I woke up to find my left heel was hurting. Never mind I thought, it will soon go away.

Weeks later I was still suffering from a very sore heel, and just to add to my joy, the arthritis in my right big toe started up again. During some of the trip to Liverpool I was hobbling painfully as we worked through locks. I'm used to running about, bowhauling butties and generally putting in a lot of effort as we work a flight of locks, but instead I had to try to minimise the amount of walking that I did.

I rarely visit a doctor. I generally find that, however carefully I describe my symptoms, they just don't seem to get it. My resistance was eventually broken down by the fact that I was beginning to feel disabled by this ailment, and was beginning to doubt that there would be an end to it.

I had to wait nearly a week for an appointment. The receptionist explained that if I rang back the following day I could have a 48 hour appointment, but I knew that I would forget. The doctor that I eventually saw was a pleasant young woman in Muslim dress. She looked at my foot and pressed it until she found the sore spot. She offered me painkillers. I explained that I could cope with the pain, but I really needed to know what was wrong with it. I really don't like to take drugs unless I really have to. She said that painkillers would take down the inflammation, but offered no diagnosis. I mentioned that I took glucosamine with chondroitin to control the arthritis in the other foot. Who has prescribed these things she demanded. I explained that they were available in health food shops. She didn't seem happy about this, but said that it may be gout.

I had considered the possibility of gout, but thought it unlikely as I hardly drink and eat little red meat. However, I agreed to a test for gout, and the doctor seemed happy. I left with a prescription for painkillers, that I had no intention of collecting.

The tests showed that I do not have gout, but the pain did not go away and I was no further forward. Luckily my wonderful partner, Emuna, is very good at researching things online. She found some information on a condition called Plantar Fasciitis which exacly matched the symptoms that I was experiencing. It was all to do with a tendon in the bottom of your foot getting overstretched. There was some useful information on how you could manage the condition without recourse to the products of multinational drug companies. I have been following the online advice and it seems to be slowly getting better. I rather wish it had a different name though. I don't like having a fascist foot. In my experience fascists are normally a pain in another part of the anatomy.