Flaming holes


I was enjoying an evening by the fire, wishing I had marshmallows (why am I not more prepared?) and admiring the job the fire cement was doing in keeping the chimney collar hole patched up. And then I saw it. A sliver of glowing coals in a place I shouldn’t be able to see glowing coals. The collar had a new hole.

But I was in no mood to panic. I had survived worse holes, and this one looked like an easy fire cement patch up job. Carefully supervised by Martin, the crack was plugged up, and I thought it was about time I took a good look at the stove and fixed up what I could ahead of the winter.

The easy bit was smearing more fire  cement around the collar; this was probably a purely cosmetic job, but it’s made the whole thing look a lot more smooth. It appeared that the previous owners had put some fire rope around the top of the collar, so I decided to replace that, and throw on another dollop of cement. I scraped some of the soot out of the chimney (a satisfyingly messy job) and also noted that a couple of tiles had come off behind the stove. Having no tiling experience and no idea what tools that might entail, I have left them be for now, and resolved to consult YouTube for advice.

The big event of the stove work was replacing the fire rope inside the stove door.  I have vague fears about carbon monoxide poisoning, and thought that new rope would be better than old rope at keeping fire fumes out of the living room. (I was aware that I might be removing something that was doing a perfectly good job, and then botching the task of replacing it.) However, it all seemed to go well.  I measured the rope, applied the glue in the correct place and then, as instructed, did not close the door for at least 30 minutes after sticking the rope in place.

I am confident that I will not be getting any carbon monoxide leaks in the cabin in the foreseeable future. As I now cannot close the stove door as the rope is too thick, thus preventing me from lighting a fire.  Instead of doing the sensible thing and replacing it with slightly thinner rope, I am trying to squash the existing rope into submission by leaning a coal bag against the door. It’s a foolproof plan.

Thank the boating gods for a diesel heater.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Am I wrong‘ as covered by Lower Than Atlantis.


The next project

I had assumed that my next abode after the boat would be a windmill or, if I hankered after a coastal view, a lighthouse.  (The latter also has the advantage of giving me bizarre experiences in the manner of ‘Round the twist‘. For those of you unacquainted with the show, it is an Australian reality TV programme from my childhood, accurately depicting day-to-day life in a lighthouse.).  Yes, I was determined to one day swap my long, thin home for a tall, thin home. Until I saw the Rightmove advert for Radford Manor.

This house is notable for various reasons – it was apparently built (in part at least) by the same man who built Nottingham Castle, it has a beautiful attic room and a roof terrace.  And it has a cave.


I need to live in a house with a cave. So I made an appointment to look round, and started to tentatively ask around for potential investors. (My parents. They politely declined.) I came up with an elaborate backstory as to why I would be after a six-bedroom house, and was a little disappointed when the owner didn’t ask me at all about my purchasing capability. (But also relieved. I might have felt guilty about the lie, or potentially wasting his time if my non-existent investors fell through.)

The house was as exciting in the flesh (in the bricks and plaster?) as it was on the Internet. The shower was also a sauna, and the cellar kitchen had a double bed in one of the alcoves (just in case all that cooking wore you out. Or you couldn’t be bothered to go up a few flights of stairs to get to a bedroom). There was a well, but it was only about 6 inches deep. I will be digging that out, so I have my own water supply in case of a zombie apocalypse.

And then there was the cave. Or should I say caves. A whole complex of caves for revelling, ghost hunting and indoor picnics. For hide and seek if you had the nerve for it. For decorating with candles and fairy lights in one of my more girly moments.

The downsides then. It’s a bit crumbly round the edges and would need a lot of work (though ideal for developing my rudimentary DIY skills). I don’t think I could sleep there at night without at least 5 other people as it’s just so big. It’s expensive for Radford, and according to the mortgage calculator, even if I sold my boat, I would need two other midwives on board to get a sufficient mortgage with our combined incomes.

And I don’t want to sell my boat. Not even to buy a cave. I had better look after my increasingly achey body as I think I will be clambering around Double Fracture for a long time to come.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Supermassive Black Hole‘ by Muse.

The good, the bad, and the covered-in-excrement ugly

As part of the one year anniversary celebratory blogposts, let’s relive the highs and lows from the last 12 months.  (In the manner of a sitcom which has run out of ideas so goes with a montage episode.)  If I muster the energy, it might even be accompanied by a graph.  (You’ll just have to read to the bottom to see if I bothered.)  I’ll start with the lows.

In at number five is the time I parked my boat so badly, I broke an ornament in my next door neighbour’s boat.   Steering has been a challenge when it comes to driving Double Fracture, though smashing an ornamental flower has served as an incentive to get better fast.  Some of my crockery has not survived subsequent forays out of the marina, but at least I have not destroyed anyone else’s breakables since.

Holding steady at number four is the saga with the hole in the engine.  From its discovery, to the spare parts that didn’t fit to the final bill, I could have cried for three days solid.  Fortunately for me, I am not a cryer otherwise it could have left me dangerously dehydrated.

A shock entry at number three is the time my neighbour told me what fixing the hole in the engine actually should have cost.  I couldn’t have felt more sick if he’d kicked me in the stomach.

Climbing to number two, or more accurately exploding to the top end of the chart, is the shower of shit over Sawley.  How could the day in which I was covered in a month’s worth of toilet flushings be overlooked in a list like this?  Surely the only question is, why is it not at number one?

So the worst moment of the year, 2014/2015’s number one is……the leaking water pump.  It wasn’t as gross as the fountain of lavatory waste, or as depressingly expensive as the hole in the engine.  But in terms of panic and feeling out of my depth (not helped by comments from the online forum I posted on telling me not to worry, but my hull was probably full of water), the water pump incident outstrips the other contenders.

There was the bad, now onto the good.

The fifth best moment was picking up the keys to my new home.  The keys to my very own home, with no one else to annoy with my untidy ways, or to hint that I might like to take the rubbish out soon.  No need to worry about not getting my deposit back, or that using bluetack on the walls is prohibited in the rental agreement.  And not only that – it’s a boat.  An actual floating boat, with an engine and rudder and everything.  Exciting times.

A new entry at four was my first solo trip on a perfect autumn afternoon.  I imagine there will be a list next year that involves the first time I take on a lock by myself, though whether this will be a high or a low remains to be seen.

Dropping to number three is the shower of shit over Sawley.  Yes, it was a low point, standing there in front of my father dripping in the contents of the septic tank, but it remains my best boat story.  And I love a good story.  Not to mention the look on people’s faces as we reach the end of the tale.

A great moment, but not quite the best: the first trip to refuel makes it to number two.  There were excited children running about, and excited adults running after them.  We wouldn’t have broken any water speed records on the 300m round trip, but sometimes doing things quickly is not the best way forward.  Which is just as well on a narrowboat.

And the finest moment of the last year in narrowboating terms.  The first overnight trip was just tremendous.  The company, the food (bread and boater pudding did not quite live up the brilliance of the pun), being able to go away for the weekend and not having to pack.  And also finding out that next year’s trip will have a new addition to the crew – baby Trebble will be expected to pull his weight whilst on board.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Brick by Brick‘ by Newton Faulkner.

And of course there’s a graph.

highs and lows chart

A numbers game

Is living on a boat cheaper than living in a flat?  It’s a question I get asked a lot (not quite as much as ‘Do you really live on a boat?”, but probably slightly more than “Do you have a washing machine?”) So after 12 months of canalboat living, it’s time to look at the figures and see if boat really does stand for Bring Out Another Thousand (the most common acronym other narrowboaters have quoted to me).

General Boat Stuff

Mooring – £2800.  This includes use of the facilities (which does include one of the best showers I have ever had the privilege to use), water rates, council tax, a post box (no more ‘sorry we missed you’ cards from the postal service ever again) and laundry tokens.

River licence – £490.  As I live on the river I need a river licence, the fees for which go to the Canal and River Trust who are responsible for maintaining many of England’s inland waterways.  To get a canal and river licence would cost roughly double, so for now I’m sticking to the Trent.

Insurance – £195.  I got a massive 5% discount for having done the Helmsman’s course.

River Canal Rescue – £165.  The AA or RAC of the waterways.  So far not needed rescue services, though did come quite close when we got beached on a shallow part of the river.

Blacking the hull – £700.  This also included them doing something to the wobbly rudder, and stopping the tiller from leaking.

Initial improvements

Solar panel – £285.  This replaced the one that got stolen, and was knocked off the initial price of the narrowboat.  If I’d done my research, or even if I’d remembered the research I’d already done I would have got a different solar panel, but hindsight is 20/20.

Battery charger – £550.  The previous owners were continuous cruisers and so charged the batteries off the engine and the solar panel.  I, on the other hand, need mains electricity to feed my boxset habit.

Fenders – £170.  I’m too bad a driver to not have extra protection on the boat.

The cost of holes

The hole in the engine – £1600.  I don’t want to talk about it.

The hole in the calorifier (necessitating a new calorifier) – £1200.  I don’t want to talk about that either.

The hole in the water pump – £75.

The hole in the chimney – £6.


This is the part I hopefully start to feel a bit less sick about the cost of running a narrowboat.

Coal – £100.

Diesel – £200.  This not only gets me from A to B, but also fuels the heater for the radiators.

Gas – £54.  I only use gas for cooking, and I can get a fair few cups of tea out of a gas canister.

Electricity – £60.  The big triumph of narrowboat living.  It’s the only bill I look forward to getting as it’s just so small.

And then there’s maintenance costs, like oil and filters for the engine service and stuff for the de-rusting programme.  They probably come in at about £200.

The total cost comes in at £7950 for the year.  I’m very much hoping that some of those costs will not be repeated anytime soon (I particularly hope the holes category is a lot smaller in 2016), and some things like the hull blacking only needs doing every three years.

So this year, it doesn’t look like living on a boat is cheaper than living in a flat.  Next year might be a different.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘I need a dollar‘ by Aloe Blacc.

Happy Anniversary Double Fracture

It’s a year to the day since I got the keys to my lovely boat. Or, seen from a different angle, it’s 365 days since Double Fracture got lumbered with a novice owner, after 10 years with people who knew what they were doing.

I’d like to say I’m everything a boat could dream of, but I know that in my heart of hearts that’s not true. I haven’t always been that thoughtful, I don’t often put Double Fracture’s needs above my own. Maybe she would have liked a lick of paint in the summer, but I chose to go on holiday instead of spending that quality time with her. And although I can say with a clear conscience that there have been no other boats in my life in the last year, I will admit to having had an occasional wandering eye.  I even convinced friends to go boat shopping so I could look at other narrowboats, but it never went any further than that.  Honestly.

Not that Double Fracture has been perfect through the last 12 months either. She’s kept her secrets, there have been a few skeletons in the closet.  I think it wasn’t so much the actual holes that bothered me, it’s more that she kept them hidden for so long.  (That’s not true. The holes, and their associated costs bothered me quite a lot.) But I like to think that’s behind us now.

So happy first anniversary to my lovely boat. My paper gift to you will be old newspaper to burn in the stove. It’s ok you didn’t get me anything – a hole free year is all I need from you.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Suspicious minds‘ by Elvis Presley.

A narrowboat microadventure

Walking Hadrian’s Wall, or round the M25 have recently been added to my life list.  As has strolling home for Christmas (a lovely route along the river) and going on a 5-9 camping trip (the idea being you go straight from work and then go straight to work in the morning.  So for me it’s more a 7-7 adventure.)  This have been inspired by ‘Microadventures‘ – a book I borrowed from Sanding Thea. I have also recently come to the realisation that I have only taken two proper overnight trips on the boat (three if you include getting the hull blacked. Which I don’t.)  On top of that, I have never ventured out on the boat by myself.  So I decided, in the spirit of microadventures, to sail off into the sunset one afternoon.   

Other than nearly slicing through a fisherman’s line it all went fairly well.  There was one potentially dicey moment, which I will not go into on such a public platform for fear of my insurers happening upon the blog (the readership does extend into double figures, so anything is possible).  Suffice to say all turned out well, as the photos above are proof of.  There was only minor scraping as I parked by the side of the canal (I think this is referred to as ‘on the cut’.  If it’s not then I have no idea what ‘on the cut’ means.)  I made mental flattering comparisons between myself and Ellen McArthur as I made a cup of tea.

And then came my downfall.  Camping out of the marina means no mains electricity and relying solely on the batteries for power.  “No problem,” I thought.  “I’ll read, maybe do some embroidery.”  I could think of a dozen activities for the evening that required little more than a trickle of electricty for lights.  And then I allowed myself ‘just one’ episode of 30 Rock. 

It is impossible to watch just one episode of 30 Rock.  Especially when the ‘play all’ function on the DVD player makes it so effortless to enjoy more.  Six episodes later, a beeping  inverter told me I was rapidly running out of power, and so I pulled the plug on the DVD player, not knowing whether Liz Lemon had found her future husband.  The increasingly dim lights made reading a difficult task, and I then discovered my trusty headtorch was not so trusty after all (it had travelled the Kalahari and the Trans-Mongolian railroad, but the waterways of the East Midlands proved just too much for it).  I took this as a sign that the universe wanted me to go to bed.

The potential for flat batteries and being stuck tantalising close to the marina and mains electricity for all time spurred me into running the engine to provide power for my shower in the morning.  (What it did not do, unfortunately, was provide hot water for the shower – there is nothing like a lukewarm wash to set you up for a 12-and-a-half hour shift.  Invigorating is not quite the word.)  The engine is not a quiet piece of machinery, and I suspect my temporary neighbours were cursing me loudly as I woke them before sunrise.  (Luckily, I couldn’t hear anything over the rumble of the engine.)  I’m sure my cheery wave as I walked to the car would have mollified them (or sent them into apopleptic rage at my apparent obliviousness to the inconvenience I had caused them all).

The  microadventure came to an end after two nights, and I chugged smugly back to my mooring.  And felt a flood of relief as I plugged the boat back into the mains.  At last the involuntary sitcm cliffhanger could be resolved and I could go back to being frivolous with the battery on my phone by using all the 3G it could stand.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Deeper Undergorund’ by Jamiroquai.

Winter is coming

And my summer boat to-do list is looking quite sparsely ticked.  So instead of getting on with my own DIY, I volunteered to spend the weekend doing someone else’s.

Thea (see Wikipedia page for more details about this unusual name) has a deep-seated hatred of laminate flooring, which did not stop her buying a flat almost exclusively covered in laminate flooring. It did spur her on to rip up all the laminate and rope me in for a weekend of sanding the floorboards. But I don’t think it has equipped me with the necessary skills for my to-do list, though hopefully has inspired me to get stuck in. Where to start?

The rust management has not quite kept pace with the rust development, and my hopes of de-rusting and painting the roof deteriorated into patchy rust treatment and blotchy painting. The roof now looks like it has a map of a far-flung archipelago on it.  Sanding skills may come in handy for tackling this actually – I have at the very least learnt that sanding over the power cable for your sanding tool of choice is not advisable.(Some problems just simply can’t be foreseen.)

The radiators have a small leak in one of the pipes. I had intended to remove the wooden casing around the pipes, find the leak and wrap LLFA tape around it. On unscrewing the first panel, I discovered it is not just screwed in place but also glued in place. So I’ve given up for a few months. I’m sure it will be easier now the weather is colder, and I am in greater need of radiation.

The hole in the stove chimney has been patched up, and I meant to get it properly fixed. There is a slight chance that lifting up the chimney to put a new collar on it might result in a crumbled bottom chimney. Though that isn’t something I’m worried about, as I have no idea how to go about lifting up the chimney. On top of that problem the fire rope which insulates the door and window of the stove need replacing (because I tried to pull it out in a fit of curiosity). It’s fiddly work which is not well suited to my stubby fingers.

Last Easter a friend pointed out that some rubber stuff around the edge of the windows needed replacing as it was shrinking. I don’t know what it is called, what it is does or how to replace it, so it’s not really surprising I haven’t made any attempt at tackling this one. It’s probably at the bottom of the list.

The more ambitious aims of installing multiple hammocks or building a bookshelf have also been shelved. (Pun intended. You’re welcome.) Though stand a better chance of being done this winter than the rubber window thing.

Give me six months and I’m sure I’ll have made some headway with the list. Or I’ll be writing a similar blog post about my plans for summer DIY.

This blogpost was brought to you by ‘Stubborn Love‘ by The Lumineers.