Sunday, February 19, 2017

Inside St Pancras Lock

There are miles and miles of canals in London and my hikes have only touched a fraction of them.

When walking along them there's always a feeling of not-being in London, of a culture and way of life very different from the rapid pace of the big city. On the tube woe behold anyone standing on the left of the escalator and the true Londoner is the one muttering "come on, come on, come on!" at the visitor holding up the flow.

Narrow boaters don't seem to feel that urgency, only too happy to amble and dawdle (preferably over a real ale), so there could be expected to be a bit of a culture clash when the Canal and River Trust did an open day on the Regents Canal by St Pancras. The focus was on the restoration of the St Pancras Lock, built in 1819, and there were opportunities to go down for a look inside:
It was quite impressive to see brick-work that must be almost 200 years old in a lock that is still in use.

There were actors in period costume which did rather stand out given that Kings Cross / St. Pancras is one of the most recently developed parts of London and across the bridge behind flew Eurostar trains on their way to Paris or Brussels:
As the Eurostars zoomed by they would have been able to see the narrow boats in the nearby basin:
I got a voucher for a free trip on one but had just missed the boat (literally) and faced with a wait decided I was more of a Londoner (come on! come on! come on!) than narrow boater, so headed off.

It wasn't like I hadn't had a trip on a narrow boat down the Regent's Canal before.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Down Down Street Tube

When at the British Library exhibition, I spotted this old tube map and these are often fascinating in showing the changes to the network, both in the gaps where lines should be which were created since then, but also stations shown that have closed.

There's a certain mystery about abandoned tube stations and if you know when to look out of carriage windows you can sometimes spot them - or at least where they once were.

If you look at the yellow line above in the middle there is Down Street which is one of the most famous abandoned station as it was used as a bomb shelter during WW2 by the Railway Executive Committee and none other than Winston Churchill.

This elevated platform was where the typing pool used to be:
You can still see remnants from those days, when people used to live and work down here for weeks on end, with bathrooms and a telephone exchange:

Lighting wasn't great so often we had to use torches:
Tube trains were continually going by and when they did all torches had to be switched off so as not to distract the drivers and then it was pitch black indeed.

It was a very memorable trip, and one of the guides would be well-known to those that follow the Londonist YouTube channel who in this series gives more information about these old tube stations.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Drawing the line: Maps and the 20th Century at the British Library

I love maps and quirky events so the combination of British Library Late and their exhibition on Maps and the 20th Century was a where-do-I-buy-a-ticket combination.

I'd been to a previous Late at the Library event which had involved a performance of the theremin and return of a top 1,000 album, namely 76:14 by Global Communications which had been fab and weird and this was a bit more sober, though that might be because I didn't partake in the bar.

The exhibition had all sorts of 20th maps including politics, military, commerce and entertainment, starting with one of those wonderful / awful (delete as appropriate) maps of the British Empire with acres of red paint as produced by the Navy League in 1901.

Here a trio decided to stand directly in front of it and have a long discussion about their family while those interested in maps had to peer around them. Ah well, free country and all that.

Some of the maps were rather chilling. I saw a photo from the air of London in the 1940s in which could spot Battersea Park and Power Station, but it was created to guide German bombers during the Blitz.

At least we can move on from that: other maps are still extremely topical, such as that showing the infamous Sykes Picot Agreement.

One of my favourites was the Marshall Islands Stick Chart (above) which Tristan no doubt knows all about. Another that caught my eye was this map and horizon drawing around the Bank of England:

After a bit the eyes did glaze when faced with a series of maps of 5 year plans and oil refineries and so it was time to leave and head out into the Late events.

This included a couple of virtual reality installations including one of London (they judged the interests of their audience well) and another of what it would be like to be in the land of Revelations. Artists could be seen drawing maps freehand and selling those created earlier and a DJ mixed tracks that echoed around the atrium:
There were also opportunities to contribute to a user generated map where the Thames was given but all the rest was up to us:

I added a pub: I think Buff would have approved.

On until the 1st of March so go now if you're interested.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Review: Casting Off & Untie the Lines by Emma Bamford

There's more than one way to get that wow! moment in a sailing story.

A traditional example would be Race 4 of the 2003 America's Cup when New Zealand were dismasted, but equally memorable to me was when Josje announced she was leaving SV Delos.

So you don't need an epic-challenge at the heart of book - or indeed pair of books - about sailing to make it readable. It can also be how to decide between two alternative, conflicting paths. Or indeed that most fundamental of questions: what is life all about?

Emma Bamford's two books tell of her conflicting urges between working and living in London and the lure of a cruising lifestyle, sailing blue waters amongst deserted islands.

Of course the dream of cruising as a life of leisure is just that, with the reality one of hard work to get boats seaworthy and savings being drained. One of the impressive things about the Delos crew is how they knuckle down on boat work and have the skills to do a host of repairs themselves.

But one of the downsides to the cruising life Emma would encounter were long months stuck in anchorages while repairs seem to go backwards. Then those idyllic imagined Caribbean islands often turned out to be overrun with cruise ships or quiet enough to drive you crazy.

However London can be a pretty tough place, particularly if you have a job that leaves neither time or energy for anything else - in her case as newly promoted editor of the Independent's "i".

So how to balance out these two alternative lives? Emma tries one then the other (in the first book), then the second follows on directly with two more trials on life on land or water. The writing, from a trained and experienced journalist, flows nicely and is clear and honest about what she was experiencing, the good and the bad.

As you can imagine, the story of a fellow Londoner struggling between the pull of the big smoke and crystal seas was one I could relate to. Its not a "sail into the sunset" story and yet avoids the "tears before bed-time" emotional dramatics of Two in a Boat.

I certainly enjoyed "Casting Off" and "Untie the Lines" -  indeed I read both books back-to-back, finishing in under a week.

Highly recommended for anyone with sail-away urges.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Niagara Falls trip 3/3 - Chicago!

After Niagara Falls I returned the hire car and flew to Toronto, as in the photo above, which shows the view from the CN Tower of the CBD with Royal York Hotel and Union railway station. It was to be the start of the second part of the excursion from the business trip - by train to Chicago.

The scenery the train passed through was pretty impressive and there was lots of leg room, though I got a proper "Paddington Bear hard stare" from the US border guards, it being shortly after 9/11.

I rather liked Chicago, with a mixture of new and urban decay:

I did of course think about the Blues Brothers and that chase scene.

The music was totally amazing and visited some great blues clubs but also managed to see this new British band that had just released their first album, Parachutes:
I wonder what happened to them?

The rowing on a Saturday morning felt very familiar:
All too soon it was time to catch that train back to Toronto and the flight home.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Niagara Falls trip 2/3

I was pretty impressed by Niagara Falls, a lovely horse-shoe shape, water pouring thundering down.

It was a dull November day so the Maid of the Mist boats weren't running but enjoyed getting up, close and wet to the clouds of water:
I rang my niece to wish her Happy Birthday, took a final look, then drove back towards Ottawa....

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Niagara Falls trip 1/3

Bonnie recently went to Niagara Falls but only saw it from the American side so I though I'd post on my trip to the Canadian side. It was many years ago now so things might have changed, but I hope not too much.

I was visiting Ottawa on business, and must say I really liked it (above). It reminded me of a bit of Edinburgh with the Gothic architecture and green copper roofs.

After work was finished I decided to see some sights so hired a car and headed south west across the beautiful landscape of Canada:

Rather than staying close to the Falls I found a B&B at the nearby Niagara on the Lake and it was great, with Toronto just visible on the horizon:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Boris Staysail's vinning sailing "alternative truths"


Vings are looking up for Boris! P. in Moscow approves big time! I am in the inner circle viv security clearance - vanks to my alternative sailing truvs.

I told T. that it was good news! America has von the Vendee Globe!! Great America IV has stormed to victory after Armel Le Cleac'h sank and Alex Thomson was eaten by a giant shark! Is all true!

I hav a new bestestish plan, big, big money, big, big win. Ve show that America is open to all! Yes, everyone is velcome to the next America's Cup apart from those from the following countries:
  • France
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom
Alas sailors from these countries will be denied entrance until we can work out what they are up to.

Some may say that this is illegal, immoral and unconstitutional but ve say, our hackers be interested in knowing your email? So maybe you joke? Ve are the best jokers:

 Do svidaniya!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: Waterfront at Dusk

The waterfront outside the ExCel Exhibition Centre during the London Boat Show sometimes is packed with boats too large to be within even its cavernous halls.

But not this time, where the quayside was empty and the water looked grey and cold.

On the far side was the derelict building, the soon to be developed Millennium Mills (see inside with this Londonist video). In front there was the familiar sight of the SS Robin, which still seems to be about to be ready, but not quite.

The waters were still and the clouds spat rain down in the dusk:

It was time to go home.

Monday, January 23, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: Foils, 3D Printers and a Robot

This fancy cat caught my eye as its one of the new breed of foilers aimed at general sailors.

This is the foiling Whisper built here in the UK using the latest carbon fibre and 3D printing technology:
It looked very cool and wouldn't mind a trial sail on it.

Less authentic was this "robot" which roamed the ailes of the Boat Show. A little googling confirmed my suspicion that inside was an actor:

Sunday, January 22, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: Recreation of Bounty Voyage

The London Boat Show contains an indoor pool where they demonstrate small boats like canoes and kayaks.

It was also the location where you could see a replica of the long boat used by Captain Bligh after the mutiny on the HMS Bounty on his 4,000 mile voyage to land and safety.

This was used in a recreation of that voyage commissioned by Channel 4 television as announced here. The plan was for 9 men to sail this boat from Tonga to Timur, filming their experiences and comparing against the voyage back in 1789.

One to look out for in 2017.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: Putney to Calais Race

Also spotted at the London Boat Show was this racing powerboat, Easy Rider (above).

Apparently Putney isn't just the start of various rowing races (in particular, the Oxford vs Cambridge bash), it was also the start of a race to Calais and back by powerboat.

You can see a video of the original race back in 1971 in this YouTube clip:
Easy Rider has been restored and is planning a re-run of the race for charity, as described on this web page.

It won't be quite the same as the current PLA rules mean that there is a strict speed limit on the Thames.

Just as well I did my powerboat course a few years ago before the rules changed!

Friday, January 20, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: the age of the vlogger

Its times like this that I feel too old to try out vlogging.

I was watching the end of the fashion show at the London Boat Show (waiting for Dee Caffari and Sam Davies) when up popped young Alissa (above, centre).

She is a vlogger with her own YouTube channel TRAVEL around LONDON with ALISSA and was visiting the boat show with press pass and all.

You can watch her report here:

I think I'll go and count my grey hairs now...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

London Boat Show 2017: Dee Caffari and Sam Davies

Also up at the London Boat Show was Sailing Uncovered's Alec Wilkinson talking to Dee Caffari and Sam Davies (above).

It was a really interesting chat, with of course lots about their experiences in offshore races like the Vendee Globe (as blogged many years ago) and the Volvo Ocean Race:
They covered familiar topics of food and toilets at sea but without much apparent enthusiasm.  What did seemed to enthuse them was talking about Alex Thomson in the Vendee Globe (then about 125 NM behind Armel le Cleach) and whether he could grab first place:

It felt in line with one of their main messages: that what interests them is not so much women sailing but just sailing and how it should be for everyone 'cos its great and exciting.

Alas no chance for a post interview meet and greet but interesting to hear them talk live: