En route to the boat hospital

I wrote the title of this post 3 months ago. That should give you an idea of the kind of job we’ve undertaken.

Renovating a dutch barge is no mean feat it turns out my friends. Approach with caution!

It began back in April, when we glided (see bumped) gently out of South Marina with a hardy crew of 5 at 4am on a rather misty morning.

It was the time of the fabled pollution cloud, which paraded itself across the tabloids in lieu of any real news for the course of one week or so.

As we left the dock, the gates of Southdock hauled themselves open and Vertrouwen was let loose onto the great wide darkness of Thames, preceded by an orange football which drifted out ahead.

 

The Gate to Beyond!

The Gate to Beyond!

 

 

 

 

 

The Ball

The Ball

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lawyer and I are both exceedingly anxious. We’ve just bought 29.54 hollow tonnes of steel, with no true certainty of the state of the underside and are about to sail (well… the skipper will sail) her along the murky waters of Old Man Thames up to the estuary over the course of 8 hours without any assurance that she is up to the task.

It’s worth a mention here that by buying Vertrouwen ‘in the water’, that is to say without a full survey of her hidden regions, we are taking a huge leap of faith/risk. We had access to a couple of previous surveys, the last dating from 8 years previously (note boats are to be taken out of the water to check their hulls every 5 years) and had had an ‘in the water survey’ so, although not an entirely a lunatic move, it was fairly dodgy.

It’s 4 am and our slim number, made up of Super Skipper Stefan, Engineer Extraordinaire Alex and Uncle John, the Lawyer and I,  fire up the Gardner and move at a stately pace down past Canary Wharf, Greenwich and towards the mighty Thames Barrier.

This is probably not the Thames barrier

This is probably not the Thames barrier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lights onboard aren’t all functional, but the tide is with us, the engine is strong (and smoky) and the conditions are good.

It seems now that the crew are getting peckish.  The fridge, like the lighting is out of order, but is stocked with the makings of an excellent English fry-up. In an attempt to keep my team happy and prevent mutiny, I have decided to attempt a full English brekkie on the go.  I don a miner’s torch and head down to the galley, light the stove and try, in semi-darkeness to beat some eggs, fry some bacon and grill some juicy tomatoes. The boat is wallowing now as we hit the Thames proper and glasses are tumbling off shelves as I beat the eggs.

Cooking

Cooking, early morning, dazzled by the flash

After 20 minutes, the eggs and I both arrive into the wheelhouse, scrambled. No-one is as impressed as they should be.

We are fairly short on fuel so have arranged to meet a fuel barge en-route to top up. It turns out that time-keeping is not the forte of these fellows and we hang out in the middle of the river for a good while waiting for the barge to turn up. The fuel handover is short and sharp and we’re on our way.

Exhausted by the breakfast, I feel it’s my time for a nap. Our cabin is in the bow, right where the prow is pushing through the waves. You can feel the water charging up and around the bed and the thunder of the engine doesn’t help but I am shattered.

I wake up to find us in the midst of the pollution doom cloud. The Lawyer, Uncle John and Stefan have taken it in turns to steer her and are relieved when I turn up eager to take the wheel.

I soon find out that it is very boring to drive a boat in the middle of a pollution cloud. There’s nothing to see but some fairly gloomy looking tankers and brown water, the banks of the river are invisible. The route is plotted out on an Ipad and it’s a bit like a computer game, you are following a red line to and there are no baddies only buoys. The wheel moves between being super sensitive to stubborn as an ox without any real reason and soon you find yourself veering wildly towards the shallows. This is a heavy gig.

Long and slow

Long and slow… The rest of the trip is slow and steady.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The toilet breaks. We are forced to resort to the ‘honey bucket’. I am not a fan.

Then 7 hours later Rochester comes into view and with it the shipyard that will serve as Vertrouwen’s home and hospital for the next few weeks. We chugg towards it passing a few castles and wobbling some lovely little fishing boats in our wake.

A Castle

A Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We moor up beside the slipway and 2 hours later a team of 5 men in overalls arrive, pirate-like and take control of the vessel, hooking her up to an enormous winch that drags her out of the depths onto dry land.

Beached. She seems bigger than ever. Angled at 45 degrees more glasses tumble to the floor.

The Mammoth emerges

The whale emerges

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am absurdly grateful/proud that we have made it.

The toilet overflows.

A pretty pic of a shed

A pretty pic of a shed

 

 

 

Poleaxing the Flagpole

The Lawyer and I recently discovered a flagpole in our stern locker.

“Your what?” I hear your ask.

Our sternlocker. The locker situated in our stern – right next our stern-glands and lock nuts, well not mine, the boat’s… umm, nevermind. I’m venturing dangerously close to the territory of double-entendre and we haven’t even mentioned the shaft or the flange yet. I’m not just being rude, it’s really what all this stuff’s called…  see helpful diagram below and note that I’m not talking out of my rear/stern:

ANYWAY back to the phallic flagpole which is really just a pole, I suppose – but when you endow it with the intention of dangling a painted cloth from it’s point, it magically becomes THE FLAGPOLE. Ta da! The pole is just a pole. It’s the flag that makes the magic happen. That’s what makes the folk stand to attention and  people salute. And why?

I have never really given any thought to flags before now. A cursory wikipedia search throws up that flags were used initially as heraldic devices in processions and war. Much in the same way that football teams wear different coloured shirts, in grittier times, our forefathers gathered their forces around flags in order see who was on who’s side. Mostly so they didn’t polaxe the wrong guy in the head, or poke the wrong chap with their pike. (I’ve become a little fascinated by medieval weaponry by the way, the sheer ingenuity and range! And the names! If you’re interested I’ll tack on some info on this at the end of the post. After all many of them involved a pole as well, so it’s kind of loosely relevant).

Flags and boats have long been berth-buddies. Primarily they were, and continue to be, a means of visual communication. They allowed you to see from a safe distance, whether the galleon ahead housed friend or foe, or if your name was Bluebeard or Sir. Francis Drake, whether the ship was fair fodder for a spot of bountious pillaging.

It was from these early maritime flags that today’s national flags were born. Each designed in some way to represent and signify the land and people’s to which they belong.  In some instances individuals or families also designed their own flags and tailored them to their own specifications, like a kind of airborne signet ring.

If you’re interested in all things Vexillological (Flag relatated) take a look at this marvellous site:

http://www.vexillologymatters.org/

It tells you things like the etiquette of raising a flag from the Netherlands:

  • Should be hoisted quickly and lowered ceremoniously

What the colours symbolise in flags, for example in the Bahamian flag:

Bahamas Flag

  • Gold – the sands of the nation
  • Blue – the waters that surround the Bahamas
  • Black – the black triangle stands for unity

I won’t continue here, but please please do read some of it, it’s brill!

So, what do we intend to dangle from our pole?

Good question and one to which the Lawyer and I have devoted much thought (okay, not that much). What we hang up there is meant to demonstrate to the world our identity and our allegiances, right? So it behoves us to figure out first what allegiances and identities we subscribe to.

It is very difficult for one person to nail their colours to the post and say “I am this” or “I am that”. For two people, it’s virtually impossible. “Who are we”. Urgh, this question suddenly makes me cringe on the inside a little. I don’t know why, but there is a certain smugness about it. But hey, for the sake of the argument let’s go along with it for a bit. (Please do understand all this is hypothetical, it would be great [if mad] to think we would be bothered to stick to this ritualistic raising the flag nonsense; but in reality, when we struggle to make a bowl of cornflakes in the morning, what is the likelihood of either the Lawyer or I hauling ourselves out of bed to hoist a bloody flag at dawn?).

Either way, in the spirit of debate. “How do we define ourselves on this boat by means of a rectangle of painted material”. Most simply, I reckon, just stick a Union Jack up there and be done with it.

But it’s so boooooring! And reductive. And do we really feel that British anyway?

The Lawyer and I think a little more (always dangerous) and realise that between us, only 1 of our 8 grand-parents was born in the UK, only 2 of our 4 parents and only 1 of the 2 of us. Statistically this does not a good Englishman make. Really we should alternate between the Belarussian, Dutch, German, Irish, Singaporean, American, Cypriot and British flags, however this seems extravagant, expensive and time consuming to say the least. Not to mention eccentric and somewhat prattish. We abandon this plan.

Right, well since the boat and I are both female, I propose, that’s one against two and therefore we should stick the universal female sign up there. More as a provocation than anything else. The Lawyer doesn’t respond. I rally (against myself note) that he Lawyer should by rights then counter that Vertrouwen and he are both of Dutch heritage, so it should be the flag of Holland which takes pride of place. But he doesn’t speak Dutch and so it seems a bit hypocritical. He still doesn’t respond. He’s not into this debate.

Just quickly, before I lose you too,  let take a little bit of a tangent – (I’m not that good at sticking to the point, have you noticed?). Back up a bit, to the part where we were talking about identity. The Lawyer and I are by rights, British, we both hold UK passports. Yet as mentioned before, 7 out of our 8 grandparents were brought up elsewhere. Which means going back 2 generations almost none of our family was English, spoke English, or knew what Spotted Dick was. If I were to meet my Grandmother as a young woman Marty McFly style, would we have any common ground? We wouldn’t speak the same language or have the same cultural references, but maybe we have the same eyebrows. Isn’t it strange that my identity, is so very different from theirs, and what they considered theirs to be maybe. Yet here I am, a bit of her DNA and maybe legacy incarnated in the 21st Century.

Pontification over!! Back to the flag question.

I’m not sure. I think maybe we should design our own. I think we should come up with something that represents us more completely. Or ask my the God-daughter to. Isn’t that something that we used to do at school. And she’s an excellent drawer. After all, we are our own island, right? Sort of?

 

*Ooooh the bit I promised about medieval weaponry and warfare absolutely rivetting stuff:
Broadly divided into:
  • Swords and Daggers
  • Polearms (weapons mounted on poles like poleaxes, pikes and  military forks)
  • Engines of war (catapults and mangonels)
  • Nasty buildings. These weapons of war were even built into the very fabric of buildings, there was such a thing as a murder-hole for God’s sake. People could throw horrible stuff like boiling tar on enemies from holes in the roof.

For more info: http://www.medievalwarfare.info/weapons.htm

 

 

 

Chimps and Chumps and Kismet

For some reason or another Chimpanzees and other primates have been featuring highly in my world recently. I am fully aware that this has nothing to do with Barges: to my knowledge no chimp has owned or resided on one (but you never know, please do let me know if I am wrong…) but I beg your indulgence nevertheless.

Typically of one bred of a slightly hippyish and spooky mother (think white-witches brought in to advise on positive fung shui in the family home, cleansing bad energies and spirits from the area by filling toilet tanks with whisky and rice…) I feel as though coincidence is never mere coincidence, but a kind of welcome kismet sent from somewhere. And bearing this in mind, it should thusly never be ignored.

So here it goes – urged on by the Universe to post this post due to the unusual prevalence of Chimpanzee related media which has wiggled its way into my periphery over the last couple of days, I shall write.

Last night I watched a rather affecting and sad documentary on a chimpanzee called Nim Chimpsky (great pun). It was called “Project Nim” and follows our protagonist Nim, as he moved from prodigal baby chimp, through episodes of angsty, recalcitrant teen apt to bite and scratch and onwards. Notably the chump who instigates the Project Nim, is the true villain of this piece.  Herbert Terrace devises this project in the 70s, none involved seem to get off lightly, but Terrace systematically uses and abuses Nim himself, the volunteers that work with Nim and  the project itself, a self-promoting svengali figure who disappears when the sh@£ hits the proverbial fan, pulling funding and offloading Nim onto another institution. Each time Nim becomes too much of a handful, or their hands become a mouthful for Nim, his human carers successively palm him off on other facilities until finally, gruesomely, he ends up being bought by a medical testing facility. It makes for hard watching and I think says more about us people than it does about Nim. What are people looking for in Nim and what he represents? A kind of dim-witted cousin? A halfway house between the animal and human worlds? It is telling that the people who support him, recoil from him when he reacts like an animal and when he doesn’t deliver or behave according to their hopes.

I left this post for a while so I’m coming back to it now a few months on. I can’t quite remember exactly where the post was going. Note to self… always finish posts otherwise, S, you will certainly lose your thread!

Either way, I remember I also watched a programme on Bonobos and in particular a Bonobo called Kanzi who seems to have succeeded where Nim failed in his ability to communicate, albeit not verbally (some argue he is vocalizing but at a pitch too high for humans to understand) via a lexigram board.

 

The scientist who worked and lived alongside Kanzi, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, is a woman who has dedicated her life to this quest to bridge the communication gap with Bonobos. Her relationship with Kanzi is rather touching, but one cannot help but think she might have sacrificed a little too much of herself in her quest to understand our Bonobo brothers. Her detractors accuse her of being unstable and 12 former employees accused her of mistreating the apes in her care (namely by allowing people, who may be carrying diseased to enter their enclosure), but one gets the sense that a kind of blurring of boundaries takes place. Perhaps when you are willing an animal to behave like a human so intently, you ignore the distinctions that do exist between the two and this can lead you to act inappropriately by allowing the animals more freedoms than are safe for them in a human orientated environment.

And then finally, Mum sent me a really beautiful clip of the beatific Abbess of the Apes, Jane Goodall as she releases Wounda the Chimpanzee into the wild. Please watch it here particularly 3.20:

Jane Goodall, unbelievably 80 years old, has an enormous love for these creatures and unlike the scientists in the earlier two instances that I speak of, she believes that a chimp is a chimp and should behave and live like a chimp. Her life’s work with these animals has been to reinforce and champion their identity as animals and not to try to mould them to the human facsimile or prove that they are comparable in mental capability to people of a certain age, type or intelligence as others have done. I think that this is the camp into which I would like to attach myself, although I have to admit, there is something so captivating in speaking with apes. Perhaps Jane does the communicating best though, by allowing the time and space for these animals to be who they are and encouraging us to bend ourselves around them rather than urging them to accommodate themselves to our world and understanding.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

‘Twas the night before Christmas…

ImageTwas the night before Christmas and all down the dock, not a creature was stirring not even a duck…

The lawyer and I are furiously wrapping. We are an unstoppable parcel assembly line; the Lawyer tearing ragged strips of sello-tape with his teeth and passing them poste hast to me to secure the folds of garishly jolly Christmas around the present at hand. We make a formidable team and we work at speed.

And so we must, for we are racing to get everything ready before we head up to the the North of London for Christmas Eve with the Lawyer’s Ma and Pa and extended family before we head off on boxing day for a sojourn in the Southern Hemisphere.

The last two days have seen a return of seriously blustery weather and with the wind comes the problem of her Ladyship bouncing  up against the edge of the pontoon. Not good for the pontoon, not good for the boat and not good for the lawyer’s stomach, or mine.

The ferocity of the bumping and grinding all comes as a result of our Fenders have gone Pop, you see, and going Pop is not a good thing for a Fender to do. Once a Fender pops it’s working life is over. A defunct fender offers no protection to or from the enormous great metal ladder poking out from the pontoon next to the boat. The fender is faring worse than the barge it seems, now bent inwards to a 45 degree angle such is the force of the wind and the weight of the Mrs.

And the noise! Every time the steel hull and the ladder make contact, there emerges an horrific scraping, much like tormented wraiths calling from the deep. When we are in our cabin right at the bow, the racket intensifies, it’s like living in a bell, every shuddering screech filling me with terror.

I can’t sleep. When I do, all I dream of are shipwrecks and lost souls as the wind sloshes us around and the grinding becomes more insistent.

By day break I am a nervous wreck.

I run out into the rain in my pajamas and flip flops to inspect the damage to our boat. Really, as the Lawyer wearily points out, its cosmetic but still we wouldn’t want to leave her like that for much longer… Then the Chief of the Dock wanders past in his high vis, storm-proof jacket, doing his rounds ahead of the gale force winds on their way. He immediately tells us, as we expected, that our flaccid fenders are a no-no.

We need a solution pronto!

So we do what any responsible adults do. We ring one of the Dad brigade. The Lawyers’ Dad offers to pick up some tires from the Kind Greek Uncle, who owns a Garage and saves the day.

And so it transpires that the Lawyers’ Dad, aka The Barbeque Overlord and the Bearded Bro turn up at 6pm on a truly biblical (think old testament Noah rather than new testament messiah) New Years’ Eve armed with old tires and rope. The next hour sees three Greeks tying four knackered tires onto the pontoon side of the barge. Intermittently they check the below YouTube clip to see how to the tie knots as they wrestle away in the dark.

And so it’s done. We are sad to leave the dock, but on this night before Christmas it is silent and still and empty and we are looking forward to a night of calm on dry land given the outrageous weather.

It must be said before I finish up, that the dock has been glorious in the lead up to Christmas.

Our wonderful neighbours, the Yogi and King of Kites, came up with the ingenious idea of a soup kitchen. It is a great success with people coming from all four corners of the dock,  bowl, spoon and bottle in hand to celebrate under the stars next to flaming braziers (not brassieres note!).

Then there were the lights which lent a festive glow to the dock. Our Danish Neighbour nightly burnt a red candle next to some twinkly lights and Sir Veyor down the way had shining snowman that cheerily grinned, gleaming green scarf perpetually stiff. Other boats had Reindeer and lights threaded through the masts.

All in all a sight to behold.

Hope we all had a very merry Christmas! Ta ra!

Spider Attack 1

So, we seem to have had an influx of some unwelcome guests. Uninvited and most unwelcome. Unfortunately they don’t seem to respond well to an indiscreet yawn, an exaggerated glance at the watch or a polite plea of: “Gosh is that the time already!…”.

Neither do they react appropriately to my energetically ushering them towards the door whilst yelling “SHOO!”

Or anything  in between.

They are of course the dreaded Arachnid. Not to be mistaken with mere insects – they have eight terrifying legs as against the insect’s lowly six. All the better for scuttling, spinning, pirouetting  and pouncing. Their limbs work hydraulically, yes – like a piston – and the fact they have eight of them means that they can move, spring, climb or dangle in any direction willy-nilly at a nano-second’s notice.

One thing I should never have done, particularly as I sit alone on the barge (the Lawyer is in Leicestershire)  the lights dipping and rising (the electrics are a bit dodgy), on the night of a full moon, surrounded by these octo-ped fiends is to Wikipedia them!

I challenge even the bravest amongst you to  read the following without the slightest a twinge of fear:

“Arachnids are mostly carnivorous, feeding on the pre-digested bodies of insects and other small animals… Several groups secrete venom from specialized glands to kill prey or enemies.” (Wikipedia) GULP! How ghoulish!

They also happen to have the added benefit of supreme eyesight. Well you’d expect so, given the fact that most spiders have between FOUR and EIGHT EYES. Spec-Saver’s dream clientele!*

My mind swings back to the thought that even now, at this very moment, as I sit in the semi-darkness, a confederacy of  these venom-laced knitters are tip-toeing up to the portholes, peering in with their eight swivelling eyes. They’re probably silently weighing up how much spider-spit wool they’ll need to wrap me up like a Christmas pressie, paralyse me with their poison and carry me off to the night so that they can share me later with the rest of the family.

I ring my brother. No answer.

I ring mum. No answer.

I sing to myself and remember that Mum always said, after all, that Spiders and Geckos are our friends. Natural protection against mosquitoes and midges, and to be honest we haven’t seen many flying beasties on the dock this summer.

Just a lot of fat and happy spiders.

To see what “Incy-Wincy” and I did next please tune in tomorrow (or the day after).

*[Can we just stop for a moment to think about this small fact: one minute you could happen across a spider which manages with a meagre two eyes and then the next chance upon a jumping variety which luxuriates in having twelve of the things! How generic and predictable we mammals suddenly seem, with our strict adherence to the two eye policy. Can you imagine if you were suddenly to come across a chinchilla with six eyes spread across it’s head, or a deer with ten. Although we must take courage in the fact that we do very well with them and that all other vertebrates, the air-loving bird, the sea-loving fish and sun-basking reptile, also all stick doggedly to the same pattern.]

Crazed by the Coot

For the past few nights the Lawyer and I have been woken at the crack of sparrows by non-stop, high-pitched, brain-melting  “eeek – eeeeek”-ing of mini Coots.

How I loathe and detest a coot.

Until recently the baby coots, or cootlets, were fairly innocuous: the relative immaturity of their vocal chords meant that they were quiet and their diminutive proportions made them naturally and gratifyingly timid. It’s worth a mention here about how hideously ugly a coot infant is. They do have their fans, but I must say, the bald, red-blue bruised head ringed in stumpy yellow feathers doesn’t do it for me. One of the kindly fishermen noted that the poor things looked like their heads had been set on fire and you have to see what he means. I felt sorry for these useless, ugly little things, even if their parents were ass-holes, it wasn’t their fault. I was almost fond of them.

[There is an image here, but sadly my computer isn’t playing ball!]

Not so these days. Though they may be slightly easier on the eye: less barbecued red and blue pin-head, more nondescript grey bellied bleurgh, and though not yet as aggressive as their parents, they have gone down significantly in my estimation. It is the bloody-minded, monotony of their shrieking which makes them unbearable. I can’t imagine what it is that they have to complain about so vociferously. They have plenty of food in the form of pond-weed regurgitated on demand for them by their doting but evil, red-eyed Ma and Pa; their increased size means they are no longer in danger of being snacked on themselves by their own parents, peckish seagulls or believe it or not the monster carp that lurk in the gloomy depths; the weather is generally balmy and the dock is calm. So what can these little critters be so upset about?

[There is a video here, but sadly once more computer says no]

Honestly I don’t care.

I’m issuing a general warning to the coot population of dock. If they don’t tone down the screeching I’ll buy and use a super-power super-soaker-water-pistol thing and I won’t be afraid to use it and squirt them clean out of the dock. You have been warned.

The Lawyer has just said that I am not very nice to the Coots. I would say they are not very nice to us.