watervole: (Default)
 As many of you will know, I'm a real canal buff.

I'm not alone.  A morris dancer I got to know at Wimborne Folk Festival (we got geeking over morris history) also shares the interest.  She's really into period costumes and made a male and female costume of a typical man and wife working the canals in the early 1900's.

The head-dress is very characteristic of what the women used to wear.

See http://www.flickr.com/photos/chloemetcalfe/6427412471/

I was also interested in the design of belt she'd used.  You can see more detail here - http://www.flickr.com/photos/chloemetcalfe/6427390969/

I've never seen one like it before, but I'm guessing she drew on something historical.

It's like a Dorset Button in many ways (well, lots of them side by side and not make on curtain rings) - though I wouldn't have used 8 strand thread for a button (it makes the result a bit uneven) - but it's understandable if you're working on something the size of a belt.  It takes even longer to make if you're using thinner thread.

I think she must have done something like historical costumes at university.  I note she also does commissions, she said she's working an a Renaissance outfit at present.

PS.  Still got a space on the narrowboat 9-16 July.  Probably be the Rochdale canal.  Anyone interested?  Must be fit, like veggie food and board games. Part of the week is perfectly possible.
watervole: (books)
Rolt is an excellent writer, with a good eye for what he sees and good descriptive text, but with massive cultural blinkers.

His description of his travels on board his converted narrow boat Cressy back in the 1940s was to be one of the sparks leading to the foundation of the Inland Waterways Association and the restoration of the British canal network.

In the regard of writing about his journey, and his description of the life of the few remaining owners of horse-drawn boats when he encountered them, he gives many useful details (I'd never known that concertinas were popular instruments among boatsmen).

However, his blinkers come from his conviction that everything of the past is good and everything of the machine age is bad.  He says quite seriously that he believes the canals to be the safest form of transport ever devised, but does not spot the contradiction when he encounters a boatman whose daughter had recently drowned in a lock (in fact, drownings and other accidents were pretty common).

He comments on the life span of over a hundred of some old countrymen in the parish records he views and attributes it to their simple life, but fails to spot the high infant mortality in those same records.

He loves his books, but believes that the illiterate boatman loses nothing by his lack of knowledge.

It's a good book if you want to read about the pre-restoration Inland Waterways, complete with the last surviving canal pubs (in the era of real ale served in a jug), but you may find it a touch annoying if you feel that you wouldn't actually want to have lived in Olde England even if it looks very charming in retrospect.
watervole: (Default)
I've just been re-reading Flowers Afloat, by Tony Lewery - a natural follow-up to our recent canal holiday.

The working canal people often lived on their boats - an entire family in a cabin smaller than my bathroom (6ft X 10 ft was the standard cabin size). The limited space was used as effectively as possible: beds turned into seats during the day or removed altogether; tables folded up to become cupboard doors, no toilet, washing facilities were a tin bowl that hung on the wall when not in use.

One result of this limited space was an explosion of decorative paintwork. The back of the table would be painted so that the picture was visible when the table was folder up. Seat boards, stools, water can, the back of the tin bowl, all would be decorated and probably more besides. On the outside of the boat, the tiller and rope blocks would be painted either with geometric patterns or with flowers. The boat's name would be painted in ornate letters and there would often be a painted picture beside the owner's name on the cabin side.

The vast majority of this art work would be either roses or castles.  (Hence the popularity of 'Rose and Castle' as a pub name near old canals - I found half a dozen on Google with no effort at all and there would probably be more if I looked harder.)

Other subjects were used, the sailor from the Players' cigarette adverts appears now and then, but roses and castles probably account for 90% of canal art.

The cabin doors (viewed from the inside) typically had a castle as the top image and a swag of roses in the panel underneath.

Here, you can see the external appearance of the stern of a motor-powered narrowboat - note the decorated water can which was kept on the roof and refilled with drinking water at suitable stops.

Below, you can see a pair of restored working boats.   Narrowboats were often worked in pairs, the second boat or 'butty' being towed by the first one and having no engine itself. The butty had a cabin, often even smaller than the one on the main boat and it was useful extra living space for some of the larger families.

The earliest narrowboats were horsedrawn, and some horsedrawn boats were still in use during the second world war, but they died out after that.

Note the ogee curve painted on the front of the butty. That was another popular motif, often on the outside of doorways, rather like an entrance arch. (See if you can spot one behind the open door on the picture above this one)

The restoration of these boats is not yet complete.  The name on the bow should be painted clearly, often with a diamond pattern next to the name. You can see the white undercoat already in place for the work to be done.

The size of narrowboats was determined by the locks on the British canal network.  At 70ft long and 7ft wide, the locks defined the boats that would fit into them.

One of the most striking things about traditional canal art is how little it varied. Many boatyards and many boatsmen painted, but all the results look remarkably similar.   While it is possible to see stylistic variations between different boatyards and sometimes between individual artists, you can look instantly at a picture and say 'That's a canal rose/castle'.

Working narrowboats were a relatively short culture, lasting only 200 years, but they provide one of the few extant forms of folk art in Britain.  (There was also a narrowboat tradition of decorative crochet work, which I may talk about some other time)

watervole: (water vole)
We went on the canals with [profile] on_idle_moor  and had a pleasant week.

More of that later (time and email backlog permitting).

This is mostly a placeholder for me to record what does/does not trigger vertigo.

Much to my pleased surprise, walking on a nine inch wide plank over a fifteen foot drop down to the water of a lock caused me no problems at all.  Indeed, the canals proved to be remarkably low on vertigo triggers and I had less trouble than in any week I can recently remember.

Thus, the few mild attacks that I did get stand out against the background with clear causes.

1.  Crossing a busy road. Turning my head quickly from left to right to keep checking the traffic.

2.  The combined effect of the sound of an in-store freezer along with the store's lighting.  (I actually had to force myself out of a very interesting shop)

3.  Sitting at a table when the boat was rocking and seeing out the window opposite (drawing the curtains solved that one)

4.  Normally, steering the boat was very easy (looking in the same direction that I'm moving seems to be a good thing), but on one occasion we were passing under some poplars in bright sunlight and the shadows of the leaves were racing towards me over the roof of the boat while the boat was moving forwards. That brought on an instant attack.

The triggers all seem to be visual.  I've learned to avoid one or two triggers, simply by closing my eyes every time I take off or put on a pair of glasses, and also by closing my eyes if I turn my head while wearing glasses.  That's becoming almost an automatic habit now and has definitely reduced the number of attacks.

Back home, I'm noticing a difference already.  Working on the computer is possible, but is creating a definite sense of instability (I didn't use a computer at all while we were away and that probably helped a lot.)  I'll have to continue rationing computer use - which will be tricky as there's a massive backlog from when I was away.

I'll probably do a few posts at some point about canal history/culture/archeology.  They were an interesting phase of our history and, as far as I'm aware, the British narrow gauge canal system has no equivalent elsewhere.  (Broad canals are widespread, but the narrow lock may be a British peculiarity and was a specific period in our history.)

PS. I bought a cuddly watervole with a boatman's neckerchief.  (He's more of a hybrid with a rat really, but he's still cute)

watervole: (Default)
I've been away the last week visiting friends and family.

Played football and tennis with my two young nephews, which was great fun, though I did turn my ankle...

Fortunately, the ankle seemed to survive the next day with the help of a bandage, hiking boots for ankle support and a borrowed walking pole.  This was a good thing, because my sister, [livejournal.com profile] auntygillian, and I had decided to celebrate our respective birthdays by climbing a mountain.

I'm not sure if it fits the technical description of a mountain or not, but we climbed Kerridge Ridge to White Nancy.   The view from the top was absolutely wonderful (see the links at the bottom of the White Nancy page for photos).

The next day, Gillian had a real surprise for me.  Possibly my best birthday present ever!  A one day narrowboat hire with the family.  My parents, Gillian, her husband, my brother-in-law David and my two nephews, Toby and Alex. 


I had a fabulous time.  I love being on the canals and limited finances have made it impossible for us to afford a proper canal holiday for several years now.  Teaching my nephews how to steer the boat was the icing on the cake.  (Well, Toby thought he was steering.  My hand was coincidentally on the tiller all the time as well as his)  Alex, a few years older (but still needing to stand on a crate to see over the cabin), pretty much got the hang of it, but still needed a hand to navigate bridges successfully.  His dad managed it instantly - he's been sailing even if narrowboats were new to him.

All in all, a great two days, not lessened by the occasional shower and cold weather.


watervole: (Default)
Judith Proctor


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