The washing machine drama

After one and a half years living on our boat we have come to a decision; the washing machine has got to go. I knew you’d be interested.

It’s all a question of balancing space with practicality and luxury. Having an automatic washing machine on board is very definitely a luxury but we have decided that it isn’t worth the space it takes up and the amount of electricity and water that it uses. It’s fine in the marina on shore power but when we are travelling it’s just too greedy for resources and it’s using valuable space that we could really make better use of. So, decision made, we have found a good home for it (no not in the canal) and my brilliant sister and brother in law are coming to pick it up from us. All of that is the easy bit. The hard part is getting it off the boat.

Obviously it came onto the boat somehow but I have been doing a bit of measuring and more than a bit of thinking and it’s going to take all of my A level physics and the help of another friend to extract it. There are two problems as I see it; the first is that getting the thing onto the boat must have been made much easier because of the way gravity works and the second is the doors that it will have to pass through. When I measured the width of the washing machine I found that it was 59.5 centimetres which was OK because the top of the door opening measured 60cm. Then for some reason I decided to check that the door opening was also 60cm at the bottom. It is not! It’s 59cm at the bottom.

Irregular doors at the top of a stair case, what could possible go wrong.

It turns out that we are living with irregular doors and that presents a not inconsiderable problem when juggling about 80kg of domestic appliance five or six feet off the ground and trying to pass it through a hole that is only big enough at the top! I do now have a plan and there may well be photographs of the escapade but equally I may be writing the next blog post from the nearest A & E waiting room. This could be very much a case of “watch this space”.

Listening to oddballs

I, like most people, like to think I am a reasonably good judge of character. My current job, working as a charity fundraiser, is casting some doubt on that assumption. Before I reveal what I mean I should probably explain the mechanics of the job:

Setting out my stall.

Setting out my stall.

I am usually located close to a canal or other waterway with a banner announcing the charity and it’s purpose and a table full of leaflets and paraphernalia. My job is to engage with the general public which turns out to be much more involved than you might expect. It starts with a smile to make the initial eye contact followed by a greeting and a question. The question is usually  something along the lines of “have you come across the Canal and River Trust before?” or it may relate to the weather if I deem that to be appropriate. In a surprising percentage of cases irrespective of the question, the response I get is: “No thank you”. So far I have resisted the temptation to ask if they would like twenty grand in used ten pound notes to see if I get the same answer but I’m not sure what I would do if somebody said yes please. Occasionally people pause long enough for me to engage them with a big dollop of charm and some attention grabbing statistic about the charity and we are off. I love this moment, it’s like the opening curtain of a performance or the bell going off for round one of the big fight. Well, maybe not a big fight, that’s probably not the best analogy. But it is definitely a performance. It’s all about establishing early on whether or not my punter has any sympathy with the work of the charity and making a judgement accordingly whether to pursue the conversation or politely let them go and refix the smile ready for the next one. Most of the time it’s pretty straightforward. Most of the time.

Every now and again that thrill of the opening performance is replaced about sixty seconds into the exchange with a cold, slightly disturbing sensation as I realise I have found another lonely oddball who is, in turn, delighted to have found somebody that is prepared to listen to them. What is it about me that attracts them? I seem to get at least one of them every shift. Then, just as they get into their stride explaining to me how the country was doomed from the moment the steam engine was replaced with the internal combustion one, or that one day, and it’s always one day, they are going to buy a an old wreck of a boat, renovate it single handed and get the BBC to make a documentary about it, something really annoying happens. While I nod and smile politely a whole host of people who may as well be wearing sandwich boards bearing the message “I want to become a friend of the Canal and River Trust, where do I sign?” start to pass behind my new found friend. Yesterday it was a chain-saw sculptor who wanted to know what the minimum height restriction was on the entire 2000 mile network. (I didn’t know). He needed to know this because of the trees he would need to keep on top of his boat and, of course, the bee hives. I kid you not. I try not to resort to being rude but try as I might I just don’t seem to be able to shake these characters off. Then there are the drunks.

Roll up, roll up

Roll up, roll up

Last week one of them kindly offered to go and get me a pint from the pub at half past eleven in the morning. I declined of course because I was working but I was already in danger of becoming half cut simply by being engulfed by the alcoholic fug that surrounded him. He was harmless enough but it is so frustrating. I hadn’t seen a soul for the ten minutes before he appeared but now there was a steady stream of towpath walking enthusiasts passing quickly by and trying to avoid me and my drunken accomplice. Yesterday’s drunk was another with a plan to buy a boat. Having explained approximately what was involved in terms of licensing and water safety I gave him a map of the waterways hoping he might want to get home immediately to start planning his odyssey. Not a chance. He spread out the map to explain to me that he was going to sail down to Slough to surprise his daughter and stay with her for a while. I’m sure she can’t wait. The conversation was made a bit tricky by the fact that every now and again he would lose his balance and stagger away from me. Mostly he went toward the pub but there were a couple of dodgy moments when it looked like he might end up in the canal. Eventually he decided it was time to go home and sleep things off but not before assuring me that I was now his everlasting pal and as soon as he got his boat I would be the second man aboard. I think not.

I sometimes wonder when I am trying my opening conversational gambits whether or not I have been understood and I often don’t catch the response I get. In one particular case though two gentlemen decided to stop to talk and we were a couple of minutes into the exchange before we realised we had no common language. They were newly arrived from Czechoslovakia (I think they may have been in denial as to recent history) and their English was limited to say the least. My Czech is pretty rusty and I was struggling to explain what I was doing standing by the canal. The word canal seemed to be understood and I got the distinct impression that they were asking me a question which involved money. I decided that they must be asking what it cost to maintain the waterways and I launched into my eye popping statistic reveal. £250,000 a day I announced with a little dramatic effect. It always gets a reaction but in this case they seemed genuinely shocked. Even horrified. I didn’t want to mislead them so with perseverance and a bit of mime I eventually established that I had just told them it would cost a quarter of a million pounds to hire a narrowboat for a day. They decided not to bother.

I might just go and make a small amendment to my C.V. Experienced charity fundraiser and all round oddball magnet. Good listener.


There is something about wheeling a loaded touring bike onto a ferry that is very magical. I know I’m not alone in this feeling so I thought I would try to dig down into the sensation a little to see what it it is that makes it so special.

I have always liked ferries because, with exceptions like the Woolich, they are usually part of a journey that in turn is part of an adventure. More often than not they involve travelling to an island and that in itself promises all kinds of exciting new discoveries and very often changes of culture and outlook. If it isn’t an island it’s an estuary and then it is very likely to be a passage that goes back hundreds of years and carries a different kind of romance.

Arran to Kintyre

Arran to Kyntyre

Most of the ferries we have travelled on so far have been designed to take cars. They loom up above us as they creep up to the slipway and open their huge gaping mouth like a giant steel cuckoo expecting to be fed. Instead they spew out cars and trucks that are made to look like dinky toys and then we are invited to wheel our bikes on board while all the boarding vehicles wait behind us. We can’t help but feel slightly smug being first on board but the roles are reversed on the other side as we are made to wait amongst the diesel fumes before we can disembark. There is always a sense of urgency amongst the crew as they lash our bikes to some iron work and we scramble to collect what we need from our bags for the journey. Then we are off upstairs to the lounge or the deck to pick the best seats before anybody else gets a look in.

Cromarty ferry. We had to wait for an hour and a half for the tide to rise before it could dock. Not a problem really.

Cromarty ferry. We had to wait for an hour and a half for the tide to rise before it could dock. Not a problem really.

The smaller ones, like the Cromarty ferry we used yesterday are the most sociable as cars, bikes, drivers and riders all mingle on deck together and that is when we get the most attention. Somebody always wants to know where we have ridden from and where we are going and a short thirty minute crossing will often see us making new friends that will be following us for the duration of our trip. These brief encounters seem to cut to the quick, slicing through the small talk and getting strangely intimate in such a short time. Perhaps it is the sure knowledge that you can’t get stuck with some utter bore for anything longer than it takes for the boat to get from one pier to another that loosens people up. Whatever it is we often find ourselves waving goodbye in a manner normally reserved for loved ones on train stations after just a half hour conversation.

The huge catamaran that took us from St. Margarets Hope on Orkney to Gill's Bay on the mainland.

The huge catamaran that took us from St. Margarets Hope on Orkney to Gill’s Bay on the mainland.

I love all the ship paraphernalia too. All the tackle and equipment associated with tying up and casting off. The painters, capstans and hawsers that form the complex system of securing a massive ship of several thousand tons to the pier. The smells of engine oil, hemp ropes and salty sea and the sounds of crew shouting instructions and labouring diesel engines holding the ship at bay as the ropes are secured. Who can resist a little shudder of excitement as the last rope is lifted from it’s bollard and cast aside as the boat begins to move away from the harbour. It’s such a symbolic action that so many adventures have started with throughout history. That sense of excitement and thrill of exploration never diminishes whether we are boarding a tiny passenger only vessel for a ten minute crossing or some behemoth that will take us across the seas for hours.


Tobermory on Mull to Ardnamurchan.

Tobermory on Mull to Ardnamurchan.

Yesterday’s ferry was our ninth of this trip but there will be many more before we are done and I’m looking forward to every one of them.