Katherine’s web (or the Sawley wet wipe massacre)

I’ve never been a big fan of what taxonomists describe as creepy crawlies (interestingly, there is a whole subsection of this species that have wings, and so are not full-time creepers or crawlers.  I still don’t like them).  If it can ever be described as scuttling or scurrying, then I would rather give it a wide berth.  Then I moved onto a boat, and slowly started to come round to spiders, and their many uses.  Well, one use, namely catching other creepy crawlies.  My local spiders are doing their best to cull the cloud of midgies buzzing about outside my front door.  The success of their campaign is on public display on several webs, sagging under the weight of the sheer numbers of insects it has entrapped (the arachnid equivalent of displaying heads on spikes?)  I would characterise my relationship with my eight-legged lodgers as one of uneasy mutual respect.  Until now.

I woke up a few days ago and noticed an odd white patch on the ceiling.  My first thought was that it was a manifestation of yet another hole (my default setting for unexplained phenomena on the boat); possibly some sort of mould which had grown due to the damp conditions of that particular plank of wood?  I grabbed a pack of wet wipes to help me clean up the mould (though as I type, I wonder at my logic of trying to solve a damp problem with a damp cloth), and swiped at it.  It was at that point I noticed several fine threads emanating from the odd white growth, and the dozens of tiny spiders scurrying around my ceiling (it could also be described as scuttling).  I didn’t hesitate, and swiped at all of them with a fresh wet wipe.  By this point, I was a woman on a crusade, searching out webs and wiping them away (it didn’t take that much searching – my spiders have not been particularly covert and have anchored webs to almost anything, including between a tea towel and kettle).  I was efficient and merciless.  I covered the tracks of the annihilation by throwing the wet wipes of doom straight in the large refuse disposal bin at the other end of the marina (lest any survivors try to crawl back).  It was only as I sat down with a cup of tea afterwards that tinges of guilt crept up on me.

When I was a child, one of my favourite books had been Charlotte’s Web (if you have not read it, I would recommend that you stop reading the blog RIGHT NOW and go to get a copy.  Read on at your peril; there are spoilers.)  I had been very upset at Charlotte’s passing, but at least she had left descendants to keep Wilbur company.  Descendants that were born from a white egg sac, which may have, in the right light, resembled a patch of mould.  I had not murdered dozens of tiny spiders, I had murdered dozens of tiny baby spiders.  Barely had they spun their first line of silk, and they were finished.  No chance to create intricate webs, maybe one day spelling out ‘some boat’ or ‘radiant’ in a corner of Double Fracture.  I had ruined any chance I might have had of forging an arachnid friendship that might one day save my life, as Charlotte saved Wilbur’s.  This remorse was compounded a few days later, when I spied a web constructed on my open kitchen window, which had caught a mosquito.  Despite my crimes, the spiders were still protecting me from blood sucking fiends, and potentially (albeit unlikely) malaria.

It’s been a low point in boat life.

This blog post was brought to you by ‘Neighbourhood‘ by Space (off the album ‘Spiders’).

I did some cursory research for this blog post, and learned that spiders’ legs work using hydraulics.  And some species use this system for their genitals as well.

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The six (ish) month report

Half a year (ish) has passed since I got the keys to Double Fracture, and it has been a voyage of discovery. Despite my research (albeit my customary minimal amount), I set sail on waters relatively unknown last November.  Major and minor lessons along the way include:

  • The more exclamation marks a boat engineer includes in a text message, the more the bill has just gone up.

sms chart

  • I can now include phrases like ‘alternator bracket’ and ‘stern gland packing’ in sentences and give the impression I know what I’m talking about.
  • I still don’t know which side is port and which is starboard.
  • Popularity is increased by a factor of six when you live on a boat.

chart

  • I can live without running water. But I’d rather not.
  • Spiders can anchor their web to almost anything.
  • A fridge in winter appears to be a completely non-essential item (mine did not work the whole time I lived here, and I only noticed a few weeks ago).
  • Never underestimate the power of an overfull sewage tank.

shower of shit

  • I thought that gaffa tape would be the most useful piece of kit I have (thinking about it, when I need to patch up Double Fracture with gaffa tape, then that is the sign I need to find a new place to live).  The winner in this category is the grabber-thing-on-a-stick, followed by velcro.
  • From 200 metres away, the M1 can sound a lot like the sea.
  • Plastic gloves will melt if you leave them on top of a hot stove.  And it won’t smell good when they do.
  • Holes are, apparently, inevitable.

hole cost

  • Four miles an hour can seem unstoppably quick when you are unintentionally heading towards a yacht/weir/metal structure it would be best not to hit.
  • When looking for a marina to live in, maneuvering space is crucial.  A power shower is a nice bonus.
  • Chivalry is not dead.  But it can be (unintentionally) patronising.
  • I still don’t know what to look for when buying a boat.  But it seems that the instincts of a two-year-old are not a bad yardstick.
  • I am not stronger than my 18-horse-power engine.
  • The weed hatch is inappropriately named (or at least has not been updated for modern times) – the sofa cushion hatch, or lost trouser hatch would be more fitting.
  • Living on a narrowboat is still pretty flipping awesome.

awesome

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘We are the champions‘ by Queen, and inspired by Song Lyrics in Chart Form.

The Big Weekend: Day Five

The final day brought the final challenge of the big weekend – captaining a crew of children and midwives.  I was nervous. (When am I not nervous when it comes to boating firsts?  Or boating seconds?)  Would the life jackets fit? (Yes.)  Would they actually work if called upon? (Still unknown.)  Would the crew become bored halfway through and start smashing up my kitchen to pass the time?  (At this point I’m torn between making a midwife joke and making a ‘how can you tell the difference?’ joke.  Possibly both mediocre options.  Pick your favourite and imagine you read that.)

All worries were unfounded.  My crew were all I could hope for in a narrowboat team (got the locks done and didn’t fall in and test the weight limit guide on the life jackets).  They even brought food (and lots of it – future crews, the bar has been raised).

Everyone pitched in with the driving; duration ranged from around 60 seconds to half an hour – the prospect of crashing my home was too much for one crew member. I think that with a little more practice, I will have chauffeurs at by beck and call quite soon (though I am still accepting further applicants at this stage – the theory test is relatively straightforward; the practical may prove more grueling).  I’m definitely proving to be a better boat driving instructor than I was car driving instructor (I had one disastrous attempt when I was 19, which ended with my shared car being written off).

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And so I’m back at Sawley, with the Big Weekend filed under ‘Boating Successes’.  But it has left me without a narrowboat trip on the horizon or a challenge to fret over.  I need to make a plan.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Kids‘ by MGMT.

The Big Weekend: Day Four

The morning after the night before was made considerably easier by the prospect of a hotel breakfast (is there any greater start to the morning than a fresh-cooked buffet breakfast?)  Having overeaten by the appropriate amount (thus increasing my chances of drowning by approximately 2%), I was almost ready for the challenge ahead.  With only a single crew member – Cake-Baking-Goddess (hereafter referred to as CBG) – on board, day four was going to be another new experience.

The sport of canalboat racing has, inexplicably, not taken off thus far.  Sure, it doesn’t have the glamour of Formula One.  It doesn’t have the millionaire playboys of the Premier League (and international polo if Jilly Cooper novels are to be believed).  It doesn’t have the pulsating energy of an Indian Premier League match.  However, it can provide edge-of-your-seat tension, as CBG and I were about to find out.

The competition made themselves known at Newark – a blue narrowboat – and my initial appraisal gave me cause for optimism.  They had a well-painted vessel, but flashy exteriors count for nothing when it comes to the gritty business of negotiating meandering river bends and avoiding weirs.  The winner would be determined by gutsy driving, getting in front at the first corner and a plentiful supply of caffeinated drinks.

What we didn’t know was there was a third boat taking part in the race to Sawley – presumably starting from the pit lane for previous racing infractions.  This mystery entrant was in fact two boats lashed together – twice the engine power, but also twice the bulk.  It was hard to say initially which factor would be decisive when it came to the final standings.

The double-boat soon made their intentions clear.  They made short work of the blue boat, and quickly gained on the slender lead CBG and I had built. We pushed Double Fracture as hard as we felt she could go, and still the double-boat closed in.  We were powerless as they opened the DRS and glided effortlessly past us.

It was disappointing, but there was still second place to fight for. We re-focused on defending our position on the river, and a combination of aggressive driving and the suspicion that the blue boat was not fully aware of the situation it found itself in meant we built a healthy lead.  There was jubilation when we saw the boat pull into the pits at Fiskerton (I assumed it was a retirement due to mechanical failure; the presence of a riverside pub merely coincidence).

The pressure was now off, and we allowed ourselves to showboat a little (also known as unintentionally zigzagging across the river).  Had we realised just how close we were to our only remaining competition, perhaps we would have been less cavalier; we took the racing line once more when we saw them on the horizon, queuing for the next lock.  We tried to stay calm and focused when we drew level in the lock. (I had a sneaky peak at the unusual set up of the nearside boat – I’m pretty sure there were some FIP (Federation Internacionale de la Péniche) violations present).  Perhaps they knew the game was up, and gracefully retired at Gunthorpe (again, presence of pub purely coincidental) before we alerted the racing authorities to their transgressions.

The rest of the day was one long victory lap.  The celebrations began with a strong cup of tea, and continued with the Double Fracture Disco filling in the tranquil silence with ACDC and Guns ‘N’ Roses.  No longer needing to concentrate on the race, we were able to appreciate the surroundings, spotting a kingfisher and weasel along the way.

Our victory procession came to a fitting end outside County Hall, where we could parade in front of the rapturous fans (a couple of people walking a dog and four teenagers passing round a single cigarette).  It was great to bask in the glory of the day’s win, but CBG and I know you are only as good as your last race, and that there is a lot of hard work to be done between now and the end of the season if we want to gain that FIP crown.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Welcome to the jungle‘ by Guns ‘N’ Roses.

The Big Weekend: The Wedding

Once upon a time, in a suburb far far away

A girl received a message in her online in-tray

She sent a message back, once more there was a reply

And before long, their first date was nigh.

One date became two; soon they were a couple

She made him laugh; he made her chuckle.

They bought a house, a home of their own

A place for parties, a place to be alone.

And so it was, with nothing unpacked

The hero of the story decided to act.

They got Chinese, he bought champagne

And on one knee in their new domain

He asked my sister to be his bride

And always be by his side.

And so, two years later, all dressed in white

Miss Sanders was declared to be Mrs Wright.

(Followed by the best groom’s speech of all time

That has inspired this particular rhyme.)

And so they set off into wedded bliss

Congratulations Laura and Chris!

This blog post was brought to you by ‘How long will I love you‘ by Ellie Goulding.