"If it Keeps on Raining" by Jon McGregor

Last night my ears pricked when I heard that Jon McGregor, whose short story “If It Keeps on Raining” was shortlisted story for the BBC National Short Story Award, on Radio 4’s Front Row, once lived on a narrow boat and that inspired his entry.

It appears that his boat was moored on the river at Nottingham (1999 - 2000) and that its cabin leaked, inspiring him to write a short story about impending rain and its effect on the river. The main protagonist in the short story is a man living beside a river who, fearing the world is soon to be destroyed by flood, builds a tree-house and a raft. He tries to decide who he should warn.

It appears from Jon McGregor’s web site that the title of the story is taken from the song, “When the Levee Breaks”, written and recorded by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929.

I particularly like the description of the man contemplating the crews of passing cruisers who wave at him, the angler across the river, the passing gravel barges and the yacht club members. The descriptions of the state of the river following rain are very evocative – shades of the Thames in 2007.

How did the story fare? – it was runner-up. You can listen to it as podcast.

Blog Milestone

So in just over 4 years Albert's blog has today achieved 30,000 visitors. As I have stated before, we don't appear to be getting huge numbers of visitors but it is still nice to know that our blog has readers. We only got to 10,000 visitors two years ago so our visitor numbers are increasing but then canal blogging is now more popular.

The 30,000th visitor appears to have come from London, but the 29,999th did come from India reflecting the international interest in canal blogs.

Thanks to those who have provided links on their sites to Albert.

Fitting Water Gauges

Some time ago I decided that I needed a water temperature gauge that was mounted where I could see it from the steering position - on the roof. I also decided that I needed to retain the original gauge on the engine control panel.

My first attempt at adding a second gauge was a Smiths-styled capillary gauge mounted on the rear of the pigeon box. It worked OK but it was difficult to make out the readings and it had white numerals on a black background so it didn't match the excellent large brass oil pressure gauge mounted alongside. The plumbing inside was also a bit Heath Robinson, but it worked. After sometime the gauge began to corrode; they aren't meant to be used outside a vehicle, so I looked for a better solution.

Engine with twin water gauge sensors - first attempt

The my second attempt was to use a brass capillary gauge calibrated in degrees Fahrenheit - matching the PSI of the oil gauge. I bought this from a supplier to vintage vehicles.

Brass gauges on the pigeon box

The new gauge required an interesting location for the capillary tube - since nearly all capillary gauges are designed for automobiles (~2 m long) and the sensor pipes aren't usually long enough for boats. The solution was use of a 22 mm diameter copper pipe positioned alongside the engine control rods to carry the sensor pipe internally. That made a collection of 5 engine "rods" - one brass speed wheel rod, one gearbox rod, one brass engine stop rod, one new copper pipe carrying the water temperature gauge capillary tube, and one sturdy 28 mm copper tube to hang onto and to "protect" the engine.

Cluster of "engine" rods

I retained the original twin sensor connection on the water manifold which was constructed from a series of connectors and adapters. However, I recently began to think that this collection of connectors looked untidy. It also had a habit of dripping.

So this week I took the plunge and I updated the sensor system with some "proper" brass connectors. The job wasn't as easy as I first thought since the newer capillary sensor doesn't pass through some standard 3/8" fittings despite being fitted with a 3/8 "BSP nut. However, some boring and tapping later I managed to get a much neater system. And it appears not to leak - perhaps neater plumbing means less leaks.

Latest plumbing for water gauge sensors

I also managed to fix a split water pump hose (outer only) - before it failed.

The Forgotten Post

The last post of our November trip left us moored for the night outside The Wharf at Bugbrooke, but obviously we got home.

The Wharf was indeed a good experience. It was never going to be busy on a wet and windy Monday night early in November, but we had a good meal and a warm welcome. It was not cheap but the quality of food was restaurant standard and the presentation of the food very good. It was a far better experience than the last time we had visited, but that was under the old management. We sat in the bar by the blazing fire on soft settees enjoying a cider and a pint of Frog Island and then ate on a nearby table - very comfortable. We liked the way the menu gave details of their suppliers; they are obviously going for the local gourmet food market. Maggie had a prawn based starter and scrumpy pork, and I had field mushrooms and a black pudding lamb chop stack.

The morning was brighter weather. We were keen to get home in good time and, unpack in day light; we left promptly. The trip down to Blisworth was again windy, but not as bad as on the way north. There were hardly any boats on the move. We got to the tunnel and I could see all the way through the bore to the other end. I expected a good trip through, and got it, but part way through I had the brief disappointment of seeing the headlight of a boat entering the other end - it then disappeared! Being familiar with the tunnel I recognised this as the behaviour of a trip boat, although I wondered what it was doing operating on a Tuesday morning in November. We saw the boat again just as we left the tunnel. It was Mike Partridge on Charlie with a school trip.

We lunched at Stoke and went down the lock singly. It was getting cold and dull as we travelled to Yardley and by the time we had unloaded we were keen to get home to the warmth. We were greeted by our cat Daisy who had stayed home being looked after by our neighbours. She spent what was to be her last night with us lying in front of warm fire - she died in a freak accident during the early hours of Wednesday. We are missing her.

Daisy in the snow earlier in the year

Header Tank Sight Gauge

The Ruston and Hornsby 2YWM engine on Albert has a small brass header tank for the coolant that is open at the top - it makes topping up easy. However, the tank is mounted close to the ceiling of the engine room and it is not easy to see its contents even with a mirror. To check on the coolant level I have had to put my hand into the tank and dip it with my finger.

For several years I have been on the look-out for a sight gauge and I even contemplated making one up from spare flowmeter components that I had lying around. However, when I met with Colin from NB Intrepid I discovered he had purchased some small brass sight gauges from Tony Redshaw.

I did the same this weekend and mounted one today. The gauge is certainly an improvement over the wet finger technique and polished-up it looks the part.

Brass Coolant Head Tank and Sight Gauge

Concrete Wellies!

Some time ago I reported on the concrete filled wellies (rubber boots) embedded in the bank at Stoke Bruerne. During the summer I discussed this with a BW surveyor I met near Long Buckby and he let me into a secret. These aren't the only boots embedded in a canal bank. Evidently one particular member of a BW maintenance gang, when finishing a bank restoration job, used to regularly dispose of his wellies by putting them in the bank. It was his form of signature or in modern terms "graffiti tag". Presumably the boots were free issue.

I was also told that a pair of boots was located along the Buckby Flight. Well I can now reveal that they are just below Lock 9 not far from the railway bridge. They were visible during our recent trip up the flight because of the very low water. I don't know specifically of any others on the system but I remain vigilant, particularly when I see banking repaired using concrete-filled bags.

Concrete-filled Wellies on the Buckby Flight

Autumn Cruise to Welford

We haven't been cruising for some time, with lots of things on our plate, but we have just managed 6 days up the Grand Union to Welford. We haven't been to Welford since 1998 when we made a fleeting visit - it was summer and there were no moorings free.

We left Yardley on Wednesday afternoon (3rd November)and went up the Stoke flight alone. We saw flocks of fieldfare near Grafton Regis, some being harried by a kestrel. On the way up the flight we met our friend Chris Allin who was helping a friend move a boat south. Stoke was, understandably quiet and we met only one boat in Blisworth Tunnel. We moored at Blisworth and found out later that the Cheese Boat was just ahead of us.

On Thursday morning the weather was bright but it was very windy. Sometimes it felt like we were sailing. The boat was listing and crabbing going down the cut. We passed fellow bloggers Zindani at Brockhall, they were going south. The water was a carpet of fallen leaves which meant the prop had to be cleared frequently. A quick burst of reverse appeared to do the trick. We made Buckby flight in good time and met NB Urquhart Castle waiting for as at the bottom lock. We made good progress up the first few locks with them but then we met some shallow pounds. At one stage we got stuck under a bridge and could only make progress be drifting along in neutral. At the top lock we found the lock keeper who told us that there were problems with the back pumping.

Brockhall and a Carpet of Leaves

Because we had made much better progress than we had thought, and realised that going up Watford flight might be a problem, we pressed on arriving at Watford locks at 3:45 The flight was closed; it closes at 3:30 during the winter with last boats entering the flight at 2:45. However it did mean that we were first up the flight in the morning.

Maggie negotiating Watford Flight

Friday was not good weather, dull and damp, but we had a trouble free journey north. Being first up Watford we got to Crick by mid morning and took on fuel and had a pump-out. For the rest of the journey to Welford the weather was dull. We passed the new Yelvertoft Marina and met NB Hadar at the junction to the Welford Arm. Just as we turned into the arm we saw two kingfishers chasing each other, their vivid colours just catching the last rays of the setting sun. It was getting quite dark as we got to Welford. We moored up near the 70' winding hole and explored the end of the arm and the village in the dark (and rain). The local village shop and post office was very useful and we were impressed by the pocket park that is close to the River Avon. The shop staff recommended the Wharf for a meal and we had a good honest pub meal there for a reasonable price.

Saturday was a bright but colder day. It gave me the opportunity to take some early morning photos of Welford.

Morning mist on the Welford Arm

Getting the fire going

Welford Arm Terminus

Welford Arm's only lock

As we left the arm we saw more kingfishers and they continued to appear all the way back to Crick. In total saw saw about six or seven. There were lots of gliders making use of the good weather and the bright autumn sun lit up the hedgerows which were laden with berries.


Ash Keys

Sloes - waiting for the gin!

Close to Bridge 32 there was a large shoot in progress. Beaters were operating on both sides of the canal and when we passed the guns, who were standing near to the canal, they opened up at a group of birds. One unlucky cock pheasant came down in dramatic fashion just close to Albert. It landed in a thicket on the bank, just a few feet from the cut.

We had passed NB Intrepid on the way up to Welford and noted that in their engine room was a Ruston. On the way back we came alongside Intrepid and I had an extended chat about engines with the owner Colin. He has a great boat (Les Allen shell) that is well turned out and an immaculate Ruston & Hornsby India 2YW engine. The engine was installed in '92, so it was probably installed by Keith Jones. Colin has managed to polish many items that I never knew could be polished. He has also fitted copper cladding around his exhaust using an intriguing and quite novel system.

NB Intrepid

Ruston 2YW in Intrepid

We moored up for the night outside Crick Marina; Hadar were moored up in front of us. Unfortunately, for the third night in a row the only O2 mobile Internet connection I could get was GPRS - not much use for blogging. I could have used the Crick Marina WiFi but I would have had to arrange payment.

On Sunday we rose early again to get down the Watford flight without much delay. We were first down the flight and made Norton junction in very good time. Although the forecast indicated that the whole of Britain would have good sunny weather, we did pass through some showers. We took on water at the junction and went down the Buckby flight with a former Ownerships boat now run as a private consortium. This time there was lots of water. We took lunch at Wilton and then made Weedon for our night's mooring.

Monday was a day of weather warnings across the UK. It was clear that we would might not move so we had moored up for the night on the embankment near to be near the services in Weedon Bec. As it turned out the morning was horrible with high winds and heavy rain so we stayed put! By the afternoon the weather had abated sufficiently for us to take a short trip down to Bugbrooke where we moored up outside The Wharf. We have heard good reviews from a crew going North about their meals. We will find out shortly.

Napton, Calcutt & Shuckburgh

We took a walk yesterday with our walking group. I organised a repeat of the walk around Shuckburgh & Napton that we last did in 2008 when the group consisted of only 5 people. We had 19 on the walk - the highest ever number. Couldn't resist a group photo at Calcutt Locks.

The circular walk covers Beacon Hill at Shuckburgh, the windmill at Napton, Calcutt Locks and a return along the Oxford Canal. We had a great lunch at the Crown at Napton. They did us proud with food ranging from steak and ale pie, to sandwiches. We also stopped for coffee at the Bridge at Napton.

Walking Group (and Ruby the Labradoodle) at Calcutt Top Lock