The ironmongery of the Inquisition, Kingfisher poop & a spot of laundry #narrowboat #England

At the end of a long, hard day shouting “slow down, you positively rotten chumps!” at passing boats and “pick that up, you terribly forgetful thing you!” at dog-emptiers I like nothing more than to pour myself a small pint of port or brandy and to hop into a long, luxurious shower to hose away the stresses and strains of, well – of just being me.

Yesterday was no exception.

Afterwards, while the shower sump-pump is gagging and coughing trying to get the resultant slurry through the pipe and over the side, I like to fling open the side-hatch and watch the sun set over the nearest telegraph pole. Quite often I remember to wrap a towel around myself before flinging open the side-hatch. There’s little to beat the sensation of the cool evening breeze gently drying one’s crevices.

I remember back in Poonah, in ’43 or ’44, there was often little in the way of an evening breeze, so we used to line up the elephants and order them to flap their ears. Damned handy animal, the elephant. You can get a ruddy decent breeze out of no more than two or three hundred elephants if lined up in the proper formation.

Anyway. Yestereve when I flung open the side-hatch there was a kingfisher fishin’ from me chimney cap, zippin’ up and down the canal like a gaudy little streak of blue. I got a photograph of the timorous wee beastie, here it is.

Fast buggers, kingfishers. I almost missed this one.

He’s left kingfisher-poop everywhere. Kingfisher poop is nothing like as gaudy as is the kingfisher itself. Dirty little devil. It isn’t possible to polish a turd, even a kingfisher turd, but you’d think that at least he’d roll them in rainbow glitter, or something.

Well, it wasn’t all Darjeeling and roses though. Something had happened to a nest across the cut, possibly one of the speediferous boats that passed while I was performin’ me ablutions. The mood of the kingfisher spectacle was modified somewhat by three little drowned chicks and a fourth one that gulped its last just as I spotted it. Couldn’t reach them and even if I could, there was nothing to be done, they were too young and already waterlogged and abandoned. Nature can be a rotten biatch sometimes. Unhinged, too. Merciless one moment, yet quite picturesque the next.

Pretentious, artistic duck.

When she’s not drowning chicks she also has a spot of a sense of humour. One of those floating islands of reeds washed past and a duck* (*technical term used by expert bird-spotters) couldn’t resist hopping off the more usual static nest and trying out the moving version for ten yards or so.

Duck enjoying a slow drift downstream

Having enjoyed the ride the duck then paddled unceremoniously back to its more usual perch – although I do detect a slight grin on the old beak there and a certain, smug “well that was fun” twinkle to the eyes.

Smugly happy duck, back on more usual nest after the fairground ride

It all happens here, you know. Life is just one long roller-coaster.

Had a visit from the old fuel boat, Halsall, day afore yesterday. Here they are serving Mr & Ms Personality (the couple in the matching hi-vis). Yes, it was raining.

Some couples split takeaways, some share a single personality. Personality isn’t like love, it’s not indivisible – if you cut one personality in two then you’ve got two halves, each 50% smaller than the whole.

To save Halsall the bother of stopping again after just a few yards and mooring up mid-canal to the Cardinal I wandered down to enquire in re mooring irons. They did indeed have the necessary, and promptly sold me some. Two of each please, Mister. Just shy of fifty earth quids, the lot.

Chains, pins and armco clips, sometimes also used for mooring.

There are several ways of securing a boat to the towpath.

There’s the first method I tried, the “Normandy Landing”. This is where you come in so ruddy fast that the bow of the boat rides up onto dry land. Once moored with this technique only Spring or full-moon tides can get you undone.

Bollards. No, really, bollards. Little bollards. Usually painted black and white, these are found on lock landings and service areas, and are intended for very temporary use. I generally throw a triple-granny-sod-it knot around them and hope for the best.

Then there are rings. Rings are found on “visitor moorings”. Metal rings attached to dirty-great concrete lumps at intervals along the towpath. Rings go hand in hand with time limits, where the general towpath is fair game for up to fourteen days, rings are oft in common with 48-hour limits on stays. Rings are easy, you just slip the mooring ropes through them and lash ’em back on the boat.

For the other ninety-nine point nine percent of the Cardinal’s life we require recourse to some ironmongery, to wit, chains, pins and armco clips/hooks or “nappy pins”. Before Halsall’s visit the Cardinal and I had enough, but only enough. These are spares, bearing in mind that I’ve already gifted someone a shiny chain by leaving it on the towpath as I pootled off.

Some folk fetch up to shore and tie ropes onto blades of grass, or to especially slow hedgehogs. It seems to work for them. I know that were I to be so lax then by the time I woke next morning the Cardinal would have come free, drifted out of the Mersey and we’d be approaching Reykjavik harbour before you could say Gut bugger mich mit dem zweitbesten Kandelaber, Bob, aber das sieht aus wie die Küste von Island.

Towpaths have a variety of edgings. Some are concrete, some are just grassed mud, others are neatly finished with pilings and armco.

Pins are my least-favourite ironmongery, and they’re self-explanatory. You just take a lump hammer (Mr Biggenthwacker…) and bang ’em into Father Earth, angled and up to the hilt, and moor to the hooks on those. It is important to bang the pin with one’s hammer, and not one’s thumbs.

Mr Biggenthwacker has been happily thwacking things.


Armco and armco-analogues are, in comparison, pure luxury, and they facilitate my more preferred ironmongery, the nappy pins and the chains. Armco & etc has a nice gap behind it, and both simply loop around, easy to fix, easy to go – and not likely to be pulled out by some speeding twonk on a mission to circumnavigate the globe before tea-time.

I generally use five ropes when settling in for any meaningful length of time.

The first of these is the centre-line. This is line that I hang on to for grim death, it is generally my only connection with the Cardinal when I first step off anywhere to moor, use services or go through a lock. It literally hangs off a solid hoop in the middle of the Cardinal’s “roof”, and it is long enough to reach well beyond either pointy or blunt end.

The centre-line rope. Two miles of super-quality old-fashioned rope.

The trouble is, whenever I have the Cardinal on the centre-line, he assumes that we’re off for a walk… and away he goes. I am oftentimes to be found putting my heart and soul and total mass into the end of a rope, trying to stop eighteen tonnes of boat running away. Whoa, Neddy, whoa there.

My first job when I want to moor up is to explain to the boat that we have arrived, we have stopped, we should eschew further forward or reverse motion if possible please and, if in the mood, kindly keep in towards the towpath edge. This is also where the first of the ironmongery comes into play, for having either correctly guessed what type of mooring we will meet or, which is more common, having laid out the necessary for any eventuality,  I must either belt in a pin or slip a nappy-pin around the armco and secure the centre-line to it. Once the Cardinal’s on that one first rope there’s a plausibly reasonable chance that he’s going nowhere fast, and I can turn my back and turn my attention to making things more permanent.

I then generally fix four other lines, two short ones perpendicular to the towpath (to stop the boat moving out) and two at as shallow an angle as I can make them, one pointing fore and one pointing aft (to stop the boat being washed back and forth). This arrangement also leaves scope for the water disappearing entirely out of the canal, as sometimes happens, when the Cardinal would need to settle as gently as possible en derrière.

Then the centre-line gets removed and stowed and I get to turn off the engine and swim around in a mug of restorative coffee.

Departure from a mooring is the reverse of this little pantomime, also beginning and ending with the centre-line, and this is where the need for spare ironmongery comes in. In spite of trying to not get distracted, to take my time and to not rush, it’s all too easy to lose a pin or chain or whatever in the grass. At seven or eight quid a pop I am not happy with myself for already having lost one set of chains.

Ah, chains. Even just the word itself brings back such happy memories of the nursery wing and dear old Nanny.

June’s been a funny old month. Monsoon rains, freezing cool, blasting hot with overtones of the Atacama, then dull, overcast and so thoroughly grey that they ran out of grey and had to use black instead. Well, yesterday being a whole new month, July, the Met Office splurged with a little bit of sunshine. Mr Blue Sky was loosed on an unsuspecting English public.

This was wonderful.

Not only was my mood lifted (I suffer from S.A.D., Seasonal Ar*sehole Disorder), but I also got my laundry dry…

Laundry’s important when you get to my age.

I had begun to think that it would still be wet the next time I washed it.

So, that’s been my couple of days, and very pleasant they’ve been too, drowned chicks aside. Each day takes us closer (by about a day) to the trip, the planned Llangollen Expedition. So far, so good.

I wonder if they have elephants on the Llangollen?

Elephant poop though, now there’s something to put kingfisher poop to shame.

Don’t get a lot of it on the roof of the boat, fortunately.




  1. Narrated with your usual excellence. I’m sorry to hear about the chicks and in fact it’s because of chicks I needed to speak to you. Unfortunately the Llangollen elephants had to be repatriated abroad because of their propensity for stepping on eggs in nests, even those in trees.It seems no-one who served in Poonah in 43 or 44 was available to give advice anymore.

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    1. Damn, that is sad – an elephantless Llangollen. A sign of these modern times, I suppose. At least we still have the ardvaark roaming free in their millions in Surrey. They may take our freedom but they’ll never take our ardvaark. 😉

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  2. I did wonder about the tying up of the Cardinal so found this interesting; although the semblance of some of the newer chains and such does remind me of some of the passing book covers of the more erotica genre. BDSM and bondage apart, it does sound a mighty unnerving exercise especially the initial tethering in the middle – you have my deepest admiration.

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    1. Some days it works well, other days it’s a farce! There’s a point of little to no return at which I have to have the stern of the boat in close enough for me to step off with the rope… it can be a fleeting moment and indecision can be a scene-stealer! Slowly slowly slowly is my best and only hope.


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