Swans, ducks, gas bottles & uncaffeinated chaps at dawn #narrowboat #england

Got any brean, man? I can break a man’s arm you know. Got any bread, man?

Soddinnel’s First Law of LPG is an immutable law of the universe.

It states that the gas bottle will always run empty in a combination of two or more of:

  • Unsociable hours
  • Darkness
  • Inclement weather
  • When a chap can’t find the gas spanner
  • Middle of cooking a complicated meal
  • Before the water in the kettle’s hot enough for coffee

The manufacturers and suppliers fit little hidden gizmos to ensure that, whatever the size of the bottle, wherever you bought it from, it always gleefully and enthusiastically obeys this natural law. It wouldn’t be a “law” otherwise, would it?

Soddinnel’s Second Law of LPG applies to narrowboats, and it states that changing a gas bottle will require at least two or more of:

  • An audience of a cantankerous swan (yes, I am familiar with the concept of tautology)
  • The person changing the bottle to work upside down and back-to-front
  • Coal and logs to moved  twice, once out of the way, once back again
  • Rainwater collected in the rolled-up cratch cover to be channelled directly down a chap’s neck-bone all the way to his Arsenal Villa are doing awfully well this season, are they not?
  • All work to be performed while kneeling at an angle out of the well-deck

Six of the morning o’sundial yesterday I heard the cheery flame under the first kettle of the day stagger, stumble, expostulate “ooh – I think I’m going”. It then promptly died with a farting sound that would do credit to a curry-fed hedgehog with a musical anus attachment.

Fortunately, I am not so green as I am cabbage-looking, I wasn’t born the day after the day before yesterday, and, while my wheel squeaks and wobbles, the hamster is still alive. Just. Well, he’s a bit alive, but only because I put Aspirin in his water-bottle and Wheaty Vitaflakes in his food dish. And I poke him with a stick. Look, the upshot is, uncaffeinated or not, I was composted Mentos enough to run into the Supplies Hold and break the glass on the red box labelled “Electric Kettle – in Case of Tragic Emergency”.

Six of the o’sundial is far too early to change a gas bottle – the process involves the clanking of chains (all gas bottles must be chained down on a boat), banging of spanners on bell-like empty bottles, and much fiery language as the bottle is persuaded out of the locker and onto the waiting trolley on the pontoon.

‘Ooh, it’s on my foot.’

‘My, my, however did my finger get between two moving bottles?’

‘Gosh, what an interesting arrangement of lower-back muscles, knots & shooting pains.’

There is room on my horse for three. What a lovely, neat and tidy gas locker. All of those hours spent squeezed in there last year with a wire brush, a can of bilge paint and some rubber matting really paid off. You could eat your dinner in there. Well, if the gas hadn’t run out and it had been possible to cook it.

Three bottles, all three of which need juggling in order to make room for one of them to be lifted out. It’s like one of those slider puzzles with the tiles, except that the pieces are steel bottles with 13kg of gas in them.

My trusty trolley awaits.

Medical opinion (I read my notes while the doctors were out of the room, being cautioned by police during an argument over something called “Sectioning”) is that I’m off my trolley. I’m not, though, I’m really not. I love my trolley. It helpeth me empty the loo, it fetcheth my groceries, and it changeth my gas. Well, not my gas, but the Cardinal’s gas.

LPG bottles connect to the cookers and appliances of the universe with a back-to-front thread. What would tighten an ordinary fitting loosens the fitting on a bottle of LPG. Just LPG, not Butane. Remember that. It’s Soddinnel’s Third Law of LPG.

  • Anyone with low-blood caffeine must remember at all times that spanners work backwards when employed in desperate attempts to re-introduce the kettle to ergs and therms and those excited little molecules that make coffee so wonderful.
  • They must remember this while kneeling on the well-deck, leaning forward and over the gas bottle and working, in effect, “back to front”.
  • Ha-ha! Tee-hee! Giggle, giggle.

Still with me? Now comes the technical bit. Having screwed one’s regulatortrix onto the replacement bottle and twiddled the knob thing from “closed” to “open”, the seal must be tested.

Gordon Bennett, I need my pills.

Tested to ensure that no gas is escaping at the point where the regululatortrix meets the knob.

No, that doesn’t help matters either.

Look – having hooked up the new bottle, one then must find, acquire or otherwise purloin a bottle of dish-washing liquid. In a narrowboat of course, everything eventually ends up in the canal water, so in order to not murder fish and swans and ducks and whatever, it needs must be aminal friendly (sic) and bio-degradable. Ecover is me. I are Ecover. One then drips a modicum (not a morsel or a soupçon, not a superfluity, a glut, a surfeit or an embarrassment, but a modicum) of dish-washing liquid on the screw-thread arrangement, where the backwards thread meets the wotnot between the thingy and the oojamaflip.

But I don’t want 40% more plates, I loathe washing up. Why must I call my scullery maids Camomile and Marigold? What’s the asterisk for? Is it really only 2% more plates?

Squirt, squirt.

If the connection then blows bubbles, soapy bubbles, you’ve failed, and there is every chance that it will then graduate to blowing up.

If it blows lots of no-bubbles, then congratulations, little uncaffeinated human, you have succesfully connected hydrocarbon by-product to coffee machine, and your life may continue apace, all other notwithstandings being equal etcetera, etcetera.

It is at this stage of proceedings that the audience of ducks and swans will then cease asking for bread, and instead chant ‘Got any bubbles?’. This is proof positive, if more be needed, that wildlife often knows more about life on a boat than do people on a boat.

The polite reply is ‘No, but I do have a nice, blue flame again, and you should know, swan, that it will take me eighteen seconds to fetch, load and fire my anti-swan blunderbuss’.


‘So you haven’t got bubbles, but then have you got any bread, man?’

‘NO! This means that as well as not having had my coffee, I have not had any toast & Marmite today. Eighteen, seventeen, sixteen…’

‘Sheesh, all I asked was whether you had any bread, man. No bubbles, no bread – what sort of boat is this?’

‘Fifteen, fourteen, thirteen…’

Worrywort’s Law of Dealing With Gas (non-human) is also an immutable law of the universe. It states quite simply that for days and days after changing the gas bottle on a boat your nose will telegraph randomly-timed messages to your brain about “ooh – I think I got a whiff of LPG just then”. Twitch, fidget and wonder. Check check check.

I need more coffee.


Ian H.


  1. Ho de ho and ha de ha! Do you have all this flow charted and a piece of paper long enough to take it? I thought that you had to keep a canary for the purposes of detecting if gas is in abundance? It would save on washing up liquid and perhaps provide a better tempered alternative to keeping a pet swan. (are they not all the property of Her Madge?) I can’t imagine even contemplating all that without recourse to the emergency kettle, It would be interesting to learn how long this bottle lasts compared to the 51 weeks of t’other one. But gangho sir and jolly roger, well done under pressure. Now I think that this is yet another occasion when a hip flask may be brought into the flow chart! Nod nod, wink wink! A damn fine bit of house keeping there though, I’ll leave the key under the mat and you can do mine!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alas and alack, the canary has fallen off its perch, shaken a double-six and is now wearing the proverbial wooden overcoat… something about life with a vegetarian on a high-fibre diet…


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